-- Each spring, we run the top 100 prospects based on the ZiPS projection system. These differ from Keith Law's because they're solely data-driven. While there are lots of ways to be clever about getting scouting information into data, a computer can't see all and doesn't know if, say, a pitcher's stats are weak because he was experimenting with a new grip on a pitch or if a slugger was playing through a sore wrist. But computers do see a lot of things, and they're quite good at sifting through large amounts of data to find patterns.
Where the computer projections are most interesting tends to be where they differ, so I want to focus on the players that ZiPS sees differently than Keith does. A lot of times, Keith drops the law on ZiPS, Judge Dredd-style, such as in the case of A.J. Reed or Jose Peraza -- both players ZiPS liked last year -- or Brendan Rodgers, a player ZiPS was cautious on. But ZiPS also scores some wins, liking Trea Turner (No. 11 vs. No. 28), Jonathan Gray (No. 33 vs. unranked) or Steven Matz (No. 10 vs. No. 37) from a data-driven standpoint.
One thing that you'll find different is that ZiPS tends to like low-ceiling guys more if they look to be decent contributors -- players like Kolten Wong. A few players are unranked in ZiPS simply because they don't have any professional (or very limited) play and/or no college-level experience. A computer projection system without data is like a cheesesteak without meat.
Note: Full Top 100 ZiPS prospect rankings are at the bottom of this column.
ZiPS prefers: Both Yoan Moncada (ZiPS No. 3 vs. Law No. 17) and Ozzie Albies (ZiPS No. 6 vs. Law No. 26) make the ZiPS top 10 list. Moncada's bat and Albies' glove both project them to three to four wins per season via WAR in their primes. ZiPS also has a crush on Luis Urias (No. 64 vs. Law unranked) because while the California League is hitter-friendly, it's hard to ignore a young middle infielder who hit .330/.397/.440. He has little power -- and ZiPS doesn't see him developing power -- but there are a lot of interesting names on his ZiPS comp list, such as Steve Sax and old Pirate 2B/3B Frankie Gustine.
ZiPS also rates highly two Law-unranked, power-hitting second basemen with questions about strikeouts (Travis Demeritte at No. 77) and defense (Willie Calhoun at No. 73). Calhoun may never be a good second baseman, but it still makes sense to keep him there as long as you can -- getting Dan Uggla's prime is nice upside, so long as you don't then decide to overpay for Uggla's decline.
Over at third, ZiPS likes Arizona's Dawel Lugo (No. 56 vs. unranked), picked up by the Diamondbacks for Cliff Pennington and perhaps not highly regarded enough for Dave Stewart to give away. The rudimentary minor league fielding data suggests Lugo isn't long for the shortstop position, and the projection assumes he'll be at the hot corner. ZiPS sees Lugo hitting .270 with 15-20 homers a year in his prime with a disappointing OBP -- a solidly average player for a while. One of the biggest ZiPS disagreements is over Richard Urena of the Blue Jays (No. 41 vs. unranked), but a .797 OPS from a 20-year-old shortstop in the Florida State League is quite good (league-average was .677 in 2016) and even his .266/.282/.395 month in Double-A isn't that concerning.
Sam Travis is ZiPS' No. 46 vs. Law's No. 98, but his ACL injury complicates what to expect from him. ZiPS likes that he hit for more power in Triple-A before the injury. Six homers in 190 plate appearances isn't exactly Kyle Schwarber, but coming up from nine HRs in 559 PAs the year before while moving up a level is a significant improvement. One thing boosting his ranking is the fact that he's in Fenway, a park ideally suited for Travis's line-drive profile (Fenway Park has been a lousy place for homers for decades now).
As usual, ZiPS stashes Dan Vogelbach (No. 100) at the back of the list. He has no defensive value and draws too much of his value from walks, but his results keep improving as he moves up the ladder, enough that he still interests the computer. That chance of offensive upside is enough to land Vogelbach, Bobby Bradley (No. 71 vs. unranked), and Rowdy Tellez (No. 79 vs. unranked) toward the back of the ZiPS list.
Law prefers: For once, Dominic Smith doesn't make this list (No. 31 vs. No. 29). Point to Keith; ZiPS always wanted to see more results from Smith than he was actually bringing to the table. He certainly doesn't look like a guy who only hit six homers in A-ball, but with a real power boost in Binghamton, ZiPS is now as much of a believer.
ZiPS still isn't completely sold on Josh Bell (No. 53 vs. No. 14), not seeing enough power upside at his age to give him serious star potential. Call it a whiff of Yonder Alonso, another highly touted player who just never developed the power needed to be a good first baseman in the majors. There are lot of good hitters on Bell's comp list -- Sid Bream, Orlando Merced, Wally Joyner, John Kruk, Frank Catalanotto -- but no real stars.
ZiPS remains to be sold on Vladimir Guerrero Jr. (No. 68 vs. Law's No. 48), but a lot of that is due to inexperience. My computer is not a scout, remember, and that's actually quite an aggressive rank for a 17-year-old with 62 games in the Appalachian League. But a .271/.359/.449 with almost an even strikeout-to-walk ratio is impressive, which is why he's on the list.
Amed Rosario moved up tremendously in the ZiPS rankings (No. 22 vs. No. 3) from last year (2016: No. 95 vs. No. 42), so I'll give Keith another point. I tend to agree with him more than the projections here. He's a lot better than his 2015 numbers, and I tend to dismiss them more than ZiPS does. ZiPS remains similarly skeptical of Nick Gordon (No. 84 vs. No. 53), who was clearly worse in 2016 at the same age as Rosario, translating Gordon's 2016 season to .234/.266/.310 in the majors right now. ZiPS projects Gordon as a .260/.310/.360 hitter in his prime, so he'd need to really be able to turn that strong arm into excellent defense at the major league level if these projections are close.
Jorge Alfaro (No. 70 vs. No. 45) appears to have hit the problem of offensive development that has stymied catching prospects in the past; .285/.325/.458 are not top prospect numbers, even for a catcher, when you're a 23-year-old in Double-A ball partially repeating the level (an ankle injury hampered him in 2015). One would expect more from a player with Alfaro's physical tools.
ZiPS prefers: Lourdes Gurriel (No. 63 vs. unranked) is tricky because of the difficulties of translating Cuban statistics to North American ones. The ZiPS translations for his last two years in Cuba -- (.255/.317/.379) and (.263/.313/.430) -- shouldn't thrill anyone given he's in a corner outfield spot in the majors. But the projections of a .270/.330/.460 hitter for a few years in his prime is at least interesting, especially because the variance on a Cuban player is going to be higher than for your typical Double-A player.
As long as he can play center in the majors, Clint Frazier (No. 9 vs. No. 27) projects very well, with ZiPS already believing he was a .700ish-OPS player at age 21 last year. That fact that Chad Hermansen ranks very high in Frazier's comp list is worrying, but there are a lot of outfielders with long, significant careers in his comp list: Dave Henderson, Ellis Burks, Mike Cuddyer, Austin Kearns, Lloyd Moseby. But if Frazier ends up in a corner long-term, .260/.320/.470 a year isn't quite as interesting.
ZiPS has loved Manuel Margot (No. 5 vs. No. 24) for a while now, and this looks like the last year he'll be on this list. Yes, the Pacific Coast League means you have to wring some of the air out of that .304/.351/.426 line, but ZiPS projects Margot to hit .257/.298/.375 as a rookie in Petco, which plays well if his glove is as good as advertised.
The projections still see Jesse Winker (No. 21 vs. No. 49) as a significant part of Cincinnati's future, and that's without the computer fully understanding the fact that he had a wrist injury for a good chunk of the season. If his power comes back -- and ZiPS is projecting it does -- 2016 will be forgotten quickly.
Law prefers: Eloy Jimenez (No. 11 vs. No. 36) has done nothing but hit, but he's not without risk considering he's a corner-outfield prospect who has only maxed-out at A-ball so far. That's not to say his projection is bad -- his top comps include Jermaine Dye, Hunter Pence and Garret Anderson -- but they capture that there's still some uncertainty regarding just how high his ceiling and floor are. If he puts up a .900 OPS again in 2017, he probably jumps into ZiPS's top 10 for 2018.
Anthony Alford (No. 75 vs. Law's No. 55) is way too young to write off, and there's the mitigating factor of injuries when looking at his 2016 performance. But a year is a pretty significant chunk of development time for a player his age (22), and you never like to see a guy lose 100 points of OPS when repeating a level.
ZiPS prefers: Stephen Gonsalves (No. 38 vs. No. 91) is one of those ceiling vs. floor questions you see when pitting projections against scouts. When watching Gonsalves pitch, it's hard to see the star potential -- he's a guy with a changeup and a bunch of works in progress. But all he's done is get results in the minors, so while ZiPS doesn't give him a very high ceiling, it's more confident than with most prospects that he'll be a plausible major league pitcher. Sometimes guys like this do surprise you (see Doug Fister). Twins fans would not be happy seeing David West as his No. 1 comp in ZiPS, but there are a lot of other comps who had careers -- Trevor Wilson, Bill Krueger, Terry Mulholland and Paul Maholm. Given what pitching is going for these days, an OK cost-controlled pitcher is nothing to sniff at.
Anthony Banda (No. 46 vs. unranked) is another guy in that good-performance-but-doesn't-blow-you-away category. He's got better stuff than Gonsalves, and you can't ignore a pitcher who handled the California League and the Pacific Coast League -- both hitter paradises -- within a calendar year. ZiPS projects him as almost a league-average starter in 2017 (94 ERA ) but never really sees him going far above 100.
Two pitchers ZiPS really likes are Jharel Cotton (No. 27 vs. unranked) and Luke Weaver (No. 30 vs. unranked). Cotton is old for a prospect, but he was solid in his cup of coffee, he struck out 10 batters a game in Triple-A, and his occasional tendency to allow too many home runs is counteracted by Whatever They're Calling It Now Coliseum. Weaver could use better breaking stuff, but like Cotton, he had little trouble striking out minor leaguers. A guy striking out a batter per inning is quite impressive when his minor league walks-per-nine-innings is a microscopic 1.6.
Law prefers: Surprisingly, there are fewer vehement disagreements on this side than in most years, most of the guys ZiPS doesn't like are the upside guys like Riley Pint (unranked vs. No. 83) or Kohl Stewart (unranked vs. No. 87) who either have very little professional or college experience or just haven't clicked yet in the minor leagues.
Like Robert Stephenson before him in the Reds system, ZiPS doesn't like Amir Garrett (unranked vs. No. 39) anywhere near Keith's rank. Garrett has a big fastball and is imposing physically, but he's never really had the strikeout rates in the minors to match, and his control can be a bit spotty. His minor league numbers look less impressive when you remember that he went through the easier Florida State League/International League route than the California League/Pacific Coast League gauntlet.
I'm taking Keith's side on Max Fried (unranked vs. No. 50), simply because of the fact that while ZiPS is aware of the specifics of Tommy John surgery, the team was cautious with him in 2016. That being said, you can't not put it out of your mind completely that time lost can never really be recovered, and he was a 22-year-old who was good, not great, in the South Atlantic League. Think of the computer as the devil's advocate here.