Baseball America is the greatest baseball prospect publication ever. Founded in Canada 28 years ago, the magazine has been headquartered in North Carolina since 1983. With a staff that has included multiple writers who are enshrined in Cooperstown, it has paid some of the most famous writers in the industry. And Baseball America (BA) continues to employ significantly more professionals than any competing prospect publication or desk. Nothing compares.
BA's following is largely based on its outstanding reputation. The publication has gone deeper into the minors than any media outlet. Ever. The editors have also done an amazing job of consistently pumping out top 100 prospect lists that are littered with players who turn into stars.
They've been so good at what they do that a lot of big league broadcasters base their on-air prospect opinions almost solely on BA. The publication has earned that kind of respect.
For the reasons stated above and because BA's prospect lists go back to 1990, I've made BA the sole focus of the study below -- its lists cover a wide enough span of time to capture nearly every big leaguer who was active in 2009.
I conducted this back-of-the-envelope analysis in an effort to gauge howmuch room for growth there is in sharpening prospect rankings.
Using Dave Cameron's dollar values, available at Frangraphs.com, I've gone back at looked at this season's 50 most valuable position players as well as the 50 most valuable position players over the last three years. I didn't expect BA to capture everyone, but I was a little surprised by what I discovered:
Nearly half of 2009's top 50 position players (46%) never ranked inside of a Baseball America top 50 prospect list.
Ordered based on their 2009 values, here are the top 15 position players from 2009 who never ranked inside of a BA top 100: Ben Zobrist, Chone Figgins, Matt Holliday, Kevin Youkilis, Pablo Sandoval, Nyjer Morgan, Jason Bartlett, MarcoScutaro, Robinson Cano, Casey Blake, Michael Bourn, Raul Ibanez,Michael Young, Yunel Escobar and Mark Reynolds.
There are quite a few guys above who didn't grab the attention of many prospectors before they arrived in the big leagues.
International signees can be tough to get a good read on. Who saw Sandoval becoming an elite hitter prior to 2008?
Of the 12 drafted players on the list of 15 above, however, seven were top 10 round draft picks who had over 1,000 at-bats in the minors: Bourn (selected 115th overall; 1,552 MiLB at-bats), Figgins (134th; 2,739), Young (149th; 2,015), Zobrist (184th; 1,336), Blake (189th; 2,784), Holliday (210th; 2,319) and Youkilis (243rd; 1,413)
Yunel Escobar was the 75th overall pick of 2005, but he spent less than two full seasons in the minors (836 career MiLB at-bats). And Morgan, Bartlett, Ibanez and Reynolds all lasted past the 10th round of their respective drafts, so they've all done a lot of climbing since then.
To be fair, of the five players named above who have been prospect-eligible since we started ranking prospects in 2007, none of them cracked any of our top 100s (Reynolds, Escobar, Sandoval, Bourn and Morgan).
It's also risky to use a one-year sample to evaluate the direction of a player's career.
Still, 30-percent of 2009's top 50 position players never ranked inside ofa Baseball America top 100 prospect list.
The following eight players never ranked inside a BA top 50 but were also among 2009's 50 most valuable position players (note: we're only using BA's pre-season top 100 rankings here): Ian Kinsler (peaked at 98), Matt Kemp (96), Chase Utley (81), Dustin Pedroia (77), Kendry Morales (76), Aaron Hill (64), Carl Crawford (59) and Shin-Soo Choo (51).
Pedroia wasn't ranked in BA's 2007 top 100, the final year in which he entered a season with prospecteligibility. He also didn't make the cut for Baseball Prospectus' top 100 that year. He was 74th on our 2007 top 100.
I don't expect Nyjer Morgan to string together multiple seasons as a top 50 position prospect over the course of his career. When we rank prospects, the focus is typically career over peak season. With that in mind, let's focus in on a smaller group of talents: position players who have top 50 dollar values over the last three years.
The following seven hitters never ranked inside of a BA top 100 but have been among the 50 most valuable position players in baseball from 2007 to 2009: Matt Holliday, Kevin Youkilis, Brian Roberts, Placido Polanco, Chone Figgins, Dan Uggla and Shane Victorino.
Seven additional players fit the dollar value threshold above and never ranked among BA's top 50 prospects: Ian Kinsler peaked at 98, Matt Kemp (96), Chase Utley (81), Dustin Pedroia (77), Carl Crawford (59), Curtis Granderson (57), and Magglio Ordonez (56).
In total, just under a third (30%) of the top position players in baseball (from 2007-2009) were never ranked as top 50 prospects by BA. And when you broaden that scope to top 100 prospects, BA has had an 86-percent success rate in terms of rankingthe top approximately 10-percent of hitters inside the 2-percent ofprospects. That's pretty good.
The demand for prospect information may never grant a publication the resources to consistently capture over 90-percent of baseball's top position players as top 100 prospects.
But if you put together an all-star team of the guys who have never ranked on a BA top 100, it could at least compete with the position players who have.
BA did rank just about every player I've mentioned inside one of its team top 30 lists before he reached the big leagues -- Pablo Sandoval is the only exception I know of off the top of my head. BA certainly provides fans with enough information to fill in the gaps about which prospects are near top 100 consideration. And it has the resources to rank more than its traditional 100 players.
Overall, Baseball America provides a ton of valuable information. It deserves more respect than any publication in the industry. But it has plenty of room to improve its rankings.