SF Giants: Understanding My Top Prospects Rankings
Marc Delucchi continued Around the Foghorn’s SF Giants prospect week by ranking the 31 best prospects in the organization on Friday. Alongside his ranking, Marc wanted to offer readers a look behind the curtain at his biases and tendencies when evaluating prospects.
While I have been following prospects closely my entire life, I’m still relatively new to evaluating players. I began scouting with a startup in 2017 and covered high school and college ball, primarily in Hawaii, part-time for them until they shut down following the 2019 MLB Draft. At about that point, I began applying my scouting prowess back to pro prospects, especially those in the Giants organization.
Ironically, my early inclinations evaluating talent tended far more towards statistical analysis than qualitative scouting. I majored in economics and have built a couple of models projecting collegiate performance onto the professional ranks with mixed success. However, I’ve come to appreciate the mixed-method approach that the best scouting departments in MLB utilize. Still, it’s a lot easier said than done to consistently balance the two.
Without a minor-league season in 2020, though, my access to prospects was obviously greatly limited. More often than in the past, I’ve had to rely on my ability to combine my evaluations from years prior with new information from industry sources in various places that have seen players more recently.
SF Giants Prospects Ranking Explained:
My tendencies and (perhaps limitations)
1. Age, K%, BB%, ISO for offensive prospects
As I mentioned, my statistical background still plays a prominent role in my evaluations. In my-and virtually every person’s-experience modeling, youth, low strikeout rates, and high walk rates are three of the most powerful predictors of future professional success. For me, these numbers have an exponential relationship. Just being young, hitting for power, walking a lot, or avoiding strikeouts alone probably will not move the needle too much. As prospects begin excelling in more than one (or all) of those categories, though, checking each additional box has greater and great effects.
Obviously, scouting requires more than just eye-balling numbers, but it does work as a strong baseline. If a player excels, I’m trying to identify what better competition could do to keep them from replicating their success. On the flip side, if a player is overmatched, I’m trying to diagnose what needs to change for them to turn things around. At that point, the question becomes how likely either is to happen.
Baserunning and defensive ability are ignored at this point because, for the vast majority of position players, hitting is the largest impediment to them finding MLB success. If there are substantial impediments to success at the plate, then it takes a player like P.J. Hilson, who has shown a combination of plus-plus speed and defensive potential, to get on prospect radar.
2. Upside (and volatility) in tandem with age
If a player has elite potential, no matter how far removed they are from that ceiling, I do tend to explain away their flaws if they’re young. Heliot Ramos could spend the next two years in the minor leagues and still be younger than Joey Bart when he made his MLB debut. Two years is an eternity in a prospect’s development.
Still, a critic could offer a pretty straightforward “a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush” response to this approach. I’ve usually been lower on the collegiate hitting prospects like Bart, Hunter Bishop, and Will Wilson compared to others in the system for this very reason. It’s not anything about them specifically, but that many younger prospects in the system, especially those from the international ranks, are on pace to surpass them at their respective ages. We’ll see how that looks in a few years.
This is a natural side-effect of my recent entry into the industry and lack of big media credentials. While I’ve broken a handful of stories and have a small group of sources, writers at outlets like Baseball America, MLB.com, and FanGraphs all have far more experience, access, and relationships with people around the league to help shape their evaluations.
Aware of that informational asymmetry, I try to delay my rankings behind some other more tapped-in outlets to see if there’s anything they write that I haven’t heard. At that point, I work to confirm what they’ve reported with my sources and reevaluate my own rankings. I almost always stick to my original rankings when it’s a case of differing opinions, but sometimes it helps me answer a question I had not thought to ask.
SF Giants prospects week is not over yet. Look back over the calendar to make sure you have not missed anything already. Plus, if you have a question for Marc about his process or prospects ranking, you can submit one to his upcoming fan Q&A here.