Ranking the top prospects (26-50)
Three recently traded hurlers sit just outside the top 25
Welcome to ESPN Insider's 2012 ranking of the top 100 prospects in baseball.
This is the fifth year I have done these rankings for Insider, and for the first time, we have a repeater at No. 1 (and, as it turns out, at No. 2). There were still a number of high-profile graduations from last year's list, starting with Eric Hosmer at No. 5 and Dustin Ackley at No. 7, and a trade that saw last year's No. 4 and 21 prospects, Jesus Montero and Michael Pineda, respectively, exchanged for each other earlier this offseason. This year's list benefits from a major infusion of high-end talent from the 2011 Rule 4 draft, one of the strongest draft classes in years.
• The rankings are limited to players who still have rookie eligibility; that means they have yet to exceed 130 at-bats or 50 innings pitched in the majors and have not yet spent 45 days on the active roster of a major league club, excluding call-ups during the roster expansion period after Sept. 1.
• Only players who have signed professional contracts are eligible.
• I do not consider players with experience in Nippon Professional Baseball "prospects" for the purposes of this exercise, which means no Yu Darvish.
• When ranking players, I consider scouting reports on players -- usually my own, supplementing with conversations with other scouts and front-office executives as needed -- as well as performance, adjusted for age and context. I've made one adjustment in my ranking philosophy in recent years, favoring higher-upside prospects over lower-ceiling prospects who are closer to the majors. This better reflects how these players are valued now by front offices and scouting departments, and gives me a chance to deliver more information on prospects whose names or scouting reports might be new to you.
• I use the 20-80 grading scale in these comments to avoid saying "average" and "above average" thousands of times across the 100 player comments. On that scale, a grade of 50 equals major league average, 55 is above average, 60 is plus, 45 is fringy or below average and so on. Mike Stanton has 80 raw power. Bengie Molina has 20 speed. An average fastball for a right-hander is 90-92 mph, with 1-2 mph off for a lefty.
• I've included last year's rank for players who appeared in the top 100 last offseason. An "ineligible" player (IE) was still an amateur at this time last January, whereas an "unranked" player (UR) was eligible but didn't make the cut. I've also tagged players who were on last year's sleepers list or list of 10 players who just missed the cut.
To get the complete top 100, featuring Keith Law's in-depth scouting reports, you must be an ESPN Insider.
TOP MLB PROSPECTS 2012
ESPN Insider's Keith Law tracks the game's best prospects throughout the 2012 major league season.