Future Forty, Update #1 for 2006
With spring training finally here, we’re back to monthly updates for the Future Forty, our version of a prospect “list”, so to speak. It’s quite a bit different in presentation from what you’ll get from Baseball America, and that’s on purpose. Here’s the nuts and bolts.
In my opinion, ranking prospects by numerical order, while entertaining in a friendly-argument kind of way, is essentially overanalyzing things. Trying to weed out the difference between the 13th and 24th best prospect in a given organization is going to be splitting hairs, for the most part, but their numerical differences appear quite large. In a lot of cases, there will be almost no appreciable difference between players who are slotted 15-20 spots apart, but the list creates the illusion of separation.
So, after several years of ranking the M’s prospects 1-40, I abandoned the list method and moved into a grouping analysis, which I personally find much more informative and less tedious. Players are separated into categories, based on their risk/reward levels as well as their proximity to the major leagues. Each player is a assigned a score from 1-10 in both Risk and Reward, and those are broken out to give you an idea of what type of player a prospect is, rather than simply where he ranks relative to other players in the system.
The other common complaint about prospect lists is eligibility; Felix Hernandez is no longer technically a prospect, by those who use rookie of the year status for their definition, but Kenji Johjima is. Does that make sense? The 19-year-old isn’t eligible for a list of players who may contribute to the team’s future, but the 30-year-old catcher is? So, rather than adhering to the standard rules for prospect status, I threw them out the window and created my own eligibility requirements; you can be on the Future Forty if you are either 25 years of age or less or have less than one full year of major league experience. And I reserve the right to refuse service to anyone, so while Johjima technically fits the bill, he’s obviously not part of the team’s long term future, so he doesn’t make the list.
So, on the Future Forty, you’ll find Felix, Reed, Betancourt, Lopez, Sherrill, Morse, and Jake Woods among the guys who have exhausted their prospect eligibility. They’re part of the organization’s future, and after all, that’s the whole point of this kind of exercise, right?
So, how do I evaluate prospects? Well, there’s no doubt this site is steeped in statistical analysis, and we’re never going to escape the label of statheads. That’s fine, but the connotation doesn’t necessarily fit here. On the subjective vs objective debate, I’d argue that I fall further to the subjective side of the tree. In other words, I agree with Baseball America more often than I agree with Baseball Prospectus.
Personally, I believe that statistical analysis at the minor league level is not best used as a predictor of future performance, but as an evaluator of individual skills. I’m not a fan of attempting to find out if a guy is a .260 hitter or a .290 hitter by adjusting for park, league, and age, simply because there are so many variables we don’t do a good job of accounting for, and the margin of error is just too high. However, that doesn’t mean we should ignore a player’s performance. They can be a great tool in evaluating what type of skills a player has, and once we know that, we can relatively easily figure out how well that particular skillset projects at the major league level.
Let’s take two players as an example; Asdrubal Cabrera and Matt Tuiasasopo. They’re both technically shortstops (but as I’ve stated many times, I think the odds that Tui plays short in the majors are about 1 in 100), they’re only 6 months apart in age, and they’re both 7/7 risk/reward players. Cabrera ran circles around Tui when they were teammates in Wisconsin, then held his own following a promotion to Inland Empire. He’s also the vastly superior defensive player.
From a purely statistical standpoint, Cabrera’s the clear winner. He can play shortstop in the majors and he outperformed Tui all year long. If you’re running statistical translations, you’re going to take Cabrera, and you don’t even think its particularly close.
However, that ignores the fact that Cabrera and Tui have wildly different skillsets, and are, in fact, vastly different players. An in depth analysis of their skillsets will reveal a lot more about the player’s abilities and future projection than simple minor league translations. Using the statistics to see the picture of Cabrera as a high average, aggressive, gap hitter and Tui as a power hitter who sacrifices some average for more walks and extra base hits gives a more accurate picture of their futures.
Cabrera’s certainly ahead of Tui at the moment, but his skillset type is unlikely to grow at anything close to the same rate that Tui will. In other words, Cabrera’s skillset matures faster and plateaus earlier, while Tuiasasopo may develop later and have more value further on in his career. Cabrera’s the better teenager, certainly, but Tui’s got a great chance to be the better 25-year-old.
Applying the same growth curve to each type of prospect is folly, but that’s essentially what minor league translations do. Breaking a player down by skillset is far more effective, and paints a more clear picture of what to expect in the future.
So thats the longwinded explanation of the Future Forty. As always, this thread is available for any minor league related questions, and I’ll try to answer as many as humanly possible.