The M’s Top 10 Prospects for 2013: the National View
I know the ‘Future 40′ link hasn’t been updated for four full seasons, but we’re really giving it a go this time. Until it’s done, I thought we’d close out 2012 with a look at how the national prospect writers size up the M’s system. The consensus is that the M’s have an elite system – say, top 3-5 in baseball – with pitching depth in the high minors, some close-to-ready bats, and a few high-upside players further down the development ladder.
A year ago at this time, the debate was how you ranked the top three pitchers – was Taijuan Walker’s ace potential more enticing than Hultzen’s polish and poise, or vice versa? The arrival of Jesus Montero in January of 2012 gave the M’s a top bat, and a top 10 overall prospect. Obviously, the M’s haven’t made a similar move, but it’s encouraging that the M’s have several position players who rank highly this year despite the fact that the M’s have retained the big three/big four pitchers.
Here are the top 10s from Baseball America (Conor Glassey), Baseball Prospectus (Jason Parks), and Fangraphs (Marc Hulet). There are a few surprises, but there’s also a noticeable similarity to them, perhaps more so than in years past. This has less to do with a lack of depth and more to do with the extremely solid scouting and performance record of the top 8-9 names. Prospect lists are always about hope and wishcasting, but it’s nice to see the M’s put together a group this good.
Each list includes the same top 5, with minor differences in how they’re ranked (essentially, ‘Walker or Hultzen?’ has been replaced by ‘Walker or Zunino?’). The 3-5 are nearly exactly the same. The real differences in approach start to show from 5-10, but that makes a change from several years ago, when there were stark differences of opinion even in the top #1 or #2 prospects (the late Greg Halman being the embodiment of these debates), and when picking an 8th or 9th ‘best prospect’ was something of a chore.
Here are the big three national top 10s:
|Player||Baseball America||Baseball Prospectus||Fangraphs|
Obviously, there’s a lot of commonality, particularly between the BA and Fangraphs lists. The placement of Miller depends on how people see his chances of sticking at SS, and how his hit tool will play against more advanced pitching (he had an odd stance in college, with his hands very high, but seems to have made some adjustments in pro ball). It’s good to see all three rank Victor Sanchez in the top 10 despite his age and 2012 level; I understand the “it’s just short-season ball!” argument, but I think what Sanchez was able to do against college-trained hitters at his age was absolutely remarkable. Carter Capps retains his rookie eligibility, having amassed only 30 or so days of service time before the September roster expansion. He’s clearly seen as a reliever, which may have limited his appeal to BP, but I can’t think of many with a higher upside than Capps.
The first real odd pick is Luiz Gohara. Gohara is a lefty the M’s signed out of Brazil this summer, and who’s obviously been generating some breathless reports in the complex leagues this fall. That’s highly encouraging, especially when compared to how many of the M’s recent international free agents have fared in the US, but there’s zero performance data to go on. I don’t think it’s as crazy as some might, but it’s clearly not a mainstream view to have Gohara in the top 10. Similarly, Tyler Pike is a lefty the M’s drafted out of high school in Florida who put together a very good year for the AZL M’s. I think many would balk at ranking him above, say, Brad Miller, based not only on shaky AZL stats but on the fact that his raw stuff isn’t Carter Capps-ian.
The state of the farm is excellent, though I know hope has turned to cynicism for many M’s fans who’ve heard about a solid system for the past three-four years. The M’s have a fairly stark challenge in front of them: the gap in talent at the big league level demands that they maximize the potential of their prospects. For a variety of reasons (the TV money of the Rangers/Angels, the mixed feelings many free agents appear to have about signing with Seattle, fewer players on the market in any given year, etc.), it’s going to be hard for the M’s to close the gap using free agency. The M’s have a slight advantage against many of their rivals in the ‘raw material’ they have on the farm, but closing the gap means getting more out of it than their competitors. This year had some very encouraging developments, particularly that of Brandon Maurer, the 23rd round pick who battled injuries and ineffectiveness before breaking out in AA. Or Stefen Romero, who played with Maurer in Clinton in 2011 before joining him in laying waste to the Southern League in 2012. Getting value from lower picks like these (or even James Paxton) has kept the M’s from falling further behind Texas. Now they need to take the next step.