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Looking back at the 2018 BBB Top 40

MLB: Tampa Bay Rays at Toronto Blue Jays John E. Sokolowski-USA TODAY Sports

We're going to take a short pause on the 2019 Top 40 Prospect List and instead look back retrospectively at the 2018 list. Partly, this is to focus on the players who don’t show up in 2019 for various reasons and the big movers, and partly it’s an exercise in accountability. The last two parts of the 2019 Top 40 will run next week on Monday/Tuesday, followed by the usual Beyond the Top 40 posts through Friday. And then the games begin!

The Graduates

Let’s start with the four players that exceeded rookie status in 2018 and thus won’t be discussed in terms of being prospects anymore: Ryan Borucki, Richard Urena and a pair of juniors in Lourdes Gurriel and Dwight Smith, Borucki was ranked 6th and knowing what we do with the successful debut, he may have been a spot or two low with perfect hindsight, but it was the right ballpark and more importantly, the write-up was quite prescient on the profile:

Consider a lefty who: finished the season in AAA, sits comfortably in the low/mid 90s with his fastball and will tickle 96-97 from time to time, has a plus secondary in his change-up and at least a usable breaking ball (that gets a fair amount of swings and misses), and who throws strikes. At the end of the day top 100 lists don’t really matter, but that’s the profile of a potential mid-rotation starter, who could be MLB ready as soon as the second half of 2018.

What most impressed me about Borucki has his pitchability, mixing pitches and being able to hit spots with his breaking ball. The 16% strikeout rate was a little lower than I expected and his home runs are likely to correct upwards, so he’s probably more of a backend, #4 starter without any steps forward. But it wouldn’t surprise me if he took further steps forward.

Urena was ranked 12th on last year’s list, and looking back given the players ahead and behind him that doesn’t look out of place. He’s turning 23 later this month, so he’s still younger than a lot of players on the list and in any meaningful sense should still be considered a prospect. He had a decent run with the Jays, posting a 95 wRC+ in 108 PA, but on the back of a .424 BABIP.

Urena put himself on the map with good production in 2015 in low-A and 2016 in high-A, especially given how young he was. That hasn’t carried over to the upper minors, as the power has dried up and his OPS is in the .600-range over 950 PA. The profile now is more of a bench player, though the caveat is he’s still young and there’s time to put things together. The issue is 2019 is his last option year, so the Jays will have a decision to make and being forced to carry him in the majors could stunt any further development.

Gurriel Jr. ranked 18th on the list. Tom had him much higher than I did, and in hindsight his ranking of 10th would have been about right. I overreacted to how poor his 2017 was on top of not having much else tangible to go on, but in fairness a number of these big dollar Cuban signings have quickly fallen on their faces once signed. It would not have been without precedent for Gurriel to have been one.

Finally, Smith was 29th, and would have aged off had he not exceeded rookie status. It’s something of an odd situation, as he’s hit nicely in his MLB opportunities, but his minor league line is more mediocre and it’s hard to see where he hits in the picture in 2019 and beyond.

The Top 10

With only one graduation from the top of the list, nine others remain eligible. While the top eight spots of the 2019 list haven’t been revealed, by elimination the names should be obvious and I’m not spoiling anything by saying seven of the names remain in the top 10, and for the most part in the same range.

The biggest fall was Logan Warmoth. I’ve discussed at length my skepticism to begin with, but it also seems like there’s some overreaction to one bad season (for example, outside FanGraphs Top 34 after being top 10 with a 45 value as recently as June). In hindsight, perhaps he should have been a couple spots lower. Thomas Pannone was right on the outside at 10th, falling to 16th in a deeper system.

The one guy in the top 10 whose stock fell significantly was Anthony Alford. I had some doubts about his contact quality in 2017 that perhaps inflated his batting line, but the huge ceiling if he puts things together put him near the top. What’s interesting to me is how significantly the views have changed (for example, 55 value at FanGraphs to 40). 2018 is a very bad data point and we should update our expectations accordingly, but I don’t think he’s a totally different player either. I wasn’t sold on him as high as he was last year, and I’m not writing him off now either.

11 through 20

There’s the two graduated, and then one other name from last year’s list that’s not on the 2019 list and indeed is no longer in the system. Taylor Guerrieri was 16th, in deference to the waiver claim’s previous prospect status. He didn’t quite live up to it, and was sent outright after the season and granted free agency.

Eric Pardinho was ranked 11th and jumped up into the top after proving there was more than just hype with an excellent pro debut. Rowdy Tellez and Patrick Murphy end up in the the same range as last year, which reflects good progress considering the added depth. Three players had significant moves down — Maese at 13, Riley Adams at 14 and Zach Jackson at 22. Jackson had a decent year, but the control struggles suggest a lower ceiling. The overranking of the other two has been discussed.

21 through 30

Beyond Smith Jr., Jordan Romano and Max Pentecost aged off the list. Romano was at least temporarily lost in the Rule 5, but both had decent seasons and I think would have been positioned similarly on the 2019 list. A pair of potential sleepers who hadn’t hit low-A fell out of the rankings for 2019 in Ryan Gold and Samad Taylor (who is still very highly thought of at FanGraphs).

There’s a couple huge risers in Kevin Smith and Chavez Young, the former who took big steps forward in his first full pro season and the latter who had a breakout 2019. Yennsy Diaz also moved higher in a deeper season with a very successful season. Overall, it’s a mixed bag, which can be expected at this point in the list as one is looking more at potential than demonstrated success.

31 through 40

Only three players from this part of the list show up on 2019’s list. Cavan Biggio is the big success with a huge power surge in Double A. Ryan Noda had a successful full season debut, and Joshua Palacios roughly held his ranking. Angel Perdomo gets a fresh start on Milwaukee after stalling out in Dunedin, and Bradley Jones retired (that was my doing and I’m not sure what I was thinking in hindsight).

Justin Shafer’s debut was largely underwhelming, but his sinker/slider combo remains intriguing. Notably, 2015 first rounder Jon Harris is now out of the Top 40 entirely after a big move down, but he would have been among the next couple names and with the system additions it was more of a lateral move. We stuck Emerson Jimenez on the back of the list given the really intriguing reports from the complex on the converted shortstop, but either it went backwards by 2019 or was overstated as it didn’t really stand out in Lansing (he also missed the first two months with injuries, maybe that was a factor).