The Top 100 Prospects Are Truly The Tip Of the Iceberg

Image credit: Nick Yorke (Tom Priddy/Four Seam Images)

Have you ever used the Google Earth app?

It’s become simply accepted as normal now. But when it came out, as someone who remembers the pre-Internet world of paper maps, the fact that you could start with a view that showed you the entire Earth, and then zoom in until you could see a satellite image of your individual house was a truly amazing experience. It both showed the vastness of the Earth and the minutiae of your neighborhood with a spin of a scroll wheel.

When you look at the Top 100 Prospects list, it’s worth thinking of this as the baseball equivalent of zooming in to see an individual house.

The Top 100 Prospects list ranks roughly 1.5% of the players who are eligible to be on the list. Each of the 30 MLB teams is allowed to have 180 minor league players on rosters in the U.S. If you add in the Dominican Summer League rosters, that will give you another 35 to 70 players per MLB team. That’s a little less than 7,000 players in affiliated baseball at any one time.

Not all of those players are still prospect eligible. Each team will have a number of Triple-A players who have exhausted prospect eligibility. Figure there are 15 players per MLB organization that are no longer prospect eligible.

These are all rough numbers, but if you say there are 6,500 signed players who are eligible to be on the Top 100 Prospects list, it’s clear that the 100 who actually make it are an extremely small subset of the population of players eligible to be ranked on the 100.

Even within the Top 100, there are clear distinctions. We placed a BA Grade on the 900 players who make Top 30s in the Baseball America Prospect Handbook. Gunnar Henderson, Baseball America’s No. 1 prospect, is a 70/Medium. No. 2 Prospect Corbin Carroll is a 65/Medium. 

You can figure out an “adjusted BA Grade” for each of those players by taking their likely ceiling grade and then adjusting for the risk. Extreme risk for these purposes equals a 15-point drop. High is a 10-point drop. Medium is a five-point drop and low means no point deductions.

This year there is one player with an adjusted BA Grade of 65 (Henderson). There are eight with adjusted grades of 60, 11 more with 55s, 33 50s and 75 45s.

So while most of the top 10 are one gradation below Henderson, and the players in the 11-20 range are one gradation below the top 10, the player at No. 45 and the player at No. 25 have effectively the same grade. A player who ranks 55th and on the Top 100 and a player who ranks 125th and off the Top 100 can have the same grade.

When asking “why did this player fail to make the list” it’s worth remembering that there is less difference between being 125th and 80th than there is between the players who rank 10th and 25th.

But that’s the Top 100 Prospects. That’s a very small subset of the total number of players playing in the minors. If you attempted to put adjusted grades on every prospect eligible in the minors, it would look something like this:

Remember the Google Earth analogy? To see the players who rank in the top 10 on the Top 100 would require zooming in on that little blue bar. Pulled back to account for the players who have adjusted grades of 20 or 30, those 55s, 60s and 65s are so few in numbers as to almost disappear off the chart.

These rankings are snapshots in time. Some players will graduate off the Top 100 this year. Others will drop down or off the list and other players will climb on. Players get better. Others gets worse. Some will fix seemingly career-derailing flaws. Others will develop a flaw that will derail them. Others will get hurt.

But players’ overall movement will likely be relatively modest. Gunnar Henderson was given a BA Grade of 55/High a year ago. He was a Top 100 prospect last year. Now he’s a 70/Medium. That’s a significant improvement, but he’s moved up a couple of tiers in a year. Other players who were viewed as having an adjusted grade of 20 a year ago have climbed onto Top 30s by becoming 45/Highs or 40/Mediums this year.

But other than teenagers coming out of the Dominican Summer League (where players can be transformed by growth spurts or other strength gains), players very rarely climb three tiers in a year or two. Players who are viewed as 20s today may be viewed as 30s or even possibly a 40-level player a year from now. They are highly unlikely to be seen as a 50 or 60.

Only one player on this year’s Top 100 Prospect list who was eligible for last year’s Top 100 failed to make his team’s Top 30 Prospects list a year ago. Pirates RHP Luis Ortiz went from being on the Pirates depth chart (as a top 40-50 prospect in the system) to this year’s Top 100.

At the same time, there were only four prospects from last year’s Top 50 who were prospect eligible this year who failed to crack the Top 100. Those four (Jack Leiter, Nick Yorke, Austin Martin and Nick Gonzales) all still rank among the top 200-250 prospects in baseball. They’ve moved down a tier or two, but they haven’t fallen off the radar.

We care about every ranking and spend a lot of time agonizing over who should rank 25th compared to 26th, but as you look at the Top 100, it is worth remembering that the differences between the ranks, especially at the back of the list, are minute, especially when you zoom out.

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