As many of you frequent readers know, Kevin Goldstein, prospect guru at Baseball Prospectus, has always been extremely generous to this site, contributing lots of insight whenever I’ve asked, and I was fortunate enough to crank out another lengthy set of questions, to which he replied with excellent (per usual) responses. You’ll find his answers below the fold.
phuturephillies: I guess I have to start with the hottest topic in the Phillies prospect circle; Michael Taylor. His breakout last year was viewed with skepticism, scouts said they wanted to see him do it at AA this year. He has a .351/.411/.600 line in 265 AB’s at AA. What are scouts saying at this point? Do they see just a good player or a star? If scouts are still skeptical, what are the issues the are seeing? Is it his swing? His plate discipline?
Kevin Goldstein: He is still kind of weird. It’s hard to find any non-believers at this point, but there are still some varied scouting reports on him as there are those that like him, and those that really like him. He is a bit weird, almost in a Kyle Blanks kind of way, where it’s this massive human being with an intensely contact-oriented approach. He doesn’t really take a big hack and mash balls, hit hits home runs because he’s so strong and hits the ball so hard. It’s hard to know what to make of those guys. I’m certainly sold on him as at least a quality regular, and possibly more.
PP: I’d like to also ask about one of our other major breakout guys in Kyle Drabek. You were bullish on him back in January when we did a Q/A, and he’s been a monster this year, both at Clearwater and now at AA Reading. Are the scouts supporting the positive numbers with positive reviews?
KG: Yes they are. I wrote about him in today’s piece over at BP with scout quotes. Low 90s heat, often up to 95-96, curveball is a real hammer and his delivery is just so much smoother, it’s rare to see a guy get re-done like that mechanically and maintain his stuff. The size is still a minor concern and I’m not sure if he’s a starter or reliever in the end, but I’m pretty sure it’s going to be good either way.
PP: I also wanted to re-visit a note from our January Q/A, where you were more bullish on Travis D’Arnaud than Lou Marson. Both got off to slow starts, though Marson has started to come around a little bit in AAA. Where do you stand on these two guys right now. Has anything changed on either?
KG: You know, Travis is starting to come around a bit too of late, going 16-for-45 (.356) in his last 12 games. I think one has to be a bit down on both no matter how you look at it, but Marson was always a guy I saw as a bit underrated. D’Arnaud has obviously had a bad year, but I still have some faith there. I talked to a scout who saw Lakewood a couple of weeks ago and he said to me about D’Arnaud, “How is a guy that talented struggling to hit .200?,” which makes me think there is still something there.
PP: On the flip side, you weren’t as high on Jason Donald as others, and he got off to a real slow start in AAA before going down with an injury. Were scouts voicing any big concerns on him prior to the injury, or was it just a small sample size?
KG: Well, if anything, Donald was also more of a stats favorite than a scouting favorite, which is why I was never that high on him. Most saw him as more of a utility player, or maybe a second division starter, and his slow start certainly didn’t help him. I think one of the big indicators for his poor start is a sudden dramatic drop in plate discipline, which is a frequent indicator of a guy pressing.
PP: With all of the attention on Taylor in AA, I almost feel like Dominic Brown has kind of flown under the radar, especially with his recent injury. But before getting hurt, he had a line of .299/.379/.540 in the pitcher friendly FSL with 9 HR and 14 SB. You ranked him 7th this past winter, but I have to assume he’s moving up. What are the reports on his progress, and how do you ultimately compare him to Taylor in terms of prospect status?
KG: Sure, definitely moving up and doing an outstanding job of beginning to transform what are outstanding tools into real baseball skills. He’s definitely more power focused this year, which has led to a much higher strikeout rate, but you’ll take it for what he’s doing overall. It’s hard to find power/speed packages, especially with this kind of size and upside. People think I’m down on him just because I talked about how stupid a Darryl Strawberry comp is – which it is, it’s a lazy comp based on the fact that he’s tall, long, left-handed and African-American. He’s not Darryl, but that doesn’t mean I don’t like him – I do, and much more even than I did going into the year.
PP: What’s the story on Carlos Carrasco? His peripherals indicate he’s pitched better than his ERA, and it looks like he might get the call this week for his Major League debut, but has anything changed here one way or another? Has he made any strides with his curveball and changeup? Has his mental approach improved at all?
KG: The phrase that stuck with me here is “peripherals indicate he’s pitched better than his ERA.” That’s related to what’s been the rap against him for years. “Firestarter” by Prodigy should be the guy’s theme song, as he has a real tendency to turn bad situations into much worse ones. Check this out, this is 2009 at AAA.
Situation AVG OBP SLG
Bases Empty .247 .308 .366
Runners On .302 .358 .456
RISP .333 .396 .383
That’s related to a lot of things, getting too cute with his pitches, not trusting his stuff, not trusting his defense, all kinds of things. I still love the arm and the stuff that comes out of it, but at the same time, this has been something on his scouting reports for years now, and there’s been no change.
PP: I just wanted to briefly touch on two 2008 draft picks, Anthony Gose and Jason Knapp. Both have made some loud noises this season, Gose for his gaudy stolen base totals, and Knapp for his gaudy strikeout totals and radar gun readings. Gose looks raw at the plate, but has improved as the season has progressed, while Knapp has hit a few bumps in the road after a blistering start. What are the scouts saying about these guys?
KG: Knapp has really been great. I really thought, because he was so raw, that he would start the year in extended and then go to the New York-Penn League, but he’s not only held his own, he’s been outstanding. Big guys who throw hard are my favorite pitching profile, and he certainly fits the bill. He’s sitting 94-96 and he has the potential for two very good secondary pitches, he’s really an excellent prospect, and a scout I know who saw him last week put a pretty big number on him. Gose is really just a guy getting by almost on speed alone. Bad approach, doesn’t really play the speed game very well by hitting way too many balls in the air, and just has a ton of swing-and-miss in him. I realize that the numbers aren’t good at ALL, but scouts are walking away with a higher upside number on Collier.
PP: One of my favorites heading into this year was Julian Sampson. He seems to have quality raw arm strength and generates tons of groundballs, but the numbers at Clearwater have been downright ugly. He’s still rolling up the groundballs, but everything else looks rough, and it seems he’s also not lasting deep into his starts. Is there something wrong here? Is he just not developing like he was expected to? Is it mechanical? Any insight here would be great.
KG: He’s generally not going deep into starts because he’s getting hit around so much. I liked Sampson as a sleeper as well, but right now he’s a guy with one good pitch, and hitters know what’s coming. His slider is sweepy and erratic, while his changeup is still a distant third offering. I wouldn’t mind seeing if he could bump up the velo and be more effective out of the pen at this point.
PP: Two more guys that I’ve had a soft spot for (from opposite ends of the draft hype spectrum) are Joe Savery and Justin De Fratus. Savery, a former first rounder, seems to be holding his own at AA, but the peripherals don’t look that impressive. The scouting reports on him weren’t flattering last year, have they improved this year? And De Fratus hasn’t gotten any hype at all, and though he’s moved slowly through the system, he’s always put up promising peripheral numbers. Is he a fast track reliever type guy going forward?
KG: The reports on Savery have definitely been better this year. Velocity is back up to 88-92, and he’s added a sinker that he was messing around with in the bullpen for awhile but has finally unleashed in games, and it’s a really nice pitch and a new, effective weapon. I’m not projecting stardom or anything, but I’m far more optimistic than I was a year ago. I don’t know if De Fratus is a fast track guy, but he’s a nice choice for a sleeper. We’re back to “big guy, throws hard,” and his fastball has outstanding late life, and he pounds the strike zone with it. He’s throwing a slider right now, and that pitch is going to still need refinement for him to repeat this success at the upper levels.
PP: What do you attribute the slow start of Zach Collier to? He had a nice debut last year, but his numbers indicate that he may be overmatched in Low A this year. Is he just more raw than he originally looked? Any red flags here that might explain the poor start?
KG: He’s definitely very, very raw, but when you see him play, you get it – you know why the Phillies were so excited about it. He has huge problems with the breaking ball, in terms of both identifying and chasing it, and that’s an adjustment that I’m sure the Phillies are going to work on. He’s a tools player, and they’re always risky. One day it’s just going to click and he’ll figure it out, or that day will never come.
PP: The Phillies seemed to stay the course in the draft this year, taking lots of toolsheds (this term has really taken off since you used it last year, kudos) and lots of college seniors, as well as a few intriguing arms. The main focus right now for Phillies prospects nuts seems to be on Brody Colvin, Jake Stewart and Andrew Susac. How would you handicap the Phillies chances of signing these 3 guys? Do you think Colvin would merit a seven figure bonus?
KG: I wish I could take credit for toolshed, but a scout said it to me, and while I won’t give the scout’s name, I will say that the scout who said it has some Phillies roots, so be proud of it. Whether or not Colvin actually MERITS a seven-figure bonus is really only one side of the story, as the Phillies know it’s going to take something around there for him to sign. He’s a big, very athletic, highly projectable arm, and I think they’ll get it done. Stewart and Susac are much more likely to go to school, especially Stewart, whose commitment to Stanford is among the strongest in this year’s draft. I’m not sure what kind of dollars Susac threw out to drop as far as he did, but one has to assume it was well over where his talent lies. I would say they have a decent-at-best shot at signing ONE of them, but I would also wager that they were taken philosophically as a single player, where Philly will throw X dollars to sign one of them, and then forget about the other.
PP: As a quick parting question, your current Top 5 Phillies prospects list would be…..?
KG: I don’t know. I realize that comes off as a crappy answer, so let me explain myself. I’m never comfortable with off-the-cuff rankings because they kind of lessen the value of the real ones I do. When I do the Phillies Top 11 in the offseason, it’s going to involve pages and pages of notes, statistical analysis, as well as somewhere between five and ten phone calls to scouts. It’s important to me to put that much work into them because I really want to get them right, so to just throw five names out right now would be incomplete and sloppy, not to mention six months from now I’d get, “you have this dude here, but now you’ve moved him there, what changed?” when nothing actually changed with the player as much as I did the work to try to rank him properly. Wow, that’s way too long and probably made me sound like an ass, but it won’t be the first time I’ve been long-winded (or thought of as an ass, for that matter).