BA Phillies Top Ten Q&A

A couple of weeks ago, Baseball America released their annual Phillies Top Ten prospect rankings. As we’ve done in years past, we went deeper into those rankings by talking to Matt Forman, the Baseball America writer who compiled them.

As a refresher, 2011 BlueClaws LHP Jesse Biddle topped the list, and likely 2013 BlueClaws SS Roman Quinn was second on the list.

You can follow Matt on Twitter here. Onto the Q&A:

Q: What were the biggest strides Jesse Biddle made over the past season?

Jesse Biddle, the Phillies’ No. 1 prospect entering 2013, has had an incremental climb throughout his young professional career. Really, and the Phillies’ brass has said this multiple times, he has done everything — and more — that’s been asked of him since his signed as their first-round pick in 2010. Last year, Biddle took significant strides in a number of areas. In terms of stuff, Biddle better pitched to both sides of the plate with his fastball. His changeup developed into a swing-and-miss offering. He gained consistency with his curveball, especially in controlling its knee-buckling depth. He also added a slider and a two-seam fastball to his arsenal. All the while, in terms of statistics, Biddle cut his walk rate, improved his whiff rate and bettered his groundball-to-flyball ratio — all positive indicators. When the stats and stuff align, that’s a good sign for any pitching prospect. If Biddle continues progressing the way he has, he could out-perform his projected mid-rotation starter upside.

Q: Roman Quinn ranked #2 on the list and in the write-up you said he was a legit 80-speed on the 20-80 scouting scale. In general, how rare is that 80 designation?

Extremely rare — 80-grade tools are not offered liberally. The 20-80 scouting scale is based on the mathematical normal distribution curve, where 50 is Major League average and every 10-point differential falls one standard deviation from the mean. By literal definition, then, Roman Quinn’s speed should roughly rate among the top 0.1 percent of players — but the system isn’t quite that scientific. That is, probably between 15 and 20 percent of big leaguers have “average” or 50-grade speed, because players slow down (age, size) and speed isn’t as big a part of the game as it once was, though that’s changing. Regardless, Quinn is on the short list of the fastest players in the minor leagues — arguably the fastest player not named Billy Hamilton, of Cincinnati’s system. Quinn’s speed is game-changing, impacting play in the field, at the plate and on the bases.

Q: Quinn was listed in the middle of the pack in the 2012 ratings. What stood out about his 2012 performance and were you surprised about his jump?

I’d say I was somewhat surprised by Quinn’s jump, but not totally shocked. Quinn barely missed the Top 10 last year, coming in at No. 11 on the pre-2012 list after being selected in the second round of the draft, and that ranking was at least partially influenced by the fact that he signed late and made his professional debut in instructional league, so we were largely relying on his amateur reports. In instructs, he impressed observers with his first-step quickness, but he had just committed to switch-hitting and playing shortstop full-time. Really, that’s what stood out about his 2012 performance — his development on the infield dirt, where scouts seem encouraged he’ll be able to stay, and his improvement hitting left-handed. He’s got a plus arm and good actions at short, and he could be a solid-average hitter from both sides.

To your original question: Quinn was the New York-Penn League’s No. 3 prospect, and when I started the reporting/researching process for this list, I expected him to fall somewhere in the middle of Top 10. But quickly, Quinn received consideration for the list’s No. 1 spot, and it wasn’t necessarily an easy decision to go with Biddle over Quinn. Ultimately, Quinn has a higher ceiling, but Biddle is the safer bet to reach his ceiling after spending his age-20 season pitching for high Class A Clearwater.

Q: Jonathan Pettibone was here in Lakewood in 2010 on a staff that had Brody Colvin, Jarred Cosart, Trevor May, and Julio Rodriguez and he always seemed to get lost in the shuffle. Obviously he had a tremendous season and beat all of those guys to Triple-A (save Cosart who was an injury fill-in there with Houston). Did his move and year surprise people and what’s his projection going forward?

You’re right about Jonathan Pettibone being overlooked among the “Baby Aces” rotation that pitched in Lakewood in 2010 and Clearwater for half of 2011. That’s likely because Pettibone doesn’t have (and didn’t have) the pure stuff of Colvin, Cosart and May, and he hasn’t posted (and didn’t post) the outrageous strikeout totals of Rodriguez. But Pettibone has the best pitchability among that group, and that’s why he has progressed more quickly through the minor leagues.

I’d say Pettibone’s 2012 was marginally unexpected, at least in the sense that I didn’t anticipate he’d make seven starts for Triple-A Lehigh Valley last year, and I don’t think many others would’ve made that prediction. But Pettibone entered the year as the system’s No. 4 prospect, and he’ll enter next year occupying the same spot. So the more surprising jump happened two seasons ago, but it was encouraging to see him have another strong season.

Pettibone’s projection: a mid-rotation, innings-eater, probably as a No. 3 or No. 4 starter. Some scouts still worry about his lack of a swing-and-miss pitch. For his solid stuff and advanced command/control, Pettibone has never missed many bats, though his strikeout rate bumped up at Lehigh Valley. That said, Pettibone likely will be given a chance to compete for the Phillies’ fifth starter spot in spring training, and either way he could see time in Philadelphia at some point in 2013.

There’s a lot more below the fold…

Much more below…

Q: Obviously scouts have to balance sample sizes in looking at production but when you see Maikel Franco hit .205 in the first half and .340 in the second half, does that help answer some questions?

Maikel Franco, Philadelphia’s No. 8 prospect, certainly had an impressive second half, batting .346/.395/.530 after the All-Star break, and that helped answer questions after a slow start making his return to the South Atlantic League. Those would be strong numbers for any player, but they’re particularly eye-opening when considering Franco was one of the youngest regulars in the circuit. What’s most encouraging: The production came as a result of a better process at the plate. Franco improved his approach (saw more pitches) and worked the middle of the field (instead of getting pull-happy). Franco’s upside is significant — a power-hitting third baseman who plays solid-average defense — but he’ll need to continue making offensive adjustments, mostly in approach, to climb the ladder.

Q: Darin Ruf jumped way up to #9 and obviously had a great year. How did the opinion of scouts change on Ruf over the past year?

Well, in the span of about two months Darin Ruf went from “good organizational player” to Top-10 prospect (and the Phillies’ potential everyday left fielder in 2013). Along the way, the legend of “Babe Ruf” emerged, and Ruf became the talk of the baseball universe for a while. Not sure there’s a more substantial shift in industry opinion a player can undergo. An incredible, incredible year. I never, ever would have believed any of that would come true at the start of the season — and I didn’t find any scouts who did either. Ruf hit more homeruns than any player in professional baseball last year, blasting 51 in 642 at-bats between Double-A Reading, Philadelphia and the Venezuelan Winter League. The Phillies think Ruf’s 2012 was the result of his maturation of a hitter, and they point to historical instances where power was the last piece of a player’s development. Ruf added loft to his swing and started punishing pitches in spots where he wanted them. The list of hitters who reached Double-A for the first time in their age-25 season and had prolonged success isn’t a length one — that’s to say, the odds are still stacked against Ruf. He doesn’t have a prototypical profile. Ideally, Ruf’s ideal role would be as a designated hitter, but that obviously can’t happen in Philadelphia (except in Interleague play). Ruf was a fringy first baseman, which would be his best defensive home, but he likely won’t take many at-bats away from Ryan Howard. If the Phillies are willing to consider it, Ruf might be a nice platoon option at first, to give Howard a break against lefties. But it looks like Ruf is headed for left field, where he started taking fly balls in July. He’s not fleet of foot, and he doesn’t have a great arm. But he might be able to make it work. Regardless, there’s no reason to take away from what Ruf accomplished last year.

Q: Trevor May was #1 on this list last year. Had he not been traded, would he have maintained that #1?

Three-time Phillies Top-10 prospect Trevor May would have made it a fourth time on the list, though he wouldn’t have had back-to-back years as the No. 1 prospect. May would’ve dropped to No. 6 on this year’s list, in front of right-hander Ethan Martin. May’s consistent inconsistency — mostly with command/control — held him back in 2012. He’ll rank similarly on the Twins’ Top 10. Knowing May’s history in Lakewood, I’m sure BlueClaws fans were disappointed to see him go.

Q: He didn’t make the top ten but I imagine he was in the discussion – how was Larry Greene’s 2012 and progress from his draft year? Presumably he will be in the BlueClaws outfield this season.

Like last year, Larry Greene just missed the Top 10. In fact, he will rank at No. 11 in the Prospect Handbook. And honestly, it wouldn’t surprise me if Greene made a jump into the system’s upper echelon after the 2013 season, the same way Quinn did this year. Greene, a football player for most of his prep days, didn’t quite know how to prepare himself physically for the rigors of a full minor league season, and he entered spring training needing to condition his body differently. So it wasn’t a surprise that Greene started slowly. Once he got his body where it needed to be, Greene looked much more comfortable — at the plate and in the field. He’s a big, barrel-chested athlete who moves surprisingly well for his size. He’s still learning the nuances of playing left field, but he should be able to stick there, and as you suggested, that’s where he should find himself in 2013 for Lakewood. The Phillies were pretty encouraged with his defensive progress. Offensively, Greene’s calling card has been, and will be, his raw power. He hit only two homeruns last year, but the power numbers should start to translate as he does a better job of identifying pitches he can drive. He worked on shortening up his swing last year.

Q: How did the Phillies do in re-stocking a lot of their upper-level in the Shane Victorino and Hunter Pence trades?

The Phillies did well in adding depth to the upper-levels of the minor leagues in the Shane Victorino and Hunter Pence deadline deals of 2012. Even if Josh Linblom and Nate Schierholtz are gone, general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. got a good return for a half-season of Victorino, and a year-and-a-half of Pence, acquiring Ethan Martin (No. 6 prospect) and Tommy Joseph (No. 3). Martin, the first prep pitcher taken in the 2008 draft, has tremendous upside. His athleticism and age are appealing. He has struggled with command/control in his young career, much like Trevor May did, though Martin has arguably a better fastball-curveball combination. Martin will need to throw more strikes to remain in the rotation, even though his 2012 walk rate was a career low. In the least, Martin could be a back-end bullpen piece, or with improved command, he could be a No. 2 starter. Joseph, a power-hitting catcher, received some consideration to be the Phillies’ No. 1 prospect. Again, Joseph was young for the Double-A Eastern League, and he’s an upside play. If Joseph’s receiving ability improves, he should be able to stay behind the plate, where his bat will make him a solid everyday player. He’s got a strong arm and average plate discipline. Overall, Martin and Joseph provide additional depth to two areas where Philadelphia’s system is strong: starting pitching and catching, two things you can never have enough of. Ultimately, getting Martin might’ve made Amaro more comfortable with trading former top prospect May to get centerfielder Ben Revere in a trade this offseason. In Joseph, along with Cameron Rupp (who took big strides in 2012) and Sebastian Valle, the Phillies have three catchers who could help in Philadelphia sooner rather than later.

Q: How close were some of these players to making the top ten cut: Sebastian Valle, Kelly Dugan, Austin Wright?

Sebastian Valle, last year’s No. 3 overall prospect, was the closest to making the Top 10, though he didn’t receive a tremendous amount of consideration. Austin Wright didn’t rank far behind Valle, and Dugan received support for the back end of the Top 30. Lakewood fans know all three of these guys well, but perhaps none more so than Valle, who reached Triple-A Lehigh Valley last year. Valle’s approach — or lack thereof — has hurt him as he’s progressed through the system. He’s got raw power and the defensive tools to at least be a big-league backup, but he needs offensive refinement to reach his ceiling as an everyday player. Though he didn’t receive as much hype as fellow lefty starters Jesse Biddle or Adam Morgan, Wright was named the Florida State League pitcher of the year. His raw stuff, and he misses a lot of bats, but he needs to do a better job of commanding the strike zone to remain a starter; however, several scouts thought he’d fit in a multi-inning relief role down the line. Dugan’s .300/.387/.470 slash line in the South Atlantic League last year opened some eyes, though the offensive demands on first baseman are tremendous. He’ll have to keep hitting that way — and for more power — as he climbs the latter.

Q: Who from the 2012 draft caught your eye?

I’ll preface this answer by saying I’ve really liked what scouting director Marti Wolever has done in the last two drafts, which have gone a long way to replenishing the system’s depth. Among the 2011 selections we haven’t yet discussed, Adam Morgan and Cody Asche both ranked in the Top 10.

The obvious answer to the 2012 selections who caught my eye: supplemental first-rounder and high-school righty Mitch Gueller, who in stature and stuff might remind Lakewood fans of former BlueClaw Trevor May; they’re both from the Pacific Northwest. Fellow supplemental first-rounder Shane Watson didn’t get to pitch much this summer, but he looked healthy in instructional league, and he has drawn comparisons to former Phillie Brett Myers. Going down the draft board, second-round selection Dylan Cozens is a big, physical athletic specimen with massive raw power — perhaps even more than 2011 first-rounder Larry Greene. College draft corner infielders Chris Serritella and Cam Perkins had strong debuts for short-season Williamsport, and college lefty Hoby Milner made a number of starts down the stretch for Lakewood — as he continues growing into his body, his stuff could play up.

Q: What kind of players, outside of Quinn and Greene, can BlueClaws fans get excited about coming up here in 2013?

The last question serves as a nice segue, since most of those 2012 draftees will get a chance to start at Lakewood, or work their way to the Shore by mid-season. To start, Serritella and Perkins should start the year in the South Atlantic League, spending time at first base, designated hitter and possibly an outfield corner.

Two guys we haven’t yet talked about whom fans should be excited about: 2012 fifth-rounder Andrew Pullin, who moved to second base (from the outfield) during instructional league, and 2011 fifth-rounder Mitch Walding. Pullin could join Quinn to form the BlueClaws’ dynamic double-play combination. Pullin doesn’t have a prototypical swing — upon finish, he reminds some scouts of Johnny Damon — but he can flat out hit. Given that Pullin has a September 1993 birthday, and he’s a little older than many players in his own draft class, plus the fact that he’s got advanced bat-to-ball skills, he should be able to handle the jump to Lakewood. Walding played shortstop in high school, but moved to third base professionally, and that’s where he projects best. He also was a star quarterback in high school, so he’s still learning to translate his tools into baseball skill, but there’s a lot to like: a big frame, a sweet left-handed swing with some raw power and a slick glove at the hot corner.

It might be a year too soon, but it’d be a lot of fun for Lakewood fans to see No. 10 prospect Carlos Tocci, if he gets assigned to Lakewood this year. He didn’t turn 17 until August, and he’s not yet physically mature, so playing a 100-game season might be too much to ask. But Tocci’s baseball instincts might allow him to hold his own, even at such a ripe age. Among other position players, it’s also worth mentioning catcher Logan Moore, a 2011 ninth-round pick whom BlueClaws fans saw for a brief stint last year. Moore is raw, but he’s a good athlete and strong behind the dish.

As far as pitchers are concerned, it’ll be interesting to see if the Phillies send Watson and Gueller to Lakewood or Williamsport after the spring. The signing deadline was bumped forward a month this year, which provided an earlier opportunity for top picks to get their feet wet professionally, though Watson was working through his diabetes diagnosis and didn’t get to pitch much. I’d also keep an eye out for international left-handers Franklyn Vargas and Yoel Mecias, both of whom pitched last year in the Gulf Coast League and have plenty of stuff to succeed in Lakewood. On a related note, I’d be excited to see the re-emergence of Venezuelan lefty Ervis Manzanillo, who was shut down in early June last year.

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