Introducing BA Grades

Explaining the biggest change in Handbook history

Follow me on Twitter

For the first time, Baseball America has assigned Grades and Risk Factors for each and every one of the 900 prospects in the Prospect Handbook. For the BA Grade, we used a 20-to-80 scale, similar to the scale scouts use, to keep it familiar. However, most major league clubs put an overall numerical grade on players, called the Overall Future Potential or OFP. 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, there are no 20s or 30s in this book. The lowest grade given for a realistic ceiling is a 40. But 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 a perfect prospect, but he's at the top of the scale with his athleticism, 40-homer potential and Larry Walker-like right field tools.

However, the realistic ceiling 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 have 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 realistic 40-homer ceiling. We gauged his risk as Low. In comparison, the two players who rival Harper the most for the title of Best Prospect in the minors already have made some impact in the major leagues while retaining their prospect eligibility. So Rays lefthander Matt Moore and Angels outfielder Mike Trout both earn the Safe designation. Moore, in a way, already has fulfilled his ceiling—he's already shown he can start and thrive in Game One of a playoff series.

The ideal combination is for prospects to have high ceilings thanks to prodigious, top-of-the-scale tools; success in the minor leagues; and a small gap between the player's potential and the player's 'now' skills. Harper, Moore and Trout fill that bill better than any players in the minors and earn the highest BA Grades along with low Risk Factors.

The goal of the Grade/Risk system is to allow readers to take a quick look at how strong their team's farm system is, and also how much immediate help the big league club can expect from its prospects. It should also help with our Organization Rankings, but those will not simply flow, in formulaic fashion, from the Grades/Risk Factor results. Some staff members favor star power in a farm system while others favor depth; that cannot be easily summed up in a spreadsheet.

Like any first-time endeavor, the BA Grade/Risk will have its blind spots, moments where we look back and say, "Why didn't we think of that?" That happened with the first Handbook too, and we have tried—and we think succeeded—in making the book better year by year. We hope the addition of the BA Grade/Risk system is the next step in making the Prospect Handbook more indispensable than ever to the game's fans and fantasy players.

BA Grade Scale

75-80: Franchise players and No. 1 starters, such as Albert Pujols, Alex Rodriguez, Derek Jeter and Roy Halladay.

65-70: No. 2 starters and perennial all-stars in the mold of Chase Utley, Matt Cain, Matt Kemp and Adrian Beltre.

55-60: First-division regulars and No. 3 starters and elite closers, such as Jonathan Papelbon, James Shields and Torii Hunter would earn these grades.

45-50: Most players reside here. The high end (50s with lower risk) are second-division regulars with higher peaks, eighth-inning relievers and fourth starters on playoff teams. The lower end are platoon/utility players, back-end starters and relievers. Think of Jamey Carroll, Joe Blanton and Angel Pagan.

35-40: Players with fifth-starter or utility/backup catcher upside, or relief specialists. It will be rare for a 35 to make the book. This category includes the likes of Doug Slaten, Matt Treanor and Alfredo Simon.

Risk Factors

Safe: Has shown realistic ceiling in big leagues; ready to contribute in 2012.

Low: Likely to reach realistic ceiling, certain big league careeer barring injury.

Medium: Still some work to do to turn tools into major league-caliber skills.

High: Most draft picks in their first seasons, players with plenty of projection left.

Extreme: Teenagers in Rookie ball or players with significant injury histories.