Most services, understandably, are not going to be ranking (or re-ranking) Seiya Suzuki as a prospect. A 27-year-old star in Japan, Suzuki doesn’t really fit our conception of what a “prospect” is, and the fact that he signed for a total commitment approaching $100 million kinda underscores that point.
I do find it interesting to think about Suzuki’s place in the world if he were a prospect. Like, if there was some prospect coming up through the farm system who projected to be exactly as good as Suzuki in the years ahead, how would we think about that “prospect”? What would the realistic expectations be? Where would we rank him? And what might that ranking tell us about OTHER prospects, in relative position to Suzuki?
That is all to say, I found Baseball America’s recent rankings update – which includes Suzuki – to be particularly interesting and illuminating.
Suzuki comes in at number 37 on the updated list, just behind guys like NL Central prospects Nolan Gorman (Cardinals, 3B), Hunter Greene (Reds, RHP), Nick Lodolo (Reds, LHP), and Aaron Ashby (Brewers, LHP). He is just ahead of, among others, Rangers third base prospect Josh Jung, Mets third base prospect Brett Baty, and Pirates catching prospect Henry Davis. That is to say, he is among studly company, in terms of “name” prospects.
In relation to his organization-mate, however, Suzuki falls 21 spots behind top Cubs prospect Brennen Davis. I find that, alone, pretty interesting, because it indicates that the combination of upside and certainty in Davis, who has played so little pro ball, is actually considerably higher than for Suzuki, who has been a multi-year superstar in Japan. It’s a huge compliment to Davis, to be sure, but also a reminder that Suzuki’s path to success in the big leagues comes with about as much caution as you’d advise for a top 50 prospect.
That said, one odd thing to think about: does this mean that, if a free agent, Josh Jung or Brett Baty would sign for nearly $100 million? Back in the days of free-wheeling IFA, the tip-top-iest of prospects would sign for a total outlay in the $30 to $60 million range, and the trade talks with the Padres on Eric Hosmer at least hint at a prospect valuation in this range of something more like $40 to $50 million. So why did Suzuki get twice that much if he’s only a prospect of this caliber?
I don’t actually have a great answer for that at the ready, though I can think of the many plausible ones: (1) the Cubs are simply much higher on Suzuki than BA is; (2) the weirdness of thinking of Suzuki as a “prospect” also creates weirdness when trying to generate prospect “valuations”; (3) the value of top prospects is climbing rapidly; and/or (4) the fact that you *have* to guarantee Suzuki $80 to $100 million just to get him decreases his value as a prospect (lowers his floor considerably), because you can cut bait with other prospects for almost no cost at all if they don’t work out. It’s probably a mix of all of those things, and while I suspect the Cubs internally are thinking about Suzuki more like “a top 20 type prospect” (if they were using that kind of conception at all (which they probably aren’t)), this ranking from BA isn’t problematic.
Heck, maybe we just say that it’s fun, it’s pretty darn high, and it includes an implicit compliment for Brennen Davis. And we leave it there?