Is Taylor Dugas an underrated prospect?

Fangraphs prospect analyst Nathaniel Stoltz recently labeled outfielder Taylor Dugas as one of the most underrated prospects in the Yankees system:

Dugas is very far off the prospect radar — he was unranked in the Yankees’ consensus top 58 prospect list compiled by Chris St. John of Beyond the Box Score, meaning not a single site out there included him in their rankings. Dugas’ plate discipline stats have been off the charts in the low minors, but his primary drawback is that he has barely any power at all, leading to a peculiar .293/.385/.351 triple slash in A-ball. Conventional scouting wisdom holds that a guy like that will  be exposed in a hurry as he faces more polished pitchers who will go right after him. Given his complete lack of pop, it’s easy to see why he hasn’t received much love from prospect evaluators, especially since, at age 24, he’s a little old to be getting his first taste of Double-A.

So what does Stoltz see in Dugas that others don’t? Here’s what he had to say about Dugas last month:

Dugas will likely never be pitched around for fear of the long ball. Still, though, there is some reason to be optimistic that he won’t get the bat knocked out of his hands higher up. First, the parks in both Charleston and Tampa are very pitcher-friendly environments, and it’s not as though any of the leagues Dugas has played in favor hitters… He has just enough strength and swing loft that .100 ISO marks and 5-8 homer seasons aren’t out of the question.

To get a better idea of wether or not Dugas has any chance of making it, I decided to look for hitters who put up similar K%, BB%, and ISO numbers at a similar age in the same league. To give Dugas the benefit of the doubt, I used Dugas’ torrid second half in high-A Tampa last year, where he hit .321/.426/.373 and walked over twice (!) as often as he struck out:

Name Year K% BB% ISO Triple Slash
Taylor Dugas 2013 6% 14% .052 .321/.426/.373
Jayce Tingler 2004 5% 14% .049 .251/.373/.300
Paul Lo Duca 1996 7% 14% .071 .305/.400/.376
Brian Ralph 2000 9% 13% .073 .260/.364/.333
Mike O’Neill 2012 5% 15% .075 .342/.442/.417
Mike Metcalfe 1995 7% 12% .065 .301/.386/.366
Brent Keys 2013 6% 11% .053 .346/.418/.399
Don Kelly 2003 7% 13% .092 .317/.401/.409
David Eckstein 1998 8% 14% .092 .306/.428/.498
Jayce Tingler 2005 6% 10% .053 .265/.353/.318
Noah Hall 2000 10% 15% .068 .287/.408/.355

So what became of these players? Four out of the 10 made it to the big leagues, four never made it, and O’Neill and Keys are still climbing the minor league ladder. Here’s how the big leaguers have fared:

Name PA’s K% BB% ISO Triple Slash
Paul Lo Duca 4,302 7% 6% .123 .286/.337/.409
Mike Metcalfe 14 15% 8% .000 .077/.143/.077
Don Kelly 1,008 14% 7% .116 .232/.292/.348
David Eckstein 5,705 7% 7% .075 .281/.345/.355

These players had varying degrees of success. Kelly and Lo Duca eclipsed the .100 ISO threshold that Stoltz said was possible for Dugas. What really jumps out to me is their walk rates, which were sliced in half across the board. Lo Duca, Kelly, and Eckstein all walked at least 13% of the time in the Florida State league, but no more than 7% in the bigs. Clearly, big-league pitchers learn to go right after hitters like this once they realize they have nothing to fear. The best case scenario seems to have Dugas’ bat developing into a Lo Duca or Eckstein — both had solid big league careers, but also played more premium defensive positions than Dugas.

Dugas might be a little underrated, but he’s pretty much the definition of a fringe prospect. His walk rates have been phenominal so far, but when it comes to actually hitting the ball, he doesn’t bring all that much to the table. Of course, there’s more to the story than just stats. Unlike me, Stoltz actually knows a thing or two about scouting, so he can definitely add some insight that goes beyond my number crunching. Even so, the track record of guys with his skill set makes me highly skeptical that he’ll ever amount to much. Dugas is an intriguing case and will definitely be worth keeping tabs on in Double-A Trenton this season, but odds are, his on base percentages will begin to crater in a hurry once he starts facing better pitching.

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