John Sickels is the author of The Baseball Prospect Book 2005, which can be ordered through his web site. He is also the author of Bob Feller: Ace of the Greatest Generation.
John Sickels: Hey, guys. Sorry about the delay. I've spent 45 minutes stalled here with a technical problem, but everything seems to be working now. Let's start.
Bryan (Maryland): When should we expect to see Ian Stewart in the bigs?
John Sickels: Well, the Rockies have other options at third base right now, with Atkins and JEff Baker behind him. So there is no need to rush Stewart. If Ian develops as quickly as expected, he could be ready by late 2006.
DavidCrowe (Canada): How would you rank the following challenges facing Andy Sisco:
1. Youthful Immaturity
2. Wildness/Control Issues
3. Mental Flakiness
John Sickels: Issue 2: wildness/control seems to be less of an issue right now. Royals coach Guy Hansen has tweaked Sisco's mechanics, and the result has been a return to his 93-95 MPH velocity plus improved command. Issues 1 and 3 are more difficult to pin down, but word is that Sisco was very upset by the Cubs not protecting him, and reacted to it by going on a big workout kick, dropping 30 pounds, and showing a much better work ethic. We'll see if he sticks with it.
yankeehater32 (Dracut, MA): I ordered your 2005 prospect book and loved it...Do you think the two Jon's (Papelbon and Lester) in Boston will get a chance to contribute there? Or do you think that they will be trade bait for other teams. If so, what kind of interest do you think they would garner?
John Sickels: Glad you like the book. Of the Jons, Papelbon is closer to being ready, but Lester may have an ultimately higher ceiling. I could see both of them being ready for at least a cup of coffee sometime in 2006, maybe Lester in '07. Trade bait? Sure, although I'm told the Sox are high on both of them and won't give them away.
peabody56 (Israel): I'm sorry about ESPN not renewing your contract, but I love your new site. I want to know what you think of Willy Aybar and his surge in some prospect rankings (including BP)?
John Sickels: Aybar: I didn't give him a super hot grade in the book, I think it was C+. But others, including the folks here at BP, are much higher on him. In retrospect I may have underrated him, given his youth relative to the Double-A competition. He's not Joel Guzman, but he's a solid Grade B guy in retrospect, keeping in mind that Grade B is a good grade coming from me.
Ian (Princeton, NJ): What are the respective ceilings for Red Sox southpaws Mike Rozier, Thomas Hottovy and Andrew Dobies?
John Sickels: Rozier has the highest ceiling in the group, being the youngest, tallest, and hardest thrower. But he's also the least experienced, the youngest, and has the most to learn about pitching. Hottovy and Dobies are polished college guys. They were both lights-out in the NY-P league. Both could advance very quickly in a Abe Alvarez-like way.
BT (MD): I've been wondering why Corey Hart doesn't get more ink. On the heels of a successful pop music career he's now put up pretty good power/speed numbers in AA and AAA - at ages 21 and 22. The K/W needs improvement, but what do you think of his chances? Is he in the Brewers plans?
John Sickels: Well, I think you nail it right there. He's hit well against good pitching, shows both power and speed, but his plate discipline is inconsistent. He's an OF now rather than 3B, so that reduces his value somewhat, but as far as I know the Brewers do see him as part of their near future. The power and speed should carry forward, but his batting average and OBP could be erratic.
LindInMoskva (washington dc): When will Chris Nelson arrive in Colorado?
John Sickels: Way too early to say. Depends on how his glove is, if he cuts down on his strikeouts a bit, etc. His ceiling is extremely high and I like him a lot, but there is too much uncertainty for an ETA to be anything but a wild guess right now.
kurben (Alexandria, VA): Will anyone in the NL make a run at 50 homers this season?
John Sickels: Maybe Adam Dunn. No one else.
Cris E (St Paul, MN): Are you Irish? How'd you get roped into this gig on a holiday of this importance?
John Sickels: There is a little Irish in me...I'm typical North American/Northern European immigrant mongrel on my dad's side...Dutch, Scotch, Irish, British, German. Arabic and Greek on my mon's side.
Brian (Los Angeles): Hi John. Is Anthony Reyes anywhere close to major-league ready should the Cards need him this season?
John Sickels: yes, I think he is close. IF healthy. Health has always been the question for him.
misterjohnny (El Segundo, CA): What do you think about John Baker, the catcher in the A's system?
John Sickels: He can hit pretty well, but his defense is questionable. He blocks the plate well and can handle the pitchers OK, but his throwing needs a lot of work. At least from when I have seen him. Looks destined to be a reserve I think.
danturner (Ottawa, Canada): Luis Terrero is often called a five-tool player, but it didn't take righthanded pitchers long to find holes in his swing last year. And he's no spring chicken. From what you see, is he ever going to stabilize as a hitter?
John Sickels: Terrero might get a little better. And he might have one surprisingly good season, say at age 28 or something. But I don't think he will be a consistent performer. He could be Danny Bautista perhaps.
steve S (Davis, CA): John, you seem to rank Matt Cain, relative to other RHP prospects, lower than most other analysts have ranked him. Why? Is it for a reason(s) other than his elbow stress fracture in 2003?
John Sickels: The elbow problem certainly factors in. Also, his K/BB ratio was below average in Double-A last year. I love his ceiling, and I gave him an A- in my book, which is a high grade for a pitcher, so it's not like I underrate him.
JP Mouton (Auburn, AL): It is the opinion of many saber minded Braves fans that Andy Marte should be switched to SS so that he can be promoted around midseason and allow the Braves to move Furcal(and not pay him the ridiculous contract he will be getting pretty soon). Though the Braves would probably not do this, could Andy be a slightly below average SS in the majors right now?
John Sickels: Hmmm...that's an interesting idea. Marte certainly has the arm for shortstop, and his hands are pretty good. But his lower half has thickened up a bit, and his range would be an issue.
I think I'd rather leave him at third base and try to find another solution at SS.
dietzcx (Boston): You recently gave Hanley Ramirez a grade A- in your book... Don't get me wrong, I think he is a good prospect from looking at his numbers, but why so high?
John Sickels: Age: he was only 20 last year, he made big improvements compared to previous seasons, and dominated in Double-A. Given a normal age/development curve he should be excellent.
Hal_10000 (Baltimore): Can the Jayhawks go all the way this year? Also, is there any hope for Mr. Francis in Colorado's thin air? Jason Jennings started out pretty good but has regressed. I have my doubts that the Rockies will EVER develop a great pitcher.
John Sickels: The Hawks are in a tough bracket...I felt a lot more confident about their chances two months ago. If they pull it off they will certainly deserve it...the path will not be easy.
I love Francis on his own terms as a prospect and rate him accordingly, but no, I don't think there is any hope for him, or anyone else, in Colorado for the long term. It will get to him eventually, just like it has gotten to everyone else not named Steve Reed.
Steve (Baltimore): Although spring training is a small sample, are there any prospects you feel more comfortable about after 24 ABs?
Also care to rant about Senator Bunnings testimony today?
John Sickels: Well, Gabe Gross sure looks good! He went on a tear immediately after I wrote that i was starting to lose hope in him.
I haven't watched the steroid testimony. I have enough contempt for Congress as it is.
Dave (Savannah, GA): John, not including Daric Barton(or other guys who had excellent years in 04), who do you think could have a huge breakout year at the plate from the 03 draft? I'm thinking along the lines of Nick Markakis, Chris Lubanski, or Brandon Wood...with possible sleeper picks of Johnny Woodard (Twins) or Edgardo Baez (Exp, er, Nationals)...
John Sickels: Lubanski could put up some stunning numbers in High Desert. . .without really improving as a prospect. The hot air there will help his numbers a lot, but it also may result in him getting into some bad habits.
I think Markakis and Wood are better candidates for genuine improvement. I'm a big fan of Wood in particular, who I think underachieved a bit last season.
Woodard and Baez have raw power but a lot of questions about their ability to make contact against advanced pitching.
Rik7366 (Great American BP): With Edwin Encarnacion hitting very well this spring and maybe being the best option for the Reds at third immediately,does he really need any time in Louisville. Is he ready to man the hot corner in the majors all year this year?
John Sickels: Well, given that he has no experience at all in Triple-A, I think he could use at least 60 games there, to polish up his defense and put the finishing touches on his swing, which can get away from him at times. But I'm notably conservative with promoting most young players. . .I think they all need a good dose of Triple-A.
Saturnino Orestes Armas Minoso Arrieta (The minors, for too long): Matt Bush. Even if you like him as a prospect, how bad was the process?
John Sickels: Ugh. It's too early to give up on Bush, but he was really bad in rookie ball. That could end up being one of the worst number one picks in history. I know they were worried about affordability, but there were other guys with not-horrible price tags who would have made much better picks. . .Nelson, even Thomas Diamond or Jeremy Sowers if you are willing to settle for a college bargain pitcher.
ScotMartin (Bedford, TX): Can Adrian Gonzalez or Jason Botts be an effective DH right now for the Rangers?
John Sickels: Well, a lot of Gonzalez' value is in his defense, and he's not a huge home run guy, so making him the DH wouldn't make a ton of sense. Botts has more power and is better suited for the role. Of course, he has no experience above Double-A, so that increases the risk. I think I could see giving Botts the job, sticking him fairly low in the batting order to keep some pressure off. IF he handles it, great, if he doesn't, you can send him down in late May and find a DH somewhere else.
lawman04 (New York): Is Woody Williams worth $8 in NL only leagues? His numbers over the last three years are on steady decline and he's turning 39 this year! I don't care how big PetCo is - should I not keep him at $8 and use that money towards a Hudson, Pedro, Mulder, Oswalt in the upcoming draft?
John Sickels: I'm not a big roto guy, but that seems like a lot of money for an old guy. I'd rather invest in someone younger, but I'm a prospect/young player hound.
John (Baltimore): BP has an interesting article on the Orioles draft -- indicating they were using some bad psychological model. I haven't heard much about this. What's your take? They certaintly seem to do a poor job drafting in any case.
John Sickels: I've heard a lot of rumors about this, but I don't know enough about psychological modeling to know if what the Orioles are doing makes sense or not, or if the basic idea is sound but the execution poor. I'd say that the bigger problem involves cheapskateness and just bad farm system decision-making. I know most teams consider player "makeup" and confidence. I don't know if you can measure these things with a test.
Ted (Charlottesville): Why are the D-rays so eager to rush their prospects to the majors? Are they really that hot on chasing down third place? ON a more general note, is a player better off being pushed hard or allowed to progress steadily?
John Sickels: Well, remember this is the same team that had Wade Boggs and Fred McGriff and Ted Uhlaender in the lineup at the beginning. I'd rather have a team of interesting young players than a bunch of old farts if you're not contending.
The problem I see for the Rays is that if they push these guys too fast, they risk burning up the arbitration/free agent clock before the players are ready to truly thrive.
As for the general note, it honestly depends on the player. There are some guys who benefit from being pushed, and there are others who need to be handled and nurtured. It's a case-by-case thing, every player is different. That's probably the toughest thing that farm directors have to do, deciding how players need to be handled psychologically. One size does not fit all when the human psyche is concerned.
RonD (South Bend): Can you settle a debate? If you were the Reds GM, would you take a trade of Pena for Hinkley?
John Sickels: Straight up? No. For Hinckley and another prospect maybe, depending on who that is.
RCCook (Dallas TX): Which one of the Rangers' middle infield prospects- Ian Kinsler or Joaquin Arias- do you think has the brighter future?
John Sickels: Well, I have seen both of these guys. Arias is flashier, more athletic, "quicker". He also makes more sloppy plays and silly mistakes. At the plate, they both have bat speed, but Kinsler has much better command of the strike zone, and has a quieter, more controlled approach to the ball. Arias has a higher physical ceiling, in the sense of the player he COULD become, while Kinsler is more polished, less likely to flame out on you, but also less likely to unexpectedly turn into a star. Kinsler is a safer bet I think, but Arias is still young enough to pass him.
hayduke (colorado springs): Lots of top minor leaguers gone in my NL keeper league, but lots left, too. For long-term potential, how would you rank the following:
John Sickels: First, you have to seperate the pitcher from the hitter...they are not comparable.
LONG-TERM ceiling and potential, I'd rate it Guzman, Milledge, Nelson, Quentin.
SHORT-TERM impact, I'd go Quentin, Guzman, Milledge, Nelson.
LEAST-LIKELY to fail, I'd say Quentin.
MOST-LIKELY to become a superstar, accounting for increased risk of failure, Guzman.
Carlito (Fullerton): I've been watching Ricky Romero pitch lights out so far, is he really improving his draft stock or do you see him as an end of the 1st round early 2nd round pick in the June draft?
John Sickels: Last question:
I don't want to make draft predictions in mid-March, but Romero has been highly impressive and has pushed himself up the draft lists. I'd say that one of the stat-oriented organizations could pop him as early as the middle of the first round if he keeps pitching like this.
John Sickels: Guys, thanks for all the questions. Sorry about the late start, but we still ran for an hour! Please check my new website www.minorleagueball.com when you can. Thanks to everyone here at BP for this opportunity.