Join Jays From the Couch as we comb through the data of Fangraphs new minor league system rankings to assess the health of the Blue Jays system
When a baseball fan is curious about a prospect’s prospects, two sites stand out in terms of volume, quality, and freeness: MLB Pipeline and FanGraphs. Moreover, the two sites remind me of the dichotomy of the warm, reassuring parent and the colder, realistic parent. While both sites provide a great deal of value, one can always count on MLB Pipeline giving prospects an extra five (sometimes ten) points on the Future Value (FV) scale compared to FanGraphs, with more gentle reviews highlighting the player’s strengths.
That is, by no means, a slight on MLB Pipeline—any student of mine will tell you that I’m a relatively generous grader. However, when FanGraphs gives their seal of approval on a player (or team’s system), the gesture seems to carry a bit more weight.
FanGraphs recently updated their very detailed prospect board in light of the various trade deadline moves. They list the 996 prospects to whom they’ve given a grade of 35+ or more. That got me wondering, where does the Blue Jays’ system rank in the eyes of FanGraphs?
Now, they may eventually release a proper system ranking, but until then, I figured it would be interesting to take the player rankings and analyze them in a handful of ways. The quick summary for Jays fans: like pretty much every other prospect evaluator, FanGraphs is quite bullish on the Jays system, giving enough of their prospects high enough grades to justify a “Top 5 system in the majors” tag.
Obviously, given the nature of the FanGraphs rankings, this post will focus exclusively on prospects and not young major-leaguers who are no longer technically prospects. Moreover, here’s a handy guide to the 20-80 scouting scale, in case anyone needs it.
The most logical place to start is at the top. The Blue Jays are the only team that currently has a 70 FV prospect (Vladimir Guerrero Jr., obviously). While they lack a 65 FV prospect, they do have Bo Bichette (60 FV). This makes the Jays one of only seven teams with two prospects graded 60 or higher—only the Rays and White Sox have three.
Beneath this group of “plus” players, lies a group of players projected to be average (50 FV) or above-average (55 FV) regulars. This is a group the Jays system is a little light in—Danny Jansen, Anthony Alford and Nate Pearson are each graded as 50 FV prospects—ranking 15th in the majors. On a positive note, the Jays’ system has the ninth most prospects rated 50 FV or better.
After the regulars are the guys whose baseline projection has them in the majors, but who aren’t expected to be solid, everyday players—these prospects receive FV grades of 40, 40+, 45 and 45+. These prospects will be a mix of high-floor/low-ceiling types in the upper minors (like Thomas Pannone or Billy McKinney) and high-ceiling lottery tickets in the lower minors (like Eric Pardinho or Griffin Conine). This is an area of relative depth for the Jays’ system, with a group of 28 prospects that is the sixth largest in the majors. Based on FanGraphs’ risk/reward labels, this part of the Jays’ system skews toward high risk types (13), compared to medium- (10) and low-risk (5) prospects.
FanGraphs also included prospects to whom they’ve assigned a 35+ grade—guys whose future is slightly more questionable than a 40 FV prospect, but who probably have enough going for them that an evaluator wouldn’t want to write them off yet. The Jays have four of these prospects, a mix of recent draftees (Sean Wymer and Ryan Noda), a still young-ish IFA (Kevin Vicuna) and a former 40 FV pitcher who missed the 2018 season with injury (Justin Maese).
All told, FanGraphs views 37 Blue Jay prospects as having at least 35+ FV potential. That ranks them seventh in the majors, with the Padres, Rays and Twins leading the way.
I was curious how each team’s system ranked when accounting for both quantity and quality. There’s no one way to do it, so I figured I’d produce a few different metrics.
A standard approach used to rank a team’s Top 100 prospects is to assign each prospect points based on their reverse order on the list (the #1 prospect gets 100 points, the #100 prospects gets 1 point and then each team is ranked by their cumulative “prospect points”). In this case, I’d do the same, but with FanGraphs’ Top 996 prospects.
In order to keep things (relatively) simple, I ranked prospects in reverse order by their future value (so players with the same FV would be assigned an equal number of points). However, there are a couple of ways to approach how points are assigned.
On the one hand, prospects can be ranked from lowest FV to highest FV, with their assigned points being equal to their reverse order rank. In this case, Vladdy Jr. is assigned 996 points, the three 65 FV prospects are each assigned 993 points, the 17 prospects with 60 FV grades are each assigned 976 points, etc.. The large batch of 35+ FV prospects are each assigned one point. This approach is relatively biased towards teams with highly-rated prospects. The Blue Jays’ system ranks seventh using this approach.
An alternate approach would involve ranking the prospects from highest FV to lowest FV. In this case, Vladdy Jr. is still assigned 996 points. However, the three 65 FV prospects would each be assigned 995 points, the 17 prospects with 60 FV grades would each be assigned 992 points, etc. As the large batch of 35+ FV prospects is tied for 160th last on the list, each is assigned 160 points. This approach is relatively biased towards teams with an abundance of lower-ranked prospects. The Blue Jays’ system ranks fourth using this approach.
The Jays’ strong showings under both approaches highlight the fact that this system has strength, both in terms of elite talent and depth. Regardless of approach, the Padres and Rays rank one-two, suggesting that these teams have the best systems, no matter how you slice it.
I was also interested in producing rankings based directly on future value. The most straightforward approach, in this vein, is to simply add up the future value of each system’s prospects, at least for those with a grade of 35+ or better. [I converted grades of 35+ to 37.5, 40+ to 42.5 and 45+ to 47.5.]
Obviously, the main issue with this approach is that two 35+ FV prospects are worth more than one 70 FV prospect, which isn’t remotely accurate. Nevertheless, this ranking does have value, supported most succinctly by the fact that the Padres and Rays rank one-two, again. This approach paints the Blue Jays’ system favorably, with the team ranking fifth in the majors.
For our final ranking, let’s once again sum up a team’s prospects’ future value. However, this time, let’s deduct 30 points from each prospect. The choice of a 30-point deduction is arbitrary, but it does deal with the issue highlighted above. Now, one 70 FV prospect (assigned 40 points) would be worth about five 35+ FV prospects (each assigned 7.5 points). That still may not be entirely accurate, but it’s a step in the right direction. Again, we see the Padres and Rays leading the way, with the Blue Jays ranking a very solid fourth.
While no single method we’ve used is perfect, as a group they tell us a great deal about the current prospect landscape across the major leagues. Whether in terms of the number of ranked prospects, ranking-based “prospect points” or the cumulative future value of ranked prospects, the Padres and the Rays rank first and second. The Twins appear to be right behind them, ranking between third and fifth across the five approaches we used.
In terms of the number of prospects given a grade of 35+ FV or higher by FanGraphs, the Blue Jays’ system ranks seventh. In terms of the approaches that skew towards teams with elite prospects, the system ranks seventh (points assigned based on prospects’ reverse order rank) and fourth (points assigned based on each prospect’s future value minus 30). In terms of the approaches that skew towards teams with prospect depth, the system ranks fourth (points assigned based on prospects’ rank) and fifth (points assigned based on prospects’ future value).
All in all, the Blue Jays’ system has a strong argument for being fourth-best in the majors, based on FanGraphs’ evaluations and the approaches discussed in this post. It strikes a good balance between quality and quantity, top-heavy and deep at the same time. Coming into the season, enough progress had been made that Jays fans were getting used to seeing the system rated at the back-end of the Top 10. Going forward, at least until Vlad and Bo get called up, we should start getting used to having a Top 5 system.
Given the Jays’ strong recent performances at the draft, international signing period and trade deadline, it’s conceivable that the Jays will continue to boast a highly-rated system, even after their two jewels graduate to the big leagues. While there’s always room for improvement, the system is most definitely in great shape.
The rebuild has been in progress for a while. If I had to pick a date, I’d go with August 1, 2016, when the Blue Jays used their financial strength to acquire prospects Reese McGuire and Harold Ramirez in the Francisco Liriano-Drew Hutchison trade.
At the end of the 2016 season, the two additions ranked fourth and fifth on MLB Pipeline’s Blue Jays prospect list. McGuire is now ranked 21st and Ramirez isn’t even in Pipeline’s Top 30, despite the fact that the two of them still appear to be prospects with big league potential. Ahead of these two solid prospects are now a bounty of other solid prospects.
Players added by the Blue Jays since 2016 make up 20 of Pipeline’s Top 30 and 26 of FanGraphs’ Top 37. That reflects extremely positively on the Blue Jays’ front office, from top to bottom, and gives me confidence that this first wave of young talent will be followed by another wave and many more after that.
*Featured Image Credit: R.Mueller
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I’m an economics professor in the GTA whose lifelong love for the Jays was reignited by that magical August of 2015 and the amazing moments since.