So I guess Baseball Prospectus is the only national outlet not putting out a Mayish update to our preseason prospect list. Despite two years ago making a joke about the industry heading to monthly lists in our Slack, I didn’t actually think it would come to this. But here I sit, a Jean Dubuffet sitting outside “industry consensus” again.
You’d read a new list of course, gobble it up. I can make my big early season calls in print. I have a few in mind. And there they would be for perpetuity. Or at least until the next list comes out in June, sandcastles washed away by the tides.
But as the only person not doing this, I suppose I have to explain myself. So here’s an apologia by way of Brendan Rodgers vignette:
The scouting look for standard team coverage is five or six games. Logistically this makes perfect sense. You get a full turn of the rotation, likely two looks at the relief arms, and 20-25 plate appearances from the starters.
Intuitively it makes perfect sense as well. I get a lot of looks at the Hartford Yard Goats, and by my sixth game this year I had a pretty good feel for the prospects of note all the way down to the organizational soldiers.
It’s funny how the switch just flips without you even really noticing. Game six was against Harrisburg and as we shuffled along to the end, I noticed I was going to get another Sam Hilliard and Brian Mundell plate appearance. I scanned my notes in progress and then started packing up. I wasn’t going to get anything to add.
That’s a particularly useful bit of happenstance for this piece, but the process is rarely that narratively convenient. As I recently noted, Vladimir Guerrero, Jr. took two games, everything after that was a mere cataloging of the legend for future generations. Garrett Hampson gave me an initial impression that I kept revising upwards until he plateaued at “probably-actually-a-45-but-a-dude-I-like-too-much-not-to-50” (yes, that’s an official designation). Hilliard took as long as he did because of swing and hit tool questions I had, as well as the structural changes to modern rosters that is sending corner bench bats the way of the dodo.
But what happens when you don’t have a good feel for a player after six games? Well Foucault would argue that absence of discourse is itself discourse. Or—put another way—hitters hit.
The best prospects are easy scouts. Vladito, of course. A weekend of Juan Soto tells you all you need to know. I remarked in the Annual a couple years back that Eloy Jimenez’s star-making turn in the Futures Game was a representative look unto itself. Sixto Sanchez throws 102. Michael Kopech throws 102. Alex Reyes throws 102. More stenography eventually translated into epic poetry. There are top prospects that are “sum of their parts” guys, sure. Nick Senzel is one. It may take you a few games to catch everything he does well. And he does everything well. He also hit .340 in Double-A last year. Hitters hit.
Anyway, this is supposed to be about Brendan Rodgers, but by now you see where we are headed.
2018 was not my first five or six looks at Brendan Rodgers. He was up in Double-A in the second half of 2017. You get a little buzzed when a top prospect is in town even after eight seasons. This is why you go to the park and make notes on all the 95-and-a-slider guys in the interim. I saw Rodgers for a few games last summer and it was…fine. It was fine, really. He was clearly in the process of making adjustments against upper-minors pitching. Luis Mateo beat him with average velo and some bad sliders, but the profile played better at short than I expected, and he logged a couple two-for-fours. Rodgers had a couple minor injury issues in there too, and man, he was only 20 in the Eastern League.
Really, it was fine.
But my ambivalence was nagging, and was on my mind while writing the 101 for this year’s Annual:
“The backbone of this list is our staff’s live looks. In the California League, Rodgers looked like a potential all-star with plus hit and power tools and a steady hand at shortstop. Across the country in the Eastern League, the look was more anonymous, as he never really drove the ball and his aggressive approach got worked out by more advanced arms. He did still look capable, if not spectacular, at the 6. Now, Double-A can be a test for even top tier prospects like Rodgers, and he was only 20 and spent much of the second half of the year banged up, but if we are lower on Rodgers than the rest of our list-making compatriots, the Eastern League looks will be why.”
We ended up the high publication on Rodgers—I’m terrible at predicting these things for the record.
2018 is a new year with new looks, and across ten new ones, he’s been…well, fine. He continues to struggle with spin. The swing gets a little stiff if you can elevate a fastball. It’s a compact swing, but he tends to trigger early and the barrel control comes and goes. He’ll beat hittable pitches into the ground. Rodgers has started to make some adjustments, staying with breaking balls better and driving them if they stick around the bottom of the zone. He’s a good low ball hitter generally, and there’s clearly plus power in there. He’s getting better at lifting the ball more consistently.
Rodgers has split time with Garrett Hampson in the middle infield, playing a little third as well—the Rockies love their positional flexibility—but Hampson has looked like the better shortstop. Rodgers is an above-average runner underway, but you don’t always see it. The arm is above average too, but his throws can tend to tail up the right field line.
If it’s an average hit tool in the end and most of the 6 raw gets into games, he’s a good regular at second base, but I haven’t seen enough to be confident in that projection. The only time Rodgers has really looked like the 12th best prospect in baseball all year was against a parade of non-prospect arms. This isn’t a technical term, but it just hasn’t popped.
Al Skorupa shared a bit of wisdom with me as we sat on a Penn League game a few years back. It’s always stuck with me. I doubt it originated with him, but I consider it a Skorupism as it very much fit with how he viewed the job. Before you kill a big prospect in print, he recommended this: “Somebody probably smarter than you, and certainly with a heck of a lot more information than you, gave this guy seven-figures. Try to figure out why first.” With Rodgers it isn’t that hard to figure it out, again: “In the California League, Rodgers looked like a potential all-star with plus hit and power tools and a steady hand at shortstop.”
There’s a scouting term I’ve grown to like: the “courtesy 5.” It’s a betrayal of sorts, a compromise with what you actually saw, a bit of managing to the press conference. And in the upper minors you can’t just bet on the projection wizard bestowing a tap of his magic wand. Another Skorupism: Once a prospect is in Double-A, you have to start considering whether and how a player can help the major league team. They are just a phone call away.
That’s a lot of discourse, but no answers. And thus, also an answer.
Now we fade through black, back to our author in a well-pressed suit and surroundings meant to invoke memories of old Masterpiece Theater bookends, something like Parnell and the Englishwoman.
Now, questions still linger.
The main one: Well, where would Brendan Rodgers rank on our hypothetical May prospect list?
It’s been six weeks of baseball and I have a pretty good feel for Brendan Rodgers, despite my protestations for column-inches purposes.
But do I really want to drop him 50 spots (hypothetically) before he gets a chance to adjust to the level? Am I as confident in my feel about the 50 guys behind him? The guys off the list that may jump him? Can I show all my work here?
Let’s even assume the answer to all of those are, “yes.” Aren’t we just going to move the pieces around again at midseason? Prospect lists are supposed to be a snapshot in time, but there should also be real thought and rigor applied. It’s a statement of philosophy, intended or accidental.
Yeah, there are 2018 rankings I’d like back and players that have graduated. I can tell you I think Juan Soto is a top 5 prospect in baseball now, or that Dustin May is going to jump up the midseason list. These are discrete reports though, no need to overfit. There will be more to come. After all, the days are still getting longer, and there are many nights at the park ahead.