Prospect Debates Liven Up Handbook Season

Lucas Giolito still ranks as a significant prospect, but his stock took a hit in 2016 (Photo by Ed Wolfstein) Lucas Giolito still ranks as a significant prospect, but his stock took a hit in 2016 (Photo by Ed Wolfstein)

SEE ALSO: Complete Top 10 Prospects Rankings

SEE ALSO: Order the 2017 Prospect Handbook!

We put the Prospect Handbook to bed while working on this issue of Baseball America, and while celebrating the holiday season, and wrapping up coverage of the Winter Meetings.


Yeah, it’s a busy time of year. But it’s the most wonderful time of the year for BA as well. The Handbook distills the essence of what we do into 512 pages packed with information. It’s such an ambitious endeavor that, frankly, you have to wonder what we were thinking when we started it.

I mean, does every team really have 30 prospects? No, they don’t. We’ve joked as a staff about some years running some clubs 50 deep and other clubs just getting 10 or 15 or 20 prospects. But it’s definitely more symmetrical to have 30 organizations with 30 prospects apiece. And why would a fan of a team buy the book if his team had, say, 15 guys that year? It is, after all, a commercial product.

So we have the BA Grades for every player in the book to help differentiate the good systems from the bad and to illustrate that not all No. 17 prospects are created equal. All 900 players are basically measured against each other in terms of ceiling and likelihood of reaching that ceiling.

So it’s easy to glance at the Angels or Marlins and note that those organizations have an awful lot of lower-ceiling, higher-risk players ranked among their Top 10 Prospects, to say nothing of their Top 30s. Contrast that with the farm systems of the National League Central, featured in our latest issue. What’s the weakest system here, the Cubs?

You mean the reigning World Series champions, whose 2020 Lineup looks an awful lot like its young, exciting, best-in-baseball 2016 lineup? That’s a good situation in which to have a modest farm system.

That’s one reason the Prospect Handbook is such a fun project to work on and to read. It allows you to truly take in all 30 organizations in one fell swoop. We present overall farm system talent rankings in the front of the book, and that’s the last task to complete, because it requires evaluating all 30 organizations thoroughly to really contemplate.

Snapshot Discount

One key aspect to remember about any prospect ranking, however, is that it’s just a moment in time. Players can change, and a player’s value can change. Just in 2016, Yoan Moncada and Lucas Giolito illustrate this point as well as any players. Moncada, our Minor League Player of the Year, lost a bit of luster with his September big league callup.

Twelve strikeouts in 20 plate appearances tends to do that, even in a small sample size. Giolito’s debut also was ugly, as his fastball velocity dipped and big leaguers teed off on the pitch.

Both players—now White Sox after Winter Meetings trades—were elite prospects, with Moncada ranked No. 1 on our Midseason Top 100 in July and Giolito ranked fourth. By the fall, though, we’d ranked Andrew Benintendi ahead of Moncada in the Red Sox Top 10. Giolito was not going to be No. 1 on the Nationals’ list; in fact we were debating whether he would be No. 2 or No. 3, behind Reynaldo Lopez, when he was traded to the White Sox.

It doesn’t mean those guys can’t still be great big leaguers. Both will figure prominently in the Top 50 lists that five BA staffers submit for the Prospect Handbook, which help build up to the official Top 100 Prospects in February. But both got a bit bloodied in the big leagues; the prospect shine dimmed a bit, and that’s reflected in the Handbook.

Most of the credit for organizing the book should go to Matt Eddy, our Associate Editor and one of the veterans here at BA. He had help with our newest staff member, Kyle Glaser, who also became heavily involved in the editing process. J.J. Cooper and I went over every Top 30 list with Matt, while national writer Ben Badler helps make sure every international signee is accounted for.

And while the fun is in the debate, the work goes into the preparation for those debates as a staff—the haggling over who should be No. 10 or who should make the back of a Top 30.

Often I record our debates, intending to release them as podcasts, but usually the debate gets too blue, or we venture into discussion points we don’t want public. We haven’t presented such a podcast yet. But we have put out another fine Prospect Handbook.

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