Spring training has officially begun, and that means that prospect season is drawing to a close. January and February serve as the calm before the storm, when most of the offseason transactions are in the rear-view mirror but there remains time to kill until anyone starts playing actual games. Therefore, it's the time when the experts roll our their various preseason prospect lists.
So far, there have been seven noteworthy Top 100 lists of which I'm aware. We're still waiting on John Sickels and FanGraphs as well, so there are more to come. The lists I'm including here are:
The first five don't require explanation, but the last two are a bit different. Both ZiPS and KATOH are projection systems, so they are judging the prospects solely based on numbers -- that means they won't be taking various subjective scouting reports into consideration. That's not to say that those scouting reports aren't important, because they are. However, these two projection systems vary so greatly from the other sources' lists (and from each other) that I think it's worth including them just to mix things up and see how the landscape looks from a different perspective. Numbers don't know the whole story, but scouts also aren't perfect, so in general more info is a good thing.
Here are the rankings:
A quick rundown of how each player fared, and why:
Franklin Barreto, SS/CF: If you average out the five traditional lists, he ranks No. 27 among all MLB prospects. Add in the projection systems, and he's still No. 31 overall. The experts love his upside, and that's why he's more or less the consensus top guy in Oakland's system.
Sean Manaea, LHP: Manaea is the only other A's prospect to make all five traditional lists, though his placement varies quite a bit (No. 51 on average). However, it's the other two lists that should catch your eye. KATOH leaves him off entirely, and I assume that's largely due to the fact that he hasn't even thrown 200 professional innings yet due to his various injury issues. In fact, I don't even think he qualified for consideration because of this, so don't freak out that he's missing from that list. However, ZiPS sees what I think a lot of us see -- a guy who could graduate this year and be one of Oakland's five best starters, with Jorge de la Rosa listed as a comp.
Matt Olson, 1B/OF: He's the only other guy to make any of the traditional lists, and only the lower reaches of two of them. But still, cracking any Top 100 list is a good thing, and you have to imagine he wasn't far behind on the other ones (at least Top 150). If he does indeed settle in the outfield, then these rankings will have sold him short because outfielders will generally get more love than first basemen.
Renato Nunez, 3B/1B: Now we get into the projection systems. As Szymborski describes in his post on ESPN, his system is more likely to value a player's floor whereas human evaluators are more likely to prefer players with higher ceilings. My guess is that Nunez is benefiting from two things: the fact that he's relatively close to MLB, and the fact that the knocks against him tend to be of the subjective variety. Again, that doesn't mean those scouting reports are wrong, but this is a reminder of the cold, hard fact that he keeps putting up increasingly excellent numbers when he's on the field. At each level (A, A+, AA), his wRC+ has gone up and his power has held steady while his strikeout rate has gone down -- that's a recipe for numerical projections to love you, I'd imagine, even if you don't have much to offer on defense.
Matt Chapman, 3B: He makes the ZiPS cutoff, and it seems that his defense played a big role in that. As I understand it, the ZiPS projection is simply seeing what the player would do if he was in MLB this year, so while it doesn't expect him to jump up from High-A and hit well immediately, it does assume that his glove would already play at the highest level.
Yairo Munoz, SS: A full third of the KATOH list is shortstops, so clearly playing that premium position helps one's case quite a bit. KATOH is projecting the player's WAR through age 28 (or, through his first six MLB seasons if he's already at least 23). Munoz's real-life numbers are mostly strong (excluding his time in Single-A Beloit), so I suppose it shouldn't be a huge surprise to see him pop up on a list that loves players at his position.
Richie Martin, SS: Didn't see this one coming. As with Chapman, I have to assume Martin's inclusion on the ZiPS list is all about his defense for now -- remember, being a shortstop with a positive glove is enough to rack up some WAR almost regardless of what you do with the bat. Brendan Ryan once put up an OPS+ of 59 but still racked up 3.4 bWAR.
Dillon Overton, LHP: This last one makes me happy. With all the much-deserved Manaea hype, it can be easy to forget that the A's have another lefty starter knocking on the door. We all hope Overton can rediscover some more of his lost velocity post-TJS, but he still succeeded in the high-80s last year due to his other skills (command, secondary pitches, etc.). This is a great example of a player whose floor is being valued by ZiPS, more than the ceiling of some other guy who has a lesser chance of reaching the bigs at all.
I'll add in the lists from Sickels and FanGraphs when they are released.