I think it would be safe to call Ben Gamel a 40 value player.
That’s not future value. That’s present day.
The 40-grade is typically reserved for bench players who can stick in the majors, due to their ability to make an impact off the bench.
Gamel has spent parts of six seasons in the majors, and has put up positive value in all but two (his debut season in 2016, and his 2020 season). This year he has an 0.7 fWAR, which breaks down as -0.2 with Cleveland and 0.9 with the Pirates.
If we were treating Gamel as a prospect — and just so we’re clear, he’s not a prospect as a 29-year-old with over 1700 plate appearances in the majors — then you might even say he’s got the chance for a 50 upside.
A 50 grade would be an average starter in the majors. Gamel was that in 2017, posting a 1.7 WAR with Seattle. Since then, he’s been a bench player, or perhaps a hybrid between a starter and bench player, if you prefer the 45 half step in player grading.
The Pirates have a need for outfield starters in the majors, and Gamel has done enough that he should get an opportunity for one of the corner outfield jobs next year.
Gamel can definitely be upgraded over. A contending team probably has him in that comfortable 40-grade role, rather than trying to stretch him to a 50-grade starter. For now, the Pirates don’t have a better option, and Gamel has earned his look.
Let’s talk for a second about the costly price the Pirates had to pay to get Gamel — a 40-grade player with the chance to be a 50-grade player.
The cost? A waiver claim.
That’s all it took to land an MLB bench player with a track record of 40-grade success. Granted, the Pirates are also paying most of his $1.5 million contract this year, but he’s already produced more value than that price, and it’s not like the Pirates are spending on anyone else. So, who cares about the money? The best they could possibly do is get Gamel’s production at $1 million less from a league minimum guy.
So, a waiver claim, and an extra $1 million is the difference between Gamel and the prospect in the minors who you hope can become at least a 40-grade guy.
Gamel was once a prospect who had a future value profile that is similar to what he has become in the majors. It doesn’t always work out that way though.
In our evaluations, these types of players are 435 guys. That means we think they’re likely to end up a 40-grade, with a floor of an up-and-down Quad-A minor leaguer (30), and an upside of an average starter (50).
Not every prospect with those grades will reach the 40.
Cole Tucker is a current example. His present grade is a 30, as he’s been good enough to advance to the majors, but not consistent in the majors enough to stick long-term.
Phillip Evans and Anthony Alford were 435 guys coming into the season. Both have been closer to that 30-grade than 40, although Alford is making a bit of a late push to change that.
Alford was a waiver claim. Evans was a low-cost free agent. Tucker was a first round draft pick who has not worked out as a starting prospect.
We’re in the age of “post-prospects”, where we give up on players who are older than 25 and have yet to establish themselves in the majors.
That trend should provide an excess of Gamel-types, to the point where you can add 3-4 players and eventually find a 40-grade guy. The remaining players might give you bursts of 40+ production, which is what Alford has been doing since the end of August.
All of this has me thinking about how we evaluate prospects, especially those 435 guys.
If there’s an abundance of 435 guys in the “post-prospect” ranks, and they can be had via waiver claims and cheap free agent deals, then why prioritize them in the minors? Especially when there are fewer spots to work with in the minors.
We started doing that a bit in our recent top 30 update at Pirates Prospects. We didn’t give as high of ranks to some of the 50-upside guys as other outlets, instead elevating the potential 60-grade guys.
A prospect in the minors with a 50 upside is most likely going to end up a 40-grade MLB player at best. When you can find those guys on waivers in the majors, then you should be focusing on two types of players in the minors:
1. Older prospects who currently have a ceiling higher than 50.
2. Younger prospects who have the capacity to develop their body and game in the future to upsides higher than 50.