I figured I’d ring in the new year with an always popular feature, a Q/A with the top prospect guru at Baseball Prospectus and longtime phuturephillies favorite Kevin Goldstein. KG recently unveiled his Phillies Top 11, and was kind enough to answer an extended set of questions I had on his list and on all things Phillies prospects. You know I’m not one to shamelessly plug sites here, but I’d recommend the Baseball Prospectus yearly subscription for Goldstein’s weekly features alone, but you also get good major league coverage, as well as access to the PECOTA projections, probably the most accurate baseball forecasts out there. Highly recommended. Before we get into the Q/A, check out Kevin’s list from last year here, as well as the Q/A he did for the site last year. Now that we’ve set it up, here is the latest buzz from Kevin…
phuturephillies. First off Kevin, thanks for doing this. Carlos Carrasco tops our list again this year, how would you assess his 2008 overall? Has he grown as a prospect, remained basically the same, regressed in any way? You list his ceiling as a #2/3, do you view him as a James Shields type of pitcher, who relies on his fastball and changeup, and can he achieve similar results?
Kevin Goldstein: I would basically say he held serve, making the base level improvements one would normally expect from a prospect in his position. I don’t hate the James Shields type of comparison too much – I think it might be a really good comp actually.
PP: Jason Donald is a guy who seems to elicit the phrase “good, butvnot great in all areas”, and many are saying his bat won’t play atvthird base in the big leagues, but is it possible that people arevselling him short? How would you feel about projecting him as av.360/.440 guy? Is that reasonable? How will he profile defensively atvthird base?
KG: Sure it’s possible that people are selling him short. No prospect ranker gets them all right. All we can really do is try to be a mirror and go with what people in the industry are telling us and combine that with our own experience as far as what those type of players turn into. When you say 360/440, I saw you as cutting his slugging significantly, but not his on-base, and I’m not sure that’s the right thing to do unless you have some specific reason to do so. Defensively he’d hold his own at third, although he doesn’t have the arm you normally expect there. I’m not down on Donald, I just don’t think I’m as high as you are on him. That said, the kind of guys who exceed expectations tend to be the kind of players who play the game like Jason Donald.
PP: I found it interesting that you ranked Travis D’Arnaud ahead of Lou Marson. Marson is 3 levels ahead of D’Arnaud and has an advanced approach at the plate. Does his lack of 20 HR power really diminish his prospect value that much? He’s displayed a solid approach through his minor league career (13% walk rate) and seems to have a decent line drive swing, and power seems to be the last tool to develop for catchers. Because he’s only 22, doesn’t Marson still have time to prove he can hit for at least average power for the position? And all that said, how do you compare these two to each other directly, and then to the better catching prospects in the minors?
KG: As you probably know, I had D’Arnaud ahead of Marson coming into the year, and based on what happened in 2008, as well as talking to scouts about it, I saw no reason to change it. I’d feel better about Marson’s power if scouts saw the potential for it, but it’s just not part of his game. He does so many other things to make up for it, but I think talking about power coming late for catchers is really just looking for an excuse – he’s never going to be a power guy, he’s going to be on on-base guy. I’m not sure D’Arnaud’s overall offensive package is going to be better than Marson’s, but I do think the defensive differences are significant.
PP: Michael Taylor put up video game numbers in 2008, though he was old for his level at both stops. Are scouts sold that he’s significantly distanced himself from the bad habits at Stanford and that his production is legit? His walk rate in 2008 was a tad below what you’d like to see from a guy who is going to strike out, but was it a case of pitchers just not giving him a lot to hit after he started to rake?
KG: Yeah, there’s a lot going on there. The Phillies just told him to swing the bat like he did in high school, and now you seen the results. In many ways he’s a weird guy as a product of a big time college program, but because of the new swing, he’s still kind of raw. I think it’s pretty darn legit. You certainly identified the plate discipline issue, and if that changes, look out. Double-A is going to tell us a ton about Taylor’s future, but I’m pretty optimistic.
PP: Talking toolsy outfielders, I was kind of surprised to see Dominic Brown rank only 7th. Reports on him seemed very favorable this year, especially the reports on him in Hawaii. His approach at the plate seems refined for his age, though as you mentioned he sometimes might be a bit too contact oriented. Is there any one thing that he needs to improve to take the next step, and could you make a decent comparison for him, something more realistic than the Darryl Strawberry comps that have been thrown around in the past.
KG: Reports are very favorable on Brown, but at the same time, if you think he should be higher than 7th, you need to also tell me who he should pass up. I think you could re-arrange my 4-7 guys (the two catchers, Donald and Brown) in any order and I doubt you’d get a huge argument from me. I think the Straw comparisons were always misunderstood. Many scouting reports require PHYSICAL comparisons, solely for the purpose of painting a picture of the player. PHYSICALLY, Brown is lefty, long, lean, wiry strong, and therefore the comps to Strawberry were made. I don’t think anyone was saying he had nearly the same tools on Strawberry, who truly had some of the best tools in my generation. I think the one thing Brown needs to work on in power, but that’s very hard to work on. Often that either comes or it doesn’t, but he does show signs of identifying drivable pitches at times.
PP: I was looking for some insight on Kyle Drabek, and how he’s changed both his mechanics and approach since high school. We haven’t seen much of him since being drafted, but all reports on his maturity seem to have improved, and there was some talk that his mechanics have been cleaned up. If he’s back to his high school velocity with improved mechanics, his stock has to be on the rapid ascent, correct?
KG: Absolutely. Because he’s smallish for a pitcher, the Phillies wanted to get more of his body into his delivery, so all of the torque wasn’t just on his arm. When you see him pitch now, you can still see him kind of thinking about each step in his mechanics, so it’s still a little herky-jerky and not as smooth as you’d like, but he really made big advancements in Hawaii and it’s given him a much most consistent release point, leading to better command. I spent some time with his father, Doug Drabek, in Las Vegas last month and he said that Kyle really has taken well to it and likes what he’s getting out of it. I agree with you that he could be poised for takeoff.
PP: Speaking of mechanics, I was hoping you could shed some light on Jason Knapp, another hard throwing righty. From the very brief scouting bureau video available from MLB last spring, it appeared he was landing on a stiff front leg, and scouts had expressed concern over his mechanics as a whole. Have the Phillies been able to smooth them and clean up his delivery? There was a report that he suffered a minor arm injury at the end of the season and was shut down. Is this a long term concern or just the Phillies being extra cautious?
KG: It was just cautionary. Normally, with a high pick like Knapp, you just let him play the summer he signs and get used to the pro lifestyle before you start messing around with the way he does things. I think you definitely read the video correctly, but if you focus on nothing but the arm, you’ll notice that the action itself is very clean, it’s all the stuff around it that’s messy. The trick is to smooth out the beginning and the end while keeping the middle, as he’s an outstanding raw arm.
PP: Anthony Hewitt stirred up quite a bit of chatter around the draft, and some folks (myself included) wanted the Phillies to go in another direction, to put it kindly. We know that Hewitt would be a stud if we
were putting together a decathlon team, but has he shown anything since being drafted to indicate he will be able to hit professional pitching? If he can’t hit, does he have any hope on the mound?
KG: To be honest, I’ve never seen anything on him as a pitcher. Obviously, it’s a cannon for an arm, but I have no idea what his potential would be on the mound. He’s basically a lottery ticket with more upside than anyone in the system, but maybe less of a chance to reach it than anyone.
PP: A few quick hits on 2008 draftees; Anthony Gose was drafted as an outfielder, had a poor GCL debut at the plate, and then missed the rest of the campaign with a back issue. How committed are the Phillies to keeping him in the field? Also, the Phillies busted slot on Colby Shreve, who needed Tommy John surgery, and also on Jarred Cosart, an intriguing 2 way guy. Pre-injury, how high were you on Shreve, and do you have any insight on Cosart and if the Phillies plan to use him as a pitcher or an outfielder?
KG: As far as Gose goes, it’s my understanding that they are totally committed to him as an outfielder, as his tools are truly outstanding. Before Shreve’s elbow went pop, he was the best JUCO arm in the country, showing two plus pitches in a 92-95 mph fastball and sharp slider. I really like that signing, as it gives the team the ability to conduct his rehab, as opposed to a college program whose focus is on winning now. Cosart wasn’t worth $550K as a hitter. He’s a fine one, but he’s a much better pitching prospect as a big projectable arm that got up to 96 mph.
PP: Edgar Garcia has made the rapid rise to AA at the age of only 20. He’s shown very good control at every level, but hasn’t really missed as many bats as you’d like to see. He’s obviously still very young, but what do you see from him? His stuff was originally billed as a 92-93 mph fastball with a plus changeup and not much of a breaking ball. What is the current status of his stuff, and is he more of a reliever going forward or does he still have a chance as a mid-back of the rotation starter?
KG: I’m not very high on him at all, and that might admittedly be biased by what happened at Double-A and what scouts said about it – which was awful. Even still, his Clearwater reviews were just so-so. The fastball is good – but not great or anything, and he throws strikes with it, but his breaking balls are flat and his changeup didn’t get especially good ratings from those I talked to. I wouldn’t put a starter grade on him right now, but like you say, youth is on his side, so it’s not like anyone should give up on him either.
PP: You listed Julian Sampson as your sleeper prospect. His debut seemed to be a mixed bag, but the overriding theme seemed to be a lack of strikeouts despite what appears to be a power arsenal. Is it a case
of him trying to learn a new pitch, just not having refined command, or something else? What do you expect from him in 2009?
KG: All of the above? Command is a lot of it, as is the need for a deeper arsenal. His fastball is outstanding, in terms of both velocity and movement, but he needs to find something to get hitters guessing as well in order to miss more bats. Despite the numbers, scouts really do like him.
PP: I’ve been a big Joe Savery supporter, much to the dismay of some of my readers, but it seems like scouts are starting to turn on him as well. He showed flashes over the summer, and posted a 3.50 ERA over his last 10 starts, which included a nightmare 1 IP, 8 ER meltdown, but was largely inconsistent in 2008. Is he still not recovered, whether physically or mentally, from his college injuries? Has his stuff just dropped off and never recovered? What are scouts seeing here? And finally, at what point do the Phillies consider turning him into a position player full time, after his brief DH cameo this season?
KG: I think I might have be as surprised as you about that fact that he didn’t make to top 11. I kept looking at it and trying to find something in my notes to say he should be on the list, but he really did fall short. His stuff was really marginal all year. He rarely even touched 90 with his fastball, and there’s significant fear that we’ll never see the stuff we saw at Rice. That said, it was his first full year, so we are probably well off a position switch even being considered at this point.
PP: The Phillies were more aggressive in terms of their draft spending in 2008, going over slot to land the likes of Shreve, Jon Pettibone, Trevor May, and Jarred Cosart, but with Mike Arbuckle and Pat Gillick departing, do we have any idea as to how the Phillies will approach the 2009 draft? They’ve punted their first round pick with the Ibanez signing and received no compensation picks. Would you say 2008 represents a step in a new direction or a 1 year aberration?
KG: I’d say it represents nothing of value to us on an information level, because like you say, we’ll have some new names making the calls. We’ll need two or three drafts from this new group to get a good hold of their philosophies.
PP: There has been significant turnover from last year’s top 11 to this year’s; Savery, Cardenas, Outman, Carpenter and Mattair off the list, with Taylor, Happ, Collier, Knapp, and Hewitt entering the list. How much stronger would you say the Phillies system has gotten over the last year, and just numberwise, where would Cardenas and Outman have ranked in the 2009 list if they hadn’t been traded?
KG: I’d say it’s about equal to what it was last year. They had a lot of players step forward, but like you said, they had trades and a couple of backsteps. As far as Outman and Cardenas go, I haven’t done my Oakalnd list, so I don’t have all of the information I need, but my gut tells me that both would be in the top six, if not a bit higher.
PP: One final question for you. The Phillies and Rangers engaged in a challenge trade of sorts, sending Greg Golson to Texas for John Mayberry Jr. How do you feel about this trade from the Phillies perspective? Is Mayberry an everyday corner outfielder in the majors, a platoon guy capable of bashing lefties, or nothing more than a 4A filler type?
KG: It’s a classic challenge trade. Here’s a talented guy that annoys me for a talented guy that annoys you. I think they’re about equal as prospects, with Golson possessing the higher ceiling and Mayberry having significantly more certainty. I think you’ve identified his best bet as a platoon guy who can play first base and both corners.
Huge thanks to Kevin as always.