Do We Overvalue Prospects? (RAB Guest Post)

I worte a guest post for RAB yesterday on a topic I covered in this space earlier in the week. I figured I would toss it up here for discussion.

We live in a town where the most popular sports talk radio host in the area knows Jesus Montero as “that catchuh in AA that everyone likes so much.” The fact that people who do not know anything about the #3 prospect in all of baseball are the ones informing the masses leads many local fans to view prospects in a dismissive light. You will hear trade proposals from fans that empty a farm system because they really do not know much about the minor leaguers, and the hosts that they trust are not about to inform them. Those of us who are internet-savvy and read sites such as BP, BA, and RAB tend to believe that our education in these matters grants us a greater understanding of the value of prospects, and we are disdainful of most of these trade proposals. However, there is a downside to our “education.”

Those of us that know all about the prospects quickly become attached to each one and their chances to prosper. We read DotF every night, and dream of the day in 2013 when the rotation is King Felix (of course), Joba, Hughes, McCallister, and Brackman, where Austin Jackson is patrolling center and Jesus Montero is hitting bombs into the bullpen. We tend to overvalue them, glossing over their flaws as youth and inexperience rather than actual limitations of talent. When John Sickels or BP constructs a list of Yankee prospects, there are invariably claims of bias against the author, as we cannot fathom how player X was given a C+ grade. Suddenly, we are loathe to give up an Austin Jackson or an Austin Romine to improve the club, and would be livid at Cashman if he gave up legitimate prospects for almost anyone but Roy Halladay. While it is easy to say that a middle ground exists where a fan can properly evaluate prospects that belong to his favorite club, it is in practice very difficult for a fan to identify that ground and stick to it. While I am sure that most of you are thinking “not me, I know how to value the Yankee prospects,” think about how you might have reacted if the Yankees had traded Jackson, Zach McCallister, Romine/Cervelli, and Dellin Betances/Arodys Vizcaino for Cliff Lee, a package similar to the one the Phillies gave up (Mike thought Cervelli and Vizcaino would be enough, Jim Callis thought it made sense with Romine and Betances included). I know that I certainly would have been conflicted about that sort of deal, despite the fact that the media is trumpeting today’s deal as an excellent one for Philadelphia.

The point that I am trying to make is not that we should stop following prospects, or be satisfied when the GM gives them up in a clearly poor deal. Rather, I think it is important as fans for us to note that most prospects do not pan out. We see all of these guys as future contributors to big league clubs, but reality is usually not so kind to baseball players. A cursory glance at John Sickel’s list from 2006 shows two players currently helping the Yankees (Hughes, Gardner), and one who may help someday (Jackson). Otherwise, there seems to be plenty of filler, injured players, and guys who were traded and flopped with their new clubs.

Baseball requires such physical precision that minor injuries can entirely derail a player’s career, and scouting in baseball is particularly difficult as a player’s skills often do not translate to higher levels of competition. It is the job of the GM to identify a position of organization strength and deal from it to supplement the major league club, while retaining the guys that can actually help you down the line. Brian Cashman is fairly good at this, as the only legitimate major leaguers on the 2006 list are still in the organization. Remember that when he trades your personal favorite for a starter or reliever prior to the trading deadline.

What do you think? Does knowing a lot about prospects lead to overvaluation of those assets by the educated fan? Does it cloud our judgment of what might be a fair trade?

0 thoughts on “Do We Overvalue Prospects? (RAB Guest Post)

  1. I think Cash has done a good job not giving away talent. I can’t think of anyone he has given away that you will kill to have back. Thats a nice change from the late 80’s when we gave away drabek, tewksberry, and leiter for rhoden, trout, and barfield. I bet we could have put up a few more banners in the early 90’s with those three in the rotation. Freakin Steve Trout…….

  2. The fans that really follow the Yanks have a better chance of seeing through the rhinestones and check some of our guys out but, that cuts both ways. The more one knows about a player the less they may be inclined to give’em up. Others will want to keep the next “2nd coming” or can’t miss player.
    Me, I like to keep our players…if they have talent, not because I have fallen for all the rhetoric.

  3. I think the adage that says ‘young pitchers will break your heart’ remains a good thing to keep in mind when sorting through the prospect lists.
    I think hitters are much easier to judge, and tend to follow their MLEs (and thus are easier to predict.)