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More on the Astros Minor Leagues

I have some more coherent thoughts on what a good farm system means to the big league team and why I don't inherently trust Baseball America's rankings.

Everyone likes lists. Heck, I enjoy making a Top 5 Favorite Movies list or a Best Songs of 2010 list. Ranking things is important to people; that's why we have so much discussion about the Hall of Fame, right? Isn't that basically a big List of the Best Baseball Players of All-Time? That's why the BA list gets so much scrutiny each year. Their track record for scouting and rankings is well-established. People inside and outside the industry respect the work they do. Why should I question that? Because I don't know what their methodology is.

It's nice enough for this article to prove that the rankings do have some predictive power. What I wonder about is how they come up with these rankings. Is it a gut feeling? Do they have a big magnet board with all the teams and move them around until everyone is happy? Or, more probably, do they weight each prospect a certain way and give points to the teams, so it's broken down quantitatively?

As I said, I'm sure their method is something close to the latter. They just don't publicize how they choose. They might discuss the merits of this prospect or that, how this team has added a bunch of talent, but they haven't ever (to my knowledge) shown what drove that decision.

I can understand if they use a grading system like John Sickels over at Minor League Ball. That would make it easy to compare players by grade, see which system has the strongest grades and rank accordingly. While you can quibble with the individual grades, there's a clear rationale behind it, other than "Trust us, we know who's good and who's not." Baseball America probably knows better than I do, that's true, but when you're basing your view of an organization on this, shouldn't you have more to go on?

For instance, when the Astros picked Jason Castro over Justin Smoak in the 2008 draft, analysts ripped them left and right. Smoak then flew through the minors and is listed by at least one publication as one of the top 10 prospects in baseball. Castro has also risen quickly and, while highly rated, isn't viewed with the same kind of respect as Smoak, which is one of the reasons why the Rangers are ranked first in BA's list. Smoak, though, would be blocked by both Carlos Lee and Lance Berkman. If Wade and Co. made the decision after 2010 to let Berkman walk for Smoak, he'd be roasted over the coals in Houston. Drafting Smoak would have created an unnecessary surplus value. Drafting Castro gave the Astros a solid prospect who should impact the major league roster this season at a position that is not only more scarce than first base, but is also an organizational need. In this situation, shouldn't more credit be given to the Astros farm system for producing a player that helps an area of weakness for the major league club?

That's the main thrust of my disagreement. While BA's rankings do seem to have some predictive power, I'd feel better knowing a little more about what goes into those rankings. Of course, it won't stop me from buying the new Prospect Guide when it comes out next month, but it'd be nice to know. Onto some bullet points:

  • The re-signing of Jason Bourgeois means that he was probably told he'd get significant playing time at Round Rock next season. Farmstros has a breakdown of what the roster might look like, pre-Bourgeois. It's pretty obvious there could be a logjam in the outfield at Round Rock. Some of you have suggested Bourgeois could play second in a pinch, but with Jose Vallejo at 2B, that's probably not going to happen consistently with the Express. Bourgeois is also not going to cut into the time of Bogusevic, which leaves Drew Locke and Yordany Ramirez as the potential victims.
  • The other thing I'd bring up is that Collin DeLome should probably get some consideration to go to Round Rock in 2010, because it's not clear what another season in the Texas League would give him. His plate discipline is bad, but playing as a 24-year old in the same league isn't going to encourage anyone, even if he does pull it together. With Locke, the team could play him at first, cutting into the playing time of Jimmy Van Ostrand. Any way you look at it, the Astros have too many outfielders. I expect at least one to get the boot. If the Astros don't believe enough in Ramirez' bat, he could be the odd man out, with Bourgeois slotting into right field and Bogusevic moving over into center. I don't love any of those options, so it will be very interesting to see how this all plays out.
  • It's never too early to start looking ahead to which prospects we might pick in the 2010 draft. Having an affinity for local kids and lacking in depth at third base, Spencer Davis of The Woodlands makes some sense. I'm assuming the Astros will probably take a pitcher with the eighth pick and, if so, Davis could be the guy at No. 19. The Astros definitely need third basemen. Currently, their minor league depth chart there looks pretty thin. After Chris Johnson at Triple-A, the Astros don't really have another third base prospect above High A ball. Even then, that guy is Ebert Rosario, who will be 23 this season and didn't light it up in a brief callup to Lancaster. The Astros drafted Erik Castro and Jonathan Meyer at third in 2009 and each played in short season ball, but neither stood out in limited plate appearances. It would definitely be nice to add some depth to that position, especially someone with a little pop at the hot corner like Davis.
  • Another ringing endorsement for Henry Villar from Scouting the Sally. For those unfamiliar with the website, former college player Mike Newman tries to go to as many South Atlantic League games as he can and eyeball prospects from there. He's written some good scouting reports on some of Houston's minor leaguers, including one on Jay Austin that kept me from being overly pessimistic about his season.
  • Finally, a note on Minor Musings, my blog where I let all of my fascination with the Astros minor leagues hang out. Since Farmstros does such a great job of recapping the weekly top performers, I won't bother you with my daily recaps of who's doing well, etc. What I'm thinking now is that I can post once a week, possibly the same day the Farmstros Five goes live, I'll put an updated post on here with links to any features or longform analysis. I was happy with how I covered the draft last year, and will probably do something similar here. If there's anything you want to see prospect-related, let me know and I'll see if I can get you an article or two.
  • Oh, and I discovered this morning that my USB drive had crashed, rendering about three months of prospect data moot, including the stuff I had on Daniel Meszaros. I'll try to get something up later this afternoon on Chia-jen Lo, but this whole project just got pushed back a little.