Minor League Top 10s Paved The Way For BA Prospect Rankings

Baseball America founding editor Allan Simpson is a finalist for the Spink Award in 2021, which in a perfect storm of serendipity will be the 40th anniversary year for BA. 

Simpson was nominated for the award because of his “meritorious contributions to baseball writing.” The Baseball Writers’ Association of America annually recognizes one writer with the Spink Award, with a ceremony held during Hall of Fame induction weekend. Past honorees include longtime BA contributors Peter Gammons (2004), Tracy Ringolsby (2005) and Jayson Stark (2019).

Though prospect rankings are ubiquitous today, it wasn’t always this way. That’s why in looking back at the first volume of Baseball America magazine in 1981, it is remarkable how fully realized Simpson’s vision was from the very beginning.

“It was always my intent when I started the magazine to cover the draft, the minor leagues and prospects as core subjects,” Simpson wrote in an email.

The idea of ranking prospects evolved quickly from there.

“I came to the realization that rankings helped to put things into perspective a little more clearly,” Simpson said. “Readers liked rankings—of any kind—and we were getting much more attention for our work by ranking almost everything we did as a matter of course, especially if we demonstrated our rankings were accurate.”

The accuracy of those early rankings helped BA build credibility in the industry, as did the magazine’s association with trusted veteran baseball journalists like Ringolsby and Ken Leiker. 

Rankings remain the lifeblood of Baseball America, from our Top 100 Prospects to our BA 500 draft rankings to our organizational Top 10 Prospects to our annual Prospect Handbook, which contains grades, scouting reports and, yes, rankings for 900 prospects. 

While all of those BA properties are perhaps better known today, it was actually the Minor League Top 10 Prospects rankings that paved the way. That annual assessment of the top talent in every minor league, from Triple-A to Rookie ball, has been a staple of BA coverage from the start.

The Minor League Top 10 Prospects brand has been so resilient that only a global pandemic and cancellation of the 2020 minor league season could halt the procession.

“As I recall, the minor leagues came first because I had a network of minor league correspondents in place by that first summer,” Simpson said. “Those correspondents did the bulk of the work—mainly by talking to minor league managers and coaches, even a scout or two—with direction from me in terms of what I was looking for.”

In the upper right-hand corner of the October 1981 issue, a blue box beckons readers with “Final Minor League Averages” and “Rating the Prospects.” Inside readers learn, perhaps for the first time, the names of future major league superstars Cal Ripken Jr. (No. 1, International League), Darryl Strawberry (No. 3, Carolina League) and Don Mattingly (No. 4, Southern League).

Forty years from now, we expect fans to hold top prospects from 2019 leagues—perhaps Wander Franco, Luis Robert and Adley Rutschman—in the same regard.

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