Monday, November 24, 2008

Baseball America's Top Ten

Baseball America is about to release their top ten prospects for this year. Here is last year's list.

1. Nick Blackburn, rhp
2. Joe Benson, of
3. Wilson Ramos, c
4. Tyler Robertson, lhp
5. Anthony Swarzak, rhp
6. Ben Revere, of
7. Jason Pridie, of
8. Brian Duensing, lhp
9. Jeff Manship, rhp
10. Trevor Plouffe, ss

Last year, John Manual put Nick Blackburn at the top of the list and took a lot of flack for it. Despite his apparent belief that he was vindicated by Blackburn's presence in the Twins rotation, the choice of Blackburn may even look worse now than it did then. Unless Baseball America has changed its standards, top tens are a combination of both ceiling and how close players are to being ready. Blackburn was clearly close, the question was his ceiling. And last year didn't answer that question.

Even by the standard is "most likely to be the team's rookie of the year next year", Blackburn wasn't a winner. That award belonged to Denard Span, of whom  Manual had this to say
"first-round picks Denard Span (2002) and Matt Moses (2003) were supposed to be ready for big league jobs by now, yet are far from ready."
So who else should have been ahead of Blackburn? Pretty clearly Ben Revere. His 2008 season showed his draft position was not inappropriate and his 2007 year was not a fluke.

Trevor Plouffe is another guy who belonged ahead of Blackburn. He is at that stage where people are calling him a "slap hitter" because he isn't hitting a lot of home runs at age 22. They did the same thing with Torii Hunter at that same age. In fact, their power numbers in their first year at AA were pretty similar with Plouffe having a slight edge. While Hunter always projected to hit for power despite his numbers,
Plouffe probably doesn't project to have Hunter's power. And, unlike Hunter, he probably isn't a gold glove. But if he can play shortstop, he is going to be well above average offensively.

I think Swarzak, Robertson and Ramos should have been ahead of Blackburn, although you can make the argument Blackburn, with some major league success, has now surpassed the two pitchers. Based on his brief stint this fall Jose Mijares was probably a step up on Blackburn as a prospect as well. But you can argue a relief pitchers, even a hard throwing left hander, is not as valuable as a starter. Chris Parmelee also belonged on the list, despite his struggles.

All of those players are more valuable than a back of the rotation starter. Manual had the idea Blackburn was more than that. And nothing he has done so far shows it.

Finally there was this little tidbit:

Minnesota has had more success of late drafting and developing pitchers than hitters."

Last year's Twins included Cuddyer, Mauer, Morneau, Kubel and Span. The rotation had Baker, Slowey, Perkins and  Blackburn. And the bullpen had Crain. Which group of players would you take? What's more, every one of the pitchers was a college kid, while the everyday players were drafted out of high school.  And that is the actual distinction. The Twins have had quicker success of late from players drafted out of college. Not exactly worth remarking on.

There was a time when Baseball America's ranking pretty accurately reflected the views of professional baseball evaluators. That time, as Manual made clear, is past. They recently seem to have shifted their target audience to pseudo-sophisticated fans - sharing the same shallow, impatient  analysis as most of the other baseball media. Entertaining as Baseball America's top tens are, they don't really give us a very good idea of the real state of the Twins system. When a writer says things like "I rank this guy higher than the organization does",  you wonder what he is thinking or if he isn't and its just ego talking.

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