Rather than ranking players on upside with little attention to downside, I'd prefer a system that takes both into account. Uncle Dave has mentioned here before the rankings that Hockey's Future does just that.
Everybody loves to ranks prospects. They love to rank anything, but for baseball fans, ranking prospects is fun. I've generally felt that something was missing with each of the rankings, but perhaps it's just me.
It seems to me that many or most of the rankings rank their players entirely on upside with little attention to the downside the player has. This isn't necessarily wrong. Is there really a wrong way to rank something? Probably not, but it's not the way I'd do it.
Even though I am an optimistic person, the downside of baseball prospects is fairly evident and often overlooked. Corey Patterson was MLB's top ranked prospect at one point. The upside that Patterson had was obvious. He had speed, could hit for power, had hit for average and played a very good CF. He also struggled to take many pitches and work his way on base in any other way than a base hit. If there are two skills that translate best to success at the MLB level I would guess those skills to be power and patience. Players with power don't typically lose it and players without patience don't typically gain it.
You can make a living as a guy with some power and little plate discipline. There was no denying that Patterson was a great prospect. He had superstar talent. He also had a very low floor.
I'm not sure how we could compare players using such a method. It would be difficult, but I think it does tell us more about the player than simply ranking a player 16th overall. Not to mention, does ranking a person 16th really mean he's a better prospect than someone ranked 18th, 19th or maybe even lower?
There are many different people, supposedly experts, who rank prospects. The lists are often times similar, but they aren't the same. If everybody had the same list, they wouldn't bother with their own. It's possible that one person may even put a person at the top just to differentiate their list from others. We don't know how honest and sincere these rankings are.
What we do know is that some prospects have a higher upside than others. We know which players might have a lower chance of reaching that upside. We can safely say that Javier Baez is a better prospect than Logan Watkins, but that statement alone doesn't tell us much about either player.
What if we stopped trying to rank them and just start rating them? Baez might have an upside of a 8. All star talent, probably not elite or a generational talent. He also has some holes in his game and is probably not real likely to reach that upside. Logan Watkins obviously doesn't possess the upside of Baez, but realistically speaking, he's a safer bet to reach his potential than Baez is. He might even be a safer bet to end up the better player at the MLB level. I don't know if he is or not and don't really care.
Even if that is true, it doesn't make Watkins the better prospect.
When Uncle Dave first mentioned this, my initial thought was that most every prospect will have the downside of an F. That's just the reality of baseball prospects. Most of them fail to reach their potential. Few of them actually achieve it.
Uncle Dave has been a tremendous help coming up with these rankings. So much help that I'm going to copy and paste the ratings that he came up with over discussion.
10: Generational talent: literally only two or three of these guys a decade, like Barry Bonds or Pedro Martinez. Perennial all-stars, perennial MVP or Cy Young candidates (and guys who can legitimately be considered to have been screwed out of those awards on a regular basis), first ballot hall of famers (FWLIW). Mike Trout and Stephen Strasburg probably belong here, but nobody else I can think of. Should be about .1% of players.
9: Elite talent: perennial all-stars, frequent MVP or Cy Young candidates, will maybe win those awards occasionally, typically the best in the leauge at their position for extended periods of time. A-Rod, Pujols, Halliday show up here. Should be about 1% of players (top 50 or so).
8: All-star talent: frequent all-stars, occasional MVP candidates, at their peak can be in the conversation to be the best at their position. Cliff Lee or Chase Utley are decent examples. Should be about 5% of players (top 250 or so).
7: Fringe all-star talent: plus regulars on good teams, occasional all-stars, may have a career year that garners MVP consideration. Carlos Beltran or a healthy Dan Haren would fit here. Should be about 7% of players.
6: Plus regular talent: guys who can be regular players on good teams, or one of the top two or three on bad teams, may be an all-star in a career year. Curtis Granderson or maybe Andy Pettite are here. Should be about 10% of players.
5: Regular talent: guys who are fringe regulars on good teams or regulars on bad teams, will likely get paid once they hit free agency. Joe Blanton and David DeJesus are examples. Should be about 13% of players
4: Fringe talent: may start on a bad team, could catch as a backup on a good team, will struggle to get work once they hit year six. Ryan Theriot or Noah Lowery could be here. Should be about 15% of players.
3: Quad-A talent: could catch on as a backup on a bad team, will get a cup of coffee or two. Any current Chicago Cub would be an example. About 50% of players project here; nobody who gets drafted should have lower upside than this.
2: Minor league talent: good enough to play in the minors for years, but will not sniff the bigs.
1: Filler: will get a year or two in the minors, but that's it.
Please note that the percentages listed here are with respect to upside, and not the number of guys we expect to actually attain that talent level in the bigs.
This is a fantastic starting point and I couldn't have gotten here without Dave's help.
This is our starting point. I'm anxious to hear what the readers have to say about these and I'd be more than willing to make adjustments. I'm quite happy with this so it will have to be a convincing argument, but please discuss it.
When talking about downside in baseball, it's important to remember that nearly every player has the downside of not being any good. That's just the nature of the game and there's nothing that can be done about it. Most players will never reach the major leagues. Even among 1st round draft picks, most will never amount to anything. Teams do have a tendency to at least call up their 1st round picks, but more often than not they have short and forgettable careers.
A player's chance of reaching that potential is, well, it may as well be the holy grail of scouting. If someone could accurately answer that question, he or she would likely be the best scout ever. I couldn't begin to accurately answer this question and I'm not going to try.
I'm going to apply some common sense to the percentage chance he reaches his potential. For starters, a player in the low minors has very little chance of reaching the potential we often discuss when talking about prospects. There is too much that can go wrong between that point and when he may reach the big leagues. We don't know a great deal about the player and must accept that of two similarly talented players, the player at the higher level has a better chance of reaching his potential.
It's also important to remember that players who have a lower potential will have a better chance of reaching it.
With that in mind, the occasional player who is a 9 or 10, none of which are in the Cubs organization, would have a very low chance of reaching their potential. The player who is in AAA and has the potential of a 5 or 6 is far more likely to do so.
There are about 6000 professional baseball players and only 750 of them can play at the MLB level at any one time. Of those 750, just over half of them are considered to be regulars (position players, 5 starters). If you add a closer, which all teams don't really have, that would be 14 players per team that are regulars. You're well aware that by the time you get to the 4th and 5th starters for most teams, you're not facing a very good pitcher. At all.
Of the 12% of professional players who reach the big leagues, they comprise they range anywhere from Mike Trout to Joe Mather. The very best minor leaguers reach the MLB level, but most of them won't even be what we consider to be regulars. Most of them won't be average or better. Maybe 5% of all professional baseball players end up being average or better at the MLB level.
There is a very high rate of failure in baseball.
Generally speaking, any player below AA has a long way to go to reach his potential and is not likely to do so. One of the problems I was having early on was that for someone like Albert Almora, you can figure out the upside pretty easily. There are enough scouting reports and even though he hasn't played much, that's what we have. The problem was assigning the chance of reaching the big leagues and I couldn't bring myself to doing anything other than a D or even F. That's just the way it is in baseball. Prospects in the low minors are going to low chances of reaching their potential and will most often get a D.
A: the highest chance of reaching the potential among prospects. These are well rounded players who play premium positions, possess all the tools and are in the higher level of the minor leagues. There are only a few players who would get an A.
B: players who play premium positions, but lack a specific tool. This group would also include some guys who play a corner position (3B, LF, RF). It would also include ridiculously good hitters who play 1st base. Most of these players would be in AA or AAA.
C: Middle defenders, good bats, lacks at least one tool. Corner defenders with good gloves and above average bats, but lacking a specific tool.
D: Players who lack at least a couple tools. This is where most prospects under AA are going to be.
F: Low in the system and serious flaws to their game
I'll have to do some adjusting to the bust rate for pitchers, but my plan is to take a look at the prospect list Myles put together and go from there. He only did positional prospects so it works out nicely.
Thanks again to Dave.