The Making of the Top 100 Prospects List by Eric Longenhagen and Kiley McDaniel February 7, 2018 2018 Prospects Week Top 100 Prospects ListTop 100 Prospects ChatBest of the 40/45 FV ProspectsThe Making of the Top 100 ListTop 100 KATOH ProspectsRanking 2017's Graduated ProspectsThe 2018 All-KATOH TeamTop MLB Prospects of AsiaPost-Prospect Scouting ReportsDraft Rankings Hi, there. Eric here to tee you up for the conversation you’re about to read. Kiley and I wanted to be as open as possible about how we went about compiling our overall top-100 prospects list (and, it follows, how we compile each organization’s list of prospects). Below we provide some broad exposition about how we determine a prospect’s grade, as well as how we’ve reflected on and tweaked our methodology. We don’t necessarily believe the way we do it is objectively correct, but we want you to know we’re searching for the best way to evaluate players, especially as (for better or worse) major-league baseball evolves. ***** Kiley McDaniel So, let’s talk a little bit about how we determine an FV for a prospect. First, readers may want to check out this link about the connection between FV and WAR. We can start with Colin Moran here since he’s essentially big-league ready. Once we get beyond players like that and into lower-level players, aspects of the process become hypothetical and vague. Eric Longenhagen We look to current MLB players as statistical baselines for this. We know the average MLB regular produces 2.0 to 2.5 WAR annually. Last year, both Chase Headley and Mike Moustakas were in that range, though of course they got there in totally different ways. We’ll compile every bit of information we can (scouting reports of our own or from people in baseball, any relevant data from the growing pie of player evaluation) and get an idea of what kind of output a prospect projects to have at maturity, then compare that to baselines created by individual players or league averages at a given position and things like that. Kiley In Moran’s case (and again, he’s easier since he’s essentially MLB ready), his tools and performance indicate to us that he projects for average, maybe a tick above, production on offense and average, maybe a shade below, on defense. So it’s reasonable to project him to be an average big leaguer either this year or soon after making adjustments. Eric And so a prospect who is a big-league ready, average regular (anyone from Moran down to the Tyler Mahle-type players on the honorable mention section of the 100) and one that projects to be an average regular but is three or four years from that need to have different FV grades. For example, Jose Siri is really talented and could be a 60, but he also has a bunch of statistical red flags and could be subject to any number of potential developmental pitfalls on his way to the majors, and his 50 FV accounts for that risk, representing his mean outcome more or less. Nick Senzel could be a 60 tomorrow, so he’s a 60 FV. Kiley And the unifying sanity check between the two is the ever-useful trade-value question. Would we trade Colin Moran for a Rookie-ball guy with a higher ceiling but who is riskier and three to five years further away from the big leagues? Eric The answer might be colored by a club’s current strategy and financial situation, but if the response is “it depends,” we know we’re getting close to the right answer. The Padres are in a heavy rebuild and clearly prefer high-variance 45 FV prospects like Edward Olivares to a 45 FV utility guy like Yangervis Solarte. Those players grade out the same using our methodology, but one makes more sense for a rebuilding club and the inverse is true for a team that wants to win and could use a good utility guy. Kiley So Colin Moran and players like him help us calibrate things with real-world examples where the WAR-FV connections are direct and may come true within a year. Then the concept of trade value helps us figure out (with both our choice and scouts/industry choices) how we should weigh risk and other factors with other players where that WAR-FV connection isn’t as easy to tease out. So the list spread out from a few core guys in each FV tier. Once you find someone firmly entrenched in a given tier… Eric Nick Gordon, Dustin Fowler, Jack Flaherty, and Isan Diaz were constant lightning rods for this. Kiley We nominated new names to plug into the list and compared tools, performance, etc., to guys like that and play the “Take Your Pick” game until we ranked all the 50 FVs (and guys who ended up being high 45s). We let it sit and marinate in out heads for a few days, then revisited it again a few days later, made some tweaks, and then checked with some sources in baseball for opinion as we polished it up. Okay, so why don’t we talk about some of the guys who were most challenging to grade. Makes sense to start with the two guys we listed as both hitters and pitchers, Shohei Ohtani and Brendan McKay. Eric We first had to consider — and it’s strange that we had to do this twice on this list because I don’t ever recall having to do this even once before — if it’s likely either of those guys will pitch and hit in the big leagues in a meaningful way. I was skeptical of Ohtani making any sort of impact as a hitter, but it seems like the Angels are at least willing to give him some opportunity. Kiley I think the expectation for Ohtani is that he’ll be the best hitting pitcher in the league, so instead of a Bumgarner-type hitting three to five homers one year, he’ll get more plate appearances as a DH and pinch-hitter, and hit 10-15. Eric I think there’s a gap between what he’ll be able to do against MLB pitching now and what he’d need to do to be worth rostering as a DH, and I have a hard time seeing him bridging that gap with part-time reps. Kiley I feel like the real chance that either Ohtani or McKay could meaningfully contribute both ways is too enticing to not explore, even for a club that’s conservative when it comes to usage/fatigue/risk. Eric With McKay you can at least take longer to evaluate him at each position so that you eventually pick the correct one. But I don’t think it’s reasonable to expect him to actually do both on a regular basis in the majors. Kiley I think that’s reasonable. I slightly prefer him as a hitter and think there’s a real shot at 6 hit/power or something close to that, but think he’s comfortably in the top 100, maybe top 50 as a pitcher. Using him as a 1B/DH and a couple innings per week reliever seems like a reasonable way to tap into both without overextending him. Eric Yes, we acutually have McKay evaluated differently. I prefer him on the mound. But I acknowledge the transition from hitting to pitching is easier than the other way around if things go awry. We shuffled around the guys in the next tier down a little bit. Kiley Right, another conversation we had was on Ronald Acuna and whether we would make him a 70 FV or the first 65 FV. The “pro” case is that he has big tools and arguably the best performance/age combo we’ve seen since Andruw Jones. On the other hand, he’s a bit of a free swinger, and most scouts assume he’ll add some weight and become some version of Justin Upton, especially if the Braves don’t need him to play center field. Eric Some of his AFL at-bats against pitchers who knew that he had been taking max-effort hacks all fall made him look pretty bad because they knew how to approach him. There might be some adjustment time before his talent plays on the field. And, yes, Upton was a 5 WAR player last year. That’s a 70 if you do it year after year, and there’s some risk he doesn’t quite get there or that it takes him a while to. Kiley And the separation between the highest 65 FV on the list, with low variance, and a guy becoming a 70 PV/FV a couple years later… that’s a pretty small margin. Eric I think you can shuffle around the next few names depending on what floats your boat. Kiley Yes, this is where the concept of variance comes in as a guide. Rather than reading the full reports and stat lines and all that, we can sum up the range of outcomes for you in three letters. Eric Victor Robles is big-league ready right now, most ready of all the 65s in my opinion. That’s a strong pull toward him. Vladimir Guerrero Jr.’s performance is historic for his age, but we have him projected to first base because of his size — the same way Miguel Cabrera once was — so he had better keep hitting historically. And Fernando Tatis might be Machado/Correa or that type of heavy-hitting shortstop, but he’s also the farthest away of the bunch. Have you thought about why Tatis wasn’t seen among the elite talents in his J2 class? Kiley I actually saw him the October before he was eligible to sign. It was a showcase that included Wander Javier, Juan Soto, and some other names that are more notable now than then. Granted, this is nine months before he signed and the White Sox traded him with a pretty low implicit value after that, so what I saw was generally what other scouts saw, too. He was pretty generic at the time. Eric I first saw him here in Arizona during extended spring training with the White Sox. I went to the field to see Franklin Reyes that day and just stumbled onto Tatis. The scouts based out of here loved Tatis — obviously there’s a reason he was targeted by San Diego so early — but I don’t know that we envisioned he’d be quite like this right away. Kiley There was physical projection and some present average tools, but he was still a little rough. He obviously did what you hope these guys can do, which is physically mature in the sense of size/speed/strength and also the short-area stuff that’s key to baseball like bat speed and actions. Obviously, from age 15 to 18, something really big happened and it’s hard to tell exactly when. It wasn’t completely linear or sudden, but he became more obviously the best player on the field as he got close to 18. Eric Real quick: how likely would you say each of the 65s are to exhaust rookie eligibility this year? I’d go Robles, Acuna… Eloy, Vlad… Tatis. Kiley Agree, may flip the first two because the Kemp trade means there’s no one blocking Acuna and Michael Taylor is in Washington. So let’s talk about how we ranked pitchers, because some people seemed a little confused about that after the top-100 went up. Eric I’d say, anecdotally, pitchers move up and down these lists fairly, uh… volatilely. Kiley I don’t know if that’s a word but it should be. As to your point, here’s some numbers for your face. At (almost) every FV, pitchers are worth less than hitters based on empirical results. It’s in the linked study, and also literally every other study I’ve ever seen. We, as a media prospect illuminati, rank pitchers too high and put too many of them on the list. There is irrefutable proof. And we, in part, know why. Eric They get hurt. Kiley So, as prospect rankers, should we just do everything exactly the same (/shrug) and be like, “Well, we’re gonna be wrong in a predictable way,” or try to do a little better? Eric I don’t think we penalized pitchers quite so harshly as the empirical evidence would suggest we should, but I think just knowing and being receptive to it from the onset impacted how we talked about guys as we went through the list. Kiley I think the hitters are, in general, stronger in comparison to the pitchers this year, too. But I think having this conversation before we ranked guys impacted the list some, yeah. Eric Do you think hitter player dev is catching up to pitching player dev? Kiley In the sense of being as progressive in analytical approaches? Eric It seems like the industry learned which pitchers to target and how to develop velocity more quickly than it learned about hitting. And then began selecting for things like spin rate soon after it learned that was meaningful. And now swings are being altered in meaningful ways now that we’ve broken down more hitting data than we used to have. Kiley I broadly agree, but I think whatever edge that created was neutralized by injury/attrition. Eric And perhaps the baseball itself! (X-Files theme music.) Kiley And coaches know how to translate “we need more loft in your swing” into drills and get results. Eric Yes, lots of top-hand-only tee work and stuff with cricket bats is being done on the backfields here right now to generate that kind of result. I think we were also more receptive to the idea of new types of pitcher usage this year. Kiley Another trend taken into account in this year’s list along with the air-ball revolution stuff you’re talking about. Eric A bunch of guys made the list because their stuff was just too good to leave off. We think that teams will find ways to deploy them that accentuates those skills even if they don’t have what we’d traditionally consider “starter’s command.” Touki Toussaint and Albert Abreu were two examples of this. Kiley We treated guys making big swing changes as likely sustainable rather than a statistical outlier season they have to prove again, and guys that have plus stuff but who may not go six-innings deep as a more desirable than we did before. These guys makes a playoff rosters over the fourth and fifth starters; there are some who have better stuff than the typical mid-rotation prospect with reliever risk. So there are some examples of self-improvement we considered in the list-making. Eric Do you have thoughts on how changing player roles impacts scouting on the amateur side and in low-level pro ball? I think we might start prioritizing new traits in position-player prospects. If we can inject more loft into someone’s swing, doesn’t natural, organic loft become a less necessary trait in amateur players? And things like bat control become more important? Kiley I think that’s exactly right, and Nick Madrigal, the 5-foot-7 second baseman at Oregon State, will be a great test case. I also think relievers and pitchers with reliever risk in the draft are given more consideration than they were just a few years ago, Matt Sauer and Hans Crouse being examples from the most recent draft. Eric I’m trademarking Natural Organic Loft. Kiley I find natural organic loft tastes better. I can sense the difference. Is this loft from Bordeaux? Oh, 2013 was a great year for lifting the ball; it didn’t rain that much. Eric Hold on, Gwyneth Paltrow is on the phone and wants to buy the rights to Natural Organic Loft. Kiley An example of a guy making an adjustment that, in the past, may have been seen as a statistical fluke is Miguel Andujar. I came in heavy on him and it seems like you came around after some sourcing and revisitation. Eric Yeah, I’ve slowly warmed to Andujar after first seeing him in Trenton and then in the AFL in 2016. I had him teed up as a 50 or 55 this offseason, but teams have 55s and 60 on him and we see some things trending in the right direction, batted-ball wise, that made me confident throwing a near-ready 60 on him. So that’s a 60 FV. He’s very talented, has started making the most of it after these adjustments, and at the same time is basically ready for an extended big-league trial. Kiley So last thing here is, people tend to ask us to name a prospect outside of the top 50 who we could see being in our top 10 next year. Who is your pick to click? Eric On the 100 or off of it? Kiley Either. Eric I really think Will Smith is very good. The amateur reports were all about his rare athleticism and speed at catcher and his feel for contact, but he’s added that leg kick and is getting to real power. I think he could be a special all-around player. Top-10 might be rich for him, but I think he’s moving up. Feels like you’re baiting me into fawning over Monte Harrison some more. Kiley Really like Smith; he was one of the couple guys I was looking at. Especially with where the game is going, I’m drawn to guys with home-run power and some kind of defensive value, so I’m looking at Heliot Ramos, Seuly Matias, Brandon Marsh, and Monte Harrison. I’ll go with Harrison since he has the most tools and has already performed.