First Pitch: Evaluating Prospects in a Vacuum versus Evaluating Prospects in Reality

I think every single prospect in the Pittsburgh Pirates’ system can play in the majors.

I tend to be on the optimistic side of these things.

I know that very few of the prospects in the Pittsburgh Pirates’ system will play in the majors.

I’m a realist for these things.

Prospects get evaluated in a vacuum. That’s how it’s supposed to work with these rankings. We evaluate a player’s future potential based on his tools, and how he has already applied those tools in games.

We grade a player’s tools and skills based on the average major leaguers, rather than just focusing on how that player would grade in his current system.

What that means is that when we say Pitcher A has a 50-grade upside, what we’re saying is that this Pitcher grades as a potential #3-5 starting pitcher. That grade is irrelevant of the team he’s with. I think that’s a flaw.

A 50-grade pitching prospect would be a guaranteed member of the Pittsburgh Pirates’ rotation right now, and possibly even resulting better than a #3-5 starter in this organization.

Meanwhile, that exact same 50-grade pitching prospect in the Los Angeles Dodgers’ system would be restricted to depth, or at best, a number five starter.

That 50-grade prospect would likely end up in a 40-grade role with the Los Angeles Dodgers. The same prospect would be more likely to land a 50-grade role with the Pirates. The prospect would have a better opportunity to be on a winning team with the Dodgers, while having a better opportunity for individual career longevity with the Pirates.

There’s a reason players get these universal, league-average grades, independent of the team they’re with.

If that 50-grade pitching prospect gets traded from the Dodgers to the Pirates, he doesn’t become instantly better because the Pirates can offer him a 50-grade role.

This opportunity with the Pirates would allow the prospect a better chance to reach his 50-grade upside. But the prospect isn’t exactly a 40-grade guy just because the Dodgers have a loaded rotation.

There are two factors here. The league average expectations for prospects, and how likely they are to reach that upside in their current system. Let’s look at a real-life Pirates example.

The catching depth in this system is thin.

Or, at least it was thin.

Pirates’ General Manager Ben Cherington has added catching depth this year.

Endy Rodriguez was brought in from the New York Mets prior to the season. Rodriguez is a guy who could develop into a 50-grade player. His opportunity increased when he instantly became the top catching prospect in the Pirates’ system, rather than being one of the guys behind Mets’ top prospect Francisco Alvarez.

Well… that was short-lived.

Rodriguez still has upside, though he now finds himself behind Henry Davis, and on the same career track.

If Henry Davis works out, and is the long-term starter in Pittsburgh, then Endy Rodriguez has two paths to move beyond a 40-grade role with the Pirates.

The first path is adding a new position and finding a starting role elsewhere on the field.

The second path is developing his game to the point where he, too, can be one of the top catching prospects in the game. Or, at least better than his competition in Davis.

The chances for Rodriguez with the Mets were lower than when he was traded to the Pirates. His chances with the Pirates were reduced when Henry Davis was added. His odds of winning the future backup role were further complicated with the addition of potential backups like Carter Bins and Abrahan Gutierrez.

And yet, Endy Rodriguez just continued on with his own development. Getting grades based on the average MLB player. Because there might come a point where the Pirates go with a Davis/Bins combo, while dealing Rodriguez to a team that doesn’t have Henry Davis as their starter. At that point, the grade for Endy Rodriguez is based on what Endy Rodriguez can do, and is no longer influenced by his proximity to Henry Davis.

This is a game of supply and demand.

The supply of MLB roles with any given team is slim. Each team has 26 MLB roster spots, with over 200 prospects in their system gunning for those spots.

Most won’t make it to the majors. Obviously.

Does that mean they’re not potential MLB players? Or, is it just that there are too many potential MLB players, and too few spots?

Let’s say you go through the system and draw a line. Beyond this line, no prospect has a chance at the majors.

You could release all of those players from every system. Put them all in a new professional baseball league that runs alongside MLB’s current monopoly on the sport.

In that scenario, the secondary league would generate some stars who could play in the majors.

The same players who were released from MLB teams previously for having no chance to reach the majors.

The secondary league would provide an opportunity that MLB can’t provide. The non-prospects would get a chance to develop into MLB prospects, without having to play in the farm system behind the best MLB prospects.

Every prospect is a human, and humans are unpredictable. We can say that a prospect doesn’t have a chance at the majors, but if given the right circumstance, any prospect could reach the majors.

The issue inside MLB is that there are limited opportunities and restricted circumstances for prospects to make it.

Thus, you should have two grades for every prospect: The grade to reflect the prospect’s skill level relative to the league, and the grade to reflect the prospect’s chances in his current organization.

It’s the difference between grading prospects in a vacuum and grading them in real life.

Daily Links

**Top Ten Hitters and Pitchers for Week 17 of the Minor League Season

**Prospect Watch: Tsung-Che Cheng and Rodolfo Nolasco Have Big Days at the Plate

**Oh, Those Greensboro Splits

**Pirates Dismiss Hitting Coach Rick Eckstein

**Pirates Prospect Nick Gonzales on Fire for the Month of August

**Pirates Transactions: Shelby Miller Expected to Get Call-Up

**Pirates Prospect Quinn Priester Earns High-A Player of the Week Honors

**Pittsburgh Pirates Three Stars of the Week Aug. 23-29

**Rick Eckstein Out as Hitting Coach; Shelby Miller on the Way

**Card of the Day: 2003 Fleer Fall Classic Kiki Cuyler

**This Date in Pittsburgh Pirates History: August 30th, Hall of Famer Kiki Cuyler

PBN Updates

You’re going to want to check out Pirates Prospects at noon today…

Song of the Day

First Pitch