Francisco Alvarez during the Pledge of Allegiance CC by 2.0 License
If you’ve been keeping up to date with The Drummey Angle articles over the last couple of months, you probably know that I’m the resident prospect guy. The entirety of my content is dedicated to evaluating prospects. As some might know, I’ve been slowly rolling out team top 10 lists on my Instagram, and by the end of the offseason, will have a comprehensive list of the top 100 prospects in baseball. However, before I get to that point, I want to take some time to explain the methodology and process behind my personal evaluation, and overall just give some premise to how I believe prospects should be evaluated in general.
This is essentially the concept of ranking prospects. Theoretically, the higher a prospect is ranked, the more value we project them to provide at the big league level. Kiley McDaniel and Eric Longehagen did a great job summing up their philosophy in this Fangraphs article from a few years ago, as well as in their must-read book, Future Value. While I used the Fangraphs system as a starting point, I have some key ideas that need further clarification, the first of which is the tiers that I use for Future Value. Prior to this offseason, I’ve been quite stingy with my FV grades. I was hesitant to give anyone a 60 grade, and a 65 was relatively unheard of. However, people don’t like pessimists, so I’ve decided to be a little more generous in my FV tiers.
I’m not convinced any player will ever deserve an 80-grade FV, so let’s just throw that out. 75 grades don’t exist in the world of scouting, so we’ll toss that out as well. 70’s are generationally talented prospects (think Alex Rodriguez and Bryce Harper). In my new system, the top 3-5 prospects in any given year will fall into the 65 FV category. These are guys who I expect to be perennial all-stars after breaking into the league. 60-grades are in yet another elite club. These are players who are going to be impact bats in a lineup and are valued incredibly highly by organizations. Because of the number of prospects that fall into the 55, 50, 45, and 40-tiers, I use + as a way to differentiate the upper tier at an FV level from the bottom tier.
Anyone with a 55+, 55, or 50+ FV, has likely forced their way into a team’s long-term plans. Below that, it starts to get dicey. 50 grades are handed out to players who have a great chance of making the MLB, but project to be mediocre, low-ceiling players. These are your bottom 4 in the lineup, and 4th or 5th starters in the rotation. 45+ is reserved for players who will get a big league crack at some point but will have to succeed to prove their worth. This is going to be the lowest end of everyday starters while 45 grades will be typical bench role players. Players that fall into both the 40+ and 40 range tend to be journeymen type players (often referred to as AAAA), These players don’t have a long-term home, but can be useful in a depth role and to fill in as injuries begin to pick up. Anything below that is pretty much organizational depth and players who are going to need to break out to see the bigs.
The Age/Level Correlation
This is the most understated and underrated aspect of scouting in my opinion. Every player that has risen through the ranks quickly and became an MLB sensation has one thing in common: They played tougher competition at a younger age. In 2022, the average age of AAA hitters, according to Baseball America, was 26.6 years old. Here’s when a few of the game’s brightest stars hit Triple-A:
Bryce Harper: 19
Mike Trout: 20
Juan Soto: (Never. He went from AA to MLB at 19)
Ronald Acuna: 19
Fernando Tatis: (Never. He went from AA to MLB at 20)
Wander Franco: 20
There’s a pretty noticeable correlation between these prodigious talents and a rapid ascent through the minor league system. While obviously very few players move through a system at this pace, it is important to consider the age and level of every player. For example, a 28-year-old tearing up AAA is likely disregarded, while a 21-year-old posting average results will be looked at much more favorably. Here are a few names to keep an eye on as they are currently posting good stats while incredibly young for their level:
Francisco Alvarez, 20 years old with MLB and AAA experience
Elly De La Cruz, 20 years old in AA
Jackson Chourio, 18 years old in AA
Chourio has made headlines this year for his breakout performance and has been ranked as high as the second-best prospect in the sport by Baseball America. Alvarez is currently ranked as MLB Pipeline’s number one prospect and De La Cruz is a consensus top 20 prospect across the board. These guys all have a track record of success while playing against competition 4-5 years older. Throughout baseball history, the guys who have been able to establish success against older competitors in the minor leagues have seen more success when they reach the majors.
As mentioned before, Future Value is a method of WAR projection. The casual baseball fan might not know, but WAR has positional adjustments that reward players for playing a position that requires more skill. The value of positions according to fWAR are ranked in this order:
4) Second Base/Third Base
5) Left Field/Right Field
6) First Base
7) Designated Hitter
Because of the way this works, it forces scouts to take the position a player plays into account while evaluating and building rankings. As seen with Francisco Alvarez, catchers tend to benefit from the positional adjustment. It is hard to come by really good catchers, and when a talent like Alvarez rolls around, they’re usually valued higher than other players. The positional argument usually comes up every draft cycle. Almost every year, there’s a college 1B or DH that rakes but has no positional or defensive value. Ivan “The Hispanic Titanic” Melendez out of Texas and Sonny DiChiara out of Auburn were two great examples this year. While both hit about, as well as any player in college baseball, neither one of them, was a first-round pick due to the lack of value from either one defensively. In general, positional adjustments tend to value athletic players who have utility abilities and/or play a premium position.
While all of these terms have been thrown out plenty of times before, I wanted to clarify my stance on them and explain the way that I take things into consideration while making my personal rankings, as well as explain a thought process that may work for the reader. Hopefully, this helps to put not only my rankings in perspective, but also helps you understand general prospect evaluation.
Author’s Note: Make sure you stay tuned to Minor League Media on Instagram and Twitter to see the release of my prospect rankings.