What Scouting Can Tell Us

I wrote over on the main blog today about tomorrow’s debut of the organizational prospect lists. Head over there for the details of what to expect, but in general I’m looking to give as many objective measures as possible of what scouts think about the top prospects in the game. With 20-80 grades on every tool, an overall Future Value grade, a risk rating, projected triple-slash line and various other measures, there’s a risk of interpreting having a lot of data as having certainty about the future.

I often see fans berating each other on social media about the risk and/or upside of a prospect (whom they’ve never seen and never talked to a scout about) being CLEARLY higher/lower than another, ending the exchange with something like, “look at the rankings of these three publications, there’s a consensus and you’re wrong.” I suppose that’s inevitable with the commodification and proliferation of scouting reports on top prospects, but I wanted to be clear that my effort to better explain my opinion about a prospect doesn’t mean I’m as certain about the future as what I’m writing may suggest. Dave tweeted about this idea earlier this month:

Mike Trout was the 3rd prospect in the Angels system after he was drafted, according to Baseball America. After the 2007 season, Cliff Lee was 29, due to make $3.75 million for 2008 and had essentially zero trade value after two straight years with an xFIP over 5.00. Big league organizations often can’t even see elite players just a year or two in advance.

If Mike Trout wasn’t even the top rated outfield prospect in the Angels’ system at one point (it was Peter Bourjos), then technically every player’s upside is to be the best player in the game.

It would make my job easier if I just said that about every prospect, but, much like how MLB clubs treat the draft, I realize there are no perfect rankings, just people trying to do a little better than the competition. I’ve sat in draft rooms and war rooms during the trade deadline and I can tell you that there isn’t rocket science happening in these rooms. The thing that separates those conversations from what I’m writing is the quantity and quality of the information, not necessarily the decision-making process.

I think with these org rankings that I will be upping the quantity and quality of the prospect information that readers are accustomed to seeing. That being said, even if I magically had all the proprietary information of all 30 teams and unlimited resources, it’s still just putting lipstick on a pig.

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Kiley McDaniel has worked in the scouting departments of the New York Yankees, Baltimore Orioles and Pittsburgh Pirates and has written for ESPN, among other outlets. Follow him on twitter for real-time thoughts on the players he’s seeing and hacky attempts at humor.

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