Top 25-And-Under Chat With J.J. Cooper

Moderator: J.J. Cooper was here to chat following the online release of our top 25-and-under organizations and Top 50 players 25 and under.

CJ (Charlotte): I am a little surprised that Julio Teheran didn't make the list. Given that he is a starter I would actually rank him above Kimbrel.
J.J. Cooper: Thanks everyone for coming out. On our Braves Top 15 Players 25 and under in the Prospect Handbook Teheran was fifth, one spot behind Kimbrel. I do have to disagree though about your assessment that Teheran should rank above Kimbrel because he’s a starter. In general, I agree that starters should rank ahead of relievers–they throw more innings and they have a tougher job. But you are talking about the difference between an above-average starter with one year of big league success and a reliever who has put together one of the best three-year stretches we have ever seen. We have to see if he can keep this up, but I’d put Kimbrel’s past three years up against anything Dennis Eckersley, Goose Gossage or Mariano Rivera did in their prime for peak value.

Daniel (Montana): What factored into placing Michael Wacha above Shelby Miller? I know that Shelby Miller started to fade down the stretch, which most attribute to general arm fatigue. But I continue to read the #3 pitcher tag concerning Wacha, and #2 for Miller.
J.J. Cooper: I don’t see Wacha limited to being a No. 3. In fact, I think he showed last year that he’s got a very good chance to be a No. 2 and could be a No. 1 if everything comes together. In fact in the playoffs last year, Wacha was a No. 2 starter on a World Series team. Now he still needs to show that he can do the same over the 30+ starts that come with a full season, but he’s got dominating stuff. The general idea of why Wacha would be pegged as a No. 3 is his lack of a good breaking ball, but he’s shown that he can succeed with two plus pitches (fastball/changeup) and a mediocre breaking ball. I wrote a lot more about Wacha’s stuff here: I like both of them a lot as starters.

Roger (Washington DC): Hi JJ, thanks for the chat. What was your criteria for ranking when building this list? How did you balance short term production vs long term? Were you thinking about value under cost-controlled years or career long?
J.J. Cooper: It attempted to have a balance but it really looks in large part at what they have done. The most credit was given to players who have already demonstrated that they are top-of-the-scale big leaguers. A player who is an established productive big league regular already scored slightly better than someone who is an elite Top 100 prospect (top 15). The rest of the Top 100 prospects scored roughly equal to useful big league backups and high ceiling prospects who didn’t crack the Top 100 helped a team’s ranking, but not all that much because many of those prospects flame out.

CJ (Charlotte): Could you briefly compare Heyward and Freeman. Freeman is a better hitter but Jason is better defensively and is a better base runner. I probably would rank Heyward as the slightly better overall player. Did history of injuries play a role in your evaluations?
J.J. Cooper: They are close, but yes the injuries with Heyward are a concern. Heyward has had injuries impact two of his four big league seasons which has also affected his consistency. If you want to argue Heyward ahead of Freeman, I can see the case–he is playing a more valuable position defensively. The case for Freeman is he plays more games per year, and he’s getting better and better posing his best year last season while Heyward is still trying to get back to the production he had as a rookie.

Dave (Kcmo): J.J. With four picks in first fifty seven, how good can the royals be in not just the present but foreseeable future? Thanks for great work.
J.J. Cooper: Nowadays four early picks gives a team a whole lot of flexibility that most teams don’t have. Because they were better last year than they had been in years, the Royals won’t have the top 10 pick that seemed like a birthright for them for years, but the glut of early picks should allow them to be aggressive if a player falls because of injury or cost concerns. What Kansas City did to land Sean Manaea last year was an outstanding example of using extra picks to snag a player who was a better talent than his draft spot indicated.

Trea (Rohampton, IL): I'm somewhat surprised to see you ranking Hosmer one spot below Brandon Belt. Grated, it's one spot. But from what I've read scouts are still waiting on another big jump from Hosmer. Does Belt have the same improvement in store, or do you have doubts that Hosmer will achieve that improvement?
J.J. Cooper: Hosmer may make that big jump, and if he does, when we do this again next year, he’d climb the list, but he’s got three years in the majors where the best year he’s posted is a 118 OPS+ and 3.6 bWAR. Belt has posted better OPS+ than Hosmer in two of his three seasons including a 142 OPS+ last year and a 4.4 bWAR season. Belt ranked higher because he’s been a more productive player and even if Hosmer makes a step forward, he has a little ways to go to catch Belt.

David (Malibu): Thanks for the chat, JJ. What is your opinion on Juan Carlos Paniagua? Obviously he struggled after getting to the US very late last year, but the stuff appears to be excellent and the early reports this year say the same. At his age, I'd expect him to move quick, but is there a chance he sticks as a starter or is he a reliever, assuming he puts last year behind him?
J.J. Cooper: Paniagua will turn 24 right as this season begins. He’s yet to throw a successful outing above the DSL. Combining those two factors and the questions he’s long faced about whether he can start, I think he is more likely to end up as a reliever. The stuff is still quite good, and as a reliever, he could move quite quickly, so yes, last year’s very brutal season will be quickly forgotten if he shows he can locate his at times plus stuff.

Freddy (Louisiana): If three guys available in the draft this year were eligible for the draft, where would you put them on the list, if at all: Carlos Rodon, Jeff Hoffman, Trea Turner?
J.J. Cooper: I’d rank those three prospects Rodon, Hoffman and Turner in that order, but Rodon and Hoffman would be trying to crack the Age 21 list, which is one of the toughest ages to crack (thanks to Bryce Harper, Jose Fernandez, Manny Machado, Xander Bogaerts and Jurickson Profar) while Turner would be trying to crack the Age 20 list, which is solid but less sensational (Byron Buxton, Miguel Sano, Francisco Lindor, Addison Russell and Roughned Odor). I’d say Rodon would slot either ahead or behind Bogaerts on the Age 21 list, let’s say behind him. Hoffman would not crack the top five and Turner would fall a little behind Odor for the final spot on the Age 20 list.

Ben (Leland Grove): Which players near the bottom of the list do you see making the biggest leap by this time next year?
J.J. Cooper: I’ll pick out two guys. If Dylan Bundy makes a full recovery from his Tommy John surgery and is back being Dylan Bundy, he’ll climb this list significantly next year. It also wouldn’t surprise me to see Mike Zunino take a step forward. Making the adjustment to catching in the big leagues is really difficult. With a year under his belt, he should take a good step forward.

J.J. Cooper: Thanks for the questions. I have to make this one an abbreviated chat to get back to writing.