View Full Version : When is and isn't a minor leaguer a prospect?

06-02-2008, 06:41 PM
I normally don't really care for this Doc Rodgers guy and I usually tune out when he starts talking about his minor league playing days, but something he said recently made me think a bit.

He was talking about how a prospect will get more playing time than someone who isn't a prospect, even if the non prospect is playing well. He referenced a time when he thought he should have been getting more innings because he was pitching well and had one the best ERAs in the league (whatever minor league he was in) then the manager sat him down and told him that he wasn't going to get the innings some other pitcher was because he wasn't a prospect. To his credit, he said that he agrees now with that approach and he realizes that he wasn't a prospect like the other pitcher was.

But I've been thinking recently about that. At what point is a player considered not a prospect, and how many players have played their way up to being a prospect. I know that every organization needs a number of career minor leaguers to fill out rosters, but are there cases where a player might be labeled that way and then there's nothing he can do to shake that label, kind of like some guys get labeled as utility players and they're never going to crack the starting lineup? I've been wondering how many of those guys would be serviceable major leaguers if given a chance. Every now and then we see a guy called up who has been in the minors for most of his career and he comes up and plays for a while and we all say, "What a nice story."

My guess is that there are probably quite a few minor leaguers who could do well enough at the MLB level to stay on a roster, but the numbers are just against them. There are only so many MLB roster spots available and there are way more players in all levels of professional baseball than there are MLB roster spots. It still makes me feel for some of those guys who are playing their butts off down there and will never get the call, even though some of them might have enough talent. The ones who are down there playing every day with almost no hope of making the majors, when they could be making a lot more money in other careers, have my utmost respect.

06-02-2008, 07:18 PM
At the risk of oversimplifying, I think you're a prospect if your organization thinks you are.

Whether they realize it or not, I think the notion of replacement level comes into play here. To be treated as a real prospect, I think clubs generally need to believe a player can develop into an above-replacement contributor, if not a plus regular. Otherwise, he joins the ranks of minor-league lifers, guys who could play a little if they ever got the chance -- replacement level just means there are lots of other guys like them, not that they're useless -- but usually never get it. And most minor leaguers never even reach that level.

As to how they come to believe a player is or isn't a prospect, the circumstances of how he's acquired have a lot to do with it. High draft picks are prospects until they prove they aren't. Low draftees and off-the-street pickups aren't until they prove they are. In the stats age it might be a little more merit-based than it used to be, but projection still has a lot to do with it. As Bill James wrote awhile back regarding prospects, stats can tell you who's good but they can't tell you who will improve.

Vada Pinson Fan
06-02-2008, 10:18 PM
Just like Island Red, I'll risk oversimplification too. In the minor leagues you're either a prospect or a suspect. Once you reach the majors it's "what have you done lately" unless you are a well-established star.

06-03-2008, 08:47 AM
I think it's largely projection based on tools. If you're a 5-10 165 pound right handed pitcher you better be bringing it like Lincecum or you're going to be in that non-projectible barrel. If your fastball tops out at 87 or 88 you beter have some amazing off speed stuff or being very good at mixing things up and fooling hitters. Even then, even if you have very good stats, you'll be bypassed by every kid that throws 94. If the timing and the roster shake out for you maybe you get a shot. If you can hit and have a really high OBP but not much power or speed and an average arm then the fact that you're stuck on first base and don't have power will hurt you even though you might get on base at a.400 clip -that .410 SP will hurt your chances of ever coming up. Tools, position, projectability, draft position. How much a guy has/lacks these has a lot to do with it. Overcoming draft position is pretty easy - just play well at each level. It's harder to shake the rest -I think a guy reshapes opinion of tools and projectability by playing well and learning to minimize weakness. Adjusting. Really quick release, accurate throws overcomes some of an average arm, etc. Finally, I think its a whole lot easier to slip than it is to rise against projection level.

06-03-2008, 09:01 AM
It is all based upon percieved value. Where the organization thinks you can go. You have to look at tools + physical attributes + age + upside. Guys who rank high in all categories will be given chance after chance after chance. Guys who don't will have bo knock down the door in order to get a chance. I think when you look at it first round draft picks will be given a chance by the draft org and if they fail another org wil take a shot at them. At the same time a 30th round pick likely will have to play very well in his first season or two or he will end up in the indy league or out of baseball.

06-03-2008, 11:05 AM
Just like Island Red, I'll risk oversimplification too. In the minor leagues you're either a prospect or a suspect. Once you reach the majors it's "what have you done lately" unless you are a well-established star.

Suspect? That doesn't seem accurate to me. I'd say you have your guys who the club identifies as having a real possibility at making the club and then all the other guys they need to field a team so the prospects can get their playing time in.

What would be interesting to know more about to me is the process by which a player can become a prospect or drop off the radar. Obviously, some kids are prospects from the moment they sign until they prove otherwise, but how does a guy like Kevin Youkilis go from the 8th round to prospect status to the major league club? Or even better, how in the world did Jason Isringhausen, a 44th round pick, become a prospect?