Top MLB Prospects Conference Call with ESPN MLB Insider Kiley McDaniel
ESPN MLB Insider Kiley McDaniel answered questions today regarding the roll-out of his top MLB prospects series, which launched this week on ESPN+ as a culmination of a year of research and analysis. The series includes McDaniel’s top 100 prospects, rankings of all 30 MLB teams’ farm systems and top prospects for every team, and will continue releasing next week on ESPN+.
A video recording of the call is available here.
Kiley McDaniel: This is a year-round situation. I’ll probably be going to high school and college games coming up here in the next couple weeks when that all gets started and I get all this writing off my plate and I get back to the rankings and maybe Spring Training, whatever travel and the pandemic and whatnot allow.
But most of these guys I have seen at some point, going all the way back to like sophomore year in high school. A lot of these guys I saw as 15-year olds, amateur workouts as July 2 prospects, and then obviously this year a lot of it was watching guys like Ian Anderson or Sixto Sanchez in the Big Leagues.
It’s a lot of pieces of information brought together, and then the last month or so or maybe two months, it’s been a lot of phone calls and catching up, finding out what happens at instructional and alternate sites, you know, things like that.
Hopefully I have what you guys need to answer your questions.
Q: You had some really strong words about Wander, obviously, and no one knows of course coming off the oddness of 2020, but just what’s your sense of how good he really can be, and how quickly he can be ready to play in the Big Leagues?
Kiley McDaniel: Yeah, he’s in a unique spot with — there’s some recent July 2 signees that are 16, 17, 18 years old where we haven’t seen them in pro ball yet, and one of those 75 guys of note will explode, we just don’t know which one.
So there’s like a level of uncertainty there, and with Wander, he is the rare guy that was that guy at one point, and then performed even better than people thought he would, and then looked ready to go to Double-A and Triple-A to find out what the limitations might be.
From talking to the guys around him and around the Rays, they’re like, we don’t really what the limitation is. There’s some examples in my book, not to give it a plug, where Cincinnati thought it might have been bad for Jay Bruce that he didn’t have failure before he got to the Big Leagues.
He had to figure it out in the Big Leagues, and that may have hindered him some. That’s not the biggest concern, is like he hasn’t failed yet. And then the other part is the Rays are so deep it’s unclear. Like he could be Big League ready. You could argue he’s Big League ready right now, and not be called up because there’s not like a spot. There’s backup on the Big League roster of pretty good quality for everyone there, which is why they were telling me a year ago and have still sort of said that’s true, that they’ll try him at a bunch of different positions in the upper minors this year so that if right fielder gets hurt, is going to be out for a month, and that’s the spot Wander can finally come out, play for a month, and get some regular at-bats, that he has played there before so he is ready to go.
I don’t think there’s any reason to mess with like service time, especially outside of like the 11, 14 days, whatever it is that’s happened with Acuña and Kris Bryant, so that’s not really an issue.
So I think it’s real just if he goes bananas in Double-A and/or Triple-A to start the year and somebody is not playing well, somebody gets hurt, if there’s any sort of trade of Adames or whoever it might be, I think he’ll come up as soon as that’s ready, and you’re really waiting to find out when we’re going to find a limitation, because there’s really not one right now.
Q: You’re higher on CJ Abrams and I think than anybody else that does this, so your thoughts on him in relation to where you have Gore ranked in your top 100?
Kiley McDaniel: Gore is a tough one, another guy that I think a month or so of this season will tell us a lot. I don’t think there’s any actual reason to worry about why he wasn’t up last year. Every indication I’ve gotten from people I can trust is that he was a little out of whack, he doesn’t have the kind of stuff that plays in short stints out of the bullpen, so he would only be called up to start.
There weren’t openings to start, and then I was told that if they went one series further in the playoffs he would have come up and started Game 2 in that series. So it seems like it was just a weird confluence of like his particular kind of talent, what their needs were, how the timing was.
But, because they were playing at the University of San Diego where there wasn’t TrackMan and so they didn’t share the data and video from the alternate site, a bunch of other teams are like, are they hiding something, because they’re acting the same way you would if you were hiding something.
I don’t think they are, but the lack of information sort of invites that thought from other teams. And even the other teams that are skeptical and think there’s something going on with no real evidence, they’re like, Yeah, he has like three good starts. We’ll just like throw that theory away.
So I don’t think there’s really anything to worry about there, and we’ll find out pretty quickly if there is. So that clouds Gore a bit, and I mentioned the top 100, he has some similarities to Ian Anderson who obviously performed super well in the Big Leagues and then in the playoffs, but they were both guys where they have the intangibles, the command, all those sorts of things.
But the stuff, if it backs up notch might just be like a third, fourth starter, as opposed to the front line guy people protecting. So that is sort of the concern there. There’s not a lot of margin for error, we didn’t get any information. That could mean bad information, it could mean nothing.
So he just slid a little bit in my mind, but could easily jump back up with a sort of first good month of the Minor League or Major League season.
In terms of Abrams, his concerns coming out of high school, is he going to be able to get big enough to develop power, to get to it in games. He was a little bit of a free swinger from what we saw. So then it was, Well, if the power gets there and he can get to it in games, is he going to hit for average, and also, can he play shortstop. And he ended up sliding outside of the top 5.
So you stack all those seemingly minor questions together and you’re like, okay, there’s enough to worry about here. He got drafted about where the industry had him.
And there were also some questions of is he just an average makeup guy as opposed to the plus, plus makeup guy that you want. It sounds like after the draft that was like a little of a smokescreen. I was going to say, hearing from the teams that had that question and all the teams that didn’t have that question, just didn’t say anything, and after then draft they were like, we actually weren’t worried about that. The people that did their homework are convinced that he’s like the plus, plus work ethic and all that sort of thing, and showed examples like how the power did show up right before the draft and things like that.
So those sort of concerns are melting away a bit. There is still a question on the position. I think he’s probably a center fielder. The first time I saw him and still today, I think his mannerisms and just like the body control and things at the plate look like Kenny Lofton, and so center field sort of makes sense for that sort of skill set.
And his performance at the alternate site, which is behind closed doors, you have to sort of take some people’s opinions for it, but people that have a track record of not lying to me, which is notable, and additions instructs, and there was one particular game that I had a couple people tell me about where he hit a ball out to center field, Chase Field against Arizona, instructional league, facing good pitching, and it’s like, What else can this guy do.
So I talked about this a little bit in today’s farm rankings, there’s a little bit of optimism built in there where I basically have him where he would be if he started out in high A or low A this year and had a really hot first month. I think that’s going to happen. So I just put him where he would be if that happens.
Where Gore is hedged a little bit waiting to see what that month will be, which I think will be about at expectations, and then also he’s a pitcher and he hasn’t been in the Big Leagues yet; whereas Abrams has all the markers of could this be the next like consensus No. 1 prospect Wander Franco. Like that sort of thing. There is just less risk with that sort of player, so I don’t mind being a little aggressive on that front.
Q: With the Marlins in specific, you have them ranked as the second overall system, and we’ve seen the accumulation process over the last few years since Jeter and the ownership group took over. How important do you believe this year is going to be for really starting to see what these top prospects that they have actually are going to be able to bring to the table as they are either in AA, Triple-A, or getting into steady Big League time?
Kiley McDaniel: Yeah, I covered this a little bit in the farm rankings today, but they’re in like a very — I always get told by my editors, you can’t be very unique. I think it’s very unique. Some teams are sort of in this situation and they are very in this situation where they have, I think, perfectly fine like average to a little-above-average veteran players that made the playoffs last year; they are going to try to make the playoffs again and try to stay competitive.
The problem is they have the most like actual prospects on their 40-man roster, and these Miguel Rojas, Jon Berti, Corey Dickerson, Jesus Aguilar. These guys perfectly fine. They are probably not going to help you win a division. They might help you sneak in the playoffs like they did last year with an expanded field.
You have all of these guys, like Braxton Garrett, Trevor Rogers, J.J. Bleday — I’m looking at the list right here — Monte Harrison, Peyton Burdick is coming; Jesus Sanchez is right there. Lewin Diaz in on the 40-man.
These guys are all going to be on the 40-man roster, easy to bring up and send down, sitting in like Triple-A, and a lot of them, like Lewis Brinson, I am not sure he can prove anything else to you in Triple-A. You kind of have to let him play in the Big Leagues and find out if he’s good.
If a rebuilding team like Detroit would just let them play and be terrible and find out that one of these five guys is going to be a star that we’re going to build around, and the other guys are a little more fungible; when you get something better, that’s fine.
That’s the problem they’re having to confront right now, and a lot of these prospects, you’re not going to learn anything about them in the Minor Leagues. They have to play in the Big Leagues. And they have a lot of them.
So I almost think — I wouldn’t say that making the playoff was bad, but making the playoffs has made them sort of raise expectations where they’re going to continue trying to build toward a playoff team. I think the best way to do that would be to get rid of all the veterans, let all the kids play, because they actually have enough kids to do that. They’re not like a bottoming-out Baltimore, Pittsburgh, and I don’t think they’re going to do that.
So the question becomes are you going to have a 40-man crunch, is Monte Harrison going to get better playing once a week in the Big Leagues or playing in Triple-A again where he is physically more talented than everyone else. That’s the problem they have to deal with, because I think they have to get over that hump to actually make the playoffs a couple years in a row, win the division, like be what they’re trying to be.
And I think they had a little too much success with sort of middling, veteran type players to let them feel free to do that.
So I think that’s the real challenge with the system, is these guys have to play in the Big Leagues to get better and sort of accrue value in terms of like a farm ranking, and I’m not sure they’re going to be able to do that.
Q: You have two Yankees players in there, Dominguez and Deivi Garcia, which maybe surprised some people that Clark Schmidt was left out. Curious if you were down a little bit on Schmidt, and how tough is it to rate a guy like Dominguez who some people are comparing to Mike Trout, Bo Jackson when he still has not played a pro game. And what do you think his ceiling is?
Kiley McDaniel: To answer your question, I have actually ranked all of the guys through I think 160-something, so I actually have numbers that I think I’ll mention on the team list coming out later.
I have Oswald Peraza actually third behind those two at 102, and then Clark Schmidt fourth at 115. And then I have three other players at 132, 145 and 161. So they have five guys that are right there off of the top 100 to answer that question.
Dominguez is really tough for the reasons you mentioned. The history of guys with that kind of — I wouldn’t even say hype, because hype isn’t really a thing that actually matters. If Jasson Dominguez signed with San Francisco or Colorado I think he’d be ranked about the same place. The Yankee thing doesn’t really affect these sorts of rankings. I think like fan intrigue and like Twitter retweets it definitely does.
So the history of guys that have that level of talent, that number of teams chasing them, that kind of bonus, the small performance we’ve seen in terms of like instructional league where it barely counts, but it’s been good indications at least from there. It’s been sort of the best guy of the last five to seven years, which they’re a bust in that area, like Kevin Maitan with the Braves that was essentially a disaster in pro ball. And there’s been Wander Franco and Vlad Junior where they have been wildly better than anybody thought from the beginning. Vlad Junior just ran into his first problems in the Big Leagues.
So it’s sort of more than not what is sort of foretold is what happens in some form. And then you also have guys like Acuña and Tatis, who were not sort of regarded as anything amateur-wise and have blown up. And guys like Rafael Devers, who were like fifth or sixth in their class. Or Gleyber Torres, Eloy Jimenez, who are all sort of top 10 and it really worked out.
So there is a pretty long recent history of these tippy-top guys hitting the ground running and becoming what they’re supposed to be. So his ceiling is — I don’t know, you can’t really put a cap on it because we also haven’t seen him in a game, and a lot of times is he strikes out 30 percent of the time in rookie ball we’re like, Oh, Okay. That’s his problem now. It’s probably going to be a version of a problem going forward. We just haven’t seen that, and even the Yankees haven’t seen that enough behind closed doors to really know what it’s going to be. Even they’re sort of like, Eh. Like during the beginning of the shutdown he wasn’t at any complexes because he wasn’t at the alternate site. He put on bulk that was mostly muscle, and the Yankees said, Hey, take it off and then he did.
It’s sort of like we haven’t even found a problem yet, because that’s what happened to Kevin Maitan, is he put on bulk, couldn’t get it off, and it sort of affected his physicality in terms of on the field, and that hasn’t been a problem with Dominguez.
You can kind of pick whatever name you want. Technically more advanced than Trout was at the same age because Trout went, what was it, 28th overall as an 18-year-old, and this guy is not 18 yet and he was considered the best 16-year-old in the world a year ago, and he’s probably still the best 17-year-old.
Now, the best 16-year-old isn’t always the best 25-year-old. Like sometimes they fall within that cohort. So you don’t know where it’s going to go, but right now he has done everything he can possibly do, and we’re about to find out where that’s going to slot.
And then going real quick to Schmidt. He dropped from I think 85 to 115, which is almost a coin flip at that point at the top 100, and it’s really just some of the concerns from performing in the Big Leagues were some concern that that sort of thing may happen early in his career, and then it did happen.
So he slides just a little bit, but have five good starts in the Big Leagues and he’ll be right back where he was.
Q: I’m just curious about the Phillies there and Spencer Howard as a right-handed pitcher. How are you finding him, and how do you think he’s going to progress as well and everything like that as a prospect?
Kiley McDaniel: Yeah, we saw a number of pitchers from the top 100 have debuts and just strictly sort of ERA strikeout-to-walk ratio, things like that, didn’t perform very well. Clark Schmidt was one of them. We saw it with Tarik Skubal and Casey Mize with the Tigers; Spencer Howard was another one where he kind of showed the flashes. You see the rough stuff; it’s not quite there. He’s another guy that was like a reliever in his draft year in college, had no track record went in the second round because he was basically a first round performance for a couple months, and that was it.
So there’s like a little bit of a short track record of him having like truly elite stuff of just a couple years, and oftentimes when that happens there’s an issue with sort of command and corralling it because there is not six, seven years of kind of knowing all the tricks with having that kind of dynamic stuff that he has.
So it’s not super surprising to see that. I think it was good to get him some time in the Big Leagues. I think he’ll be back at some point this year. And I don’t think his — I think my ranking of him was essentially the same. I have him 44th this year; I think that’s about where he was last year.
I think he is essentially the same guy where there is, you know, some, call it 10 percent chance, that he is like one of the true aces, like 10 to 12 best pitchers in baseball; but more than likely it’s somewhere like third, fourth starter, maybe a season or two as a second starter. All the guys in that sort of like 30 to 50 area on the list, that’s kind of what you’re talking about, where it’s probably a really good John Lackey kind of guy is what you’re hoping for or expecting, and because they’re that high there is some chance for a little bit more, and it also could take a year or two to get there.
Q: My question is more or less we have Cristian Pache coming up and he’s going to be our center fielder this year. We hope he’s going to continue that. He seems to have a real good strike zone presence. On the other hand, everybody is happy about Drew Waters. I get mixed feelings about him. Some people really love him; some people say he’s just going to air-condition ballparks. Where do you see Drew Waters in this process? Is he going to be as good or as good as Pache, or is he going to be one of the strike out kicks?
Kiley McDaniel: I have reservations about both of them. Pache, I think his floor is basically like a decent everyday guy like Kevin Pillar that’s just like speed and defense and can hit a home run off of a mistake down the middle and then doesn’t give you much more. That’s kind of what he is right now.
He could also be a five, six-win perennial All-Star if he kind of puts it together. So obviously there’s like a big gap there, but the bottom is he is going to be an everyday guy. So I think you’re right to sort of feel some optimism there, that he’ll be some version of better than Inciarte essentially.
Waters it comes down to essentially one thing, which is his pitch selection. Because when you talk about is he going to be good, is he going to have a good hit tool. And then the hit tool for him — like the raw tools are there in terms of that speed and plate coverage and raw power. All those elements are there, which is why he was a 19-year-old center fielder in Triple-A that was hitting the ball harder than almost anyone else in the league in terms of the frequency of hitting it hard.
So it’s like, all right, that’s pretty much everything you can ask for in terms of like some high schoolers are still that age and he’s in Triple-A hitting Big League pitching.
The issue is, and this has come up with Lewis Brinson in Miami as like an example of where it didn’t work out. Acuña had this issue about a month and then figured it out. I was concerned Luis Robert would have this problem and it took him a month or two to figure it out. It’s basically are you physically talented enough to swing at too many pitches but still figure it out and do what you are supposed to do in terms of reaching the ceiling.
Waters is obviously somewhere between Luis Robert and Acuña at the very top of the scale of physical skills, just Ichiro and Vlad Senior. And then Lewis Brinson is like down in the area where it’s like this guy has really got to improve his pitch selection and might never figure it out as a result.
I think Waters is like a little north of Brinson but not that far, and maybe he settles as like Starling Marte where it’s like a really good, above-average everyday player, but never quite gets as good as he could. Alex Rios is another example of this. This is sort of like the constellation of people he’s like, and only one of them I gave you was actually bad.
So I think he has a similar floor as Pache. Not as a speed and defense like sort of fringe to solid everyday player. It’s more he might go on bad streaks. He might not get to all of his power, but he has a chance to have five plus tools, which basically just doesn’t exist in the Minor Leagues right now.
The ceiling is really high and the floor isn’t that low, but there’s still a big gap for guys in Triple-A similar to Pache. Just like a different sort of concern.
Q: When you were looking at Detroit, a lot of the fans here obviously expecting guys like Skubal and guys like Mize to get up. People were really excited about Torkelson, were wondering what the time frame is, what you think it’ll take for him to break out into the majors?
Kiley McDaniel: With Torkelson I think you can look at Andrew Vaughn’s path where it kind of gets to AA by the end of the first full season, and then it’s basically just based on Big League needs almost. Because I don’t know, when you’re at 21 you’ve done everything level you can do at the level you’ve been at. The sort of assumption is when you’re that good you can probably just steamroll through the Minor Leagues and then maybe you’d have your first sort of problems in the Big Leagues.
And rather than doing that, let him run into some problems and take it a little bit slower in the minors. Maybe AA/Triple-A he runs into some problems, hangs around for a few months there.
So I would say not this year. It seems like Detroit is pretty hesitant to call guys up before they’re ready just to try to get somebody on the field. They are obviously signing veterans to be a little more competitive this year. So I would say as early as that sort of two weeks into 2022 is when I would start looking for him; toward the end of ’22 I think would be like the later end of that window. If it takes him until ’23 I would almost be a little bit worried that there was like a real injury or something went a little sideways.
It sounds like Skubal and maybe Mize could break in the rotation or be like the fifth, sixth starter depending on scheduling and things like that. Manning is just behind them, but given the quality of the starters Detroit has, I would expect by the middle of the season there’s enough sort of weak points or bad starts or nagging injuries or whatever that all three of them get a chance to play.
I would guess — I put into today’s farm rankings, I would guess two of the three probably lose eligibility for next year’s list. And then maybe that third one, Torkelson and Riley Greene, are the ones sort of headlining the list next year. Obviously guys like Paredes behind them. Looks like he’ll probably break with the team in big camp.
So this will be a little bit weaker next year. They will obviously add a high first round draft pick on top of that. Yeah, I think Detroit fans can be excited now that this first wave of the rebuild of top prospects are showing up and you get to find out what you have.
Q: It’s probably a little unusual to have an ALCS MVP also be No. 10 on the prospect list. Again, it’s a no-one-knows question, but how much is what Arozarena did for real, how much is going to change once he is seen, there’s more video, there is more book, it’s every day, not just for a month or so? How do you see his talent level and what he can or can’t do going forward this year?
Kiley McDaniel: Full disclosure, he was 10th on the list. I kept saying that between 2 and 10. I couldn’t really tell a huge difference. He was third for like a long time, because the issue I was having is like, all right, Kelenic has been in AA. We don’t know what he did last year. He looked fine at the alternate site from what I had seen; whereas like if any of those guys did what Arozarena did last year you would shoot them up the list. So like how do you not put him ahead of those guys because he’s done it, and it sort of comes back to we’re not trying to guess who’s going to be good the next two years. It’s like the next six, eight years basically.
He’s beefed up enough that he might not be a slam dunk center fielder. It’s unclear. He’s probably not going to center field for the Rays, so it doesn’t really matter. But part of his profile was like, good exit velos, high contact, center field, maybe even above average in center field. Just sort of a bag of 50 to 55 tools, and now it’s shifted a bit where there is sort of plus raw power and maybe above average in a corner, and then maybe closer to average contact instead of above average.
It’s basically shifting enough that we don’t really know — and that was basically the argument that I was getting from people that were telling me. Ah, scoot him down a little bit, because, A, there’s not really track record of anyone doing this in the Big Leagues and the playoffs, so like we don’t really know. It’s not Shane Spencer, but we just don’t really know —
Q: Babe Ruth, I mean.
Kiley McDaniel: Yeah. So he’s basically Babe Ruth I think is what I’m trying to say. So there’s not really a track record of like guys that have done this and then you can say like, Oh, he wasn’t quite that good and this is how much worse he was.
It was like, take what he was last year and then adjust the tool grades based on how he’s changed a little bit, and then move him up, because there’s more hit ability than we thought. But I think this is about as high as I can put him. Like there was a team who said they would have Arozarena ahead of Kelenic, that they would essentially put him third. So that opinion exists. I think 10 is basically as low as you’d put him. There might be a team that would say he’s 15th, but he is one of those guys where you could put him anywhere from probably 2nd to 15th depending on who you were talking to, because nobody really knows what to do to, like to your question. I don’t have an answer because nobody really has an answer.
Q: Bigger picture is obviously the Rays at the top of your ranking, again. They’ve been high for a couple years now, in many, many ratings, not just your own. When does the payoff come? The idea obviously isn’t just to be the No. 1 farm system. Maybe they have a banner for that, but they haven’t hung it. But when does the payoff come or how does the payoff come in?
Kiley McDaniel: I’ve kind of been wondering that for a while, because some people joked that they’re trying to get farm system ranking and service time championship banners but they just haven’t been printing them.
I kind of think there won’t be sense of like, Oh, this is the three years where they cashed in everyone in the farm system and did what the Padres are doing. Like that would be sort of the payoff in one sense. I think Tampa Bay, Cleveland, probably Pittsburgh going forward, Toronto, basically all the different stems of the Tampa Bay and Cleveland trees of executives see it as like a perpetual motion machine where they’re we always constantly focused on the short-term, the medium term, and the long-term, and the lower your payroll is the more you have to focus on the farm system.
So like for instance, like the Dodgers are doing a similar thing that the Rays did, and they have high enough payroll that they can cash in some prospects, get Mookie Betts, give him a huge extension, and just do it.
The Rays can’t do that. They would be cashing in prospects to get like a healthy Noah Syndergaard for two years to then have that, when they’re not convinced that Shane McClanahan isn’t like necessarily as good as Noah Syndergaard going forward. I asked a Rays executive about that. He was like, We’re not positive that guy is not going to get hurt, and then he got hurt.
So a lot of times when a small market team pushes the chips in to like kind of make this their window, I think their point is they’re never going to have the margin for error with payroll to know this is our window we’re going to push all our chips in and we’re going to win the way like San Diego window does.
So they are just going to have the window be forever and their margin for error will be their farm system, and so it will always kind of be top ten. Right now they’re on the run where it’s top 1, and then once Franco, Arozarena, Patino, Brujan, once these guys graduate, then they’ll be fifth or sixth.
Then they’ll probably drop down to about 10th, and then they’ll probably be back up at 1st at some point. I think they’re just going to keep doing a version of this, because I don’t think philosophically it makes sense for them to try to be like the highest odds to — or the lowest odds to make the World Series in a given year, because it’s not really what they’re trying to do.
So I guess to answer your question, it will just like slowly pay off over time, which is just like a really boring annuity of a farm system.
Q: I wanted to ask you about the Padres. I think everyone expected their system to drop off with all their trades. I’m wondering if you were surprised where they ended up and what you found out about their depth beyond the guys that were traded away.
Kiley McDaniel: Yeah, they were one of those teams, there is like five or six that I’ve identified along with the Rays that are just really deep systems. Minnesota. Again, going back to all the teams that have executives from Cleveland tend to do the same thing.
They were right there with them in terms of just like you get past those top 100-ish top prospects, and there’s 30 more that are all pretty good. It kind of makes you wonder why every team doesn’t do that, and then you find out why, which is you can make a Big League team good, it’s kind of the whole point of having a farm system.
I assumed that they would still have 10 of those guys, and they have like four of those guys. And in talking to people at San Diego they’re like, Yeah, the depth is kind of gone. If we want to go make like another one of those trades and let somebody just like go through like they’re at one of those frozen yogurt places and pick out all the toppings they want, like we don’t have every topping anymore. That’s how I’m describing it, the whole yogurt topping thing.
But I’ve pinpointed I think Josh Mears and Justin Lange from the last two drafts. Those are like the last two like upside lower minors. Could be a top 100 guy after a good half a season. Those are the guys that fit that description. The rest of them are like 16-year-olds they signed for 300k a year ago where it’s like, Yeah, he might be good; he might be nothing. We don’t know. That’s kind of all there is.
So when you clear out that middle tier and then Patino, it’s like, Okay, they’re obviously going to fall, but they can’t fall that far, because the way the value system kind of works that we’re using, which is empirical, but it leans toward top 100 guys, and there is like five of them they wouldn’t trade, and most teams don’t have five.
So yeah, it landed about where I thought it would. The thing that’s surprising to me is once you get past like the eighth or ninth guy in the system you’re like, Oh, boy, it gets pretty grim at this point. Luckily they don’t really need any help from the farm system right now, so they don’t need a bunch of those guys hanging around on the edge of the 40-man, but they also don’t have them now.
Q: I wanted to ask on J.J. Bleday, first-round pick from a couple years ago; obviously haven’t seen him in the Big Leagues yet. Last year was supposed to be a year where they would hope to have seen a jump from him in the minors and everything happened. Just your thoughts on him and what progressions that would hopefully be made as he gets into finally getting back to a full year in pro ball?
Kiley McDaniel: The reviews on him from them sort of internally was like, Yeah, it’s kind of the same guy. Obviously he’s a guy where it’s like a little more skills and performance over tools, so at an alternate site against pitchers he’s already seen before where you can’t really take the performance that seriously, like he’s going to suddenly show 70 raw power or hit at balls 116 off the bat.
That’s kind of guy that can’t really impress you at the alternate site, so I’m not surprised to hear he was sort of the same guy. He probably needs to go hit Double and Triple-A and show how good his plate zone discipline, hit tool, getting to the power tool in-game. If he continues to be an above-average fielder in right, which I think he still does right now. I assume he won’t be at some point. Probably lose a step. But just sort of reestablish where he is, and I think there’s a real shot he could jump ahead of the Jerar Encarnacion and Jesus Sanchez, Lewin Diaz, like all the sort of like corner bats at the upper levels. He might have sort of the best pedigree and the best — because of the hit tool and the plate discipline, I think he might have like the best certainty of when he call him up, he’s probably going to perform the best.
So I think you could see him move to the top. Just as I was stumbling over myself looking at their corner bats, they’ve got a lot of them. They’ve got Kam Misner, Jesus Sanchez, Jerar Encarnacion, Peyton Burdick, Connor Scott playing center, Lewin Diaz. Most of those guys are on the 40-man.
And then you have Bleday, Monte Harrison. They’ve got a lot of dudes. So going back to the answer from before, they’ve got to figure this out. They don’t have that many spots. The best players are in the minors, so they have got to figure it out. I think Bleday might be the quickest moving of those guys. He hasn’t been to Double-A yet, but I could easily see him making the Big Leagues by the end of this year if he sort of hits the way he did at Vanderbilt.
Q: With the Blue Jays real fast, if you don’t mind, Nate Pearson and Austin Martin, both pretty talented in their own right and stuff like that, but how do you see them fitting in with the Blue Jays in this way? Jays need him in different aspects, as well, too, especially with the pitching itself. And then with Austin being shortstop or outfielder, how do you see him fitting in with any of this?
Kiley McDaniel: Pearson went about how you would guess it would go, where he was in the top 10 on the overall list last year because there basically were no hiccups, no sort of negative marks on his record.
And then he came up and had some trouble with fastball command, which if you had to guess what it would be — he didn’t have high block rates in the minors. If you had to guess what his problem would be, it would be throwing strikes with his fastball, which is what it was.
So now like his ETA is probably still breaking camp with the team to Spring Training and being in the rotation and getting another extended look. But if he continues having this problem for two years, then he’s a reliever. If he has the problem for half a season, then he’s a starter. And if he sticks as a starter, like all the stuff is there to be front line.
Noah Syndergaard is kind of the guy that keeps getting brought up in terms of the raw stuff and the size, but there have been a lot of guys like this that haven’t quite figured it out and made the adjustments that guys like Syndergaard or Verlander have made over the years.
In the case of Verlander, just learned a changeup like three years into the Big Leagues. These guys still have to continue improving, and Pearson still has to sort of establish his command. That’s the one thing to watch, is basically the quality of his strikes. I think he’s probably going to have to, instead of sitting 99, sit 94, 95 until he kind of figures out how to command his fastball and turn over a lineup. That would be the thing to look at.
Q: So he’s gotten some problems with the mechanics then?
Kiley McDaniel: Yeah, I think when there’s just that kind of torque, that size of a body and that kind of velocity, it is just not easy to repeat. He is a good enough athlete that he can repeat it, but he hasn’t sort of proven it at the Big League level. He also hasn’t had that much of an opportunity. His performance in the Minor Leagues suggest that he can do it. It’s just less margin for error than you have there in terms of command.
And then going to Martin, he was really unusual. I covered this in my blurb on him, but the short version is he was a — I wouldn’t say slam dunk shortstop — but pretty good shortstop and plus runner. And then a lot of the high-level scouts that helped make the decisions in the draft room saw him for the first time at the very beginning of 2020 playing in Arizona, and he was an average runner and could not throw from the left side of the infield.
So the people like me that had seen him a lot were like, Okay, this guy is probably hurt, because I’ve seen him do that for two straight years. This is not an issue that he has had. It sounds like that is what the case was, but some guys that saw him for the first time last I think February in Arizona were like, This guy is a left fielder that can’t hit for power. I think he’s hurt. He’s not very fast. Like what’s — I don’t understand the buzz.
And the parallel I drew, this was similar to what happened with Trea Turner where he had a ton of buzz, the summer when everyone came in to see him for Team USA he was hurt playing against Alex Bregman and looked terrible. In the beginning of the spring he looked bad. I was like, I’ve seen this guy for two years as an underclassman when usually scouts aren’t watching him. He’s way better than this.
Then he took off right before the draft when some teams weren’t watching. He then went 11th overall and became the All-Star that he is now. I think that’s probably the closest parallel, but there was just a pre-draft hiccup that got some teams off of him in a way that they probably shouldn’t have been, because their highest profile guys only saw him bad.
So I would guess it’s second base, third base, or center field. It’s kind of a three-way tie at this point. I would guess second base, but it really could be any of those, and it may come down to team needs, like a Nick Senzel, where it’s like he can play five positions; which one can we put him in.
Q: With the Yankees, I’m curious if there’s a sleeper prospect that’s not real hyped that you like and why? And also, the Yankees have four catchers in their system that they’ve brought in the last couple years. Do you think any of those guys could be the backup plan at some point if Gary Sanchez fails? I know Wells was taken last year first round; a lot of people think he’s going to change that position. First or second round pick in 2019 they drafted a Dominican kid; gave 600,000 to. Curious what your thoughts are on their future catchers, four of which are in the top 20.
Kiley McDaniel: Yes, let’s see, I have a catcher at 10th, 11th, 17th, and 26th on my ratings right now. So I’ll deal with the first three that are in that top 17. The best one I think is Antonio Gomez who, as far as I know, has played just a handful of rookie ballgames. He signed out of Dominican a year or two ago, so he a long way off. I think he’s the best prospect, but not a short-term answer.
Wells I think could be a full-time catcher if there is automatic strike calling. I don’t think he’s good enough behind the plate. The Yankees are sort of like, We’ll see. We think he has a shot, which is more than most teams saw. I think he’s in that sort of Kyle Schwarber area right now where it’s this guy can definitely hit; let’s figure out where we can hide him. We’ve got a DH spot. Hopefully we don’t have to play someone there and he can be sort of first base left field DH and be that kind of guy.
If there’s automatic strike calling I think he might be an actual option because his arm is good enough and he’s like okay blocking the ball. The framing is kind of marginal. So that’s a guy to keep an eye on. If they’re doing that in the Big Leagues next year he becomes a much better prospect.
The last one, which I think may answer your question a little bit, is Josh Breaux, who’s picked out of junior college. Was like up to 99 on the mound. Also had a huge arm behind the plate. Has huge raw power, but the questions were can he catch and can he hit, which seemed like pretty important questions for a catcher.
The progress on both of those has been positive, including instructs and alternate site and those sorts of things this past year behind closed doors. There is a lot of optimism internally with the Yankees that he may jump ahead of all of those guys on a list of like who’s the next catcher, who’s like the best hitting prospect we have, that kind of thing.
So he the guy to keep an eye on, that if he comes out of the gates quickly, he’s the one that could jump up there and answer that question. But he’s also probably a least a year, if not two years away, and catchers tend to take longer, get more dinks and get hurt and stuff over time.
So I wouldn’t say any of these guys are like plug them in next year when Gary is not there. I don’t think that guy is in the system right now.
Going to sleepers, ooh. I think Oswald Peraza. I mean, have him 102 on my list, so I guess nobody has seen that, but that’s where I have him. I have him as the 50 and 3rd guy in the system. I think he could be in the middle of the top 100, again, with a good month or two. So that’s one guy with a lot of upward momentum.
And then also two guys I had high last year, Kevin Alcantara and Alexander Vargas are both essentially in rookie ball this year. If they have a good summer I could see them ending up in the middle of the top 100, along the lines of some of these really good 18-, 19-year-olds. Marco Luciano made a huge jump in that way in the past.
And then going down much further, ooh, so Fidel Montero signed with the Yankees I want to say like a week ago, not quite the January 15th/July 2 signing period. He waited a little bit after. Some other teams tried to steal him. The Yankees had some money left over in this international class and signed him, and some teams thought he was a $2 million talent. I don’t have the number in front of me, but they got him for about $500,000. I thought I was going to be on an island putting him somewhere in their top 30, and then Fangraphs I think put him like 20th on their list. They got the same intel I did.
So he is probably the best player in their incoming international class, but did not get the highest bonus. Given the way that the international signings are sort of timed this year, he’ll get to play I would guess in the DSL, maybe the GCL this year. So he’s another guy that could have a big breakout season.
Q: What do you like about him?
Kiley McDaniel: He’s just one of those like dynamic center fielders, above average power potential, can run, that can kind of do everything, and you’ve got to kind of see how his role plays in the game is sort of the concern. Because he sort of popped up late in the process more in workouts than sort of like the long showcase playing in games, that kind of thing.
So you’ve just got to kind of see how it plays on the field. But he’s one of those guys that if you’re at a workout you’re like, Why isn’t this the best guy in the class?
Q: One guy you left out was Anthony Seigler, who was their first-round pick in 2018, switch hitter; I think he throws both ways too. You’re not real high on him?
Kiley McDaniel: He’s the fourth on that list and he just like hasn’t been able to stay healthy and perform. But, yeah, if he stays healthy and performs, then, yeah — I mean, he was drafted than Breaux I think in the same draft class. He belongs in that conversation too. He just hasn’t done it for the last two years or so.
But yeah, he has low-end to everyday upside if he can put it all together and he just hasn’t yet. But yeah, he’s the fourth guy on that list and could get higher.
Q: Everybody is talking about catchers. We’ve got Alex Jackson probably going to back up this year unless they grab somebody at the last minute, and then we’re sitting on William Contreras and Shea Langeliers, and then after that the system sort of — and Waters, the system sort of looks pretty thin until we get down into the AA level or single-A level. Are the catchers worth it? Which one is going to make it, and is the system going to collapse on itself when we get these guys out of the way?
Kiley McDaniel: That along — I think it was the Braves and the White Sox were two teams I had pinpointed in today’s article saying they’re going to crater just because they have a bunch of guys that are about to graduate and not a ton of depth behind them. I would say part of that is because of the international sanctions, that they just couldn’t spend money for the last couple years, but also it was very concentrated at the upper levels and there wasn’t a lot of sort of incoming via trades. There was nothing incoming via prospects.
The draft classes have been fine but not like amazing. There’s not another sort of Drew Waters type, taken 40 something, 30 something overall, and then shoot up to be 30 something in baseball.
It’s Shea Langeliers by the way. He’s the guy that could be the everyday guy. Again, catchers are — get injured more. It’s tougher to protect them. They have to learn more, et cetera, et cetera. If everything goes to like 80th, 90th percentile outcome for him he’ll be maybe getting to AA by the end of the season; could be an answer by end of next season; could conceivably take that starting job from d’Arnaud. I wouldn’t expect that. I think he’d probably be another year behind that.
William Contreras and Jackson both on the 40-man. They are probably both going to get looks this year, depending on injuries and things like that. Jackson I think at this point teams think he has 80 raw power and is a 20 hitter and is like a 50 defender. So it’s going to be real feast or famine to the point where it’s kind of like Peter O’Brien last guy on your roster. He can catch if you need him to, bench bat, thump, that kind of thing. So I wouldn’t expect a ton out of him right now, but there is potential for more. But he’s also getting older.
And then William Contreras was a top-100 guy at one point. Looked like he was going to be more like his brother than what he was sort of thought of when he was signed for I want to say 100k. It wasn’t very much. He’s regressed a little bit, and now instead of like a bunch of average to above average tools, it’s more sort of fringe to average, does it all play in a game.
So he’s trending more as like a backup, but he’s now at the upper level, so you can kind of judge him by his stats. But I would expect more of a backup that maybe has a good season or two sort of in that Tyler Flowers-ish area in terms of outcomes rather than anything else.
So I would say Langeliers is definitely like the one to watch there.
Q: You have Tigers at third and you were talking about how there’s only like two future bats in Greene and Torkelson, but they’ve got that third overall pick in the summer. I was wondering if you had any thoughts on what direction they’re going to take with that, if you had any prospects that fit their system, or if there’s a large range of guys that could fit that system.
Kiley McDaniel: Yes. So there is one — I won’t say who it is, but there’s a guy in the industry that is pretty good at projecting what the draft will end up being. It seems I run into him at a game every year in like March and he just tells me what the top six picks are going to be with like the right players and the right team and all that kind of thing.
So I talked to him a week ago, and he thinks Detroit is going to take Kumar, which may sound surprising, because I think everyone thinks he’s the best prospect. He is not. Right now I think he is seen as either second or third, depending on how much you like Jack Leiter.
Jordan Lawlar, a high school shortstop out of Dallas Jesuit High School, is seen as like pretty clearly the best prospect, I think, and would probably be like in the top 50 of the top 100 right now. Very broadly and sort of the Carlos Correa, Derek Jeter sort of area in terms of shortstops, the bigger kind. I think seems likely to be the No. 1 pick.
And then it’s a lot of college pitching and up-the-middle college hitters. So the other like hitter I guess that would be in that area would be Matt McLain, a sort of shortstop, second base, UCLA, and Marcelo Mayer, a high school infielder out of Southern California. Those are probably the two best bats right now behind Lawlar that would be in play at three.
But I probably don’t have to tell you the Detroit — it’s not just believed to be, like they will openly talk about we love players that perform in the SEC that we’ve seen for multiple years, and so Kumar is that to a tee. He fits them perfectly.
And I think there’s a real shot that Leiter slides ahead of him and Kumar is just the best player at No. 3. So if I had to put my money on anybody, I would say it’s him. And if it’s a bat, it’s unclear who that next best bat behind Lawlar is. I don’t have a great answer for you yet, but in like a couple of weeks I might.
Q: Walls didn’t get a lot of helium I guess you guys call it in the some of the other rankings. You had Walls on your list. What does he do for you? What do you see in him? Obviously they have a bunch of guys as you point out at that position, but maybe he’s a little different it seems like.
Kiley McDaniel: Yeah, he fits more in the — there’s a guy named Tyler Freeman with Cleveland, that if you look stats has like an extreme more walks than strikeouts, but no power. That is sort of the — again, another sort of trend in baseball with position players, is get a contact rate. You can teach a walk rate. That’s sort of the belief amongst teams right now.
And so Walls fits that kind of perfectly. He also hits the sort of players the Rays tend to take, which is the guy that looks like a second baseman and can really hit, and they teach them both how to field at shortstop and how to hit for power, which they’ve essentially done with him perfectly.
I saw Walls a lot in high school and college and did not think this was possible, so they definitely beat me on this one. There are some teams that don’t think he’s a top-100 prospect because they don’t think there’s enough impact on the bat. But those same teams also don’t think Xavier Edwards or Vidal Brujan is either, because they’re sort of that similar type, that up-the-middle contact and speed and defense kind of guy.
So it kind of depends on like the flavor of which team you want. Like Kansas City wants big tools and Cleveland wants middle infielders that make contact. So it depends what kind of team you’re looking at. I also don’t think Tampa Bay is necessarily going to trade this guy. He seems like the kind of guy that’s going to step in and do like the Joey Wendle, Brosseau, like that kind of role, because he may be not as widely appreciated; whereas a Brujan or Edwards has been a pedigree guy for years that might have more universal trade value.
But yeah, he fits in that mold. And, again, similar to like Arozarena there’s pretty wide opinions, also because like his breakout was behind closed doors where there weren’t scouts at the alternate site. So like Tampa Bay is going to be higher than the other teams are, but I had also seen — I mean, he went from not really on the top 30 or 40 to like 25th last year. Like he was already making this move. He just made like another move last year.
And so he might be another guy where if he puts up big numbers — and like the great thing, he’s a 7 defender at shortstop, which I’m kind of shocked to hear. But other teams don’t have the defensive metrics to tell them that, and so give them a month or two when their defensive metrics can tell them that, and they might feel differently about it.
Q: Esteban Florio was a top prospect at one point. Hasn’t really progressed due to injuries. The Yankees are so right-handed. Do you see him at this point maybe being a fast riser? Obviously he’s a guy that people looked on as a five-tool guy coming up, but I don’t even think he’s been in AA yet.
Kiley McDaniel: Yeah, his performance and health, and even really contact rate, have been like the issues. The tools are, I think the technical term is bonkers. He could be an above average everyday guy. If he did what Randy Arozarena did in the playoffs one year I would be like, Yeah, he’s got huge power and he’s kind of streaky. Like it wouldn’t shock me if he did that.
But there is also Shane Spencers and Bryan LaHairs that do that sort of thing over short periods. That doesn’t really say that much. The issue with him has been contact rate, which he’s one of those hitters where it’s going to be a lot of strikeouts, a lot of walks, and a lot of homers, which I think a lot of fans find annoying, but also has the upside of being Joey Gallo if it all comes together.
He’s like trying to tap into that power. He’s still pretty good in center field. Some people are sort of — I know talking to my former colleague Eric Longenhagen of Fangraphs, has just soured on him and moved him to like 30th on the list. Like he just doesn’t love all the different indicators and he thinks that the time has passed for this.
I think they’ll probably give him another year, maybe year and a half to figure it out. But like, yeah, the ceiling is still there to like fill that role. He’s turned into a Clint Frazier type, but more of a center fielder. It’s just like he kind of has to do it. He’s another you can probably just judge by the stat line. If he’s performing well you know the tools are there, then move him up, put him in the Big Leagues, whatever you need to do. He just hasn’t really done it for an extended period.
Q: What number do you have him on your list?
Kiley McDaniel: He is eighth right now. There’s a chance he slides a little bit maybe down to like 10 by the time I actually write up everything. But yeah, I still have him securely up there in Big Leagues if he has a breakout. He’ll just be in the Big Leagues.
Q: We hear a lot of hype around Atlanta from the Atlanta folks about the Harris outfielders, the two boys named Harris in the outfield. Are they really that, or are they just players? In other words, we heard one of them moved a lot up the system and they were real high on him, and then the other one moved and they were high on him. I’ve never seen either one of them. Are they just guys or are they guys?
Kiley McDaniel: Trey Harris I think is just a guy. I think he’s not that different than Dustin Peterson. He’s like a bench left fielder. A lot of teams want their bench outfielders to be able to play center or right, so I think he’s just fine.
It wouldn’t shock me if he was lost on waivers or Minor League free agent at one point. Although he’s been performing well, so all power to him if he outperforms my projection.
Michael Harris is the guy that’s a guy, and I’m right now writing my breakouts, like one breakout prospect pick for each team, and he’s the guy for the Braves where he’s also in a similar spot to some of the guys I’ve mentioned before where there’s not really bad information on his report and you’re kind of waiting, because this guy could just steamroll through the minors and be the top prospect in baseball if he like continues not having any problems.
But he also was like a guy that wasn’t even seen as a top three-round prospect until midway through his spring, so you just don’t have a lot of information saying he’s good or bad really. You just don’t have a lot of information.
But all the stuff the Braves have gotten sort of behind closed doors in terms of like pre-draft workouts and TrackMan stuff and alternate site stuff, they think this guy is already a top-100 prospect. I think he’s in that area with a lot of first-round picks, like a Pete Crow-Armstrong, a mid-first round pick from last year.
If he goes as a 19-year-old to Low-A and performs, he’ll be top 100 because it sort of verifies what you thought you saw. You already know the tools are there. Harris is right there, too. If he has a strong first month or two he’ll be on the top 100, because everything is there for him to potentially play center field, potentially above average power. Like the tools aren’t wildly different than Drew Waters. We just don’t really have any numbers or performance to look at yet.
Q: What about the Burroughs and the other pitchers we’ve got in the Minor Leagues below — I expect Toussaint and those guys are going to be gone pretty soon because I don’t think we have any place for them. The next level of pitchers we’ve got, they all look like maybe fourth and fifth starters, maybe bullpen guys to me until we get down to maybe A level. There’s a big gap in there. We did an all-college draft one year, which really freaked me out. And so it seems to me they were trying to fill those holes that the restrictions placed on us after the John Coppolella thing, but it seems like we’ve got a couple three and four starters and then we’ve got a bunch of relievers, and then there’s A-Ball people.
Kiley McDaniel: Yeah, I would say it’s basically once you get past Ian Anderson, and Touki Toussaint is not eligible for the list anymore, but I think he probably fits into this, as well, which is back end starters and relievers. That’s pretty much — I’m looking like Bryce Wilson is like probably No. 4 starter when it comes down to it. Tucker Davidson I think will be a reliever, but there’s still a chance he can dial stuff down and throw more strikes and be a starter.
Jared Shuster was sort of like a pop-up college guy from the Cape in a handful of starts in 2020. Might be a third, fourth starter, but it’s probably more fourth, fifth.
Kyle Muller I think is a reliever; Ynoa is probably a reliever; de la Cruz is probably a reliever; Tarnok probably a back end guy; Vodnik reliever; Jeremy Walker, reliever; Pfeifer reliever. You kind of get where this is going.
And there’s some exciting guys from the most recent draft, like Bryce Elder, sinker, slider, starter. I wouldn’t say exciting, but like could be higher on this list. Spencer Strider, Ricky DeVito, Tyler Owens, all guys from the last two draft classes that are in the high 90s, along with Vodnik.
Like there’s some exciting guys, but I still don’t think they’re any better than like a seventh or eighth-inning guy when it comes down to it.
Q: I always pictured Wilson as a back-end closer. I always thought he had the mentality and the stuff for a fastball slider, go in and blow people away and eat them on the way off the mound. That’s sort of a football player kind of guy. I don’t know whether he’s going fourth starter or not; that’s just me looking at him.
Kiley McDaniel: Yeah. No, I think like you’re saying, I think his mentality fits better like later in the game, maybe even multiple innings rather than like spots, sort of has to conserve his stamina and whatnot.
But yeah, in general the team can have an eighth-inning guy or a fourth starter. They’ll take a fourth starter, so I feel like they’re going to push in that direction, but I definitely agree the mentality seems like that.