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Prospect Handbook Is A Labor Of Love
by Will Lingo
In case you haven't heard--and Lord knows we've been trying to make sure that isn't the case--the 2006 Prospect Handbook is here, earlier and better than ever.
This is the sixth edition of the Prospect Handbook, and in many ways it's our most ambitious undertaking. We figure assembling the top 30 prospects for an organization--from research to interviews and writing--takes about a work week. Then there's editing, adding statistics, laying out, cutting text, proofreading . . .
There's a reason it's the best book of its kind: because a lot of people care passionately about what goes into it. Getting the best baseball information, using just the right word, making sure it all looks nice and is fun to read. Everyone plays a part in making sure this happens on page after page.
We do it for love, we do it for money, we do it because there's no heavy lifting. Oops, there's a little bit of that too. When books are delivered at Baseball America, everyone pitches in to help with the unloading.
But we also do it because it's fun. And with that in mind, I thought I'd give you a look deeper inside the book, either to highlight some things you might otherwise overlook or to tell you a story that didn't fit inside the 512 pages of this year's edition.
• Best Turn of a Phrase: With scouting reports on 900 players--all right, it's 902 this year, because we gave you Justin Upton and Mike Pelfrey scouting reports in the back of the book, in anticipation of them signing--all the developing changeups, above-average arms and good hitting approaches can run together.
So when someone says it differently, and cleverly, it's worth pointing out. This year it was Jim Callis, who wrote of Red Sox righthander Craig Hansen in his scouting report: "His slider was the best breaking ball in the 2005 draft, a nasty mid-80s pitch that seems allergic to bats."
• Eye For Detail: The most noticeable thing about the Prospect Handbook is the prospect rankings, and you could say they're the book's skeleton, but the muscle comes in all the details that let you know why the players are ranked the way they are. One that really stood out this year was Aaron Fitt's description of why Rangers righthander John Hudgins' changeup is so deceptive, going way beyond simply his arm speed: "His best offering is a sinking changeup that he sells with grunts and late violence in his delivery."
• Plus-Plus Hole Patcher: Along the same lines, we always pride ourselves on digging up the interesting, the entertaining, the enlightening and the obscure facts about players' backgrounds, to give you as complete a picture as possible of the player. For instance, who can forget the 2001 Prospect Handbook, when John Manuel was so desperate for background info on Jay Gibbons (then a Blue Jays prospect) that he got Gibbons' girlfriend on the phone. She explained that he was a health nut and former vegetarian who added chicken to his diet so he could get stronger. OK, so only we remember that.
But in that spirit, Jim came up with another gem in the Red Sox prospect list. Righthander Michael Bowden surprised scouts with a poor performance last spring during his senior high school season, but it turned out he was just exhausted from patching holes in the family's driveway the day before, as a gift to his mom for Mother's Day. Talk about baseball news you can't get anywhere else.
• Local Boy Makes Good: Last year, we added signing scouts to the book for all 900 prospects, a simple but effective way to recognize the hard work of all the scouts out there. This year one of those scouts is a BA alum. Josh Boyd started his BA career as a freelance contributor to the Prospect Handbook in 2001, and we liked his work so much we hired him full-time.
You saw his contributions frequently in the years that followed, until he followed his ultimate baseball dream and took a job as an area scout with the Padres in February 2004. One of the first players he signed was righthander Clayton Hamilton, a 17th-round pick out of Penn State in 2004. Hamilton was traded to the Pirates this offseason and appears at No. 26 on the Pirates prospect list, signed by: Josh Boyd (Padres).
• Rick Ankiel II, Electric Boogaloo: When assembling the Cardinals prospect list this year, the overriding question was not where to rank the players from their successful 2005 draft effort; it was what to do with Rick Ankiel. He long since exhausted his rookie eligibility, but that was as a pitcher, and now he's trying to make it as a hitter.
We decided that if you're a Cardinals fan, you're going to want to read about Ankiel and his prospects for becoming a big league contributor. And as luck would have it, he has just 87 major league at-bats, meaning for us he qualifies for the book as a hitter. So you'll find him at No. 20 on the Cardinals list--sorry, you'll have to read the book to get the complete lowdown--along with what has to be the biggest stat line in Prospect Handbook history. We included all of Ankiel's pitching stats, as we do with any player who switches from pitcher to hitter or vice-versa, as well as all of his hitting stats. For a player whose career stretches back to 1998, that's about a half-page worth of numbers.
So you probably missed out on some of the essential information on Cory Doyne, but we figured it was worth the tradeoff.
• Prospects Continued On Next Team: We all followed what the Marlins did this offseason, dumping their veterans for prospects in a volume that may be unprecedented. By the time the trades started flying, the original Marlins list had been assembled by Mike Berardino, and it led off with Jeremy Hermida, Scott Olsen, Josh Johnson, Chris Volstad and Aaron Thompson.
By the time the book went to press, the Marlins top five was Hermida, Hanley Ramirez, Anibal Sanchez, Olsen and Yusmeiro Petit, with a host of prospects from the Cubs, Mets and Red Sox, among others, crashing the Marlins' party. Thompson went from No. 5 on the list to No. 10, and every time we had a Marlins list ironed out, they made another trade.
In the last few years, we've assembled a "31st Team" for the Web made up of players who were written up for the Prospect Handbook but got squeezed out by trades or other circumstances. This year, the Marlins could field their own 31st Team, as their unedited list of prospects included 46 players, with those Berardino wrote up originally plus those from other organizations who already had reports before they came over to Florida.
• The Flip Side: Meanwhile in New York, general manager Omar Minaya was using his prospects as chips to bring in veteran players so the Mets can win right away. The result was probably the toughest assignment for this year's book. It fell to Matt Meyers, who was doing his first organization prospect list for BA--talk about a trial by fire.
The Mets system wasn't loaded to begin with, so when they traded off prospect after prospect over the winter, it fell to Matt to scrape another Mets prospect off the bottom of the barrel--and piece together 200 words on his professional outlook.
A few readers suggest every year--and in our crazier moments we actually talk about it--that we shouldn't write up 30 prospects for each organization. Rather, we should write up the best 900 prospects in the minors, regardless of organization, so the best organizations would have more players in the book. That's just crazy on so many levels that I can't even begin to explain it, but I will say that if we did that this year, the Mets would not have had 30 players in the book.
• Against All Odds: One of the best stories in the book belongs to Yankees utility player Justin Christian, who checked in at No. 21 on their list after signing out of the Frontier League in 2004. And we're not just saying that because we played a small part in his career.
The Yankees were looking to fill a roster spot at short-season in Staten Island in 2004, and they considered players in independent leagues. Well, if you're looking for a comprehensive view of independent baseball, you'd be crazy not to talk to our indy guru, J.J. Cooper, who cares more about indy ball than anyone who doesn't actually get a paycheck from an independent league team.
J.J. suggested Christian, who had batted .374 with 45 steals in 68 games with River City in the Frontier League. The Yankees signed him sight unseen and he has proven to be much more than roster filler, compiling a .369 on-base percentage with 69 steals in a season and a half in the Yankees system. If he makes it to Durham with the Yankees' Triple-A Columbus affiliate, we might have to introduce Christian to his guardian angel.
• A Real Back Story: The Prospect Handbook is produced largely on the back of Jim Callis, and his back finally had enough this year. Of course, some of it is his fault. Jim works out of his home in suburban Chicago, and he decided this fall that he and his wife Ann weren't busy enough with four children. So they got a golden retriever puppy.
Because Jim wanted to keep an eye on the dog, he spent most of October and November working on the book in his kitchen, sitting on a barstool with his computer on the counter. That put his back in the danger zone, and his trip home from the Winter Meetings pushed it over.
Weather played hell with departures from Dallas as the meetings ended, and Jim ended up spending six hours in a plane, stuck on the runway in Dallas, before his flight to Chicago was finally canceled. "My back was just destroyed when I got off that plane," Jim recounted in a tearful interview later.
His flight the next day was delayed as well, so after he checked out of his room he just worked on his computer while standing up in the hotel lobby. It was simply too painful to sit down. He went for lunch at the Denny's across the street from the hotel and could barely get in and out of the booth, drawing strange looks from others in the restaurant. His flight finally left that night and he got home around 1 a.m., when Ann informed him they would be going to the emergency room as soon as Jim got some sleep.
Thank goodness for the wives, and for everyone else who worked on the Prospect Handbook, either directly or indirectly. For some, it was hours spent getting information on prospects. For others, it was diagnosing a bulging disc in someone's back and prescribing enough medication that he could eventually get back to editing.
It was another long, exhausting, exhilarating trip. We hope you enjoy