If you’ve never tried to make a list of the top Cardinal prospects, it’s easy to understate the difficulty and time needed to create one. I’d encourage everyone to sit down and try it once. There are a host of philosophical questions to confound and too many stats to try and take in. After making the list, you can either never look at it again or brace yourself to make changes on a regular basis.
One issue that is particularly troublesome for me is single season performance.
It’s not an unfair characterization to say that I’m a disciple of sabermetrics. If statistics were the only thing I trusted in, however, I’d be next to useless when writing about prospects. During the minor league season, I try to visit QC, Springfield and Memphis at least one weekend each. On top of that, I watch more than 50% of the taped Memphis games. My goal is to see the players as often as possible regardless of distance impediments. Following prospects requires a belief in scouting and trusting your own eye.
At the same time, I’m reluctant to abandon sabermetrics as a whole simply because my confidence level for its accuracy decreases with reference to minor leaguers. Perhaps the single most important lesson that I’ve taken from luminaries such as Tom Tango and Mitchel Lichtman is to abhor the use of single year statistics as valid projections for future performance. The variance on a single season is significant and simple actions like a three year weighted average can make huge strides in reducing that. But what do we do with prospects?
When someone talks about a player being toolsy, it can often be translated as that player hasn’t done much so far. Daryl Jones is a great example of this. We lavish praise on his tools and his raw athletic ability, which is very real, while downplaying, to an extent, the lack of real progress or production. When a player like that puts up a big season, we’re quick to get on the bandwagon. When a player like that never coalesces, they dwindle from the collective conscious with nary a sigh. In the latter event, which happened last year with Jones on our rankings, we’re hedging our bets. When the former happens, how do we interpret that?
Making a list of prospects on an annual basis often exploites and illustrates these turbulent moves. Take Tyler Herron for example: he was the number 6 prospect last year; this year number 17. (A similar thing happened in The Birdhouse rankings where he dropped from 6 to 25.) Not all of that is because of his struggles this past season — the system is improving as a whole and other prospects had big years — but that’s a precipitous decline for a player. Did we overestimate his talent last year or are our short term memories sabotaging our overall impression of the player? The answer is probably somewhere in the middle but its a concerning response. The same can be said of Daryl Jones who will likely jump into every Cardinal Top 10 list you see this offseason. From obscurity to stardom, the transition seems too steep to be rooted in reality rather than perception.
I use Herron and Jones as examples because they so eloquently display the problem. Speaking for all of us at Future Redbirds, our goal is never to simply pander to the masses. If we wanted to pat each other on the back, there are less arduous ways to do so. Accuracy and informed inferences are important to us. So players like Herron and Jones are difficult to handle in an objective fashion. Writing about them on a daily basis, it is easy to lose the forest for the trees. Opinions become ingrained and the big picture blurs out as you focus on what a player has done that year or even month.
There’s no right answer to the questions that I’ve posed. It’s simply one facet of ranking prospects that has to be resolved by each individual. That’s part of what makes it all so fun.