When top prospect rankings come out each year, it’s always with an explanation that the list is all about projection. And while every effort is made to rank the young players based on what they will become several years down the road, obviously, it’s impossible to look into the future and know if the order is right.
Looking back at past lists? It is well known how good hindsight is.
One decade ago, MLB.com was only putting out a Top 50 list (expansion to a Top 100 came in 2012). The methodology was pretty simple, with the list constructed by straight polling of scouts and front-office executives. A player with a first-place vote got 50 points, second place 49, etc., and the order was generated based on the composite score for each player. In 2010, that resulted in the following Top 20:
1. Jason Heyward, OF, Braves
2. Stephen Strasburg, RHP, Nationals
3. Giancarlo Stanton, OF, Marlins
4. Buster Posey, C, Giants
5. Brian Matusz, LHP, Orioles
6. Desmond Jennings, OF, Rays
7. Neftali Feliz, RHP, Rangers
8. Pedro Alvarez, 3B, Pirates
9. Justin Smoak, 1B, Rangers
10. Madison Bumgarner, LHP, Giants
11. Carlos Santana, C, Indians
12. Alcides Escobar, SS, Brewers
13. Wade Davis, RHP, Rays
14. Domonic Brown, OF, Phillies
15. Dustin Ackley, 2B, Mariners
16. Brett Wallace, 1B, Blue Jays
17. Kyle Drabek, RHP, Blue Jays
18. Martin Perez, LHP, Rangers
19. Jesus Montero, C, Yankees
20. Jeremy Hellickson, RHP, Rays
Complete Top 50 »
The top four have gone on to have long and successful big league careers, which are still in progress, but the list is obviously far from perfect. With 10 years of data to look at, not only would the order be different if the list were assembled today, but there would be many different names on it.
This list is far from static, as many players on it are still very productive big leaguers, but this is what the top 20 would look like with the advantage of hindsight and the help of Baseball-Reference’s WAR and Bill Jamesian indices like Black Ink (leading the league in statistical categories), Gray Ink (top 10 finishes) and Hall of Fame Standards and Monitor numbers (courtesy of Baseball-Reference).
1. Mike Trout, OF, Angels (NR)
2. Paul Goldschmidt, 1B, D-backs (NR)
3. Buster Posey, C, Giants (4)
4. Nolan Arenado, 3B, Rockies (NR)
5. Josh Donaldson, 3B, A’s (NR)
6. Giancarlo Stanton, OF, Marlins (3)
7. Jose Altuve, 2B, Astros (NR)
8. Madison Bumgarner, LHP, Giants (10)
9. Freddie Freeman, 1B, Braves (NR)
10. Stephen Strasburg, RHP, Nationals (2)
11. Corey Kluber, RHP, Padres (NR)
12. Lorenzo Cain, OF, Brewers (NR)
13. Anthony Rizzo, 1B, Red Sox (NR)
14. Jason Heyward, OF, Braves (1)
15. Carlos Santana, C, Indians (11)
16. Matt Carpenter, 3B, Cardinals (NR)
17. Starling Marte, OF, Pirates (NR)
18. Kyle Seager, 3B, Mariners (NR)
19. Michael Brantley, OF, Indians (46)
20. Justin Turner, INF, Orioles (NR)
The biggest name that was missing from the original 2010 Top 50, of course, is the one at the top. Trout had been a late first-round pick out of the New Jersey high school ranks in 2009, and while he did have a very strong summer debut, it was almost exclusively in the Rookie-level Arizona League. At the time, few draftees from the previous year’s Draft made the preseason Top 50, and the ones that did were largely college guys (Strasburg, Ackley). Jacob Turner was the lone high schooler from the 2009 Draft on the 2010 list, and that one didn’t turn out so well. Trout did shoot up to No. 1 on the list in 2011 after he slashed .341/.428/.490 with 10 homers and 56 stolen bases across two levels of Class A ball at age 18.
The top of the new list is well represented by 2009 draftees. Arenado was a second-rounder that June, and Goldschmidt went in the eighth. Donaldson was a late bloomer, and Altuve flew under the radar right up until shortly before he became the Astros’ starting second baseman.
There were some misses in the other direction as well, in terms of players on the original Top 50 who wouldn’t be there in retrospect. Only seven from that Top 50 made the new top 20, and five of those are still in the top 10. That’s led by the top four mentioned above, along with Bumgarner. The others from the top of that list did not live up to expectations, although all did have positive WARs. But 11 from that Top 50 have negatives in that category for their careers.