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.