I’m going to start my new top 30 prospect list soon, and I wanted to use this post as a bit of an overview for how I make the list and my thoughts on prospects in general. Right now I’m going through the system and just basically writing down guys I think could make the list, be it due to stats or scouting reports (or both). Then I’ll start looking a little closer and try to put them into order. My first post in this “mini-series” will be players who just missed the list and then I’ll do prospects 30-26, 25-21, and so on with some comments on each.
Now for my gripe with the entire process … First of all, the idea that anyone can do this somewhat accurately is quite silly. You’ve got experts out their who think their lists represent something meaningful, when in reality it is just a compilation (likely by a smart person, mind you) of players put into some order to make some noise (in page clicks, conversation, what have you). Is it really possibly to compare an 18 year old outfielder in rookie ball (with 60 PA’s past high school) to a 24 year old college player putting up decent numbers all the way up the system … and put them in order? Sure, the college guy may be the safer bet. He might make it to the majors more often and, on average, contribute more value to a ball club. On the other hand … sure, the 18 year old may become a superstar more often; his skills may develop and he may become the next Carlos Beltran … So … How do you evaluate those two players and determine which one is better? Well, the thing is, you really can’t. If you check the track record of any so called expert in this process, I am pretty sure it would be checkered with quite a few failures. While they may believe they have a huge advantage over someone like myself, with the information available and the ridiculous difficulty of trying to do this, it’s probably not as large as they think (that speaks only to the process, not my ability to rank minor leaguer players). So the next time a prospect guru tells you only their rankings matter, ask them is they’ve ever tracked how they’ve fared or check in the archives yourself. My best guess: it isn’t pretty.
Why is this so difficult then? Well, first of all the numbers are far less reliable than major league numbers. Parks and leagues are much different than in the majors. You’ve got true prospects facing journeymen. You have much smaller samples to work with in many cases. You may have a guy as your top prospect after he hits .300/.380/.555 in 250 PA’s in A ball (with a good scouting report), but after he hits .226/.280/.370 in high A ball the next year, all the sudden he may not even be a prospect anymore. There’s just so damn much uncertainty in the whole process …
Part two of my mini rant: what do the rankings mean anyway? What’s the difference between a #1 prospect and a #2 prospect? How about the #30 guy? What about the guys that don’t make the list? The whole idea of a list, I suppose, it to put the player in order based on whatever criteria you’re ranking them by. But what is the difference between being ranked in the top 5 and in the top 15. It’s probably different for each team. For example, in a great farm system the #25 guy may be better than the #8 guy in some bad system. The idea of making a list is kind of silly because you don’t really know what each spot represents. However, if we keep in mind that this is more for entertainment and to generate discussion, instead of being the definitive ranking of a bunch of young ball players, then it doesn’t seem quite so bad.
For what it’s worth (really, not like anyone cares), I have great respect for the main culprits of these rankings (hint: a couple of them come from websites that both start with “B”), and I think their knowledge of minor leaguers exceeds mine by a million times. Then again, it’s kind of like projecting major leaguers. You could throw together Marcels and get much of the way there, or you could spend much more time and craft something like PECOTA (like the brilliant Nate Silver has done). I’ll take PECOTA over Marcels every time, and it’ll usually perform better, but they’ll both end up relatively close in the end.
With that out of the way, let me jabber some more about prospects. In an ideal world (let’s say I own a team), here’s how I’d try to evaluate these guys. First and foremost, you want to gather as much data as possible (scouting and stats), and try to make as much sense out of it as you can. With scouting, I’d want detailed reports about players from a scouting perspective (virtually ignoring numbers). Then you put that all together from all of your scouts and see where guys fall. With the numbers, you of course want to try to adjust everything for context, including park, age, league, etc. Secondly, the numbers that are important are the ones that have use in predicting future success. You don’t really care about how a prospect did in clutch situations because that (likely) isn’t going to translate as he moves onward. With all of this gathered, you can then start to weight it. I have no idea exactly how you’d go about it, but my general idea goes something like this: For a 18 year old with no minor league PA’s, you’d go almost 100% with scouting reports. On the flip side, for a 25 year old with 1,500+ minor league PA’s, you’d go closer to 100% stats (although, that is surely an exaggeration). Here’s what a little creativity can get you in Paint: a meaningless graph …
Well, something like that anyway … there is some point that you reach in the middle where you value both things about the same. Those numbers are for illustration only, of course.
So, how do I do it?? Well, there’s nothing too systematic about it. There are a couple of tools that I may go to and it’s important to note what they are. MLE’s (minor league equivalences) were developed a while back and help put minor league numbers on somewhat equal ground (with park, league, ect). It’s important to note that they aren’t really projections. They are simply an estimate of how a player would hit in MLB, based on guys who moved from league to league in given year. They do of course have predictive value because we know that minor league numbers do have predictive value (once properly adjusted). But there is no regression or age adjustment in MLE’s (at least in most forms I’ve seen). Clay Davenport does apply aging to one of his translations. So I’ll use some of that, but mostly I just look at their regular stat line (with adjustment in mind for age, park, etc) and work off of that.
For reference: Chone’s MLE’s
2007 minor league park factors
(hat tip to the fine Future Redbirds on a couple of those)
Here are the three year weighted PF’s (8-5-4) for the Padres affiliates (in runs):
San Antonio: .91
Lake Elsinore: .95
Fort Wayne: 1.00
FWIW, without applying those to specific hitters based on how they affect that hitter, I find them to be very limited. For instance, a tough home run park may have little negative impact on a slap hitter, and when we’re not concerned with value, it doesn’t make much sense to give that guy extra credit if he isn’t actually helped by the park. I believe MLE’s do at least adjust by each component, which I would think helps a lot.
For the scouting side I have BA’s 07 handbook. I’ll primarily rely on that as well as reports I find around the ‘net (I’ll cite them if I use them, of course).
My rankings are basically based on which player I would value more as another organization (in, say, a trade). They aren’t based on who is more likely to get to the majors … or who will likely stick in the majors … or who has a better chance at becoming a star .. or who has performed better. They are more a combination of those things, based on my off-the-cuff judgements.
If you’ve read this blog at all, you probably know that I don’t take this list seriously at all. Heck, if you’ve read this post then you know that (if you’ve read this post … you must be a family member ; ) The reason why I like doing this is because it’s generally fun and it seems to bring out good conversation (which is, imo, the best part). So if you haven’t commented yet at all (or too often), get active in this thread. If anyone has a list that they’d like posted, contact me and I’ll put it up on the blog. I’ll probably start with the first couple of posts soon, although posting may be a little light this week.