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The subjectivity of prospect rankings

Feb 8, 2012, 7:22 PM EST

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Even with Bryce Harper, the Nats' farm system ranked only 21st according to

Remember all the excitement coming out of 1500 South Capitol St. last week when Baseball America named the Nationals' farm system as the sport's best? Well, another industry authority believes that same farm system rates among the bottom 33 percent.'s Keith Law today revealed his own organizational rankings (NOTE: You need "Insider" access to read the full article) and placed the Nationals a disappointing 21st out of 30 franchises.

How could two independent media outlets have such disparate views of the talent in one team's system? Well, there is one big mitigating factor: Baseball America published its annual Prospect Handbook before the Nationals traded away four prospects to the A's for left-hander Gio Gonzalez. Law compiled his rankings after that trade was completed, and noted so in his write-up…

"This was potentially a top-10 system before the Gio Gonzalez trade, no worse than top 15. But after dealing A.J.

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  1. Anonymous - Feb 8, 2012 at 7:28 PM

    That's great, Keith, but why does this freakin souffle keep falling?

  2. Anonymous - Feb 8, 2012 at 7:30 PM

    i prefer baseball america's perspective whether we're too high or too low.-longterm

  3. Gonat - Feb 8, 2012 at 7:33 PM

    Keith Law isn't right too often.

  4. jcj5y - Feb 8, 2012 at 7:36 PM

    Of course there are going to be differences of opinion. But I always wish that there was more explanation of the logic behind each person's rankings. Are they weighing depth more than top-end talent (as Law seems to be)? Why do they consider that more important?For me, the basic question should be, "would I trade the top 20 prospects in system X for the top 20 in system Y?" If the answer is yes, system Y should be ranked higher.I can't imagine that the Nats would trade a system headed by Harper and Rendon for 20 other systems. That's why I'd expect the Nats to be a lot higher than Law has them.

  5. Anonymous - Feb 8, 2012 at 7:37 PM

    Enough of this. What does he think of Desmond?

  6. natsfan1a - Feb 8, 2012 at 7:39 PM

    And what are his favorite restaurants in Viera?

  7. Bowdenball - Feb 8, 2012 at 7:41 PM

    Baseball America, i.e. John Sickels, has the Nats at #14 after the Gio trade: they're really not that far apart. Sickels is a huge Rendon fan, so that may account for a chunk of the disparity. Not that Law is negative about Rendon, but Sickels praises him constantly.

  8. MicheleS - Feb 8, 2012 at 7:46 PM

    It's like they were reading my mind (or somehow getting into my Dreams)

  9. Mark Zuckerman - Feb 8, 2012 at 7:46 PM

    Bowdenball: John Sickels doesn't work for Baseball America. He runs his own blog "Minor League Ball" for SB Nation.So really, he's just splitting the difference between BA and Law. Point is, you've still got three different evaluators ranking the Nats anywhere between 5 and 21 now.

  10. Rob Wilfong - Feb 8, 2012 at 7:49 PM

    I blame this all on Twitter and the social media that obligates folks who used to be "reporters" to constantly produce content, whether by hard work and research or reaching into their backsides. If I want half-informed opinions, I'll ask the seemingly in-bred family with seats behind mine in Section 301. They seem to know the answer to all things baseball.

  11. Anonymous - Feb 8, 2012 at 7:51 PM

    i also like sickels and hope he's right about rendon's upside is producing pedroia stats.

  12. GermantownNatter - Feb 8, 2012 at 7:55 PM

    I don't care for pickels, but how did we get onto this topic?

  13. gonatsgo - Feb 8, 2012 at 7:57 PM

    What does it matter where our stinkin' prospects are ranked as long as our best 25 go north? Will that be on a t-shirt, by the way?

  14. Eugene in Oregon - Feb 8, 2012 at 8:00 PM

    Two quick points:– Someone on another website suggested that Law may attach greater value to younger players (i.e., kids right out of high school), while the Nats have tended recently to draft "older" (using that term very loosely) college players.– As the local college football coach recently said (when pressed on why the U. of Oregon's recruiting class wasn't ranked higher), the proof is in the team's ranking at the end of the season, not in a self-styled expert's opinion of how a kid may or may not develop over the next two or three years.

  15. Constant Reader - Feb 8, 2012 at 8:00 PM

    For some reason, Law is biased against the Nats. Maybe Jim Bowden kicked his dog (or screwed him when Law had a job in baseball). Law NEVER says anything positive about our franchise.

  16. natsfan1a - Feb 8, 2012 at 8:03 PM

    Eh, can't really get exercised about this, myself, not when there are only 11. More. Days.On another note, nice title. Kinda reminds me of those lyrics: you may say I'm a dreamer, but I'm not. ;-)MicheleS said… It's like they were reading my mind (or somehow getting into my Dreams)

  17. Sec 3, My Sofa - Feb 8, 2012 at 8:06 PM

    What does it matter who goes north, as long as they win when they get there?GY25NG!

  18. Just sayin' - Feb 8, 2012 at 8:15 PM

    Law:"This was potentially a top-10 system before the Gio Gonzalez trade, no worse than top 15. But after dealing A.J. Cole, Brad Peacock and Derek Norris — probably three of the Nats' top 10 guys before the Gio swap — this system lacks depth."======================That's one of the two reasons you develop prospects: play 'em or trade 'em.

  19. Anonymous - Feb 8, 2012 at 8:15 PM

    Constant Reader said… For some reason, Law is biased against the Nats. Maybe Jim Bowden kicked his dog That was Ian Desmond, not Bowden.

  20. Bowdenball - Feb 8, 2012 at 8:21 PM

    Mark-Sorry about that. Between this and forgetting about Marrero's injury, I've really been off my game lately! I'll consider this my spring training; time get my posting in shape for the upcoming season.

  21. Anonymous - Feb 8, 2012 at 8:23 PM

    Constant Reader stole my comment. Keith Law has always taken the dimmest possible view of the Nats prospects. This starter when Bowden was running things (which may have been justified at that time), and he has maintained that mantra ever since. For law to claim that the Nats organization was either top 10 or 15 before the Gio trade is nuts. Prior to the Gio trade, if the Nats org was not #1 (as BA determined) it was no worse than #3. Even after the trade, the Nats organization has the #1 prospect in baseball (Harper), the #1 2011 college prospect (Rendon) the #1 2011 pitching prospect (Purke), and bunch of other high ceiling prospects (Solis, Meyer, Goodwin among others). It's simply stupid for Law to contend that the Nats organization ranks in the bottom third in baseball in overall talent as at least half of MLB teams would trade all of the talent in their organization for Harper, Rendon, Purke, Solis and Meyer. Pilchard

  22. Scooter - Feb 8, 2012 at 8:31 PM

    I'm casting about for a word that can sum up the whole idea of reasonable observers having different opinions on something … if I were a blogger, I would have used it right up there in the title of the post … dadgummit, is there any word that can convey such a concept?

  23. Anonymous - Feb 8, 2012 at 8:35 PM

    I agree I have seen very few instances where Keith Law has been correct on anything.I always wonder how he keeps a job.I guess his harvard degree makes people assume he knows baseball? He calls Peacock a reliever BA says he's a starter for one example.

  24. - Feb 8, 2012 at 8:40 PM

    Constant Reader, this is from the 2011 version of this story, in which he ranked the Nats #19: "This represents a ton of progress since Mike Rizzo took over as GM. He inherited a farm system that couldn't begin to fill the major league team's needs. Ownership opened its wallets beyond the first pick in August, adding three more players in the team's Top 10."Saying Law "hates our team" is too reminiscent of the Lt. Dans that would whine about the lack of spending. In two weeks, 99% of you will not remember this, much like you've forgotten the above quote.

  25. BullpenCatcher - Feb 8, 2012 at 8:43 PM

    I think we are somewhere in the middle given the doubt abut Rendon being able to throw effectively anytime soon. we certainly are no where near #1 after the GIO trade. Overall the organization is in good shape.Catcher – Despite the loss of Norris, the Nats are in good shape. Barring injury Ramos should be the catcher for the forseeable future, meaning we only ned worry about the backup position which Flores, Solano and Leon can handle until Freitas is ready to become an everyday major leaguer.1B – This is perhaps one of the weakest positions in the organization beyond Chris Marrero who remains an unknown. I know many drool over Tyler Moore's offensive stats in the minors but he is an unknown quantity above AA. After that, former first round pick Steven Souza is in a make or break year as far his his term as a prospect or an OG. Steven just got contacts at the end of the season and appeared to see the ball better so he might be able to hit better for average but he is not a wiz wth the glove.Finally, I have no doubt Matt Skole can hit in the majors some day the question is, does he play 1B, it looks likely that he will get a shot there at Hagerstown this year.2B – Lombardozzi is the the big name here, but can he hit in the majors or is he destined to be a defensive utlity guy. I personally like Jeff Kobernus, he has speed and a decent glove, this year at AA will show us a lot about his future.SS – this is the biggest question mark in the organization. Zach Walters got a chance to show what he can do in the AFL and he did not hit, so he may repeat at Potomac rather than go up to AA. Rick Hague is coming off a major injury so who knows if he stays at SS or moves to 2B, but either way he may take a step back to Hagerstown.3B – Lots of variables here: 1) do the Nats lock up Zim long term 2) if not does Rendon keep developing at 3B 3) is Rendon heathly enough to continue at 3B or does he become a 2B or as others have opined a 1B or LF!?OF – Besides you know who, the OF is a mystery. Can Eury Perez hit above AA? (my guess is no) Can Destin Hood remain injury free and continue to be a RBI machine at AA, who knows!? Can Michael Taylor get to the point that Destin Hood was at last year where the light comes on and everything clicks or does he remain someone who is spectacular on one play in the field and a space cadet on the next on, or if he can channel his talent.Pitchers – too much of a guessing game but I think the pitchers drafted over the past couple of years will make it to the majors by 2014.

  26. Theophilus - Feb 8, 2012 at 8:43 PM

    Scooter in search of definition . . .. Possibly, "Entropy?" "Nature tends from order to disorder in isolated systems." More likely, your characterization of "reasonable observers" begs the question.At ESPN, the gold standard of knowledge on any subject is Dick Vitale on college basketball. It's been years since I paid any attention to them. On anything.

  27. Exposremains - Feb 8, 2012 at 8:51 PM

    rankings are subjective. What matters is wins and losses, nobody can argue with that.

  28. C.Cohen - Feb 8, 2012 at 8:58 PM

    I want to know if Mike Rizzo is talking to Brian Sabean about what it would take to get Gary Brown in a Nats uniform. He seems to profile as exactly the player we need to fill out the roster as a perennial contender.I'm thinking something like Brian Goodwin + Steve Lombardozzi. Maybe Brian Goodwin + Sammy Solis would be more realistic. I'd even throw in a third player if we felt healthy at the position.I'd be inclined to offer any two (or possibly three) of the following:Ian DesmondAdam LaRocheBrian GoodwinDestin HoodMatt PurkeMichael TaylorPaul DemnySammy SolisSteve LombardozziJosh SmokerMatt SkoleSandy LeonTyler MooreYes this would further "deplete" the farm system. But that is just what we need, a depleted farm system and a big league club full of young talented players who are not playing out of position.

  29. Wally - Feb 8, 2012 at 9:02 PM

    I used to put more stock into these things than I do now, maybe because the major league team is so much more exciting. But FWIW, I don't think Law has an anti-Nats bias, I think that he says what he thinks mostly, but it is compounded by a need to be different from his competitors. Seems like fans of almost every team accuse him of being anti their team.But it isn't surprising to me that commentators like Law will discount Rendon and Purke, specifically, until they prove they are healthy. If you knock those two, then a low ranking isn't that surprising.But who cares, really: Stras, JZimm, Storen, Espy, Lannan, Desmond, even Bernie are all recent homegrown MLB contributors. Add others who were acquired in trades at a young enough time to have spent time in our minor league development program like Clip, Ramos, even Morse (I think), and that is a pretty good record. Time will tell if the current prospects advance, but I like their odds.

  30. DWS - Feb 8, 2012 at 9:06 PM

    Ratings are a fools game. Who picked the SF Giants, Cardinals last year?If I could do it I'd be sitting somewhere (Viera)with a Pina Colada in my hand laughing at the Vegas bookies.Bring it on, this team is going to surprise people.As long as Michael stays within himself, Ryan does his job, and Jayson plays as he always has.Everything else is bonus.

  31. Scooter - Feb 8, 2012 at 9:07 PM

    Exposremains said…What matters is wins and losses, nobody can argue with that.But we're willing to try!

  32. Drew - Feb 8, 2012 at 9:08 PM

    Bullpen Catcher:Interesting breakdown. I think the Nats are pretty strong at shortstop, which will become clearer when they stop playing their shortstop at second base.Jason Martinson hit a surprising 19 homers at Hagerstown, but he made a godawful 33 errors at short.In the outfield, Kevin Keyes showed some promising pop, though he, too, fields like a DH. Brian Goodwin gives us hope for a fleet-footed cf at the top of the lineup.I think you're right that the long-term answer at first base is a big question mark.Michael Morse will be eligible for free agency at the end of the 2013 season. He will turn 32 in March 2014. As we all know, big guys don't age well.

  33. GoTeddy - Feb 8, 2012 at 9:12 PM

    Another problem with current prospect rankings is that they only rank the talent in the minor league system as of a given date. What really matters is the quality of the total organization’s scouting and player development (with healthy doses of luck, past draft position, and owners money thrown in)! So you really would want a way to measure the “through-put” of the system. Such a measure would give attention to players who are no longer prospects because they made it to the majors so quickly (Strasbourg) or because they were traded for even better talent (Gio Gonzalez). By that measure the Nat’s organization has come a long way and now ranks near the top — IMHO.

  34. DWS - Feb 8, 2012 at 9:17 PM

    I'll third what Exposremains said,What matters is wins and losses, nobody can argue with that.All the predictions mean squat.Getting older Expos (Nat) fan.In other words I expect playoffs this year, Series next. My prediction. Take it for what it's worth.

  35. Anonymous - Feb 8, 2012 at 9:28 PM

    Having a high level farm (and in who's opinion?) is nice, but it is overrated to some extent. The MLB game is played at the MLB level. One trade can decimate or make your farm and at the end of the day it is something of a crap shoot asto whether ande to what extent guys pan-out/stay healthy. Having the key guys you're likely to need based upon the MLB current and reasonably projected future is more improtant than some overall rating on the whole in a given year. And better to err on the side of having the MLB talent where the games really count than to forego the MLB talent in order to fill the pipeline with hopefuls, which is why I loved the Gio trade.dfh21

  36. natsfan1a - Feb 8, 2012 at 9:33 PM

    Are not!Scooter said… Exposremains said… What matters is wins and losses, nobody can argue with that. But we're willing to try! February 08, 2012 4:07 PM

  37. FS - Feb 8, 2012 at 9:41 PM

    C.Cohen, doubt about Solis being traded since we just traded 3 minor leaguers. Besides we are short on lefties I believe.

  38. Sec 3, My Sofa - Feb 8, 2012 at 9:49 PM

    "Try" is a useless measurement when determining who's arguing! ———natsfan1a said… Are not! Scooter said… But we're willing to try! Exposremains said… What matters is wins and losses, nobody can argue with that.

  39. whatsanattau - Feb 8, 2012 at 10:23 PM

    I know it has been said today and previously many times, but there really is a lot of objective evidence that Law consistently has a more negative view of the Nationals franchise than other analysts. I won't accuse him of bias (this time), but his analysis is the outlier. Maybe he is correct and Sickles, Baseball America, Fangraphs, Mayo, and the others are wrong. But, if you want to know what the universe of analysts think about the Nationals on almost any subject, you can read Law's opinion and know what the least favorable analysis will be.

  40. Anonymous - Feb 8, 2012 at 10:35 PM

    Sickels probably has the most objective take on this. However, I do agree with KLaw, depth is definitely now a problem mostly at the AAA/AA levels. When this was the case before less age appropriate players (older) playing a placeholders as opposed to true depth.KLaw has a point.

  41. Anonymous - Feb 8, 2012 at 10:39 PM

    Having a high level farm (and in who's opinion?) is nice, but it is overrated to some extent. The MLB game is played at the MLB level.Yankee's philosophy above, very expensive and vastly overrated when you consider teams like the Rays who seem to be in the thick every year. You end up with older, sunsetting players. Instead of the best athletes you end up with a bloated payroll.And you need depth in case of injury something the Nats **HAD** before the trade … depth from developing prospects not close-to-the-end of the line veterans.BUT, the trade made sense for many reasons and hopefully, Rizzo, Clark, et al will replace what was lost quickly through the draft and International signings.

  42. Constant Reader - Feb 8, 2012 at 10:42 PM

    Forgive me if I offended anyone with my offhanded comment. I think most of us think that Law has shown over the years to take a reflexive negative view on every move made by our franchise.NationalsProspects (Luke, I assume), I read your post on your website. I interpreted your post to openly question the validity of Law's ranking. Did I read that wrong?

  43. Drew - Feb 8, 2012 at 10:44 PM

    BoldAnon, now with EMJAX!It's automatic, systematic, full of color, self-contained. Caution: Does not hold water. Not recommended for Dancing Machines.

  44. Anonymous - Feb 8, 2012 at 10:44 PM

    Jason Martinson hit a surprising 19 homers at Hagerstown, but he made a godawful 33 errors at short.Don't forget Rick Hague. It may be that Potomac will feature a Rice left-side of the infield in Anthony Rendon and Rick Hague. So, Martinson might remain in Hagerstown. Or both Rendon and Hague get moved to AA. The Nats are short pitching depth if starters go down right now … unless Lannan is optioned along with Stammen. With the return of Bradley Meyers, Yunesky Maya plus … it may all work out.

  45. Avar - Feb 8, 2012 at 11:43 PM

    I don't think Law is anti-Nats but I do think he is intentionally contrary to increase his readership. I don't care for Law's view that steroids shouldn't impact HOF eligibility – as an example. I can't remember the last time I read a Law article and felt more informed afterwards.

  46. Anonymous - Feb 8, 2012 at 11:54 PM

    This explains why Law is still working for ESPN and not a major league team.

  47. Doc - Feb 9, 2012 at 12:16 AM

    Avar is on the right track. I think that Keith Law lacks depth!

  48. Unkyd - Feb 9, 2012 at 1:14 AM

    I don't know beans about prospects, but out of curiosity, I read a little about Gary Brown. He reads like exactly what we hope Rendon will be, next spring, but in the outfield. Trading for him would prolly devastate the system, and there'll be options next fall, if we still need help

  49. Prof. Henry Higgins - Feb 9, 2012 at 1:34 AM

    The question is not whether Law is anti-Nats, it's whether he's any more anti-Nats than anti-everybody else.

  50. Better be ready to back it up on the field - Feb 9, 2012 at 2:02 AM

    Anyone going to comment on the "Broadway Bryce" article (link above) by Chase Hughes? This guy sounds like a head case.I'm starting to think we might have ourselves some rough years ahead of us. Punk kid needs to sit down a while. I love this team, but with an attitude like that I had to force myself not to hope he fails miserably.

  51. N. Cognito - Feb 9, 2012 at 2:11 AM

    Mark Zuckerman said…"'s Keith Law today revealed his own organizational rankings and placed the Nationals a disappointing 21st out of 30 franchises."Law is nothing more than a smarmy punk. He has his favorite teams and teams he doesn't like and his reviews are tainted by these biases.

  52. Erik - Feb 9, 2012 at 2:23 AM

    Mark-Just read where Law said that everybody in baseball would take Bundy and Machado over Harper and Rendon. Do you find this to be the case?

  53. Unkyd - Feb 9, 2012 at 2:25 AM

    Bryce can only be Bryce. The only thing I give a rats bobo about is in the locker room, and between the lines, for about 4 years, when we can trade him for half the Yankees' farm. I think he'll be fine…

  54. Anonymous - Feb 9, 2012 at 2:29 AM

    Nats sign Oswalt 1yr $7m

  55. Oswalt - Feb 9, 2012 at 2:48 AM

    Nats sign Anonymous 1yr $7m

  56. whatsanattau - Feb 9, 2012 at 2:59 AM

    Scrounging for Nats related rumors I found that Nick Johnson rumored to sign a Minor League deal with the Orioles. Although he is not expected to win a job out of spring training, it would be nice to see him when the O's come to Nats Park.

  57. NatsLady - Feb 9, 2012 at 3:00 AM

    FWIW, I detest Keith Law, and cannot understand why Karabell has such a man-crush on him. Mark Simon is 1000% better, and after hearing Simon I always learn something.KLaw makes demonstrable error after error and never admits it, just goes on to the next topic. (He does think Rizzo is a good GM, but otherwise he has no use for the Nats…). Out of curiosity, I read one of his movie reviews. Absolutely an amateur.

  58. C.Cohen - Feb 9, 2012 at 3:00 AM

    Gary Brown projects as a +Speed leadoff hitter with good OBP, as well as a gold-glove caliber Center Fielder. That is a much better fit for our needs than Rendon who can't leadoff and doesn't solve the CF problem.

  59. ArVAFan - Feb 9, 2012 at 3:05 AM

    As we're approaching Spring Training (just as the weather is finally approaching winter here in DC), I want to thank all the posters for their comments over the winter. I've learned a lot about the game, and the team, from you all. Best moment last year was RZimm walk-off grand slam at 12:30 a.m. . . . and walking out of the ballpark among the suddenly quiet Philly Phans headed for their buses. Looking forward to more of the same!

  60. Unkyd - Feb 9, 2012 at 3:18 AM

    Cohen: that's the point… You asked what it would take… More than we, or anybody would give up. You just don't trade that guy…

  61. SCNatsFan - Feb 9, 2012 at 3:47 AM

    For the first time virtually ever I'm not concerned about the minors; I'm concerned about the talent on the big club living up to its reputation. I'm tired of waiting for talent to get here; its here now and needs to perform. I want a nice, late draft pick next year. I hope Rendon is the last blue chip guy we get for a long time unless we sign a guy who drops over signability.

  62. NatsBrat - Feb 9, 2012 at 4:50 AM

    @ ErikRE: Rendon & Harper vs Bundy & Machado, and everybody in baseball. Let's keep a record of that, and check back soon.Keith Law must be guzzeling cheap wine when he takes to his laptop and writes such drivel.Yo Keith, everybody in baseball would take the Philly Phanatic over you mofo!

  63. Drew - Feb 9, 2012 at 5:51 AM

    C. Cohen at 10 p.m. said: "Rendon who can't lead off…"How do you reach that conclusion? I think he'd be a dandy lead-off hitter.The lead-off hitter's job is to get on base. Rendon's on base percentages at Rice:2009 — .4962010 — .5302011 — .520In 2011 Rendon became the first NCAA player since 1998 to draw 80 walks in a season.When the Nats put that guy and the CFTBNL in front of Zimmerman, Morse and Harper this team will score a bunch of runs.

  64. C.Cohen - Feb 9, 2012 at 7:05 AM

    I don't necessarily agree with the traditional assumption that a lead-off hitter has to be a base-stealer, so technically I'm fine with the idea of Rendon as a leadoff hitter. But there is no question that a fast rangy defensive CF would be a better fit for this roster. It may not be plausible to get Brown from the Giants, but what I really don't like is the philosophy of leaving a hole in the big league roster for the sake of depth in the minors. this is particularly true for blocked positions, and thankfully we have many. I definitely believe in the theory that players in the minors should either be marked for promotion (i.e. Rendon, Harper, Meyer) or be traded. So if our roster looked like this, I would not lose a minute of sleep if the entire scouting community referred to ours as the weakest farm system in the league:Gary Brown, CFAnthony Rendon, 2BRyan Zimmerman, 3BMichael Morse, 1BBryce Harper, RFJayson Werth, LFDanny Espinosa, SSWilson Ramos, CSP1 StrasburgSP2 ZimmermannSP3 GonzalezSP4 MeyerSP5 Jackson/Lannan/Detwiler… whateverSU ClippardCL Storen

  65. baseballswami - Feb 9, 2012 at 11:24 AM

    Bryce has a personality – since when is that a crime in baseball? He was also raised by strict parents and seems like he lives a pretty clean life. Colorful is ok. Let's see what he does on the field.

  66. natsfan1a - Feb 9, 2012 at 12:49 PM

    9:02, agreed, he's gonna need to back that up on the field. On topic, and for those who are still reading, Comak had a nice piece on development of scouting and the farm system for the Nats.





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