One of the most enjoyable bits of winter for a baseball fan is the annual release of Keith Law's Top 100 Prospects list (and all the various parlay columns that come with it). The list is detailed, thorough, well-thought out and entertaining to read. It's also vastly informative to the 99% of us baseball fans who don't keep obsessive watch on who's doing what against LHPs at Kane County, but who like to know who to watch for (as well as draft for the farm systems of our fantasy baseball keeper leagues). Throw in those side columns - ten who just missed, each team's breakout candidate prospects, rundowns on each team's system (if what the Phillies have can be described in any way as being "systemic") and it's a giant pile of interesting-to-read information.
And at the heart of it, a list.
It is not a definitive list, nor does it claim to be. Law goes into some detail about his process for creating and ordering the list - the criteria he uses, the weights he gives them, and so on - but noplace have I read a declaration from him that this list is infallible, that it's the be-all and end-all of prospect lists, or that it is anything more than a snapshot of potential, taken at a particular moment in time.
It is not a surefire guide to predicting success. Nor is it a competition; the prospects don't fight to the death to get on the list, nor do teams get awarded extra wins or cash or valuable prizes and Rice-a-Roni boxes for having more prospects on the list. Nothing is won by the list. Nothing is lost by it. It has precisely zero bearing to what happens on the field.
Yet people still go absolutely ballistic about it. Not rank their favorite team's prospects high enough, and Law's clearly in the bag for another team (usually the Yankees and/or the Red Sox). By where he places the various prospects, he is clearly biased against all 30 teams and at least a dozen of the more prominent minor league affiliates. There's geshrying about not having enough players from one's favorite team on the list. Or about them not being ranked high enough. Or about a team that a guy doesn't like having too many. Or about other guys being ranked ahead of a prospect a particular guy likes. The combinations are infinite. So's the screeching.
And what is it over? A list. A list that wins no games, nor loses any. A list that does not change the prospects of the young men listed on it; they can't Highlander their way up to single digits by chopping off the heads of higher rated prospects and absorbing both their powers and their pitch selection. Soon enough, the actual games will begin, and the list won't matter as anything more than a rough guide for guys looking to fill that last bench slot in a dynasty league, but it doesn't matter. The angry ones, they need to have won everything or the universe (and Keith Law) has been biased against them.
But you know something? Games will be played. Players will get promoted, or will fall off the edge of the world. Some of the guys on the list will become stars. Some will work themselves out of the game. In twelve months, based on new data, Law will do it all over again.
And so will the guys doing all the screaming.