The Perils of Prospect Punditry: Rank Disagreement

Ranking prospects is one of the highlights of the offseason for many. However, how are these ranking put together? How do you decide between the top ten pick and the Cuban import? Brandon Magee explains why there is sometimes rank disagreement amongst the pundits.

For the majority of baseball fans, following minor league prospects is done from afar. They might go out to the local minor league ballfield to watch a game or go to their favorite internet site to check out the hot prospect. For others, the first foray into prospect punditry gives them a thirst for even more knowledge. Some decide to submit writing for publication or, perhaps, are directly solicited. However, a wider audience brings consequences and the potential for criticism.

Lack of Diversity

Whether we talk about ranking the top Boston Red Sox prospects, Heisman Trophy candidates, college basketball teams or favorite holiday movies, there is generally little disagreement. It’s not a surprise when different prospect pundits list the same prospects in the same general order.

Part of this is the nature of the beast. Young players succeeding in full season baseball will always be rated highly. While there is still a possibility that Yoan Moncada and Rafael Devers may never make it to the major leagues, let alone be stars, their success in full season ball puts them on a bright path. Highly decorated college players, like Andrew Benintendi, have also been highly successful in making the transition to professional baseball and quickly making the major leagues.

However, there is another reason why lists are often similar. The data going into the thought process is generally the same. Everyone has access to the same stats. We have access to the same game stories and columns. Some of the more connected pundits may have access to some professional scouts who may share their opinions, but oftentimes that information comes out through rumor and innuendo. Given the same data and the same general thought process, it only makes sense that the prospect lists are the same.

A Challenge

For many years, I wrote a Top 20 Boston Red Sox Prospect list for The Maple Street Press Red Sox Annual. Using the same processes described in the first part of this series, I came up with a list of prospects that were very similar to what other pundits had. Given the same data and the same process…

However, there was one major exception. One inexplicable rise up the prospect ranks that I could not accept.

The Prospect

Ryan Kalish was drafted in the 9th Round of the 2006 First Year Player Draft by the Red Sox and signed to a hefty $600,000 signing bonus. Kalish played seventeen games between the Gulf Coast League and the New York-Penn League in August of 2006, batting .236/.295/.364 in his first professional season. Kalish returned to the Lowell Spinners for his 2007 season, batting .368/.471/.540 for the season. The 19-year old Kalish was now one of the major Red Sox prospects, being ranked as the 96th best major league prospect by Baseball America and the 60th best prospect by Baseball Prospectus. High praise for a player who had yet to play in full season ball.

However, there was more information that was available that should have tempered the enthusiasm. Kalish’s batting line was over a mere 23 games and was, in large part, a product of an unsustainable hot streak. From July 9th through July 15th, Kalish went 12 for 15 with three doubles, two home runs, reaching base in eleven consecutive appearances, and broke his hamate bone. An injury that would end his season and an injury that has hampered many major league baseball players.

While Kalish’s potential was intriguing, the injury and his lack of playing time gave me pause when making my list for the 2008 Annual. Although two major national publications had ranked him in the top 100 MLB prospects, he was ranked as only the 16th best Red Sox prospect in my list, a list headed by Clay Buchholz, Jacoby Ellsbury, and Jed Lowrie.

Kalish would struggle to uphold the lofty expectations as he came back from injury in 2008, putting up a line of .273/.365/.363 in Greenville and Lancaster in his first year in full-season ball. While the line should have repudiated his reputation, the expectations of a 1.000 OPS knocked him out of the Baseball America prospect list and down the Baseball Prospectus list. An even better year in 2009, largely in AA Portland, did not help his national ranking as he fell off the BP list.

Kalish would make his Major League debut at the age of 22 for Boston in 2010, where he batted a respectable .252/.305/.405 over 53 games. Unfortunately, injury again struck and Kalish would play a mere 24 games in 2011 and only 69 games in 2012 before missing all of 2013. While he would play a full season for the Chicago Cubs organization in 2014, he did not play baseball in 2015 and his career could already be over.

The Uptake

Young prospects are going to be darlings of the industry and of baseball teams. A 19-year old prospect in A-Ball has the potential to be a major league player by the age of 21 or 22. And, if their play translates, they could be a star. However, a lot can go wrong down that rocky road. Sometimes, a lot can go wrong and still end up right… if only for a moment.

Ryan Kalish was hyped as a great prospect after the 2007 season, a season where he barely played but showed his potential. While I disagreed with the national rankings after that season, Kalish did make it to the majors only three seasons later and showed the potential to be a very good player. Unfortunately, injuries continued to derail his career… just as injuries have derailed the career of numerous prospects.

In our next installment, we’ll take a look at the daunting task of ranking the top prospects in all the organizations.

Brandon Magee is our minor league expert. He has also written about fan expectations, travel in the minors, and the first steps in his life as a journalist.

Follow Brandon on Twitter @cuzittt.

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