There’s a lot to consider when ranking prospects. To do it properly, it takes an ability to analyze the present, take into account the past and project the future. It’s the last of these three things that is the finest art and is easily the most difficult to nail down. It’s not impossible to get a feeling for the future, though. If one takes enough care to look at the big picture, it may be possible to form relatively accurate ideas of these players down the road.
With that said, here are some thoughts that went into our rankings, which will be released shortly. These aren’t the only things that go into consideration but instead make up some of the main themes.
Context – although it often goes overlooked, these guys don’t play in a bubble. There are number of factors to consider here, including:
- Age/Level: to be considered a serious prospect with a high ceiling, evaluators tend to go with age cutoffs for each level (23 for AAA, 22 for AA, 21 for High-A, 20 for A, 20 for short season, 19 for rookie ball). There’s always exceptions, especially for players who’ve had injuries or were just drafted, but this is kind of an operational baseline.
- Park Effects: each park plays differently and some are notorious for the way they manipulate outcomes. Visalia and Reno are parks that tremendously inflate offense, for example. This is something to consider when a hitter seemingly comes out of nowhere to hit .330 for a season in one of these parks.
- Draft Position or Signing Bonus: good players get drafted highly or given big bonuses for a reason. The organization clearly values these players more than others for their ability and it’s something to consider. For every 35th-round selection who goes on to star in the majors, there are ten or more first-round talents who go on to have the same kind of success. It’s not a guarantee that highly drafted or highly-sought signees will be stars, but it’s another useful piece of information as to what kind of player they are expected to become.
Performance – how well the player performed this season and in the past, considering the contextual information referred to above. The focus tends to be on using the true outcomes and rate stats to analyze a player since park effects, pre-determined workloads and minor league defenses can do strange things to statistics.
- For Pitchers: focusing on rate stats like K/9, BB/9 and HR/9. Wins and saves are irrelevant enough in the major and should be considered nearly worthless in the minors.
- For Position Players: focusing on things like K%, BB%, SB’s versus CS, 2B’s and HR’s hit. Stats like average can vary wildly from park to park and we’re looking for indicators more than current production (ignore RBI’s).
Future Production – the whole reason we analyze prospects is to project how useful they’ll be to the organization in the future. This boils down to a few things:
- For Pitchers: is the player a starter or reliever long term? Starting pitchers contribute far more to a team than any reliever does. Excellent left-handers are even harder to find. Most major league relievers were in the starting rotation during the vast majority of their minor league careers. To be utilized as a middle reliever in Single-A is a bad sign for a prospect.
- For Position Players: guys who man marquee positions are most valuable. Nearly anyone can play first base but it’s tough to find a guy who can pick it at shortstop long term or play good defense behind the plate. There’s real value in solid up-the-middle players who can field difficult positions and hit. Power is the most difficult attribute to find on the prospect landscape and there is a premium placed on it.
- Durability: players who have a history of injuries are harder to extract value from because they often spend a lot of time on the DL. There are plenty of guys who just get injured a lot and it derails their future production. Elbow and shoulder trouble are most worrisome for pitchers while wrist, knee and shoulder problems are bad signs for hitters.
Opinions of Others – it’s important to listen to others and consider the opinions of experts, especially those who get to watch these players in person on a regular basis.
- Scouting Reports: by scouring for reports and watching some video, one can start recognize areas of strength and weakness in players. With that said, players are not static beings and an area of weakness can be shored up through coaching and an area of strength can be exposed at higher levels. It’s largely up to the player to make adjustments.
- Other Prospect Lists: by consulting other current lists or those of previous years, one can get an idea of how perceptions of particular players may be changing. The prospect landscape is very dynamic other prospect lists reflect this.
This is by no means a comprehensive list of how to evaluate prospects but it’s a place to start. Hopefully it’ll provide a little background for when the list is revealed! Stay tuned!
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