As is typical in the last few months of the year, I'm spending much of my time working on the latest edition of the Prospect Handbook. For the second straight year, we'll assign a BA Grade to each of the 900 prospects who get a full scouting report in the book. The BA Grade combines a player's realistic ceiling on the 20-80 scouting scale and the risk involved with him reaching it.
While the minor league season is unfolding, I often get asked how good a particular farm system is. My typical answer is that unless it stands out as one of the game's best or worst, it's hard to know where a system ranks without spending hours lining them all up against each other.
Well, that's what we're doing now. I've edited the Top 10 Prospects lists for all but one of the American League clubs so far, and I'm in the process of refining the BA Grades for all of those players. While depth plays a factor in our organization rankings, the cumulative grades of the players on a Top 10 list provides a telling look at a system's strength.
Based on our BA Grades, the AL's three best Top 10s belong to (in order) the Mariners, Rangers and Astros. The Angels and White Sox tied for the lowest-graded Top 10, followed by the Indians. I suspect our organization rankings will look very similar when we unveil our preliminary version in the Handbook.
If we could believe that the Marlins were going to reinvest the roughly $160 million they saved in contract obligations, this trade would make some sense from a baseball standpoint. But they're expected to pocket most of that, so who knows when Miami will contend again?
Regardless of what they do with the savings, the Marlins did upgrade one of baseball's thinner farm systems. Righthander Jose Fernandez and outfielder Christian Yelich are obviously their top two prospects, and I'd slot Marisnick behind lefty Andrew Heaney at No. 4. I like Marisnick's five-tool potential, but questions about his bat give the edge to Heaney, who combines solid stuff with tremendous polish.
Nicolino is similar to Heaney without quite as much stuff, so I'd rank him at No. 6 behind outfielder Marcell Ozuna. Hechavarria is a slick defender with questionable hitting ability. He'll be in the mix for the No. 7 spot on our Miami Top 10, and I'm inclined to go with him over catchers J.T. Realmuto and Rob Brantly and righthander Jose Urena because of Hechevarria's positional value and how close he is to the major leagues.
Toronto still has an impressive nucleus in catcher Travis d'Arnaud and righthanders Noah Syndergaard and Aaron Sanchez, but their depth has taken a hit over the last year. Ten members of our Blue Jays Top 30 in the 2012 Prospect Handbook either have graduated to the major leagues or been traded away. Though a very aggressive 2012 draft added a lot of intriguing talent, Toronto's system has fallen toward the middle of the pack after ranking as baseball's fifth-best entering the season.
We'll need replacements for Marisnick, Nicolino and Hechavarria in the 2013 Handbook. The three guys who will move into the Top 10 (barring further transactions) are lefthanders Daniel Norris and Matt Smoral and outfielder Anthony Alford. They're all high-ceiling types who come with significant risk attached.
Norris earned a $2 million bonus as a 2011 second-round pick because he can reach 96 mph and flash a plus curveball, but he recorded an 8.44 ERA in his pro debut this year. Smoral signed for the same amount, has similar velocity and an equally promising breaking ball (a slider in his case)—and he has yet to cut it loose since breaking a bone in his foot in March. Alford was the best athlete in the 2012 draft and could be a steal for $750,000 in the third round, yet it remains to be seen whether the Southern Mississippi quarterback ever will give up football.
As readers of this column know, I'm as bullish on Rendon as anyone. I thought he was the best prospect in the 2011 draft, and I thought his ankle and shoulder injuries at Rice were fluky rather than recurring problem. That faith was shaken when he fractured his left ankle in his second pro game in April, costing him most of the season.
Rendon returned for the final seven weeks of regular season, then hit .338/.436/.494 in the AFL. The lack of quality pitching in the AFL renders its stats mostly useless, but if he can stay healthy he should hit for high averages with at least solid power.
While Rendon has the ability to tear up the minors in 2013, it will be difficult for him to hit his way to the big leagues. The Nationals led the majors with 98 victories last season and already have a third baseman in Ryan Zimmerman. Rendon may have to shift to second base to crack their lineup, but he'd need time to make that transition and Washington has a capable regular there in Danny Espinosa.
Rendon might earn a September callup but won't get significant at-bats with the Nationals until 2014.