Esteemed Baseball Prospectus author Kevin Goldstein, widely regarded as one of the foremost experts in the field of prospect evaluation, was generous enough to devote some of his valuable time to answering reader-submitted questions pertaining to the Texas Rangers' electric minor league system earlier this week.
Read on for Goldstein's takes on the Rangers' unprecedented stockpile of catching talent, the ever-controversial Elvis Andrus and much, much more.
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Q: If the Rangers get close to pulling off a big deal for an established star pitcher, who am I not including from the Rangers' long list of pitching prospects?
Goldstein: I don't believe any player is off-limits. I think that is a myth. You would trade any player on the farm for Albert Pujols, wouldn't you? There is no such thing as an untouchable.
Q: If you had to bet a thousand bucks on one pitcher in the system to anchor the Rangers rotation in coming years, who would it be -- Michael Main, Neftali Feliz, Derek Holland, Martin Perez or someone else?
- James Stamford, Texas
Goldstein: Neftali Feliz.
Q: A knock on the Rangers has been their inability to convert a prospect (especially a pitching prospect) into a viable contributor to THEIR big league ballclub. What ingredient has been missing from the development of the Rangers' local talent that prevents them from getting over this crucial hump? Why has it been missing?
Goldstein: That's a good question, but you're not going to like my answer. My answer is: nothing. I've actually broken out some spreadsheets and tried to figure things out as far as how many players a certain team develops, and tried to see which players didn't live up to expectations and which players exceeded expectations. If you plot it all out and chart it all out, you end up with a graph that tells you nothing.
I don't think the answers to the Rangers' inability to develop pitchers as of late can be found in the tealeaves. It just didn't happen. They could have done the exact same thing in another time dimension and it all would have worked out. I don't think there is any blame or anything that they are doing wrong. Things just happen. No group does the "things just happen" law apply to more than young pitching.
Q: Kevin, what do you think of Taylor Teagarden's offensive game? We already know about his impressive defensive reputation and he had quite a September showing in the majors this season, but I question whether he'll be able to maintain similar success long-term because of his inconsistent numbers in the minors, along with the question of his durability. Do you think he'll continue to hit well enough to justify starting him over the potential offensive stars Max Ramirez and Jarrod Saltalamacchia?
- Jon Page
Goldstein: It depends on what you want out of your catcher. I personally have a slight preference for Saltalamacchia. I think Teagarden is more the hitter we saw at AA and AAA, apposed to what we saw during his brief Major League stint, but that doesn't mean he is an offensive nothing. He's going to be the type of guy that hits .240, but makes up for it with secondary skills; he's going to walk a lot and he's going to hit some bombs.
Offensively, he could be a better version of Chris Snyder of the Diamondbacks, where there's not a lot of batting average and lots of strikeouts; at the same time, he could hit 20 home runs and walk 80 times a year, and that's going to make up for it, especially because of his defense. If you're a team that is going to get your runs elsewhere (and most teams in Major League Baseball don't depend on the catcher for runs), then Teagarden can be an awfully valuable piece. He's still going to be able to contribute something offensively and play Gold Glove-caliber defense. I'm a huge Teagarden fan, but I still believe Saltalamacchia is a guy who can be a potential star.
Q: Since most of us can't see prospects in action, what metrics do you consider to most accurately predict future success for pitchers and hitters?
- Brandon B.
Goldstein: You can't do it. You absolutely cannot just go off stats. There are two questions that I always ask when evaluating prospects. The first one is: what is he doing performance-wise? The second one is: how is he doing it? It's that "how is he doing it?" question that you can't answer with a stat line. You can find two pitchers in High A that both have similar numbers, both have a 2.50 ERA and a strikeout per inning, and you say that you have two great prospects, but one is, and one isn't, because one is a power guy that is blowing people away, and the other guy is a trick finesse guy that is just fooling people. Those are two very different prospects with equal stats.
As far as pitchers go, all I really care about is if they are missing bats. Obviously you look at the walks to make sure the control isn't ridiculous. The most important thing is missing bats.
For hitters, it depends on what kind of player they are. You can look at their ability to get on base, but that can be the kind of thing at the lower levels where the statistic itself doesn't really count. Player A could walk 70 times at Low A and not really have good plate discipline. That's because when those young pitchers miss, they really miss.
I look for power, not just the raw number of extra-base hits, but extra-base hits as a percentage of hits. How often they hit the ball hard. Then plate discipline as far as walk-to-strikeout ratio.
Q: Elvis Andrus: Great shortstop prospect or greatest shortstop prospect?
- Trip Somers
Goldstein: Neither. None of the above. I pick C. I'm a guy who just isn't an Andrus believer, and there's a reason for that. Offensively, he's a guy without secondary skills. He doesn't work the count very well and he doesn't have any power. He's a very good defensive shortstop, but he's not a crazy great defensive shortstop; he's not a Gold Glove-caliber shortstop, he's a really good shortstop. I feel the guy is going to hit .280 or .290 and steal some bases, but at the same time he's going to draw 30 walks and hit four home runs for you. He's an everyday shortstop that is going to hit seventh for you. That's not an All-Star, that's a regular shortstop. I mean, what has he really done? He's not just going to find it. It's not there to find.
Q: We've heard over and over about the improved farm system that the Rangers have been able to build. But if there's a positional weakness, where would you say it is? Corner outfielders? Relief pitchers? Third basemen?
- Matt K.
Goldstein: I don't think anybody really has a relief pitcher weakness. We can talk about all the ridiculous arms at Low-A [Hickory] or [short-season] Spokane, but some of those guys are going to end up as relievers. That's just the lay of the land. It happens with every team. They don't have a problem with relievers.
I think the left side of the infield is an issue. Andrus is really all there is at shortstop, unless you like [Marcus] Lemon there, but he's more of a utility player. They don't really have a really good third baseman, so that's one weakness.
I think another weakness is a power corner outfielder. They certainally have a bevy of incredibly fast center field prospects with [Julio] Borbon, [Engel] Beltre and now [Greg] Golson. Golson is a total tool shed; an incredible athlete.
Q: What is your view on the best way to immerse a pitching prospect into the big leagues? Should the Rangers try to handle Neftali Feliz, et al. like the Dodgers did with Chad Billingsley (use him as a reliever/spot starter and then transition him over to the rotation full-time), or do you prefer just sticking them in the rotation and letting them sink or swim right away?
- James Stanford
Goldstein: My answer is that it always depends on the kid. I don't think you can apply a cookie-cutter developmental mentally to any player. As much as it depends on the talent, it might depend even more on his make-up. You have to look at the kid and ask yourself if the kid can handle getting ripped, because he's going to get hit. That's just a fact. Can he deal with the mental aspect of it and come back five days later? A lot of guys have trouble adjusting to the bullpen. They are used to doing things a certain way.
Q: I hear a lot about Jarrod Saltalamacchia and Max Ramirez being rumored in trades, but in my opinion, I would hold onto Taylor Teagarden and Saltalamacchiaand trade the other two. Who would you project to have the best career of Ramirez, Teagarden, and Saltalamacchia?
Goldstein: I'd probably go Saltalamacchia, then Teagarden, then Ramirez, but they all are going to have decent or better big league careers. I don't think the gap is enormous. I could make phone calls right now and find you really smart, really well-paid baseball talent evaluators who would go Teagarden, Saltalamacchia, Ramirez. I could also find you guys who would go Ramirez, Saltalamacchia, Teagarden. It's pretty close to the line.
Q: Seattle has asked for permission to interview Rick Adair, the Rangers' minor league pitching coordinator, for one of their positions. With the ascent of the Rangers' system, featuring Derek Holland, Neftali Feliz, and maybe eight other pitching prospects, what is your assessment of Adair's impact? Would Texas lose and Seattle gain in a meaningful way if Rick departs to the Mariners?
- Ed C.
[Editor's note: Adair was named the Mariners' new pitching coach on Wednesday.]
Goldstein: It depends on who you replace him with and the kind of job that person does. Leo Mazzone had a much better reputation than Rick Adair. Adair has a good reputation, but Mazzone was seen as a magical pitching guru with supernatural powers that went to Baltimore, but they didn't start pitching like the Atlanta organization. Talent is talent. Managing and coaching are only going to get an extra certain percentage out of a guy; they aren't going to turn water into wine. They aren't going to turn wine into water, either.
Q: With the current influx in trades, the draft and international signings, has there been a paradigm shift in the Rangers' philosophy of positional player development away from power-hitting mashers at the corner outfield and infield positions towards a more all-around-based approach that focuses on the key up-the-middle defensive positions instead as a greater priority? Or simply put, is the build-up at shortstop, center field, second base and catcher a random occurrence, or an effort to maximize the value of positional players in general from the Rangers' minor league system?
- Ben at UNT
Goldstein: It's a little of both. I think most teams focus on up-the-middle players just because you have more flexibility there. If it doesn't work out up the middle, you can always move them somewhere else. If you start a guy on the corners, if he doesn't work out, there is nowhere to go with him.
Q: Aside from the focus on the draft, what is the biggest change you've seen from the Rangers organization that should make the most impact at the Major League level? Who is most responsible for that change?
Goldstein: I think the Rangers have some really good people in some powerful positions. I think Jon Daniels is a really good general manager. I think when you talk about people in the scouting department, like A.J. Preller and Josh Boyd; you have some really, really smart baseball people. I think they put a lot of talented people in charge of the team that are going to be around for awhile, and I'd be pretty optimistic if I were a Rangers fan.
Look for Part II of the Kevin Goldstein Q&A on Monday.