ESPN MLB Insider Keith Law answered questions today about his MLB top prospects feature. Law’s 2017 project began on January 18 with farm system rankings and continues through February 3 with prospect sleeper selections. This year also marked Law’s 10th annual Top 100 prospects list that highlights the best talent at the minor league level and includes a profile and statistical breakdown for each player. See full details on the project here.
The audio replay of the call is available here.
KEITH LAW: We’ve changed the rollout schedule this year for how the content appeared to readers, but the content itself should be pretty familiar if you’ve seen any of the previous lists.
I’ve been working on this since right after the Winter Meetings, and as usual, spent a lot of time just on the phone with team officials and with scouts trying to supplement my own knowledge from players that I got to see over the course of last year. And, of course, trying to supplement on players I’ve never had a chance to see. And there are a few of those, as always, on the top hundred as well.
What you’re seeing on all these lists is always my opinion but informed by as many other, what I would call reliable opinions as I could gather to try to reality-check maybe what I saw in a limited sample of a player; and still give readers something that is still ultimately mine and going to be unique because it reflects my own scouting so much; but at the same time is reliable enough for them to take going forward that it’s not too skewed by the observations of just one person.
So I’m happy to answer question on the lists, on the process or specific players or teams and pretty much anything is fair game. We should probably avoid politics just given the environment right now but otherwise I think any other topic is okay.
Q. I haven’t even seen the list yet. I was actually thinking there would be far more people on this call. So have you seen any of the Tigers prospects in person?
KEITH LAW: The ones, there were two in the top 100. Matt Manning, who I saw as an amateur. I did not see him after he signed. I saw him — he only pitched a few times in high school spring, because he had a late start coming off of high school basketball, and ranked them actually right about where the Tigers ranked him. I thought they had the right spot.
He’s just hyper-athletic, he’s 6-6, it’s easy velocity up to 98. The knocks on him, and this is really everybody I talked to kind of said the same things that I saw. He doesn’t really have a changeup because he never needed one. Just where he pitched, he could blow guys away with velocity. He throws a spike curveball which is a pretty strong bias against that on the industry as a whole because the majority of pitchers who try to throw it struggle to command it.
And he’s so young at this point — and I haven’t even asked the Tiger. I don’t think they are going to change it yet. But they are well aware of the history of that pitch, too, and that they may have to change him to a traditional curveball at some point if he struggles to throw that pitch for strikes or just to be able to locate it.
And Christin Stewart was also in the top 100 at the very back of the list. I’ve seen him a bunch going back to when he was a sophomore in college. Saw him again in spring training last year and actually saw him again in the Fall League.
So I’ve got a lot of history with him, as well. I see an everyday right — I’m sorry, an everyday left fielder. Probably an above average player because I think he’s going to hit for quite a bit of power. And I think he’s going to get on base at a good clip, despite probably striking out more than you’d like.
The big knock on him is that he’s a 40 defender. He’s never going to be a (inaudible) defensive outfielder. Maybe he works his way up to something a little closer to average. But he’s going to be a liability out there and putting him on the list was essentially a vote of confidence that he is going to hit more than enough to overcome that.
Q. I agree with you that the Cubs system is down a bit this year for all the good reasons, but is there anyone that you can see emerging this year to end up on — who is not on your top 100 list this year who could end up on the top 100 list next year? And I’d also like to ask you about the two Mexicans, Jose Albertos and Isaac Paredes, and what you think about them and Mexico in general as a source of emerging major league talent.
KEITH LAW: Answer your first question, and I should preface this for everyone on the call. For every team, for all 30 teams, I identify at least one prospect I call a sleeper, which is someone not on or close to the top 100 this year but who I really like to — I’m predicting, that they will take a big step forward and end up on the top 100 list a year from now. In the history (inaudible) — right in terms of them actually being clearly top 100 guys the following year.
Right after I said De La Cruz — (inaudible) — elbow injury but he never had surgery and — thrilled with his progress. I spoke to his scout — said his stuff is all intact and that I can really pitch — everything is there. I think it’s —
KEITH LAW: I was thinking about Oscar De La Cruz. I would say he’s even likely to jump onto the list. Because if he had just been healthy all of last year, and shown what he showed in a limited sample at the end of the season, he probably would have been on the list.
Albertos is another name I would have thrown out there, anyway, but since you asked about him specifically. You know he only threw four innings and had one appearance the whole summer and then was shut down with sort of a mysterious — (inaudible) — which has spurred a lot of commentary among scouts whether he was actually hurt, or whether they were simply hiding him so teams wouldn’t be all over him at the trade deadline. But scouts did see him. A couple of guys I know were at that one appearance and they said it was easy, mid 90s, pretty electric, the body is good. The delivery works.
This guy, he’s tenth on my Cubs list, I can tell you that, which is aggressive for a guy who has made — has one professional pitching appearance at this point.
And I do think, again, if he’s healthy and especially if this was a phantom injury, and if he’s healthy and he pitches a good chunk of 2017, even if it’s in short season ball, he’s going to move up the Cubs list and he’s somebody who could be on the top 100.
Perez (inaudible) pretty interesting. I get mixed reports on whether he’s really going to stay at short or move up a position, but sounds like he can really hit. And I will say, teams don’t love scouting in Mexico because Mexican players are — have their contract rights controlled by Mexican professional teams. Then if you’re giving the kid down there $1 million, I think three quarters of it goes to the team and relatively little goes to the player.
So acquiring players out of there has been more difficult than, say, acquiring players out of the Dominican Republic or Colombia or even Panama. But, there is quite a bit of talent, Mexican-born in the low levels of the minors. I’ve seen this across a number of organizations.
I think the Cubs are pretty aggressive down there. The Padres obviously are. Be foolish not to. You did see, I think, a few more interesting high-dollar Mexican prospects in the last July 2 period. I do wonder if the political environment in Venezuela being as bad as it is, spurring teams with large Latin American operations to say we have the people and the resources, let’s just go somewhere else that’s safer, it’s easier to get players — it’s easier to get out to see the players, as opposed to Venezuela where just getting around is difficult and risky.
But they are looking at Mexico and figuring that’s a better bet. That’s my own speculation on that last point. But I think it has not hurt that we have clearly seen more amateur talent coming out of there in the last year.
Q. Your overall impressions of the upgrades made to the Yankees system as a whole and specifically on Gleyber Torres and Blake Rutherford, what you’ve seen from them and any loose time lines on when fans could expect to actually them in the big leagues?
KEITH LAW: Sure. So I have the Yankees ranked second overall out of all 30 farm systems. I said the top three you could have done in any order: Atlanta 1, Yankees 2, Padres 3, and I wouldn’t really argue with you.
I gave Atlanta the nod because I think they have maybe a little less star power coming in their farm system, but more depth along the list of guys who I think project to have real major league value than the Yankees do, which is not a knock on the Yankees system. Atlanta has been in full-on rebuild for two plus years, and the Yankees only really started doing this in terms of the trade market in July.
I think they have done an excellent job. I think they have really converted very well, converted major league assets into some pretty high ceiling prospects. I think they have also drafted really well the last couple of years and I think a lot of those guys kind of clicked, got healthy, had full seasons.
Or even the case of a guy like James Kaprielian, a guy who was not healthy but didn’t actually blow out or require surgery. Came back in the Arizona Fall League and looked like a potential No. 1 starter.
I’ve seen Gleyber Torres a bunch over the last two years because he was on Myrtle Beach for a while and they kept coming through where I live here in Wilmington, Delaware. And it’s funny he ended up a Yankee because when I saw him for the first time in 2015, I gave a little bit of a comparison to something Derek Jeter always did which is Jeter’s two-strike approach and willingness to stay with the pitch and stay back a little bit, and maybe line something to right field or right center.
And Torres, 18 at that point, was already doing that. He would have a bad at-bat maybe the first one. Second time through, you could see him make that adjustment, understand how the pitcher might be pitching him, and stay back like that and go the other way. I think he’s a true shortstop. Although he’s not much of a runner. I just think his hands are good. His instincts are really goodies got a great arm and quick release.
So I think he’ll probably spend a good chunk of this year at AA. I doubt they will try to rush him but that certainly puts him on track for a promotion sometime in 2018 assuming they have the need at shortstop.
In Rutherford’s case, I saw him twice as an amateur. I didn’t see him in pro ball. He actually didn’t play much because he had a minor injury. Two guys who I know who scout the Appalachian League thought he was the best hitter there, just in terms of pure hitting prowess and projection.
And although he’s 18, I thought there was concern, he’s a 19-year-old coming out of high school. The history of those guys is not great. This guy is a pretty exceptional hitter, and I think he’s going to hit for average and he’s going to hit for power.
He’s clearly a corner outfielder to me. I’d probably put him in right. It’s possible he ends up in left just because you might have somebody with a little more range that you want in right field at some point. I don’t think it’s going to matter. I think this guy is going to hit for very high averages.
And I was aggressive in the ranking, too. I was aggressive. I thought he was a top five player in the draft class but went out, went to an advanced league for somebody right out of high school, performed well and impressed the scouts who saw him. That’s kind of the formula I’m looking for if I’m going to rank somebody aggressively, really, after, what, two months in pro ball. That’s not a lot of sample to go on. So everything kind of has to line up for me to push a guy like I did into the global top 25.
Q. I know you’ve been doing this for a while now. So first off for you what is the biggest challenge ranking players in the case where you don’t necessarily get to see them yourself? I know there’s a good mix of players that you’ve seen and other guys that you kind of have to rely on reports from other scouts. So tell me just in terms of what you consider the biggest challenge when you just can’t go out and see one of these prospects for yourself.
KEITH LAW: It’s the mechanical aspect of it, because when I was with the Blue Jays and worked with Tony LaCava, his personal evaluation philosophy revolves a lot around mechanics, whether it’s swing mechanics or it’s delivery mechanics. And he’s always adamant, there’s no kill. There’s no such thing as a guy where you just say, no, don’t want him at all.
But there’s better and there’s things that are worse. There are things we can work with and things that the coaches can fix and things that are more difficult to fix. And so it’s very hard for me to try to rank two players next to each other, because essentially that’s what it is. It’s a series of pair-wise comparisons through the top 100 and guys who end up off the list.
It’s hard for me when you see a guy like Gleyber Torres, who I’ve seen so much, to compare him against a player I’ve never seen; when I know Gleyber so I can close my eyes and picture him: I can picture his swing and picture his defense at short to compare him to, say, somebody like Kevin Maitan, who is the Braves big July 2 acquisition. He’s 16, which is problem No. 1, and I’ve only seen video and it’s not even great video. It’s video of when he was probably 15, swinging on a backfield in Venezuela. It’s far less than ideal.
And so two things come out of that. One is, you certainly have to lean heavily on video, on friends who have seen these players, on the international guys. Once a player has signed somewhere, I call international scouts I know from other teams and say, all right, you’re not getting the player, so what did you really think. And try to get them — I’ll ask specific questions: Do you like the swing, do you like the delivery, what does he got.
If I’ve seen the video, that helps, because then I can guide the questions more towards what I have seen. But also, every year once this is done and I’ve slept and recovered. And of course my daughter got sick last night, at ten o’clock last night, she throws up. I’m like, really? You picked the perfect time to get sick. Right in the middle of the top 100 package; it’s just ideal.
But I go through my list, too, and say, who do I need to see this year and especially in spring training. It’s great sort of one-stop shopping to say, hey, I’ve never seen Mike (ph) — the Braves have a couple of these guys I haven’t seen, amateur draft guys, July 2 guys.
I’ll go to Orlando for at least a day. Go to the back field during Florida League spring training, and I’ll ask their GM or farm director, just tell me a day to come when I’ll see a bunch of these guys all in one shot. Because I don’t want — especially somebody who is ranked high, or I think is a potential to be ranked high next year, I’ve got to fill those in.
I really want to see any highly-ranked player, at least once every two years. Really the ones that keep coming to me because they are in the Futures Game — Fall League, or where I live, I can drive to a lot of them. But guys in the low, low minors like that, guys that come from Latin American where I never see them as amateurs, it’s a little bit more of a — I need to be more proactive to make sure I get those guys covered.
Q. Terrific. Second question I wanted to ask you concerns guys that you see as able to make fairly significant jumps on the 20/80 scale, whether talking about hitters or pitchers. For you what are some of the biggest factors in determining players with the potential to jump up significant amounts of grades, maybe 20, 25 or 30 points, either hitters or pitchers?
KEITH LAW: It’s physical projection more than anything else, and part of that, I’ll explain what I mean by that in just a second. But part of that, too, is players do make mechanical changes, sometimes substantial ones. Jose Bautista is a good example of a guy who overhauled his swing and went from an extra guy to an All-Star.
Ben Zobrist is another one. That guy couldn’t hit, period. Overhauled his swing and not only does he hit, he starts hitting for enough power to be a six-win player. I don’t do that I might say, hey, this guy could be better if he makes X, Y, Z changes. But you just can’t project like that, because you could essentially wish on any player you want, and that’s a level of speculation that makes me deeply uncomfortable. I would never recommend — if I were working for a team, I would never recommend to a GM, hey, let’s go play full freight on this guy on the hope that he fixes delivery, change his swing mechanism.
Physical projection on the other hand, although imperfect, I could rattle off examples of guys who physically haven’t projected. But we know what we’re looking for. We’re looking for athleticism. I’m always a huge fan of bet on the kid who is athletic. If you’ve got two guys who are sort of similar, maybe one is a little bit ahead of the other presently, but the lesser guy is much more athletic, that’s the guy I’ll bet on.
But also you’re expecting, we’re looking at frames. Trying to estimate how kids will grow, how will they get stronger. Will they get stronger top and bottom, too. How much room do they have to carry on their frame. I know scouts who go to the level and have had one guy say, well, he’s got a little ass so he’s not going on table to carry a lot of weight. I don’t go quite to that extent but that gives you a sense of what sort of things we’re trying to look at.
We’re trying to make subjective judgments and turn them into, in theory, objective projections of how a body is going to fill out; what a player will look like when he is 22, 23. We are looking at him when he’s 18 or 16 or 15. The guys who do the international stuff have all my respect because to have to go see 15- or even 14-year-olds and guess what you think that player is going to look like when he might reach the big leagues at 22, you have to accept so much failure as part of that, because I find projecting bodies at 17 and 18 difficult.
And I could, again, think of examples of guys who just never came. Trey Ball with the Red Sox and Spencer Adams with the White Sox: They are athletic, they are projectable, they did get a little bigger. They don’t throw a lick harder than they did in high school and there’s no answer for it. Sometimes it doesn’t come.
I can’t imagine how much harder it is to do that when you’re looking at players who are two years younger, at the point that you have to make the decision whether or not to sign.
Q. You dropped the Rays a little bit in your farm system ranking and we know how important from their perspective it is building through the farm system. Curious what you thought of kind of their trajectory, based on their philosophy, based on their methodology and in terms of the guys they have drafted but also the way they are playing catch up — five of the top eight prospects you have on your list published today were acquired in trades. Are they headed the right way?
KEITH LAW: I’m glad you said that, too, because I think that’s the part, that’s really kept them going, kept them competitive for a while now is that they have traded really well. Their pro scouting department is strong, and I think they have done a good job in a lot of these trades to identify the quick value one; the Matt Duffy, I’ll use that because it was a recent trade, the Matt Moore trade.
But Duffy is a Big Leaguer right now, and he’s pretty good even if they stays at third base. I know they want to try him at shortstop because he was one, back at Long Beach State. Slide him over there and see maybe there’s more value to extract.
But you know what you’re getting right out of the chute. And then roll the dice on two much younger guys, Michael Santos, who I know they have been — they liked him since he was in the Arizona Rookie League in 2012 or 2013; lived out there. And Fox who was a big money guy last July 2 — or sorry, the July 2 before that, and who is probably three or four years away, but is a great defensive shortstop. Something they don’t have a lot of in the system.
So that combo, that is a good approach to taking trades, especially when you know you’re really going to have to live off them to keep the farm system going. Where they have been weak up until the last two years is the draft. And you’re probably as well aware of this as anybody because you cover them: The drafts just weren’t that productive and they wasted them on a lot of high picks. That one year they had seven high picks and got virtually nothing out of it, and they really had to change their draft approach.
I feel like this is a large ship that is pivoting. So they are still moving in the right direction, and I liked a lot of what they did the last two draft classes, better. It’s not necessarily going to work out perfectly — indiscernible — wasn’t as advanced a hitter as people thought he was.
Okay. You’re going to miss on some of those. But you’ve got to aim a little for more for ceiling because it’s so much harder for them to acquire the stars. Teams don’t love to trade those types of prospects, and the Rays are never going to go out and buy them with money.
So they kind of have to find those stars through the amateur process wherever they can and they feel like the new drafting approach is going to get them there sooner, even if it means early, like I said, maybe he doesn’t work out, maybe a Josh Lowe doesn’t work out. Do this enough, and hopefully your scouts are good enough; you will get there at some point. It just may take some time.
I know that Rays’ fans may not necessarily want to hear that, but there is a lot of talent in the lower levels of their system. It’s a long way away and that generally entails greater risk.
Q. As a quick follow-up, given the way other teams have gotten smarter to put it in simple terms, so the Rays had been using some — what they thought, cutting edge philosophies and even evaluation tools, things like that. Can they still succeed, kind of playing from the financial disadvantage they have? Is there still a way to get to that next frontier and stay ahead?
KEITH LAW: I think it’s tricky. I think it’s become more difficult for clubs like them who are trying to rely on essentially exploiting inefficiencies. Dave Stewart is not a GM anymore, so you can’t bank on calling him up and stealing his best prospect.
There’s really no bad front offices right now and all — inaudible — departments, so you might believe you have a better analytics department than others. I’m sure there’s such a thing as a good one and less good one.
But I think that a lot of those gaps have now narrowed and you are not as likely to grab a player who is totally undervalued or unappreciated by his current club. It’s going to become more about being opportunistic; recognizing a point where a prospect is a little bit out of favor. The Braves (ph) has been doing this. They made two trades with Seattle to get Alex Jackson in one and Luiz Gohara in another, both of whom are prospects but who had clearly fallen out of favor with the current regime because Jackson had not performed, and Gohara had some off-field makeup questions.
Those are the kinds of things, the kinds of opportunities I think will still be open to the Rays. And if you’re in the leadership there, you’re hoping that you are scouting a little bit better. And maybe your analytics guys are finding little things that might make a player easier to acquire in trade or more attractive to you. But the big home runs of the trading Shelby Miller for three good players from Arizona, I think that’s probably over.
Q. From the guys that you had off the top 100, Jake Bauers, I read when you wrote, but do you see the potential once they figure out first base or outfield for him, the bat could still make him an impact type of guy?
KEITH LAW: I think it makes him a regular. The guy can hit and I’ve seen him from two separate stints. Like I just saw him in the Fall League and I don’t think he can play the outfield. The consensus is he’s probably not going to be good enough there to stay there. But he can certainly play first base. He can hit. He’s got a good approach for a kid so young. It’s not a power swing. He is not — going back to what I said earlier about projection, too. He doesn’t project to fill out, hit for a lot of power.
So can he hit .300 with a high on-base percentage and ten homers but hits a slew of doubles? That’s at least a regular, so I do think he is a prospect. You used the word impact. Do I think he’s an impact guy? Probably not.
You might have more shot at impact from Gillaspie, who is just so freaking strong. But maybe not the hitter or the potential defender that Bauers is. So it’s a little bit of yin-and-yang with those two guys.
I’m thinking one of those two is your long-term first baseman. They may have to see which way Gillaspie, who was so bad two years ago and so good last year, where does he go this season, which I assume he’ll spend part of it in the big leagues.
Q. Wanted to ask your opinions about Hunter Renfroe, a top 40 guy and doesn’t seem like he’s on the list this year or even last year.
KEITH LAW: He is not on the list. I have major concerns about his hit tool (ph) in general, because I don’t think he picks up off-speed pitches particularly well. And even, I think it’s been born out a little bit by the strikeout rate in AAA, hitting in a great environment, too, and in AA.
So I think the way I described him, this might not be until the Padres report, which is two days from now. But I said it’s plus power, he runs pretty well, he’s got a great arm. He might be a pretty good right fielder. He’s missing the one tool that we generally think of as the most important one, at least if you’re trying to forecast a player’s value going forward, is how much is he going to hit.
And I worry that with the failure to recognize breaking stuff, in particular; might say it’s all off-speed stuff, and I happen to have seen him worse against breaking stuff. Does that mean he’s going to strike out so much and not carry enough on-base percentage to really make him a quality regular? Maybe he’s more of a second division regular, maybe he’s more of a bench guy.
It sounds like they are going to give him the everyday job, and I say great. Because I think they should. But one, I could be wrong; that happens very often. And two, he’s there. There’s no costs to essentially running the guy out there this year and seeing what he does. Or maybe makes an adjustment that I haven’t expected and I haven’t seen from him.
I’ve got some history with him going back to Mississippi State that maybe he comes to the big leagues and struggles at first, but makes at adjustment but starts picking up off-speed stuff better and starts to make more contact. What I’ve seen from him and what the numbers bare out from the last two years; that he has not made that adjustment yet and when a guy goes a longer period without making a required adjustment like that, I become more bearing on whether he will ever make that adjustment, if that makes sense, and I will admit that’s entirely subjective criteria that I use.
It will miss the Jose Bautistas of the world from time to time. I think the majority of guys who fail to make adjustments over a two- or three-year period probably never will.
Q. Who in the most recent Padres international signing class most excites you?
KEITH LAW: Adrian Morejon made the top 100. The reports I got on him before and after he signed were incredibly exciting: Three pitches, it’s good feel, you’re really not waiting on stuff. So although I think he’s listed at six foot, so he’s not terribly projectable.
Waiting for the stuff to get better. Just waiting for experience, for reps. There’s always the claim, oh, this guy has great command. His command is right there and it’s major league average right now. You know, I’ll believe that when he actually starts facing some hitters. They all look great in practice and workouts and instructional league — I joked in one comment — maybe his, actually. No one’s ever had a bad instructional league. They are not real games.
So let’s see when they roll him out to probably Fort Wayne this year, how does the stuff actually play and then we’ll get a sense of how advanced he is.
Tirso Ornelas, which someone asked earlier about Mexican prospects, that’s another one where I don’t think he was even that highly ranked by the folks — (inaudible) in the international market, which I don’t, going in, but I did see some video and loved his swing, and folks I know who saw him after he signed, too, kind of said the same thing. This guy looks like he can really hit. We’ll see what happens when he goes out and plays and gets some real at-bats in games that count.
But when you’re trying to sign these 15-, 16-year-olds, I think often what you’re looking at is you’re looking for athleticism, or you’re looking for a swing that just is so mechanically sound that you feel like you can send this guy out very much right away and he’ll be able to hit. And I think Ornelas is in that latter category.
Q. Couple questions on the Yankees. Clint Frazier versus Aaron Judge, can you compare their upside? I know Judge has probably more power and Frazier has the legendary speed. What stats do you see them putting up in their prime and who ultimately do you think will have the better career of those two?
KEITH LAW: I think you pretty much nailed it right there. You’re betting on power because I assume you’ve seen him up close. I shook his hand and my hand just sort of disappeared. He is enormous. The balls have come off his bat quite differently. But Frazier has some of the best bat speed I’ve ever scouted anywhere. It’s Javier Baez territory and it’s better than Justin Upton. You rarely come across that. But in Frazier’s case — – and it’s going to produce some power, too. You swing that fast, that hard, you’re going to hit for some power. He’s probably at least a 20-homer guy.
What I really liked about Clint, though, and this happened before they acquired him, in the low minors and even high school, he was hunting fastballs and he would struggle with some off-speed stuff. He struck out a ton in his first year in pro ball. He’s really done a nice job of just tightening that up.
He’ll probably strike out a little too much and I think he’s probably confident that he knows he can make hard contact. He’s probably swinging at a lot of pitches. Maybe he’s still got to learn to lay off some. But he’s come so far in the last two years.
And I think to my earlier point, too, when a kid is making adjustments that quickly and significantly, he’s telling you something about his baseball aptitude and while judge probably has a little more power, better athlete, he’s got the better arms and can certainly play right field and be really good there.
I ranked Frazier higher because I just feel better about his long-term outlook. Judge is always going to have issues with play coverage because the strike zone is so huge. And he’s already older and has not made quite as many adjustments in terms of recognizing pitches as Frazier has. I think they are both going to be good big leaguers.
But essentially, I’m distilling your question, to which one would you take if you told me I could have one of those guys for the next ten, 15 years. Which one is going to produce more, I would say Frazier.
Q. Mateo and Dylan, both dropped down this year, if you could compare the Yankees top shortstop to the Mets top shortstop. Who do you think is going to get the better one there? Obviously both could be big stars. If you could talk about that comparison.
KEITH LAW: Sure. I’ll start with the two drops. Mateo, he’s an 80 runner. He’s got the potential, at least, and 80 being top of the scale; he’s got a potential to be a great defensive shortstop. I don’t think he is one yet.
The big issue is he doesn’t make hard contact and that’s a complaint I’ve heard from scouts over the last two years. My understanding, is that the pitch effects (ph) data that’s accessible to teams in some minor league parks bares that out. He’s hitting weak groundballs too often. And by no means writing him off, but again, when a guy goes two years and doesn’t seem to make any adjustment at all, it seems like maybe he’s not going to. Maybe the ceiling is lower than I thought it was a year ago, if he’s just not developing as a hitter, and it seems like he’s not.
And I will say, although you didn’t ask about it, the midyear suspension had no bearing whatsoever on this. Sounds like it was a very trivial issue. Yankees themselves said it’s nothing that should affect his ranking.
In Cade’s (ph) case, it’s probably a lot more tangible. He just lost his fastball. I saw him at Santa Barbara. He was 94, 98 as a starter and holding it with a pretty go slider. And I saw him even last spring with Texas and first time out he was bumping 95 and they cleaned up the delivery. He hurt his hamstring in April and after he came back and all the way through Fall League when I saw him yet again, his fastball was just not there. He’s pitching with an average fastball now, even in shorter stints in relief.
How the Yankees were able to get him at all in that trade — but I’m sure they are well aware that if the fastball doesn’t come back, he’s just a middle relief type. And you are acquiring him hoping that an off-season of rest and working with him on conditioning stuff, maybe he finds some of that missing fastball. But it wasn’t there.
As for the two shortstops, Gleyber versus Rosario, obviously I love them both. I think I had them ranked three, four on the list. I think Gleyber is the more polished hitter at this point. Rosario is the better athlete. He’s got some pretty tremendous bat speed, really explodes through the zone. He’s got really strong hands to get there. I think he’s a better defensive shortstop and he’s going to have more range just because he’s more athletic.
And I said earlier, I think Gleyber is going to be a very good defensive shortstop, but he’ll always be a little limited because his feet are not that fast. And Rosario has more of that. He’s just more of that quick twitch, kind of more of a traditional shortstop and from 20, 30 years ago where we would expect him to have that first-step quickness. He’s got that, combined with unusual power.
Whereas Torres for me now is a more advanced hitter, is going to put the ball in play a lot more, a lot of line lines and you’re more sure of what you’re getting with him. Whereas Rosario there’s still untapped potential there and we have not seen a lot of power out of him yet. I believe it’s in there and I think maybe getting out of some of the A ballparks which really suppress power might help him. But I’m projecting. I’m forecasting that there’s going to be more power in the future than there has been so far in his career.
Q. The Braves with nine prospects in the top 100, do you see enough depth, where maybe not get nine next year or the year after but where they have enough depth in the system, and it’s sort of the projection of all these guys being in the lower minors, that they could actually be in that top echelon of having the most guys in the Top-100 in the next couple seasons?
KEITH LAW: Certainly for next year, because I don’t think — Dansby will no longer qualify after he gets two at-bats. It’s funny if you look at the top of my list, there’s a bunch of those guys, too, who are just going to drop right off.
So the Braves will lose, I don’t know, maybe two guys this year — it’s not a lot, to graduations. And they are going to have a very high draft pick in June, and typically anyone drafted in the top 10, unless it’s an extreme reach — or an underslot deal, those guys nearly always make my top 100 the following off-season.
So they are probably going to end up in that eight or nine range, a second time, unless they trade some of them or they have a rash of injuries or something. Just being realistic, I say probably yes for next season. Season after that, you might see them start to drop because then I would expect either some promotions or for Coppolella to start packaging some of these arms together to find someone to — inaudible — because I know the intention is to try to — inaudible — sooner rather than later.
Q. The July 2 class for the Braves, do you see any of the other J2 signings making a big impression or pushing for the top 100?
KEITH LAW: Gutierrez I think I mentioned. Talking about last year’s class, too, he was 3.5 million dollars, I believe, catcher who people say might be Gary Sanchez all over again. There’s a little bit of that, let’s only compare Latin catchers to Latin catchers going on which I’m not a big fan of. But the thought is, he can throw and there’s some power there.
I know internally he was the other guy that we’re particularly excited about. But for the top 100 next year, if you’re going to see any other July 2 guys, that could be someone like Cruz, who I ranked higher also and who are just further along.
They are going to have more of an opportunity to show what they can do this upcoming season, and that is a clear — I would say a clear bias on my list, too. If you can prove something, if you can go out and prove it again better competition, I’m much more likely to rank you higher. There’s always a little bit of unease when I’m putting someone like Maitan way up the list.
Maitan was different. We’ve heard about him for two years. Every scout loved him, pro scouting directors agreed with me that he belonged on the lit. He’s a rarity. But someone like Cruz, both of them are really pretty interesting. Either or both of those guys could be on the top 100 next year if they sort of fulfill expectations with the upcoming season.
Q. Jack Flaherty was in your top 100 last year and he bounced off there again. Junior Fernandez was on and just missed last year and didn’t make the same list. Wondering if he’s about in the same spot. And just in general, how you evaluate players who are young and are holding their own at higher levels but not really — anything that jumps off the page compared to older players who are getting better results.
KEITH LAW: Sure. Good question. In a case like Flaherty, who he was the at the end of the list, essentially because of what he was right then; that it’s good athlete, great command, stuff is good, not great.
I know his stuff picked up a little bit at the very end of the season. I’d like to see him hold that for longer before getting more aggressive with the ranking. But the reason he’s on the list really for both years — where he is right now, he’s not that far off from a back-in story in the big leagues.
I mean, there’s upside remaining. But when he’s got all of the elements I just described, I feel like the floor is pretty good. I’d be shocked if this guy were not a big league starter at some point. May not be soon. I just don’t know that they need him. But he’s on that track already.
And in the case of Fernandez, what may have hurt him more than anything is Alcantara was just better this year. And they are both good. They were kind of together for most of the year. They both got promoted to Palm Beach. And even scouts I know who — I’m laughing because it’s not often you get the same scout talking about the same set of players two years in a row, because scouts’ assignments tend to change or they are stuck on a league, and thus, seeing a different wave of players.
But I happen to have a couple guys who saw both those players in both 2015 and 2016 and the ones who thought Fernandez was heavier before, both thought Alcantara had passed him this year. Sandy is taller, may have a better breaking ball right now. He throws a little harder. And that’s not always the biggest criteria — criterion. Especially we know you have to be able to locate it or move it or something.
But I think he’s, even a year ago, I thought Alcantara probably had the higher ceiling, but Fernandez was the more polished guy. He looked like he was going to be a more advanced pitcher. And then we had pretty comparable performances this year, but Alcantara took a step forward. Whereas Fernandez probably plateaued a little bit.
I guess it’s a long way of saying: Look, I think it’s accurate this year. I have Alcantara I think one slot ahead of Fernandez on my Cardinals top ten, but there may be a perception — inaudible — Fernandez, what he was supposed to be.
Q. With Alcantara, given how high you have him on the Cardinals list, do you project him as a starter going forward and how important is the distinction for you between starter and reliever? I know Luke Weaver is maybe the guy that you have gotten the most feedback from Cardinals fans on, after your list came out.
KEITH LAW: I think Alcantara is a starter. And when I say that, I’ve been trying to put more probability on things, trying to give people more of a sense that is doesn’t look so binary. Alcantara, and Fernandez, for that matter, probably 70/30 chances to be starters right now and the Cardinals have every reason to leave them as starters going forward.
If I think a player, a pitcher is a sure reliever, 80 percent, 90 percent change to be a reliever, he’s just not going on the list. Because we have some fairly clear data saying the best relievers are not as valuable as average starters and they don’t last as long, either. And I’m not going to be the one saying this guy is going to be Mariano Rivera and he’s going to last 15 years; I’m not that good.
If a guy is a reliever now or I look at a Renaldo Lopez and say that delivery is a bullpen delivery, period, you’re not going on the list.
In the case of Weaver, I worry that he’s six foot. I worry his fastball does not have life or plane, and he’s really never had a breaking ball. He didn’t have one in college. He’s a confusing one to me because his arm is plenty fast. Usually if your arm is that quick, you can usually throw an okay slider and he can’t.
I know they have had him working with a cutter but I don’t think it’s there yet. I think it’s a great strategy. The Cardinals are a good player development organization. I think that’s exactly the right thing to do to try to salvage him as a starter.
But looking at all the things that are not necessarily wrong, but that point against him being a starter, the fastball issue, the lack of quality the third pitch; I don’t even think there’s great deception in the delivery. That’s a lot of factors that tend to push guys to the bullpen, which is why I feel he’s much more likely to end up a reliever than a quality starter.
Q. The Cardinals spent a lot of money during the current international cycle, especially in Cuba on guys like Machado and Johan Oviedo, which at least to me came as a surprise for his dollar value, I guess. Now, these guys are older than your typical international signing, so how difficult is it to get information and evaluate them?
KEITH LAW: Those guys, they are all going to get mentioned in the Cardinals write-up.
The difficulty, it’s really about whether they were seen much at all. Now the two shortstops you mentioned, Oviedo and Arozarena, I hope I’m saying it right, they were seen a lot as amateurs. They were sort of out on the circuit. I saw plenty of video of Machado, too. He’s a long way away. I think physically he’s just not that developed.
Whereas Arozarena, being older, and actually I think played in the Cuban Series National, too; so there’s even some history with him. He’s been seen in games in the past.
So there’s a better sense of folks I talk to — I’ve never seen of those guys, but there’s a better sense of who I talk to, among who I talk to, especially of who he is as a player. Whereas Oviedo, it’s premium stuff. I had one guy say to me, this guy might be in the Fernandez, Alcantara class; a year from now once he’s pitched in the U.S. and he’s seen more.
I just would not have had enough — I don’t know that I could have had enough information to rank him more aggressively given how little he pitched. He just wasn’t seen — it wasn’t like Morejon, where everybody saw that guy; the Padres lefty who is on the top 100. Couldn’t run out of people — couldn’t find — couldn’t run out of people who had seen him. Whereas in the case of Oviedo, there just weren’t as many people who had seen him. He pitched a little in the DSL, but he was also the level, and of course he dominated.
Q. What do you see at Smith’s game — his power numbers went from nothing to really jumping out at you. Do you think the Mets have enough position players in the system to make an impact?
KEITH LAW: I think Smith is going to get 20-plus homers. I was pretty steady on that before he was a Met. He was a 17-year-old high school senior, and I thought he had probably 60, maybe 70 raw (ph) coming. It’s definitely in there. But if you look, if you watch him play, if you look even at some of the spray charts, he’s a real full field hitter. And especially for that, his first full year in pro ball, that’s horrible for left-handed power; he spent the whole year lining singles the other way.
And people say, well, this guy doesn’t have any power. It’s in there. But he had made a deliberate decision not to go for it, not to be a full-power hitter because the park wasn’t rewarding — inaudible — until he got to a more neutral hitting environment and you saw him start to pull the ball more.
I would like to see him continue to do that. He’s so patient — inaudible — when you see something early in the count that you can drive, go after it he got better at that and I’ve seen him do it, myself. I think it’s just a matter of getting him to do that more consistently over the course of the season.
But to your second question, do I think they have enough position players in the system? Yes, because I think they focused well enough on getting guys up to the middle, internationally, and through the draft. I said for a while, I think they draft exceptionally well.
I think last year, where they ended up taking two arms, I thought all spring they were going to take a position player because I think they recognized that was a little bit of a weakness in the system.
But the draft just didn’t give them the right decision player and they ended up — Dunn was a pretty high upside starter, too, so it worked out for them. But I think from talking to people in their organization, too, they recognize they would like to have more bats in the system. But given where they were drafting, too, the right guy wasn’t available.
And I would expect the same thing this year. They are not going to force it. But if there’s a good bat available for them at the first pick, then that’s what they will probably end up doing.
Q. Since he improved in the end of the season — where does he go from here? What do you see happening next with him?
KEITH LAW: You cutoff for one second. Which player was that about?
Q. Tim Tebow?
KEITH LAW: Tim Tebow. (Laughs). I think Tim Tebow should stick to announcing and probably never play baseball again. He was the worst player I’ve ever seen in the ten years I’ve been going to the Arizona Fall League.
Q. Looking at the Braves, Dansby as high as he was, curious with the shortstops — holy cow, are their shortstops high. How do you discern and what is the discernment in the top ends of your shortstops? Where do you find your razor thin margin at the top end? And then kind of a second part of that, where would Ozzie be ranked with that group if he would still be a shortstop?
KEITH LAW: So on Dansby, Dansby — he’s ready. He’s a big league ready shortstop right now. Everyday player, probably average regular now, and he’s going to be better than that.
There’s no question, another bias I’ll readily admit to, guys come to the big leagues and shown — probably too much into the sample because it’s small, but bats are good, and he’s making the plays. Sometimes you can just tell the game is a little too fast for a certain guy. He’s ready to go.
So you know what else, too, when I circulated the list, the first draft, he was a little lower and the feedback I got from directors and other executives was this guy is ready. Just put him higher on the list. He should be second. No one argued — it’s funny, Benintendi was always one, but put him second — inaudible — a lot of guys said, just put him second because we know what he is. And that’s –(inaudible) not only is that an evaluation of what his value would be if Atlanta decided tomorrow they would trade him. The whole world sees him as a major league shortstop right now. That puts him ahead of the next couple of shortstops. And I’m always stuffed with shortstops at the top of the list, because that’s where the value tends to be. So there’s still some risk, some performance risk coming with them.
In Albies’ case, I try to evaluate — I split (inaudible) a little bit on that one. I know he’s not a shortstop going forward, but he could be; if he was somewhere else, if they woke up tomorrow, and if the Red Sox called and said we’ll give you Benintendi for Albies, they are taking that deal, and then Albies maybe goes over and becomes a shortstop again.
I tried to at least consider that as a possibility. It’s still in there. Even though we may not see him play that position again. But I thought Dansby — I’m pretty sure I even said this at the time for Dansby but the trade for Dansby, I thought he was the better shortstop. I think they are make the right move putting Albies to second base.
Q. Catcher within the Braves system that is not a spot where they obviously have an elite prospect but looking around the majors, not an elite prospect at that position. But you look around the majors, there are not a lot of elite catchers on offensive and defensive end. Is that a part of where the game is going or is that just a blip in the radar right now, do you think? Curious on your thoughts at that particular position.
KEITH LAW: I think you’re seeing an industry adjustment on what we expect of catchers. Now in the last two years, I am hearing more discussion, even from scouts, who are not necessarily using the data, certainly not drawing the data, discussing receiving and framing in ways that were simply not a discussion five years ago.
So what’s happening is the Ryan Doumit of the world, the worst framers ever, they are just not going to catch. They might end up catching in the minors. But they are not going to be considered long term catchers, they are not going to end up high on my rankings because teams will say, he’s a terrible framer. He’s not going to stay back there.
The bar has gone up now that we can actually measure this stuff, and what that also means is you’re going to get some really good framers that just don’t hit as much, and teams are going to be happy with that, because they are still getting value. They are just simply not getting the offensive production.
And if you look at the three or four catchers on my list this year on the top 100, there’s not much elite offense coming from that position. The guys back there who tend to have the power have often been the bigger guys who turns out are not that great at framing. (Inaudible) being a great example. He’s just a terrible framing catcher and has been one for most of his career and that type of catcher, we just may not see much of him going forward at all.
Q. We had a couple Twitter conversations about Jake Arrieta, and I wanted to get your thoughts on when Arrieta made his comments at the Cubs convention explaining his Tweet and then when he referenced you in them.
KEITH LAW: I am going to pass on that. I just don’t think this is the appropriate forum for that conversation.
Q. Do you think he’s going to be in Chicago long term?
KEITH LAW: That’s probably a better question for someone who is following the team. I don’t know what their plans are for him contractually.
Media contact: Michael Skarka at 860-766-1342 or [email protected]. On Twitter: @Michael_ESPN