I was chatting with my colleague Meg Rowley recently when Harry Frankfurt’s essay “On Bullshit” came up. This was not actually about our midseason list making process, but it could have been. Frankfurt separates “bullshit” from “lying” by virtue of the speaker’s knowledge of the truth. You lie knowingly. You bullshit merely to convince. No one can claim objective, absolute truth of ordinal rankings or prospect outcomes. Some of us sure act like it of course. But especially within a midseason list I find myself on slipperier footing. The tiers get mushier. “I don’t know” feels like an appropriate answer more often than it should in this line of work. Here are five prospects we ranked last week. I really don’t knowing the numbers are right, but I must still venture to convince.
No. 9 Alex Reyes
One of the pieces of feedback we got from inside the game is that if we were going to rank Reyes at all, he had a case for #1. My response was: “Well, about that…” Funnily enough, there is an argument he has done the least to lower his stock of all our preseason top pitching prospects. Lucas Giolito’s stuff still hasn’t gotten all the way back from a down 2016, Tyler Glasnow still can’t throw enough strikes, Robert Gsellman’s stuff went backwards, and then he got hurt (maybe not in that order), and Josh Hader hasn’t done much to win over those who think he is a reliever long term. Meanwhile, Reyes hasn’t thrown a pitch this season and may not throw another one before our 2018 midseason list. This also means the memories of his frontline stuff and major-league readiness get perfectly preserved while the pitching prospects around him get to show their warts. But we don’t know if it will all be there when he comes back. We think of Tommy John as routine nowadays, but need look no further than Lucas Giolito for a reminder that while the pitcher might return in 18 months or so, the stuff may not. Reyes has a lot of stuff to give back and still be a very, very good pitching prospect. But here, more than any of the other names to come, we don’t know what we don’t know. What we do know is he is definitely the ninth best prospect in baseball.
No. 20 J.P. Crawford
It was late 2004 I think. Maybe early 2005. I was standing in a Borders Books and Music staring at racks of CDs. I took note of Arcade Fire’s Funeral, which had it’s own little pop out display trumpeting its year-end rank in some publication, perhaps Spin. I was in between colleges, pretty aimless, perhaps depressed. A high school friend had moved to Greenpoint and was in the early throes of becoming a 20-something Brooklyn Vegan dude. He had breathlessly recommended the album a few months earlier, and I had stayed away because of that. I don’t know what in that moment made me plop down the $17.99 or whatever, but I did. I put it in my discman that was connected to my car’s tape player by one of those AUX adaptor things, and by the time I pulled onto the route 9 on-ramp, I got it. It was exactly what I needed in that moment. Diminishing returns followed. I talked myself into Neon Bible, but it felt strained. You could start to see the strings. The Suburbs was outright bloated, although it won awards. Reflektor was ponderous. The trend lines were bad now. Driving to a wedding in Virginia recently I heard a couple of the tracks from their new album. Is this disco? Nostalgia is persistent of course. It’s fine as a music fan. Funeral still exists as a perfect record. It’s more dangerous as a prospect writer, but like the aging alt-weekly music critic refusing to come to terms with the fact that that their early Grizzly Bear EPs are now considered 'dad rock,' I will parse arbitrary Last “X” day samples from Crawford's b-ref page looking for that most hoary of critical cliches, “a return to form.”
No. 21 Austin Meadows
Of course the less tortured explanation for Crawford is he’s dealt with a series of hand, wrist and groin injuries over the last few years that have lingered beyond the odd DL stint or extra day off. You could do the same hand waving for Meadows, but his durability issues may have crossed line from bug to feature this year. Like Crawford he has a long track record of tools and performance seemingly erased by struggles in Triple-A over parts of two seasons. Three months shouldn't change things that much. When we were doing our 2017 Top 101, I gushed about Meadows. The power was starting to come. I comp’d him to Christian Yelich. It looked like he might have an Opening Day lineup spot as Andrew McCutchen trade rumors swirled. Then: no trade, Triple-A struggles, another injury. Here too you can point to a last “X” day slash line to talk yourself into keeping him high on Midseason list. But that only lasts so long. Meadows is still a top ten prospect or he should be much lower on this list. I don't think I can convince you he’s #21. But you should be convinced. He is definitely the 21st best prospect in baseball.
No. 31 Lucas Giolito
It's been awhile since my film school days, but I wonder if a close reading of this season of Twin Peaks—and Evil Dale Cooper in particular—might not reveal Mark Frost’s semiological intent of exploring his nephew’s struggles as a pitching prospect. Is there a better explanation for the struggles of this oft-ranked top arm? Well, maybe. Our own Jeff Long saw him recently and came away impressed, but the velocity is merely plus now. There's a new slider and he is pitch mix over pure power stuff. This ranking isn't out of line for a low risk OFP 60 arm. Our 30th and 32nd ranked prospect preseason—Reynaldo Lopez and Amir Garrett—both fit into that category (though we can certainly debate how well those calls are working out). Still it feels low. There’s inextricable inertia around former top prospects. We keep waiting for the dominant Giolito, he of the five OFP 80 eyewitnesses to reemerge. He may not. He may only be the 31st best prospect in baseball. We sure think so.
No. 43 Riley Pint
Really, any of the pitchers in the last ten of our list could have been swapped out for various other names. Justus Sheffield for Adonis Medina, Forrest Whitley for Jack Flaherty, Adrian Morejon for Franklin Perez. That’s just the nature of that range of the list. As I wrote at the outset, it’s squishy this time of year. The essential nature of “Riley Pint” is a thornier question. Naturally some of our staff like Franklin Perez more than others. The same applies to any of the other arms in question. Generally though, we all are comfortable with a fairly narrow band of outcomes. Ask about Riley Pint inside our team or inside the industry, and you wonder if everyone was watching the same pitcher. Pick a number between 4 and 8. I’ve heard it within the last twelve months on him. Smart people, savvy evaluators, and Craig can’t even approach a consensus. There’s always going to be some volatility with a profile like this. He’s big and raw with rough mechanics and a dodgy command projection. It’s totally plausible to believe that he’d show differently on different days. And plenty of raw dudes with Pint-like concerns, but without Pint-like stuff come out and dominate A-ball. Pint has not even done that. When reports range from “a guy, but not a dude” to “Dudeipus Rex,” it becomes very difficult to put a number next to his name. But I assure you, he is the 43rd best prospect in baseball.