Thursday, January 26, 2012

Baseball America's Prospect Handbook


Outfielder Mike Trout of the Los Angeles Angels organization makes the 2012 cover



The end of January always brings a sense of excitement for baseball prospect geeks such as myself as we await the arrival of perhaps our most anticipated publication of the year. Today in my mailbox the yellow package arrived from the folks at Baseball America. Contained inside was their annual Prospect Handbook product, the Bible for following baseball prospects.

Published annually, the Prospect Handbook contains the Top 30 prospects for each organization in Major League Baseball as evaluated by the staff of Baseball America. The book contains a full page spread on the #1 prospect in each organization, shows a thumbnail photo of each of the top 10 prospects, with a bio and brief scouting report on every one of the 30 listed.

A new feature with the 2012 edition is the inclusion of both a scouting numerical "grade" and a "risk factor" for each evaluated prospect. The scouting grade will reflect the state of the player's current physical skills. The risk factor will show whether that player is more likely at this stage of his career to maximize those skills and to reach his potential.

The scouting grade is based on the traditional baseball 20-80 'OFP' (Overall Future Potential) formula in which players are rated on their power, hitting ability, arm, base running/speed, and fielding ability. The highest ranked players, those in the 75-80 range of the scale, are impact talents that can change the face of an organization. Most prospects will fall into the 50-55 range. You will rarely see players at a 30-35 or lower level make it into the book.

The risk factor was developed by the folks at Baseball America, and includes ratings of "Safe", "Low", "Medium", "High" and "Extreme" that will reflect their opinion as to how likely it is that a player with a certain skill set is to maximize his potential and translate those skills to the big league level. A "Safe" player is one that has already demonstrated they can play in 'The Show, and only four players were given this rating in this initial roll-out of the designations.

At the current time, almost all talent evaluators in baseball would be in agreement that the top 3 prospects in the game overall are outfielders Bryce Harper of the Washington Nationals and Mike Trout of the Los Angeles Angels, and pitcher Matt Moore of the Tampa Rays. Trout and Moore were 2 of the 4 players awarded the "Safe" designation, because each player has performed at the MLB level and has shown that his skills do indeed translate to that level of play.

The highest-rated overall prospect is Harper of the Nats. Well known by baseball insiders for years, and by even the most casual fans by this point, Harper was a Sports Illustrated cover subject back in June of 2009 when he was just 16 years old. Now still just 19, Harper is poised to become the latest teenage phenom to take the big league stage. His prodigious power and overall skill set have led Baseball America to hand him their only '80' grade. Coupled with a "Low" risk factor, only some freak injury would appear to be standing between this young man and baseball immortality.

Baseball America is the single most respected publication in the game today in the area of young player information. The writers and researchers key on the minor leagues, college and high school ball, the business side of the game, stories of general interest in the sport, and even into foreign leagues to keep fans and insiders alike abreast of the latest news and information on players and teams. Of course, there is some Major League Baseball coverage as well, particularly when it comes to the annual First Year Player Draft.

The 2012 Baseball America Prospect Handbook is available at this time through their website at www.baseballamerica.com for the price of $32.95, and ordering through them also gets you their upcoming 'Top 100 Prospects' issue and a bonus supplement showing extra prospects for each organization that just missed the Top 30 lists.

The book will be available in a few weeks through places such as Amazon and in book stores. Wherever you prefer, if you are a baseball fan, make sure that you pickup the book, and while you're at it, get a subscription to the magazine, the website, or both. The input of Will Lingo, Jim Callis, John Manuel, J.J. Cooper and others from BA will undoubtedly increase your own knowledge of the game. Baseball America and it's publications are must-haves for anyone who wants to call themselves a true baseball fan.

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