Tuesday, February 19, 2008

What Makes a Prospect a Prospect

In the first of a three part series, I take a look at what makes a prospect. Part Two will look at the top prospect by organization as well as the top 10 prospects in all of baseball. Part Three will discuss the top five Cleveland Indian prospects.

Spring Training brings together all the minds in baseball that had spent the last three and a half months toiling away at what could be. Everyone and anyone comes out with their own predictions or what their team should do. There is rampant speculation about who is going where for what and of course, prospect lists.

I always find it difficult to understand exactly how one person can put together a prospect list of every player in the game. This is the same in all sports, but especially true in baseball. In fact, something you may not know about me, Major League Baseball's Rule IV Draft is one of my favorite days of the baseball season (it's at least in the top 10). On this day, I follow the draft, and see what kids from the hotbed area of Niagara end up being drafted as well as Canadians in general. This year saw Niagara Falls' own Colin Buckborough taken in the 16th round by the Seattle Mariners.

With the draft comes a debate over the quality of draft a team had. In my opinion, this is a difficult grade to hand out as we are talking about kids whom for the most part are not going to make the show, and even if they do, it most like will not occur for another 3-5 years.

Over at Minor League Balle I had a brief conversation asking the members of a website wide vote what they determined to be the starting line for a prospect. This was sparked because of a vote rating Mike Moustakas, a supposedly very skilled high school player whom the Royals took with the #2 overall pick in this years first year player draft.

At the time of the poll, Moustakas had 47 professional plate appearances (I am uncertain if he played in a Winter League and am currently asking Royals Review to help me out there). Let it be known, that I am not doubting Moustakas as a prospect. In fact, it appears as though fans of the Royals are as excited about him as they were Alex Gordon.

With that in mind, I find it difficult to place a player with such little professional experience so highly on a prospect list. Three separate prospect lists have Moustakas ranking between 19th and 47th. Fact is, many (Sickels, Goldstein, Foster and Law) have already placed Moustakas at the top of the Royals farm system. Obviously these men have more information and knowledge then I do, however. I question the accuracy of such grades with so little professional information.

What is it that makes a prospect? In this article I will write what makes a prospect to me and how I evaluate a player whom I have never seen. One must admit, that the enhancements in baseball statistics has improved this evaluation, however, that is not the be all-end all. I will, however, state for the record that I do not have the time nor the will to check through the prospect reports of every individual player. So in part's 2 and 3 when I give my prospect lists, I rely on the numbers first and foremost and then the rankings given by experts.

However, in some cases I am going to disagree. I, for one, am not going to list an 18 year old with 47 professional plate appearances as the #19 prospect. I will accept that he may be the most promising and therefore best prospect in a given system, but a player needs to do some time before they are given a nod from this guy.

What I am looking for includes in no specific order the following:
  • Age - Not only must the player be young but their performance to this point must not be as a result of playing against younger competition.
  • Numbers - This is important as the player must have displayed some sort of extraordinary talent at some point. Again, relative to age. If a 29 year old corner infielder mashes in Triple A during his 3rd go around, I don't care.
  • Position - I will take a look at scouting reports to an extent. If a short stop has an iron glove but can hit, he won't be compared to short stops with slick gloves and lesser bats.
  • Scouting Report/Expert Analysis - I am not in the big leagues because I can't hit a beach ball. Similarly, I do not have the resources or time to scout all of the 4500+ players that are playing professional baseball in North America. Maybe one day I will, but today I'm more 'fan' then expert.
  • Special Skill Set - One example, if you are a lefty with 'stuff', you are in. If you are a toolsy outfielder with an excellent walk rate, you too are in.
  • Injury History - You are young and in the best shape of your life. If the player can't stay healthy as a minor leaguer in your early 20s, this does not bode well for his future.
  • Contribution to Big League Club - This is two fold. First, that a player has a path to the bigs. It does not have to be direct, however if the player has to go the Ryan Howard route I unfortunately have to punish you. Second, if the player meets a bunch of my other specifications and is on the cusp of the big league club, they are rewarded.
  • Big League Club - There are organizations who continually pump out top prospects which never pan out (I'm looking at you Anaheim). Unfortunately, players in those organizations are punished because I cannot trust what is going on in that system. We have all heard the old adage, "That's a professional program right there" could the opposite not be true?
These eight qualifications are what I use when grading a prospect. I will not deny that I am not re-inventing the wheel here. I promise though, that my prospect lists are honest and true. I took a great deal of time in selecting each player that I did as well as giving concrete evidence behind my selections.

Some additional food for thought; BaseballAmerica writes a piece on the implications of the Mitchell Report on prospects. Take a moment to read this article, despite the amount of headaches that this Report has already created. However, when doing so, consider that prospects such as David Wright, whom have had testing throughout their minor league careers are even more legit because of this.

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