League Top 20 Prospects

Eastern League Top 20 Prospects Chat With John Manuel

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John Manuel: Ready to take your Q's now on the EL, thanks to the Backyard BBQ Pit. Getting hungry again just typing that. On to the succulent Eastern League ... or something.

    Commish (NY): Gose potential - greater than, equal to, or less than Carl Crawford and what are the chances he reaches that potential. ETA?

John Manuel: I don't think it's instructive to use Crawford as a comp right now for anybody. Nevertheless, you asked, so let's talk about what Gose does. He's a good defender in CF; Crawford never was. His arm is a weapon; never true of Crawford. Gose's bat has a long way to go; I saw Crawford in Triple-A and don't recall thinking his approach was as raw as Gose's is. I think Gose will need a full Triple-A year, but he'll be an asset on defense as soon as he gets to Toronto, so he might get there sooner. There's a pretty defined trio of top prospects in Bryce Harper, Mike Trout and Matt Moore. Outside of those guys, I might pick Gose as the most exciting player in the minors. He's not Jurickson Profar good as a prospect but he's thrilling to watch. Managers didn't even really like him because of his, shall we say, exuberant playing style, but grudgingly agreed he's a significant prospect.

    Dan (Boise): Help me understand Middlebrook's floor & ceiling. The write up suggests he is a solid defender. He was also voted "best batting prospect" in the Eastern league according to BA's best tools, yet is only # 8 on this list falling below 4 other offensive players. Shouldn't he be higher if he is the league's best hitter with out defensive red flags????

John Manuel: The other offensive players he fell behind include, for me, the No. 1 prospect in the minors in Harper; the minors' best catching prospect in d'Arnaud (with all due respect to Devin Mesoraco); and the league's batting champ in Starling Marte, who is a plus defender in CF. Those are pretty high-upside pitchers as well. You could definitely argue Middlebrooks above Marte; you present a solid argument there. I ranked him behind Marte by the slimmest of margins, giving a slight edge to the league's batting champ who is a plus defender in CF. A lot to like for Middlebrooks though.

    Commish (NY): How far off was Xavier Avery from this list. Does he still profile as an everyday center fielder and if so, whats a good comp for his potential.

John Manuel: Not far, which surprised me. Managers and scouts that I talked to liked Avery more than I do personally, and he'd probably be in that 21-25 range along with the likes of Joe Benson. The league wasn't full of great athletes, and Avery's athleticism stood out. He just has so much work to do in terms of making consistent contact, which comes down to pitch recognition for him. He's going to need a lot of ABs to do what Marte has done, which is pick up chase pitches and breaking balls and learn to lay off them. He definitely fits the CF profile though.

    Mel (St Paul): After what name on this list does it go from "bonafide future mlb regular" to "just another prospect" ?

John Manuel: To me, everyone on this top 20 has a chance to be a regular, and so do guys that I didn't include, like Avery or Benson or even Tyler Moore or Casey Crosby, or Jeff Locke, or Justin DeFratus ... This is a deep league list. The 11-20 list has more questions ... really at about No. 10. I like Henderson Alvarez; there are some who believe his breaking ball is too short for him to be a starter long-term, and they may be right. I like Eric Surkamp, and so did managers; some scouts think his fastball's just too short. Francisco Peguero has K-zone issues; Lavarnway's defense is iffy; Chiang has had one big year and stunk after the trade. So those guys aren't locks. But Chiang, Hechevarria, McPherson at the back of the list profile as regulars, for me.

    Sara (Boston): What do scouts not like about Alex Hassan, seems pretty good to me.

John Manuel: Well, for one, he went to Duke. That's tough to surmount for most of us. Actually, I like Hassan, who I always thought would be a pitcher when he was in college. He's more of a solid prospect, to reference the last question. No one I've talked to considers him a first-division regular. He doesn't have a standout tool, but he's a solid athlete and he hits, especially LHPs. He's really a tweener who doesn't run enough to play CF, where his bat profiles, and doesn't have enough power to be an everyday corner guy. If he hit lefthanded, he might have made the top 20, like Chih-Hsien Chiang, his former teammate.

    Robert (Secaucus, NJ): If Drew Smyly had logged enough innings, would he have cracked the top 20?

John Manuel: He probably would have, though because he didn't qualify, I didn't bear down on him. I like Smyly a lot as a quick-tempo four-pitch lefty with feel for spinning a breaking ball. He'll be one of the aces for Team USA in the World Cup, to me he's their best pitcher, but they also have Todd Redmond, who pitched well in an eventual loss to Puerto Rico yesterday.

    @Jaypers413 (IL): Did Matt Harvey not pitch enough to qualify? If he had, about where would you have ranked him? What did scouts like and dislike about him this season?

John Manuel: Speaking of the Mets, who seem to have contributed half of Puerto Rico's World Cup team ... Harvey did pitch enough to qualify, and he's in that 21-25 group. The guys I talked to who saw him in the EL thought his stuff was inconsistent and his inexperience showed a bit in terms of setting up hitters and pitch sequence, but he didn't miss by much. On a top 100, I'd imagine he'd go ahead of Kyle McPherson, for example. In McPherson's favor, he has a better changeup and actually threw a bit harder than Harvey, but he's also older. McPherson was better in the league, that swayed me to give him the 20th spot. People in the league definitely liked Familia better because of his loose arm and better fastball. But Harvey's upside remains very high.

    Ben (Leland Grove): Was Casey Crosby in the 21-25 range? What was the verdict on his stuff, now that he's healthy?

John Manuel: I was surprised by the lack of support for Crosby, and there was more support for Turner and Martinez off the Erie roster, obviously. But that's a lefty hitting 96 mph; sounded like the secondary stuff and the fastball command are still short. I think he's headed for the bullpen in that organization.

    @Jaypers413 (IL): Jordany Valdespin had what many consider a breakout year - was he considered for your list?

John Manuel: He was on my list when I first started, but wound up out of it because of his defense and age. He made 26 E's I believe at SS in 78 games, and no one I talked to thinks he's an everyday shortstop. The bat came on, but he's going to have to get better with the glove at second base or wind up as a utility player. the consensus I got was the latter was his most likely future.

    Chad Jenkins (NH): Did I get mentioned when compiling your list?

John Manuel: Not terribly high, but the end-of-season rotation at New Hampshire was fascinating with Jenkins & Deck McGuire, Drew Hutchinson and his Fastball Command of Renown, and breakout prospect Nestor Molina, who was unreal down the stretch and in the postseason. I would rank Jenkins fourth out of that quartet.

    Ben (Leland Grove): Tony Sanchez - prospect or suspect at this point?

John Manuel: I'm giving Sanchez a mulligan for this year, but he had one of the poorer years for a "prospect" in the league. He had the yips in terms of getting the ball back to the pitcher at times; he had real issues receiving. One scout said he got better late but essentially questioned if Sanchez ever would hit enough to be a backup, not to mention a regular. That was damning testimony. One manager, though, said he's seen Sanchez with 1.85 pop times in the past and thinks he'll get back to that because of his athleticism. Let's hope Sanchez responds positively and comes back stronger next season.

    Harry (Minneapolis): No Joe Benson? Thoughts on his season?

John Manuel: I like Benson and he made steps forward this year. He still needs polish to his offensive approach, and when I wrote him up, I just wound up thinking he was a bit behind those other prospects at the back of the league top 20. You could argue Benson over, say, Peguero or Chang and not get a big argument from me; the scouts I talked to just thought Benson had enough adjustments still to be made on breaking balls from righthanders and using the whole field more. I thought this was a positive year for him, though. With Denard Span's concussion issues in Minnesota, Benson might be closer to being an everyday CF than we thought previously, and he can handle CF defensively. Still plus tools, just still making adjustments at the plate.

    Brian (New York): Would you consider Reese Havens to be the Mets' 2B of the future, and did he get any love for the top 20?

John Manuel: Again, I thought this top 20 was pretty stout, so the oft-injured Havens couldn't crack the list. I like him as a future regular, but he has to stay healthy to do that. There's real life in his bat for a 2b, though it's more average power if not fringe-average. The fact that he's lefthanded will carry him, if he can stay healthy.

    Randy (Detroit): Does Turner project as a #1, or a more conservative #2-#3?

John Manuel: He doesn't pitch off his fastball enough to be a No. 1. He's not a No. 1, but he's got a real shot to be a No. 2. We've seen a lot of No. 1 starters this postseason already, and you see how much those guys use their fastball. Verlander and Moore were great examples. Turner's fastball is good enough for him to use it more to set up his breaking ball and changeup, but he's got a lot working for him. I have heard some detractors who don't like the delivery because he's got a little head snap at the end, but most didn't think it was a problem. You kind of have to nitpick to find negatives in Turner.

    Ryan (Bronx): Does Betances project as a future SP or RP to you?

John Manuel: Really tough question; easier answer is always reliever. I always thought Chamberlain and Hughes would be starters, and here are the Yankees starting AJ Burnett tonight after using Freddy Garcia in this series. I think Betances deserves a lot of credit for making adjustments as he's gone up the ladder and becoming more of a strike-thrower despite a tough delivery to repeat and such a big body to control. His walk rate was much higher this year as he faced tougher competition, and he's going to go to Triple-A next year to see if he can improve that and throw more strikes. With his stuff, he just needs solid control; he doesn't need fine command. The odds are against him being a starter long-term in that organization, but I admit I've become a bit of a Betances guy over the years. His stuff is just so loud.

    Chris G. (NJ): Has the shiny tool-box that is Melky Mesa finally lost enough of his sheen that he can be considered a non-prospect unless he suddenly learns some plate discipline over the winter?

John Manuel: Not a non-prospect yet but certainly has lost some sheen. You'd trade plate discipline for power with a guy like that, it's more likely that he regains some pop, he did have a back injury this year that seemed to affect that aspect of his game.

    Gerry (Toronto): Jim, the Fisher Cats were loaded with good players. Did any of Moises sierra, Mike McDade or Joel Carreno get any love?

John Manuel: They did, in that order. Sierra a standout arm in a league of great throwing arms, and he fits the RF profile with the arm, plus raw power and athleticism. It's a raw hitting approach and he has some plate-coverage issues. McDade, I've gotten a Randall Simon comparison on him from a scout as a pro. As an amateur, he got Prince Fielder comparisons for his size, but he's more like Simon as a hitter, though he's a better defender and nicer to sausage-racers. Carreno is a tough guy to get a handle on; some really like his fastball-slider combo, but he's really more of a two-pitch reliever in the future. One scout used the word "trickeration" to describe him, if that's a word. I'm sure they use it on NFL Live, so I'll never use it again.

    JC (VT): How much of Derek Norris's contact issues can be traced to lingering effects of his wrist injury?

John Manuel: Not sure we can blame that anymore, we have a two-year sample size of Norris not hitting for average, and the scouts and managers I talked too attributed it more to not knowing when to be aggressive and when to be selective. I ranked him as high as I did because they all like his swing, athletic ability and improved defensive ability behind the plate. He went from being an American League player to a legit option at C, though his defense is still such that he's going to have to be an offensive catcher. He'll never be a plus defender, it seems.

    JC (VT): Did Indians catcher Chun Chen get any support from the people you talked to?

John Manuel: I'll say modest support from the scouts and not much from the managers. He is a catcher; he has that going for him. But it's a thick body that didn't measure up in comparison to more athletic backstops in this league like Romine, d'Arnaud, Norris, etc. Pretty interesting league for catchers. Not a lot going on prospect-wise in Akron this year.

    @Jaypers413 (IL): If you're Nats management, do you start Harper back at Harrisburg come April, or bump him to Syracuse?

John Manuel: I'm not sure why you wouldn't include Washington as an option there. He's probably the best CF in the organization, and I bet they are tempted to put him there. More likely they get a CF this offseason (they made a run at Denard Span in July), keep Harper on the corners and start him back at Harrisburg. If you haven't seen the video of the home run he hit off Ryan Pope on Aug. 12, I encourage you to go to YouTube for the Harrisburg Senators' game recap of that. It's an impressive piece of hitting.

    Borris (St Paul): Thanks for the chat John. What can you tell us about Twins lefty Andrew Albers? Former 10th round pick from an SEC school that seems to have come out of nowhere this year. Is he a guy who could help the Twins bullpen in '12 or '13?

John Manuel: Albers started Canada's first game the other day in the World Cup and got the win against Japan. He's a four-pitch LHP with below-average stuff across the board, like a poor-man's Eric Surkamp or Scott Diamond. How's that for a comp? I like Albers for what he is, and I suppose he does fit the Twins' strike-throwing credo, but I think even they want a little more ooomph in their pitchers.

    mrnrfn (Las Vegas): What is the potential ceiling/floor for Chih-Hsien Chiang and what position would you expect him to play if he makes it to majors?

John Manuel: Another tough question. Chiang's performance in the EL was just so loud, no one could ignore his bat. His other tools are just OK; it's interesting the Mariners went and got him because defense is not his forte. He's fine for what he gets to but he's a below-average runner, and you don't see many of those in Safeco, do you? I should ask Conor Glassey ... he says Raul Ibanez is the last such joker. I think his ceiling is Ibanez-esque, frankly, though probably never quite that good offensively or in terms of size of chewing tobacco. He's a LF.

    Mike M (Southie): Hi John - last year, Baseball America had Jose Iglesias as the 17th best prospect in the Eastern League and Adeiny Hechavarria missed the list. Would you consider Adeiny the better prospect at this point? Thanks.

John Manuel: I think it's a toss-up. Iglesias showed a bit more with the bat last year in terms of the strength in his swing; I really haven't talked to anyone about Iglesias this year, but neither one has hit outside of the PCL yet. I'll take Erisbel Arruebarruena to block! (He's Cuba's SS in the World Cup now.)

    Keyote (Frederick, MD): How close was my old friend LJ Hoes to making the list? He has to be #21, right?

John Manuel: If Hoes could play 2b, he'd have made the top 20. But he can't. He's probably a left fielder, and that's a tough position from an offensive standpoint. Hoes just is a bat without a defensive position, tough profile. He was more 26-35 range than 21-25. One scout's take was he's a corner bat without HR power or SB speed. That's a tweener or 4-A profile, really.

    Chris (Pittsburgh): Given that Starling Marte greatly increased his number of home runs over that of the past two years (12 in 2011, combined 5 in 2009-10), is the sense among scouts that he is starting to learn how to better hit for power?

John Manuel: He's making more consistent hard contact; to be a home run threat, to hit for average power, be a 10-15 HR a year guy, he's going to have to incorporate his legs into his swing more, use his hips to help him drive the ball. More likely he winds up as a single-digit home run guy. I think he's a slightly better version of Austin Jackson.

    Chris (Pittsburgh): In 2007, at age 20, Andrew McCutchen put up a .260/.327/.386 line. Given that Marte is 22 in the same league, does his .332/.370/.500 line project him to be a similar player to Cutch? How to the two compare overall?

John Manuel: To follow up, he doesn't have McCutchen's bat speed or explosive hands. Not really close, I don't think. I think Marte could hit .280 with 7-10 homers annually, steal some bases and be a plus defender in CF with McCutchen moving to RF or maybe LF, since left is the bigger yard in Pittsburgh.

    Greg (Fullerton, CA): Best league Top 20 out there?

John Manuel: I actually did our league rankings this year. If you get the BA Digital Edition, you'll get all the Top 20s in their online glory plus the league rankings, which have the IL and SAL as five-star leagues. I gave the EL four stars; I guess I didn't want to be seen as a homer.

    Kyle (Philadelphia): Anything on Freddy Galvis? At a premium position and 21 he seemed like he would get back on the prospect map

John Manuel: He's got to hit a bit to make this list, but Galvis did have a better year this year. If he's a big league regular, he'll be an 8-hole hitter. He's a very good defender, in Hechevarria's league defensively, but scouts see more upside in Hechevarria's bat.

    @ProspectD2J (Toronto): What's the book on Twins OF Yangervis Solarte?

John Manuel: I like Solarte, who got his most extended playing time this season as a pro and took advantage. He's interesting. He's still improving defensively, and I think the Twins see him as a 2b now more than a LF. They gave him nearly 90 G at 2B and he's getting better there. His modest speed actually profiles him better at second than in the outfield, because he doesn't have corner-OF power or CF speed. Solarte can hit a fastball and fields enough to play in the dirt, but my gut feel is he's a 2b-of type and a versatile bench bat.

    Bill (Boston): John, Middlebrooks appears to be the heir apparent to Youkilis at 3rd base. Do you see any scenario were they move Youkilis to DH and slot Middlebrooks at 3rd base for 2012 or do you think he needs another year of seasoning at AAA?

John Manuel: He needs another year. The Red Sox have an abundance of 3B options in the minors, and some of them have better plate discipline than Middlebrooks. Next year is the last year of Youkilis' deal; you never know, Middlebrooks could be set to be a low-cost replacement to Youk in 2013, which could give Boston the money to keep Jacoby Ellsbury (provided he wants to stay�can you tell I read Alex Speier and Rob Bradford's WEEI.com stuff this week?).

    Matt (West Chester, PA): I was surprised to see Peacock get grouped together with Turner and Banuelos, let alone rank ahead of both. Considering Peacock's year and development, has his ceiling jumped from #3 to #2? And how do all three stack up against the top non-Moore/Teheran SP prospects like Shelby, Perez, Taillon, Pomeranz, Harvey, Skaggs? Thanks.

John Manuel: I really like Peacock a lot, and gave him the edge because of my single-minded (probably to a fault) emphasis of guys pitching off their fastball. Peacock went through lineups three times using mostly his heater. I like his fastball command best of that group, his fastball is as electric as any of them, and he's a good athlete. I like him as a future No. 3 starter, which is convenient as he slots in behind Strasburg and Jordan Zimmerman. I like most of the pitchers you listed better than Peacock other than Matt Harvey, and I'd like to talk to scouts who saw Pomeranz and Peacock, if anyone did. Pomeranz is really interesting, but he doesn't exactly command the strike zone. Peacock actually has average fastball command.

    Kyle (Philadelphia): Anything on the Relievers (Aumont & De Fratus) who spent the majority of the year at Reading?

John Manuel: I was told "don't sleep on Aumont" by a scout, and I've always liked DeFratus back to his Ventura JC days. Aumont's fastball has as good a combo of velocity and sink as anyone in the game. He just doesn't throw consistent-enough strikes at this point, but the switch could flip at any time. DeFratus has good stuff and throws strikes, but Aumont's ceiling is higher.

    Jon (SC): RHP Heath Hembree was not in either top 20's for the Cal League or Eastern League despite leading the minors in saves. Where does he stand in terms of prospects?

John Manuel: He was pretty close to making both lists, and he still throws straight butane at 98-99 at times. It's easy and he's got a little extra life. But he doesn't really have a second reliable pitch yet; his breaking ball comes and goes. Give Dick Tidrow a little more time with him, and you might have a less-bearded replacement for Brian Wilson soon. Hembree's one of the minors' best relief prospects; I'd probably take him over Addison Reed myself.

    Jon KK (Elkhart, Ind.): "Unnecessary Mustard" would be a good name for a band. Or a book or a blog. Just what do people mean by that (in reference to Anthony Gose)?

John Manuel: He's flashy when he doesn't need to be. Freddy Galvis plays SS with "necessary mustard," according to a Phillies official I talked to a couple of years ago when doing their Top 30. When we discussed Gose and his run-in at Lakewood with a rehabbing Brett Myers, I asked the official if Gose had "unnecessary mustard" and he agreed, so I've had that in my head for a couple of years.

    Jack Torry (Washington, D.C.): Did Austin Adams of Akron rate consideration?

John Manuel: He may have been Akron's top prospect, though he's probably a reliever. I loved that guy out of Faulkner (Ala.), athletic little quick-armed RHP, durable body, low-90s velo as a starter with an inconsistent breaking ball. I could see him being a 95-98 mph guy as a setup guy or closer with a better slider, but he has a thick, durable lower half and might be able to stay a starter. He's pretty interesting.

    Chris (Chicago): Thank you for the chat. I really appreciate the in depth answers that you give to the questions posed to you.

John Manuel: Thank you Chris. Good way to wrap it up. The torch has been passed to Ben Badler's Latin Palace for tomorrow's Southern League chat. (Commence Neil Young impersonation now.)