A former member of the Toronto Blue Jays front office and current ESPN Scouts, Inc. senior writer, Keith Law is held in extremely high regard for his work in the field of prospect evaluation on a national scale.
Law was generous enough to devote some of his valuable time to answering prospect-specific questions on the Texas Rangers' top-ranked farm system last week. Apologies if your question wasn't answered.
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Q: Last spring after seeing both [Neftali] Feliz and [Wilmer] Font, you wrote that Feliz was "just the opening act for the star attraction, 17-year-old Wilmer Font." I was there that day too and I agreed with you. In light of that, I have to ask: why didn't you mention Font in your list of guys who could break into the Top 100 in 2009? Is his upside not top-20 material?
Keith Law: He didn't pitch. Without any performance data, any firm information on his health, and a lost year of development time, he just didn't make sense to highlight over someone like [Wilfredo] Boscan. If Font had thrown 80-100 innings this year and performed like you'd expect someone with that kind of stuff to perform, he would have been on the Top 100 -- you don't find that combination of youth, size, velocity, and stuff every day.
Q: In your opinion, who are the most overrated and underrated prospects in the Rangers' system? Why?
Keith Law: I don't know that there's anyone who's overrated in the Rangers' system; I suppose you could say [Taylor] Teagarden, who didn't hit at all this past year and whose arm problems might be a permanent issue. By my count, he only caught on back-to-back days 31 times all season, across all three levels.
Underrated ... [Michael] Main, certainly. [Kasey] Kiker. [Robbie] Ross. All three are dinged because they're not tall, but Main's a great athlete with huge stuff, and all three are excellent competitiors with Kiker and Ross showing good feel for pitching.
Q: Which Rangers prospect in your minor league Top 100 did you struggle with the most? Who did you want to rank higher but just couldn’t justify it?
Keith Law: I'm a huge Michael Main fan -- have been since before the '07 draft -- but he just didn't pitch enough to justify a higher ranking, and I'm concerned about lost development time, since he's not going to go out and throw 160 innings in 2009 after such a short 2008 season. But I do still believe in the arm and athleticism.
Q: Keith, how much of the commotion raised over Blake Beavan's drop in velocity in 2008 was actually warranted? Approximately where does he rank in the Rangers' farm system in your estimation, and what is your long-term prognosis for his career?
Keith Law: He lost velocity. That's … not good, especially since his calling card in high school was velocity; his delivery was rough and his secondary stuff wasn't that advanced. He's somewhere in the 15-20 range in the Rangers' system, behind Ross, Kiker, Boscan, [Neil] Ramirez, etc.
Q: Scouts and executives love tall pitchers, but occasionally, the short guys turn into something really special. When you evaluate players like Joseph Ortiz, Robbie Ross, and Kasey Kiker, how much does their height affect your opinion?
Keith Law: I'm only concerned with height for one reason -- the ability to generate downhill plane on one's fastball. Pitchers who try to pitch up in the zone with their fastballs, especially if they're throwing four-seamers that lack movement or "life," are going to end up homer-prone far more often than not. The idea that tall equals durable does not, in my opinion, hold much water. I think thickness and delivery are far more important variables.
Q:You rank Martin Perez as the number 13 pitching prospect in all of baseball. The buzz on Perez among Rangers fans is heavy, but you're the first to key on him to that extent nationally. You suggested he has a chance to "shoot up the system" -- at age 17, what sort of track would you put him on if you were calling the shots?
Keith Law: It really depends on his performance -- I doubt anyone suggested last winter that [Neftali] Feliz should finish 2008 in AA, but his performance clearly merited it. Perez should start 2009 in Low-A [Hickory], and if he's dominating, there's merit in skipping him over the [High-A] California League, especially if he's showing great command.
Q: Put yourself in Jon Daniels' shoes for a moment. What is going to be the biggest obstacle in taking this team from No. 1 farm system to perennial contender?
Keith Law: That's fairly obvious, no? Developing pitching. They've had some decent arms before, but there's no track record in franchise history of developing any substantial amount of homegrown pitching. They've been a run-scoring club rather than a run-prevention club for most of their 40 years in Texas, but it does seem that run prevention is more important when talking about perennial contention or post-season success. The defense will improve - [Elvis] Andrus, [Julio] Borbon, and [Justin] Smoak are all plus defenders -- but developing quality pitching and keeping it healthy is about more than just stockpiling arms.
Q: Is there one thing that the Rangers are doing better than any other organization right now (maybe Latin American scouting)? As far as player development, they have improved a lot recently. What area(s) still need to be better?
Keith Law: They have integrated their scouting and evaluation across all areas -- draft, international, pro -- better than any team in baseball. They were the first team to target Latin American signees as throw-ins in trades while those players were still in short-season ball, often within a year of their original signing dates. You can't do that unless your international scouting department is talking to pro scouting and to the GM, or unless the information is all readily accessible to the GM when he's conducting the negotiations. In a league where the best teams are increasingly the best-run teams (Boston, Tampa Bay), staying ahead of the operational curve is obligatory.
Q: The John Danks-for-Brandon McCarthy trade looks to be a huge bust for the Rangers. Did the White Sox just do a better job of evaluating these two pitchers, or did McCarthy's stuff take a big step backwards upon switching organizations and Danks's stuff moved in the other direction? And is there any hope that McCarthy can salvage a career as a contributor in a big league rotation?
Keith Law: Danks added a cutter, which serves as the breaking ball he was really missing in Texas. He was a lefty who was more effective at getting righties out, coming up in a system (Texas) where the big league ballpark favors left-handed power hitters. Until he went to Chicago, he didn't have a legit weapon to get lefties out.
McCarthy may have been damaged goods when the Rangers acquired him. He wouldn't be the first pitcher Kenny Williams has traded who was already hurt when he got on the plane (Mike Sirotka and Freddy Garcia come to mind). If McCarthy's shoulder is 100 percent, he can absolutely be a contributor in the middle of a rotation, but that's a conditional I can't really assess from afar.
Q: I'm intrigued by the acquisition of Greg Golson. I agreed with the move to swap prospects, seeing as the Rangers already have an ample amount of power prospects. I read he automatically comes in as the best defensive arm in the system along with the best speed. I'm curious as to what type of player he resembles. I've read that he's similar to Mike Cameron and Torii Hunter. Do you think, with the help of Rudy Jaramillo, he can develop the plate discipline to become a Torii Hunter-esque center fielder?
Tim from Dallas
Keith Law: Fifth outfielder type. He's similar to Cameron and Hunter in that all three are black. That's about the end of it. I have never seen a first-rounder with less feel for the game than Golson has.
That said, I'd rather have him than [John] Mayberry.
Q: Which current Ranger minor leaguers, besides the likely untouchables of Feliz, [Derek] Holland, Andrus and Smoak are the most attractive trade targets of other MLB teams? Can you put these players into one of two categories - near-major league ready and two-plus years away?
Mike From Dallas
Keith Law: I'm not sure why Andrus would be untouchable -- or even Holland. But to answer your question, outside of those guys, Borbon, and Max Ramirez (and possibly Teagarden), there's little trade value in the Rangers' system right now. Their best prospects are all too far away to be more than second or third guys in a major deal. Engel Beltre has enormous upside, but no one is going to give you a major league player of any worth for him.