What does the BA Top 100 tell us?

I have been studying the Baseball America Top 100 Prospects list as well as the reaction among Cardinal fans and media members to the relative scarcity of Cardinals’ farmhands on the list. For those of you who haven’t seen the list, Shelby Miller at #50 is the only baby bird selected.

The absence of high-end prospects is the primary reason that the various minor league rankings have been unkind to the Cardinals. My interests are in helping to address the questions:

1. Where do the highly ranked prospects come from?

2. Why are there not more high impact prospects in the Cardinals’ system?

3. How serious of a problem is this?

4. Is it likely to continue?

First, a few numbers about how the list breaks down. There are 18 amateur free agents (Latin Americans) on the list. Of the remaining 82 drafted players there are there are four from the 2004 draft class, eight from both the 2005 and 2006 draft classes, eighteen from the 2007 class, twenty five from 2008, and nineteen from 2009. Forty seven of the drafted prospects were drafted from high school, thirty one from four-year colleges, and four from community colleges. Fifty of the 82 prospects were drafted prior to the second round, seventeen from rounds 2-5, and fourteen were drafted in the sixth round or later.

This breakdown already hints at why the Cardinals are not well represented. First, the Cardinals have only recently even attempted to be players in the amateur free agent market. I haven’t researched this, but I think Jose Cruz might be the last significant player the Cardinals signed in Latin America. There goes 18% of the prospect pool. Hopefully, the Cardinals’ accelerated efforts will bear fruit in the not too distant future – maybe Eduardo Sanchez can change that. Since seven of the top 25 prospects are from Latin America, it would certainly make sense to invest heavily in that market.

Second, of the 50 first-round picks on the list there were a total of 30 that were picked before the Cardinals had a chance to make a selection. Of the remaining twenty taken in the first round, seven were available when the Cardinals picked Brett Wallace (ranked 27th) in 2008. Only two of those seven, Aaron Hicks at 19th and Casey Kelly at 24th , are ranked higher than Wallace. Five on the list were available when the Cardinals picked Shelby Miller last June. The only one of them currently ranked higher than Shelby is supplemental pick Tanner Scheppers at #44. I don’t know how many 2007 first rounders are already in MLB (other than he who should not be named), but only one first-round pick chosen after Pete Kozma is on the top 100 list. Both of the 2006 first rounders on the list were obviously taken before Adam Ottavino since the Cardinals picked last as I wish they would every year. Finally, our 2005 first round pick is getting ready to start his second season as the starting CF for the big club.

The final group to consider is the 32 draft picks who were not taken in the first round. Of this group, 23 were high-school picks, seven came from four-year colleges, and two were taken from community colleges. Since most of us are aware that the Cardinals have a strong preference for college picks, this would seem to be an area for improvement. Since 2007 the Cardinals have used over 85% of their picks on college players and seem to especially prefer college pitchers. While there are data that support that college pitchers are slightly more likely to make it to the big leagues, I haven’t seen anything that indicates they have the same level of success. Most of the elite pitchers either come from high school or are amateur free agents. For example, the Cardinals’ top four starters were all drafted from high school, as were Kyle McClellan and Jaime Garcia. Of the twenty highest rated pitchers at fangraphs, only three were drafted from college. Three were amateur free agents and fourteen (70%) were drafted out of high school.

I know the BA list is just a snap shot in time and is only an opinion concerning who the best players are right now. I think it is important information, but is far from the only basis for judging an organization’s minor league system. Nevertheless, I think we can gain some validation from this list as well as an indication of areas for improvement. I don’t think you can really say that the recent first round picks have been a major problem. The Kozma pick was probably a mistake of some magnitude or other, but it isn’t like the guys picked after him have been anointed as big-time prospects (other than the notorious one). Rarely will the Cardinals draft high enough to land obvious top players. After all, only three of the top 30 prospects were available to be drafted when the Cardinals had their turn. Two of those were passed on so the Cardinals could take Wallace and one was the 78th overall draft pick so every team passed on him at least twice. Nevertheless, the Cardinals have major work to do in the amateur free agent market and could be much better after the first round. I hope to see improvement in Latin America, but I don’t think we will see much improvement in the later rounds as long the Cardinals maintain their strong preference for college players.