How to Build Your Own Minor League Scouting Network
Championship teams are built with productive low-priced talent. If your fantasy league allows the drafting of minor leaguers, there is no better way of getting cheap talent than through the minor leagues. Ask anyone who obtained Alex Rodriguez through a minor league draft where they finished in his first full season. Chances are they were at the top of the standings.
Most of the fantasy leagues that allow the selection of minor leaguers also limit the number who may be kept from year to year. Therefore, it is very important for fantasy GMs to select wisely on draft day and then protect the right players from season to season.
Who should you pick? Every minor league pick doesn't develop into an Arod type player. For every Alex Rodriguez, there are hundreds of Clint Hurdles and Todd Van Poppels. How can you separate the true blue chippers from the over-hyped mediocre prospects? You should do the same thing major league teams do -- develop your own network of scouts.
Of course, you can't operate the same way they do. Fantasy owners, unlike professional GMs, do not possess multi-million dollar scouting budgets. To build a reliable network for scouting information, fantasy players must rely on available media sources. Luckily, there are quite a few excellent books, periodicals, and web sites available to get the skinny on up-and-coming players. In essence, you'll substitute each publication in place for a real life scout. By carefully selecting your reference materials (your scouts), it is possible to reliably draft quality players.
I've assembled a list of publications and web sites which I find helpful. Although reading any one of these publications will enlighten you about the very top minor league prospects, I recommend reading at least two to make the best choices. I also suggest picking sources which use differing methodology to rate players. Mixing a book based on statistical formula with a book based on subjective analysis presents a better all-around picture of a player.
Using multiple sources also helps to filter out the hype. According to some publications, especially those which rely on information provided by major league scouting directors, almost every pitching prospect throws a 95 MPH fast ball. There aren't many pitchers in the major leagues who consistently fire in the mid-90s, so it stands to reason, that the minor leagues aren't filled with them either.
Here are my recommended sources for minor league scouting information. This list isn't all encompassing. With every baseball annual dabbling in prospect evaluations, I feel it is more helpful to include only those publications which I find the most reliable.
Baseball America - Baseball's trade journal. It's been said that you can learn a lot about the readers of a magazine by examining the magazine's advertisers. Checking out BA's ads tells me that baseball professionals read BA. They do for one simple reason -- Baseball America provides information that you can't find any place else.
If I had to pick only one place to get information about minor league players, this would be it. Baseball America generally highlights top prospects first. Their coverage includes high school, college, and international players. Their extensive network of writers report on every level of baseball.
Its Top Ten Organizational Prospect Lists are very informative. Being included on a team's Top Ten List means the player figures into the team's long-term plans. Because the lists are generated with input from professional scouting directors, readers gain insight from professional scouts. With the major league establishment slow to embrace sabermetric tools, the ratings are based on a tools approach to scouting.
Subjective ratings are the bread and butter of this publication. Information such as a player's attitude and work habits is vital in viewing a player's statistics in the right light. This makes BA an important component to any fantasy owner's scouting team.
Having said all that, the participation of scouting directors sometimes leads to the over-hyping of many players. With scouting directors jobs dependent not only on the big league production of talent, but also on the perceived value of farm players, it's in their best interest to talk up the talent in their own organizations.
Be careful, when evaluating prospects from poor organizations. All Top Ten lists are not created equal. Luckily, Baseball America helps you place organizations in context by providing a Major League Top 100 Prospect list and team rankings.
Baseball Weekly - Either the quality of Baseball Weekly is declining or I'm getting smarter. My friends tell me it's the former. BW's yearly team prospect breakdowns don't seem to present as many breakout players as it once did. It's best to use the annual breakdowns as a secondary info source.
BW does print the most up-to-date minor league statistics available. The weekly minor league system reports highlight players' performances in the past week. Reading these reports can give a fantasy owner an idea of which players are hot. Major league teams often call up hot AA/AAA players as replacements for injured players. Keep an eye on this BW section, a hot minor league call-up can sometimes provide a short burst to help a fantasy owner get over injuries to his own players.
STATS, Inc. - The Scouting Notebook 1998 - This reference comes off the shelf more than any other book in my scouting library. The 1998 edition runs 702 pages and contains reports on over 1400 major and minor league players. Its a great place to find info about major leaguers or players on the cusp of reaching the major leagues. If you don't already have it, buy it.
STATS, Inc. - 1998 Minor League Scouting Notebook - I haven't received my 1998 copy, yet. But with John Sickels returning as author, I expect the same high quality analysis. Sickels rates minor leaguers using a skills approach. Using what a player "does on the field", he assigns a letter grade rating for prospects (an especially handy feature on draft day). Although a player's performance is measured primarily on what he does statistically, some subjective items are factored in. This book is highly recommended.
Diamond Library - Benson's A to Z Baseball Player Guide 1998 - Although the guide doesn't contain the in-depth analysis of STATS Scouting Notebook, what it lacks in detail, it more than makes up by providing "over 2500 player profiles". It's a great tool to get basic information about players. It has no equal for information about obscure players.
Diamond Library - Future Stars -- The Rookies of 1998-1999 - Tony Blengino and Lawr Michaels blend "objective statistical analysis with a subjective assessment of physical tools." I like this book a lot. There are comments about more players than any other book in print. Although I preferred last year's book (which included analysis by Larry Bump) better, this year's edition still rates at the top of my "must have" tomes. The combination of organizational grids and player-by-player analysis make it easier to place an individual player's performance in the context of his team's farm system. Remember it doesnt matter how good a player is if he won't get a chance to showcase and refine his skills.
STATS, Inc. - Major League Handbook 1998 (red book) - When this book comes out November 1st, my wife knows where my nose will be buried for a few days. Its always the first and best statistical annual. Sections include complete fielding (including catcher/pitcher stealing info), lefty/righty splits, park effects information, and complete career batting/pitching records for anyone who appeared in the majors last year. For good measure, the STATS team also provides league leader boards, manager tendencies, and player projections for the 1999 season. This book is "must have" for simulation players and other fantasy gamers.
STATS, Inc. - Minor League Handbook 1998 (green book) - You can't scout minor league players without the best minor league statistics annual at your finger tips. Produced in conjunction with Howe Sportsdata, this book is also available November 1st. Picking it up before the hustle and bustle of the holiday season begins, gives fantasy players a head start on next year's draft. Complete career batting/pitching records for all AA/AAA players, 1997 Class A and Rookie Stats, minor league park effects data, leader boards, AAA lefty/right stats, AAA home/road splits, and --most importantly-- Major League Equivalencies for AA/AAA batters, makes not buying this book one of the biggest mistake a fantasy player could make. If you don't have the extra cash lying around, put this book on your Christmas list (next year, you still have time to correct the mistake this season).
STATS, Inc. - Player Profiles 1998 (blue book) - Another interesting book from STATS. Required reading for simulation players. Includes situational statistics for individual players, teams, leagues. Wondering how a rookie did in the second half last season? How did Rockies players do on the road? This book answers all these questions and more.
Baseball America 1998 Almanac - Even though the STATS Minor League Handbook provides stats for all minor leaguers, I still purchase this book annually. This almanac arranges the 1997 major and minor league statistics by organization. This makes it easy to find the birth date and physical characteristics (height, weight) of all players. The season recap and inclusion of last year's all star and top ten lists is very helpful.
John Sickels' Baseball Page - He's the author of the 1997 STATS Minor League Scouting Notebook, which contains prospect reports on 650 minor league baseball players. He also writes weekly columns about minor league baseball for ESPN's web site. They are posted every Thursday, and you can find them by clicking here: Down on the Farm. Also you can find an archive of his monthly chat sessions.
Sean Forman's Baseball Info - Includes his "1997 evaluation of young hitter talent" which analyses minor league hitters. Sean's work shows a lot of promise. As he refines his methods, his work will have even greater value for fantasy baseball players.
Baseball First... Everything Else Second - Josh Boyd. Subtitled "OFFICIAL Baseball Prospects Headquarters. Another good place to read up prospects in the minor leagues. The Gammons Jr. moniker is well deserved. Josh has started working with STATS. Not bad for someone who appears to be still in high school.
Prospects, Projects, and Suspects - Daniel Levine's attempt to make sense of young baseball talent. I've been watching this site for some time now. This season, Dan's really outdone himself. His list of prospects is both well researched and comprehensive. If he could get a little inside information, this site could really take off.
ESPNET AAA & AA Statistics - Just like it says AAA and AA stats. A level stats are only available if you subscribe.
NANDO NET - Another place to find AAA and AA stats.
FanLink - This site is currently being re-constructed (or dismantled). Check back when the minor league season gets close to starting.
Minor League Baseball - The National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues oversees all of Minor League Baseball. From the Albuquerque Dukes to the Yakima Bears the NAPBL site is your one source for Minor League Baseball. This site has daily standings, schedules, league and team information, logos, news, and more. Access the Player Database to individual player statistics.
I don't pretend to have seen every article, book, or web site about prospects. So if you have a favorite which isn't on the list, or would like to make a comment e-mail me.