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Understanding Prospect Rankings: the 20-80 Scale

As the Cubs reload their farm system, we are going to find ourselves talking more and more about prospect projections. With every draft pick, signing and trade, the first questions we'll ask are often "Is this prospect a big leaguer, and if so, what's his upside?" As major league scouting has improved, a standard has been set on prospect grading, for something called the 20-80 scale. Player skillsets are ranked on a scale from 20-80, with 20 being terrible, while 80 is the max. Today, we'll take some time to go over it in depth. If the Cubs are rebuilding, it will come in handy.

With every player scouting report, numbers are assigned to specific skillsets, as well as providing an overall rank. The categories are as follows:

Hitters: follows the five tool standard. Hit, Power, Speed, Glove and Arm

Pitchers: Most reports Fastball, Curveball, Changeup, Control

For some reason, baseball does rankings on a scale of 20-80, often with half grades with fives. Not 1-10, or 1-5. Whatever baseball, be special.

Baseball America has a scale for ranking what each figure means:

20: As bad as it gets for a big leaguer. Think Billy Hamilton’s power.

30: Poor, but not unplayable, such as Edwin Encarnacion’s speed.

40: Below-average, such as Eloy Jimenez’s defense, or Trevor Bauer’s control.

45: Fringe-average. Reynaldo Lopez’s control and Kurt Suzuki’s arm qualify.

50: Major league average. Juan Soto’s speed.

55: Above-average. Nick Castellanos’ power.

60: Plus. Alex Bregman’s speed or Stephen Strasburg’s control.

70: Plus-Plus. Among the best tools in the game, such as Corey Seager’s arm, Patrick Corbin’s slider or

Francisco Lindor’s defense.

80: Top of the scale. Some scouts consider only one player’s tool in all of the major leagues to be 80.

Think of Aaron Judge’s power, Byron Buxton’s speed or Aroldis Chapman’s fastball.

The scale is simple enough. 80 is HOF level skills, 20 being as bad as it gets. 59 is average. I was a little surprised to see Nick Castellanos's power as "above average," after that great couple months he had.

The Baseball America article has a list of comparative standards so you can see exactly what kind of potential a grade means. Without rehashing the whole thing, I will repost the power scale so you can get a better feel:

POWER Grade Home Runs

80. . . . . . . . . . . 45+ 70. . . . . . . . . 35-44 65. . . . . . . . . 30-34 60. . . . . . . . . 25-29 55. . . . . . . . . 21-24 50. . . . . . . . . 18-20 45. . . . . . . . . 15-17 40. . . . . . . . . 10-14 30. . . . . . . . . . . . 5-9 20. . . . . . . . . . . . 0-4

Nick Castellanos averaged 23 homes runs per 162 games in his career, which fits right in with his 55 rating. The scale works.

With all this in mind, let's talk about two key Cubs players; Javier Baez and Kyle Schwarber. I have two reports on them which allow us to see what their raw skills were coming up, and how it's since translated at the big league level.

Hit: 45/50

Power: 60/65

Speed: 40

Defense: 40/45

Arm: 50/50

This report was fairly spot on. slightly below average batting average, but good power. Iffy speed and defense, although it did rank him as a 240 pound catcher. Average arm, which is fairly accurate to present day. This report compared Schwarber to Mike Napoli. Just for reference, here are their career slash lines.

Schwarber: .230/ .336/ .480/ .816

Napoli: .246/.346/.475/ .821

Whomever did this report gets an A+ for accuracy. It is pretty impressive that they could see all of that before he played a single inning of professional baseball.

Javier Baez: 6/19/2013 as a 20 year old reaching AA

Hit: 65

Power: 70

Speed: 40

Defense: 50

Arm: 55

This report is a bit less accurate. The 70 grade power can translate to 35-44 home runs per year, but Javy's career high is 34. The 65 hit tool seems a bit high for someone with a .264 career batting average. Then Javy's below average speed and defense is well... laughable. The slightly above average arm also strikes me funny. I wouldn't call this report very inaccurate. In some ways Baez has developed, and in other ways he has not. The report is in the end, just a projection. It doesn't take into account maturity and mental skills, things that are VERY critical to being a successful baseball player.

Now that we've got the grading scale down, we will be jumping more in depth into Cubs prospects. We'll take a look at current minor leaguers, future projections, and hopefully a bright future for the big league Cubs team.


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