What Good Are Prospects? (Daryll)

The 2019 MLB Top 100 Prospect List came out this week, and that is great news for fans of teams looking towards tomorrow. Teams like the Padres who have 10 players on the list and the White Sox point to this as signs of a positive future. What does it really mean though? To check, I thought I’d take a look back at the 2014 list from 5 years ago to see how the players really fared or have fared since their moment of being “the next big thing”.

You can find the list here, and off the bat, you see that Twins outfielder Byron Buxton is the top player on the list. Buxton has had stretches – but overall still basically projects in the “If he can ever live up to his promise…” camp.

Next up are Carlos Correa and Kris Bryant who both have certainly lived up to expectations based on this list: the biggest question for them is how high can they go? Correa had a down 2018 after winning the World Series in 2017 and Bryant has already won a Rookie of the Year, MVP award and a World Series in 2016.

While the work I did with this list is far from scientific, I essentially did the following to try and help gain some context. I devised a scoring system from 0-3 with the following scores given out based on brief research and my own opinion:

0 – Out of baseball or still in the minor leagues

1 – Brief cup of coffee in the majors but still seeking to get established on the major league level

2 – Solid everyday major league player

3 – Shows elite talent / All-Star caliber.

So for example, Bryant and Correa get ranked as 3’s but Jorge Alfaro of the Phillies gets a 2. Eddie Butler, a reliever for the Cubs the past several seasons but in limited experience gets just a 1. These merits can be debated but if you are reading this site at all, you at least trust my baseball judgment to a certain extent. So I don’t want angry letters from Dodgers fans asking why you rank Julio Arias a 1 (more consistent health first!) and Joc Pederson a 2 and not a 3 even though he did make an All-Star team already (average OBP of about .300 last two seasons). I also won’t publish the entire list for the sake of website cleanliness(and really because my computer crashed halfway through this article and I lost my list after gleaning some facts from it).

So without further ado, here are some of my observations from the 2014 Top 100 list!

I found 14 players who I would rank now as “3”s, 43 as “2”s, 28 as “1”s, and subsequently 15 as “0”s. Put another way, 14% or 1 in 7 players on this list by 2024 should be everyday household names. Interestingly, of the 14 “3”‘s 8 were in the top 50 and 6 in the bottom 50, including #95 Trea Turner and #62 Luis Severino.

I did not run a cross-check with which team had the most prospects “make it” for example, though anecdotally it seems like the Pirates had at least grabbed several prospects who started with other teams and were now giving it a go in their system and got some playing time in 2018 as the team looks to the future.

So while it seems relatively certain that Vladimir Guerrero Jr will be a star for years to come and the Padres hope that Fernando Tatis Jr turns into something like Kris Bryant, it is more likely that someone like #42 ranked A.J. Puk of the A’s we really need to watch out for? A few of the names on the 2014 list had me shaking my head like Christian Bethancourt, who was the heir apparent to the Braves catching job but failed. Then he failed with the Padres as a catcher and a catcher-turned-relief-pitcher.

These rankings prove that while teams love to hold on to their prospects in trades – the window determining what they really have can be short. As quickly as Carlos Correa can help to change a franchise, so can trading away a #95 ranked prospect like Trea Turner, which kept the Padres revolving shortstop door open. They hope Tatis Jr can finally be their solution to a shortstop position they have struggled to fill since Khalil Greene in the mid-2000s.

For the 2019 list, the teams with the top prospects are the Padres (10!), Braves (8), White Sox (6), Rays (6) and Astros (6). Meanwhile, the Brewers, Red Sox, Royals, and Marlins have just 1 prospect on the list. Does this guarantee that the Padres will see predicted success and a World Championship in a few years? Hardly. It does mean they have flexibility in trades for the future – and if they also are able to sign free agent Manny Machado as results that are surfacing suggest, it is this prospect depth that can help teams succeed at the Major League level with the right levers pulled.

Prospects are just suspects until proven otherwise. For every late-blooming prospect, there are the Miguel Sano’s and Joc Pederson’s of the world who start out hot but the league quickly adapts, rendering their services quickly moot unless they are able to counter-adjust. The Top 100 class of 2014 is a good reminder who quickly those fortunes can change, with a tip of the hat to 2019 and a wish for the best of luck.

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