League Top 20 Prospects

Eastern League Top 20 Prospects Chat With John Manuel

    Ike (dc): Curious as to why Brackman was # 5 here, yet was dead last at # 20 on FSL's Top 20?

John Manuel: Thanks for coming to the chat. I figured we'd get a lock of Brackman questions today. Since I do our Yankees Top 30, I've been asking scouts about Brackman all year, and he was bad early. How bad? I talked to one scout who turned him in as a middle reliever at best. But the managers and scouts who saw him in August saw a different pitcher, and they saw one with two plus pitches, in fact two pitches that were 70s at times. They also saw a guy who threw a lot of strikes, especially compared to what he had done in the past. He's improved that profile to a No. 2 starter with the fastball and curve. He was consistent down the stretch with good stuff and throwing strikes, so that improvement probably explains why observers in the EL liked him better than those in the FSL. Players improve over the course of a year; he's one that did.

    Tom (San Francisco, CA): What distinguishes Nieuwenhuis from Eric Thames?

John Manuel: Better athlete, better speed, better defense, ability to play CF. Those are his advantages. Thames has better power, though, and that's a pretty big selling tool. Not a lot of separation between the two, and Thames was one of the last players cut from the 20, would be 21-25 if I kept ranking. Thames' ceiling is slightly higher, I kind of see him as a Luke Scott type of guy if it all comes together, while Nieuwenhuis will at the least be a fourth outfielder and has a chance to be a bit more, kind of a David DeJesus type offensively with a chance to stick in CF.

    Steven Alengakis (NYC): Hi John, thanks again. Again, Banuelos and Betances failed to qualify for this league's prospects, but what did scouts say about them? I've read reports that Banuelos' stufff now compare very favorably to LHP Martin Perez who was widely regarded as the top LHP prospect in the minors prior to this year. If he and Betances were on this list, where might they have ranked?

John Manuel: Both those players received some raves. I didn't ask anyone to compare Banuelos to Perez so I'll leave that to others. Again, doing Yankees prospects, it's going to be fascinating to see how Banuelos, Betances and Brackman lineup. One source recently told me he had them Betances first, Banuelos second, then Brackman; another had Brackman at the top, then Banuelos, then Betances. Not sure what the consensus will wind up being; for me, I like Brackman's athleticism and give him a slight edge on Betances, but Banuelos might be best of them all for his poise and lefthanded-ness.

    Kyle Reese (The Future): How close was Jeff Locke to the list? 57 IP, 57 H, 56 K, 12 BB and a four pitch mix should get him close, if not on.

John Manuel: Not really as close as you make it sound, Kyle. (I was surprised at how much I liked that last Terminator movie for what it's worth. I don't think I would have gotten your reference otherwise.) He's more of a 3-pitch guy if you're talking average pitches, and there's nothing plus with Locke. It's a fourth-starter profile ceiling according to the people I talked to, so no, that didn't get him on the list. Altoona had a deep pitching staff and he ranked behind Morris, Owens and also Justin Wilson for most, though not all; one scout liked him better than Wilson. Tony Watson also got some support but fits better in a bullpen.

    Tom (San Francisco, CA): Kinda ironic that Adeiny Hechavarria has a rocky introduction at Dunedin, yet makes the Florida League top twenty, goes to the Eastern League, hits nearly a hundred points better, and fails to make the list. Did he garner much support?

John Manuel: He did but so did Iglesias, and the people I talked to preferred Iglesias. Again, not a lot of separation. Hechevarria runs better, but Iglesias has better bat speed, so I went with Iglesias.

    Steven Alengakis (NYC): Hi John.. Did David Phelps and DJ Mitchell receive strong consideration for this list, or are they not very well regarded by scouts who saw them?

John Manuel: Steve, Mitchell did not. He had a nice year but scouts view him as a middle reliever at the big league level, and not as a high-leverage guy either, more as a sixth- or seventh-inning type. Phelps had a tremendous year and throws very hard, though at times it's very straight at 92-94 mph consistently, touching higher. He's behind Noesi and Adam Warren for this list and on the Yanks' 30, in my opinion, but again I'm still gathering info for the Yanks list. His secondary stuff gets a lot of fringe-average grades from scouts, whereas some scouts like Warren's cutter-type of slider as a second average pitch.

    Ben (Leland Grove): Is Laird considered trade bait, being as blocked from the Bronx as he is?

John Manuel: Lots and lots of Yankees questions as expected, I'll try to take a break from them in a minute . . . yes, people outside the Yanks organization definitely like Laird as a guy they would try to get in a potential deal. He's seen as a solid-average 3B, with below-average range the biggest question mark. He hit good pitching this year; I've been a skeptic in the past on Laird but this year definitely has changed my mind.

    JAYPERS (IL): Had he qualified, would you have had any qualms ranking Strasburg above Brown for the top spot?

John Manuel: Absolutely not.

    John Timwilbur (Everywhere): What was the word around the campfire about Chase d'Arnaud's up and down season? Is he a starter in the majors at 2B or SS?

John Manuel: Kind of mixed on d'Arnaud, whom I like. He just plain didn't hit enough to make this top 20, but he was probably the best position player prospect on Altoona's club until Andrew Lambo arrived; then it's a tossup, and some people liked Lambo better. d'Arnaud is a shortstop to those I talked to, good enough tools, better instincts and feel for the position.

    Joe LeCates (Easton, MD): Matt Hague — starter, platoon guy, bench guy, none of the above?

John Manuel: Not a big Matt Hague believer. Solid 4-A type, don't see him as more for his major league role.

    Shane (Miami): Kipnis really proved his capabilities offensively this year, even in the AAA playoffs. Would you say, bat alone, that he's moved past guys like Ackley and Lawrie?

John Manuel: I like Kipnis, but no, not for me; he's 3 years older than Lawrie, they're similar players, and neither may stay at 2B when it's all said and done. I believe in Ackley but I acknowledge the scouts I've talked to really like the explosion in Kipnis' bat, and that what was lacking with Ackley. I just think with Ackley (a) the power came on as the year went on, as he adjusted to pro ball, (b) he's a pretty unique player. The first thing scouts say about him almost always is, "He's not what I expected." I think that colors scouts' perceptions of him. He had one awful month, and then a very good year.

    Dan ((Boston)): Hi John, thanks for the chat. Did Bowie 2B Ryan Adams get any support after leading the EL in 2B? Was he close, or was this season alone not enough evidence to indicate that the 2006 2nd-rounder has a shot at becoming a big league regular?

John Manuel: He did get a little support, actually, would be the next-best prospect on that Bowie team, and he's a 21-30 type of prospect. It's not a certainty that he'll stay at 2b, and he would be helped greatly by staying there. He'll never be more than an average defender at 2b, and he needs to keep polishing his game to be an average MLB defender there, though he's better there than, say, Brooks Conrad.

    Daniel (Boston, MA): Where did Thomas Neal fall on your rankings? He was a Top 100 prospect last year who appeared to at least hold serve with a solid showing in a pitcher-friendly league.

John Manuel: Fine points all, and he did hold serve, no doubt. I think we may have put a bit too much stock in his Cal League power numbers last year, and I heard more questions about his athletic ability than I heard praise for it. He looks like he's destined to be a left fielder, and he'll hit for more average than power while being a fringy defender. One line from two pro scouts who said the same thing said it all: "He can hit but he's not a frontline guy."

    Jack T (Staten Island NY): Hello John, I am surprised Zach Lutz did not make this list.. comments by you and the scouts?

John Manuel: He has his supporters, but there's more to the game than hitting the ball. Those things, such as defending and throwing and running, he doesn't do so well, so there's a real question about his future role and where he plays; it's probably not 3B. But he is a prospect, and he has some real power. I got a Nick Evans comp on him; that's not a top 20 guy for me.

    Ben (Leland Grove): Did Chris Marrero and Michael Burgess make your short list? Your thoughts on both at this point?

John Manuel: I asked one scout who's better defensively at 1B, Adam Dunn or Marrero, and he answered Marrero, but he had to think about it. That tells you what you need to know on Marrero's defense. As my son would say, he's a 5 for strat-o-matic purposes. Burgess didn't qualify, but I'd be leery of his big hack-no contact approach anyway.

    PT (IBC): Would David Adams have made the list if he hadn't gotten injured? What were scouts saying about him? Joseph or Adams longterm?

John Manuel: No way to really judge it, because he did get hurt and it's going to affect what kind of player he is, because his defense and range at 2B is the biggest question with D. Adams. As for him vs. Joseph, that's a tough one, and Bowie's Ryan Adams is in the same mix. David and Ryan Adams are pretty similar players. None of them is Robbie Cano on defense or offense, Joseph has the smoothest swing and best chance to be average at 2B defensively, I might take him even though the other two have more impact bats.

    JAYPERS (IL): How would you rank Casey Kelly's progress throughout this season, from 1 to 10? Is there any discussion whatsoever about putting him back at SS?

John Manuel: He made progress with his velocity; I'm not sure he made a ton of other progress other than getting innings, so I'd go with a completely arbitrary 3. He was a one step up, two steps back guy in a lot of ways this year. But no, no way he's going back to SS.

    Steve (Reading, PA): What were scouts telling you about Harold Garcia, Cody Overbeck and Matt Rizzotti (outside of Anthony Rizzo being a better prospect)?

John Manuel: I ran into more support for Rizzotti than I expected. Biggest issue for him also is defense; he's an American League type of player it sounds like. But he has legit power, a patient approach and can hit. Garcia is the best prospect here and a better bet to make the majors than Overbeck by a lot, he's athletic, can hit, can run . . . probably a utility guy, but a chance to be kind of a poor man's Placido Polanco if it all comes together. If Garcia could play SS, he'd be a lock big league utility guy, right now he fits better as a 2B who can also play 3B.

    Dan V (Boston): JM, any buzz around the league about Altoona southpaw Justin Wilson? After reports of increased velocity to go with an impressive statistical performance, what would you say his ceiling is? What kept him off the list? Thanks for the chat!

John Manuel: Several questions about Wilson, who didn't so much have improved velocity as much as more consistent velocity. He's always touched 94 or so, he's got what one scout called "easy arm strength." He also never throws consistent strikes and has an arm action that makes it hard to imagine him throwing consistent strikes, or a consistent breaking ball. All that said, he's got a live fastball, he's lefthanded, his changeup's average . . . he's got a chance to be in a rotation, just not at the front of it because of the lack of consistency. The breaking ball issue also hinders him for the bullpen as a left-on-left guy. Doesn't mean he can't do it, just makes it harder.

    Joe (Oshawa): No Zach Stewart...Really???

John Manuel: Pretty close call on him as well, I was surprised he didn't get more support. His fastball is exciting for both its velocity and its life, and his slider gives him an average secondary pitch. The scouts I talked to thought he was destined for the bullpen because he was better with the two-pitch mix and wasn't as adept at changing speeds for the rotation, and because the two pitches should work in short order in Toronto. I may have sold him short because he might just wind up closing sooner than later, but that's why he didn't make it—because he's more likely to relieve than start according to the scouts I talked to.

    Chris (Secaucus, NJ): In his FSL chat, J.J. Cooper said that Brackman and Betances both project to be late inning relievers in the Yankees system because they don't project as front of the rotation starters and therefore won't be given a shot to start at the ML level. Do you agree with his take on these two players?

John Manuel: Asked and answered on Brackman; he got better in the EL. I have talked to one scout who believes that Betances threw strikes this year but not enough quality strikes and believes he lacks the athleticism to start, and he had him as a reliever. But others have given Betances two 70 grades as well for his fastball and curveball. I believe more in Brackman because he's the better athlete, but I'm starting to sense the Yankees think more highly of Betances.

    Trevor (Cleveland, OH): Offensively, Lonnie Chisenhall's ceiling kinda reminds me of Ryan Zimmerman, is that a fair comp? IF not, what players were given as comps?

John Manuel: No, because Zimmerman (a) is a Gold Glove-caliber defender, even with all his crazy arm angles, and Chisenhall isn't; and (b) Zimmerman hit 58 homers the last two seasons, and I don't think Chisenhall will do that. He's more of an 18-22 HR a year guy, not 25-30. Chisenhall as a hitter to me is more like a Nick Markakis type in that he's going to hit for average more than he'll hit for power. Chisenhall's got a lot of 50 tools, and some scouts like him as a 60 hitter. Zimmerman's tools are louder.

    Danny V (IBC): Hi John, thanks for the chat. Clayton Tanner keeps moving up the ladder and groundballing his way to impressive statistics at each successive level, yet rarely earns a nod from talent evaluators. Still just 22, does Tanner have a long-term future as a back-end SP or long reliever in the bigs?

John Manuel: It's just not an exciting profile, he's a lefty sinker-slider guy with fringe-average velocity but good life on his fastball and changeup. I think you have his ceiling pegged as a lefty reliever or fifth starter.

    TheWhale (Civic Center Mall, Hartford): How many seasons bouncing between AA and AAA does it take before a 25 year-old former elite prospect leading the EL in HR and TB barely elicits a shrug from observers? Barring a monster 2011 start at AAA and an injury opening in Baltimore, should we just ignore that at 25 yrs old, the artist formerly known as Joel Guzman just awoke from a 5-year slumber and showed signs of life?

John Manuel: He's not a guy. Few players go out there with less energy on a daily basis than Joel Guzman; he still has crazy power but that's about it. I think "slumber" is the operative word here.

    Kent (Sonoma, CA): Hi John, Thank you for the chat. Pretty disappointing year for the Giants' prospects at Richmond - how far have Neal, Galaspie, Noonan, Kieshnick and Ford fallen in terms of prospect status?

John Manuel: Several Flying Squirrel questions, so I thought I'd take the consolidated question. Neal didn't fall too far, after Belt he's considered the top position player off that team. I'd go with Crawford next because he can definitely play SS. He's not too terribly far behind the Cuban SSs and Freddy Galvis as a prospect. He's not an elite SS but he can play short, and he's got a great utility profile as a LH hitter who can run average, play SS and hopefully many other positions. Scouts were mixed on his bat but some saw a bit more feel for hitting this year, just not much power. Noonan probably needs to repeat the level; he's still young but I got a mixed bag on him as well. Some of the scouts and managers thought he lacked the bat speed to hit enough to make up for his lack of patience and inconsistent glove. Others thought he was wiry strong and had average tools across the board. Ford's an extra guy whose big year last year appears to have been a Cal League mirage; he's like another Fernando Perez, a speed guy without great game feel. Gillaspie lacks impact power and isn't athletic enough to be an average defender at third; his stock is down for me. Kieschnick didn't do it for anyone that I talked to; I still like the raw power but he didn't make a lot of progress this year. For me, the most hope there is for Neal, Crawford and Noonan, in that order.

    Chuck (Wichita): I know it's hard for relievers to make these lists, but was Tim Collins and his ridiculous K/9 ratio considered?

John Manuel: He was, he's definitely a prospect, but I didn't rank anyone who I thought would wind up in the bullpen. White, Oliver and Morris it gets mentioned, but White and Oliver got enough support from scouts and managers for their competitiveness and pitchability with their fastball for them to remain starters. And Morris has two filthy breaking balls. Collins would have to rank behind Zach Stewart and perhaps Danny Moskos (yes, that Danny Moskos) and Carlos Gutierrez among relievers, off the top of my head. I have heard that Collins is a long-toss guy, though, maybe if I'd heard that before I would have run him up the list a bit . . .

    Tim (Pittsburgh, PA): Do you expect to see Kyle Gibson in the Twins rotation at some point in 2011? Also where do you see his ceiling topping out at (#2 starter?)?

John Manuel: I guess I do, considering he finished 2010 in Triple-A, but where would he fit in? Even if Pavano leaves — I believe he's a free agent — they still have Liriano, Baker, Slowey, Duensing and Blackburn. He would seem to be sixth in that pecking order, unless you want to still count org non-favorite Glen Perkins. I do expect him to reach the majors next year, and yes, I'd say he's got No. 1 starter makeup and command potential, but No. 3 starter stuff right now. He didn't throw as hard as consistently as you'd like to hear, and his slider was more 6ish than 7ish this year. No. 2 starter is still an awfully high ceiling.

    Jon (Peoria): Is Kipnis' bat good enough to negate the impact that he might be an average or below average defender at 2b? How does his offensive ceiling compare to another former ASU player, Dustin Pedroia?

John Manuel: He has more power than Pedroia but less feel for the game, instincts, confidence, etc. I don't think it's constructive to compare players to Pedroia, he's just a different, unique cat.

    David (New Britain): I've heard Joe Benson's name come up relatively often, but having watched him, don't get the love. Any thoughts on whether he can actually hit enough to be a big-league regular in a corner outfield position?

John Manuel: He has top 20 tools no doubt, but he and the breaking ball still are not friends. He just had too much swing-and-miss for the scouts and managers I talked to for him to rank in the top 20, and for him to be an elite prospect. He still has tools and he still has time, though. He's not finished by any stretch, and it was good to see him have his best season this year. He was once our No. 2 Twins prospect, his ceiling is still considerable, and he still has a chance to reach it as a power-speed CF with a big-time throwing arm.

    Greg T (London, ON): Thanks for the chat! What differentiates SS Iglesias and SS Hechavarria in terms of defense? I have read both are exceptional defensively and it was Iglesias who moved to 2B for the Cuban team in order for Hechavarria to play short. Hechavarria just outside the top 20?

John Manuel: You're welcome, and I have read that as well on their careers in Cuba. Both have big tools on defense, and both can make plays look easy. Iglesias had better body control according to the scouts I talked to; a couple of sources described Hechavarria in the field as "wild." Iglesias got a slight edge offensively as I mentioned earlier in the chat, little more power and bat speed while Hechavarria runs better. There was some thought that Iglesias' power gets him into more trouble than it helps, though, and he needs to play more within himself offensively.

    David (New Britain): As you compile your rankings, how much do you think the amount of time a player spends in a league impacts the quality of the input you get from managers/coaches/front office types? I wonder if Gibson and Drabek flip-flopped their times assigned to the EL this year, would their rankings on this list likely reverse as well since more managers would have been advocating Gibson?

John Manuel: The amount of time may have an effect on how managers and scouts see them just in terms of when they saw the player; for example, some scouts saw, say, New Hampshire before Hechavarria was promoted from the FSL, or saw Trenton early before Brackman got there or really got rolling. Thankfully I wound up talking to a number of scouts so I got some who were in early and some who were in late. Drabek's big finish helped; since writing this, I actually believe Drabek's slow start in terms of velocity was probably due more to him throwing his cutter and learning that pitch than anything else, and as his cutter improved, as he threw it better mechanically, his fastball velocity returned. So he throws harder than Gibson, has a better fastball; he's athletic, probably a bit more athletic; both have big-time breaking balls, and I'll take a curve (Drabek) over a slider (Gibson) because it's more of a strikeout pitch. Gibson's advantages are his changeup; better command (though Drabek throws harder so he doesn't need to be as fine); and he's never had TJ. I take Drabek, but you can craft a Gibson argument I suppose.

    Jose (Orlando,Fl): What happened to Luis exposito? He was one of the leaders in RBI. What are the red sox going to do with him ?

John Manuel: He didn't get a ton of support, but still has some tools, with a plus arm and plus raw power. His receiving is a bit sloppy and needs to be cleaned up for the scouts I talked to to consider him a regular and not a backup catcher. He led the league in PB with 14 in 85 games.

    Bryan (Orange, CA.): Are you personally sold on Brandon Belt? Do you think that he is a future star at 1B and impact bat in the middle of a weak Giants lineup? Can we add him to the Giants young core of homegrown players that they are collecting? (Posey, MadBum, Kung Fu Panda, Timmy, Cain, and Wilson)

John Manuel: I personally do believe in him; I haven't talked to anyone that doesn't. I think I have some skepticism about just how much of an impact bat he'll have, and I see him more as a 15-25 home runs guy rather than as a masher. But he can hit and probably will wind up cranking 40 doubles a year. He's got a chance to be at least as good as James Loney and should have more of an impact bat than Loney, 15-20 HR rather than 10-15, but he's that kind of smooth hitter, geared more for average than for power. He's also more athletic than Loney, runs better, and has a chance to play in the OF. I think he's for real, just not 1.000 OPS for real.

    emilfaber (faber college): John, Could you please expand a bit on Casey Kelly's potential? Has the past year dimmed his prospect status a bit or can it be chalked up to typical growing pains. Does he still have a chance to be a #1 starter? Thanks

John Manuel: Personally, I think it was more growing pains than anything else. I don't quite understand why he was in Double-A but what's done is done. I do think he still has No. 1 starter stuff, and he's had some real feel in the past. He did not show that same feel this year and really didn't pitch off the fastball enough. Maybe he needs to watch David Price more (or maybe not . . . )

    Stephen (Guelph): Mr. Manuel, thanks for the chat. I was surprised to see only one Fisher Cat (Drabek) make the list after their impressive season (especially after the rave reviews the Jays' brass has had for Stewart and the improvement Hech showed after jumping to AA). What's more, Mastroianni and Thames, though not young for the league, have shown steady progress at each level since being drafted and posted some very impressive numbers this year. I've yet to hear anything from BA on these two, any thoughts on their potential?

John Manuel: I've addressed the other Fisher Cats but will say Mastroianni earned some plaudits for his speed and CF defense. His bat is not that of a championship-quality CF starter but he has a chance to be a nice 4th outfielder if not a second-division regular, and our sources seemed pretty impressed with how he plays, his energy, etc.

    Joel (Washington, DC): What's the word on Danny Moskos? He was a legit shut-down reliever in the Eastern League.

John Manuel: Moskos is back in the role that suits him best, as a reliever. I had a couple of reports of him sitting 92-94, touching 97 mph, and showing flashes of his old plus slider, showing some depth and tilt. He just isn't athletic enough to be a starter, to repeat his delivery over and over again for longer than one or two innings. I think he'll be just fine in a relief role in the majors, whether or not he closes, that's more about what goes on above the neck after a certain point, but it was encouraging to hear good things about Moskos for once.

    DG (Paris, France): Fate, luck or whatever you want to call it found me in Binghamton in July on an evening where I could watch the B-Mets in their rather lacrymose stadium. Nieuwenweis hit a homer as the team lost, but I must say that I was actually rather impressed with Sean Ratliff that night. I had heard he had holes in his swing but statistically he improved significantly this year. Is there any chance in your mind that he might amount to something on the major league level?

John Manuel: Ratliff had quite a year and I definitely tried to ask about him, because I've liked him as a prospect since his Stanford days. Ratliff has fringe-average tools across the board aside from his raw power, which is plus, but scouts don't seem convinced he'll get to it enough in the big leagues. The scouts I have talked to don't like his slider-speed bat and didn't see him hit good fastballs.

    PT (IBC): If Ryan Adams was the second best BAL prospect in AA, what did the people you talked to have to say about Xavier Avery?

John Manuel: Avery didn't qualify, and the scouts I talked to about Bowie didn't have lots of reasons to go in and see that team again late, it wasn't exactly teeming with prospects.

    vi (New Jersey): Better prospect, Noesi or Nova?

John Manuel: Asked that question to one scout specifically, and he said Noesi.

    confused (Amherst): Curious to know what type of #s Casey kelley would put up in AA in 4 years ? Brackman has struggled his whole career and still recovered with one good half season whereas Kelley has been dominant and scuffled some in AA at 20 and he slipped ? Doesnt make any sense to me....puzzled

John Manuel: I'm quoting a veteran scout here, but they don't check IDs on the mound. Brackman is a different cat; he played two years of Division I basketball, which tends to stunt your baseball development, and I understand Kelly's development also took a hit last year when he played shortstop. Brackman also lost a year to Tommy John but his stuff has bounced back from the surgery, so right now the surgery just cost him time; he's been durable since coming back, I don't consider the TJ a concern any longer, but it contributes to the age difference. Brackman also is, what, 8 inches taller? It tends to come together later for tall pitchers as well, and it has for Brackman. Kelly doesn't have two 70 pitches; Brackman does. He has velocity and plane on his fastball, a willingness to pitch off the fastball that Kelly lacked and feel for the breaking ball. That was more than enough for me.

John Manuel: Thanks for coming out to the EL chat. Texas League is coming on Monday, and next week Jim Callis and I expect to record a podcast after finishing our Draft Report Card calls. I look forward to that and the weekend, hope you enjoy yours.