The Top 30 Positions Players in Baseball: How They Were Seen as Prospects

Robinson Cano of the New York Yankees (Photo by Nick Laham/Getty Images)

The Top 30 Position Players in Baseball: How They Were Seen as Prospects

This is the season for prospect lists. I thought I would take a trip through the wayback machine and write a prospect list of a different sort, taking the Top 30 Position Players in Baseball (in 2011 as measured by Fangraphs WAR) and looking at how they were rated as prospects. I did a similar list for pitchers on Monday.

Grades are from the STATS Minor League Scouting Notebook (1996 through 2002) and the Baseball Prospect Book (2003 through 2011)

First, keep in mind how I define grades.

Grade A prospects are the elite. They have a good chance of becoming stars or superstars. Almost all Grade A prospects develop into major league regulars, if injuries or other problems don't intervene. Note that is a major "if" in some cases.

Grade B prospects have a good chance to enjoy successful careers. Some will develop into stars, some will not. Most end up spending several years in the majors, at the very least in a marginal role.

Grade C prospects are the most common type. These are guys who have something positive going for them, but who may have a question mark or three, or who are just too far away from the majors to get an accurate feel for. A few Grade C guys, especially at the lower levels, do develop into stars. Many end up as role players or bench guys.Some don't make it at all.

1) Jacoby Ellsbury, OF, Red Sox, 9.4 WAR: 2006: Grade B; 2007: Grade B+; 2008: Grade A-.
2) Matt Kemp, OF, Dodgers, 8.7 WAR: 2005: Grade C+ (with "very great upside); 2006: Grade C+ (with high upside)
3) Jose Bautista, OF-3B, Blue Jays, 8.3 WAR: 2002: Grade C; 2003: Grade B-; 2004: Grade C (lost most of '03 to injuries then picked in Rule 5); 2005: Grade C (got just 88 at-bats in '04); 2006: Grade C+.
4) Dustin Pedroia, 2B, Red Sox, 8.0 WAR: 2005: Grade B; 2006: Grade B+; 2007: Grade B
5) Ryan Braun, OF, Brewers, 7.8 WAR: 2006: Grade B+; 2007: Grade A-

6) Ian Kinsler, 2B, Rangers, 7.7 WAR: 2005: Grade B+; 2006: Grade B
7) Miguel Cabrera, 1B, Tigers, 7.3 WAR: 2001: Grade B; 2002: Grade B+; 2003: Grade A-
8) Curtis Granderson, OF, Yankees, 7.0 WAR: 2003: Grade B; 2004: Grade B-; 2005: Grade B
9) Alex Gordon, OF, Royals, 6.9 WAR:
2006: Grade A; 2007: Grade A
10) Joey Votto, 1B, Reds, 6.9 WAR: 2005: Grade B+; 2006: Grade C+; 2007: Grade B+; 2008: Grade A-

11) Ben Zobrist, INF, Rays, 6.6 WAR: 2005: Grade B; 2006: Grade B-
12) Adrian Gonzalez, 1B, Red Sox, 6.6 WAR:
2001: Grade B; 2002: Grade A-; 2003: Grade A-; 2004: Grade B; 2005: Grade B;
13) Justin Upton, OF, Diamondbacks, 6.4 WAR:
2006: Grade A-; 2007: Grade A-
14) Troy Tulowitzki, SS, Rockies, 6.3 WAR: 2006: Grade B+; 2007: Grade A-
15) Jose Reyes, SS, Mets, 6.2 WAR:
2001: Grade C; 2002: Grade B+; 2003: Grade A

16) Evan Longoria, 3B, Rays, 6.1 WAR: 2007: Grade A-; 2008: Grade A
17) Brandon Phillips, 2B, Reds, 6.0 WAR:
2000: Grade C (with higher potential); 2001: Grade B-; 2002: Grade B+; 2003: Grade A.
18) Shane Victorino, OF, Phillies, 5.9 WAR: 2000: Grade C; 2001: Grade C; 2002: Grade C; 2003: Grade C; 2004: Grade C; 2005: Grade C; 2006: Grade C+. Didn't do much with the bat until sudden power burst in 2004 which I didn't buy into at the time.
19) Howie Kendrick, 2B, Angels, 5.8 WAR:
2004: Grade C+; 2005: Grade B+; 2006: Grade A-.
20) Adrian Beltre, 3B, Rangers, 5.7 WAR:
1997: Grade A-; 1998: Grade A

21) Andrew McCutchen, OF, Pirates, 5.7 WAR: 2006: Grade B+; 2007: Grade A-; 2008: Grade A-
22) Robinson Cano, 2B, Yankees, 5.6 WAR: 2002: Grade C; 2003: Grade C; 2004: Grade C+; 2005: Grade B-. I was definitely too low on him.
23) Alex Avila, C, Tigers, 5.5 WAR:
2009: Grade C+ (with sleeper notes); 2010: Grade B.
24) Prince Fielder, 1B, Brewers, 5.5 WAR:
2003: Grade B; 2004: Grade A-; 2005: Grade A-; 2006: Grade A-
25) Jhonny Peralta, Tigers, 5.2 WAR: 2001: Grade C; 2002: Grade C; 2003: Grade B

26) Brett Gardner, OF, Yankees, 5.1 WAR:
2006: Grade C+; 2007: Grade C+; 2008: Grade C+; 2009: Grade C. I thought he would be a good backup outfielder but I didn't see him as a full-time regular.
27) Albert Pujols, 1B, Cardinals, 5.1 WAR: 2001: Grade A-
28) Matt Holliday, OF, Cardinals, 5.0 WAR: 1999: Grade C; 2000: Grade C+; 2001: Grade C; 2002: Grade C (hit well in '01 but was injured half of year); 2003: Grade C; 2004: Grade C. Grades look terrible now, but they made sense at the time. He showed some tools but never hit really well beyond rookie ball, slugging below .400 three out of five years in the high minors.
29) Lance Berkman, OF, Cardinals, 5.0 WAR:
1998: Grade B+; 1999: Grade A-; 2000: Grade B+ (there was some uncertainty about knee injury)
30) Alexei Ramirez, SS, White Sox, 4.9 WAR:
Went directly to majors after signing out of Cuba.


Most of the top position players were also top prospects, but the anomalies are interesting.

**Jose Bautista had a weird career path punctuated by erratic performance, injuries, and a lost Rule 5 season.

**Matt Kemp's tools were obvious but he had significant plate discipline issues in the low minors. His big breakthrough was in 2006 and he would have been probably a Grade A- entering 2007, but he exceeded rookie qualifications so I didn't grade him.

**Matt Holliday, like Kemp, was a tools player who figured out how to turn those tools into skills on the field. His minor league career was unimpressive until a sudden breakout in 2004 at age 24.

**Victorino and Gardner looked like reserve outfielders to me.

**I was just flat wrong about Cano. I didn't think his defense was very good and his hitting was erratic enough in the minors to keep me skeptical.

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