First Pitch: Some Perspective on Prospect Rankings

Today Baseball America released their top 20 prospects from the 2012 GCL season, which was the first league they’ve covered that had a Pirates affiliate. Over the next few weeks they’ll cover every league that featured a Pirates minor league affiliate, which will give us a chance to see where the minor leaguers stack up compared to other teams. We’ve also been running a lot of season ending reports over the past few weeks, not only with the team recaps and top prospects, but with some evaluations like the 2009 draft class as one example.

With all of these year-ending reports coming out, it’s important to keep some perspective. The most important thing to remember with prospects is that evaluations change. They can change in as little as a few months, or they can take a longer period of time. Prospects who are up in value now might fall. Prospects who are down in value now could bounce back. The evaluations, whether they’re here or Baseball America, or anywhere else, are all just a snapshot in time of where the prospect currently stands.

Since the discussion was on the GCL today, and since the Pirates landed four players on the top 20 list, it’s also important to bring up the game of attrition with prospects. It’s a long road from the GCL to the majors. A lot can happen between now and then, or even now and next year at a higher level. For example, last year the Pirates had three players in the GCL top 20. The third best prospect in the league was Luis Heredia. The fifth best prospect was Jose Osuna. The guy at number 14? Some infielder named Alen Hanson.

I’m guessing when the top 20 for the South Atlantic League comes out this year, Hanson will be near the top, while Osuna won’t be on the list. Gregory Polanco, who wasn’t rated on the GCL list last year, will probably also be near the top of the SAL list. We’re talking about one year. In that one year Hanson has seen his stock soar, Polanco has come from out of nowhere (or if you’ve read this site, has finally justified my irrational love for his tools and upside for the past few years), and Osuna hasn’t busted, but he went another year without really breaking out, which lowers his stock a bit.

Prospects in the lower levels are all about the numbers. It’s a game of attrition. You want as many prospects as possible, because you’re bound to see a lot of them wash out as they make their way through the system. The lower levels of the system are loaded with prospects right now, as they should be. Aside from the four players on the GCL top 20, the team had Max Moroff, Elvis Escobar, Harold Ramirez, Eric Wood, Dovydas Neverauskas, Jon Sandfort, Colten Brewer, Cesar Lopez, Kevin Ross, Bryton Trepagnier, and Luis Urena. All of those players have potential and upside. Not all of them will make it. Some might not even make it past State College. But the more guys you have, the better chance you’ve got of getting future major leaguers.

The GCL top 20 will be seen as a favorable outcome for the farm system. I’m not a big fan of numbered rankings good or bad. I prefer the scouting reports, and in this case, those were also favorable. The ultimate goal is to develop prospects in to major league players. It’s good to see players drawing national consideration for their potential and upside. None of that matters if the Pirates can’t take some of those players and turn them in to productive major leaguers.

That development process is largely untested with this current group, and it’s still early. The results are mixed at this point. There’s Pedro Alvarez in the majors, who is starting to show his potential. But there’s also Jose Tabata, who hasn’t been consistent at all in the majors. There’s strong development that has translated to the upper levels of the minors. Starling Marte, Kyle McPherson, and Jeff Locke are a few players who have been developed by this group, and are starting to crack the majors. But it’s too early to say whether any of them can make the successful jump to the majors. There’s good development in the lower levels of the minors, such as Alen Hanson, Gregory Polanco, Tyler Glasnow, Clay Holmes, and Nick Kingham. There’s also some poor results, such as the 2009 prep pitchers and Stetson Allie.

There will be positives and negatives. There will also be the tendency to extrapolate those individual results and try to paint a picture of the entire system based on those results. But those individual results are just individual results. The GCL rankings or the 2009 prep pitcher struggles are just a fraction of the total system evaluation. The upcoming rankings for the other levels, whether good or bad, will also be just a fraction of the total system evaluation. Even if those results are largely positive, it just means the Pirates have a lot of talent in their system, which seems to be the growing consensus from national prospect experts.

Having talent in the system is a great thing, and the more the better. But talent is just half the battle. Developing that talent, and turning that talent in to major league players is the other half. I wouldn’t say that one is more important than the other. You need talent to develop major leaguers, and talent is useless if you can’t develop major leaguers. I’d expect future prospect lists to show that the Pirates are doing a good job finding talent. That just leaves the unanswered questions above on whether the Pirates can turn that talent in to major league players.

Links and Notes

**The Pirates beat the Mets 10-6.

**Pirates Notebook: Rodriguez Settles; Club Makes History in Homers and Strikeouts.

**Pirates Place Four in GCL Top 20 Prospects.

**Morgantown Ballpark – Future Short Season Affiliate of the Pirates?

Tim Williams

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 AccuScore.com, 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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  • http://twitter.com/jlease717 John Lease

    100% agree.

  • Lee Young

    ” But the more guys you have, the better chance you’ve got of getting future major leaguers.”

    AMEN, brother Tim!!!

    • BlueBomber72

      The ‘throw a bunch of crap at the wall and see what sticks’ aproach to scouting and player development. Lovely.

      • whiteAngus

        then we should throw Garrett Jones back, like the stinky big ol’ fish he is.
        .
        yes, sarcasm.

      • Lee Young

        Apparently we have some pretty good ‘crap’.

        Just saying….

      • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=72405411 Ian Rothermund

        Ultimately that’s what prospecting is. Whether its business or professional sports, anytime the word “prospect” gets thrown around it implies no guarantees. The job of the organization is to simply obtain a better average quality of the crap they’re throwing at the wall. If you had any other impressions of how this worked, then let me be the first to welcome you to reality.

  • Lee Young

    “the Pirates have a lot of talent in their system, which seems to be the growing consensus from national prospect experts.”

    Sure hope our ‘new’ GM that everyone wants can do better than our current one!

    Foo

  • http://twitter.com/rburgh80015 Craig Biddle

    I’m not sure what all the fuss is about regarding “combat training.” Tossing truck tires around in the OF. Supervised hand to hand combat. None of this is anything unusual in the business world. Are these guys athletes or water boys?

    Taillon hurt a knee in these drills. What was it, a bruise? He sure missed a lot of time, and it utterly ruined his chances to have a successful season this year, didn’t it?

    I was watching the Mets’ broadcast last night, and they were talking about off-season workouts. One of their broadcasters, who was a former ML pitcher, was telling about how hard it is to do your off-season workouts day after day. If the Bucs inject some non-traditional things in there, so what? Many of us have been through boot camp, and the number of casualties is astonishingly small, even though they reward failure with even more horrid-sounding (and just plain tough) drills.Getting tossed around a mat in hand-to-hand hurts for a day or two, but it teaches you about balance and gives you some confidence in yourself.

    The fact is that when Huntingdon took over this farm system, it was considered to be pretty poor. Right now it’s considered to be pretty good. Frankly, I don’t care if their top 5 projects were all 1st round picks, or are low-budget internationals and overachieving low-round picks. As long as they keep putting guys in top prospect lists and their performance at the ML level keeps justifying those rankings, the franchise is in much better shape than it was under Littlefield.

    As for the failure to acquire top talent at the trade deadline, aside from Greinke, it looks to me like Wandy was the 2nd best SP acquisition. Adrian Gonzalez? .255-.308-.427 for the Dodgers – Gaby Sanchez is doing much better. Hunter Pence? .227-.299-.373. Shane Victorino? .225-.298-.303. Travis Snider was comparable to Pence and a lot better than Victorino. Hanley Ramirez was the “big winner”, but he’s still got an OPS for the Dodgers 100 points below his career average, and he’s still a lousy SS.

    Any “failure” appears to have been the failure to anticipate a total meltdown in the bullpen. Raise your hand if you thought, in late July, that the Bucs needed to acquire several relievers. OK, now that we know who all the liars are out there….

    • whiteAngus

      cant really argue with any of this. well said.
      and the players that NH aquired wont kill a payroll like the dodgers aquisitions.

    • Lee Young

      “the failure to anticipate a total meltdown in the bullpen.
      The starters melted down, starting with JMac…that’ll wreck a bullpen every time.!

    • Lee Young

      I thought NH said that JT was NOT hurt in the drills?? Thought I read that somewhere/

      Other than that, I agree with you.

      • http://www.piratesprospects.com Tim Williams

        Taillon’s injury came pre-2011. I knew about it during Spring Training that year. But it was so minor that it wasn’t even worth mentioning.

    • leadoff

      Just pointing out the hand to hand drills was not part of the Navy Seal training and Huntington said Taillon did not participate in the Navy Seal training. He also said there are other organizations that do the same training.
      The Pittsburgh Penquins did it and it was a great thing, I guess anything Mario okays is a great thing.

  • Andrew Brown

    My deep thoughts. Herrera will be the next Alen Hanson. Glasnow, if he can harness his control, will be the real deal in the same breath as Heredia and Holmes. I think Mathisen will not be a Catcher when he winds up in the big leagues. Moroff is an OB machine. Harold Ramirez, Eric Wood, and Colton Brewer are my picks to break out at WV and beyond.

  • leadoff

    The Pirates development of minor league players IMO is going very well.
    This column does not tell the whole story however, because it is only focused on minor league development.
    There are two development processes for a player in every system.
    1. Minor league development, 0-6 years on average
    2. Major league development, 0-4 years on average
    At this point in time the Pirates minor league talent that has gone to the major league level has not been there long enough to fully develop, not even McCutchen. This is why I can’t draw very many conclusions from anything they do. One day they look like world beaters, the next they look like trash, thats not uncommon with developing players.
    Next year you should see a better Marte, Walker, Presley, Tabata, Locke, McPherson.
    Some of these players will not develop at the major league level simply because they won’t get a chance, like an Alvarez did.
    Mercer or Holt might never make it or might do well for someone else, because they just will not play enough, the Pirates have a manager that likes to use about 22 of his 25 players most of the time.

    • Lee Young

      Well said leadoff

    • http://www.piratesprospects.com Tim Williams

      Development definitely doesn’t stop when you are promoted to the majors. Players need to make the successful jump, then adjust to any adjustments made against them. A key example of this is Alvarez. He made the jump in 2010. Adjustments were made against him in 2011. He’s now adjusting back in 2012, and I wouldn’t say he’s done improving on his game.

  • TonyPenaforHOF

    Anyone else read Randy Linville’s post yesterday on this site?

    http://www.piratesprospects.com/2012/09/pirates-place-four-in-gcl-top-20-prospects.html

    While I am happy with the fact the Pirates are so well represented, the list in the above mentioned post tells us not to read too much into these rankings.

  • derekbellstutu

    “Some might not even make it past State College.”
    This should read Jamestown, correct? My apologies if I’m wrong.
    Here’s hoping the talent in the minors increases & pushes through to the parent club. GO BUCS!

    • http://www.piratesprospects.com Tim Williams

      Yes, it should. It’s going to take a while before I get used to typing State College. I was stopping myself from typing “Lynchburg” until about half way through the 2010 season, which was their first year in Bradenton.