Transcript: 2023 Top MLB Prospects Conference Call with ESPN MLB Insider Kiley McDaniel

BaseballCollege BaseballMLB

Transcript: 2023 Top MLB Prospects Conference Call with ESPN MLB Insider Kiley McDaniel

ESPN MLB Insider Kiley McDaniel answered questions today regarding his top MLB prospects series, which is rolling out this month on ESPN+. The series includes McDaniel’s top 100 prospects, rankings of all 30 MLB teams’ farm systems, team-by-team prospect rankings and predictions for when the top prospects will make the majors in 2023.

ESPN has reached a multi-year extension with McDaniel, who will continue to share his insight and analysis on MLB prospects, the MLB Draft and more across ESPN platforms.

A transcript of the conversation is below:

Kiley McDaniel: This year’s list is — I wouldn’t say it’s like a down year or anything like that, but last year I thought it was pretty clear with Rutschman, Julio Rodríguez, and Bobby Witt Jr. as the top-tier of three All-American league Rookie of the Year candidates that all had big, if not bigger, than expected seasons.

I thought that was sort of a high watermark having that kind of star power all together, ready at the Big League level.

This year we have two guys, I think, that at are at that tier in Gunnar Henderson in Baltimore and Corbin Carroll in Arizona. There wasn’t really a third guy. And some of the feedback I’ve been getting from Twitter, which, take that for what it’s worth, is the group I have, starting with Anthony Volpe at third down to like, probably Jackson Holliday at 17, were all really similar.

So some people that saw a guy at the back of that tier and thought he should be at the top of that tier, I’m like, yeah, that’s almost a coin flip.

I also noticed, as I mentioned, in the top-100 boards there’s an unnatural, I don’t know, weirdly high amount of left-handed hitting infielders, which is really hard to just compare them all to Rafael Devers or José Ramírez or Corey Seager, but those are kind of the only real comps.

I threw out a Stephen Drew at one point because it just — I was having trouble thinking of guys like that. I wondered if there was going to be a next tier of shortstops on the cover of a magazine, if those things still exist, of, ‘this is the new face of baseball,’ a bunch of left-handed hitting shortstops and all that good stuff.

Q: One of the things that jumped out to me was Henry Davis and where he ranked in there. I was curious, might there be a little bit of worry about him and I was wondering for your take, should Pirates fans be worried about that?

McDaniel: Not worried. … I don’t think I would advise anyone to be worried because I think sometimes in the sort of the — one of the other teams of political coverage, like pay attention, don’t worry, it’s not going to help anybody. Some things aren’t going to work, some things are going to work. Don’t worry about it.

But I think I covered it actually in the blurb today about the Pirates farm system, which was, they’re doing a thing that at any given time, like two, three, four, five teams are all doing, which is, we’re actively not trying to win, we’re running a low payroll, we’re trading older Big Leaguers for young prospects.

At points, like two years ago, when Pittsburgh was making that Joe Musgrove trade, it was, we don’t want anyone above A ball. We’re trying to dig the bottom of the barrel in terms of the level of the minors they’re at to get the highest upside we possibly can. And we don’t just want a guy that’s in Triple A that will be okay.

So they were trying to do that thing, which obviously, like Houston did, Baltimore’s doing it, Cleveland and Tampa do like a sustainable version of it.

So they have accumulated all this young talent, some in the Big Leagues, some in the minors, and there hasn’t been the guy that broke through, the guy that wasn’t supposed to be good that’s really good, the guy that was supposed to be pretty good that’s amazing. Like that hasn’t happened yet, and I don’t know if that is unlucky or scouting or development.

That’s sort of like the backdrop of what’s going on. And they’re never going to run a big payroll, so it’s not like they’re going to do what Texas is doing, where four or five guys come up and then they buy seven other guys, and now they’ve got a good team.

So you can look at this system and you look at what they have been doing with their high picks. Mark Johnson, I think, played it straight to a guy I would take, so that, I think is a pretty conventional method that I was signed off on.

Henry Davis, I don’t think, is what I would have done in that pick. I think I probably said that at the time, that I had Lawlar and Mayer as the top guys up there. I would rather pay a little bit more to get the guy that I think is the best guy.

I can guarantee you if you ask Pittsburgh they would say and probably believe that Davis was the best guy on the board. There was the wrist injury, so some of the exit velos and power, which is like his selling point, wasn’t quite to the level you would expect it to be.

So you kind of have to ignore that a little bit and because that’s not there, you sort of assume there’s some projection in the offensive performance. You can just kind of take his stats at face value.

But the question that was the question when Davis was drafted was, well, can he catch? If he can’t catch, is he at first base only? I had some scouts say, well, he might be able to play third. Is he going to bat? I think he can play left or right. Is he like catcher-DH rotation? Like what exactly is he?

So when you have the offensive numbers depressed, he’s a little older for the league relative to the high school guys, like the Mayer and Lawlar, who have worked out as everyone was expecting.

Like he’s just got put in a position where if you just told me, without telling me what his season stats were, just that he was going to be injured and be in Double A and not necessarily make a huge leap defensively, it’s like, oh, people are going to get worried and say he’s a bust because some of the other guys are ahead of him right now.

But he’s still fundamentally the same guy that he was that went first, and you also have to look at him similar to when Carlos Correa went first, as, it’s not him, it’s him, plus Bubba Chandler and Solometo, and all these other guys they got as a result of that.

And the same way, you have to say Carlos Correa, plus Lance McCullers and Rio Ruiz, is that equivalent, or better, to Byron Buxton.

So again, I would say don’t worry in general, but I also wouldn’t worry about this because I don’t think anything’s really changed. It’s just, he got put in a position where it would be hard to look really good, given the setting of last season.

Q: Two questions, if I could. First, a guy I think we’re going to be writing a lot about is Kyle Manzardo and your comments on maybe it was a little bit of a gamble in taking him at 63, from what you said, and just kind of curious what you saw then, what you have seen now, and where you think he may end up.

McDaniel: Yeah. He was an interesting one because I was, I typically do this every year in mid-to-late March, early April as you start getting to conference play in colleges. I’ll go through all the numbers and just look at, all right, who are guys that are 20, 21 years old, eligible this year and next year that I don’t really have much on that are performing really well? So I know who to ask questions about.

Given that I’m based in Atlanta, I would say like three-quarters of the good players are either from here in high school, play here in college, or they’re like in DC and they come down here during the spring. Like I don’t have to venture that far out of my area to, maybe to Texas, or a couple SoCal guys that also come to the southeast usually, the high school kids, for tournaments.

There’s not typically a lot of guys that are like outside of my view, but if there is one, it’s almost always a dude in Oregon or Washington that wasn’t a big guy out of high school, and which, as I’m sure you’re aware, the reason they tend to dip into that a little more often than most teams is because they trust their scouts up there, and I think they’re like genuinely a little underrated.

So he was one of those guys that popped up, and I was like, oh, that looks like maybe a fourth- or fifth-rounder just based off the pure numbers, not knowing anything about him, and started asking around.

It was like, the week of the draft that there were teams telling me, and this has happened in recent years, where I think a guy is a third to fifth round, I’ll call around to see if it’s more of a third or fifth, and they will kind be like, oh, maybe like top of the third, back of the second.

And then when you ask someone, hey, I heard he’s back in the second, they’re like, yeah, maybe top of the second. And you start hearing like, oh, okay, this is the guy that no one wants to tell me that he’s going to go really good.

But if I get close enough, they will tell me like, oh, well, like, you know, I think they were ringing them up a little bit. And that was Manzardo.

But the problem was not huge raw power, and first base only. So it’s like, well, how high could he really go? This is the kind of guy that if he is, you know, a guy that’s known in high school, that’s performing in the SEC, he gets moved down 10, 15 picks because of that.

Whereas, if you can be an average left fielder, then you move back up in the spot that your hitting ability suggests. And you saw with the Rays this year taking Xavier Isaac, a first-base only high school guy, at a really high pick.

And it sounds like he was another guy that was rising late that some teams were really on, and the Rays were one of them. They tend to not be scared of that after, I would say, a decade of just intentionally just taking middle infielders that don’t have a lot of power as like a strategy.

Now they seem to be leaning more into the, well, we think this guy is a plus hit, plus power. It doesn’t really matter where we put him. We’re taking guys that should be playing second base and playing them at first base anyway, so why should we look at first base as a problem?

So all that said, Manzardo was a guy where, same as Aaron Zavala, who is from Oregon, another guy in that draft that designed of popped up later and went in a similar range, you’re like, okay, let’s see if he can live up to the sort of late hype of this guy might be like a real hitter.

And even the Tampa guys were just like, we didn’t think he would do this. I was like — I forgot who it was, I was talking to somebody with Tampa, about a player who didn’t have a great pro debut and they said at one point, “well, not every guy can have a debut like Manzardo. Like not everybody can do this.” Like that’s sort of unreasonable to expect that.

So again, I would say it is very interesting to take a not-super-long-pedigree-history guy, first base only, not a ton of raw power that really puts yourself into a corner, and he’s hit the crap out of the ball and looks fantastic and looks like he’s just going to hit his way to the Big Leagues, but we have such a small sample of him being this kind of guy, and there’s no margin for error, that if he gets hurt and has a bad season, then he’ll just go back to where everyone thought he was going to be before the draft.

So he’s a really intriguing guy to watch in a system that seems to be full of like the same kind of guy. Tampa likes the same kind of guy.

And now I guess we’ll see with him and Xavier Isaac, if they both take off this year, that might become an in vogue thing to take first base only guys that you’re just really sold on the bat for some reason.

Q: Actually my second question feeds right into that with, you noted in your organization rankings today, I think you said 11 of your top-12 Rays prospects are hitters. Are we seeing a shift there? We’ve certainly written this off-season on the Big League level, they didn’t get a hitter, they didn’t get a hitter. Are there reinforcements coming, is the calvary coming? Have they changed their philosophy a little bit to go more offensive, do you think now?

McDaniel: They don’t, I know a lot of guys in Tampa, obviously being from there, and they usually will not tell me strategic things as they’re happening, but after they happen —

Q: Join the party.

McDaniel: Yeah. After they’ve made a couple moves and it becomes obvious that they’re doing a thing like this, they’ll be like, yeah, we kind of noticed – like, they eventually admitted, we cut bait on some of these arbitration guys after their value had already peaked. Now we’re going to be a little more aggressive, maybe trade ’em before, to make sure we don’t lose that value.

I wouldn’t be surprised if they said, “Hey, in all these trades that we make, reading the market, teams don’t want to trade position players in the upper minors. We can’t really get those guys unless we overpay for them, so we need to make them ourselves.”

We can get pitchers. We can get Peter Fairbanks. We can get Nick Anderson. We can kind of just grab these guys off the scrap heap and turn them into guys. Guys that aren’t drafted high can turn into big parts of the bullpen. Drew Rasmussen can have 17 Tommy Johns. We’ll turn him into a starter.

That feels like something they can sort of create something out of whole cloth. Whereas position players, not quite as much. And I think teams are a little smarter about trading those guys.

So it wouldn’t surprise me if they sort of the admitted like, hey, whether it’s first-base only, second-base only, it was big athlete out of high school, it doesn’t really matter, we can’t make these guys out of nothing on minor league deals, we can’t get ’em for undervalue.

Like, the Rays were one of the first teams to send multiple scouts to go scour the DSL to get guys on trades before they broke out.

So it wouldn’t surprise me if there is an underlying strategy of, we need to stock up on position players everywhere we can get ’em, college, high school, performance guys, whatever position. Because we just can’t get ’em.

And pitchers, we’ll take sort of the running back approach in the NFL, which is, we’ll get ’em where we can, we’ll turn ’em into guys that they’re not.

That seems to me what they’re doing and I think that also goes all the way back to like those Theo Epstein Cubs teams where they just, they made all the hitters and they went and bought a few pitchers and then invented a couple Jake Arrietas, and I think that’s a proven thing that works.

Hitters do like a slow linear climb of value, and pitchers are like roller coasters all over place.

So it would make sense to invest early in hitters, homegrown, get ’em as early as you can, and then jump on the pitchers at the right times and hopefully you get a deal.

Q: These guys that are coming, you think have a chance to get there?

McDaniel: Yes. Manzardo is talking about sort of a lower upside.

Mead I think is probably limited defensively but can really hit.

Carson Williams has, like, the pieces are here to be a star, depending upon how it all comes together.

Caminero and Vázquez are, again, above average every day type guys that are in the low minors, a long way off.

Aranda could be like a sneaky Rookie-of-Year-type candidate. These guys all have a chance to be above average, every day guys and a lot of teams at the top of the system is guys that’s like, oh, they will be fine. They might put up a two-and-a-half win season, but like I don’t see much more there.

It’s all contact-oriented, but they don’t have any power, they don’t play a position, or whatever, and Tampa does a pretty good job of getting different sorts of guys and I think they lean toward the tools on outside, again, because like the sort of a generic hits an empty .280 and plays an okay second base, you can get those guys off the scrap heap. You don’t have to draft those guys.

Q: On the Reds, especially just kind of their depth at shortstop, kind of a lot of guys kind of geared towards almost on the cusp of the majors, like Elly De La Cruz, Marte. Arroyo is probably a tier below that. But then also Matt McLain wasn’t on your top 100, but he’s kind of right there. How do you kind of see them kind of, how would you view the shortstop position there? And your background, front office, how early would you kind of make the determination like, okay, this guy we want to keep him at short, we’re going to move this guy to third, maybe this guy’s an outfielder that, type of thing?

McDaniel: Yeah, I think to piggyback on that Rays question, I think they’re doing a similar thing, which is when at all possible, we’re going to throw our chips into a hitter that we think can hit and be an every day guy of some sort, or even if he doesn’t hit his potential, he’s going to be a useful platoon guy that can do something for us, we’re going to put all our chips in that basket, or put eggs in that basket? Put something in that basket and then when they all get here, that will be a great problem to have, when we have too many guys or like the problem they had before where it was Jonathan India, Senzel, and Suárez all for third base, and I guess they are pretty much all gone or have not reached their potential now at that position.

But I think that’s what they’re going for is, all right, if Elly De La Cruz goes super Nova, if he does all the stuff he could do, you could put him in a couple different positions. I don’t think he’s ever going to be a plus defensive shortstop. You can pretty much put him anywhere.

Arroyo, I think will be a shortstop and I think will let him hit for power, but that’s a maybe.

Marte, I think his best fit is probably not shortstop. But I think he’ll probably hit and hit for enough power.

So right now, that’s three guys that I’m not, you’re not going to slam dunk, this guy’s a plus glove shortstop, so you could conceivably move those guys to second, third and center.

Collier, I think third base is like his only fit.

Spencer Steer is in that second base, maybe third, maybe first, maybe — you know, Chris Taylor, move him all over the field.

So it’s like even just those first five guys, you could see a way to fit all those guys into the spots and keep ’em all, and they’re not all going to become what they’re supposed to become.

So I think the strategy would be let ’em all go. If there’s a huge gap between what some other team thinks a guy is and what we think he is, or if we have two guys that have to play shortstop and we’ve got to get rid of one of them, then we’ll trade the one that’s not quite as good and get a pitcher or an outfielder or first base or whatever it is that we need.

And I think it’s smart to do that because, also them being infielders gives them like an innate higher floor of, well, this guy’s going to be able to do something. He’s got some ability to hit the ball and he plays in the infield, so worst case scenario he’s a valuable utility guy.

Whereas if we’re trying to bet on a bunch of bat-only left field, first base, DH types, if you miss by a little bit, the guy’s like on waivers the next year.

So I think this is a smart strategy. If you’re going to do the sort of teardown, rebuild, we need to turn all of our old guys into young guys, I would say pick a bunch of guys with defensive value that you think can hit and then you’ll work it out later. And I would love to tell you how it’s going to work out, but I don’t really know.

And all the good — and McLain I guess was the one that wasn’t on the 100 and Steer just missed it, they’re all in that mix of the top, whatever it is, 175 or 180 is about as far as I went ranking them in order. They’re all up there.

And there’s a couple guys below that that can conceivably join that group, like Jay Allen or Mike Siani, as sort of solid every day guys.

But, yeah, I think it’s a good question — a good problem to have. It sort of reminds me of the Chargers when they had Drew Brees and Philip Rivers and it was like, oh, no, we might have two good quarterbacks. And it turned out they did and it wasn’t a problem. Maybe they picked the wrong one, maybe they didn’t, but not an actual problem.

Q: The Dodgers are headed to spring training with potentially two rookie position players projected to be in their starting lineup. I don’t think they have done that with Andrew Friedman as president of baseball operations. I know Miguel Vargas made your list. James Outman didn’t. I’d love to get your thoughts on each guy, particularly Outman as an every day center fielder since I can’t just go to ESPN and read about that.

McDaniel: Next week you can. He’ll be on the list in a good spot. He was a guy I got some feedback on when sending the list around where I think I had him like toward the end of the 45 future value group as, like, this guy’s like probably a platoon guy that could be more, and I was basically told, oh, scoot him up a little bit. This guy’s probably more than that. His floor, whatever, if he just really doesn’t get much better is like that useful, can play all three, can do a little bit of everything guy.

I think Vargas is a little more interesting because I think I had to check with three or four different sources of, what position does this guy play?

Because that’s a real problem. Everybody thinks like, good approach, he can hit, there’s some power, he’s already been in the Big Leagues, Dodgers seem to trust him.

Best I could figure he’s a 45, so just a little bit below average defensively at third base and second base. He’s a 50 in left field and right field. He’s a 50 with a chance of being a little bit above average at first base with more reps because he’s got good hands.

So that sounds like exactly what the Dodgers do, which is a guy that can conceivably play like a decent one, two, three, four, five positions and then you throw in DH, six.

Six of those positions you could put him at. He would fit. I don’t think there’s any doubt that he can hit and has a good approach and like I said, it’s like sort of average raw power and maybe he gets to all of it and maybe because he’s a good hitter he gets to 20, 25 homers, he gets a little bit above average power.

But the real question is, if he ends up being a 45 in every position defensively, is he then just sort of first base, DH, you can only put him in a couple spots? And because he’s not going to hit 30 homers, then it’s like, all right, is he good enough to play every day for the Dodgers, or is he just a guy that once he gets to arbitration you’re looking to get rid of him? Because you can go get that guy for five mil and put him on your deal and go get some Jace Peterson or whatever, a guy that can play a bunch of positions and hit and that’s it.

That’s the question. I think he’s going to be better than that. I think he will be good enough to play second, third, left, right at a level that is like, some real utility there.

So I think there’s a solid average every day guy. I would bet he has a 3 WAR season at some point, just because guys that can hit like that usually figure out a way to have some batted ball luck and a good UZR that year and all of a sudden you get to three wins.

But I would say expect a number that starts with a 2 when he plays a full season.

Outman is a little more interesting as a sort of leader blooming later in the count, might swing and miss a little bit, he’ll get some walks, but he’s a good athlete, he’s got sort of sneaky power.

I think the Dodgers have had guys like this. I could go through all the sort of Edwin Rios, Matt Beaty, in terms of like the guy at the plate that could do some of those things. And this guy is like not quite as extreme. He’s got some real defensive value. He can do some stuff. I think they can figure out a way to make this work. I wouldn’t expect him to be like a six straight years and then an extension and like all that kind of thing. I think this is the kind of guy you’re hoping that can plug a hole at the league minimum. He can give you that two- to-two-and-a-half-win season. It might be 1.2. He might get hurt. You might have to platoon him here or there. Like it might be some hit and misses.

But I think he’s good enough to be a part of like that regular rotation for those nine spots in the lineup, you have 10 or 12 guys. Both those guys are good enough to be in that rotation. Whether they’re the tenth, eleventh, twelfth guy or like the fourth or fifth guy is the question. They both have the potential to get in that upper half, but I would expect more seven to ten. Like, fine, not going to blow you away, but he’ll do his job.

Q: You talked about the Dodgers, so we’ll keep that going. I’d love to ask two questions. First one about Gavin Stone. So obviously he was second to last pick, 2020. He’s kind of just shot up these draft boards. What about him or even what about the Dodgers development has kind of allowed him to just shoot up these boards and become one of the top prospects, especially on the pitching side?

McDaniel: He’s an interesting one because you can tell not a lot of teams thought a lot about him in the 2020 draft just based on what his bonus was and what the expected bonus was. I don’t think anybody thought he was definitely like a true fifth-round value.

But I think same thing with Landon Knack in that same draft class, it was really good performance, pretty good stuff. And you just didn’t really, you didn’t have him as a guy in high school. A little older, small school, didn’t face a lot of competition. You just sort of were like, oh, you got a couple qualities we like here. Let’s take a gamble and see if this turns into something.

He’s got arguably a top-5 changeup in the entire minor leagues and above average command and a fastball that plays above average. He didn’t have all these things. It was sort of like average stuff and threw strikes.

And then you look at the Dodgers development — and every time I asked — there were probably seven or eight different times this year — Jordan Wicks with the Cubs is another one. An older guy you didn’t think would throw harder or could reshape his fastball or improve his command. And you go ask him, like, well, what happened? It’s like, he did a lot of work on his core and like kind of improved his delivery. Got him thinking about throwing his fastball a certain way. And no one of those sounds like that could possibly do anything, but I remember talking in Atlanta about Spencer Strider right after they drafted him and they were like, yeah, he was holding his fastball like this and somebody pulled him aside in Instruct before he pitched in a pro game and said, “what if you hold it like this?” And he was like, oh, okay. And then he threw one, and they looked at the Trackman and they’re like, you should keep doing that.

Like every now and then something that stupid happens or, James Shields learns a changeup because he hanging out with Éric Gagné and he says, hey, hold it like this and do that and all of a sudden it’s a 70 pitch and he makes a hundred million dollars out of it.

So I would love to give you like a romantic Disney story about like how all this happened, and someone saw potential in him and whatever. And every time I ask this question it’s just like, yeah, he was good at a few things, we took a gamble and stuff really clicked and we had no idea that was going to happen.

But the selling point here is great changeup, good command. Fastball is not like a below average pitch. It’s probably a little above average. The slider is good enough that he can turn over a lineup and a viable third pitch is probably about average. Which is similar to that Ryan Pepiot, a guy that’s had some buzz the last couple years with the Dodgers. Doesn’t quite have the command, but like a similar profile of raw stuff. And this is probably the better version of that.

Q: Really quickly, also about Bobby Miller. I know that you kind you gave him a really high review saying potential Max Scherzer type. What would you say on the flip side would be his floor? Obviously throws hard but let’s say he doesn’t reach that full potential. What would be kind of like the basis of what we can expect out of him?

McDaniel: Yeah, the reason he lasted until the late first round in that draft was a little bit of effort, kind of looks like a reliever. Which obviously Max Scherzer is like the patron saint of like, if it kind of looks like a reliever it doesn’t automatically mean it’s a reliever. But he’s also the exception. You don’t expect that to happen.

But, big fastball. Good slider. There were some mixed reviews. People thought the slider was like a 50 or a 55. Like a little above average. Now it’s like a 65, maybe a 70. Which is sort of ridiculous how much better it’s gotten.

And it’s both, like the pitch has gotten better, he’s throwing it harder, a little better shape and utility to it. But yeah, if it turns out the command instead of hovering around that like 50 command, maybe 50 control, like just good enough to start. If it ends up being a 40 or 45, which is probably what it is right now. Then it’s a reliever, maybe a multi-inning reliever and it’s just like, bananas-plus stuff all over the place. I don’t want to say like Éric Gagné, but the kind of thing, like, oh, it’s not this typical like two-pitch guy where he’s like either throwing a 97 here or he’s throwing a slider off the plate here. He’s got more going on that.

So I think like a multi-inning setup guy is probably about, you know, fingers crossed on injuries and velocity disappearing and all these sorts of the things. But if it’s just sort of like a linear growth but it just stops right here, then it’s like a 40 command guy with great stuff that can come in the 7th, 8th inning and maybe go multiple and be that kind of guy.

Which is like a good role 4, 45 future value, that kind of guy. And I just think because there’s the chance he could be that superstar, you got to move him way up the list. Even though that floor is pretty low. Like a good reliever that seems like everybody’s got a couple of those guys.

Q: I wanted to talk about the Boston Red Sox. I noticed that you ranked them 14th in your list. We saw Keith Law come out with his rankings which was nine points lower than yours was. And I’m curious sort of why you see this Red Sox farm system as a little bit of a middle tier ranking among the league?

McDaniel: So I sort of referred to it in the article and in the Twitter I put out this morning that the method with which that I started with FanGraphs with the work Eric Longenhagen and I did together there – we didn’t like the idea of just lining, like essentially like putting paper on the wall and putting, here is the top 30 or all 30 teams. There’s nine hundred data points and asking, who’s the number 11 and number 14 farm systems?

That seems completely absurd to me that somebody could look at that without having like a grade next to the player, or having the way we do it where there’s like a dollar value that goes with the grades. Like hitters and pitchers are a little bit different. There’s a bunch of different tiers. There’s all kinds of things that go into it.

Obviously, that’s subjective. Maybe half and half subjective-objective, to make the grade for the player. But also like the team tells us what they think he is. The rival teams that are trying to trade for him tell us what they think it is.

So it’s obviously like a lot of people agree generally on what the player’s worth. And then empirically this is the dollar value that makes sense to it. We’ve had multiple teams that are considered smart tell us, we do a version of what you do and oftentimes use your rankings as an input into our own system.

So like there is like an independent verification that we’re generally on the right track with these sorts of things.

I say all that to say, Marcelo Mayer as the 7th prospect in baseball, Casas is the 37th. There’s a giant gap. If you’re like the 120th prospect you’re worth like 8 million. If you’re like the 300th prospect, you’re worth like five million. Like, that gap seems like a lot, but the value is not very big because obviously, in like a good month or two you can make that jump pretty quickly. Whereas, Mayer and Casas together are worth almost a hundred million dollars.

So you can have 10 guys that make the jump, and that’s like 20 million, and that’s just half of one of those guys.

So the point I’m trying to make is having two guys at the top, most teams do not have that. All the guys in the bottom half, all the teams in the bottom half of the rankings. So just by having those two, it makes the entire farm system look better, even if everything below it is going terrible. Which is not what’s happening. But if that was what was happening, the problem will be when they both graduate, you’re going to be like 29th because then you don’t have anybody in the top 100, no one is improving, whatever, whatever.

And I would imagine — I can’t speak for other people or anyone when they do a farm system ranking. I would imagine when they do an — I don’t think they do this exact process. I think they do a version of eyeballing it and be like, well I’ll take these two guys instead of those two guys, or whatever it is. I don’t think they’re quite adjusting at the same level that I and FanGraphs do, where we say, oh, having Mayer and Casas like automatically makes them 22nd or whatever, just those two guys alone takes them out of the bottom five. Because those teams down there, their farm systems are worth less than those two guys.

So I would imagine if we’re going to sit there and go piece by piece with my rankings and somebody else’s, that’s probably the gap is that we have found empirically that having a guy in the top half of the top 100 is worth more than people would guess. Even people that do this as a profession.

They would probably say that we’re overrating it or our methods to our research isn’t quite as good. And you know we make guesses at these things all the time. And maybe they don’t think these guys are top half of the top 100. There’s a bunch of reasons why you can disagree and you can kind of both be right and have some rigor to how you’re landing there.

But for me, like you — I can’t put them very low having these two guys and having any semblance of a system behind that which I think, you know, as I mentioned in the comment having Rafaela and Bleis and Jordan, and all these guys that are pretty good or improving, you’re making this leap. It’s like, well, like they kind of have to be in the middle tier based on how I’ve evaluated it. You can’t really come up with a different answer based on the way I approach this, but reasonable people will approach that differently.

Q: Just two of the guys you had in your rankings, a quick question on each is, you just talked about why different rankings are different to compare, but Taj Bradley was much higher on some of the competitive rankings. What did you see that you do or don’t like with Taj Bradley?

McDaniel: I like him. I think this year — I didn’t look, at compare it to my previous list or other people’s list. I think I was a little more aggressive just putting position players ahead of pitchers. Because I found, in my experience, once you get past those top like, you know, 7 to 10 pitchers, say once you get past like 30 or so on a top 100, the amount — if you think of like the top 30 overall, the pitchers that are in there, I think of it like a club with a velvet rope. Once you get in there they don’t throw you out. Those guys, either they totally bust or whatever but they don’t really move out of that.

Sometimes you’re wrong, like it’s Forrest Whitley or whatever and it doesn’t work out, but you tend to stay up there until you graduate.

Once you get to like fiftieth overall and down, that then goes back to that roller coaster thing where it’s, like, Cade Povich’s velo went up. Boom, he goes from a 40 to like on the top 100. Like they start bouncing all over the place.

So I think once somebody doesn’t get in that top 30 or 40 overall, which I don’t think Bradley’s quite there, but you could definitely make an argument that he is, I just tend to be less aggressive ranking them.

And I would say in addition with Bradley I think it’s two-pitch guy and he’s got the command. The third and fourth pitches are both kind of average. So that margin for error as a starter is you have to have that third pitch. You have to be able to execute it. And if he misses by a little bit then he’s like that two-pitch, good reliever, multiple inning guy. Obviously, the Rays have a ton of dudes that are like anywhere from four to 10 batters, like opener or whatever.

And that really puts a huge ding on your value, because you just can’t get to the 180 innings to get those three and four win seasons, which is kind of what you have to do to justify being in the top 30 on the list.

So I think he just happens to be in a range that I treat a little differently than some of the other guys because I sort of noticed that every year — like if you just pick a random guy, a pitcher, ranked between 51 and a hundred, I’ll guarantee they’re not going to be in that range next year.

They’re either going to be way higher, graduated or way off the list. Because that’s just the nature of how pitching development goes. I think sometimes if you don’t take a look back at like what actually happens to these guys and what they turn into, you just sort of assume once a guy gets up there, like, oh, it’s in the velvet rope, he’s in the top 100, he stays here, this guy’s a top-150 guy. It’s just like, no, it’s just totally different. Like these guys switch out more than you think they do.

Q: I know you had him in your kind of coin flip at the bottom of you list there, Junior Caminero, who is a guy that everyone is talking about a little more. Who does he remind you of? Is there a comp on him? What do you think he could turn into?

McDaniel: Yeah, I saw my notes from last year when — I don’t know if I had him on the list. I think I had him at the very end.

Where the — I’m now looking at the notes from my call last year. And it was: big kid, only played in the DSL, got him late in the trade, power over hit, we hope he can play third base.

So I hear that, it’s like, this guy is five years away, we don’t think he has any defensive value and it’s power over hit. So like he might not hit either. It’s just sort of like, oh, I don’t know, he’s a big guy that can hit a ball a long way in batting practice. Like, that’s something. That was basically what it was.

And he is now advanced to the level where it’s, all right, we got a little better chance at third base and it will be like some defensive value. Similar to that Miguel Vargas thing, where it’s like, maybe he’s a 45 at third base, but he can play good first base, he can play left or right, you can put him in a bunch of places.

But the thing that happened when I was putting him on the end of the list was I thought there wasn’t quite enough bulk of performance against good competition for people to feel conviction. So I put him in that 130 to 140.

Once everyone graduates, if he has a good season, then you put him on. It’s like he’s not quite there yet.

And him and Zavala with the Padres were the two guys that, when I sent a list around of 20 guys, like, hey, who goes on? People just kept saying those two names over and over. Like, oh, put him on, yeah. And I was like, oh, I guess people have conviction.

And the feedback was, this guy’s huge power and we really think he can hit. We don’t really care about anything else. At that point, having that age at that level, the pitch selection come and go, whatever. The position, we’re not sure. But if you can really put the bat to the ball and you got giant raw power and you’re performing in games, that’s all you need at that point. So I think that’s what he is.

You could say it’s sort of like Yandy Díaz. Where it’s sort of like all right, corner guy, big power, he can hit, we’ll see. It can turn into that.

Or you can name any hall of famer of all time and it’s like, yeah, maybe they were not quite that good at that level. You can sort of imagine anything. That’s kind of the thing people love about that.

Whereas when you got a Triple A guy that’s had up and down seasons. You didn’t like him in college. Then you liked him here. Then he got traded. It’s really easy to poke a hole in that guy and be like, that guy, really? Whereas the exciting guy in L.A. — I mean, people love those guys.

I think there’s a reason the guys that haven’t played a lot in pro ball got onto the end of the list. Those are the ones that people — it’s easier to feel excited about those guys.

So he definitely fits the bill. And if he doesn’t slow down then, well then, well, great. I can almost guarantee you of those three guys at the end, one of them is going to be terrible next year, because that’s just how it works.

Q: I wanted to follow-up. Cam Collier from the Reds. You kind of alluded to it in your blurb, but just him falling to 18 last year. You kind of mentioned some of the concerns scouts had. I know he was really high in your pre-draft rankings. What is your kind of view on just kind of the concerns scouts have and why you have him as a top 100 guy?

McDaniel: When you look at the hitters, especially on the high school or in his case 17-year-old junior college, but essentially you can lump him with high school guys in terms of age and development.

When you look at the top 10 picks it tends to be a lot of, this guy’s a plus athlete. This guy’s a plus runner. He can really play shortstop he’ll definitely stick at third base. This guy would look good in the NFL combine.

You see these sort of like, explosive, like sort of basic measures. Obvious stuff when you walk in the stadium, like anybody can see this kind of thing. It’s also what happens on July 2nd, before they had a bunch of games that guys were playing. If it was just based on workouts you’re going to get a lot of guys that look good in workouts. That’s what you’re evaluating.

Now that the draft and international signings have both played enough games to where you will see a guy get a million and a half in Latin America, because he can really hit and like can play shortstop and that’s it and he’s not a workout guy. You’re seeing that more in the draft now too.

So that sort of traditional view is what people put on Cam Collier. Which was, well, he’s the age of these high school guys and he’s not really that explosive. He’s not like, an NFL combine guy. The body looks like a baseball player, as like some would say as a pejorative. Not, he looks like he can play a bunch of professional sports. It’s not huge bat speed. It’s not huge runner. He’s not like the most nimble or beautiful athlete defensively in the field or side to side. So you’re probably thinking, well, Kiley, this guy doesn’t sound very good.

Here’s the difference: He can really hit. When he was like 13 guys were telling me, this guy’s going to go high in the first round because he can really hit. His dad’s a Big Leaguer. He can hit guys that are 18 years old when he’s 13. He’s hitting 95 with a wood bat when he’s almost Little League age. Like that’s the thing that matters.

So even talking to guys in Cincinnati I would be like, all right, so you know some of the concerns — and I would look at comps and they’d be like, yeah, yeah, yeah. I can tell a lot of people have some concerns. Some of them are my best friends.

What they would say is, well we’re trying to find baseball players, not football players. So like who cares about all that stuff.

And if you’re going to pick a guy that has more sort of baseball-oriented skills than NFL combine stuff, give me the guy that can hit. And you can’t tell me he’s not twitchy when he’s got 70 arm. And when he was 13 he looked like one of the best players people had ever seen at that age. And his dad’s a Big Leaguer, he’s got that weird, intangible bloodline thing that seems to matter. So like who cares if he’s not jumping out of the gym. We’re not like, playing basketball here.

And also we’re trying to project who’s tools are going to get better at some point. It will be the guy that’s an amazing player at a young age that can really hit. He’ll get to all the power or whatever it is.

And also he put up fantastic numbers in junior college against guys that were like four years older than him. So if you’re going to go numbers oriented, maybe the exit velos aren’t going to jump off the page. But he’s playing baseball at the level that matters at the one skill everyone is trying to get. Like, this is how you draw it up to create a player. If all you could get is one or two tools at a certain age and a certain level, like a 17-year-old that can really hit is where you would start.

So I’m more partial to that second argument of, like, we’re playing baseball here. This guy seems really good at the sport of baseball. Like what are we trying to do here?

But I understand that you want to have a bunch of potential 7s and 8s, but like how many guys in the Big Leagues were really high picks and have a bunch of 70 and 80 tools? There’s like six of them. Ridiculous to try to find that guy.

So that’s why I ranked him so high. And I think I saw Keith ranked him really high too, because I think we sort of see that similarly. But if somebody says, well, this guy’s not even close to the top 100, I want to see him perform in the minors. Like, I would see that, too. Like, I see that you’re saying he doesn’t have a high upside, why would I rank him high? I don’t have to. I’ll rank him high when he’s done it.

So those are like the two arguments that are kind of butting heads. And then you can kind of see where I stand and where like most of the Reds people stand.

But there’s plenty of teams that if you said, “Hey, can Cam Collier like headline a trade package?” They would be like, nope. Give me Noelvi Marte, who can bench press a bus. We’ll take that guy.

Q: Quick question for you. Switch over to the Yankees. Because one of the things that I read is you talked about how Volpe may moved to second eventually if Peraza takes the place at shortstop. So do you feel both these have the skills to be that middle infield of the future for the Yankees with the pressure in the Bronx and everything else?

McDaniel: Yes. Volpe played on a high school team with Jack Leiter, went to all those showcase stuff for multiple years. It might sound silly because a lot of these showcases it’s like a stadium that holds 8,000 and there’s 300 people in it and they’re all scouts who are just silently writing in a notebook. Like it doesn’t seem pressure filled. But like, go talk to those kids before and after the event. And they’re about to crap their pants because there’s like 300 scouts that are going to dictate their future watching them. Like it is very pressure filled.

And having Al Leiter at all your games and also 40 scouts deciding if you’re worth one million or three million, like, it’s a lot of pressure for a 17 year old to have. Actually, I know I wouldn’t have been able to handle that. I was also terrible at baseball.

And also, like Volpe’s been hyped since his big breakout, I guess it was just beginning of last year, as like this is like the next guy and has like, held up.

And like the only like bad performances he had is like when he was incredibly unlucky to the point that it almost seemed comical, like statistically. And then of course he had a strong finish to the season. So like I have no questions about him being able to handle that stuff.

He also seems like a little bit of like the agro, come-at-me-guy sort of vibe. Like he’s really big in the gym. He likes to just try to hit the ball as hard as he can. That is also, like above and beyond being strong mentally, seems to have like the personality that would handle that stuff well and give a snippy interview when he feels like it to get people off his back.

Peraza, I don’t know quite as well personally, but he also has been the guy that might be the, you know, future potential shortstop of the Yankees for a long time since like low A and is a knock-down, above average defender that can really run and really hit and has like added power to his game in a way that I don’t think you would expect a lot of guys to be able to do that are like of his background and build and things like that.

He’s shown that potential to increase his ability at a level that you wouldn’t expect the average guy to, which I think sort of speaks to the mental makeup to make the improvements.

Obviously didn’t have the same, like, Al Leiter background in high school, so I can’t speak to necessarily his mentality like that, but I think all the little markers you want to see there to see, back to when I like interned with the Yankees, I remember they were promoting a prospect like more aggressively than you probably should on paper and I pulled one of the guys aside and said, “Can you explain to me why we’re doing this? It doesn’t seem like he’s ready for this level,” and he was like, “If he’s who we think he is and he can play for us, he can handle it. If he can’t then he’s not for us and we’ll trade him. Who cares?”

So that’s like — some of those same people still work there and I think that’s kind of the mentality. It’s just like, “Oh, we’ll push ’em and see if they can handle it.” It’s like taking a baby and throwing them in the deep end. Like, wouldn’t recommend doing it, but he’ll get an answer. You’ll find something out.

So that’s kind how they treat some of these bigger prospects to see how that’s going to go. And I think these guys have really answered the bell every time.

So I don’t know what else you could get before just throwing them in the Big Leagues and seeing what happens. But it seems like they can do that.

Q: From what you just said, as somebody who covers the Red Sox, it gives me some PTSD about Jeter Downs and Jarren Duran, but my question is, outside of the top-three obvious guys of Marcelo Mayer, Triston Casas and Ceddanne Rafaela, I was curious, for the Red Sox, if there’s anybody that really sticks out to you that fans should be excited about?

McDaniel: You’ll see it in the write ups. I didn’t have Nick Yorke in a very good spot when I was sending around the list to Red Sox sources and people that scout the system and I got an interesting response from a couple of numbers-oriented teams. Which was — because they told me to move him higher. And I was like, “Why?” because there’s pretty much nothing in the profile of how he performed last year suggested that he beat expectations. They were telling me, without giving away their sort of behind-the-scenes stuff, that his strikeout and walk rates were both significantly worse than his swing decisions and what he was doing pitch by pitch would tell you they should be.

So if you’re looking at that and looking at his power and whatever, we think he should have had better outcomes, suggesting—like multiple percentage points on both numbers should have been different.

And if you then go back and look at his numbers as young for the level, playing a position that matters. If you then adjust those a little bit and adjust his outcome some, based on being in the count a little bit longer, not having strikeouts, maybe getting a couple favorable counts as opposed to unfavorable counts you’re like, oh, okay, I can see how a team that values these sort of things that has an advanced model — because I was hearing those sorts of things being said about prospects five or six years ago by one or two teams. I get the feeling probably like half the league probably has something like that now.

But I think his season, similar to Anthony Volpe’s first half of the season, it was like a statistically significant unluckiness. With Volpe, it was ball-in-play luck that you can kind of see from his bat, but then kind of understand what’s going on. And with Yorke, it seems like advanced enough that, unless you ask specific questions of really smart people that don’t mind telling you stuff they shouldn’t tell you, that that was something under the radar, which tells me, keep an eye on him early next year. There might be, what you thought he would have done last year, he might start doing it again, because he might have arguably been doing it last year. He just kind of got unlucky.

I would also say Blaze Jordan is another guy that I haven’t seen since he was a freshman in high school and people were calling him Bryce Harper, and that was ridiculous then and it’s still kind of ridiculous now.

But the thing he was really good at was the hit tool, the approach and raw power were all real as like a 13-year-old. That’s why people got excited. But he was like a macked out frame. It’s like, well, he’s not going to improve the next couple years, because he can’t really improve.

Whereas, all these guys that are not very good at 13, they’re all getting bigger and stronger and changing.

However, with that like hit approach, power combo has continued to be very good the entire time. He’s still young for his level now. And while I think he’s probably just like a right-handed hitting first baseman that doesn’t have all-star potential, it seems like he now is likely to be a pretty good Big Leaguer.

I don’t know who that is or if that’s going to get people excited to hear that. Maybe they would rather hear that there are guys in the DSL that have giant tools and might never make the Big Leagues. Might be a little more exciting.

But Yorke and Jordan were the two guys before I got feedback. I was a little surprised to hear that. Then you start putting things together and it’s like, oh, yeah, okay, yeah, I could see. Like these guys are Big Leaguers, they’re showing Big League ability. Like there’s a little bit I think of prospect fatigue tied to both of them. And I was guilty of that as well. That, you know, if you’re showing every day tools and continuing to do it and being into the level I think is a little underrated by the sort of prospectee Twitter internet at large.



Back to top button