As we did last season, we will compare our ranking of each player with the
ranking given to them by two premier publications, Baseball America
and John Sickels’s Minor League Scouting Notebook. Both BA and
Sickels have widely disparate methods for putting their lists together, but
the goal is the same: to identify the best prospects in the land. Keep in
mind that BA ranks 100 prospects, and "NR" means not ranked.
Sickels ranks 50 prospects, awards "Honorable Mention" to five
others, and gives a letter grade ranking (A+ to C-) to more than 800 players.
We’re making one significant change from last season: whereas last year, we
simply reviewed our comments on each player, this season we’ll also assign
a grade to each ranking. The point here is not to determine which
publication does the best job of putting together a Top Prospects list.
(Believe me, we have nothing to gain by doing such a comparison. Remember,
we’re the ones that ranked Nick Johnson as the #1 prospect in
baseball last season.) More than a way to score the prognosticators on how
well they rank prospects, this is a way for us to determine which prospects
exceed or fail to reach expectations, and why.
We’re notorious for ranking pitchers more conservatively than any other
publication. Are our fears warranted, or are we overly concerned? If the
average grade for pitchers is worse than the average grade for hitters, we
have evidence that pitchers really do need to be judged more harshly than
hitters. Do catchers do more poorly than other hitters? Do five-tool
talents develop better than lumbering troglodytes? By grading our
projections from a year ago, we can quantify answers to these questions and
hopefully come to a better understanding of what it takes to develop a
prospect into a star.
The grades will be awarded on a seven-point scale, which works roughly like
- Has massively missed projections
- Has significantly missed projections
- Has modestly missed projections
- Has met projections
- Has modestly exceeded projections
- Has significantly exceeded projections
- Has massively exceeded projections
This is a subjective scale, but with only seven grades it’s not too
difficult to award the appropriate one to a player. Rafael Furcal is
a 7: he went from a promising speed burner in A ball to the NL Rookie of the
Year. Rick Ankiel is a 6: he, too, had a great season, but whereas
Furcal was thought to be at least a year away from the majors, Ankiel was
expected to contribute to the Cardinals in 2000. (Any thoughts that he
might deserve a 7 were extinguished in October.) Nick Johnson is a 1.
Keep in mind that by "projections," we mean the assumption that a
prospect will improve his (translated) performance by a modest amount each
season. A hitter who manages a .240 EqA for two consecutive seasons, one in
Double-A and one in Triple-A, would be graded as a 3, as you would not
expect a prospect’s performance to stagnate. The one exception to this
involves players who have graduated to the major leagues. While
minor-league performance has been accurately translated to major league
performance for more than 15 years, when a player performs in the major
leagues, he removes "projection" from the equation entirely.
Mark Quinn had essentially the same EqA (.269) in 2000 as he did in
1999 (.270), but the latter performance came in Triple-A, while the former
was accomplished in the American League: Quinn, had he appeared on anyone’s
prospect lists, would have garnered a grade of 5.
Also, keep in mind that the degree of improvement expected from each
prospect depends on the kind of prospect he is. A prospect that hit .220
with a strikeout-to-walk ratio in double digits but who runs like the wind
and hits the ball a mile in batting practice has to show more improvement
than a guy like Adam Piatt, who slugged over .700 in 1999 but who
had yet to win over many scouts who thought his performance would suffer at
higher levels. A player who is a prospect because he is expected to perform
in the future has to be graded on a tougher curve than a player who is a
prospect because of his past performance.
Don’t take these grades too seriously: the point isn’t to judge each
prospect individually, but to come back at the end and see if any
conclusions can be drawn from the pool of prospects as a whole.
Let’s get started. Be warned, though: this isn’t a pretty list. 2000 was a
tough year for prospects and those who follow them.
40. Mario Encarnacion, OF, Oakland (BA: #90, Sickels: B)
What we said last year: "…he’s talented enough to beat up on
Double-A pitchers at the age of 21, but his rawness was exploited after he
was promoted to Triple-A late in the year, where he hit just .241 with a
strikeout-to-walk ratio of 44/6. Under most circumstances, that would be
enough to keep him off this list, but the A’s are the one organization in
baseball that will not rest until his knowledge of the strike zone
What he did in 2000: He struggled to stay healthy, and while his
plate discipline rebounded in his second stab at Triple-A (36 walks in 81
games), his overall performance was disappointing. Hitting .269/.348/.472
in a good hitting environment was not what the A’s expected from
Encarnacion, who has fallen down the depth chart in the A’s outfield plans.
Take-home lesson: Don’t listen to Chris Kahrl when making out your
prospect list. Seriously, Encarnacion is just another data point that
athleticism can only take a player so far, and not even the A’s can turn
every guy who looks great in a baseball uniform into an offensive machine.
Grade: Encarnacion is still a prospect, but the luster is clearly
gone. He earns a 2.
39. Travis Dawkins, SS, Cincinnati (BA: #21, Sickels: #50)
What we said last year: "There are some who doubt his bat;
Dawkins hit just .272 in the Midwest League for the first half of the
season. Few doubt his glove, which is already considered major-league
caliber, or his speed, which helped him steal 53 bases last year. What
makes Dawkins a Top 40 Prospect is the way he responded when the Reds
promoted him all the way to Double-A in August. He hit .364 the rest of the
season, a remarkable performance for a 20-year-old at that level."
What he did in 2000: Well, at least his defense didn’t suffer.
Dawkins returned to Double-A and struggled terribly, hitting
.231/.310/.367, and was overmatched by major-league pitchers when he was
called on to fill in for an injured Barry Larkin for 14 games. A
year after he looked like a potential two-way star, contributing both at
bat and on the field, Dawkins has to reestablish himself quickly if he
wants to avoid being typecast as Donnie Sadler with a better glove.
Take-home lesson: Don’t put too much stock in a player’s performance
in a small sample size, especially when that performance is heavy on
batting average and light on secondary skills. Dawkins’s performance in
Double-A in 1999 came in only 32 games, and was completely out of line with
his performance throughout the rest of his three-year pro career.
Grade: You certainly can’t give up on Dawkins, but teammate Pokey
Reese more closely resembles his upside than his downside now. An easy
38. Dernell Stenson, 1B, Boston (BA: #66, Sickels: B)
What we said last year: "He regressed some from his
breakthrough 1998 season but still has a bright future. The Red Sox moved
him to first base in anticipation of making him Mo Vaughn‘s
successor, but he made 30 errors last year. His offense picked up after a
horrible first half, and he still has the power-and-walks package that made
him so enticing a year ago."
What he did in 2000: About the same as he did in 1999: he continued
to show secondary skills (his numbers were almost identical: .270/.356/.466
in 1999, .268/.349/.487 in 2000), and he continued to field like a pregnant
Camryn Manheim. The raw offensive talent is still there, but Red Sox Nation
is getting impatient with Stenson’s flaws.
Take-home lesson: Just as athleticism alone doesn’t make for a
complete ballplayer, the ability to wait for a good pitch to hit 450 feet
isn’t enough, either. There appears to be a correlation between prospects
without a trace of defensive ability and a tendency for their offensive
skills to stagnate. Stenson has what Bill James called "old players’
skills," which are power and plate discipline, at the expense of
speed, defense, and the ability to hit for average. Young players with old
players’ skills tend to follow career paths as if they were, in fact, old
Grade: Stenson has neither improved nor declined significantly in
the past year, which by our standards means he gets a 3.
37. Ramon Ortiz, RHP, Anaheim (BA: #28, Sickels: #21)
What we said last year: "Fine prospect that Ortiz is, he has
the battle scars that come with being an Angels’ pitching prospect…after
completing eight games as a 21-year-old in 1997, Ortiz missed almost all of
1998 with a tender elbow. He returned last year and pitched very well in
Double- and Triple-A. He struggled in September with the Angels, but still
finished 44 strikeouts in 48 innings."
What he did in 2000: He stayed healthy enough to make 34 starts and
throw 207 innings, but his balky elbow made him a start-to-start
proposition all season, and he even made a rehab start in A ball during the
season. He was just 2-2 with a 6.90 ERA in the Angels’ rotation in April
and May; after spending some time in Triple-A (4.55 ERA, 89 IP, 74 H, 37
BB, 76 Ks), he was much better in his return to Anaheim, finishing 8-6 with
a 5.09 ERA, and allowing just 96 hits in 111 innings. The Angels still
project him to be their ace of the near future, but the realization is
setting in that he may always be one pitch away from the DL.
Take-home lesson: A young pitcher with a troubling injury history
isn’t likely to see his arm woes disappear overnight.
Grade: Ortiz really wasn’t as impressive as the Angels hoped he would be,
with an ERA above 5.00 in the majors and a 4.55 ERA in Triple-A. However,
his ERA at both levels was much higher than one would expect from his
peripheral stats, and he did manage to make 34 starts and throw more than
200 innings. We still have reservations about his future, but his
performance in 2000 earns him a 5.
36. Jason Romano, 2B, Texas (BA: #68, Sickels: B)
What we said last year: "The Quiet Prospect. Romano does
nothing spectacular but everything well, and plays a key defensive
position. It is quite impressive for such a young player to hit .312 with
13 homers and 14 triples in the Florida State League, a notoriously
difficult league for power. Romano’s one weakness is his mediocre
strike-zone judgment (39 walks, 72 strikeouts), which is the only reason to
be cautious in predicting future greatness."
What he did in 2000: Romano made the big jump to Double-A and his
numbers took a hit: his batting average dropped 41 points and his slugging
average dropped 127 points. But his strikeout-to-walk ratio improved to
84/56, a good sign for the future. Romano remains a multi-talented
middle-infield prospect and doesn’t turn 22 until June, but the Rangers
seem to be going out of their way to bury him, as he now ranks behind
Randy Velarde and Frank Catalanotto and has to beat out
Mike Young just to win the starting job in Triple-A.
Take-home lesson: We already knew that A ball is a long way from the
majors, and that staying healthy is battle enough for most second-base
prospects. Despite his off year, Romano remains an extremely intriguing
prospect because he has shown the ability to contribute in so many ways,
and because he has proven to be a very durable player so far.
Grade: A little dropoff is not unexpected when a player is promoted
to Double-A, and Romano still remains a solid prospect. But there’s a
difference between "solid" and Top 40 material. He gets a 3.
35. Jayson Werth, C, Baltimore (BA: #48, Sickels: B)
What we said last year: "…he has three lines on his resume that most
don’t: 1) he plays a key defensive position well; 2) he knows the strike
zone; 3) he has been much younger than most of his competition, reaching
Double-A at 20. His final numbers were brought down by playing through a
late-season wrist injury…the flip side is that tall catchers don’t develop
very well, probably because the biomechanics of squatting and standing
takes a lot out of their knees."
What he did in 2000: Werth started the year as the O’s catcher of
the future and by the end of the year he was traded to Toronto for John
Bale, a 27-year-old minor-league left-handed reliever. That’s what you
call a bad year, as much for the Orioles for making such a stupid trade as
for Werth, who is still a legitimate prospect. He struggled to hit .228 in
Double-A and was briefly demoted back to A ball, but he continued to draw
walks and showed the first flashes of power. His OBP (.364 to .361) and
slugging average (.355 each season) with Bowie was virtually identical to
his performance in 1999.
Take-home lesson: Catchers are risky. Tall catchers are riskier.
Tall catchers who don’t hit for much power are unacceptably risky. Tall
catchers who don’t hit for much power playing for an organization that
doesn’t know its ass from its elbow are riskiest of all.
Grade: Werth’s performance was essentially the same between 1999 and
2000, and ordinarily that would earn him a grade of 3. But his outlook as a
prospect was affected by more than just his offensive performance; there
are increasing doubts that he can physically handle the demands of
catching. We’ll give him a 2, and he’s lucky to earn even that grade.
34. Mike Meyers, RHP, Chicago (NL) (BA: NR, Sickels: HM)
What we said last year: "Meyers led the baseball world with a
1.73 ERA last season, but ranks this low on our list because the scouts are
skeptical that he has much mojo. Most finesse prospects hit the wall at
Double-A; in five starts in the Southern League at the end of the year,
Meyers struck out 51 men in 33 innings with a 1.09 ERA. Frankly, his
numbers last year were so good that they’re hard to take seriously."
What he did in 2000: Meyers got off to a great start once again in
Double-A (5-2, 2.44), but struggled after he was promoted to Triple-A Iowa
(2-6, 7.28), which coincided with a battle with tendinitis in his right arm
that didn’t go away until the season ended.
Take-home lesson: Well, gee, young pitchers get injured a lot. More
pertinent, though, is that Meyers was able to repeat his success in
Double-A from 1999, showing that while a pitcher’s stuff is still the most
important piece of information when evaluating a young pitcher,
performance, even in the low minors, matters too. His awful performance in
Triple-A might be a sign that more experienced hitters figured him out, but
you can’t ignore the fact that he was pitching through an injury, much like
the Dodgers’ Luke Prokopec did in 1999. Prokopec (who, like Meyers,
has only average velocity) came back very strong in 2000.
Grade: Meyers proved that his Double-A performance in 1999 was not a
fluke, which means more given the skepticism that accompanied his
performance that season. However, his health woes and struggles in Triple-A
mean that, despite continuing to move up the ladder, Meyers can’t be
awarded a grade higher than a 3.
33. Alfonso Soriano, SS, New York (AL) (BA: #16, Sickels: #23)
What we said last year: "In a perfect world, D’Angelo
Jimenez would have Soriano’s hype, and vice versa…Soriano has a
slight edge in power, slugging over .500 in Double-A in his first year on
American soil, but his poor showing in Triple-A (.183 average in 20 games)
shows that Soriano still has some things on which to work. Jimenez, in all
honesty, doesn’t…[Soriano] needs a full year in Triple-A to silence the
doubts about his plate discipline and his defense."
What he did in 2000: Soriano got that full year in Triple-A to
silence the doubts about his plate discipline and defense, and failed
miserably. He walked just 25 times in 111 games with Columbus, had a
strikeout-to-walk ratio of 15/1 in a bitter cup of coffee with the Yankees,
and the defensive questions swirling around him picked up to the point
where his future position probably ends in "Field." The only real
strengths he continued to show were his power and his youth, and there are
questions about the latter.
Take-home lesson: Don’t believe the hype. We never fully understood
why Soriano was talked up so much, and we certainly don’t understand it
now. We can be accused of missing the boat on some players because of our
insistence on using cold, hard analysis to judge them, but clearly, our
natural skepticism served us well when it came to becoming overly excited
Grade: Soriano hit .290 with 12 homers in Triple-A, and is listed as
only 23; he’s still a prospect. But a year ago he was named by many
otherwise reasonable baseball man as the Yankees’ best prospect, which
looks absurd today. He doesn’t have the glove to be a star middle infielder
and he doesn’t have the bat to be a star corner outfielder. A fall from
grace that steep has to earn him a 2.
Rany Jazayerli is an author of Baseball Prospectus. Contact him by
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