A deeper look at MLB Network Prospect Rankings: Baez vs. Lindor

A deeper look at MLB Network Prospect Rankings: Baez vs. Lindor

Prospects lists are starting to make there way into print and on the internet again.  The one generating the most buzz last night was MLB Network's Top 100, which featured 3 Cubs in the top 50.

  • #16: Javier Baez
  • #39: Albert Almora
  • #42: Jorge Soler

There were two players: 1B Dan Vogelbach and RHP Arodys Vizcaino, who very likely garnered significant consideration for the list but for various reasons, they missed the cut.

Listing so many prospects and ranking players of different talents, ages, and level of development is more of an exercise in entertainment than it is in science.  Of course, that doesn't mean it isn't fun to read and talk about.

So that is what we'll do here.

However, we won't  report and rehash what MLB Network said.  After all, there isn't much new there.  This is a site that puts a lot of emphasis and analysis on evaluating prospects, so I thought I'd take a look at the 3 prospects, plus the 2 that didn't make the cut, and dig deeper into why they ranked (or didn't rank) where they did.

We'll start at the top with Javier Baez and we'll profile the others in the coming days.  I thought the best way to examine the Baez ranking is to compare him to one of his closest peers...

Javier Baez vs. Francisco Lindor

On the Importance of Physical Projection and the Certainty of Positional Value

It seems Javier Baez will be linked often with Francisco Lindor, who was picked one slot ahead of Baez by the Cleveland Indians in the 2011 draft.  It makes for an interesting debate because it is a study in contrasts.  Once again, Lindor slips slightly ahead of Baez in the rankings at #14.  If you look at the statistics, you wonder how this could even be possible.  Lindor hit .257/.352/.355 (.707 OPS) with 6 HRs  in the same league in which Baez hit .333/.382/.596 (.979 OPS) with twice as many HRs (12) in half the PAs.  If Lindor does have offensive advantages, it's better current strike zone discipline and more speed, but those things alone wouldn't be enough to overcome that statistical chasm.

The difference is defensive certainty at a premium position.  Lindor will be a SS at the MLB level as long as he hits and, though, he won't hit at Baez's level, there are indications that he will become a better hitter as he physically matures and gains strength. The tools are there.  Futhermore, because he will stick at SS, the offensive bar for him is lower than it is for Baez.  Lindor won't have to hit like Gary Sheffield to be a superstar.

This isn't to say that Baez himself cannot stick at SS, but from a physical standpoint, he is different than Lindor.  Lindor is slender and loose-limbed, possessing the type of athleticism that gives him natural fluidity in the field.  He has the type of actions and instincts that you see in some of the best defensive shortstops in the game.  They flow through the ball and everything seems to go in one easy motion.  Think about past shortstops like Ozzie Smith, Omar Vizquel, Tony Fernandez (who was one of my personal favorites growing up). Elvis Andrus of the Texas Rangers is a modern day example.

Baez plays SS in a different style.  He plays it with much of the high energy and aggression we associate with his approach at the plate.    He  attacks ground balls like he does  juicy letter high fastballs.  However, he does it with surprising body control, good hands, and great instincts in the field.  It's not the prototypical SS approach, so he's not as universally loved as Lindor in the field, but one veteran scout told me without hesitation early last year that there was no question that Baez could be an MLB SS.  He was the first professional I heard who said it with that kind of confidence and, as the season went on, I started to hear more and more scouts echo the same sentiment.

So while there is a greater familiarity and comfort level with Lindor's style of SS play, it doesn't mean both cannot succeed at the position as things currently stand.  The greater issue with Baez may be one that I alluded to earlier: the physical differences between the two shortstops.  As I mentioned, Lindor is slender and loose-limbed.  He stands 5'11" and weighs 175 lbs.  He has above average speed and figures to retain that as he progresses through the minors.

Baez's build lends itself to less certainty.  He's 6'1", 205 lbs. with a thicker, stronger frame than Lindor.  He isn't as fast and he lacks the same kind of range.  That in itself isn't a big issue.  Not many SS in the minors have the kind of range that Lindor does.  That's no knock on Baez by any stretch of the imagination.  Rather the bigger question is this:  Baez just turned 20 and is almost certainly not done growing.  How that growth manifests itself will go a long way toward determining whether the stays at SS or has to change positions.  If Baez fills out his thicker frame and loses range, it could force a position change despite all the things he does well in the field.  The bottom line, after all, is that you have to make plays, and if Baez's physical maturity ends up costing him speed and range in the field, then the question becomes whether he can make enough of them to be considered a true shortstop from a defensive standpoint.

This brings us back to Baez's most exciting tool, the one where he is potentially head and shoulders over Lindor -- his bat.  Both his hitting and power rank as at least a 70 on the 20 to 80 scale for most scouts.   That kind of offensive potential makes him a potential superstar if he's able to play SS at even just an average MLB level.  The potential offensive production at SS would more than make up for any potential shortcomings even if he loses a bit of range in the field, and perhaps one day vault him past the more traditional Lindor as the best all-around SS in the game.  If not, then Baez possesses the instincts, athleticism and bat to play just about anywhere and still be an offensive and defensive asset on the baseball field.  Where Baez lacks Lindor's defensive certainty, he has, by far, the higher offensive ceiling.

For now, though,  it seems that more certainty in terms of long term positional value have scouts hedging their bets ever so slightly toward Lindor, but Baez defensive play last season closed that gap tremendously with more than a few favoring Baez long term.  The two SS are likely to start the season in advanced A ball this season with the natural abilities to progress rapidly throughout the season.  It'll be interesting to see how these two very talented but different players emerge, not just in 2013, but throughout their careers.

Filed under: Analysis

Tags: Francisco Lindor, Javier Baez

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  • Not too nick pick but do the cubs have any prospect 51-100?

  • In reply to irish0625:

    No. Cubs had 3 in the top 100, all of them in the top 50

  • In reply to irish0625:

    No, they didn't. Just the big 3 and they all made the top 50.

  • In reply to irish0625:

    None-Im mystified why at least either Vogelbach or Vizciano didn't make it. Im guessing Vogelbachs physical size scares off some scouts , as does Vizcianos TJ surgery.

  • Better than in the past when no prospects made the top 100.
    I wonder how many will be on the list by the end of the season

  • In reply to emartinezjr:

    Vizcaino, Vogelbach are candidates. As are some of the young pitchers.

  • In reply to emartinezjr:

    Well - with any luck (hey - it could happen), one or more of these guys could get a late-season call-up when the roster expands in 2013, and they could demo their potential for 2014/2015.

    Is Jackson not in the top 100 prospects list because there are 100 'better' than him,... or because he projects to be Big Club bound for at least part of 2013 after his marginaly tryout last season?

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    In reply to emartinezjr:

    Hak-Ju Lee @ #56”

  • I know you don't care for "player parallels", but to help folks like me understand better, would you say that Baez is probably more of a Cal Ripken Jr. shortstop--steady, strong but not with great range, but effective in the field; and dangerous at the plate?
    (p.s. I loved watching Tony Fernandez in the field, and he was a hitter you didn't like to face leading off an inning, or in a clutch situation.)

  • In reply to StillMissKennyHubbs:

    He's not as tall as Ripken so he doesn't resemble him visually, but it's a parallel in that he's a player who relies more on instincts and anticipation than pure range.

    That's what makes it tough with Baez. He's unique at SS and it's one of the reasons it took a while for scouts to warm up to him there. I can't think of a perfect comp there off the top of my head.

  • In reply to John Arguello:

    Miguel Tejada maybe? I'd take that kind of talent and power.

  • In reply to StillMissKennyHubbs:

    That could work.

  • In reply to John Arguello:

    How would Baez compare to one of the better offensive SS (at least when he is healthy) like Troy Tulowitzki?

    Haven't seen Baez play anywhere so don't have the means to make a comparison. Tulowitzki is a bit taller, and far from a fluid SS in the field - but also won't kill you defensively.

  • In reply to drkazmd65:

    I think that basic outline is what you hope for if Baez stays at SS. He'll give you plenty of offense and make up for any lack of range with instincts, positioning, etc. -- and he can only not hurt you, but even be a plus in many ways.

  • In reply to John Arguello:

    Ive mentioned Jhonny Peralta and Hanley Ramirez as physical comparisons, but right now, Baez looks to be a far more talented offensive talent than either of them. Im in the c amp of I think eventually Baez will be either at 3b or a corner outfielder.

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    Actually, if you look at the rankings, it would appear Vogelbach wasn't all that close. He ranked the 8th best first base prospect in baseball, and Singleton was the only first base prospect in the top 100.

    The grades are pretty bizarre if you go into them. For "future power" Baez, Sano, and Puig all got 7's. So did Mike Zunino. Vogelbach and Soler, however, got 6's. To say that Zunino has power potential equal to Sano and better than either Vogelbach or Soler is, at best, questionable. Puig over Soler I also don't get. The "future tools" numbers also have Lindor as a better player than Profar. As much as I love Lindor, that seems like a stretch.

  • In reply to Mike Moody:

    When it comes to power, Vogelbach should, by his numbers so far, rank a 70 out of a possible 80 scale. Someone must not have been watching his numbers in the NW league last year, where his OPS was over .1100. I doubt Zunino will likely ever see those numbers, considering hes in Seattle and plays a demanding defensive position.

  • In reply to Mike Moody:

    I'm focusing on the Cubs top 5 guys and how they fit in more than I am as far as how they may have theoretically ranked. In other words, IF there were any other Cubs who were going to make the list, it would almost certainly would have to have been Vogelbach or Vizcaino.

    Puig is currently stronger with more usable power than Soler right now. He's older and more physically mature but if they're going on future rankings you'd think they'd be about the same. In the end it's kind of subjective. Maybe they felt it was just safer to rank Puig a future 7 because he's closer to getting there right now.

  • Based on the Cubs situation at SS, I'd much rather have Baez and his superior bat over Lindor in our system. I believe Castro is well on his way to being one of the better defensive shortstops in baseball. He's been put in a very difficult position of having to still learn the position in the spotlight of Wrigley field. Of course this will mean that in order for Baez to make his way onto the Cubs 25 man roster he will most likely have to switch positions. I understand why everyone says he profiles as a plus defender at 3B, but as we all know, the Cubs seem determined to find their third baseman of the future elsewhere. As we can all only pray Garza shows he's healthy this spring and the Cubs are able to land a Mike Olt type player in a trade, it would also mean Baez is going to have to find another position. I've said this before and I believe the Cubs brass has alluded to it as well, but I would not be suuprised at all if Baez moves over to 2B. While he might profile best at 3B, his bat could be dominant at the typically weak hitting position.

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    In reply to Ibleedcubbieblue:

    It's possible Castro will have to move for Baez. The Cubs brain trust doesn't have to make this decision yet -- so there will be more information available if/when Baez forces the decision on them. Castro would absolutely, no questions asked move for Lindor. He's a special defender.

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    In reply to Mike Moody:

    Theo has been known to trade top prospects. I wouldn't put the cart in front of the horse just yet. Roomers had it he part of the Upton talks with AZ.

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    In reply to Richard Cleven:

    If I were to cover every eventuality with every prospect in every post I made, they would be roughly 500 pages long.

  • In reply to Mike Moody:

    I thought of that as well. I still think Castro has and will continue to make strides defensively to secure himself that position. Either way, I love the idea of a Castro/Baez middle infield! We could potentially have 2 of the best hitting players at 2 of the weakest hitting positions. This gives the ball club a geat deal of options when filling in the remaining positions.

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    In reply to Ibleedcubbieblue:

    No doubt, Castro/Baez at second/third is maybe the best offensive middle infield in baseball, and certainly doesn't embarrass itself in the field.

    I'm dead serious about this though. As the second baseman takes far more double play throws than the shortstop, I'm fairly certain the Cubs want to limit the changes the other team has to spike Baez.

    This is getting way too far ahead of things, but *if* Olt or equivalent does come to the Cubs and *if* Castro develops the defensive tools to lock down shortstop long term and *if* Baez reaches his ceiling as a hitter, I could see him in left, where he would provide a plus glove along with his plus bat.

  • In reply to Mike Moody:

    Baez could very well end up in the outfield as well. I guess my point is that his bat would play better at 2B. In most situations, team's left fielders are better hitters than second basemen. This is the reason that quality middle infielders are valued greater than corner infielders or outfielders. It is much easier to find an above average bat in left field than at 2nd base. Who would you rather have on your team... Robinson Cano or Matt Holliday? I use these 2 players as they have very similar stats. In my opinion, Cano is the premium player because he hits .300 with 30 HRs and most importantly plays a position where no one else even approaches his numbers. Holliday is a nice player as well. But keep in mind Alfonso Soriano hit .262 with 32 HRs last year. I just feel like if you can find a premium bat at positions like 2B, SS and catcher it gives you a bigger advantage over the competition. I understand you don't want to give up defense, but my point is if Baez is capable of playing SS, why isn't he capable and why wouldn't we want him to slide over to 2nd base as opposed to moving him to 3rd or LF.

  • In reply to Ibleedcubbieblue:

    I see scouts who think Villanueva would be a better 2b than a 3b. There might also be others to consider, like Torreyes, Alcantara and Saunders. A nice "problem" to have, providing most of these guys show up to there potential.

  • In reply to Mike Moody:

    Agreed. Lindor would bump Castro off SS if he reached the majors as a Cub

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    From what I saw of Baez, seeing him play at Kane County (small sample size), he had better range than Ripken. Balls hit to left and right were handled with easy fluid motion. Has great instincts and does attach ground balls. He is still very raw................

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    In reply to Richard Cleven:

    Really, really looking forward to his promotion to AA. Can't wait to see the kid in person.

  • In reply to Richard Cleven:

    Of the all the SS I saw play for Peoria, I thought Marco Hernandez had the most fluid, natural SS actions. That's not to disparage Baez, who played a very good SS, I just like Hernandez out there as potentially best pure defensive SS.

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    In reply to John Arguello:

    As a pure ss I will agree. As a complete player Baez stands head and shoulders above Hernandez. Still too early on both to tell if either are MLB talent.
    Most excited to see Soler as advanced as he is.

  • In reply to Richard Cleven:

    No question about it. Baez is by far the better all-around talent.

  • Of the players ranked ahead of Baez, only three are infielders. So Baez ranks as the fourth best infielder prospect.

  • In reply to baseballet:

    Not bad at all. Wonder too if Sano will outgrow 3B. He's one big hombre.

  • Physically, Baez is in the mold of a Jhonny Peralta or a Hanley Ramirez, more muscular than lean, which is part of the reason many scouts don't see him as a long-term SS. Never seen Lindor play, only have heard raves about his glove.

  • In reply to mutant beast:

    Those two are pretty good physical comparisons.

  • Like the description of Baez attacking the ball defensively. Looking forward to seeing that. And when you say you expect him to still grow at 20, you mean weight and muscle right? Never think of guys growing taller past 18-20. Maybe some do but I'd have to think they're the exception.

  • In reply to Carne Harris:

    Probably not taller, no. Frame-wise, he's not a wiry guy. He has room to fill out and pack on some muscle. Good for his offense but it could potentially slow him down.

  • In reply to Carne Harris:

    Carne, I think you're right but there is one exception to that growth parameter right in front of us -- Junior Lake reportedly grew 2 inches taller last year. It caused him some back problems for a while as I recall. Junior is another guy I want to see develop this year.

  • In reply to StillMissKennyHubbs:

    He can start by learning some plate discipline, maybe his Buddy Starlin can pass on what he learned last year. Lake to me is the single most disappointing prospect in our system, considering his physical gifts

  • Off topic: Starling Peralta pitched in class A last year for Peoria. How in the world is a Class A pitcher going to make the jump to year long 25 man roster on an above average team? We should get him back, right?

  • In reply to plymkr:

    I'll be surprised if Peralta isn't back with the Cubs by the end of spring training.

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    In reply to plymkr:

    Good points.....if the Astros took him, I would be pessimistic about getting him back. But the D-Backs are a potential contender; either Peralta has to make a huge leap in ST, or the D-Backs have to give up a roster spot, or they have to play DL shenanigans.

    I personally think Lendy Castillo wasn't all that hurt last year, but doing that doesn't help prospect development either

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    In reply to Zonk:

    PS: This is also why I like our pick of Rondon. He's 25; at this point, he's going to make it or he isn't. His development arc should be just about complete.

    Guys like Peralta, without that big leap, you can end up damaging their long term development. I think Lendy's took a hit last year. He probably would have been better off personally staying in the Phillies system.

  • Do they have enough top outfielders in the system to pass up
    the top 2 outfield prospects in the draft?

  • In reply to emartinezjr:

    They'll take the BPA rather than willing to fill any organizational need. The good thing about OF is that you can move players, such as Javier Baez, if you need to. The bottom line is that they'll take the player who they think has the best chance to make the biggest impact. Right now, that looks like it's going to be a pitcher.

  • In reply to John Arguello:

    Is Boras's pitcher in a better, or, worst position than last year

  • In reply to emartinezjr:

    He has less leverage but it doesn't mean it's going to be easy. Boras will say he has value simply as the player with the best combination of ceiling and floor in the draft. Appel is going to get pretty close to the upper limit of what the slot allows.

  • In reply to emartinezjr:

    Considering he cant get a huge overslot bonus, likely worse. Appel probably should have signed last year, if he had proven himself a TOR pitcher, he would have made any bonus $ lost back. Sometimes Boras really screws his folks over-Im guessing Lohse isn't going to get $ over the qualifying offer the Cards offered him.

  • My favorite article yet, John. Have you heard any buzz as to whether the Cubs would've taken Lindor had they both been available? Think maybe Starlin would've been a factor and they would've gone with the bat anyway?

  • In reply to Ben20:

    Thanks. It's hard to say. I've heard they liked Lindor a lot but Wilken is his own man. He may have fallen in love with Baez's bat speed and it may not have made a difference.

    Much of what I heard at the time was that they really, really liked Dylan Bundy. Of course, he picked up too much momentum as the draft approach and it wasn't long before it was obvious he had zero chance of falling -- especially with teams spending money that draft rather than letting guys slip because of signabillity concerns.

  • What was the break down of the Top 100 from the various class levels?

    I bet most players were from the Double A class.

  • In reply to CubsTalk:

    Without actually counting it, I'd say most were AA or above, especially the upper portion.

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    In reply to John Arguello:

    Makes sense; AA separates men from boys, and is the real test.

    Though I am excited about our bats, I can't get too excited until they start raking at AA. When that happens, especially at a young age, that's a great sign....

    I have always thought AAA is more of a fringe veterans league; AA is the real prospect league

  • One thing that can't be ignored about Lindor is that he is almost a full year younger than Baez.
    He is actually younger than some of Almora's draft class like Byron Buxton.

  • Brett Jackson was #32 before last season by Baseball America. Now he gets no love at all. Was he that bad? Still has an .867 minor league OPS, and I thought he played a plus center field in his call up last year. He is still only 24. Me thinks these experts are giving up on him a little too quickly.

  • I think the Cubs will and should use a one step at a time approach with Baez, but ever there was talent with the confidence to not be overwhelmed at the highest level, it would be him. I believe that Baez would be handful for stretch run for the playoffs in 2014.

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