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Dodgers 2016 top prospects: Overview & explanation

Where will Alex Verdugo be ranked by David Hood this winter?
Where will Alex Verdugo be ranked by David Hood this winter?
Photo: Craig Minami | True Blue LA

The start of the off-season also brings the start of the prospect evaluation season at True Blue LA. In my second season of ranking and evaluating the farm system, I’ve decided to overhaul my process to better resemble the ranking system of draft prospects that I produced last spring. After a year of reviewing the season and witnessing many of the players first hand, I’m excited to produce my most extensive list of evaluations to date. Before we can get into the players though, I want to spend some time explaining the process and how to read the ranking table as it gets released.

What’s New

The biggest change from last season is that I’ve ranked every player that I felt comfortable giving an evaluation AND believe they have a better than zero-percent chance of realistically reaching the major leagues. As it now stands, with the recent addition of Lisalverto Bonilla, I have ranked 61 "prospects" ahead of the 2015 offseason. Last year’s list was just 21 deep, with a few profiles on players missing the list.

The format for releasing the rankings won’t change too much. The next article will highlight significant players in the 31-61 range, but give you the grades and pros/cons on all 31 players in this grouping. After that, I will release smaller profile sketches on players ranked 26-30, then 21-25, before giving the full article treatment to the top 20 players.

If you followed my draft rankings, you will be familiar with the color-coded tier rankings you will see on the list. I broke last year’s list into three broader tiers, but this year will feature eight tiers of prospects separated by their overall grade. The tiers are meant to signify players with a close value grade, but I’ve used a control number to better personalize my rankings within the tiers. This will make more sense as the list is released.

Evaluation Process

Finding enough information to rank 61 players can be a tasking experience. The most important tool in the evaluation process is the in-person evaluation, but for many players not yet to the AA, this hasn’t happened yet. To fill in the gaps, I try to watch as much player film as I can find. Batting and fielding practice video, and side views of in-game at bats is most helpful for position players. For pitchers, full innings or multiple inning shots from behind the backstop, with a few side shots of the delivery are most useful.

I also have to rely on published scouting reports on players to get ideas on a player’s tools. A video might not tell me how hard a pitcher throws, but a scouting report that tells me the pitcher sits in the low 90’s enhances what the video shows me. For in person evaluations, I have my own radar gun and stopwatch to record primary data on players. Unfortunately, it’s quite often that the radar gun readings in scouting reports fail to match the in person readings I get or notice on scouts’ radar guns.

Player production also plays into the evaluation process, with walk rates, strikeout rates, and batted ball data filling in the final blanks to grade a player. It’s important to consider age, level, and scoring environments when using a player’s production as an evaluation tool.

Because the in-person and video evaluation are the most important steps in this process, if I lack these tools I did not rank the player. The two most notable omissions from my rankings are youngsters Michael Medina and Angel German. I’ve read enough reports on the two to know they are worthy of rankings, but because the rankings are my own, I chose not to solely rely on secondhand reports to rank a player. Given their age and level, both Medina and German will have chances to feature on this list in the years to follow.

Reading the Table

Much like my draft rankings, my prospect rankings table will be your quick reference to my evaluations of the players. To get the most value out of reading the table, here’s your guide to the values.

61 Yadir Drake RF 26.0 AA 40 35 40 Occasional pop, + arm strength Limited athlete, questionable hit tool, power too infrequent

RK - "Rank": This is the player’s overall ranking within the system. As of right now, 61 players are ranked on the table.

NAME: Rather obvious of course, but each name is also a link to a video of the player. Because videos of younger players can be quite scarce, not all videos will provide you with enough detail to evaluate the player. When I could find it, I tried to link the best possible video of the player that captures their present tools/skills and future potential. For instance, the Jose De Leon video gives you a full look at this delivery, stuff, and pitchability. However, for players further down the list, the video may only be a brief highlight that only shows you the player’s size, body type, or a specific skill or tool.

POS - "Position": This is a combination of what role the player fills now, and what role I see the player fulfilling in the future. For example, Jharel Cotton’s position is listed as RHSP/RP, meaning right-handed starting pitcher/relief pitcher. While he starts now, I think he might find a big league role as a reliever.

OD AGE - "Opening Day Age": The player’s age by April 1, 2016, more or less. The decimal is for months, so a player list as 21.11 years old is one month away from turning 22 at the start of the season. Months are rounded up or down depending on where the birthday falls within the month.

LEVEL: This is the minor league level the player ended the season at, with a few exceptions. I tried to separate players that received a full promotion from players that just filled a roster shortfall in late season call-ups. This should just be used as a small snapshot to see where a player currently sits on the ladder to the major leagues.

OVERALL - "Overall Player Grade/Tier": Grades used come from the scouting 20-80 scale, with 40-grade players being fringe average, 45 average, and 50 beyond a standard deviation above the next grade. The overall grade is a subjective, all encompassing "prospect" grade that should represent their value to the organization. For example, a 45-grade prospect may eventually become a 60 grade player, but his distance from the majors/injury history/production has his "sell on" value at a 45.

Players can obviously improve this grade over time as we gain a better picture of their future skills while the player works to correct shortcomings in their game or continue to physically develop. Outside cases of clearly apparent potential/skills, players further down the organizational ladder tend to be graded more conservatively. More on this next week.

RISK: This is the likelihood the player reaches the major leagues, given what obstacles we know about the player. The higher the score, the more likely I see the player reaching the majors. Several factors go into risk, the primary factors being: age, injury history, distance from majors, polish of tools, scarcity of position. Austin Barnes is a polished offensive player at the cusp of the big league level and at a position of relative scarcity; his risk grade is very high

CEILING: This is the highest potential grade I could see the player achieving at the big league level. I tried to be conservative on this grade for unpolished players with significant unrealized potential, such as Brendon Davis and Logan Crouse. A player’s ceiling grade might shrink and their risk score might rise while they climb the organizational ladder and polish their tools. An example of this might be Zach Lee, who looked like a potentially limitless high school prospect but didn’t see his tools develop quite along the best case scenario for him.

PROS: Short-hand comments that highlight the positive attributes of the player. I will frequently use + (above grade 55) or ++ (above grade 60) to describe a particular tool, pitch, or trait. Comments are relative to a player’s peers in terms of age or tier. For instance a + mark for pitchability on a AA level player means the pitcher has the acumen ready to pitch in the major leagues, but + pitchability on a rookie league player simply suggests he’s ahead of the curve.

CONS: Short-hand comments that describe my concerns for the player. Relativity matters much more in this instance. For example, if a 60 grade tier player has a "CON" of lacking upside, I’m comparing the player to other 60 grade players, in this organization or otherwise. If you are a 60 tier player, I consider you an above average major league contributor, so try to use context when reading these comments. For the top 20 players, this will be better explained in the player’s article.

As always, feel free to ask me any questions you might have one the rankings, grades or "Pros/Cons" once the list is released. I will try to answer all questions left in the comments, and you can also ask me on twitter @davidchood. I will also keep the rankings updated as prospects are added and subtracted from the system during the off-season. The profile articles should run up to spring training, so don’t expect your Julio Urias questions that might spoil the article content to get answered before then.