A more accurate title for this post would have been “interpreting scouting reports of prospects for the purposes of fantasy baseball” but that’s a bit too much. I did a similar primer on fantasy prospects last year, and while some of this info will be the same, it’s always good to take a deep breath and look at the big picture before diving into the heart of the prospect season. This year’s minor league previews will (hopefully) be even more useful for fantasy players than last year’s. If you’re a baseball fan, you’ve likely seen a traditional scouting report and have a general idea of how the 20-80 (or 2-8) scouting grades work. You’ve also probably heard of the “five tools”, which are hit, hit for power, run, field, and throw. Baseball reality is concerned with all of those tools, but fantasy players probably don’t care much about the last two on that list. There’s a ton of scouting information out there for the public now. So the question becomes how we can get down to brass tax and glean a quick fantasy profile from a traditional scouting report. Here’s a few thoughts on that…
Who wrote it?
Before we even get started, know whose reports you’re reading. Is this person a reliable source? Are they getting multiple looks throughout a season or did they see four total at bats? I’m not a scout, but I could probably BS a scouting report if I really tried because I have just enough information to be dangerous. My point is to be careful where the scouting information is coming from in the first place, that way the rest of this process isn’t all for nothing. The major outlets are the major outlets for a reason, and are usually a safe bet. Picking individuals to follow within those outlets is a matter of personal preference, but I like to get a few different points of view to compare and contrast.
How the grades work
Sometimes you’ll see single-digit grades (2-8), but most outlets use a double-digit scale that goes from 20-80. 50 is considered average, and the scale goes up and down from there. OFP (overall future potential) is a way of summing up the player and is a good way to weed out the guys you don’t even want to mess with in most leagues. A player whose OFP is 40 or lower doesn’t project as an everyday option and likely isn’t worth your time. After that, you’ll see grades for every tool, including grades on each of the pitches in a pitcher’s arsenal, their command, and their control. The yummy players are the ones with 60-grade, or “plus” tools. Really special tools get the 70, or “double-plus” grade. Elite tools are considered an 80, and are rarely thrown around. On the double-digit scales, you’ll sometimes see “55” or “65”. It’s basically common sense. The tool is kind of “in between” two grades. Single-digit grades make you pick one number or the other, and some folks like that better.
Game power vs. raw power
While it’s fun to dream on guys who hit light tower shots in batting practice, there’s a difference between what a guy does there and what he does in a game. That’s why most good reports will list these as separate grades or at least mention the difference in the report itself. Just being aware of this difference between the two types of power is half the battle. Power, in general, tends to develop later. In terms of converting the scouting grades for power into possible statistics – “average” or 50 power is in the ballpark of 15 homers. “Plus” (60) would look more like 25. “Double-plus” (70) is going to eclipse the 30-homer mark, and elite power is your 40-dinger guys. Giancarlo Stanton is the go-to as an example of 80 power. The hit tool can be looked at similarly, with a 50 grade equating to about a .260 average, and then going up about 20 points with each grade. That means 80 is roughly a .320 average, or Miguel Cabrera.
It’s a little harder to predict stolen bases. The reason is that your scouting grade for speed isn’t based on “how many steals you might get”. It’s just a raw home-to-first time. In fact, anybody reading this can take a stopwatch to a game and get a home-to-first time. Most scouting sites have a scale they use to then convert that time into a scouting grade for left-handed and right-handed hitters. So us fantasy players have to take that raw speed and then look for other factors listed in the report. Do they have good baserunning instincts? Are they aggressive? Coachable? These are things that may, down the road, turn raw speed into steals. Not every burner can steal bases in the majors, just like not every good basestealer has to necessarily be an “80” runner.
TORPs, MORPs, and BORPs
Pitchers are people too, so let’s talk about them real quick. Top-of-the-rotation pitchers (TORPs) are your studs. Middle-of-the-rotation pitchers (MORPs) are just fine too. BORPs (bottom-of-the-rotation pitchers) are the ones we probably won’t be building our fantasy rotations around any time soon. You can get a sense of where a pitcher might end up by how their tools are graded. Fastball velocity and life, break on the breaking balls, command, control…they’re all important. A good starter needs an arsenal, not just one plus pitch. He’ll also need control to be able to throw strikes. Command develops a little later for most arms, and that’s a little different from control. Command is hitting my spot, and that’s not necessarily always in the strike zone. We get wrapped up sometimes in trying to predict which arms will be “aces”. My advice would be to worry less about finding an ace and instead focus on finding players with good arsenals, projectability, and early signs of good command. Another way to look at pitchers is #1/#2 starters, #3 starters, and #4/#5 starters.
All of this is fluid
Scouting reports are tricky because the ones you read in April can be obsolete by the time you turn the calendar to June. So when it comes to prospects, I take everything with a grain of salt and focus more on “updates” and new first-hand reports as they come out. That way I don’t miss out on a guy who has made an adjustment or figured something out. If you read a lot of the updated reports you can sometimes see breakouts starting to happen. Unfortunately, the opposite is also true, when reading the latest scouting reports is like the death diary of a once-loved prospect.
I’m not reading all that shizz Mike, so just give me the gist…
Sure thing. I look for a “pair of 6’s” for offensive players – a 6 hit grade and a 6 power grade. They’re usually good bets. After that, I tend to gravitate towards positions up the middle – where the best athletes on the field are usually playing – and I take more factors into account. For example, a player might have below average power and just an average hit tool, but he plays a good enough shortstop to stick at the position and he’s got double-plus speed. That can still turn into a useful fantasy piece down the road.
Basically, once you get comfortable with the grading scale and some of the lingo of various scouting reports, a lot of this is common sense. Read a ton of reports. Go to games. Don’t get sucked into just statistics. A good scout’s eyes will tell you things that the numbers can’t, and that’s how you get an edge when it comes to fantasy prospects.