Prospect Handbook Change Makes The Grade

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The most amazing thing about sending the Prospect Handbook to press is not how happy we are about it—though to be sure we are very happy—it's how we always wish that we had more time.

Thanks to the constraints of printing and distribution, the Prospect Handbook must go to the printer right before Christmas, so that it can work its way to you before pitchers and catchers report, and even more important, before your fantasy draft. Were that not so, I have no doubt that we would take another few days, or even weeks with the book. There is always a report to improve, a ranking to tweak—and this year, a Baseball America Grade to argue about.

Baseball America Grades are one of the most significant changes to the book since it debuted in 2001. We make changes to the book every year, from the modest, such as changing the statistical categories we list, to the more significant, such as adding minor league depth charts.

We have long discussed adding a thumbnail view of each prospect in the book, so you could see at a glance how we view a player and so it's easier to compare players across organizations. We decided to take the plunge this year, going through several iterations of exactly how to do it before settling on the BA Grade.

In simplest terms, we are projecting a prospect's realistic ceiling on the 20-80 scouting scale, balanced with the degree of risk that he'll reach that ceiling. We found it useful in assembling the book, so we think you'll find it useful in reading it.

Most major league clubs put an overall numerical grade on players, usually called the Overall Future Potential. Often the OFP is merely an average of the player's tools.

The BA Grade is not an OFP. It's a measure of a prospect's value and attempts to gauge the player's realistic ceiling. Because we're writing about prospects, the lowest grade we gave was a 40. There is an 80 in the book: Nationals outfielder Bryce Harper. Thanks to his prodigious power, Harper has the highest ceiling of any prospect in the game. He's not perfect, but he's at the top of the scale with his athleticism, 40-homer potential and Larry Walker-like right-field tools.

But the grade doesn't tell a prospect's entire story. How close that player is to reaching his ceiling matters just as much. The less we believe we have to project on the prospect, the less risky he is. That's why we also assigned every player a Risk Factor to go with their BA Grade. That scale is fairly self-explanatory, ranging from Safe (least risk) to Extreme (riskiest). The closer a player is to reaching his realistic ceiling, the safer he rates.

Harper is an 80, but there is some chance he won't reach his ceiling. We gauged his risk as Low. In comparison, the two players who rival Harper the most for the title of top prospect in the minors already have reached the major leagues while retaining their prospect eligibility. So Rays lefthander Matt Moore and Angels outfielder Mike Trout both earn the Safe designation.

The goal of the system is to allow readers to take a quick look at how strong their team's farm system is, and to compare players across systems. We know it won't be perfect, but we hope it's the next step in making the Prospect Handbook more indispensable than ever to the game's fans and fantasy players.

Better Than Ever

Beyond the new grading system, you'll find the same prospect goodness that you have come to expect, with 900 scouting reports plus a few more in the back for international free agents who had not signed by our transaction deadline.

The Prospect Handbook has become our signature publication, and in many ways it is both the culmination of all the work we have done in 2011, and the foundation for all the work we will do in 2012. The book requires an amazing amount of work, in the reporting, editing and production of all this information. I would conservatively estimate that this book features 200,000 words on the state of player development in baseball today, and for those words to both read so well and look so good is a tribute to all of the names that you'll find at the front of the book.

By the time you read this, the book should just about be back from the printer, so you can have it in your hot little hands by the end of January if you order directly from us. You'll also receive a supplement with 30 additional scouting reports, as well as a free copy of the Top 100 Prospects issue. So what are you waiting for? Go to and get yourself ready for the 2012 season.