Dan Runzler: Top Prospect?

I’ve got a rabbit season/duck season thing going in my head when the World Series ends. Prospect ranking season! Rosterbation season! Prospect ranking season! And then the prospect sites go alphabetically…and then they do the American League first…and they all spell out Saint Louis like a bunch of lawyers, so the Giants are always the 29th team covered. By the time the Giants’ list usually comes out, I’m half-blind from the rosterbation and helplessly floating six-team trade ideas that involve non-roster invitees and mascots. But at least the publishing delay usually allowed me to rank my top 30 prospects without a whole lot of outside influence. Because there’s nothing worse than having knowledgeable people and publications influence your half-baked opinions. Nothing.

Baseball America buttonhooked me, though, by reversing the order for their top-10 schedule this year and putting the Giants list up early. I had a top-30 list made, but it was a real rough mockup, and it is certainly subject to influence. Every year, there’s a ranking that surprises me. There’s always a Jackson Williams or a David Maroul slipped in the top-30, and their inclusion always makes me doubt my rankings and omissions. This year, there’s a huge surprise right there in the top-10: Dan Runzler.

I’m not surprised he slipped in the top-10, really. He gave up a half of an earned run across seventeen different levels, or so. The number five prospect, though? In the entire system? I had him as the fifteenth-best prospect when I did my preliminary list. I started second-guessing myself after receiving this "informed opinion" of "someone who has spent a lot more time researching this crap than I have." In an e-mail conversation with Andrew Baggarly – the author of the BA list, in case you’re new to this internet thing – he mentioned that:

The one guy everyone kept telling me to move up was Runzler. I had him fifth and they were still telling me he's too low. One very respected coach even told me to put Runzler above MadBum. I couldn't quite go that far.

My mind was blown. Runzler sure played the part of a top reliever when he made the majors: his fastball was fast and his curveball sure curved real purty-like. But a middle reliever’s ceiling can’t be that high, right?

I split the difference and moved Runzler up to #9 in my now-tainted rankings. I’m almost certain that I’m too biased against middle relievers. A few years ago, I ranked Brian Wilson as the #9 prospect, invoking the "he’s just a middle reliever" defense. But Wilson he’s meant more to the success of the Giants than anyone else on the list above him other than that shaggy-haired guy with all of the trophies. When a guy throws in the mid-90s and complements that with a nasty breaking ball, he has a good chance to pitch some meaningful, high-leverage innings.

So what’s the secret sauce? How high should relievers be ranked? If a guy has a fantastic power arm, should I really ding him because he only might be Arthur Rhodes, which in his prime was a pretty fantastic thing for a team to have? Obviously a starter of comparable stuff is more valuable, but what of a starter with a ceiling as a #3 or #4 guy in a rotation? Should that pitcher be higher than a potential shutdown reliever? Should I cram a few more questions into this closing paragraph?

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