The two prospect books I rely on arrived in the past week or so: The Baseball America Prospect Handbook, compiled by the editors of Baseball America, and The Baseball Prospect Book 2011 by John Sickels, who does the Minorleagueball.com blog.
(I should also mention here Seth Stohs' entry, the Minnesota Twins Prospect Handbook, which focuses on the Twins organization. The other two books graze the top of all of MiLB; Stohs mines deeper into a narrower vein, and I daresay he knows more about the Twins farm system than anybody outside the organization itself.)
There is normally a great deal of overlap between the BA book and the Sickels book, and that's inevitable; anybody rating Andrei Lubanov (a Russian-born lefty who has put up interesting numbers in the low minors) over Kyle Gibson (a first-rounder rocketing up the ladder) among Twins prospects is bound to lose credibility in a hurry.
But the differences are illuminating.
To drastically oversimplify, the BA book leans more heavily on traditional tools scouting, the Sickels book on statistical analysis (both books use both). As a result, the Baseball America book likes Joe Benson (Twins outfield prospect) more than Ben Revere; Sickels gives Revere the higher grade. BA looks at Benson and sees a broad range of outstanding physical tools -- power, speed, throwing arm -- while Sickels sees his lack of walks and high strikeout rate as a danger sign. Revere has no power and a weak arm, and BA downgrades him for those flaws.
What grabbed my attention this week in looking at these competing views of the Twins farm system is their differing evaluations of the Twins middle infielders.
The Twins, as I've noted before, have struggled to sign and develop middle infielders. Since the advent of the Tom Kelly-Ron Gardenhire era in 1987, the Twins have had three regular middle infielders who entered pro ball in the Twins organization -- Steve Lombardozzi, Chuck Knoblauch and Luis Rivas. Only Knoblauch was a quality regular. The Twins have instead pried young middle infielders from other organizations -- Cristian Guzman (Yankees), Jason Bartlett (Padres), Alexi Casilla (Angels), Nick Punto (Phillies).
Sickels gives his full evaluation to 42 Twins prospects, just three of them middle infielders. Brian Dozier, Trevor Plouffe and Scott Singleton all get "C" grades, which is as low as a player who makes Sickels' book gets. (He gives a more perfunctory glance to James Beresford and Niko Goodwin, also "C" prospects).
BA, on the other hand, writes up 30 Twins. They have Jorge Polanco as the Twins 17th best prospect, Goodwin 19th, Daniel Santana 20th, Plouffe 24th, Dozier 30th.
We're all over the board here, with seven different names and no real consensus about anything except that Plouffe (the furthest advanced of the group) is not likely to become a major league regular.
There's plenty of time to sort the rest of them out. Singleton, a second baseman, spent last season in Double A, and Plouffe has been mired in Triple A for three years. The rest of them were in A ball or lower last year. Some of them are bound to fall out, but somebody is likely to emerge.
One things seems clear: The days when the Twins could see just one true shortstop in their system are past. It's going to take a while for that change to be reflected on the major league roster, however.