There are many Phillies prospect lists out on the internet. Some come from sites just putting forth their top 10 names, others are groups of experts covering the minor leagues as a whole, but their are small pockets where communities and writers have taken the deep dive into the minor league system. One of those people is Dan Cormican of The Good Phight. Dan has a deep knowledge of the system and what it takes to make a good prospect. This year he has once again released his Top 30 Phillies prospects (1-10, 11-20, 21-30) and he took the time to answer a few of my questions about his rankings, as well as a few questions about the 2014 MLB Draft.
What goes into your process of creating your list?
It evolves every year, I typically spend the first month or two in the fall looking at stats and notes I’ve made throughout the year to get a sense for what guys did that year. Initially I’m looking at the top line results (ERA, W/L records, AVG/SLG/OPS, etc.). This makes the first version of the list. Then I move on to scouting reports for players that year. Did someone have great stats but scouts see a future DH or slow bat speed or a weakness in swing or approach that suggests problems at higher levels. A lot of reordering often happens to the list at this point. I then do one last perusal through the “luck” stats. Did someone have a phenomenal year, but with a .450 BABiP (or for Pitchers a .240 BABiP) or vice versa, did a guy struggle, but have an abnormal HR/OFB rate. Very little movement happens on the list here. I still want to rank guys on actual present performance, not what may possibly have happened, but I do use it as a tie breaker.
How do you go about creating a ranking and long a process is it from start to finish?
The list is a living document in many ways. I don’t create the physical list until October/November, but I’m always thinking about whether guys are gaining or losing stock throughout the season. For the formal list though, I typically start in early October and wrap it up before the New Year, then I let it sit for a few weeks before I revisit it with fresh eyes and do a bit of a sanity check. As much as I’d love to make this totally objective (as a guy with a career in the sciences I work day-to-day to get rid of subjectivity in my work), it’s pretty much impossible with rankings. You always have the element of scouting grades (by definition opinions on how good something can be or is) and personal assessment of how likely a guy is to overcome his weaknesses as a player. The Top 10 usually has very minor movement when I revisit the list, but the back of the list usually moves around a lot as I reconsider strengths and weaknesses.
When we talked this winter you were considering ranking Biddle at the top of the list, but in the end went for Franco. How close do you see it between those top two prospects and how far behind is your #3 prospect J.P. Crawford?
They’re close. If I’m thinking Biddle’s ceiling is borderline #2 Starter, that might be worth ~3.5 WAR and I expect him to be able to maintain that performance for a decade given his build and delivery. If Franco is Aramis Ramirez like, as his most common comp suggests, that’s ~4-4.5 WAR, but Franco is more likely to need to move to First in a few years. If we assume he goes there and puts up a similar projection to what you hear most often (maybe a .290/.330/.450-ish line) that would make him very similar to Prince Fielder‘s 2013 which was worth 2.2 fWAR. In order to carry the same value at First he has at Third, he’d need to have a .290/.360/.480 line with decent Defense just to get to ~4 WAR. So while he can be a good First Baseman, his value is much more likely to be below Biddle’s. I see Biddle’s floor as a #3 Starter worth in the 2.5-3 WAR range and I do have some concerns that Franco’s pitch recognition issues could still be his undoing, but Franco’s power is just hard enough to find that I kept him above Biddle. I’ll talk more about Crawford later.
Our biggest gap in our rankings involves three low level prospects Deivi Grullon, Cord Sandberg, and Yoel Mecias (my 8, 10, 11 and your 19, 20, 21). What gave you pause on ranking these prospects higher in the system, and where do you see them a year from now?
I have a few rules. One of them is that I don’t move guys significantly on my list based off of short season stats (GCL/NYPL or even Low-A Lakewood, if the guy is a recent addition). The sample size is too fluky and volatile. So on Draft day if you had asked me where I would rank Crawford I would have said Top 5 based off his talents and scouting reports and that’s where he ended up. I’m not comfortable ranking him above guys with somewhat similar ceilings, but much longer track records. Same is true to different degrees for Grullon, Cord and Mecias (though Mecias also has the addition of an injury that, while much better than it used to be, is not a 100% success rate). Sans injury Mecias would have been probably knocking on the Top 10 door. Sandberg on draft day I would have said possible for Top 10, but likely Top 15, then he got passed by Altherr, Dugan, etc. Believe it or not that ranking of Grullon is really aggressive for me and also Catchers are a pain in the ass to rank given the huge shift in value between a Starter and a borderline guy at the MLB level.
Conversely, you rank Cesar Hernandez higher than I do. How do you think he projects as a major leaguer and what kind of role do you see him playing for the Phillies in the near future?
Cesar’s case is funny, last year I did not rank him at all. I had kind of given up on him, he could hit all day, but there was no power and he was locked in solely to second base. No one carries backup second basemen and it’s hard to start a guy with so little power, especially with the recently acquired Ben Revere in center. Then last year Cesar just kept hitting and even hit decently at the MLB level. He’s still not a starter, but if he can slightly improve his OF defense, I think he becomes good enough to win a utility spot on the bench. That may not happen in 2014, but I think he’ll get to that spot. I feel like I could get similarly bit by Zach Collier this year. If Collier starts strong, he has plenty of talent to make JMJ expendable and lock down an OF job. Similar to Cesar, I’ve just kind of given up hope of that happening, for now.
Approach. I have pretty significant doubts Green makes enough contact as he moves up the ladder to be anything more than the typical AAAA guy. He’s only ranked as high as he is because he’s pretty good at Third and his power is really special if he can make good contact.
The back of these lists tend to have flyers that the ranker is looking at to make a breakout in the coming year. Talk briefly about your last three prospects, Jake Sweaney, Mitch Gueller, and Trey Williams. Also what other prospects were in the mix for those last few slots?
Yeah, I always reserve a few spots at the end of the Top 30 to talk about interesting guys (it pushed off Collier and Canelo this year). For Gueller, the raw stuff is still there and like I said, I don’t like moving guys too far on the list for short season numbers and everyone knew Gueller was raw coming out of the Draft. 2013 was a disaster for him, but I still see a guy who could eventually be a pretty good mid-rotation to top half of the rotation Starter, so I want to keep him on radars. Trey is a guy who’s kind of the stereotypical lottery ticket. I think he has a long haul ahead of him, but I like the value they got at that point in the draft and I like his chances to hit well enough to force the club to find him a role on the field. Sweaney is similarly a lottery ticket. A long way to go on Defense, but you can never have too many Catchers. It’s crazy hard to preject him, so when I include guys like him at the end, it’s largely so fans who read The Good Phight hear the name and get to know a bit about him. The range of possible outcomes is probably as big on Sweaney as anyone in the system.
Who in your mind is the prospect that people are not talking enough about and could really surprise people in 2014?
This is kind of a tough question, as you know we both follow everyone in the system, so it’s hard to surprise me with a guy I haven’t followed a bit. I think for casual prospectheads the sleepers almost always end up being International guys. I think Hiciano’s a guy who could really rocket up lists next year. Big power potential and he was among the league leaders in Homer Runs in the NYPL despite dealing with injuries. Position is a bit of a question mark, but he’s not even 20 yet, so there’s time to figure that out and any repeat in those power numbers in 2014 will get him on some lists. I also hold out hope that Brian Pointer can put it together. I always keep an eye on guys who maintain good BB rates despite trouble at the plate. Pointer’s BB rates are very good and he suffered with an awful HR/OFB last year and pretty bad BABiP. I don’t think he’s a future star, but Kelly Dugan level success is certainly possible.
Transitioning away from current prospects to future prospects, you have started to look towards the 2014 draft (you can find an index of Dan’s Draft Reports here). Who is your favorite prospect that you have seen as part of the process? It is way too early to speculate, but I will ask you anyway. How do you see the Top 7 playing out, who do you expect to be available at pick 7, and who do the Phillies take there?
Rodon. When he’s on, he makes good hitters look ridiculous. That said, the Phillies chances of getting Rodon are pretty damn slim. Of the guys who might be available at 7, I like the other NC State prospect a ton., Trea Turner. I don’t care that the Phillies drafted Crawford last year, you take the best available. Position be damned. If they both make it to the show, you do what Texas is doing and shift one guy to Second or Center or whatever. Or, hell, trade one of them for a top Starting Pitcher later, but always take the best available, position be damned.
As for order, I’m near certain the Top 2 will be Rodon and Hoffman. I’m actually in the midst of an article on draft history in the last 12 years or so, so I’m feeling over-confident about the following guesses, all likely to be wrong: If Beede keeps up his current Pitching pace, the White Sox take him #3. I think it fits the Cubs MO to take a College guy and I think Trea Turner goes here at #4. The Twins start building their rotation of the future and will follow up last years pick of Kohl Stewart with Tyler Kolek. I think Seattle will then take Alex Jackson, leaving the Phillies to choose between Brady Aiken, Jake Gatewood, Braxton Davidson, Touki Toussant and a few others. I think given the Phillies history it’s likely to be a High Schooler and a I adore Braxton Davidson’s power potential (that said Aiken checks a lot of the Phillies traditional boxes, tall, souther California, Lefty). All that said, there’s 3 months to go and a lot can change.
Between major league graduations, prospect development, and the draft where do you see the system a year from now?
A bit better. I don’t really see any significant graduations. Biddle and Franco might get September callups, but I think finish the year with prospect eligibility. Then add in the new draft picks and the MASH unit returning to the field and I think the future looks pretty bright in the Minors.