John Manuel: Hi all, welcome to the chat, sorry I’m a little behind in getting here, I’ll take as many questions as you guys have.
Christian (Washington): I was surprised to see no mention of Danny Hultzen for the Mariners. It seems like he would be the obvious choice for high ceiling sleeper? Shoulder surgery certainly adds a big risk but he looked encouraging in his short stint in spring training.
John Manuel: Well, I think it’s kind of impossible to call the No. 2 overall pick in a draft a sleeper, that’s all. It’s been fun to see that Hultzen is back throwing and trying to make his way back; at some points last year it seemed like almost all hope was lost for him to come back. I tried to go deeper cuts for most of the sleepers, though.
Dave (Pueblo): More valuable in your rankings? Upper level pitchers like KC has stockpiled. Or position players like the Cubs?
John Manuel: History and the way the clubs act both seem to point toward the Cubs’ approach, which of course was the Royals’ approach 5-7 years ago, when they drafted Moustakas (even though they had Gordon) and Hosmer (even though they had Billy Butler) and Christian Colon as top draft picks. They stockpiled position players, then went with pitchers to supplement them. But even if you take a look at our All-Time Top 100 list, you’ll see we tend to rank hitters higher than pitchers in general, because pitchers are more volatile, get hurt more and in general are less consistent than hitters are. The Cubs have such an impressive array of bats, it really feels like a historic group. I don’t think any of these organizations are trying to rank high on these lists; they’re trying to build winning teams. So the Cubs’ next step, which they already showed in last year’s draft, is acquiring some pitching depth and developing some homegrown arms to go with those potentially special bats. Here’s that all-time Top 100 link: http://www.baseballamerica.com/today/prospects/rankings/top-100-prospects/all-time
Tim (AZ): Josh Bell- Is he a future middle of the order hitter? Braves need offense bad. What would it take to get him?
John Manuel: Tim has asked a couple of questions, and you’ll get both answered … Josh Bell is a future middle of the order hitter. His swing’s unorthodox, especially from the left side, but he really does barrel it up and he’s a big boy, so I expect the over-the-fence power to continue to develop. He just squares it up too often for him not to hit for at least average power. Depending on the scout, he may be best served as a future DH. I know defensively, he would be very out of place with what Pittsburgh has right now in the majors, where essentially everyone’s a center fielder with Cutch, Marte & Polanco. Bell is a pretty fringy defender despite his plus arm, and he was not too impressive at first base in the AFL. What would it take for the Braves to get him? It depends on what the Pirates were looking for obviously, but the Braves do have pitching depth to deal. Rest assured John Hart & Co. will stay aggressive in their talent-procurement approach, as they have since Hart took over in the fall.
Mikeleelop (416): The BlueJays may have 6 of their top ten prospects make the opening day roster. Has this happened before, especially on a team that thinks it can contend this season??
John Manuel: I would be stunned by that frankly, though in the writeup, I noted how it’s hard to remember a contender being more reliant on rookies than Toronto is this year. It’s also all the more glaring considering that (a) none of their rookies are Cuban or Japanese, i.e., older and basically MLB free agent types, (b) rookies generally are finding it harder to put up big numbers these days if they are not Cubans or Japanese FA types, and (c) these rookies are going to be asked to play critical roles for Toronto. That said, I’ve heard raves from scouts this spring on Daniel Norris and Aaron Sanchez. I’m a Dalton Pompey fan and recall scouts putting potential 80 grades on his defense, and I think there’s some juice in his swing as well. How a Canadian kid with his tools lasted until the 16th round is kind of beyond me. Ben Badler has long been a Devon Travis fan and Ben’s going to be proven right there, and I love Miguel Castro’s story and liked the reports we got on his stuff last fall when I helped report the short-season Northwest League. I’d have to research if it happened before; I’d have to imagine the B-Ref play index would be useful to search out past productive rookie classes. But I do recall the Rockies having 3 rookies debut on Opening Day 2004, believe it was Ryan Speier, Jeff Baker and Cory Sullivan, all making their debuts on the same day, all signed by the same scout, Jay Matthews, now a Rox crosschecker. Not top 100 guys but 3 rookies on Opening Day was pretty intriguing.
Tim (AZ): Braves have absolutely no middle of the order talent in the minors. Where can they pick up a corner OFer that fits in the middle?
John Manuel: It is interesting, Tim, that the Braves’ focus in their trades have been athletes and pitchers, and that they have a lot of those guys now but do seem to lack real power-corner bat types. That said, their 2014 first-round pick, Braxton Davidson, is precisely that kind of player as a polished prep hitter who likely will wind up at first base or left field. Dustin Peterson, whom they acquired from the Padres in the offseason, has a similar profile, though he’s going to try to stay at third base for now it appears. Our reports on him as an amateur had him profiling best in left field eventually and we haven’t heard much different since he signed. The rest of those future power bats will have to either come via trades or future drafts or free-agent signings.
Tim (AZ): I love how Padres went all in this year and still have 3 top 50 prospects. They will also have 3 top draft picks next year if Upton and Kennedy walk (I think both get qualifying offers). Does the present and future look as good as I see it?
John Manuel: Obviously, we dropped the Padres significantly after all their trades in December. The Handbook transaction deadline was Dec. 11, and for the Handbook talent rankings, the Padres ranked No. 14. Now they dropped 11 spots, presuming Trea Turner becomes a National. We ranked San Diego for this list with Turner listed here, because he’s still a Padre technically, but assuming he’d be gone, so really they have 2 Top 100 guys with a third in Austin Hedges that just missed. Scouts are very divided on Hedges and Renfroe, and the system’s depth is pretty down, as would be expected, after those trades. I still agree that the arrow with San Diego is pointing up. AJ Preller was bold (because why shouldn’t he be?), improved the big league team and his pool of talented executives around him (such as hiring Logan White away from the rival Dodgers), and he’ll be creative I’m sure with the draft and international acquisitions this year as well. I do think the present and future look as good in San Diego as they have since the middle of the previous decade.
Keith (Delaware): Why are all the playoff teams clustered at hte bottom? I thought this was an organization talent ranking? What gives?
John Manuel: Well, perhaps we could clarify and call them “minor league” talent rankings. We obviously include players such as Jorge Soler, who has some major league experience but hasn’t exhausted his rookie eligibility, but do not include the likes of Javier Baez, who has exhausted his eligibility but will begin the 2015 season in the minor leagues. But this ranking does not include major league talent. That said, the talent rankings have taken the form that former commissioner Selig would be proud of. The last CBA set out to make it much more difficult for contending teams to also stockpile talent in the draft and internationally by capping spending on amateur players in both methods, with the better teams getting less money to spend and vice-versa. Four years into this CBA the effects are fairly plan to see. It’s much, much more difficult to contend and acquire significant star-caliber talent at the same time than it used to be. The clubs that consistently do it, such as the Cardinals and to a less-consistent extent the Red Sox, deserve credit for being able to turn the trick.
Joe (Raleigh): I noticed the addition of Yoan Moncada pushed Boston up from the Handbook rankings. Did Hector Olivera not move the needle as much for the Dodgers?
John Manuel: Adding Moncada indeed proved a separator for the Red Sox, who vaulted from No. 5 in the Handbook up to No. 2, ahead of the Twins, Dodgers and Mets. It was close for all four of those teams when we did the Handbook; heck, Boston might have been No. 2 if it just had still had Mookie Betts eligible. Moncada gave Boston a new No. 1 prospect (in our Top 50 show for MLB Network, we put Moncada at No. 10), a true impact talent as a teenager. Olivera is also an impact talent who would have been a Top 50 guy on our Top 100. However, he’s 10 years older than Moncada, and there are serious questions about him health-wise, from his blood-clot issue in Cuba to the arm-injury questions that cropped up this spring. He’s much less of a known commodity in some ways than Moncada, which is fairly ironic considering the age difference. I just had more confidence in the assessments we had on Moncada, and I think that’s fair to say for the rest of the BA crew.
John Manuel: I’ve actually got to run and make some calls and get more draft prep done … the 2015 #mlbdraft is only two months away! Thanks for today’s questions, feel free to leave comments at the bottom of the talent-rankings file and I’ll do my best to answer them there.