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Baseball America 'Insider' Mailbag Volume 3: How Do You Value Experience In Your Rankings?

Adley Rutschman Mikejanesfourseam
(Photo by Mike Janes/Four Seam)

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Allen Buller from Portland Oregon asks:

Q: Has Zach Thompson shown enough to remain a legitimate rotation option at some point in 2022? Is Liberatore a candidate? Thanks

A: There are two Zac(h/k) Thompsons pitching in pro ball. I assume you are talking about the Cardinals’ Zack Thompson (and not the Marlins’ Zach Thompson), since you followed up by asking about Matthew Liberatore. If you are asking about the Marlins pitcher, just let me know on Twitter (@jjcoop36) and I’ll answer about him.

It’s hard to think of many pitchers whose stuff backed up more in 2021 than Thompson. There were outings where he sat in the high-80s. He’s never been a flame-thrower, but with less arm speed, every one of his pitches was less effective, as he didn’t really have any pitch that scared hitters. Thompson has had times where he’s been on the knife’s edge of having enough control to effectively use his stuff, but in 2021, he both had below-average stuff and shaky control and command. At this point, Thompson needs to get his arm speed back and improve his control before he can be considered a viable MLB rotation or relief option.

Liberatore is a stronger candidate. His velocity picked up as the 2021 season wore on, but he’s looking likely to be more of a solid starter than a front-of-the-rotation ace. The continued development of his slider may help him exceed that projection, and he’s still quite young for a nearly MLB-ready pitcher.

Bill Funchion from Orlando Florida asks:

Q: I saw that Brent Honeywell was acquired by the A's for cash from the Rays. I am assuming it was because of a 40 man roster issue for the Rays and they had to trade somebody. Seems like an astute move by the A's. Do you agree?

A: It was a 40-man issue in a way. The Rays were facing a very crowded 40-man and a need to clear players off of it. But even without the roster crunch, I feel like this was an inevitable move for Tampa Bay. Honeywell is out of options, and it’s hard to really come up with a scenario where Honeywell would have stuck on Tampa Bay’s roster for the entirety of 2022.

If Honeywell won a job as a reliever, he’s unlikely to be one of the Rays top three or four high-leverage relievers, and pretty much everyone other than those top three or four is on a Triple-A to MLB and back carousel to ensure that the big league club always has enough fresh arms. The Rays did have a significant number of injuries last year, but they used 38 pitchers. Constant bullpen churn is part of what they do.

OK, so now let’s look at Honeywell as a starter. We can start by assuming that Shane Baz, Luis Patino, Drew Rasmussen and Ryan Yarbrough are all likely to be in the rotation/bulk inning pitchers for the Rays. Josh Fleming also fits into consideration. If Honeywell were to pitch impressively in spring training, he could earn a spot in the Rays rotation, but with no options, he’d need to hold it all year. The Rays like to move their starters up and down as well--Patino, Fleming and Rasmussen all were optioned to Triple-A at some point in 2021.

For the Rays, roster spots have an expensive opportunity cost. Any player glued to a spot on the 25-man roster means less flexibility to make the other moves the team wants to do as it attempts to do everything it can to win the AL East and the World Series in 2022.

With Oakland expected to trade away a number of its best players this offseason, it would appear that roster spots will have a much lower opportunity cost for the A’s. If Honeywell performs reasonably well in spring training, he can fit into the A’s bullpen or rotation (or slide back and forth).

Ideally Oakland can try to develop him as a starter. He likes to throw four or five different pitches in an outing, so he fits better over longer stretches than he does if he has to simplify in a shorter stint. Even if he struggles at times, Oakland does not appear to have a goal of winning in 2022 as a primary focus. If that’s the case, the upside of developing Honeywell, a one-time top prospect who has seen his career derailed by multiple injuries, could be worth riding out some rocky moments.

-- JJ Cooper

Douglas from Cleveland asks:

A question regarding criteria for your Prospect Rankings. BA seems to have propensity for leap-frogging the new flavor of the month over a guy who's further advanced in the system. EX: Triston Casas is/was BoSox No.1 prospect. Then along comes this Mayer kid -- fresh out of high school with only Low A ball under his belt -- and BOOM...the kid is now No. 1 with Casas No.2, who had a good year at Double-A, also for USA team, then capped it off with a splendid tour in the AFL. And yet Mayer is Top Prospect. ...How come all the worship and drooling over him so fast ? Shouldn't he have proven himself a teensy-bit ...say, even in High-A, at least ?

Q: A lot of the more aggressive moves last year were a product of the canceled 2020 season. Many players changed so substantially in the two years since anyone had last seen them (think Anthony Volpe, Shane Baz, Matt Brash) and our rankings adjustments were a reflection of that. Things will go back to normal, with much more conservative rankings adjustments, next year. - Kyle Glaser

Q: I would politely disagree with the premise of your question itself. Following your logic that we should wait until a player proves himself, our ranking of Wander Franco in 2018 was foolhardy. After all, we anointed him as a Top 100 prospect before he ever played a professional game and we ranked him as the No. 4 prospect in all of baseball before he ever reached full season ball. We did the similar thing with Vladimir Guerrero Jr., who ranked No. 20 on our Top 100 before he reached full season ball.

If we adopt a rule that we will wait until a player has proven it in the upper levels of the minors, we are artificially limiting ourselves from passing along what our reporting has gathered. We won’t always get it right--we also ranked Kevin Maitan as a Top 100 prospect very early in his career, but then quickly dropped him out of the Top 100 once we saw how his career was going--but providing the best analysis/ranking we can is what I feel like is the wise course for us. And that means blending scouting reports and projections as well as weighting what a player has done in pro ball.

In the case of Mayer vs. Casas, the debate becomes much more complicated because of positional value. If both Mayer and Casas were first baseman or both were shortstops, Casas would rank above Mayer. We absolutely love Casas’ bat, which is the only way a first base/DH-only player can rank high in our Top 100. But in Mayer’s case, you have a player with the potential to have a similar offensive impact to Casas (with much more risk admittedly that he’ll achieve that) and the potential for much more defensive value.

Here’s a look at where we have initially ranked high school shortstops selected in the top five of the past decade of drafts:

  • Bobby Witt Jr., (2nd overall, 2019) 24th in 2020 Top 100.
  • Royce Lewis (1st overall, 2017), 24th in 2018 Top 100
  • Brendan Rodgers (3rd overall, 2015) 40th in 2016 Top 100
  • Nick Gordon (5th overall, 2014) 61st on 2015 Top 100
  • Carlos Correa (1st overall, 2012) 13th on 2013 Top 100
  • Manny Machado (3rd overall, 2010), 14th on 2011 Top 100

I think you can see that we’ve generally been quite aggressive with how we rank elite high school shortstops who are highly regarded at the top of the draft. I think you can also see that generally it’s a good idea. We rank them not only based on where they are picked, but also on the scouting reports/projections we have received from people inside the game, which is why Gordon ranked much lower than some of the others on this list. But this is a demographic with a very strong success rate overall. And when the reports are excellent (like they were with say Correa or Machado) it makes sense to be very, very aggressive.

This was a very tough call and when comparing Mayer and Casas, it’s a case where the two players are likely to slot in a similar area on the Top 100, but I did want to help give some insight into our thought process.

-- J.J. Cooper

Q: JJ answered this with great detail, but I will just add this brief question. What would be the value of rankings that were never aggressive on lower-level prospects and simply waited for everyone to perform up the minor league ladder? At that point we aren’t projecting players, we are simply waiting for them to perform and then reacting to what they’ve done. That doesn’t give anyone much value IMO. Scouts are attempting to project what players will be five, ten years down the line so their clubs can benefit from that. We are trying to do the same thing for our readers.

-- Carlos Collazo


Stacking Up 2022 Top Three Prospects Against Former Prospect Triads

Breaking down the best prospect triads of the Top 100 Prospects era.

Karl of Delaware from Georgetown, Delaware asks:

Q: Adley Rutschman was the first player selected in the 2019 draft and Henry Davis was the 1st overall in 2021 draft - what are the chances that Davis will overtake Adley in all around baseball player ability and value as time goes by?

A: Small but possible. Yes, they both were the No. 1 pick in the draft, but not all No. 1 picks are created equal. One of these two catchers was one of the best draft prospects of the past decade. The other was not viewed by many as the best draft prospect in his own draft class (and received the fifth-largest bonus in the 2021 draft class).

But here’s the caveat. Davis is a premium prospect coming into pro ball and I would say catchers have a higher variance rate than say shortstops. So it’s plausible that Davis exceeds our current expectations by a bit, and Rutschman falls a little short of our very lofty expectations. Also injuries are always a factor in catcher’s development and longevity, so that’s a second caveat.

We clearly prefer Rutschman as a prospect right now, but I would say it is at least plausible that your scenario could happen.

-- J.J. Cooper

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