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November 1, 2013

Prospects Will Break Your Heart

The 2013 Baseball Prospectus Prospect Rankings Primer

by Jason Parks

It’s that time of year again, when the failures of all but one team are forgiven and the dreams of a better tomorrow supplant the stinging agony of defeat. Please allow me to sell you hope, packaged in promise, tied with a bow of unlimited possibilities. I know of a player who can solve all your problems and keep your sleep patterns regulated, and if you buy a subscription to Baseball Prospectus you can read about that player. I’m a prospect prognosticator: the Zoloft salesmen of baseball. How may I comfort you?

In all seriousness, prospect rankings aren’t about selling hope or compartmentalizing a future joy to lessen the ennui of the offseason months; rather, prospect rankings are pop-up art shows, galleries of photographs that capture a particular moment in time. Not to lessen the appeal or diminish the importance of the work, but snapshots don’t have lungs and they don’t crawl to land and evolve over time. Rankings throw a net over a designated slice of the calendar, and then shine a bright light on the apprehended prospects. But the ebb and flow of player development has a chance to wash away any static snapshot when the mood sees fit, and the player who was cast in a starring role is quickly reduced to the fringes of the spectrum. The hope that was sold in the fall often confronts the reality that exists in the spring, and by the following fall, hope has officially transformed to helplessness.

I mention these things not to weaken the product, but to remind people that players change, opinions change, and rankings most certainly change. While it’s important to document the moment, it's even more important to keep perspective on the long-term realities of the process, and the ultimate goals inherent in that process, which are to acquire, develop, and promote talent in order to strengthen the major-league team. That journey to maturity is different for every player; the obstacle course is tailored to a player’s individual strengths and weaknesses, so the achievements and the failures will also be unique. When we swoop in with our fluorescent lights and our prospect tweezers looking to expose deficiencies, the end result of that probe is often quite superficial and narrow in its range.

Just keep that in mind when you see a player “written off” for the sake of a limited ranking. You can remove the sensationalism from the approach--and we’ve tried to maintain a high level of professionalism here--but you can’t remove the shallow nature of the exercise itself. This is not an exercise of right/wrong or good/bad. When evaluating and projecting human behavior, it’s a fool who frowns on unpredictability in favor of a standard script. You might suggest that prospect no. 10 is superior to prospect no. 1, and I can call you ill-informed and unqualified to make such a pompous claim. But what I can’t say with any certainty is that you are wrong, as only time will tell if you hold an advantage in that argument. Until then, all we can do is present our point of view and sit on the sidelines and wait for the outcomes.

The Process
Putting together rankings is a subjective act, and the product is better served if you just admit that personal experiences, biases, and preferences help define the list as much as the raw tools of the players in question. Instead of one voice and one subjective stance, we want to offer you multiple voices, a choir of subjectivity and preference that will help shape the rankings in a unique way. This is how we put them together…

It all starts with a casual email to the minor league staff at Baseball Prospectus, with the team-of-the-moment’s name in the subject line and a flypaper request to throw any thoughts that might exist into the thread. Participation is welcomed but not mandatory, and those who have interest in the team or a particular experience with the prospects will respond and the ball starts rolling. As names get thrown into the mix, I’ll start working the phones, calling scouts and industry sources to get as many outside opinions as possible.

After a few days of intense information reconnaissance, I start making up my list. I love my sources, but I tend to rely heavily on my own eyes and my own thoughts; not because my opinions are superior to those I receive information from, but because I like to see talent in person and I trust my own evaluations and I’m not looking to produce a list that is strictly source driven. I like to take my in-person accounts and make a sandwich with the scout sources and then serve the product to the BP minor league staff so they can add their own delicious deli meat to the plate.

Debate ensues, numerous emails, IMs, and text messages get exchanged; frustration, annoyance, and name calling get a moment in the sun, and then the list is whittled down to the top 10 prospects, the three prospects on the rise, and three prospects likely to contribute at the major-league level (in some capacity) in 2014. A volunteer steps forward to create the top talent under 25 list and subsequent breakdown, and then I’m left to fill in the scouting information on the players chosen for inclusion on the actual prospect list. This is when I will contact the organization of the moment, but only to confirm tool profiles and to get developmental updates on players that we haven’t put eyes on. I think it’s important to leave the organization out of the rankings discussion. It’s one thing to ask about makeup or tools or developmental progression, but it's another to seek evaluation advice from a team that can’t remove itself from the tether of the organization or the agendas that are often along for the ride. It’s like asking a parent to give an honest answer to the question: “How ugly is your son?”

All told, the process takes anywhere from 25-40 hours per team, and that’s from first contact to last paragraph. The reports are thick, running anywhere from 3,500 to 4,000 words, so I’m not anticipating any feedback suggesting the content is underweight. In fact, we are adding to the reports this year in the hope of bringing further clarity to the process, particularly when it comes to a player’s projection and his likelihood of reaching that projection. In the past, we would just deliver an OFP (overall future potential), which is a number on the 20/80 (2/8) scale that designates the highest potential outcome of a player. For example: Carlos Correa’s OFP is a 7, which suggests he could be a perennial all-star and one of the best players in the game. However, the context is easily lost or distorted, so it’s important to note that while he [Correa] might have such a lofty ceiling, his realistic role (or outcome) is a grade lower. On this year’s lists, we will deliver both a player’s overall future potential and his realistic role, backing up the distinction with a risk factor used to indicate why a player might be at odds to achieve their highest expectation, based on injury factors, skill-set, etc. In addition to the enhanced scouting profiles, Bret Sayre –leader of Baseball Prospectus’ fantasy team- will be adding a more detailed fantasy breakdown of each player featured on the top 10 list. It’s our goal to offer a thorough and thoughtful product, and I think this year’s series will be the most comprehensive and informative to date. In previous years we have used draft order to establish the queue, but we will be going by divisions this season, starting with the AL West and moving across the landscape from there.

Here’s an example of the work, a tease for next week’s release. (You can find a glossary with some of the terminology you'll see in the series in last year's primer.) The Astros will be the first team featured, followed by the Mariners and Angels, but if this series is to live up to the hype and earn the label of #want, the prospect who best exemplifies that label deserves to be our model: Rougned Odor, the top prospect in the Texas Rangers’ system.

1. Rougned Odor
Position: 2B
DOB: 02/03/1994
Height/Weight: 5’11” 170 lbs.
Bats/Throws: L/R
Drafted/Acquired: International Free Agent, 2011, Venezuela
Previous Ranking: On The Rise
2013 Stats: .306/.354/.530 at Double-A Frisco (30 games), .305/.369/.454 at High-A Myrtle Beach (100 games)
The Tools: 7 future hit; 5 future power; 5 arm; 6 potential glove; 5 run

What Happened in 2013: As a 19-year-old, Odor crushed in advanced A-ball and finished the season with an impressive 30-game run in Double-A, hitting a combined 58 extra-base hits over the two stops.

Strengths: Natural bat-to-ball ability; shows impressive bat speed and the ability to make quick adjustments at the plate; can barrel velocity and track/stay back on off-speed; baseball instincts are elite; has the raw pop to drive the ball into the gaps; will develop average home run power over time; glove at second base should be plus; arm is average but strong on turns; at least average run, but plays up in game action; plays with extreme confidence and swagger; big-league competitor.

Weaknesses: Can get overly aggressive on all sides of the ball; tendency to bring bad batting practice habits into games; will drop shoulder and try to be a power hitter; has the actions and the arm to play shortstop, but doesn’t always play in control and can get sloppy; emotions can take him out of game.

Overall Future Potential: High 6; first-division player/chance for all-star level

Realistic Role: High 5; above-average player

Risk Factor/Injury History: Low risk

Fantasy Future: The top fantasy prospect at the keystone, Odor is the kind of player who won't dominate any individual categories, but can offer reliable all-around production. And with the dearth of high-impact second basemen both in the majors and minors, his fantasy value is even higher than it appears--particularly in deeper leagues. Heck, Daniel Murphy was top five at the position this year and Odor can do that. –Bret Sayre

The Year Ahead: As of this writing, Odor doesn’t have a clear path to the majors, as both Ian Kinsler and Jurickson Profar are ahead of him in the keystone queue. But as far as the skill set is concerned, Odor will be ready for a big-league taste in 2014, and his emergence could allow the Rangers to get aggressive in this offseason’s trade market. Regardless of what happens, Odor is going to hit the baseball, and he’s going to bring a very particular brand of intensity to the field, which can often alternate between a positive and a negative attribute. He has a chance to develop into a .300 hitter with gap power coming from an above-average defensive profile at an up-the-middle position. That’s an all-star if everything clicks.

Major league ETA: 2014

Jason Parks is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Jason's other articles. You can contact Jason by clicking here

Related Content:  Prospects,  Scouting,  Minor Leagues

35 comments have been left for this article. (Click to hide comments)

BP Comment Quick Links

tlpacker

So excited for this! Thanks for all of the great work.

Nov 01, 2013 03:49 AM
rating: 7
 
crile2

My game 6 hangover just suddenly disappeared.

Nov 01, 2013 07:06 AM
rating: 1
 
bigchiefbc

God, I am really Jonesing for the team reports to start coming out. My dynasty league's offseason trade flurries are starting soon, and BP is one my most trusted resources. You guys rock!

Nov 01, 2013 07:09 AM
rating: 1
 
Andrew13

Cant wait

Nov 01, 2013 07:10 AM
rating: 2
 
Dave from Pittsburgh

I'm so excited, it's my favorite time of the baseball year!

Nov 01, 2013 07:22 AM
rating: 1
 
JusitnG

I love me some Rougned!

Nov 01, 2013 07:25 AM
rating: 2
 
Ashitaka1110

Rougned Odor's name makes me hungry. Maybe "Rougned" reminds my brain of nougat. Need Snickers...

Nov 01, 2013 07:56 AM
rating: 0
 
MFBabyFeets

yes.

Nov 01, 2013 08:05 AM
rating: 0
 
mblthd

Any chance they might bring back the "Ephemera" section this year?

Nov 01, 2013 09:17 AM
rating: 0
 
BP staff member Jason Parks
BP staff

No chance.

Nov 01, 2013 12:09 PM
 
mblthd

That's fine, think it over, take your time, kick the idea around, etc.

Nov 01, 2013 13:30 PM
rating: 0
 
BP staff member Jason Parks
BP staff

I'd rather focus any/all available research time on the prospects and reports [themselves] than anything of trivial significance. It's not that I didn't like them in KG's articles; I absolutely did. But we are offering a more detailed product (scouting wise) and collecting that information takes up all of my allotted time. It really comes down to that.

Nov 01, 2013 13:46 PM
 
Pat Folz

Get an intern to do it?

Nov 02, 2013 11:10 AM
rating: 0
 
BP staff member Jason Parks
BP staff

This is the product we are putting out.

Nov 02, 2013 14:27 PM
 
NYYanks826

I remember last year, there were a few teams whose top prospects were up for serious debate among the prospect crew, and you offered us a sneak peek at a kind of roundtable discussion you had with a few other people as to how you came to your final decision. I believe the Rockies were one of those teams.

Any chance you will be able to provide that for a few more teams this season?

Nov 01, 2013 10:05 AM
rating: 4
 
BP staff member Ben Lindbergh
BP staff

Definitely planning to do that whenever the debate deserves the spotlight.

Nov 01, 2013 10:12 AM
 
batts40

I'd re-up every year for just the prospect coverage. All the other stuff is just bonus. Looking forward to this always excellent work.

Nov 01, 2013 10:18 AM
rating: 1
 
Pinson

Jason, how does one pronounce Odor's first name? Thanks

Nov 01, 2013 10:35 AM
rating: 3
 
delatopia

My guess is ROOZH-ned, but it's just a guess.

Nov 02, 2013 10:30 AM
rating: 0
 
BP staff member Jason Parks
BP staff

Roog-ned O-door

Nov 02, 2013 14:26 PM
 
bigdonut

There is nothing fringe-average about my excitement for this!

Nov 01, 2013 10:58 AM
rating: 0
 
RFKRFK

Rougned Odor is an anagram for Our Drone God!

Nov 01, 2013 12:41 PM
rating: 8
 
SC

Jeremy's Iron.

Nov 01, 2013 14:58 PM
rating: 1
 
Pat Folz

At-Bat music: "Báthory Erzsébet" by Sunn O)))

Nov 02, 2013 11:13 AM
rating: 0
 
ethanwitte

I'll give this news the highest of praise: #want

Nov 01, 2013 12:48 PM
rating: 0
 
casejud

This is a beautiful piece of writing Jason, and it sums up the fluidity, and "mind's eye" nature of prospect revaluation, very well.

It took me a while to grasp much of what you outlined above - to both take it seriously as a craft, and to not take it seriously (literally) at all, at the same time.

Good show! Looking forward to your Sophomore season doing this work at BP.

Nov 01, 2013 15:00 PM
rating: 0
 
BP staff member Jason Parks
BP staff

"It took me a while to grasp much of what you outlined above - to both take it seriously as a craft, and to not take it seriously (literally) at all, at the same time"

I have no idea what this means.

Nov 01, 2013 15:25 PM
 
casejud

It means you take seriously the act of researching the players, and making an evaluation but, once it is done to not take so seriously the debate the number, or the ranking, necessarily. I'm talking about, after the fact.

Shit, I just mean that it is fluid and ever-changing, just like you said. I should have just let your words stand JP. My bad. You said it better than I could.

Nov 01, 2013 16:24 PM
rating: 1
 
BP staff member Jason Parks
BP staff

Right. I understand now. Thanks. It's not an arbitrary act, as the rankings cement a moment of time and that has value. But that's also part of the problem, as player development is constantly in a state of flux so the action of cementing anything has a limited shelf-life.

Nov 01, 2013 16:33 PM
 
casejud

Right. Of course we also want to stand-firm by our rankings but, perceptions change, the player is seen more, we change, and the PLAYER himself changes!

So, there seems to be just a bit less of any point in arguing it or debating the rankings of players really. I used to get in some quite heated debates over this stuff, which is fun I guess but, often fruitless.

I love your outlined approach to it. Hey, not that you need my advice at all but don't be afraid to include more of yourself, your writing, your sense of humor, in the process. Its a tool that you use well and, could deploy even more! Good rookie year and looking forward to your Sophomore one. Knock it out the park, Parks.

Oh, and I want to contribute!

Nov 01, 2013 16:51 PM
rating: 0
 
mblthd

I hear they're looking for an Ephemera Archivist. I don't know if it's true or not - just something I heard somewhere.

Nov 03, 2013 14:46 PM
rating: 1
 
MaineSkin

The best part is not selling hope or dreams. Prospects sole purpose is to progress to the point they add value to the ML team. The "hype" is all about the bat which is a direct effect of fantasy. There is a big difference between fantasy top 100s and real life 100s. Think this year players could have an asterisk or symbol to represent a bump in the fantasy world? Pitchers are de-valued in fantasy, catchers like Hedges lose 1/2 value, CF is no diff than LF, etc...

Nov 01, 2013 19:00 PM
rating: 0
 
BP staff member Jason Parks
BP staff

I'm not going to alter the product for fantasy purposes. That's why we have our excellent fantasy team.

Prospects are commodities, just like anything else, and its the buying and selling of those prospects that establishes the market, and its the projected outcomes that supplies the theater. I think fantasy certainly plays a role on this side of the wall, but the realities of the system exist regardless of our involvement or connection to the process.

Nov 01, 2013 20:05 PM
 
BP staff member Bret Sayre
BP staff

To jump into this thread, that's going to be my responsibility here. If a player would be significantly higher or lower on a fantasy list, I'm going to mention that and speak to why. We are also going to be running a fantasy-specific Top 100 list again this year, which should help hammer all of that home.

Nov 02, 2013 19:34 PM
 
johnwood427

I love a good sandwich

Nov 03, 2013 06:01 AM
rating: 1
 
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