Last week, Baseball America released their annual Top Ten Prospects list for the Phillies organization, and we sat down for a Q&A with the man who made the list, BA’s Matt Forman.
A quick plug… If you’re interested in the minor leagues, prospects and this kind of analysis, I encourage you (if you don’t already) to subscribe to Baseball America and buy the Prospect Handbook, which is released in January and has scouting reports on 900 (930 if you buy directly from BA) of the game’s future stars. You can reach Matt on Twitter @matt_forman for follow-up questions or comments.
1) First, what goes into making a list like this?
The process isn’t too dissimilar from what you would guess it entails: lots of phone conversations with executives inside the organization and several outside the organization as well. One factor that might get overlooked is that Baseball America has a fairly significant history with each of the players that gets ranked, whether they were highlighted in pre-draft coverage, the international scene or individual minor-league Top 20 lists. Those scouting reports and insights are shared among BA’s staff and form the foundation of reporting from which to start. Additionally, I consult my notes from games I’ve attended in person — I watched more than week’s worth of drills/games on the back fields during Spring Training, then saw a handful of games in Clearwater and Lakewood this year. Generally, I try to list 40-50 players for consideration, putting all of their background information and yearly statistics into a spreadsheet. Then the phone calls happen, leading to a thorough back-and-forth with BA editors John Manuel and Jim Callis about ranking the Top 30, which ultimately reflects weighing a player’s potential against the chance that they reach that potential.
2) What strides did Trevor May make from last year to this year?
Good question. If you had to boil May’s progress down to one word, it would be consistency. He did a better job repeating his delivery, which led to a more consistent arm slot and in turn led to quality strikes and improved secondary stuff — that’s ultimately reflected in the staggering numbers he posted for Clearwater in 2011. He has gained greater body control as he has grown into his 6-foot-5 frame. After struggling in the first half of 2010 in the Florida State League, May has rebounded incredibly well, and his success has boosted his confidence level. Aside from consistency and confidence, May added a two-seam fastball to his arsenal and the Phillies introduced a slider in the second half of the season, though he hasn’t used it much in game action. He also started relying more heavily on his changeup. For all those reasons, May was the Phillies’ clear-cut No. 1 prospect, and he profiles as durable, innings-eating No. 2 starter.
3) Did Biddle’s season elevate his projections going forward for scouts?
It would be difficult to answer “No,” just because Biddle has lived up to and exceeded all expectations thus far. What more could you ask of a local, 2010 first-round pick? He signed quickly, impressed during instructional league last year and more than held his own as one of the youngest pitchers in the South Atlantic in 2011 while shouldering a professional workload for the first time. In terms of his overall future potential or projection, scouts likely wouldn’t alter Biddle’s ceiling; that is, he still projects to be a solid No. 3 starter, though his risk level has been reduced and there’s less of a chance that he would ultimately end up in the bullpen. Biddle rarely used his changeup in high school, and that’s been a major point of emphasis in his development: to add a quality third pitch to go along with his fastball-curveball combination. More than anything, scouts inside and outside the organization rave about Biddle’s competitiveness and aptitude.
4) What player was the biggest mover in 2011?
I’ll give you two names: Maikel Franco and Ervis Manzanillo, both of whom Lakewood fans likely got to see this year, though Manzanillo admittedly more. Both were unranked in last year’s top 30 and made their way into the top 15 this year. Franco spent most of the year at Williamsport, save for a short late-season promotion to the Sally where he struggled before returning to the New York-Penn League. Of the position players in the Phillies’ system before the 2011 draft, Franco has arguably the highest ceiling. His only knock is his running speed, which is well-below average, but he’s got the rest of the package — a plus arm and good range at third, plus raw power and a solid approach at the plate for an 18-year-old, though he gets a little pull happy and aggressive at times. Simply put, Franco has impact potential. Manzanillo, on the other hand, is an interesting story because he didn’t start playing baseball until he was 16 in his native Venezuela. And if you were simply grading Manzanillo’s raw stuff, it would compare favorably with Biddle’s, for example. He’s got a live, loose arm, and for someone with his build he has shown good durability. He runs his fastball up to the mid-90s from the left side, which alone gets scouts excited. He needs to work on commanding the fastball and developing the secondary stuff, but that’s not unreasonable given his age and experience in the game. I’ll name two others for honorable mention biggest mover, if only because they were once written off as prospects but re-established themselves this year: former first-round pick Joe Savery, who went from the organization’s hitter of the month in May to its pitcher of the month in August, and former supplemental first-rounder Zach Collier, who spent the year at Lakewood.
5) I know Valle has been pretty young at each level as he’s moved up. How does he project going forward?
Generally speaking, the Phillies like to take it slow with catchers, mostly because they have so much on their plate — no pun intended. On a more serious note, managing a pitching staff, calling pitches, working with umpires and everything else that comes with wearing the tools of ignorance takes some seasoning. Assuming he doesn’t have any setbacks, Valle should spend 2012 with Double-A Reading and 2013 with Triple-A Lehigh Valley, putting him in position for a late-season 2013 call-up at 23 years old. Just about every time someone within the organization talks about Valle, they say how much he’s grown since that time last year. He’s continued improving defensively, and he grades out as a solid-average or better major-league catcher. His power numbers dropped off slightly last year, no thanks to the tough hitting environment in Clearwater, but he has above-average raw power and great bat speed. The biggest question is about his approach — he’s ultra-aggressive and strikes out quite a bit, and he would benefit from tuning everything down a notch. But without question, Valle looks like the catcher of the future and the heir apparent to Carlos Ruiz, who will be 35 come 2014.
6) What kind of role can these power relievers – Aumont, De Fratus, etc have with the Phillies?
Interesting question, because developing homegrown relievers and turning over the bullpen to younger, cost-controlled options should help the Phillies keep their payroll under control. You saw the job Antonio Bastardo and Mike Stutes did last year, and both figure to factor prominently into the future plans. Assuming Ryan Madson resigns (as I’m writing this, there are conflicting reports about Madson agreeing in principle to a four-year deal), he’ll be the team’s closer for the foreseeable future. De Fratus, Michael Schwimer and Joe Savery all contributed at the end of 2011 and could be joined soon by Aumont. Aumont has the best stuff (plus-plus fastball with incredible movement and plus-plus curveball) and highest upside (closer potential) among those relievers, and it would seem he could spend time setting up for and learning from Madson before stepping into his role. De Fratus profiles as a 70-innings-per-year seventh inning reliever for now and could become a set-up guy with time. He didn’t have quite the same precision with his usually pinpoint control last year, which he’ll need to be effective, but his slider continued to improve. As mentioned, Savery has an incredible background and has been on a long journey to the big leagues. His velocity returned almost inexplicably this year back to the 92-94 range he showed as an amateur, and his low-80s curveball has two-plane break. He’s more than just a lefty specialist. Schwimer is a nice middle relief prospect and did a better job of pitching to his velocity last year. Beyond that group, you should keep an eye on former BlueClaw Jacob Diekman, who’s a personal favorite. With a little work on his command, Diekman could carve out a nice career as a lefty specialist, though he’ll be eligible for the Rule 5 Draft this year if he’s not protected on the 40-man roster. I also wouldn’t discount B.J. Rosenberg, who has battled some injuries but is still thought of highly by the organization.
7) How was the Williamsport roster and who impressed among the group that could be in Lakewood in 2012?
Williamsport had a solid group in 2011, obviously just missing the New York-Penn League playoffs, and they had a host of interesting prospects that should move to Lakewood next year. I previously mentioned Franco, who put up impressive numbers in the college-heavy New York-Penn League at 18, which speaks for itself. Lakewood fans also already know Aaron Altherr, the No. 10 prospect on last year’s list, because he spent the early parts of 2011 with the BlueClaws. Altherr is raw but still has an incredibly high ceiling, and he can play all three outfield positions. He’ll play alongside former third-round pick Kyrell Hudson, an outfielder with incredible athleticism and tools. Hudson’s defense in centerfield ranks among the best in the system, and Lakewood fans might have a tough time deciding whether Anthony Gose, Jiwan James or Hudson has been the best defensive centerfielder in recent years. Assuming he’s healthy, expect Perci Garner to pitch at the front of the Claws’ rotation next year. The former second-rounder has a plus fastball, a downer curveball and a developing changeup. For a college draft pick, Garner doesn’t have oodles of experience, but 2011 could truly be his breakout season. Two of Williamsport’s other top pitching prospects, 2011 draftees Adam Morgan and Austin Wright (who made seven starts with Lakewood), will likely head to Clearwater.
8 ) Any players catch your eye that just missed this list?
To piggyback off the previous question and address this one, there are several players who just missed the top 10 and could end up in Lakewood next year — all three are 2011 draftees. Supplemental first-rounder Larry Greene, second-rounder Roman Quinn and fifth-rounder Mitchell Walding have the tools and physicality to handle an assignment to the South Atlantic League, it’ll just be a matter of how aggressive the front office wants to be. It wouldn’t surprise me if that trio starts the year in extended spring training, then joins Lakewood in late May. Another exciting name to watch out for is international signing Carlos Tocci. He’s a long way away from contributing, as he just turned 16 in August, but Tocci has incredible tools and uncanny instincts. If he can add some strength to his stick-figure frame, Tocci has true impact potential — he’s a plus hitter and plus up-the-middle defender. It’s also worth noting Lisalberto Bonilla, who at times looked among the Sally’s top prospects and really burst on the scene at midseason once he was moved into the rotation. Bonillia narrowly missed the top 10 but shows signs of three plus pitches and repeats his delivery well.
9) How do you assess the overall strength of the system compared to the last few years after another big trade?
The system certainly has taken a hit because of the trades, as 17 top-ranked prospects have been traded in the last four years to acquire Joe Blanton, Cliff Lee, Roy Halladay and Hunter Pence. Last year the Phillies were among the top eight systems in baseball, and this year I would guess they’ll fall somewhere in the 15-20 range. Usually the top organizations have at least one blue-chip, can’t-miss player and several others among the top 50 prospects; think Tampa Bay with Matt Moore, Texas with Jurickson Profar or Toronto with Travis d’Arnaud. That’s not slighting Trevor May, but he’s not quite in that elite class. The 2011 draft class, though, could go a long way to replenishing the farm, as scouting director Marti Wolever took handful of toolsy, high-upside players with impact potential in (Larry) Greene, Quinn, Walding and Tyler Greene. It wouldn’t surprise me if one of those players took off like Jonathan Singleton did two years ago at Lakewood, just one year after getting drafted. All that said, I still think there’s plenty of quality depth within the system, and it speaks volumes that I haven’t yet mentioned Cesar Hernandez or Leandro Castro or Julio Rodriguez, who all have a legitimate shot of contributing in the big leagues.