What kind of prospects were today's MLB stars?

Hannah Foslien

A look at how MLB's best players of today were ranked back when they were prospects

Yesterday I looked at each prominent player on the Indians roster to see what kind of prospect they were back in their prospecting days, using Baseball America's annual Top 100 list, and the top 30 rankings they do each offseason for every team (see the sidebar below).

I found that every significant member of the Indians ranked among a team's top 30 prospects at some point, which I don't think is all that surprising. More notably, 5 of the 6 pitchers most likely to start games for the Indians in 2014, and the 9 of the 10 position players expected to get the most playing time were ranked among a team's top 10 prospects at some point before entering their age-24 season (among the top 8, in fact). Corey Kluber and Yan Gomes were the only exceptions.

We're often reminded (painfully, sometimes) that not all top prospects become good MLB players, but it does seem like almost every good MLB player was a pretty well-regarded prospect. I've seen lists for single teams that go 50-100 prospects deep, but it doesn't seem like there's much reason to beyond 30, and if all you do is focus on the top dozen or so, you'll catch the vast majority of eventual MLB starters.

I don't have time to run through the same exercise for every team, but I thought it might be interesting to look at the best players around baseball, to see how each of them was rated as a prospect. I'm using Baseball-Reference's WAR from 2011-2013 as a proxy for finding baseball's best, but doesn't mean these are precisely the 80 best players or that they're in precisely the right order. The point of this exercise isn't to rank MLB players, it's to see what type of prospects very good players were. I hope we can agree that the players listed have been very good MLB players at some recent point.

A quick key:

  • Top 100 Peak refers to the highest a player ever ranked on BA's Top 100
  • Team Peak refers to the highest a player ever ranked on BA's top 30 for a particular team
  • Age refers to a player's age for the season that led to his peak rating.

In the event that a player reached the same ranking more than once, I've listed the earliest instance; "NR" means a player was never ranked on such a list. Also, I'm not including players who came over from Japan and went straight into MLB, since they were never prospects here.

Pitchers

Player 2011-2013 bWAR Round Drafted Top 100 Peak Age Team Peak Age
Justin Verlander 20.8 1st 8 22 1 (Tigers) 22
Clayton Kershaw 20.6 1st 7 19 1 (Dodgers) 19
Cliff Lee 20.4 4th 30 23 3 (Indians) 23
Cole Hamels 15.8 1st 17 19 1 (Phillies) 19, 21
Jered Weaver 14.7 1st 57 22 5 (Angels) 22
Felix Hernandez 13.6 amateur FA 2 18 1 (Mariners) 17, 18
Doug Fister 12.6 7th NR -- NR --
Anibal Sanchez 12.5 amateur FA 40 21 3 (Marlins) 21
David Price 12.5 1st 2 22 1 (Rays) 22
Gio Gonzalez 12.2 1.5 26 21 1 (White Sox) 21
Max Scherzer 12.2 1st 66 22 4 (Diamondbacks) 22
James Shields 12.0 16th NR -- 12 (Rays) 23
Jhoulys Chacin 11.4 amateur FA 46 20 2 (Rockies) 20
R.A. Dickey 11.4 1st NR -- NR --
CC Sabathia 11.3 1st 7 19 1 (Indians) 19
Jordan Zimmermann 11.2 2nd 41 22 1 (Nationals) 22
Johnny Cueto 11.0 amateur FA 34 21 4 (Reds) 20, 21
Bartolo Colon 9.9 amateur FA 14 23 1 (Indians) 22
Mat Latos 9.8 11th NR -- 2 (Padres) 20
Kyle Lohse 9.7 29th NR -- 6 (Cubs) 19
Matt Harrison 9.7 3rd 90 20 3 (Braves) 20
Mark Buehrle 9.4 38th NR -- NR --
C.J. Wilson 9.0 5th NR -- 8 (Rangers) 21
Zack Greinke 8.9 1st 14 19 1 (Royals) 18, 19
Roy Halladay 8.9 1st 12 21 1 (Blue Jays) 21
Madison Bumgarner 8.4 1st 9 18 1 (Giants) 18
Matt Cain 8.1 1st 10 20 1 (Giants) 19, 20
Jon Lester 8.1 2nd 22 21 2 (Red Sox) 21
Jose Quintana 7.8 amateur FA NR -- NR --
Justin Masterson 7.8 2nd 64 22 4 (Red Sox) 22

25 of the 30 pitchers listed were in a team's top 10 prospects at least once, and all 25 of them had gotten there by the offseason following their age-22 season. 23 of the 30 were among a team's top 5.

22 of the 30 pitchers listed were on Baseball America's Top 100 at least once, 18 of them were among the top 50.

There is no such thing as a pitching prospect (TINSTAAPP) is a common saying around baseball, because so many top Minor League pitchers don't pan out, but as you can see, most of the best pitchers in baseball today were in fact very highly touted prospects.

Position Players

Player 2011-2013 bWAR Round Drafted Top 100 Peak Age Team Peak Age
Miguel Cabrera 22.1 amateur FA 12 19 1 (Marlins) 19
Robinson Cano 21.5 amateur FA NR -- 2 (Yankees) 21
Andrew McCutchen 20.8 1st 13 19 1 (Pirates) 19, 20
Mike Trout 20.8 1st 2 18 1 (Angels) 18,19
Ben Zobrist 19.8 6th NR -- 16 (Astros) 23, 24
Dustin Pedroia 19.3 2nd 77 -- 5 (Red Sox) 21
Joey Votto 18.5 2nd 43 22 3 (Reds) 22, 23
Adrian Beltre 18.3 amateur FA 3 18 2 (Dodgers) 18
Alex Gordon 18.0 1st 2 22 1 (Royals) 21, 22
Ryan Braun 16.8 1st 26 22 2 (Brewers) 22
Evan Longoria 16.3 1st 2 21 1 (Rays) 21
Jose Bautista 15.6 20th NR -- 5 (Pirates) 24
Yadier Molina 15.6 4th NR -- 4 (Cardinals) 20
Jacoby Ellsbury 14.9 1st 13 23 2 (Red Sox) 22, 23
David Wright 14.7 1.5 21 20 3 (Mets) 20
Adrian Gonzalez 14.3 1st 31 19, 20 1 (Rangers) 21
Ian Kinsler 14.1 17th 98 22 4 (Rangers) 22
Shane Victorino 14.1 6th NR -- 14 (Phillies) 24
Buster Posey 14.0 1st 7 22 1 (Giants) 22
Austin Jackson 13.9 8th 36 21 1 (Yankees) 21
Carlos Gomez 13.0 amateur FA 52 21 3 (Mets) 19, 20, 21
Chase Headley 12.4 2nd 32 23 1 (Padres) 23
Carlos Santana 12.2 amateur FA 10 23 1 (Indians) 22, 23
Jason Heyward 12.0 1st 1 19 1 (Braves) 19
Giancarlo Stanton 12.0 2nd 3 19 1 (Marlins) 19
Elvis Andrus 12.0 amateur FA 19 18 1 (Rangers) 18
Albert Pujols 11.9 13th 42 20 2 (Cardinals) 20
Troy Tulowitzki 11.9 1st 15 21 1 (Rockies) 21
Michael Bourn 11.6 4th NR -- 4 (Phillies) 22
Torii Hunter 11.6 1st 79 20 5 (Twins) 21

All 30 of the players listed were among a team's top 30 at some point. In fact, all of them were among a team's top 16. 28 of them were among a team's top 5 at some point, with Zobrist and Bourn as the only exceptions.

24 of the players listed were on Baseball America's Top 100 at least once. 20 of them were among BA's top 50. Even more so than with pitchers, baseball top position players were mostly identified as future stars.

Not every top prospect becomes a star, but most stars were once top prospects.

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