The Problem with Prospect Rankings

I have been following Amazin Avenue’s Community Prospect List. It appears that Kirk Nieuwenhuis has emerged as the consensus number-two prospect in the system behind Wilmer Flores. I am not saying I disagree with the ranking, but I will say, if accurate, it is more a testament to the weakness of the Mets farm system, than it is a fair reflection of Nieuwenhuis’s talent, which really would not be number-two worthy in most organizations.

I really brought this up, though, because I find it interesting how Sean Ratliff, who profiles very similarly to Nieuwenhuis, has yet to appear on the list (AA is voting on number eight, and Ratliff is sixth in the voting for that spot last time I checked), and people still shy away from calling him a top-ten prospect. In fairness, Nieuwenhuis has a lengthier track record of success, while Ratliff, aside from his two-and-a-half months in Binghamton, was a non-prospect.

If you compare their production with AA Binghamton, however, there is no comparison. Ratliff has vastly outperformed Nieuwenhuis:

Ratliff: 272 PA .332/.379/.614/.993 OPS. .426 wOBA .275 ISOP 7% BB% 23.5% K%

Nieuwenhuis: 430 PA .289/.337/.510/.371 wOBA .220 ISOP 6.7% BB% 21.6% K%

Yes, Nieuwehuis has a larger sample size, and for what it’s worth he is six months younger than Ratliff, but I do not think either of those facts compensate for an over 50 point disparity in wOBA, or an almost 150 point difference in OPS. Nieuwenhuis has also struggled mightily since being promoted to Buffalo (.195/.264/.329 in 91 PA).

Also, while his strikeout rate has remained on the high-end during his time in Binghamton, check out Ratliff’s walk rate over that span:

June (67 PA): 3%

July (123 PA): 4.1%

August (82 PA): 14.6%

The dude basically went from Jeff Francoeur to Adam Dunn in a month. I am guessing that has a lot to do with the fact pitchers are finally pitching around the new and improved Ratliff, but it is interesting nonetheless.

Both players are regarded as athletic outfielders, that may or may not have the range to stick in center field.

It is difficult to rank the Mets farm system. I think Reese Havens and Zach Lutz are far superior to Ratliff and Nieuwenhuis when they’re on the field, but neither of them has proven they can stay healthy. Duda is the best pure hitter of the bunch and has stayed healthy, but he is also probably a below average corner outfielder. You could make a real radical statement and say Darrell Ceciliani or Aderlin Rodriguez is the best of the bunch, but they carry with them a lot of downside. Then you have to factor in pitchers like Jeurys Familia and Matt Harvey, and suddenly you have nine guys with no obvious advantage over each other.

And that is the problem with rankings. They add the illusion of distinction when, sometimes, as in this case, none is warranted. At the same time, that is what makes it fun, challenging, and let’s face, gives it real world pertinence. Out of the nine, one might blossom into a superstar, one or two of them might pull a Brad Holt next year, and you wonder why they were ever considered prospects in the first place, and the rest will end up in between. As a general manager, most of them are your trade chips, and you have to remember prospects get you fired, lest you end up looking like Steve Phillips.

Matt is a high school student in New Jersey and avid Mets fan. He occasionally updates his blog at:
  1. Mike August 30, 2010 at 11:16 am
    I like that you are looking past the rankings and looking at numbers that most people never see. I really have not been following Ratliff too much, but I have been following Captain K (as the kids call him). I am disappointed in Kirk’s performance at AAA, but I’m not convinced he is not going to perform there. He’s a toolsy kid with plenty of upside. I think the interesting thing about Kirk is that he started A+ ball last year as a non-prospect, and in the past two seasons has performed extremely well, to the point where he is deservedly a top prospect in the system. So why is he ahead of Ratliff?

    Kirk is 6 months younger than Sean and was drafting in the same year (2008) where they both spent all of 2008. In 2009 Kirk spent his year between St Lucie and Binghamton, while Sean started in Savanna and ended in St Lucie. Kirk started 2010 in Binghamton and is now in Buffalo while Sean went from St Lucie to Binghamton.

    Kirk last year was not taken seriously until he began to hit well over .400 with real power in St. Lucie, then he moved to AA and did the same thing there. He earned his spot in AAA this year and will start there next year. Ratliff is following an eerily similar path basically just one year apart. Sean started slow in his career but made an adjustment and has since taken off. If Ratliff start next year as a similar player there is absolutely no reason to not believe in him, and see him in AAA before long.

    I really just see them as similar but at different points. Sean is older, but also where Kirk was a year ago, essentially. It took a while for Kirk to get noticed and now you are saying Kirk is being noticed too much. It’s interesting but I just see him as not quite ready yet, while Ratliff is just proving he is every bit as good or better than Kirk, who simply had a head start. Overall though I’m pretty excited about the quantity of good or better (decent ceiling) OF prospects in A+ and higher. The ceilings may not be Grady Sizemore, but they absolutely are worth following.

  2. JH August 31, 2010 at 10:21 am
    I have been reading how Darrell Ceciliani and Aderlin Rodriguez have been doing but I don’t really know much about either. I know performance at the lowest levels of the minors often does not mean much (remember Jay Caligiuri?), but what is the “lot of downside” in them?