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How the Aces of 2012 Were Graded As Prospects

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David Price of the Tampa Bay Rays
David Price of the Tampa Bay Rays
Tom Szczerbowski

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

Here is a list of the Top 30 Pitchers in Major League Baseball in 2012, as rated by Fangraphs WAR. Listed with each player is a look at how I graded them as prospects.

1) Justin Verlander, RHP, Tigers (6.8 WAR): 2005 Grade B+; 2006 Grade A. I'm satisfied with that.

2) Felix Hernandez, RHP, Mariners (6.1):
2004 Grade B+; 2005 Grade A. No complaints.

3) Clayton Kershaw, LHP, Dodgers (5.5):
2007 Grade A-; 2008 Grade A. No complaints.

4) Gio Gonzalez, LHP, Nationals (5.4):
2005 Grade B+; 2006 Grade B+; 2007 Grade B; 2008 Grade B+. Always racked up tons of strikeouts even when struggling.

5) David Price, LHP, Rays (5.1):
2008 Grade A; 2009 Grade A. No worries.

6) Yu Darvish, RHP, Rangers (5.1):
2012 Grade A. Personally, I don't like ranking Japanese veterans as "prospects" and I didn't put him in the book, but I did rank him as a Grade A on the Top 120 List I posted in February.

7) Zack Greinke, RHP, Angels (5.1):
2003 Grade B+; 2004 Grade A. Always loved Zack.

8) Chris Sale, LHP, White Sox (4.9):
2011 Grade A. Can't complain.

9) Cliff Lee, LHP, Phillies (4.9):
2001 Grade C; 2002 Grade B-; 2003 Grade B. Erratic in college and the low minors, but figured things out.

10) Wade Miley, LHP, Diamondbacks (4.8):
2009 Grade B-; 2010 Grade C+; 2011 Grade B-; 2012 Grade C+. Erratic minor league career, but an excellent rookie season in '12. Can he keep it up?

11) Johnny Cueto, RHP, Reds (4.8):
2007 Grade B-; 2008 Grade A-. I had him listed as a "breakout candidate" in '07.

12) CC Sabathia, LHP, Yankees (4.8):
2000 Grade B-; 2001: Grade A. Spotty performance from a high-upside arm in the low minors led to initial cautious grade, but he turned it around quickly.

13) R.A. Dickey, RHP, Mets (4.6):
1997: Grade C; 1998 Grade C; 1999 Grade C; 2000 Grade C; 2001 Grade C. Very strange career path as you know. The knuckleball changed everything.

14) Max Scherzer, RHP, Tigers (4.6): 2007 Grade B+; 2008 Grade B+. Seems fair.

15) Cole Hamels, LHP, Phillies (4.5):
2003 Grade B; 2004 Grade A-; 2005 Grade B; 2006 Grade B+. Health issues early in his career resulted in some grade swings.

16) Jake Peavy, RHP, White Sox (4.4):
2000 Grade C+; 2001 Grade B+; 2002 Grade A-. Nice progression for a 15th round draft pick.

17) Adam Wainwright, RHP, Cardinals (4.4):
2001 Grade B+; 2002 Grade B+; 2003 Grade A-; 2004 Grade A-; 2005 Grade B-; 2006 Grade B-. Highly-ranked at first, but he sagged in the upper minors due to health and inconsistency concerns. Rebounded to have a strong major league career.

18) James Shields, RHP, Rays (4.3):
2006 Grade B-. I had rated with the "Sleeper Alert" tag.

19) Hiroki Kuroda, RHP, Yankees (3.9):
Japanese player that I didn't rate as a prospect.

20) Matt Cain, RHP, Giants (3.8):
2003 Grade B-; 2004 Grade B; 2005 Grade A-; 2006 Grade A-. Like Bumgarner, Cain was supposed to be raw at first and the early grade reflected that, but the Giants developed him perfectly.

21) Matt Harrison, LHP, Rangers (3.8):
2006 Grade C+; 2007 Grade B; 2008 Grade B+. Nice upward progression.

22) Anibal Sanchez, RHP, Tigers (3.8):
2005 Grade B; 2006 Grade B+. Rose quickly from the low minors.

23) Josh Johnson, RHP, Marlins (3.8):
2004 Grade C; 2005 Grade C+; 2006 Grade B-. I noted him as a possible breakthrough candidate in '05, but remained pretty cautious. He's been considerably better than I expected.

24) Jarrod Parker, RHP, Athletics (3.7):
2008 Grade B+; 2009 Grade B+; 2010 Grade B-; 2011 Grade B; 2012 Grade A-. The grade dip in '10 was due to Tommy John surgery.

25) Kyle Lohse, RHP, Cardinals (3.6):
1999 Grade C; 2000 Grade C; 2001 Grade C. I was never very high on him at all.

26) Jordan Zimmermann, RHP, Nationals (3.5):
2008 Grade B; 2009 Grade B+. No complaint.

27) A.J. Burnett, RHP, Pirates (3.4):
1997 Grade C; 1998 Grade C; 1999 Grade B+; 2000 Grade B+. Poor control prevented him from ranking well early in his career.

28) Trevor Cahill, RHP, Diamondbacks (3.4):
2007 Grade B-; 2008 Grade B; 2009 Grade A-. Cautious grade coming out of high school.

29) Madison Bumgarner, LHP, Giants (3.4):
2008 Grade B-; 2009 Grade A; 2010 Grade A-. The 2008 grade was based on high school scouting reports, since we had no pro data yet and there were mixed opinions about Bumgarner's level of polish. He came on very rapidly after that.

30) Ryan Dempster, RHP, Rangers (3.3):
1997 Grade B-; 1998 Grade C. Very erratic in the low minors, got clobbered in '97 (4.90 ERA, 190 hits in 165 innings at age 20, note the workload) but was in the majors a year later.

Most of the top pitchers this year were top prospects, too. The biggest exceptions include a knuckleballer in Dickey and a pair of long-term veterans (Lohse, Dempster) who had significant problems early in their career.

I think the biggest "miss" is Johnson, who has been much better than I thought he'd be.