November 1, 2013
Prospects Will Break Your Heart
The 2013 Baseball Prospectus Prospect Rankings Primer
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.
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
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