Tuesday, April 24, 2007

PECOTA Likes Slowey

I wrote last week that The Hardball Times rated Matt Garza as having "good upside" (as opposed to excellent) and being "close to prime." Only a few right-handed pitchers were ranked higher than Garza. Kevin Slowey wasn't mentioned.

Garza is known for having better stuff than Slowey. Garza throws harder--in the mid-90s--while Slowey tops out at 90. Neither one has dominant second and third pitches, but Garza probably has better stuff overall.

Over at Baseball Prospectus last Friday, Nate Silver wrote about how PECOTA rated right-handed pitcher in 2007. PECOTA is defined as the following:

[PECOTA] stands for Player Empirical Comparison and Optimization Test Algorithm. PECOTA is BP's proprietary system that projects player performance based on comparison with thousands of historical player-seasons. Analyzes similarities with past player-seasons based not only on rate statistics, but also height, weight, age, and many other factors.

Interestingly, it was Slowey who came out on top over Garza. In fact, Slowey came in fourth overall, behind only Tim Lincecum, Philip Hughes, and Yovani Gallardo. Scouts may not be overly impressed with Slowey, but PECOTA loves him. It loves his super low walk rates and decent K rates. He has maintained solid K rates as he climbed the organizational ladder. In fact, his PECOTA card lists Justin Verlander as his number two comparable.

Silver makes several qualifications about Slowey, and I think they are accurate:

It’s easy to be a bit skeptical about Slowey's ranking, starting with his fastball topping out at about 90. Nevertheless, let’s keep a couple of things in mind. Firstly, PECOTA is not mistaking Slowey for a power pitcher (as it might have done with someone like Yusmeiro Petit last year). It expects his strikeout rate to be only about league average in the majors. Secondly, it recognizes that finesse pitchers have less upside than power pitchers....

Guys like Slowey are the pitching equivalent of Dustin Pedroia, players who are unlikely to be remembered 40 years from now, but could produce a surprisingly high return on investment for their clubs in the meantime.

Being compared to Pedroia isn't a bad thing, but it isn't great either. However, I think the comparison is accurate. Slowey should be very solid, if not spectacular, for the Twins for a while.

PECOTA likes Garza too. He came in at number five. Hopefully, Garza will be the pitcher that all the scouts have raved about and settle in as at least a very good number two starter. And hopefully Slowey will defy the naysayers and ride his exceptional control over his fastball to the same level of success as Garza. Who is better is not that important. What is important is tha the Twins have two outstanding pitching prospects that should become mainstays in the rotation by 2008, if not sooner.

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Matt Garza: Good Upside, Close to Prime

Over at The Hardball Times, Chris Constansio continued his ranking of young players. He ranks each player by the players' developments in relation to prime and their potential. This edition ranked the best young righties in baseball, with "young" being defined as under 25.

Matt Garza came in ranked as "good upside, close to prime." Here is what Constansio said:

Matt Garza's 2006 season began in the Florida State League and ended in a major league pennant race. Garza handled nearly every promotion with ease, as he continued to strike out over one quarter of opposing batters while walking very few at every level of the minor league. He did struggle with Minnesota, but I suspect that has at lot to do with his enormous workload increase in comparison to the previous season. Garza's fastball is clearly his best pitch, but he effectively utilizes three other pitches and should be a good major league pitcher for years to come.

Garza came in behind only Felix Hernandez, Homer Bailey, Phil Hughes, and Jeremy Bonderman (who is still only 24!). That's pretty good company. From what I've seen from Garza, he's not an elite pitcher. He can be a very good pitcher, but he's not in the same league as other Twins phenoms Johan Santana and Francisco Liriano. The difference is the second pitch. Santana's changeup is one of the best pitches. Ever. Liriano has/had a sick slider. Garza has a great fastball, but I don't think he'll ever have a dominant second pitch. He has good complimentary stuff, but nothing outstanding.

What does that mean for the Twins? He should still be in the rotation, despite his early season control problems. This is purely speculation, but I think Garza has struggled a bit with his control for two reasons: (1) the piss-poor weather out East, and (2) his attempts to throw more offspeed pitches, per Terry Ryan's request.

Garza has an excellent fastball and good control will make him a very good starter. Hopefully, he gets things together quickly so he finds himself in Minnesota sooner than later.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

An Explanation For Mark Prior?

Over at the Hardball Times, Carlos Gomez--the same guy who broke down Neshek's mechanics--broke down Mark Prior's mechanics. The frame-by-frame breakdown is really interesting. Very generally speaking, Prior's delivery used to be more powerful and violent. Now, he appears to be more ginger with his delivery, and as a result his tempo has really slowed down and his finish is much less aggressive. He's probably trying to protect his arm, but changing his mechanics--to me--won't help. In order to create the same velocity, his arm will be taxed more heavily. Either way, what a sad story he's become.

On a related note, I hope Francisco Liriano continues with his extremely aggresive mechanics. Those mechanics are what make him dominant, and unless someone can prove it was his mechanics that caused his injury, why change anything?

Twins Notes:
Carlos Silva has pitched well so far this year. He had a nice outing going again tonight until he gave up a three-run homer to Richie Sexson. Now he's just given up a couple singles to start the 7th. Silva has racked up a few K's tonight, which is somewhat surprising. He's still really hittable. I wouldn't put a whole lot of stock in anything Silva has done thus far.

Monday, April 16, 2007

Terry Ryan Returns to Mondale Hall

You can also read the following at Battle Your Tail Off, a Minnesota Twins fan site.

I met Terry Ryan last year when he agreed to speak to our Sports Law group at the U of M Law School. I wrote in my now defunct blog that Ryan was “engaging, honest, and funny.” I should have said “brutally honest.” In fact, when Aaron Gleeman linked to my blog entry, I got a lot of negative feedback at first. Many people assumed that Terry Ryan would never say the things he said about Nick Punto or the Kansas City Royals. Most people assumed I must’ve made it up, but a hoax it was not. Because he drew such an outstanding crowd—and because it was Terry Ryan, we invited him back this year. We got more of the same honesty and dry sense of humor, and it was another great success. So, for the second time, I got to meet my baseball hero.

Mr. Ryan arrived early again, and the president of our group and I (vice-president) got to chit-chat with him for about 15 minutes. When Terry Ryan speaks in front of a group, he pulls no punches. When he spoke with us, there was hardly any filter at all. It was pretty surreal, and at some point, I stopped and thought to myself, “I’m BSing with Terry Ryan. Wow.” We talked about Korey Feiner, a catcher at New Britain that I played against in college. We talked about how awesome the Rochester rotation is. I mentioned wanting to get down to Beloit to watch Chris Parmalee. He encouraged it, but prefaced that by saying Parmalee wasn’t even the best player on that team. He spoke pretty highly of Joe Benson as well. He also talked about his son who is currently a redshirt for the University of Minnesota, as well as his wife, who apparently went to the rival high school in Janesville, WI where they grew up. He was happy with how Silva has been pitching, and admits—and I agreed—that Silva threw some pitches against the D-Rays of a quality that he’s never seen before from Silva, including some very nice changeups. But he also refuses to read much into two starts. He’s also waiting for Kubel to starting driving the baseball in the gaps and over the fence. Until he sees that, I don’t think he’ll be fully satisfied with Kubel. He mentioned that Punto is already pressing, and you could tell that bugged Ryan. This entire conversation took place before his speaking engagement even began.

Ryan first went over the composition of the 2007 Twins. At the outset, he told our group that he wasn’t there to talk about anything law related, other than maybe arbitration. “I’m here to talk about baseball. I was a phy ed major, and I barely got through,” he said, and that comment was one of the many that received laughs in the hour-long presentation. First he talked about Ramon Ortiz. It was interesting to learn that the Twins and Ortiz’s agent had been in negotiation since November of 2006, and that when negotiations began, Ortiz was asking for three years, $20 million. When he stated Ortiz’s final deal, he did so with a little smirk, indicating he knew who won that negotiation. Ryan moved on to Ponson, mentioning his checkered past. “He punched a judge,” Ryan stated bluntly, again to strong laughter among law students. He mentioned that Ponson is in the best shape of his life at 245 pounds—down from 270. Ryan is concerned about Ponson off the field, but they are trying to surround him with quality people to keep him out of trouble.

After discussing the Twins, Ryan briefly discussed the rest of the AL Central. Cleveland obviously scares him, especially if they can get their bullpen figured out. But he said he hopes they keep losing. Detroit, he said, is the best on paper. But Ryan said that everyone forgets that the Twins beat them last year. He asked if there were any Kansas City fans, and quickly followed it up by saying, “If there is, don’t raise your hand.” He basically said that KC was getting it wrong. You have to build from the ground up, and that the Royals by giving Gil Meche $55 million were trying to build from the top down. He said that even though he was interested in signing him, Meche wasn’t going to take KC to the “promised land,” so KC would have been better off investing the money elsewhere. Ryan asked for White Sox fans. When a student in a Bears sweatshirt raised his hand, Ryan stated, “Well, at least I can see you’re a front runner. You wouldn’t have been wearing that shirt a few years ago.” Again, his sense of humor is dry and sarcastic and really funny, but I’m not sure it really comes through in the media.

He discussed being picked by most national publications to finish fourth in the AL Central. “Quite frankly, it pisses me off,” Ryan stated. You could tell it did.

After briefly mentioning the importance of health this season, he talked about the Liriano. He called his stuff “electric” and mentioned that he had no idea what he was getting when he acquired Liriano. Apparently Liriano and his injuries had been a headache for San Francisco, so they were willing to throw him in the deal. For Ryan, Nathan was the centerpiece, and Boof! was the number two guy. Liriano was a throw in. He used Liriano’s experience to segue into the David Ortiz fiasco. The bottom line, Ryan said, was that he didn’t think Ortiz would ever do much. However, he defends himself by saying the rest of the league could have had him for a few months before Boston signed him. “I’m not the most stupid guy,” Ryan said. In a related note specifically for the BYTO crowd, Ryan was discussing international players later. He mentioned that it’s hard to keep track of names from players from the Dominican Republic. “First they’re Ortiz, then they’re Arias, then they’re Rodriguez.” For those of you that don’t get it, Google David Arias.

Ryan then talked about contracts. He said the most important thing to know is when to walk away. At this point, he said that there haven’t been any players that he let walk that have gone somewhere else and had success. He loved Koskie, but the money and years weren’t right. He said that Sid often gives him a hard time about Koskie, but “Sid doesn’t have the facts straight, which isn’t unlike Sid.” More laughter.

Arbitration is an interesting subject for a burgeoning lawyer. Ryan is still salty about losing to Kyle Lohse, which I wrote about last year. He still states Lohse’s 2006 salary--.$3.95 million—through gritted teeth. He said arbitration is “the damndest thing—you say how horrible the player is, then at the end you shake hands and walk away.” The Twins had six arbitration eligible players this offseason, which was the most in the major leagues. Ryan mentioned that one of the biggest reasons that he and Michael Cuddyer settled prior to arbitration was because he didn’t want to take Cuddy through that process. As they sat in the room together, he took Cuddy’s agent out in the hall and struck a deal. Ryan gave three reasons for coming together with Cuddy: (1) Cuddy is one of the “nicest humans” he’s ever met; (2) he had a good year in 2006; and (3) he wants the Twins to have a long-term association with Cuddyer, considering the costs of the arbitration on Cuddy and the possible negative relationship that could result. In summing up arbitration, Ryan stated, “I pay lawyers $200 an hour to go through stats…what a racket!” I agree, and I also want to know where I can apply for that job.

After a brief discussion of early season scheduling and Jackie Robinson Day, Mr. Ryan took questions from our audience.

New Park Dimensions and Left-Handed Hitters: The new park is friendly to lefties, and the dimensions are similar to the Dome. They hoped for this, as now they will not have to change their drafting strategy. Contrary to popular opinion, he says the Dome is not a home run park. In the new stadium, they just wanted it to play fairly, not like Seattle (where it’s hard to hit a homer) and Houston (where it’s easy).

Other 2006 Free Agents on His Wish List: He first mentioned Dice-K, but when the Red Sox were bidding, they were out of it. He went through the rundown of available pitchers, mentioning that most ended up being too expensive. He did have many conversations with Tomo Ohka’s agent, stating that Ohka’s agent was “on speed dial.” However, Ryan felt that Ohka was “a little injury prone.”

If Cirillo is Out, Will We Get Another Bat: “No. I’ve spent all my money.”

Regarding International Scouting: They are huge in Venezuela, the biggest in Australia, and behind in the Dominican Republic. However, they are working to improve their standing in DR. Right now, he said there are a few guys in A-ball from DR he is pretty optimistic about.

Regarding Jason Bartlett: Ryan has no input on lineups—that’s all Gardy’s fault—I mean choice (my words, not Ryan’s). Gardy wanted to play Casilla because Alexi hadn’t really played much since March and needed some time. Ryan mentioned that no one protects players better than Gardy. The media scrutiny can be tough on players as well as the manager. Gardy has to be somewhat conscious of that. For example, the headline the other day “Bartlett Benched” wasn’t true—he just needed a breather. However, Ryan gave little credence to the notion that Bartlett’s knees are hurting. “He’s 27, not 37.” The media can be problematic, mentioning that the recent allegations about Santana are driving him “wacko.” Bloggers calling him and asking him for information can be a “pain in the ass.” He tries to accommodate everyone, and he has “enough trouble with Sid.”

Regarding Organizational Philosophy: The Twins don’t keep guys around who don’t follow the program. When they are young and in the minors, he has lots of leverage—he can cut them. He used a male law student’s longer haircut as an example. He said that if he saw that guy with hair like that, he’d tell him to get it cut. There is no chewing allowed, as well as no earrings. No baggie uniforms or colored shoes. He doesn’t know if all that is right—in fact he said it probably wasn’t—but it taught discipline. The Twins draft lots of new players each year, and he doesn’t want individualists.

Why Do the Vikings and T-Wolves Suck?: The Vikings have had lots of turnover. However, Minneapolis/St. Paul is a Vikings town. Ryan doesn’t know Kevin McHale, but he said the T-Wolves have the “best player in sports” in Kevin Garnett. Ryan said that KG reminds him of Puckett in how hard they play and how they play the same every day, no matter the circumstances of the game. He mentioned that he’s really happy to see lots of good things going on at the U of M with Tubby and Brewster.

Is Johan Going to Get a Long Term Deal?: “He’s signed through this year and next.” Apparently there are limits to Mr. Ryan’s openness. Re: Hunter—“We’ll see what happens. He’s under contract right now.”

Alexander Smit: He’s a “slow mover” and a “lefty with multiple gears.” When will we see him? “As soon as he dominates some leagues.” “He looks about 12.” TR mentioned he has a good head on his shoulders and lots of patience. His Dutch parents raised him right.

Process for Determining Compensation Amounts: I wrote about this quite a bit for last year’s visit. He uses a two through eight system for attributing ability to money. Certain amounts of money are equated to each number. Ford is a four, Punto is a five, Cuddy is a six, Hunter is a seven, and Johan is an eight. Jokingly, he said, “It’s a science.” Generally speaking, an eight is a $10 million or more player, and he won’t go beyond his scale. Ryan is more concerned with the length of a contract than the dollars of a contract. “There are no bad one year deals.” Long term deals can handcuff franchises, and he never wants to do that. He said you never sign a pitcher for more than four years, though “you might get an argument from a lefty,” insinuating Santana. He mentioned that he might make exceptions. He hasn’t done too many bad contracts, with the exception of Joe Mays.

Too Many Good Young Arms?: They are not in the market for free agent pitchers, ever. You can never have too many, and he would rarely trade a good young pitcher. I agree 100% in this regard, and drafting and developing young pitching has been the number one reason the Twins have remained competitive.

Dealing with Agents and other GMs: There are some GMs and agents that he can’t stand, but you can’t let personalities get in the way of getting deals done. He also hates it when “scumbag” agents steal clients, especially when those agents have stuck with their client all through the minors until the player actually earns a big payday. He advises players to stay with the guy who’s been there for them, not the guy who is offering “shortcuts.” Mr. Ryan believes in “loyalty, if nothing else.” Most people who follow the Twins would agree, and sometimes some may say that Ryan can be loyal to a fault. My guess is Ryan doesn’t see it that way.

Evaluating Defense: Ryan doesn’t believe in statistical analysis for fielding. He uses what his eyes and his scouts’ eyes can see, using a two through eight scale. He mentioned that a guy like Tyner looks like he’s a good outfielder and that the stats might say he is; however, he’s not good in center field, and he can’t throw very well. I didn’t tell him that the stats as well as the scouts show that Tyner “takes routes through Roseville,” as some might say. With regard to statistics, Mr. Ryan said, “You can make stats dance.” A Sabermetrician, Terry Ryan is not.

Mr. Ryan really seems to enjoy being in an academic environment, and he genuinely seemed honored to be there. However, there is no doubt that we who attended were the lucky ones. I’ll leave you with the best quote of the day, and one that I feel that really sums up what having a conversation with Terry Ryan feels like: “I throw millions of dollars around like they are quarters. And that’s hard for me because I like quarters.” This quote is Terry Ryan in a nutshell. He’s sarcastic and funny, honest and engaging. I’d work for him for free, though I doubt my wife would go for that.

Friday, April 13, 2007

Developing Pitching Prospects

I read two articles yesterday from Baseball Prospectus (subscribe--it's worth $4.95 per month). The first was entitled "How Sure is a 'Sure Thing'"? published on May 9, 2002 and written by Paul Covert. The second, written by Nate Silver, was published yesterday, and it dealt with PECOTA and left-handed pitching prospects, while also somewhat revisiting the first article.

PECOTA and Baseball America both rate and rank prospects. Baseball America has always ranked pitchers very high--often too high given the high rate of injuries that pitchers have. Silver's article points out that PECOTA's rankings and projections may have been too tough on pitching prospects last season. Francisco Liriano came out ranked only #15 on PECOTA's list, despite being #6 on Baseball America's list. Silver offers some explanation for why BA was more successful in 2006 at projecting pitching prospects than it was in the 1990s, when three-quarters of BA's top pitching prospects had careers shortened by injury.

Silver's article builds somewhat on Covert's article from 2002. The point of Covert's article was that pitching prospects are hit-and-miss, to say the least. In general, Covert points out that hitting prospects are much more likely to succeed in the majors. He offers several concluding points, which I found very interesting.

His first conclusion is that a pitching prospect can rarely be the best prospect in baseball:

What now? Should we say, along with Sheehan, that "the phrase 'spectacular pitching prospect' is an oxymoron"?

I, for one, would agree very strongly. The data certainly support it, at least based on eight years of BA rankings. There's just too much that can go wrong with a pitcher, and if that's true for pitchers in general, it's doubly or triply true for pitchers signed out of North American high schools.

This statement relates to the first article: Baseball America appears to have gotten alot better at rating pitching prospects, and Silver speculates that it is because of BA's improved reliance on statistics and pitcher workloads. The point is that pitching prospects are risky. Look at recent prospects. Mark Prior and Kerry Wood come to mind immediately. For the Twins, there is Adam Johnson and possibly (but hopefully not) Francisco Liriano.

So how is the fragility and uncertainty of pitching prospects related to actual development of pitching depth and quality for major league franchises? Covert poses this question:

This raises the question: How can a team build a pitching staff? One way, of course, is to spend for veterans; if you can trade for an impending free agent like Roger Clemens and sign him to an extension, and then go get Mike Mussina when he hits the market, that will take a lot of the uncertainty out of the process.

But what can a more budget-limited franchise do? Build a young-guns rotation through the farm system? That's a risky proposition.

This is where I completely disagree with Covert's proposition. If you can't afford "sure thing" pitchers in free agency, then you have no choice but to develop your own pitching. And in order to give yourself the odds of actually developing a few that become successful major league pitchers, you need to draft and develop hordes of them, in hopes that if you can get 3-4 very good prospects every few years. Of those three or four, hopefully one or two end up working in your rotation. When the Gil Meche's of the world command eight figure salaries, filling 20 to 40 percent of your rotation with players making the league minimum is huge for a small market team. In addition to drafting and developing a bunch of pitchers, you need to avoid trading them before you are pretty sure they don't have a place on your 25 man roster. Trading even one hurts the depth that you will need, given the uncertainty of pitching prospects. Having five guys who may or may not work in your pitching staff is better than having four or three.

To me, this appears to be the Twins latest--and in my opinion, best--strategy. As we stand today, the Twins have--in their system right now--five pitchers age 25 or under that are major league ready, or very close to it: Boof Bonser, Scott Baker, Kevin Slowey, Glen Perkins, and Matt Garza. A sixth--Liriano--should be back next year. Baker appears to have lost favor with the organization, so they have moved on to Bonser. Garza or Perkins could be next. If one or both falter over the next few seasons, Slowey gets his shot. Add in some of the depth the Twins have in the lower levels of the minors, and you have what you need to compete on a lower budget. This stockpiling of pitching makes sense. So does refusing to trade them.

If two or three or--let's hope--four work out, then the Twins are much more likely to be able to afford Johan Santana's extension. I could imagine a rotation in 2010 costing 25 million dollars--23 for Johan, and relative pennies for the rest.

The Twins do need to start developing more hitters. Their three best hitting prospects are all now in the majors--Mauer, Morneau, and Kubel, and the organization is pretty dry for an impact bat until you get to Low A Beloit and Chris Parmalee. However, the development of strong pitching from within the organization is NOT risky. It is what will make this franchise competitive for years to come.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Pat Neshek's Mechanics

Over at the Baseball Think Factory, one scout did an analysis of Pat Neshek's mechanics. It is called "Bringing Some Sidearm Cheese." I've often wondered myself how Neshek was able to deliver with such velocity for someone who threw with unconventional mechanics. I hesitate to say that Neshek is a side-armer or submariner; he is, but he's different.

The scout gives three reasons why Neshek can throw hard for a side-armer. Reason one is his tempo. Tempo is something that I was introduced to in another article a few weeks ago. My understanding of tempo for a pitcher is how quickly the pitcher gets rid of the ball once he begins his delivery to home (when he separates his hands). And Neshek does do that well.

Reason two is Neshek's ability to "scap load." The frames in the article are somewhat amazing. Neshek really gets his elbows back. He needs to be very flexible to get his elbows it that position before delivery. It also seems to generate power like a rubber band. The further you stretch it, the more power it generates when released.

Reason three is Neshek's ability to maintain a firm front side. Side-armers almost always just fly open. When viewed in slow motion, I couldn't believe how Neshek firmed up his left arm and brought his elbow into his shoulder. At the beginning of his delivery, it appears that he is going to fly open--and he does with his hips. But right as he gets to the power position, his elbow comes to his side and he firms up. And he does it without pulling down with his elbow.

The Tom House school of pitching changed of alot of what we know to be good pitching mechanics. I don't know a whole lot about them, but I know firm front side is key. I realize that I am repeating much of what you can read at BBTF, but I was really amazed that as unconventional of a delivery as Neshek has, he still uses some of the basic keys to good pitching mechanics. I think it is a testament to mechanics that conventional pitchers are taught.

Twins Notes:
After Monday night's Twins-Yankees game, the lack of position player depth of the Twins became obvious to me. I knew they had a terrible bench going into the season, but I guess I didn't think losing a guy like Cirillo (or even White for that matter) would be bad. I was wrong. As a result of BOTH Cirillo and White going down, we are going to be giving lots of at bats to Jason Tyner and Josh Rabe. And that's not good. Cirillo is a nice bat to have at 3B/DH against occassional lefties (as long as those at bats don't come at the expense of Jason Kubel). Losing Cirillo and White makes this punchless lineup alot more punchless.

The other thing I was worried about after Monday's game was Jason Bartlett. JB has been awful so far. Bad defense. Bad offense. In fact, he and Nick Punto are, in my opinion, the biggest reasons for the Twins' poor start on offense. They need to get on base for the offense to score runs. They haven't. And the offense has not scored any runs because they sure as heck can't hit home runs (three to date.... ugh). I wasn't worried about Bartlett's ability to play through this and look more like Jables version 2006. What I was worried about was whether Gardy would let him, especially after Alexi Casilla was called up yesterday. In today's Strib, Lavelle E. Neall III quoted Gardy as wanting to get "Barty" going again, indicating that Jason has a longer leash. He even went as far as making excuses for him, saying that the turf has been tough to get used to. That is the type of behavior that Gardy usually reserves for veterans (see Carlos Silva). So I guess my fears have been assuaged for the time being.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Key Websites For Getting Started

There are a few websites that you HAVE to know if you are going to think critically about baseball.

Baseball Reference
Baseball Reference is the best place to look for stats. They've really updated it lately to include lots of new features and to make it more user friendly. The new spits feature is very useful.

The Baseball Cube
This website is the best place to find minor league numbers. I often find it interesting to look at how currently good players performed in the minors. It can be a useful means of comparison and projection for young players. In addition, Baseball Cube is the best way to keep up with current minor league prospects.

Baseball Prospectus
BP is one of the number one baseball websites available. It is subscription only, but it is worth it. BP has developed two metrics that are probably two of the best ways to understand the value of hitters: VORP and EqA.

The Hardball Times
THT is a baseball analysis website. It has developed some of its own metrics over the years, and it contains free daily articles. It's similar to Baseball Prospectus without PECOTA projections.