League Top 20 Prospects

2012 International League Top 20 Prospects Chat With John Manuel

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John Manuel: Thanks for coming everyone. We had more meetings than anticipated today so I apologize for the delay.

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

John Manuel: He's still a prospect, but certainly the Pirates were hoping for more. The bat looks like more of a backup bat or second-division bat. Reports on his defense were much more positive than last year in the Eastern League, when he had the yips, and the arm is plus. Catching is hard; he still has fair offensive tools. But few ever saw him as an impact bat.

    Mike (Tampa, FL): Had he not succombed to injury, about where would Alex Colome have placed, were he eligible?

John Manuel: I like Colome a lot; comparing him to Chris Archer, he throws with similar velocity, touching 97-98, with the fastball but throws a tick harder than Archer on a consistent basis. His fastball command is probably a tick better too. His changeup is a much better than Archer's, but his slider isn't the same quality, not by a longshot. If you buy the breaking ball, you're talking about a frontline starter potentially. If you don't, you're looking at a premium closer with the dominant fastball-change combo. I lean toward the latter.

    Frank (Chicago): Of those who are still eligible, how many of these 20 do you see making BA's top 100?

John Manuel: Very few are still eligible. The only ones that jump out as possible top 100 guys are the mysterious Julio Teheran, who sounded like Colome prior to this year, and DiDi Gregorious, who is more of a solid prospect at a premium position rather than an elite guy. The top guys who we thought would make the IL list—guys like Bryce Harper, Will Middlebrooks, Zack Wheeler, etc.—either got promoted too soon or promoted too late.

    @Jaypers413 (IL): In your scouting report of Archer, you said he could become either a #3 SP or a late inning reliever. Which do you believe will be more likely at present?

John Manuel: I'm coming around on Archer as a starter. Depends on the Rays a bit, but I think he made real progress with his fastball command late. The scouts I talked to thought the command issues related more to focus (almost analogous to giving away at-bats) as to mechanical mistakes. It's too much to expect him to have premium command that a true front-of-the-rotation guy would have, that's why I said No. 3 starter. But his combination of three pitches, loose arm, swing & miss stuff, makeup and the aptitude he showed this year make me think he'll start.

    Ryan (Dallas): Where would Gerrit Cole have ranked? Thanx for the chat.

John Manuel: There's another guy who didn't pitch enough to qualify. He got destroyed in the playoffs, which didn't augur well. But after being behind other pitchers in the EL and FSL, I think Cole would have topped the IL list. I am a Matt Harvey believer; he's been pretty special since he came up with that slider at UNC. But I would take Cole.

    Ben (Leland Grove): Kyle Gibson certainly seems to be on the road back, especially with yesterday's AFL start. Are his pitches any better than before, or about the same? Is he still projected to be a #4-5 SP?

John Manuel: Definitely one of the players I'll focus on for the Twins Top 30; he was still in the top 10 last year even after his Tommy John surgery, and in a system full of potential impact hitters (Sano, Arcia, Rosario, Buxton), he's the best pitching prospect at higher levels. We had a good report on him from the AFL on the Prospects Blog today, particularly the velocity on both his fastball and his slider, which always was a good pitch for him. If he regains the feel for a change he had pre-injury, I can see him with more than a 4-5 ceiling. He can be more than a back-end guy if he can maintain that velocity and throw strikes like he did before. Remember, he was once the Twins' No. 1 prospect. He's about to turn 25; it's time for Gibson to graduate to Minnesota next year. It's not like there isn't opportunity in that rotation.

    Paul (New York): No offense meant John, but would you consider this list to be the weakest in terms of potential when stacking it up against all of the other league top 20 lists this year?

John Manuel: Ha, I take no offense. I'm the one who assigned the leagues this year! I gave myself the weakest collection of talent, no doubt.

    Kelly (Atlanta Georgia): Despite his struggles this year, would you still consider Teheran to be the Braves' #1 overall prospect?

John Manuel: Truth be told, I'm not sure who the Braves' No. 1 prospect is right now. It should be Andrelton Simmons, but he logged too much MLB time. Among pitchers, I almost prefer J.R. Graham; always liked the quick-armed, athletic little guys who spin it and throw hard. Terehan's breaking ball always was a question mark. Now you throw in a velocity dip and iffy fastball command ... doesn't sound like a No. 1 to me. I like Sean Gilmartin and Lucas Sims but not over Teheran right now, and Christian Betancourt doesn't hit enough to be a No. 1. It's a vexing question. If I had to pick right now, I suppose it would be Graham for me, and believe me, I'm shocked that I am saying that.

    @Jaypers413 (IL): If Tim Beckham's potential was a "10" when he was drafted, what number would you give it now?

John Manuel: It's pretty funny that I seem to have become Tim Beckham's biggest defender not employed by the Rays. He didn't help me much in an interview for the column I wrote on him, making several big topics off-limits. That said, I've seen him and talked to scouts around here about him for two seasons now (end of '11, much of '12), both times in August. I can see why the Rays like him in that he has solid righthanded power; he just doesn't control the strike zone well enough to get to it. He was one of the youngest regulars in the league this year, a big reason why he made the list. One scout I talked to thought he was a Sean Rodriguez type; the other thought he was better than that, a better hitter, a regular, everyday 2B. To answer your question, I'll put it in 20-80 terms. If he was an 80 when he was drafted, he's a 45 now. He's a fringe regular at this point. His ceiling is about a 50/Medium (to use the Handbook term) on that scale — I can see him becoming an average regular. I don't think that's optimistic or pessimistic; I really think that's a realistic ceiling.

    Randy (Detroit, MI): Should we write off Andy Oliver as a SP in the system? Is his future to be a 4A player?

John Manuel: He could be. I recall getting Alan Embree comps on him earlier in his career, and he still throws that hard, but he doesn't throw consistent strikes unless he dials it down. When he does that, he's not special. Right now, he's a 4-A guy because he hasn't shown the ability to get consistent outs with his fastball. You have to throw strikes to do that.

    Grant (NYC): How close to this list did Melky Mesa land? What are his biggest strengths?

John Manuel: Melquisedec didn't have the PA to qualify but certainly made strides. Tools are still big and the defensive ability is still there. His inability to control the strike zone remains a constant, but it's hard to find center fielders with his power-speed-defense combination. And hey, the Yankees already have a center fielder hitting .220. I still see Melky as more of a fourth OF in the Greg Golson mold with a small chance to turn into a Chris Young type — power, speed, high Ks, good defense, low averages. I don't see that as a Yankees regular.

    MetsMan (NYC): Can Zach Lutz be a positive piece for an MLB team? Which pitcher has the higher chance of sticking in the rotation, Mejia or Famillia? And Edgin and Ramirez, future closers? Productive middle relief?

John Manuel: In the right situation, sure, I can see Lutz as a platoon 1B-DH type. Not much otherwise. Mejia and Familia were covered in the reports but it seems like the Mets are putting both in the bullpen. I ranked Familia ahead because the scouts and managers I talked to thought he had a better chance to start, but no one was putting themselves out there, staking their reputation that Jeurys would start. Edgin and Elvin Ramirez are more setup types; Ramirez runs it up to 98 but lacks much feel for his secondary stuff. Edgin has big velo too for a lefty but I see him more as a specialist than as a closer.

    Dave (Atlanta): Gwinnett's Ernesto Mejia had a strong AAA debut season and was the IL's best power prospect in the tools issue. With his poor defense, is he a viable platoon/bench player? Surely he would have been a better pinch hitter for Atlanta than guys like Eric Hinske or Tyler Pastornicky.

John Manuel: Well, Pastornicky runs and defends, which makes him a useful reserve. Hinske, I can't explain that one but he has veteran-ness I suppose. There wasn't a lot of competition for Best Power in the Best Tools; Mejia won a bit by default, if I can speak for the managers that voted. To me, he's a classic 4-A right-right 1B with some stiffness that tends to struggle against premium velocity. He could have a hot streak and have some MLB success, but he's not a true prospect.

    Andrew (At Work): If you were to compare top prep draft prospect from years past (Tim Beckham and Josh Vitters) Which players would scouts, managers and GMs, prefer to have in their organization? both have really failed to live up to their draft position, but I would not be surprised if 3-4 years down the road one of the two was able to contribute at the major league level, in a non star type role with another organization, what do you think?

John Manuel: Interesting comp. I'd take Beckham (obviously, I've become his champion!) because he's more athletic and can play defense up the middle. But both have let their respective organizations down to this point, no doubt. I think the Rays over-estimated Beckham's athleticism. He is not a BJ Upton-level athlete.

    Greg (London, ON): Hi - I guess I am surprised to see the 26-year old Corey Kluber and reliever Cody Allen ranked higher than RHP Zach McAllister. Can you elaborate? Thanks!

John Manuel: They both have bigger stuff than McAllister, though McAllister did add some velocity this year. But Kluber vs. McAllister, that really is a toss-up. Kluber's slider is a better strikeout pitch than McAllister, which is why I went in that direction. Cody Allen to me has a chance to close — closer velocity, closer swing-and-miss breaking ball, closer confidence. He's more than a setup guy. Kluber and McAllister are more 4th starter types, so I like Allen's impact a bit more even if it's reliever vs. starter there.

    Kevin (MN): I was surprised to see Chris Parmelee so high (though it seems like it's not a terribly strong group after the first four). Do you think he has the bat to be an average regular at 1B moving forward?

John Manuel: Me too! The league was just that down, and in the league context, Parmelee just crushed it. What did it most for me was his aptitude and improvement after getting sent down early in the year. I do think he has the bat to be a regular 1B, maybe more of a 2nd division regular than a Morneau type certainly. But he has improved his approach, closed up some holes and gotten to his power more consistently in each of the last two seasons. He's no star but I think he can be a solid regular and have an occasional 25-homer season.

    Chris (Boston, MA): Hi - do scouts see Josh Phegley as anything more than a backup catcher at the major league level? Thanks!

John Manuel: Not really, no. Better defensively than was expected but not a ton of impact in the bat, pretty slow pole.

    Elliot (Youngstown OH): Tim Fedroff showed more power in AAA than he ever did in the lower minors. Does he excite anyone as an OF prospect?

John Manuel: I like Fedroff. He did get better this year, but he's not a big guy, doesn't run, is an average defender in left field who can't quite hack CF ... he is more of a bench or platoon type than anything else. He'd have to be an elite hitter to make it as a regular with his current profile. That said, he's a career .296 hitter in the minors, and these are the Indians. Not like there are a lot of better hitters blocking him in Cleveland. They tried Thomas Neal and Russ Canzler there in September; not sure why Fedroff wouldn't get a look. The fact that he didn't probably means he's going to be Rule 5 eligible, so maybe he gets a chance with another organization.

    Norm (Connecticut): John, Thanks for the chat. Certainly seems like a list with far more questions than answers. Is this an historically bad year for prospects for the IL or am I overstating it?

John Manuel: I think that's accurate. Matt Eddy is our resident Triple-A expert and we were floored by how poor this list was. Jim Callis and I kept going over it to see who we were missing ... it was just a down, down year in this particular league.

    Warren (New London): Is what Chris Nelson did this year a reasonable expectation for Tim Beckham going forward (with possible adjustment for hitting in Colorado)? Your comments about the quality of the list seem spot on, as evidenced by Beckham being 10th here. Thanks for the chat!

John Manuel: Good call.

    Chris G. (Grafton, MA): I can understand why Ronnier Mustelier's age might have kept him off this list, but it seems like an undervalued asset in an organization that lacks for consistent right-handed bats at the Major League level. Do you see him as more valuable as a trade piece, or as a call-up/bench piece for New York in 2013?

John Manuel: I see him as a player for a potential Cuban ex-pat team in the WBC. I do not see him as an MLB option. Guys like Mustelier and Barbaro Canizares and Leslie Anderson and other Cuban ex-pats can make a good living in professional baseball outside of the major leagues, but he doesn't strike me as a player with a position outside of the batter's box. He does have bat speed and he can hit a good fastball. Maybe that gets him a chance.

    Joe R. (Newport News, VA): Teheran's struggles remind me of Chris Tillman, in a way — a very young pitcher dominating at AAA then struggling the following year(s). Is it possible that the struggles are due to simple physical maturity — mechanics that worked before don't work as the pitcher gets bigger/stronger?

John Manuel: I have not heard that explanation; it's worth asking about, and the comparison to Tillman is an intriguing one. Tillman regained fastball velocity this year and found an answer to LH hitters. That's not Teheran's problem; with his changeup he handled LH hitters better than RH ones. He lost velo and didn't locate well enough, but most of the managers I talked to thought his biggest issue was confidence. He pitched with a lot of swagger last year and this year, without the 95-96 when he wanted it, he just didn't have the same confidence and mound poise.

    jack (Staten island): What is the upside of Matt Den Dekker? Do you think he will be a starting major league outfielder?

John Manuel: den Dekker can really defend in center field, he runs, he throws ... there are tools there. Unfortunately he seems too similar to an old fave of mine, Jason Pridie, in his pitch recognition, and he doesn't have Pridie's short, quick bat. He has a longer swing and less impact. I can see him tightening up his zone a bit and becoming a second-division CF as a ceiling, but he's more of an extra OF, with tools fairly well suited to that role. It would be better if he ran a bit better for that.

    Matt (Philly): The Lehigh Valley bullpen had some interesting arms in it over the course of the year, how would you rank Aumont, DeFratus, Diekman, Rosenberg, and Schwimmer going forward? Do any of them have closer or late inning reliever upside?

John Manuel: I always liked DeFratus out of that group, but Aumont is just such a beast physically. It always has seemed like he should be better. Rosenberg has less upside, Schwimmer less and then Diekman is what he is, a left-on-left guy with some velo, up to 96 according to our reports. Still think Aumont has the highest ceiling of those guys but we've been waiting a while, haven't we?

    @Jaypers413 (IL): Had he qualified, would you have ranked Zack Wheeler above Harvey on this list? When do you expect the Mets will give him his cup of coffee? Thanks, John.

John Manuel: Saved this for last ... Wheeler vs. Harvey is a real tough one. Part of me sides with Wheeler because of the superior fastball command. As I'm sure you know, I'm more of a FB command guy when it comes to evaluating pitchers. But RH pitchers need a big time breaking ball too to pitch at the front of a rotation, and Harvey's slider is superior. I would give the slight edge to Wheeler because of the better fastball but it's a fun debate.

    Elliot (Youngstown OH): John, Your Tim Fedroff answer suggests you think less of Russ Canzler. Could he be useful RH bat at DH, 1B and LF for a team that has a void in those positions? (I can think of one such team.)

John Manuel: Real quick ... I like Canzler actually, for what he is, a reserve Ty Wigginton type. I was commenting more on the fact that I don't see why the Indians wouldn't evaluate Fedroff in September with a callup. They outrighted Shelley Duncan the other day, they couldn't do that in September and see what they had, if anything, in Fedroff? I think that tells you what they think of Fedroff.

John Manuel: OK, everybody, that's probably more time than the motley crew of IL prospects deserved. I appreciate the questions and your time. We wrap next week with the PCL and indy ball, and next week also includes our Draft Report Cards, with me, Conor Glassey and Jim Callis podcasting on one of our favorite issues of the year. Have a good weekend!