You know, we will never figure out a perfect way to do the Top 100 Prospects list, because there’s no way for us to know with certainty which players are going to fall by the wayside due to poor performance or misfortune.
But I like to think we have become significantly better over the years at building our list, which is why it continues to be regarded as the best ranking of its kind in the industry.
This issue features Baseball America’s 24th Top 100 Prospects list. Stories of the first Top 100 Prospects meeting are handed down in legend now, with the key decision-makers sitting down in a room to battle it out spot by spot from 1 to 100.
Having been in more than a few Baseball America meetings where the decision about the No. 12 college team for the week, or the No. 19 rookie, or where to eat lunch can become the subject of intense debate, I can’t imagine how many hours it must have taken to get through all 100 spots on that first list.
The other thing it’s difficult to remember is that back then, even we didn’t know as much about prospects as we do now, thanks in large part to the explosion of available information in the last 20 years.
And remember before 2001, there was no Prospect Handbook—hard to believe—which meant that our rankings for each organization involved an overview and a Top 10. Because of the handbook, we started going 30 deep with every system and presenting more complementary information, which meant that a writer really had to have an in-depth knowledge of an organization.
In short, we write about prospects more now, we have more performance data and we can find out more about them from other sources, which all feeds into making better decisions.
But back to the process. Over time it has become much more collaborative, with the ranking decisions not only made in a more logical way but also with more people.
I don’t remember the year this became the standard, but now Jim Callis builds our initial Top 100 Prospects list simply by tabulating individual voters’ rankings. And we now invite everyone on the staff to submit a list and participate in the discussion that follows.
To establish consensus opinions on enough players for the Top 100, we ask each voter to rank a personal top 150. You’d be amazed to see how widely opinions start to diverge after the top 50 or so prospects, so at the back of the list there are players who weren’t in the personal top 100s of at least a couple of the voters. The consensus shows us who has the broadest base of support, and gives us a great starting point for the final list.
The power of consensus, in fact, now makes the Top 100 meeting one of the most enjoyable of the year, because it’s simply about making adjustments to things that don’t look quite right, and trying to build as much consistency into the list as possible. For example, if the No. 2 prospect in an organization comes out ahead of our No. 1 prospect, we at least like to take a look at that. And for players who just came out of the draft, we’ll look at where we had them in our predraft rankings.
Sometimes we’ll leave the inconsistencies, understanding that a list made up of the opinions of six to eight different people can be different than one of our previous lists, but we try to be as consistent as possible.
So now the most important part of the Top 100 meeting is an examination of players’ risk factors. Back when we were putting together the 2007 list, we got the idea to build that year’s feature around the weaknesses that could undo players, rather than their strengths. We called the package Risk Factors—not enough power for a corner spot, for example—and looked at best case and worst case players for each factor.
That package highlighted weaknesses in our list—such as undersized righthander Will Inman at No. 91—so ever since then we have looked at those factors when we’re making adjustments to the list and deciding which players to put in the final few spots.
We take another look at risk factors, as well as other Top 100 tidbits, in this year’s edition, to give you some insight into the kinds of things that factor into our decisions.
Again, our list is far from perfect, but I think the process of building it gets better each year. Just like every team and every player, heading into spring training that’s all you can really ask.