Ask any prospect-ranking guru, and they'll tell you the Brewers have one of the best farm systems in baseball right now. The hype for Brewers prospects has significantly increased over the past couple years, and it may have reached its peak this offseason, with the organization consistently placing a half-dozen players in various Top-100 lists.
The lists generate a lot of excitement for fans and give us something to talk about all winter, but now that those prospects are starting to trickle into spring camp, the Brewers have a message for them: ignore it all.
Manager Craig Counsell had this to say to Tom Haudricourt on Thursday:
"We've made it harder on them as far as expectations, and focusing on things that are really irrelevant – where you are on a list.
"People love lists. It makes everything clean. Lists make life clean. But for these guys, it's external stuff and unneeded stuff. They get more stuff put in their orbit that's useless.
"It's part of the maturation for young players now. It's not a bad thing. It's the next thing you have to deal with. It's the players' interpretation. They get more stuff from the outside. We give them more information. They have more of a media presence, or aware of their status. So, it's a challenge for them."
As a former player, Counsell knows something about dealing with outside distractions. He was never a top-ranked prospect himself, and the ranking craze didn't really exist (at least to the point it does now) when he was coming up, but he's still been around long enough to see plenty of former top prospects flame out before fulfilling their potential.
He may be mostly talking to the players when he says "ignore that stuff," but he just as well could've been talking to the rest of us.
As the skipper alluded to, we all love lists. They make things make sense and put information into an easily digestable format. There's a big trade-off that comes with that, though -- we lose most of the nuance and detail needed to form a more well-rounded understanding.
When we see one prospect ranked 16th and another ranked 24th, our minds assume that Player A has a higher ceiling or has a clear advantage over Player B. We want to believe that a difference of 8 spots indicates a clear difference between the two players.
Ten years ago, the 16th-ranked prospect on Baseball America's Top 100 was Yovani Gallardo. The 24th-ranked prospect was Clayton Kershaw.
Gallardo ended up being very good for the Brewers, possibly one of the five or so best starters in team history, but Kershaw turned into a once-in-a-generation great.
What wasn't mentioned in those ratings? Kershaw's breaking stuff and other secondary offerings being better, Gallardo's tendency to nibble around the edges of the strikezone, and Kershaw -- then just 19 -- having plenty of more room to grow.
If we go by strict rankings, maybe Gallardo would be considered a disappointment by some. We'd be much better off if the rankings were compiled in a way that took more of a tiered approach like our own Kyle Lesniewski did in his 2016 end of season top prospects list, rather than the strict 1-through-100 lists we've become accustomed to.
A decade later, it might seem crazy that Gallardo was ever ranked "ahead" of Kershaw, but you'd be hard-pressed to argue he didn't deserve to be included in a pool of 20 or so players indicating the first tier of best prospects. It would make a lot more sense to say "Homer Bailey, Andrew Miller, Tim Lincecum, Yovani Gallardo and Clayton Kershaw are among the five best pitching prospects in baseball" than "Bailey is better than Miller, who's better than Lincecum, who's ..."
Just to add to the fun, Matt Garza was also ranked ahead of Kershaw heading into the 2007 season, coming in at #21. This brings up another point about the prospect lists -- they often produce some results that look crazy 5 or 10 years later.
Who was #1 in 2007? Daisuke Matsuzaka. BA said he'd be "the best Japanese import ever, and no, we're not forgetting about Ichiro." Delmon Young ranked 3rd, and Philip Hughes was 4th, already anointed as the Yankees' next ace. Meanwhile, Ryan Braun was 26th, Hunter Pence was 38th, and Joey Votto was 43rd.
It's entirely possible that Boston's Andrew Benintendi looks like a crazy pick for #1 this year by the time we hit 2027. Alex Reyes ranked 4th and his future is already murkier than it was last week after it was announced he needs Tommy John surgery. Like Braun, we could look back and say Lewis Brinson being ranked 27th seems lower than it should've been, or it could age as poorly as Jose Tabata being ranked 27th in 2007.
Prospect scouting will always be an inexact science. Baseball produces enough weird results that there will always be players exceeding or failing to meet expectations. Corey Hart barely made one Top-100 list as a prospect. Jonathan Lucroy was never ranked as a Top-100 guy.
Counsell's main concern may be not wanting his guys to get big heads and buy into their own hype, but his words should probably ring true with the rest of us -- maybe we shouldn't build those expectations based on where someone else placed guys on a list and do a little more thinking for ourselves.