2014 Prospect Handbook Chat

Moderator: Baseball America’s 2014 Prospect Handbook is being shipped to our loyal readers and BA editor-in-chief John Manuel, managing editor J.J. Cooper and associate editor Matt Eddy will be here to chat about the book, beginning at 1 p.m. ET.

Matt Eddy: Let’s begin the Prospect Handbook chat. John Manuel will jump in at the 2 o’clock hour and J.J. Cooper at 3 o’clock.

sportznut (Clinton Township, MI): Who are some players not in the top 100 that could be ranked the highest next season (besides the upcoming draft picks)?
Matt Eddy: A few of my personal favorites who ranked near the back of the Top 100 (or completely out): Low-A RHPs Miguel Almonte (Royals) and Jose Berrios (Twins). You never know with young pitchers, but these two blend power and reasonable control at a young age. Closer to the majors, I like Jonathan Schoop (Orioles) as a potential power-hitting second baseman with defensive ability and Padres RHP Casey Kelly for firm stuff, a wide arsenal, an athletic delivery and ability to keep the ball on the ground.

Karl of Delaware (Georgetown, Delaware): Know of any stats relating the prospects place in the list of 30 for each team, and success of making the major leagues? For example, do like 45% of the 2nd place prospects and 10% of the 25th place prospects eventually make the majors?
Matt Eddy: I have not seen research to this effect, but I would like to see the results of such a study, particularly if playing-time thresholds were involved. How many No. 2’s go on to rack up 1,000 PA or 300 IP in the majors, etc.

Norm Chouinard (Connecticut): My 5 favorite days on my baseball calendar: Pitchers and Catchers Reporting Day, Opening Day, Amateur Draft Day, Opening Day of the playoffs, and the day I get my Prospect Handbook. 5 little Christmases to feast on. My question: Looking at the big picture, how do this years prospects compare to last year and an average year?
Matt Eddy: Even with no obvious No. 1-type starter in this year’s prospect pool, the depth and variety of position players felt as strong as any year I can recall. Like shortstops? Well, we’ve got pure shortstops like Francisco Lindor or Addison Russell, or offensive impact candidates like Xander Bogaerts or Carlos Correa or Javier Baez. For power-hitting third basemen, Miguel Sano, Kris Bryant and Maikel Franco fit the profile perfectly. Tooled-up outfielders are represented by Byron Buxton, Gregory Polanco and George Springer. And I didn’t mean to shortchange the pitchers, particularly righty starters, where you can take your pick of Archie Bradley, Jonathan Gray, Masahiro Tanaka, Taijuan Walker, Noah Syndergaard, Robert Stephenson, et al.

Patrick (Lake Forest, CA): How would you compare Christian Bethancourt to Austin Hedges? More specifically, who has the edge in each of the 5 tools and who has the better prospects as a pro?
Matt Eddy: I would favor Padres C Austin Hedges in this comparison because I have fewer questions about his bat. I think he’ll draw walks and hit for power. The physical tools on defense might favor the Braves’ Christian Bethancourt, but Hedges is more reliable behind the plate, if not as explosive.

Brian (South Bend): Do you see Luis Sardinas as a poor man's Elvis Andrus?
Matt Eddy: I lean toward poor man’s Erick Aybar, because Rangers SS Luis Sardinas is a fast, contact-oriented, switch-hitting shortstop. Sardinas isn’t quite as explosive (or thick in the lower half) as Aybar, so the power might not approach Aybar levels, but he has the potential to be a better on-base player based on his minor league walk rate.

Brian (South Bend): Are there any prospects that would have made the top 100 list if they were a couple of years younger?
Matt Eddy: Not for me. I don’t discriminate based on age, only because the older prospects are more likely to yield near-term value in the big leagues. Plus, the most talented of the prospects at higher levels have demonstrated that they can handle the physical and mental toil of the long minor league season. That’s valuable to me.

Matt (Orlando): How do you explain the Rays struggles over the last few drafts to select and develop impact talent?
Matt Eddy: Much hinges on the 2010 and 2011 draft bonanzas that brought RHP Taylor Guerrieri, C Justin O’Conner, OF Mikie Mahtook, SS Jake Hager, SS Brandon Martin, OF Drew Vettleson, 3B Tyler Goeddel, 2B Ryan Brett, RHP Jeff Ames and LHP Blake Snell into the system. They might be redeemed if they can come up with two or three quality regulars from that group. The key to the Rays’ success in recent years is the organization’s terrific work in terms of making pro evaluations. Wil Myers, Ben Zobrist, Matt Joyce, Chris Arhcer and others all joined the org via trades.

Matt (VA): The Nats had a real good GCL team last year. Any future potential All Stars from that team?
Matt Eddy: Esteemed colleague and long-time Nationals prospect-ranker Aaron Fitt included three GCL Nationals in his Top 30. If you don’t want to be spoiled as to how the ranking shakes out, then read no further. 3B Drew Ward (third round, 2013) has a simple offensive approach and gap power at this stage, but he could grow into more power. RHP Jefry Rodriguez (D.R., 2013) sits in the mid-90s and can snap off a quality curveball at times, and he has the potential to shoot up the list next year. CF Rafael Bautista (D.R., 2012) could be a speedy, on-base option at the top of the lineup.

Ben (Leland Grove): I need to circle the date your top 100 prospects list comes out in red marker. So, when is it? Thanks.
Matt Eddy: Look for the Top 100 Prospects on Wednesday, Feb. 19.

JOhn (Philly): When will the prospect handbook be available in stores?
Matt Eddy: Amazon.com and retail booksellers should have the book by the last week of February. If you can’t stand the wait, then consider ordering direct from Baseball America. You get it quicker, while also receiving a supplement that contains an extra prospect for each club. Here’s the link to the BA store: https://www.baseballamerica.com/store/store.cgi?browse=cat_books&p=OJMJKJ

Kelly (St. Cloud, MN): Who are your early favorites for 2014 NL/AL ROY?
Matt Eddy: This is a fun question, but I hadn’t given it much thought previously. I would say strong contenders in the AL would have to be Xander Bogaerts and Nick Castellanos based on their potential and paths to playing time. Among the older set, you couldn’t go wrong with Jose Abreu (White Sox) and Masahiro Tanaka (Yankees). In the NL, I’ll say Oscar Taveras and Archie Bradley could do some good things this year. My darkhorse candidates would be: Maikel Franco (Phillies) and Kyle Zimmer (Royals).

a.j. (las vegas): With Polanco grading out well defensively in CF would you look to trade one of the Pirate OF's for a more traditional corner outfielder?
Matt Eddy: I’m not sure Pirates pitchers would appreciate that! I would stand pat until Starling Marte begins to make real money, then explore the trade market for his services. His value would receive a huge boost by playing CF every day.

Norm Chouinard (Connecticut): Matt, What is your view on how to rank guys like Lucas Giolito and Sean Manaea? And while you're at it, how would you compare the 2?
Matt Eddy: Nationals RHP Lucas Giolito (Tommy John surgery) and Royals LHP Sean Manaea (torn him labrum) were two of the toughest players to rank. You can include Orioles RHP Dylan Bundy (T.J. surgery) and Braves RHP J.R. Graham (shoulder) in that group, too. If fully healthy in 2013 then all four would have ranked higher on my personals top 100, perhaps significantly so. I try not to ding a pitcher too much for a lost year — it’s just standard job hazard — but my reticence springs from the potential for future injury. Studies have indicated that the greatest predictor of future injury is past injury, and furthermore there may be something about an injured pitcher’s physiology or delivery that makes him a greater injury risk.

Chris (New York): What are your thoughts on Jorge Alfaro's hit tool? I know about the plus arm and raw power, but it seems like there are questions about his ability to hit. Will he hit enough to become an offensive star?
Matt Eddy: This is my question, exactly. Scouts outside the Rangers organization are not sold that Alfaro is more than a 40 or 45 hitter based on his plate approach. The good news for Alfaro is that teams generally do not expect their catchers to hit for a high average. My own personal research indicates that the median line (think of it as the difference between first and second division) for regular catchers in the big leagues is roughly .250/.320/.400 with 11 HR per 400 PA. Viewed in that light, Alfaro doesn’t seem like such a poor bet, especially if he can deliver more HR than the standard. Curiously, those 11 HR by regular catchers is a similar (or greater) rate than three other positions produce over 500 PA: second base (eight), shortstop (eight), center field (12). In other words, teams today value power form their starting catchers.

Matt (VA): Who are your guys top sleeper prospects?
John Manuel: Thanks Matt Eddy for the baton, I’ll try not to drop it. Matt from VA, I’m going to use the Handbook definition of “sleeper,” which is someone not in the top 30. (For those who don’t know, in addition to the top 30 prospects & scouting reports, each org has a Top 2014 Rookie, Breakout Prospect and Sleeper listed.) I think my favorite is Angels RHP Mike Monster for his name and backstory as a Canadian pitcher who signed out of a tryout camp. As far as best prospect among those “sleepers,” I’ll say Stephen Bruno of the Cubs. He was hurt most of 2013 and he’s just 5-foot-9, but the guy can really, really hit. I think he can play some 2B as well and maybe 3b. Let me know if you had a different “sleeper” definition.

Matt (Madison): A year ago the Phillies signed two J2 guys for $500k+, Deivi Grullon is getting a lot of love and Jose Pujols is not, what are your thoughts on the pair?
John Manuel: Both players are in the Handbook for the Phillies. Grullon got a little more money if that means anything to you. If there’s a big difference in perception, that’s probably due to the fact that Pujols hit .188 in the GCL while Grullon hit .273. Pujols also struck out an awful lot. The Phillies definitely are excited about Grullon but they also are realistic about his offensive potential. He’s a glove-over-bat catcher and plays a premium position well enough that his bat should have time to develop. Pujols is not all about the bat but he has big raw power, so even though he didn’t hit much, he still had 15 XBH, six more than Grullon, and tied for the GCL home run lead. They both deserve to be followed closely; Grullon got a higher BA grade.

@Jaypers413 (IL): Thanks for the chat, guys. Which prospects who are currently in the 21-30 range within their respective farm systems in the new Handbook do you anticipate jumping into the top 10 by this time next year?
John Manuel: That’s a fun question. Our 21-30s used to be more younger guys who were just starting out on a prospect list, but with the BA Grades, more and more the 21-30s are littered with future middle relievers with less upside. I think that’s as it should be and fairly logical but it makes it harder to find a future regular who could really jump up a prospect list, like your question implies. Just going alpha by organization, I’ll throw out Jendel Gustave of the Astros, who has 100 mph velocity potential; Zane Evans of the Royals, whom I like as a catcher; Ty Hensley of the Yankees, who has been stymied by injuries but whom I believe in; Dominic Leone, a 6-foot, hard-throwing reliever with the Mariners; and Jacob Wilson of the Cardinals, one of my favorite sleepers.

Grant (NYC): Pretending Rodon had been drafted and signed by Houston already, would you rank him above Correa as their #1 prospect?
John Manuel: If Houston had been able to sign him, say, last July after the Cuba game, then yes. AS one scout told me last week on Carlos, “Pretty much every hitter in the world would have had trouble with him that night.” So I really like Correa as a prospect but yes, I’d rank Mr. Rodon ahead of him. If you want to see it, that game is here: http://web.usabaseball.com/video/play.jsp?topic_id=37145162

Kerry (Springdale, Arkansas): Who are the top talents in the Texas league for 2014?
John Manuel: Quick look at this, but Houston’s Corpus Christi affiliate should be fascinating. Maybe Carlos Correa late in the year, definitely expect Mike Foltynewicz and Mar Appel (unless Folty graduates after 100 IP there), and likely Delino DeShields Jr. St. Louis likely will send Marco Gonzales to springfield at some point this year; I’m a Marco fan. I would expect Stephen Piscotty to graduate to Triple-A. San Antonio (Padres) won the league last year and I would expect will see Austin Hedges again; he finished last season there and should lead the Missions at the outset of ’14. Jorge Bonifacio should lead the Royals’ Northwest Arkansas contingent. The Angles’ affiliate won the Cal League so Alex Yarbrough, Zach Borentstein and R.J. Alvarez should graduate to AA.

Craig (Illinois): Other than the big names in the Cubs system (Baez, Bryant, Solar, Almora) are there others upon whom we should keep an eye?
John Manuel: I’m a CJ Edwards guy and think he merits mention as a “big name” in the system. I would say the same for Pierce Johnson and Arismendy Alcantara. They were all on my Top 100; our collective BA top 100 comes out Feb. 19. To me that system has a very defined first 7 prospects, then a second tier afterward.

Andy (Syracuse): Will a switch to catcher hurt or help Carson Kelly prospect status? If he hits, a top 100 prospect next year?
John Manuel: It was factored in for the book and when we did the Cardinals top 10 in the fall. It would clearly help. He’s very young and might have been a regular at 3b, but catcher makes sense for his lack of speed. Obviously playing catcher is harder than playing third base so we’ll see how he looks after trying to actually play it in games. I like Kelly, but the Cardinals made a nice heist of Randal Grichuk from the Angels in the Freese-Bourjos deal, and that pushed Kelly out of the Top 10.

Jason (Dallas): Where in the top 100 would you have slotted Carlos Rodon and Jeff Hoffman if they were eligible?
John Manuel: Rodon would be No. 3 on my list; my top 50 in the book starts with Buxton and Bogaerts, with Taveras 3rd. Rodon would slot in ahead of Taveras. I had two scouting directors last week use the words “transcendent talent” with Rodon. No one talks about Jeff Hoffman that way. Not trying to put anyone down here, but there is a gap between those guys. Hoffman’s career K per 9 IP in college is 6.9. Rodon led the country in strikeouts last year. Hoffman is a projection guy. I’m not sure Hoffman would have made my Top 50. I mean, I have Mark Appel No. 44. Appel is a better prospect. Hoffman would have to really improve his inconsistent secondary stuff this season to go into the top 50.

Kevin (Washington, DC): How does Tanaka's ceiling relate to that of guys like Bradley, Gray, and Appel? Will he rack up enough strikeouts to be considered an ace?
John Manuel: We gave him a 70 ceiling for a BA grade, which we consider a No. 2 starter. That’s a pretty high grade. We were similarly aggressive with Bradley and Gray and a bit less high on Appel. I think Tanaka will rack up plenty of K’s with his splitter as long as he throws his fastball at close to the velocity and command he had in Japan. If he nibbles too much and loses confidence in his fastball, as Daisuke Matsuzaka did in his career, then he will fall short of that lofty ceiling. But I’m fairly bullish on Tanaka.

Fonz (Milwaukee): Could Jose Ramirez (Cleveland edition) be a starting middle infielder if he escapes the logjam in Cleveland? How about Ronny Rodriguez?
John Manuel: Yes, he could in a different organization. The big question for Ramirez is whether he’ll have enough pop to keep pitchers honest; I don’t ever expect him to hit for power.I like his ability to control the strike zone and explosive speed. He has polish to add but he’s interesting, a bastion of interesting in a modest farm system.

Andrew Brotherton (Atlanta, GA): What Yankees do you think could make the highest leap next year?
John Manuel: Already mentioned Ty Hensley. I am hopeful he’ll be healthy this year. Miguel Andujar is a good bet if he has a successful first full season. Bryan Mitchell is a long-time fave who has probably the best arm in the system but just hasn’t put it all together.

John (NJ): I've noticed Hunter Harvey has shot up prospect charts for some big name people, up into the 30's. Is BA that high on him as well?
John Manuel: We’re high on Hunter Harvey as well, but we’re also reflecting the industry consensus. So we’re not going to rank Harvey over, say, Kohl Stewart, a fellow HS RHP who went 4th overall, some 16-17 picks over Harvey. It’s rare that players drafted 20ish overall make the Top 100 in their first year, and it’s not like he fell that low for signability. I think he’s a little better than the 21st overall pick or whatever, and I like Hunter Harvey. But I think when you pull back and give it some perspective, I think it’s more logical to be cautious on a HS RHP picked in the 20s of a decent draft class but one considered light on high school pitching and not run him up a Top 100 list overall when you put him in that context.

Dustin (Fargo, ND): Lance McCullers Jr. has one of the best fastball/breaking ball combinations in the minors. Why is everyone so quick to say he's a future reliever?
John Manuel: Because his changeup at this point is basically a BP fastball, and most major league starters throw more than 2 pitches regularly. Also, his dad has the same name and was a big league reliever (and a damn fine one—check his 1986 season.) He could be one of the minority, if not an exception, who thrives with just two 70 pitches and his changeup is just kind of a show-me pitch. I think a lot of people forget that McCullers never started until 2012 in his high school senior season. Before that he was a 2-3 innings at most guy in high school and in showcases. Even though he’s a son of a big league pitcher, he’s still learning to pitch. I think the Astros recognize this and will give him time to develop that third pitch.

Brian (Atlanta.. No longer frozen, GA): have the prospect books shipped yet?
John Manuel: Shipping today, which is why we’re doing this chat. Some shipped last week during our own snow week, though it wasn’t as bad as yours, Brian. Some who pre-ordered from us already have their books, so I hope you pre-ordered, you’ll have it soon. Thanks for your interest.

Aaron (Dallas, TX): If Joey Gallo can hit above .250 and hit 40 HR, does that make him a top 20 prospect?
John Manuel: What level is he hitting .250 at? In the majors? Considering how just two big leaguers hit 40 HRs last year, I’d say it would make him a pretty useful player. Maybe the player Gallo resembles most will be Pedro Alvarez — lot of K’s, good arm, limited 3b range but playable there … I could see him having that kind of career. I like the Chris Davis comp as well, and a Russell Branyan floor. I think Gallo’s power will get him to the big leagues; how much he can play 3b (he’s just a huge dude) and how much contact he makes will determine if he’s Branyan or more like Alvarez …

John Manuel: I’m going to pass the mic to JJ Cooper … thanks for coming out everybody!

Dan (Idaho): Thoughts on Reds' OF Reydel Medina - any update since the article posted by John in August? Thanks!
J.J. Cooper: Hey everyone. I’m hopping in to finish off this chat. Medina did make the Reds’ Top 30. He’s probably not going to end up being an impact guy, but he has power and speed, so if he can develop at the plate, he has a chance as a corner outfielder.

Navin (Pasadena, CA): Besides CJ Edwards and Pierce Johnson, which Cubs minor league pitcher do you think will take the biggest step forward in 2014?
J.J. Cooper: Answering Arodys Vizcaino is almost cheating, as injuries more than on-field development issues have dramatically slowed his development. It wouldn’t stun me to see him pitch in the Cubs’ bullpen this year.

Dustin (Fargo, ND): Philip Ervin put up great numbers at two different levels during his pro debut last year. Being a college guy, it seems like he could be one the first position players in the draft to get some MLB at bats. What part of his game needs the most work? What is his ceiling?
J.J. Cooper: He could move quickly because he can really hit. There are a few things he has to work on however. Most notably, he needs to stay healthy–Irvin has had some sort of injury in each of the past four seasons. Beyond that, he needs to work really hard on his agility and speed. He’s a borderline center fielder who could end up sliding to a corner if he loses a step. He has a lot more value if he can stay in center, so that could be a very important part of his development.

Scott (Stamford CT): Can you name a few guys we're going to be legitimately shocked are as ranked as high as they are in the BA 100? Thanks for the chat
J.J. Cooper: If you read our stuff regularly, you’re not likely to see four shocking picks. We’re not looking to shock with our Top 100. We could go all upside and put some guys shockingly high in the top 100 knowing that a few of them will pan out, but that’s never been our approach. We all have guys who individually we would have had higher or lower, but overall, as usual, it’s a pretty straightforward list.

Fonz (Milwaukee): Does Yorman Rodriguez end up having a better, worse, or unappreciably different MLB career than Juan Encarancion (with, one hopes, a less painful conclusion)?
J.J. Cooper: That’s not a terrible comp. I’d go with unappreciably different.

Norm Chouinard (Connecticut): OK I am confused. How can a 70 be a #2 starter if a 75 is a "perennial all-star and in consideration for the Hall of Fame" according to the site.
J.J. Cooper: Because the grades get much more rare as you climb the ladder. A 75 is a No. 1 starter. You might think there are 30 No. 1 starters since there are 30 MLB teams, but there’s not close to that many. Pretty much anyone who sticks around as a No. 1 for a while is generally a perennial all-star which likely will put them in Hall of Fame consideration. In recent years, think Justin Verlander, C.C. Sabathia, Roy Halladay (before the end of career decline), Clayton Kershaw and David Price. This year, not one pitcher earned a 75 on the BA Grades.

Nick (Baltimor): What are your thoughts on Raimel Tapia and Nick Williams? It appears that they both have multiple above-average-to-plus offensive tools. Do you see either of them shooting up prospect lists this season? Who has the higher ceiling?
J.J. Cooper: Those are two pretty different guys. Williams is a player with extremely good hands that allows him to somewhat compensate for a tendency to view anything within a two-block radius of the strike zone as a hittable pitch. Tapia has a better feel for the strike zone but like Williams he has excellent hand-eye coordination. With Tapia, really we just need to see how he handles much more advanced pitching. Asheville is a excellent place to hit, but so is most everywhere in the Pioneer League, where Tapia played last year. I could see Tapia jumping up lists quite quickly with a big year in Asheville, but up to now, we haven’t had a chance to see what weaknesses he has to work on. We’ll see more of that in 2014. Which has a higher ceiling? Tapia might be able to stick in center while most scouts see Williams solely as a corner outfielder. Partly because of that I’ll give the edge to Tapia.

Etienne (Montréal): I already pre order the 2014 version but I've never seen any copy of the Baseball america prospect, so I don't know exactly what to expect. Then, as a first time buyer, what do you think I will enjoy the most out of this magazine?
J.J. Cooper: It’s a book, so I think the paper quality will be a nice surprise for one. If you’re a first-time buyer, I hope that the usefulness of the book throughout the year and beyond will be one of the surprises of owning it. You will have 934 scouting reports in your hands (if you ordered from us, 904 if you ordered elsewhere). When there is a midseason trade, you’ll already have a scouting report on many of the minor leaguers involved. If you are trying to figure out how talent compares between systems, the BA Grades will allow you to figure that out in a variety of different ways. You can read your favorite team’s reports and then bounce around to read others, or you can read it cover to cover, but there is a lot of information there, so it should keep you entertained for a while. And when you go to the ballpark, it will give you starting points to look at with whatever teams you are watching. Watching a pitcher in May, you can get a sense if he’s improved on the weaknesses we spelled out in the book. Is his velocity up, down or the same as what he was last year? Thanks for ordering and we hope you enjoy it. It’s a lot of work to put together, but it’s also one of the reasons we love working here.

Justin C (Thibodaux, LA): Is it possible we will see Jonathan Singleton win a roster spot in spring training?
J.J. Cooper: Highly unlikely. I think he’ll be up at some point in 2014, but he had a rough enough 2013 that it’s much more likely he’ll spend some further time in the minors.

Dave Rook (Buffalo, NY): can you tell me how close RHP Mark Armstrong came to making the top 10 for Cincinnati Reds?
J.J. Cooper: Very far away from it. He didn’t throw during the summer and in instructional league he was OK, but not spectacular by any stretch. I know he was a third-round pick, but he wasn’t a consensus top three-round talent. He ended up as a depth chart guy. You want to see something as a pro before he cracks the Top 30.

Cy Young (hardball Heaven): 2 young pitchers, A) has 70 fastball, flashes a good curve, rudimentary change. B) 70 FB, promising change up, not much feel for a breaking ball. Who has the better shot of making it?
J.J. Cooper: I think most scouts would go with A. Throwing a changeup is often all about finding a comfortable grip and learning to trust it through repetition. A lot of scouts believe if you can’t spin a breaking ball, you’re unlikely to ever develop the feel to really spin it.

J.J. Cooper: Hey everyone. Thanks for coming out and we hope you enjoy your Prospect Handbooks. We’re wrapping this up after a little under three hours of chatting.