Alex Rodriguez was a significant dot on the prospect radar 15 years ago, as he was selected No. 1 overall in 1993. He started his playing career by shredding through the Midwest League. A handful of months later, he was replicating his success in Triple-A. Odds of MLB success? Stellar. Odds of MLB failure? Meager.
What makes prospecting so enjoyable? For this writer, it's the uncertainty. If every prospect was as destined for success as Rodriguez, prospecting may only be slightly more stimulating than watching Blue's Clues.
Fortunately, prospecting isn't easy. It's so challenging that media and researchers have become interested in seeing if they can keep up with the professionals who are directly vested in which prospects succeed. Peer review. I'm prepared to take this practice to the next level: Media peer review. Yeah it may sound silly, but is it really? Shouldn't those with a voice in the industry be held accountable for their endorsements, good or bad?
I've taken five 2008 Top 100 prospect lists and isolated some key decisions. Today I'll explore Loner Instances, occurrences in which prospects were listed on four of the five lists in our population, on a publication-by-publication basis.
Our population is Baseball America, Baseball Prospectus, ESPN, Mound Talk, and our own list.
Note: For a more detailed definition "Loner Instance" and my industry comparison, feel free to reference my Industry Top 100 Analysis article. The average ranks below are simply the mean of where the player appeared on the lists above.
Baseball America is without a doubt the big boy in the prospecting industry. It's the kind of publication a kid would move across the country to write for in exchange for meal money. The biggest prospect evaluating publication in the world. The Draft's Colossus of Clout. The minor's Sultan of Swat. The industry's benchmark.
So who did they opt not to endorse while the rest of the industry gave those players their mark of approval?
Wladimir Balentien, OF, SEA (average rank: 77.5)
Balentien opened 2008 in Triple-A for the second year in a row. The result was more of the same: a good amount of power (,318 IsoP) and solid contact numbers (22% LD, 17.8% K) to go with a decent walk rate (11.6%). This performance earned him a promotion to the big leagues, where he really struggled in 2008 (.256 wOBA) but could compete for a starting job in 2009.
It's far too early to determine if BA was a little off course in omitting Balentien from its 2008 Top 100 prospect list. But if he turns into an average big leaguer it will be hard to argue that they didn't overlook him. Still, it's not like he was high up on the lists that he did make.
Aaron Poreda, LHP, CHW (average rank: 81.0)
The 25th overall pick of the 2007 Draft, Poreda had success in High-A and Double-A in his first full season. He struck out 15.1% of High-A batters and 20.3% in Double-A. His combined walk rate was a smooth 6.1%. His ground ball rate: 55% in High-A (304 TBF) and 50% in Double-A (355). He had a 3.24 FIP in Double-A.
Like Balentien, Poreda was on the back end of most of the other lists. There wasn't a ton of information available on Poreda entering 2008. He was a recent draft pick. It's now likely that he'll be on every major 2009 top prospect list.
BA's Top 100 probably would have looked a little better if it had chosen to include these guys. But their decisions are definitely defendable, and they did well by not missing any significant prospects.
Kevin Goldstein was brought on to BP to perform scouting-oriented prospect analysis for a quantitatively driven publication. Goldstein is showing that he has the passion it takes to attract a following. He has created BP's last two Top 100 prospect lists.
Goldstein did not have any Loner Instances in 2008. Part of me wonders if this was by design.
I believe that acknowledging areas of weakness is a key part of learning. How can you get better if you don't make a conscious effort to improve? So here's my initial reflection on some -- try seven!? -- decisions we made in our second ever Top 100.
Chin-lung Hu, SS, LAD (average rank: 51.5)
While Hu continued to show promising potential as a contact hitter last season, his power basically went away. He had a .189 isolated power in Triple-A in 2007 (199 PA) but only managed .090 in Triple-A in 2008 (156 PA). And though he did reach the big leagues, over the course of his 128 plate appearances he was among the least productive hitters in baseball (.203 wOBA).
Hu was only ranked a notch or two below Geovany Soto by our peers entering 2008. Similar to Soto, Hu had redefined his body along the way to a true breakout season. Only Hu's breakout came as a 23-year-old in Double-A, not as a 24-year-old in Triple-A. And it wasn't nearly as spectacular as Soto's. Hu hardly saw regular playing time last season, so I'd say the verdict is still out on him. A shortstop, he still could surface as an averabe to above-average big leaguer.
Eric Hurley, RHP, TEX (average rank: 56.0)
Hurley posted similar peripherals in Triple-A in 2007 (313 TBF) and 2008 (338) -- 5.47 and 5.52 FIP, respectively. His walk rates were 8.9% and 8.6%; 18.% K and 21.3% K; 37% ground balls and 42%. He allowed 13 home runs in 2007 and 15 in 2008. Promoted to the big leagues in June, his walk rate remained about the same (8.4%) while the rest of his numbers suffered -- 12.1% K, 23% GB, 5.97 FIP (107 TBF). Hurley was shut down after June 29th due to biceps tendinitis. He returned to pitch 7.1 innings on July 14 (AA) and 2.0 innings on July 27th (MLB). He hasn't thrown a pitch in an organized league since his July MLB appearance.
While it's hard to bet against a guy who reaches the big leagues as a 22-year-old, I believe that once a player starts building an injury history, his odds of succeeding as a starting pitcher in the majors decrease significantly. We'll see...
Carlos Carrasco, RHP, PHI (average rank: 53.8)
The same pitcher who made night-and-day improvements from his first to second stint in Low-A, Carrasco showed promise in his second go-round in Double-A. He posted a 4.16 FIP in 114.2 Double-A innings -- 22.5% K, 9.3% BB, 46% GB (485). This solid performance helped the 21-year-old earn an August promotion to Triple-A, where he took off -- 28.2%, 8.0% BB,47% GB, 2.33 FIP (163 TBF).
Following his dominant August, we shouldn't be able to find a reason to leave Carrasco off our 2009 Top 100. I'm interested to see where our peers rank Carrasco. They all had him between the mid-50s and late-60s on their 2008 lists. I don't know if Carrasco will make our Top 50, but I'd imagine he performed well enough last season -- especially given his age -- to climb a few notches for BA, BP, and ESPN.
Taylor Teagarden, C, TEX (average rank: 62.3)
A great defender by reputation, Teagarden opened the 2008 season by struggling in Double-A (33.8% K, .269 wOBA; 68 PA). He then moved up to Triple-A where he was red hot in May and June but went ice cold in July and August (13.0% BB, 27.4% K, .324 wOBA overall; 215 PA). Then he was summoned to the big leagues where he put up amazing power numbers (.490 IsoP, 26% LD) despite an awful strikeout rate (35.8%) on his way to a .488 wOBA over 53 plate appearances.
Teagarden narrowly missed our 2008 Top 100 (102). The soon-to-be 25-year-old recently ranked No. 6 on our recent Top 15 Catching Prospect list. I think he's still a tough guy to judge. While his defense will give him a good shot at nailing down a starting gig in the bigs, Double-A and Triple-A pitchers were able to quiet his bat, in large, over 283 plate appearances. Was his MLB power performance a sign of things to come or an abberation?
Max Scherzer, RHP, ARI (average rank: 70.8)
Scherzer did his best Tim Lincecum impression in Triple-A to open the season -- 27.7% K, 4.3% BB, 53% GB, 2.38 FIP (219 TBF). This earned him a ticket to The Show, where he continued to succeed before he fell victim to shoulder fatigue. When all was said and done, he had totalled 56.0 MLB inning and posted a 27.8% K to go along with 8.9% BB, 41% GB and a 3.31 FIP.
If Scherzer pitched that well over a full season, he'd be a top-of-the-rotation starter. He amassed 90.2 regular season innings in his first full season (2007) and 109.0 during the 2008 regular season, heading to the Arizona Fall League to pitch 12.0 more. Scherzer was 148th on our 2008 Top 150. We were worried that he didn't have the resume to be a starter in the big leagues. Now aware of how dominant he can be against elite hitters, I'd certainly rank him inside our Top 100 if I could turn back time. But I believe the hesitation from our peers -- wasn't ranked higher than 66th among BA, BP, and ESPN (46th for Mound Talk) -- echoed our belief that Scherzer was far from a sure thing entering 2008.
Neil Walker, 3B, PIT (average rank: 72.3)
Walker posted a .296 wOBA in Triple-A last year (548 PA) after putting up a .354 wOBA in Double-A the year before. Curiously, while his 2008 line-drive rate was 8% higher than it was in 2007 (20% vs. 12%), his BABIP fell from .322 to .275. He walked half as much as he did in 2007, and his strikeout rate rose by 3.5%, while his power numbers were almost identical (.173 IsoP).
Not that long ago, Walker, the 11th overall pick of the 2004 Draft, was thought of as a good bet to become the face of the Pirates. Perhaps he has. Four full seasons in the minors failed to turn into a 2008 September call-up for the 23-year-old. Walker is still a sound bet to have some kind of big league career. The odds of that career being that of an average big leaguer or better continue to decline.
Gorkys Hernandez, CF, ATL (average rank: 90.0)
Playing out his first season as a member of the Braves organization -- traded from Detroit -- Hernandez did what most players do with Myrtle Beach: hit better on the road. The 21-year-old increased his power and walk numbers from 2007 to 2008 (.098 IsoP vs. .121; 6.8% BB vs. 10.3%). But his strikeout rate also rose (12.9% to 17.0%).
Overall, Hernandez made some progress. Did he progress at a healthy enough rate to make most 2009 Top 100 prospect lists? We'll know in a few months.
If the best decisions you make are the ones you don't make, I think most of our choices are looking solid so far. I remember responding to dozens of inquiries about why the players above weren't on our Top 100. Rest assured, these "omissions" were conscious decisions. Still, it's too early to draw strong conclusions about our Loner Instances. Also note that there would have been a blurb about Chris Davis -- 118th on our list, 69.7 average -- above had Mound Talk not also left him off its Top 100.
Keith Law grabbed the ESPN prospect reins last season and made one thing clear right away: He's an independent thinker. I believe he's a great addition to the prospect ranking scene. Law has shown that he's willing to take on the role of abstract thinker among prospectors, a role that I believe Baseball Prospectus vacated when it hired Goldstein. But was Law's first Top 100 a good or bad abstract? Here's a glimpse:
Gio Gonzalez, LHP, OAK (average rank: 33.8)
We've ranked and written about him all season, so I won't go into much depth here. Gonzalez was good but far from great in Triple-A (24.4% K, 11.6% BB, 41% GB, 4.23 FIP; 524 TBF). He got rocked in the big leagues (7.08 FIP, 163 TBF). But he made his MLB debut at the age of 22. While his career could still head in a lot of directions, he's a very good bet to log additional time as a big leaguer. Will that time be spent in a rotation or the bullpen? That's the question.
Brett Anderson, LHP, OAK (average rank: 48.3)
Another guy who has received attention on the prospect scene all year, Anderson was very good in the California League (25.7% K, 5.8% BB, 62% GB, 3.40 FIP; 311 TBF). He managed to top those numbers in Double-A (30.4% K, 7.2% BB, 57% GB, 3.12 FIP). Entering the 2009 season, Anderson is a very good bet to be a ranked among the Top 25 prospects in baseball by most prospectors. Will ESPN give him that kind of credit or continue to be hesitant to back him?
Steve Pearce, RF, PIT (average rank: 63.3)
A year after annihilating High-A (.512 wOBA; 85 PA), tearing up Double-A and Triple-A (.416 wOBA, .396 wOBA) and finding some success in the bigs (.328 wOBA; 73 PA), Pearce failed to make nearly as much noise in Triple-A (.313 wOBA; 431 PA and the bigs (.309; 119) last season. The 25-year-old could compete for a big league job next season.
I tend to think of the 50-75 range of a Top 100 as a place for high-ceiling talents who could break out but aren't proven enough to be considered good bets to become average big leaguers just yet -- a good place for guys like Chris Volstad, Madison Bumgarner, and Chris Davis entering 2008. Pearce's 2008 season showed that he probably should have been lower on lists than this range. He may not have much more room for growth.
Jair Jurrjens, RHP, ATL (average rank: 70.0)
Jurrjens put up 188.1 innings as a No. 2 caliber MLB starter last season (3.57 FIP), more than 40.0 innings beyond his previous career high. He's well on his way toward making this Loner Instance a significant omission -- though he was 86th on BPs list and 90th for Mound Talk.
Scott Elbert, LHP, LAD (average rank: 80.0)
The 2008 season provided a strong indication that Elbert will end up closer to his floor than ceiling. While he was very good in Double-A (28.2% K, 12.3% BB, 31% GB, 3.21 FIP; 163 TBF), he pitched almost exclusively as a reliever. He also gave up nine hits while walking four batters in 6.0 MLB relief innings.
Elbert was on our Top 100 because of his ceiling. I'd imagine Law left him off of his list because of his floor. Elbert came out of the bullpen in 34 of his 35 appearances last season. The 23-year-old is already a reliever. That alone will make it difficult for someone look back and be puzzled about why he wasn't on this 2008 Top 100.
Michael Bowden, RHP, BOS (average rank: 81.0)
Bowden owned Double-A over 104.1 innings to open 2008 (25.1% K, 6.0% BB, 43% GB, 2.63 FIP; 403 TBF). He was good but not nearly as dominant in Triple-A (18.0% K , 3.1% BB, 37% GB, 3.89 FIP; 161 TBF). He capped off the season by making a solid MLB start: 5.0 IP, 7 H, 2 ER, 1 BB, 3 K.
Strikeout rate decline from Double-A to Triple-A noted, Bowden showed he has what it takes to be a big league starter last season. He made his MLB debut about a week before his 22nd birthday. And he has stayed healthy enough to make 26+ starts in each of the past two seasons. While he may not turn into a top-of-the-rotation arm, Bowden should be on Top 100 prospect lists entering 2009.
I'm going to give Law the benefit of the doubt here. It's still way too early to say he missed on some of these guys. Note that all of his Loner Instances, except Pearce, were with pitchers.
Unfortunately, Koby Schellenger has only published two articles on moundtalk.com over the last six months. I've sent an email to Koby to check in with him because I value his opinion and have missed his work. Because this column is reaching the length of a term paper, I've decided not to expand on his Loner Instance. But for those of you who are keeping score at home, Jordan Walden was his lone loner pick -- 23.4% K, 11.2% BB, 53% GB, 4.41 FIP in the California League.
Adam Foster can be reached at email@example.com.