First Pitch: Aggressively Ranking Prospects
Today I posted the profile for the number 12 prospect in the system, Dilson Herrera. In the write-up I mentioned that Herrera was the favorite to be the 2013 version of Alen Hanson or Gregory Polanco.
In somewhat of a coincidence, Charlie at Bucs Dugout posted a review of the 2013 Prospect Guide today, and noted a few of the aggressive rankings in the book (with Herrera being one of them). I’m glad he brought that up. That’s actually a topic that came under internal discussion while the rankings were being put together. It’s also a topic I’ve been struggling with over the last few years.
I’ve explained the ranking process before, but to sum the steps up:
1. Everyone involved submits their own top 50 lists to me.
2. I take the average of four lists. My list, the average of everyone’s list, the average of everyone’s list with the outliers removed, and the average of everyone’s list with individual rankings weighted on who saw what players.
3. I present the average of the four lists to everyone involved, and have people argue individual players up or down.
4. I consider each argument, then use that to make the final adjustments to the list.
In the third process, some players were argued up to the point where they’d be considered aggressive rankings. Some were argued down to the point where they’ll probably be lower than most rankings. The method of making those decisions represented a change in the approach to the rankings over the last few years.
The first year for the book was in 2011. The rankings were heavily based on stats at the time, and not so much on live scouting reports or input from players, coaches, or scouts. The 2010 season was only the second year for the site, and it was still a part time thing. I had seen a lot of players in the system, but the coverage definitely was not to the point where the site currently is at. As a result, there were some mistakes in the rankings that year.
One big mistake was the ranking of Exicardo Cayones. I hadn’t seen much of Cayones. In fact, I’m not sure that I did see Cayones prior to the 2011 season. He was ranked based on his signing bonus and his numbers early in his career. But when I saw Cayones in Spring Training in 2011, he didn’t look like a guy you’d want to place an aggressive ranking on, especially when he just had half a strong season in the GCL. The outfielder looked completely over-matched when I saw him in State College that year, and eventually moved back to the GCL. He was later traded for A.J. Burnett, and he struggled again last year in the NYPL.
For the 2012 book, I wanted to avoid any Cayones mistakes. I wanted to avoid aggressively ranking prospects. There were some rankings that might have been a bit aggressive. Nick Kingham being ranked 10th overall was one example. But I went conservative with the rankings, which led to a regret: Alen Hanson.
There was a big difference between the site coverage in 2010 and 2011. In 2011 I covered more games, and was credentialed with every level in the minor league system. The site was also my full time job for the first year, which allowed me to follow things closer. We had more people covering live games than the 2010 season. I spent a week and a half in Spring Training prior to the season. We also received more input from opposing scouts and prospect writers who also saw prospects play. One player I kept hearing about was Alen Hanson. I kept hearing scouts rave about him. He looked good every time someone from the site saw him. He obviously was getting a good push from the Pirates, since he was getting playing time over big bonus middle infielders like Yhonathan Barrios and Jodaneli Carvajal. Yet Hanson ended up ranked 37th, because I didn’t want another Cayones situation. Hanson struggled in the second half of the 2011 season, which was the same thing that happened with Cayones (although I think we can chalk it up to a hand injury after seeing him explode in 2012). I didn’t want to rank Hanson high until he had success in a full season league.
The error here was that I wasn’t recognizing the difference between the 2010 and 2011 coverage. I ranked Cayones high because of a bonus and good overall numbers. If I would have ranked Hanson high, it would have been because he had good numbers, plus scouts were raving about him, plus we actually saw him perform well in person, plus the Pirates were pretty high on him. There was strong justification for ranking Hanson high. The ranking of Cayones wasn’t nearly as strong.
That brings me to the 2013 book. Everyone involved had players they were high on, and players they were low on. Typically the ranking went in favor of the people who saw the player, or had the best information on the player. It wasn’t an Exicardo Cayones situation, where the ranking was unjustified. And while I wanted to avoid another Alen Hanson situation, I didn’t want to go too far in the opposite direction and make too many aggressive moves. So I considered all of the arguments for each player, all of the reports we’ve compiled throughout the last few years, and made a few calculated risks. Guys like Dilson Herrera, Tyler Glasnow, or Jin-De Jhang were rated aggressively, but those ratings were backed by live reports, input from scouts, and of course stats. That’s really how it should be, although the site didn’t get to a point where we could really nail that process down until recently.
The art of evaluating prospects is very subjective, and the topic of aggressive rankings really reminds us of that. Take Luis Heredia, for example. He’s got a ton of tools, and the ability to be a top of the rotation starter one day. He’s very raw (although not as raw at the end of 2012 as he was at the beginning of the year), and he’s far enough away that he’s not a guarantee. His ceiling is high, but his floor is low. It’s the same situation with Tyler Glasnow. He’s got the potential to be a top of the rotation starter one day, but he’s also far from the majors with a high ceiling and a low floor. The big difference is that Heredia was the top international prospect in 2010, and has always been considered a top prospect. Glasnow was just another over-slot pitcher who happened to break out in his first season thanks to a big increase in velocity. It’s easier to trust Heredia as a top prospect, because we’ve been doing that for a few years. It’s harder to trust Glasnow, because we hadn’t thought of him as a top prospect, and therefore we don’t trust him as much as someone like Heredia. (Note: I’m not saying these two are equal. Heredia is definitely ahead of Glasnow right now, but their upsides are the same.)
That’s really what I tried to eliminate this year. I wanted to avoid looking at a player based on his original hype. Instead, I wanted to try and get a feel for where the player was now. Kind of a clean slate for everyone. Time will tell how the rankings turn out this year. No ranking system is going to be perfect, but I wanted to highlight some of the players who have the best shot at breakout seasons. That way if Tyler Glasnow, Dilson Herrera, and Jin-De Jhang have Hanson/Polanco years in 2013, you’ll already know about them and their potential, and they won’t come as a surprise.
Links and Notes
**The 2013 Prospect Guide is now available. The 2013 Annual is also available for pre-sales. Go to the products page of the site and order your 2013 books today!
**The eBook version of The 2013 Prospect Guide is also available through our publisher. They also have a discount code during the month of January that allows you to save 20%. Use the code JANBOOKS13 to get the discount. This code is only valid on the eBook on the publisher’s web site, and not the books on the products page of the site.