With the MLB regular season winding down and the minor league season now in the books, the calendar is beginning to turn to prospect season. Throughout the fall and winter, the various outlets will be releasing new top 100 lists, organizational rankings, scouting reports, and the like, incorporating a whole other season’s worth of data into their views on various players. John Sickels of Minor League Ball appears to have gotten the ball rolling on the prospect chatter, releasing his End-of-2016 Top 100 Prospects earlier today.
Here’s a primer on Sickels’ grading system, from his pre-season top 20 prospects article:
QUICK PRIMER ON GRADE MEANINGS
Grade A prospects are the elite. In theory, they have a good chance of becoming stars or superstars. Theoretically, most Grade A prospects develop into stars or at least major league regulars, if injuries or other problems don’t intervene. Note that is a major "if" in some cases.
Grade B prospects have a good chance to enjoy successful careers. Some will develop into stars, some will not. Most end up spending several years in the majors, at the very least in a marginal role.
Grade C prospects are the most common type. These are guys who have something positive going for them, but who may have a question mark or three, or who are just too far away from the majors to get an accurate feel for. A few Grade C guys, especially at the lower levels, do develop into stars. Many end up as role players or bench guys. Some don’t make it at all.
Finally, keep in mind that all grades are shorthand. You have to read the full comment in the book for the full analysis about a player, the letter grade only tells you so much. A Grade C prospect in rookie ball could end up being very impressive, while a Grade C prospect in Triple-A is likely just a future role player.
Six Brewers made Minor League Ball’s latest top 100, with the level(s) they played at in parenthesis:
27. CF Lewis Brinson (AA/AAA) - B+
434 PA || .268/.305/.468 || 15 HR || 17 SB
34. RHP Phil Bickford (A/A+) - B+
120.0 IP || 2.92 ERA || 135 K || 42 BB || 1.150 WHIP
36. LHP Josh Hader (AA/AAA) - B+
126.0 IP || 3.29 ERA || 161 K || 55 BB || 1.238 WHIP
61. CF Corey Ray (A/A+) - B+
270 PA || .239/.307/.370 || 5 HR || 10 SB
69 (nice). SS/2B Isan Diaz (A) - B+
587 PA || .264/.358/.469 || 20 HR || 11 SB
100. RHP Luis Ortiz (A+/AA) - B
90.2 IP || 3.08 ERA || 78 K || 23 BB || 1.312 WHIP
Additionally, one Brewer was listed under a group of players labeled as “Incomplete List of Others Considered”:
CF Brett Phillps (AA) - B
517 PA || .229/.332/.397 || 16 HR || 12 SB
I’d also like to take this opportunity to briefly discuss the idea of “future aces.” In listening to all the different rebuild takes on sports radio over the week, one common theme that I heard was that the Brewers “don’t have a future ace in their system!” Here’s the thing, folks: neither does just about everyone else.
According to Sickels’ grades, there are only FOUR pitchers in the minor leagues with ‘A’ grades: Tyler Glasnow (Pirates), Lucas Giolito (Nationals), Jose De Leon (Dodgers), and Alex Reyes (Cardinals). Since the overall grades are more important than the specific numerical rank that they are assigned in terms of evaluating a player, Josh Hader (Grade B+) could theoretically be anywhere from the fifth-best to the thirtieth-best pitching prospect in the minor leagues based on the other pitchers that are graded as a B+. That’s why it’s important not to get hung up on numerical rankings or “future ace” labels; the discussion should be centered around tool grades and overall ceilings.
Oh, yeah, I also want to say that I disagree with the ranking for Phil Bickford. MLB.com’s scouts appear to be pretty high on Bickford, too (#5 Brewers prospect, #55 overall, 55 grade) and praise his “fastball that can hit 98 MPH” in their scouting write up on him. But, he’s really not throwing that hard right now. A scout at instructional leagues had the former Giants farmhand sitting 91-92 MPH and topping out and 94 just the other day. Bickford has control problems (8.5% BB rate this year) and an eyewitness report from Baseball Prospectus on the righty from earlier this season the righty’s changeup a 40 on the 20-80 scale (well below-average) and describes his best case scenario as a “two-pitch starter with a back end rotation spot. A high-leverage reliever is the safe bet.” In my opinion it might be best to temper expectations on him, though a potential high-leverage relief role does still carry some future value.
Statistics courtesy of Baseball-Reference