Ackley, Kipnis and the 555 Club

June 6, 2009
Player School Year Pos Total Score Year Score VORP wOBA* Power BB% K% Speed Score PF
Dustin Ackley UNC 2009 CF 579.27726 602.5875141 74.27284137 0.535591 784.7824 16.37011 10.32028 197.8021978 1.02
Jason Kipnis ASU 2009 OF 575.4346913 589.933516 58.70390637 0.427306 762.6842 17.44186 10.07752 333.3707094 0.85
                         
Justin Smoak USC 2008 1B 599.4573841 628.5278635 58.88173075 0.547861 859.3667 19.06355 9.364548 -13.30275229 1.05
Gordon Beckham UGA 2008 SS 560.9696443 590.642826 94.80697575 0.599241 883.6274 15.88235 8.823529 182.8019385 1.1
Yonder Alonso THE U 2008 1B 592.8032229 607.6417937 42.47035822 0.475519 836.589 25.67568 11.82432 121.787455 0.89
Buster Posey FSU 2008 C 562.7005578 614.7193175 94.28766966 0.577929 836.2514 17.53846 8.923077 81.26382132 0.98
Kellen Kulbacki JMU 2007 OF 565.784164 564.2790033 45.21690245 0.538904 843.6563 22.13439 11.46245 128.8869676 0.99
Matt Wieters GT 2007 C 569.7749267 569.4397057 35.88642402 0.497845 624.5149 18.27957 13.26165 69.68864469 1.08
Alex Gordon NU 2005 3B 565.6708023 574.4531269 60.27055637 0.509939 818.2934 18.86228 11.37725 259.13973 0.99
Conor Jackson CAL 2003 1B 560.4071185 586.5395367 22.656907 0.556487 716.0558 21.97309 9.865471 33.76061121 1.09
                         

I have a database of all top college draft picks going back to the 2001, records before 2001 are really hard to find and even up until 2003 they are somewhat spotty. With the exception of Rickie Weeks, who I only have junior year stats for; I have complete college statistics for every player drafted in the top 50 picks from 2003 on.

You’ve heard me reference the number 480 as an important benchmark future success – first round picks who score under 480 in my system have an 88.9% failure rate – but I want to introduce a new number today, 555. The average score for all top draftees in my system is about 480 with a standard deviation of about 75, which makes the number 555 important. From 2003-2008 there were eight players to break the 555 mark, placing them a full standard deviation above the mean. The 2009 draft will see two more players cross this plateau, UNC’s 1B/CF Dustin Ackley and ASU’s OF Jason Kipnis.

While there are plenty of good players who didn’t score this highly in my system, the 555 club is pretty swanky company. It’s still early in these guy’s careers but if you’re looking at Conor Jackson as possibly the worst player in the group (a career 800 OPS hitter), you’re onto something.

The 2008 draft is heavily represented, with four of the top 11 overall picks in da club. In 2007 Kelen Kulbacki didn’t get a lot of respect as a small school star, but his college production rivaled that of uber-prospect and Baltimore Orioles savior Matt Wieters. Kulbacki is the only player on this list to go in the second round, and besides Conor Jackson (19th overall in 2003) all the other players were considered elite prospects.

Six of the players on the list - if you count Gordon Beckham as a third baseman, since he’s playing there now – are corner bats, which makes Dustin Ackley’s college career all the more impressive. While Tommy John surgery has limited his throwing ability and forced him to first base as collegiate star, Ackley possesses plus-plus speed and projects as a good defensive center fielder. I haven’t made a positional adjustment for Ackley in my system, since his defensive ability is pure projection, otherwise his score would be even higher.

Ackley has shown a remarkable ability to control the strike zone, combining a great walk rate with fantastic contact ability, which bodes very well for his big league success. As his elbow has healed, Ackley’s power has spiked. His park-adjusted isolated power rating went from 0.184 as a sophomore to 0.367 this year. Lack of power was the one knock on his resume, but then he hit 20 home runs this year. Dustin Ackley is one of the very best hitting prospects to come out of college in a long, long time. If he is able to sustain most of his recent power surge – he has the strength, bat speed, and good weight transfer to hit for above-average power – we’re looking at a possible .300/.400/.510 hitter. His career could look a lot like Bobby Abreu, except playing center field.

While Ackley is the probable selection for the Seattle Mariners at No. 2 overall, and won’t make it past the Padres who pick third - where he would be the perfect PETCO hitter due to his high BB% and high LD% - Jason Kipnis may have to wait until the second or third round to find out his future employer. A transfer from Kentucky, Kipnis has been nothing but spectacular as a Sun Devil. The 5-foot-10 Kipnis gets knocked for his size and lack of standout tools, although patience isn’t considered a tool…for some reason. In each of the past two years Kipnis has walked over 16.5%; his on-base ability is elite.

While he may not have a true plus tool, he doesn’t have a minus one either meaning his raw talent is similar the average big leaguer. That isn’t a bad thing. Kipnis is the kind of guy who will always maximize his ability, because he’s a good natural hitter with a great eye at the plate who gets bonus points for always playing hard and hustling. I can’t look at Kipnis without thinking of Nate McLouth with a few more walks. He could play a below-average center or a good defensive corner spot with lots of doubles and a decent number of home runs while getting on base at a well-above-average clip. McLouth isn’t flashy, but he’s a .360-.370 wOBA hitter which gives him good value. I have a hard time seeing Jason Kipnis not developing into a similar type of player. This draft has more uncertainty than most, but some team is going to a .280/.365/.470 hitter as a steal in the second or third round.

 

Contact Lincoln via email at lhamilton@projectprospect.com.