John Sickels, formerly of ESPN.com and now at SB Nation’s Minor League Ball, recently agreed to trade emails with me and answer some prospect questions. John has been writing about prospects since 1996 and is a seminal figure in the prospect watching community; he recently released his 2012 Giants ranking and his yearly edition of the John Sickels’ Prospect Book is set to release on January 28, 2012.
As always, it’s great to talk prospects with someone like John. Check out his responses to my questions below.
Chris Quick: Eric Surkamp seems like a classic case of scouts versus numbers – in the sense that he dazzled the minor leagues but scouts weren’t always sold on his raw stuff. What do you make of him as a prospect? And, ultimately, what do you expect from him in the majors?
John Sickels: One of the interesting things about Surkamp is that, while he doesn’t throw hard, his component ratios (K/IP, H/IP, etc) in the minors were those of a power pitcher. This didn’t work so well in the majors, at least in his last few starts, but it is still a good marker for his future and should (in theory) give him an edge over other finesse guys with weaker components.
He jumped from Double-A to the majors without any Triple-A exposure, and I think that showed. Surkamp doesn’t project as an ace starter for me. . .he isn’t the type of guy you build your rotation around, but he deserves more chances and I think he has a shot at being a solid number four starter.
CQ: Even though Tommy Joseph and Andrew Susac rank higher, would it be fair to call Hector Sanchez the most well-rounded catcher in the system? Do the Giants have the best catching depth of any other farm system?
JS: Well, there are other teams that have good depth too, Toronto for example, but I would say that catching depth is certainly one of the main strengths of Giants system.
I think both Joseph and Susac have a higher offensive ceiling than Sanchez, but Sanchez isn’t bad. He’s only four months older than Susac and already has major league exposure. His glove is the most polished at this stage. There is some chance that Joseph may switch positions, and of course we don’t know how Susac will look in pro ball yet. According to the reports I have, both Joseph and Susac have the defensive tools to remain catchers. . .good arm strength, mobility, leadership skills. . .but Sanchez has the most polish right now.
I guess the answer to your question is yes, Sanchez is currently the most well-rounded, but Joseph and Susac also have a balance between offensive and defensive potential. Bottom line: the Giants have three potential major league regular catchers, and most organizations can’t say that.
CQ: Francisco Peguero strikes me as something of an oddity. On one hand, he has tools (speed, athleticism, and emerging power) that scouts universally appreciate. But, on the other hand, he might walk less than any other prospect I’ve ever seen. Can he succeed with a swing-at-everything approach or will he need to make some changes to succeed in the majors?
JS: That’s a tough call. Right now Peguero’s game is built around sustaining a very high BABIP. He’s gotten away with this in the minors, but in the majors he will face an uphill challenge making it work. It helps that he keeps his strikeout rate reasonably low, but the complete lack of walks is a big handicap. If he keeps hitting .300+, he has enough other skills to be useful, but let’s say he turns out to be just a .250-.270 hitter in the majors. In that case his OBP will be so low that he won’t hold a regular job no matter how good his other skills are, at least not for a good team.
Not everyone needs to be a walk machine, of course, but his case is quite extreme. He turns 24 in June and needs to make some progress this year. He’s quite fun to watch, especially on defense, but he’s frustrating too.
CQ: Fill in the blank(s): Gary Brown’s best case scenario is _______. Gary Brown’s worst case scenario is _______.
JS: Gary Brown’s best case scenario is a .300+ hitter with lots of doubles, triples, double-digit homers, 40-50 steals a year with a high OBP, a force at the top of the order with an excellent glove in center. Gary Brown’s worst case scenario is .250 hitter with a poor OBP, flashes of power but no consistent production, 15-20 steals if you give him regular playing time, a solid glove, a long career as a fourth outfielder but doesn’t hold regular status for more than a year or two.
CQ: Adam Duvall’s season (.285/.385/.527) with Augusta caught a lot people’s eyes, but he seems relatively unheralded. Are we reading too much into his numbers, or is he someone worth watching?
JS: Well, he’s certainly worth watching. He had a strong year for Augusta, but he was a college guy in Low-A, the scouting reports are middling, at best, and scouts don’t seem to think his swing will work at higher levels. He deserves a chance against better competition and he’ll get it, but unless he can duplicate this in Double-A, I think we need to wait and see.
CQ: Name some sleepers in the system that you think we should keep an eye out for.
JS: LHP Mike Kickham pitched much better than his ERA or won-loss record indicates, and was quite good down the stretch for Augusta. He has a chance to surprise. We already talked about Duvall. RHP Derek Law put up ridiculous numbers in junior college and was strong in his debut. He has a funky delivery that turns scouts off, but he’s got decent stuff and a chance to move quickly in relief. Outfielder Shawn Payne led the Northwest League in OBP, stole 21 bases, and was an effective player in college for Georgia Southern. He lacks power but could be a sleeper.
CQ: How do you treat the Dominican Summer League when prospect watching? What do you make of Adalberto Mejia?
JS: Mejia is certainly someone to watch closely as he transitions to North America, but I will reserve judgment beyond “interesting projectable lefty who threw strikes in the DSL.”
We are starting to see more and more attention being paid to the DSL and the Venezuelan Summer League. That’s a good thing, but it also complicates matters. Scouts will tell you to avoid paying attention to rookie ball performance, and that’s even truer for the Latin summer leagues than for the spring training complex leagues. Players at those levels are extremely difficult to judge from a distance.
I don’t have the travel budget to see the DSL or VSL in person. The stats aren’t especially predictive. Word of mouth, “insider information,” and scouting reports (if they exist at all) tend to be rather vague except for the big bonus players, and are sometimes completely inaccurate. So I tend to take a wait-and-see attitude about most of those guys.
CQ: Ehire Adrianza has consistently received excellent marks for his non-hitting game. Do you think he can ever hit enough to be a major league starting shortstop? Does positional scarcity ever influence your rankings?
JS: Certainly position matters: a first baseman has a higher offensive threshold to reach than a shortstop. In Adrianza’s case, the glove is excellent. His error rate is declining, and he’s always shown superior range, hands, and arm strength. I am very impressed with his defense.
His hitting isn’t hopeless. I don’t see a lot of future power development in him, but he did knock 34 doubles last year, and he has kept his strikeout rates reasonable. I have noticed that middle infielders who “exceed expectations” and develop more than expected offensively often had decent strikeout rates in the low minors, even if they weren’t showing power or drawing many walks or doing much else with the bat.
It is plausible that Adrianza will eventually hit enough, combined with his glove, to hold a regular job. I don’t think it is the most likely outcome, but it isn’t out of the question.
Thanks to John for taking the time to answer my questions.