Thanks to John Sickels at Minor League Ball, I have my topic for today’s post.
I’m a big fan of Sickels’s work and I was anxiously looking forward to his Top 20 Blue Jays Prospects for 2014.
One of the biggest reasons that I like his work is that he and I see eye to eye on how to rank prospects which is, of course, a highly subjective thing. I would have to say that most writers out there tend to favour a player’s upside when ranking prospects but I like that Sickels tempers this “tools” approach with an attempt to look at the likelihood of the player actually achieving his perceived ceiling. I’ll talk a little bit more about this when I get to discussing the actual list.
The other intriguing part of Sickels’s work, which I’ve been reading for several years, is his own way of classifying the players using letter grades. By his standards a C+ is actually a very good grade and true “A” prospects are few and far between. I’m still on the fence on whether I really like this method of classification because it’s painting so many different types of players with a wide brush. I’m more partial to Jonathan Mayo’s system at MLB.com in which he assigns scouting grades on the 2-8 scale for individual tools for both current and potential qualities. Marc Hulet uses an overall grade on the 20-80 scouting scale, giving a little bit more of a fine point to the painting utensil. Then there are people like me who feel that quantification is pretty much impossible, particularly when you’re dealing with players who bring vastly different arrays of skills to bear on the game of baseball. In my own mind, I’m trying to decide, based on instinct after having seen a lot of the players first-hand or having read up extensively on them, who I would want in my own system more if I was putting together a list.
All of that said, let’s take a look at the list. Click the link at the top of this article and you can read it for yourself before you see my comments.
In this case, obviously, Sanchez beats Stroman purely on upside. There’s still the debate as to whether Stroman ends up as a starter or a reliever and I think that the pure filthiness of stuff gives Sanchez the edge. I’m not sure that Sanchez is going to have the better career than Stroman anymore and I think you’ll see that reflected when I put together my own list closer to Spring Training.
Mitch Nay at #3 is less and less of a surprise. I was impressed by Nay in BP, in games and when I spoke to him. I’m a big fan of his despite my not being ready to move him up this high. I think that he’s going to be a outstanding hitter but there are still so many things that can go wrong on his way up the ladder that I’m hedging my bets. Once again, I’m looking for guys who can achieve their potential rather than just ones who have loud tools and, for me, someone like Andy Burns, who has done more to prove himself at higher minor league levels than Nay, is higher up on my list.
Speaking of Burns, I think that Sickels is downplaying his defense and his overall package of power and speed. I do want to see Burns have another full season with an increase in his home runs before I’m ready to say that he’s going to be an ML regular but I have to say that I really like what he’s been doing and that’s even after I saw him when he was still mired in a slump. When he came up from High-A to Double-A, he struggled quite a bit until hitting coach Richie Hebner changed some mechanics. After that point he was a fairly strong hitter in New Hampshire and had some solid numbers in the Arizona Fall League, playing all over the diamond. I think the quality of defense that I saw from Burns at third base in New Hampshire really adds to his value. I’ve compared it to Brett Lawrie-type defense before and I stand by it. He showed an excellent arm, great reflexes and tremendous athleticism in making some outstanding plays in the three games I saw last year.
Sickels kind of hedges his bets by saying (and he’s done this for every list) that “you can throw most of these guys into a hat and come up with a logical ranking. With the huge amount of Grade C+ in this system, it is a matter of taste.” He’s referring to all of the players on the list from 8 to 20, which means that he’s basically saying that, in his opinion, the number eight player, Alberto Tirado, is just as good as number 20, Richard Urena. I do find this somewhat wishy-washy. Having seen some of the troll-ish comments that our Top 15 lists have gotten over at Grading on the Curve, I can understand wanting to take away some of the fans’ ire before they really get going.
While I can see that this philosophy works well, particularly for the pitchers, I think that it’s somewhat problematic when considering the position players. I wouldn’t consider Dwight Smith (#17) to have as much value right now as Dawel Lugo (#10). I don’t consider them interchangeable and I don’t think that if, by picking names out of a hat, you had Smith higher than Lugo, it would a fair judgement of their value. To me, despite his plate discipline issues, Lugo is a far more projectible prospect for several reasons. He’s two years younger than Smith, plays a premium position (for now), shows more raw power than Smith and hasn’t struck out as much. Smith runs better, takes more walks and has done it at a higher level but left field may be as high on the defensive spectrum as he ever gets.
I am very pleased to see a couple of fresh names on this list that not many others are including. I’ve been a fan of Matt Boyd‘s since I saw him pitch for Lansing and I think that he has major league calibre stuff to go along with a polished mound presence and good control. L.B. Dantzler‘s inclusion is also something that I enjoyed seeing. While I haven’t seen him play yet (looking forward to it in Spring Training), he’s definitely done what I thought he would do as an advanced college bat with power.
I’m also pleased that Sickels isn’t going all gaga over Matt Smoral and Clinton Hollon just yet. Sickels’s approach is similar to mine in that, while a player might have all the talent and tools, baseball isn’t a game in which talent alone will get you anywhere. Smoral and Hollon haven’t had enough time to prove that they’re going to be able to realize their potential and turn the raw talent into baseball skills that play at the game’s highest levels.
I would have liked to have seen Dalton Pompey on the list because, in my eyes, I think he’s a better prospect than Dwight Smith. I don’t want anyone to think that I’m trying to disrespect Smith at all (I’m really not picking on him). I think he’s an outstanding baseball player and has a lot of potential but, to me, Smith is almost Pompey-light. Playing on the same team against the same competition, they put up fairly similar numbers but Pompey’s better pure speed and much better defense really elevates him in my mind. I think both have the potential to be 15-20 home run guys in the majors but I think that Pompey is a true center fielder while Smith’s best-case .285/.350/.400 line is a little tougher to swallow as a corner outfielder.
I do like how Sickels qualifies his grades at the end of his article, explaining his cautious grades by the fact that so much of the talent in the system has been at the bottom. He writes that he thinks that there are many young players in this system that could easily take a step forward in 2014 and wind up as “Grade B” prospects on next year’s list after showing what they’ve got against better, full-season competition.
In that way, Sickels mirrors my own philosophy when trying to evaluate the talent in the system. Talent is great but talent alone doesn’t get it done on the way up to the majors. Show us some performance, particularly at Double-A and you’re going to really catch our attention.