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Chat: Zachary Levine

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Welcome to Baseball Prospectus' Tuesday May 28, 2013 1:00 PM ET chat session with Zachary Levine.

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Instead of asking the Astros questions, Zachary answers yours.

Zachary Levine: Live from the 518, where we're 20 days away from the New York Penn League season, 52 days from the Saratoga Racecourse season and got two feet of snow in some parts last week, let's chat.

Ben (Twitter ): If you were given the choice between accepting the Astros-Rockie as interleague rivals or contracting an STD, which would be your choice?

Zachary Levine: This isn't the most offensive rivalry matchup we have. I'd give that one to Toronto-Atlanta, which could not be more different if one were on Saturn.

Stephen (DC): How long do you think Josh Rutledge will be banished to AAA?

Zachary Levine: I don't think that it's so clearly his job that they need to rush him back up. It's not like with him and Lemahieu you have a 24-year-old and a 34-year-old. They're both young. The encouraging thing, I think, about Rutledge is that he's not hitting at home, which would give me some hope.

James (Morgantown): As a Pirates fan, I am thrilled but not surprised at the emergence of Tyler Glasnow and Nick Kingham. With the two of them along with Cole/Taillon and Luis Heredia, is there any other team that can match the Pirates impact pitching in the minors?

Zachary Levine: A ton of Pirates questions on here already from both Pittsburgh and West Virginia, and I think it's a good time to say I was probably too low on Pittsburgh in terms of their future. I wrote in the beginning that they were in danger of wasting McCutchen's prime, and while that's still true, I'm encouraged by their start and the performance of some of the young players. The key will be whether they'll need to pay full price to fill holes in the rotation after Wandy/Burnett leave since they got them on discounts in trades.

If those guys can form a rotation, then the Pirates are in terrific shape going forward. That's probably more a question for our prospects guys - I'd think the Cardinals are up there too.

But the Pirates have done a really good job taking care of business in a stretch of schedule with lots of Brewers, Cubs and Astros in it. The next stretch is critical with the Tigers, Reds and Braves, but they could emerge from that in position to give Pittsburgh a fun summer.

Truman (Seahaven): Is there any baseball-related skill at which you think you are better than any current major leaguer, and if so, what is it and who is it?

Zachary Levine: I am not very good at baseball and have a bad throwing shoulder, so I couldn't even say I'd hit better than the worst hitting pitchers or throw better than the weakest first baseman. I am faster than some major leaguers though. I watched Jose Molina saunter out a double the other day, and I am decidedly faster than he is.

Is it mean to say that today I could throw harder than Jonny Venters? Get well Jonny :(

Beachpig (Twitter): Do you foresee the emergence of any new stat that will encompass a better all around assessment of hitter or pitchers?

Zachary Levine: I think it would be just more knowledge of a statistic that is proprietary now if it ever goes public.

Mark Ferrin and Jason Parks discussed on their last episode of Fringe Average the HITf/x data with exit velocities that should really help teams establish who is making good contact to see beyond the traditional results-based metrics.

Ben (Louisiana): Does your calendar have Jon Singleton Day written in today's square?

Zachary Levine: Happy Jon Singleton Day. I ordered you a gift, but my guy down on the corner of State Street didn't come through for me, so please take a rain check.

Seriously, I hope MLB/MiLB gets out of the business of suspensions for recreational drugs and leaves that up to the employer. And I'm excited to see what Singleton can do. It wouldn't surprise me at all to see him in September or sooner if he didn't lose anything with the missed time and they can somehow build up some Carlos Pena trade value.

Steve (STL): Do the cardinals just have a never ending supply of quality starting pitchers they can call up? 3 new guys plus Carlos Martinez who will start again in AAA. Is this insane??

Zachary Levine: When Ned Yost said there was no third baseman tree, Johnny Mo got awfully nervous that people would start snooping around for his pitcher tree.

The best part for St. Louis is that all this pitching depth made it so possible for the Adam Wainwright extension to look like a mistake. That you'd not only have to pay him, but you'd force him into the rotation over more deserving guys based on the fact that you did pay him. But internal scouting is one of the most important kinds of scouting, and the Cardinals appear so far to be right on how Wainwright would age.

BobcatBaseball (Athens, OH): Is it a given that either Mark Appel or Jonathan Gray go first overall to the Astros?

Zachary Levine: No. If it's a guarantee in the scouting community that whoever doesn't go first goes second, then they can't play them like they played Carlos Correa last year. That situation worked because if Correa wasn't going first, he was going much later, so they could get him to sign well under slot, knowing it would be more than he'd get in the late top 10.

I have no knowledge that they'd do that again, but if they want to go under slot early and over slot late like last year, you'd want more of a darkhorse. The Houston beat guys, Brian McTaggart and Brian Smith, have mentioned several other options, and how much of Jim Crane reportedly scouting Moran was a decoy or whatever, I'm not sure.

James (Morgantown): I am keeping modest expectations for Stetson Allie. It is a neat story for sure, but his K rate is pretty scary and he is old for his level. The power is very real, however. Is a lefty mashing platoon guy pretty much his ceiling? Or with a lot of work, do you see him being able to be an everyday player at first base one day?

Zachary Levine: I'm more in the camp of old for his level and not facing a lot of quality sequencing and breaking stuff yet. If lefty mashing platoon guy is his ceiling, a major leaguer who produces some value is still an OK payoff given how low draft bonuses and minor league salaries are.

That said, there are few places I'd less want a right-handed power hitter than PNC Park. He probably has less value there than almost anywhere else, but that's a good problem to have if he can survive even the Florida State League.

Charlie (Teesdale): It seems we are getting to the call-up portion of the year. Nick Franklin, being one. Long term is he a 15/15/.280 guy? Too lofty goals or is there more upside?

Zachary Levine: I assume that's HR/SB/BA? If so, I think home runs is the most ambitious part of that. Safeco is still not a wonderful place to hit. The others seem pretty reasonable. His reduction in strikeouts has been the best part of a very good start to 2013 and should help keep the batting average.

James (Morgantown): If you were to tell a minor league prospect nut that there is one guy he has to see right now, who would it be? Buxton? What he's doing is ridiculous!

Zachary Levine: He'd be in my top 5. I'd still love to see Billy Hamilton in person even if the projections on him as a major leaguer have been tempered a little bit. Oscar Tavares, Miguel Sano and maybe Dylan Bundy would be the others.

Rick (Seattle): How do you think this Ackley/Franklin situation ends up this season? Will Ackley be back up? Will Franklin also struggle and go back down?

Zachary Levine: If Ackley hits, then trade Ryan to a team that values his defense, put Ackley at second and move Franklin over to short?

Or put Michael Morse at short, what do I care? It's not a team that's made too many moves with defense in mind over the last 365 days.

Sam M. (Long Beach): I'm not saying you're wrong, but I've clocked Jose Molina at 4.6 second to first, which is slow for an athlete but a half second faster than I can do from the right side. (And yes, I just went outside and timed myself.) I think we underestimate how fast even the slowest catchers run.

Zachary Levine: I just ate or I'd do the same. And I'd never stand in the right-handed batter's box. That's a bad place not meant for my people.

Just curious, when you do it, do you simulate a swing and then take off? I love when guys have to do that in spring training drills. They're always trying to one-up each other on their level of disinterest in faking a swing.

Charlie (Teesdale): Are high school/college players better adapted for the majors now than in the past? It seems top players don't need much time in the minors any more.

Zachary Levine: Hard to say because both levels have moved. The amateur levels are much better than in the past because of the level of instruction in a player's teens, but it's also more ambitious to get ready for the majors where the pitchers' stuff is better than ever and the league's collective readiness to see a new player is better than ever.

Probably the top players are more prepared, though, overall.

Ben (Louisiana): George Springer's strikeouts numbers are pretty horrid. Getting him to understand circumstances which lead to certain approaches and pitchers progressions will be the key to him progressing on to the major league level, IMHO.. But, with that said, how scared should we be of his inability to lower them to this point?

Zachary Levine: Definitely nervous. It's a really high rate, 60 in 210 plate appearances this year. But it's still a package of skills that I really like with that flaw. When he makes contact, it's still better contact than almost any hitter in the minors.

MR.BASEBALL (DETROIT): WHAT ARE YOUR THOUGHTS ON NICK CASTELLANOS?

Zachary Levine: The train has slowed a little bit, but I would consider age when I think about him. He's a 21-year-old in the International League, which is a really tough place to be, so .261/.336/.424 is still on the scale of awesome. The question is how the Tigers plan to handle the lower end of the defensive spectrum over the next few years. If they decide Miguel Cabrera can't really play third, who goes to first and who goes to DH?

Sam M. (Long Beach): I simulated a full swing, because my only interest is scientific accuracy.

Zachary Levine: I should have expected nothing less.

James (Morgantown): If Bud Norris continues his so-so performance up until the trade deadline, do you think the Astros trade him for whatever they can get or just hold him. I mean guys who can throw 200 innings are valuable for any team. The Astros need those innings pretty badly. What do you think they should do if a top 100 prospect or something of similar value could not be had for him?

Zachary Levine: I still think they move him given where he is in the salary structure, and the part that would scare me if I'm another team is his inability to pitch away from Minute Maid Park. He's terrific at home, but I don't think I ever got anybody to put a finger on why his numbers were so much worse on the road.

Not Ben (Twitter, Louisiana): Most dissapointing prospect so far?

Zachary Levine: Non-injury division? Maybe Wil Myers. That's probably the answer to a different question, because there are others who have been worse compared to their expectation. I just figured that the combination of Myers plus a really bad outfield at the major league level in Tampa Bay would make it so that it was a daily story that Myers wasn't being called up yet. It certainly hasn't been.

comish4lif (Alex., VA): How's Dahl been looking since his return to the minors? Maturity back to the expecte level?

Zachary Levine: Really, really small sample. He's only played 10 games and I haven't really heard anything. I wouldn't worry about maturity issues at 18 especially if they don't reach the level of criminality.

wobbly (NYC, NY): How much of what Didi Gregorious is doing sticks going forward?

Zachary Levine: He makes a ton of contact, which will always keep him away from the extremes, so I consider this an absolute ceiling. The BABIP of .364 is unsustainable. But I think seasons like Jeff Keppinger's 2013 are exceptions for contact hitters, and he'll never really crater either.

So I guess the answer is most of the skill set, the occasional power but not this much production over any long-term period.

Rick Ankiel (Queens): Why didn't the Astros just keep me around for all my vibes?

Zachary Levine: Hey Rick, thanks for the call. I watched you in Queens the other day and you got three hits in the field of play. Even Three True Outcomes need a break from those outcomes every once in a while.

And yeah, I thought he was a guy who still had a shot to be reasonably productive for the Astros but I don't think there was much lost.

Sean (NY): Does Noah Syndergaard have "Ace" potential? Is Rafael Montero a Top 100 prospect in baseball?

Zachary Levine: You should ask this to one of our prospect guys in the chat because those tiers "ace" or "top 100" etc. aren't really my lingo. I'd be very happy about both guys' seasons, especially Montero's strikeouts as he made a really big jump in the level of hitters he was facing at AA/AAA compared to high A.

Alex (Anaheim): Do you see all of baseball adopting the DH at some point?

Zachary Levine: Yes I do. Not looking forward to it, but I do and I won't get that upset.

Martin (Houston): What players and positions should the Astros be targeting in the next draft?

Zachary Levine: The fact that the strength of the draft is college pitching would make me say college pitching, but nothing about the organization. It's a bad way to go at 1-1 or really anywhere in the first several rounds to look at anything beyond best player (or player/price combination) available. Even if they were sure Carlos Correa wouldn't stick at shortstop, I still wouldn't be against a third baseman because prospects are tradeable.

comish4lif (Alex., VA): Saw Hamilton in dayton 2 summers ago - he is silly fast. And was rough at SS.

Zachary Levine: Center field just with the nature of the position should reward guys with raw speed but not so much in the way of other defensive skills. I'm curious as to what the long-term future of the Reds outfield looks like if they extend Choo. I'd imagine the open position becomes center field with Choo or Bruce going to left and the other to right, so it's Hamilton's to gain if he can improve on the .316 on-base percentage at Triple-A.

James (Morgantown): Do you think Robbie Grossman holds down a starting spot as part of the Astros future? I hated to lose him, although it was worth it to get Wandy. He doesn't do anything great except draw walks, but there may be room for growth.

Zachary Levine: Guys who have no power but do walk a lot really fascinate me. The Angels have a more extreme case in J.B. Shuck who became somewhat of a curiosity to me when he was coming up through the minors. If we think of it as a straight theoretical game theory problem where pitchers pick spots to throw to and hitters swing or don't swing, there's no reason ever to walk Shuck (or Grossman). They're not going to make you pay with home runs. Yet pitchers are imprecise enough and they're discerning enough that they make it work.

And no, I don't see much of a future for Grossman.

Ben (Louisiana): Do you enjoy tacos?

Zachary Levine: I am not much of a meat eater, but yes, I enjoy tacos. Cactus tacos are terrific. Is this like one of those Howard Stern references I don't get?

James (Morgantown): Seems like the M's are finally holding their struggling super prospects accountable. Do you think Justin Smoak is sweating a little bit right now?

Zachary Levine: Yep, the Mariners have an entire roster of 1B/DHs especially after converting Jesus Montero to yet another one.

He's very frustrating because just when he seems to have figured out how to get on base, the power hasn't been there.

Jim (Boston): Xander Bogaerts seems to have good but not great stats at Portland this year. What do you think of his season so far and where will he start the 2014 season?

Zachary Levine: 20 in the Eastern League, like a lot of the subjects of questions today, isn't easy either. I think 2014 starts with some discussion about whether he's ready for opening day in Boston assuming his shortstop defense continues to be adequate to keep him there. It may also start with a service time delay, but I'd expect to see him sometime in 2014.

By the way, Jackie Bradley Jr. is hitting .360/.461/.547 since being sent down to Triple-A.

R.J. (San Diego): Any reason to think Trevor Rosenthal would not succeed as starting pitcher if the Cards decided to stretch him out next spring?

Zachary Levine: I mean, I can think of one big reason if you were worried about what major league hitters would do to a guy whose main attribute is velocity and who now needs to pitch with less of it. So I don't think he'd keep up any of the same whiff rates or strikeout rates or anything, but he could fit in. The luxury the Cardinals have is so much young starting pitching that they should be able to make that decision not in a vacuum but with consideration to where everybody else fits in.

stephen (texas): first of all was sad when you quit blogging in for the astros though i swear you blogged for the rockets to. anyway when will astros call up cosart or wojc or villar or someone to stop the bleeding and can we fire brocail already?

Zachary Levine: Thank you. I did a little Rockets stuff, but not much since I had to check with my editor to make sure there were only four innings in a pro basketball game. Those are three very different questions on the three players, and I would definitely say Cosart is the one I'd expect to see first.

Not sure what firing Brocail would do, but he's seen a lot of the people responsible for his hire disappear from the organization, so his chair seems a little wobbly.

DonKeji (chicago): I'm a cubs fan and im really starting to get worried about castro's future. Do you think he can ever get more selective in order to hit for more power?? or was he just not born with it

Zachary Levine: I still think Vladimir Guerrero is always going to be THE exception to this question, but it's not like his teammate Alfonso Soriano was ever super-selective and he's been a terrific power hitter even as power in the game has decreased. So there is a chance to develop power without talking walks; I'm just not convinced Castro has that kind of swing.

Rich (San Francisco): Is Jim Crane generally stable? Stable enough to own a winning team?

Zachary Levine: Yes, he's stable, but it's a different world there now. He's answering to somewhere in the neighborhood of 50 investors unless there have been shake-ups since I left town, so it's not Drayton McLane's one-man show anymore. Spending is more rigorously controlled especially with how badly the first 250 days of the TV network have gone. If anything stops them from winning when they reach a point when they're a free agent or two away, it will be too much rigidity, not too much instability.

Zachary Levine: Thanks for chatting, everybody. I really enjoyed the questions and am sorry if I didn't get to yours. I hope to do this again this month, and if you had a fantasy question or a prospect question, I encourage you to check out our chats that are specifically on those topics.


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