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February 19, 2015

BP Unfiltered

The Special Status of the Last Man on a Prospect List

by Sam Miller

Over at Baseball America, John Manuel ran down all the No. 1 overall prospects Baseball America has ever chosen, from best (Alex Rodriguez) to worst (click over there). At the bottom of the post, he switches things up and talks about prospect no. 100:

Most years, two spots end up getting the most debate on the Top 100 Prospects list. Even if it’s a slam dunk decision, everyone feels the need to discuss who ends up at No. 1. And then as the list is being wrapped up, we like to debate about who should land at No. 100.

Unlike the other spots at the back of the list, No. 100 has turned into something special, our own verson of Mr. Irrelevant. For the first few years of the list, it was just another ranking. But in 1993, the spot started to be given to a player for a reason. Sometimes it’s a young player who is risky but has the tools to quickly climb the list. Sometimes the honor is given to an older player who has an unusual background, or a one-time top prospect who has fallen off because of injury or general ineffectiveness.

So, knowing that there is special care put into this spot, extra debate, perhaps more attention, more intention: Would you expect no. 100 prospects to end up being more or less accurate picks?

  • Hypothesis 1 (Ben Lindbergh): The 100s will do better than expected because the extra focus put on the spot will capture special intuition the rankers have about him.
  • Hypothesis 2 (R.J. Anderson): The 100s will do better because they will fit a certain type of player with more upside; a few big hits will put them over the top.
  • Hypothesis 3 (Sam Miller): The 100s will do worse because the rankers will fall into the pundit trap: Trying to be interesting instead of accurate, they will overlook the flaws that made the player drop out of the top 99 in the first place.

We'll compare all the no. 100 prospects to all the no. 99, 98 and 97 prospects in the same time. First, the lists:

Year No. 100 No. 99 No. 98 No. 97
1993 Rene Arocha Russ Springer J.T. Snow Bret Boone
1994 Roger Salkeld Paul Spoljaric Curtis Shaw Jose Herrera
1995 Chris Carpenter Damon Hollins Karim Garcia Jose Herrera
1996 Josh Booty Billy Percibal Michael Coleman John Frascatore
1997 Livan Hernandez Chad Green Sidney Ponson Bobby Estalella
1998 Chris Enochs Kevin Witt Jackson Melian Daryle Ward
1999 Drew Henson Trot Nixon Adam Kennedy Scott Williamson
2000 Kenny Kelly Wilson Betemit Aubrey Huff J.J. Davis
2001 Matt White Joe Lawrence Chris Snelling Adam Wainwright
2002 Jack Cust Ryan Dittfurth Dustin McGowan Victor Martinez
2003 Nic Jackson Edwin Jackson Seth McClung Jason Arnold
2004 Jason Lane Jake Dittler Brent Clevlen Bryan Bullington
2005 Greg Miller Anthony Lerew Ian Kinsler Huston Street
2006 Anthony Swarzak Nolan Reimold Chuck James Chris Volstad
2007 Dellin Betances Pedro Beato Micah Owings Wade Davis
2008 Drew Stubbs Jeff Niemann Greg Reynolds Chris Perez
2009 Jeremy Jeffress Tyler Flowers Daniel Bard Gio Gonzalez
2010 Noel Arguelles Jake Arrieta Jay Jackson Peter Bourjos
2011 Joe Benson Matt Davidson Austin Romine Drake Britton
2012 Christian Villanueva Joe Benson Jedd Gyorko Matt Davidson

Given the likelihood of failure for any prospect ranked this low, the ones who turned out to have long careers stand out like bold-face. You've probably already deduced, by a quick skim, what the numbers are going to add up to, but let's add up some numbers. All career WARPs below replacement level are rounded up to 0. DNP = no major-league appearances.

Year No. 100 No. 99 No. 98 No. 97 97-99 (Avg)
1993 1.7 6.1 7 17.4 10.2
1994 1.2 2 DNP 0.5 0.8
1995 18.5 0 0 0.5 16.7
1996 0 DNP 0 0 0
1997 30.4 DNP 7.6 4.8 4.1
1998 DNP 0 0 0 0
1999 0 20 17 8.9 15.3
2000 0 6 20.3 0 8.8
2001 DNP 0 0.5 28.3 9.6
2002 10.4 DNP 3.6 30.9 11.5
2003 DNP 11.6 0 DNP 3.9
2004 1.7 DNP 0.3 0.3 0.2
2005 DNP 0 34.4 10.1 14.8
2006 2.1 3.7 0 0 1.2
2007 2.5 0 4.1 8 4
2008 9.6 5.3 0 1.3 2.2
2009 0.8 1.9 3.8 14.1 6.6
2010 0 5.4 DNP 6.1 3.8
2011 0 0 0 0.4 0.1
2012 DNP 0 1.4 0 0.5
Total 79 62 100 132 97.8
Mean 3.9 3.1 5 6.6 4.9
Median 0.4 0 0.4 0.9 0.5

Big table, but: The no. 100 prospects do a) better than no. 99, but b) worse than nos. 97-99, and considering there's no real difference between being ranked 97th and 99th I'd consider that more telling. Of course, as you can see from the gap between the 97s and the 99s in value produced, there's naturally going to be a wide range of outcomes for any group of 20 prospects--I'd consider that even more telling. No. 100 prospects were less likely to play in the majors. And, of course, many of these players' careers are still to be written. Christian Villanueva might still turn into a Hall-of-Fame... pitcher? Catcher? I don't really know who that guy is. Anyway, I'm going to go ahead and claim victory for my hypothesis, and all in all I'd consider this to have been a nice excuse to remember that Roger Salkeld existed.

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

Related Content:  Prospects,  Scouting,  Minor Leagues

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