I recently got a chance to talk Phillies prospects with Keith Law, and he was kind enough to answer some questions for the blog here. For those who don’t know him, Keith is currently the Director of Baseball Scouting for ESPN Scouts, Inc. Prior to his work for ESPN, he served as Special Assistant to the GM for the Toronto Blue Jays, and before Toronto, he wrote for Baseball Prospectus. Keith knows his way around the scouting circle, and he offered his no nonsense opinions on some of the Phillies best prospects as well as the organization as a whole. Thanks again Keith for taking the time, we appreciate it. Check below the fold for all the action
1. If you had to put the Phillies into the Top 3rd, Middle 3rd, or Bottom 3rd in terms of farm systems, right now, where would they rank? Do you see them trending upward, downward, or kind of in a holding pattern?
Bottom third, pretty solidly, and holding. I wasn’t wowed by their draft this year, and there wasn’t much talent in the system to start the year, with the situation made much worse by the injury to Kyle Drabek. It’s not that he’s no longer a prospect per se, but the delay in his development and the 15% or so chance that he doesn’t regain his stuff mean a significant reduction in the value of that asset. Their best prospect is Carlos Carrasco, who’d be #2 or #3 in a lot of farm systems, and behind him it’s a huge dropoff depending on how much faith you have in Savery.
I’d probably go Carrasco, Savery, Drabek, Outman, d’Arnaud as their top five prospects.
2. As someone who worked in a Major League Front Office, can you briefly talk about the discussions that take place leading up to selecting a player? The Phillies took Brandon Workman, knowing he’d require over slot, then they didn’t sign him. Is this type of thing common? At the end of the day, the GM has the final say, correct? How much influence does each person down the chain of command have?
I can only speak to the process in Toronto, and I know that each team has its own process.
We would get together as a scouting staff – first just the national guys, the scouting director (Jon Lalonde), his boss (Tony Lacava), and myself; then the entire staff – and pref all the players on whom we had reports. So we’d rank the top 100 or so guys, and then would create lists by position for the rest of the country. As a smaller group we’d rank everyone that someone in the room had seen, and then we’d bring the area guys in to rank everyone else, also making adjustments to the top-five-rounds section if warranted but mostly dealing with the positional lists and moving guys on and off of separate lists like the “unsignables” section. (Under the previous scouting director we had a term for those guys – USW, or “unsignable for worth,” which has always stuck with me, but it may not be standard.)
Anyway, I bring those USW guys up because that was the only type of player who wasn’t ranked in pref order due to his bonus demands. Players who wanted over-slot bonuses but were good enough to warrant them were pref’d in the proper order. In other words, we deferred those discussions until after we’d ranked the players on ability. Then Ricciardi would come into the discussion room and Tony and Jon would walk him through the board, highlighting players we really liked, players who might cost extra, and letting Ricciardi move players he’d seen himself.
That covers the first 8-10 rounds of the draft, so I’m guessing with Workman, it was a calculated gamble that he’d sign for slot or close enough to it that they had him pref’d where they took him. With a guy like Julian Sampson, on the other hand, in the Toronto draft room that pick would have come about something like this: We’d have him pref’d, but by the time he was the next guy on our list, it was too late in the draft to take and sign him, so he’d be moved to the USW pile. By the 12th round, though, the Phillies must have decided they were open to taking a signability guy who fell. Whether Gillick himself had to sign off on the selection depends on their process, but he or the club president would have to agree to the signing bonus because it was over the recommended figure for that round, and one of them would have fielded the admonishing phone call from Frank Coonelly.
I think I failed the “briefly” part of that question.
3. Do you feel that teams like the Phillies are doing themselves a disservice by not taking elite talent simply based on the desire to not pay over slot and anger the Commissioner? Is it simply a budgetary problem? Do teams have self imposed hard caps allotted to the draft that would require trimming money from the Major League roster?
I think teams with the resources to do so should take the best players on the board as long as the signing bonus meets some objective measure of worth that they use to evaluate such decisions. The Commissioner’s Office is actually doing a good thing for the member teams by trying to prevent a negative externality, where a team overpays for a player and raises the cost for other teams to sign similar players – but if you’re a team with a lot of resources, don’t you want to make it more expensive for your less-fortunate competitors? And at the end of the day, don’t you want to acquire the best players possible?
To put it another way, if I was a GM, my first responsibility would be to my employer, not to MLB, and unless my boss told me to toe the MLB line, I’d focus on getting the best players possible.
4. What are your thoughts on Carlos Carrasco and Adrian Cardenas, our two top prospects? Both seem to be doing well, age and level considered. The front office has already expressed concerns about Cardenas not having a true position. With Carrasco having some control issues at AA, what do you see as his ETA at this point?
I thought Carrasco’s promotion to AA was unwarranted, and it fits with a pet theory I’ve long had that organizations with few good prospects get so excited when they find one that they rush him. (Cf. McCutchen, Andrew.) Carrasco is a live arm, and he’s got easy velocity, working in the low 90s, touching 95, commanding it OK, but everything else is a ways off. His secondary stuff isn’t that strong – his changeup is below-average, and he doesn’t sell it well with his arm speed – and his approach is not advanced. I can project three average or better pitches from him, but he’s not there right now, and the Phils need to slow things down with him to give him a chance to develop on his own schedule, not on their schedule.
Cardenas does some things I like at the plate, but I agree with that assessment about his position. He’s fringy at best at second, he can’t play short, and you don’t put a guy with that arm at third. So where does he go? I think you have to leave him at second for now and see if he can improve to the point where he can stay there, because other than possibly centerfield, I don’t see a position for him. It really limits his value, both to the Phillies and as a tradable asset.
5. The Joe Savery pick has drawn reactions on both sides, positive and negative. Is the potential upside/value enough to call this a great pick in this spot when it was obvious they wouldn’t take a guy like Porcello? How fast do you see Savery moving?
I didn’t mind the Savery pick from a general point of view. He was a clear top-10 guy right after his freshman year, but that summer with Team USA, his stuff was already down, and it hasn’t really come back, with labrum surgery in between then and now (June of 2006). Now, the idea of getting a top-10 talent after the tenth pick is a great idea when you’re comfortable with the reason he fell; that’s how the Yankees ended up with Joba Chamberlain, who didn’t get top-10 money but got more than slot. It’s an upside play, and I think when the upside is top-10 talent, you do it.
But I’m not sold on Savery ever becoming that top 10 guy again. I will not write him off until I see what he looks like in the spring, after a full offseason on the Phillies’ conditioning program, so I think there’s still reason to hope. But if Savery is an average-fastball (maybe a 55, one grade above average) guy with a somewhat restricted arm action, which is what he was this year, then he’s a back-of-the-rotation starter and not a good pick at 20. I figure he’ll start the year in Clearwater, and he should do well there even with his current stuff, but guys with that kind of repertoire don’t rip through AA.
So I liked the fact that Wolever et al were willing to think out of the box; I’m just not sure they got the right guy in this particular instance. It bodes well for future drafts, though.
6. Josh Outman is a phuturephilles favorite. Thoughts on him as a prospect? His brief AA numbers aren’t pretty, but he pitched very well in Clearwater and lowered his walk rate in every month after April. How do you see things shaking out for him?
Outman has some arm strength, but otherwise he’s pretty raw. His secondary stuff is inconsistent and his control is below-average. (I’d be careful with monthly splits. They’re small sample sizes, but they’re also very subject to park and competition effects. Nothing like a month where you face the Connecticut Defenders’ lineup three times to make it look like you’ve turned the corner.) Outman’s the sort of guy you love to have in the organization because he’s left-handed, has a good arm, and if everything clicks he’s a mid-rotation starter, but you’d like to have a couple of higher-probability guys ahead of him
7. Another guy who has certainly raised his stock this year is Jason Donald. He tore the cover off the ball at Lakewood and has been even better at Clearwater. The power aspect is probably the most surprising development, and he’s showing decent plate discipline as well. The book on his was “average tools across the board except his plus arm”….is that still the case or are scouts warming up to him a bit? Any chance he can possibly be shifted to 3B next season?
As a rule, I ignore anything that a player who went to a four-year college does at low-A ball. Not only is such a player old for that level, if he played in a major conference (as Donald did) then he’s faced a lot of better competition than the organization players he’ll see in low-A. It’s more true for hitters than for pitchers, but either way, low-A stats for 21-year-old players tell us nothing – well, unless the stats suck, in which case, they tell us everything.
I saw Donald on the Cape in 2005 and haven’t seen him since; I saw him as a capable defensive shortstop with a chance to be plus at the position who would hit for some average but who would be a reach as an everyday player in the big leagues. If the power surge is real – I’d be surprised, as he’s not a big guy and doesn’t have a power-oriented swing – then he’s an everyday player at short, although I still wouldn’t see the bat as playable at third. But I’d like to see him show that power at AA, given his age and college experience, before I buy into it.
8. What can you tell us about Travis d’Arnaud? Will he hit enough to be a quality every day catcher, or is he more of a tweener/backup?
He’s an everyday catcher – he can catch and throw, he’s got a simple swing, he uses the whole field, and he has a chance to be a 20-homer guy as he fills out. I thought he was a mild bargain where they got him in the draft. My one concern on him was his pitch selection, since my best look at him was in the Area Codes, a showcase event where hitters often aren’t that selective because the game results don’t matter. That’s definitely something that can be taught, and I like his chances to make adjustments because his swing is uncomplicated.
9. Who will have the better career in the majors, Greg Golson or Mike Costanzo? Golson is still young and has shown flashes, but seems to have strikezone issues, while Costanzo has been inconsistent and struggles against lefties. Thoughts on the future for both guys?
I don’t see either as much of a big leaguer; Costanzo probably makes it but doesn’t stick, while Golson in all likelihood doesn’t make it at all. Costanzo’s a classic minor league slugger – big, complex swing, lousy weight transfer, just looking for fastballs and hanging breaking pitches he can crush. He’s pretty rough at third base as well – doesn’t look like he could play there in the majors, although defense is one thing that can really improve through instruction – and you’re looking at Klesko/Giambi defense if you put him in left.
Golson’s got great tools, but has no baseball instincts at all. There’s no physical reason why he shouldn’t be a good player, but he doesn’t do anything well – his swing is very long, his hands are a mess, he can’t adjust to breaking balls at all, and he gets bad reads in the outfield. The things that a ballplayer does on ability, like running and throwing, he does well, and he does have quick wrists, which is something you see in a lot of great hitters (Gary Sheffield being the obvious example). But until at the very least he learns to tell a fastball from an offspeed pitch, he’s not going to hit.
10 Any sleeper prospects in the Phillies system you’ve had a chance to see or have gotten good reports on?
Haven’t seen Lou Marson myself, but it sounds like he’s got a chance to be a big-league regular who can catch, hit a little, and definitely get on base. At worst, he’s a backup, and those guys have a lot of value given the paucity of catching today. And I haven’t given up on Brad Harman – I’ve always felt that we give too much credit to Australian prospects, thinking they’re more advanced than Latin American prospects because they speak English, but the caliber of Australian amateur baseball is very low, so their learning curve is quite steep. Harman’s struggles aren’t that surprising if you consider him as an inexperienced 21-year-old.
Thanks again Keith.
Update > If you have a question about something above, or something else, post it in the comments. Keith may check in on this and be able to answer it, if not I might be able to get an answer at some point over the next few weeks.