Reaping What You Sow: Learning from the First Crop

When I started this series a couple months ago, my goal was to provide a cursory look at the best prospects each team had to offer and to provide you, the audience, with an informative and critical look at each player and each organization. I hope that I have done just that, and I hope that you would welcome a second attempt at it next year. With that in mind, I’d like to talk about a few things I’ve learned in order to improve future version(s), to note some things for anyone else thinking about taking on similar ventures, and to reflect on what I’ve done.

Each of the lists took about 4 hours to do. It’s certainly a labor of love, but all the research, video watching, comparing, writing, and editing does take some time, and in many cases, all of it was done the night or nights before the list was published. I didn’t originally plan it that way, but life often intervenes. My week headstart soon vanished. If I was to do this again next year, I think I’ll start in August and still start posting in November. This would give me ample time to do all the necessary work and be able to consider and edit my lists more than I did this time around. Editing and letting ideas rummage around in your head is essential in good writing and analysis, and I’ll admit not being nearly good enough at that.

One of the better ideas I think I had in regard to the lists was the strict tier structure with no numbered rankings, but as I went along, I realized it was a continually evolving process of identifying who belonged where. I tried to set clear guidelines for who fit where, but in what shouldn’t be surprising news, that still wasn’t enough to make the selection process easy. The main question became whether or not to bump a player up a tier if he was on the border but about to enter the majors. For example, I originally put Yonder Alonso in the “Outstanding” tier thinking that he wasn’t likely to be a star player because he isn’t that good offensively at an offense-first position. That would and did put him in the “Good” tier, but I originally wanted to give him a bump because he is a really solid bet to be a decent regular. I ended up not doing that because I wanted the tiers to be about value in the majors, and moving him up didn’t seem appropriate. I’m still not sure.

The uncertainties didn’t end there. What the hell do you do with high school draftees, players who’ve only been in the Dominican Summer League or the like, and international signees? On one hand, they’re incredibly risky and have a zillion different possibilities, but on the other hand, you can’t just ignore them. High school draftees received a heavy penalty for the risk (most often a tier). The other received a healthier dose of skepticism because of the difficulties measuring their grade of competition and figuring out how a 16-year old will develop. The benefit of taking this approach means that I won’t waste your time with all the ones that flame out, but the problem is missing out on the Jurickson Profars for a year even though I knew they were talented. So here’s an idea. After the list of prospects (I’ll get to that in a minute), I’ll add a section with a really brief scouting report on the really talented yet obscenely risky guys.

Back to the list, I purposefully left out “Top 10” when referring to future lists. We see all of the Top 10, 11, 12, 15, and 30 lists that roll out each year, but those numbers are arbitrary. When filling out the Padres’ list, why do I have to stop at 10 when they have 15-20 worthy of being mentioned? When filling out the White Sox’s list, why do I have to mess around trying to find enough players to fill out the list? I understand the idea is to treat every team fairly, but if your team doesn’t have enough players for me to give them a long post, take that up with the team and not me. Once you’ve run out of “Good” prospects and near-certain good reserves and top-flight relievers, we’re done, regardless of whether that means 18 or 5. That should give everyone a better vision of the talent and depth of the farm systems … I hope.

Another thing that might give everyone a better vision of farm systems is something Kevin Goldstein does with his Top 10 25 and Younger list at the end. While the 10 is still arbitrary, it’s a really good reminder that farm systems are about bringing up cheap, young talent to the majors. Though they may no longer be prospects, they are by-products of that farm system (for the most part, in one way or another) and reflect upon it. So I’ll add in additional section at the end that talks about the pre-free-agency players that are a part of the future of that franchise. It won’t be used to grade the farm system, per se, but it should give us a better vision of the organization’s player development. We make a distinction between prospect and MLB player, but I don’t think the actual one is quite so large.

One of the areas I didn’t like was the opening section of the posts. The intention was to give a general overview of how the season went for that farm system, but it didn’t really feel quite right. I’m not entirely sure how I’ll change that moving forward, but it won’t be quite the same. It needs more style. It needs less repetition of information you’ll learn later. It needs to be better. I’m just not sure how just yet.

My last self-criticism is just something I’ve got to work on. When I interned at Baseball Prospectus in 2010, I spent a lot of time editing Mr. Goldstein’s lists and posts, and combining that with my burgeoning interest in the subject, I became very interested in prospects. I’m still becoming more and more acquainted with scouting terms, projections, mechanics, etc., so while I already know a lot, there’s always more to learn that just comes with experience.

We’ve come to the end of the team lists, but we’re nowhere near done. Friday will start the Top 100 list by talking about the players who just missed getting there, and we’ll do the Top 100 in three installments next week. The week after will have a couple posts putting the systems themselves in order. So we have plenty of good stuff in order along with all the stuff we’ll continue to do moving forward. I just thought this was a good time to sit back and reflect on the lists as I finished my first attempt and as I see more and more prospect lists come up.