Baseball America has named outfielder Gregory Polanco (No. 1) and right-handers Casey Sadler (No. 11) and Nick Kingham (No. 20) to its year-end rankings of the Top 20 Prospects from the International League in 2014. The three Pittsburgh Pirates’ prospect selections were the second-most in the league and ranked just one shy of the Boston Red Sox’s four farmhands.
According to the publication, the criteria for qualification includes:
- Starting pitchers: 1/3 of an inning for each team game
- Relief pitchers: 20 appearances for full-season leagues or 10 appearances in short-season leagues
- Hitters: 1 plate appearance per team game.
Baseball America also writes “Players may qualify for more than one league list, and anyone who was rookie-eligible to begin the season can make a list, even if they exhaust their rookie eligibility during the season.”
After missing the league award requirements by a lone game (70 games), five-tool phenom Polanco earned due recognition as arguably the most dominant player in the IL during the 2014 campaign. In addition to leading the league in nearly every batting category prior to his big league promotion, his overall totals from the season were good for third in the IL (min. 250 PA) in average (.328), sixth in both OBP (.390) and OPS (.894) and eighth in SLG (.504).
Further breaking down Polanco’s impressive Triple-A stint, FanGraphs’ advanced statistical metrics rank Polanco with the fourth-best overall “Speed score” of 7.6, where a 7.0+ rating represents the top-tier, elite category. The site’s ‘spd’ stat is built on an average of stolen base percentage, frequency of stolen base attempts, percentage of triples and runs scored percentage, and its function’s output classified Polanco as one of just six players in the league (min. 250 PA) to possess a 7.0 or better ‘spd’ rating:
FanGraphs also offered backing to the Tribe’s 41-28 record with its star prospect on the active roster, crediting Polanco with creating 52 runs in 69 Triple-A games (or wRC). Put in perspective, Polanco’s run production over his amount of playing time translates to 46 percent more offense created (or wRC+) than league average, the sixth-best score in the IL in 2014 (min. 250 PA):
Sadler turned in a standout season to move from a relatively off-the-radar prospect to the IL’s No. 11 farmhand by the conclusion of the year. The Indians’ ace won a career-high five consecutive decisions en route to finishing 11-4 with the International League’s second-best WHIP at 1.19 and third-best ERA at 3.03. He paced his selection as the Indians Starting Pitcher of the Year and as an IL Midseason All-Star by working six or more innings in all but five appearances, authoring 14 quality starts and piloting the Tribe to a 15-6 overall record while on the mound
FanGraphs delved deeper into the right-hander’s strong year and also ranked Sadler third among qualified IL pitchers with both his 1.73 walks-per-nine innings and 3.21 strikeout-to-walk ratios. The ratings are a simple comparison of his 24 walks to 77 strikeouts through 124 2/3 Triple-A innings last season, and give an output that trailed only Columbus’ Tyler Cloyd (1.67 BB/9, 3.81K/BB) and Syracuse’s Taylor Hill (1.56 BB/9, 3.44 K/BB). In addition, the website also indicated that of the 48 hurlers to work at least 90 innings in the IL, only 24 – including Sadler with 11 HR/124.2 IP – allowed fewer than 0.8 home runs per nine innings pitched.
A fourth and final telling statistic from Fangraphs was reflective in-part of the right-hander’s 0.79 HR/9 ratio, through the stat of “left-on-base percentage.” Granted, the ideal effort on the mound will prevent runners from ever reaching safely, but once opponents were on base, Sadler limited potential damage to rank seventh among qualified hurlers via a 75.4 percent LOB%
*This stat is not calculated from LOB from box scores. FanGraphs’ formula is calculated using a pitcher’s actual hits, walks and runs allowed:
–> LOB% = (H+BB+HBP-R)/(H+BB+HBP-(1.4*HR))
Rounding out Baseball America‘s list is the No. 20 prospect, Kingham. The highly-touted righty was promoted from Double-A Altoona on June 12, and after making his debut with seven scoreless innings on June 13, finished the season ranked first in the IL in average against (.213), tied for second in WHIP (1.10), fourth in innings pitcher (88.0) and tied for sixth in strikeouts (65). He also authored quality starts in nine of 14 outings, including seven appearances in which he worked six or more innings while allowing no more than one earned run.
Kingham’s metrics, according to FanGraphs, reflected highly on the right-hander’s “Fielding Independent Pitching (FIP),” a stat which measures “what a player’s ERA should have looked like, assuming performance on balls in play and timing were league average.” As the name implies, FIP assesses performance strictly on events a pitcher can actually control – strikeouts, walks, HBP and home runs (singles, doubles and triples are not included because of fielding factors) – and formulates the metric “equivalent” of the more traditional ‘ERA’ stat.
Based on the website’s analysis, Kingham led the Tribe’s entire staff and ranked 12th among all IL pitchers (min. 80 IP) with a 3.72 FIP. His excellent mark was .22 better than the Indians’ next-closest hurler, All-Star and fellow Top 20 IL prospect, Sadler (3.94), and resulted in just a .14 differential from his actual ERA (Sadler’s was .91). Kingham ultimately yielded six homers, one HBP and 27 walks with 65 strikeouts to impress in both the traditional (ERA) and metric (FIP) measures throughout his IL debut.