In the past, I've argued that Cubs fans should not only hope for the young core to be extremely productive, but that we instead should expect the young core to produce. I justified my position here in a piece addressing what should serve as a reasonable expectation not for a group of prospects but more specifically for a gaggle of elite prospects.
But today, I'm not here to discuss overall expectations for the newly-arrived Cubs prospects Kris Bryant and Addison Russell nor am I here to project the value from Kyle Schwarber, Albert Almora, Billy McKinney, and the like.
I'm interested in something different: development timeline.
Back in October 2013, I took a look at the expected timeline for Kris Bryant on my own blog. In that piece, I compared the timeline from a player's professional debut to his Major League debut looking at the total number of plate appearances each player required between the minor leagues and the Arizona Fall League. Using the extremely simple criterion that Bryant was the top collegiate position player in his draft class, I looked at the top collegiate position player in the previous 10 draft classes. At that time, Christian Colon had not yet made it to the majors, a feat he finally accomplished on July 1, 2014 after 2,198 minor-league plate appearances. I did cherry-pick the numbers a tiny bit to account for Rickie Weeks and Anthony Rendon making brief cameos in the majors as injury replacements before returning to the minors to finish seasoning. Updating that chart to account for Colon's timeline, we see the following numbers:
|Year||Player||Draft Slot||MiLB/AFL PAs|
|2012||C Mike Zunino||2||505|
|2011||3B Anthony Rendon||6||420|
|2010||SS Christian Colon||4||2,198|
|2009||2B Dustin Ackley||2||1,012|
|2008||3B Pedro Alvarez||2||820|
|2007||C Matt Wieters||5||693|
|2006||3B Evan Longoria||3||881|
|2005||3B Alex Gordon||2||577|
|2004||1B Billy Butler||14||791|
|2003||2B Rickie Weeks||2||909|
Is that a perfect method? Of course not. Then again, in the end, Bryant took 865 plate appearances to make it to Chicago, so the approximation proved rather useful. If we remove Colon from the calculation, the average number of plate appearances drops to 734. Bryant recorded his 734th plate appearance last year on August 7, at which time he had posted a meager .323/.434/.677 line for the I-Cubs. He surely wasn't ready for the majors at that time.
But I digress. The above got me thinking: just how unexpected (or not) was Addison Russell's rapid ascent through the minors to reach the Cubs this week? Let's take a look.
Whereas grouping the top collegiate position player of each draft together is easy, finding a clean subset for Russell is much more difficult. As Russell is the only high-school player from his draft class to reach Triple-A, let alone the Majors, we'll start with the 2011 class and look back 10 years. Russell was selected 11th overall in 2012, so I'll use the following set: high school position players selected in the top 15 picks of each draft.
This should give me a much larger set with more variance that the set provided with Bryant above. Nevertheless, only looking at players selected in the top half of the first round should still give us a very accomplished group.
There are 39 players listed below. The players listed in italics never made it to the Majors, and Delino DeShields, Jr. is denoted with an asterisk as he made the jump for Double-A to the Majors this year only by virtue of being a Rule 5 draft pick. The number of MiLB/AFL plate appearances listed for current minor leaguers is as of April 21, 2015, the date on which Addison Russell could no longer record minor league plate appearances prior to his debut because as of that date he had made his major-league debut.
|OF Bubba Starling||5||1,410|
|SS Francisco Lindor||8||1,774|
|SS Javier Baez||9||1,410|
|OF Brandon Nimmo||13||1,558|
|OF Bryce Harper||1||680|
|SS Manny Machado||3||928|
|*2B Delino DeShields, Jr.||8||2,384|
|OF Jake Skole||15||1,927|
|OF Donavan Tate||3||813|
|SS Tim Beckham||1||2,900|
|1B Eric Hosmer||3||1,241|
|C Kyle Skipworth||6||2,195|
|OF Aaron Hicks||14||2,312|
|SS Mike Moustakas||2||1,907|
|3B Josh Vitters||3||2,316|
|3B Matt Dominguez||12||2,051|
|OF Jason Heyward||14||1,003|
|C Devin Mesoraco||15||1,864|
|3B Bill Rowell||9||2,187|
|OF Travis Snider||14||1,302|
|3B Chris Marrero||15||2,589|
|OF Justin Upton||1||957|
|OF Cameron Maybin||10||830|
|OF Andrew McCutchen||11||2,215|
|OF Jay Bruce||12||1,492|
|C Brandon Snyder||13||2,407|
|SS Matt Bush||1||812|
|SS Chris Nelson||9||2,474|
|C Neil Walker||11||1,852|
|3B Billy Butler||14||1,664|
|OF Delmon Young||1||1,552|
|OF Chris Lubanski||5||3,521|
|OF Ryan Harvey||6||2,588|
|3B Ian Stewart||10||2,339|
|OF Lastings Milledge||12||1,268|
|OF B.J. Upton||2||1,013|
|1B Prince Fielder||7||1,929|
|SS Scott Moore||8||2,095|
|OF Jeremy Hermida||11||1,669|
Well now, that is one hefty dataset. There are two truly sobering names on that list in my eyes: Matt Bush and Donavan Tate. Bush, of course, struggled with substances and the law. Tate, on the other hand, struggled with injuries before substances got in the way, followed by another bout with injury last year. As an aside, the 2009 first round was absolutely horrendous for high school position players unless you were an outfielder drafted by the Angels: Randal Grichuk is still a solid prospect with the Cardinals while some other guy was named after a fish.
Looking at the larger sample, it's clear that high schoolers take longer to reach the majors than collegians. Naturally.
I'm sure you've all been wondering just how few plate appearances Russell required to make it to the top level. The answer? 1,234. With Russell's total in tow and the chart above, let's digest the data a bit with the following nuggets:
- Five of the 39 prospects never made it to the Majors in any capacity, excluding the more recent draftees (Skole, Nimmo, Lindor, and Starling). That's about 12.8%, including former Cub Ryan Harvey.
- The average number of minor league plate appearances prior to making his Major League debut for the players listed above, excluding those who never made it all (or haven't made it yet): 1,761. Russell beat that mark by 527, nearly a full season's worth, despite missing half a season last year with a torn hamstring.
- Only Harper, Machado, Heyward, Justin Upton, Maybin, and B.J. Upton (he was B.J. back then, not Melvin) required fewer plate appearances than Russell (and after getting a 177 plate appearance audition in 2004, B.J. spent his next 1,101 plate appearances in the minors). I know it goes without saying, but that is extremely good company.
- Weighting the players' statistics to account for the number of plate appearances each player received, the sextet listed above posted an average debut season batting line of .262/.347/.443. Those numbers are heavily influenced by massive debuts from Harper, Heyward and Justin Upton while Machado and Maybin primarily reached the majors thanks to their glovework; B.J. Upton appears to have made it primarily due to having played for one of the worst teams ever.
So what does it all mean? That's a ton of data with only some context, right? I'm left with three primary takeaways:
1. Russell made it to the majors really, really quickly. Only a half dozen prep draftees reach the Majors that quickly each decade, and Russell's peers were all somewhere in the range of good to superb.
2. Russell isn't going to walk like Harper, Heyward, or Upton, yet I could see him hitting for better average than any of the six listed above -- the best was Heyward at .277. That's an encouraging notion given the hope that Russell can approach the weighted .790 OPS of that group. If he gets there, we're all going to be very happy.
3. If you're concerned that Russell was rushed to the Majors, relax. The worst player in the group, Maybin, didn't come with anywhere near the offensive polish of Russell and had serious strikeout problems throughout his development, yet he has still produced 8.1 WAR thus far. The second-worst member of the group, B.J. Upton, produced 22.2 WAR during the period of his team control. Machado is at 9.6 WAR despite being controllable through 2018, Harper is at 10.5 WAR and is also controllable through 2018, Justin Upton produced 18.9 WAR through his team control period, and Heyward is at 21.5 WAR with five months remaining. The floor is very high.
Enjoy this, Cubs fans. Addison Russell is here, and even if there are bumps in the road as we've seen in his debut week, his peer group suggests that he's going to be really good in short order.