One of my favorite books of the year, Baseball America's Prospect Handbook, came out earlier this week. In my opinion, it's one of the most valuable books for a baseball fan to own each year because it gives you not just the skinny on not just he up-and-comers from around the league, but it also provides an unbiased view of the prospects of the team you care about most.
Unlike the team's PR Department and the local media, who often give unrealistically optimistic views to fans of the real ability of the players down on the farm, Baseball America's scouts tell fans the truth about the realistic potential of the young men who have been sold to fans as the future of their franchise.
This year's edition of the Prospect Handbook held a bit of a surprise for Nats fans. A surprise with a catch. The Nationals were named by Baseball America as having the No. 1 overall farm system in Major League Baseball, however, the rankings were created prior to the December trade which brought Gio Gonzelez to Washington. That deal included four of the club's to 15 prospects, Brad Peacock (3), A.J. Cole (4), Derek Norris (9), and Tom Milone (13), the departure of whom, would clearly have cost the club their No. 1 position in the league's organizational rankings.
While on the cover it may seem disappointing that the team was forced to gut their minor league system in order to gain a No. 2/3 starter, in many ways its a positive representation of the shift in philosophy since 2007. That year the Nationals finished dead last in Baseball America's organizational rankings. It was a farm system created by the Jim Bowden regime, and one that lacked not only depth, but also strength at the front end of their talent pool. To be able to move that far up the organizational rankings in just five years, especially when you consider the large amount of young talent that is already at the major league level, and therefor not counted in this ranking, shows just how good a job Mike Rizzo has done at building and developing their young talent.
Perhaps even more impressive, is how strong their system still is despite the Gonzalez trade. John Sickles, one of the internet's aficionados on MLB prospects, put out his organization rankings this week as reflected after the trade. The Nationals still ranked in the top half in his rankings, coming in at No. 14 overall. That ranking could potentially go up very quickly as well when you think about the massive talent pool the team brought in in their most recent draft. It is likely that the prospect status of pitchers like Alex Meyer and Matt Purke will rise quickly after a year of production in the minor leagues.
I would hardly say that the Nationals "gutted" their farm system to get Gonzalez: two of the prospects had no real future with the team and the other two included a pitcher who had not pitched above Low-A.
Unbiased?! Oh, that's rich. BA is unbiased the way Fox News is balanced.
The biggest complaint about the BA prospect handbook is that they will parrot team officials more often than not. If you're looking for unbiased, John Sickels or Kevin Goldstein is.
The problem, of course, is that BA influential even if it doesn't deserve to be; kind of like the U.S. News & World Report's College Rankings. I wish I could ignore them, but I can't.
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