Tommy La Stella is the latest call up with more walks than strikeouts in the minors
I’ve always considered a prospect walking more than he strikes out as one of the biggest statistical indicators of future success. Having a strike out to walk ratio under one didn’t imply stardom, but it did mean the player has a very high floor and should stick as a big league regular for a few years. Sure, this rule wasn’t perfect, players like Andy LaRoche and Kila Ka’aihue ended up being huge disappointments but for the most part it seemed like walking more than striking out lead to way more success than failures.
The Braves recent call up of Tommy La Stella made me want to revisit the issue. La Stella comes into the bigs with 136 walks and 102 strikeouts since 2011, yet he’s received very little attention as a prospect. Baseball America ranked La Stella as the 9th best prospect in what is considered to be a relatively weak system. The total lack of excitement around La Stella despite his numbers made me want to revisit the question of does walking more than striking out lead to big league success, only this time I have access to a database instead of poking around by hand.
Running the search gave me a definitive answer to the question: it certainly does not. Since 2011 there have been 76 seasons where a player under 26 has had 350 minor league PA with a K/BB under one. The only one of those players that has gone on to be even an average big league regular is Matt Carpenter. After that the biggest names you’re going to find are people like the face of the MLB Eric Sogard, Dustin Ackley, and David Cooper. Beyond that, the list is largely populated with total non prospects like Connor Crumbliss, or huge flops like Christian Colon.
The one saving grace is that there’s still time for some of the names on this list to develop. Among the dross are some huge prospects like Jurickson Profar, Francisco Lindor and Mookie Betts who still need time to find their footing in the bigs, or even their first taste of the show.
Don’t get me wrong, strike out and walk rates are still hugely important things to look at if you’re going to evaluate a prospect’s numbers but it’s not near the predictor of big league success that I thought it was. The lesson here, as always, is to listen to trusted sources about prospects, and realize that there are no magic numbers that guarantee a guys success. Well, maybe hitting .450.