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Chat: John Sickels

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Welcome to Baseball Prospectus' Thursday February 19, 2004 1:00 PM ET chat session with John Sickels.

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John Sickels is the author of The Baseball Prospect Book 2004, which can be ordered through his Web site, Johnsickels.com. His other book, Bob Feller: Ace of the Greatest Generation, is also out, and can be ordered through on-line book outlets or your local bookstore.

John Sickels: Hello, John.... Who is Felix Hernandez, and why did Gary Huckabay just select him early in our Scoresheet draft?

John Sickels (Kansas): Hello, everyone. Let's begin.

John Sickels: I have about an hour, so I'll go as fast as possible.

kcshankd (Lawrence, KS): How do you decide to drop a guy from your Prospect Book? Jason Botts and Gregor Blanco have each 'disappeared' after appearing in the book the previous year. They didn't have great years before being deleted, but weren't terrible either.

John Sickels: Blanco was an oversight. I should have put him in, although I still see him as a Grade C prospect. Tons of strikeouts without much power. I don't remember why I didn't put Botts in. I'd say C or C+ on him.

Dr.C (Mobile, AL): John - Did Bob Feller rack up the pitch counts that he often discusses? I heard him speak a few years ago and he complained that "these kids today can't go 200 pitches and finish like we did." Given his body type, it doesn't seem possible that he could have done this regularly.

John Sickels: Well, I don't know if he threw 200 pitches or not, but his workload was certainly excessive by modern standards. In researching for my book, I found records of Feller throwing 130-140 pitches on a frequent basis. He threw over 450 innings in 1946, combining barnstorming with regular season play.

Benjamin (University of Maryland, Baltimore County): How far has Ainsworth's stock fallen? Can he still be a worthy front-end starting pticher for the O's?

John Sickels: It all depends on how well he recovers from injury. He certainly pitched well enough last year when healthy. If he recovers, he should pick up where he left off, but predicting a recovery path for something like that is always tough.

dangor (New York): I see where both Kotchman and Morneau are listed in your top 10 hitters. With Kotchman's injury history and lack of homers, are you worried that time is running out on him? With Morneau, are you concerned about his struggles with the Twins last season and now that he is hopelessly blocked?

John Sickels: Kotchman is still very very young, turns 21 this month. I'm not worried about his bat at all. . .I just worry about the rest of his body. But his bat is definitely for real if he can stay healthy. The signing of Mientkiewicz may send Morneau back to Rochester to start the year, and means that he'll be the DH when he does get a chance to play. They are very high on him and he is not blocked permanently I don't think. He just needs more reps against breaking balls.

Dave (Fresno): Joe Blanton -- solid major league starter or potential ace?

John Sickels: Potential ace.

Greg (Wichita, KS): Hi John! How would you rank these guys: Joe Blanton Zack Greinke Felix Hernandez Matt Riley Kris Honel

John Sickels: Lists like this are tough. Blanton will make the quickest impact, but long-term Hernandez and Greinke are the best bets. Based on LONG-TERM potential, I think I'd go

Greinke, Hernandez, Blanton, Honel, Riley.

Todd (Wagner, SD): He's not really a prospect anymore, but have you changed your evaluation of Michael Cuddyer? Minnesota's usage of him seems strange and I had expected much, much more.

John Sickels: My personal evaluation has not changed, no. He's a fine hitter if they'd just let him play.

Dave (Boston): Can you please give us your opinion on the current offensive ability of Kelly Shoppach and also your opinion on the type of player that he will become. I have read that he is a good defensive catcher. What I am wondering is weather he can be an adequate replacement for Jason Varitek by 2005. Thank you in advance.

John Sickels: I liked Shoppach after I saw him play college ball. He's very good with the glove, and has enough pop in his bat to be dangerous. He won't be a great hitter, but he can probably hit .260 with enough doubles and homers to annoy the opposition. That, combined with good glove work, will get him a pension.

Andrew (Kansas City, MO): Can Zack Greinke live up to all the hype? What is his stuff really like?

John Sickels: His breaking stuff and changeup are excellent. His fastball can get up into the mid-90s, but Greinke will often work at 88-90 with perfect control, dialing up for extra velocity only when he needs it. Overall, I'd rate his stuff as "above-average to excellent" with excellent command.

Big Daddy (Salem): I've often compared Joe Mauer to Sean Burroughs, as both were the top hitters in their high school class, both were first-round draft picks, both have sweet left-handed strokes, and both have demonstrated excellent plate discipline at a young age. Another commonality is that neither one has demonstrated home run power at the professional level, yet scouts seem to think that both players eventually will hit 20-25 homers a year. If you had to guess, who do you think will end up with more career big league homers: Mauer or Burroughs?

John Sickels: Mauer.

Don (Beaverton, OR): Hi, John.... Can you tell me please how good of a player Rickie Weeks will be? Are we talking Ray Durham? Are we talking Ryne Sandberg? Roberto Alomar? Freddie Patek?

John Sickels: I haven't thought about comparing him to anyone in particular. I could see him as a cross between Durham and Sandberg....Durham with more power basically. I really like Weeks and he has a chance to be a remarkable player. All he needs to do is settle down his defense.

A.J. Morris (Houston, Texas): Help me out here...I'm a Rangers fan desperately trying to find something positive to focus on right now... 20 months after the "Moneyball" draft, and about a year after Gammons ridiculed Grady Fuson for passing on Nick Swisher to take Drew Meyer, who is higher on your chart -- Swisher or Meyer? And why isn't Erik Thompson getting more love from the prospect mavens?

John Sickels: I can't say I was particularly impressed with either Meyer or Swisher when I saw them last year. I gave them both Grade C+ in the book, so I rate them about equally. I would probably have picked Khalil Greene or Joe Blanton in that slot of the draft.

Nomar (Boston): Can you give me an update on Hanley Ramirez? Has some luster come off him on the field (besides his off field issues)? How do you feel about his game?

John Sickels: His statistical performance last year was mediocre, and the off-the-field issues are very worrisome. The good news is that he's only 20, so he has plenty of time to turn things around. But will it happen? I'd be more optimistic if he had a good work ethic. So basically, this is a case where the objective measures are not great yet, and the subjective concerns make it less likely that the objective stuff will get better. Does that make sense?

Lars (Roanoke, VA): John I have a league that allows me to keep two rookies. I have Joe Blanton, Joe Mauer, Bobby Crosby, Zack Grienke, Jeremy Reed, David DeJesus who should I keep and who should I trade? Thank you

John Sickels: That's a great list. I'd keep Mauer definitely. THe other choice would depend on the context of your league and the rest of the team. I love Bobby Crosby, but if you need a pitcher both Blanton and Greinke are worthy picks.

Eric Schubert (Austin, TX): John, Who do you consider the most over-rated prospect in the game, and who do you consider the best sleeper?

John Sickels: Although I like Khalil Greene in the long run, I worry he may be overmatched a bit in the majors this year. I don't want to say he is "overrated", that is too negative, but I don't think he will make a big offensive impact at first. On the pitching side, I think Bobby Jenks might be overrated. Serious concerns about his control there. Sleepers...he's not really a sleeper, but I don't think Ryan Wagner gets enough attention in the general press. A more classic sleeper would be Chadd Blasko.

John Sickels (Kansas): Hey guys, I'm having some technical difficulty here. The moderator screen dumped me out and won't let me log back in.

John Sickels: OK, it seems to work now. Sorry about the delay.

Dean Quinton (Brooks, Alberta): BlueJay management appears high on Jamie Vermilyea, 9th round 2003 draft, but does he have enough "stuff" to succeed at higher levels?

John Sickels: His fastball is average, but his breaking stuff is good, and you have to like a 78/7 K/BB ratio in your first 52 pro innings. I think there's some skepticism because his fastball isn't that great, but the Blue Jays are a smart team and will give him every chance to move up if he continues to pitch like this.

Peter (Hartford): With statistical analysis gaining influence throughout the game, how do we convince the radical new blood that subjective scouting still has a valuable place in evaluating talent?

John Sickels: Well, I think the best of the "new blood" understands that, and doesn't close their mind to factors that are hard to measure. If statistical analysis continues to spread (and I think we are still just in the early stages of that), eventually there will be a reaction or counter-reformation if you will. Personally, I think there are so many things we still don't know, that subjective factors still must be given consideration. Personality and work ethic, certainly. Things like "projection" of a young player are very hard to measure, but I do think they exist. Jeremy Affeldt is an example of that...he throws in the mid-90s now, but a few years ago he was just a projectable high school lefty who threw in the upper-80s. The scouts saw something there that the numbers might not necessarily pick up.

Mysterygirl (Virginia): Any comment on the differences between writing player comments and writing a full-length book? Was writing the Feller bio refreshing or tough or both?

John Sickels: Writing the Feller bio was the hardest thing I ever did professionally. I'd never written anything like that before, and while I had the training (degree in history) and background to do it, it was rather intimidating. Was it refreshing? In a way. I'd say it was DIFFERENT, and somewhat terrifying. But I'm really glad I did it. Feller is certainly a very intriguing topic. . .I couldn't believe, frankly, that no one had ever written an objective biography of him before. His story is fascinating, and he's a very complex personality.

Red Man (Chicago): To complete the A-Rod deal, it looks like the Rangers will be choosing from righthander Jose Valdez, outfielder Rudy Guillen, shortstop Joaquin Arias, second baseman Robinson Cano, and third baseman Bronson Sardinha. Who would you choose of that group?

John Sickels: All those guys are in the "raw but talented" category. Sardinha has the best plate discipline, Arias the best physical projection. I think I'd take Sardinha.

Big Daddy (Salem): John, while I like the top-50 lists broken out between hitters and pitchers, I miss seeing your overall top-50 list. Is there any chance of seeing its return in next year's book?

John Sickels: I've thought about that. I may do it if enough people request it. But I do think having separate lists makes more sense...pitchers and hitters really are apples compared to oranges, or pineapples as the case may be.

One more question.

Betty Jean Thomas (St. Paul): What do you think of some of the Twins' younger prospects, such as Jason Kubel, Adam Harben, and Josh Hill?

John Sickels: Kubel has a very intriguing bat. I have several questions here about sleepers, and if you're looking for an offensive sleeper, you should definitely look at Kubel. He could be ready for a power burst this year to go with his batting average and OBP.

Both Hill and Harben have major league arms, 90 MPH fastballs with some spin on the curve. We need to see if they can refine their command at higher levels.

John Sickels: I've enjoyed this and I wish I could answer more questions. If you're interested in the prospect book or the Feller book, check out Johnsickels.com. Take care, everyone, and I hope to do this again later this year, hopefully with a less buggy computer.


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