Almost a year ago when I launched BPN, one of my goals was to hold myself accountable for things I write or opinions I hold. There’s a lot of prospect writing out there these days, and the anonymity of the Internet allows for far less accountability than should exist. I want to be accountable for what I write and say. I want to reflect on what I’ve said and identify where I was particularly right or wrong, and what I can learn from that.
In just a few weeks I will be embarking on the next round of prospect rankings here at the site. Before that happens, I want to publicly hold myself accountable and identify some of the mistakes I feel I have made in this first year. I have no doubt that I could nitpick every list I’ve produced and every scouting report I have written to come up with something; but “something” isn’t the point. What I want to identify for all of you are those spots where I think I made an error I can learn from.
Top Prospect In Baseball
Prior to the 2011 season, I ranked Mike Trout as the #1 prospect in baseball as part of my efforts for the FoxSports.com Fantasy Guide and Scout.com Prospect Guide. I was strong in my belief of him as the top prospect in the game, even in lengthy discussions with members of the Angels organization who were trying to downplay his potential.
Heading into 2012, I still believed Trout to be an elite talent – just like everybody else in the prospect writing universe. However, I let myself be swayed by the unbelievable potential of a still teenaged Bryce Harper. Bryce Harper is an amazing, amazing talent. Mike Trout might just be even more special. I ranked Harper as the top prospect in my preseason Top 150 prospects list, and that position was easily defensible. Mike Trout was third, behind Harper and Matt Moore.
In hindsight, I should have stood by Trout. I should have maintained my conviction and belief that he was a special, special player. Wait, to say that implies that I suddenly lost some belief in him. I did not. I was simply swayed by the glowing praise heaped on Harper and Moore by those in the industry with whom I speak. Mike Trout was my guy before and he should have been my guy again.
The lesson learned here, stick with your gut. My gut told me the better player was the one with the most varied and impactful skill set. Mike Trout fits that description, and he should have been my top prospect entering the year. Lesson Learned.
When I released my Red Sox rankings during the offseason, I thought I was being aggressive by rating Bogaerts as the fourth-best prospect in the system. With Will Middlebrooks on the cusp of the big leagues, my long-established love of Garin Cecchini and my extensive history scouting Matt Barnes, I was comfortable with those three at the top of my list. Bogaerts broke out in a huge way in 2011 and the glowing reports forced me to rate him highly.
In the end, I didn’t rank him highly enough. With his combination of physical projection, tools and uncanny offensive polish for his age, I should have had the fortitude to rank him atop the list before a continued breakout in 2012. Bogaerts has the potential to be special and at that time had already demonstrated an ability to translate tools to on-field success. The other three ahead of him lack the “special” label. That should have been a clue. Lesson Learned.
I, like everyone else, thought Bundy was a brilliant prospect. It is impossible to say I thought any different when I ranked him as the #14 prospect in the game before he ever really showed what he had at the professional level.
Where I went wrong was in doubting the effusive praise he was receiving as I wrote my first scouting report on him in December. Here is an excerpt of what I wrote at that time:
“While it seems commonplace to tag him as a future number one starter I question what aspect of his game will take a significant step forward to warrant that lofty projection. He lacks physical projection beyond the present stuff and in my mind the modest gains he could be expected to make with his change-up and command are not enough to push him past a number two ceiling. That said, he still possesses the ability to be a front of the rotation horse for a long time.”
I stand by the assertion that it was and is still too early to call him an ace in waiting, but I hold that opinion of every pitching prospect in the game. What I believe I did was get overzealous in downplaying that type of conjecture. Bundy deserves a ton of praise, and rather than trying to beat that praise down with more realistic expectations, I should have acknowledged the reasons why such expectations were being developed, and explain rationally why I thought they were too high. Lesson Learned.
It’s easy to get hyped up about a prospect in rookie ball. It’s very easy to do. I’ve done it before and I’m quite certain I will do it again at some point. Everybody does it.
I did that last year with Santana, ranking him fifth in the Yankees system. He’s an intriguing player that warrants attention from prospect watchers, but I should not have downplayed the potential effect of his ankle injury. I should have been more cautious with a player that was not receiving elite-level praise from those scouts that had seen him the most. That warrants caution, and I didn’t listen. Lesson Learned.
I killed Walker in my White Sox rankings this year, slotting him 12th on the list after being the team’s first round pick that June. I even acknowledged how harsh I was being based on a small sample of professional games:
“Walker still has the tantalizing physicality that teams love and this may be an exceedingly pessimistic rating of him, but until some of those tools show on the diamond it will be tough to move him higher.”
I frequently caution readers, emailers and Twitter-folk about making snap judgments based off of a strong short-season or brief full-season showing for a recently drafted prospect. I should have heeded my own advice with respect to a struggling player in his first exposure to pro ball. Lesson Learned.
As a prospect, I love Christian Bethancourt. I have not tried to be secretive about this. I think he has elite-level potential behind the plate and there is power in his swing. That is a fantastic combination of skills for a young catcher. I have personally scouted him extensively since he was just 17-years old. I believe and trust my eyes, and my eyes were telling me there was a potential superstar in there. I was so emphatic in my belief in Bethancourt that I ranked him fourth in the Braves system and tabbed him as a potential breakout player.
I stand by my ranking and expect him to fall in a similar range when I revisit the Braves rankings in the near future. Tabbing a youngster like that as a breakout candidate when he was going to move up a level and face competition the likes he had never seen before was an overzealous and perhaps arrogant take on my part. Bethancourt deserves praise, and even when I truly believe a raw player has gobs of potential, I would do well to temper my own enthusiasm while still making my overall point. Lesson Learned.
What was I thinking? Rather than keenly listening to the scouts that were telling me they “didn’t see it” in 2011, I went ahead and stuck to what I had seen of Washington before the Indians drafted him. I didn’t allow myself to see past my own experiences with the player to accept that things change and prospects develop positively and negatively over time.
I should have read the proverbial tea leaves and seen the pattern. That is my job; to identify those changes and be willing to understand that the developmental process is not some linear climb that ignores physical and mental changes and the environment (e.g., competition) around the player. The developmental process is tricky and the progress a player made yesterday may not be evident two days later. My eyes are only part of my livelihood in this business. My ability to reach out and connect with other, many times far more experienced talent evaluators is another big part of my livelihood in this business. In this case, I turned my back on that second part. Lesson Learned.
I love the raw stuff Montgomery brings to the table. It is impossible not to love stuff like that. He has a good fastball and curveball that both have plus potential and a change-up that should be usable. Those are great ingredients in a young lefty.
While I sat back and assumed the results would ultimately catch up with the raw stuff, I failed to acknowledge that the feel for pitching; commanding the strike zone, mixing and sequencing pitches, adjusting to in-game developments, are extremely important developmental pieces. This is where Mike Montgomery falls a little flat. He hasn’t shown the ability to do those things and as a result, his stuff ultimately plays down.
You have to take the feel for the game into account, particularly with pitching. I should know, I had that feel for pitching but never had the “stuff” to match. Maybe I have been overcompensating for my past “lack of stuff,” but I have always been a whore for big time arsenals. I need to pull the reigns a bit – just a bit – and allow myself to see the whole picture; everything that can make or break a pitching prospect. Lesson Learned.