Friday, September 30, 2005

2000 Cal League Prospects

I was looking at BA's Cal League Top Prospect List and I spotted their "5 Years Ago" window.

1. Antonio Perez, ss, Lancaster (Mariners)
2. Ryan Ludwick, of, Modesto (Athletics)
3. Jerome Williams, rhp, San Jose (Giants)
4. Mike Bynum, lhp, Rancho Cucamonga (Padres)
5. Brad Cresse, c, High Desert (Diamondbacks)
6. Willie Bloomquist, 2b, Lancaster (Mariners)
7. Nick Neugebauer, rhp, Mudville (Brewers)
8. Tony Torcato, 3b, San Jose (Giants)
9. Jeremy Owens, of, Rancho Cucamonga (Padres)
10 Elpidio Guzman, of, Lake Elsinore (Angels)

Wow. That's a pretty awful group, isn't it.

Perez is salvageable I guess as a borderline 2B or a bench bat. Ludwick is somewhere between a AAAA slugger or a platoon bench guy in the majors. Injuries have killed him too. Williams is the keeper of the group, which is a scary scenario. He has his moments, but he's had some injury issues and he fell off the map for a while. Bynum and Cresse look like washouts. Bloomquist is now infamous as a guy who is on a major league roster for no good reason at all. I guess he has some use as a glove that you can use anywhere other than catcher, but if he can't hit then that limits his usefulness. Neugebauer never did find his control and then he blew out his shoulder. Torcato has turned into a poor man's Lance Niekro, which is damning with faint praise. Owens is a 4th Pawtucket. And Guzman put up a .281 OBP last season in Tacoma.

So you have 1 ML level starter, 6 complete washouts, 2 guys who may end up being good bench bats, and a guy who has more service time than any of the rest (maybe more than all of them put together to be honest) and didn't deserve any of it.

Now I mention this to serve 2 purposes. The first is to remind everybody that this isn't an exact science. I feel great when one of the players I tout comes in and produces just like I expect he will. However, the other side of that coin comes up more than we ever want to let ourselves admit. Always be cautious. Major League teams need to hedge their bets and if you're in a keeper league or sim league, you should too.

The second reason is to illustrate a point that I've made before. Extreme environments lead to misleading results. I'm not fond of the Cal League because of the hitting environment that dominates the circuit. It muddies the stats and makes random marginal players look like studs. For a while there it seemed like every season there would be another Mariner shortstop who benefits from Cal League goofyball hijinks and becomes a big name before moving on to the high minors and getting the bat knocked out of his hands. Now 2000 was probably a worse year than usual. And the biases that are inherent in BA's approach to rating prospects, such as a willingness to overlook Neugebauer's severe control problems probably compounds the situation and makes this list look worse than it really should have been. But you still have the underlying problem of trying to figure out how much of what should be chalked up to context and what is real progress.

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