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Sorting out Top 100 remains big fun

by Will Lingo
March 1, 2004

When our Top 100 Prospects list comes out each year, I like to shed some light on the process that goes into creating one of our most popular features of the year.

And over the years, thanks to analysis either by us or our loyal readers, I think you've seen that the list is a pretty good indication of who the most promising players in the minor leagues are. It's not perfect by any means, but it does give you a good snapshot of the best bets.

So we won't dwell on that this year. If you want to check out our track record, you can visit and review all 15 lists to see our hits and misses.

Instead let's focus on another big factor that goes into compiling the lists‹and we hope in reading and debating them. It's just a lot of fun.

This came to mind when I received the spreadsheet calculating the votes of the five people who contributed to the top 100 rankings this year. Each person -- me, Allan Simpson, Jim Callis, John Manuel and now-former Baseball American Josh Boyd -- assembles a personal top 150 list. Jim takes each list and assigns number values to the votes (prospect No. 1 gets 150 points, No. 2 gets 149, etc.) and tabulates the results.

When the votes are sorted and the players ranked (from 1 to 196 this year, or if you prefer, Joe Mauer to Matt Murton), Jim sends out the spreadsheet and we take a look. Then we meet to argue about it and see what adjustments we would like to make.

Getting that spreadsheet is akin to getting a cool gift on Christmas morning. You can't wait to check it out and play with it.

Marathon Sessions

The meeting to massage the list always takes at least an hour or two, but starting with a consensus list makes the process much easier than it used to be.

In the beginning, everyone on the editorial staff participated in the meeting to assemble the list. Even though the staff was much smaller then, the meeting still took about five hours because the list was built from scratch, discussing who should go where at every spot.

The way the list is assembled has been massaged each year, with different people coming in and out of the process, but building a consensus list to start from has been the most significant innovation.

Now that you start from the foundation of a compromise, it makes adjustments much easier. This year, for example, none of the five of us had huge differences of opinion until we got to prospects rated in the 40-50 range.

So while I had Delmon Young rated a few notches below everyone else, the strength of the majority won out and he ended up ranked No. 3. It's much easier when the computer sorts out many of your arguments for you.

And with five people now submitting lists, the power of averaging is even stronger. So even when one person's vote is way out of whack (at least in everyone else's opinion), the other numbers usually bring the player to the right place.

After hearing Josh speak glowingly about Reds top prospect Ryan Wagner, for instance, I had him ranked higher than anyone else, and probably too high at No. 16. Josh actually had him ranked lower than anyone else at No. 75, which is probably too low. But the other three guys had him ranked around No. 50, which is about where he ended up.

Apples And Oranges

As you move further down the list, though, you naturally have wider differences of opinions on players. As prospects become more flawed, or are further away from the big leagues, it's a lot easier to view them in a very different light.

Angels fireballer Bobby Jenks is a great example. His ceiling is undeniable, but it's also hard to ignore questions about whether he'll reach it. So we'll always have a wide array of opinion on him. And how do you compare him with a player like Padres shortstop Khalil Greene, who is almost the opposite? He probably won't be a star but he's a safe bet to be a contributor in the big leagues.

You probably have your own opinion on who's better, but really you don't have a way to settle the argument now. Only the passage of time can decide.

And by then, we've forgotten many of the things we argued about. A few of the "I told you so's" live on forever, though.

It's so much fun to talk about, though, that one night Jim, John, Josh and I started an impromptu online discussion about it. We talked about the process, the result and some of the player we disagreed about the most. If you're interested in reading all 6,000 words of it, you can visit

And even if you aren't, you can start picking about the 100 players who ended up on this year's list in the following pages. Let us know who you like and who you think we're wrong about. The fun is in discussing it and finding out in the coming seasons which ones we got right and wrong.

You can contact Will Lingo by sending e-mail to

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