02 October 2009

Marlins' Super Prospect Mike Stanton Not So Super

Hey, remember Mike Stanton?

No, not that one. He's retired now.

I mean Mike Stanton 2.0, or, wait, 3.0.

Mike Stanton extreme.

I mentioned him in my blog post about Baseball America's top 20 prospects:

Unlike his long-lived but largely un-exciting namesake pitcher, the hitter Mike Stanton is extreme in almost every respect. He's extremely young, having just turned 19 in November. He's extremely tall, 6'5" to be precise, with 210 lbs of muscle on his frame. He swings extremely hard, it seems, as evidenced by his 153 whiffs in 125 games, and also his having led the Sally League in homers (39), slugging (.611) and total bases (286). He also got hit by 11 pitches, not far off the league lead of 17, which suggests that he positions himself extremely close to the plate.

But lest you think he's just a hacker, he also walked 58 times in 468 at-bats for a respectable .389 OBP, very impressive for an 18-year old in his first long look in pro ball. His defense seems a little sketchy at first glance (five errors and only six assists in 107 games last season at Greensboro), but he'll probably be fine in left or right field.

The Marlins may skip High A ball and move him all the way up to AA to start the 2009 season, though it may be worth it to send him to the pitcher-friendly Florida State League (High A ball) first, to see how he does. The main thing will be trying to keep the strikeouts in check. Right now his stats look an awful lot like those of Russell Branyan at this age, so if he can't tone down the extreme nature of his game just a bit, he'll never last in the big leagues.

To be fair, Branyan has managed to "last in the big leagues" in some respect, for a dozen seasons, even if he has hit only .234 in them. The real irony here is that I wrote those words in early March, just before Russel Branyan started having the best season of his career. It's also worth noting that though Branyan hit .322/.424/.621 through the mariners' first 50 games, he hit just .201/.293/.449 in the next 66 games, a performance much closer to his career numbers.

Back pain landed Branyan on the DL a month ago and he probably won't play in the Mariners' handful of remaining games. In any case it remains to be seen whether those 50 games were a fluke or an indicator of Branyan's real talent level, but the preponderance of evidence is with the former.

I stand by my Branyan/Stanton analogy, and here's why:

Name Year Age Lvl G AVG OBP SLG OPS
Russ 1995 19 A 76 .256 .326 .534 860
Russ 1996 20 A 130 .268 .355 .575 930
Mike 2008 18 A 125 .293 .381 .611 992

Russ 1997 21 A+ 83 .290 .398 .663 1061
Mike 2009 19 A+ 50 .294 .390 .578 968

Russ 1997 21 AA 41 .234 .369 .526 895
Mike 2009 19 AA 79 .231 .311 .455 766

I omitted their rookie league numbers because Stanton only played eight games there, compared to 55 for Branyan, but the rate stats were very similar there as well.

Branyan repeated AA, but played only 44 games there, presumably because of an injury, and he hit .294/.417/.693. I assume that Stanton will start next year at AA as well, as he does not yet seem to have mastered the level, despite the accolades of American League scouts and Baseball America beat writers:

He’s going to be a franchise player,” said an American League scout. “I think he has a chance to be a five-tool guy who hits 40 home runs in the big leagues.”

It’s 80 power on the 20-80 scouting scale, a rarity for any player, even moreso for a 19-year-old. And there are few players with 80 power who can match Stanton’s athletic ability. Even at 6-foot-5, 240 pounds, he has a tick above-average speed.

Personally, I have my doubts about Stanton as a major leaguer, at least as a great one. He's surely no 5-tool prospect. The facts that he hasn't stolen many bases (7-for-12 in his minor league career) or hit many triples (8 of them in over 1000 minor league at-bats) suggest that describing his speed as, "a tick above average" may be overly generous. The fact that he only attempts a steal about once every 23 games suggests that even Stanton does not think much of Stanton's speed.

Stanton's defense is questionable as well. He made 10 errors in 125 games in right field this year, suggesting that the fielding tool may be lacking as well. In the majors, only Justin Upton made more than 10 errors in right field, and Upton's got the wheels to compensate for the occasional miscue.

Stanton did make 10 assists, which might mean he's got a good arm, but if he can't get to anything, what difference will that make? Generally guys who end up being 5-tool players in the majors are 5-tool players in the minors, and so far, Stanton has shown perhaps two of those: hitting for power and (maybe) a strong arm. Scouts have a tendency to fall in love with athletic-looking prospects, regardless of their real skills. Just ask Billy Beane.

Hitting for average? Well, not so much. He hit .231 in over 300 plate appearances in the Southern League. I'll grant that he was one of the youngest players in that league, but .231 is not good. Nor is striking out 144 times in 129 games. He had reduced his strikeout rate a bit early in the season, facing high-A level pitching, but then reverted to form upon his promotion to AA. this years one strikout per 3.02 at-bats at AA is almost exactly the same as his one-per-3.05 at-bats at A-ball last year.

The whiffs don't necessarily kill you. Heck, Mark Reynolds misses the mark more often than a blind meteorologist, and he's still employed. But even Reynolds struck out about 25% less than Stanton does when he was in the bushes. Scouts and coaches chalk it up to youthful exuberance, lack of experience, which might or might not be the case. My guess is that this is how Stanton has always hit, and he'll need ot adjust if he wants to hit major league breaking pitches. At 19, he's got time, but Marlins fans should be happy if they ever see him display three tools in the big leagues, let alone five.

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Anonymous said...

Mike Stanton was recruited by USC as a wide out, so I think 'a tick above average' is an understatement. So is Mike. Mike doesn't blow his own horn, he studies the pitcher diligently from the dugout between at-bats and always hustles.
The strikeouts are a concern, but in Greensboro they were a result of a constant diet of off-speed stuff- the kind of slop an 18-year-old meat-eater isn't primed for. When he did connect, there wasn't a safe place to stand in the city. MAMMOTH shots. We started calling them Stantonian blasts.
He knows he has a lot to learn. As he does learn, he'll develop and I think he'll be the real deal. Just an opinion from the bleachers.

Anonymous said...

This guy is a yankee fan. Of course he is doubtful of any player a team brings up through their system. I mean, how good could they be if the yankees didn't buy them, right?

haha. The kid is 20 and he already has 20 HR and 50 RBI's going into June. Beast.

Travis M. Nelson said...

It's got nothing to do with the Yankees, and you obviously haven't read anything else I've written or you'd know that. I'm doubtful of the future success of any kid who strikes out nearly once every three at bats in the minor leagues. He's improved that number significantly this year, but then he did that last year too, before struggling upon promotion to AA. Perhaps he'll struggle again at AAA, but then master the level next year. He'll still only be 22 by the end of next season, and that would impress me.

His numbers this year are impressive too, but 49 games isn't that big a sample size. Raul Ibanez hit .333 with 17 homers in his first 49 games last year, but only .234 with 17 homers in the last 85 games. I don't think Stanton is that kind of fluke, but I'd still like to seem him dominate a higher level for a full year, or at least not falter upon a promotion.