Prospect Smackdown! Pete Clifford versus Evan Frey

I'd like apologize for the two week hiatus of any articles being  published due to illness, work, and a lot of distractions. But I'm back again today with a two for one special.

Today we're going to compare and contrast two left handed outfielders that were drafted out of college last year. The first one is a guy I've been keeping my eye on since early this season, Pete Clifford. The other one is Evan Frey, who I honestly hadn't paid that much attention to until Nick Piecoro named him the Dbacks #7 prospect (He's moved up from #8 after the Bonifacio trade)

I really liked the commentary that resulted from my prospect article that compared and contrasted Emilio Bonifacio and Rusty Ryal, so I'm going to try and do something similar with the next couple of articles by looking at two prospects who share the same position or pitching role.

I'd like to first look at each players basic biographical make up e. g. date of birth, height, weight, school, draft position. Once we've got that done, we'll look the player‘s performance at the high school or college level (if applicable, of course). Then we'll look at how they've performed in the minor leagues. Then we'll wrap it up by making our final analysis, where we'll make an estimate on when they should be ready for the majors, what areas they need to improve to get there. I‘ll pass my own judgment on who I think is the better prospect, and then leave it up to you guys(and gals) to vote in a poll in who you think is better. Then we can all argue in the commentary. .

Background, Physical Makeup and Tools

Pete Clifford was born on December 20, 1983 in Jacksonville, Florida. He's listed at an even 6'0 and weighing 195LBs. He bats left handed, and throws right handed. He attended Jacksonville University, and was drafted by the Diamondbacks as a senior in the 20th round with (as) the 613th overall pick. Clifford's strengths offensively are hitting for average and drawing walks. And even though he doesn't hit a lot of homers, he does have some pretty good power.

Clifford is an above average outfielder defensively that makes very few fielding errors. In the minors he's played 54% percent of his games in left, 17% in center, 12% in right field, and the remainder as the DH. 75% of his starts have been in left field, and that will be his primary defensive position through out his career, especially if he's going to succeed in the majors with the Dbacks.  I can't say with much certainty that he's capable of playing right field since I don't have any information or scouting reports that talk about his throwing arm. He's not going to see any time in center this year with the newly promoted Evan Frey holding down the position for Visalia.

Evan Frey was born on June 7th, 1986 in Edwardsville, Illinois. He's listed at 6'0 in height, and weighing 170lbs. He bats and throws left handed. Attended the University of Missouri Colombia, and was drafted by the Diamondbacks in the 10th round of the 2007 draft as the 313th overall pick. Like Clifford, Frey has good speed on the base paths, makes a ton of contact, and has good strike zone judgment. He hits the ball on the ground a little over 50% of the time, suggesting that he's a slap hitter. Frey's biggest negative is the fact that he's displayed essentially zero home run power throughout his college and professional career.

Frey is an excellent defensive center fielder with outstanding range, speed, and very few errors. Frey will have to stay at center field if he's going to be a major league ball player. He just doesn't have the power to be an every day starting left or right fielder on winning major league ball club.

Physically the two players are quite similar. Obviously both bat left handed and are an even six feet in height. I haven't seen either player play in person, nor do I have access to any advanced scouting reports, so I can't comment on either player's speed, throwing arm, Clifford's heavier frame gives him more power, but Frey's youth gives him the advantage in age.

Performance in College

College statistics are really hard for me to include in these prospect comparison. As I've said before, it's really hard to make any sort of real evaluation based on college statistics due the differences in equipment (aluminum bats), competition (which can range greatly from conference to conference), and schedule.

Pete Clifford played four years in the NCAA for Jacksonville University. That's actually very uncommon. Most college players, including Evan Frey, enter the MLB draft as juniors. This gives the players more leverage in signing negotiations, since the player can always go back to college and play their senior year. Peter Clifford, instead of entering the draft as a junior, stayed in college to finish his education. He received his Bachelor of Business Administration degree, majoring in management. The fact that he had no problem finishing his education while hurting his draft status, IMHO, adds a lot to his character and makeup.

Although Peter Clifford didn't put up jaw dropping home run totals in college, he did put up excellent numbers all four years in college.

In his 188 at bats as a 20 year old freshmen, he put up a .346/.399/.468 overall line, with 12 doubles, a triple and a home run. He walked 15 times while striking out 35 times. He also stole 5 bases, but was caught stealing 3 times; a 62.5 success rate, just under the 67-70% break even point.

In his 203 at bats as a 21 year old sophomore, Clifford hit .325/.413/.493 with 13 doubles and 7 Home Runs. He walked 29 times while striking out 25 times. Once again he stole 5 bases, but was caught 4 times. Although his batting average went down and his success rate on the base paths went down slightly, Clifford improved every facet of his game.

In his season the next year as a 22 year old junior, Pete Clifford continued improving his offense game. In 262 at bats he hit 317/.394/.477 with 21 doubles, 3 triples, and 5 home runs. He walked 31 times and struck out 40 times. The real break out for Clifford was on the base paths, where he stole 21 bases while getting caught only 3 times. It's interesting to note the decrease in his slugging percentage, which is odd, considering he put up career bests in doubles and triples, but had only 2 less home runs.

In his final season as a 23 year old senior, Clifford hit .351/.455/.623 with 17 doubles, 2 triples, and a career high 14 home runs. He drew 43 walks while striking out 30 times. Once again he swiped 21 bags, but was caught 5 times. Clifford ended his college career posting career highs in batting average, on base percentage, slugging percentage, walks, and home runs.

Now that we've gone over Clifford's performance in college, let's look at Evan Frey.

As a 19 year old college freshman, Evan Frey's performance in 55 abs is statistically insignificant, but I'll go ahead and talk about it any way. He hit .164/.242/.200 with 4 walks and 11 strike outs. Of his 9 hits, 2 went for doubles. He stole one base and was caught stealing once. 55 abs is just way too small of a sample to really discuss, so let's move on to his sophomore year.

In 190 at bats as a 20 year old sophomore, Frey hit .337/.457/.389 with 64 hits, but only seven extra base hits: four doubles and three triples. He walked 29 times while striking out 33 times. Frey stole 9 bases while getting caught twice. Frey also got hit by pitches 14 times. Ouch.

In his 224 at bats the next year as a 21 year old junior, Frey hit .348/.447/.496 with 78 hits, this time 20 going for extra bases; 11 doubles, 5 triples, and a still personal best 4 home runs. Frey drew 39 walks and struck out 41 times. He stole 10 bases but was caught 7 times of 58.8% success rate, well below the break even point. All though he wasn't plunked quite as many times as the year before, Frey still got plunked 8 times.

So what kind of insight and analysis can we get looking at the two players college careers? Clifford's college career is outstanding. Every year he was productive, hitting for average, getting on base, and slugging the ball. He showed good plate discipline, and also really turned on the speed the last two years of college.

With Evan Frey we obviously don't have as large of a sample size to work with, since he was drafted after his junior season. Not to mention that his age 19 season is pretty much irrelevant, and can be thrown out. However, I think we have enough of a sample with his age 20 and 21 seasons that we can cast some judgment on his college performance. In those two seasons, Frey showed excellent contact skills and plate discipline. I'd like to mention that although Frey had a higher on base percentage than Clifford in those two seasons, if you remove the high amount of hit by pitches in his age 20 season, his excellent .457 on base percentage drops down to a still quite good 364. I’m pretty sure this isn’t a Craig Biggio or Carlos Quentin repeatable skill, and it’s clearly just a statistical outlier.

Minor League Production and History

Now that we've looked at each player's performance in college, we can now look at their performance in the minors since being drafted last year.

After being drafted and signing with the Diamondbacks, Peter Clifford was assigned to the Missoula Ospreys, Arizona's rookie ball affiliate in the Pioneer League. In his 225 at bats with the Ospreys, Clifford hit .280/.378/.502 with 16 doubles, 2 triples, and 10 home runs. He drew 36 walks, while striking out 51 times. He stole 8 bases while getting caught only once for a 89% success rate. Overall I'd say his debut season in the minor leagues was a successful one. Not exactly jaw dropping numbers of course, considering his age relative to the rest of the league, but all of his numbers - his BA, OBP, SLG%, and his BB:K ratio are definitely positive signs. The ten home runs are nice sign too. Compare his .880 OPS to the overall .701 OPS of his team, and to the .760 overall OPS of the Pioneer League, and you find yet another positive.

After his solid debut season in rookie ball, the Diamondbacks had Clifford skip their low a ball affiliate, South Bend, and assigned him to the Hi A Affiliate Visalia Oaks to begin 2008. Clifford has thrived, and he's been the Oaks' best hitter this year, and leads the team in OPS, doubles, triples, and walks. In 336 at bats he's hitting .307/.416/.503 with 29 doubles, 5 triples, and 9 home runs. He's drawn 59 walks to 88 strike outs. He's stolen 10 bases while getting caught 6 times for a 62.5% success rate, a bit under the break even point.

Looking further into his statistics this year, specifically his batting splits, I found that he's struggled against left handed pitching, at least this year. Since I can't seem to find his batting splits from last year, I'm not sure if this is a trend, or just the result of a random fluctuation in his BABIP (.303 vs. LHP, .432 vs. RHP). Either way, in 99 at bat Bs vs. LHP he's hitting .242/.361/.384, as opposed to .333/.439/.553 vs. RHP. Out of his 103 hits this year, only 24 have come against LHP. Of his 43 extra base hits, only 10 have come against left hand pitching - seven doubles, two triples, and one home run. Compared to his results against RHP, the rate that he hits the ball on the ground drops, his line drive rate drops, and his fly ball percent shoots up. I'm not exactly sure what to make all of that, but I'm sure some of you can make more sense of those numbers than I can. Now that we've taken a thorough look at Pete Clifford‘s offensive production in the minors, we can shift our focus back to Evan Frey, and see what his production has been like in the minors so far.

After being drafted by Arizona and signing in June 2007, Evan Frey was assigned to the Diamondbacks' short season a ball affiliate in the North Western League, the Yakima Bears. In 246 at bats, Frey hit .309/.384/.390 with 76 hits, but only 14 going for extra bases, consisting of 8 doubles and 6 triples. He took 27 walks while striking out 42 times. He had 13 stolen bases, but was caught stealing 10 times for a 57% success rate. As always, comparing his OPS (.774) to his team's OPS (.713) and the league's OPS (.713) puts his numbers in to the context of the quality of the competition he's playing with, in addition to telling you about the hitting environment he's playing in.

Evan Frey began this year with a promotion to full season A Ball South Bend in the Midwestern League, before being promoted to Visalia. In his 309 at bats with South Bend, Frey hit .327/.401/.417. He had a lot of hits, 101 to be exact, but only 24 were extra base hits. He didn't hit any home runs, but he did have 16 doubles and 6 triples. Frey drew 39 walks and struck out 38 times. I think the most important improvement is his much better results on the base paths. Frey stole 20 bases, and was caught 6 times, giving him a 77 percent success rate.

After a nice run in South Bend, Evan Frey was promoted on July 2 to Hi A Visalia. He's played in 20 games, and in his 84 at bats he's hitting .262/.367/.417 with three doubles, two triples, and two home runs. He's walked 12 times and has struck out 20 times. He's also stolen three bases, but has been caught twice. Frey has really struggled against left handed pitching since his promotion. He has a .894 OPS in 53 at bats against right handed pitching, but only a .588 OPS in 31 at bats against left handed pitching. In addition, he's struggled hitting away from home. In his 32 at bats at home, he's hitting.469/.528/.688 for a 1.216 OPS. In his 52 at bats away from Visalia he's hitting just .135/.274/.250 for a .524 OPS. Since we're dealing with such a small sample size here no matter how you look at it, I can't really say how significant any of his numbers for Visalia are. We'll just have to come back and re-visit his numbers in a month or at the end of the season to make some real analysis.

Overall Thoughts on Each Player

Now that I’ve gone in to both players’ offensive production from their freshmen year in college all the way up to their current numbers with Visalia, I feel that I can make a more insightful analysis in to what kind of player they are right now.

I’ll be honest; I’m a bit biased towards Peter Clifford over Evan Frey. Peter Clifford may not have the advantage of age that Frey has, but if you over look that, Clifford, in my opinion, is clearly the better player.

Throughout his four years of college and into his professional career, Peter Clifford has been an extremely productive hitter. Throughout his career he’s been hitting for average and getting on base at a good clip He’s shown that he has some good speed on the base paths, especially with his back to back 21 stolen base seasons. Although he doesn’t have a ton of home run power, he’s shown that he could hit 15-20 homers if given a full season’s worth of at bats. He should be a very good left fielder defensively.. Throughout his career, he's built on his performance the year before by improving in every facet of his game offensively. He's also proven the quality of his character and make up with his decision to stay in college so he could finish his education, even though it would clearly affect his draft position and his leverage in contract negotiations.

Clifford in all likely hood will never be a Hall of Famer or a superstar, but he certainly could have a few all star caliber years. Of course there's always the chance that he won't pan out, but at the very least I think could up the left handed half of a platoon or possibly serve as a left handed 4th outfielder. 

If everything goes right I can see Peter Clifford having a batting average right around the .300 mark, with an on base percentage normally in the .400s. I think his slugging percentage would fall in the high .400s to mid .500s in most seasons. I calculated what I think would be Peter Clifford's peak by taking his current career highs and projecting what he would have done given a full season of at bats. It's not a very scientific method, but the end result is 34 hrs, 8 triples, 45 doubles, and 50 stolen bases. I thing we'd all like to see that.

Even though Evan Frey has flashed very little power, I still think he could have some success in the Majors. He has a very high contact rate, doesn't strike out a lot, and is quite skilled at getting on base. Although it will never completely make up for his lack of power, his speed and aggressiveness on the base paths are a very good asset.  He's an excellent center fielder defensively with a ton of range and he's very reliable and sure handed at the position. Frey may never be every day starting center fielder, but at the very least, he could  serve as a left handed 4th outfielder, pinch runner, and defensive replacement.

If everything goes right I can see Evan Frey regularly hitting .300 or higher, with an on base percentage above .400. His power is by far the biggest question mark surrounding him though. He's still young, so his power has the potential to develop some more, but I honestly can't see him hitting more than 5 HRs in a season. The thing I worry the most about is the lack of doubles and triple. In his best season, he had 16 doubles and 6 triples in 306 ABs. If he doesn't develop any more power than what he currently has shown, that works out to about 25 doubles and 10 triples in a full season worth of at bats. How ever, seeing Frey stealing >35 bases a year wouldn't be all that surprising.

Wrap Up

As usual I’ll wrap things up by asking my usual questions to promote some commentary and discussion about these two players. Who do you think is the better prospect? Who has the best/most upside? Which player's downside is the most detrimental to their chances at making the big leagues? Who do you think is more likely to make it to the big leagues? When do you think each player will make it to the big leagues if every thing goes right? If either player reaches their full potential, what kind offensive performances do YOU expect?

As always, I'd like to thank everyone for reading. You guys are the reason why I do this. I'd also like to thank Emily for proof reading for me. Please let me know what you think of this article and my writing, I'd certainly appreciate it. Let me know if you have any suggestions for future articles.

-Wesley "Zephon" Baier.

(I made a few changes to a couple of sentences just to clarify things a bit, in addition I cleaned up the spacing in between the paragraphs. And yes, I changed the name of the article to better reflect the content. If I notice anything else I may make a few additional edits, that I'll either make note of here or in the comments.)

Sources

Peter Clifford MILB.com Official Player Page
Evan Frey MILB.com Official Player Pare
Peter Clifford Baseball Reference Page
Evan Frey Baseball Reference Page
Peter Clifford @ TheBaseballCube
Evan Frey @ TheBaseballCube
Pete Clifford @ Fangraphs
Evan Frey @ Fangraphs
Peter Clifford @ Minorleaguesplits.com
Evan Frey @ Minorleaguesplits.com

 

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