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February 24, 2004

Prospectus Roundtable

Top 50 Prospects, Part IV

by Baseball Prospectus

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Baseball Prospectus Top 40 Prospects lists:
2003
2002
2001

Baseball Prospectus Top 40 Prospects Roundtables:
2003 Part II
2003 Part I
2001

Baseball Prospectus Top 40 Prospects Reviews:
2000 Part VII
2000 Part VI
2000 Part V
2000 Part IV
2000 Part III
2000 Part II
2000 Part I
1999 Part VII
1999 Part VI
1999 Part V
1999 Part IV
1999 Part III
1999 Part II
1999 Part I

In preparing the annual top prospect list for Baseball Prospectus 2004, BP authors participated in the annual extended roundtable discussion of baseball's top prospects. The ranking and review process balanced translated statistics, scouting reports, and injury reports with the strong personal opinions of BP's finest…all with the goal of putting together the "best damn prospect list the world has ever seen." In Part IV today we finish sorting the top prospects into 50 slots, with plenty of debate along the way. You can click here to read Part I, here to read Part II, and here to read Part III.

We'll also unveil the final list today, with the Top 50 prospects (we've expanded from prior years' Top 40) revealed. Rany Jazayerli will be along to discuss the Top 50 list and the process that went into compiling it in tonight's Chat.

THE DEBATE CONTINUES...

11. Jeremy Reed
12. Justin Morneau
13. Kazuo Matsui
14. Scott Kazmir
15. J.J. Hardy

Nate Silver: #11-15 look more or less fine to me, except for Reed. I'd also be comfortable with bumping Morneau up a couple of slots.

Jonah Keri: Rios down, Morneau up. Morneau has earned a Top-10 spot. I'd have Jackson 5 or 6, Morneau maybe 8-9, and drop Rios into the 12-14 range. Delmon Young should also drop, for the same reasons as Weeks, only more so.

David Cameron: If you have two supposedly major league ready shortstops, one of whom is seven years younger than the other, the older better be remarkably better. Hardy should absolutely be ahead of Matsui. Despite the fact that I understand it's logistically impossible for this year, I'm also in the "ignore imported veteran players" camp.

Will Carroll: The question on Morneau is opportunity. Minky is still there, the outfield is set, and they will have to carry a third catcher (Matthew LeCroy) removing most of Morneau's DH chances. Add in that someone like Mike Cuddyer or Lew Ford or their other kajillion OF/DH types might have a hot spring and Morneau could experience another Rochester April or May. I think he's a hell of a player and wish they'd let him catch some in a LeCroy/Craig Wilson way, but if opportunity counts for anything... If Morneau up and Rios down means you'd take Morneau in a straight trade, I'll disagree. Rios is low, if anything.

I can't make an objective case for it, but I'm not nearly as high on J.J. Hardy as most. What's his upside--Florida's Alex Gonzalez? I'd also rather see Bush on the list over Burnett. Burnett's elbow has had problems while Bush is in an organization that had one minor arm injury.

"Screw-up" is probably a strong term to use regarding Kazmir, but just as you can overwork someone and injure his arm, the Mets bordered on underworking him and perhaps stunting his development. I made the comment as I was writing about Mazzone, so I may have been in a mindset. That said, I'd definitely rather have Kazmir than Bill Pulsipher in terms of workload and I think having Rick Peterson in the organization couldn't be a bigger positive to Kazmir.

Nate: PECOTA is also pretty down on Hardy, which I think is the result of a couple of different things:

  1. His speed indicators are quite poor for a 20-year-old.

  2. His walk rate is a little bit high for a player with relatively average power. Now, a good walk rate is a good thing, but there's some evidence that a player's isolated power plays an important role in allowing him to *sustain* his walk rate as he moves up levels, and PECOTA is taking that into account.

  3. He didn't have a particularly good year in 2002. It's difficult to balance the inherent capacity that minor leaguers have to make substantial and immediate improvements against the vagaries of randomness and sample size that all players are subject too, and I'm not saying that PECOTA does it perfectly, but I think *sometimes* we are a bit too eager to buy in on players who appeared to make a sudden leap forward. *Some* of those players will have made a smaller leap forward, and gotten lucky on top of it.

Let's compare J.J. Hardy and Bobby Crosby:


Player   Age   EqBA/EqOBP/EqSLG
Hardy   20     .240/.316/.380
Crosby  23     .273/.356/.490

Adjusted for park and league context, Crosby's numbers were much, much better. How to balance that against the age differential? I think the question becomes: How likely is it that Hardy will post a line of .273/.356/.490 or equivalent by the time that he's 23? It's possible, certainly, and it's also possible that he'll post a line even better than that. But I don't think that it's *probable*. That's a lot of improvement to make. PECOTA would put the possibility at somewhere around 25%, I'd think, and I think that's enough to render Crosby the stronger prospect.

David: If someone wants to overwhelm me with evidence that his numbers are unprecedented and history suggests he's going to have a long career culminating with 3,000 hits, I'll try to get on the Jeremy Reed, Top 5 Prospect bandwagon. But having watched him several times a week this year, at no point did I ever think to myself "This guy is a great prospect."

Granted, he had the best year of any player in minor league baseball this year (a very down year for top-flight hitting prospects), but he did it almost exclusively with singles. His plate discipline is definitely an asset, but he's not a walking machine. He has good enough bat control to make solid contact with a lot of pitches, and I don't necessarily see him being an 80-100-walk guy in the majors, especially if he's not getting the intimidation walks that power hitters draw.

So, we've got a corner outfielder (and make no mistake, he is a corner outfielder, and has to be evaluated as such) who is going to slug .450 and draw 60-70 walks a year. He's going to post .370 OBPs and .450 SLGs as a corner outfielder, making him a nice player that you probably don't want to give a long-term contract to.

If we could go back to 1995 and make Rusty Greer a top-5 prospect, would we? For me, Jeremy Reed is that kind of player, and there's obviously the downside risk that he still only has a half-year of Double-A and no time in Triple-A. This is a sketchy track record for a top-5 prospect, especially one without a whole heck of a lot in the way of physical projection.

Nate: Two of Reed's top five comparables were Don Mattingly and Tony Gwynn. Yes, there are also some Darin Erstads and Mark Kotsays and Greers in the mix, but there is upside above and beyond that level of performance. The fact that Reed's a near cinch to be a good major league player does not mean that there's no chance that he can be a *great* major league player. He's 22, and many players do not even *begin* to develop power until that age. Reed already has reasonable power, and it could become better as he gets stronger. The ISO numbers seem like a fair indicator of his power, and frankly, those numbers are pretty good for a 22-year old.

Reed's walk rate is more impressive when compared against his strikeout numbers--the kid sustained a BB/K ratio in the neighborhood of 2.0, which is simply outstanding. For one thing, the low strikeout rate lends some legitimacy to his gaudy BA. For another, it suggests that he'd have the capacity to work deeper into counts where the big power numbers come if he wanted to. PECOTA thinks that Reed, as a 23-year-old, could post a Greer/Kotsay type of season in the big leagues *this year*. You may be right that he will never become substantially better than that. But let's recognize that this comes down to a scouting judgment; statistically speaking, lots of players continue to develop their power and walk rates throughout their 20s, including players who profile like Reed.

Rany Jazayerli: All right, I get the picture. I'm comfortable with Reed as a Top-five player. But I'm not sure I'm comfortable with the notion that he's the #2 prospect in baseball. As incredible as his numbers are, I don't want to totally discount the fact that his game is largely based on batting average. That's not necessarily a bad thing, and if he had two full seasons like last year under his belt, I'd be comfortable with him at #2. But there's enough variability in batting average over one season that we have to at least consider the possibility that he's not going to be a .320 hitter in the majors, but only a .300 hitter.

I don't want to overstate my concerns, but put it this way: if I had to choose between Reed and Marte for my franchise, I'd choose Marte. Same with Weeks. I would probably go with Reed over Upton at this point, which is why I'm now slotting Reed in at #4.

You guys really love Morneau, don't you? I'd love him a lot more if I were certain that the Twins weren't going to bury him. They've already stunted Cuddyer's career, not to mention LeCroy, and they still are screwing around with Doug Mientkiewicz at first base (Ed note: This was before Mientkiewicz signed a multi-year contract extension). He squeezes into the top 10.

Regarding Kaz Matsui: I'm not arguing that we have to follow the BBWAA, but the bottom line is that if he hasn't played a professional game in the Western Hemisphere, his credentials are still going to be in doubt to some of our readers, and it's our job to inform them of what those credentials are. The fact that Matsui is eligible for RoY honors really isn't the point; if I thought Matsui would have one great year and then fall apart, a la Bob Hamelin, he wouldn't be ranked where he is. I think KazMat is going to be one of the best shortstops in the National League for the next five years--THAT is why he deserves to be ranked.

No complaints about Kazmir, just recognize he's high risk, high reward. I understand that they were extremely protective of his arm, and they probably could have gotten a few more innings out of him, but how much damage can you do to a prospect by *limiting* his pitch counts? I certainly prefer the Scott Kazmir approach to the Bill Pulsipher approach, so the Mets are making progress.

A lot of you like Hardy an awful, awful lot, and he's a good prospect. But I have a bad statistical vibe about him, which may mean nothing but coincides with Nate's point about his unimpressive PECOTAs. Plus, he's a Brewer, though I concede that hasn't hurt Weeks or Fielder. I've moved him down a few spots, and flip-flopped him with Crosby.

Joe Sheehan: Kaz Matsui should be higher. Forget where he came from and just look at his age and projection. I think of Japan as just another Triple-A league, myself. If that's the case, Matsui projects as the pre-'03 version of Edgar Renteria, or Barry Larkin's decline phase. I'll take two, thanks.

For that matter, I'd make Akinori Otsuka a low pick, or at least an Honorable Mention.

Overall I'd have Mauer, Weeks, Greinke, Morneau (opportunity), Rios, Kazmir (needs innings) and Young lower; Reed, Upton, Matsui and Crosby higher. I like opportunity and positional value.

Jonah: I disagree about Morneau needing to be bumped lower. This goes to the whole ROY candidates vs. top prospects debate, but if Morneau lacks opportunity now, does he stop being a terrific hitter if it takes him until the summer, or even 2005, to claim the 1B job outright? Not IMO.

Nate: PECOTA uses (mostly) minor league comparables in order to evaluate minor league hitters. A lot of guys that profiled like Hardy did not develop well. It's also relying on the DTs, which adjust Hardy's numbers downward pretty harshly.

Where I do think the system has a flaw is that it uses coefficients determined from major league data in the weightings that are applied to previous seasons as it derives a player's baseline level of performance. For example (in actuality, there are several other nuances, but those aren't material to this discussion), it might evaluate previous seasons according to this formula:

Year N-1 50%
Year N-2 30%
Year N-3 20%

When instead, for a 20-year-old prospect, it might be more efficient to use these coefficients

Year N-1 65%
Year N-2 25%
Year N-3 10%

Ratios like those would result in a somewhat more favorable projection for someone like Hardy or Rios or Quiroz, who demonstrated significant improvement in year N-1.

However:

  1. I haven't actually completed a study that confirms that an adjustment to the weightings would be appropriate; I'm making an educated guess.

  2. The magnitude of the correction, while significant enough to be worth worrying about, is not so significant that it would turn a manifestly unfavorable forecast into a favorable one, or vice versa.

  3. The forecast on Hardy is quite profoundly negative.

In other words, I think that the unfavorable PECOTA is worth worrying about in Hardy's case, even if it is in fact slightly more unfavorable than it 'should' be.

16. Ryan Wagner
17. Guillermo Quiroz
18. Bobby Crosby
19. Grady Sizemore
20. Casey Kotchman

Nate: Kotchman should be higher, IMHO--at the very least, I think he should be ahead of Sizemore, and probably Quiroz. I'm agreed with your line of thinking on Crosby, who would make my top ten. I think Crosby should be ahead of J.J. Hardy, as well as Greene et al.

Jonah: I really like Quiroz a lot, and given the question marks surrounding many of the catching hotshots (I'm one of the only humans who remain somewhat skeptical on Mauer, let alone guys like Huber), I'm going to make a fuss here about Quiroz making Top 15. I think dropping KazMat to say, 16, doesn't dramatically affect him, but allows us to make a stronger statement about Quiroz's performance record.

I'm going to take an unpopular view here: Grady Sizemore is overrated. He's young, he's a very good athlete, and those doubles and triples *might* become homers in the future. But for all the talk of his speed, he hasn't run all that much since '01, and I like the Sickels secondary tool of looking at SB% as a small part of a prospect's profile, and he struggles there (I'd love to see someone do a study on this to actually track SB rate as an indicator of future success rather than intuiting its usefulness by the way). Walk rate? Meh. PECOTA? Yuck (even though it's obviously discounting him as being a ways away). Ability to play CF? Blagh--he's headed for a corner, just as the non-thumper Chris Snelling did.

Dallas McPherson should definitely be above Sizemore. So should Kotchman. I'd rather have Jeff Mathis' power and positional value. Loney would be close. Grady should be closer to 30 than 20.

Chris Kahrl: I keep asking myself, what would I want, a reliever, or somebody who might only be Lance Parrish? I'm always going to argue against the reliever. I understand the reasons to mention Wagner high up on the list, but I'd take Quiroz every day.

David: Kotchman is way too low. He's the best hitter in the minors. The only knock on him is injuries, and I'm not ready to call him fragile or brittle based on getting hit in the wrist with a pitch.

Dayn Perry: I wouldn't have Wagner in the top 25 based on reasons explored at length by others. I'll also take this opportunity to stump for Jeff Mathis to be ranked ahead of Quiroz. Quiroz was highly impressive this past season in Double-A. But, like Rios, it was the first good season of his entire career. I actually like him better than Rios because of positional scarcity and his superior walk rate and raw power indicators. But it's still his first good season. Look at his career numbers: .237/.323/.395. Maybe it was genuine skills growth we saw last season, or maybe it was fluke.

I'd take the semi-conservative tack and rank him about 10 spots lower. In the here and now, I like Mathis better. He looked good at Double-A-Arkansas despite being notably younger than Quiroz, and his performance in previous seasons is far superior. The guy's hit 80 doubles the last two seasons. He's younger, has clearly better numbers at almost all levels and has played at the same levels. His defense doesn't grade out as well, but on balance I don't see how anyone can say Quiroz is a better prospect than Mathis. In fact, Mathis would be in my top 10.

Will: Sizemore killed in the Futures Game and is stuck in a body transition from speed/leadoff type to 2- or 3-place hitter with burgeoning power. I'd agree he'll outgrow CF, but I still think his upside is Brian Giles-lite.

David: I think we have to move Grady Sizemore. Reed and Sizemore are similar types of players, with Sizemore getting the edge in power and youth while Reed takes the nod in plate discipline. Overall, I profile both as solid, unspectacular players, with Sizemore leaning more towards the high end of the risk/reward spectrum. I don't think we can make a real good case for Reed being in the top 5, but Sizemore being in the 25-30 range.

Rany: I've moved Crosby up a few spots. Nate's point about how Hardy's age doesn't necessarily make up for Crosby's edge in performance is well-taken. He's got a full year at Triple-A under his belt, he's got a job waiting for him this year, and the A's know how to develop hitters.

Several of you argued that Kotchman was way too low, and my concerns about his health aside, if he does stay healthy he's going to be a stud. I've moved him up to 15, essentially flipping him with Hardy.

There's as much difference of opinion with Sizemore as with anyone on this list. Will and Gary love him; the rest of you think he's overrated. Yielding to the numbers, his so-so plate discipline and lack of intelligent application of his speed (lots of triples, but 10-for-19 on the basepaths) are small red flags. He'll be moved down into the 20s.

21. Cole Hamels
22. Franklin Gutierrez
23. Jeff Mathis
24. Dallas McPherson
25. Dustin McGowan

Nate: As I've said before, I'd really like to see us go to bat for Dallas McPherson.

Chris: I'm happy to see that McGowan's come up this high...

David: I think this group, better than any, exemplifies the balance of this year's crop of prospects. I'd call it almost even money that these guys have a better career than the top 5.

Dayn: I'd have McGowan higher. We know about the strides he made with his command, and I'd also point out that he's coughed up only 15 homers (and only two all of last season) in almost 400 career innings. As I mentioned above, HR/9 may be a highly overlooked indicator of future success.

Nate: What separates Cole Hamels from Kazmir and Miller, other than reputation? Here are their numbers:

Kazmir - low-A, 3.06 RA, 76.1 IP, 50 H, 6 HR, 28 BB, 105 K, high-A, 4.09 RA, 33 IP, 29 H, 0 HR, 16 BB, 40 K - age 19 - born 1/84

Hamels - low-A, 0.96 RA, 74.2 IP, 32 H, 0 HR, 25 BB, 115 K, high-A, 3.07 RA, 26.1 IP, 29 H, 0 HR, 14 BB, 32 K - age 19 - born 12/83

Miller - high-A, 3.11 RA, 115.2 IP, 103 H, 5 HR, 41 BB, 111 K, AA - 1.69 RA, 26.2 IP, 15 H, 1 HR, 7 BB, 40 K - age 18 - born 11/84

I like Hamels better than Kazmir, and from a statistical standpoint, the only thing that distinguishes them are the zero home runs allowed by Hamels. Dayn found that HR rate has a lot of predictive value for a young pitcher, and PECOTA seems to concur. Kazmir throws harder, and Hamels had the injury in high school, but I agree with the implication that Hamels is the better prospect in a BP kind of way.

Will: Someone made the point earlier about Hamels' injury being extremely difficult to factor in. It's a fracture and one that's completely non-baseball related, despite it being similar sounding to a Browning-Saunders fracture. Given that he's pitched a full year without problems, I have to think we should almost throw it out and perhaps think of it as a positive (reduced workload.)

Rany: I'm comfortable with where Hamels is ranked. He ranks lower than Kazmir almost entirely because of the humerus problem. I admit that we're not even sure that it affects his risk at all, but with pitchers, risk is perhaps the greatest factor to consider.

I like Mathis a lot, actually, but didn't want to rank him too high because I thought people would have concerns about his bat. I love doubles as much as anyone. Given that he's primarily known for his glove to begin with, I think we can bump him up a little and give him the last Top-20 spot.

I'm pleased to see that no one thought McGowan was overrated, and in fact some of you thought he should go higher. I love his HR rate, but I think rating him any higher than this may be a little too aggressive for someone who hasn't truly dominated at any level. I do think he's a major sleeper, though.

Joe: Good God, McPherson needs to be higher. Top 20, at least. Even if he moves to right field--and I don't think Glaus is a long-term Angel--he could be a Tim Salmon-level hitter. He's certainly "our" kind of guy, and as likely as anyone on this list to be a very good player for four years.

Dayn: I like Kazmir better, but I think Hamels should be a few spots higher. Great K rate and not a single homer allowed in his career.

26. Chris Snelling
27. James Loney
28. Gavin Floyd
29. Khalil Greene
30. Dioner Navarro

Nate: Very much disagreed on Floyd. We may be overcompensating downward on Navarro.

Jonah: Loney and Sizemore should be comparably placed. I'd drop Snelling a bit, given he's a corner guy who lacks big power, with the injuries obviously a concern.

David: I'm glad that our objections were noted, but I'd love to hear a reasonable defense of Navarro being a top-30 prospect. I just can't see it. Also, Gavin Floyd is about 20-30 spots too high. There really isn't any reason for him to be separated from the rest of the underachieving "stuff" guys.

Dayn: I don't even think I'd have Floyd in the top 50. Other than a nice ERA, the numbers aren't there. Wait until he has a truly impressive stop at a higher level. I think he's one of the more overrated prospects in the game. Navarro, I think, merits a spot, but I'd have him in the 45-50 range. My problems with him are the same ones I have with Rios. One good season that's driven by a high batting average.

Rany: OK, Snelling gets hurt a lot, but I admit to having a soft spot for the guy. I think that in addition to his talent, he's undeniably intelligent, and I have to think he's smart enough to figure out that sometimes it's best to give 95% when giving 100% will get you hurt. There aren't too many guys on this list who I'd move ahead of him anyway.

Here's something I learned...Everyone Hates Gavin Floyd. I admit that his numbers don't knock my socks off, but he's managed to avoid the major negatives associated with pitching prospects (health, mechanics, weak stuff), he was a very high draft pick, and his numbers aren't that bad. I'll concede the point that I've overrated him here, and we'll move him down into the 40s. How strong is the consensus that he should be eliminated entirely?

David and Dayn want Navarro moved way down; Nate thinks he's been moved down to far to begin with. I think that we have to remember that, just as he's not as good as his .341 batting average as a 19-year-old in Double-A suggests, neither is he as bad as his small body type and lack of an impression on scouts would imply.

This Roundtable is going to run in more parts than "War & Remembrance" by the time we're through (Ed Note: uh...yeah).

Joe: I'd like Loney higher, as I think his raw line is shorting his season. Nineteen years old in the FSL is no joke, and the wrist did impact him early. I think he could be the Minor League Player of the Year.

…And I'm with Nate on Navarro. We're letting scouting concerns interfere with performance concerns far too much here. Bump him back into the 18-23 range.

31. Josh Barfield
32. Russ Adams
33. Clint Nageotte
34. Jason Bay
35. Ervin Santana
36. Jeremy Hermida
37. Greg Miller
38. Chin-Hui Tsao
39. David DeJesus
40. Adam Wainwright

Nate: Tsao *is* top-25 material, IMHO, and he sure as hell belongs ahead of people like Clint Nageotte and Gavin Floyd. I think we're being very presumptive by saying that the park is going to hamper him that much; the Rockies have not *had* a pitching prospect of this caliber before, so it's not like we've got any precedent to work with.

Jonah: Love Jason Bay. A lot more power than Sledge, and while they vaguely have the same profile, I think it's a different discussion. Top 30 would be appropriate. I'm shocked to say it, Rany, but you've underrated a Royal here. Start naming MLB CF with very good offensive and defensive skills. If you get past one hand, you've cheated and added OBP sieve Torii Hunter. David DeJesus has the benefit of great opportunity coming with Carlos Beltran gone soon; he's got some power, speed, a good performance record, and can legitimately play the position. PECOTA likes him too. If Beltran gets dealt before Opening Day, DeJesus may be the choice for ROY. Deserves at least a 10-spot bump.

Rany: Yes, I actually underrated a Royals prospect, which I'm sure you all realize was actually a clever ruse to make you all think that ranking Greinke so high wasn't the result of bias. DeJesus moves up a few spots, ahead of Bay, which I'm not so sure about. What's the consensus here--who do people like more, DeJesus or Bay?

Chris: Tsao deserves a much higher ranking. Damn what the park will do to his uninterpreted stats, aren't we the sort of outfit that's willing to talk about what he's actually worth to a baseball team?

David: I'd flip-flop Josh Barfield and Russ Adams, at least. I'd be fine with Barfield dropping even further, especially behind guys like Bay, Ervin Santana, and Tsao. And if Dan O'Dowd goes through another crazy spell and throws Tsao into a Seattle trade, he's suddenly a better prospect because his future home is Safeco Field instead of Coors Field? Tsao's definitely a top-20 prospect, based on what he's done and his arsenal of pitches. Park effects might hide his talent or even derail his career, but projecting that on him now is simply unfair.

Dayn: I swear I'm not picking on Blue Jays prospects, but I'd probably knock Adams down a few notches, simply because he's shown zero power. I know that's not his game, but I fear he may eventually fall into the Howie Clark mold of a utility infielder that can get on base but do little else. A good prospect, but ranked too high, I think.

DeJesus should be a few spots higher...

I think having Tsao ranked that low is the biggest mistake I've seen thus far. He's top 20 at least, and there's no way he should be lower than Floyd. His numbers at Double-A-Tulsa last year were highly impressive.

Rany: Very few comments on Greg Miller, other than one wondering why he's so much lower than Kazmir and Hamels. The answer, quite simply, is that any kind of arm problem immediately gets you knocked down, and the last piece of information we have on him is that he was shut down with shoulder pain. If there's one piece of injury information I'd like to have, it would be on Miller. If Will doesn't know, how about whoever wrote the Dodgers' chapter? What's the status on Miller?

Ryan Wilkins: Regarding Greg Miller: some people I've spoken to within the organization didn't seem too concerned, saying that Miller would be fine for the spring, and that shutting him down was more of a precautionary measure than anything else. David, I know, has said that there is some concern over his reliance on his breaking stuff, and the possible detriment to his arm that could cause.

Rany: At least one of you said that you thought Adams was overrated at this point, given his lack of power to date. I just wrote his comment this afternoon and finished with a comparison to Mark Loretta, which made me think that maybe he is a little overrated at this point. I think the difference between him and Greene, at least at this point, is larger than their three-slot separation above would suggest.

There were some minor complaints here about Jason Bay's shoulder and his age, but he hit .303/.410/.541 in Triple-A last year, and .287/.421/.529 in a very impressive 30-game stint in the majors. Unless his shoulder problems are bigger than I'm aware of (Will?), I can't see doing more than tweaking his ranking.

Will: Bay is 26, coming off shoulder surgery. If he misses all of spring training, I'm not sure that he won't need a month in Nashville. That doesn't scream "move him up" to me. Heck, Fernando Seguignol's only a couple years older. A labrum injury for a corner outfielder isn't horrible and I've never read where he had a plus arm, but new organization with questionable medical staff and missing all of spring training makes me worry in the short term.

Rany: Everyone Loves Chin-Hui. I think people misunderstand me when I say that we have to knock him down because of Coors. It's not that Coors affects his actual (as opposed to perceived value), it's because pitchers have, historically, had more trouble developing in hitter's parks (even after taking into account park effects), and Coors is the Mother of All Hitter's Parks. Tsao himself made eight starts with the Rockies last year, and finished with a 6.02 ERA, 11 homers in 43 innings, and a K/BB ratio of only 29/20. I'm not saying he can't overcome that, but it would be foolish not to factor his ballpark into our evaluation. Having said that, his minor league numbers are phenomenal, and he's already returned from TJ surgery, another point in his favor. He'll move up into the 20s.

Will: I'm not sure returning from TJ alone should be considered a positive for Tsao. Returning and exhibiting normal velocity and control should be, but someone like Kris Benson still hasn't. I'm sure there are similar examples in the minors.

Joe: Context matters. A prospect's career is impacted by his organization and his circumstances, and Tsao coming up as a Rockies' pitcher is a terrible circumstance. Yes, if Tsao gets traded to the Dodgers for LoDuca and Abercrombie, those players' projected values change. That's just the way Coors works. Remember that it's not just the impact on stats, but the physical wear and tear from working harder to make the baseball do what you want it to do, from recovering with less oxygen in your system, and from the way the bad stats make the organization act. I'm comfortable with Tsao here, and I'd rather see him lower than higher. When a Rockies pitcher puts up 60 good starts over two seasons, then we can talk.

Mathis, MacPherson, Loney, Navarro, DeJesus higher; Hamels, Sizemore (why is he so high?), Tsao, Snelling (health is a skill) lower. Maybe Greene, too.

Dayn: If Jason Bay's shoulder is truly not that much of a detriment, move him up. Great hitting skills.

Derek Zumsteg: Clint Nageotte's stuff is outstanding, I think the issue is he's got no change and won't develop one. And not in the "is trying but it hasn't happened" David Riske sense but in the "refuses to try" sense. As long as that's true, he's almost certainly going to end up as a reliever, and having him dig in his heels over something like this makes me concerned about his ability to adapt at higher levels and take coaching well (though obviously that's a scouting read on this whole thing).

Jonah: DeJesus is still too low. He's a much better prospect than Bay given their ages and positions. There's nothing on this that I feel as strongly about as making DeJesus a Top 30 prospect. I like him more than Snelling. Seriously. Virtually every team in baseball has to settle for a compromise at the CF position, be it offense, defense, age, speed, patience, power, whatever. DeJesus has a legit shot to be one of the few non-compromises. You know I love Riley, but I'd rather have DeJesus than him too.

41. Edwin Encarnacion
42. Gabe Gross
43. Bobby Jenks
44. Matt Riley
45. Scott Hairston

Nate: Jenks had better numbers than I'd remembered him having, but I still think the odds of a guy who walks 51 batters in 83 IP becoming a good major league pitcher are very, very long. Can we point to more than a couple of precedents of a pitcher who his profile who *did* become successful? If not, then I don't think that he should be ranked.

Jonah: This will look brilliant, very soon; I'm staking my maple syrup and curling broom collection on it. I'd rather have Shoppach in the top 50 than Jenks, more because of the walk rate than other stuff (though obviously the other stuff matters too). Brendan Harris too (I think you've overpunished him for not having an Albert Pujols year).

Will: Matt Riley = Tony Armas with a new elbow.

Chris: This is a great case in point. Bobby Jenks will never be this close to Tsao in terms of actual value to a team.

David: Jenks was significantly better in the second half than the first half. To me, that matters, even if just a little. I agree that he should be on the list. Considering that I concluded an article just a few months ago stating that I'd rather have Gross than Rios, I think it's safe to say that I feel he's too low.

Dayn: I know there's a movement afoot to rank Gross higher, but I think he's about right at 42. He performed well last season, but only after repeating the league. He's a corner defender who hasn't slugged .500 above High-A, and he's already 24. His walk rate is very impressive, but there are many reasons to think he won't end up much better than Bobby Kielty with a slightly worse glove. If we want to make an edgy pick, I think it should be ranking Riley higher than 44. I don't think Jenks, Zink and Youkilis belong in the top 50. I do think Bush and Blanton belong. I know it was only the Midwest League, but Blanton's numbers there were scary good, and he's very stingy with homers.

Rany: I'm actually surprised that two or three of you actually thought that Jenks was deserving of this ranking. This may turn out to be an embarrassing stand, but having already listed Jenks at #40 a year ago, it's hard to justify moving him down significantly when he's a better prospect today than he was then. That may be a condemnation of my decision to list him a year ago, but be that as it may, I've forced our hand to keep him on the list another year.

Joe: Edwin Encarnacion should be higher. He's young, he plays a thin position, broad base of skills, and PECOTA can't see the shape of his season. He's at least 10 spots too low, and probably closer to 20. He might be 2004's Cabrera, and even if he's not, he should be higher than this.

46. Sean Burnett
47. Jason Stokes
48. Adrian Gonzalez
49. Kevin Youkilis
50. Charlie Zink

Nate: I'm happy with 46-49, but not with #50. Zink had a 3.90 ERA and crappy peripherals in the Florida State League; that's not a prospect, regardless of what type of pitch he throws.

Jonah: Zink is borderline, I agree. But I'd sooner move Jenks out. So the question is, who else gets added if Zink falls? I'd go Shoppach and maybe Huber at the tail end on the chance he DOES stay a catcher. I wish I knew what people had against Blanton, because I'd have figured him for close to 40...still would like to see him make the list. So I guess that ousts Zink, Jenks and Youkilis.

Chris: And I have to strongly disagree with Zink, unless you're arguing that we should retroactively consider Steve Sparks or Dennis Springer as worthy of a top prospect listing, just because they happen to throw a fun pitch.

David: I'd object louder to Zink, but I get the feeling that it won't matter, so I'll save my fingers for arguments I think might make a difference. I'd suggest going back and reassessing Gonzalez's season. Saying he had a terrible year is re-writing history and simply not true. It's the kind of falsity that comes from reading a season-long stat line with no timeline context.

Jason Stokes' wrist problems had nothing to do with the fact that he's a free-swinging hack who got exploited by decent pitchers. If low-risk utility players are top-50 prospects, then this list is completely backwards, and all the guys with no Double-A experience should be expelled. I can't imagine any scenario where I'd rather have Kevin Youkilis in my organization than Merkin Valdez, Kelly Shoppach, Joe Blanton, Adam LaRoche, David Bush, or J.J. Davis.

Rany: Still some grumblings that Burnett shouldn't be on this list, but again, if we're basing our list on performance--and future projections of that performance--more than scouting reports, it's hard to argue that Burnett doesn't belong.

I threw Youkilis at the wall to see if he would stick; it looks like he didn't. I'm fine with that. I was originally not planning to do an Honorable Mention list this year, but there are more prospects worth writing about than there are spots on this list, so I think I'll list 10 HM candidates, allowing me to mention guys like Youkilis.

Wow, Zink was an even more unpopular a pick than I thought. Sure, he had a 3.90 ERA in A-ball, and I'm sure that doesn't translate well. But one of my pet theories is that knuckleballers translate better than any other subset of prospects, because the knuckler is such a unique pitch that major league hitters are not selected on their ability to hit it, so as a whole they don't hit the knuckler that much better than Double-A hitters as a whole, for instance. I admit that I have no data whatsoever to back up my theory, though the lack of a significant sample size to test is a pretty strong defense. (If anyone wants to test my theory anyway, I'd love to see it.)

Zink did improve his ERA to 3.43 when he was promoted to Double-A, for what it's worth. I admit that he doesn't look as good as Wakefield did, but I think he's a lot better than the Springers and Sparkses of the world. But I'll confess that I don't really know. Clay (or anyone with the data), can you list for us the minor league data, complete with age, for Tim Wakefield, Springer, Sparks, Jared Fernandez, and any other knucklers of the last 15 years? I think that only Wakefield was even throwing the knuckleball at Zink's age (24). I'd love to see whether he was that much more successful than Zink at the same age or not. Pending those results, I'm going to cling to Zink. If it turns out that I'm wrong about Zink's place in the pantheon of recent knuckleballers, I'm willing to reconsider.

Based on everyone's comments, I think we should replace Youkilis with J.J. Davis, and replace Gonzalez with Joe Blanton.

Joe: I have two words for Sean Burnett: Strikeout rate. This is a hell of time to decide to like performance over scouting reports. If anything, scouts like Burnett more than we do. Anybody remember that we once ranked Mike Myers? John Stephens too.

Zink? No. Zink isn't one of the top 50 prospects in the game. He's just not. If it works for him, it doesn't mean that he was one of the top-50 prospects in the game. It means that he *wasn't*, and had a career anyway.

Dayn: I don't think Jason Stokes belongs on this list. His 2002 season at Kane County smacks of major fluke.

Mark Armour: I understand Rany's Zink selection, and I think it's a reasonable pick to make a statement. I understand the idea of giving him another year, but it would be nice to get in on the ground floor. I think Zink's statistics are less translatable than other FSL players. His upside likely involves being an above-average pitcher in Portland this year, maybe getting promoted in July, getting 10 average starts in Pawtucket, going 7-6 with a 3.6 ERA in Triple-A in 2005, hitting Boston late in the year, being a long man for a year, bouncing in and out of the rotation for a few years, finally mastering the pitch in 2011 and winning 20 games a few times in his 30s. That's the upside, and it's unlikely, but the same could be said for a lot of guys on this list. No selection at #50 carries a lot of confidence.

Gary mentioned the notion that Zink was x% likely to be Charlie Hough. I don't know what x is, maybe it's 5. If it is 5, Zink belongs, since Hough won 216 games, and pitched 25 years as a better than league-average pitcher. The odds of anyone, including Edwin Jackson or Zack Greinke, having a career as good as Charlie Hough are pretty low.

Heck, Steve Sparks, who Chris disparaged earlier, will likely have a better career than half of the pitchers on our final list. Not that I would tout a prospect as a future Steve Sparks or anything, I am just saying.

I understand the caution. A year from now he'll either be in the Top 20 or released.

Clay: The closest age/levels I have for these pitchers, translated to the usual league norms, and considering that I can't look up pre-1990 years and add them to the directory right now:


                   NERA  PERA   H/9  HR/9 W/9  K/9
Zink  23,A+        6.37  7.65  11.1  2.2  5.7  4.4

Wakefield, 23, A+  6.23  9.13  12.1  3.1  4.9  4.2
Springer, 25, AA   5.63  5.88  10.6  1.1  4.7  3.5
Sparks, 24,A+      5.73  5.66  12.2  0.8  2.4  3.5
Fernandez, 24,AA   6.69  6.85  11.6  1.6  4.7  3.5

Zink's walk rate is dramatically higher than the field, but he also has the highest K rate.

Comparing the minor and major league numbers of these four players:


Wakefield (90-03) minor 5.83 7.13 11.2 2.0 4.2 4.2
                  major 4.33 4.21  8.3 1.0 3.2 6.1

Sparks (90-03)    minor 5.87 6.06 11.1 1.2 4.1 4.2
                  major 4.74 4.59  9.3 0.9 3.0 4.3

Springer (90-03)  minor 5.65 5.98 10.4 1.6 3.5 4.1
                  major 5.14 5.05  9.3 1.3 3.0 3.8

Fernandez (96-03) minor 5.68 6.06 11.1 1.4 3.4 3.8
                  major 4.90 4.73  9.9 0.7 3.2 4.6

Compositing them very simply I get


Composite minor  5.76 6.31 11.0 1.6 3.8 4.1
          major  4.78 4.65  9.2 1.0 3.1 4.7

So Rany's hunch appears to be correct; this group of pitchers has done much better in the majors than their minor league numbers indicate. I can't say that is a knuckleball effect without more work; it may be a selection bias (does any group of major league pitchers have better composite major league numbers than minor league numbers? They shouldn't, by design of the DTs, but they might), it may be normal improvement with age.

Even if we take the ratios above (with all the possible problems that might carry), and give him a 10% improvement across the board for age and experience to come, and apply them to Zink, though we get this:


Zink, regular    6.37  7.65  11.1  2.2  5.7  4.4
Zink, modified   4.76  5.08   8.3  1.3  4.2  5.5

I don't think that comes particularly close to a top-50 prospect. If you knew with perfect foresight exactly what Wakefield's major league career would look like, would he ever have been a top-50 prospect? Despite a couple of good years, he's also had some bad ones, with the net result being a slightly above-average pitcher (4.33 on a 4.50 scale). I come down on the nos.

If we were going to have an idiosyncratic pick, I'd lobby for Jesse Crain. Yes, I know he's a reliever and we don't generally like relievers. But he's blown through every league he's been assigned to (check out his hit and home run rates, since we seem to be weighting those higher this year), throws hard enough to satisfy the scouting community at 98, AND is stepping into a depleted Minnesota bullpen. There is a significantly non-zero chance that he will be their closer by season's end. Performance-wise, he hasn't been that different from Ryan Wagner.

Will:(responding to Clay's remarks) An issue very close to my heart. One thing I'm not sure these numbers show is that many of these pitchers came to the knuckler late--in fact, the age-23 numbers for Wakefield are for the first year he was a pitcher. I'm not sure that we can accurately assess the development patterns without knowing how long they've thrown what is a mechanically difficult pitch.

Clay: I was being a little too hyperbolic, I suppose. Looking back at it, if we were making this 11 years ago, only considering pitchers who were still rookie-eligible for 1992, who had pitched in the minors in 1991, and with perfect knowledge of how their career through 2003 would turn out, I would rate Wakefield seventh among pitchers. I would definitely put Pedro Martinez, Pat Hentgen, Andy Pettitte, and Mariano Rivera clearly ahead of him. I see Mike Hampton and Al Leiter slightly ahead of him, but I can see contrary arguments there; I might take Robb Nen ahead of him if I were in a really generous mood towards relievers, but probably not. Aaron Sele, Denny Neagle, and Troy Percival would all fall behind him as well. I'll concede that would have put him in the top 50 for the 1992 BP.

51. Terrmel Sledge
52. Joe Blanton
53. Kelly Shoppach
54. Adam LaRoche
55. Justin Huber
56. Merkin Valdez
57. Brendan Harris
58. Angel Guzman
59. David Bush

Nate: I'm not all that impassioned about any of the honorable mention candidates; Dave almost has me convinced on LaRoche, but he doesn't PECOTA very well. Huber and Harris have their strengths, as does J.J. Davis, who *does* PECOTA pretty well. All of them deserve to rank ahead of Charlie Zink.

Jonah: Sledge? No way. Not enough power, too old, and while this is *supposed* to be his big chance, they already have Brad Wilkerson and Everett as locks, and Juan Rivera could platoon with him or take the job outright. No Sledge.

David: I'd move LaRoche, Shoppach, Blanton, Valdez, and Bush onto the list, replacing Burnett, Stokes, Youkilis, Zink, and Navarro. Gaudin reached the majors because Tampa has no plan, not because he's an all-world talent who forced a promotion.

I fail to see a giant difference between Davis and Alexis Rios, who we currently call a top-10 prospect. I'd rather have Rios, but the player-type is the same, and Davis is closer to the major leagues.

Chris: Just to chime in on another tangent in the debate, I'd be a lot happier if J.J. Davis was on the list in Zink's place. It just seems like a better application of list spot. If I'd known Zink was going to be taken seriously by anybody, I'd have been a little more bullish on Sergio Santos in terms of pitching him for the list, that's for certain.

David: I feel like I've understated my case for J.J. Davis. At Triple-A, he posted an ISO of .270. Those are top-tier, big-time slugger numbers. Granted, he's got a lot of other strikes against him, mainly his plate discipline (which will never be better than adequate) and age. But PECOTA likes him, scouts like him, and he just had a monster year at the highest level of the minors and is ready to compete for an everyday job in Pittsburgh. He has a similar skill set to Rios and Gutierrez, who are being labeled upper-echelon guys. I'm not sure what else Davis could have done, other than draw 80 walks, to get himself on this list. After re-reading the bottom 20 names, I'd stump for him in the 30-40 range.

Jonah: For the record, I'm still not sold on J.J. Davis, and since no one else has argued against him, I will: corner OF tools hound who's shown good power and terrible plate discipline. Not young. If the Pirates OF wasn't void, I don't think he'd even merit discussion for the list. Yes it'd look bad if he's left off the list, grabs the RF job and hits 30 HR in his rookie. But this is a deeply flawed player. Leave him on the list if we must, but don't raise him to the level of better prospects like Encarnacion, Hermida, and Bay.

WRAP-UP

Rany Jazayerli: I would like to make a few general points about this whole process.

The first is this idea that we're "performance analysts". All I can say is, I don't consider myself a performance analyst, and hope I never do. I'm just an analyst.

It's true that performance analysis remains at the heart of what we do, but that's because we have found, over the years, that the translated performance record of a player is the single best predictor of his future performance. Saying that we shouldn't rank players based on their scouting reports because we're performance analysts misses the point the way that people who think Moneyball was all about getting on base and drafting college players miss the point. Moneyball was about how the application of intelligence can help teams win more baseball games, and what we do is try to apply intelligence to understand baseball better.

And one of the things I think we've all learned in the last few years is that while performance analysis is still the key to understanding the game, scouting reports still have their place. Jeremy Giambi turned out to be a better hitter than most scouts thought he would, but he's turned out to be a disappointment to a lot of us. John Stephens isn't as good a pitcher as his minor league numbers would suggest. I'm not trying to rank prospects solely based on their translated numbers. I'm trying to put together the best damn prospect list ever conceived, one that will have people shaking their heads in amazement five years from now. If that means we rank a high school hitter with 47 at-bats of pro experience, so be it. (Sure, sample sizes are important--but I think we're all smart enough to know the difference, before either of them had made their pro debut, between Mark Prior and Brian Bullington.) If that means lowering Tsao's ranking based on something over which he has no control--his team's ballpark--so be it.

Please, don't suggest that our mission is being undermined by our greater access to scouting opinions because we're actually factoring those into the equation. The problem isn't having that information; it's misusing it. Having more information is never a bad thing. How could it be, it's just information. It's how we apply it that matters.

I also want to address the concerns that some people have raised about not being consistent in priorities because, for instance, I'm arguing for Sean Burnett because of his performance, but I'm arguing for Young because of his potential. This isn't a case of intellectual consistency; it's a case of trying to report both sides of the debate. I argued that Burnett's performance matters--and more importantly, his strong PECOTAs matter--because I think people are overly hung up on his low K rate. I'm arguing that Delmon Young's potential matters because I think people are overly hung up on his lack of pro experience. The fact is that we're all inconsistent in our approach. It's a sign of intellectual rigor that we don't look at every player in exactly the same way.

BP is about pushing the envelope. Not pushing it in the sense of creating controversy, but pushing it in the sense of furthering the art of baseball analysis to where it's never gone before. Any armchair analyst can tell you that on-base percentage is important, or that translated minor league numbers are almost as reliable as major league numbers. But how many people understand just how underrated "unconventional" pitchers (knuckleballers and sidearmers, primarily) have been throughout baseball history? How many people realize that the only knuckleball pitcher with more success than Zink at the same age in the last 20 years has won 116 games--and probably has another seven or eight years left in him? (Wakefield, who turned 37 in August, set a career high in Ks last year.)

Joe, you were there in Arizona when David Rawnsley made his presentation, pointing out the evidence that the amateur draft has become so weighted towards collegiate players that the pendulum has swung too far--that the high school players who are being drafted may have as much value as the college players selected. I know you were impressed by his arguments as I was. THAT is what BP is all about: challenging the conventional wisdom, even the conventional wisdom that we helped create.

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