As we arrive to the home stretch, one thing to know is that the last three players are very much interchangeable. These seven prospects could be broken up into four tiers. Those within the same tier are very similar in value and an argument could be made for either one to be ahead. To make things easier, let’s steal John Sickel’s grading system. That would make Stanton an A, Dominguez and Morrison B, Smolinski B-, and the final three C+. What this means is that, like with Dominguez and Morrison, how I order the final three is a lot more towards subjectivity than objectivity simply due to its nature.
As far as the final three go, they’re all borderline starters if things go as expected, and possibly good starters if things go well, but if things go poor they’re barely better than replacement level players. This is the main problem with the final three: due to their age, they have less room for projection, and therefore their ceilings are not as high. Considering we’re looking more towards these players as being bench bats rather than starters, I’ve decided to go with Scott Cousins first. He has the highest upside out of the group, but he’s also the riskiest to reach his expected level.
Cousins was drafted in the third round of the 2006 draft. He has constantly been labeled a “break out candidate” due to all of his tools, but he has yet to put everything together. Still, he has been incredibly solid so far in the minors and after the jump we’ll look at those numbers.
He has shown very good power so far, especially to the gaps, but he has also constantly been old for his level. This is one of the main concerns regarding Cousins. After absolutely mashing in Jupiter in a small sample size (He would miss a couple of months after running into an outfield wall), big things were expected out of Cousins in the power department this past season in Jacksonville. And while on the surface he did well (.193 ISO), he did not show very much raw power with just 14 HRs. Also, as we discussed with the Smolinski/Coghlan comparison, triples aesthetically raised his .ISO but was not a true representative of his raw power. While his great speed allowed him to rack up 11 triples, if we neutralize those to doubles, his .ISO would have been just .168. As a 24 year old in AA, that is very far from being impressive.
Still, he should hit for at least average power at the major league level. His ability to hit line drives and his speed should also allow him to hit for an above average BABIP. His biggest issue is in his BB/K. While individually his below average walk rates and strike out rates aren’t at grotesque levels, combined they become a large issue. He projects to have around a 0.30 BB/K. Players with that low of BB/K need to have well above average power in order to be average or better hitters. In fact, last season Cody Ross was the only qualified player to put up a 0.30 BB/K or lower and a positive wRAA.
Considering Cousin’s age and so far inability to show good raw power, things aren’t looking promising in him become an average or better hitter. But Cousins value does not come from his bat. It comes from his defense. Not only does he have very good speed, he also has an extremely strong arm (He was a two-way player in college, and some viewed him as a pitcher in the draft). He currently projects to be about an average CFer and a +10 corner OFer, but he could also beat those projections. Taking all this into consideration, we get:
All in all he could start, but chances are he’s looking more like he’ll replace Brett Carroll in the coming years as the back up defensive OFer rather than a starter. CHONE is little less optimistic on his power, putting him at a .148 ISO/.306 wOBA, but CHONE is also projecting his rookie season and I’m more sophomore-ish. If his raw power does end up increasing in the coming years though, where we’re looking at 20 HRs/.190-.200 .ISO, this would put his offensive cap at about a .345 wOBA/3.4 WAR player, or basically a left handed Cody Ross with more speed on the base paths.
The problem is, what happens if the strike outs get the best of him? Low BB/K players are just not very safe at all, and his floor is probably that of around a .290 wOBA and 0.5 WAR. The good news would be that his defense would still allow him to be a good 5th OFer, but he’d be pushing replacement level.
One other thing of note is that while he has shown an ability to handle left handed pitching throughout most of his minor league career, he was horrible against them last season, putting up just a 0.28 BB/K (0.49 v.s. RHP) and striking out over 26% of the time. It’s a very, very small sample size but it will be something to monitor.
His season is NOLA will be one to really be worth watching, because if his power does come around he can be a very good player. And an outfield defense of Cousins, Mike Stanton, and Cameron Maybin for years to come would be obscene. Here’s hoping for the best.