Note: This post has been revised to correct an error. In the original version, Red Sox prospect Xander Bogaerts was assigned to the Reds. All other assignments have been verified, and the chart and relevant text have been updated.
Prospecting has become a big part of being a baseball fan, and at no point is that more true than just before the start of the season, when hope springs eternal for even the most moribund franchises. So, whether the big club’s prospects for the upcoming season are bright or dim, much effort is put into scouring the farm system in search of a diamond in the rough. Of course, all that glitters isn’t gold, but sometimes the best part of being a fan is more the expectation than actual fulfillment.
Years back, there wasn’t much attention paid to prospects, but now the level of interest has heightened. As a result, a myriad of prospect analyses have emerged, including those conducted by stalwarts like Baseball America, John Sickels, MLB.com’s Jonathan Mayo, and Baseball Prospectus’ Kevin Goldstein. However, one of the most thorough and informative, at least from my standpoint, is the annual ranking compiled by former Blue Jays executive and current ESPN contributor Keith Law.
This morning, Law released his top-100 prospects for the 2012 season. Unfortunately, the details are behind ESPN’s pay wall, so I won’t divulge the entire list, but listed below is a breakdown of his rankings along with some commentary.
Note: Prospect Score is a cumulative total based on the assignment of a score to each ranking (100 for #1 to 1 for #100). It is a proprietary calculation not endorsed by Mr. Law and not intended to suggest the ranking is linear.
Every team was represented in Law’s top-100, but just barely, as the White Sox squeaked in at 97 with 23-year old right hander Adison Reed. The White Sox also ranked dead last in Law’s organizational rankings, thanks to Jerry Reinsdorf’s legendary stinginess when it comes to paying draft bonuses. Four other teams also rated only one prospect on the list, while at the other end of the spectrum, the Cardinals, Padres and Rays all placed six. On the strength of their blue chips, each of those three teams also rated within the top-four of Law’s organizational rankings, with the Blue Jays sneaking in between the Rays and Cardinals for the third slot.
As an organization, the Yankees placed 10th on Law’s list, holding steady from last year’s placement at nine. The ranking was particularly impressive because the top-100 prospect list included former Yankees’ blue chip Jesus Montero, who was recently traded to the Mariners for young right hander Michael Pineda. Had the Bronx Bombers held onto Montero, the organization’s ranking would presumably have been much higher. Also, with Montero in the fold, the Yankees’ “Prospect Score” (see chart above) would have been second only to the Royals.
Even without Montero, the Yankees still placed four prospects within the top-83. In addition to the much heralded pitching tandem of Manny Banuelos (23) and Dellin Betances (83), the franchise also had 19-year old catcher Gary Sanchez (55) and rapidly emerging 20-year old outfielder Mason Williams (34). Also, in addition to Montero as a prominent former Yankees’ blue chip, right hander Arodys Vizcaino also placed high, ranking as the Braves’ top prospect at number 14. Needless to say, the Yankees have done a good job scouting, drafting, and signing talent (and, in some cases, not signing, as with number 10 prospect Gerrit Cole, who was originally selected by the team in the first round of the 2008 draft), which is particularly important when you consider the division rival Blue Jays and Rays seem to be sitting on a stockpile. However, one A.L. East team that has taken a step back is the Red Sox. After ranking as a high as second in Law’s 2010 analysis, Boston has fallen all the way to 18, mostly because their farm system has been depleted by recent trades.
Almost half of Law’s top-100 were pitchers, but only nine of the 28 hurlers on the list were lefties, giving credence to the old adage about the value of southpaws. Among the 52 position players on the list, 20 were outfielders (with five more specifically categorized as CFers). The next most prominent position was short stop, which interestingly also happened to boast nearly half of the nine switch hitters. With only three representatives, the scarcest position on the list was first base, but there’s a good chance more than a few players listed at other positions will eventually find their way to the right corner of the diamond.
In compiling his list, Law stresses ceiling over immediacy of impact, which is why it is a little surprising that 39 players are at least 22 (real age, not season-age in 2012). The oldest player on the list is Yonder Alonso (69), who was recently traded from the Reds to the Padres in exchange for Mat Latos. Alonso, who will turn 25 in April, is expected to be the Padres opening day first baseman, so the clock on his days as a prospect is running out. The opposite is true for the 20 prospects on the list who haven’t reached their 20th birthday. Although many of these players may not surface in the majors for several more years, their potential suggests they could be future superstars. Then again, in the case of Nationals outfielder Bryce Harper (2), the future could be now.
Ranking prospects is an inexact science to say the least, but evaluating amateur and minor league talent has become an increasingly important part of the team building process. Of course, it doesn’t really matter whether Law’s list (or any of the many others) is prescient because what ultimately determine a prospect’s status are the independent assessments made by each team. Still, from a fan’s perspective, it’s nice to have a blueprint for the blue chips.