Let me say this: the title of this article isn’t “the best prospect in baseball”. No, not by any means. It’s the most interesting, a completely subjective and ambiguous word, semi-undefinable.
Make no mistake, as much of a fan I am at Chase Vallot (a subject I’ve written a lot about - much fueled by how unique he is), he isn’t the best prospect in baseball (sorry Chase). That title belongs to someone like Ronald Acuna, Vladito, or Juan Soto. What he may be though, is the most interesting prospect in baseball.
The other day, overall good guy and fellow masochistic Royals fan (because we all are...) Rany Jazayerli tweeted about Chase Vallot and CC’d me on it:
Maybe my favorite Royals stat of the season so far:— Rany Jazayerli (@jazayerli) May 7, 2018
It's May 7th, and in 22 games and 91 plate appearances so far, prospect Chase Vallot has five homers, two doubles, and 17 walks.
And zero singles. (Attn: @Shauncore)
Vallot is actually at 95 plate appearances as of the beginning of this sentence and he is still without a single on the year. I have a little database of minor league stats dating back to the late-70’s, and the fewest singles I can find for a player with 100 or more plate appearances is three (2013 Kalian Sams of the Padres org and 2012 Michael Knox of the Cardinals system). Vallot will likely surpass 100 plate appearances here in the next day or so, and if he doesn’t get three singles, he’ll break this “record”.
Fewest singles by minimum number of PA’s:
200+ PA: 2017 Leuri Mejia (Rangers) - 12
300+ PA: 2017 Collin Theroux (Athletics) - 16
400+ PA: 1999 Matt Raleigh (Rockies) - 26
500+ PA: 1992 Troy Fryman (White Sox) - 39
600+ PA: 2007 Brooks Conrad (Astros) - 55
The lack of singles is both unique and a bit sad overall. Vallot is hitting .092/.263/.316 to start the year but there is so much more beyond just his triple slash line.
To begin, the best superlative is his insane walk rate, a strong point throughout his minor league career. He has an 18.9% BB% so far, and as I type, he’s collected two more walks in Wednesday’s action, pushing him into the 20% realm.
Of the 86,577 individual minor league seasons of 100 or more plate appearances, 816 of them have had walk rates at or above 20%. That’s 0.009425%. If you pare that down to players 21 years or younger, it’s 386 seasons. For players in full season ball, it’s 208 players.
Vallot is on the right tail of that distribution, almost three full standard deviations from the mean of 9.5%. The biggest detractor of Vallot, something you might be familiar with, is his strikeout propensity. To date, he’s struck out in 48% of the time this year. That’s the third highest K% in all of minor league ball (min. 90 PA), behind Gareth Morgan (56.6%) and old friend Dusty Coleman (50%). Like the massive amount of walks, massive strikeouts have been a constant in his minor league career too (career 35.8% BB%).
It’s actually kind of...impressive. Vallot for his minor league career has struck out 36% of the time and hit .217 but he’s also had a career .346 OBP and .425 slugging percentage (an impressive .208 ISO). That puts him at a 122 wRC+, or 22% above league average.
As you can tell by the .200+ ISO, Vallot obviously has some power, the most in the entire Royals system. FanGraphs launched their scouting board (titled The Board) a few weeks back, assigning grades to 362 prospects throughout the minors. Just 5% of those prospect listed were given 70 grade raw power (80 being the highest). Vallot was one of them, the only Royals player to be given that.
I’ve also compiled a minor database of prospect tool grades, this time though only dating back to 2013, comprised of 1,357 individual hitter gradings (many iterations of a single player given by different sources ranging over several years). 116 times a player was given 70 or better power by any single source in any single year, or ~8% of the total (for fun, Bubba Starling is the only other Royals prospect to get that grade or better). Removing any duplicates, it’s 51 out of 595.
Who was the last Royals prospect to be given a 70 or better in raw power? You’d probably have to go back (not that it was that long ago) to Mike Moustakas or Wil Myers in the early 10’s.
If we put the power (via HR%), walks, and strikeouts together, Vallot leads all the minors in what we’ll call non-balls in play%:
Now, the stats I collected dated prior to ~1997 are a bit shaky, but as best I can tell, Vallot is set to smash the non-BIP% record
Let’s keep the ball rolling on unique things. Another thing Vallot has done well this year, and again over his tenure, is hitting groundballs. I should say, not hitting groundballs.
Now, we only have batted ball data going back to 2007, so this list obviously isn’t exhaustive, but Vallot is on pace to smash the “all-time” record too:
And if you aren’t hitting grounders, you are hitting line drives and fly balls. With Vallot’s power, you’d like him to be hitting a ton of fly balls to try to turn them into home runs. Vallot has done just that:
Keeping in the vein of the “all-time” list, Vallot still has the lead:
Like I said, Vallot isn’t amongst the best prospects in baseball (though I think he’s among the best in the Royals system), there may have never been a player as unique as Vallot. Someone who walks a lot, strikes out more, hits for a ton of power, and never hits the ball on the ground. This is the exact type of guy that baseball is kind of turning in to, and there’s some potential value there for him in the majors. For now, let’s just marvel at the weirdness.