Matt Forman of Baseball America, who was responsible for the Phillies prospect rankings released by BA on Monday, was kind enough to answer a few questions for us on the state of the system and some of your favorite former BlueClaws players.
1. We know Domonic Brown was safely #1…how bunched up was the next group?
Much like last year, Brown easily maintained the top ranking, but the next group was pretty bunched up. Jonathan Singleton, Brody Colvin and Jarred Cosart are great prospects in their own right, and since Brown should lose his prospect eligibility next season, I’d expect those three to compete for the top spot in the 2012 Prospect Handbook. You could really argue Singleton, Colvin and Cosart in any order, and most scouts wouldn’t have a problem with it. You’re talking about one of the minors’ best hitters and two right-handed power arms with electric stuff, so it’s hard to go wrong. Beyond No.’s 2-4, Trevor May and Sebastian Valle were clear-cut options for the next two spots, but things started to get a little more interesting after that.
2. What have you heard regarding Jonathan Singleton and left field?
The early reports on Singleton in left field have been positive, and I think it’s the right move to break it in slowly. The Phillies introduced the idea to him around June, and he started taking fly balls and hard grounders there before games. Then, they gave him lots of repetitions during fall instructs, and they told him he’s going to report to Clearwater for Spring Training as an outfielder. There are a few things to keep in mind here… Singleton is a better athlete than most people give him credit for. The Ryan Howard comparisons are inevitable for BlueClaws and Phillies fans, but he’s a few inches shorter and 40 pounds lighter. And Singleton’s in a different stage of his career than where Howard was when the Phillies considered moving him to left field; Howard was 25 or 26 years old, whereas Singleton played most of last season as an 18-year-old. The tools are all there for Singleton to do well—He is light on his feet and has a solid-average arm with good carry. But I like to think his desire to play left field will be what makes it work. Reports previously indicated that he wasn’t great defensively at first base, so he spent time at extended spring before last year, and he ended up impressing South Atlantic League managers enough to be voted the best defensive first baseman in the circuit. When I talked to scouts who saw Singleton this fall, they said he looked like he could play the outfield, it would just take some time. One scout even suggested he could play right field in a pinch.
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3. Similarities between Cosart and Colvin in “stuff” and upside?
There are definite similarities between Cosart and Colvin. Both are athletic right-handers with live arms and projectable bodies, though Cosart’s a bit more athletic and has 3-4 mph more on his fastball. Colvin has a workhorse type frame, and his curveball offers slightly more projection, so he’s the better bet to stick as a starter in the long run, whereas Cosart could also fit as a closer. That being said, Cosart has truly one of the finest arms in the minor leagues; his stuff is unquestioned. If he can stay healthy, Cosart’s upside is as high as anybody’s.
4. What was the difference for Trevor May in the first half and second half?
Trevor May’s first couple of outings at Clearwater went well, but the wheels starting coming off after about 20 innings. His mechanics got out of sync, his confidence started to waver and he stopped being able to get ahead in the count with his fastball. There was also some talk that May, who’s from the Pacific Northwest, struggled to adjust to Florida’s heat and humidity. Additionally, May has always been a big strikeout pitcher, and he may have grown a little too fond of whiffing opposing hitters. The Phillies sent him to Lakewood on the suggestion of senior adviser and former GM Pat Gillick, who thought it would be advantageous for May to regain his confidence. May simplified his delivery and didn’t try to overthrow, and he had a dazzling second half. The control issues hurt his stock at mid-season, but rebounding the way he did and pitching well in the South Atlantic League playoffs helped revive his stock. I’m guessing his second time through the Florida State League will be much better.
5. How would you rank the depth of the system considering the quality of player they’ve traded in the last 18 months for Lee, Halladay and Owsalt?
Considering the sheer number of prospects the Phillies have traded in the last 18 months (I count nine) and the quality of those prospects (most of them considered top-10 in the system at one time), the system’s depth is in surprisingly good shape. Really, there were a handful of players that won’t make the list of 30 in the Prospect Handbook that I wish could have included. The system is still very strong, and I would imagine it’ll fall somewhere in the 10-15 range of organization rankings, though that speaks more to the quantity of young, high-upside talent at the lower levels. There’s really a wealth of pitching and outfield depth, and the weaker areas are at middle infield and catcher, which isn’t that much unlike any other organization.
6. How close were some of these former BlueClaws to making your list: De Fratus, Rizzotti, Zeid, Julio Rodriguez?
The closest of the guys you mentioned was probably Justin De Fratus, followed closely by Josh Zeid and Julio Rodriguez, and then Matt Rizzotti. They’re all top 30 prospects, so they’ll make the Prospect Handbook. De Fratus got some consideration for the top 10, and there’s a lot to like. He’s got great command, an above-average fastball, and scouts love his fearless attitude when coming into late, close-game situations. He had a lot of helium this year, especially toward the end of the season once he pitched for Team USA and then in the Arizona Fall League. There’s been buzz that he’ll get a shot to make the major league team out of Spring Training, though he’s still only pitched 25 innings above A ball, so he might need a little more seasoning. Zeid is similar in that he had a lot of end-of-season hype, especially with the strong performance in Arizona, and he’ll get a chance to pitch in Reading as a starter next year. Rodriguez put up the huge numbers, especially strikeouts, at Lakewood last year, and though he doesn’t light up radar guns, he’s pretty deceptive and always works ahead. Rizzotti worked his way up the ladder with monster numbers in 2010, and he’ll spend next season at Lehigh Valley.
7. What kind of team might we see in Lakewood this year?
I’m not sure if the 2011 team will be as talented as last year’s South Atlantic League championship group, but it’ll be close. I don’t want to promise a third straight title, but I wouldn’t be surprised if the BlueClaws were one of the league’s better teams. Again, there’s a lot to be excited about. Raw, projectable hitters Domingo Santana and Aaron Altherr should be roaming the outfield, while speedy second baseman Cesar Hernandez will hit at the top of the lineup. 2010 draftees Jesse Biddle and Perci Garner should headline the pitching staff throwing to Cameron Rupp. And when you consider Julio Rodriguez and Nick Hernandez could open the year at Lakewood as well, that’s a deep pitching staff.
8. We could see a pretty crowded OF here next year with Altherr, Dugan, Eldmire, Santana, Collier? That’s a lot of guys for not a limited # of at bats.
You’re right, it’ll be interesting to see how the Phillies handle the outfield situation. And two other guys who might be in the mix are former first-rounder Anthony Hewitt and Miguel Alvarez, who hit well at Williamsport and has a similar skillset to Leandro Castro. Kelly Dugan was getting some time at first base during the fall, so I wouldn’t be surprised if that helps balance things out a little bit. And Hewitt has been doing a lot of DHing, which will probably continue. But I think the Phillies might be inclined to keep Domingo Santana in extended spring before rushing him to Lakewood; he’s still only 18 years old. If that leaves Altherr, Collier, Eldemire and Alvarez splitting time in the outfield, maybe there are enough at-bats to go around. Regardless, it’ll be a challenge for the Phillies front office to sort through in the spring, but they’ve always done a good job of placing prospects. And once the season starts, manager Chris Truby will have a talented bunch on his hands.
9. Can you give us one or two organization deep sleepers to watch heading into 2011?
Sleepers are always tough, it’s hard to gauge who flies under the radar to prospect followers. One guy we didn’t previously mention in the list of toolsy outfielders was Kyrell Hudson, who made the top 30 last year but didn’t put up gaudy numbers at Williamsport. He was an Oregon State football recruit to play wide receiver, so that speaks to his athleticism. BlueClaws fans have been treated to the stellar defensive play of Anthony Gose and Jiwan James the last two years, and Hudson has a similar skillset. He can really go get the ball, he has great closing speed and he has a strong arm. He’s going to need some time to get everything going offensively, as his approach wavers, but he uses the whole field. Low A will be a test for him in 2011, but it’ll be interesting to see how he does. Aside from Hudson, and maybe he isn’t a sleeper to Lakewood fans, but I like Colby Shreve. He had Tommy John surgery shortly after signing in 2008, and he didn’t get to
pitch until last season. For him to pitch more than 100 innings was impressive, and as he regains his strength and gets in the flow of things, I wouldn’t be surprised to see him take off. The Phillies really liked what they saw from him at the JC of Southern Nevada a few years ago, and if he can get back to the upper-90s velocity wise again, he’s someone to keep an eye on.
10. What’s the process like in compiling a list like this. You ultimately rank 30, but certainly consider many more than that.
Everyone has a different way of going about it, and I don’t know that there’s one tried-and-true formula that would work for everybody putting together a top 30. But I usually start by creating a spreadsheet of every prospect in the system, and then dwindle that down to a list of about 40-50 guys who stand out. From there, I like to collect all of the information I have about each player, which creates a solid foundation to work from. I was lucky enough to see a handful of games at Lakewood and Reading the last few years, plus I was in Clearwater for Spring Training and made it out to the Arizona Fall League this year. I’m certainly not a scout, but nothing substitutes for seeing a player first-hand. After that, it’s on to the reporting; talking to executives inside the organization and talking to scouts outside the organization, who are selfless with their time. Then it’s a matter of sorting through all of the notes to weigh a player’s potential against the chance that they reach that potential. And Baseball America does a great job of crosschecking each list; I had several discussions with John Manuel about the Phillies list, for example, and his insights from past years certainly had an impact.