Take prospects list with grain of salt

Take prospects list with grain of salt
November 9, 2011, 3:07 pm
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Later today, Baseball America will reveal its annual Top 10 Prospects list for the Nationals, a rite of the offseason that gives everyone some perspective about the state of the franchise's farm system.

There's no mystery who will sit atop the Nationals' prospect list (hint: his name rhymes with Rice Tarper) but I'll be curious to see where the organization's top 2011 draft picks land. Anthony Rendon, Matt Purke, Alex Meyer and Brian Goodwin all should be included somewhere in the Top 10, with Rendon potentially No. 2 behind You-Know-Who.

This would provide some confirmation to all those who touted the Nationals' draft haul as perhaps the best in baseball this year. But it should also be taken with some level of healthy skepticism, because these draft classes tend not to pan out as everyone believes they will at the time.

For evidence of that, we need only to look back at some of Baseball America's previous Top 10 lists for the Nationals. Like the 2008 list, which reveals just how much can change in a short amount of time.

The Nationals' top prospect entering 2008, according to BA: Chris Marrero, who did finally reach the majors in September but who faces an uncertain future.

More striking is the order in which pitchers are listed. Ross Detwiler (the club's first-round pick in the 2007 draft) ranks second. Collin Balester, a holdover from the Expos days, is third. Fellow 2007 picks Jack McGeary and Josh Smoker are fifth and sixth.

You have to scroll all the way down to the No. 7 spot to find Jordan Zimmermann, who admittedly didn't receive a lot of attention coming out of Division III Wisconsin-Stevens Point but without question has enjoyed the most success to date of anyone on the list and surely would be re-ranked No. 1 if the editors could go back and do it again today.

It's not like this was a one-time misread by Baseball America. Almost every year's list, in hindsight, includes some gross mistakes.

Ian Desmond ranked 10th on the list in 2007, behind such busts as Colton Willems, Kory Casto and Glenn Gibson.

Danny Espinosa didn't even make the 2009 Top 10 list after getting drafted a few months earlier, but Michael Burgess, Adrian Nieto and Esmailyn Gonzalez did.

My point isn't to mock BA's annual prospects list. It's a valuable resource and does give us some sense of where the organization stands.

Just be careful giving too much credence to this year's list. Several of the top names may well develop into big-league stars. But history suggests there are going to be some big-time mistakes made, as well.