There are 6,000 or so minor-league baseball players at any given moment. By definition, meanwhile, there are only 100 minor-league ballplayers on any given top-100 prospect list. That means there are also around 6,000 minor leaguers not on top-100 lists — all 6,000 of them still intent on reaching the major leagues.
And many of them do reach the majors. For half-a-dozen years, Carson Cistulli has highlighted a number of prospects who failed to make a top-100 list by means of his Fringe Five series, and some of those players — like Mookie Betts and Jose Ramirez — have gone on to become stars. There should be little doubt that prospects outside the standard top-100 lists have value. Determining how much value, however, is a different and more involved question.
When I attempted to determine a value for prospects who’d appeared on top-100 lists, I was working with a relatively small pool of players. Even 15 years’ worth of lists equates to 1,500 players at most. Attempting to determine the value for every prospect, meanwhile, would appear to be a much larger task. Does one look at the roughly 90,000 minor-league seasons over the same period? That seems daunting. Looking at Baseball America’s team-level prospects lists, which feature 10 players per organization, would provide a more manageable 200 prospects per season outside the top-100 list, but that wouldn’t quite get us where we need to be, either.
And yet, as I’ve noted, these prospects have value. On THE BOARD, for example, there are currently 689 prospects with grades (a) of at least 40 but (b) less than 50 (the lowest grade earned by players on a top-100 lists, typically). It’s these prospects in whom I’m interested. What follows represents my attempt to place a value on them, as well.
To create a rough estimate of potential value for prospects absent from top-100 lists, I looked at all the prospects who appeared among Baseball America’s lists from 1999 to 2010. I determined how much WAR those players produced in 2010, finding that players who’d previously appeared on a top-100 list produced roughly 68% of all WAR in 2010, with position players coming in around 62% and pitchers coming in around 75% of their respective WAR that season. Pitchers, it seems, were much more likely to come from top-100 lists than batters, though it was a solid majority in both cases. While going back to 1999 takes care of nearly all players, before giving non-top-100 players 32% of WAR contributions, I took a slight (7%) discount for players’ contributions at 35 and older, leaving 25% of WAR for players off the top 100.
To continue, I then turned to my earlier work on prospect value. I calculated the present-day WAR of top-100 alumni and used the ratio of non-top-100 WAR to top-100 WAR, estimating that players outside the top 100 had a present-day value of roughly 150 WAR. While a somewhat elegant way of handling the problem, it only gets us part of the way to a solution, as players outside the top 100 often move into the top 100. Trying to capture those values creates another problem.
To address the players currently out of the top 100 but in the minor leagues — i.e. not new draft picks or international signings — we have to create another proxy. For this group, I looked at all the players with grades below 50 in the preseason 2017 FanGraphs rankings who were elevated to the top 100 of FanGraphs’ rankings the following season. There were 28 such players, including Miguel Andujar, Bo Bichette, Corbin Burnes, and Scott Kingery. In one year, those players increased their present-day WAR value from roughly 11 WAR to 96 WAR, an increase of roughly 85 wins in one year. Discount that value by one year, and we are looking at pretty close to 80 WAR.
I wanted to get a rough estimate of the value that I could use to spread among the nearly 700 players who’d received a grade of 40 FV or higher and yet weren’t included among the top-100 prospects. Whatever result at which I arrived would be imperfect: I’d already used two proxies to arrive at my WAR figure and also wasn’t accounting for players who had received below a 40 grade and graduated to the majors in the same seasons. Given the sheer number of players included in the sample, however, I’m optimistic that the errors won’t be very large on an individual basis.
We have around 230 WAR with which to work, but roughly 25 WAR of that must be allocated to the 50-grade players outside the top 100 (with another 10 WAR from the 50-grade players in the top 100 moved down on a sliding scale to accommodate those players). Eric Longenhagen and Kiley McDaniel have divided the groups below 50 grades into four tiers: 45+, 45, 40+, and 40. Because pitchers and position players are roughly equal in number, but pitchers produce less value, the tiers will be further divided between the two.
Scaling the amount of WAR available into acceptable tiers produces the following:
|Grade||Number of Players||WAR*|
If you want a better sense of precisely what these figures mean, I’ve discussed the methodology in greater depth in the prospect-valuation piece published earlier today. Essentially, though, if I say a prospect is worth 2 WAR, that indicates his value over the course of the next nine seasons put into present day (ie 2019) WAR — which accounts for his final prospect years and cost-controlled seasons, as well.
If we were to spread the 200-WAR pool out evenly, the average would be 0.3 present-day WAR for each player. Because of the large volume of 40-grade prospects, however, a vast majority of players end up below that level. The top prospects below the 50 level have roughly the same value as a minimum-salaried one-win player. Using a $9 M/WAR estimate, here are the approximate values of players with the following grades.
|Grade||Number of Players||AVG WAR*||2018 $ Value**|
|45+ POS||18||0.9||$8 M|
|45+ P||18||0.7||$6 M|
|45 POS||76||0.7||$6 M|
|45 P||76||0.4||$4 M|
|40+ POS||38||0.4||$4 M|
|40+ P||38||0.3||$3 M|
|40 POS||211||0.2||$2 M|
|40 P||211||0.1||$1 M|
You might be curious about what use assigning a dollar value to the prospects has when WAR seems sufficient for understanding their value. The answer is that it helps when drawing comparisons between prospects and major-league players who have set salaries, particularly the former sort of player is traded for the latter.
Take the Chris Archer trade as an example. We can estimate how much value Archer had at the time of the trade deadline using projections and salary like this:
|Year||WAR Projected||$M/WAR||Value ($M)||Salary ($M)||Surplus||Present Value of Surplus ($M)|
By this math, Archer was worth roughly $70 million in surplus value. Now let’s compare that to the value of the prospects whom the Rays received.
That’s how these values can be helpful. Next up, we can use these data here to produce an approximation for the values of farm systems as a whole.
Craig Edwards can be found on twitter @craigjedwards.