Rounding the Bases: Top 100 talk, Part II
By Sam Dykstra/MiLB.com
How’s everybody doing? Feeling like you’re in the best shape of your life? Optimistic about what’s to come? Are you reconnecting with old friends and making new ones at the same time?
If you said yes to the any of those questions, congratulations, you’re a professional baseball player who’s made his way down to Spring Training.
If no to all of the above, you probably live in the northeast corridor of the U.S., where the polar vortex has kept most indoors (read: away from the gym and friends) and pessimistic that winter will ever end.
If you’re a mix of yes and no, I hope the idea of Spring Training has at least brought out some optimism in you. Otherwise, you’re a physically fit friend to everyone you meet who is still somehow pessimistic.
All that aside, let’s round the bases …
A poll of polls of sorts
Baseball America released its list of top 100 prospects — its 25th edition of such a collection, it should be noted — on Thursday. Between that, MLB.com and Baseball Prospectus, we’ve got three major prospect rankings heading into the 2014 season.
I’ve already compared and contrasted the MLB.com and BP lists, so let’s look at this from another angle. What if we combined the three sets to see how the aggregated rankings would sort out? As with any set of data, the more points you have, the stronger the collection should be considered. Is three a big enough sample size? Not necessarily, but it’s better to take the average of three lists than the midpoint of two.
(Note: Normally I’d extend this to four and include Keith Law’s rankings for ESPN. However, those are behind an Insider paywall, and I’m not in the business of disrupting another business’ revenue stream. MLB.com, BP and BA all released their lists for free, although you have to pay the latter two if you want in-depth scouting reports.)
There are a few more caveats to this little experiment. It is not done to say that if the three groups got together in a room, this is what they’d devise. There would, of course, be a back-and-forth discussion over the merits of Prospect X over Prospect Y. Some could be swayed; others, not so much.
Nor is it done to belittle any of the lists on something as small as a data point. There are innumerable sources, opinions and just plain man hours that go into making each of these prospect rankings. There also are individual touches that make them unique to each outlet. We can look at the same things in the same way and come to different conclusions. It’s called subjectivity, and that’s why there’s such a wide-open market for prospect rankings in the first place.
Treat this more like a melting pot. It’s not any more “right” than any of the other lists. It is just an amalgamation of the three and provides yet another way of stacking up the game’s best prospects. No more, no less.
With that in mind, here’s how I came up with the aggregated ranking. It’s based on a point system in which the top spot in an individual ranking earns 100 points, the second spot gets 99, etc. You can’t just take the average ranking because there were several players who didn’t appear in all three sets. This controls for that. The first tiebreaker is appearing in the most polls, the second is highest top ranking. For example, Gregory Polanco and Jameson Taillon both have 256 points, but Polanco gets the nod because his highest ranking (No. 10) trumps Taillon’s (No. 16).
With that settled, here’s the top 25:
Near-misses: Kyle Zimmer 221, Aaron Sanchez 217, Andrew Heaney 214, Eddie Butler 212, Maikel Franco 208
A few things to point out: There’s obviously agreement on the top three, and that shouldn’t be a huge surprise, given what we know about Buxton, Bogaerts and Taveras.
The dissension comes one spot later with Baez, and we’re off from there. That’s actually a good place to start because while most agree Baez has a monster ceiling — BP’s Jason Parks said in a chat last month one front office source believes the shortstop has “Hall of Fame potential” — there’s plenty of disagreement on whether he’ll reach it.
That being said, the widest gulf in opinion among the top 10 belongs to Sano, who is a top-six prospect, according to MLB.com and BA, but drops to 14 on BP’s list. The disagreement stems from how highly you view the Twins third baseman’s power — BP actually said Baez had a better power tool than Sano and ranked him 10 spots ahead — and whether his hit tool projects to be anything better than average.
Giolito is perhaps the most polarizing player in the top 25. So it goes when you’re talking about a right-handed prospect with lightning for a fastball, a tornado for a curveball — call it hyperbole if you want; Parks give both 80 potential grades — and a developing changeup who, by the way, is coming off Tommy John surgery and only has 38 2/3 innings under his belt.
Meanwhile, the pictures of consistency are Springer, who comes in between 18 and 21 in the three polls, and Stephenson, who is No. 19 for both MLB.com and BA and checks in at 22 for BP. The virtual agreement among the three sides helped the Astros outfielder and the Reds right-hander in this area, who moved up to Nos. 17 and 18 respectively, despite not being that high on any of the three lists.
Overall, there aren’t too many surprises in our aggregated poll. If nothing else, it illustrates the wide ranges of diverse opinion across the prospect ranking landscape and while hopefully ironing out some of those differences. After all, most agree on who should be in the conversation for top prospects — it’s the order that causes some haggling. We’ll revisit this at midseason when outlets come out with updated rankings to see who made the biggest across-the-boards leaps and falls.
Fried done for a bit
Not listed in the above top 25 but a top prospect in his own right — he came out an even 50 when you run the aggregate down that far — Padres left-hander Max Fried won’t be on a mound for at least another two weeks, according to news that broke Thursday afternoon.
First things first, it’s important to point out that everything seems very precautionary at this point. Although there’s a forearm issue bothering the southpaw, it’s only muscular in nature and doesn’t involve any ligament problems, which is good because that means you can stop thinking about the UCL and TJ acronyms right away.
Still, you hate to hear about throwing arm issues involving any prospect, especially this early in the year and especially given the year Fried was about to enter.
Barring any other issues and assuming he comes back healthy, the 20-year-old is likely to start his second full season at Class A Advanced Lake Elsinore with a good opportunity to move up to Double-A San Antonio by the end of the year. With age, his numbers were likely to actually improve as he harnessed his command, pegged as just a 50 on the scale by MLB.com, and racked up more strikeouts. (His 7.58 K/9 in 2013 wasn’t great on paper but was the fifth-highest in the Midwest League.) In fact, I’d go as far as to say he’s a potential breakout candidate in 2014 as he grows into his 6-foot-4 frame.
All that could be lost if the problem gets any worse, and that’s what leads to worry (and even panic, among some) when the words “shut down” get thrown around. Again, it seems like the Padres are doing all the right things at the moment. It’s much easier to lose a few weeks in late February/March. But this is at the very least worth monitoring as Spring Training continues and the spring leagues pick up shortly.
A love letter to the Stars
I try to keep this feature as prospect-related as I can — “Mascot Item of the Week” discounted — but this particular story hit me good and hard.
Colleague Ben Hill put up a guest post on his blog from Huntsville Stars fan Gillian Richard, who wrote passionately about what it means to her that the local club is packing up and moving down to Biloxi in 2015. Relocation is part of the sporting world, moreso in the Minor Leagues, and we have a tendency of shrugging this kind of stuff off. That’s the business, is usually the go-to dismissive line.
But there are plenty of human stories left behind that deserve our attention. It doesn’t take much to get a Seattle native going on the loss of the Sonics. To bring it closer to home, personally, I grew up near Hartford, Conn. But by the time I grew into hockey, the Whalers were long gone. I know a lot of people who still clamor for the days of “Brass Bonanza” and Pucky the Whale.
So read Gillian’s account and put yourself in her shoes. Then read Ben’s Q&A with Stars GM Buck Rogers about the future of baseball in Huntsville, and hope that there is one.
Mascot Item of the Week
Well, I did just mention hockey …
— Sochi 2014 (@Sochi2014) February 19, 2014
- We posted two Q&A’s this week — mine with Stephenson and Ashley Marshall’s with Hunter Harvey. Both hurlers should have impressive seasons ahead of them.
- Josh Jackson talked to Angels right-hander Austin Wood about his road from Florida State to junior college back to the big time at USC.
- As mentioned above, Baseball Prospectus started a series on best tools with separate pieces on hit/power and speed/makeup.
- In a companion piece to its top 100 list, Baseball America went back year by year to see how its previous 24 versions have held up. All things considered, they’ve done pretty well.
- FanGraph’s David G. Temple is ready to “shoot Xander Bogaerts into space.” It’ll make sense if you click, especially if you enjoy video games and/or the Great Beyond.