First Pitch: What Makes a Minor Leaguer a “Prospect”?

I’ve talked a lot the last few days about very specific situations that involve the definition of the word “prospect.” Yesterday we had a few articles, including my First Pitch, talking about prospects being blocked. Today I had an article on Yeudy Garcia, a right-handed pitcher in West Virginia who is emerging as a prospect.

That word covers a lot of different definitions. And as a result, I usually see a lot of different opinions on what actually qualifies as a prospect.

Some people only use the highest definition, focusing only on top 100 guys. That would include guys like Tyler Glasnow, Josh Bell, and maybe expanding down the top ten list to include guys who aren’t top 100 guys, but are some of the top guys in the system. Basically, if you’re a Grade A prospect, then you’re a “prospect.” Grade B is acceptable. Anything lower, and you’re out.

This is a subject where a no one opinion is correct, since it’s all a matter of personal preference. That said, I will say this “only the top guys are prospects” opinion is absolutely incorrect. That focus of guys only at the top is how you miss potential breakout guys, and how you overlook guys who could be bench players and bullpen arms, or maybe back of the rotation starters and average position players.

Everyone else can be grouped together in some variation of the same method — evaluating players on an individual basis, using personalized requirements to fit the “prospect” label.

For some people, this means that players who are over a certain age are no longer prospects. For others, it means if you’ve struggled for X amount of years, or if you’ve reached the majors for a small amount of time and didn’t break through, you’ve lost the status. Or there are people who discount specific player groups until they reach a certain level, which is something I do to an extent with left-handed pitchers and power hitting first basemen below Double-A.

I have the opportunity to see how both sides of the game works, which gives me an interesting perspective of the divide on the opinions between the people outside the game, and the people inside the game. And the amusing thing about that is scouts and teams tend to use the “prospect” tag a lot more often than people outside of the game.

A big reason for this is that people inside the game tend to look at players in terms of their tools and abilities. If a player has one really good tool, he’s a prospect. His chances might be extremely low of reaching the majors, but he’s got a chance, and that’s all that matters.

Part of this probably comes from the idea held by every team, wherein they think that if they find a guy with just one tool, they can fix whatever is holding him back and capitalize on that small chance. There is some arrogance there, thinking that you can succeed in developing a player who others have either passed on, or have tried and failed with. But it is that arrogance which leads to teams finding surprise minor league free agents, or landing talented players in the middle-to-late rounds of the draft. It’s the same mentality that leads to the Pirates finding reclamation pitchers in the majors.

On the fan side of things, there seems to be a lot of value placed on the word “prospect.” No matter how it is determined that a player is a prospect, the title holds almost hallowed meaning. It’s almost like the label elevates a player to a different level, to the point where the prospect tag feels like a promotion to a new job title. A player has the tools, and then gets considered for the position of “prospect.” This is different from the feeling inside the game, which is that a player is a prospect because he has the tools, even if it’s only just one plus tool.

Once again, this doesn’t mean one side is right and one side is wrong. I’ve talked with scouts over the years who have been dead wrong about some players, and who have called it with other players who no one else sees as “prospects.” Likewise, I’ve seen people commenting on this site who liked some players a lot more than scouts did, and those players ended up working out.

It’s not an exact science. You’re just looking for guys who have a shot at making the majors, but you’ll never find someone who is a guarantee to reach their upside. But there’s one thing I believe: If you’ve got a chance to make the majors, even if it’s a small chance, you’re a “prospect.”

**Prospect Watch: High Pitch Count For Heredia, But He Showed Some Improvements

**David Todd Podcast: Discussing Hanson, Bell, Broxton, Romero, Meadows

**Pirates Focus on Hitting with Runners in Scoring Position Hasn’t Paid Off…Yet

**Latest Mock Draft From MLB Has Pirates Staying In State For Pitching

**A Surprise Pitching Prospect Emerges in West Virginia

**Morning Report: Draft Notes and Upcoming Coverage

 

  • When I read this article, it reminds me of the beginning of the book Moneyball. Where the Scouts have all these kids lineup to run a 40 yard dash and have a preconceived idea of what to look for, and when it doesn’t turn out that way, they make them do it again. Sometimes, Scouts let their perceptions color the facts.

    There’s got to be something to be said for actual results at some point in the process. It’s easy to get caught up in measurables, but how do you quantify heart and desire to succeed?

    My personal belief is some players are just better at keeping their confidence high in the face of failure. And baseball is overrun with failure, especially hitters.

    • Love your last paragraph , Scott.

      I forget who said it, but there’s this line that goes something like “An extremely confident person is either an idiot or a psychopath”. If you think about it, especially in the baseball sense, that makes so much sense. Think about a situation like Josh Harrison’s this year; in order to keep your head up, you either have to be too dumb to notice the house burning down around you or so blindly confident in yourself that you think you’ll be able to put it out.

      As for your line on quantifying heart/desire, I’m of the camp that believes the difficulty of the game itself weeds out the extreme majority on its own. May not be able to scout that in the amateur ranks or low minors, but once you get to the higher levels it almost always becomes evident.

      Javy Baez is supremely talented, for instance, but has clearly been shown that he must change, possibly drastically, to make that talent play. If he comes back from AAA still swinging out of his shoes, that’ll tell me all I need to know about his actual desire to succeed.

  • Thanks tim, welcome back to the sunshine state.

  • Everyone’s ceiling is Paul Goldschmidt, at least theoretically

    While some criticize it, I do like the use of numbers in grading and quantifying risk in prospects, not because they are rigorous or scientific but because that language can be very obtuse, there are a lot of ill defined terms.

    • Numbers, as in the 20-80 scale?

      • Yes while it has been maligned, it is widely accepted and at least when cited other scouts and people understand what you are talking about. Top of the rotation pitcher and an advanced approach at the plate are evaluations open to a large amount of interpretation.

        • Oh, certainly. You’re certainly more in tune with these issues than I am, but I wasn’t even aware there was a conflicting school of thought.

          I can’t imagine any possible way of finding anything approaching consistency in scout without using the 20-80 scale.

          • Michael Lewis had some disparaging words for it’s use in trying to make what is mostly subjective, objective. And some of my perception might be my inability to fully understand the how Grade A, Grade B, Grace B-, scale works.

  • Tim: Talent evaluation and projection is a crapshoot, and the best teams always seem to find the right parts to plug in at the right time. And for each good decision there may be 3 bad ones. Right now the Pirates are struggling at the plate. Many of the struggles will eventually be eliminated, but the one I see that cannot be eliminated is the lack of a leadoff batter. We lucked out that Harrison batted over .300 last year, but he also walked very little, and had a K/W Ratio of close to 4/1. He and Polanco have had much the same problems this year.

    I listened to the podcast and you commented that Hanson has done well, but then you mentioned the Pedro/Neil situations and then moved to a situation where 2B might be open. I think you said that if Mercer does not do well, Kang may replace him at SS; if Mercer does well, he will stay at SS and then the Pirates may opt to put Kang at 2B, and Hanson may be trade bait.

    Hanson has shown that he can be an excellent defensive 2B. He has also proven to be a very reliable and quality switchhitting leadoff batter for the past 3 years, so who are you thinking will be our leadoff hitter if it is not Hanson?

    • This is the second question I had on that response. And it’s way too complex to try to break down in a comment, much less a quick radio answer. With a Moroff article coming out on the site today, I think tonight would be a good time to break down the second base situation.

    • Alen Hanson will struggle to get on base at a ML average level in the show. Awful leadoff hitter profile.

      • Is it possible this 22-year old will continue to grow and develop his game to overcome the deficiencies he has now to be a better lead off hitter?

        • I don’t think you have to start Hanson at leadoff when he comes up. A couple of big if’s but if Harrison hits and Polanco turns it around then you have Cutch 3rd, Marte, Walker or Bell depending on when Hanson arrives. Hanson could bat 6th, 7th or 8th and move up when he’s ready.

        • Sure. It’s possible, Scott.

          But we are now on the fourth season since his A-ball breakout without a shred of improvement in the areas where leadoff hitters need to thrive at the plate, namely contact and the ability to draw walks.

          He’ll have to rely solely on extreme BABiPs to get on base at an above average clip with his current profile, and we’ve seen how poorly that translates to the leadoff spot with Marte and Harrison.

  • Personally, I like your “Tier” groups. It makes it easier to watch for breakouts (AND fall outs…lol).

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