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Weekend Prospect Mailbag #5: What is a Prospect?

If you really think about it, what are any of us, anyway?

This is a prospect
This is a prospect
Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports

As I write this, the minor league season faces its mortality as Lakewood and Rome face off in Game 4 of their series. By the time you are reading this, it may be over! That's the beauty of time, after all. So before turning this toward our own mortality, let's talk about a game being played by adults on a field. (No spotlight this week, just a mailbag.


Why not kick off this whole thing with the most basic and interesting question of all? This is not a question that everyone answers the same way, but here is my definition:

A prospect is a player with a realistic chance of providing major league value.

To me, Major League value is not tied to WAR or anything like that; it is filling in a role on a Major League roster. This includes the up-and-down relievers who shuttle between the Majors and Triple-A as teams look to expand their bullpen depth. It includes depth starters in AAA who are needed because teams churn through seven-plus starting pitchers a year. It does not include players who may have a chance to get a cup of coffee but will never have any staying power. Now, of course, prospects have a wide quality range, and I will say there are a lot more prospects on the pitching side because the skillset needed to be a Major League reliever is a volatile one, and adding a pitch or refining control can be the difference between the Majors and minors.

Non-prospects for me tend to fall into a few different categories. There are org players; to me this is a guy who does not have a Major League future but provides something to the development process. This may be in the form of coaching, it may be that they are a really good minor league player providing some combination of solid offense and defense. Then there is filler; filler, for me, is the subset of guys you need to fill out a roster. It is mostly something that exists in the low minors when you need guys who won't play much, but can back up shortstop or mop up your blowouts. Good filler tends to become org players at the next level. Then, there are the limbo guys. For me, this is prospects who have fallen off enough that they just don't have a future anymore. If they are bad baseball players they wash out of the game as more prospects come up. If they are good baseball players and mentors, they continue to linger around as org players helping to develop the next wave of prospects.

David Cohen: Over the course of 4 years (including this coming year), the Phillies are going to have 4 top-10 draft picks. Putting aside the actual players drafted already, what's a reasonable expectation for long-term results from 4 top-10 draft picks? And then thinking of the Phillies' picks (so far), are we going to meet, exceed, or fall below that expectation?

So I started by going back to recent teams that I could find with at least 4 Top 10 picks in a row:

Astros (2012-2015): Carlos Correa (1), Mark Appel (1), Brady Aiken (1)*, Alex Bregman (2), Kyle Tucker (5)
Brewers (2002-2007): Prince Fielder (7), Rickie Weeks (2), Mark Rogers (5), Ryan Braun (5), Matt LaPorta (7)
Cubs (2011-2015): Javier Baez (9), Albert Almora (6), Kris Bryant (2), Kyle Schwarber (4), Ian Happ (9)
Rays (1999-2008): Josh Hamilton (1), Rocco Baldelli (6), Dewon Brazelton (3), Melvin Upton Jr. (2), Delmon Young (1), Jeff Niemann (4), Wade Townsend (8), Evan Longoria (3), David Price (1), Tim Beckham (1)
Nationals (2007-2011): Ross Detwiler (6), Aaron Crow (9)*, Stephen Strasburg (1), Drew Storen (10), Bryce Harper (1), Anthony Rendon (6)
Orioles (2006-2012): Billy Rowell (9), Matt Weiters (5), Brian Matusz (4), Matt Hobgood (5), Manny Machado (3), Dylan Bundy (4), Kevin Gausman (4)
Pirates (2006-2013): Brad Lincoln (4), Daniel Moskos (4), Pedro Alvarez (2), Tony Sanchez (4), Jameson Tallion (2), Gerrit Cole (1), Mark Appel (8)*, Austin Meadows (9)
Rockies (2012-2016): David Dahl (10), Jon Gray (3), Kyle Freeland (8), Brendan Rodgers (3), Riley Pint (4)
Royals (2005-2008, 2010-2013): Alex Gordon (2), Luke Hochevar (1), Mike Moustakas (2), Eric Hosmer (3), Christian Colon (3), Bubba Starling (5), Kyle Zimmer (5), Hunter Dozier (8)
Tigers (2002-2006): Scott Moore (8), Kyle Sleeth (3), Justin Verlander (2), Cameron Maybin (10), Andrew Miller (6)
Twins (2012-2015): Byron Buxton (2), Kohl Stewart (4), Nick Gordon (5), Tyler Jay (6)

The Phillies so far are at Aaron Nola (7), Cornelius Randolph (10), Mickey Moniak (1), and a TBD 2017 pick. Looking at the past, how many stars depends on how many top-3 picks you have. It is hard to see multiple stars without multiple picks at the top. The Phillies are likely to end up with only one top-5 pick in the group, so I would say you are realistically hoping for one impact player, two contributors, and one bust or,hopefully, fringe player. So far, the Phillies have a contributor in Aaron Nola. I don't think Randolph is a star, but he could be a contributor. Moniak is still very early in his career to really know where he will be. So, so far so good, given where they have picked. You could argue they got their star at No. 16 the year before the streak and that, with a down draft, they parlayed Moniak into a top-10 bonus for another player in Kevin Gowdy.

A lot of Quinn talk this week. Which is good, because Roman Quinn is good! I think Roman Quinn has the talent to be the opening day center fielder, but I also think that Odubel Herrera is the better player for 2017 (Herrera is nearing a second 3+ win season). In terms of direct comparison, Herrera is a better pure hitter and he has better power. Herrera's early season approach is better than what Quinn has, and conversely, what Quinn has shown now is better than Herrera now. In the outfield, I think Quinn can be the better fielder, he already has more speed and a better arm. Speed is obviously a huge advantage to Quinn, and he is going to be extremely disruptive on the bases and at the plate.

I don't think the Phillies just dump Herrera. I just don't see a robust market for him, but I may be wrong. What should happen is that the Phillies should start giving him left field reps. He is not going to go back to second base, and at this point it is hard to see him supplanting Cesar there anyway. What does intrigue me, and based on his comments also intrigues Mackanin, is a high-level defensive outfield. Aaron Altherr is still a question mark, but he can play all three outfield positions very well. Quinn is obviously still a question mark on his own, but he, too, can play three outfield positions well. Herrera should be able to play center and left well. Add those three to a corner outfielder through free agency or trade with a big bat and you have very dynamic outfield. Add that to someone like Nick Williams, if he rebounds, and you have a lot of good defensive outfielders who can play many places. So, end argument: Quinn will need to win the job over Herrera in Spring Training like Herrera had to win it over Ben Revere in 2015. If he does, I expect Herrera to play a lot of LF and play CF on Quinn's off days. I think the guy most likely to lose time is Altherr (except against LHPs).