Cale Iorg was ranked third a year ago. Michael Hollimon was tabbed fourth two years ago. Jordan Tata and Eulogio de la Cruz were ranked fifth and sixth four years ago. At this point in time, it's hard to say any of those players have any real futures in Major League Baseball.
That introduction is my word of caution, because Friday Baseball America announced its 2010 prospect ranking for the Detroit Tigers. Right-handed pitcher Jacob Turner was named atop the list, followed by left-hander Casey Crosby and center fielder Austin Jackson, in case you really wondered. Scott Sizemore, the Tigers' likely 2010 starting second baseman, is ranked 10th, behind Daniel Fields, who has yet to have a professional at bat.
As respected a publication as Baseball America may be, like any other organization publishing a list of prospects, it must be taken along with a solid dose of skepticism.
It's no secret that sports information producers and consumers both love lists. Who are the top 50 fantasy players this season? Who will be the first 10 players selected in this year's draft? What are the top five teams in the power rankings? Who's your team's top prospect?
As a starter for debates, these questions work well. As for imparting actual information? These lists seldom tell you anything you didn't know and serve more to reflect the personal biases of the list-maker than anything else. In fact, I'd bet the list you put the most faith in probably reinforces your own personal biases the best.
Baseball America and Baseball Prospectus' Kevin Goldstein like tools; their lists will tell you the toolsier players. Fangraphs' Marc Hulet apparently prefers a statistical analysis. And John Sickels' typically falls somewhere in between. So you'll look over these rankings and find no mention of Tigers batting prospect Ryan Strieby on BA's list, while he ranks further down on Goldstein's, in the middle of Sickels' and in the upper end of Hulet's.
What exactly have we learned from that exercise? Strieby is a Tigers' top prospect, unless he's not.
Useful information, that.
Turner and Crosby are the Tigers' top pitching prospects?
Didn't need a list to tell me that.
But if you are interested, Baseball America's list adds a few peculiarities:
Best changeup? Tyler Conn. Best outfield arm? Casper Wells. Best infield arm? Cale Iorg. Best strikezone discipline? Scott Sizemore. Best athlete? Daniel Fields.
These things don't necessarily mean anything, either, as judged by the past. But at least they're something different.
I don't blame the prognosticators for making mistakes on their rankings. After all, forecasting the future for 18 to 22 year olds is a notoriously fickle procedure.
But I do question the sanity of anyone who puts too much weight on the views of these so-called experts, given the less-than-stellar track records and year-to-year swings of the players. Outside the top two or three consensus picks, rankings are best used as a reflector of the past, not a predictor of the future.
If you want to talk about prospects, that's great. So do I.
But I want to hear not just their stats, I want to know what scouts and other baseball people think of them as well. I want to know about their backgrounds and their approaches to the game.
I want to know about the prospects.
The rankings are not important.