As you know, I joined the Baseball Prospectus staff two months ago and because of that, I get to call a lot of great writers such as Jay Jaffe, Steve Goldman, and Marc Normandin colleagues. However, they all take a back seat to one of my longtime favorite people on the interwebs, Kevin Goldstein. You see, I was one of the earliest subscribers to his work as an independent blogger at TheProspectReport, and then followed him over to Baseball America and finally his current home at Baseball Prospectus. Additionally, I got to meet Kevin and spend some time with him at the recent MLB Winter Meetings and he is just as great in person as he is in his writing and his podcast that has quickly become a must listen for its unique edge on baseball talk, pop culture, and alcohol.
Kevin graciously agreed to take a few questions from Jason and I related to his recent ranking of the Rays top prospects and we thank him for his time and hope we did not hold him up from running out and celebrating his last of thirty farm system rankings as he published the prospects belonging to those bastards in Philadelphia yesterday. If you enjoy the interview, please visit Baseball Prospectus to see more of what he, myself, and the rest of the spectacular staff produce all throughout the year!
[DotR] You tweeted earlier in the week about the mixed reports you received from your contacts regarding the recent top Rays draft picks. Can you share a few examples of that?
[KG] Sure. All of those guys are tough prospects to rank, as they come with significant positives, but also negatives that can’t be ignored. Sale is obviously the best of them, but as good as hitting prospect as he is, he needs to fully develop, as all of his value revolves around his ability to hit. Athletically, he’s going to be a left fielder, so it’s all bat for him. Vettleson lacks Sale’s raw power, and he’s not the biggest guy in the world, but at least he has tools more fitting for right field. O’Conner is the real wild card. His kind of raw power and arm strength are very rare from a high school catcher, but there are scouts who just flat out don’t think he’ll hit
[DotR] Jake McGee seems to have the symptoms of the path to closing: minor league injury, lack of off-speed, and lack of consistent command. Are the Rays making a mistake moving him to a relief role at this stage of his development or is it more a case of reading the writing on the wall?
[KG] I was writing that I liked McGee better as a reliever before the surgery, so I’ve been for the move to the bullpen for some time now. I think his arsenal plays better in short stints, and I think he’ll be the club’s closer by the second half of the year.
[DotR] Given the control, size, and delivery issues with Alexander Torres, is the bullpen a more likely scenario for him than being a fixture in the rotation by 2013?
[KG] I don’t see the size as being a huge issue because he tends to hold his stuff deep into games, but the question becomes more of how deep into games he can pitch because of the control issues you noted. He averaged 16.5 pitches per inning last year, and therefore 99 per six. He has the potential the clean that up and he has three pitches, so for now the bullpen should remain a backup plan.
[DotR] How would you rate the Rays international efforts compared to their competition in the AL East? To the rest of the league?
[KG] Too early to tell. Obviously, they’ve been outspent by most teams in the post, and it’s very hard to compete with the Red Sox and Yankees when it comes to scouting resources, but at the same time, they just threw $800,000 at Yoel Araujo. Is that a harbinger of things to come internationally, or just a one-time thing? We’ll have to wait and see.
[KG] If I knew that, I’d be a rich man. He’s obviously a bit of an enigma, and while he clearly made some adjustments in the second half of last year, he did so at the expense of his power, as he didn’t go deep after late May. Again, there are tools here, but with each year he doesn’t click, the chances of him ever doing so decrease. The bigger concern for me is that scouts don’t see him as a shortstop anymore, so now the expectations for the bat have grown significantly.
[DotR] Who is someone that did not make your top ten that could potentially be a top five guy on your 2012 rankings for the Rays?
[KG] Enny Romero. Lefties with that kind of stuff don’t grow on trees, and I’m really interested in seeing what he does at Bowling Green this year.
[DotR] Could Robinson Chirinos‘ bat play in the big leagues right now? How would you grade him defensively on the standard 20-80 scale?
[KG] It could play for a catcher certainly. Catcher’s can hit. The average American League catcher last year hit .245/.312/.374. He could certainly beat that. Defensively, he’s still a work in progress, but has hands and plus arm strength should allow him to at least turn into an average catcher will just a bit more time.
[DotR] If you could sit down with Andrew Friedman and RJ Harrison in the draft war room in June, what advice would you give them as they make 12 of the first 89 draft choices?
[KG] Spend the money. I know it’s going to be hard, but don’t look for some cheap senior sign or guys that can sign quickly for slot just for budgetary purposes. It’s a rare opportunity here, but it’s going to take money in order to fully take advantage of it.
[DotR] Taking Beckham off the table, which of the prospects you mentioned in your rankings could be wearing the bust label in the next 12-24 months?
[KG] Justin O’Conner is the one who worries me the most, but he’ll likely get months of coaching and development before heading to a short-season team. No way he could hit Low-A pitching right now.
[DotR] Desmond Jennings always gets mentioned as, “the next Carl Crawford.” Crawford was promoted to the majors at age 20 with 1855 plate appearance yet Jennings is likely going back to the minors in a few weeks despite the same amount of plate appearances and being four years older. Are there any fears of stagnation with Jennings or is it just a matter of him proving his durability and refining his tools?
[KG] Well, it’s also a matter of an unfair comparison, but I don’t like the Rays not starting Jennings this year and playing Damon instead. Not because of any sort of stagnation issue, but just because Jennings is better than Damon, and he fits better at the top of the Tampa lineup. I’m still very high on him, and still think he’ll get plenty of big league at-bats this year. He’s not Carl Crawford, but who is?