Sunday, January 13, 2013

AB4AR Top 30 Introduction: The Method To My Madness

The beauty and the fun of prospect ranking is that everybody has their own system.  There's a standard set of criteria that everybody has to consider when evaluating players and deciding where to rank them, but how they consider them and what criteria they put more weight on is what ultimately determines the differences between one person's top prospect list and another, and what sparks the conversation and debate that we all love to have about prospects.

Before we dive into the 2012-2013 edition of the AB4AR Top 30, I thought it would be a good idea to give some explanation on the system I use and why I use it.  It's mainly so you the readers know why I ranked guys the way I did, but it's also partially for me.  I thought I knew what I was doing last year when I took my first stab at a top 30, and it turned out that I didn't know as much as I thought I did about some players.  This year, I wanted to be more thorough in my evaluation of each player, and more consistent in the way I followed my system.  I spent the entire season working on these rankings, and revised them often as the season progressed based on how each player performed against my set of criteria.

I think the list I've come up with this year is much better than the first edition, and much more representative of my ranking system and the criteria I put more weight on when evaluating guys.  So to give everybody an idea of my thought process and what's most important to me when ranking prospects, here's a quick explanation of my personal ranking system.

First, a look at the criteria I'm using to evaluate the players, some of which are no-brainers when it comes to prospect ranking and some that I feel aren't given enough consideration and weight by some ranking systems:

  • Tools- For hitters: average, power, speed, glove, arm.  For pitchers: velocity, command, mechanics, pitch repertoire.
  • Ceiling- What type of Major League player is a guy capable of being?  MVP or Cy Young?  All Star?  Everyday starter?  Bench player?  Organizational depth?
  • Advancement Through the System- Is a player moving up through the levels of the MiL system on a consistent schedule?  Is he spending less than a full season at a certain level before being promoted? More than a full season?  Does he skip a level?  Does he repeat a level?
  • Progression of Skills/Improvement of Stats- As a player is moving through the levels, are his baseball skills improving?  Is a hitter drawing more walks?  Striking out less?  Hitting for more power?  Becoming a better base stealer?  Improving his defense?  Is a pitcher cutting down on his walks?  Is he throwing more strikes?  Is he giving up fewer homers?  Is he learning and developing new pitches?
  • Health- Can a guy stay on the field or is he always spending time on the DL?  For position players, are they suffering injuries to their legs?  For pitchers, are they suffering injuries to their arms, particularly the elbow and shoulder?
Nothing off the beaten path there, but the advancement and progression categories are the ones that I pay the most attention to and put the most weight on when deciding where to rank a player, and they're criteria that I think should be given more weight than they are.  Tools and a high ceiling are great, don't get me wrong, and there are precious few players who become great Major Leaguers without rating very high in both of those categories.  But there are lots of guys with great tools who don't make it because they never learn to develop them and put them together to become a great player.  And to me, there's something to be said for a player without all the tools who works to get the most out of what he has and builds himself into a productive, valuable player.

If there's a toolsy player who's spent more time in the Minors and not shown any improvement in his skills and stats and a player with less tools who has marched through the system and shown consistent performance and improvement at every stop, that less-toolsy guy rates higher in my system.  It's why a pitcher like Adam Warren will be ranked higher than Dellin Betances.  Or why Corban Joseph will be ranked higher than Angelo Gumbs.  Or why Ramon Flores will be ranked higher than Ravel Santana.

And it's not just because those guys seem to be getting more out of the tools they have than their more naturally-gifted counterparts.  It's also because players like Warren and Joseph, who have moved through the system at a consistent rate, have a much larger body of work to judge them on and are much easier to project just in terms of making the Major Leagues.  Angelo Gumbs might very well end up being the next Robinson Cano, and I would never try to make the argument that CoJo has more natural tools or a higher ceiling than Gumbs.  But CoJo is on the doorstep to the show right now, and Gumbs has seen his progress slowed by injuries in low-A ball.  He's just as likely to flame out in Double-A right now as he is to become an All Star second baseman.  So how can I possibly rate him higher than Joseph?  I can't.

The bottom line is that a player who moves through the system and gets himself closer to breaking into the Majors through his production at each level is more valuable to me than a player who COULD be great but might not ever get there.  For all the talk about high-level talent and future ceiling, people tend to forget that just getting to the Major League level is no easy task.  There are way more players who don't make it, be they former 1st-round picks or undrafted free agents, than there are who do, and I think just being good enough to make the show is valuable and something that should not be discarded.  Not every player who makes the Majors becomes an All Star, so in my book a prospect shouldn't be knocked just for not having All Star potential.

So that's my system and my train of thought I tried to follow when putting this year's Top 30 together.  Tools and ceiling still factor in heavily, and you'll see that in the top 10, but I also like guys who are constantly moving up and getting closer to being Major League players.  They might not all be high-ceiling Major Leaguers, but Major League-ready talent or upper-level talent that's close to being Major League-ready is still more valuable in my book than unknown lower-level talent.

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