In almost every mainstream write-up of a trade involving a minor league prospect that is consummated, the author will reference the prospects off-season ranking by Baseball America, and for good reason – BA is the market leader in prospect analysis. John Manuel, Jim Callis, and the rest of the crew over there do really good work, and have established themselves as the best source of information on prospects around.
However, I’m beginning to feel like the reliance on a ranking compiled months ago is carrying too much weight when discussing current trades. Let’s use last night’s Wilson Ramos/Matt Capps trade, for instance. The normal reaction is that the Twins overpaid, trading a “top catching prospect” for a useful but not elite reliever. Many Twins fans are outraged that they would give up such a valuable trade chip in exchange for a one inning guy, especially after he was rumored to be part of the package that would bring them Cliff Lee a month ago.
A lot of the perception of Ramos’ value comes from the fact that BA rated him #58 on their pre-season Top 100 and #2 overall in the Twins system. However, since those rankings occurred, baseball has been played, and Ramos’ value has diminished. He hasn’t hit at all in Triple-A this year, as more advanced pitchers are taking advantage of his aggressive approach. He also hasn’t shown much in the way of power, as only 19 of his 67 hits have gone for extra bases.
If BA were to do re-do their Top 100 today, I guarantee you that Ramos wouldn’t rank #58. I’m guessing that he wouldn’t even be in the Top 100. He’s has a bad year, and the things that were questions about him last year are problems this year, giving teams reasons to think that his bat might not be enough to make him more than a defensive-minded backup. So, his pre-season ranking does not really reflect his value at the moment. Things have changed.
We saw this last year as well, when Tim Alderson (#45 pre-season prospect) was traded to the Pirates for Freddy Sanchez. The reaction at the time was that the Giants were crazy to give up a top pitching prospect for a decent, but not great, infielder. However, Alderson had spent the previous four months without any velocity, showing almost none of the stuff that made him a first round pick to begin with. The Pirates received a significantly lesser version of Alderson than had been assumed based on his prospect status, and that’s continued to carry over as Alderson has fallen off the prospect map at this point.
In prospect land, things can change a lot in a short period of time. A year ago, Mike Trout went 25th overall in the draft, but if you gave teams a do-over today, he’d go #2, as he’s now the consensus best prospect left in the minors. His stock has risen dramatically in the last four months, and his pre-season Top 100 ranking of #85 is now as outdated as shag carpet.
The guys at BA do great work. You should subscribe to their magazine and follow them all on twitter. But, don’t be slaves to pre-season rankings when trying to determine a player’s value. Things change between the time those lists get made and the time those prospects become trade chips.