Ranking baseball prospects is fun. I’ve done it. Our podcast even had some Braves prospects experts on this past week to wax philosophic about numerous prospects in the Atlanta Braves system. So this isn’t meant to be a hit piece on anyone who ranks baseball prospects.
Ranking prospects is great. For one, it’s a way to get us baseball nerds through the cold off-season. It’s also a fun way to educate ourselves about the future of our beloved sport, and raise our hopes for our favorite team’s future. As we all know, baseball has a farm system like no other sport, which lends itself to pretty honest process (if you’re good, you advance, if you’re not, you don’t), and it’s a blast to follow. A player gets drafted or signed, they make their way up through the system in hopes of one day playing in an MLB stadium in front of tens of thousands (unless you play for the Marlins). So, ranking that talent and making predictions on that talent is great.
Not only is ranking prospects a grand old time, but lists like the Baseball America top-100 end up being fairly accurate. Some of the game’s greats were top prospects at some point along their respective journeys. Harper, Trout, Griffey, Jr., just to name a few.
According to Andy Harris, of Outfield Fly Rule, players in Baseball America’s top-10 have an MLB success rate of around 90%. Players ranking from 90-100 come in at around a 35% MLB success rate. Andy says that the record is generally better for ranked position players versus pitchers (because of injury risks). Andy goes on to say that of those #1-10 ranked prospects, only 35% end up being elite performers. In short – On any given year, that Baseball America top-10 prospects list you’re looking at only has a few potential stars.
It’s important to remember that prospect rankings are not always the GOSPEL. One of the best things about our sport is that it can be unpredictable. Not only is the game itself unpredictable, but the talent can be, too. Case and point – Ronald Acuna signed for $100,000 in 2014 and is now heralded as the best prospect in the game, and rightfully so.
Sure, Baseball America and guys like Keith Law have certainly gotten it right over the years. But it’s also important to remember that there have been many great ballplayers who were never ranked. Some even had Hall of Fame caliber careers – Jim Edmonds, Jose Altuve, Jeff Kent, Mariano Rivera, Curt Schilling, Tim Wakefield, Robinson Cano, Josh Donaldson, Daniel Murphy and James Shields were never top-100 prospects according to Baseball America, just to name a few.
The opposite of this is also true. Especially if you, like me, grew up collecting baseball cards. How many guys with “rated rookie” or “future star” on their baseball cards ended up being completely forgotten about? Baseball’s weird.