I just got back from a trip and took advantage of my airport time to do some fantasy baseball studying. In the dark ages, this might have meant purchasing a fantasy magazine but fortunately there are much better options available today. And much to my delight, the mailman brought my copy of John Sickels’ The Baseball Prospect Book 2010 right before I left.
Now the internet has made following prospects much easier than when Sickels started doing his book back in the mid 1990s. Our own Marc Hulet does excellent work listing the top 10 prospects for each organization. But I still find value in this book and it is the one prospect source I go back to time and time again, both before and during the season as well as in hindsight to see both how prospects were rated and how the scouting reports from the minors compare to the actual results in the majors.
Sickels does a nice job of combining both statistical analysis along with scouting reports to determine his grades for prospects. And one advantage that he has over many other analysts is that he goes to a bunch of games – both in the minors and top college programs. A lot of guys can quote you a top prospect’s numbers in the high minors but Sickels can tell you the improvements he made since he saw him in college.
For example, Sickels writes about 2009 Angels supplemental first-round pick Garrett Richards:
“I saw him pitch one Big 12 game where he was throwing 94-96 MPH fastballs, a plus slider, and a big-breaking curveball … and he still got clobbered because he couldn’t command his pitches.”
Now Richards pitched well in his rookie ball debut last year and combined with his high draft status, many analysts would be extremely bullish on him. But Sickels uses his college scouting (and numbers) to offer just a bit more caution that most in regards to Richards. And there are countless examples of this throughout the book.
In addition to his own scouting, Sickels has built up a strong network of scouts that he can trade information with regarding players he is unable to see in person. But before you dismiss him as someone who just regurgitates whatever information scouts give him, Sickels is not afraid to go against this information if it conflicts with what he sees in the numbers or what his gut tells him.
On Jonathan Galvez, a Padres prospect from the Dominican Republic who got a big bonus a few years back, Sickels notes: “some scouts were disappointed in him, criticizing his defensive play, particularly his arm strength, and raising questions about his work ethic.” But despite that Sickels concluded: “I still think he’s a very intriguing prospect.”
And yes, someone who has been doing this as long and as successfully as Sickels has is allowed (and is preferred) to use his gut or his instinct when evaluating players, so long as he is upfront about it in his analysis. As Malcolm Gladwell has pointed out, experts have a way of recognizing patterns in subconscious ways and it is a mistake to ignore those completely.
Sickels was using numbers to grade prospects long before most others were doing it. He uses OPS, Secondary Average (both of which he compares to league averages) and BABIP as his main offensive numbers. On the pitching side he uses K/BB, K/IP and H/IP. This year he also incorporated some FIP numbers into his analysis
The book contains prospect reports on 1,170 minor league players and is arranged alphabetically. But there is also a section that lists every prospect by team, so if you are only interested in finding out the details about guys in certain systems, you can do that, too.
It is great for both fantasy purposes and following the game as a whole. Sickels both writes and self publishes the book, which you can order here.
Which prospect sources do you use the most and find most reliable?