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On prospect lists, biases and anger

I’m starting to care less and less about what national prospect people say about the Phillies

Let me begin by stating the obvious: I am no scout. I have never claimed to have the ability of prospect prognostication, of being able to peer into a crystal ball and be able to get coherent picture about the future ability of a player. I’m pretty sure, though some might disagree, that I am able to tell the difference between a player that is “good” and a player that is “bad” based on the current climate of the game, but to be able to sit here and tell you that Player X is going to be this kind of a player in 3-5 years? That is out of the realm of my expertise.

I’m also going to admit something else. What you’re about to read is rambling in spots, probably lacking in terms of coherence throughout the writing, but it’s just some random thoughts that I’ve had lately while observing things online.

There are lots of people that claim to have that ability as a baseball observer, one that makes them some kind of “expert” on prospect based on stats and data and the proliferation of video from around the country and their minor league affiliates. Because of this, #ProspectListSzn, people tend to get worked up about names placed alongside numbers on different websites. It can cause these people to get...



Stirred up.

Choose your best synonym and insert it here and you’re likely describing someone that is made online about a top ten or top thirty or top whatever list a person put hours and hours into creating, molding and finally publishing.

I will admit, there are certain personalities that cause me to scratch my head. There have been enough whispers about enough media types and their player evaluation methods that when they do submit their work, a healthy dose of sodium chloride immediately follows my initial consumption. But then I started to wonder: why?

Why am I getting upset at something that, in the end, is quite trivial?

Matt Winkelman, the writer that can probably be described as one of the more knowledgeable people concerning Phillies prospects, talked about how the Phillies are ranked quite low in organizational rankings of prospects. They might be lower next season, but that’s not a bad thing.

If we’re going to put a modicum of trust in this, it’s completely in the realm of possibility that the Phillies’ system as a whole does look worse, but they’re in a better spot overall as a system. I would also argue I would prefer that it looks worse next year. Having someone like Andrew Painter at the forefront of your prospect vanguard is a great way to start a list, so if he isn’t there in 2024, that means he is contributing in a substantial way in Philadelphia, causing the team’s overall ranking to tumble. Yanking one of the top ten prospects in the game from the list is going to cause any list to fall unless there is someone in the system to take a rather large leap forward during the upcoming season. We should be okay with that! Having Andrew Painter off of any prospect list for 2024 is probably a best case scenario for everyone involved.

When Baseball Prospectus wrote recently about the Atlanta Braves and their poorly ranked farm system, it came with a certain caveat that got me thinking.

Three of last year’s Atlanta Top Ten were key cogs for a 101-win team (and two of them placed 1-2 in Rookie of the Year voting). Six of last year’s Atlanta Top Ten were traded for two core pieces for the 2023 team (and beyond). If you can be the worst system in baseball for all the right reasons, the 2023 Atlanta system makes a case. But either way it’s a good thing they have almost an entire major league lineup under control for a good while.

That kind of bright-eyed optimism about a rival’s present and future isn’t exactly something that falls into the positive category, but that’s not the point. The way the Braves’ system currently sits mirrors the Phillies’ system to a certain extent: as a way to supplement the current core of players. Go with it for a second.

Too often, we get caught up in hoping for the farm system of our own favorite team to be recognized among the game’s best. It feels like not only a validation of those players that exist in the system, but also a collective pat on the back to those decision makers that have made the system into one that can seemingly produce talent through the pipeline that arrives at the major league level with gusto. When people we respect as authorities on being able to judge that talent cast their gaze on what the Phillies are doing and nod in approval, it makes us feel like the team is finally doing something right. Should the opposite happen, where those same people in charge snicker and point in derision, it almost feels personal, that the team we have sunk so much time and energy into is somehow a failure.

Yet look at what the Phillies and Braves are both doing. Both of them, in their own way, have used their minor leagues as a way to supplement the team that is already winning in the majors and looks set up to do so for the foreseeable future. While the Braves have used that pipeline to create most of the actual 26-man roster, they are still using it to upgrade from the outside (see: Olson, Matt and Murphy, Sean). The Phillies saw that their own pipeline was broken and decided to leverage their financial might to create a roster, using the minor leagues to fill in the gaps rather than expect a 4-5 WAR player to carry the day. While we all would have like the rebuilding sojourn the Phillies went on to have ended with their roster looking homegrown the way Atlanta’s does, in the end, they’re both doing the same thing. They’ve just gotten to this point in different ways. As long as the big league team is winning, isn’t that the point?

I’m also finding that another reason people are getting angry at these same national people is that their biases towards the players in the Phillies’ minor league are clouding their own reason about other prospects around the game. Somehow or another, we latch on to someone that is playing in the minor league system, gripping their development tightly and believing that great things lay ahead. Maybe it’s a desire to be right about a player, but there is always someone who catches our eye that maybe someone else scoffs at in disdain. When that player isn’t included on these lists, or has a comment we perceive to be negative made about him, there is a moment of anger. To us, that list is no longer valid because player X is only ranked at spot Y.

Why? Why do we do this?

For me, that player is Carlos de la Cruz. I fell in love with him as a prospect last year when I went to a game in Wilmington where the Jersey Shore Blue Claws were and de la Cruz hit a SCUD missile out to center field that sounded like it had left a howitzer. I “knew” then that he, “CDLC” as I’ve come to call him, was going to make an impact on this team, maybe even this coming season with Bryce Harper needing to take a sitdown for a while and de la Cruz in need of protection from the Rule 5 draft. Yet when you look around at the lists that have been published, only one has him among the top ten of Phillies prospects. Countless jabs at his ability to actually make contact have left me feeling stung. “I was there,” I’ll say to myself. “I saw that man make harder contact than some major leaguers!”

But I come back to the same thinking nowadays. Who am I to judge someone else’s criticisms of a player? Just because I want Carlos de la Cruz to be good doesn’t mean he’ll actually turn out to be a good, productive major leaguer. The story is still to be written about him, but it’s probably best that I look at prospect lists with clearer, less pinstripey eyes than I have in the past.

I’m not exactly sure what point I’m looking to prove here is. Maybe it’s just me talking to myself, trying not to be angry at prospect lists. They’re educational, sure, but there has to be a way to temper the initial reaction we have to the lists when they come out. Things could probably go a lot better than they believe, the lists looking rather silly in just a few months, or even weeks’, time. So maybe, as more people start writing more often about the Phillies farm system, take a step back when you’re finished looking at them. Take them for what they are. In the end, they’re just numbers and names.