… And About Those Cubs Prospects Lists

Over the past weeks, fans have been treated to an annual ritual, the posting of the organizational rankings by Baseball America (henceforth to be known as BA) and Baseball Prospectus. This year’s rankings have generated concerns by Cubs fans as to the state of the minor leagues and the organization as a whole. To accompany the publishing of these lists, the CCO linked our article from January of this year highlighting BA’s Top Ten Cubs Prospects from 2005 to present. While looking these over, I was able to spot both trends and inconsistencies in these rankings, especially from BA.

A lot of the anxiety over this year’s list centers on BAs inclusion of recent draftees Javier Baez, Dillon Maples, and Dan Vogelbach. However, this shouldn’t be a shock to readers. Since 2005, 20 of the 80 players, including this year’s top ten, named to the BA’s top ten were former first round draft picks. Eight first round draft picks were named to the list before they played a professional game, including six in the top five. Thirteen players were named to the top ten before they had any professional experience, including draftees and international signings. Of the draftees listed by BA to be in the top ten in a given year, over twenty-five percent have never made it to the majors. In a way, it makes you almost feel sorry for Baez, Maples, and Vogelbach. If BA’s trend holds true, then one of these players will never make it to the big leagues.

The lists also seem to short-change international signings, although BA is a bigger culprit. Baseball Prospectus listed eight international signees in their top 20 of the organization’s prospects. However, only Baez is considered a “four star” prospect, with Welington Castillo and Jeimer Candelario only “three star” prospects. While BA puts three in their top ten, only five are mentioned in their fifteen category “Top Tools” section. Since 2005, BA has named international signees to their top ten players less than a quarter of the time. That bucks the trend of the league average, which is over thirty percent. Some may claim that perhaps the Cubs organization may not have had many international players deserving of a top ten ranking. This brings us to the subject of “missed” picks.

By including recent draft picks in their top ten, BA set themselves up as having a very deep crystal ball in order to see that far into the future. The catch is, by focusing on the draft picks, they often ignore players already in the system, some of which overtake more ballyhooed prospects. Start with 2005. BA listed outfielder and former first round draft pick Ryan Harvey and that year’s top pick, pitcher Grant Johnson. However, BA ignored future major leaguers Ronny Cedeno, Casey McGehee, Ryan Theriot, Randy Wells, and Carlos Marmol. This trend holds true through 2009 (to be fair, I didn’t include the last two lists, as those are too soon to tell). BA “misses” on over thirty percent of their projections, while they “missed” on the average eight players per year that would either end up in the majors, or on future top ten lists.

Time has a funny way of distorting how fans view this information. While the lists initially belong to the publications that put them out, the ownership seems to transfer to organization they are about. It’s as if the team itself made the lists, and not some outsider’s opinion. So when prospects don’t seem to do well, it is considered the organization’s “fault” rather than just poor predicting.

So how do you know who is right? First of all, you need to take the lists as information, but with a grain of salt. Know that from about a quarter to about half the time they are wrong, and that better players than they have listed are lurking in the system. To find out who those players are, you have to do your own thinking. The CCO will provide you with the information through our coverage of the entire minor league system, including rookie and international leagues. An informed opinion is usually the best opinion.

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