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Thursday, January 19, 2012

IIATMS: Jim Callis of Baseball America Talks Yankees Prospects

(checks fine print for Calvin Riggar update)

CB:  Manny Banuelos and Dellin Betances are two of the brightest and most highly sought after pitching prospects in the Yankee system.  While they each miss a lot of bats and generate big strikeout numbers; both have exhibited difficulties in limiting walks.  After watching each struggle with their command in 2011, are you still projecting both pitchers to be top of the rotation starters?

JC:  I don’t think I’ve ever projected Betances as a frontline starter. That may be his ceiling, but given his slow development path and still less-than-stellar command, I’ve suspected for a while that he’s going to end up as a reliever. I still see Banuelos as a starter, however, but again, I don’t think I’ve ever called him a No. 1 starter. He’s a No. 2 or 3 if everything comes together.

CB:  After being listed as Baseball America ’s 108th best prospect prior to the 2011 amateur draft, the Yankees selected Dante Bichette, Jr. with the 51st pick.  He signed quickly and promptly set the Gulf Coast League afire hitting .342/.446/.505 and winning league MVP honors.  Looking back, do you think your initial evaluation was accurate?  If not, what has changed?

JC:  Our initial evaluation was based in part about suspicions that he’ll eventually wind up in the outfield. If he can stay at third base, and the Yankees think he can, then he’ll have more value. Bichette has boosted his stock since the draft with his strong debut and his initial play at third base.

Repoz Posted: January 19, 2012 at 05:13 AM | 18 comment(s) Login to Bookmark
  Tags: minor leagues, prospect reports, scouting, yankees

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   1. mswift Posted: January 19, 2012 at 08:26 AM (#4040066)
JC: Our initial evaluation was based in part about suspicions that he’ll eventually wind up in the outfield. If he can stay at third base, and the Yankees think he can, then he’ll have more value.


Would it kill Callis to admit that they were obviously wrong with their ranking ?
   2. Jose Is The Most Absurd Thing on the Site Posted: January 19, 2012 at 08:39 AM (#4040072)
Would it kill Callis to admit that they were obviously wrong with their ranking ?


I don't think 54 games of rookie ball is exactly proof that they were wrong. Beyond that as a reader I find Callis' answer a lot more interesting than "oops." He explains what their thought process was and then explains why that thought process could have been wrong.

On a more general subject, how much difference is there perceived to be between 51 and 108? Obviously there should be some difference there but I wouldn't expect it to be as big a difference as the numbers alone suggest. I mean, just as a point of reference just 12 of the 47 players drafted 51st have made it to the Majors. Only one has more than 10 WAR (new HoF Larkin). Looking at players drafted 108th exactly the same number, 12 of 47, have made it to the Majors though without any stars (Billy Koch at 6 WAR is #1).
   3. mswift Posted: January 19, 2012 at 09:04 AM (#4040082)
Basically, Callis is saying: If we had known Bichette could play third base like this, we would have ranked him higher.

I don't think there is any shame in admitting when you're wrong. It's impossible for an organization like BA, BP, ESPN to get a ranking right of all draft-elegible players, there are simply way too many players out there.
But whenever someone of BA, BP and also of course Keith Law is challenged about an earlier assessment of a player, you won't hear oops, but bogus explanations how completely different the player in question now is.

   4. Pasta-diving Jeter (jmac66) Posted: January 19, 2012 at 09:16 AM (#4040085)
I believe Harry Truman is the one that said "An expert is someone who is afraid to learn anything new because then they wouldn't be an expert anymore"
   5. Jose Is The Most Absurd Thing on the Site Posted: January 19, 2012 at 09:28 AM (#4040091)
Except I don't think Callis is convinced Bichette will remain at third base. I mean, it's fine to want Callis to say "oops" for everyone he gets wrong but Bichette played 54 games at the lowest level of the minors and is 18 years old. I don't think Callis or anyone should be saying "oops" yet anymore than they should be taking a victory lap for a talented player who has success over a short term.

I'm all for roughing up media when they deserve it but this feels like a game of "gotcha!" when the game isn't even 1/4th over.
   6. philly Posted: January 19, 2012 at 09:37 AM (#4040096)
On a more general subject, how much difference is there perceived to be between 51 and 108? Obviously there should be some difference there but I wouldn't expect it to be as big a difference as the numbers alone suggest.


That's pretty much correct. When I looked at draft slot returns it's pretty clear that MLB as an industry has a hard time making granular distinctions between amatuer players. The #1 slot looks very different from the rest. But #2 to ~15 are roughly the same. ~#15 to ~35 are roughly the same. And ~#35 to ~110 are roughly the same.

If MLB can't tell the difference I don't think there's much shame in the fact that BA can't tell the difference. As long as two players are within the same basic talent tier, the most accurate answer to why this good player was ranked lower than that bad player in the draft or prospect rankings is that projecting talent is really hard and nobody has the demonstrated ability to make those kinds of fine distinctions within talent tiers.

It's a boring answer and it's more fun to slag the writers and teams that make mistakes, but boring is often true.
   7. mswift Posted: January 19, 2012 at 10:25 AM (#4040126)
Callis writes:

Bichette has boosted his stock since the draft with his strong debut and his initial play at third base.


Translation: Bichette should rank higher than 108.

My point is not that BA are idiots because they didn't rank him higher. As I said, it's impossible to rank all the draft eligible players accurately. Also please don't get hung up on Bichette Jr.
This article reminded me that I've yet to see a 'my bad' from someone of this industry.
   8. Randy Jones Posted: January 19, 2012 at 10:31 AM (#4040132)
This article reminded me that I've yet to see a 'my bad' from someone of this industry.


Then you aren't paying any attention, at all.
   9. Avoid running at all times.-S. Paige Posted: January 19, 2012 at 10:37 AM (#4040140)
This article reminded me that I've yet to see a 'my bad' from someone of this industry.


I generally think Baseball America writers are less strident and less snarky with their opinions on prospects than others in the industry. For instance, I like Kevin Goldstein a lot, but he does often state things a little too strongly at times. Law can be insightful but can also be snarky. But that might be because he uses twitter sometimes to share his opinions on prospects.
   10. Jose Is The Most Absurd Thing on the Site Posted: January 19, 2012 at 10:55 AM (#4040162)
My point is not that BA are idiots because they didn't rank him higher. As I said, it's impossible to rank all the draft eligible players accurately. Also please don't get hung up on Bichette Jr.
This article reminded me that I've yet to see a 'my bad' from someone of this industry.


What purpose does that serve though? I can see it if the writer seems to be one of those who tells you what he gets right but never concedes when he is wrong but Callis doesn't strike me like that and really there are very few writers like that (at least that I read).
   11. mswift Posted: January 19, 2012 at 11:23 AM (#4040184)
What purpose does that serve though?


Intellectual honesty.

I'm not sitting at home and keeping score who got what wrong. I'd just prefer a more direct approach instead of this dancing around the question.
   12. You Know Nothing JT Snow (YR) Posted: January 19, 2012 at 11:35 AM (#4040195)
I don't see what the big deal is. Quality data on second-tier prospects has to be very sketchy, and frankly I don't think a handful of AB's in the Rookie League should be cause for hysterical re-evaluations anyhow.

Now David Cameron's evaluation of a young prospect named Robinson Cano, that's still awesome.
   13. spike Posted: January 19, 2012 at 01:12 PM (#4040308)
I'm not sitting at home and keeping score who got what wrong.

But there is no decisive information that they are wrong yet, unless you find this sample size particularly meaningful for some reason.
   14. Bug Selig Posted: January 19, 2012 at 01:26 PM (#4040337)
Would it kill Callis to admit that they were obviously wrong with their ranking ?


Your statement fits the criteria of "obviously wrong" better than the rating does.

Wrong with reference to what? Is the Gulf Coast League MVP a big deal to you? Would ranking him 10th have been better in light of that? Most would say that it wouldn't.

Are they "obviously wrong" simply for failing to guess who would be picked in what order? It is distinctly still possible that BA was right and the Yankees were wrong. Can you say with any certainty at all that someone drafted between 51st and 108th doesn't look better right now?

Is the thought that he won't stick at third "obviously wrong"? If so, egads - we better still call Miguel Cabrera a shortstop. Making it through a single short-season at one's wishcasted position means he's about 1% of the way to sticking there in the majors. Congratulations, I guess.

I am much more comfortable saying that it is "obviously wrong" to state much of anything with certainty about guys with virtually no meaningful history.
   15. Walt Davis Posted: January 19, 2012 at 03:10 PM (#4040507)
I'd just prefer a more direct approach instead of this dancing around the question.

He wasn't dancing around the question. He says "we put him 108 in large part because we didn't think he would stick at 3B." What problem do you have with that? You understand that, given equal hitting, a 3B is much more valuable than an 1B/LF/RF I assume. So you must understand that in projecting a prospect's future, what position he can handle is one of the most key elements, right? Callis tells you his "stock is on the rise" due to his _initial_ play at 3B. How much more detailed an answer to a question could you possibly hope for in a chat?

And I would guess that if you are at 3B at 18 you rarely remain at 3B when you're 23 or 25 or whatever.

Again, to reiterate what Jose and Philly (welcome back! Where were you when I needed you in all the A's drafts suck threads? :-) are saying, here are the top 51st picks in history:

Larkin 69 WAR
Frank Duffy 7 WAR
Chris Haney 3 WAR
Tom Scott <1 WAR
Dan Moroqiello <1 WAR
Barry Manuel <1 WAR

That's it for positive WAR. 6 guys. Even if Bichette really was the 51st best player available in the draft, so what? The draft has been going for 45 years now and he's got to be in the top 25% of his draft position just to see a cup of coffee. He's got to be in the top 10% to have more career value than Willie Bloomquist.

And to show the randomness of the draft, here are some top players from the 50th pick:

Eck 58 WAR
Leiter 36
Dunn 24
Brian Roberts 22
Bart Johnson 9
Joe Hesketh 8
Bo Jackson 7 (Yankees, SS, didn't sign obviously)

Drop down to #52 pick though and the best players are Carl Crawford, Ralph Garr and Ryan Sweeney.

So look across those three picks, roughly 120 players who've had time to make an impact, and you get 24 guys who produced positive WAR (and counting obviously), 12 guys who produced 6+ WAR ... and 2 HoFers. So a 20% chance of doing something useful, a 10% chance of being a good bench/poor starter for a few years, and a 1.6% chance of making the HoF. The equivalent numbers for picks 107-109 are 17, 7 and 1 HoMer (Dwight Evans). You expect a mea culpa because Bichette may have "proven" himself to have a 20% chance, not a 15% chance, of producing positive WAR?

In fairness, despite Larkin's presence, the 51st and 52nd picks are a couple of the worst in that cluster of picks (a fair number of 20-ish WAR players in neighboring rounds). But oddly enough, so are #107 and 108 (you add Bagwell, Raines and Stieb if you extend out a little more).

Now, a quick WAR quiz. Brandon Inge and Brandon Phillips were both #57 picks. Which one has more career WAR?
   16. Walt Davis Posted: January 19, 2012 at 03:33 PM (#4040551)
If you want to dump on the "prospect industry" -- and I sometimes do -- dump on them using Philly's ammo. Nobody -- not BA, not scouts, not supposed stat geniuses -- can really tell the difference between #51, #81, #156. And even to the extent they can, there is so much that has to go right after they're drafted/signed that it's still a crapshoot.

I brought this up earlier this offseason.

Albert Pujols.

Pujols was drafted in the 13th round in 1999 out of JC.

1.5 years later, Pujols was putting up a 157 OPS+ in the majors.

The 13th round. The 402nd pick. Possibly the second-greatest hitter of the last 50 years.

At the age of 19, nobody even thought Pujols had a legit shot at making the major leagues. Sure, fine, nobody knew he'd become possibly the second-greatest hitter of the last 50 years but there's a long way between that and 402nd pick. Nobody looked at him and even thought "he's got a legit shot to be a league-average 3B" because guys like that get drafted a lot sooner than 402nd -- they go somewhere around 51st to 108th.

It wasn't any brilliant insight by the Cards either. Their picks before Pujols:

Chance Caple, Nick Stocks, Chris Duncan, Josh Pearce, Brent Cook, Ben Johnson, Jimmy Journell, Charlie Williams, Josh Teekel, Coco Crisp (!), Shawn Schumaker, Damon Thames, Kevin Sprague, Aaron Davidson and Brent Spooner.

And it's not like he was a guy the Cards "developed." Again, just 1.5 years after being drafted he was hitting a 157 OPS+. And he didn't even play in the minors in his age 19 season.

People made fun of LaSorda for going to the Dominican and walking out with Wilton Guerrero instead of Vlad Guerrero. That was a bad miss by a few guys. Pujols was a much bigger miss by every single organization in baseball and every single prospect ranker outside of baseball.
   17. Mike Emeigh Posted: January 19, 2012 at 09:33 PM (#4040848)
When I looked at draft slot returns it's pretty clear that MLB as an industry has a hard time making granular distinctions between amatuer players.


In part, that's because considerations other than "best player available" have gone into making upper-round draft selections. In 2006, for example, the Royals took Hochevar #1, the Rockies took Greg Reynolds #2, and the Pirates took Brad Lincoln #4. All three of those decisions were based on something other than "best player available"; none of the pitchers were head and shoulders above the others. In fairness, Andrew Miller was probably the most highly-rated pitcher before that draft, and Tim Lincecum, who was clearly the best pitcher out of that draft, was downgraded because of concerns about his size and mechanics. But the differences between the three pitchers who went in the top 4 and someone like Lincecum, Brandon Morrow (who went #5), Clayton Kershaw (#7 to LA) or Max Scherzer, who went #11 to Arizona, weren't even huge at the time - Scherzer was downgraded in part because of doubts he'd sign. Ian Kennedy, who went #21 to the Yankees, was considered top-10 material, and dropped because of signability concerns as well.

Then you get situations where teams draft for perceived need, or focus on mimimizing downside risk, and pass on a clearly better player or one with more upside. That doesn't mean that they misevaluated the player, they just didn't think they could afford to be wrong. That comes into play more often than you might think; some teams (i.e. Pittsburgh under Dave Littlefield) would prefer to pass up a chance to hit big because they're afraid of what will happen if they miss big.

-- MWE
   18. drdr Posted: January 20, 2012 at 02:46 AM (#4040953)
Kennedy was bad that season, his stock fell even without signability issues. He went that spring from possible top pick to late first-round pick purely on performance.

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