John Sickels’ career in baseball began years ago when he started working for that Bill James guy. James has gone on to become a pretty influential person, someone who may be elected into the Hall of Fame in the future. Sickels, on the other hand, began writing about those fickle things known as Major League Baseball prospects. And with the fifth publication, he has delivered another knockout with The Baseball Prospect Book 2007.

Sickels, as has been his custom, covers over one thousand players, giving each an in-depth paragraph that tells readers what the scouts and what the statistics say. He finishes off each report by grading every player, which is an attempt to project what the prospect will do at the Major League level, ranging from the superstars (A’s) to the role players (C’s). There is no other way to say this, but Sickels does remarkable work considering the sheer number of players described.

When looking at statistics, Sickels’ thought process is rather straightforward. He compares the statistics a player puts up at his level to those around him. A truly great prospect would dominate the league he’s in, unless he’s younger than those around him (which Sickels takes into account). Utilizing the scouting perspective, Sickels takes what he calls the Seven Skills set -- controlling the strike zone, hitting for power, hitting for average, offensive speed, fielding range, fielding reliability, and throwing utility -- rather than the normal Five Tools -- hitting for power, hitting for average, speed, arm strength, and fielding ability -- that scouts use. A talented player will take the tools they’ve been given and translate that into skills, which is a measure of their work ethic and make up.

Pitchers are a little bit more challenging to predict. There are three statistics that Sickels uses, however. The first is strikeout to walk ratio, which measures control. Another is strikeouts per inning pitched, a gauge of the quality of a pitcher’s “stuff.” Hits per inning pitched is the final test, and this tells us how well hitters make contact against a pitcher.

Along with the numerous paragraphs detailed to every minor leaguer worth discussing, there is a top 50 pitchers list and a top 50 position players list. It may not seem challenging, but trying to rank 50 different guys with 50 different repertoires at different levels is difficult. However, Sickels does a very good job separating the cream of the crop from the very good from the mere good.

Unlike some other publications, Sickels also holds himself accountable for what he says. Every year, he reprints his top 50 lists, eating crow where necessary. While some can’t-miss guys flame out, injuries really stunt the development of guys who should have taken huge steps forward. However, he correctly projected guys like Josh Willingham and Chuck James for their potential, which they both showed at the major league level last season.

For the casual baseball fan looking for something to read, I give this book 3 balls out of four. You’ll probably find yourself reading a capsule about one player, flipping a few pages, and then reading another paragraph about another player. It is a wonderful way to spend 30 minutes without even realizing it. For fans who are dedicated to prospects, who want to know how their favorite team’s future looks, or who play in fantasy keeper leagues, this is a definite must buy, four out of four balls.

Our Rating System is based on a four ball system as follows:
One Ball: Average. It has something to say but is nothing special.
Two Balls: Something men usually have - also means its a cut above average, and worth reading/owning.
Three balls: Stands out from its peers and is highly recommended.
Four Balls: More than just what two men have when hanging out together, it means it is an exceptional book that truly earns a walk - straight to the local book store to get a copy.