Revisiting and re-ranking baseball's top 10 prospect lists 10 years later

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Thursday May 25th, 2017

Although baseball's draft does not inspire anywhere near the same level of engagement as do the NFL and NBA versions, the interest level in discovering the Next Big Thing remains just as high in the national pastime as anywhere else. In recent years, prospect lists have become especially popular, and now—with former top prospects having just reached the majors in recent days, the upcoming Super Two cutoff promising more to come, the start of the NCAA baseball tournament and the MLB draft itself just days away—this constitutes something of the high season for thinking about baseball's future stars.

With that in mind, we decided to take a look back just 10 years to see who the game's consensus best prospects were as measured by the top 100 lists of Baseball America and Baseball Prospectus, the leaders in the field then and now. We then re-ranked the top 10 based on how the careers of the players on those top 100 lists have turned out with some tie-breaking consideration given to what might happen in the years ahead.

Before proceeding, a quick note: While BA ranked newly signed Red Sox pitcher Daisuke Matsuzaka No. 1 overall before the '07 season, BP did not include him at all in its top 100 because the Japanese righty was arriving in the U.S. as more of a fully formed star than a traditional prospect; we have therefore decided to keep Matsuzaka off of our list as well.

No. 1: '07—Alex Gordon; '17—Clayton Kershaw

The Original No. 1: Gordon (No. 2 BA, No. 1 BP)

The second pick of the 2005 draft and the 2006 Baseball America Minor League Player of the Year, Gordon had a respectable rookie season for the Royals as a 23-year-old third baseman in '07 (.247 batting average, .314 on-base percentage, .411 slugging percentage, 15 homers, 2.0 WAR) and then put up even better numbers in each category the next year. Alas, he combined for -0.2 WAR over the next two seasons while playing just 123 major league games. He converted to leftfield during a return trip to Triple A in 2010 and finally broke out after coming back to the majors for good in 2011, his age-27 season. From '11 to '15 Gordon won four Gold Gloves, made three All-Star teams and helped the Royals win two pennants and a World Series title. His past season and a quarter has been dreadful, but he's one of just six position players on this list with at least three 6.0-WAR seasons under his belt.

The New No. 1: Kershaw (No. 24 BA, No. 16 BP)

Though he didn’t debut for the Dodgers until May 25, 2008, Kershaw has been by far the best player on either top 100 list. His 54.7 WAR is easily the highest of that group, outpaces every other pitcher regardless of experience level and is higher than all but four position players, all of them Cooperstown bound (Robinson Cano, Adrian Beltre, Albert Pujols and Miguel Cabrera). Given his three NL Cy Young Awards, three strikeout titles and four ERA titles, Kershaw is a likely Hall of Famer himself and the easiest call on this list. 

No. 2: '07—Phil Hughes; '17—Joey Votto

The Original No. 2: Hughes (No. 4 BA, No. 2 BP)

In the second start of his major league career, on May 1, 2007, Hughes no-hit the Rangers for 6 1/3 innings before leaving due to a  hamstring strain. It was a sign of the false promise to come for the Yankees' highly-touted righty. A subsequent high ankle sprain limited him to 13 starts for the year and overall, his seven seasons in pinstripes produced just 6.3 WAR. He did have his moments, though, playing a key role in the bullpen for the 2009 champs, and making the AL All-Star team the next year. He signed with the Twins before the 2014 season and that year set a major league record with an 11.63 strikeout-to-walk ratio (186 strikeouts and 16 walks in 209 2/3 innings), but injuries have diminished the returns since even as the Twins deepened their investment with a five-year, $58 million deal that started in 2015.

The New No. 2: Votto (No. 43 BA, No. 53 BP)

Votto reached Cincinnati in September 2007 and batted .321 in 24 games. He hasn't stopped hitting since then. A four-time All-Star, a Gold Glove winner and the 2010 NL MVP, he has a .312 lifetime average and has led the league in on-base percentage five times. His .424 career OBP is in a virtual tie for 10th among players with at least 5,000 plate appearances, and his 42.0 peak WAR score is just shy of the average Hall of Fame first baseman’s 42.7. Votto's career WAR of 49.7 is more than every other position player on the 2007 list, though he’s still got work to do if he’s going to solidify a spot in Cooperstown. 

No. 3: '07—Delmon Young; '17—Evan Longoria

The Original No. 3: Young (No. 3 BA, No. 3 BP)

The first pick of the 2003 draft and the game's No. 1 prospect heading into '06, Young reached the majors in late August of that season and hit well, bating .317 in 30 games, but his stock had fallen slightly in the wake of a 50-game suspension he received for throwing a bat an umpire while still in Triple A. Thanks in large part to his 93 RBIs (rather than his .288/.316/.408 line with 13 homers and 0.9 WAR), he was the runner-up to Boston's Dustin Pedroia in the 2007 AL Rookie of the Year voting, after which the Devil Rays traded him to the Twins in a six-player deal that brought back starting pitcher Matt Garza. The Rays won the AL pennant; Young kept hacking away at the plate and in the field with limited success. He had some big postseason moments, including winning the 2012 ALCS MVP award while with the Tigers, but he accumulated a grand total of 2.5 WAR in a 10-year career that was done before his 30th birthday.

The New No. 3: Longoria (No. 7 BA, No. 10 BP)

When the organization chose Longoria with the No. 3 pick of the 2006 draft, Tampa Bay hoped that it would have both him and Young in the middle of its lineup for years to come. Instead their only time as teammates came for one month in September 2013, by which time Young was a journeyman. The consolation prize for the Rays is that Longoria is by far the most successful player of the consensus 2007 top 10. He came up in early 2008 and was an instant smash, earning All-Star honors, winning the AL Rookie of the Year award and helping Tampa Bay reach the World Series. While he hasn't made an All-Star team or won a Gold Glove since 2010—thanks mostly to the competition from Adrian Beltre, Josh Donaldson and Manny Machado—he's smashed 247 homers and put up 48.0 WAR in his career. 

No. 4: '07—Homer Bailey; '17—Troy Tulowitzki

The Original No. 4: Bailey (No. 5 BA, No. 4 BP)

Tagged for a 6.72 ERA in 17 major league starts in 2007 and '08, Bailey finally got a foothold in the majors in mid-2009, but shoulder woes limited him to just 41 starts over the next two seasons. He put together a pair of strong, healthy years in 2012 and '13, punctuated by a pair of no-hitters. The Reds signed him to a six-year, $105 million contract in February 2014 but it has proved to be disastrous, as injuries have limited him to just 31 starts since, including eight in the last three seasons. 

The New No. 4 (Troy Tulowitzki (No. 15 BA, No. 24 BP)

Chosen seventh in the 2005 draft, Tulowitzki debuted in late '06 and helped the Rockies reach their first and still only World Series the following year. Despite his 24 homers, 31 Defensive Runs Saved and 6.8 WAR, he was robbed of the 2007 NL Rookie of the Year award by the Brewers' Ryan Braun, whose 34 homers and league-leading .631 slugging percentage were offset by-32 DRS at third base en route to just 2.0 WAR. With five All-Star appearance and two Gold Gloves, Tulo has been strong for both Colorado and Toronto, but durability issues—he’s topped 140 games just three times—and the Coors Field factor will limit his Cooperstown chances. 

 

No. 5: '07—Brandon Wood; '17—Ryan Braun

The Original No. 5: Wood (No. 8 BA, No. 5 BP)

Wood's power—he bashed a combined 43 homers at High A in 2005 and Double A in '06—was remarkable for a middle infielder, and it had scouts going gaga. Alas, he had major contact woes borne of pitch recognition shortcomings that proved to be his undoing. The Angels gave him his first taste of major league action in 2007 but Wood batted just .152 in 13 games. That proved prescient, as he hit a combined .186 with a 40 OPS+ in parts of five seasons in Anaheim. For his career, which at the major league level ended in 2011, he hit .186/.225/.289 with 18 homers in 751 plate appearances. 

The New No. 5: Braun (No. 26 BA, No. 12 BP)

Selected No. 5 in the loaded '05 draft, Braun reached the majors in 2007 and has produced a 141 OPS+ in his career, second only to Votto’s 157 among 2007 prospects. His 292 homers are seventh in the majors in that span, but poor defense—including a shift from third base to leftfield—has limited his value, and while he won the ‘07 Rookie of the Year award and the 2011 NL MVP, the specter of his 2013 Biogenesis-related suspension and his conduct surrounding it have put a well-deserved dent in his reputation

No. 6: '07—Cameron Maybin; '17—Andrew McCutchen

The Original No. 6: Maybin (No. 6 BA, No. 7 BP)

Maybin burst onto the major league scene at age 20 in 2007 by homering off of Roger Clemens at Yankee Stadium in his second game. A former No. 10 draft pick, he has shown signs of stardom since; he stole 66 bases and was worth a combined 7.5 WAR for the Padres in 2011 and '12. Mostly, however, he's been on the move, traded five times in a nine-year span, the first time as part of the Marlins' return in the 2009 blockbuster that sent Miguel Cabrera blockbuster to Detroit, though the names have gotten less impressive as time has gone on. He's currently the Angels' regular leftfielder, if you're looking for a place to forward his mail. 

The New No. 6 McCutchen (No. 13 BA, No. 15 BP)

Though he’s struggling to an even greater degree right now than his career-worst 2016 season, the 30-year-old McCutchen has already built a strong resume, with five All-Star appearances, a Gold Glove, the 2013 NL MVP award and a role as the centerpiece of the Pirates’ return to relevance. His 37.3 WAR is respectable but still behind those of the 2017 players listed above him. 

No. 7: '07—Tim Lincecum; '17—Alex Gordon

The Original No. 7: Lincecum (No. 11 BA, No. 6 BP)

With a funky windup and a baby face, Lincecum quickly made a name for himself after reaching San Francisco in May 2007, less than a year after the Giants had made him the No. 10 pick in the '06 draft. For four seasons, 2008 to '11, he may have been the best pitcher in baseball, winning the NL Cy Young Award in the first two of those years and three straight strikeout titles while making four All-Star teams, not to mention playing a central role in the 2010 championship, the franchise's first title since 1954. He fell hard and fast thereafter, but two more titles and two no-hitters have added to an impressive, if unexpectedly brief, turn in the spotlight.

The New No. 7 Gordon (No. 2 BA, No. 1 BP)

Like McCutchen, the 33-year-old Gordon is now on the downside of his career, but as noted above it’s been a solid run. He'll always have a place in the hearts of Kansas City fans for his central role in revitalizing the Royals after they had spent decades in the doldrums. 

No. 8: '07—Evan Longoria; '17—Tim Lincecum

The Original No. 8: Longoria (No. 7 BA, No. 10 BP)

As mentioned above, Longoria has enjoyed a career befitting the expectations that accompanied him to the majors and he hasn't slowed down. He’s riding a streak of four straight seasons with at least 160 games, he hit a career-high 36 homers last year and he will only continue adding to his legacy as the best player in Tampa Bay's brief history.

The New No. 8: Lincecum (No. 11 BA, No. 6 BP)

Unsigned as of this writing, and coming off a 9.16 ERA in 38 ⅓ innings with the Angels last year, Lincecum’s career is on the edge of oblivion. In truth, it’s been a slog since 2012; he’s been tagged for a 4.94 ERA (72 ERA+) with -4.3 WAR in that span, mitigated only by his October-surprise performance out of the bullpen that year that helped the Giants win another title. But he earns this spot based on the brilliance of the years that came before it.

No. 9: '07—Chris Young; '17—Elvis Andrus

The Original No. 9: Young (No. 12 BA, No. 8 BP)

Though it took longer than expected for Young to go from a 16th round pick out of high school in 2001 to debuting in late '06, his 30-30 potential and ability to play centerfield placed him 20 spots above then-Arizona teammate Justin Upton on the BP list. While Young did hit 32 homers and steal 27 bases as a rookie in '07 as the Diamondbacks won the NL West, the concerns about his swing-and-miss issues weren’t unfounded; he whiffed 141 times and hit .237/.295/.467 for an 88 OPS+ and just 0.7 WAR, which set the template for his career as a regular. Only in 2010 and '11 did he top a 100 OPS+; those two years account for 10.4 of his 17.3 career WAR, though he’s stuck around as a moderately useful lefty-mashing fourth outfielder.

The New No. 9: Andrus (No. 65 BA, unranked BP)

Andrus was just 18 years old when he made BA's 2007 list, more than two years ahead of his major league debut, both of which probably help explain why he didn't make the cut for BP (he was No. 58 the next year). On July 31 of that year, Andrus was part of the blockbuster trade that sent Mark Teixeira to Atlanta; Andrus and fellow prospects Neftali Feliz, and Matt Harrison went to Texas and eventually helped the Rangers to a pair of American League pennants in 2010 and ‘11. While Andrus's total of 24.9 WAR ranks below that of a quartet of older outfielders who made BA's list ahead of him—Justin Upton, Adam Jones, Jacoby Ellsbury and Hunter Pence—his age (28) and strong 2016 season (3.7 WAR, his highest since '13) suggest he has a brighter future ahead than any of them.

No. 10: '07—Jay Bruce; '17—Andrew Miller

The Original No. 10: Bruce (No. 14 BA, No. 9 BP)

Bruce had attributes that made the entire baseball world eagerly await his arrival in early 2008: a whole-field approach, command of the strike zone and power at the plate; arm strength and the ability to play a passable centerfield defensively. In fact, Bruce was a more highly-touted prospect than teammate Joey Votto (who’s three years older). The 12th pick of the 2005 draft, Bruce was coming off a big season as a 19-year-old in the Midwest League when he shot up the prospect lists. An even bigger season—26 homers and a combined .319/.375/.587 at High A, Double and Triple A—made him the top prospect on both lists heading into 2008. Power has been Bruce’s calling card in the majors, as his 252 homers rank second among the 2007 prospects and 17th overall, but he’s become much more pull-happy. That—particularly when paired with his high-strikeout tendency—has limited his career line for the Reds and the Mets to just .248/.318/469 for a 110 OPS+. For his career he's been worth a meager 16.9 WAR, including just 1.1 since the start of 2014.

The New No. 10: Miller (No. 10 BA, No. 17 BP)

The sixth pick of the 2006 draft, Miller debuted in the majors late that year and spent parts of the next five seasons getting torched for a 5.78 ERA and 4.75 FIP, primarily as a starter; during that span, he was dealt to the Marlins and then to the Red Sox. Boston finally turned him into a reliever in 2012, and since then, he's become one of the game's best, posting a 2.01 ERA while striking out an eye-popping 14.1 per nine and, to at least some extent, leading a revolution in reliever usage with his willingness not to close. He sparkled in the 2016 postseason, posting a 1.40 ERA with 30 strikeouts in 19 1/3 innings and winning ALCS MVP honors.

The One Who Got Away: Dustin Pedroia

Being ignored by the major prospect lists in 2007 was surely not the first time the 5'9" Pedroia had been overlooked. Pedroia, a second-round pick in 2004, had been ranked at No. 77 by BA in 2006 and made his major league debut that August, but his .191/.258/.303 line in 98 PA hardly suggested the stardom to come. Although he retained his rookie eligibility for the 2007 season, neither BA nor BP included him on their preseason lists. All he did that year was hit .317/.380/.442 with 3.9 WAR en route to AL Rookie of the Year honors and a hand in the Red Sox' second world championship of the decade. He followed it up by winning the AL MVP award the next year. His 51.9 WAR to date is sixth among all position players in that span, and if he can continue building on last year’s 5.7 WAR campaign, the 33-year-old second baseman might play his way into Hall of Fame consideration.

He should probably rank second behind only Kershaw on this list of the best prospects of 2007, but his absence in the original Top 100 underscores the inexact science of such rankings and goes to show that great players aren’t always the most highly regarded at the outset of their careers. 

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