BA’s Top 100 Prospects: Something’s wrong

Baseball America released their newest Top 100 Prospects list today, and of course I’m now here to complain.

BA ranked OF Fernando Martinez 77th overall, a forty-seven rank drop from last season. Why? Let’s take a look at Martinez’s 2009 season:

Triple-A (190 Plate Appearances): .290/.337/.540, .316 BABIP
MLB (100 Plate Appearances): .176/.242/.275, .197 BABIP

So he raked in Triple-A and stunk in the majors, although his BABIP is partly to blame. Guess what? He’s 20 years old! How can you drop forty-seven slots when you put up those numbers in the highest level of minor league ball as a twenty year old? I guess the only answer is that there are some other awesome prospects that overtook him. Let’s take a look:

3B Josh Vitters was ranked 70th overall, seven slots ahead of F-Mart. A year younger than Martinez, here was Vitters’ 2009 season in which he was nineteen years old:

Single-A (288 Plate Appearances): .316/.351/.535, .326 BABIP
High-A (196 Plate Appearances): .238/.260/.344, .256 BABIP

When you consider not only that Martinez can play all three outfield positions, whereas Vitters is a third baseman, it makes this situation all the more absurd. In his age-nineteen season, Martinez hit .287/.340/.432…in Double-A! I mean, this is really funny. In their recently released top prospect list, Project Prospect ranked F-Mart tenth overall, whereas Vitters didn’t even crack the top 100.

OF Austin Jackson was ranked one spot ahead of Martinez. Here was Jackson’s 2009 season, in which he was twenty-two years old, two years older than F-Mart:

Triple-A: .300/.354/.405, .384 BABIP

Seriously…that’s it? Talk about going gaga for tools and batting average. Jackson, who was dealt by the Yankees to the Tigers in the Curtis Granderson deal, had an OPS .121 lower than Martinez last year, at the same minor league level, playing the same position, all while being two years older. Here’s Jackson’s age twenty-one season:

Double-A: .285/.354/.419, .346 BABIP

That’s almost the exact same OPS as F-Mart’s in Double-A, only that Jackson was two years older than Martinez at the time he was playing.

There are some other seriously questionable guys ranked higher than Martinez, including Brett Lawrie (#59) and Jiovanni Mier (#73). However, this one takes the cake:

OF Jared Mitchell was ranked 55th overall. Mitchell is three days older than Fernando Martinez, and mustered an OPS .025 points lower than Martinez playing in A-Ball! I mean, that is so laughable as to be silly. You have a guy older than Martinez performing about equally at a much lower level in the minors, whereas Martinez is at the highest level, and you call the guy twenty-five spots better than F-Mart.

Update: Sam Page of Amazin Avenue pointed out in the comments section here and at AA that the drop is because of F-Mart’s injuries. However, AA’s own prospect guy Mark Himmelstein responded well:

Dropping him because he can’t stay healthy, which seems a little silly, being that none of his injuries have been related, and the most serious one was a few years ago now when he broke his hamate bone. If anything, that should have earned him at least a season of good grace to get his power back, even forgetting he was in a level way to advanced for him at the time. And of course, now that he finally showed he got his power back by crushing Triple-A pitching for two months, now its time to start writing him off and dropping him spots.

I also noted that Martinez’s Triple-A and Caribbean Series manager, Ken Oberkfell, said this:

“He’s been doing well after he struggled early in the year,” said Dominican Republic manager Ken Oberkfell, who also serves as Martinez’s manager in Buffalo. “He had some nagging injuries, but he’s in better shape. He really had a great Dominican championship. He’s been swinging the bat well, and he’s ready for Spring Training.”

Martinez won the MVP of the Caribbean Series.

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Comments

  1. Craig Burley said...

    I’d echo what Sam said – “health is a skill” as one of my friends likes to say and it’s one of the most important – if Martinez is continually injured as a physically fit youth, it doesn’t bode well for how he will fare as a 25-year-old millionaire.  It may not mean anything in the end, but it is risk that needs to be factored in.

    More than that, though, what bothers me is the apparent need to single-mindedly fixate on a single player’s ranking – not just that, but on the year-on-year delta in his rankings.

    Can we get some perspective here, please?  If BA is conducting a ten-way negotiation (or more) in setting up their Top 100 (as we know they do) there will be differences of opinion that result in these changes.  Maybe some of his former defenders have seen things in his time in AAA or the majors (where, let’s face it, his performance will be under an increased microscope) that they don’t like.

    I have had my differences with Baseball America and their prospect evaluation in the past, sure.  But a word to the wise: don’t be too quick to break out the mockery if you don’t have an explanation for something.  That explanation might be forthcoming.

  2. Matty said...

    Maybe it’s because prospect rankings are a very subjective thing?  You calling it a joke/laughable is more than a little over-the-top.  Read the BA prospect report on FMart.  They talk about how his speed has declined, which is a big part of why his stock has dropped.  It’s not like the BA guys have given up on FMart.  They are just less sure he’s going to be a star, with injury a big factor.  Keith Law dropped him from 16 to 73 this year with the same concerns, as well as conditioning/work ethic questions.  Everyone agrees the potential is there.

  3. Pat Andriola said...

    Matty,

    Maybe my language was hyperbolic, but I can’t get over the Jared Mitchell ranking given their respective ages and performances.

  4. Rob G. said...

    BA does their rankings by the players’ ceiling, and very little consideration into their stats or level they’re at. They’ve been pretty upfront about it if you’ve followed them.

    There are plenty of prospect lists with different criteria or a more statistical angle if that is what you prefer.

    But to say its laughable or a joke because of some guys’ OPS in rookie ball is like being mad there isn’t more action in this romantic comedy I’m watching.

  5. Matty said...

    But should they be doing their prospect rankings based on minor league stats?  If so, Hanley Ramirez never would have amounted to anything.  Most of the BA writers rank on a mix of ceiling and the likelihood of reaching it.  Mitchell played football at LSU, went straight into baseball season each year, and went straight to the Sally League (a pitcher’s league if I remember right).  The guy hasn’t played a full year of baseball (probably ever?), so you could argue that Martinez is much more experienced at a younger age.  He’s been playing full time since signing as a 16 year old.  Maybe they think Mitchell will develop more at his age than most 22 year olds.  He’s also known as a good kid with a great work ethic, which the BA guys are probably well aware of.  Years of following prospects have convinced me to take the rankings with a grain of salt.  Just take a look at John Sickels’ 2005 list of hitters: http://www.minorleagueball.com/2010/1/25/1269300/top-50-hitting-prospects-from-2005

    This isn’t an exact science.  Numbers tell you some things, but they don’t tell you everything.  Look at the minor league numbers for Hanley Ramirez for an example.

  6. Gina said...

    I tend to agree with health being a skill and that some guys are just plain injury prone, and F-mart may be healthy now but that doesn’t mean another injury won’t pop up. But as far as his speed dropping, I’m pretty certain that 2-3 years ago when BA had him ranked in their top 30 they were already projecting him filling out and getting slower, I think they’re top ten mets prospects list following the 07 season had him filling out so much he’d have be moved to 1b, which obviously hasn’t happened and he’s still projected to play average to above average defense in a corner spot. So it seems odd that they would rank him so high in 07 and then drop him 2 years later for something they projected to happen, especially when it hasn’t happened to the extreme they expected.

  7. BlackOps said...

    Of course there is more to a prospect than age and league, but when the age is the same and the league difference is rookie ball to AAA, there is no way Mitchell should be 25 spots ahead of Martinez.

  8. kevin said...

    Pat fell into the trap of being a fan, not an analyst. Pat started out with an assumption that Martinez will be a great player very soon, and then he looked for evidence that someone prominent disagrees with him.  Welcome to 1970s sportswriting, Pat.

  9. Mike said...

    Pat, I appreciate your response, but you just referenced sample size to the commenter above me, then used Mitchell’s 115 minor league at-bats as support against me…

  10. Keith said...

    Like Matty noted, Mitchell did not play in Rookie Ball, but rather full-season A-ball.  The difference in pitching between the two leagues is immense.  Really, judging these two players on their 2009 numbers alone isn’t very illuminating – 190 PA for Martinez and 139 PA for Mitchell.  If we look at the components of OPS, we find that Mitchell has a far better understanding of the strike zone in his first pro season than Martinez displayed in his fourth.  Martinez exhibited more power, which is perhaps to be expected as Mitchell was using wood bats for the first time.

    More importantly, Martinez’ overall minor league OPS is just .785 and I see no reason that we should assume that his listed birthday is correct.  Don’t get me wrong, I think BA is overrating Mitchell, who is the third-best White Sox prospect in my book, but I don’t think rating him ahead of Martinez is egregious at all.

  11. Pat Andriola said...

    Did anyone here notice the response I posted from Mark Himmelstein of AA, that F-Mart’s injuries have not been prolonged, nagging ones that can cause severe problems down the line (such as Liriano) but mostly freak injuries (his surgery last year was due to a fluke play: tripping in the outfield). There’s no reason to believe why he’s “injury prone” just because he has a few freak accidents.

    Re: Mitchell. I misread A-Ball for Rookie, my mistake, but the point still stands. Difference is that Martinez has proven himself at every level of the minors at a young age. Mitchell has a few hundred at-bats and he’s doing well, nothing spectacular, and for that he gets 25 spots ahead? Please.

  12. ecp said...

    kevin, I agree.  This is a fanboy post, pure and simple.  A lot of “But, look, he…  “But, look, he…”  “But look, he…” just because Pat happens to think FMart is the greatest thing since sliced bread and BP isn’t so sure.  Studeman is right, scouts have been all over the place on this guy; to one he’s a superstar and to the next he’s a league average outfielder at best.

    I don’t mind these sorts of “fannish” posts on THT once in a while (although I’d prefer more neutrality).  Just not all the time.

  13. Gina said...

    Yeah, I imagine, along with injuries, the biggest reason for Martinez’s drop is his awful bb/k ratio. That, along with the fact he likely won’t be playing a premium position, REALLY hurts his ceiling, and while he’s only 21 he has been in professional baseball for a pretty long time and there doesn’t seem to be a lot of reason to believe his strike zone control is going to make huge leaps in bounds in the next 1-1.5 years, which is his ETA.

  14. Gina said...

    I think people read it, that was probably the point of the comments talking about durability as a skill set. There are some players that just have a string of unrelated freak injuries through out their careers for some reasons even when they seem reasonably healthy. And I would think multiple freak unrelated injuries would be a reason to think someone’s body just isn’t durable, since there’s no specific cause you can point too like overcompensating or something in their motion or work out. Maybe F-marts just been unlucky and this is the year he’ll play a full season, but it’s hard to believe it’s just a string of bad luck when a guy hasn’t managed to play 90 games or break 400 plate appearances in 4 consecutive years due to injuries.

  15. B said...

    Martinez no longer being projected as a CF (along with the injuries) is what kills his stock. This isn’t a fantasy baseball ranking, OF position does matter.

    Mitchell is a CF and possibly a plus defender at CF at that. That gives him major bonus points.

  16. Nate said...

    Not exactly sure if everyone has touched on this, but I reckon that BA’s rankings factor in tools as well. Obviously with Mitchell being good enough to play football at LSU, he is incredibly athletic and I would bet BA would think that with his athleticism and skill set, he would blossom when he focuses on baseball full-time. To be honest, I don’t always agree with that logic, but as its stated before, this thing isn’t an exact science. I wouldn’t get too up in arms about prospect rankings.

  17. Mike said...

    Pat, let me ask you a few questions:
    1) How many of the players in your article have you actually seen play, and what was your evaluation of them?
    2) Do you have any sort of tools-grade analysis of these players, or are you only looking at numbers (and, if only numbers, are you factoring in leagues, parks, etc.)?
    3) Did you seriously just complain about a guy being ranked one spot ahead of someone on a prospect list?
    4) Gee, are you a Mets fan?

  18. The Real Neal said...

    It’s hard to have a reasonable discussion with someone who has never watched any of these guys actually play baseball.

    Pat, did you watch the CWS this year? (that’s a rhetorical question, I know the answer)  Mitchell was a man among boys.  The, what’s the nice word.. naivete that you can look at a guy who was adjusting to wooden bats and carried a .400 OBP and say he is definitively a worse prospect than a guy who is a tweener defensively and can’t stay healthy…

    Opinions are good, but informed opinions are much better.

  19. Pat Andriola said...

    The Real Neal,

    Of course I watched the CWS last year. Congrats on your super big sample size to a judge a player. Sorry I was using thousands of minor league at-bats for Fernando Martinez. A few dozen in the CWS? Wow! Nothing flukey could ever happen in that many at-bats!

    It’s amazing you can look at a guy who hit .333/.389/.505 when he was in A-Ball when he was 17 four years ago, and then go on to out-OPS the other playing three levels above, and who has much more minor league success, and put him 25 spots below the other guy.

    Sarcasm is nice. Facts are much better. smile

  20. Pat Andriola said...

    Mike

    1) On TV I’ve seen F-Mart, Mitchell, and A-Jax play. I think they’re all solid prospects, but I’m not a scout.

    2) I’m looking at a bunch of things besides stats, including position scarcity (re: Vitters comp). I’m looking at Mitchell’s BABIP of .453 and seeing that if you neutralize his park on Minor League Slits his OPS goes down .16 points. .11 for F-Mart. Neultralize F-Mart’s park and luck and he has the same OPS. Do it for Mitchell and it goes down .128 points.smile

    3) I did, because I think it is indicative of a larger problem.

    4) Yeah I’m a Mets fan. It’s the reason why I noticed it, but it doesn’t throw away the facts:

    http://www.nizkor.org/features/fallacies/ad-hominem.html

  21. Michael D said...

    Also if Martinez is no longer projected to be a CF, then that would hurt him relative to Vitters.  3B is more valuable than RF or LF.

  22. Dave Studeman said...

    Martinez has always been a controversial prospect, with some scouts high on the kid and others thinking that he’s way overrated.  So he’s naturally going to be jerked around on these kind of lists, particularly when he’s been promoted to the bigs ahead of his time.

    I don’t see lists like this as a science, just a survey of how people are feeling about each prospect at a certain point in time.  I enjoy them for that reason.  As Craig said, cherrypicking individual choices doesn’t really gain anything.

  23. obsessivegiantscompulsive said...

    Injuries may not be connected, but as people noted, health concerns is a risk, particularly if a young under 20 YO prospect can’t stay healthy.  Francisco Liriano could have been one of the best pitchers in the game today if he could ever figure out how to avoid all those injuries.

    F-Mart has been so fragile that he has not even played over 90 games nor had more than 400 PA in a season yet, despite playing in full-season leagues since he was 17 YO and he is now 21 this season.  Depending on how you count his first season, he has had 3 to 4 seasons now where he could have, should have played a full season, but just could never avoid the injury bug or perhaps the need to be careful with him.

    Perhaps if you read some history of the game, you will understand that there will be players like Pete Reiser who could have been superstars but for whatever reason about the way they played, they could never stay healthy enough to play a full season. 

    And really, you are going to base everything on what a guy’s manager is saying about him?  What is Oberkfell going to say about his team’s top prospect?  Anything really detrimental would kill his trade value and get you fired in a hurry.

    If anything, I think that BA was acknowledging his potential with the high ranking from last season, but this year acknowledges that, for whatever reason, he just can’t stay healthy for a whole season.  Being able to answer the call every game is a skill, a skill that most people have, but for a small subset (like Chris Brown, former 3B for the Giants) they just can’t buy health.

  24. obsessivegiantscompulsive said...

    Don’t matter how much you can crunch the balls if you are unable to crunch the balls because you are on the trainer’s table being treated for one thing or another.  Kurt Ainsworth was a very good pitcher, and he never had any injury that was related to each other, but he always had some sort of injury waylay him.

    Maybe F-Mart is finally healthy and ready to wear the crown.  But after 3-4 seasons of being unable to play a full season, he first (for BA and many talent evaluators, the two analysts who write Minor League Baseball Analyst dropped him even lower, noting his health problems) needs to play a full season without missing so many games.  You can’t hit any balls when on the DL.

  25. The Real Neal said...

    If you get hurt more that Josh Vitters, being in the top 100 is pretty damned impressive.  Vitters can’t stay healthy, yet he looks like Cal Ripken compared to Martinez.

    Then there’s the fact that there are scouts who think Vitters will hit 25 to 30 HR’s.  There’s the fact that 3B is a more valuable position than RF or LF and the jury is out on whether Martinez can stay in center, and finally there’s this thing called the AFL where Vitters hit .353 in the AFL as one of the youngest players.

    I’d probably agree that Martinez is a better prospect than Vitters, but to act like it’s a slam dunk is foolish.

  26. The Real Neal said...

    Wow, I didn’t even get down to the Jared Mitchell comments.  There is more to a prospect than his age his league and his OPS.  Going by your criteria, Strasberg isn’t a top 100 prospect because he didn’t even play in rookie ball.  I hope this article is sarcasm that is too high brow for me to catch.

  27. The Real Neal said...

    Pat,

    I wasn’t talking about stats, just more proof that you didn’t actually watch the CWS or weren’t paying attention.

    If you want to be taken seriously, you’ve got to know what you don’t know.

    “It’s amazing you can look at a guy who hit .333/.389/.505 when he was in A-Ball when he was 17 four years ago, and then go on to out-OPS the other playing three levels above, and who has much more minor league success, and put him 25 spots below the other guy.”

    It’s not only about age it’s about experience.  Comparing a guy who’s been in professional baseball for 4 years and played baseball as his primary sport since he was 6 to a guy who’s been playing baseball as a part time gig…A guy who if he can remain healthy may be a 20/20 guy to a guy with 30/30+ potential.

    I am all for stats, but you need to apply some scouting and some common sense to determine who is more likely to be an impact major league player.

  28. Poseur said...

    Also, why completely throw out Mitchell’s college stats.  want to claim the CWS was small sample size fluke?  OK, look at his whole season:

    327/470/580 with 36 stolen bases in 226 AB’s.

    Now, obviously you have to discount those stats with the knowledge he’s hitting with an aluminum bat, but I don’t think you get to throw out all of his college career.  And it’s not Mitchell didn’t face some impressive talent in the SEC.  At LSU, Mitchell was a plus defender and a terror on the baepaths, but yeah, let’s just look at his OPS in A-ball. 

    Sure, I’m an LSU homer and I think Mitchell’s got real flaws (lefty pitchers ate him alive for most of the year, and he loved chasing curveballs out of the zone), but let’s not talk about Mitchell’s 2009 and delete half of the record on the grounds that the CWS is a small sample size.

  29. Peter said...

    The thing is, prospect rankings have little to do with what they’ve done and everything to do with what they’re *going to* do.  Minor league numbers have fairly limited predictive value, especially when compared to what scouts can tell us.  Numbers tell us who is good now, scouts have the ability to predict (not without uncertainly, but still) who will be good in MLB.

    If you’re going to dispute rankings, you need to start with scouting reports and work back to numbers.  Numbers are a crappy starting point.

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