The evaluation of minor league prospects is no longer a cottage industry. Every major media platform seems to have at least one analyst dedicated to tracking baseball prospects, and the highlight of those efforts are annual rankings compiled just before spring training. Although there are many reputable evaluators (as well as many who are not), former Blue Jays executive and current ESPN contributor Keith Law stands out as one of the most perceptive. What follows is a breakdown of Law’s rankings along with commentary about some of the selections (for last year’s breakdown, click here).
Keith Law’s 2014 Top-100 Prospect List, by Franchise (click to enlarge)
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.
The Astros, who were first in Law’s organization rankings, boast seven prospects in the top-100, including three within the first 20 selections. However, the Pirates, who also have seven prospects on the list, actually edged the Astros in overall prospect score (see footnote above for explanation). Equaling both teams with seven prospects was the Red Sox. Despite having a lower prospect score than Houston and Pittsburgh, five of Boston’s blue chips are position players, including Xander Bogaerts, who ranked second overall.
Theo Epstein’s rebuilding program in Chicago seems to be working. The Cubs placed six prospects on Law’s list, with Javier Baez and Kris Bryant each ranking in the top-15, and recorded the highest prospect score. With such a strong left side of the infield in the pipeline, and the talented Starlin Castro already in the majors, the Cubs should be in a prime position to make an impact trade once Epstein deems the team ready to contend.
With five prospects ranked in Law’s top-100, the Mets and Twins also have something to show for their recent rebuilding campaigns. Headlined by number one prospect Bryon Muxton and Miguel Sano, the Twins have both depth and high-end talent in their minor league system. The same is also true for the Mets. Despite recently promoting Matt Harvey and Zack Wheeler, the Mets’ minor league system is still chock full of promising young players, chief among them being right handed pitcher Noah Sydergaard, who could eventually form a dynamic trio with Harvey and Wheeler.
Last year, the Yankees placed four prospects within the top-60. This time around, they had none. Three Bronx Bombers’ minor leaguers did make the top-100, but Gary Sanchez, the team’s top prospect, fell from 18th overall in 2013 to 68th on this year’s list. Tyler Austin and Mason Williams joined Sanchez in the rankings at 85th and 87th, respectively, but each suffered a precipitous decline of their own. Last year, Law ranked Williams as the 35th best prospect in the game, while Austin checked in at 52. As a result of this cumulative decline, the Yankees’ overall prospect score of 63 (vs. 209 last year) ranks 25th lowest in the majors.
The Angels and the Brewers were the only two teams who did not have a prospect ranked within Law’s top-100, while the Athletics, Mariners, Giants and Tigers each had only one. However, Oakland’s lone representative, Addison Russell, a 20-year old switch hitting short stop, placed third overall. According to Law, Russell is “one of the best pure hitters in the minor leagues”, so what the Athletics lack in quantity is offset by quality.
Keith Law’s 2014 Top-100 Prospect List, by Position
Unlike the past two surveys, when half of Law’s top-100 were pitchers, only 43 hurlers were included in the ranking. Of that total, 35 were right handers, including 15 of the first 16 pitchers on the list. Among hitters, left handers were more prevalent, rising from 28% in last year’s ranking to 35% in 2014. Once again, shortstops and center fielders were the most prominent representatives, but dedicated catchers recorded the biggest increase, rising from four to seven.
Keith Law’s 2014 Top-100 Prospect List, by Age
The youngest player in the ranking was Dodgers’ 17-year old left hander Julio Urias, who checked in as the 14th best prospect in the game. Last year, Law included another 17-year old pitcher in his ranking, but Blue Jays’ right hander Roberto Osuna did not make an encore appearance on this year’s list. At the other end of the age spectrum, 25-year old Mets’ catcher Travis d’Arnaud was the oldest prospect on the list. Combined, position players averaged 21.1 years of age, versus 20.7 last year, while pitchers were slightly older at 21.3 years, which was on par with the 2013 list. The disparity between the modal ages was wider, with position players most commonly being 21 years old, versus pitchers at 22 years old.