This past week was a big one for many baseball fans around the internet as Baseball America released their top 100 prospects list, a list on which four prospects from the Boston Red Sox organization ranked. Now many sites do their own top 100 (or 101) lists, and many of them quite well, but it’s still Baseball America that holds the most prestige. They’ve been doing this since 1990 when Steve Avery — hey, we know him! — was their first ever top 100 list.
Over the years, like every other organization around the league, Boston’s system has waxed and waned, and right now they are on the upswing. As we talked about when this year’s iteration was released, it’s not just that they had four players on the list, but that they ranked so highly. We know that there is a big difference, say, between having the 10th ranked prospect and having the 90th. And that got me thinking how the top of the system right now compares to what it has looked like at other points throughout the BA top 100 era.
In order to figure that out, I devised a simple point system for each season in which every spot is assigned a point value. So, if they had the number one prospect in a season, they got 100 points. Then it was 99 points for the second spot, 98 for the third, and so on and so forth. I went through every iteration of the BA top 100 to find where Red Sox prospects ranked — A thanks to Jeff Zimmerman who compiled all of the top 100 lists from 1990 through 2010 and made my life quite a bit easier — and there are a few takeaways from the findings.
Before I get into that, though, I will add a caveat that I am not trying to make this come across as a perfect study of farm system quality. For one thing, there is more to building a farm than just having top 100 prospects, and obviously this system is not taking into account any prospects not in the top 100. Furthermore, if someone were to look at historical outcomes for players at each spot, I very much doubt it would work out so well that each spot would be evenly distributed from one to the next. This is simply a rough look at where the system is now in comparison to where it has been at other points in a way to attempt some semblance of accounting for where players are ranked.
With all of that being said, with the Red Sox landing four players total on this year’s list coming in at 15, 19, 31, and 91, it is one of the better systems they’ve had in the BA top 100 era. coming in at number 12 in the 33 years that are being ranked. In terms of similarity, the aggregate score is closest to that in 2007, though that was a strange year for this because they had the number one ranked prospect in Daisuke Matsuzaka, and your mileage may vary as to whether or not he should have counted as a prospect. That season also had Jacoby Ellsbury (33), Clay Buchholz (51), Daniel Bard (81), and Michael Bowden (83). If you want a list without Matsuzaka, 1995 would be the most similar. That season had Nomar Garciaparra (22), Frank Rodriguez (36), Trot Nixon (46), Jeff Suppan (50), and Jose Malave (90).
Some other notable findings here would be when the system was at its best and worst. Finding the worst was extremely easy because prior to the 2019 season the Red Sox had zero (0) prospects on the BA top 100. That is the only time in the history of the list that happened. Meanwhile, the best showing the team ever had was in 1997. That season saw Garciaparra (10), Carl Pavano (17), Brian Rose (44), Chris Reitsma (46), Donnie Sadler (51), and Suppan (60). That was first by a pretty fair margin, with 2016 coming in second.
In terms of averages, we can go through each type of average. For the mode (i.e. which number shows up the most) we actually did have a tie between two below-average systems for the organization. Both 1993 and 2012 came in with the same rating. Both years saw three Red Sox prospects on the top 100. In ‘93 they had the 25th, 72nd, and 84th ranked prospects. Meanwhile, in 2012 they had the 51st, 58th, and 72nd.
Then, in terms of the mean, which is traditionally what we think of as the average, the closest system to that number was actually the very first one back in 1990, when the Red Sox had five prospects on the list, but all in the back half coming in at 61, 63, 68, 76, 79, and 83. Finally, for the median, we look at the 1994 list, on which the Red Sox had three prospects coming in at number 13 (Trot Nixon), 39, and 86.
Below is the full ranking from best to worst.
And finally, here is a graph showing the trajectory of the system over the years.
As I said above, I certainly do not want to pretend this is a definitive rating of where the system has stood over the years, but rather just a crude look at how the top of the system has rankings.