In what has become one of my favorite yearly traditions, Kevin Goldstein was kind enough to donate some of his time to answer questions about Phillies prospects and his newly released Top 11 (well, really, top 21) prospects list, which you can view here at Baseball Prospectus. Kevin’s coverage of the minors is second to none, and his accessibility and willingness to interact, especially via twitter, makes him a real asset to the prospecting community. You can follow him here. Thanks again to Kevin for taking the time. Check below the fold for the full Q/A
phuturephillies: Lets start with an easy question. How would you rate the Phillies farm system now compared to this time last season?
Kevin Goldstein: Well, I had them 24th last year, and they are significantly higher than that on this year’s org rankings, which will be out later in the week. It’s a very difficult system to assess, as it has the potential to be a monster, and a potential to be a nightmare. After Brown and the two relievers, we’re talking about a Top 11 that is nothing buy guys who played in Low A and/or short-season leagues in 2010. There’s a ton of upside here, but obviously a ton of risk as well.
phuturephillies: The package in the Cliff Lee deal has been scrutinized beyond belief (and its justified, to a degree), but which guy of the 3 do you think has the biggest chance to take a leap forward in 2011?
Kevin Goldstein: I think on a pure talent level, you have to go with Aumont, and he could get back on track quickly as a reliever. Ramirez also profiles as a reliever for me, just because he can’t find a deep enough arsenal to start. Gillies is obviously in some tall weeds with his bad performance and off-the-field issues.
phuturephillies: I’ve seen divergent scouting reports on your sleeper, Julio Rodriguez, with some reports indicating his fastball sitting in the 90-93 range, and others saying 87-90. Where do you see him settling in velocity wise, and does he look more like a swingman/multi inning reliever or a starter?
Kevin Goldstein: They’re both right, and I think that’s important to note. His velo definitely fluctuates, so it might not be unfair to say his fastball is 88-92. I might be more optimistic on him that you. I think he has a real chance to become a decent little 4-5 starter.
phuturephillies: You ranked Jarred Cosart a 3 star guy this year, an increase from his out of the top 10 ranking at this time last year. If he had no health issues, is he a clear 5 star prospect? Are there are any particular red flags in his delivery, or should we view his health worries as just a young arm trying to adjust to the pro game?
Kevin Goldstein: No, I don’t think he’d be five stars. First of all, it’s a dangerous extrapolation. If he had no health issues, he would have pitched twice as many innings last year and a full year in ’09, and would he have been as good for that long? We just don’t know that. In addition, while the fastball is potentially downright special, it’s also his only current plus pitch. There are no obvious issues with his delivery. You don’t watch him and think he’s an injury waiting to happen or anything. I’m still quite high on him, but he definitely needs to develop the rest of his arsenal before he moves into five-star territory.
phuturephillies: Your report on Jesse Biddle is quite promising, noting his huge frame and present velocity, as well as a feel for a big curveball. Do you think he has any more velocity in his frame, or is he just about maxed out now in terms of projection?
Kevin Goldstein: Well, he also might have less, and that has to be put out there. I could probably reel off a couple hundred guys who never again threw as hard as they did in high school. It definitely happens. That said, I’m a big Biddle fan, he was downright glowing in instructs and I think he’s a great breakout candidate pick.
phuturephillies: A personal favorite of mine, who didn’t crack your top 20, is 2B Cesar Hernandez. He’s been sort of slow to develop, but had a nice season in the NYPL, showing excellent contact skills and above average speed. Is his total lack of power that big of a red flag for scouts at this point?
Kevin Goldstein: Hernandez just missed my 20, along with Gillies, Rizzotti, Rupp, Eldemire and Shreve. You nailed what he is. He puts the bat on the ball, has some idea of the strike zone, runs well, and is a good second baseman. That’s certainly a nice combination of abilities, but the upside is questionable.
phuturephillies: You seem optimistic on Jiwan James, while I’ve read pessimistic reports on him in other places. Do scouts see him starting to translate his tools to actual baseball skills, especially at the plate?
Kevin Goldstein: I’d argue that considering his background, what we saw last year at Lakewood was pretty impressive. Yes, he definitely needs to improve his approach, no question, but he’s potentially outstanding defensively, and there are certainly tools to provide a big offensive ceiling. I understand the pessimism, as there’s a lot of bust potential, but you can’t ignore the ceiling.
phuturephillies: Could you go into a bit of detail on Sebastian Valle’s defensive progress? A few years ago, it seemed that he was an iffy bet to stick behind the plate, but it seems he’s made a lot of progress there, especially in throwing out base runners. Are scouts optimistic about the progress he’s making, especially considering he is still very young?
Kevin Goldstein: There is optimism, as long as it’s clear that we’re just talking about the fact that he can remain a catcher. He’s never going to be confused with Pudge or a Molina brother back there, but he should be able to at least play the position competently. He’s another guy who needs a lot of work on the approach, so the power can really shine.
phuturephillies: Did you get anything from scouts on 2010 draftees Brian Pointer, Jonathan Musser or Kevin Walter? Walter in particular is a guy I’ve taken a liking to, as he seemed polished for a high school pitcher, and he has a big power pitcher’s frame, even if the velocity isn’t there yet.
Kevin Goldstein: I’m totally with you on Walter, and so are scouts. He’s the kind of guy where you watch him and start to dream on what he can do with professional instruction. Obviously that doesn’t always equal a step forward, but he’s the kind of guy where it at least can. For the other two, I prefer Pointer who is a little small, but very athletic.
phuturephillies: Two draftees who didn’t really get off on the right foot, Bryan Morgado and Gauntlett Eldemire, both showed flashes of excellent tools in their college careers. Do you have strong feelings either way about either guy going forward?
Kevin Goldstein: I’m a big Eldemire fan, and almost made him my sleeper. He was playing hurt during the second part of the college season, and they might have hurt him during his debut. I’m interested in seeing what the healthy, well-rested version can do.
phuturephillies: Is there any hope left for 2008 first round pick Zach Collier, who missed last season with a hand injury?
Kevin Goldstein: Obviously, there is SOME, but like all high-ceiling/very raw guys, he needs to play in order to develop. He’s now entering his fourth year as a pro and he has 600-something plate appearances when you would hope he’d have double that. He’s obviously still crazy young, but he’s definitely behind.
phuturephillies: If you could pick one guy who didn’t make your list of 21 to make the biggest jump for next year’s list, who would it be?
Kevin Goldstein: Eldemire, but I like your Walter pick.
Thanks again Kevin!