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Thaiss, Ward, Walsh, Hermosillo - late or never bloomers?

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None of Thaiss, Ward, or Walsh has been all that impressive so far, although none have quite been Brandon Wood duds (yet). Let's add Michael Hermosillo into the mix, as he is a similar caliber prospect. Now unlike Wood, none of these four were ever considered elite prospects. Thaiss and Ward were both first rounders, but very questionable ones, with the Ward pick--and infamous resulting Dipoto celebration--being laughed out outside the organization.

I suspect that all four of these players will have some kind of major league careers, even if probably as bench or platoon players. Maybe one or two of them settles in as AAA journeymen and only sees major league time sporadically, but but at least two or three--if not all four--should receive regular major league salaries and contracts, even if only on a year to year basis.

But the four of them as a group, I suspect there's a solid chance that one becomes something more: a major league regular, even a good one. Maybe even a couple of them. There are plenty of times that a player has arrived at the major league level and underwhelmed for a couple hundred at-bats, even a year or two, and then had a breakout in their mid to late 20s. The trick is, how to tell who will be that player?

Let's look at a few that come to mind.

First, Josh Donaldson. He was the 48th overall pick in the 2007, in the compensation range at the tail-end of the 1st round. Donaldson destroyed Rookie/A- ball as a 21 year old in 2007, but then was merely decent over the next few years as he worked his way up through the minors. After being traded to the Athletics in a package for the highly talented but injury prone Rich Harden, he debuted in 2010 as a 24 year old, playing 14 games. He split the next season between AAA and the majors, hitting .241/.289/.398 with a 1.2 fWAR in 75 games as a 25 year old. Looking at those numbers, at that age and with his solid but unspectacular minor league record, you wouldn't think that Donaldson would be anything more than a solid major league regular, if that.

From 2013-17, Donaldson accrued 34.4 fWAR, second most in the majors after You Know Who. He struggled with injury last year and showed signs of decline, but has had a nice bounceback season this year, hitting .259/.373/.518 with 3.0 fWAR. 

What about Jose Bautista? Bautista was drafted in the 20th round in 2000. He worked his way through the minors, reaching the majors in 2004 at age 23, playing for four different teams. From 2004 to 2009, he hit .238/.329/.397, amassed a whopping 0.4 fWAR in 575 games played. He was very much the type of player you pay if you have no one better.

Then, in 2010, something rather extraordinary happened: Bautista hit 54 home runs, tied for 20th most in a single season. It would be his best year, but he led the majors again with 43 the following year and went on to hit 344 overall.

One more: Jose Ramirez. He was a completely unknown Dominican prospect who signed for $50,000, and then burned through the minors reaching the majors at age 20. Then, over his first 180 major league games in 2013-15, he shuffled between the minors and majors, with a mediocre batting line and 1.7 fWAR. He blossomed in 2016 at age 23, becoming one of the best players in the game for the next few years. While his game seemed to completely collapse near the end of last year, he seems to be righting the ship and even if he doesn't return to stardom, should be a good major league player for years to come.

There are plenty of other examples. I was mainly curious about looking into the careers of various players, seeing if anything stands out. I can't see anything. I don't see any reason to think any of the four I mentioned will "do a" Donaldson or Bautista; certainly none are as young as Ramirez was, so he is less similar as a comp, but you never know. For every Donaldson or Bautista, there are many more players who never amount to much - meaning, whose early mediocrity was indicative of mediocrity to follow. 

But it is at least worth considering that when you have four players who look like merely decent prospects and don't show much out of the game, one or more of them might become something quite unexpected.

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1 hour ago, Angelsjunky said:

Mos Eisley cantina, baby.

When I was in high school, my best friend and I would pull up next to pretty girls at a red light and look at them seriously while blasting the cantina music on my Jeep's CD player. We thought eventually some girls would find that adorable. None ever did. Though once a cop stopped us because we were doing that in a "no cruising zone." He asked what we were doing and we told him the truth, complete with the music. He said it was the funniest thing he'd seen all week and let us go with a warning if we promised not to cruise anymore. 

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I used to always write off Taylor Ward/Josh Donaldson comps because I felt it was just a convenient pairing due to catcher to 3B conversion, but looking closer there are a lot of similarities in their production and timelines. Donaldson struggled in his age 24 and 26 seasons in the bigs (all of 25 was spent in the minors) hitting .232/.280/.386/.666 in 328 PA. Ward’s at a .565 OPS in half as many plate appearances. Donaldson hit well in AAA with a .812 OPS at age 24, .783 OPS at age 25, and then exploding at AAA at age 26, slashing a very Taylor Ward-ish .335/.402/.598/1.000 in 51 games before being called up to the bigs for good, and the last year he caught any substantial amount. Ward’s been crushing AAA pitching at an earlier age than Donaldson did. I don’t think Ward has Donaldson’s ceiling, but the power and discipline leads me to think that he could be a .250/.350/.450/.800 guy at his peak, maybe a Donaldson-lite without the defense. I do think it’s critical he gets out of PCL in the next year - either Anaheim or elsewhere - and gets a full seasons worth is playing time, bench or otherwise, or else he might get locked into PCL habits and stick as a 4A slugger. That said, if anyone was to become the next Donaldson or Bautista, it’s Ward. But it’s not likely. He could also be the next Brandon Wood.

Jedd Gyorko sort of comes to mind, though without the defense and of course, playing the corners instead of up the middle. Gyorko didn’t have the highest BA, but hit a peak a couple years ago with some good OBP and pop. 

He either needs to go to a team with low expectations and get a full 600 PA to sink or swim, or settle into a Gyorko-ish role one Anaheim, which does makes some sense looking at future depth charts. He compliments well when paired with La Stella, Thaiss, and Rengifo in some regards.

Edited by totdprods
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Matt Thaiss has always felt like the safer bat. His .750-.850 OPS in AAA was never eye-popping and was underwhelming to most, but I also thought that as a result, he’d have little difficulty posting something similar in the bigs, because his AAA OPS wasn’t influenced by a wildly inflated SLG rate. Ironically, Thaiss has now almost matched Ward’s MLB HR total in a fraction of the time. 

Mitch Moreland and Logan Morrison feel like good present comps, and past guys like Scott Hatteberg and our own Paul Sorrento feel like similar outcomes too.

The base result will be a decent everyday corner infielder or good bench bat, and due to the reliance on contact, will have a couple frustrating seasons due to BAbip misfortunes, but will also likely have a year or two with some big, unexpected numbers, also as a result of some BAbip/launch-angle luck.

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Hermosillo is sort of like Ward, in that ultimately I don’t think he finds his peak without getting regular playing time in a low-pressure environment. The bright side is his defense and speed are good enough right now that he could never find his peak and still fill the 4th/5th OF role just fine, but in doing so, relegating him to part-time play keeps him from ever finding that ceiling. Collin Cowgill seems a good comp - Hermosillo can bounce around multiple teams while early in his career as some hint of promise will remain, and eventually he’ll probably find himself in position to really help a team like Cowgill did in ‘14 when he put up a 2 WAR season for the Angels in their last playoff season. 

For those reasons, I think he’s best offered as trade bait right now. Find a team that’s intrigued by his ceiling and move him for a surplus asset from that team - Baltimore or San Diego for catching, Miami for pitching - and let him go before any value tanks. Brennon Lund presents a current, safer 4th OF option. He might now have the upside of Hermosillo, but we’ve seen similar players like Shuck and Willits turn in near-ROY/All Star campaigns in times of need.

Edited by totdprods
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We're basically on the same page, @totdprods. I think you're right on in saying that Ward and Hermosillo need a few hundred PA in a low pressure situation, and then both have a chance of turning into solid regulars. I also agree that Thaiss has a higher floor and will reach that floor more quickly. In fact, I could see him hitting something like .250/.330/.450 for the rest of the year, improving to something like .280/.350/.470 over the next year or two. Not a star, but a solid player.

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7 minutes ago, Angelsjunky said:

We're basically on the same page, @totdprods. I think you're right on in saying that Ward and Hermosillo need a few hundred PA in a low pressure situation, and then both have a chance of turning into solid regulars. I also agree that Thaiss has a higher floor and will reach that floor more quickly. In fact, I could see him hitting something like .250/.330/.450 for the rest of the year, improving to something like .280/.350/.470 over the next year or two. Not a star, but a solid player.

Yup - we already might be seeing Thaiss adjust - he's had a great last couple of games and cut his strikeouts way down - very small sample size, but cut his career into two equal halves and...

  • Thaiss first 6 games: 3 for 21 with 2 XBH, 2 BB, 12 K
  • Thaiss last 6 games: 4 for 16 with 3 XBH, 2 BB, 3 K 

It's clear he's starting to see the ball a little bit better and get some early jitters out of the way.

I also really like looking back at the career of our own assistant hitting coach, Paul Sorrento, a 4th round Angels pick. 
Sorrento didn't play 3B, but his age 22 and age 23 seasons in the Angels system look awfully familiar:

  • Sorrento, age 22, A ball: .286/.421/.467/.888 with 30 doubles, 6 triples, 14 HR, 110 BB, 101 K in 582 PA
  • Thaiss, age 22, A+/AA: .274/.375/.395/.770 with 27 doubles, 4 triples, 9 HR, 77 BB, 109 K in 606 PA
  • Sorrento, age 23, AA: .255/.366/.491/.857 with 35 doubles, 2 triples, 27 HR, 84 BB, 119 K in 604 PA
  • Thaiss, age 23, AA/AAA: .280/.335/.467/.802 with 34 doubles, 8 triples, 16 HR, 44 BB, 103 K in 576 PA
  • Sorrento, age 24, AAA: .302/.406/.545/.951 with 27 doubles, 1 triple, 19 HR, 64 BB, 95 K in 424 PA
  • Thaiss, age 24, AAA: .274/.390/.477/.867 with 17 doubles, 2 triples, 14 HR, 59 BB, 64 K in 372 PA

Keep in mind, Sorrento was playing these in the late 80's, and a lot has changed. Either way, comparable power, comparable slash, comparable discipline. 

Sorrento's first 213 PAs, spread over three seasons with MIN, weren't much - .222/.300/.407/.708 - a reasonable expectation for Thaiss' '19 here if he gets regular playing time. 
But when he was traded to Cleveland where, the first three years, he resembled the player we're expecting Thaiss to be, before he stepped up to a new peak age 29-31, before coming back to earth age 32-33.

  • Sorrento, age 26-28: .267/.342/.442/.784 with a 112 OPS+, averaging 467 PA, 21 doubles, 17 HR, 48 BB, 93 K - decent pop, good discipline
  • Sorrento, age 29-31: .268/.352/.511/.863 with a 120 OPS+, averaging 478 PA, 22 doubles, 26 HR, 53 BB, 95 K
  • Sorrento, age 32-33: .229/.329/.403/.732, OPS+ of 88, averaging 364 PA, 20 doubles, 14 HR, 52 BB, 117 K

I can see Thaiss' career following a similar arc.

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16 minutes ago, Angelsjunky said:

Sorrento is a decent comp. I remember him but didn't realize he came up with the Angels. Part of the Bert Blyleven trade. Hopefully Thaiss will be a bit more valuable in terms of WAR, though. I see Thaiss's upside as around 3 WAR.

He's the closest I could think of who offered the slash I had in mind for Thaiss. Moreland didn't have the OBP, Logan Morrison didn't have the power, and then he had too much power. 

Hatteberg was another good one, but wound up with more BB than K - not very realistic for Thaiss. Sorrento comes the closest - solid but not great BA, an OBP that's pretty healthy, almost even doubles and HR, with neither being elite, and then a good BB:K ratio.

At peak, he'd find a way to club 25+ HR for a season or two.

Edited by totdprods
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I suspect Thaiss will hit more HR than Hatteberg, who was more of a 10-15 HR guy and maxed out at 15. I think Thaiss will hit at least 15-20, if not 20-25.

Sorrento also played during the 90s, but his better years of 120 wRC+ seem about right.

A more positive comp: Kent Hrbek. Thaiss probably won't be quite as good as Hrbek was, but maybe that represents his ceiling.

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I would like to see Walsh get an extended look at 1B. He at least has some decent power and can always be used to mop up on the mound. He also can be used in the outfield on occasion. I think Thaiss will be a better trade chip going forward. Ward may hit some but his defense is atrocious. Hermosillo is a generic outfielder who is not as good as Goodwin as a fourth outfielder. All four of these prospects or former prospects are available in trades. 

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