1. Kyle Kubitza, 23, AA. 4.7 WAR, .295/.405/.470 with 8 HR and 21 SB's.
Welcome to the system, Kubitza.
This guy had one hell of a year in Double A, edging out Reggie Willits' 4.6 WAR back in 2005 for sixth best upper minors performance of Angels' prospects over the past decade. Our new third baseman raked, impressing scouts and cementing his status as a prospect. Let's keep that in mind, because we're about to pick on him.
Dipoto's trade for Kubitza was a fascinating gamble. The organization likes to sell the transaction as the divestment of high-ceiling, high-risk teenage lefty Ricardo Sanchez in exchange for a high-floor, major-league-ready "safe" guy. Swapping out the bird in the bush for a bird in the hand, or something like that. On the surface, the numbers bear the cliche out.
But pop that hood and take a closer look, and there's plenty of risk here. 18-year old pitcher risk? Possibly even that.
Our new third base heir-apparent excelled most in batting average on balls in play, a notoriously fickle stat, posting a .400+ BABIP in 2014. On one hand, the good outcomes on batted balls weren't flukey: there are usually a handful of .400 BABIPs in the upper minors each year, and Kubitza hit lots of line drives, pounded the middle of the field, handled lefties just fine, and hardly ever, ever popped out.
On the other hand, there's no precedent for a guy like him maintaining that sort of BABIP in the majors: MLB leaders in the category last year were Starling Marte, Jose Altuve, Adam Eaton, Jose Abreu and Christian Yelich, and they all ranged between .356 and .373. Atlanta third baseman Chris Johnson put up a .394 BABIP in 2013, so we'll come back to him. Trout put up a .383 BABIP a couple of years ago, and in that same season, Dexter Fowler was at .390. Those guys -- some of the league's best athletes -- are outliers, and it takes a lot of squinting to envision Kubitza settling in with most of them at the tail end of the bell curve.
Despite the raging success on balls in play, Kubitza failed to hit .300 overall. Only Astros' prospect Domingo Santana managed that feat -- a .400+ BABIP juxtaposed with a sub-.300 average -- in the upper minors last year. That bizzaro combination is the result of fanning a quarter of the time while failing to swat double digit home runs.
Let's talk about the strikeouts first. Kubitza's 70.8% contact rate ranked in the 10th percentile in AA and AAA (except the Eastern League, which didn't post the stat). On it's own, that's not a terrible place to be, because he still bettered bottom tenth famous guys like Kris Bryant, Javier Baez, Joey Gallo, and Joc Pederson in making contact. He was running with up-and-comers you've probably heard of, like Rymer Liriano, Jon Singleton, and Jorge Alfaro. Good names, one and all.
The problem? Every one of those guys slammed at least twice the dingers that Kubitza hit. Some hit five times the dingers Kubitza hit.
For historical perspective, I looked for similar contact rates on the 2011 upper minors leader boards (that's as far back as www.minorleaguecentral.com numbers go), and found a ton of guys you've never heard of, plus Bill Hall, Brandon Moss, Brett Wallace, Brett Jackson, and Wily Mo Pena. Guys who made slightly more contact than Kubitza include Josh Bell, Juan Francisco, Jesus Montero, and Brandon Belt. There are a couple of success stories there, sure, but also a lot of fizzle. Even making the argument that Kubitza's walk rate balances the whiffs doesn't necessarily set him apart from the bust group (I'm looking at you, Brett Wallace and Brett Jackson, and even Josh Bell to a lesser extent). And again, each of those guys got their shot because of a power track record and/or projection far more impressive than Kubitza's.
At the major league level, there are very, very few hitters who put up contact rates as low as what Kubitza managed last year, and the guys that do -- Giancarlo Stanton, Matt Kemp, Marlon Byrd, and Jay Bruce in 2014, plus Chris Johnson and some dudes on their way out of the league -- make their living by putting a lot of balls in seats.
Chris Johnson... I only found him when I double checked the data, having missed him initially because his good years didn't occur in my initial searches. Interesting. He was good in 2010 on the back of a .387 BABIP, and then again in 2013 due to a .394 BABIP. His contact rates in those seasons were 70.5% and 75.7% respectively, definitely in Kubitza territory. Marginal power production. So ok, here's the comp. A dude who's put up two good seasons out of nearly five, and who most recently looked like toast. Kubitza has always walked more, so maybe that'll be the difference?
Hopefully you've sussed out my general point by now: Kubitza's peers in contact rate include boom/bust power guys, Chris Johnson, and a whole lot of nothing. His outstanding BABIP skills (and I'm calling them skills, not luck) have just one recent comp in the major leagues, and it's a pretty underwhelming one. Other MLB outliers include some of the league's better athletes capable of significant numbers of infield hits to their name, or the occasional power guy having a monster season. Kubitza doesn't appear to fall into either of those buckets.
Dipoto and co are reportedly very interested in swing analysis, and perhaps they really are smarter than everyone else and found something in Kubitza's profile that they feel comfortable projecting. I would love to have heard the internal discussions that occurred prior to the trade. But from our standpoint, where we have just BABIP, contact rates, and power statistics to look at, Kubitza's bat doesn't have a lot of precedent for a successful projection. In fact, in the majors, his contact/power profile looks like a good bet to sink him below replacement level. And it's really all about the bat here, because it's not like he's a future gold glover at third. Scouts project fringe average to average defense, while the numbers look more fringy. He's going to have to hit, and he's headed to a place where evaluating improvement in that skill is incredibly difficult.
So what do you think? Will Dipoto's roll turn up snake eyes here, or lucky number seven?