FAQ: The Diehard Top 50

The third annual Diehard Magazine countdown of the top 50 prospects in the Red Sox chain hits the halfway point this week, so we figured it was a good time to explain some of our thought process behind the rankings. Who's eligible? What do we value when compiling the list? Read on to find out!

What's the criteria for eligibility?
Players 27 and younger (as of Opening Day 2008) who retain Major League Baseball rookie eligibility (130 or fewer at-bats for position players, 50 innings or fewer for pitchers or 45 or fewer days on the active 25-man roster and have played at least one game for a Red Sox American-based minor league affiliate are eligible for the list.

Well, how did you come up with that?
Age 27 is generally considered to be an athlete's peak year. So if a player hasn't established himself in the majors by that point, his chances of emerging as a regular contributor dwindle dramatically.

Whether or not to consider players with major league experience a prospect is always a popular topic among those who cover the minor leagues. On one hand, even though Jacoby Ellsbury has 116 at-bats under his belt, he's pretty darn established after he enjoyed an outstanding September and emerged into stardom in October. But would it be fair to disqualify Clay Buchholz from consideration because he's thrown just 22 2/3 big league innings, or Brandon Moss because he's collected only 25 big league at-bats?

As for requiring a player to record at least one game on American soil: For one thing, it's easier to see the players and acquire data on them. We like to have something statistical-based, no matter how brief it is, when evaluating players. That's why the likes of Lars Anderson and Daniel Bard were not on last year's list, and why Will Middlebrooks, Austin Bailey and Michael Almanzar are not eligible for this year's rankings.

We also believe even a brief exposure to affiliated ball the summer after a player is drafted or signed better prepares him for the unforeseen and unpredictable challenges of the first year of pro ball. As it turns out, not playing last year didn't affect Anderson at all during his impressive debut season at Greenville. But seeing Jason Place perform in the GCL confirmed to the Sox they needed to overhaul his swing. We'll learn in a few years if those 113 at-bats at age 18 paid dividends down the road.

Whom do you favor? Pitchers or hitters?
Given that it's so difficult to develop pitching—and how valuable homegrown pitchers are in a market where Carlos Silva gets a four-year deal worth $48 million despite a 4.31 career ERA and a strikeout rate of 3.76 whiffs per nine innings over 945 career frames—we place more value on a pitcher who projects as a difference-maker at the big league level. That's why we had Buchholz no. 1 last year (pat, pat on our own back) when many others were tabbing Ellsbury as the top prospect in the chain.

We feel the same way about relievers: The explosion in the set-up market over the last few years—a market that seems to have begun to correct itself this winter—makes it imperative a team develop its own relievers. So we think the likes of Chris Province and Hunter Jones have plenty of value.

What do you value more: Experience or potential?
Everyone's on the hunt for the next big thing. We're as eager as anyone else to identify the next Buchholz or Ellsbury, and their potential was crystal clear a year ago, when Buchholz was still in Single-A and Ellsbury in Double-A. But we believe experience is a tiebreaker on the next tier of prospects and we believe there's plenty of room as well for a David Pauley or Jay Johnson.

A truly good farm system needs depth beyond the potential superstars. Pauley probably won't top a big league rotation and Johnson likely won't rack up 500 at-bats every season in the majors. But their experience gives them value and suggests they could eventually provide short-term stability to the Sox as a replacement in the big leagues. They could also prove valuable to the club in trade talks.

Experience is a big reason why we're much higher on Moss this year than most observers—and why we were more enthusiastic than many about David Murphy last year. A brief but impressive trial with the Rangers last year indicated Murphy's extensive minor league apprenticeship prepared him to be a solid big leaguer immediately. We think Moss would prove to be an asset as well if given regular playing time.

As the great Freddie Mercury sang: I want it all, I want it all, I want it all and I want it now. So why are you counting down one at a time instead of revealing the entire list at once?
We're hoping the gradual countdown piques your interest and inspires you to CLICK HERE and choose one of our premium subscription options. We think our countdown is a symbol of the type of unique and comprehensive farm system coverage you can't find anywhere else. We're all over the Sox, 12 months a year, and we have big things planned for the 2008 season. We invite you to give us a shot. You'll like what you see.

Plus, we grew up listening to Casey Kasem every Sunday night. Countdowns are in our blood. So keep your eyes on the screen and keep...your fingers on the mouse?

Diehard managing editor Jerry Beach can be reached at diehardmag@yahoo.com. To receive a free issue of Diehard, call 888-501-5752. And another friendly reminder: To subscribe to Diehard or diehardmagazine.com, please

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