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Prospect Rankings Are Out and Its Buyer Beware



By Chuck Johnson ~ February 12th, 2012. Filed under: Digest Contributors.

We’re at the time of year now when the various media outlets and fan blogs start releasing their minor league top prospect lists for 2012. Baseball America is clearly the industry standard leader in this venture, popping out their Top 100 lists every year since 1990. (Their number one Number One? Braves left hander Steve Avery).

Whether you subscribe to the professional prognosticators like Jonathan Mayo at MLB.com, Keith Law of ESPN, or those of the “voice of the fan”, who put their own lists together for whatever reason, there is no shortage of articles to read and arguments to participate in.

They’re all a waste of time.

I’m a BA guy; have been for a long time. I know some of their staff and scouting contributors, and have been fortunate enough to have been asked for my two cents on occasion. While I almost always don’t agree with all their lists, the format they follow and the way information is presented is consistent from year to year, and that’s really important when tracking the progress of a player from his draft date to his Major League debut. I use my Prospect Handbook throughout the year and it’s invaluable once the minor league season starts, and even more so after the season when some of the top guys end up in the Arizona Fall League.

The rest? Might as well throw a hundred names in a hat and draw; that’s how subjective they are. There are no “baseball” people making them, they are all writers fortunate enough to be funded by ESPN or some other media outlet whose own athletic careers ended well before having a double digit age. Mayo’s tagline on MLB.com refers to him as “MLB.com’s draft and prospect expert.”

There are no experts. Each person’s idea of a player, what each person looks for in a player, is different. Mike, Joe DelGrippo, Frank Russo and I could all sit in the stands in Trenton and watch a Graham Stoneburner start. Afterwards, we’d all agree or disagree on the same points for different reasons.

The thing that fries me about some of these guys is they either don’t watch the players, or when they do they don’t know what they’re seeing. Then they write their articles and sell their books and act like they invented baseball.

I’ll give you an example.

I found this site recently that is dedicated to minor league baseball and run by a guy who used to work for Bill James and ESPN, and is now part of the conglomerate that is SBNation, along with another former ESPN’er, Rob Neyer. Now, I don’t make it a habit to join websites and blog; other than Dugout Central and this one you won’t find me anywhere. As is the case with prospect rankings, people are fixed in their own ways of thinking and won’t change their minds about anything; the status of Jesus Montero as a player being one example.

I was reading through this site for a while and had signed up for an account because it was right up my alley, a site dedicated to minor league baseball and prospects and nothing else. After a while it became clear this community was no different than those on Bleacher Report or who follow Law or Kevin Goldstein at Baseball Prospectus, it’s nothing more than hero worship.

Like the followers of Bill James, he can say or do no wrong no matter how wrong he actually is.

The leader of this site writes a prospect book and has been for ten years or so. Unlike BA and some others, he doesn’t use the 20/80 scout scale but a letter grade, like you get in school, A, B, C, and so on.

That’s really subjective- and leads to more questions than answers- because so much goes into the rankings. It’s almost impossible to determine why a player is ranked where he is. In his rankings, Montero was given an “A”, the same as Bryce Harper and Mike Trout.

Now, despite the plus tools they are both known for, they also have plus tools elsewhere in their game; Harper’s arm and Trout’s defense, for example.

Whereas, Montero doesn’t even have ONE plus tool. His bat and power have been called “plus” and “elite” in the past, but his performance the past two years in Scranton should put those references out to pasture once and for all. Especially when considering Montero regressed last year across the board from 2010.

I basically asked the moderator in a comment thread on the Montero trade why he gets an A, knowing full well Montero’s best tools fall short of those of Harper and Trout, and their worst tools are decidedly better than Montero’s.

He responded by dropping a four letter word on me and cancelling my log-in account.

Nice, right?

Therein lies the rub.

If you’re going to stand on a soap box and proclaim yourself an expert and make money off people on top of it, then you shouldn’t be offended when asked a question. The internet is anonymous, you have the ability to create a user name without it being a real name, and you have no idea who’s on the keyboard on the opposite end of the discussion.

If you consider “closeness to the major leagues” a contributing factor in your rankings, and you rank a player who hasn’t played there yet (Harper) over one who has (Trout or Matt Moore), then you’re contradicting yourself.

If you consider someone who is a 65, 60, 50, 40, 30 on the scouting scale to have the same “score” as someone who is an 80, 80, 60, 50, 45, and you’re offended by the question “why”, then you shouldn’t be offended when some of your customers start asking for refunds.

Then again, I’m not paid by some media giant to play follow the leader, so I’m not afraid to say Montero stinks or Jameson Taillon is the best pitching prospect in the minor leagues.

I’m also not afraid to explain why.

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A life-long Yankee fan who counts among his fondest memories seeing “The Mick” play in person, Chuck is a long time member of SABR and the Minor League Alumni Association. A staff researcher for Retrosheet, and a former part-time scout with the Mariners, Chuck now works for the Milwaukee Brewers in their Spring Training Operations Office and holds a similar role in the offseason for the Arizona Fall League. Chuck's newest venture is as a staff writer for MLB.com's new minor league blog http://thefuturists.mlblogs.com, led by Senior Writer Jonathan Mayo. You can check him out there under user cjohns56 (same as Twitter), and on his soon to be launched personal website, www.mlbprospectpulse.com.

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22 Responses to Prospect Rankings Are Out and Its Buyer Beware

  1. Brien Jackson

    This is the most Chuck Johnson post ever. The pettiness, the bitterness that no one cares what he thinks, the “one of these days I’m going to look like a genius for realz” contrarian streak. It’s all there!

  2. Stu B

    I agree, Chuck, I’ve been a BA subscriber on and off since 1986.

  3. Mike Silva

    @Brien

    I think the point that Chuck was trying to make was that there’s a difference between the “entertainment” aspect of prospect analysis and scouting. I personally see nothing wrong with what anybody does with a prospect list. I stopped doing it here and, instead, elected to do the “most intriguing” because it was unfair to paint the site as experts. For as hard as we try, we don’t see everyone enough. We can’t just look at numbers, nor do I feel comfortable writing based on “hype” or “group-think;” that’s the problem with the blogosphere, and why it resembles the high school cafeteria.

    Fans start to push public perception based on these “lists,” which aren’t always what the industry believes to be so… Prospect A gets traded and they erupt. It causes a media storm, and all of it is because they can’t distinguish the difference.

    You could disagree with the way Chuck went about proving his point, but I think there is a debatable topic here. At least in my humble opinion.

  4. Steve S.

    Brien, do you realize that when you criticize someone for getting too personal with their analysis and do so by attacking them personally, that you fall into the same camp? You don’t prove he’s wrong or factually incorrect, you really accomplish nothing other than start a fight.

    Something else that I just really don’t understand. If you dislike Chuck’s writing so intensely, why do you read and comment about it? There are loads of writers out there I don’t like, so I just don’t read them.

  5. Joseph Delgrippo

    Brien,

    It looks like the entire point of Chuck’s piece is that if a proposed prospect expert writes a prospect list and ranks Player A equal (or better) than Player B regarding certain tools, and someone asks you a question about it, that writer/expert should answer that question.

    In following some of these prospect writers, many do answer follow up questions, and Keith Law even has entire chats dedicated to following up readers questions.

    I don’t know what really transpired with Chuck and the guy from SBNation, but if the prospect expert/moderator cursed a commenter and removed them from the site for asking a question, that would be a black mark against SBNation and not the commenter.

  6. Chuck Johnson

    Not sure I understand the gist of your comment, Stu, seeing how I was complimentary to BA.

  7. Brien Jackson

    “You don’t prove he’s wrong or factually incorrect, you really accomplish nothing other than start a fight.”

    I assumed things like “Montero stinks” and “if Factor X is a component it must necessarily be THE MOST IMPORTANT COMPONENT,” to say nothing of the hilarious and question begging (if Chuck doesn’t get paid by a media outlet for his work, how does he afford to travel around the country scouting the minors and amateur ranks, exactly?) in service of his narcissistic personality disorder made this all obviously self-refuting, but to each their own I guess.

    “If you dislike Chuck’s writing so intensely, why do you read and comment about it?”

    Fish in a barrel and all that. But mostly for the lulz.

  8. Brien Jackson

    “I don’t know what really transpired with Chuck and the guy from SBNation, but if the prospect expert/moderator cursed a commenter and removed them from the site for asking a question, that would be a black mark against SBNation and not the commenter.”

    Given that Chuck’s a narcissist who impulsively resents people who have reached a higher status than him despite what he feels are inferior abilities and, as such, assumes that anyone who disagrees with him must be some mix of incompetent and corrupt (except for Baseball America, apparently, which is a little bit odd), I’d bet dollars to dimes that it wasn’t a very polite “question.”

  9. Steve S.

    Brien, I agree that Chuck is far more down on Montero than just about everyone else out there, why I’m not really sure. But one thing he said that is irrefutable, his numbers did decline in AAA, and actually went down at each level since peaking at High A. That being said he was still among the youngest players at each level, scouts loves his bat, and he has great opposite field power, all of which are indicators that he should succeed at this level. There is a concern about plate discipline and work ethic, and if anything will sink him at the MLB level it will probably be a combination of those factors. But I see no reason why Montero shouldn’t be treated like any other player, a collection of strengths and weaknesses. If Chuck chooses to focus on the negative I’m OK with that, I just don’t think it tells the compete story.

  10. Mike Silva

    I want to say I love the debate
    I applaud Brien for coming over and airing his view and expressing a opposite point on Twitter and the site

    There are too many blogs (Mets and NYY) now that censor opposing viewpoints – a post of this will be going up later in week

    TYA and IATMS aren’t those sites

  11. Brien Jackson

    Why is Chuck so down on Montero? That’s simple:

    “Then again, I’m not paid by some media giant to play follow the leader, so I’m not afraid to say Montero stinks…”

    Chuck didn’t like Montero. He’s written before that he didn’t like Montero as early as Double-A (which is hilarious in its own right, but I digress). Basically everyone else disagrees and sees Montero as one of the top prospects in baseball because of his hitting abilities. This infuriates Chuck, because Chuck is a narcissist who resents his station, or lack thereof, and this causes him to double down on his belief in his own rightness and, in this case, the belief that the consensus against his opinion must be the product of corruption.

  12. Chuck Johnson

    “Given that Chuck’s a narcissist who impulsively resents people who have reached a higher status than him…

    Ahhhh, there you go.

    Brien impulsively resents me because I’ve reached a higher status than him.

    “… IATMS aren’t those sites.”

    Because no one reads it.

  13. Chuck Johnson

    Steve S,

    Get a hold of Mike, he’ll give you my email address, shoot me a message and I’ll be more than happy to share my reasonings on Montero.

    Chuck

  14. Brien Jackson

    I rest my case.

  15. Chuck Johnson

    “I rest my case.”

    You have no case.

  16. Brien Jackson

    “You have no case.”

    Chuck, you’re the embodiment of Chapter 3 of my old Social Disorders textbook. In fact, you’re such a textbook case I’m starting to reconsider the theory that you’re really just an elaborate parody of some kind.

  17. Chuck Johnson

    You’re spending a Sunday morning trolling the internet, and MY social disorders are all you can think about?

    If that works for you…..

  18. Stu B

    Chuck, I was simply agreeing with you that BA’s rankings are the best and most reilable.

  19. Chuck Johnson

    Thanks, Stu, just making sure we’re on the same page.

  20. Brien Jackson

    So since Chuck didn’t see fit to link to the offending event, I assumed I could find a nice bit of Sunday afternoon amusement by applying some good old fashioned Google-fu to the matter and, well, I was right.

    http://www.minorleagueball.com/2012/1/14/2707720/prospects-in-the-mariners-yankees-pineda-montero-trade

    I assume that’s the thread in question and Chuck is “kelsdad.” Sickles calls him a dick, so that squares with Chuck’s account. Money line:

    “If you call being more knowledgeable than everyone else here “bumping against the line” then I agree with you.”

    As I was saying…

  21. Rob

    In the boring time between the Superbowl and the start of baseball, prospect lists are always welcomed. And I agree that some know more than others. Welcome to the age of the Internet. So what. It’s not like BA is always more accurate than some other lists. I would need to see facts to back that up. In an age where the blogosphere creates facts for politicians in charge, the fact that Keith Law or Project Prospect don’t have the larger scouting network that BA may have is trivial. I enjoy reading them all and it is up to the reader to decide the validity of the source.
    And time proves even the best scouts can predict the future performance of most prospects.

  22. Daler

    I love clueless fan lists like the Mike Axisa at RAB. Like that dude has ever watched 99% of these prospects. Hilarious

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