11/30/2007 9:00 AM ET
Sometimes Top 50 Prospects 'catch' on
Many formerly ranked Minor Leaguers have become big-league stars
By Jonathan Mayo / MLB.com
It all started back in 2004. It's hard to imagine that the prospect rankings everyone has been reading this week is actually MLB.com's Top 50 Prospects version 7.0.
There have been some hits and some misses along the way, that's for sure. Ranking prospects might be one of the most subjective exercises in baseball. Opinions about a young player's potential will vary from scout to scout. That's why each time this list has been compiled, great effort has been made to poll as many from the scouting industry as possible. Even then, because of the volatile nature of it, the list is never going to be a guarantee of success.
Back in 2004, the list was topped by a young catcher by the name of Joe Mauer. It's turned out to be the only time a catcher -- or anyone other than an outfielder -- has been ranked No. 1. In fact, he's the only catcher to crack the top 10 in any edition of the Top 50. The recently traded Delmon Young had a stranglehold on the top spot, yielding to Jay Bruce in the most recent rankings.
Looking back at that 2004 preseason list is certainly interesting. Mauer clearly is a "hit," and now looks like No. 2 B.J. Upton is on his way to a nice big-league career. The No. 3 prospect was Greg Miller, the Dodgers lefty who has battled the injury bug for much of the past few years. He's a prime early example of just how hard it is to value pitching prospects. Fellow Dodger Edwin Jackson was No. 5 on this list, Zack Greinke was right ahead of him at No. 4. The other lefties have proven to be a bit better, with Cole Hamels (6) and Scott Kazmir (8) proving themselves at the big-league level.
What else can be derived from looking at these seven Top 50 lists? Let's dive in and take a closer look.
Los Angeles is the place to be
Over the past few years, both the Angels and Dodgers have had fairly deep systems and the Top 50 lists have reflected that. Both organizations have had a total of 27 names on the rankings over the years. The Angels' highest total was six players on the 2004 postseason list. The Dodgers had six prior to the 2006 season. Yes, some are repeat names. But with a grand total of 350 spots (seven lists, 50 per list, you do the math), that's just over 10 percent of all the slots per organization. Two teams making up 21.6 percent of the spots doesn't leave a lot for the others. Here's the top five by organization:
All of these teams, except Tampa, have been in the playoffs or in the hunt in recent seasons. And the Rays are most definitely on the rise. It shouldn't shock anyone that the Rockies (15), Braves (14), Indians (13) and Twins (13) all finished in the upper half of these standings.
- LA Dodgers: 27
- LA Angels: 27
- Milwaukee: 20
- Tampa: 18
- Arizona: 16
What about the bottom? Here's the last six because there's a tie in one spot:
The Reds were shut out for the first four lists, but thanks to a few upper-echelon prospects have jumped to that seven total. They've got four alone in the most recent rendition. St. Louis has never had more than one player in any given list.
- Cincinnati: 7
- Toronto: 7
- San Diego: 5
- St. Louis: 5
- Houston: 4
- Washington/Montreal: 4
It's good to be a right-handed pitcher?
It is, evidently, for Top 50 status. Of the 350 players listed since 2004, 103 of them -- 29.4 percent, to be exact -- have been right-handed pitchers. Here's how the lists break down, by position:
Outfield is often where the ever-popular five-tool players are found. Everyone always says they need left-handed pitchers and this list gives a glimpse why -- there aren't that many good ones out there. Even some of the southpaws who have graced these rankings, from Miller to Zach Duke and Francisco Liriano, have gone down with injuries. Second basemen evidently are extremely hard to find, though that total might be impacted by the fact that big-league second basemen are often converted from other infield positions, like shortstop.
- Right-handed pitcher: 103
- Outfielder: 82
- Left-handed pitcher: 44
- Shortstop: 36
- Third base: 31
- First base: 29
- Catcher: 16
- Second base: 9
The best of the best
Over the seven lists, there obviously has been a tremendous amount of talent from top to bottom. What would an All-Star team of Top 50 guys look like? Here's how one lineup card could look, based on big-league performance thus far, with their highest ranking in parentheses:
This list is a little unfairly weighted toward guys who have been up a while. So it is duly noted that guys like Ryan Braun, Troy Tulowitzki and Hunter Pence, for instance, could end up on this "All-Star team" in the future.
- C Joe Mauer (No. 1, 2004 preseason)
- 1B Ryan Howard (No. 27, 2005 midseason)
- 2B Howie Kendrick (No. 12, 2006 preseason)
- SS Hanley Ramirez (No. 13, 2005 midseason)
- 3B David Wright (No. 5, 2004 postseason)
- OF Grady Sizemore (No. 2, 2004 postseason)
- OF Jason Bay (No. 43, 2004 preseason)
- OF Jeff Francouer (No. 4, 2005 midseason)
- LHP Scott Kazmir (No. 4, 2004 postseason, 2005 preseason)
- RHP Justin Verlander (No. 5, 2006 preseason)
The worst of the best
As mentioned earlier, this isn't exactly scientific. Ranking these young players does involve a little guesswork. Educated guesses? Sure, but sometimes even those don't pan out. Some have had injury-related issues, others haven't performed up to expectations. Things could change with some of these guys if they turn things around, but here's what an "all-bust" team might look like:
All lists almost all the time
- C Guillermo Quiroz (No. 22, 2004 preseason)
- 1B Jason Stokes (No. 41, 2004 preseason)
- 2B Chris Burke (No. 46, 2005 preseason)
- SS Joel Guzman (No. 15, 2005 preseason)
- 3B Andy Marte (No. 6, 2005 midseason)
- OF Ryan Harvey (No. 43, 2004 preseason)
- OF Jeremy Reed (No. 16, 2004 preseason)
- OF Brian Anderson (No. 38, 2005 preseason)
- LHP Greg Miller (No. 3, 2004 preseason)
- RHP Merkin Valdez (No. 28, 2005 preseason)
Just who have been the most popular prospects over the years? Everyone takes a back seat to Delmon Young, whose lowest ranking was 11 back before the 2004 season began and he had yet to play a professional game. Here's the top group, with total number of appearances in parentheses. And remember, multiple sightings does not automatically guarantee success:
What does all of this mean? Maybe nothing. Maybe everything. But like the rankings themselves, it's here to at the very least spark debate. So enjoy, and weigh in with an email. Here's hoping you enjoy talking about it as much as we do.
- Delmon Young (6)
- Prince Fielder (5)
- Jeremy Hermida (5)
- Andy Marte (5)
- Adam Miller (5)
- Felix Pie (5)
- Ian Stewart (5)
- Matt Cain (4)
- Gavin Floyd (4)
- Jeff Francouer (4)
- Cole Hamels (4)
- Casey Kotchman (4)
- Jeff Mathis (4)
- Merkin Valdez (4)
- Rickie Weeks (4)
- Brandon Wood (4)
Jonathan Mayo is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.