With spring training kicking off this week, somewhat surprisingly, it’s that time of year again to kick off the annual Indians Baseball Insider top prospect countdown.

This year’s list is going to be different for anyone who has ever read it in the past. It has to be different because in 2020 we didn’t get to see prospects on the field in person, or even through video and stats. In order to not write the same thing we did a year ago because the majority of prospects were training at home, for three months in simulated games at Lake County, and a few weeks in Arizona in October, we had to change how we evaluate.

In the past, the rankings and descriptions were a little more narrative-based and the order was debated that way. Now, we evaluated these prospects using game footage from 2019, other video and past in-person evaluations, graded their tools and overall ratings and let the ratings decide the rankings in an independent, unbiased way.

Why the change?

The change to this format is for a few reasons. The prospect evaluation industry has pretty much all gone towards using the scouting scale over the narrative-based descriptions of players’ skills, and now IBI has as well. It falls in line with other industry standards on how writers do prospect evaluation and write. It also allows us to give you, the reader, a way a new way to read about Cleveland’s prospects without essentially reading the same thing on these players as you did for the 2020 list. It forced us to evaluate them differently and it ranks and evaluates for you in a new way. 

You’ll read three voices on these evaluations. Myself, Willie Hood, who helped complete last year’s top 50, and Joe Coblitz, who joined IBI last spring and resides in Arizona, putting eyes on younger prospects who haven’t made it to full season affiliates yet and more.

What to look for

For this year’s prospect list, we ranked 70 players. We will run two prospects per day. Our #70 and #68 prospects will be free for all readers. This way everyone gets a look at how this format looks and how it is different. The rest will be for Insiders only, which is only $4.99 a month if you want to sign up to read the entire list and all the evaluations, along with other Insider coverage all season long.

The entire list of our prospect rankings can be found here. All readers will be able to view the entire rankings list, but only Insiders can read every single scouting report. 

As the list kicks off, this is a little primer on what the changes are, what you can expect, and what everything means.

Baseball’s scouting scale is a 20-80 scale (some outlets and teams use 2-8, but it’s the same thing) and some places use different numbers on this scale. So this is what IBI will be using and what it means.

Overall grades

The overall grades are the total future grade value we’ve determined based on evaluating the players tools. This is how we determine the total impact we think the player can have at the major league level if they make it and develop how we think they might.

80 – This is as good as it gets. There aren’t many 80s in baseball, if any. Overall, think Mike Trout. This is a Hall of Fame level player if they get this grade. Elite.

70 – A perennial All-Star. There also aren’t many 70s in baseball. These players might have Hall of Fame level talent and compete for PMVP’s and Cy Young awards year in and out. Scouts refer to 70’s as “plus-plus” or “double-plus”. Think Jose Ramirez or Corey Kluber here.

60 – Really good players, or “plus.” These types make All-Star games too, maybe just less often than 70s. They can compete for awards too. Think Jason Kipnis’ or Carlos Carrasco’s best seasons.

55 – “Above average” everyday players. Players who contribute to their teams quite a bit but aren’t quite All-Stars, but maybe some years they are. Think Carlos Santana or Andrew Miller’s best seasons.

50 – “Average” everyday player. These players can start just about anywhere in the majors and be valuable to their teams. They are regular contributors and 50’s are usually still top-100 prospects in baseball because ascending to anything above 50 is really, really difficult and means you are an elite level player. Cesar Hernandez is a good example of a 50 overall, a very good, solid everyday regular. 

45 – Known as “fringe-average.” These are also good prospects who can provide value to their clubs in the majors. They can start, but teams might want to upgrade from them. Sometimes 45s are good backups, platoon players or the last starter in your rotation, or your sixth inning reliever. Jordan Luplow is a good platoon player who would fit here. Mark Reynolds was a fringe-average starter. Josh Tomlin fits here somewhat as a starter and Dan Otero’s 2016 season.

40 – “Below league average” player. These are your bench players. Backups, utility players, emergency starters or low-leverage relievers. Adam Plutko, Mike Freeman and Jeff Manship are good fits here.

35 – “Emergency callup” type players. Guys who serve as Triple-A depth who can come in and serve on an MLB bench briefly and play a or pitch if injuries and depth become an issue. Beau Taylor in 2020 fits here or someone like Neil Ramirez when he was with Cleveland’s bullpen.

30 – Still considered “emergency callup” type players, but don’t have the skills to be a sure emergency type callup. These players have a few good skills. They might be good fielders or are fast or have one good pitch, or have good command but below average pitches. These players might have a shot to play in the majors, like 35’s but are most likely players in the minors that fill out a minor league roster and teams hope they can get some value from one or two “non-impact” skills.

20 – Organizational players are players that fill out the minor league rosters. They don’t really have skills that show on the field that will translate to the majors. It’s important to remember a “20” prospect was probably one of the best players in their high school, or was a pretty good college player but are unlikely to make it to the majors.

Tools

Now that we’ve covered the “overall” grade for players, we can give an example of “tool” grades.

The tools IBI evaluates for prospects are:

Offense

Hit – How well a player can make contact and good quality contact at that. Can they hit fastball’s, curveball’s, and changeups? What level of average and contact can they provide?

Power – Pretty self explanatory. Doubles and triples are included here in addition to homers. Raw power and in-game power are taken into account here. Many players have good raw power but have a hard time hitting for power in games.

Approach – Is the hitter an aggressive hitter? Is he too aggressive? Can he work a walk? Are they Yandy Diaz and Carlos Santana, or more like Francisco Mejia where they swing at everything?

Defense

Arm – How strong a players arm is and where it will work for them on the field. Accuracy is also taken into account here.

Fielding – How good a player is as a fielder, infielder or outfielder. We look at their instincts, decision making, route running and range. It’s also important to remember we are grading these fielders at their respective positions. If we graded a shortstop as a “fringe-average” fielder at shortstop, they’re going to be a better defender at second base, and maybe third base depending on their arm. In the outfield, a “fringe-average” defender in centerfield would be average or maybe even above average in left or right field.

Baserunning

Speed – Speed is for the most part fact based and less “personal evaluation.” On players we are able clock how fast they run home-to-first, we hand out a hard grade with no real room for fluctuation here other than how well they run the bases after and how their speed will hold up as they get older.

Instincts – This is the more eye test part of speed. We do look at stolen base success rate here, but also how often players take the extra base and how hard they run. We separated it from the true “speed” grade because some players might not be fast by the stopwatch, but they’re still good base runners. Carlos Santana is an example I like here.

Speed grades

80 – LH<3.90 home-to-first; RH<4.0 home-to-first

70 – LH<4.0; RH<4.10

60 – LH<4.10; RH<4.20

55 – LH<4.15; RH<4.25

50 – LH<4.20; RH<4.30

45 – LH<4.25; RH<4.35

40 – LH<4.30; RH<4.40

30 – LH<4.40; RH<4.50

20 – LH>4.50; RH>4.50

Intangibles

We aren’t placing grades on intangibles, but we like to make note of areas about a player we know about that we think can impact a players development, negatively or positively. If a player is a baseball rat, a good makeup or high-character player, or might be bi-lingual, are all things that could have an impact on their development that doesn’t show up in the tools.

Future/Roles – This is where we talk about a players upside. If their best case scenario is a starting, All-Star shortstop, or if they’re more likely a utility player, starter, or reliever.

Risk – Low, Medium, High and Extreme – the variance on a player’s development, or how likely we think it is they will develop into the overall given. Someone like Shane Bieber might have had a low or medium risk on his development, whereas Bradley Zimmer was someone with a higher risk because of his swing and miss issues.

Tools grades

Not much different than overall grades. 

80 – An 80 hit tool is basically a batting champion. Jose Altuve. An 80 fastball is James Karinchak or Aroldis Champan.

70 – Francisco Lindor’s glove or Shane Bieber’s command. Still “double-plus.”

60 – “Plus” Franmil Reyes’ power or Corey Kluber’s slurve

55 – “Above-average.” Cesar Hernandez’s hit tool.

50 – “Average.” Michael Brantley’s power.

45 – “Fringe-average.” Adam Plutko’s fastball.

40 – “Below average.” Tyler Naquin’s defense in centerfield.

30 – “Well below average.” We skip 40 to 30 here. Edwin Encarnacion’s speed is a good example of a 30 grade.

20 – Bottom of the scale. There aren’t many grades like this. Roberto Perez might have 20 speed. Billy Hamilton’s power is the best example here too.

Here are some other places to read up on this info to get a better understanding. Some of these are a little older, so the numbers and scales are a little outdated. So adjust them upwards in some cases (like the average fastball velocity and power grades are higher in 2021 than they were when some of these were written).

https://www.baseballamerica.com/stories/explaining-the-20-80-baseball-scouting-scale/

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