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Chat: Rany Jazayerli

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Welcome to Baseball Prospectus' Tuesday February 21, 2006 4:00 PM ET chat session with Rany Jazayerli.

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Rany Jazayerli is an author of Baseball Prospectus and co-creator of this year's Top 50 Prospects list. The list, along with extensive comments on each player, can be found in the soon-to-be-released Baseball Prospectus 2006 annual book.

Rany Jazayerli: Hey everyone. Hope you all are as excited to get your copy of Baseball Prospectus 2006 as we are - they should be shipping any day now. Let's talk about prospects.

poldytow (Waltham, MA): Hey Rany, No love for Jon Lester? How does he stack up against the other leftys on the list?

Rany Jazayerli: If there's one thing I've learned since we released our prospect list yesterday, it's this: if you diss a Red Sox prospect, you *will* hear about it.

Lester is a very good prospect. He just missed being placed on our Honorable Mention list, and if you wanted to argue that he deserved a spot, I wouldn't really disagree with you. I'm a little worried about his control, but that's a small issue. The bigger issue is that if you're a prospect in the Red Sox or Yankees systems, your primary value to your team comes from what kind of major league-ready talent you can extract in trade. Just ask Andy Marte.

Unlike Jon Papelbon and Craig Hansen, Lester will likely head back to Triple-A this year, waiting to see whether he gets a shot with the Sox or gets moved at the deadline for some needed parts. That uncertainty hurts Lester a little in our eyes.

ssimon (Pelham, NY): Rany, does BJ Upton no longer qualify as a prospect? If we granted him provisional eligibility, where would you rank him? Thanks.

Rany Jazayerli: Upton lost his rookie status in 2004, although he spent all of 2005 in the minor leagues. That's fairly unprecedented - I can't remember the last time a top prospect got enough playing time to expire his rookie eligibility one year, then failed to get called up the following year despite being healthy and productive.

We could have given him Prospect Emeritus status, much as we did with Joe Mauer the year before. As it stands, he would be a Top 5 prospect for certain if he were eligible.

(If King Felix were eligible, he might very well have broken our dictum about never ranking a pitcher #1 again. He has to be the best pitching prospect of my lifetime, and that includes Dwight Gooden.)

Robert R (Milwaukee): Chris Snelling #46 on the Top Prospects list? Considering his injury history, that calls for a lot of explanation.

Rany Jazayerli: Considering that he hit .370/.452/.553 in Triple-A last year (and Tacoma is not a great hitters park), I don't see what needs explaining. Sure, he's been injured twice since I started answering this question. But I'd much rather bet on a guy who I know can hit to figure out how to stop getting hurt, than to bet on the healthy guy who just isn't very good. PECOTA loves him, granted that PECOTA might be more forgiving of his injury history than it should be.

How many people realize that Snelling is just 24 years old? He's three months older than the White Sox' Brian Anderson, who ranks above him. Maybe Snelling won't be able to stay healthy if he's forced to take the field, but he has the bat to thrive at DH if he has to.

Quinn Lasiter (Troy, NY): Rany: It seems like Hermida has already been annoited rookie of the year. How do you think he will stand up to the pressure and extremely high expectations? Is Ryan Zimmerman more likely to be successful because he is under the radar and playing in a small market?

Rany Jazayerli: As a general rule of thumb, the preseason favorite for Rookie of the Year honors almost never wins; sometimes the player will disappoint, but most of the time the sheer number of potential candidates means that someone is likely to emerge from the field to put up a fluky season. (See Walton, Jerome; Listach, Pat; Hollandsworth, Todd.)

I think Hermida is *a* favorite, but I'm not even sure he is *the* favorite. While Hermida is definitely the better long-term player, I could see Prince Fielder taking an early lead with 8 homers in April and holding on till the end.

Zimmerman might well end up having the most value of any rookie, but the combination of a difficult hitters park and (likely) bad teammates around him gives him an uphill battle.

Aaron (Allston, MA): Mike Pelfrey and Craig Hansen seem pretty similar by all scouting accounts coming out of college. Statistically speaking Hansen had superior K numbers but he was also a reliever and from what I gather facing inferior competition. Why then was Hansen included on the top 50 (not that I disagree) while Pelfrey was exluded? Was this based on college statistics? Otherwise it seems to me the 15ish pro innings aren't exactly a difference maker...particularly when one guy is a starter and scouts are split on who is a better pitching prospect.

Rany Jazayerli: There is something to be said for the player who signed shortly after the draft and has already made his major league debut over the guy who held out for 7 months. The history of pitchers who held out for a long period of time before signing isn't pretty, from Jeff Austin to Jeff Niemann.

But that's not the reason why Hansen is listed and Pelfry is not. The reason is that collegiate relievers taken in the first round, as a group, reach the major leagues faster than any other subset of draft pick. The emergence of the elite collegiate closer has meant that in any given year, there's one or two guys who could practically go from campus to the major leagues. Hansen was in Boston, what, six weeks after he signed? Chad Cordero spent all of two months in the minor leagues. Huston Street didn't get called up in September 2004, and some people blamed the A's for losing the division because of it; he was one of the best relievers in the game last year.

There are always outliers - Ryan Wagner has been pretty terrible, and Royce Ring looks like a wasted pick - but by and large, elite college relievers are ready for the majors very quickly. And the less time they need to be ready, the less time there is for something to go wrong.

Thomas Cruise (LA): Is Huber gonna pan out to become at least a Mike Sweeney type hitter or is he a bust?. he didnt look to great last year at times. Also who are your early picks for ROY honors?

Rany Jazayerli: The Sweeney comparisons with Huber are hard to avoid, although Sweeney is not on his top comparisons list. Then again, his #1 comp is Derrek Lee, and Dewey Evans, John Olerud, Paul Konerko, Ron Santo, and Dale Murphy are listed as well. That's a hell of a lot of Hall of Fame or near-HoF talent. He did struggle badly when he got called up at year's end, but was apparently playing through an Achilles injury at the time.

Early RoY picks:

NL: Fielder, Hermida, Maholm
AL: Liriano, Johjima, Verlander

Brad Pitt (Paris, France): This is like asking you to choose between liz hurley and Jennifer Connolly but who would rather have between M cabrera and D. Wright for a.2006 b. for the rest of their careers

Rany Jazayerli: Wright, but only because I'm more certain that he's going to stay at third base for the next ten years. They both have to rank among the 5 most valuable commodities in baseball going forward.

jd (connecticut): Thanks for the chat! Do you see the Pirates' farm system producing enough good players to turn the team around in the next, say, 5 years?

Rany Jazayerli: Sure, if one of them comes into a large pile of money and buys the team from McClatchy. Otherwise, no.

Brett (Elderon, WI): Corey Hart or Nelson Cruz?

Rany Jazayerli: Hart. I'm really starting to love this guy; I probably should have pushed harder for him to be ranked in the Top 50 instead of just HM. I love the fact that he's huge (6'6"), runs very well, and doesn't strike out a ton for a power hitter. I could see his upside as him turning into a faster version of Richie Sexson.

Loose Cannon (Vancouver, WA): Hi Rany: Most prognosticators feel Francisco Liriano will be in the Twins starting rotation by mid-season. What are your thoughts? Thanks.

Rany Jazayerli: That's half a season too late. He's ready now, and the loss of a win or two by waiting until mid-season could be all the difference in this division.

nsacpi (Berkeley): What kind of career do you see for Chuck James?

Rany Jazayerli: James is a great example of a player whose valuation as a prospect has changed dramatically as a result of the increased amount of statistics available to us on minor leaguers the last few years. As David Regan pointed out in his column today, James has an absurdly low G/F ratio, which is a very real concern - Nate Silver has made the observation that the biggest difference between major and minor league hitters is in their power, and all those extra flyballs that James gives up are potential homers in the majors. Ten years ago, before we had that information, he might have been a Top 30 prospect.

I think James is going to have episodic success in the majors, but will be too homer-prone to ever rise above the level of a #3 starter.

Bryan (MD): Why the drop in the rankings for Yusmeiro Petit? Was he simply rated too high last season? Stiffer competition in the rankings this year? Explain.

Rany Jazayerli: A combination of factors:

- There seemed to be more top-tier pitching prospects this year than last;
- We have slowly become a little more skeptical of pitchers whose stuff lags behind their numbers;
- The incorporation of minor league G/F ratios has made a real difference; flyball oriented pitchers like Petit and Weaver rank lower than they would have a year ago for that reason, while Maholm probably wouldn't have been in the chapter at all.

Goose (Chicago): Howie Kendrick at #5 is a bit higher than most lists I have seen. I realize your cirteria is very different from other publications, but do you think his lack of plate discipline will ultimately hurt him or is he such a good hitter it doesn't matter?

Rany Jazayerli: When we started the process of making this year's list, I didn't have Kendrick in my Top 10. But he got a terrific projection from PECOTA; if memory serves, PECOTA thinks he could be best second baseman in baseball this season.

PECOTA is not the be-all and end-all of prospect evaluation, but we've learned to take a second look at a player when it comes up with a projection far from what we might have expected it to be. (See Wily Mo Pena.)

We all know that there are players, like Vlad Guerrero, who thrive in the majors despite a lack of plate discipline. Kendrick is no Guerrero, but in his case we've let his low walk total obscure the fact that he's more than just a singles hitter. He has a .359 career average, he runs well, he rarely strikes out, and he has a lot more power than most people think - he had 70 extra-base hits last year.

strupp (Kenosha WI): Rany, Thanks for the chat. should I be worried that Felix Pie's number 1 comp is Corey Patterson? Is that scary enough to wish for Hendry to just deal him for something useful for the next 2-3 years?

Rany Jazayerli: It is pretty eerie, isn't it? The thing is, even if the player is the same, is the organization willing to learn from its mistakes and handle him differently this time? The Cubs are essentially getting a do-over here, but if they're not going to admit they could have handled Patterson better, they might as well ship Pie out now. And the Cubs have a surplus of hubris at the moment, so this could end poorly.

ccweinmann (Seattle): Do you think BP's Top 50 Prospects List will ever sway from its current definition of "Prospects"? That is, do you foresee a time when guys like Felix Hernandez (age 20) and Edwin Encarnacion (age 23), who, to me, still seem like prospects, will be on the list? The rookie eligibility requirement seems a bit old school and arbitrary for a progressive outfit like Baseball Prospectus.

Rany Jazayerli: I think there's value in doing lists like "Best Players under 23", sure. People love lists. We could run a list on "The Fastest Catchers in Baseball" and people would argue about it. Hell, I periodically run a list on our website ranking the best-hitting pitchers in the game.

But we use rookie eligibility to determine who is a "Prospect" for a good reason: we want our list to be directly comparable to all the other Prospect Lists out there. This is a competitive business, and if we want to stack our prospect chops against everyone else in the business, we need to compare apples to apples.

Having said that, one player on our list this year is not technically a rookie - Fernando Cabrera has gone over the service time limit. The decision to rank him and not Bobby Jenks, who is in a similar boat (not enough innings but too much service time) is simply because we figure that most of our readers are familiar with the pitcher who recorded the final out of last season.

Cris E (St Paul, MN): Any trends in to Top 50 this year, older, younger, positional, organizational or otherwise not apparent?

Rany Jazayerli: I think it's a little bit more tools-driven - not because we're suddenly abandoning sabermetrics, but because the development of more sophisticated tools has given us the insight that certain skills manifested in the numbers - like speed and defensive ability - are good prognostic indicators. It's a small change.

On the other hand, I think we're slowly becoming more and more skeptical of performances in the low minors, particularly from hitters. So toolsy players who have survived the Double-A jump did particularly well this year - Chris Young being a prime example.

ODo26132002 (Chicago): Kubel? From 46 last year to unmentioned. From what I can tell his knee is no wrose than everyone expected a year ago. Was he ranked too highly last year or did enough prospects make "the jump" to knock him out.

Rany Jazayerli: We don't have a good handle on his recovery from his knee injury, but what Will Carroll has been to uncover doesn't sound very good. We knew going in last year that if we ranked him, we would almost be obligated to rank him again this year, but his injury may have been even worse (or the rehab has progressed more poorly) than we realized at the time.

Bart (NY): Rany, I know he's not a rookie anymore, but what do you expect from Edwin Encarnacion? This year and long term.

Rany Jazayerli: Love the guy, love the guy, love the guy. If players were stocks, we would have made a killing on players like Encarnacion who go under the radar because they don't have any one dominant skill, but do everything well. He hits for power (39 doubles, 24 homers last year), draws a fair number of walks, has a better than average strikeout rate, steals 15-20 bags a year, plays a key defensive position well, and has always been young for his level. He's underrated because he hit .232 for the Reds last year, but batting average in a 70-game sample means nothing - he could just as easily hit .300 this year, and has the secondary skills to become a minor star.

Hector (Port St. Lucie): Your boy Dayn Perry just wrote an article asking the question,Who's the #1 prospect in baseball - Brandon Wood or Delmon Young. Do you see it as being between those two?

Rany Jazayerli: I used to - the preliminary Top Prospect List in my mind last fall had Wood #2 - but we have some legitimate concerns about Wood. Last year was completely out of character for Wood relative to the rest of his career, and while you don't expect fluke seasons at age 20, it can happen. Plus, his entire season - including his AFL stint - came in a great hitter's environment. Toss in the fact that he was in A-ball all year and will probably change positions at some point, and there are some red flags here. That's not to say he isn't a great prospect, just that he's not #1 in my mind.

skidave (rapid city, SD): Joel Zumaya--lots of talk in Tiger articles around the net about eventually using him as a closer... is this a waste, or really where his skillset will thrive?

Rany Jazayerli: I don't think it's a waste in the short term if it allows him to break into the majors in a role that is less pressure (assuming he starts in middle relief) and puts less strain on his arm. Earl Weaver always said the best place for a rookie pitcher is in middle relief, and we agree.

The problem is that once he's in that role, most teams are inclined to leave him there permanently, and THAT is a waste. Under very few circumstances is an 80-inning reliever going to have as much value as a 220-inning starter. If Zumaya has the repertoire of a starter, any usage out of the bullpen should be done with the ultimate goal of moving him back to the rotation in mind. The Royals have already given up on the idea of ever using Andy Sisco as a starter, which would make me tear my hair out if I had any.

Tim (Michigan): Rany, I know a lot of work goes into compiling the Top 50 Prospects. But do you ever look at it like this: Who would a GM take if he could have any prospect right now? If so, do you think Dustin Pedroia would ever be picked before Matt Cain or Justin Verlander? Pedroia may be a "safer" bet, but who would be a more valuable prospect to have in your system? I would take the high ceiling pitcher over the 5'9" second baseman.

Rany Jazayerli: I think Nate said it best when he wrote, "When it comes to prospect analysis, a lot of disagreements result from improper valuation, rather than true differences of opinion about how well a particular player plays the game, or how well he is likely to develop." The only revision I would make to that is that when it comes to pitchers, there is considerable disagreement on how likely a pitcher is to develop because the risk of injury is almost always underestimated.

Few GMs would disagree with us that Pedroia projects as an above-average offensive player at an up-the-middle position. The disagreement would come in determining how likely Pedroia is to reach that projection vs. a pitcher like Cain or Verlander. Sure, Cain's "upside" is better, but most teams vastly overestimate the upside of pitchers. I'll take the prospect with the 80% chance of being a five-win player than the one with the 20% chance of being a seven-win player.

Rany Jazayerli: And with that, I have to go. Thanks for all the questions, everyone - by far the most questions in the queue for any chat session I've done. And for the record: yes, I know I haven't finished my draft study yet. I'll finish it as soon as humanly possible.


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