ESPN MLB Insider Keith Law answered questions today about his annual MLB top 100 prospects. Law’s 2019 project began January 28 with players who just missed the top 100, and will continue through February 10th.
An audio replay of the call is available here.
KEITH LAW: So probably most of you on the call are familiar with my lists, but this is, I think, the 12th year I’ve done a Top 100. When it’s more than ten, you stop counting because it reminds you that you’re getting older.
As Katie said, as usual, I’ve been out scouting players all year. I talked to scouts, executives from all 30 clubs to gather all this information. This week is part one, the Top 100 rankings, well, the guys that just missed. There will be a column I believe it runs Friday just looking at the top 20 prospects for impact specifically in 2019.
On Monday, my ranking of all 30 farm systems will appear, and for the six days after that, there will be team reports, one division a day, running for those six days, which I am actually still writing. The American League ones are written. I’m still working on the National League right now. So I’m happy to answer questions about the lists that have appeared so far, about the process. If you have questions about farm system rankings, I can’t answer in a general sense, I’m still finalizing some parts of that. So I don’t want to give too specific answers because there is always a chance something will change in that column before it runs on Monday.
With that, I’m happy to take questions.
Q: You may be covering this in your NL Central piece next week, but I was wondering if you could give your current opinion of the Cubs farm system, in particular Nico Hoerner, Cole Roederer, and Brandon Davis from the 2018 draft class? Could those three or any other players take a step forward this year and lead to an improved Cubs system in the 2020 rankings?
KEITH LAW: So their system is very close to the bottom at this point. They only had one player in my Top 100. That was Miguel Amaya. He was toward the back of the list. Though I like him as a prospect, particularly because he’s a catcher projected to stay as a catcher and has offensive value. May have a lot of offensive value, in fact.
Nico Hoerner was on the column of just missed player that’s ran on Monday. He was a recent draft pick. He’s not particularly toolsy. I did get to see him myself in the fall league. I love how he plays. I think he’s a very smart player, very instinctual player. I think he’s going to add more value than you might expect if you simply evaluated him off of his physical tools. He could easily be a Top 100 guy a year from now.
Marquez, whose first name unfortunately I’m blanking on right now, is another candidate of somebody that I think could make a big leap forward. A pitcher who was just in short season ball last year. I will point out the Cubs have had a lot of these guys, the Oscar De La Cruzes, Jose Albertos, pitcher who’s appeared in short season ball, looking very promising.
Roederer and Davis will be in my Cubs Top 10. I don’t really look at either of those guys as likely future Top 100 candidates. I never want to rule anything out entirely, but the probability of either of them taking that kind of leap forward is probably not that high. If it were one of them, I’d probably bet on Roederer because I think he’s going to perform more than Davis who is a very interesting athlete but I think a lot further away from producing enough to be a potential Top 100 prospect.
Q: An overall question first, you have nine Rays in your Top 100, obviously. They’ve kind of gone through a lull for a while. They seem to have obviously added some more impactful type prospects. Where do you think the credit goes? Where do you think the change was? How did they do that?
KEITH LAW: It’s been across the board, but I think the two particular things were, one, they drafted a lot better the last couple of years. They had a change in scouting directors and change in overall philosophy toward the draft. You and I had talked specifically about that disaster draft where they had seven picks in the top 70 and got essentially nothing out of it. That’s not going to happen anymore.
They’re drafting smarter, better, they’re more opportunistic. They’re, I think, just doing a better job of weighing probability against risk. I thought last year’s draft class was extremely strong for them. In fact, I’d say the last two drafts have been very, very strong. And they’re also really starting to hit on the international front. And Wander Franco is the most obvious fruits of that.
But you’re going to see in the next two or three years, more of their international prospects bubbling up, and when the team report comes out you’ll see more on that. They’re extremely deep at this point.
I didn’t even mention, I think they’re trading well too. They are thought of so much as an analytics focused organization. They scout the minors as well as any team I can think of. And their ‑‑ not only do they have good scouts, but their system for going out to see those players is itself different.
In an era where we keep hearing, it’s true, scouts are losing their jobs, teams are cutting back on scouting, the Rays are kind of going the other direction. They obviously have a huge analytics department and they use it. But they also go out and scout in a very old‑school fashion, and I love it. I think it’s really helping. It’s absolutely helping them find players in trades who have helped make the system stronger.
Q: And the difference you alluded to is doing it kind of old‑school, and you said their scouting it different?
KEITH LAW: Yeah, they ‑‑ I know a lot of their scouts, in part, because they’re everywhere. Most teams have fairly stringent assignments. If you’re a scout, you get these three organizations for the year. Triple‑A on down to A‑Ball maybe. Or you’re going to have the Eastern league and have of the Sally league. You have assignments. The Rays have some of that, but they are very flexible in how they deploy their scouts, particularly when it comes to opportunities for trades.
If they see a possibility that they can strike a deal with someone, they are much more nimble in terms of getting their scouts out there to get extra looks at players who might be targets in trades. It’s always fascinating to me that I can ask someone who scouts for them, “Hey, did you see so and so?”, knowing that that was nowhere near his assigned coverage, but he saw him. Because they understand the value of getting more looks, getting their best people out there to get more looks at those players who might be targets in trades and pairing that with information they get from analytics.
I’m very much of the mind that more information is always better, and I think the Rays are the best organization at doing that.
Q: On two specific players, you refer to Wander obviously in glowing terms, including a word I’d never seen before, exothermic. How quickly could he move? You reference the scout saying he could be a teenage Major Leaguer. What do you think?
KEITH LAW: No, I agree. I agree. I went to see him last year, and I posted that little video on Twitter of him. And I don’t know if you can hear it on the video, but he hit that ball so hard and so fast that I was laughing out loud. I realized I had to stop myself because people were looking at me. But you just don’t see 17‑year‑olds do that.
He really could, put away service time games for a moment, but if you told me he was going to make his big league debut at the end of 2020, I would not be surprised. He’s so advanced. He’s Vlad Guerrero, Fernando Tatis, the only two guys that finished ahead of him on the list. I think he finishes this year High‑A, as long as he stays healthy.
There is nothing holding this guy back except he’s got to check off those boxes and move up step by step. They’re not going to have him skip levels because of his youth.
Q: Right. The last thing is would you go as far as maybe they’re doing a disservice of Brendan McKay of sticking two way when he’s as far ahead of the pitcher as you noted?
KEITH LAW: I think that time has come. They’re going to have to make that decision now. They don’t necessarily agree, but every scout I spoke to who saw him last year said just put him on the mound. He could eventually be a good two‑way player, but there is such a disparity between where he is as a pitcher and where he is as a hitter, that you’re probably holding him back as a pitcher, and also not getting value from him. He could provide value this year as a pitcher in the majors, but not as a hitter.
Q: I’m curious, there have been years where I’ve looked at this list, and obviously don’t often see a ton of Tigers. Three this year, the previous year, just a general overall assessment of where they are as opposed to just a couple years ago in this redevelopment phase of their minor leagues?
KEITH LAW: Yeah, I would say they’re making progress. It’s a bit slower than a lot of other rebuilds because ‑‑ well, the biggest reason is they didn’t have as many pieces to trade in the tear down, and a lot of clubs get to that point, into the competitive window. You trade a bunch of mainly leaguers and you bring in a whole bunch of prospects. They only had a few guys like that to potentially trade. Even when they had J.D. Martinez, his market was limited, and he was a rental player, and frankly I don’t think they did that well in that particular trade anyway.
So it’s going to take a couple more drafts for them, I think, and obviously they’re going to draft high now, probably for the next several years. They’re going to have to hit on those drafts. They’re probably going to have to do better after the first round in those drafts as well.
It was last year, loved the second round pick, and that was basically their draft was Mize and Meadows, and that was kind of it. If they want to get some bulk into the system, it’s probably going to be a little change in philosophy.
I point out ‑‑ I guess this maybe won’t run until next week. I know I wrote it. They’re not doing much on the international front either, and you can’t punt on that anymore. In the new system, really doesn’t reward teams the way the old system used to, where you’d punt a year or two and then sort of go all in.
You see teams now every year signing a million, $2 million-dollar guys, because kind of everyone’s the last to do it now. They’re not. When they go in they’re not finding success too. So I don’t know enough about their system, but you have to have more international prospects in your system.
If you look at my Top 10, Top 15 when it comes out on Monday of farm systems, pretty much all of those clubs have some significant international prospects, the 16‑year‑olds who signed from Latin America. The Tigers really don’t have much of that at all and haven’t for a while. I tried to go back and find one, and I couldn’t. It’s been a while since they’ve had one of those turn into a real prospect and develop into something in the majors.
Q: All right. So the Tigers are going to be in the bottom half. Got you. Big surprise.
KEITH LAW: Yeah.
Q: I was intrigued by Manning, because you and I have talked about Manning in the past. Your opinions have gone up and down on him. You obviously see more in him than you’ve seen in the last couple of years?
KEITH LAW: Yes, and that’s one to give the Tigers player development people a lot of credit because they reworked his delivery. I saw him early in ’17. He was not good. I was going to say a mess, but that’s probably a little too strong. He wasn’t good. He was really struggling to throw strikes. I was getting reports from scouts that they were having him skip starts in extended spring training because they were afraid he wasn’t going to throw strikes. And the stuff was down, and the breaking ball wasn’t as good.
Well, I caught him, his Double‑A debut this past summer was in Harrisburg, drove up there basically to see him, although the lineup had a bunch of other good prospects. But I hear this guy’s throwing better, the delivery’s better. Sure enough, he looks like a different guy.
All that athleticism, because you know he was a basketball star in high school, now it’s playing out in the delivery. He’s extending way out over his front side. The fastball is more 92, 95, not 98, but it plays. The breaking ball is better. He’s throwing better strikes. Now you can look at that guy and say I can also see the path where he continues to improve. And so much of it comes down to the work they did, and obviously that he did too, to give him a delivery he can truly work with and repeat. It gives him a foundation to build off of going forward. He really did not have that a year ago.
Q: Mize, I mean, he didn’t pitch much. Do you think the Tigers got the right guy there?
KEITH LAW: 100%. He was the, no doubt, best overall player in the draft class for me. I think even if you redrafted today, he would still go first overall. He pitched a lot in the spring. There was no reason to have him pitch much in the summer. And I did say, again somewhere, I think it was in his capsule, if they were contending this year, he would appear in the majors. They don’t really have any incentive to do so right now.
But it’s now stuff, it’s now control, he could help a Major League club in some role right now, they just have no reason to push him.
Q: He’s not on your list, so if you don’t have information on him, that’s fine. But I’m curious, have you gotten any reports on Alex Faedo over the last year? I know I’ve heard some stuff about his velocity being a concern. Like I said, he’s not on your list, so if you don’t have anything available, I understand?
KEITH LAW: I do. I do. He’s not on the list for a reason, because he just wasn’t very good last year. I saw him in college, and he was never a huge velocity guy. He’s pitching a lot of 90, 92 guy. The slider is good. It was a plus slider in college, it’s not a plus slider any more. What we’re seeing is not only is the fastball not hard, it’s a low‑quality fastball.
So he got to Double‑A and became extremely homer prone. Every scout I asked about him who saw him in High‑A or Double‑A came back and said relieve him.
Now often you get some difference of opinions, scouting is subjective. Some guys say he can do this and this and become a starter. Everybody came back and said, relieve him.
I thought he was a risky pick at the time. He came out of college for a couple of different reasons, but I would also say he’s underperformed from what I expected. I had him maybe lower than the industry did at the time he was drafted. I think he’s even come in under what I would have anticipated for his first year. Pitching half the year in A‑Ball, you expect better results. I expected better results.
Q: Last year Florial, sky is the limit, injuries, still crazy athletic profile, but how likely do you think it is that he reaches maybe not even the potential that he has, but becomes good enough with the pitch recognition to where he can even be an everyday guy at the Major League level?
KEITH LAW: This is two straight years I’ve had him on my just missed list, and the reason was the same. He was injured this year, I think a hammy.
Q: It was a hammy.
KEITH LAW: There were some reasons underlying the poor performance, and I did see him again. I’ve seen him a lot the last two years. I think a joke I told him, well it wasn’t a joke, the line I had on the call was I’ve seen him strikeout on every single pitch type. That remains true. It happened again. I don’t ‑‑ it’s not that he can’t tell a ball from a strike, it’s that I really don’t think he can recognize a fastball from an off‑speed pitch. Whether it’s a changeup, breaking ball, whatever, he is constantly fooled by different pitch types.
I think his outcomes, and I mentioned too that the Yankees hired Bill Lawson, a pitching coach from outside, whose main focus is helping hitters to learn how to recognize pitches. That can’t be a coincidence. Arguably their third best position player prospect has this very clear need. It seems like that’s probably part of the reason they hired this guy was to work with Florial and guys like Florial.
I think there are two outcomes for Florial. If he figures out some sort of pitch recognition, he’s an everyday guy or better. There is no middle ground here because if he doesn’t figure it out, he’s not going to produce any value in the majors at all. And he’s going to have a hard time hitting Double‑A pitching if he can’t figure out different pitch types because at that level guys will have good quality secondary.
They may not command them, but that’s not been the issue. He mistimes even if they’re throwing a breaking pitch for a strike, because he just doesn’t pick it up. So I still think he was on the just missed list for a reason. He’s got star tools. He’s got star upside.
It’s going to be difficult for him to get there with the current problems with pitch recognition. It’s a very clear thing for him to work on. That’s got to be a mandate for player development. We know what we have here. You’re not working on getting him stronger or faster, you’re working on one specific hole in his game that is preventing him from becoming a regular and potentially a star.
Q: Jonathan and I always say his last name ‑‑
KEITH LAW: Loaisiga.
Q: Yeah, I cover this guy every day and get his name wrong. He doesn’t make your Top 100 or just missed. Is it injury related? Do you not see him staying healthy?
KEITH LAW: He’s just never been healthy. The number one predictor of future injuries, as far as I know is past injuries. And he’s had Tommy John, a significant shoulder injury, not a surgery, but missed a ton of time with it. Missed time the year before with other injury. He’s just always hurt. I love the stuff. He’s a mid‑rotation starter if he’s healthy, but how could I possibly predict him to stay healthy when he’s got no track record of doing so.
He’s only got about 150 professional innings. I looked it up the other day because he’s in the Yankees Top 10, obviously. But he’s really not pitched very much at all at any level.
So I’m not really sure what we have here. I can’t just say, well, put him in the bullpen, he’ll be fine. I don’t think this is a matter of not holding up as a starter, I just think physically he has not held up yet.
There’s no guarantees. You hope he will hold up going forward. But so far there’s just no reason to believe that he will do so.
But grading out the stuff, he’s ‑‑ he might be more than a mid‑rotation starter. At least an above‑average starter if you’re going by stuff, and I think he’s got the control, at least, to potentially get there. But we’ve got to see 120 innings out of this guy on some calendar year before going all in.
Q: Luis Sardinas, he was getting comps when he was 18 years old. Were those premature, and how bad are his control issues and his command issues?
KEITH LAW: I saw him when I went to Pulaski, he pitched. He hit Wander Franco in the first at‑bat. In the first at‑bat he hits him in the hip, and I’m thinking, I flew down and drove to rural Virginia, and Franco’s going to get yanked out of the game because he got hurt on the first pitch. I was going to lose my mind in the stands there.
Sardinas, he’s funny. First of all, the Severino comps were probably ridiculous. He is, however, he’s pretty athletic. He’s got a good body. The ball explodes out of his hand, and the delivery is not bad at all. You might even say the delivery is good.
I’m not really sure why he can’t throw strikes, but he can’t throw strikes. He was all over the place. I think he got four outs the night I saw him. He walked three, he hit another couple of guys, and he was just never close.
If he gets close to the plate, he’s going to get a ton of swings and misses. He’s up to 99 with a high spin. His breaking ball can look pretty good. He’s still in my Yankees Top 10, despite the fact that he walked 46 in 36 innings last year. I don’t usually do that.
But I understand the stuff is exceptional, and he is not one of those bad delivery guys where you look and say he’s never going to throw strikes. There’s a good chance, a non‑zero chance this guy figures out how to throw strikes.
The raw elements are there, he’s just not close. It’s 20 command right now. It’s just that I don’t usually see 20 command guys and think there is a chance he gets to average command at some point in his life. He’s an exception because of the stuff I mentioned, the athleticism, and the delivery, and the body. There are so many other things to like if he could just figure out where the ball was going.
Q: Now that I think about it, last thing. I wanted to ask you about some of the guys not in the top hundred, these are Yankees guys not in the top hundred. They only have one guy there?
KEITH LAW: Yeah, they only have one.
Q: Mo Ching looks like he could put himself in the mix as a back‑end guy for the Yankees this year. Has he completely overperformed his abilities or do you think there is a Major League starter in there?
KEITH LAW: Not a starter. Everybody says reliever. Every single scout I talked to said reliever. I don’t even think he’s in my Yankees Top 10.
It’s a deception thing. I think he’s fooling minor league hitters. He throws strikes. There is some life to the fastball. But it’s kind of a cross‑body delivery, really hard for minor league hitters to pick up. Cannot see him going through Major League lineup three times. Not sure I can see him doing it two times. They have a lot of guys that I think could be starters who are further away.
Ching to me is in that large group of potential relievers they have. Trevor Stephan, Nick Nelson, Kent Adams is probably in that group at this point. Guys who might have started at some point in the minors, but only project as relievers in the majors.
Q: My first question was on William Contreras who ranked a little higher than I expected ahead of guys like Bart and Hernandez. Is that because of his all‑around ability or is it possibly that you see him as potentially more likely to be an impact catcher?
KEITH LAW: I guess a little of both, actually. I mean, making those direct comparisons, he’s ahead of Hernandez defensively. I think he’s got a lot more potential offensively to hit, especially to hit and get on base than Bart does. And he’s still pretty young with good performance and good presence, skill level for someone his age. So I can project a lot of growth on him.
He’s ‑‑ look, if you look at the back of my list too, it’s a little stuffed with catchers, and that’s not an accident. If you’re a catcher who can stay at the position and you project to hit at all, you’re probably a pretty valuable commodity. There are just never enough catchers to go around.
Contreras was one of that sort of large bubble of guys I had for the last, I don’t know, 15, 20 spots. As I started to talk to executives with other clubs per scouting directors and GMs, his was a name that also kept coming up too. It’s clear that there is industry value to him. It’s not just that I like him, scouts like him. But it’s the rest of the industry looks and says that’s a particularly valuable player.
If Atlanta were to try to make some kind of significant trade, the guy they’re going to get hit on a ton, because people look at him and say for what he’s done now, and for the tools and the potential for him, I think, to become a little more disciplined hitter as he gets older, you’re looking at an above average regular, maybe a star at a position where teams are desperate to find anyone that can play the position 120 times.
Q: And a guy that didn’t make your list, Joey Wentz. Last year when he was on and he was healthy and he was in command, which he definitely had some bouts where the command was all over the place, he had some of the best numbers in all of the minor leagues for that short 10 to 15 start period. What would you think of him? Obviously the bouts of command and the injuries would play into that, but he’s not a guy we hear much about.
KEITH LAW: No, and it doesn’t help that there’s a half dozen other pitchers in the system who were healthy and pitched better, got to the big leagues. He had a Lat issue that I think affected him for much of the year.
He is a command guy. He’s not a huge stuff guy, and so he needs to ‑‑ never mind just ranking somewhere on this list, but he’s not far off. I think he’s 11th in my Atlanta team ranking, either 10th or 11th when I do their organizational ranking.
But if he’s not showing command, it’s hard to see what ‑‑ it’s hard for anyone to walk away from a start where he’s not showing that kind of command and say, oh, I see this guy as a mid‑rotation starter, which I think he could potentially be.
It’s exceptional extension, and it’s delivery. He will show you a really good changeup. I think his changeup is probably ahead of his breaking ball at this point.
I don’t know that we’re expecting a ton of physical projection. He’s not going to throw a lot harder. So when the command isn’t there, it’s a little bit of a concern. I also look and say what, maybe the Lat strain, maybe he pitched some times where he wasn’t a hundred percent, and that’s why he didn’t look like quite the same guy this year. I think he only threw 60 innings or so.
I would expect him, he’s supposed to be fine at this point, I expect him to go out and pitch a full season this year. If he shows the same quality of stuff, and has the expected results over this year, he probably gets back on to the list at this point. It wasn’t that he so much dropped from the list as that a lot of other guys ended up passing him because they had healthy seasons, more effective seasons, and he just kind of ‑‑ you give him a mulligan.
It was just not a year of progress for him, because it sounds like that Lat issue lasted most of the season for him.
Q: You made me think of a question when you were talking about the Tigers and their international signings. The Braves are hitting some pretty significant international penalties. How badly do you see that affecting the system long‑term?
KEITH LAW: It will drag them down over the next couple of years. It’s funny because they’ve lost a lot of prospects from that one huge class, and most of these guys haven’t turned into much. I think a couple of them will see the big leagues, but they haven’t lost anybody who is a Top 100 prospect now or likely to become one particularly soon. Kevin Maitan is the most famous one. He’s kind of stalled.
I don’t think he’s a non‑prospect, but he hasn’t become the guy he was supposed to become at least. When it’s going to hurt is after the next two or three cycles, where they can’t participate for a little while longer. They’re going to end up in one of these situations like Detroit, like Baltimore, couple other clubs toward the bottom that got nothing from the international front because they’re not going to be able to sign guys.
There are plenty of teams who find $50,000 guys. Freicer Perez in the Yankee system signed for $10,000. Atlanta can still find guys like that, it’s just harder, and probably requires a little bit of luck. That’s all they’re going to be able to do. They’re not going to get the Wander Franco for a couple of cycles, and that’s going to drag the system down at the same time that they’re losing a lot of guys from their Top 10 to Top 15 for graduations to the majors. Guys that will pitch in the big leagues ‑‑ they’re mostly pitchers ‑‑ that they end up coming off the list for that reason.
I wouldn’t be surprised at all if two years Atlanta’s middle of the pack system or even below, because they’ll draft lower. They won’t have international guys, and they’re going to graduate a lot of these prospects in the next 18 months.
Q: Do you see any pitchers in the Cubs organization that could contribute in the major leagues in 2019?
KEITH LAW: Off the top of my head? Unlikely. There’s really nobody I’m thinking. I haven’t written up their whole organization yet because I started with the American League out of habit. Could somebody like a Thomas Hatch come up and pitch in a relief role, maybe take a couple of starters. Could Justin Steele do something like that? He was okay in the fall league. Yeah, yeah, they could appear.
But to come up and have impact, I apologize, I may be forgetting somebody. Maybe somebody who is just a pure reliever, but nobody’s coming to mind immediately.
The pitcher who’s are most interesting in their system are either really far away or just weren’t very good last year. Guy like Alex Lange who was always going to be a reliever. He’s got that knockout curveball. He just wasn’t very good last year. So could he come up and be a one‑inning guy and miss some bats with the breaking ball? Yeah, it’s possible. He was kind of underwhelming last year.
So I’m hesitant to say he could be any kind of impact guy for 2019 even if he’s more a guy that just makes some appearances, but doesn’t really move the needle very much.
Q: Knowing what you do of Brent Honeywell’s talent and also his personality, what do you think the biggest challenge and upside will be for him to reach that?
KEITH LAW: You know, it’s funny, the Rays people, because they even suspended him for some minor discretion, I don’t even know ‑‑ indiscretion, at the end of 2017. I don’t even remember what the issue was. I was assured it wasn’t a big deal. They like him. They just describe him as kind of a different guy, and that’s fine. People would probably describe me as a different guy, so I’m not in any position to judge.
I think for him, my issue with Honeywell in the past, one, he had some health issues, and obviously finally did blow out. Hopefully he comes back and he’s fully healthy. He’s got a lot of weapons and for him it may be a function of just simplifying, especially maybe the first time through the major leagues.
It’s easy to come to the majors and say I have five different pitches. I’m going to use all of these. Well, maybe if you’re forced you can do that because all five pitches are really good. But for Honeywell he may be better off trying to simplify with a three pitch approach for now, and over time he maybe reintroduces. Scott Aaron talks about the screwball. It’s not that important to pitch for him. If he throws five a game just to screw with hitters’ minds that could be really effective. Don’t do that right away. Come up. Focus on a couple of pitches that you know particularly good.
He’s got a true changeup that I think has a chance to be a grade 70 pitch. Come up, pitch like that, first couple of times through the league, and then if you want to gradually expand the repertoire again, because you know you have those pitches, that might be more effective because it’s going to be about adjusting to Major League hitters.
Continuing to develop command, which he’s already come a long way since he was first drafted. I think the kid has made a ton of progress. That last leap to the majors may be an issue because of the style of pitching, I’m going to throw the whole kitchen sink at you, is not likely to be effective right out of the gate. But he could be one of those David Cone types where he’s just throwing things that are, I don’t even know what that pitch was, I kind of made it up in the middle of the game. He’s a guy that could probably do stuff like that as he gets older.
I’m not a pitching coach, but if you asked me what advice would I give him at this point is, hey, keep it simple the first couple times around. As you get more comfortable and have more success, we can experiment with other ways for you to get hitters out, and that will keep you in the big leagues a long time.
Q: The other guy, and I’m not sure, I apologize for not knowing this, if you even had him or highly on the board for Cleveland when he was in that system. But what do you know and project for Diaz? Would you have traded him for Jake Bauers?
KEITH LAW: Yes. I like Yandy Diaz. I was always a little confused why Cleveland didn’t give him more of a chance because I just think he can’t hit. The issue with him as a hitter specifically is he puts the ball on the ground a lot for a guy who is strong enough for power.
And I think it’s a little bit of a swing path issue, which is funny because they traded him for Jake Bauers who got mad when the Rays tried to alter him. And I believed him, he said he thought it screwed him up as a hitter. So they trade one guy like that to acquire another guy who probably also needs some swing launch angle optimization. That’s the big thing now. This is what we do with hitters.
Diaz seems like a good candidate for that though. I’ve seen him. He looks like he’s got the hand strength, upper body strength to drive a ball. But he just doesn’t do it in games, but I think it’s in there. I’ve seen him play third base, he was fine. I’ve seen him play in the outfield. He was more than fine. I think he’s a useful player and somebody who is ready to help right now. And the Rays are happy to take guys with that kind of versatility and move him around the field a little bit and find different ways to get them in the lineup.
He’s a guy that’s going to hit six home runs right now, but looks physically and from BP looks like he should hit 20 home runs, and I’m sure that’s what they were thinking when they acquired him. We’re going to take a chance that we can get the swing to ‑‑ I’m sure Cleveland tried and it didn’t work. We’re going to try again with a different approach. See if we can unlock another grade or two of power.
Q: Do you think Garcia, David Garcia, do you think he is a 2020 option for the Yankees? I assume 2019 is probably early. He’ll probably start this year at High‑A. But do you think 2020 is possible?
KEITH LAW: Didn’t he have two starts in Trenton to end the year? I think he pitched in Trenton the night I flew to Pulaski, I was so annoyed because I wanted to see him all year, and I had already booked a flight to get there ‑‑ it’s funny, Pulaski isn’t that far as the crow flies, but it’s a pain in the neck to get to. He made one start in Trenton, and for whatever reason, I was not physically here.
Q: That might have been like a ‑‑ I can’t tell you. He had like eight starts ‑‑ six starts at High‑A.
KEITH LAW: Yeah, I think he made one or two starts. Yeah, he pitched in Double‑A at the end of the year. I just bring that up because I think he’s going to start the year in Trenton. I didn’t ask the Yankees about that.
I don’t generally ask where would guys start because they don’t want to commit themselves. I think he starts at Double‑A. If he starts at Double‑A, he could appear in the majors at some point this season.
I don’t know that he’s going to ear in the majors as a starter, obviously. There are other guys ahead of him. They’re the Yankees. They’re going to be trying to go to the playoffs. If they have a significant need for a starter, they’re probably more likely to go trade for something in the middle of the season. But could he appear and make two starts in September, or appear as a long reliever at some point because they really believe in this kid too, as do other scouts.
I was actually surprised by how positive other scouts were, because he’s kind of a twerp. I say that as a twerp, so I’m allowed to say that. But pitchers, short right‑handers, we just don’t like them. As an industry, we don’t like them. Not only is he short, he’s not overly physical.
But what comes out of his arm is pretty special, and the Yankees are very sort of track man focused team when it comes to all players. But they love their high spin guys throughout their system. He’s a guy who has that and has command and has control. Which says to me, at least, they’re not going to hesitate to trust him with some kind of Major League job by the end of the year. Knowing the Yankees, knowing where they are competitively, it seems more likely to me they’ll go out and trade for somebody rather than give him 12 starts down the stretch.
Q: I had a question about Touki Toussaint. You commented about his development and how significant it is. Do you attribute that more to him or to the coaching staff? I’m just wondering based on his ability to apply further developments to keep improving?
KEITH LAW: Yep. I think both from talking to Atlanta people, talking to scouts who have seen him over the last couple of years, the key is now going to ‑‑ I saw him in high school too ‑‑ he’s an extreme athlete. Top end of the scale athleticism. And people love ‑‑ scouts got home visits, got to know the kid, all loved the kid. They also loved the mom. I believe she’s Haitian, I believe, and they would go and she’d have food for them, I mean, really. That’s the direct path to my heart, serve me food and we’re in.
But the kid was really bright, high aptitude. He’s just raw as heck. At that point he was a kid with elite arm strength but had not had a lot of good coaching. It’s not necessarily the worst thing. But if you saw him in high school, it was an arm that was kind of out of control. He had not begun to grow into his body or learn the kind of coordination that you would see ‑‑ saw him in the big leagues this year, so you saw where he came from that.
So not everyone could make the kind of quantum leaps that he’s made since he’s ‑‑ particularly since he came over from Arizona, where he’s gone from thrower to pitcher. So you have to give a lot of credit to the kid for, one, just some of it is born, physical ability. But a lot of it is the mental aptitude to be able to make, identify, and execute those adjustments. But talking to the Atlanta people, it sounds like their player development folks really did do a lot of work with him.
They’ve done some good work with a couple of pitchers too. If you ever see video of Bryse Wilson from high school, he’s a different guy now too. They cleaned up what was a pretty rough delivery, and that guy got to the big leagues in two years out of high school. That’s insane. Particularly if you go back and look, he was a fourth round pick in high school with a rough delivery, and now you see him in the big leagues, really getting guys out with just a fastball.
He has pitches, but his fastball really plays. They’re doing some pretty good work there with pitchers and position players.
Austin Riley going from a 40 defender to a 55 defender. And Drew Waters getting substantially better if his first full pro season. Their player development guys, I don’t know what their secret is, but they’ve had a lot of success making visible adjustments with a number of young players, which I don’t factor that into rankings going forward. I don’t rank William Contreras higher because of the system he was in.
But if I were an Atlanta fan, I’d be very happy knowing, well, we have guys who need to make adjustments. But we have a player development staff that’s been really good at identifying and executing those investments.
Q: I actually did have one other non‑Braves question, only because no one else has asked that. I was slightly surprised to see Vlad not number one. I’m wondering what your thoughts are on him, do you not consider him to be a potential generational player, or do you just see Tatis as being that great?
KEITH LAW: Tatis is a shortstop, and he’s probably a shortstop, at least for the first half of his career. Vlad Guerrero Jr. is probably a DH. At 19 he’s very large. I compared him ‑‑ I was on a Toronto radio station back in August or so, because this is the same ‑‑ I had them one and two in the same order in my mid‑season prospect update.
Now I would have changed them if I thought I needed to change them, but I don’t. And the Toronto hosts were friendly, but asking, why isn’t he the best player and best prospect in all of baseball? If I told you Vlad Guerrero Jr. was David Ortiz, would you be happy with that outcome? Absolutely. David Ortiz was a great player for a long time as a DH. If you look at his value, he was able to deliver. It was somewhat restricted by the fact that he couldn’t deliver value on defense.
Wherever Vlad ends up, it’s not going to be third base. Not going to have value on defense, and the replacement level he’s working against is going to be higher. Tatis is going to break into the majors as a shortstop. Tatis can really hit. He’s just not as famous as Vlad, and it’s not as loud as when Vlad hits.
Tatis is going to come up as a shortstop. I think at worst he’s going to end up at third base. I think he’s going to spend a lot of his career at shortstop. Machado, Alex Rodriguez, spend time at short, lead defensively at third, when you’ve got to go over there. He could be on that path. Those are two players he models himself after. There is the potential for him to be a generational player just like Vlad. But somebody who provides additional value on the defensive side, where Vlad is physically not going to be able to do that.
Media contact: Katie Hughes at (860)766-0368 or [email protected] On Twitter: @Katie_Hughes15