I find the ZiPS prospect rankings, just released at ESPN from Dan Szymborski, to be especially interesting, since it is a completely algorithm-driven ranking. There is no scouting involved, just raw, unadulterated data.
The fun part, as Szymborski explains, is that there is still a ton of overlap between a list created this way and one ranked by humans. I’d argue that, where there are overlaps, we’re probably getting the best sense of what is accurate (or at least consensus).
To that end, five Cubs prospects make the ZiPS list, and they are five familiar names:
42. Willson Contreras, C
45. Gleyber Torres, SS
56. Billy McKinney, OF
62. Ian Happ, 2B/OF
Interesting to see Almora on top as you may recall that the KATOH system, also data-driven, was a fan of Almora’s, too. It’s also interesting that, once again, a data-driven system is giving so much love to Almora, a guy whose statistics are frequently not appreciated by fans. I won’t harangue anyone again with Almora’s impressive second half last year, but suffice it to say: as a 21-year-old elite defensive center fielder at AA, he hit just fine.
As for the rest of the group, it’s the four names you’d expect to see. Together with Almora, these are the five names that appeared on all of MLB Pipeline, Baseball Prospectus, and Keith Law’s list (only Contreras, Torres, and Happ showed up for Baseball America).
That’s fascinating to me given that ZiPS, again, is purely algorithm-driven. Clearly, there is a strong alignment of statistical and scouting opinion on these five players. If you’re buying the upside on Duane Underwood or Dylan Cease, I won’t beat you up for slotting one of those guys into the top five, but, for me, those five names up there are the Cubs’ top five prospects right now.
The Cardinals, by contrast, have no position players on the list, just three pitching prospects (Alex Reyes, Jack Flaherty, and Marco Gonzalez). The Pirates have a mix, and six players total on the list (including three in the top 38). The Reds have three in the top 44, and the Brewers also have three on the list, including two of the top 16.
Check out Syzmborski’s article for the full rundown and additional discussion.