Ask BA: Will BA Grades Be Back?

Ask BA is back. Apologies for the long delay since the last Ask BA, but do know there was a good reason for the gap. We've been very busy finishing up the 2014 Baseball America Prospect Handbook, which was sent to the printers just before the new year.

We're still a little ways away from shipping books to those who have pre-ordered it, but if you're counting the days until you have your hands on your Prospect Handbook, it's getting closer and closer.

I may have missed this info and if so sorry. Will the 2014 Prospect Handbook include the BA Grade for each prospect? This was incredibly valuable in comparing prospects in different organizations last year. It's awesome for those us that play in dynasty leagues that have a MiLB component to the roster.

Scott Wingfield
Grand Prairie, Texas

Byron Buxton

Byron Buxton (Photo by Bill Mitchell)

Yes the BA Grades are a prominent part of the 2014 Prospect Handbook, just as they have been for the previous two Prospect Handbooks. In our mind, it is the best way we can give readers an easy way to compare prospects from team to team.

In case anyone reading this has not seen a Prospect Handbook before (and if that's the case, you can quickly rectify the problem by pre-ordering your own copy), we assign "BA Grades" to all 900 prospects in the Prospect Handbook (plus four international players in the appendix), as well as the 31st prospect for every team for the special supplement we send to people who purchase the book through Baseball America.

The BA Grade has two components–grade and risk.

The grades, like the scouting scale, range from 20 to 80. Since it's named the Prospect Handbook, we don't include any 20s or 30s in the book–a 20 would be a fringe minor leaguer with absolutely no shot at a big league career. There are plenty of players who fit that description in the minor leagues, but they aren't being written up for the Prospect Handbook. In the three years we've been doing BA Grades, no player has made the book with a grade lower than a 40.

More than two-thirds of the players in the book end up with either a 45 or 50 grade. A player with a 50 grade states that his realistic ceiling is as a solid regular who could be better than that in his best seasons. A 45 is a potential semi-regular. For a position player, it's someone who gets 300-400 at-bats in most seasons, but might have years where they end up in larger roles.

Grades In The 2014 Handbook
Grade No. of Players
75 1
70 10
65 25
60 44
55 154
50 338
45 285
40 43

The best description I can make of the difference is that a 45 is a player who might start for a team, but if he does, the team is looking to find a better replacement, while a 50 is a player who a team is generally happy to have as a regular, at least as long as his contract hasn't gotten too expensive.

As you can see from the chart, there are not nearly as many players earning grades of 60 or above, as you would expect. Anyone with a 65 or better grade is Top 100 prospect, anyone with a 60 or better grade is at least in consideration for the Top 100.

At the top of the pyramid, anyone with a 75 or 80 grade is someone who, if they reach their ceiling, will be a perennial all-star and in consideration for the Hall of Fame.

The only 75 in this year's book is Byron Buxton. Last year, Dylan Bundy and Jurickson Profar were the only two players to earn 75s. In the first year we did BA Grades, Bryce Harper was an 80 and Mike Trout and Matt Moore were 75s.

But the grades are only half of the BA Grade. The other component is the risk factor. A player can be graded as safe, low risk, medium risk, high risk or extreme risk. Safe is a grade we issue very rarely, because as we have used it, it indicates a player that has already shown he can be productive at the big league level. Jake Odorizzi, Brandon Cumpton, Brandon Workman and Erik Davis are the only players to earn safe grades for the 2014 Prospect Handbook.

Low risk means that a player is a certain big league barring injury or off-the-field issues and is likely to reach the players realistic ceiling. Xander Bogaerts is an example of a player with a low risk rating. Medium risk players have some track record of minor league success, but still have some work to do to turn their tools into big league skills. But the majority of players in the handbook, more than two-thirds, carry a high or extreme risk factor. They are players who are still a long ways from the big leagues or have some aspect of their game (poor control, a lengthy injury history or struggles with plate discipline) that gives a significant reason to be cautious about whether a player will actually reach his ceiling.

Risk In The Handbook
Risk No. of Players
Safe 4
Low 52
Medium 199
High 430
Extreme 215

We've become more conservative with the grades—there are more extremes in this year's book than ever before. In the three years we have been using BA Grades, we have tweaked them every year, and I'm sure we'll do the same for the 2015 Prospect Handbook as we try to continue to improve them.

We believe the BA Grades are an extremely useful way to line up prospects from one system and compare them with another and also to see where the gradations in a system are. If the No. 9 prospect is a 50 High and the No. 19 prospect is also a 50 High, we're saying in essence that there is little separating the two in terms of prospect status, even if they are 10 spots apart in the rankings. At the same time, if the No. 3 prospect is a 65 Medium and the No. 4 prospect is a 55 High, then there is a pretty big gulf between those two, even if they are only one spot apart.

The BA Grades also allow you the reader to tweak them for your own purposes. Want to draft high-ceiling talents for the futures roster of your fantasy team? Use the grades with less emphasis on risk—you can find plenty of players who are three or four years away from the big leagues who have significant ceilings. Want to line up some safer prospects to add to your fantasy team in 2014? Focus on players with low or medium risk and maybe a little bit lower ceiling.