How much do prospects predict success?

A look at how representation on Top 100 lists correlates to teams' turnarounds

How much do prospects predict success?

Since 2004, MLB.com has issued an annual ranking of the game's best prospects, providing a glimpse of tomorrow's brightest stars. The latest edition dropped on Saturday, with the release of the 2017 Top 100 prospects list.

For organizations that have been struggling on the field at the Major League level, placing high on such a list is more than simply a consolation prize. It's also an indication that the future looks brighter.

But is it valid for a team stacked with top prospects to equate that status with more wins at the big league level in the coming years? While there certainly are no guarantees when it comes to prospects, the numbers show that being well represented on such a list does act as a predictor of impending improvement.

To reach this conclusion, MLB.com looked back at each of its top prospect lists (50 players were ranked per year from 2004-11 and 100 per year since '12). For each list from '04-'16, we examined the top five teams in terms of Prospect Points, a system that awards 100 points for the No. 1 prospect, 99 for the No. 2 prospect, and so forth. Then we compared how each of those teams did in the five years before and after the ranking.

As one might expect, not every case has been a positive one. For example, the Mariners ranked first in Prospect Points on the inaugural 2004 list. But while Seattle posted a .589 winning percentage from 1999-2003, including a 116-win season in '01 and 93-win campaigns the next two years, the club tumbled to a .449 winning percentage over the ensuing five seasons. The M's, who also ranked fourth on the '11 list, still have not returned to the playoffs since '01.

With that said, MLB.com's research shows an overall trend that is significantly rosier. Of the 65 Top 5 teams on the 2004-16 lists, 40 (61.5 percent) posted a higher cumulative winning percentage over the next five seasons than they did over the preceding five (though the five-year post-ranking period is incomplete for those on the '13-16 lists). Of the 40 teams that posted a higher cumulative winning percentage over the next five years, they achieved an average of 10.5 wins more per season during that period.

For many of these success stories, top prospects helped lift the franchise from below the .500 mark back into the postseason, whether they blossomed into stars at home or were used in trades to acquire important pieces. The 65 teams in question reached the postseason 25 percent of the time in the five seasons leading up to their Top 5 ranking, while they made the playoffs 39 percent of the time in the subsequent five seasons. In some cases, such a transformation has even helped bring about a championship.

Prospects predicting improvement
A look at a team's average number of wins in the five years before and after being ranked in the Top 5 in Prospect Points (# = number of Top 50/100 prospects).
YEAR TEAM # PP PRE POST DIFF
2015 Cubs 6 424 69.2 100.0 30.8
2016 Cubs 6 201 73.6 103.0 29.4
2008 Rays 5 428 65.4 91.6 26.2
2007 Rays 3 257 63.2 86.8 23.6
2014 Cubs 7 362 71.2 91.0 19.8
2009 Rays 4 311 72.2 90.6 18.4
2014 Astros 7 362 62.4 80.0 17.6
2005 Brewers 4 320 66.4 81.8 15.4
2014 Pirates 6 232 72.8 88.0 15.2
2012 Royals 4 290 69.4 84.6 15.2
2011 Royals 6 490 67.6 82.6 15.0
2010 Rays 4 341 75.0 89.2 14.2
2004 Angels 4 306 80.6 94.0 13.4
2010 Royals 4 255 65.4 77.0 11.6
2004 Brewers 3 259 67.8 79.2 11.4
2005 Rays 3 253 63.8 75.0 11.2
2010 Giants 2 188 76.4 87.2 10.8
2009 Giants 3 230 77.0 87.2 10.2
2015 Pirates 7 354 78.0 88.0 10.0
2008 Reds 3 259 74.0 83.8 9.8
2004 Cubs 4 239 75.0 83.2 8.2
2016 Rangers 5 353 87.0 95.0 8.0
2006 Angels 3 239 87.6 95.0 7.4
2010 Rangers 4 331 80.0 87.4 7.4
2009 Braves 3 238 84.2 91.2 7.0
2016 Rockies 6 325 69.0 75.0 6.0
2005 Rockies 3 269 74.0 79.8 5.8
2013 Cardinals 6 340 88.2 93.8 5.6
2007 Royals 3 258 64.2 69.4 5.2
2011 Rays 4 317 80.8 86.0 5.2
2015 Dodgers 4 281 86.8 91.5 4.7
2012 A's 6 179 79.0 83.0 4.0
2009 Orioles 4 330 71.8 75.4 3.6
2007 D-backs 3 256 77.2 80.2 3.0
2009 Brewers 3 228 79.2 82.0 2.8
2011 Braves 3 255 82.4 85.0 2.6
2008 Dodgers 3 230 83.8 85.4 1.6
2006 Indians 4 269 81.2 82.6 1.4
2007 Angels 3 247 90.4 91.4 1.0
2011 Mariners 3 247 74.6 75.2 .6
2015 Rockies 4 234 72.0 71.5 -.5
2015 Twins 6 464 71.8 71.0 -.8
2007 Dodgers 5 351 85.8 84.6 -1.2
2006 D-backs 6 480 80.4 79.0 -1.4
2006 Dodgers 6 415 85.4 84.0 -1.4
2004 Dodgers 4 312 85.2 83.6 -1.6
2008 Yankees 3 223 97.6 95.8 -1.8
2006 Marlins 3 233 82.4 80.6 -1.8
2013 Red Sox 6 255 87.6 84.8 -2.8
2012 Padres 6 237 77.6 74.2 -3.4
2013 Rangers 6 229 89.0 85.3 -3.8
2008 Cubs 3 198 81.4 77.4 -4.0
2005 Dodgers 3 245 88.4 84.0 -4.4
2014 Twins 5 263 75.2 70.7 -4.5
2012 Rays 6 198 86.8 81.4 -5.4
2011 Yankees 3 227 95.6 89.6 -6.0
2013 Marlins 6 281 78.4 72.3 -6.2
2014 Red Sox 9 400 88.0 80.7 -7.3
2016 Phillies 7 234 78.4 71.0 -7.4
2012 Yankees 5 313 95.6 87.0 -8.6
2013 Twins 6 295 79.6 69.5 -10.1
2010 Red Sox 3 203 93.4 83.2 -10.2
2016 Twins 6 293 69.6 59.0 -10.6
2005 A's 4 275 96.6 81.4 -15.2
2004 Mariners 5 337 94.4 71.8 -22.6

 

# = Number of players on Top 50/100 list
PP - Prospect Points
PRE - Average number of wins in the previous five seasons
POST - Average number of wins in the subsequent five seasons*
DIFF - Difference in average wins per year PRE and POST

* For teams from 2013-16 that have not played five subsequent seasons, this number is the average of all subsequent seasons played.

With that in mind, here is a chronological look back at some of the best examples of prospect-driven improvements, followed by a look forward at which clubs could be the next to make a similar leap.

2005 -- Milwaukee Brewers
Prospect Points rank: 1st
Top 50 Prospects: Rickie Weeks (No. 8), Prince Fielder (No. 10), Jose Capellan (No. 18), J.J. Hardy (No. 48)
Average wins in previous five seasons: 66.4
Average wins in next five seasons: 81.8
Increase in average wins per season: 15.3
Milwaukee, which also ranked fourth on the 2004 list, vaulted from 67 to 81 wins in '05 for its first .500 season since 1992. Progress stagnated for a while, but the Brew Crew broke through for 90 victories and a National League Wild Card berth in '08, snapping a 25-season playoff drought. Fielder, Weeks and Hardy formed three-quarters of the team's infield that year, playing an average of 145 games between them and combining for 72 home runs.

2008 -- Tampa Bay Rays
Prospect Points rank: 1st
Top 50 Prospects: Evan Longoria (No. 2), David Price (No. 11), Wade Davis (No. 12), Jake McGee (No. 20), Reid Brignac (No. 32)
Average wins in previous five seasons: 65.4
Average wins in next five seasons: 91.6
Increase in average wins per season: 26.2
The franchise had not won more than 70 games in any of its first 10 seasons and collected the fewest wins in the Majors from 2003-07. But all of that futility allowed Tampa Bay, which also came in third on the '07 list, to draft Longoria third overall in '06 and Price first in '07. The former took American League Rookie of the Year honors for the World Series-bound Rays in '08, while the latter debuted that September and quickly developed into an ace. With Longoria and Price acting as cornerstones of the lineup and rotation, respectively, the Rays won the third-most games in MLB from '08-'12 and made the postseason three times.

2010 -- San Francisco Giants
Prospect Points rank: 5th
Top 50 Prospects: Buster Posey (No. 4), Madison Bumgarner (No. 10)
Average wins in previous five seasons: 76.4
Average wins in next five seasons: 87.2
Increase in average wins per season: 10.8
The Giants ranked fourth on the list in 2009, when they won 88 games to snap a streak of four straight losing campaigns. The next season they embarked upon a magical even-year run of three championships over a five-year span -- with the Posey-Bumgarner battery a driving force. Posey, the NL Rookie of the Year Award winner in '10, quickly became one of the game's best catchers and took NL MVP honors in '12. Bumgarner, an All-Star in his own right, first became a postseason legend as a 21-year old during San Francisco's first title run and cemented that status four years later when he was named MVP of both the NL Championship Series and World Series.

2011 -- Kansas City Royals
Prospect Points rank: 1st
Top 50 Prospects: Mike Moustakas (No. 7), Eric Hosmer (No. 8), Mike Montgomery (No. 14), Wil Myers (No. 16), John Lamb (No. 34), Jake Odorizzi (No. 37)
Average wins in previous five seasons: 67.6
Average wins in next five seasons: 82.6
Increase in average wins per season: 15.0
The Royals also ranked second the following year, but the progress didn't begin to show until '13, when they finished above .500 for just the second time since 1994. K.C. then made it to the World Series in '14 -- its first postseason trip since 1985 -- and completed its championship quest a year later. Homegrown talent took center stage in that transformation, with Moustakas and Hosmer starting at the infield corners. But general manager Dayton Moore also gave up Montgomery, Myers and Odorizzi in a much-criticized trade with the Rays that landed 2013-14 staff ace James Shields, as well as Wade Davis, who turned into a shutdown reliever. Lamb also was shipped to the Reds at the '15 Trade Deadline as part of a package for Johnny Cueto.

2014 -- Houston Astros
Prospect Points rank: 2nd (tied)
Top 50 Prospects: Carlos Correa (No. 8), Mark Appel (No. 17), George Springer (No. 21), Jonathan Singleton (No. 50), Lance McCullers Jr. (No. 52), Mike Foltynewicz (No. 54), Delino DeShields Jr. (No. 66)
Average wins in previous five seasons: 62.4
Average wins in next three seasons: 80.0
Increase in average wins per season: 17.6
The Astros implemented a drastic rebuilding effort and won 44 fewer games than any other team from 2009-13, with the last three of those seasons each bringing at least 106 losses. That approach netted Houston a boatload of high Draft picks, and while not all of those panned out, first-rounders Correa ('12), McCullers ('12) and Springer ('11) all played significant roles as the club returned to the playoffs in '15. All three remain key parts of the future for an expected '17 contender, while Appel was used to acquire Ken Giles and Foltynewicz helped fetch Evan Gattis.

2015 -- Chicago Cubs
Prospect Points rank: 2nd
Top 50 Prospects: Kris Bryant (No. 2), Addison Russell (No. 5), Jorge Soler (No. 22), Carl Edwards Jr. (No. 47), Kyle Schwarber (No. 49), Albert Almora Jr. (No. 57)
Average wins in previous five seasons: 69.2
Average wins in next two seasons: 100.0
Increase in average wins per season: 30.8
The Cubs, who also tied the Astros for second in '14, won fewer games than anyone besides Houston over the five seasons prior to '15, when they zipped from 73 to 97 victories. A year later, the club broke the most infamous championship drought in pro sports, thanks in no small part to an emerging crop of prospects. With Bryant the reigning NL MVP, Russell a stellar shortstop, Edwards a nasty bullpen arm and Schwarber a power bat, Chicago appears poised for plenty more success over the next few years.

Who's next?

Chicago White Sox (2nd on 2017 list): The Sox have averaged 75 wins over the past five seasons and haven't made the playoffs since 2008 but moved to rebuild this winter by trading Chris Sale and Adam Eaton. Those two transactions landed them four top-50 prospects in second baseman Yoan Moncada and right-handers Lucas Giolito, Michael Kopech and Reynaldo Lopez. That quartet could help the club follow the path of its North Side neighbor.

Atlanta Braves (3rd): After winning more than 90 games in both 2012 and '13, Atlanta fell off and soon changed course, losing more than 90 in each of the past two years. But things are looking up as the franchise moves into its new ballpark in '17. Acquired from Arizona in the fruitful Shelby Miller trade, No. 4 prospect Dansby Swanson looks ready to anchor the Braves' infield for years to come, with Ozzie Albies (No. 11) looming as a possible double-play partner.

Milwaukee Brewers (5th): Since claiming an NL Central title with 96 wins in 2011, Milwaukee has averaged 76 per season, including a 73-89 mark in '16. It will be a tough task for this crop of prospects to match the turnaround effort that Fielder and Co. pulled off, but toolsy outfielders Lewis Brinson and Corey Ray and promising pitchers Josh Hader and Luis Ortiz will give it a shot.

Andrew Simon is a research analyst for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @AndrewSimonMLB. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.