Prospect rankings season is upon us! Anyone who has visited our site over the past week has likely noticed all of the articles about where various experts think the Detroit Tigers farm system stands relative to the rest of baseball. Baseball America and ESPN’s Keith Law have both released their top 100 lists for all of baseball, while Baseball Prospectus finally published their Tigers rankings.
Now, it’s our turn. Starting February 1, we will be rolling out our Tigers prospect rankings for the 2018 season. We’ll be profiling one player per day (or so), highlighting their strengths and weaknesses, and offering a season projection of sorts.
Before we begin, there are a few questions that need answering. From the language we’re using to a couple of points about the list itself, here are our responses to a few questions you may have about this year’s list.
What are “tools?”
When grading a position player, scouts group that player’s athleticism and skills into five different tools. They are (1) ability to hit for average, (2) power, (3) speed, or “run,” (4) arm strength, and (5) fielding ability. A player strong in all of these areas is called a “five-tool player.” Former Tiger Justin Upton is the closest the Tigers have had to such a player in recent memory, while Mike Trout and Francisco Lindor are but a couple of other examples around baseball.
Sometimes, power will be split into two separate distinctions: raw power and in-game power. What’s the difference? Former Tigers prospect Steven Moya had elite raw power, but his troubles with pitch recognition and making contact limited his ability to tap into that during games. On the other hand, Miguel Cabrera has elite scores in both raw and in-game power.
Pitchers are not graded on these same tools, but rather on each individual pitch that they throw. As a prospect, Michael Fulmer had a separate grade for his fastball, slider, and changeup, as well another grade for his control.
What do the numbers mean?
Scouts grade tools on a scale that slides from 20 to 80. However, it’s easiest to think of everything in how it relates to an average (50) skill. “Plus” tools are given a 60 grade, and are roughly one standard deviation than the average major league player. “Double-plus” tools are given a 70 grade, and represent the very best players in the league at a particular skill. For example, Jose Iglesias has a 70 glove (if not a tick better).
Elite, or 80 tools, are rare. Hall of Fame caliber players like Miguel Cabrera or Justin Verlander may have multiple elite tools — Verlander his fastball and curveball, Cabrera his hit and power tools — but they are otherwise infrequent throughout the game. There probably isn’t a single 80 grade tool in the Tigers farm system right now, though Matt Manning’s fastball could eventually reach that level.
These grades can also be split between current and future projections. For instance, MLB Pipeline grades Manning’s fastball as a 65 at present. However, as noted above, it could progress to becoming an elite tool if he develops more command and consistency.
What’s the difference between command and control?
Jay pointed out this subtlety in last year’s scouting glossary.
Command/control: These are terms that are used in reference to a pitcher’s ability to control the strike zone. They are frequently confused with one another, especially in prospect circles. Control is a pitcher’s ability to hit the strike zone consistently, whereas command is a pitcher’s ability to locate the ball where he wants inside the strike zone.
Make sure to check out that article for definitions of other important scouting terms.
Where is Joe Jimenez?
We originally ranked Jimenez on our list, but ESPN’s Keith Law and others on Twitter pointed out that Jimenez is no longer rookie eligible. While some lists may still include such players on their rankings, we have not. Only players who are still rookie eligible were included in our rankings.
Don’t worry, though. We’ll still have a post up for where Jimenez would have ranked on our list.
Why aren’t you doing community rankings?
You may have noticed other sites around the SB Nation MLB network producing community prospect lists, or rankings voted on by that site’s community. We may again incorporate a community vote at some point — we did it with last year’s midseason rankings, and with the preseason rankings a few years ago — but with so much BYB staff interest in the farm system, we wanted to create our own set of rankings and offer that opinion to the baseball community.
Who’s Number 1?
You’ll have to wait for that. Since Manning was kind of a shoo-in for the top spot last year, we started at the top and worked our way down. This year, we’re going in reverse order. We’ve also expanded our rankings, going from 25 to 30. There are more interesting Tigers prospects to talk about this year, and we want to give them the attention they deserve.