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January 12, 2012

Prospects Will Break Your Heart

One-on-One with Professor Parks, Part II

by Jason Parks

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Part One of this exclusive interview with Professor Parks can be found here.

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The setting remained the same as the interview shifted from the personal to the professional, with the questions on my pad leaning heavy to the talent on the baseball field and away from the behavioral sketches of the familiar stranger in front of me. The distracting soccer match had reached its intermission, with one of the united teams (presumably) doing better than the other, and I’m almost certain that the Professor who isn’t a professor was eager to participate in this process. It was time to extract some prospect prognostications from my counterpart before the chilled alcoholic beverage that was being mixed with the 1980’s favorite grapefruit soda, Squirt, further poisoned his blood and tainted this operation. He mentioned the secondary component of his beverage as often as he mentioned the united distinction of the soccer teams on the television. Some people drink Squirt for the pure pleasure of the substance, and some people drink Squirt because they are children who find the very word to represent extreme silliness. I’m convinced his enjoyment resides with the latter, as the smile that alters the shape of his lips when he repeats the name of the beverage is both immature and creepy. It suggests he buys products to make himself laugh, which makes me feel even more uncomfortable than I already am. I would never do that. We are so different.

On the pad, I see a stock question that shouldn’t ruffle his precious emotional feathers and would make a good opening salvo for the second part of this interview.

“Who is your favorite prospect? I know you enjoy talking about (and overhyping) Jorge Alfaro, but is he a prospect you can stand behind as your favorite?”

I’m going to wager that he attempts to argue the merits of the word “favorite” before finally answering the question. He likes to run a marathon in order to complete a sprint.

Professor Parks: I don’t really have a favorite prospect per se; I’m not really a fan of that classification to begin with. It suggests that I can’t be objective when faced with the task of objectivity, at least as it pertains to that specific player. It’s hard enough to be objective in this overly-subjective process without assigning labels of favoritism to certain players. That said, it’s inescapable to watch prospects and not privately cheer for some to find success over others. It’s natural. I try to avoid public comments that draw undesirable attention to this form of private cheerleading, but there are certainly players that I have a soft spot for.

This is where I continue to stare at him until he finally answers the question that I asked. He seems to know this is my objective. He looks longingly at the television, hoping for one of the united teams to spring to life to save him from my icy gaze. With my eyes, I create the mood of disappointment, which plays into his fear of disappointing others, which quickly lubricates his mouth and once again words start swirling out. I am the Lord of his deficiencies.

Professor Parks: I find myself rooting for Doobie (Odubel) Herrera, an infielder in the Texas Rangers’ system. I first saw him in 2009 on the backfields during the fall instructional league, and I’ve grown to appreciate his game and style of play each time I’ve been able to watch in person, which has to be 50-plus times at this point. He’s the type of player who shows up to the field with dirt on his uniform, as if to declare that the remnants of the infield are as much a part of his body as his physical features.

At the plate, Doobie is known to roll sans batting gloves, protected instead by the aforementioned leftover dirt and the white chalk from the batter’s box. Something about this approach triggers an aesthetic alarm and heightens your attention to his detail. He loves to make contact, but he doesn’t love to help a pitcher out of a jam: I’ve seen him lay off close pitches during B-games in March, a time when eager swinging is the norm, and intense scrutiny of the strike zone is rarely witnessed.

Once he reaches base, Herrera is a catalytic pest, a player the pitcher hates to see inching into his peripheral vision. I’m just really drawn to his game: He can play all over the infield, he can sting a ball if you make a mistake, he can run, his motor never stops, he has legit tools, and he is always wearing his effort on his outfit. Herrera will never be a star, but he projects to play at the major-league level. That would really mean something to me. Herrera was also considered a remarkable volleyball player back in Venezuela, which strikes me as awesome and silly, and I’m prone to the influence of silliness when making choices.

There’s a shock: He picked a Rangers prospect. They have a good system, and I respect the fact that he’s from the North Texas area (I was born in that area as well), but every time a window of opportunity opens to champion the team of his youth, he jumps through that window wearing his latex Rangers bodysuit and fan-boy goggles. The image of this bothers me. This should provoke his delicate sensibilities. “Do you have a Rangers bias?”

Professor Parks: I don’t have the same reaction to the game as I did when I was a kid, but my broader experiences and responsibilities haven’t erased my connection to the team. I like to use my platform, when applicable, to bring attention to the players I spend the most time watching. Thanks to my Rangers-specific prospect site, I spend a great deal of time around the team’s minor-league facility in Arizona and the prospects under that umbrella, and those observations have a tendency to spill over to my work at Baseball Prospectus. But I don’t think my opinions on other teams or other teams’ prospects are influenced by my connection to the Rangers. I think suggesting as such is a little casual and dishonest.

There he goes again, getting his back up and focusing on the attack instead of the validity of the question. I can tell he’s getting agitated, either because the questions are softballs, leaving him too much space to wiggle and wander, or because he hates what I represent. His beloved soccer match is about to tiptoe back into our lives; the players are walking back out onto the field. He tells me it’s called a pitch. Sometimes I wonder which planet I’m living on.

His gin and synthetic grapefruit cocktail has suddenly reappeared, filled to the lip of the glass with fresh supply. I’m disappointed and impressed at the same time; that’s the fourth drink I’ve seen him attempt since my arrival, and I’ve yet to see him walk to the kitchen to prepare the beverage. It’s either magic, a divine hand, or I am making the drinks for my subject and my mind is shot. I’m leaning toward a divine hand. He tells me that the flavor of the gin makes him feel closer to God. I’m ignoring his thoughts at this point.

“I want to ask you about scouting—specifically, the tools that are evaluated at the present and projected for the future. What is your favorite tool to scout? What about your least favorite?”

I’ve composed myself, although watching him sip the contents of three beverages and start on his fourth has delivered some second-hand intoxication. It’s not that I’m dizzy or persuaded to slur my words; rather, my defenses seem down, and I feel a certain willingness to care less. I can’t tell if this is his plan or mine.

Professor Parks: Good question. My favorite tool to scout in person is power. First of all, scouting power in the present is relatively easy, especially if you get to spend time watching the swing in isolation and then in game action. Based on the characteristics being shown, I can identify what a player at the minor-league level might be able to do at the major-league level if that tool was extrapolated in its current form.

Projecting power, on the other hand, is extremely difficult. You have to project the body itself, the strength, the swing, etc. Power is derivative from the hit tool, so that also comes into play when attempting to project the power; without the ability to make contact, power is nothing more than a novelty tool. I love watching low-level talent show power because the gap between the present and the future is usually quite wide, which gives you a lot to dream on in that conceptual space.

My least favorite tool is speed. Speed doesn’t require a qualified eye to evaluate, even if the grade itself goes beyond a tangible measure that can be gathered using a stopwatch and a game situation. Not to downplay the process, but most people can tell if a player is fast or slow, and it doesn’t require a great deal of debate to feel comfortable in your evaluation. I think speed gets overvalued at the minor-league level at the expense of other tools that are required for success at the major-league level. Speed is sexy and easy to spot, and when you witness elite speed on a field, it’s fun to think how that will influence the game at the highest level. But without a hit tool, you aren’t going to be at the highest level, so unless you can make enough contact to insert your speed into the offensive equation, you can have 80-grade wheels and it’s not going to matter.

Wait, did he just compliment the question? I see he is now mixing his dry gin with condescension, a cocktail of suggested superiority. I happen to agree with his answer, but I would never add that fuel to his already raging fire of intellectual satisfaction. It does make me wonder something though: How much of this is a front?  On a few occasions, I’ve listened to him on the Up and In podcast, and all I hear is slick and shtick. The show itself isn’t completely intolerable, but listening to the Professor who isn’t a professor is like listening to a recording of yourself discussing Proust or Foucault. After a while, the critique just loses its punch and the sound of the voice forms edges that cut your inner psyche into strips.

“How much of the personality you put forth on the podcast would you suggest is authentic?”

Professor Parks: Um, aren’t you the one with the podcast? I’ve never listened to it, but I was under the assumption you participated on a podcast with Baseball Prospectus’ Kevin Goldstein. Am I mistaking you for another Jason Parks?

If we weren’t already drinking, now would be the time to start. The original objective has been disregarded and replaced with his own agenda of self-promotion, and as the match on the television returns to the front of the stage, his desire to assist in my endeavor reaches its lowest level of #want. He is drinking from his glass like a child drinks from the water hose, with an obvious outdoor approach; in fact, more of his living-assisted libation has kissed my lips than his own. I’ll give him this: At least he shares. I don’t recall his proclivity to share. Selfish people are rarely known for their sharing skills. I’ve always thought of myself as a person who was willing to consider sharing. At this point, I can’t be sure.

The room smells like juniper berries and rubbing alcohol; combined with the cologne he has lacquered all over his skin—which reminds the senses of Leigh Bowery taking a bubble bath—the physical space between us is both sweet and rotten. I’m ready to return to my own existence, away from his routine and his pompous smell. I’m tempted to ask why he felt the need to alter the aromas of our surroundings. Even the “Golden Girls” would refer to this as common potpourri. It’s time to find my way off the couch and back down to normal life.

Before I exit, he informs me that I will not need his assistance to exit the entryway doors that he had previously opened through the magic of modern technology. It’s clear that once he fixates on something, it takes an act of biblical proportion to derail his efforts to annoy. After a handshake that lasted a few seconds too long and a stare that brought about memories of my own weaknesses, I stopped short of the door to ask one last question.

“Oh, meant to ask. What are working on right now? What’s the next project?”

Professor Parks: Continuing the “What Could Go Wrong Series.” I still need to finish the American League West, with the Angels and Mariners up next in the queue. I really like the Mariners’ system. They have a player worth talking about at each level. I’m also working on a “Choose Your Own Adventure” book about player development, where the reader can take a recently-drafted player and guide him through the developmental process by making all decisions regarding assignment, specifically tailored instruction, and promotion. I’m really excited about that project. What about yourself? What’s next for you?

 “Oddly enough, I’m working on the same.”  

Jason Parks is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Jason's other articles. You can contact Jason by clicking here

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