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Toolshed: Meeting, missing expectations

Urias among rookies reaching their projections; Reed, others fall short
September 30, 2016

On Wednesday, we tackled Major League rookies who, over the course of the 2016 season, topped their Steamer600 projections laid out by FanGraphs last offseason. In this edition of Toolshed, we cover those who didn't quite live up to their projected performances as well as those whose projections were fairly accurate.

First, a refresher on Steamer600 projections, a system that uses past performance and takes into account factors such as age and level to project a prospect's realistic Major League stat line for a full season (600 plate appearances for position players, 450 plate appearances for catchers, 200 innings for starting pitchers and 65 frames for relievers). Because of those sample sizes -- compared to the actual sample sizes often achieved by rookies -- these aren't apples-to-apples comparisons, of course. However, we can look at rookies with significant playing time in the Majors and see how their actual rate stats (slash lines, ERA, K/9, etc.) stack up against the projections.


Cody Reed: To put it bluntly, Reed probably would've fallen shy of just about any preseason projection, given his performance. The 23-year-old left-hander, who is on the disabled list with back spasms, struggled to a 7.36 ERA, 6.06 FIP and -0.3 WAR in 10 starts (47 2/3 innings). His biggest issue was the gopher ball; Reed averaged 2.3 home runs allowed per nine innings, well above his Minor League average of 0.5. Steamer didn't have high expectations for the southpaw, even after a breakout 2015 campaign in which he posted a 2.41 ERA with 144 strikeouts in 145 2/3 innings at Class A Advanced and Double-A. The projection system had the 2013 second-rounder down as a reliever who would post a 4.18 ERA and 4.43 FIP if given 65 innings. The rebuilding Reds aren't about to give up on the 23-year-old, though. If he can do a better job of keeping the ball down and in the yard, there's still a potential quality starter there.

Byron Buxton: If you were hoping 2016 would be the season Buxton would realize his potential, you'll have to be a bit more patient. The former No. 1 overall prospect was projected to produce a .258/.309/.398 line with a 92 wRC+ and 1.7 WAR, if given 600 plate appearances. As of Thursday, he had a .218/.271/.396 line and 74 wRC+ in 314 plate appearances -- not especially rosy for a player deemed the sport's next five-tool star. But there's hope. For one, he's still only 22. Second, the Twins center fielder has provided solid value defensively, as expected. Third, he's been quite impressive since rejoining Minnesota for September roster expansions, specifically when it comes to power. Since the start of the month, Buxton sports a .273/.326/.580 line with seven homers in 25 games (96 plate appearances). He had gone deep only once in his previous 218 plate appearances in 2016. So yes, Buxton hasn't lived up to expectations in 2016 as a whole, but if his end to the season is any indication, the Twins might still have their franchise cornerstone.

Jose Berrios: Buxton wasn't the only Twins prospect to not quite put it together at the Major League level in 2016. Berrios, the organization's No. 2 prospect, looked downright dominant at times at Triple-A Rochester (where he had a 2.51 ERA, 2.91 FIP and 10.1 K/9 in 111 1/3 innings) but struggled immensely over his 13 starts in the big leagues (8.61 ERA, 6.37 FIP, 12 homers allowed in 53 1/3 innings). His inability to succeed in the Majors has many scratching their head, given that the right-hander has three above-average pitches and showed impressive control in the Minors due to a repeatable delivery. His control has failed him at the top level, though, with a 5.4 BB/9 that is almost double his preseason projections at 2.8 BB/9. In fact, Berrios was one of Steamer's favorite rookie pitchers with a projected 3.99 ERA, 3.91 FIP, 7.8 K/9 and 2.8 WAR over 200 innings. Berrios also is only 22 and had earned an extensive Major League look for a struggling Twins club in 2016. But he's in danger of going from short-term worry to long-term question mark if his control and hits allowed doesn't improve in early 2017. Berrios is scheduled to start in the regular-season finale Sunday, and that could go a long way in how he's viewed internally by the Twins and externally entering the offseason.

Orlando Arcia: If you were expecting Arcia to become a big-time offensive weapon, you were mistaken in the first place. But after slashing .307/.347/.453 in 129 games at 20 years of age -- as one of the youngest players at Double-A -- Arcia was projected as an OK hitter in the Majors by Steamer with a line of .264/.301/.382, nine homers, 21 steals and an 82 wRC+ if given 600 plate appearances. Unfortunately, the shortstop best known for his defensive skills didn't carry his 2015 offensive success to the Triple-A level, where he hit .267/.320/.403 while playing in the hitter-friendly Pacific Coast League at even more hitter-friendly Colorado Springs. After being recalled to the Majors in August, Arcia hasn't fared better with a .213/.271/.340 line and 59 wRC+ over 203 plate appearances. With the offense being below-average, he's relied on his defense and baserunning to keep him from falling too far below replacement level with a -0.2 WAR. All the rebuilding Brewers really needed out of Arcia this season was for the 22-year-old to get his feet wet, but they have to hope things go up from here starting in 2017.

A.J. Reed: Reed was the toast of 2015 when it came to Minor League hitters after producing a .340/.432/.612 line with 34 homers and 127 RBIs in 135 games at Class A Advanced Lancaster and Double-A Corpus Christi in his first full season, and that performance was enough to put him in a battle for the Astros' starting job at first base in Spring Training. Steamer wasn't quite as bullish as some Astros fans hoped, but the system did think he'd be of some value with a line of .258/.327/.424, 19 homers, an above-average 105 wRC+ and a 1.2 WAR over 600 plate appearances. He eventually made his Major League debut on June 25, was sent back to Triple-A Fresno after a month and returned to Houston on Aug. 2. When the slugger has been on the Major League roster, he hasn't lived up to that description with a .174/.284/.278 line, three homers and a 58 wRC+ in 134 plate appearances. His .104 ISO is the first time he's produced such a stat lower than .200 at any level, and his 32.8 percent strikeout rate is also a high for any level. As such, he's being passed over by Marwin Gonzalez and Tyler White for playing time at first and Evan Gattis at designated hitter. No one doubts Reed's power profile, but in the Majors, the 23-year-old simply isn't making enough solid contact to tap into it. He'll have a lot to prove come spring if he wants to claim the first-base gig that once seemed to be his.

Right on

Julio Urias: No one expected Urias to throw 200 innings in 2016, given his career high was 80 1/3 frames entering the season. But considering he is a starter, that's what Steamer projected out for him, and with fairly solid numbers -- 3.73 ERA, 3.87 FIP, 8.3 K/9, 3.4 BB/9 and 2.5 WAR. What's followed has been fairly close. The 20-year-old left-hander has been used both as a starter and reliever for the NL West-champion Dodgers to some success. Over 74 innings, the southpaw sports a 3.53 ERA and a 3.22 FIP, which is well within Steamer's projections. (Note: These stats came before Urias started for the Dodgers on Thursday.) If there's one way Urias has beaten expectations, it's his ability to miss bats. Steamer thought he'd averaged 8.3 K/9, given pre-2016 performances, but he's done much better with a 9.6 K/9. Urias hasn't quite been a world-beater in the way fellow Dodger rookie Corey Seager has been in 2016, but Los Angeles is more than happy to see the southpaw meet solid expectations with plenty of room left to grow.

Jameson Taillon: Taillon might have been one of the most difficult prospects to project entering 2016, given he had missed 2014 and 2015 due to Tommy John and hernia surgeries. Steamer still took a crack at it and gave the Pirates right-hander a favorable projection with a 3.57 ERA, 3.53 FIP, 8.4 K/9 and 2.9 BB/9 in 200 innings. As it's gone, that's about as good as one could hope for as Taillon has posted a 3.38 ERA, 3.71 FIP, 7.4 K/9 and 1.5 BB/9 in 104 innings. While the ERA is lower, the FIP is a tick higher as the 24-year-old right-hander hasn't missed as many Major League bats as expected. However, he's doing a fantastic job controlling the baseball, a tool that showed great improvement at Triple-A Indianapolis, where he posted a career-best 0.9 BB/9 in 61 2/3 innings. The Bucs did their best to limit Taillon's innings in his first season back, and with the performance he's already put in, there's no reason to believe he can't be a solid Major League rotation option in his second season next summer.

Sean Manaea: Here's what A's fans knew about Manaea entering 2016: The 24-year-old left-hander was a promising talent who had come over from the Royals system in the 2015 Ben Zobrist trade and had sparkled with a 1.90 ERA and 51 strikeouts in 42 2/3 innings at Double-A Midland following the deal. He had also thrown only 74 1/3 innings due to ab and groin strains and had undergone hip surgery in the past. In other words, if the A's needed him for the full 2016 season, they could live with his Steamer projection of a 3.92 ERA, 4.18 FIP and 7.9 K/9. That's good because that's almost exactly what they got. Manaea has thrown 138 2/3 innings for the big club this season, posting a 3.89 ERA, 4.17 FIP and 7.7 K/9 in that time. The thing he strayed from the most was his control with his 2.3 BB/9 decidedly lower than the projected 3.7. Still, this is a case where Steamer600 can pat itself on the back.

Sam Dykstra is a reporter for Follow and interact with him on Twitter, @SamDykstraMiLB.