First Pitch: Evaluating and Grading International Players

Exicardo Cayones, your impact on the Pirates Prospects rankings is no more.

Years ago, in one of our first Prospect Guides, we ranked international players in our top 50. The system was very thin at the time, and it was easy to make an argument that the 16 year old players receiving big bonuses on the international front would rank as one of the best in the system.

Cayones had signed for $400,000 in 2008, which was the first year that Neal Huntington ramped up international spending for the Pirates. He followed with an .820 OPS in 2009 in the Venezuelan Summer League at the age of 17. Cayones ended up being ranked 16th in the system that year in our rankings. By comparison, he wasn’t inside Baseball America’s top 30, and was their fourth best center fielder that year.

Those were the early days of the site, when we had limited resources to cover or get reports on the lower level guys like Cayones.

I didn’t end up seeing Cayones until the 2011 season, one year after he posted a .731 OPS in the GCL, and a year after we ranked him so high. In that viewing, I didn’t see a guy who would project as a future MLB player. He was short, small, and didn’t really look like a guy who would make it out of A-ball, to which he didn’t.

We responded by leaving international prospects out of our top 50 going forward, until they had played a game in the United States. We only wanted to rank prospects we had seen, rather than just relying on scouting reports and international rookie league stats.

A lot has changed since then. We have over a decade of grading prospects from all levels, and the amount of reports that we get on the international players throughout the year from John Dreker is astounding. Because of this, we are going to be including the DSL players in the overall system rankings this year in the 10th Anniversary Prospect Guide. We’ll also have grades on every DSL player, so you can see how they compare to all other players in the system.

Ranking prospects is a challenge, especially when you get closer to the amateur levels. You’re evaluating the future performance of people, trying to project what a 16-21 year old will do in ages 25-35. You can have five people with the same build and tools, and you’d get five different outcomes, because human performance is one of the most unpredictable things in life.

We love taking on that challenge, and I feel our reports and rankings have gotten stronger over the years with more experience, more time spent around the system, and more access to video on the guys we haven’t seen. I also feel that John Dreker is the best source anywhere for Pirates international news and reports. It would be foolish to not take advantage of the information he provides, and use it to give a good comparison of where the international players rank in the system.

The result of adding the international guys to the rankings is one of the best prospect lists we have ever done. It might not be the strongest group we’ve covered, but I feel like our look into the system this year is more comprehensive than it ever has been, and that’s saying something.

The full top 50 rankings, along with reports for every player in the system, will be available in our 10th Anniversary Prospect Guide, releasing next week. Check out our preview of the book, and pre-order your limited paperback copy today.

The 2020 Prospect Guide returns to print for our tenth  we are releasing two variant covers, featuring Mitch Keller and Ke’Bryan Hayes. Visit our shop to order these extremely limited items!

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