Organizational Prospect Lists Primer

Evaluating The Prospects: Texas RangersColorado RockiesArizona Diamondbacks & Minnesota Twins

The Scouting Explained Series: Introduction, Hitting Pt 1 Pt 2 Pt 3 Pt 4 Pt 5

My goal with the presentation style of these org prospect lists is to give you all the information you want and some things I think you’d want if you knew to ask for it. When the Rangers list goes up first tomorrow, there will also be select pieces of information from each report that will go at the top of the player pages, which we’ll explain in more detail tomorrow. I know when I’m researching players, I always want to have one site that has all the information I need in one place and this is a big step in making FanGraphs that destination for minor league players.

Basic Information

I’m going to do these org prospect lists for FanGraphs similar to how I did them for Scout so check out that link if you’re curious about the format and don’t like reading words.

I’ll embed a video for the prospects projected as 50 Future Value (#4 starter, closer or low-end everyday player) or better. Along with that video, I’ll give full biographical information, tool grades, a couple paragraphs of a scouting report and a summary to put their skills into context. For those 50+ FV hitters, I’ll project their upside in the form of a triple slash line with a risk grade and year-by-year projected path to the majors. It’s more difficult to project a stat line for pitchers, but I’ll project a rotation or bullpen role (i.e. #3 starter or setup guy, etc.).

Once we move down to the 45 FV and 40 FV players, it’ll be a more compact presentation, with tool grades for every player, but a report contained in a couple of sentences. As I mentioned in Friday’s podcast I’ll be writing on each player as much as their skills and background warrant while ranking as many players as have the trade value to fetch a major league player in return, though that’s an admittedly subjective line to draw.

For some teams with poor farm systems, this means there will be 18-20 prospects ranked with half of those having 1-2 sentence reports while for the deeper systems, over 30 prospects may be ranked. There will also be a cutting room floor paragraph with quick notes on players that just missed the list.

I think of these lists as a comprehensive look at what the organization has on the farm right now, so I wanted to get the best of what the FanGraphs staff has to offer in the article. Dave Cameron will contribute an overview of the organization’s overall situation while Carson Cistulli will bring us GIFs, notes on fringe prospects and hopefully some silliness.

As I explained in my introduction I see the reader as the GM, so I treat this list-making exercise like what happens when trade talks begin. A pro scouting director gives his GM a list of who to target in a trade and, with top prospects being harder to acquire now than ever, often the players ranked 15-30 in a good system are the ones a club is choosing between. I enjoy the challenge of ranking these sorts of players the most, as a consensus forms around the top prospects and they rarely get traded anyway, so scouts are less invested.

Tools Primer

As I’ve mentioned in a few places, I’m also bugged by how much lingo, shorthand and inside baseball references are made in prospects coverage on the internet (I’m guilty on this again), but with a fresh start it makes sense to bridge this gap now. I’ll shortly begin a long series breaking down each tool to explain anything you might be curious about and probably also kick up some interesting questions in the minds of readers, so don’t hesitate to hit me on twitter or in the comments with such thoughts.

Since that series hasn’t started yet, I wanted to do a mini-primer here to give you the essentials to be able to understand what I’ll say in this series.

Hitters

The hit grade is the most complicated one to understand. I opted not to include a plate discipline grade because 1) that would attempt to combine about a half dozen different skills into one grade 2) scouts don’t grade it, so there isn’t a feel in the industry for how to do this 3) I’ll note in the report if the player is an outlier in one direction or the other 4) his minor league stat line should inform this in a general sense and 5) I’ll post a projected upside triple slash number and risk rating for the big-time prospects, so you’ll get what you’re looking directly for those guys.

The bat grade will be used mostly how scouts use it—a way to sum up the offensive skill set via projected batting average—but it technically includes plate discipline, so that is a tiebreaker if a player is between two grades. To make it as objective as possible, I break the hit tool into three components: 1) plate discipline 2) bat control, or the ability to hit different sorts of pitches, which is also a rough analog of athleticism/looseness and 3) tools, or the bat speed, strength and general type of mechanics (flyball, pull power hitter with some length to his bat path would be Joey Gallo’s type, for example).

I grade each of these components on the 20-80 scale and a hard average is usually pretty close to the final bat grade, but there are exceptions/adjustments. Also, almost every player in the minors is a present 20 hitter, aside from AA and AAA mashers. The scale that scouts use (and I’ll delve deeper into this later) is .260s is a 50, .270s is a 55, .250s is a 45 and so on, with a corresponding OBP about 60 points higher. Scouts (and I will also) note in the comments if that OBP assumption isn’t correct, as it usually is for most players.

For power, I split it into two grades: raw and game. Raw power is how far you can hit a ball, often with a max effort cut at the end of batting practice, while game power is how many homers you can be expected to hit in a season, using a game swing with the current or a slightly modified approach. The scale varies team-to-team but 50 power is 15-18 homers, 55 is 18-21, 60 is 22-25, and so on.

Speed is pretty easy to understand, with 60 times easy to come by from showcases with amateur players while professional players are judged by run times to first base. It’s sometimes hard to get a reliable time for certain players, but a bang-bang groundball in the infield is the best situation for this, with adjustments by scouts based on the jump out of the box, etc. 4.2 for lefties and 4.3 for righties is 50 speed, with 4.25 and 4.35 as 45 and so on. This doesn’t map perfectly to stolen bases, so don’t try to work it out.

Arm grades are easy to understand and don’t have an objective scale (don’t try to use mph on outfield throws). Fielding is judged relative to that position, so for almost every position, a 50 fielder is the scout saying that would be a 0.0 UZR (when the sample is big enough, etc.). Most scouts (myself included) will make a 0.0 UZR/average shortstop or center fielder a 55 grade fielder because most amateur players start there. So, if a high school shortstop is a 45/50 defender, that means he’ll move off the position and to check the notes to see where the scout would move him. A 50/55 defensive shortstop in high school has a chance to stick at the position in the big leagues and a 55/60 would mean he could be above average, or say 0.0 to 5.0 UZR.

Pitchers

Pitch grades on the 20-80 scale for sub-big league players is harder to explain with objective tools as it all relies on the scout’s mental library and will vary slightly from scout to scout. In offensive tools but more often in pitch grades, you’ll see me use 45+ (fringe-average or fringy) and 50+ (solid-average) to differentiate between the huge glut of pitches you see that are basically average but not quite a 45 or 55. Scouts don’t use 52.5 or 47.5 and some only use single numbers (2-8 scale rather than 20-80), so 45+ is normally written on reports as 45 then “fringe-average” is written in the comments to clarify.

Fastballs are graded with three components: velocity, movement and command. Some teams’ scales will be a tick different for righties, lefties, starters and relievers, but most teams have one scale. The one I use has 90-91 mph as 50, 92 as 55, 93 as 60, etc. You use this as a baseline and then move up or down a notch to adjust for movement and command. If you use just one scale for fastballs like I do, you realize that a 60 fastball for a righty reliever and lefty starter are in fact very different even though the grade is the same, so you can see why some teams would instruct their scouts to grade those pitches a tick higher/lower with multiple fastball scales.

For off-speed pitches, a 60 or better is a swing-and-miss pitch and, for reference, two 60 pitches, a 50 pitch and 50 command is a #3 starter. Some people think you can “scout” command or swing-and-miss stuff from a minor league stat line, but that’s a waste of everyone’s time.

We hoped you liked reading Organizational Prospect Lists Primer by Kiley McDaniel!

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Kiley McDaniel has worked as an executive and scout, most recently for the Atlanta Braves, also for the New York Yankees, Baltimore Orioles and Pittsburgh Pirates. He's written for ESPN, Fox Sports and Baseball Prospectus. Follow him on twitter.

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