WTNYDecember 06, 2004
Overrated, Like USC in the BCS 3
By Bryan Smith

As I slowly trot towards producing my top 75 prospects list (yes, I know I keep teasing, my hope has always been mid-January), I have realized that my own views on prospects are sometimes quite off. My instincts, the prospect list I sat down and made myself after the season, has held up fairly strong, but I think two main surprises are worth writing about.

In September, I wrote an article entitled Los Tres Enemigos, about the threesome of Jeff Francoeur, Jeremy Hermida and Felix Pie. The last paragraph of this article reads as follows:

Barring injury, I dont question that these three players will all be in the National League by 2007. Each should be great, though Hermida needs more power, Pie more polish and Francoeur more discipline. But age tends to help all three of those attributes, so I expect them all to start sliding towards stardom. And who knows, maybe my grouping will be grouped in the 2010 NL All-Star team together?

Right now, only three months later, I would like to retract what I said. Sure, both Jeremy Hermida and Jeff Francoeur are real, star-studded prospects, but one is just not like the other. Felix Pie is the sore thumb, the eyesore, the one not destined for a headline-catching career.

Since the age of 17, Pie has been hyped up by the media and Cubs organization alike. His story, of a very humbling beginning in the sport of baseball, was noteworthy enough to be remembered by lots of people. What we have fallen guilty to though, has been to look at these numbers, and assume that Pie was destined for the superstar fate of many raw Dominican players before him. What I am slowly coming to realize, is that is not true.

It first started to hit me last year that maybe Pie wasnt quite the next Vladimir Guerrero, but better suited for a leadoff spot. I guess a .388 slugging percentage, even in the Midwest League, will do that to an evaluator. Maybe it was the fact that his home runs doubled in 74 less at-bats, but I continued to think quite highly of Pie. In a state of reflection, I have realized that my thinking of him is far overrated.

This is mainly because that when his .441 slugging impressed me this year, it was bloated. As was his .569 SLG in the Arizona Summer League, when he was put on the prospect map. And even this, so was his scarily low .388 slugging percentage. These numbers are higher because triples take at least 25% of Pies extra-base hits. In the AZL, they took up an astounding 39.4%.

The problem with these numbers, is that triples tend to go down when the level goes up. In the FSL, the average team hit 34.42 triples last season, where the average MLB team 29.93 in about 40 more games.

Pie does have insanely fast raw speed, which also led to his career-high 32 stolen bases last year. I do think that will transfer into a lot of triples, but probably not one every 43.1 at-bats, like he did in the Florida State League. Only two hitters, speedsters Carl Crawford and Chone Figgins, tripled at a higher rate last season. If we assume Pie to be in the next tier, the #3-7 speedsters, hell triple at a 1/50-55AB next year.

While I agree this wont have a huge impact on his slugging, it will have some. His plate discipline isnt that good, and he strikes out too much. To me, he profiles to be a .280/.340/.400 hitter in the Majors. Not terrible, but definitely lower than what many evaluators are predicting.

But so Im not going too far on the ledge, let me say that this will not necessarily stay this way. Few players reach AA at the age of 20, so there is no denying Pie is special. The question, is how special.

To me, that same question currently exists for Carlos Quentin, former first-round pick of the Arizona Diamondbacks. While Pie is boasting a slugging highly based on triples, Quentins OBP is jacked on hit-by-pitches. This season, between the hitter-friendly California and Texas Leagues (and even more hitter-friendly Lancaster and El Paso stadiums), Quentin put together a .435 OBP.

In doing so, Carlos Quentin was hit by 43 pitches. If he did that in the Major Leagues, that would represent the second-highest total since 1900. Had Carlos dropped to normal high-Major numbers, say 15 HBP, his on-base percentage would be .404. Basically .031 points of OBP, at least, are reliant on being hit by pitches.

Like triples, hit by pitches go down as triples go up. While I did the calculations one day, Ive since lost them, but I can promise that there is a real correlation between level and HBP, going from a lot during A-ball, to very few in the Majors. But at the same time, I dont find it any coincidence that the same players are often at the top of the HBP leaderboards.

Ron Hunt, Don Baylor, Craig Biggio, Hughie Jennings. Nowadays, we have Jason Kendall and Jason LaRue. The same guysalways. Is this a talent?

To me, Quentin is most likely to be a .300/.375/.475 hitter in the Bigs. Again, it could be worse, depending on how much of a difference those Arizona minor league parks make.

OK, neither Pie nor Quentin in my top 40. Crazy?


USC is overrated? Let's see, first of all, they are undefeated. Every team has been gunning for the defending national champions who came into the season ranked number one, yet they beat each and every one, including Virginia Tech (one of the BCS teams) and Cal (a team that should be in a BCS bowl).

The Trojans also beat Arizona State when it was ranked in the Top 20. They pummeled a bowl-bound Notre Dame by 31 points for the third consecutive year and beat cross-town rival UCLA for the sixth straight year.

What else would you like them to do?

I think the two best teams are Oklahoma and Auburn.

Regardless of the system used to determine the champion, there will always be a controversy.
Why was the BCS developed? To rid the game of inherent voter bias.
So the BCS was created and people thought too much emphasis was placed on strength of schedule and computer polls. So what happens? The NCAA decides to go back to a format that again emphasizes the voter polls. So now, there is still convtroversy.

Let's face it, there is no perfect system. Even with a 16 team playoff, the #17 or #18 team will moan and groan about an imperfect system. (Look at the NCAA Tournament when the #65 teams bitches and moans for the next week until they get knocked off in the first round of the NIT).

I personally prefer a playoff, but with only 8 teams - no automatic bids by any conference. Get rid of all human polls and replace them with computer systems that emphasize strength of schedule.

From a baseball standpoint, I have C Quentin in my own personal top 20.

Quentin should be in your top 40. Pie, I agree, should not.

You mentioned Quentin had a .404 OBP, minus all the HBPs. I think you're being harder on him because the HBPs skew his OB stats a little. Let's not forget a .404 OBP is still very impressive for a guy in his first full season of pro ball. It shows he has the necessary plate discipline to succeed at higher levels. Add the abilty to throw, field, hit and hit with power, you have yourself a top flight RF prospect. I've never seen the guy play, but for some reason, when I think of Quentin, I envision Tim Salmon in his prime. Maybe his numbers just fit Salmon's profile...I don't know.

As for the HBP, I don't think it's a talent as much as I think it's a tendancy...a tendancy to dive into pitches. Certain hitters just aren't willing to compromise their hitting style, even if means taking one on the elbow. Some more than others.

I think that Utah and Boise State are the two best teams.

The "proof" is that all the other good teams were afraid to schedule them. (Yes, 5 years ago the opposing AD's knew what powerhouses these schools would become). :)

Unfortunately, the teams will never really get to show who is the best.

Bryan -

I rarely disagree with your assessments much, and I really can't quibble with Pie's placement. Prospect rankings are largely a function of ceilings and probability of reaching that ceiling, along with personal preferences/bias thrown in for fun. Pie certainly has a tremendous ceiling, but I don't disagree that the chance of reaching it is pretty low and that he should be ranked behind many other great prospects currently in the minor leagues. Your triples analysis was spot on, IMHO. I remember saying something similar after his SLG in Mesa was so obscene a few years back. Kudos to you for quantifying it.

I agree on Felix Pie, I'm nowhere as high on him as some other Cubs fans (some have gone to the extent of pencilling him in for 2006 or 2007, which I think is crazy - wasn't it just a few years ago that some were saying Montanez and Kelton would be the left-hand side of the infield for many years to come?). He's still a pretty nice prospect for the Cubs to have, he's young and raw and he could flourish in time, but I don't think he's anything ridiculously special. Projecting him to be the next Vlad Guerrero is as far-fetched as Brendan Harris is the next Albert Pujols talk.