There's been a great deal of discussion over Michael Almanzar, and I figured he's be a great case study to use the prospect research I've done over the past year. I've written about this before, and I'm not going to write all the details over again - basically, I've used 15 years of data from every prospect in various minor leagues to generate a set of formulas that give a prospect's chance to (1) make the major leagues; (2) have some success while there (defined as >1600 PA and >1 WAR over a career); and (3) be a star (>14 WAR). All stars are also successes.
First, I use a player's OPS, age/league, and K% to determine whether they have a realistic shot or not - a division between real prospects and organizational players. A few org. players go on to good careers, but very few: on the order of 0.5%. Then, the three-point breakdown is calculated from OPS only - I'd like to include K% in the calculation but haven't worked out the math yet. OK, on to Almanzar.
First, a word about defense. Almanzar has played almost exclusively 3B through the minors. I'm not a scout so others will have to comment on whether his defense there is acceptable. I just want to note that my percentages do not take defense into account, so those with good defense at premium positions (SS, CF, C) should be given a bump and those with poor defense at other positions should be docked. I can't quantify this effect so far.
Almanzar was an international signing and began his career at a very young age. He played a partial season at age 17 in the South Atlantic League (level of Delmarva), which is extremely young for that level. He hit only .552, with less than 150 PA. Only 2 prospects have ever passed that threshold at 17/SAL: Carlos Fermin, who never made the majors, and Adrian Beltre.
His age-18 season was split between the NYPL (Aberdeen level) and SAL. He was young for both but hit well at neither (.590 NYPL, .540 SAL). However, again, he was young enough that this poor performance did not preclude his prospect status. Nobody has hit that poor and become successful, but there are relatively few other players who have been this young at these levels, and players that young have been very good overall.
He stayed at the SAL for age 19. Age 19 is STILL on the young side for the SAL, and for me a standard age for good prospects. Those who hit well at that age often become good MLB players; weaker hitters occasionally do as well. Almanzar his .670, which is near the middle of the pack, on the lower side. His profile at this point was very similar to that of a current Orioles prospect: Adrian Marin, though Marin gets a boost from playing SS reasonably well.
Age 20 was a disaster for Almanzar. He split it between the SAL and the Carolina LEague, and hit extremely poorly at both levels (.578 / .469). In fact, he hit so poorly that I would have dropped him as a prospect at that point and written him off as an organizational player. But he spent age 21 in the CARL (no longer very young, but still quite an acceptable age for the league) and redeemed himself, hitting .812, and at age 22 in the Eastern League he has a similar result (.760 OPS).
Here's a summary table of the chances of success based on that history of performance. The * results are based on a limited history of past prospects, and will have much higher uncertainty.
Up to age 20, Almanzar looks like a classic busted prospect. His early struggles were mitigated by his extreme youth but as he got older and moved up in level he failed to adjust to more advanced pitching. But then he somehow got himself together and had two good (though not great) years in the mid-minors.
Unfortunately, one major current problem of my prospect system is the inability to combine multiple predictions for the same prospect into a single current number. Should one year as an org player disqualify someone completely? How heavily should recent performance be weighted vs past performance? Should we look only at the most recent season? I don't know (yet).
Right now, Almanzar looks like a decent prospect, one who has the chance to be a MLB contributor with an outside chance to be a star. He's had two reasonable seasons in the upper minors, and (very good) players with similar age/league seasons include Jorge Posada, Carlos Beltran, and Angel Pagan. Less spectacular examples include Gregg Zaun, Brook Fordyce, and Nate McLouth. Perhaps the best two comps are two defensively challenged outfielders: Jody Gerut and Ryan Langerhans. Nobody would suggest they were stars, but they were useful players for several years.
If he were a normal prospect, not a rule-5 pick, I'd rate him as the 2nd-best position player in the Orioles system, behind Jon Schoop and just ahead of Ohlman and Sisco. That speaks more to the Orioles' weakness in positional prospects than Almanzar's strength. Those who wanted to dock him for his position and defensive limitations might put him behind Ohlman, Sisco, and maybe even Marin. And of course I have no data on how his Rule 5 status will affect things or whether he can contribute meaningfully THIS year - the chances are whether he will ever prove a useful player over his entire baseball career.
Almanzar wouldn't be a bad pickup as a secondary piece in a trade, or to add some positional depth in the system - he definitely has a real shot. But without the rule 5, he'd probably be spending this year in AAA, facing good pitchers and proving himself (or not). I doubt he'll contribute much to the Orioles this year. Is adding him to the system worth the loss of the roster spot? I'm leaning no, but I don't think it's an open-and-shut decision.
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