Late last week, in a series of insider articles, ESPN’s Keith Law released his organizational rankings for Major League Baseball farm systems for 2014. He followed that up with his top 10 prospects for each organization.
Each year, I compare and contrast what the national analysts are saying and how they are ranking Cardinals prospects, both within the context of all 30 systems and among just Cardinals.
While up-and-coming raters appear and others fade back, the ones there every year include Baseball America, Baseball Prospectus, MLB.com, MinorLeagueBall.com, Scout.com and ESPN. Law is the analyst responsible for ESPN’s annual rankings.
Most of the time, the same names appear on every top 10 list, perhaps in slightly different sequence. Once in awhile, though, a different name shows up among the top 10s and my theory is that Law is often the source.
This year, Law’s naming of infielder Chris Rivera at number 10 in St. Louis’ system generated some attention among Cardinals watchers. It was clearly a “lone wolf” pick, as none of the Cardinals lists I have seen have even named the second baseman among their “honorary mentions.”
I am not here to drill down into Law’s selection of Rivera, as he did not discuss the strengths of the former California high school shortstop in his write-up. Therefore, I don’t know what he saw in terms of potential. That is fine, but I admit that the choice drove my writing of this article.
For purposes of completeness, here is a bit about Rivera. After being drafted in the seventh round in 2014, the 18-year-old signed for a below-slot $150,000 that was lowest among the three middle infielders taken by the Cards in the first 10 rounds. Rivera was moved to second base by the Cardinals before posting a line of .195/.255/.353/.609 in the rookie-level Gulf Coast League.
For what it is worth, I tend to agree with those who feel Law placing Rivera at number 10 in a system he ranks in the top half of MLB (number 12 overall) could be a stretch. After all, Rivera did not make The Cardinal Nation top 40 this year.
Yet, as I mentioned above, it reminded me of a past pattern of Law, making unusual choices for his final Cardinals pick.
To test my theory, I went back the last six years and pulled out the number 10 prospect in Law’s Cardinals top 10 from each year. Here they are.
|Year||Keith Law’s number 10||Other top 10’s||TCN top 40|
|2014||Chris Rivera||none *||not ranked|
|2013||Anthony Garcia||TCN, Sickels #9||#9|
|2011||Joe Kelly||BA #10||#27|
|2010||Audry Perez||none||not ranked|
|* to date|
Sure enough, I was right. Rivera marks the fourth time in the last six years that Law’s 10th pick was not named in any other major rater’s top 10 for that year. (Caveat: Not all 2014 Cardinals top 10’s have been released, but I would be very surprised if any others will include Rivera.)
At the far right of the above table, you will note that two of Law’s six number 10’s missed the The Cardinal Nation’s top 40 entirely those years and two others were ranked in the second 20.
Mind you, I see nothing wrong with what Law has done. After all, anyone who uses the words “right” or “wrong” in ranking prospects is foolish at best.
I can’t speak to what Law does for other organizations, but it seems that he has regularly used his Cardinals number 10 spot to draw attention to a player not on others’ top 10 radar screens.
In 2009, Law liked hard-throwing Francisco Samuel a lot, but control problems derailed the right-hander before he reached St. Louis. The Dominican native last pitched in a minor league game at the end of the 2011 season and was released in the spring of 2012.
The next year, Law hopped on the Audry Perez bandwagon after the catcher co-led Johnson City in home runs and logged what is still a career-best .840 OPS in 40 games. At that point, he hadn’t yet cracked TCN’s top 40. Though Perez went on to taste a cup of coffee with St. Louis last summer, the jury remains out.
The one recent Law #10 player who has clearly made it is Joe Kelly. Both Law and Baseball America were on the right-hander before the 2011 season, but after Kelly’s initial Springfield ERA was over five that summer, only Law still backed Kelly as a top 10 player the following off-season. Soon, Kelly was with St. Louis and he hasn’t looked back.
Both John Sickels of MinorLeagueBall.com and The Cardinal Nation joined Law in labeling Anthony Garcia a top 10 player one year ago. Hopes were high as the outfielder came off a strong Midwest League performance. Still in A-Advanced ball, the 22-year-old had a wasted 2013 due to injury, but could yet rebound.
That brings us back to Rivera. To fairly criticize that choice now, one would have to know years ahead of time that he has more of Samuel in him than Kelly. Truly, only time will tell.
I am pretty sure most of the national prospect raters are accused of being biased against every organization at one time or another. I’ve seen Law take hits over the years from some for a perceived anti-Cardinal stance. If you are among those who agree, the numbers do not support you.
In four of the last five years, Law’s Cardinals system ranking was better than the industry average. The other year, 2010, his was on the average.