Baseball America puts out one of baseball's most outstanding top prospect lists, recommended for any fan looking to see which players are up-and-coming, and which teams have the most top-notch talent. It is not unusual to see a number of their highly rated pre-season prospects playing prominent roles by the end of each season.
Making this kind of list up is not easy.
First, it is hard to eliminate all bias. Bias can enter the analysis in a variety of ways. One analyst may put more weight on pitch speed separation than on velocity of the fastball, for instance. Some may value a hitter's power over his hit tool. These lists represent hours of analysis and myriad decisions. It's a commendable effort.
While I respect their knowledge, I don't always share their conclusions, however. They have their biases and preferences; we have ours.
You can access the Baseball America Top 100 Prospects list for 2016 here.
BA's Top 100: Rays Perspective
To assess this list from a Rays perspective, we'll compare it to the top 10 put out by Baseball America, and then look at the top 100/101 lists put out by other prominent sites to see which prospects were included and which omitted.
Here is an annotated list of the Rays players included on BA's list:
|12. Blake Snell, lhp, Rays|
|Fastball: 70. Slider: 55. Changeup: 65. Control: 50. ETA: 2016. Age: 23|
The grades differ only slightly from Fangraphs (which may not be updated yet this offseason). Most notably, they have his fastball at 60 vice BA's 70, noting some possible progress in its effectiveness. Overall, you can't knock this ranking. It's a fair ranking that places his ETA, appropriately, as 2016 and for those reasons, we give this ranking a thumbs up.
|46. Willy Adames, ss, Rays|
|Hit: 55. Power: 55. Speed: 40. Fielding: 55. Arm: 60. ETA: 2017. Age: 20|
Again, the grades differ only slightly from those of Fangraphs in 2015, with the major difference being the uptick in Power at 55 (compared to Fangraphs' 50). Both rightfully rate his arm at an impressive 60. This ranking is also very fair, placing Adames in the company of Tim Anderson (45th) and Ryan McMahon (43rd), and ahead of pitcher standouts like Michael Fulmer (47th) and Kenta Maeda (50th). For those reasons, this ranking also gets a thumbs up.
|65. Brent Honeywell rhp, Rays|
|Fastball: 60. Curveball: 50. Changeup: 60. Control: 60. ETA: 2017. Age: 20|
The fastball is rated higher than ever and it joins his change up in garnering a well above-average rating. What bugs me here is how, and why, you would have a pitcher with two pitches rated at 60 well behind the likes of the previously mentioned Maeda who doesn't have 1 pitch rated at 60. I'd be curious to know how high Honeywell would have ranked if he had been a Japanese import who was handed millions by the Dodgers. In this case, we'll give this ranking a thumbs down and say it should have been in the 50-59 range.
|78. Jake Bauers 1b, Rays|
|Hit: 65. Power: 50. Speed: 55. Fielding: 50. Arm: 45. ETA: 2017. Age: 20|
This ranking was a pleasant surprise, and likely a result of his performance in the AFL and the confidence the Rays showed him by moving him to AA at such a young age. I also want to point out the greater confidence BA displayed in his tools as compared to Fangraphs, which had rated him as follows for 2015: Hit 20/55, Power 45/45+, Speed at 35/35, Field at 45/50+, and throws at 50/50. There's a clear discrepancy, but I see Bauers as having the greater upside. With this in mind, we give this ranking - and grading - a huge thumbs up.
BA Top 100: Compared to Rays Top 10
BA's list is consistant with Hudson Belinsky's order of Top Rays Prospects as he noted in publishing their Top 10. He has placed Blake Snell first, Willy Adames second, Brent Honeywell third, and Jake Bauers fourth. With their list, the entire BA staff essentially confirmed that Belinsky got it right.
For that reason, we applaud Belinsky's efforts and do believe that it adds weight to the rankings.
Noteworthy is the absence of Garrett Whitley, who was selected 13th overall in the 2015 draft. The omission can be viewed in many ways, (see below) but it's particularly interesting when those selected behind him rank so highly on the list. Kolby Allard was taken 14th and ranks 84th on the list, Trent Clark was selected 15th and ranks 49th on the list, and Brady Aiken was taken 17th and ranks 71st on the list.
It's too early to get too worried about Whitley's ranking overall, but it does point to the risk the Rays took when they selected him. Hopefully Whitley's 2016 season will prove his doubters wrong.
BA Top 100: Compared to Other Sites
The next thing to note is which Rays prospects were omitted, and whether any other ranking sites had them included. Here are the three notable omissions:
The most surprising omission has to be Garrett Whitley, a player who was ranked 5th by Belinsky for the Rays Top 10 and was within the top 70 for MLB.com. That he was left off the lists for both BA and BP is likely a result of his lower-than-anticipated production after the draft. While the tools remain, many are concerned about his hitting ability and whether or not it will translate well at the upper levels of the minors.
That leads us to an issue that many of us have with these lists, whether from BA, BP, MLB.com, or any other site. They strike us as highly risk-averse, going with the more tested (if unspectacular) player over the high ceiling guy who hasn't had a chance to show his talent. This makes perfect sense when your opinions are being judged by thousands of people. You are more likely to look foolish if you trumpet a high ceiling player who nose-dives than if you simply leave him off the list until he's a sure bet.