How Important Are Organizational Rankings?

This piece at the OC Register about Baseball America's top prospect lists (via OnlyBucs) is really interesting, and it should give us pause when we suddenly start drawing wild conclusions from their organizational rankings (or anybody's). Every year we freak out about Neal Huntington's job performance based on these rankings, one way or another, and honestly, we probably shouldn't. The conclusion:

I ran a correlation query between Baseball America’s system rankings and the WAR produced by the top 5 prospects in the system, and the result was 0.0. That means, statistically speaking, no correlation whatsoever, no different than flipping coins to determine which team goes where.

The Pirates, for example, were actually ranked No. 19 in 2001, but based on the WAR of what turned out to be their top five players (Jack Wilson, Chris Young, Nate McLouth, Ryan Doumit, and Joe Beimel - although Mike Gonzalez should be third on the list, with the last three moving down a spot), they should have been ranked No. 29.

I'm not sure this means BA is doing anything wrong, and like the author says, his study is pretty simplistic (and limited in scope). But I think it might demonstrate that system depth - which Neal Huntington has worked tirelessly on, and which Dave Littlefield couldn't have cared less about - is more important than it might appear to be. Top prospects flame out all the time, and less-heralded prospects go on to have good careers quite a lot. In 2001, Chris Young was a 22-year-old starting pitching prospect at Class A Hickory who was getting good results by, if I remember correctly, throwing one fastball after another. Littlefield didn't think much of him, and shipped him to Montreal for nothing. Whoops. He also gave up young players like Bronson Arroyo and Leo Nunez, whose upside appeared to be questionable at the time, but who nonetheless turned out to be good players.

If there's even a glimmer of hope for a guy, you should think hard before dropping him, even if there are question marks about him - think hard before dropping the 6-foot-9 pitcher getting good results, even if he's throwing only fastballs. Or think hard about trading the kid with the blazing fastball for Benito Santiago, even if he's undersized. Those guys can turn out to be good players, too.

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