Prospect Notebook: Battles in the Top 20 Prospect Rankings

On Friday we released the 2012 Mid-Season Top 20 Prospects list. The list not only looked at the placements of the new draft picks, but also looked at the updated rankings after the first half of the minor league season.

The rankings are gathered by taking the average of five different top 20 lists. The two outliers are removed, and the remaining three rankings are averaged out. From there, I make the final adjustments to the list. I don’t adjust every player. If I did, I would be better off just releasing my own rankings and leaving everyone else out of it.┬áMost of the situations I adjust are situations where I’m splitting hairs between two prospects who are rated close together, or deciding if a certain player should make the end of the list.

Here are three of the biggest decisions that were made for the top 20 list, and what went in to those decisions and the ultimate rankings that you see.



The Pirates have two potential number one starters in Gerrit Cole and Jameson Taillon. They also have a potential number one in Mark Appel. Appel is widely rated below the other two, but there has been some debate on who is better — Cole or Taillon.

Throughout the year I’ve been debating this issue. Both pitchers have the same upside, although it’s easy to look at Taillon — now two years removed from high school — and imagine an extra gear that would allow him to top Cole one day. And it’s easy to just call Cole and potential number one starter without much thought to how good he actually is. But when you think about it, there’s no way he’s not the number one prospect in the system.

Cole throws in the upper 90s, touching triple digits. He throws a sharp slider that can touch 91 MPH, which is the speed of a lot of major league fastballs. He throws a changeup that also works in the upper 80s, with a ton of movement. He has another fastball — a two-seamer — which sits in the low 90s. And he tops it off with a slurvey curveball in the mid-80s. All of his pitches have a ton of movement, to the point where teammates who were charting him in Spring Training had to ask him at the end of the inning what pitch he threw to strike out the final batter of the inning.

Taillon is an amazing pitching prospect. He’s got a plus fastball, a plus curveball, and an improving changeup. But Cole is also an amazing pitching prospect with an unbelievable arsenal. He’s got three plus pitches and two more pitches that can be above-average. Most pitchers would settle for one of each, and a third pitch that is average at best. The fact that Cole has that arsenal, and can throw them all for strikes, gives him the edge over everyone else in the system, including the other potential number one starters the Pirates have.



Josh Bell came in to the year with a ton of hype. He received a $5 M signing bonus in the second round, which was a key factor in changing the draft spending rules. He’s a switch hitting outfielder who profiles to eventually have plus hitting and plus power from each side of the plate.

Alen Hanson came in to the year with minimal hype. Hardcore prospect evaluators, and people who had the chance to see him in the Gulf Coast League liked the athleticism and the tools. But Hanson was nowhere near Bell’s level.

Hanson has had a huge year this year, which propelled him in to the top five in our rankings. That was one spot ahead of Bell, and that order was a last minute change. The change came about after I considered several factors.

1. Both players are 19 years old. Actually, Hanson is two months younger than Bell.

2. In his debut in the SAL, Bell has struggled at the plate, mostly against a heavy diet of changeups. Meanwhile, Hanson is destroying the ball.

3. Hanson has hit for a .325/.382/.572 line this year in 243 at-bats. Bell had a .274/.288/.403 line in 62 at-bats before going down with an injury.

4. Bell struck out 33.9% of the time and walked 3% of the time. Hanson has struck out 23.5% of the time and has walked 8.5% of the time.

5. The big knock against Hanson is that he might not stick at short, and might not provide defensive value. Bell also isn’t projected to provide defensive value, with his value coming from the bat.

With all of that considered, you’ve got two players who are the same age, who both will provide most of their value from their bats. Hanson is putting up better numbers than Bell. He’s putting up better plate patience numbers. And it’s not like Hanson doesn’t have the tools to back up this performance. Bell’s power might give him the potential for more offense in the future than Hanson, but if you consider their offense relative to their positions, their values are about the same. Considering Hanson is playing significantly better right now, that earned him the higher ranking over Bell.



There were some questions about having a relief pitcher ranked in the top 20. If you consider the overall value that relief pitchers provide, then it wouldn’t make sense to rank a guy, whose upside is a relief pitcher, in the top 20. But I think you also need to consider how likely it is that the pitcher reaches his potential.

Morris has been dominating this year. He’s got a 2.65 ERA in 37.1 innings, with a 37:8 K/BB ratio. He throws a mid-90s fastball and a sharp cutter that he’s using as a strikeout pitch. Not only is he getting those strikeouts, but he’s also holding opponents to a .214 BAA, and getting a very impressive 2.65 GO/AO ratio.

Morris isn’t just a guy with the upside of a major league relief pitcher. He’s a major league ready reliever who has late inning stuff, and could be a closer candidate. If the Pirates didn’t have such a strong bullpen this year, he’d be in the majors right now. There are guys who I feel have the same upside. Duke Welker and Victor Black are two names in the upper levels who have that late inning/closer potential. But the difference between them and Morris is that Morris could be called up today, and is ready to have success upon his call up.

Author: Tim Williams

Tim is the owner and editor in chief of Pirates Prospects. He started the site in January 2009, and turned it into his full time job during the 2011 season. Prior to starting Pirates Prospects, Tim worked with, providing MLB, NHL, and NFL coverage to various national media outlets, including ESPN Insider, USA Today, Yahoo Sports, and the Wall Street Journal. He also writes the annual Prospect Guide, which is sold through the site. Tim lives in Bradenton, where he provides live coverage all year of Spring Training, mini camp, instructs, the Bradenton Marauders, and the GCL Pirates.

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