So the Prospects1500 list is out and there have been some legitimate and pointed questions as a result. Since I am responsible for a few of the questions, I wanted to give everyone some insight into how I approach the rankings and use two of the particular players in question as examples.
First, it’s important to establish that everyone comes at the idea of ranking from their own peculiar perspective. Each evaluator has a philosophy they use to help establish a set of criteria. Everything pretty much falls into place after that. Often, the hardest thing to do is to stick to your philosophy in the face of results that differ wildly from the consensus.
Generally, my philosophy is that every draft pick is gold. As such, I’m looking to score with every one. While I know that’s not going to happen, I want it to happen as much as is possible. In a number of years of trial and error, it seems to me that the best way to score with the most picks is to look for the players with the highest floors and the least variance/risk. I do this for two reasons. One is that it gives me the most opportunities to find contributors from my farm system. Also, it gives me some depth from which I can deal to add the pieces I may be missing. Don’t misunderstand. I’m not advocating that everyone take that same approach. That’s just the approach that I am most comfortable with and I feel like I am able to execute it better than other ways I might go about things.
Once the philosophy is in place, it’s important to figure out what information can be used to carry it out. Scouting reports are great and I like to use them whenever I can, but they can be sometimes unreliable as a one off. It often depends on how many times a scout has seen a player and under what conditions. Also, scouts can have personal biases that color their evaluations. They may prefer a particular kind of player and undervalue a guy who doesn’t fit their mold. Certainly we would think the best scouts would be immune to that type of thing, but scouting has expanded a good bit and there are times when scouting jobs are given as rewards to former players and other organizational loyalists. So, scouting reports are important, but they can’t be used by themselves.
Seeing players in person is also a good thing. I don’t pretend that I could do a scout’s job or that I have an eye for talent. I have been watching baseball for almost 60 years, though, and there are things I can see by watching a player. I’d never make a final determination on a player based solely on my own observation, but I often use it to adjust my thoughts. It’s hard to see a lot of players on your own, so using video is a good approach as well. There is a wealth of video out there on even some of the most obscure prospects. Every little bit helps.
The bottom line in all of this is that we are trying to find guys who will perform. For me, that means finding guys who ARE performing. I make significant use of numbers that players put up as pros. I have spent a lot of time looking at which numbers correlate best to success at higher levels. The process is always evolving, but I’m comfortable with where I am with it right now. I use player stats, weighted for the categories I feel are most indicative of high floor players. I use a list generated from those numbers as my starting point for rankings.
Once I have that original list, I try to find scouting reports and video (or recollections from seeing the player myself) to make adjustments. The numbers quite often take me to places I didn’t expect to go. Names I am very familiar with are sometimes missing and names I am less familiar with are often present. In those situations especially, I try to be very careful to find some other information to back up or invalidate the numbers.
Turning to the specifics, I want to look at two players. One is a consensus Top 50 prospect who was not on my list of 100. The other is a guy who is not on any other Top 100, but was on mine.
Let’s start with Jason Groome. He pitched just 6.2 innings as a pro after being drafted so he can’t be evaluated on the numbers. I know who he is and how well regarded he was/is so I wanted to make sure to do the homework on him to see how he might fit on my list. Remember that I’m looking for high floors and low variance. Groome is surely a high ceiling player, with a great pitcher’s body and an impressive repertoire, but the track record of high school pitchers is one with a ton of variance, regardless of talent/tools. For better or worse, there is a lot of innuendo out there about Groome beyond just the reports on his ability. Without rehashing all of that and/or trying to read between the lines, let’s just say there is an element of sketchiness that surrounds Groome. When I put it all together, I felt there were lots of other guys with higher floors right now than him. There is simply too much variance in him for me at this point.
Let’s move to the other end of the spectrum. In the comments of our prospect list, someone asked if Jordan Yamamato was even a Top 1000 prospect. I admit to being the guy who raked him number 100 on my list. He popped up on the numbers and I knew I had to do some more research to find out where that came from. I get pitchers at lower levels of pro ball who find their way on to the upper levels of my list who are guys with lots of deception who don’t have the pitches to succeed in the upper levels of pro ball. Honestly, I expected to find that to be the case with Yamamoto as there was certainly not a lot of buzz surrounding him. It turns out that he throws a fastball in the middle 90s and two decent breaking balls, including a slider that really developed this season and is now an above average pitch. He pitched in the Midwest League and was second in the league in Ks and he finished the season strong even though he doubled his previous high in IP. The Midwest League is a pretty neutral environment overall and Wisconsin’s home park skews slightly toward being hitter friendly so that was in his favor as well. Finally, as an explanation of what clicked this season, Yamamoto talked about how his pitching coach in Wisconsin cleaned up his delivery a bit and allowed him to have better arm side command, allowing him to work inside against righties.
I don’t actually do this specifically, but to put it into clearer terms let’s say that Groome is a 90th percentile talent but one with just a 20% chance to reach his potential while Yamamoto is a 60th percentile talent with a 50% chance of getting there. Looking from my floor perspective, that makes Yamamoto the better prospect right now.
That’s a look at the process. I don’t expect everybody (or anybody, really) to agree with my views, but I do come by them honestly. It’s not dart throwing and it doesn’t happen by accident. As much fun as we have ranking prospects, it’s a ridiculous idea. No one is ever completely right or completely wrong. We all remember that BA ranked Albert Pujols 42nd going into his rookie year in 2001. Mike Trout wasn’t even a 1st round pick and was ranked 85th by BA going into the 2010 season. The rankings are just a place to start the conversation. So let’s start it.