Prospect or Not a Prospect?

"How can you tell which guys are prospects and which are not?" There are plenty of number crunchers out there that will tell you they have a mathematical equation that will predict which players will make it and which ones won't. Don't believe all the hype. There may be numbers or stats that give you an idea about a player's ability, but they don't tell the whole story.

Drafting prospects in this league is very important. Finding that Alex Rodriquez or a Kerry Wood is what itís all about. My own method is to try to listen to what other people in the league say, ask opinions and read all I can about players to make my decisions. I make notes on players from time to time so I donít forget a fact or a name during the year. On draft day, when Iíve made my pick and Iím reading the names of the previous picks to next person up in the draft and I say who I picked, I love hearing ďman I was going to take him with this pickĒ. That makeís me believe that my research has paid off and I have made a good pick.

Most baseball people will tell you that the difference between the guys who make it and the guys who don't is upstairs. In other words, find out what the kid is made of. How does he think? How does he handle pressure? Has he ever dealt with adversity and if so, how well? Does he do things instinctually or does he have to think things out? These are all more important than minor league stats and they're things you can only find out by seeing them in person, talking to scouts or reading a lot of material. Scanning the internet or the various baseball magazines published periodically will tell you who's putting up numbers, but do you really find out what the team's think of them? .

So, getting back to my original question, how can you find the "real" prospects? Without connections or access to scouts and such, what can you possibly do? Let me offer some suggestions that the average Strato person can follow and at least give themselves a better chance at recognizing talent. First of all, know which stats to look at. Home runs and RBI are nice, but bad hitters can put up big power numbers despite weaknesses that will keep them from hitting in the Majors. Batting average is important, but don't forget to look at walks, strikeouts and extra-base hits other than home runs.

Many young power hitters pile up a huge number of doubles while they're still maturing physically. When they get older those doubles start going out of the park. If a young hitter has the ability to draw a lot of walks, he will make more consistent contact and later on that will translate into All-Star type performance. When I look for speed prospects, stolen bases are an obvious key, but don't forget stolen base percentage as well.

 For pitchers, wins and losses are useless. Saves mean virtually nothing. ERA is not                                           always indicative of future success because that is often affected by the quality of the defense behind a pitcher. Look at his strikeouts and walks. Be wary of pitchers that have high strikeout totals but give up a lot of hits, they're not always hard-throwers, but smart pitchers that can fool young hitters. A young pitcher with high strikeout and walk numbers is usually a hard-thrower                                           that needs refining.

Secondly, learn something about their physical ability. Before every season there are a number of books that come out that deal strictly with prospects. Look for books by Stats, Inc. and John Benson. They rely heavily on numbers, so be wary of that, but they also provide scouting info as well as the vitals like height, weight and age.

These books are excellent references that you can use all season long to back-check on players that catch your eye. You can almost always find stuff on the internet as well. I think the thing you should pay attention to the most is the age of the player. If a 19 year-old is playing very well at a high level, chances are he's got some talent. Also, compare players to other people in their league. Some leagues are hitters' leagues and others are pitchers' leagues.

If you compare a player to others in his league, you can tell a lot about how good he is. If you have a player hitting .350, compare that to others in the league with a similar number of at-bats. If you see a lot of hitters above .320, you can bet that it's a league made up of small ballparks or bad pitchers. Comparisons to the rest of the league are generally pretty solid ways to double check a player.

The bottom line is simple - when in doubt, listen to the people that do the scouting. They get paid to evaluate and find talent, therefore they probably know which players are worth paying attention to. Yes, scouts tend to get a little too excited about "tools" players, but they're more reliable than any mathematical formula I've ever found. None of us have all the time we wish we had to devote to this hobby. Trusting the scouting books and using the ratings is the best way to judge the talent when time is a factor.

You can be even smarter than many scouts, and I think there are some in this league that are. When you hear of a "5-tool player," always ask why he's not a "6-tool player." In my opinion, scouts often leave out the most important tool - a players' intelligence. If you can find a player with the five traditional tools plus intelligence, you've got a gem.