Prospect Grades: Pfinsgraff, Donald, Yarbrough

As I finish up the prospects who spent time at Lakewood and move into short season prospects, I just want to remind everyone how difficult it is to figure out players who have only played for a half season, or at most, two seasons, against mostly high school competition. You can draw some conclusions based on the numbers, you can make some guesses, but for the most part, you’re in “wait and see” mode, which while true with all prospects, is even more relevant for guys playing in the lower levels.

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Pfinsgraff, Ben, RHP (age 23) Grade = B+

Pfinsgraff, the Phillies 22nd round pick in 2006, isn’t a scouts dream, but he’s a guy I’m going to keep an eye on in 2007, because he could surprise some people. Drafted as a college senior out of Maryland, the expectations weren’t high, particularly because he was coming off a minor shoulder injury (inflammation) and because he is a smallish RHP (6’0, 180lbs) without dynamite stuff. He features average stuff across the board, but has good command, and is most widely praised because of his baseball aptitude and ability to prepare for a game. The Phillies started him at Batavia, where he dominated for 40 innings, posting a 1.12 ERA, allowing only 25 H and 10 walks to 44 strikeouts. He was quickly promoted to Lakewood, where he logged another 23.2 IP, posting a 2.28 ERA, allowing 17 H, 8 BB and striking out 25. The thing that jumps out at me are the strikeouts. In his junior and senior seasons, he averaged 8.51 and 6.75 K/9 at a big NCAA school, but he jumped that number up to 9.70/9 over two levels. His control was excellent (2.53 BB/9), he was pretty unhittable, holding opposing batters to an OPS of .491, and he didn’t allow a single HR in his 64 IP. The reason I can’t give him higher marks is his age, as he was 22 in 2006 and turned 23 in November. He’s likely to stay in Lakewood, which means he’ll be old for the league, unless he’s turned into a reliever, in which case he could move much quicker through the system. My B+ grade is optimistic, and I rate him much much higher than any other outlet, but I like intelligent pitchers who understand how to get guys out and don’t rely purely on being able to ramp it up to 97 and blow guys away. There’s something to be said for being smarter than the batter and using average stuff to get lots of swings and misses and induce poor contact. Could he fall on his face at High A or AA? Sure, and there’s a better chance he will than won’t, but based on what he’s done, I’m giving him a B+, all things considered, even though based on pure numbers, he’s probably deserving of an even higher grade.

Ceiling: #3 starter or 7th inning reliever….not bad for a 22nd round pick.

Floor: Out of baseball in 3 years. Ben talked about how he wasn’t sure if baseball was his career after struggling a bit his senior year, but he decided he wants to give it his all until he realizes there’s no career in it for him. That seems like a somewhat morbid attitude, but it also sounds like it’s out of the Chris Coste playbook, and he turned out ok….eventually.

Conclusion: I like Pfinsgraff, for many of the reasons I stated above. He has an 89-92 mph fastball, little room for projection, and average secondary pitches. If his location remains a plus, if he keeps the ball on the ground, and if he continues to work and prepare, he will be a big league pitcher. The role in which he plays won’t be clear for a while, as it was thought he’d be moved to relief even in 2006, but he remained a starter, and pitched very well at Lakewood, so they might not be as quick to turn him into a reliever. He should see High A by July, if all goes well, and we should know a lot more about his long term future at that point.

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Donald, Jason, SS (age 22) Grade = C+

I wasn’t crazy about it when the Phillies took Donald in the third round of the 2006 draft, but I can see why they did. The Phillies have basically 1 legit prospect in the middle of the infield, and that’s Brad Harman, who had a nightmare 2006 season. Donald was a premier prospect a few years ago and turned down a 1 million dollar bonus from Anaheim as a 20th round flier pick to attend Arizona. His stock has dropped since then, but he hit enough and was solid enough defensively to go in the third round. The Phillies think he’ll have enough range to stay at SS, but his bat is the big question mark. His composite numbers at Batavia put him 19% or so above league average, but for a college player, this isn’t exactly lighting the world on fire. His one surprising area was that he managed to steal 12 bases in 13 tries, after never stealing more than 7 in a season at Arizona. Donald appears to have another skill, getting plunked by pitches. In his three seasons at Arizona, he was hit a grand total 39 times, and he managed get hit 5 times at Batavia. This helps to raise his otherwise modest OB%, as he doesn’t draw a ton of walks. He made 9 errors at SS, but as I mentioned before, it’s tough to really assess fielding stats, especially in the lower levels, where field conditions are, shall we say, less than ideal. Donald’s grade was lowered based on his poor walk rate and lack of power at Batavia, but he could very well bounce back once fresh at Lakewood, and if he can steal 15-18 bases in 2007, it will improve his stock a bit.

Ceiling: A major league shortstop, but to what degree is uncertain. If his fielding drops off a bit, he looks more like a backup, especially if his bat doesn’t improve at Lakewood.

Floor: A utility infielder that bounces around and never really makes a mark.

Conclusion: Donald seems to do a bunch of things in above average fashion, but doesn’t really do anything overly well. He has a good hitting record in college and was lauded for his defense, we’ll have to see if it translates to his pro career. He’ll be the everyday SS at Lakewood, partnered in the middle of the infield with Adrian Cardenas at 2B. It should be an interesting combination to watch.

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Yarbrough, Charlie, 1B (age 22) Grade = C+

Yarbrough, the Phillies 7th round draft pick in 2006, really is an interesting guy. He has been overlooked since high school, attending smaller schools, despite his huge frame (6’6, 255 lbs) and his massive power potential. He played two seasons at Longwood University, a D-II program, and then transferred to Eastern Kentucky, another small school. In his junior year, he tossed up a .739 slugging %, including 18 HR in 55 G. Still, he went under the radar, mainly because of his lack of a position other than 1st, and his playing at a smaller school. The Phillies nabbed him, and I’m sure in the back of their mind, they were thinking “a righthanded Ryan Howard”, and it’s clear why, based on physical stature and college background. Yarbrough got his first taste of advanced competition by being sent to Batavia, and he struggled, putting up a .625 OPS in 204 AB. He struggled in every facet of the game, but again, you have to be somewhat lenient, based on his lack of top competition in college, going to a league where some guys are playing for the second time, and others are high profile college pitchers. His numbers against LHP and RHP were fairly similar, and he made 5 errors. I could probably give him a straight C, but his college performance was strong, from all accounts he has a tremendous work ethic, and he is entitled to a free pass for his 2006. He’ll probably be the full time 1B at Lakewood, and if he turns it on, we’ll see what he can do, and if he doesn’t, his grade will drop.

Ceiling: A major league 1B who hits the ball really hard

Floor: Organizational filler

Conclusion: The Ryan Howard paralells are there, both on and off the field, but Howard put up an .840 OPS at Batavia in his age 21 season, compared to the .625 from CY. In his first full season, Howard put up an .827 OPS at Lakewood, with 19 HR in 493 AB. If Yarbrough ends up in that area, then we’ll be talking. However, anything in the .780-.800 range would be acceptable, in his first pro season. With guys like this, the chances of them succeeding are smaller than most, mainly because they are position locked. The potential for a 40 HR hitting beast is there, but we’ll see what happens. If he can’t adjust to offspeed pitches, he might not even hit 4 HR. Like Pfinsgraff, my grade might be generous now, but I’m willing to risk it.

21 thoughts on “Prospect Grades: Pfinsgraff, Donald, Yarbrough

  1. The limitations of Donald’s abilities seems to me to make it essential that the org both draft a SS early in the June draft AND concentrate on SS in our Latin programs…along with a righty 3rd baseman (college), a catcher (Jaramillo being questionable), and a righty OF (college, w power) in our early player grabs…plus a pitcher or two among our first 5 choices and in Latin countries.

  2. Well, yes and no. In the first round and the supplemental first round, I think they need to take the absolute best talent on the board. When you start drafting based on need, you run the risk of overdrafting, especially at positions like catcher and LHP, which a lot of teams do every year. The Phillies don’t need to worry about overdrafting LHP, they have a nice track record there. However, if two players are equal, you always take the better athlete, or the player higher on the defensive spectrum, so SS and 3B are definite possibilities. This draft is supposedly deep at catcher, so the Phillies might be able to get a top rated catcher in the supplemental round or the second round.

  3. In no other sport does the mantra of drafting the best available player carry as much importance as it does in baseball. Since nearly every player drafted is at least a couple of years away from the majors, drafting on need is the definition of foolish, because your needs are probably going to be quite different by the time the draftee is useful.

    Draft the best players, and trade the ones you end up not needing for immediate help.

  4. Yes…draft the best players aware of yr needs. If we were to concentrate on rhps because they are the highly rated guys ignoring others who are fit to fill needs, that’s be no good. My approach is to draft/sign guys who fill needs who are ALSO high on the ratings list of prospects. If they are anyway close, draft the guy who fills a need..I say. The draftees are not far apart among the better ones…so drafting among the best to fill needs sems best to me…

  5. I would disagree with your assertion that “the draftees are not far apart among the better ones.” I think that certainly there is, on average, a bigger dropoff in talent from the #3 pick to the #4 pick than there is from the #156 pick and the #157 pick. Later in the draft is where you can select your own personal projects, guys that stick out at you for some reason and you want to take a flier on. In the first round, you take the player you think will have the best career, regardless of his position. Then you sort everything else out after that.

  6. I think you’re way off base on Yarborough. I see no parallels
    with Howard other than his size. He reminds me of a host of
    other big lugs whom the Phils have drafted at 1B, who have
    shown nothing (e.g. Galloway was a recent parallel from a small
    school). His age and his small school background work against
    him. The Phils made a big mistake drafting him so high IMO. It
    would be a miracle to expect success from him, but of course
    miracles do happen from time to time…

  7. Well, I didn’t really say he was going to be the next Ryan Howard, only that their backgrounds were similar. I noted that Howard had a much better debut, but CY actually had a better year prior to the draft than Howard did, which is why Howard dropped to the 5th round. He’s just as likely to wash out as he is to be a useful player, but if 2006 was just his adjustment year, for all we know, he could tear up the SAL this year, and his power potential is very real.

  8. CY had a better year before the draft because of rinky-dink
    competition, most likely. Howard came from a very good baseball school, where he had been on Team USA. He had been projected as a first-round draft pick, until his falloff in his last collegiate year. CY was a big fish in a small pond in college.
    I know you didn’t project him as the next Howard, but their
    backgrounds are not similar. The only things similar about
    them are their size and playing position. Maybe CY will start
    thumping this year, but I wouldn’t hold my breath if I were you.

  9. An interesting discussion: I say that when you are selecting yr first draft choice at #17…it makes sense to me to choose a guy at #19 or #22 because he fits a desperate need for yr club. If you don’t pick that guy for NEED, you will pass another draft year w/o answering a real need. Ad infinitum. Thus..no 3rd baseman because a rhp was rated at #17…when the 3rd baseman is at #20…?? Not my way. At #17 and #20, I suggest that they are VERY close in talent…and would help w a need rather than overstuffing a position already well filled in the system. Ignoring needs does not a competitive team make. Thus, if memory serves, the Braves could have chosen Chipper Jones or one of the leading other talents…who were a bit higher rated (I believe)…but they drafted Chipper because he would fill an infield need at the time for the team’s future. Probably turned out pretty well for them…other examples are legion.

  10. But here’s the problem. When you draft a guy, unless you are absolutely certain, there’s a good chance that player will wind up at another position. Burrell was drafted as a 3B, he went to 1B, then LF. Utley was drafted as a 3B, I believe, and ended up at 2B. Cardenas was drafted as a SS, he’ll end up at 2B. Also, in three years from now, the Phillies might be in position to sign a stud 3B at the MLB level, and then there won’t be a need. I understand your strategy, and it’s not without merit, but I think the draft serves as a way to add talent to your system, and you should be adding the best talent. If the difference is 2 slots on the draft board, then sure, take the 3B over the RHP, but if it’s a difference between #17, a RHP, and the 35th best player, a 3B, I’ll take the RHP. You can never have enough pitching, and at some point down the road, maybe you turn that surplus into the missing piece to the puzzle. Personally, I think you just take the best available talent at every spot, and figure out where they fit into place later. For all we know, A-Rod could void his Yankees deal after 2007 and become a Phillie, and then whoever we have in the minors at 3B will be blocked for another 4 years. Things change so quickly at the ML level, it’s tough to draft on those needs. We are weak in the system at 3B, but I don’t think we should sacrifice better talent to overreach and get a 3B in the draft. Now, if the difference is close, sure, take the 3B, but if it’s not that close, then I say go with the best guy. That’s just one man’s opinion.

  11. Thanks for the discussion. My aaproach is comparing possible draftees who are reasonably close in evaluations. Not to draft strctly for filling needs; rather, try to locate guys who do fill a real system need WHO ARE REASONANLY CLOSE to other rated prospects…not to sacrifice a #17 for a #35!! I’ve compared only a #17 to a #19 or #22 who, we must admit, are evaluated a lot less accurately –the guessability factor– than many would admit…;usually, at that level,and that close, they are really “toss-ups.”
    Appreciate the conversation…and I’m happy you’re doing such a great job on one of my favorite life’s subjects. Thanks!!!

  12. I think that if an organization drafts for ten years and selects a player in the first round who is ranked about 3 spots lower within their organizational rankings each year to fill some perceived need, that team will be clearly worse off than if they had drafted the best player available in each year.

    Comment #11 also applies to your example of Chipper Jones, Art. Jones was a SS all the way until reaching Atlanta. He also spent three seasons in the minors. I really don’t think there is any way the Braves drafted Jones as an 18 year old intending for him to fill their need at third base. Needs change much to quickly at the MLB level for them to possibly think that way. For instance, Jones was drafted in 1990. That offseason, the Braves signed Terry Pendleton. Need at 3B gone. Jeff Blauser was the SS, so they weren’t drafting Jones because they desperately needed someone there.

    There may have been some guys ranked ahead of Jones by general consensus of the pundits beack then, but I feel confident that Jones was the player the Braves wanted most at that spot, and it was only because they thought he would turn out to be the best player that they did that.

  13. In reply to comment #11 —
    No, Burrell was not drafted as a 3B. While he was a college 3B, it was recognized by just about all in baseball prior to the draft that he did not have the defensive ability to play 3B. He was drafted as a 1B/corner OF. He started at 1B on the pharm and moved to OF. Also, Utley was not drafted as a 3B. He was drafted as a 2B, with I believe, the comment at the time that his questionable D might force a move to OF or 1B. The Phillies later tried to move him to 3B late in his minor league career as a Rolen replacement.

    It is not at all unusual for a HS or college SS like Chipper to be drafted because of his good bat, with the expectation that it is 70+% likely that he will have to move from SS for defensive reasons.

    I agree, all things being equal you take the best available talent in the first round. But, remember that the primo picks generally end before pick #10. After that, you are dealing with guys who have significant question marks, great ‘tools’ but limited actual performance, or are tough signs. A guy like Drabek or Hamels with recognized great talent can fall to second half of first round due to health or makeup issues. Without those, that sort of talent is gone by the 6th pick.

    Picking at #19, I would agree that the odds for success of guys with pre-draft rankings of 15 – 25 are probably very, very similar and it doesn’t hurt to pick the guy you think is in that range that fills a strong need. If nothing else, it allows him to move through the org as fast as talent can carry him. I guess this is really only true for college talent. A college talent in the #15 – 25 talent range can be on the big club in a couple years. Unless you get incredibly lucky and the guy’s talent was totally underestimeated, there isn’t HS talent available in that slot that can do the same. The closest exception I can think of is Hamels who barring injury could have been in pros at the end of his 2nd season after being #17 draft selection. Even HS guys that make it from that spot in the draft are more likely to take 4 or 5 years. By that time, the big club’s needs may be totally different.

    Which of us can claim to predict with any kind of accuracy what the Phillies biggest need will be 5 years from now. I can guess 3B, C, and SS because I don’t see successors on the pharm, but we could trade for or sign a FA stud in 2008 who will man the slot for 5 years. If there is a good FA 3B available next off-season, I’m guessing the Phillies fill that hole for the following 4 seasons. If a good minor league 3B is available, we fill the hole for 6 years. That makes drafting for need extremely unpredictable. Or Costanzo could surprise me and develop into a superior major league 3B, in which case we won’t need anyone else until at least 2013.

  14. Ok, I knew Burrell was a 3B in college, but I forgot that he was moved immediately, and I thought for some reason Utley was a 3B, but you’re right, I was thinking about something else.

  15. Making this as simple as possible: check on our June ’07 supplemental pick. Suppose we pick at #55…and at #55 is a lefty power 1st baseman…and at #56 is a power righty 3rd baseman. Would you choose that 1st baseman, or the 3rd baseman? ANSWER: OBVIOUSLY THE 3RD BASEMAN…BECAUSE WE NEED A RIGHTY 3RD BAASEMAN, AND W HOWARD AT 1ST BASE,WE DON’T NEED THAT #55. Thus, picking the 3rd baseman would be drafting for NEED!! End of story…IMO.

  16. I think you have to always take a 3Bman over a 1Bman if they are that close. A 3Bman can move to 1B but the opposite won’t happen. I’d consider where the guy is on the defensive spectrum above what you think your needs are in a given year. I think defensive flexibility is more important than need when you’re talking about prospects at the draft level. Almost all of them have a long way to go before they are ready for the big leagues. An exception may be catcher since they’re pretty unique.

  17. The Dodgers are one of the organizations famous for drafting athletic guys with strong builds and turning them into catchers. That’s how they got Russell Martin, who was a 3B when drafted.

  18. Aren’t the Phillies doing that with Kennely? They also converted Ruiz I guess since he wasn’t a catcher until he hit the Phils’ organization. That’s a good point. I guess rather than saying draft for position, perhaps drafting guys who are capable of playing the tougher positions might be more correct.

    Teams used to draft and sign shortstops all the time. Mickey Mantle was originally a SS as was Bobby Murcer and a bunch of other guys. It makes sense because in high school the best players are often Shortstops.

  19. Sure, two players with the exact same offensive profile; you pick the third baseman over the first baseman. But if the first baseman is better offensively to the point that he is actually a better prospect overall, you should pick the first baseman! The guy wouldn’t be ready until almost the time of Ryan Howard’s free agency, and maybe the team needs a contingency plan for him walking. Even if he doesn’t, I can’t believe a Phillies fan is making this argument.

    You guys just went through this! You traded Thome for a good player in Aaron Rowand and two prospects, one of which helped to acquire Freddy Garcia!

    YOU PICK THE BEST PLAYER AND THEN IF HE MAKES YOU HAVE TO MAKE A TOUGH DECISION LATER, YOU ARE HAPPY ABOUT IT!! END OF STORY!

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