First Pitch: The New Prospect Ranking System in the 2014 Prospect Guide

I’ve always made it known that I don’t like numerical ranking lists for prospects. They’re simple. They’re fun. They generate a lot of interest. But they don’t tell the entire story. A numerical ranking system will tell you that one player is ranked higher than another player, but it won’t tell you exactly how good one player is to another player ranked below him.

There are many cases where one player could be ranked 7th, another could be ranked 16th, and they have the same talent and upside. Numerical ranking systems provide arbitrary and convenient cutoffs to signify how good a player is. Top 10, top 30, and other easy numbers are used to make things simple, and it leads to the belief that there’s something significant about that number 7 ranked prospect, as opposed to the number 16 prospect, all because one of them ended up in the top 10. The goal for any prospect ranking system should be to discuss how a group of players rank against each other. A numerical ranking system attempts this, but it falls short in many ways.

Two years ago, in the 2012 Prospect Guide, I added a tiered ranking system. The system was aimed at improving over the numerical rankings. It grouped players together based on talent, upside, and value. It didn’t matter if one tier only covered the top three instead of the top five. It didn’t matter that another tier would cover prospects 8-19. The only thing that mattered was grouping everyone together in a way that would put players with the same upside together in the same group.

This year I wanted to take that one step further. The 2014 Prospect Guide still has numerical rankings with the top 50 prospects. It still has the tiered rankings. But I wanted to add individual player values. Baseball America added something similar to their Prospect Handbook a few years ago, giving players a 20-80 rating, and a risk factor. I liked that approach because it not only allowed you to accurately compare two players, but it allows you to accurately compare the quality of players from different years. This isn’t a new concept. The 2-8 or 20-80 scale is the basis of scouting and evaluating players.

I’ve always avoided this for the simple reason that we are not scouts. I can’t give you a full detailed scouting report on every player in the system, complete with grades on all of their individual tools and pitches. Well, I could, but I don’t trust how accurate it would be. One thing I do trust is an overall grade, or a prediction of what a player could become. We’ve done that since starting this site. It doesn’t require a full breakdown of the player, but only requires a simple analysis of how good the player could eventually become. The only step was translating that to the 2-8 scale. We used the following rankings in the 2014 Prospect Guide.

8 – Elite Player

7 – All-Star

6 – Above Average Starter / Strong #3 Innings Eater / Impact Closer

5 – Average Starter / #3-5 Starting Pitcher / Closer Candidate

4 – Impactful Bench Player / Spot Starter / Strong Middle Reliever

3 – Up & Down Player

2 – Career Minor Leaguer

From there I asked everyone involved for their grades on each player. We looked at the floor, ceiling, and I asked everyone to give a most likely upside. In the end we used the average most likely upside in the book. Anyone who got higher than a two comes with a write up. Scouts usually write “NP” about players with 2 ratings. I just let the rating speak for itself, and didn’t include information on these players, as opposed to the 1-2 sentences in the past saying exactly what the rating says. The floor and ceiling came into play when determining the risk. Along with the grades, we included the following risk levels.

Safe – Almost certain to reach ceiling and arrive in 2014

Low – Strong chance of reaching ceiling

Medium – Small work to become MLB player

High – More projection than results

Extreme – Highly projectable, small chance of making the majors

As an example of the profiles, here is a look at Wei-Chung Wang, who was drafted by Milwaukee in the Rule 5 draft. He would have been the number 30 prospect in the system, but was moved to the Appendix section of the book after the Rule 5 draft.

wang

We had Wang graded with a 5.0 upside, which means he had a chance to be a #3-5 starting pitcher one day. His risk level was extreme, which gives him a small chance right now of reaching that upside. The book does have a disclaimer that I will repeat here. The rankings are a snapshot of one moment in time. Players can out-perform their upside, or under-perform their upside. Both things happen on a yearly basis. The same goes with risk. Most players came with high or extreme risks, especially the guys in the lower levels. That’s for the simple reason that prospects aren’t guarantees. The more levels you have to project, the higher the risk is that the prospect could bust. If a prospect moves up and has success in a higher level, he lowers his risk, and might even raise his likely potential.

Overall the 2014 Prospect Guide gives three ways to evaluate players. There is the standard numerical rankings. Next is the tiered ranking system. Then finally there are the grades and the risk levels for each player. Overall the reports on each player are the most important thing to analyze the players and their future potential. However, it’s always nice to compare different players, and I’m happy to add a new method for these comparisons.

The 2014 Prospect Guide is expected to be shipping out by the end of the week. You can still order your copy and have it sent out with the first shipment.

Links and Notes

**A quiet day today as far as news goes. I’d say things might be slowing down for the holidays, but last year the Pirates signed Francisco Liriano and traded Joel Hanrahan at the end of December. As I wrote in the Week in Review, they still need to address the first base situation.

**Winter Leagues: Martinez Drives In Three Runs.

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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  • Ericfg

    Just ordered mine, and looking forward to it. Been here for a while now, basically just after when Wilber came here. Don’t post much but read this site every day. Thanks for your hard work, Tim!

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

      Thanks for ordering!

  • emjayinTN

    Tim: Looking forward to receiving the 2014 Prospect Guide to add to the bookcase alongside the 2011, 2012, and 2013 Guides. Always excellent reading and a very handy reference. This year I added 2 extra for my sons. Your last comment on the need to address the 1B situation. I think they already have, even if they do not do so by adding anyone.

    I like Gaby Sanchez and think he has already returned to his first two years in the majors in 2010 and 2011. In both of those years he had 572 AB’s. In 2010 he batted .273 and posted 37 doubles, 3 triples, 19 HR’s and 85 RBI’s. In 2011 he batted .266 and posted 35 doubles, 19 HR’s, and 78 RBI. in 2012 he and the Marlins had some major disagreements and he had a horrible start and was sent back to AAA. That is how we got him so cheap. He hits RHP’s good, but hits LHP’s better. Slash line in 2010 .273/.341/.448/.789, 1.9 WAR; in 2011 .266/.352/.427/.779, 2.9 WAR. Last year with the Pirates in only 264 AB’s he had 18 doubles, 7 HR’s, 36 RBI and a slash of .254/.361/.402/.763, 0.8 WAR. Almost the exact same results/AB as in 2010 and 2011. He is an excellent defender and is a great positive influence on and off the field. If he needs a breather, get Neil ready to play some 1B and use Barmes and Mercer as the MI.

    Therefore, we do not need to give up much to add a LH hitting 1B. We have already saved the $6 mil that would have been paid to Garrett Jones in Arbitration. But, the Pirates have to find two LH hitting, good fielding, first basemen who are locked in from upward mobility by their clubs. My two were Dan Vogelbach who will be in AA this year with the Cubs, and the kid from the Nats who missed all of 2013 due to injury, Matt Skole, who may start the year at AA. That’s how small market teams play the game.

    • emjayinTN

      Listened to MLB this morning and their consensus about 1B from Ron Darling – Mitch Moreland would be a much better fit;, and regarding not taking action on Loney or before now “Don’t worry about Neal Huntington, he is very, very good”.

      • stickyweb

        “Don’t worry about Neal Huntington, he is very, very good”

        I know you were just relaying what somebody else said here, but it’s been nice knowing you MJ, you are gonna get slaughtered by half the commenters in here.

      • JRIcentral

        I think NH is playing the Gaby card (that he can be our everyday 1B) for negotiation purposes.
        We have to trade one of our Relievers (out of options). So whoever matches with that need, will be who gives us our lefty 1b option. Weather it’s Moreland, Lind, Davies, etc.
        Personally, I would trade Morris, Mazzaro, Pimentel or Gomez for one of them…
        As we cannot keep all four of those relievers…

        • http://www.facebook.com/stephen.brooks.581 Stephen Brooks

          +1 JRI. Neal knows the market will come to him. Seattle has a miserable bullpen and just traded one of their few live arms to get Logan Morrison. Texas lost Nathan and has question marks at the back end (especially if Soria takes over closer duties). They’ll ask for Melancon/Wilson – would they take Pimentel/Morris is the question.

          • JRIcentral

            I think if you add to the Pimentel/ Morris group, Mazzaro & Gomez, some of these teams will bite (Seattle, Texas, Mets) for one of the group.
            For Melancon or Wilson, I’d like to get a better prospect. Carp comes to mind!

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

      The thing about Sanchez, pre-2012, is that he destroyed left-handers but didn’t do so well against right-handers. He just did so well in those years that it masked the fact that he couldn’t hit right-handers as well.

  • http://www.facebook.com/lee.young.161 leefoo

    As stated before, the P2 Guide is my favorite Christmas present. Hands down, nothing else comes close.

    Still ticked we lost Wang, if just for the Wang/Jhang battery potential.

  • stickyweb

    Tim, I should have asked this on the Rule 5 article, but didn’t think about it until now. If the Brewers keep Wang all year, what’s his status, i.e. do they need to keep him on the 40 man, does he need to be in the majors within 3 years (like he would have with the Bucs), does he lose an option, etc? Thanks.

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

      They need to keep him on the active roster all year to keep him. From there, he remains on the 40-man roster, and would have three option years remaining beyond the 2014 season.

      • WTM

        “three option years remaining beyond the 2014 season”

        Which isn’t a lot for a pitcher who hasn’t appeared above the GCL.

  • piraddict

    Tim, Look forward to the Guide. It’s been my son’s Christmas gift for years. I don’t know if the Guide will have this information, but it would be fascinating to read your 3 to 8 ranking of the existing Pirates 40 man roster. Is that in the Guide? If not, would you offer your rankings in an article on this Blog? Thanks!

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

      Any prospect eligible player on the 40-man roster is included in the book. Major league players typically don’t get 3-8 ratings because they have already lived up to those ratings. I might give examples of each rating using current players.

      • piraddict

        What would be interesting, and I think would stimulate a lot of discussion, is what are the appropriate rankings for Marte, or Tabata, or Alvarez or Mercer, etc.? I think that Cutch is the only defacto 8, but where everyone else fits on the scale would indicate where the Pirates should be looking to upgrade at the position, whether internally or externally. It’s not really so helpful to compare across positions as it is to compare within a position.

        • emjayinTN

          Another way to look at it is pull up the FanGraphs WAR Ratings for 2013.

          #2 Andrew McCutchen, 8.2 WAR – definitely an 8
          #28 Starling Marte, 4.6 WAR – possibly a 7.0 or 6.75
          #35 Russell Martin 4.1, WAR – possibly a 7.0 or 6.75
          #62 Pedro Alvarez, 3.1 WAR – possibly a 6.25
          #76 Neil Walker, 2.7 WAR – possibly 6.0 or 5.75

          Surprised the Pirates had so many guys in the Top 100? I was. The only difference is that WAR is an offensive and defensive combination. Russell Martin and Starling Marte would be 8.0 or close defensively, but their offensive numbers bring them down. And surprisingly, Pedro is in plus numbers for defense. The only other Pirate I am aware of off the top of my head is Gaby Sanchez who is 0.8 WAR. Did not see anybody from RF or SS in the Top 100. Figuring there are probably 400 position players, having 5 guys in the Top 100 is excellent, IMO.

          • stickyweb

            Good stuff MJ, but I disagree about using 400 position players. I figure you got that by taking 13 non pitchers per team and 30 teams? Wouldn’t it be better to say that there are 8 position players per team, plus some back ups and maybe a platoon partner or two. Figure only one side of a platoon will qualify, so I think 8 position players per team and 30 teams for a total of 240 players is the right way to look at it.

            That said I agree the Bucs having 5 in the top 100 is very impressive. For comparison, by my quick count, it looks like the Cards also had 5 (but Beltran has left, though he was only 98) + Jon Jay at 102 (seriously how does he have a 1.9 WAR? Decent avg. and OBP, no power and teriible defense. I’m pretty sure he hit .800 against the Bucs and .095 against the rest of the league). And the BoSox had 5 (but 1 is now a Yankee) + Nava at 103. Not bad company to be in.

            So 62% (5 of 8) of the Bucs’ positions were in the top 1/3 of the league (Walker being 76th of 240). I think I’m seeing why they did so well last year. And some commenters on here are acting like we lost all of those guys.

  • mblthd

    Hey Tim, I see your point re: numerical ranking systems, but can’t you just simplify things by saying that the relative numbers just indicate who you would rather have? Thus, the #1 guy is the guy that you would most like to have (for whatever reason, be it floor, ceiling, whatever), and the #6 guy is the guy who you would rather have if you have to choose between him and the #7 guy, etc.

    So, if someone said, “You have Dimaggio at #3 and Mantle at #6, but Mantle’s ceiling is higher,” you could say “yes, but Dimaggio’s floor is higher and Mantle comes with more risk, and therefore I’d rather have Dimaggio” or whatever.