What makes prospects prospects?

Maurer = prospect-y - USA TODAY Sports

Most Mariners fans, even those who only pay real attention to what the big league club is doing, have an idea of the top prospect names in the system. So who exactly are these guys and why are they any better than player X, Y or Z? Who are the prospects and who are the non-prospects? Who are just minor league players? What is this ‘scouting’ all about, anyways? Let me help.

First off, I want to extend my humble and heartfelt ‘Hello' to the esteemed community here at Lookout Landing. I am thankful for the opportunity to work with Jon once again and to offer up my voice and opinion to the masses for your consumption. I look forward to reading and interacting with you in the comments...I just hope you don't bite.

Having an opinion about the ability of baseball players is easy to do.

Growing up in my early days of baseball-loving I had an irrational dislike for journeyman infielder Scott Fletcher. I used to destroy any of his cards that popped up in packs of old Topps that I would buy and I would scowl or scoff when he came to the plate. He was smallish, didn't hit for power and was feisty - tough to strike out and always seemed to come up big in big spots against my beloved Mariners. And that bothered me. He may have been pint-sized, had a pea shooter for an arm and posted a career OPS well south of .700 (not that anyone knew what OPS was back then), but more than that he was just a thorn-in-your-side type of player. The 11-year-old me scouting report on Scott Fletcher: Bad player.

So why did Scott Fletcher stick around for 15 years in major league baseball? Turns out that my personal tastes overlooked the things that Fletcher did do well and what he offered to his team. Fletcher played solid defense in the middle infield, made good contact, ran well, hit left-handers pretty well and hit great with runners in scoring position. He was well-liked by most Rangers fans and former President George Bush actually named one of his dogs after the spunky little infielder.

Fletcher's career fWAR is 28.6, and it was actually 29.0 over the 12 years that made up his primary time as a regular (1983 through 1994), a figure good enough to be just outside the top 10% of qualified players from that stretch. About a decade ago, some guy named Bill James ranked Fletcher among the Top-100 shortstops of all-time. Like, forever.

What does this all have to do with prospects, you ask? This is to point out that we all do what the 11-year-old me did with Fletcher. We all form opinions based on personal taste, personal experience and personal opinion. And that isn't wrong.

The Seattle Mariners prospect information that I am going to bringing to you here at Lookout Landing will be based on having first-hand eyes on a player, on input that I receive from my various baseball contacts - scouts, front office personnel and agents in and out of the Mariners' organization - and from the numbers, both the sabermetrically-inclined numbers and good ol' fashioned dumb, meaningless numbers. I use them all to form my overall profile of players. But in the end, everything that I research and opine on here on these virtual pages about what makes prospects be "prospects" for me is based strongly on my personal tastes, experiences and opinions.

Having an opinion about the ability of baseball players is easy to do. Being right all the time isn't.

That was true of the 11-year-old me and it is true of...wait, I'm how old now?!...it's true of me now.

We can disagree. We will disagree. Time will show that I'll be right sometimes and that I'll be wrong sometimes. Regardless, I will always welcome the discussion.

As Patrick so eloquently reminded us in his first piece, we all need to acknowledge that big league clubs know what they are doing. I know that I'm not smarter than the M's front office. I won't claim to know more than the Seattle Mariners do about their own prospects. But I also know that there are times that I have to filter through the coach speak or company lines that I get from employees of the club to get down to what a player's true abilities, strengths and weaknesses are.

I am heading into this with the approach that I shouldn't get too "prospect-nerdy" for you all here, but if you ever thirst for information on specific prospects, please know that you can always ask me. My main goal will be to get you more familiar with the profiles of the top prospects in the organization and let you know what they are doing, how they are doing it, what they excel at, what they are working to improve on and what their timetable for promotions and/or big league debuts are looking like. I will remain open for input from the community in regards to what exactly you'd like to see - who you would like more detail on, too.

I hope that I can deliver enough information on the prospects, the personnel and the process overall that many of you will become more in-tuned with the organization as a whole. After all, at the root of this whole venture for me - here and elsewhere - I am just a huge fan of the game. And I get a lot of joy in helping others increase their level of understanding of the game and their general fan-dom.

So come, walk with me down this path of prospecting. And form your own opinions about just what exactly makes a prospect a "prospect".

Rick Randall will be contributing a bi-weekly column on the top prospects in the Mariners system for Lookout Landing. Rick's in-depth daily detailed work on the happenings in the Mariners' minor leagues can be found at SeattleClubhouse.com.

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