The world moves at a frenetic pace. The days of simple block scheduling is gone, replaced by the need to multitask, consume incredible amounts of information, and the need to filter out the signals from the noise (Thanks Nate Silver). As someone who enjoys reading and soaking up information, especially every iota of data related to baseball, I've found myself straying away from reading books, novels, and tomes, and instead focusing on internet articles, stories that cross the wire, and especially anything a reputable source posts on Twitter.
I am in no way alone in my ways, and whether it signals a positive or negative shift from the older paradigm isn't the concern of this piece. The entire idea has led so many of us to consume our information, not in clumps, but in lists. From ESPN's top ten, not top ten, to Letterman's countdown, consumers of information love their facts proposed in list format, with rankings, no matter how arbitrary, controlling the flow.
There is no aspect of baseball that is more fraught with lists than online articles discussing prospects. From writers like Jason Parks at Baseball Prospectus, to Marc Hulet at Fangraphs, to the more well known Jonathan Mayo of MLB.com and Keith Law of ESPN.com, baseball websites begin, and for the most part, end their discussions of prospects with lists.
Recently, after reading an article titled "2013 Top 100 Prospect List" on www.bullpenbanter.com, I noticed an interesting bit in the comment section. A reader commented that instead of taking the time to have a full write-up every prospect on the top 100 list, the site should instead publish the list, and follow up later with links to more in depth analysis. The site's founder, JD Sussman, responded with what I think, is the perfect response.
"Chuck, I respectfully disagree. We've done it both ways and found the interaction with our readers to be more vibrant when we do it this way. The rationale is that the write ups, not the rankings, are the substance we want you to digest. We hope you enjoy... but sorry to make you wait!"
As a reader of numerous prospect lists, I, like Chuck, enjoy reading the lists to see where different scouts have ranked certain players. On the other hand, Sussman points out a vital aspect of understanding scouting. The substance of prospect information and scouting lies not in simple player rankings, but in the details. Having spoken to a scout or two, I've come to the conclusion that the optimal method for evaluating a player is to see him play with your own eyes. Sure, we aren't all professional scouts, and understanding what to look for in a player isn't obvious, but nothing can enhance your knowledge of a player better than watching him in person.
Herein lies the greater issue, most fans of baseball can't make it out to most regular season games let alone minor league games, Spring Training games, intra-squad games, or high school showcases. We rely on those scouts who go to these games, and the evaluations they publish for us to red. Still, to base one's knowledge of prospects purely on a list, distorts the entire process, and most likely will give not enhance a fan's understanding in the slightest.
Writer-scouts like Parks, Sussman, Law, and like not only formulate lists, but also give us their best impressions of the players through their writing. The constant guzzling of information often leads us astray. Statistics, advanced analysis, and metrics will always give us a picture of players, their production, and their value, but when it comes to prospects, do your best to delve into the details because rankings are not static. Make your own evaluations based on the full reports of scouts; otherwise you, I, and everyone else are selling ourselves short.