How much do prospects predict success?

A look at how representation on Top 100 lists correlates to teams' turnarounds

February 4th, 2017

Since 2004, has issued an annual ranking of the game's best prospects, providing a glimpse of tomorrow's brightest stars. The latest edition dropped on Saturday, with the release of the 2017 Top 100 prospects list.
For organizations that have been struggling on the field at the Major League level, placing high on such a list is more than simply a consolation prize. It's also an indication that the future looks brighter.
:: Complete 2017 Top Prospects coverage ::
But is it valid for a team stacked with top prospects to equate that status with more wins at the big league level in the coming years? While there certainly are no guarantees when it comes to prospects, the numbers show that being well represented on such a list does act as a predictor of impending improvement.
To reach this conclusion, looked back at each of its top prospect lists (50 players were ranked per year from 2004-11 and 100 per year since '12). For each list from '04-'16, we examined the top five teams in terms of Prospect Points, a system that awards 100 points for the No. 1 prospect, 99 for the No. 2 prospect, and so forth. Then we compared how each of those teams did in the five years before and after the ranking.
As one might expect, not every case has been a positive one. For example, the Mariners ranked first in Prospect Points on the inaugural 2004 list. But while Seattle posted a .589 winning percentage from 1999-2003, including a 116-win season in '01 and 93-win campaigns the next two years, the club tumbled to a .449 winning percentage over the ensuing five seasons. The M's, who also ranked fourth on the '11 list, still have not returned to the playoffs since '01.
With that said,'s research shows an overall trend that is significantly rosier. Of the 65 Top 5 teams on the 2004-16 lists, 40 (61.5 percent) posted a higher cumulative winning percentage over the next five seasons than they did over the preceding five (though the five-year post-ranking period is incomplete for those on the '13-16 lists). Of the 40 teams that posted a higher cumulative winning percentage over the next five years, they achieved an average of 10.5 wins more per season during that period.

For many of these success stories, top prospects helped lift the franchise from below the .500 mark back into the postseason, whether they blossomed into stars at home or were used in trades to acquire important pieces. The 65 teams in question reached the postseason 25 percent of the time in the five seasons leading up to their Top 5 ranking, while they made the playoffs 39 percent of the time in the subsequent five seasons. In some cases, such a transformation has even helped bring about a championship.
:: Prospects as predictor ::
With that in mind, here is a chronological look back at some of the best examples of prospect-driven improvements, followed by a look forward at which clubs could be the next to make a similar leap.
2005 -- Milwaukee Brewers
Prospect Points rank: 1st
Top 50 Prospects: Rickie Weeks (No. 8), (No. 10), Jose Capellan (No. 18), J.J. Hardy (No. 48)
Average wins in previous five seasons: 66.4
Average wins in next five seasons: 81.8
Increase in average wins per season: 15.3
Milwaukee, which also ranked fourth on the 2004 list, vaulted from 67 to 81 wins in '05 for its first .500 season since 1992. Progress stagnated for a while, but the Brew Crew broke through for 90 victories and a National League Wild Card berth in '08, snapping a 25-season playoff drought. Fielder, Weeks and Hardy formed three-quarters of the team's infield that year, playing an average of 145 games between them and combining for 72 home runs.
2008 -- Tampa Bay Rays
Prospect Points rank: 1st
Top 50 Prospects: (No. 2), (No. 11), (No. 12), Jake McGee (No. 20), (No. 32)
Average wins in previous five seasons: 65.4
Average wins in next five seasons: 91.6
Increase in average wins per season: 26.2
The franchise had not won more than 70 games in any of its first 10 seasons and collected the fewest wins in the Majors from 2003-07. But all of that futility allowed Tampa Bay, which also came in third on the '07 list, to draft Longoria third overall in '06 and Price first in '07. The former took American League Rookie of the Year honors for the World Series-bound Rays in '08, while the latter debuted that September and quickly developed into an ace. With Longoria and Price acting as cornerstones of the lineup and rotation, respectively, the Rays won the third-most games in MLB from '08-'12 and made the postseason three times.
2010 -- San Francisco Giants
Prospect Points rank: 5th
Top 50 Prospects: (No. 4), (No. 10)
Average wins in previous five seasons: 76.4
Average wins in next five seasons: 87.2
Increase in average wins per season: 10.8
The Giants ranked fourth on the list in 2009, when they won 88 games to snap a streak of four straight losing campaigns. The next season they embarked upon a magical even-year run of three championships over a five-year span -- with the Posey-Bumgarner battery a driving force. Posey, the NL Rookie of the Year Award winner in '10, quickly became one of the game's best catchers and took NL MVP honors in '12. Bumgarner, an All-Star in his own right, first became a postseason legend as a 21-year old during San Francisco's first title run and cemented that status four years later when he was named MVP of both the NL Championship Series and World Series.
2011 -- Kansas City Royals
Prospect Points rank: 1st
Top 50 Prospects:Mike Moustakas (No. 7), (No. 8), Mike Montgomery (No. 14), (No. 16), (No. 34), Jake Odorizzi (No. 37)
Average wins in previous five seasons: 67.6
Average wins in next five seasons: 82.6
Increase in average wins per season: 15.0
The Royals also ranked second the following year, but the progress didn't begin to show until '13, when they finished above .500 for just the second time since 1994. K.C. then made it to the World Series in '14 -- its first postseason trip since 1985 -- and completed its championship quest a year later. Homegrown talent took center stage in that transformation, with Moustakas and Hosmer starting at the infield corners. But general manager Dayton Moore also gave up Montgomery, Myers and Odorizzi in a much-criticized trade with the Rays that landed 2013-14 staff ace , as well as Wade Davis, who turned into a shutdown reliever. Lamb also was shipped to the Reds at the '15 Trade Deadline as part of a package for .
2014 -- Houston Astros
Prospect Points rank: 2nd (tied)
Top 50 Prospects: (No. 8), (No. 17), (No. 21), Jonathan Singleton (No. 50), Jr. (No. 52), Mike Foltynewicz (No. 54), Jr. (No. 66)
Average wins in previous five seasons: 62.4
Average wins in next three seasons: 80.0
Increase in average wins per season: 17.6
The Astros implemented a drastic rebuilding effort and won 44 fewer games than any other team from 2009-13, with the last three of those seasons each bringing at least 106 losses. That approach netted Houston a boatload of high Draft picks, and while not all of those panned out, first-rounders Correa ('12), McCullers ('12) and Springer ('11) all played significant roles as the club returned to the playoffs in '15. All three remain key parts of the future for an expected '17 contender, while Appel was used to acquire and Foltynewicz helped fetch Evan Gattis.
2015 -- Chicago Cubs
Prospect Points rank: 2nd
Top 50 Prospects: (No. 2), (No. 5), (No. 22), (No. 47), (No. 49), Albert Almora Jr. (No. 57)
Average wins in previous five seasons: 69.2
Average wins in next two seasons: 100.0
Increase in average wins per season: 30.8
The Cubs, who also tied the Astros for second in '14, won fewer games than anyone besides Houston over the five seasons prior to '15, when they zipped from 73 to 97 victories. A year later, the club broke the most infamous championship drought in pro sports, thanks in no small part to an emerging crop of prospects. With Bryant the reigning NL MVP, Russell a stellar shortstop, Edwards a nasty bullpen arm and Schwarber a power bat, Chicago appears poised for plenty more success over the next few years.
Who's next?
Chicago White Sox (2nd on 2017 list): The Sox have averaged 75 wins over the past five seasons and haven't made the playoffs since 2008 but moved to rebuild this winter by trading Chris Sale and . Those two transactions landed them four top-50 prospects in second baseman and right-handers , and . That quartet could help the club follow the path of its North Side neighbor.
Atlanta Braves (3rd): After winning more than 90 games in both 2012 and '13, Atlanta fell off and soon changed course, losing more than 90 in each of the past two years. But things are looking up as the franchise moves into its new ballpark in '17. Acquired from Arizona in the fruitful trade, No. 4 prospectDansby Swanson looks ready to anchor the Braves' infield for years to come, with (No. 11) looming as a possible double-play partner.
Milwaukee Brewers (5th): Since claiming an NL Central title with 96 wins in 2011, Milwaukee has averaged 76 per season, including a 73-89 mark in '16. It will be a tough task for this crop of prospects to match the turnaround effort that Fielder and Co. pulled off, but toolsy outfielders and Corey Ray and promising pitchers and will give it a shot.