Baseball America’s Blind Spots

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After the surprising news of Robinson Cano signing a 10-year contract with the Seattle Mariners worth $240 million, it got me thinking: Did you know that Robinson Cano never cracked Baseball America’s Top 100 prospect list? You probably did because Larry Stone wrote an excellent article about Cano that mentioned it. After realizing that fact about Cano, I decided to take a look, position-by-position, at who else can make that claim.

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By no means is this me being critical of BA’s rankings (some of which I was lucky enough to participate). Dating back to 1990, Baseball America’s Top 100 list is the cornerstone of the industry, with the clout to back it up. Player rankings of any type aren’t easy to put together, but I have always felt (before, during and after my employment there) that Baseball America has the best process for their rankings. In many ways, BA’s annual Top 100 list is the culmination of the entire season of work—an exclamation point on another great year of covering amateur baseball and the minor leagues better than anyone else. But everyone can always improve and I’ve always felt that you learn more from mistakes than you do from success. This is an article I wanted to do during my time at BA, but never had the time.

Of course hindsight is 20/20 and this list isn’t about pointing out individual players that didn’t make any of the lists. Rather, I’m just trying to determine if certain player profiles are slipping through the cracks . . .

NOTE: For simplicity’s sake, the minor league years listed are the main years the player spent in the minors, but the stats are cumulative—including any rehab assignments, etc. * = lefthanded hitter | # = switch hitter

• CATCHERS •

PLAYER HT WT SOURCE TYPE RD YR MiLB YRS MiLB AVG MiLB OBP MiLB SLG
Jorge Posada# 6’2″ 215 Draft JC 24 1990 91-96 .258 .368 .436
Mike Sweeney 6’1″ 195 Draft HS 10 1991 91-97 .275 .372 .484
Mike Napoli 6’0″ 220 Draft HS 17 2000 00-06 .257 .374 .474
Yadier Molina 5’11″ 220 Draft HS 4 2000 01-04 .278 .335 .368
Jonathan Lucroy 6’0″ 195 Draft 4YR 3 2007 07-10 .299 .379 .459
Salvador Perez 6’3″ 245 Int’l VZ 2006 07-11 .287 .329 .397
Josh Donaldson 6’0″ 220 Draft 4YR 1.5 2007 07-12 .275 .365 .470
Alex Avila* 5’11″ 210 Draft 4YR 5 2008 08-09 .280 .372 .422
Jorge Posada

Jorge Posada (photo by sillygwailo / CC BY)

Jorge Posada wasn’t a high draft pick, as he came out of the 24th round from a junior college in Alabama. After a modest pro debut in the New York-Penn league, he hit well at every step thereafter, usually posting solid averages, 20+ doubles, some home runs and even some stolen bases. Posada broke out a bit as a prospect during the 1993 season when he hit .260/.364/.448 with 27 doubles, 17 home runs and 17 stolen bases between high Class A Prince William and Double-A Albany-Colonie. He also would have been a solid choice to make the list after 1996—his last year eligible—when he hit .271/.405/.460 over 440 plate appearances for Triple-A Columbus with 22 doubles, six triples, 11 home runs and a league-leading 79 walks coupled with just 86 strikeouts. You could argue he was a tick old for a top prospect at 24 (and he was repeating Triple-A), but a catcher with a minor league OPS of .848 is hard to ignore.

Though he wound up playing mostly first base in the big leagues, Mike Sweeney was drafted as a catcher and spent most of his time in the minor leagues behind the plate (and even his first couple years in the big leagues there, too). Sweeney—a 10th-round pick out of a California high school—raked in the high Class A Carolina League in 1995. He ranked second in the league in batting average (.310), second in on-base percentage (.424) and first in slugging (.548). He continued to tear it up in 1996, but wouldn’t get a chance to get ranked, as he graduated to the big leagues.

Mike Napoli is an interesting one. He wasn’t a high draft pick and then repeated the low Class A Midwest League in 2002 (after spending 43 games there in 2001) and then repeated the California League in 2004 (after hitting .267/.364/.412 in 2003). He hit well in 2004, putting up a .282/.393/.539 line and creeping into the Angels’ prospect list at No. 29. The following year in Double-A, his batting average dipped to .237, but he mashed 31 home runs and was voted by league managers as having the best power in the Texas League.

It’s interesting that Yadier Molina never made a top 100 list when you consider he was a semi-high pick with two brothers in the big leagues and never hit below .275 in a full-season minor league. The thing that worked against Molina is that he didn’t start hitting for power until much later. It is said that power is the last tool to develop and Molina should be the poster boy for that mantra. He could always hit, as you can see from his minor league averages, but didn’t top double-digit home runs in the big leagues until his eighth season in St. Louis.

Jonathan Lucroy was a fairly-high draft pick—a third-round pick in 2007 out of Lousiana-Lafayette. In Baseball America’s pre-draft writeup of Lucroy, it was mentioned that he could go as high as the second round for teams seeking an “offensive-minded catcher.” That report proved to be spot-on, as Lucroy hit well at every stop in the minor leagues. He always ranked among league Top 20 lists, but never got higher than No. 5 in the Brewers’ top 30.

For Salvador Perez, he had decent seasons in the low minor leagues, but without eye-popping numbers and a high-profile pedigree, it makes sense that he didn’t crack any Top 100 lists. He had a solid season in 2010, but again he was a 20-year-old in high Class A with good contact skills, but modest power and a .322 on-base percentage. After ranking No. 17 on the Royals’ list in 2010, Perez promptly broke out in 2011, hitting .290/.331/.437 between Double-A and Triple-A and then .331/.361/.473 in his call-up to the show. So, you can’t call this one a miss—just a case of Perez being a little bit of a late bloomer and breaking out the year that he debuted in the big leagues and exhausted his prospect eligibility.

Josh Donaldson was the highest draft pick of this group—a supplemental first rounder out of Auburn in 2007. He tore up the Northwest League right out of the gate, hitting .346/.470/.605 over 202 plate appearances to rank as the league’s No. 2 prospect. His 1.075 OPS tied for the highest the league had seen (for a player with 200+ PA) since 1989. Still, it’s rare—if not unprecedented—for players drafted 48th-overall to rank in the Top 100 the following year. He ranked as the Cubs No. 7 prospect following the 2007 season, but that’d be the highest he’d rank in a Prospect Handbook. After he was traded to Oakland as part of the package to land Rich Harden and Chad Gaudin, Donaldson ranked 13th, 14th, 12th & 20th from 2008-2011, respectively. While Donaldson’s overall minor league numbers are solid, he never had a signature season you can point to and say, “That’s the year he definitely should have been ranked in the Top 100!”

What’s most interesting about Alex Avila is that you don’t typically see fifth rounders fly through the minors as quickly as he did. He was in the big leagues just 13 months after being drafted. The jury is still out, but if it winds up being a clear whiff, I’ll take the blame for BA not ranking Avila higher as a prospect. I did the Detroit Tigers chapter of the Prospect Handbook after the 2009 season where Avila hit .264/.365/.450 over 387 plate appearances for Double-A Erie, earning a big league call-up that August. He could always hit—and you had to like the fact that he grew up around the game with his dad being an executive—but there were questions about his defense coming out of college. He worked hard on those and rated as the Tigers’ best defensive catching prospect after the 2009 season. Ranking him behind Casey Crosby and Andy Oliver was a mistake.

The Verdict

The takeaway here is that catchers oftentimes develop a little bit slower than players at other positions. That is not a surprise, but it’s good to keep in mind. Another common theme here with Posada, Napoli, Lucroy and Avila, is that teams are always willing to be patient with players who can hit but need some work behind the plate.

Current Minor Leaguers Who Could Be Overlooked 

Mets’ 2012 supplemental first rounder Kevin Plawecki has shown that his tremendous hand-eye coordination carried from Purdue to the pro ranks. He only hit eight balls over the fence this year, but eventually some of his doubles—he ranked second among all minor league catchers this year with 38—will turn into home runs . . . The Rockies’ Tom Murphy could have a career similar to that of Mike Napoli. The 22-year-old hit .289/.376/.571 between low Class A and Double-A in 2013 . . . Murphy has better defensive chops than Baltimore’s Michael Ohlman and Yankees prospect Peter O’Brien, but I really like their bats, too . . . With Joe Mauer moving to first base, the Twins are expected to hand off catching responsibilities to rookie Josmil Pinto (shown below). The 24-year-old is a career .275/.351/.439 hitter in the minor leagues and banged 15 home runs between Double-A and Triple-A in 2013 . . . Max Stassi was viewed as one of most advanced pure hitters in the 2009 high school class and signed with Oakland for $1.5 million instead of honoring his commitment to UCLA. He has improved at the plate as he’s moved up the ladder and debuted with the Astros last year after being acquired as part of the return for Jed Lowrie.


• CORNER INFIELDERS •

PLAYER HT WT SOURCE TYPE RD YR MiLB YRS MiLB AVG MiLB OBP MiLB SLG
Jeff Cirillo 6’2″ 190 Draft 4YR 11 1991 91-94 .316 .404 .476
Joe Randa 5’11″ 190 Draft 4YR 11 1991 91-95 .293 .359 .434
Jason Giambi* 6’3″ 250 Draft 4YR 2 1992 92-95 .296 .409 .476
Melvin Mora 5’11″ 200 Int’l VZ 1991 92-97 .281 .354 .380
Bill Mueller# 5’11″ 175 Draft 4YR 15 1993 93-96 .306 .403 .410
Corey Koskie* 6’3″ 215 Draft JC 26 1994 94-98 .288 .374 .496
Jose Bautista 6’0″ 190 Draft JC 20 2000 01-05 .285 .376 .470
Kevin Youkilis 6’1″ 220 Draft 4YR 8 2001 01-05 .299 .442 .441
Pablo Sandoval# 5’11″ 240 Int’l VZ 2003 04-08 .303 .342 .453
Allen Craig 6’2″ 215 Draft 4YR 8 2006 06-10 .308 .369 .518
Paul Goldschmidt 6’3″ 245 Draft 4YR 8 2009 09-11 .317 .407 .620
Kyle Seager* 6’0″ 215 Draft 4YR 3 2009 09-11 .328 .401 .474
Matt Carpenter* 6’3″ 215 Draft 4YR 13 2009 09-11 .299 .408 .450

As far first basemen go, there just aren’t many misses. In fact, of the top 30 eligible first baseman over the past 15 years (ranked by fWAR), all but four of them cracked a BA Top 100 list at some point.

_MG_2533

Kevin Youkilis (photo by dbking / CC BY)

Two those players are the aforementioned Sweeney and Napoli, and the other two are Jason Giambi and Kevin Youkilis. While Giambi was a high-profile pick out of Long Beach State, he didn’t have a signature minor league season that would make him stand out as a Top 100 prospect. Giambi is one of the few players who has been honest about his steroid use and, simply put, he was a different type of hitter in the minor leagues than what he became at the big league level. His minor-league season-high in home runs was 12. So, while he always had good batting averages and on-base percentages, the power didn’t scream “profile first baseman.”

It didn’t happen because of his cameo in “Milk Money,” but Youkilis did become somewhat of a household name after being called “The Greek God of Walks” in Moneyball, published in 2003. Youkilis, an eighth-round senior sign out of Cincinnati, showed an exceptional eye at the plate coming up through the Red Sox system, walking in 18 percent of his plate appearances and earning comparisons to another player on this list, Bill Mueller. Youk didn’t show a lot of home run power, but hit his fair share of doubles in addition to all the free passes.

Part of the joy of baseball is that it’s all-inclusive. There are great players of all shapes and sizes. Major League Baseball is a melting pot of cultures and nationalities and the game is beloved all over the world. On top of that, players from up and down the draft have gone on to have tremendous success and Diamondbacks slugger Paul Goldschmidt is one of the best surprises in recent memory. Even with those eye-popping minor league numbers, it’s not a shock that he never cracked a Top 100 list. As an eighth-round pick who signed for $95,000, he had no chance to make it after his debut in the Rookie-level Pioneer League. He was impressive again in 2010, but it’s easy to dismiss big numbers in the hitter-friendly high Class A California League, and he also struck out in almost 27 percent of his plate appearances. That was his last chance to be ranked, though. He absolutely destroyed Double-A in 2011 and got to the big leagues in time to wipe out his prospect eligibility. Chalk this one up to circumstance.

Baseball is funny. The 11th round of the 1991 draft produced 87.7 total WAR, as the round featured Jeff Cirillo, Joe Randa and Mark Grudzielanek. The second round that year? 11.9 WAR. So, while neither was a high draft pick, their minor league numbers were hard to ignore. There couldn’t have been too many players with a better line in the minor leagues in 1993 than what Cirillo posted as a 23-year-old between Double-A and Triple-A: .319/.398/.476. Randa didn’t have as good of a major league career, and didn’t post the same loud minor league numbers, either. Solid numbers, but nothing to wow you and force his way onto a Top 100 list.

Melvin Mora stands out because he hit 18 home runs over 11 minor league seasons, and then had back-to-back years in the big leagues in 2004 and 2005 when he hit 27 out each year. Those were his age 32 and 33 seasons. It doesn’t quite pass the “Steroid Era Smell Test,” if you ask me.

The only one of this group to win a batting title, Bill Mueller was a 15th-round pick out of Missouri State in 1993. Not surprisingly, he didn’t hit many home runs in the minor leagues. What he did do was show excellent bat control and plate discipline and enough power to drive the gaps. Mueller had more walks than strikeouts in the minor leagues, which wasn’t a surprise as he is still the career leader in walks at Missouri State. His best shot at cracking the Top 100 was probably in 1995 when the switch-hitter posted a .305/.392/.412 line as a 24-year-old between Double-A and Triple-A.

If you asked me to guess which third baseman up there posted the highest minor league slugging percentage, there’s no way I would have guessed Corey Koskie. He was always a little old for the level, but put up great numbers and only cracked the Twins’ Top 10 list after he tore up Triple-A in 1998. In retrospect, the ranking seems a bit light, but he was always probably viewed with some skepticism because he was a 26th-round pick.

I would definitely watch a movie (or read a biography) about Jose Bautista. What a fascinating career he’s had, starting with the fact that he is the rare Dominican player to come to the U.S. and go through the draft. In his case, it was in the 20th round of the 2000 draft from Florida junior college powerhouse Chipola College. If you’re not familiar, Chipola has also produced big leaguers like Russell Martin, Pat Corbin and Mat Gamel, among others. While Bautista was picked later in the draft, he played at Chipola again in 2001 as a draft-and-follow and looked like he would go in the top three rounds if he entered the draft again. Instead, he was able to come to an agreement with the Pirates before the signing deadline which, according to this excellent article, was for $500,000 instead of heading to South Carolina. His convoluted path to superstardom has been well-documented, so I won’t rehash it here. I’ll just say the old Prospect Handbook reports indicate that scouts always liked Bautista’s bat. While he put up very good numbers in the minor leagues, the Rule 5 draft hurt Bautista’s prospect status because he used up his eligibility before he was ready.

Before I talk about Pablo Sandoval, I need to rant a little bit. I love Baseball-Reference (duh), but they really need to be a little more discriminating when it comes to adding nicknames to their player cards. In most cases, one is plenty. You can have more if you’re Ted Williams or Mickey Mantle or someone. But Sandoval doesn’t need four. Kung Fu Panda, that’s fine. But c’mon . . . nobody calls him Fat Ichiro. Nobody calls him The Round Mound of Pound. Nobody calls him Little Money. Clean it up. Okay, that feels better. Yes, Sandoval did some catching in the minor leagues but I decided to put him with this group because he also played a lot of third base and that’s obviously where he wound up. Sandoval’s Top 100 candidacy is kind of like that of Salvador Perez. Sandoval had a huge 2008 season, where he hit .350/.394/.578 between high Class A and Double-A, but got called up to the big leagues and just barely eclipsed the number of at-bats to lose eligibility.

IMGP8588

Matt Carpenter (photo by gcny1956 / CC BY)

The Cardinals have been thoroughly lauded for drafting and developing well in recent years. After all, “The Cardinal Way” has produced six-consecutive winning seasons and a 2013 World Series roster that included 18 homegrown players. Part of that is because they have a great group of scouts, but of course they also became known for doing heavy statistical analysis of amateur players under scouting director Jeff Luhnow, now the general manager for the Astros. Those combined efforts resulted in the Cardinals landing Allen Craig as an eighth-round senior from California in 2006. He hit in the minor leagues right out of the gate and pushed his way into the Cardinals’ Top 10 list after both the 2009 (No. 7) and 2010 (No. 5) seasons. Those were both years where he tore up Triple-A and he ranked as the organization’s top power prospect. Of course, after being drafted as a college senior, those were also his age 24 and 25 years and he had moved from third base to left field and first base. Kudos to the Cardinals for this pick, and we should all let it serve as another reminder to look past draft status when there’s a guy hitting like Craig did. Craig’s teammate, Matt Carpenter also checks all the boxes of the overlooked prospect: Low-profile college pick? Yep—13th round out of Texas Christian in 2009 and signed for $1,000 as a fifth-year senior. Raked in the minors, but was always old for his level? Yep—a career .299/.408/.450 hitter but was 25 by the time he reached Triple-A.

Just like with Avila, I’ll take sole responsibility for underrating Kyle Seager. The funny thing is, I love Seager. I had the pleasure of watching him a lot in college and always liked his short, simple swing and the way he played the game. Seager had a solid season in 2010 in high Class A, but it’s easy to take California League statistics with a grain of salt, and that would be his last chance to be ranked, as he got to the big leagues in 2011 and exhausted his eligibility.

The Verdict

I think there is a certain type of player being overlooked here. As you’ll notice, most of these players are college players who showed a good feel for hitting, but didn’t have what scouts would consider “profile power” for a corner infield position.

Current Minor Leaguers Who Could Be Overlooked

Though he wasn’t a college pick, Red Sox prospect Garin Cecchini has the same profile as a lot of those guys who were overlooked. I imagine he’ll make BA’s Top 100 this year, though . . . Two players who debuted in the big leagues last year (but still have prospect eligibility remaining) fit the criteria we’re looking for. Those players are Padres first baseman/outfielder Tommy Medica (shown below), and Rockies third baseman/first baseman Ryan Wheeler . . . I also like two players recently added to their teams’ 40-man rosters: Mariners’ first baseman Ji-Man Choi and Rays’ infielder Vince Belnome . . . Speaking of Matt Adams, that’s who Cubs’ first baseman Dan Vogelbach reminds me of—either him or a lefthanded Billy Butler. For as much flack as Vogey gets for his weight, he’s going to hit and he’s going to hit for power . . . Nationals’ third baseman/first baseman Matt Skole missed most of the 2013 season with injuries, but I like his lefthanded power potential . . . Ryan Court was a walk-on at Illinois State and became a 23rd-round pick by the Diamondbacks as a fifth-year senior in 2011. He’s had to fight for everything, but has put up a solid .286/.379/.443 line so far in the minor leagues.

• MIDDLE INFIELDERS •

PLAYER HT WT SOURCE TYPE RD YR MiLB YRS MiLB AVG MiLB OBP MiLB SLG
Jeff Kent 6’1″ 185 Draft 4YR 20 1989 89-91 .257 .358 .440
Placido Polanco 5’9″ 190 Draft JC 19 1994 94-99 .280 .318 .345
David Eckstein 5’6″ 170 Draft 4YR 19 1997 97-00 .293 .414 .390
Michael Young 6’1″ 200 Draft 4YR 5 1997 97-01 .296 .367 .450
Mark Ellis 5’10″ 190 Draft 4YR 9 1999 99-01 .290 .382 .410
Brian Roberts# 5’9″ 175 Draft 4YR 1.5 1999 99-03 .283 .377 .377
Jhonny Peralta 6’2″ 215 Int’l DR 1999 00-04 .275 .349 .404
Freddy Sanchez 6’0″ 200 Draft 4YR 11 2000 00-04 .321 .384 .443
Dan Uggla 5’11 205 Draft 4YR 11 2001 01-05 .276 .347 .443
Robinson Cano* 6’0″ 210 Int’l DR 2001 01-05 .278 .331 .425
Jason Bartlett 6’0″ 190 Draft 4YR 13 2001 01-06 .299 .373 .413
Asdrubal Cabrera# 6’0″ 205 Int’l VZ 2002 04-07 .288 .351 .422
Ben Zobrist# 6’3″ 210 Draft 4YR 6 2004 04-08 .318 .429 .459
Yunel Escobar 6’2″ 210 Draft CU 2 2005 05-07 .297 .370 .414

Now this is an impressive group—one that includes a combined 36 All-Star games, six Gold Gloves, an MVP, 12 Silver Slugger awards and a batting title.

Of all the positions to rank in all of Baseball America’s lists, second base is—by far—the least represented. A quick breakdown by position looks something like this: RHP (785), OF (583), LHP (283), SS (233), 3B (202), 1B (164), C (155), 2B (80). That was just a quick-and-dirty CTRL+F search for positions, so you’ll notice that the total number is greater than the 2,400 players on the lists because some of players listed with multiple positions were counted twice. Still, you get the picture: second baseman seem to be underrated as prospects.

Even studs who did crack BA’s Top 100 lists look underrated in hindsight. Dustin Pedroia was ranked 77th in 2006. Chase Utley was 81st in 2003. Bret Boone was 97th in 1993.

Hindsight is 20/20 for Jeff Kent. I definitely get why he never made a BA Top 100 list. He was a 20th round pick out of college and his minor league numbers were solid, but not spectacular. Still, while he didn’t dominate in any one offensive category, he had “solid tools across the board,” according to a scouting report in the Hall of Fame database and that shows up in his stat line. He hit some doubles, he hit some home runs, he stole bases, he walked. Kent is another reminder to not overlook players because of their draft status or because, while they may not be all tooled up, just have a good feel for playing the game and can do a little bit of everything.

No argument with Placido Polanco never making it, either. He hit for high averages in the minor leagues, but they were empty averages.

Not only did David Eckstein never make a BA Top 100, he never even made a Top 30 list for his team’s chapter in the Prospect Handbook. We all know that Eckstein was always overlooked (no pun intended) because he was 5-foot-6, but there are a couple other factors to consider. One is that he mostly played second base in the minor leagues. Maybe he would have been viewed a little differently if he was a shortstop down there? This was also back when Baseball America was still using AVG/HR/RBI instead of AVG/OBP/SLG like they use now, and his minor league on-base percentage was the most impressive part of his prospect resume.

Michael Young had a strong case for the list after the 2000 season. Between two teams in Double-A (he was traded that year from the Blue Jays to the Rangers), he hit .291/.350/.437 with 37 doubles, 10 triples, seven home runs and 25 stolen bases.

Mark Ellis has always been one of my personal favorites and his minor league resume is pretty similar to Kent’s, in that he doesn’t stand out in any one way but showed he could do a little bit of everything.

Brian Roberts and Jhonny Peralta have both been linked to performance-enhancing drugs, which obviously makes it more difficult to gauge their minor league numbers and neither jumps out as a miss.

Freddy Sanchez

Freddy Sanchez (photo by btwashburn / CC BY)

An 11th-round pick out of Oklahoma City, Freddy Sanchez raked in the minor leagues, but never got the honor of being considered a Top 100 prospect. Not after he hit .334/.378/.456 in 2001, not after he hit .318/.384/.435 in 2002, and not after he hit .343/.430/.495 in 2003. The odd thing is that Sanchez ranked as the No. 5 prospect in the Triple-A International League after the 2003 season behind only Jose Reyes, Justin Morneau, Victor Martinez and Chase Utley. Reyes, Martinez and Utley had already burned through their prospect eligibility, so they weren’t a factor on that year’s Top 100 list. Morneau ranked 16th, and several players ranked after Sanchez made the list like Jeremy Guthrie (53), Gabe Gross (72), Adam LaRoche (73) and Jesse Crain (89). This seems like a clear miss.

Dan Uggla can’t be seen as a miss because he was a Rule 5 pick. So, you can’t fault BA, if Uggla’s own organization didn’t even see enough value in him to add him to the 40-man roster. A fantastic piece of scouting by the Marlins.

The player who sparked this beast of a project in the first place was, of course, new Mariners second baseman Robinson Cano. While Cano became one of the best players in baseball with the Yankees, his minor league numbers are a little misleading. For one thing, he was promoted quickly through the system. He was just 20 in 2003, but BA still had great things to say about his bat even after he hit a modest .277/.322/.374 that year between high Class A and Double-A. Another thing that I’m reminded of when I look at Cano’s minor league numbers is this fantastic article from Jorge Arangure Jr., on Baseball Prospectus about how Dominican players have to learn that it’s okay to take walks in the minor leagues. Cano improved in 2004, as he hit .283/.339/.457 as a 21-year-old between Double-A and Triple-A. He ranked as the Yankees No. 2 prospect that year. Again, the writeup praised his bat, but there were questions about the thickness of his body and poor performance against lefthanders, so the only Yankee to make the Top 100 list was the one ranked ahead of Cano—Eric Duncan at No. 36.

Looking back over his minor-league statistics, it feels like Jason Bartlett definitely should have made the Top 100 list after the season he put together in 2004. Over 313 Triple-A plate appearances, the Twins shortstop hit .331/.415/.472. Instead, he came in at No. 9 on the Twins’ list. A broken right wrist limited his playing time that year, which may have knocked him down the list. There were also concerns about his power, but those are impressive numbers, no doubt.

While he was a slick-fielding, switch-hitting shortstop who was typically young for his level, it’s not hard to see why Asdrubal Cabrera never made a list. His overall minor league numbers are much better than those when he was still eligible to be ranked. In his last year of prospect eligibility, Cabrera hit .249/.310/.349 between the Triple-A affiliates for the Mariners and Indians in 2006.

Players with the most fWAR over the last five seasons: 1) Miguel Cabrera. 2) Evan Longoria. 3) Ben Zobrist. Unlike the two guys ranked ahead of him, The Zorilla never even came close to making a Top 100 list. Heck, the highest he even got on an Astros Top 30 list was 16th. Zobrist is very similar to a lot of the guys in this article: a low-profile college draft pick who rakes in the minor leagues, even if he’s a little old for the league. You can’t argue with Zobrist’s minor-league numbers. The guy hit .318/.429/.459 in the minor leagues as a shortstop, for crying out loud!

Yunel Escobar is unique in that he’s one of the rare players to flee Cuba and enter the U.S. for the draft. He was a high pick as a second rounder in 2005. He got off to a great start, hitting .325/.375/.504 in his pro debut, mostly in the low Class A South Atlantic League. But the Braves skipped him to Double-A in 2006 and his numbers backed up to .264/.361/.346 and then he lost his eligibility in 2007.

The Verdict

Just like with the corner infield group, this group features mostly college players who weren’t high-profile draft picks. So, when they hit well in the minor leagues, it’s easy to write them off by saying, “Yeah, but he’s old for his level,” or, “If he’s such a good prospect, he would have been drafted higher,” or, “But he’s just a second baseman.”

Current Minor Leaguers Who Could Be Overlooked

I imagine after the impressive years they had that Mookie Betts (Red Sox), Marcus Semien (White Sox), Arismendy Alcantara (Cubs) and Rougned Odor (Rangers) will make the Top 100 list. Braves prospect Tommy La Stella won’t though, and he might be Atlanta’s Opening Day second baseman next season. He fits the mold to a T. Undersized, unheralded college pick? Yep—5-foot-11 and 185 pounds in the 8th round out of Coastal Carolina in 2011. All he’s done since signing is hit .327/.412/.496, but he only ranked ninth on the Braves’ recent Top 10 list . . . BA’s Ben Badler has always loved Astros second baseman/third baseman Ronald Torreyes, who is just 5-foot-9, but has exceptional bat control and above-average speed . . . The Indians have two players I would consider for this list: Joe Wendle and Jose Ramirez . Wendle was a draft steal at $10,000 out of Division-II West Chester (Pa.) and can really handle the bat with a compact, lefthanded stroke. Ramirez (shown below) is a switch-hitting spark plug who can play shortstop or second base . . . The Yankees traded for 26-year-old utility infielder Dean Anna this winter and I like the move for them, as they have a lot of questions regarding the construction and fragility of their current infield. Anna is a grinder who has played all over the field, but fits best at second base. For his career, he has hit .286/.386/.428 with nearly as many walks as strikeouts . . . A little further down the ladder, the Yankees have Robert Refsnyder—a 5th-round pick out of Arizona in 2012. Refsnyder has a long track record of hitting well and is off to a great start as a pro . . . The Cardinals also have two players that stand out for me. Greg Garcia was one of my biggest whiffs during my draft coverage at BA. I was responsible for writing up Hawaii in 2010 and didn’t have him on my state preview list. Then he goes in the seventh round and my stomach just dropped. Missing guys like that is the worst feeling. Garcia has done his best to make me look like an idiot, hitting .281/.386/.403 and earning a spot on the 40-man roster. On the flipside, I’ve always loved second baseman Breyvic Valera ever since I saw him score from second on a passed ball . . . Micah Johnson (White Sox), Chris Taylor (Mariners), Devon Travis (Tigers) and Tony Renda (Nationals) were all drafted out of college in 2012 and had very good seasons . . . Padres shortstop Jace Peterson is an excellent athlete with good bat control and a knack for stealing bases . . . Finally, Stephen Bruno missed most of 2013 with injuries. He’s only 5-foot-9 and might wind up being a utility player, but I’d bet on him being a useful big leaguer in some capacity and he might just hit his way into an everyday role.


• OUTFIELDERS •

PLAYER HT WT SOURCE TYPE RD YR MiLB YRS MiLB AVG MiLB OBP MiLB SLG
Jim Edmonds* 6’1″ 190 Draft HS 7 1988 88-93 .297 .375 .441
Randy Winn# 6’2″ 175 Draft 4YR 3 1995 95-98 .303 .376 .410
Aaron Rowand 6’0″ 210 Draft 4YR 1.5 1998 98-01 .281 .343 .479
Matt Holliday 6’4″ 250 Draft HS 7 1998 98-03 .276 .353 .427
Coco Crisp# 5’10″ 185 Draft JC 7 1999 99-03 .305 .379 .421
Shane Victorino# 5’9″ 190 Draft HS 6 1999 99-05 .284 .344 .420
Michael Bourn* 5’11″ 180 Draft 4YR 4 2003 03-06 .284 .377 .391
Denard Span* 6’0″ 210 Draft HS 1 2002 03-08 .286 .355 .356
Brett Gardner* 5’10″ 185 Draft 4YR 3 2005 05-08 .290 .390 .385
Mark Trumbo 6’4″ 235 Draft HS 18 2004 05-10 .275 .330 .474
Jon Jay* 5’11″ 195 Draft 4YR 2 2006 06-10 .301 .367 .435

Jim Edmonds probably should have been on the Top 100 list after the 1993 season. All he did was hit .315/.382/.492 with 28 doubles over 403 plate appearances for Triple-A Vancouver as a 23-year-old.

Though he was an all-star in 2002, Randy Winn was never really a star. But he was a solid everyday player who spent 13 years in the big leagues. A good athlete who backed up Steve Nash at point guard at Santa Clara, Winn was a third-round pick by the Marlins in 1995. The speedy center fielder never had much power in the minor leagues, but hit well and stole a lot of bases.

It’s tough to figure out why Aaron Rowand never made the list, as he had both pedigree and performance on his side. A supplemental first-round pick in 1998, Rowand posted solid minor league averages with plenty of doubles, home runs and stolen bases. In 2001, as a 23-year-old in Triple-A, he hit .295/.353/.526 and then followed that up with an .816 OPS in his big league debut. He was still prospect eligible but only ranked No. 10 on the White Sox list that year because he was seen as somewhat of a “tweener”—a player without the defensive prowess to play center field, but not enough power to hold down a corner spot.

Matt Holliday wasn’t your typical seventh-round draft pick, as he signed for $840,000 instead of going to play quarterback at Oklahoma State. Though he usually had 20+ doubles, double-digit home runs and 10-15 stolen bases, Holliday never put up eye-popping numbers in the minor leagues and should be another reminder that power is often the last tool to develop.

The career of Coco Crisp has been very similar to Winn’s. I think Crisp’s best chance at cracking a Top 100 would have been after the 2002 season, when he spent most of the year with Double-A New Haven and hit .301/.365/.428 over 397 plate appearances with 16 doubles, nine home runs and 26 stolen bases. On Baseball-Reference’s list of Crisp’s similar players, there’s Winn and Shane Victorino, as well as David DeJesus and Matt Lawton—two more players who never made a BA Top 100.

Shane Victorino

Shane Victorino (photo by phillymads63 / CC BY)

There’s no way to get upset about Shane Victorino never making a Top 100 list. After all, he was another Rule 5 pick—twice—so even his own team at the time didn’t realize what he could become. On the other hand, I do think it’s probably rare for a Rule 5 pick to be in five different Prospect Handbooks. Anyway, I stuck him on this list just to look back and see what his minor league career was like. A sixth-round pick out of a Hawiian high school in 1999, Victorino’s minor league career is interesting. For his first four years as a pro, he was a speed guy—averaging 56 stolen bases over every 150 games. 2003 was an up-and-down year for him, as it was the first time he was taken in the Rule 5 draft and spent some time in the big leagues with the Padres. But in 2004, he found some power, cranking 19 home runs as a 23-year-old between Double-A and Triple-A. The Phillies made one of the best Rule 5 picks of all time and were rewarded with a player who learned to do both—hit home runs AND steal bases. What an awesome story.

It is a bit surprising that Michael Bourn never made a Top 100 list. He was a fourth-round pick and his Baseball America player page is littered with top prospect rankings and Best Tools awards. On top of that, he posted solid minor league numbers. What may have hurt him is that the Phillies eased him into the major leagues. He spent all of 2007 with the big club, but as a late-inning defensive replacement and pinch runner. So even after a full year in Philadelphia, he was still technically prospect eligible because he only got 119 at-bats.

Denard Span was another player with both pedigree and performance—though it wasn’t as loud as Rowand’s. A first-round pick out of a Florida high school in 2002, Span wasted little time in showing off his on-base skills and speed. Solid numbers, but not hard to see why he never made a list.

Brett Gardner was a third-round pick out of College of Charleston. His best chance to make a Top 100 list was probably in 2007 when he hit .281/.369/.378 between Double-A and Triple-A with 39 stolen bases.

Always a bridesmaid, never a bride? Mark Trumbo is the rare player to have writeups in seven different Prospect Handbooks, but he doesn’t really fit the mold here. His minor league numbers line up with the player he is in the big leagues—low on-base percentage with lots of strikeouts and home runs. His best year actually came when he was closest to the big leagues. In 2010, as a 24-year-old in Triple-A, Trumbo hit .301/.368/.577 with 29 doubles and 36 home runs, but he only managed to rank ninth in the Angels’ system that year.

Noticing a trend yet? Jon Jay was another college pick who could hit, run and play defense, but had below-average power. Despite hitting .301/.367/.435 during his minor league career, Jay never ranked higher than fifth on the Cardinals prospect list, and that was after his debut season. From 2007-2009, he ranked 11th, 12th and 13th, respectively.

The Verdict

It’s pretty easy to see a trend here. Most of the players in this category are college picks, most are on the smaller side, there’s a lot of lefthanded hitters and switch-hitters with good contact skills, a good feel for the strike zone and above-average speed.

Current Minor Leaguers Who Could Be Overlooked

Oakland recently sent Jerry Blevins to the Nationals in exchange for switch-hitting speedster Billy Burns. Burns, a 32nd-round pick out of Mercer in 2011, ranked third in the minor leagues with 74 stolen bases in 2013. He could be a Ben Revere type . . . San Diego has two players that fit the mold, and neither even ranked within the team’s Top 10 list: Travis Jankowski and Reymond Fuentes. Both lefthanded hitters who were high picks in the draft, Jankowski shows very good contact skills and stole 71 bases in the high Class A California League this year. Fuentes hit .330/.413/.448 with 35 stolen bases, mostly for Double-A San Antonio . . . Rays center fielder Andrew Toles is loaded with tools and will likely find himself in a Top 100 if he puts together another season like the one he had at low Class A this year: .326/.359/.466 with 62 stolen bases . . . On the other side of the spectrum, they aren’t the toolsiest guys, but as far as pure performance goes, it doesn’t get much more impressive than Mike O’Neill (Cardinals) or Kevin Pillar (Blue Jays). O’Neill’s minor league career slash line is .328/.435/.405 and Pillar’s is .321/.366/.466. Not bad for a couple guys picked after the 30th round . . . A player on his way to joining their company looks to be Mariners left fielder Dario Pizzano. Pizzano—who played in the 2003 Little League World Series with Travis, Adys Portillo, Jonathan Schoop and Randal Grichuk—has hit .324/.408/.482 over his first two pro seasons after being a 15th round pick out of Columbia . . . Phillies second baseman/center fielder Cesar Hernandez (shown below) has excellent hand-eye coordination and above-average speed . . . I’m always intriuged anytime I hear a player compared to my all-time favorite, Mike Cameron. That’s a name that has been linked to Nationals’ center field prospect Michael Taylor, who took a step forward offensively in 2013 . . . Orioles corner outfielder Henry Urrutia didn’t get the same hype as other Cuban defectors, but the 26-year-old put up solid numbers in the minor leagues in 2013: .347/.406/.506 . . . The Astros made some interesting signings from the Mexican League, and I’d love to see them standing next to each other. First baseman Japhet Amador is 6-foot-4, 315 pounds. Outfielder Leo Heras is 5-foot-9 and 190 pounds. The 23-year-old lefthanded hitter hit .310/.398/.519 between the Mexican League and Double-A Corpus Christi this season . . . Angels corner outfielder Zach Borenstein put up great numbers in the hitter-friendly Cal League this season. The true test for him will be next year in Double-A . . . Cubs outfielder John Andreoli was overshadowed at Connecticut, but has held his own as a pro to the tune of .293/.385/.382 with an average of 57 stolen bases for every 150 games. His teammate, Matt Szczur, also has a lot of athleticism and speed and is still trying to put it all together at the plate.

Now, let’s take a look at pitchers. Pitchers are a bit tougher, as things can change for them as prospects so quickly. A pitcher can have a career minor league ERA of 4.96, learn a new pitch—and BAM, all of a sudden he’s a solid big leaguer. On the flipside, injuries can also derail a promising prospect’s career just as quickly. Still, let’s take a look at some pitchers who never made a BA Top 100 to see if we can learn anything useful . . .

• RIGHTHANDED PITCHERS •

PLAYER HT WT SOURCE TYPE RD YR MiLB YRS MiLB IP MiLB K/BB MiLB ERA
Pat Hentgen 6’2″ 210 Draft HS 5 1986 86-92 908 773/397 3.20
Mariano Rivera 6’2″ 195 Int’l PA 1990 90-95 432 382/98 2.35
Trevor Hoffman 6’1″ 200 Draft 4YR 11 1989 91-92 148 175/63 2.93
Brad Radke 6’2″ 180 Draft HS 8 1991 91-94 581 451/132 3.20
Jon Lieber 6’3″ 220 Draft 4YR 2 1992 92-95 394 284/57 3.93
Kevin Millwood 6’4″ 230 Draft HS 11 1993 93-97 615 564/286 3.97
Keith Foulke 6’0″ 195 Draft 4YR 9 1994 94-97 531 446/102 3.58
Bronson Arroyo 6’4″ 195 Draft HS 3 1995 95-03 1105 852/290 3.80
Ryan Dempster 6’2″ 215 Draft HS 3 1995 95-98 539 471/193 3.75
Joe Nathan 6’4″ 230 Draft 4YR 6 1995 97-02 565 454/286 4.90
Tim Hudson 6’1″ 175 Draft 4YR 6 1997 97-99 312 294/140 3.32
Jose Valverde 6’4″ 255 Int’l DR 1997 99-03 239 318/131 4.03
John Lackey 6’6″ 235 Draft JC 2 1999 99-02 584 461/184 3.70
Brandon Webb 6’3″ 230 Draft 4YR 8 2000 00-03 369 331/131 3.90
Dan Haren 6’5″ 215 Draft 4YR 2 2001 01-04 480 464/86 3.15
James Shields 6’4″ 215 Draft HS 16 2000 01-06 554 484/134 3.67
Doug Fister 6’8″ 210 Draft 4YR 7 2006 06-09 425 316/101 4.34
Mat Latos 6’6″ 245 Draft JC 11 2006 07-09 185 216/47 2.49
Lance Lynn 6’5″ 240 Draft 4YR 1.5 2008 08-11 414 358/150 3.69

If you’re keeping score at home, this group has an average of 7.81 K/9 and 2.90 BB/9.

Pat Hentgen is the answer to one of my favorite, random trivia questions: Who is the only player in baseball history to only play for all three bird-related franchises? Before winning the Cy Young in 1996, Hentgen had a solid year in 1990 with the second-most strikeouts (142) in the Southern League and 3.05 ERA over 153 innings at Double-A Knoxville.

Brad Radke quickly ascended through the minor leagues after being an eighth-round pick out of a Florida high school in 1991. While he never overwhelmed with strikeout numbers, his performance was impressive because he had excellent control and command. In 1994, as a 21-year-old in Triple-A, Radke went 12-9, 2.66 with 123 strikeouts and just 34 walks over 186 innings.

While we’re talking about impressive control, take a look at the walk numbers from Jon Lieber. Over 394 minor league innings, he walked just 57 guys. A second-round pick out of South Alabama in 1992, Lieber’s best shot at making the Top 100 would have been after the 1993 season when he went 15-6, 3.45 with 134 strikeouts and 25 walks over 170 innings. But if you look at Lieber’s scouting reports from the Hall of Fame database, there’s a lot of 4’s and 5’s on them. While he was an all-star in 2001, Lieber was a back-end starter, so it’s no surprise he never was considered a top prospect.

Kevin Millwood was an 11th-round pick out of a North Carolina high school. He put up good numbers in 1997, but that was the same year he barely lost his prospect eligibility. Again, no surprise here.

Bronson Arroyo and Ryan Dempster were both picked in the third round of the 1995 draft out of high school, but neither ever had standout numbers that would warrant a Top 100 ranking . . . Despite his impressive athleticism, Tim Hudson walked more batters in the minor leagues than you’d expect given his impressive big league career . . . John Lackey also had average numbers for most of his minor league stops.

There was a six-year stretch where Brandon Webb was one of the best starting pitchers in baseball. In fact, from 2003-2008, the only pitchers with a higher fWAR were Roy Halladay, C.C. Sabathia and another guy we’ll get to down below. Over that stretch, Webb was a three-time all-star and of course won the Cy Young in 2006. His BA scouting report after the 2002 season was pretty glowing, noting that he had heavy sink on his fastball that sat at 92, but topped out at 95, and a good slider. He ranked fifth in the Diamondbacks’ system though because the knock was control, as Webb had his fair share of walks, hit batters and wild pitches.

Dan Haren - Oakland Athletics Pitcher

Dan Haren (photo by adevigal / CC BY)

It’s tough to imagine the Cardinals not having a Top 100 prospect, but that’s just what happened after the 2002 season. Dan Haren had the ingredients of a top prospect. He had the pedigree after being a second-round pick out of Pepperdine in 2001. He had the stuff, and he had the results. In fact, he ranked as the team’s top prospect after the 2002 season when he went 10-9, 2.74 with 171 strikeouts and 31 walks over 194 innings between low Class A and high Class A. BA’s writeup of Haren that year said that, “Haren’s biggest strength is that he has no glaring weakness.” But BA ranked the Cardinals’ system as the third-worst in baseball and they got shut out when it time to rank the top prospects in the game.

Just like his cousin, Rowand, James Shields never made a BA Top 100 list, either. I get it, though. He wasn’t a high pick (16th round out of high school in 2000), he had shoulder surgery as a 20 year old and more shoulder issues in 2004 and 2005. He pitched at 89-92 mph, so he wasn’t overpowering. Totally reasonable that he never made a list.

Doug Fister was one of my favorite minor leaguers. I didn’t even get to see him pitch when he was with the Everett AquaSox, I just loved how enthusiastic and happy he seemed to be cheering on his teammates from the top step of the dugout. I remember calling my sister from the golf course during my bachelor party weekend to have her get on the computer and see how he pitched that day. He never even had a chance at making a Top 100 list. He never even made the Mariners’ Top 30 list in a Prospect Handbook, as he was easy to write off as just an innings-eating senior sign.

In hindsight, the most confusing omission here is Mat Latos. Maturity issues and bonus demands pushed him to the 11th round, but after being a draft-and-follow he still signed for $1.25 million. I know a crosschecker who believes that makeup can be overrated for pitchers and in some ways that makes sense to me. Latos had everything you’d want in a pitching prospect: size, stuff and results. But makeup issues probably kept him off the list after the 2007 and 2008 seasons when he was in the lower levels of the minor leagues and then he went from low Class A to Double-A to exhausting his eligibility in the big leagues in 2009.

The highest draft pick on this list is 2008 supplemental first-rounder Lance Lynn. Lynn put up solid minor league numbers, but I think there were two issues that hurt his candidacy. 1) The track record for Ole Miss pitchers wasn’t great. And, 2) During his debut in the big leagues in 2011, the Cardinals used him mostly out of the bullpen. When the Top 100 list was being put together, it was unclear how he was going to be used going forward and the thought was that if he was going to stay as a setup man, his value was clearly diminished.

As for the pitchers in this group who wound up being closers, Mariano Rivera was a very good minor league prospect, but didn’t become Mariano Rivera until he learned his cutter in 1997 and it became one of the most un-hittable pitches in major league history . . . It’s also easy to give a pass for Trevor Hoffman since he was a converted shortstop . . . Keith Foulke was a short, stocky righthander with a 40 fastball who relied on excellent control and an above-average changeup. Obviously effective, but not exactly the recipe for a top prospect . . . Joe Nathan never put up great numbers as a starter and it wasn’t until his fourth year in the big leagues when he converted to a relief role and became effective . . . Jose Valverde always relieved in the minor leagues, which makes it hard enough to be considered a top prospect, especially with a 4.03 career ERA.

The Verdict

It’s tough to find a lot of common threads here. One thing to keep in mind, however, is that while strikeouts and radar gun readings are certainly sexy for prospects, there’s a lot of value in workhorses who can eat innings without allowing many free passes.

Current Minor Leaguers Who Could Be Overlooked

It’s tough to see what separates Burch Smith (shown below) from another Padres pitching prospect, Casey Kelly. Kelly has draft status on his side, but that’s about it. Smith has a better track record of both health and performance . . . I’ve always liked Cubs prospect Kyle Hendricks. While he doesn’t wow scouts with his stuff, he fills up the strike zone with a four-pitch mix and obviously has smarts, as he was drafted out of Dartmouth . . . Never underestimate a plus changeup. For Astros righthander Nick Tropeano, it’s been his signature pitch—and the best pitch in the organization. But he can also reach back for a 95 mph fastball and has put up great numbers so far in the minor leagues. In fact, his 3.31 ERA at the launching pad known as Lancaster in 2012 is the lowest for a pitcher with that many innings (70+) since Greg Smith in 2006 . . . While he can’t match his stuff (not many can), Michael Wacha’s college roommate Ross Stripling has a solid arsenal and a nice track record of success . . . It’s hard to argue against the Giants’ track record for developing pitchers and I like righthander Clayton Blackburn. The 16th-round pick out of an Oklahoma high school in 2011 has a 311-to-56 strikeout-to-walk rate over his first three professional seasons but ranked just 10th in the team’s system this year.


• LEFTHANDED PITCHERS •

PLAYER HT WT SOURCE TYPE RD YR MiLB YRS MiLB IP MiLB K/BB MiLB ERA
Jeff Fassero 6’1″ 180 Draft 4YR 22 1984 84-91 830 610/338 3.59
Denny Neagle 6’4″ 200 Draft 4YR 3 1989 89-91 409 396/113 2.59
Mike Hampton 5’10″ 185 Draft HS 6 1990 90-93 502 438/219 3.25
Johan Santana 6’0″ 210 Int’l VZ 1995 97-99 351 357/131 4.70
Mark Buehrle 6’2″ 245 Draft JC 38 1998 99-00 217 159/33 3.11
Oliver Perez 6’3″ 220 Int’l MX 1999 99-03 582 622/265 3.60
C.J. Wilson 6’1″ 210 Draft 4YR 5 2001 01-03 403 337/134 3.53
Wandy Rodriguez 5’10″ 195 Int’l DR 1999 01-06 577 462/196 3.70

While Jeff Fassero had a long, successful big leaguer career, it’s not hard to see why he wasn’t a Top 100 prospect. He was a 22nd-round pick with ordinary numbers who didn’t debut in the big leagues until he was 28.

The Twins didn’t need to go far to scout Denny Neagle, and the team made him a third-round pick in 1989 out of Minnesota. He rose steadily through the minor leagues with his best year coming in 1990 when he went 20-3, 2.10 with 186 strikeouts and 47 walks over 184 innings between high Class A and Double-A. He debuted in 1991, exhausted his prospect eligibility in 1992 and went on to have a 13-year big league career that included two all-star appearances.

Mike Hampton was also a two-time all-star after being a sixth-round pick out of a Florida high school in 1990. Hampton was signed by Luke Wrenn, a scout whose resume also includes Tino Martinez, Nomar Garciaparra, David Eckstein, Mike Maroth and Stephen Drew. Young for his class, Hampton was in high Class A as a 19-year-old, where he posted the fourth-most strikeouts in the hitter-friendly league.

Johan Santana

Johan Santana (photo by slgckgc / CC BY)

There’s no shame in never ranking Johan Santana as a top prospect. Like Victorino above, he was a Rule 5 pick. Santana, of course, is the third pitcher I mentioned in Webb’s writeup, too. He went from low Class A in the Astros system into the Twins bullpen and then into their rotation where he earned two Cy Young awards and a $137-million payday. Tremendous scouting on the Twins part.

Speaking of excellent scouting, Mark Buehrle is another awesome story. A 38th-round pick out of a junior college in Missouri, Buehrle needed just 30 starts in the minor leagues before his big league debut. After getting his chance, he never looked back, so it’s completely understandable that Buehrle never made a list. He’s just another great example that anyone with a uniform has a chance.

Signed out of Mexico by the Padres in 1999, Oliver Perez always had very good stuff as a starter. His best (eligible) year in the minor leagues was in 2001 when the 19-year-old went 10-9, 3.21 with 160 strikeouts and 68 walks over 154 innings between low Class A and high Class A.

Before he was making shampoo commercials or tweeting with straight-edge punk rock singers, C.J. Wilson was a fifth-round pick out of Loyola Marymount in 2001. The Rangers loved Wilson’s aptitude and it shows what can happen when a pitcher works his tail off. Wilson pitched with an average fastball in the minor leagues, never ranking higher than eighth on Texas’ prospect list, but bumped it up a tick in the big leagues and even touched 95.

Before he was Wandy Rodriguez, he was Eny Cabreja, which just sounds like a fake name, right? Though I’m not sure which first name is worse, all I know is that if I was going to choose a fake name, it would be something cool. No fault here, as Wandy didn’t have any years that really stand out in the minor leagues.

The Verdict

No glaring omissions here and—like with the righthanders above—not many common traits with the pitchers listed.

Current Minor Leaguers Who Could Be Overlooked

After ranking second in the Giants’ system, Edwin Escobar has a good chance of making the Top 100 list . . . Cardinals lefthander Tim Cooney has pedigree, stuff and results. He gets pushed down prospect lists because their system is so loaded, but I love the fact that he’s only walked 30 guys over his first two years as a pro . . . Sean Nolin made it to the big leagues for the Blue Jays this year. He has size and a formidable four-pitch mix . . . Towering Marlins starter Brian Flynn put together a great season, going 7-2, 2.63 between Double-A and Triple-A with 147 strikeouts and 43 walks over 161 minor league innings before getting four big league starts in September . . . The Reds acquired David Holmberg this winter from the Diamondbacks. Though they have a crowded rotation, I like Holmberg’s potential as a back-end starter . . . This is a deep cut, but I was excited to hear that Adam Wilk (shown below) is returning to the United States on a minor league deal with the Pirates. I ranked Wilk as the Tigers’ No. 10 prospect after the 2012 season because I thought he was a perfect back-end starter, similar to Jason Vargas. He spent 2013 in Korea, but is still just 26.


• Summary •

Perhaps it’s not Baseball America, it’s the scouting community as a whole that is undervaluing these types of players. After all, Baseball America relies heavily on talking to outside sources when writing reports and creating top prospect lists. Another thing to consider would be that I only looked at players who made it, I didn’t try and find all the similar players who didn’t.

But, if I could condense what I’ve learned from this lengthy exercise into a few rules for thinking about prospects, they would be as follows . . .

1) Ignore draft status. This is tough for me, since I covered the draft for Baseball America for the past five years. I love the draft. Even before I worked at BA, I would play hookey from my old jobs to stay home and keep tabs on the event. But it’s true, and that’s what is great about baseball—there are big leaguers drafted in every round of the draft. Mike Piazza was famously a 62nd-round favor, but there’s also Travis Hafner (31), Raul Ibanez (36), Rajai Davis (38), Orlando Hudson (43), Julio Lugo (43), Brad Ausmus (48), Marcus Giles (53), Gabe Kapler (57), Jeff Conine (58) and many more. In fact, players drafted in the 30th round or later since 1984 have combined for 119,465 big league at-bats and 33,289 innings pitched. The best pitchers in the group are Buehrle (38), Scott Erickson (31), Brian Anderson (49), Jason Bere (36), Jason Isringhausen (44), Kyle Farnsworth (47), Robb Nen (32), Heath Bell (69), Chad Gaudin (34) and Scot Shields (38), among others.

2) Age is just a number. Too often players get pumped up because they’re young for the level or too harshly criticized because they’re a little bit older than the league average age. First of all, it’s not the player’s fault. More importantly, as one of my favorite scouts likes to say, “They don’t check IDs in the batter’s box.”

3) Size is just a number. Or, rather, a couple numbers. But that’s one of the best things about baseball—it takes all shapes and sizes. Yogi Berra was 5-foot-7 and Randy Johnson was 6-foot-10. Willie Mays was 5-foot-10 and Mickey Mantle was 5-foot-11. Babe Ruth is listed at 215 pounds, but he likely weighed more. Pedro Martinez was 5-foot-11, 170-pounds and can compete against someone like Frank Thomas, who was 6-foot-5, 240 pounds.

4) Profiles aren’t the be-all, end-allBelieve in the bat. These two go hand-in-hand. Another recurring trend with many of the players listed above is that they could hit, but other question marks somewhere in their game—whether it be defensive skills, or a lack of power, or a lack of speed—held them back from being ranked higher. Evaluators can sometimes be too dismissive of players who don’t perfectly fit the standard positional profiles. But hitting ability is the most important attribute for a position player. “If you can hit, you can play,” as the saying goes.

5) Control is more important than stuff. This is another tough one for me. I love stuff. Who doesn’t? Stuff is sexy. Everybody loves a 97 mph fastball, a knee-buckling curveball or a Bugs Bunny changeup. Stuff gets you seen, stuff gets you paid, stuff gets outs and stuff has value. Ideally you want both, but stuff only has value if you can control it. You can find plenty of big leaguers with average or below-average stuff, but they succeed because they can command the strike zone and change speeds. On the flipside, stuff is worthless without control. Just ask Jason Neighborgall. That’s an extreme example, of course, but no more extreme than Jamie Moyer on the other end of the spectrum.