Entering 2011, the Yankees farm system is in pretty good shape. With a lot of the consensus top 10 picks in the AA- AAA range, many Yankee fans have high expectations. While I think that optimism is certainly well founded, I also think we should keep things in perspective. Prospects fail. That isn’t a controversial statement or an overly negative platitude recited by baseball fans, it’s just a fact. Over at Royals Review, Scott McKinney put together a fantastic study looking at 14 years of Baseball America’s top prospect lists to determine the relative success and failure rate of prospects. The conclusions are a real splash of cold water:
- About 70% of Baseball America top 100 prospects fail.
- Position player prospects succeed much more often than pitching prospects.
- About 60% of position players ranked in Baseball America’s top 20 succeed in the majors.
- About 40% of pitchers ranked in the top 20 succeed in the majors.
- About 30% of position players ranked 21-100 succeed in the majors (with the success rate declining over that ranking range from about 36% to about 25%)
- About 20% of pitchers ranked 21-100 succeed in the majors (with the success rate declining over that ranking range from about 22% to about 15%)
- Prospect success rates have not improved much over time and there is little data to support the contention that prospects are more likely to succeed now than they have in the past.
It should be said that these numbers are not predictive and they’re based on only 14 years of data off just one top 100 list per year.
It’s particularly stark how often pitching prospects fail. 77% of the pitchers in Baseball America’s top 100 list from 1990-2003 have failed to turn into average players.
Applying this dose of reality to the Yankees system I think is a healthy reminder of how difficult and long the journey can be for a prospect to reach his ceiling. Am I saying the Yankees are doomed to prospect irrelevancy? Absolutely not. Take Jesus Montero for example.
Since 2009 or so, I have not heard one serious report indicating a big, debilitating flaw in Jesus Montero’s swing. Sure he has a little bit of swing and miss and could take a few more walks, but in terms of his actual swing, I don’t think I’ve heard a hugely negative report about him. All of his question marks have come surrounding his defensive ability. His ceiling right now is an all-star level bat in the middle of the order. What are the odds of him AT LEAST becoming an average player though? They must be pretty decent.
Aside from Montero though there are a lot more questions. Can Brackman and Betances stay healthy? Betances and Banuelos both threw less than 90 innings in 2010- can they pitch effectively with an 200 inning workload? Will their stuff translate to the major league level? There are a million things that could derail Gary Sanchez, Cito Culver and Slade Heathcott before they even sniff AAA. Can Austin Romine’s approach translate into major league success?
For all the success the Yankees had prospect wise in 2010, there are still many more obstacles to overcome before these guys are productive major league players.
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