Hindsight, it's said, is 20-20. That's particularly true in the world of prospect rankings. When MLB Pipeline does its rankings, like we will with a new Top 100 list unveiled on Saturday with a one-hour show on MLB Network and MLB.com at 8 p.m. ET, the prospects are lined up based on who we think they will be years down the line.
Of course, as time passes, it's much easier to look back at old prospects lists and rank the players. It's no longer about projections; it's about who has done what in their careers.
• 2018 Top 100 Prospects to be unveiled on Saturday
In 2008, we put out a Top 50 Prospects list. Ten years later, that list is full of All-Stars, Cy Young Award winners and MVP Award winners. But there's no question that if a do-over was allowed, with a decade of performance and data to mine through, things would change substantially.
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First, here's what the Top 10 looked like back before the 2008 season, with position and team at the start of the year.
1. Jay Bruce, OF, Reds
2. Evan Longoria, 3B, Rays
3. Cameron Maybin, OF, Tigers
4. Clayton Kershaw, LHP, Dodgers
5. Joba Chamberlain, RHP, Yankees
6. Clay Buchholz, RHP, Red Sox
7. Colby Rasmus, OF, Cardinals
8. Andrew McCutchen, OF, Pirates
9. Homer Bailey, RHP, Reds
10. Adam Miller, RHP, Indians
In many ways, we got it right. Miller is the only one of the 10 who didn't make it to the big leagues at all, with injuries derailing a very promising career on the mound. Using bWAR (WAR as measured by Baseball-Reference) as a guide, three of the top 10 on the list -- Longoria, Kershaw and McCutchen -- are among the top 30 active leaders. Four others -- Bruce, Maybin, Buchholz and Rasmus -- have double-digit WAR totals.
Maybin, McCutchen, Bruce and Rasmus were all high school outfielders from that ridiculous 2005 Draft class. It was Maybin who went first, at No. 10 overall, followed by McCutchen and Bruce in succession. Rasmus went near the end of the round at No. 28 overall. The Draft is an inexact science, after all, but those four (along with Buchholz, who went No. 42 overall) have had, and continue to have, big league careers.
Video: Andrew McCutchen: From top prospect to NL MVP
Obviously, the list is far from perfect. If we rank players solely by career WAR, the top 10 looks like this, with the player's team and position from 2008, along with his '08 rank and WAR in parentheses:
1. Kershaw (No. 4, 59.4)
2. Joey Votto, 1B, Reds (No. 34, 54.8)
3. Longoria (No. 2, 50.0)
4. Max Scherzer, RHP, D-backs (No. 35, 45.6)
5. McCutchen (No. 8, 40.0)
6. David Price, LHP, Rays (No. 11, 33.7)
7. Johnny Cueto, RHP, Reds (No. 47, 31.4)
8. Jacoby Ellsbury, OF, Red Sox (No. 13, 30.9)
9. Elvis Andrus, SS, Rangers (No. 38, 28.8)
10. Chase Headley, 3B, Padres (No. 29, 26.8)
Video: Clayton Kershaw: From top prospect to MVP, Cy Young
Kershaw was the first high school player of any kind taken in the 2006 Draft, selected No. 7 overall by the Dodgers. High school pitching is always the riskiest gamble in the Draft and even with someone who was a sure-fire top 10 pick like Kershaw was, there were just teams that weren't going to take him. A strong case could be made that he should have gone to anyone in the top six, with maybe the possible exception of the Rays and No. 3. They took Longoria, who is No. 3 on this list.
Video: Longoria: From top prospect to Rookie of the Year
2008 Top 50 Prospects
Clearly, many prospects have outperformed their prospect ranking. Using the difference between their 2008 ranking and their career WAR ranking, we can come up with a Top 10 overachievers list, with their 2008 rank minus their rank on the active WAR list followed by their career WAR, in parentheses:
1. Cueto (47-7=40, 31.4)
2. Austin Jackson, OF, Yankees (49-12=37, 24.1)
3. Dexter Fowler, OF, Rockies (50-14=36, 19.7)
4. Votto (34-2=32, 54.8)
5. Scherzer (35-4=31, 45.6)
6. Andrus (38-9=29, 28.8)
7. Headley (29-10=19, 26.8)
8. Alcides Escobar, SS, Brewers (42-25=17, 10.7)
9. Gio Gonzalez, LHP, White Sox (24-11=13, 26.3)
10. Jeremy Jeffress, RHP, Brewers (43-30=3, 4.5)
Cueto fit the label of many a pitching prospect that almost automatically hurts their standing on rankings: undersized right-hander. There is always the concern over durability that keeps a 5-foot-11 guy from being rated too highly by the industry, and often it's an unfair stigma. Cueto has gone on to have four 200-plus-inning seasons in the big leagues.
While we want to focus on positive achievement, obviously not all prospects pan out. Using the same measurement, here are 10 players from the list who didn't meet their projections. Some underperformed while some had injury setbacks. One player not on the list is Nick Adenhart, who never got a chance to fulfill his promise. He was killed in a car accident on April 9, 2009, after making his fourth Major League start.
1. Brandon Wood, SS, Angels (19-50=-31, -3.7)
2. Fernando Martinez, OF, Mets (17-47=-30, -1.4)
3. Miller (10-39=-29, 0.0)
4. Chamberlain (5-26=-21, 7.9)
5. Bailey (9-28=-19, 6.0)
6. Maybin (3-22=-19, 13.1)
7. Franklin Morales, LHP, Rockies (16-34=-18, 1.6)
8. Chris Marrero, 3B, Nationals (31-48=-17, -1.5)
9. Josh Vitters, 3B, Cubs, (30-46=-16, -1.3)
10. Matt Antonelli, 2B, Padres (27-42=-15, -0.3)
Wood and Martinez, or F-Mart as he was known, are two of those "can't miss" prospects who, well, missed. For Wood, he never could get past the swing-and-miss issues that plagued him throughout his career and that didn't allow him to tap into his enormous raw power. Martinez, for his part, had trouble staying healthy and was rushed to the big leagues by the Mets. He made his debut at age 20 and was out of baseball at age 26.
The lists above only deal with prospects who were actually on the 2008 Top 50. But there certainly were players eligible for the list who weren't on it. In fact, 13 players on that career active WAR Top 100 didn't appear on our '08 list. Most came from the '07 Draft, so there hadn't been time to evaluate them just yet, while others were playing in the very low levels of the Minors, like the Dominican Summer League. Here's the baker's dozen, with WAR in parentheses:
1. Josh Donaldson, C, Cubs (37.3)
2. Giancarlo Stanton, OF, Marlins (35.1)
3. Jason Heyward, OF, Braves (34.9)
4. Madison Bumgarner, LHP, Giants (32.6)
5. Jose Altuve, 2B, Astros (29.6)
6. Lorenzo Cain, OF, Brewers (27.8)
7. Corey Kluber, RHP, Padres (27.0)
8. Freddie Freeman, 1B, Braves (26.6)
9. Anthony Rizzo, 1B, Red Sox (26.1)
10. Carlos Santana, C, Dodgers (24.5)
11. Denard Span, OF, Twins (23.9)
12. Starling Marte, OF, Pirates (23.2)
13. Josh Reddick, OF, Red Sox (22.9)
Take all of this information, the old list, the players we missed on, the career WAR, and what do you get? A new Top 10 list that looks like this:
1. Kershaw (59.4)
2. Votto (54.8)
3. Longoria (50.0)
4. Scherzer (45.6)
5. McCutchen (40.0)
6. Donaldson (37.3)
7. Stanton (35.1)
8. Heyward (34.9)
9. Price (33.7)
10. Bumgarner (32.6)
Six of this new top 10 were on our original Top 50 back in 2008. Four were not. This group sure has pulled in the hardware. Between the 10 of them, they account for a Rookie of the Year Award, five MVP Awards and 10 Cy Young Awards. Combined, they have earned 42 All-Star nods.
Jonathan Mayo is a reporter for MLB Pipeline. Follow him on Twitter @JonathanMayo and Facebook, and listen to him on the weekly Pipeline Podcast.