TCB Top 30 Prospects: On Top 100 lists and balance on the farm

Bob Levey

Some deep thoughts on the Astros farm system and Top 100 lists. Really, this is just me getting defensive about our low ranking of Josh Hader. I don't deal well with conflict.

It's Christmas Eve, but we're still plugging away. We'll have some content here for the next week, but it figures to be quiet on the Astros front.

Today, we'll continue the conversation about Top 100 prospect lists and TCB's own Top 30 list. In particular, let's talk about Connor Glassey's fascinating article looking back at which players missed the boat on these lists. His article is long, but it was republished on FanGraphs Monday, along with the FanGraphs Top 10 Astros prospects and that great interview with Mark Appel.

As I just said, Glassey's article is too long to clip, but there are a few things we need to take from it. First, using his methodology, he identifies several Astros players as being underrated. Those guys are Max Stassi, Ronald Torreyes, Leo Heras and Nick Tropeano. That's quite a few names in an article that didn't have a ton of players it identified as fitting this profile.

What does that mean? Well, it's all about balance. Houston's farm system is one of the deepest in baseball. How they got that depth isn't by loading up on toolsy prospects who hadn't come through (that was the Ed Wade/Bobby Heck model). Instead, Luhnow and Mike Elias and the rest of the pro scouting department have combined ways of doing things.

They not only add guys like Kyle Smith and Josh Hader, two prospects who make pure scouts drool with the Torreyeses and Aaron Wests of the world. They balance pure upside plays with under-the-radar guys who won't get a ton of national attention but have good chances of being major leaguers.

Sound familiar? It's the same model the Cardinals used to build their farm. Sure, they had plenty of grinder types go under the radar, like Allen Craig and Jaime Garcia, but they've built the depth to also place plenty of guys on Top 100 lists.

They've combined the two approaches.

That seems to be the model Houston is going for as well. For every Carlos Correa they take, they add a Mark Appel. For every high floor guy, they have a high ceiling player too. There's balance at every position group in the system, which is what makes the Astros farm so great right now.

Getting back to the Top 30 lists, there's a reason why ours doesn't exactly look like the national outlets. We had graders talking to scouts, watching the Astros minor league system all season, just like other graders nationally. However, we also followed the mid-tier guys more closely.

Again, I'll go back to the Josh Hader and Aaron West comparison. If you're a writer for Baseball America and you're talking to scouts about Houston's system, there's a pretty good chance he brings up Hader. He's a guy who throws hard from the left side and has a funky delivery. He's also young for his level of competition, something scouts love.

He likely won't bring up West, though. The combination of low draft position and a change in his scouting profile since then mean he's not on a lot of national radars. Yet, our graders were high enough on him to rank him over Andrew Thurman, who's got more draft pedigree.

Who's correct there? Are we higher on West because we're closer to the subject? Does his story alter our perception of his ranking? I don't think so. West seems to fit into Glassey's criteria for an overlooked prospect. Look at No. 5 on his list at the end:

5) Control is more important than stuff. This is another tough one for me. I love stuff. Who doesn't? Stuff is sexy. Everybody loves a 97 mph fastball, a knee-buckling curveball or a Bugs Bunny changeup. Stuff gets you seen, stuff gets you paid, stuff gets outs and stuff has value. Ideally you want both, but stuff only has value if you can control it. You can find plenty of big leaguers with average or below-average stuff, but they succeed because they can command the strike zone and change speeds. On the flipside, stuff is worthless without control.

West has control in a big way. He's also got better stuff than people thought when he was in the draft. We know this. We ranked him accordingly.

Overall, though, our lists look very similar to the FanGraphs one, to Jonathan Mayo's and I'm sure it'll look very close to John Sickels and Baseball America too. I bet we nail the top five on all of them. Considering that, at best, a third of the guys we ranked on our Top 30 will ever see the majors, nailing the top of the list reflects well on our process.

As I've said before, I believe in how we went about creating this list. Is it perfect? No, but no subjective listing will be. I'm glad there's difference between ours and other lists. Embrace the debate. As Tim said in a comment earlier this morning, we were down on a couple guys last year that were more highly thought of nationally. This year? No mention of them.

On some of these high upside guys, I'd rather be a year late than a year early in bumping them up the list. If that makes us look silly from time to time, so be it. Lord knows I'm used to looking silly.

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