Earlier this week the 2014 Prospect Guide was made available for pre-sales, with a target release date of mid-December after the Winter Meetings. In the weeks leading up to the release of the book, we’ll be looking back at some of the reports from previous editions to see what we were previously saying about certain players.
In this process, you can expect to see some positive reports that ended up being exactly right. Let’s be honest: I’m not-so-secretly using these articles to promote the book, so I’m going to show you some previous reports where we were absolutely correct. But the truth is that when you’re making projections for every single player in the system, you’re going to be wrong. In some cases, you’re going to be wrong about a player you ranked highly. Each year I look back at the previous season, see where we were right and where we were wrong, and ask a simple question: Why?
I started this evaluation process while writing the 2012 Prospect Guide. The previous year saw the release of the 2011 version, which was the first book we released. When I was looking back at the reports, there were some good ones and bad ones, but there was one that really stuck out and that was Exicardo Cayones. We ranked Cayones as the number 16 prospect in the system. By comparison, Baseball America didn’t have him in their top 30, and had him fourth on the center field depth charts. Here is our report from our book.
Cayonez previously had the highest announced international signing bonus given out by the Pirates, signing for $400 K in 2008. That number has since been topped, but still represents his talent level and potential. After a strong debut in the VSL, Cayonez made the jump to the US, playing half of the 2010 season in the GCL.
Cayonez is more of a line drive hitter at this point in his career, with the ability to hit line drives to all parts of the ballpark. He has good plate patience and a good feel for hitting. He has the speed to stick in center field, and is capable of being a plus defender. Cayonez is a long way from the majors, but he’s also very young with a lot of upside. It will be interesting to see if the Pirates take an aggressive approach with him next year and put him in West Virginia to get experience in a full season league.
It would be easy for me to start this series of articles with someone like Starling Marte, who was ranked second that year despite a lot of questions about whether his plate patience would allow him to reach the majors. I could have pointed to Tony Watson, who we had as the #50 prospect, projected as a reliever, and who made the majors as a reliever later that year. But Cayones made the biggest impact to the ranking process in future books.
I first saw Exicardo Cayones is June 2011, which was several months after the first Prospect Guide was released. The first book was published before I had started doing this full-time. I had seen most of the players in the upper levels of the system, but I didn’t get a chance to see any of the players in the GCL from the 2010 season, and that included Cayones. This meant that the report on Cayones was based on his stats, his signing bonus (which was one of the biggest in team international history), and his initial scouting report and projection.
The numbers from Cayones in 2010 weren’t earth shattering if you looked at the overall results. He had a .263/.369/.362 line in the GCL. However, he got on the radar by putting up a .318/.393/.411 line in 107 at-bats through the month of July that season, before really cooling off in August. The pre-August success included hits in 12 of his first 13 games, with a .451 average and a 1.060 OPS. In fact, after that, Cayones had a .572 OPS from July 8th to the end of the season. So his season was really a 13 game hot streak, but the overall numbers were accepted because of the bonus, scouting reports, and a good first impression in the US (plus good numbers in the VSL the previous season).
Fast forward to June 2011. Cayones made the jump to State College. His last name was still being spelled “Cayonez”, although it was definitely confusing when you’d see one spelling on his jersey, and another on the scoreboard. That’s really irrelevant as far as his prospect rating goes, but I just wanted to point it out because the spelling is different in the above report, and I still don’t know how his name should be spelled. I saw Cayones for the first time in State College, and my first reaction can be summed up in the following video:
Cayones wasn’t really a big guy. He wasn’t a guy who looked like a future starter in the majors. What I saw in 2011 didn’t match the 2008 scouting report. He wasn’t a center fielder, couldn’t hit, and had terrible plate patience. That can be shown in the numbers — he went 2-for-32 in State College with 13 strikeouts (40.6%). But you didn’t need to see the numbers when watching the live reports. I talked with an NL scout who wasn’t impressed with any hitter on the team that year, even Cayones. Six months earlier, Cayones was a breakout candidate. After seeing him for a few games and talking with scouts, he fell completely off the top 50. It didn’t matter much where he was ranked pre-2012, as he was traded a month after the 2012 Prospect Guide came out, in exchange for A.J. Burnett.
So how did Cayones change the way the Prospect Guide worked? At first, the change was a negative move. My initial reaction was to go conservative, and not rank any more lower level players highly until they had success in full season ball. I regretted this the following year. All throughout the 2011 season I was getting strong reports on a young infielder in the GCL named Alen Hanson. You may have heard of him. Scouts loved him. Everyone who saw him loved him. He had a Cayones-like season in the GCL, with struggles at the end of the year, although they were injury related. But because of Cayones, we had Hanson ranked conservatively at #37 in the 2012 book, right before his breakout season.
We had great reports on Hanson that were current, but we didn’t rate him high. Likewise, we didn’t have fellow breakout Gregory Polanco in the top 50, even though I had seen him plenty of times, and anyone who talked to me at Pirate City pre-2012 would have heard me raving about the potential that Polanco had. So clearly the blanket conservative approach with lower level guys wasn’t the solution. That’s when I decided to trust the information we had. We had information on Hanson and Polanco, and should have rated them high based on that information. That wasn’t the case when we rated Cayones high.
Prior to 2011 we had reports, but we didn’t have reports on everyone in the system. A lot of reports were the “I saw a guy once” variety. There were a few conversations with scouts. And that was about it. This year we had about a dozen people getting live reports on the players, plus more input from scouts. That was true last year as well. The big change that needed to be made wasn’t a blanket approach with certain prospects. The big change was trusting our reports.
Starting with the 2013 Prospect Guide I made a change to the ranking process, putting more emphasis on the reports of people who saw the players in person. If we had scouting reports on a certain player, that was also relied upon heavily. It’s impossible for everyone on the site to see every player throughout the season, and that includes myself. That meant when everyone was grading players, a lot of those grades were based off second-hand information — old scouting reports, stats, etc. The key was getting as much first hand information as possible, and relying on the people who had that information.
As I look back and evaluate the 2013 rankings, there aren’t many regrets. We aggressively ranked Tyler Glasnow high, based on strong reports from our writers, plus scouts and coaches. That worked out well. We had some players ranked much lower than others for similar reasons, such as Matt Curry. Curry’s season was derailed by an injury, but he wasn’t doing well before the injury occurred. There were some projections and rankings that didn’t pan out, and there always will be. But the 2013 review was the first one where I wasn’t questioning our process of evaluating and projecting players, and the path to get here started with Exicardo Cayones.