I really wish I could properly evaluate prospects. It would be so great to have well-informed and cogent opinions on all the players coming up through the Indians’ farm system. I would be able to provide insight and opinion, critical evaluation, and future projections. But I can’t. I don’t have the time to do all the work it requires, and I probably don’t have the expertise either. Sure, I get to a few Lake County and Akron games each year, and when I wasn’t teaching high school math, I was a pretty good baseball coach. But it’s hardly the sort of skill-set needed to evaluate players across a wide variety of ages and levels, much less to be able to project the sort of impact that they might eventually have in the majors.
Anyway, there are so many good people already doing prospect-evaluation that I wouldn’t likely be able to offer anything of value even if I possessed the requisite skills and energy. We already have the guys from Baseball America and Keith Law and Baseball Prospectus to keep us informed nationally. On top of that, Tony Lastoria does a great job covering the Indians minor league system, with more access and thought than I could ever muster.
So rather than coming up with my own evaluations, I lean on the experts. In that vein, our own Jacob Rosen pointed us toward John Sickels’ annual prospect grades last week, noting that it
enables some cross-system comparisons as well as more in-depth internal analysis. So what did they find for the Indians? An astonishing lack of high-potential impact players projected to be immediate stars at the MLB level, and an filthy rich concentration of mediocre prospects.
Chisenhall, White, Kipnis and Pomeranz paced the Tribe with B+’s according to the website. From there, three more players finished with a B, six finished with a B- and the rest of the top 26 ranking all settled with a C+. This is similar to the many criticisms that I’ve heard about the Indians system over the past two seasons, and that is potentially too much reliance upon at least one of those top four players to become an All-Star caliber player. And as of right now, it doesn’t really look that way for any of them as Minor League Ball simply projects them to be solid but not spectacular performers eventually in the majors. This could be a major problem for general manager Chris Antonetti down the road, and the need for another superstar should spill over into upcoming draft strategies.
Jacob got me thinking: what exactly do these grades mean? How do they translate to future impact players? What can we bring that is quantitative to the inherently qualitative grades handed out by Sickels? Is it really so bad that we only have “B+” prospects? How do the other teams grade out in comparison?
Luckily, some really smart people already did something pretty cool with these numbers. Minor League Ball used some work done by The Hardball Times and Beyond the Boxscore to assign dollar figures to each grade and type of player to rate each teams’ group of prospects. If you have any interest in all in how prospects are valued, I suggest you click on those handy links—they’re really good. But the takeaway is that the Indians have the third most valuable group of prospects in baseball, valued at $165 million. Here’s the chart that goes with all their great work:
But for whatever reason, I went in a slightly different direction. Bear with me here. The first thing that “grading” brings to my mind are “report cards,” and as any college kid knows, report cards can typically be summarized with one acronym: GPA. That’s right, I thought I’d calculate each systems’ GPA using Sickels’ original grades.
As a reminder, here are the total grades for each team; the numbers are how many of those sorts of players the system has:
I’ll get back the “TOTAL” column in a second, but for now, let’s just note a couple things. First, out of a total of 574 prospects rated, only 13 received an “A” with another nine coming in with “A-“. As Jacob noted, the Indians had four “B+” prospects with a total of 13 guys rated in the “B range”. Here’s a quick histogram to give you a feel for the kind of grader Sickels is. This is all 574 grades handed out:
So it looks to me that it’s pretty easy to rate in the C+ range, and any grade higher than that becomes harder and harder to attain. Sort of like a bell-curve (considering that I’m leaving off the bottom half of the grading scale) with the extremes being far less common than the middle of the pack.
Anyway, back to the story. I assigned values to each grade—the sort of values that you’d get in a college course—to come up with each team’s “Prospect GPA”. Here’s the scale I used:
Then I calculated each team’s GPA by assigning the value to each player and dividing by the total number of players. Sort of a total evaluation of the talent. Here’s how that came out:
And here’s a graph representing the same (click to enlarge):
Obviously, the Indians farm system ranks out as above average. According to these figures, the average team’s “Prospect GPA” was 2.75 and the Indians received a 2.78. Not dramatically above average, but considering how closely bunched all these systems are, they’re good for eighth overall.
But what gives? Why is our system valued at 3rd overall by the smart guys above if their “GPA” is only eighth?
Well, everybody who’s ever tried to convince their parents that taking 12 credit hours is the same as taking 16, you might want to stop reading now. After all, getting a 3.5 GPA when you’re taking one class is a lot easier than getting a 3.5 when you’re taking six classes, right?
And that’s where that “TOTAL” column comes in above. You would like to believe that the Indians’ system should receive some credit for having so many players rated at a C+ or above. After all, the Indians have 26 total prospects who were rated highly enough to make this list, second only to the Royals. The Reds–who rate well above the Indians in GPA due to their “high-end” prospects–only have 19 guys make the cut. How to account for that difference?
Well, it turns out we can allow for systems to get credit for having more prospects by adding the cumulative grades together and not dividing by the total. This will give us a weighted GPA, or what I’m calling “wGPA”. Here’s what that looks like:
And here’s the corresponding graph (click on the graph for a full-size image):
Now we’re getting somewhere. By these metrics, we come in second behind the Royals. (I’d keep an eye out for them in a few years; their minor league kids are pretty darn good.) Here, the Indians’ system is thought of so highly because, while they may not have many future superstars on the farm, they have a great number of good players—players who are likely to become above average regulars in the Majors. While Alex White and Lonnie Chisenhall and Jason Kipnis and Drew Pomeranz might not become Hall of Famers, they’re still going to be pretty darn good, and the fact that we have so many of these sorts of guys makes our system second-to-one.
As it should be: the massive talent exodus that took place over the last several years needed to restock a farm system that was left mostly barren from a decade of fruitless drafting. Luckily, it appears that the front office has done the sort of restocking that was necessary. Unluckily, no prospects are sure things, and 2011 could be a tough year if none of those guys can help out the big league club in any appreciable way.
Nonetheless, in all the doom and gloom around the Indians’ current straits, I thought it might be worth pointing out that the team appears to be moving in the right direction. Sure, a good farm system and $2 won’t buy you a $3 cup of coffee, but it’s something. We appear to have some strong players in the system, and if they’re not quite superstars? Well, as I said in the comments to Jacob’s piece, good players win games too.
Lord knows we could use them.