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 sit down and chat with me about the Texas Rangers' minor league system.
Please check out Goldstein's excellent Rangers prospect rankings and analysis on Baseball Prospectus here.
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Q: What are you hearing about Jurick Profar that prompted such an aggressive ranking?
Goldstein: I started to get the sense that something special was going on with Profar when a non-Rangers scout actually called me from the ballpark during the Fall Instructional League to ask me everything I knew about this kid. It's always a good sign when a scout is excited enough to actually call you from the ballpark. You know you are onto something when that happens. Then I talked to a couple other scouts outside of the Rangers' camp and they had the exact same stuff to say.
From talking to Rangers officials, (who, I must say, will always be pretty straight up with me and will tell me when a prospect is playing well and when a prospect isn't doing what they want him to do), I get reports of them really going crazy for the guy. So between their evaluations and the fact that I can get non-Rangers, outside-the-division scouts backing up these statements, I felt comfortable putting him that high.
Q: What makes Profar the No. 5 prospect on your list, yet excludes a highly sought-after Venezuelan shortstop like Luis Sardinas from even being mentioned? Seeing how both players have yet to play a professional game, both players received bonuses in excess of $1 million, and both players have major league-quality tools, is the separation in talent really that extreme?
Goldstein: I think you can trap yourself by thinking there is a pure dollar-to-muscle equivalent, like one guy goes for $1.5 million and the next guy gets $1.55 million, yet they are practically the same player (not speaking of Profar/Sardinas). We've seen a lot of inflation over the last few years in both the Dominican [Republic] and Venezuela, so that's a big part of it. There was a lot of competition for Sardinas, but you can't just look at the bonus money a player receives; it's not always about the dollar amounts. The Rangers were really able to win out with Sardinas because of their presence in Venezuela. I mean, right now, players in the Dominican Republic grow up wanting to be Red Sox and Yankees and players coming up in Venezuela want to be Rangers. That's what you get by having such a strong presence in these places.
When it comes to the Profar signing, the Rangers have literally known him for years and years and years. I think the key to actually signing Profar was the fact that the Rangers looked at him as a shortstop, and, of course, Profar wanted to be a shortstop and wanted to be a Ranger because of their presence in Curacao. I think he could have received much more money if he decided he wanted to pitch. I think he felt comfortable with the relationship with Texas and that, plus the fact he wanted to play shortstop, ended up meaning more than the money in the end. You can't just look at the money a player receives.
Q: Why didn't more teams view Profar as a shortstop?
Goldstein: You know this. One of the things is the amount of eyeball time you give a player. I mean, you can watch a kid throw 20 pitches and come away with a really good feel for what he can do. From those 20 pitches, you can see if a player has a good delivery; you can see what the radar gun has to say; you can see him spin a breaking ball; and you can determine whether or not you like that.
If you want to evaluate a guy as a shortstop, you have to see a lot of him. It takes a lot of time to get a handle on what a position player can do; you have to see a lot of at-bats against different type of pitching; you to see him run in different situations; you have to see him field in different situations; can he go to his left; can he go to his right; can he go up the middle; can he throw from the hole; can he throw off-balance; can he rush the throw, etc. When you are talking about a guy like Profar, it's possible that teams just didn't get enough of a look at him to feel comfortable with him as a shortstop, whereas they saw enough of him on the mound to feel comfortable with him as a pitcher. I think that is a huge part of it.
Q: What do you expect from Profar in 2010?
Goldstein: It's funny, because right now even the Rangers aren't even sure what to do with him. They are tempted to start him in [Low-A] Hickory, but they aren't completely sold on the idea. I think they are still deciding whether throwing him to the wolves in the Sally League is a good idea or not. I wouldn't expect crazy things from Profar in 2010, but I think he can hold his own and I think that's the key. You hear all this stuff about his make-up and his maturity, but his game is what is really mature. Even if they short-season him, it would probably be in [short-season] Spokane rather than a complex league.
Q: What makes Martin Perez the top left-handed pitcher in the minors?
Goldstein: The combination of where he is right now (with his age), what he has done so far, and where he can be. This is not the first left-handed teenager to dominate a full-season league and then hold his own at a higher level. It's just a matter of how he is doing it. He's not just throwing fastballs by people; he is showing a mature repertoire. As you know, he has very real secondary pitches and a good idea of how to pitch. There is so much more to come out of this kid that it's scary. The Johan Santana comps are unavoidable at this point, and frankly a bit lazy, but you can understand them at least: he's left-handed, he's Venezuelan, he has a helluva change-up, and he has a plus fastball. It's so rare to find a pitcher his age who is that complete a product. He just needs to refine. He doesn't have holes in his game. To have that at such a young age is very rare.
Q: Is Tanner Scheppers a dominant reliever or a top-of-the-rotation starter, and when will he see Arlington?
Goldstein: If it were up to me, I would start him at Triple-A [Oklahoma City] and get him to the majors as fast as possible, as a reliever. Here's the thing: Tanner Scheppers is pitching on borrowed time. Tanner Scheppers is going to break. It's not a matter of if; it's a matter of when. HE IS GOING TO BREAK! Every time he throws a pitch in the minors, you are taking a risk. You are wasting your time. You have to be able to reap major league benefits from this talent as soon as possible, because at some point between now and the time he is 30 (if not sooner than that), he is going to break. I would fast-track him and get him into the bullpen as soon as possible.
Q: Are you concerned about Justin Smoak's future as a switch-hitter, given his awful splits against left-handed pitchers?
Goldstein: I don't think so. I think there are a lot of factors with that. I think the oblique thing really bothered him last season. When he got to Triple-A, I talked to some people who had watched him closely in Arizona and [Double-A] Frisco and they said his timing just wasn't the same in Oklahoma City. I'm not concerned about him at all. A comp I used coming out of the draft was a switch-hitting Justin Morneau, and I'm not going to back off that.
Q: Why is Robbie Ross a better prospect than Kasey Kiker?
Goldstein: The first thing I want to say is that Robbie Ross is 11th on this list and Kasey Kiker is 13th. It's not a big difference. For me at least, Kiker is a bullpen guy. I think Ross has a chance to start. That's the major difference to me. I think Kiker's size and command issues will prevent him from being a starter. I think Ross is a more efficient pitcher.
Q: Which player not featured on your 2010 list has the talent to climb the most spots by next season's list?
Goldstein: Good question. I'm going to name three players and they are all pitchers.
Wilfredo Boscan: The Rangers definitely have a lot of faith in Boscan and I certainly understand why.
Kennil Gomez. Gomez is a guy that other teams ask about and other teams want, and that says a lot about him.
Shawn Blackwell. Blackwell is a big kid with three pitches, and that is always a good starting point. He has a very impressive arm and he was a very nice sign for Texas. He's a guy, much like Profar, who you have to give Texas a lot of credit for identifying and signing.
Q: What are your thoughts on Edwin Escobar? Several sources, Baseball America being one, think his build will prevent him from starting. What say you?
Goldstein: I understand the concern, but I think it's too early to do that.
Q: Who is the best under-the-radar Latin American prospect in the system?
Goldstein: Luis Sardinas. Is he under the radar?
Parks: I think he has to be considered under-the-radar, given the fact that Profar is ranked No. 5 in the system and Sardinas isn't on the list.
Goldstein: Yeah, okay, Sardinas. I'm more than comfortable, based on what I've heard so far, to rank him high on the list. (Yet, you didn't KG. Take that!) The Rangers are really high on this kid and he has the classic Venezuelan shortstop profile.
Q: What is it about Michael Main that keeps him in the top 10 of most Rangers-specific prospect lists over pitchers that have been able to stay healthy and find (arguably) more professional success, e.g. Omar Poveda and Blake Beavan?
Goldstein: Well, how much success have Blake Beavan and Omar Poveda actually achieved? They reached Double-A and what else? I think you have to give Main a mulligan for '09; he got sick in a very bizarre way. Athletically, he blows every pitcher in the Rangers' system out of the water. When he's healthy, his stuff is so much better than guys like Beavan and Poveda. Poveda is just a very generic, hittable right-hander. The Rangers have a very good system, but guys like Poveda aren't going to be in the top 10. He's just a generic right-hander that every system has. Main has electric stuff and he isn't in the same class as Beavan or Poveda.
Q: What does Wilmer Font need to do next season to become a Felizian-level prospect? Does he have the stuff to remain a starter?
Goldstein: Yes; he's another pitcher that could go either way, but I think it's way too early to even think about that. As it stands right now, Wilmer Font is still a thrower. That needs to change, but it's a tough hurdle and some guys never get over it. You have to love his raw ability, though. He needs a lot more refinement. He has a long way to go.
Q: What do you think about power-hitting third baseman Tommy Mendonca? Is he Chris Davis 2.0?
Goldstein: If I thought he was Chris Davis 2.0, I would have him on the list. I think the second half Davis had last year was real and that he made legit adjustments. I understand they have similar profiles, with Mendonca having 60-grade or 65-grade power [on the 20-to-80 scouting scale]. But Davis has legit 80-grade power. Mendonca has a power-only approach, so I'm not ready to go there yet. I think he's an okay player who I thought was a slight overdraft where they took him. I think he has some potential, but he's not Davis 2.0.
Q: Braden Tullis is an interesting sleeper prospect heading into next season. What are your thoughts on him and how do you think he will develop going forward?
Goldstein: I think he surprised a lot of people with his performance in '09; he showed above-average stuff with a good idea of what to do with it. When you get a guy like Tullis, you just have to throw him in the Hickory rotation and see what he does. He's a nice sleeper and a nice find. A lot of scouts have been saying that they like this Tullis kid.
Q: How close was Tomas Telis to making your list? What does he have to do in 2010 to please you?
Goldstein: I don't think he was very close. Honestly, we discussed a lot of guys who didn't make the list so far and I would probably put them all above Telis.
Q: What do you think about Danny Gutierrez's reluctance to develop his change-up? Is he just stubborn, which plays into the make-up questions surrounding him, or is his change-up just really without hope and therefore not worth the effort? Thoughts?
Goldstein: Gutierrez has genuine make-up issues. There is no debate about that. That said, I don't think his make-up issues have anything to do with his inability to develop his change-up. His make-up issues are off-the-field and they are very, very real. There is a reason the Royals gave him away for two guys who wouldn't sniff this list. He really can pitch quite well, but his inability to behave is what has limited him.
Look, he doesn't need a great change-up to be successful as a starter. He doesn't need a Cole Hamels change-up. With his fastball and curvebabll, he could do well as a starter with just a show-me change-up. Change-ups are hard. They are a hard pitch to learn and it goes against everything you think. It's a mental pitch. It's a difficult thing to throw.
Q: Who would be your top five Rangers prospects in 2011?
Goldstein: Awesome! Well, first I'd have to say Perez because I think he will still be eligible. If we see Perez in Texas this year, I'm not going to be shocked. Is Smoak going to get enough at-bats to qualify? I'd say it's 50/50. I'm going to say probably not, so that's two. Scheppers isn't going to get 50 innings in 2010, so he is three. Profar is four, but if he's No. 2 or No. 3 I wouldn't be shocked. After that, I'll say Gutierrez -- if he holds up. If he can focus on baseball, he has the talent to be No. 5.
Q: What type of player can Miguel Velazquez become?
Goldstein: He's a guy who could really jump up the list next season. He could become a very classic prototypical corner outfielder that hits for average and for power. He just needs to make up for lost time and have a good start. He can't really afford a setback on the field or off the field. He's a guy who, unlike Gutierrez, people feel confident that the things he did off the field are behind him. I don't think the Rangers are going to waste a lot of time with him. If he's in Hickory mashing, they will probably just throw him in [High-A] Bakersfield for the second half to get him back on the developmental track. Here is a guy, on a talent level, that can take a big step forward on the baseball field.
Q: Is 2010 the year Engel Beltre either figures out how to turn his tools into baseball skills or flames out?
Goldstein: Oh, yeah. He's obviously still very young and you have to think he repeats Bakersfield this season (where he will still be quite young for the California League), but he has to start making adjustments. The most frustrating thing about Beltre's season, besides the numbers stinking, was that he would fall back into the same crap; he is very stubborn. He has a weird make-up. He knows he's talented and he knows he's good, but he needs some humility. He needs to learn how to play smart, especially at the plate. He has all the talent in the world, but he isn't going to make it unless he starts making adjustments and playing smarter. Period.
Q: Is Vin DiFazio a legit sleeper prospect, or an organizational guy who had a good offensive season against inferior competition?
Goldstein: He's a keep your eye on guy, but he certainly didn't sniff my list.
Q: Why do you hate Elvis Andrus so much? Seriously, what do you have to say to Rangers fans that think Elvis was robbed for the Rookie of the Year Award, or that he could still turn into a Hanley Ramirez-esque hitter? Let them have it.
Goldstein: Elvis Andrus didn't have a good year last year. He barely put up a .700 OPS last year. If you still think he's going to be good, that's one thing. If you think he was good last year, especially at the plate, he wasn't. Anyone who thinks Elvis is going to be a Hanley Ramirez type is in serious need of psychological counseling. Seriously? That's a joke. Look, he's going to be a plus to plus-plus defender and hit .290 to .300; that's a helluva player. That's a helluva player. He's not Hanley Ramirez or anything close. Please.
Q: Is Blake Beavan a major league pitcher? What happened to his stuff?
Goldstein: Here's what happened to Beavan: Blake Beavan was drafted as a classic Texan monster; a big nasty kid that throws hard. His delivery in high school was really ugly. It was Afghanistan violent. The Rangers had to clean it up because there was no way he wasn't going to break. They cleaned him up and they smoothed him out, but it doesn't work. That's always a risk you take. Often you can clean a guy up and he will only lose a couple of ticks, but Beavan lost 6-7 ticks and his slider is flat and single plane. Now all he can do is throw strikes and he has a decent change-up. I can see him as a long-reliever who can throw strikes, but that's about it.