It has become an annual tradition for BurningRiverBaseball to rank the top Indians prospects at the beginning of each November. We’ve had credentialed writers throughout the Indians minor league system for years and this list is essentially a culmination of the year’s work. It is an established way of looking at a farm system and you will see rankings provided by both sources outside (for example, Baseball America) and inside (MLB Pipeline) Major League Baseball.
However, just because something is established doesn’t make it right. To start, how do you compare a low ceiling, high floor player who is already in AAA and assuredly going to hit the Majors soon to a high ceiling, low floor player who could be a superstar or might not even hit AA. You could have a ranking of players with the highest ceilings or a ranking of players most likely to become Major Leaguers, but it is difficult to merge the two concepts.
At the same time, it’s difficult to compare players position by position. I’ve found that personally, I tend to rank more relief pitchers than others because there is a better chance for a relief pitcher to make the majors than any other position. To start, each team has at least seven on the roster at all times and they are extremely prone to injury. It is also the position that the Indians have been most likely to promote quickly with multiple players in recent years having only one full season in the minors before hitting the big leagues. However, even the most elite relievers generally have less value than a starting pitcher or full time position player.
My solution to this has been to include many relievers, but to keep them low in the rankings. The top spots are held by potential All-Stars who will almost certainly make it to the majors with the top relievers and players with some MLB potential to follow.
You could say, why not abandon rankings altogether if they are so flawed? My response is that I have yet to find a better way to talk about the entire farm system at once while giving every single player their due. We do produce top ten lists for each individual position throughout the year which are more accurate as far as rankings are concerned, but not of the system as a whole. The fact is that the current Indians system only has a couple first basemen worth mentioning, but far more than ten short stops worthy of discussion. The overall rankings can put that type of situation in context.
With the idea to cover as many players as possible, we have expanded our top prospect list from 50 to 100 this year. The first 50 will come out tomorrow and won’t have any write-ups. They will continue ten at a time starting on Monday and running through Friday. Even going to 100, I feel we have left out some very interesting players and I could easily go to 125, but there has to be a cut off somewhere.
Rather than looking at these rankings (particularly from 50 to 100) as an exact order of talent, they should be considered in tiers. Players higher than 75 often have played well in a small sample size or have performed well enough in a large amount of games, but aren’t considered high ceiling players. From 50 to 75 are players that have decent potential, but significant flaws. This continues on down, group by group until you get to the elite at the bottom. For this year’s list, I feel particularly positive about the top 12 having some sort of significant Major League career.
One of the reasons I feel that I am uniquely qualified in evaluating the Indians farm system is that I’ve seen nearly every single player in it in person. Between spring training, extended spring training, the Arizona Rookie League, instructional league and the Arizona Fall League I have managed to see 91 of the top 100 prospects on this year’s list. This includes 47 of the top 50 with the only players missing being one who came to Cleveland in a trade during the 2018 season and two who skipped the AZL and haven’t reached the point where they have been invited to MLB spring training yet. The Indians did me a favor this year by sending every single 2018 draft pick to Arizona for at least a few games and that class is featured heavily in this list.
If you have a contention with the rankings, I greatly value discussion and can be reached on twitter @BurningRiverBB and at BurningRiverBaseball@gmail. In the end, the actual number rankings shouldn’t be considered too heavily, but this should be an educational process for those who haven’t had the opportunity to see nearly every Indians prospect to get to know some of the future Tribesmen.