Another day, another new prospect in the Mariners top 10. If indeed DJ Peterson has the best bat in the draft class, signs early, plays a couple of months in the minors and smashes brothers like Smash Bros., then he'll easily find himself as another M's prospect in another Top 100 list out there; preferably Baseball America.
Because that super matters.
But it does, to a lot of us. Myself included. I pay attention to the Top 100 lists and I want to know that people think that the prospects in our system are the coolest of any prospects anywhere. If he hits .350/.450/.700 in 50 games, then of course Peterson will be a Top 25 prospect and some of us will start to feel all giddy.
Then again, a whole 'nother lot of us will feel shitty. Shitty that rather than having another good prospect, we've instead got another good failure. Another broken dream. Another Clement or Ackley or Smoak. Ohhh woooooeeeee is us! Ohhh woooeeee indeed! A gun rack? I don't even own wahh gun.
The fact of the matter is that the M's aren't comprised of 100 All-Stars, they didn't get their game on, they didn't go play. Dustin Ackley was really, really good as a rookie and then he was really, really bad. Justin Smoak has mostly been bad. Jesus Montero has mostly been bad. These aren't just Top 100ers, these were top 10ers. The Three Tenners you could say. And while their careers are far from over, it's over from afar. "DJ Peterson, that stupid son of a bitch, will fail." "Mike Zunino, that catching asshole, will suck." "Taijuan Walker? More like Taijuan Lannister. That treacherous motherfucker."
These are words that I've put in your mouth. You're a jerk. And you're too negative.
Guy in the Inland Valley walks into a doctors office and says, "Doc, I'm a drawing of the housing of a baby bird and I hate it, hate it, hate it."
Doctor says, "You're toon egg at IV."
(What do you want from me? It's the first joke I've ever written.)
Here's a quick review of the "Top 5" for the M's going into this season (BA ranking listed):
17. Mike Zunino - .228/.299/.509,11 HR, 56 K/14 BB
18. Taijuan Walker - 64 innings, 68 K/29 BB, 46 hits, 2.67 ERA, 3.52 FIP
29. Danny Hultzen - 22.2 innings, 25 K/6 BB, 17 hits, 2.78 ERA, 2.89 FIP, on DL
79. Nick Franklin - .324/.440/.472 at Tacoma, .242/.359/.485 in 10 games with Mariners
87. James Paxton - 50.2 innings, 53 K/22 BB, 58 hits, 4.97 ERA, 3.63 FIP
In review, after a couple of months I'd say that things are... as you might expect. If not better. Zunino was the hottest in the minors, then he was terrible. I'd say that there isn't anything to panic about, and that he's doing fine for himself, even if he's not doing amazing. Walker's been fine. Hultzen was doing fine before he got hurt, which happens. Franklin is doing great. Paxton isn't doing great, but he isn't finished by any means.
But it matters not how they progress as minor leaguers, we only care how they do when they get to the majors. That's where most of the fans ire has come from, that no matter how good they are as prospects they are terrible as baseball against professionals. "It is undoubtedly the same fate that Peterson will face!" say hundreds of thousands.
Those examples this year:
Jesus Montero hit .208/.264/.327 and was sent back to Tacoma.
Dustin Ackley hit .205/.266/.250 and was sent back to Tacoma.
Justin Smoak has hit .240/.350/.344 and went on the DL.
Michael Saunders was doing great and is now hitting .212/.297/.344.
And for the hell of it, Carlos Triunfel is 0-for-13 with 0 walks.
Brandon Maurer posted a 6.93 ERA in ten starts, 49.1 innings, 32 K/17 BB and was sent back to Tacoma.
Of course, there are success stories. Kyle Seager is hitting .287/.352/.483 and may very well be an All-Star. Felix Hernandez, who somehow never gets counted as a prospect it seems like, is good. I mean, he's not Hisashi Iwakuma but he's aight. Carter Capps is good at striking people out and not walking too many of them.
That certainly doesn't seem like much. And maybe it's not. Maybe the naysayers are right. Many don't even give the M's credit for Seager, and consider Felix to obviously be a "can't miss" that anyone could get right, though it's not like he would have been the first "can't miss" pitcher to miss like a motherfucker. A lot of people miss.
A lot of teams miss a lot.
And that's where I want to focus this next bit of research on. Are the M's really shitty at developing prospects or, when compared to other organizations, are they par for the course? Are they doing the norm? Is the Seattle organization the absolute worst at getting good hitting prospects from the minors to the majors with sustainable success while every other organization just churns out All-Star prospect one after another?
It didn't take very long at all to get the perspective that if more than half of your top 100 prospects fail, it's pretty normal.
Here's a few examples I've pulled out of teams that were stacked in the minor leagues and how much those classes of players have ended up being worth for their teams:
Dodgers 2005 (WAR with team, WAR after leaving team)
19. Chad Billingsley - 17.2
89. Russell Martin - 16.3, 6.6
100. Greg Miller - N/A
The Dodgers had the most Top 100 BA prospects in 2005 with seven. The best of which was the Joel Guzman; a giant among men (6'7") but turned out to be a miniature pony at the plate. Edwin Jackson, for some people he might have had the same ceiling as even Felix, but for the Dodgers he was apparently less than worthless. Edwin, more like dead win as in dead wins as in losses. There are probably also good puns for Loney, LaRoche, and Miller but I think you've had enough.
By 2006, Billingsley had moved into being an "elite" prospect. He was 7th overall, ahead of Justin Verlander, Matt Cain, and Jon Lester. Put that into perspective for a minute. Andy LaRoche had moved up to 19th overall, ahead of Carlos Quentin, Nick Markakis, Troy Tulowitzki, and Hanley Ramirez. Guzman had moved down to 26th overall, but was still ahead of Ramirez, Billy Butler, Carlos Gonzales, Ryan Braun, and Andrew McCutchen.
Seven prospects in the 2005 Top 100, several of which moved up the next year, and what the Dodgers got out of it was a pretty good pitcher, a pretty good catcher, and a serviceable first baseman. Their best prospect was a complete bust and Jackson busted a move for LA too, which would be akin perhaps to seeing Shin-Soo Choo or Asdrubal Cabrera go away for nothing.
The Dodgers had a good run of prospects, but not all of them panned out. Of course, they did get Ethier, Kemp, Broxton, Billingsley, Martin, and Loney. In 2007, they added Clayton Kershaw. But with plenty of prospects, come plenty of busts. The Dodgers had one of the "best farm systems" in the mid-2000s and we still have to remember that out of all of them, they produced one star hitter and one star pitcher, a couple good position players, a couple good pitchers.
What they don't have is a perennial All-Star lineup that includes MVP candidates Russell Martin, Joel Guzman, Blake Dewitt at second, Chin-Lung Hu at SS (55th in 2008), LaRoche at 3B, Ethier, Kemp, Loney in the outfield. Their rotation isn't five aces of Kershaw, Billingsley, Elbert, Broxton (started 52 minor league games), and Miller.
You get a bunch of prospects, you hope a few turn out pretty good.
Here are some more examples. Now this one I really think you'll like!
12. Dallas McPherson - 1.3, -0.2 (Granted free agency!)
39. Erick Aybar - 13.1
76. Kendrys Morales - 5.2, 1.4 (Traded for Jason Vargas)
83. Brandon Wood - -2.9, 0.0
The Angels tied for the second-most prospects in 2005 with six of them. The total amount of fWAR put up by them with the Angels so far is 18 and only Aybar is still around. And this was only the start of the meteoric rise for Wood, who would rank 3rd, 8th, and 16th overall over the next three seasons. Was he a better prospect than Mike Trout? Very possibly, yes.
Their big two at this time were McPherson and Kotchman. McPherson had 90 extra-base hits during his 2004 season between AA and AAA. McPherson had 89 total hits in his Angels career. Kotchman was good for a Tex rental but that didn't even get them to the prom.
The next year they did at Howie Kendrick (12th by BA, 18.9 fWAR) and Jered Weaver (57th by BA, 28.6 fWAR) and Nick Adenhart (90th by BA, now a real angel) so fuck me, right? In 2008, Hank Conger checked in at 79, Jordan Walden at 81. That's 11 prospects between 2005 and 2008 and they got a solid shortstop, a solid second baseman, a really good season out of Morales, and an "ace" pitcher.
How about the team that has had more BA Top 100 prospects since 1990 than any other ballclub?
9. Andy Marte - -1.1, -1.0 (Traded for Edgar Rentaria and cash money)
44. Brian McCann - 27.7
92. Jake Stevens - N/A
99. Anthony Lerew - -0.4, -0.8
Marte was another super prospect that stayed near the top of BA's list for four years but Marte was no par-tay. The Braves had six prospects here, they got only a little bit of good out of Francoeur, and they found one star catcher. The next year they added another catcher, with Jarrod Saltalamacchia (18th by BA, 4.4 career WAR) and also a shortstop by the name of Elvis (61st, 13.9 WAR with the Rangers) and how do you think Braves fans talk about that trade? In 2007, the list added Matt Harrison and Brent Lillibridge at 90th and 93rd, respectively.
The best of that bunch by far is Heyward, and even he is hitting .185/.303/.298 this year, and hit .227/.319/.389 two years ago. He's not quite the guy that was next ranked 1st overall by BA over Stephen Strasburg. Or that he was ranked behind Jordan Schafer (0.0 WAR in 280 career games.)
Out of this large group of prospects, they made a few deals and got a catcher that'll probably go down with the team Hall of Fame and maybe a star hitter down the line but the rest is admittedly lacking.
How about the M's in 2005?
2. Felix Hernandez - 37.9 WAR (Is "cool")
33. Jeremy Reed - 2.8, -0.8 (not very cool)
51. Shin-Soo Choo - -0.2, 20.8 (trade was not very cool)
73. Clint Nageotte - -0.1 (why don't you nageotte mention it again)
Only four prospects and so far we see that one of them has more WAR than any other player brought up in this post. In fact, even Jeremy Reed, who posted one above-average season for the Mariners thanks to defense, has more WAR than a whole hell of a lot of the players on this list. What I find interesting is that according to this mindset that the M's can't do shit with a hitting prospect, they're responsible for Reed being bad because he came to the M's from the White Sox but not for Choo being good because he went from the M's to the Indians. Even though they both would have had plenty of Mariner instruction and plenty of outside instruction.
They never necessarily did anything wrong with Choo other than give Bill Bavasi the keys to the ship (do ships have keys) for too long aka for any time at all in the space-time continuum.
And Nageotte is like most pitchers on this list ranked outside of the top 50 or so. It's hardly a guarantee of anything just because you made a top 100 list. More on that later...
The D'Backs farm system grew rather legendary.
2. Justin Upton - 15.3, 1.7 (Traded for a bunch of dudes)
20. Carlos Quentin - 0.9, 8.5 (Traded for Chris Carter)
23. Chris Young - 14.4, -0.3 (Traded for Heath Bell)
The Diamondbacks had six of the top 32 prospects and seven of the top 67 and not a single one is still on the team. They got no World Series appearances out of this bunch. They did get a few solid players and a few trades. But this was one of the best farm groups in history, and it yielded very little in terms of what you really want to get out of a group like this, which is a superstar and a championship.
Upton and Drew failed those expectations.
In 2009, they added Gerardo Parra (88th)
Look at the first place Diamondbacks today, and their star player Paul Goldschmidt was never considered a great prospect. He was never in the top 100. He's hitting .333/.413/.603. The D'Backs sent their top prospect Trevor Bauer to the Indians and got Didi Gregorius, the 80th overall prospect headed into the year. Martin Prado came from Upton. Parra may be enjoying his best season to date, and it's only five years later.
Here's a quickie:
6. Cameron Maybin - N/A
10. Andrew Miller - N/A
Packaged together for Miguel Cabrera. Miller didn't make it. Maybin reached the pinnacle of what it is to be a baseball player, as long as that pinnacle is "yeah, he's alright" and that he snagged a $25 million contract but all the Marlins snagged in exchange for Maybin was Edward Mujica and Ryan Webb.
Can I stop? No. Will I stop? No. duhduhduhduh
Devil Rays 2007
7. Evan Longoria - 32.1
17. Reid Brignac - -0.2, -0.3
35. Jeff Niemann - 6.2
37. Jacob McGee - 1.9
79. Elijah Dukes - -0.1, 2.4
97. Wade Davis - 3.8, 0.5
Though Longoria is obviously great, Young was supposed to be even better. The transcendent generational star. Thank God they also had Longoria. Because out of SEVEN prospects, you got Longoria and then they were lucky enough to trade Young while he still had value and then flip Garza into a bunch more prospects and hope that one of them happened to turn into something.
Because in this game, quantity is at least as important as quality.
Brignac never become the shortstop of the future. While we're on the topic, neither did Tim Beckham. Davis and James Shields were sent off for another prospect, this time being Wil Myers -- the #4 prospect going into this year, hitting .280/.356/.491 with AAA Durham. Will he be more Longoria or more Young? I think by now we should start to get the feeling that... yes, it is too early to tell. He could definitely be bad.
David Price (15.1 WAR) clocked in at 10th in 2008. Longoria jumped up to 2nd, McGee jumped up to 15th, Brignac at 39, Desmond Jennings checked in at 59th and was 6th overall two years later and he's been a little above average in the majors so far.
In 2010, Jeremy Hellickson had a big rise and was ranked 18th going into the year, perhaps the best pitching prospect outside of Strasburg, and he's so far posted 3.6 WAR in 82 games.
The Rays have had a higher-than-average number of great prospects in this century. They are a good team. But when you look at their team, you'll also see that a lot of key guys weren't their prospects and that a lot of their key prospects weren't on the team. Hellickson isn't great. Matt Moore (#2 in 2012) is okay but walks too many guys. Price is even struggling this year. Alex Cobb is their best starter in 2013, and he was never in the top 100. (Though he was in some people's top 100.) Jennings had been caught stealing 5 times against 7 stolen bases and is hitting .248.
Good, not great; many would say that the Rays also have a lot of disappointing prospects.
28. Adam Jones - 0.1, 13.8 (Traded, I think.... ???? Nobody knows.)
62. Jeff Clement - -0.3, -0.5
Look, only three prospects. Two of them are good somewhere. The M's drafted and began the development of Morrow and Jones and while we can all admit mismanagement, I wouldn't say they were devoid of talent scouting at least. Jack's biggest mistake might be Morrow, Bill's might be Jones. But you could also look up and down this list at all of the players that weren't traded and turned into shit where they started. It's impossible to play the game of knowing which prospect will turn into a player and which won't, but I would agree that the M's have found themselves on the wrong side of that stick more often than they'd like.
I also think that we can say that about a lot of teams now, right?
I think the biggest issue with looking at a "Top 100" list and giving it a whole lot of meaning, is that you're assuming that 100 players that aren't in the majors at any given time are going to be in the majors at some point. And that they will be good. That's... ridiculous. The number 100 might be a curse, because we all know that it's chosen because it makes us feel warm and safe to know how round and supple it is, but it's also completely arbitrary.
You've got your best prospects. These are the guys that should make it, that would truly surprise us if they didn't make the majors. The number of guys that this is isn't "10" or "5" or "25" or "100". It changes based on who the players are. The top 5 of the 2010 BA list:
The best player from that class? #85 Mike Trout.
Which also goes to show that just because you're not considered at some point to be the best-of-the-best, it doesn't mean that you won't be. There are going to be 1500 players drafted and we wouldn't go around saying that the top 100 of them are great prospects. Or even the top 50. Or even the top 1.
Professional baseball is a game that simply can't be imitated anywhere else. You can't ever truly prepare for facing major league pitching until you get there, and vice versa with the pitchers. Longoria was drafted third overall in 2006, after Luke Hochevar and Greg Reynolds. Kershaw was taken seventh overall, after Brad Lincoln, Morrow, and Andrew Miller. Tim Lincecum went 10th, right after Billy Rowell, who never made the majors. Kasey Kiker was 12th and never made the majors.
By the time you make a top 100 list, you're closer but it's still not perfect. Some guys are ranked based mostly on where they were drafted before they've ever played, and we already know that the draft is an educated crapshoot. In that 2006 draft, for example, there were 14 first round sandwich picks. Half of them have never made the majors. The other half is made up of role players at best, with Joba Chamberlain and Chris Perez as the best of that bunch.
You can't get too excited about even the 10th overall pick in the baseball draft, not until he's done a lot more work.
So when we see that the M's have "a bunch of prospects that fail" we need to remember that baseball itself has a whole shitload of prospects that fail. Every team will see some of the best prospects fail. Sometimes significantly more than half of them will. Or at least, they'll fall well short of expectations. The Mariners, seem to be on par for the course.
Except that they've got Felix, something rare that we should appreciate even more than we do. And they've got Seager, a player drafted by Jack Z. And they've got a higher-than-average number of prospects that will start to shuffle in over the next two to three years, between Franklin, Hultzen, Walker, Paxton, Zunino, Brad Miller, Julio Morban, Peterson, and a handful of other players that could be the next Seager -- the guy that was never even a "prospect" to begin with.
I feel certain that some of them will fail.
I feel hopeful that a couple of them won't.
And that's what we should come to expect. It's what pretty much every team, every fanbase, has to go through. We just pay a lot more attention to our own.
(I would like to do more in-depth research that includes charts, graphs, science, that shows the actual correlation of fail but this is what I decided to do to start and how to spend a day of my life.)