MLB.com's new Top 100 Prospects was released Thursday, with Minnesota outfielder Byron Buxton as close to a unanimous top prospect as there's been in recent memory. There were 35 newcomers named to the list this year.
The time has come once again to unveil a new prospect rankings. The new Top 100 Prospects list is out and ready for you to tear down, err, analyze.
Of course, that's exactly why lists like this come out -- to stir debate and get people talking. Discussions around who's on the list, who's not, who's too high or too low, are always passionate, and this year undoubtedly will be no different.
It would be hard to imagine that anyone would have much to say about who is in the top spot. Twins outfielder Byron Buxton, who became No. 1 when the list was re-ranked last summer, is as close to a unanimous top prospect as there's been in recent memory.
"I think he's made unbelievable strides as far as maturing, not only as a player but as a person," Twins general manager Terry Ryan said. "As far as taking the responsibility of what he is and who is he and where he's headed, I think he's done a wonderful job.
"He just knows the responsibility that comes with being the best player in the Minor Leagues, according to some people. He gets it."
Buxton and the others are eligible for the Top 100 because they still have rookie eligibility. To qualify for rookie status, a player must not have exceeded 130 at-bats or 50 innings pitched in the Major Leagues or have accumulated more than 45 days on the active roster of a Major League club(s) during the 25-player-limit period, excluding time on the disabled list or in military service.
Such international signees as new Yankees pitcher Masahiro Tanaka, in case you were wondering, were not considered. The rankings follow the guidelines laid out by the new Collective Bargaining Agreement in terms of who falls under the international pool money rules: Players who are at least 23 years old and played in leagues deemed to be professional (Japan, Korea, Taiwan, Cuba) are not eligible.
With that framework, the Top 100 is put together by myself and Jim Callis, with help from the rest of the MLBPipeline team and input from industry sources, including scouts and front-office executives. It is based on analysis of players' upsides, tools and potential Major League impact.
Not counting the 2013 Draftees who are now on the list, there are 35 new names on the list compared with the '13 version. Some of them were added as last season went on, or when the list was officially re-ranked over the summer. Some made huge jumps onto the list, starting with Phillies third baseman Maikel Franco at No. 26, followed very closely by Pirates right-hander Tyler Glasnow at No. 27. Other prospects who went from not being on the list to hitting the top 50 were the Dodgers' Corey Seager (34), Raul Adalberto Mondesi (38) of the Royals, Rockies right-hander Eddie Butler (41) and C.J. Edwards (42) from the Cubs.
Moving up, down and off
There was plenty of movement in both directions on this year's list. Since it's always better to accentuate the positive, let's start with those who were on the list a year ago, but have made substantial jumps forward.
Red Sox lefty Henry Owens barely made the Top 100 in 2013, coming in at No. 94. He jumped 64 places to No. 30 in this edition. The Giants' Kyle Crick (54 spots), Gregory Polanco of the Pirates (52 places) and the Marlins' Andrew Heaney (52 spots) round out the quartet that improved their standing 50 or more places in the rankings.
On the flip side of that coin, a pair of pitchers slid 50 or more slots but stayed on the list. Trevor Bauer's struggles during his first season with the Indians resulted in a drop of 56 places, from 17 to 73. Rays right-hander Taylor Guerrieri went from 44 to 94, weighted down by a combination of his suspension and his Tommy John surgery.
Three players who landed in the front half of last year's Top 100 are no longer on the list, starting with Mariners lefty Danny Hultzen, whose shoulder problems made him go from No. 17 to beyond the Top 100. Mike Olt, now with the Cubs, struggled in 2013 and moved him from No. 22 to off the list, and Royals outfielder Bubba Starling slid off from No. 26. Returns to health or form could allow all three to climb back onto the list in the future.
Handing out grades
Scouting grades became a staple on Prospect Watch last year and are back again, this time with a twist. This year, players are given future grades on a 20-80 scale (20-30 is well below average, 40 is below average, 50 is average, 60 is above average and 70-80 is well above average) for each individual tool, along with an overall grade. The most important grade is the future overall grade -- this number signifies what each player will ultimately be in the big leagues.
A future 65 or better is a player who could develop into a impact Major Leaguer, perhaps an All-Star-caliber standout. This year's list has 16 players with a 65, and one -- Buxton -- with an overall 75 grade.
Giving 100 points to the team with the No. 1 prospect, 99 to the team with No. 2 and on down, below are the top 10 teams in terms of "prospect points."
All but one team is represented on this year's list, with only the Angels shut out. Two teams, the Brewers and the A's, have one prospect each, and there are nine organizations with two representatives. On the other end of the spectrum is the Boston Red Sox, leading the way with nine on the Top 100. The Cubs and Astros are next, with seven representatives each. The Pirates have six, and the Twins and Rangers each have five.
While having a lot of prospects on the list is certainly not a bad thing, it also doesn't instantly mean that an organization has the best farm system, because it doesn't necessarily reflect depth in a system or where talent is along the organizational pipeline. For the last few years, though, we've used a weighted scoring system to determine which system has the most impact or elite talent. After awarding 100 points to the team with the No. 1 prospect, 99 to No. 2 and so on, it turns out the team with the most prospects on the list does not rank atop the "prospect points" standings.
That honor belongs to the Houston Astros, whose seven prospects netted 439 points. The Red Sox are close behind with 436, while the Cubs (393), Pirates (364) and Twins (342) round out the top five. The Rangers, while having five prospects like the Twins, finished 14th with 167 points due to their Minor Leaguers landing a bit further down the list.
Pitching once again dominates the list. Over the previous two years of the Top 100, there have been 48 and 47 pitchers on the list, respectively. This year, it's even more arm-heavy, with 58 of the 100 making their living on the mound. Thirty-nine are right-handed. Outfielders are next, with 19 representatives. Shortstops (12), third basemen (nine), catchers (six), second basemen (four) and first basemen (one) round out the breakdown.
Feeling the Draft
The Top 100 continues to be as Draft-heavy (if not more) as it is pitching-heavy. There are 77 players on the list who came to the pro game via the First-Year Player Draft. It probably isn't shocking to note that most are former first-round picks -- 42, to be precise. There are 17 supplemental first-rounders as well, with six second-rounders making the cut.
There are some late-rounders as well. While the fourth round has three players and the fifth round two, there is also an 11th-rounder (the Dodgers' Joc Pederson), 12th-rounder (the Tigers' Robbie Ray), 18th-rounder (Allen Webster of the Red Sox) and 48th-rounder (the Cubs' C.J. Edwards) in the Top 100.
Among the 23 international non-drafted free agents on the list, there are eight countries represented. The Dominican Republic wins in a landslide, with 12 players on the list. Venezuela is next, with four, and Mexico is the only other country with multiple players, with two. Aruba, Colombia, Cuba, Panama and Korea each have one representative. Puerto Rico is often counted as international, but Carlos Correa (from Puerto Rico) and Francisco Lindor (born there, but went to high school in Florida) were draftees.
Age in the eye of the beholder
Prospects, by the very definition of the word, tend to be on the young side. This year's Top 100 is definitely reflective of that. The average age of all 100 players is 21.2 years old. There are 15 teenagers on the list, with 17-year-old Julio Urias the youngest of them all. Travis d'Arnaud is the oldest, one of seven 24-year-olds on the list.