Rany Jazayerli is an author of Baseball Prospectus.
Rany Jazayerli: Hey, everyone. Let's get this chat started. And just think - when we're done, we'll all be one hour closer to getting our copy of BP 2004 in the mail.
jerjapan (Toronto): We Jays fans are weeping over our poutine these days - do you see any hope for us in the next few years? Is it too optimistic to expect the Yankees aging core to implode one of these days?
Rany Jazayerli: Well, the Blue Jays led all teams with six players in our Top 50, so certainly, there's good reason to think the team will only get better over the next 2-3 years. I was actually reasonably optimistic that the combination of age and defense could have dropped the Yankees into third place as soon as this season. Then they traded for A-Rod.
Tony (Danville, CA): I noticed that Jeremy Brown and Nick Swisher were both missing from any part of the Round table Prospect discussion. Can you talk about them, or any other A's prospects? Thanks
Rany Jazayerli: Brown and Swisher are both good prospects; they're both likely to have long major league careers. I just think the consensus is that they're both going to top out as average major league ballplayers at best; Swisher, in particular, evokes lots of comparisons to Scott Hatteberg within the group.
I think their prominence in Moneyball has polarized opinions on both sides of the scouting-performance continuum. But the bottom line is that they will probably end up somewhere in the middle: better than what Moneyball detractors would like, but not nearly as well as Moneyball supporters would hope.
Alex Sims (Houston): Do the Cubs have the best-hitting pitching staff ever assembled?
Rany Jazayerli: Always love the oddball question...it's an interesting thought, because both Wood and Prior are among the best hitting-pitchers in the game. The answer is no - no staff with Matt Clement and his lifetime .084 average is going to rank with the all-time greats.
The Pittsburgh Pirates of the mid-80s, if I recall correctly, had some fearsome bats on the mound. Rick Rhoden and Don Robinson could outhit a quarter of the starting shortstops at the time.
Bill Lipton (New Canaan, CT): Who has the greater, long-term upside: Delmon Young, Alexis Rios, or Jeremy Reed? Is there a comparable MLB player for each?
Rany Jazayerli: You can't answer that question without defining "upside". If "upside" is defined as the player's career value if everything breaks right - call it his 90th percentile PECOTA score for his career - then I would answer Delmon Young, simply because he's so much younger than the other two players that no limits have really been placed on what he's capable of.
But in terms of EXPECTED career value - call it the 50th percentile PECOTA - then Jeremy Reed is the one I'd choose. He probably has a 50-50 chance of finishing with 2000 hits in his career.
Raouf (Quebec): Was Chad Cordero considered? Where would he rank?
Rany Jazayerli: Cordero is a poor man's Ryan Wagner, and Wagner was in our Top 20, so he was certainly considered. Like Wagner, there's a very small sample size to go on; unlike Wagner, Cordero wasn't coming off one of the most dominant collegiate relief seasons of all time, and his numbers in pro ball were not quite as good.
He's still a good prospect, Top 100 for sure, and should be a very good reliever for the next few years.
Chris Hartjes (Toronto): As a Jays fan, I'm wondering what you think are the chances of Alex Rios (a tools goof who seems to have gotten some of his tools together) and Gabe Gross coming up and making an impact with the Blue Jays? I don't have a feel yet for how Carlos Tosca likes to break in the rookies.
Rany Jazayerli: My feeling is that Carlos Tosca likes to break in the rookies when J.P. Ricciardi tells him to, and Ricciardi has no intention of employing a veteran when he's got a prospect capable of doing the same job at the major league minimum. Vernon Wells will be manning centerfield in Toronto for at least the next four years, but Rios and Gross will lay claim to the corner spots as soon as they're ready to.
Bryan Smith ((Prospectland)): Do me a favor and justify putting Scott Kazmir WAY ahead of Cole Hamels. For a performance-based site, I did not expect this type of differential...Hamels was as good as anyone last year.
Rany Jazayerli: For one simple reason...Kazmir hasn't broken the humerus in his throwing arm before.
It's well known that Hamels broke his arm when he ran into a car while playing pickup football in high school, *not* while pitching (as Tony Saunders, Tom Browning, and Dave Dravecky did). Still, given that the same fracture proved to be career-ending for all three of those pitchers, the potential for a recurrence has to be in the back of your mind.
If Hamels stays healthy, he's neck-and-neck with Kazmir as the best left-handed pitching prospect in the game.
jtwalsh (Chicago, IL): Rany,
I have been a Matt Riley fan for a number of years, and I am happy to see that he made your top 50. What is Riley's upside now?? Number 2-3 starter or is it as a Number 5-Swingman?
Rany Jazayerli: Riley is a personal favorite of mine as well; he had ace potential before he blew out his arm, and seems to be all the way back from Tommy John surgery, picking up some new-found maturity along the way.
I hate pigeonholing prospects as a "future #3 starter", or whatever - the variability inherent in even established major league pitchers means that a guy who's a #3 starter this year could be an ace next year, and injured the year after that. But Riley certainly has a chance to be one of the 10 or 20 best starters in the game three years from now.
Paul Covert (Lynnwood, WA): Can you explain what the knock against Upton is-- the errors, perhaps? Or just that he's only had a month or two in AA?
Rany Jazayerli: Well, I wouldn't call ranking him #8 a "knock" against him. We're not holding his lack of Triple-A experience against him, since most of the players on our list haven't seen Triple-A, and Upton's only 19. I think the two main factors that keep him out of our Top 3 are:
1) His PECOTA comps contain a number disappointing former prospects;
2) He's a Devil Ray.
dorkus (SF): Merkin Valdez trumps several of the RHPs on your list - even with his lack of high level experience. What gives?
Rany Jazayerli: We're *very* reluctant to rank a prospect, especially a pitcher, who has yet to pitch in high-A ball, let alone the high minors.
That said, the Giants are making more and more noises about vaulting Valdez all the way into their major league bullpen this spring, so we certainly could look foolish a year from now. At least he's Honorable Mention; Dontrelle Willis didn't even make that list a year ago.
This isn't an exact science, is what I'm sayin'.
Scott (Seattle, WA): Rany,
Glad to see the top-50 out for public consumption. Which top-50'er did you personally feel should have been ranked far higher? How about lower?
Rany Jazayerli: Well, one of the great things about our roundtable discussion is that, by bringing as much information, and as many informed opinions, to the table, by the time we come up with a final list, I personally feel very comfortable with where every player ranks.
Having said that, I really worry that Dioner Navarro is ranked too low. He hit .341 in Double-A at age 19, and he's a catcher.
R.C. Cook (Carrollton TX): Why did Adrian Gonzalez get left off the top 50? And what other Ranger prospects (if any) entered into the initial discussion?
Rany Jazayerli: Well, here's a reason...he hasn't been very good. His last good minor league season was in 2001, and youth and a great defensive reputation can only take you so far.
I can't say that any other Rangers were seriously considered, but that's only because Laynce Nix got a little too much major-league playing time to be considered.
Ryan (Framingham MA): Gary Huckabay said on the radio a couple of hours ago that Kansas City not only has a chance to win the AL Central, but also has a chance to win the World Series. Does anyone else at Baseball Prsopectus have a drug problem?
Rany Jazayerli: Well, I'm addicted to Propecia.
Brooks (Maryvale, AZ): Do you think anyone else will both pitch and hit in the near future, like that popular, talented, and attractive guy in Milwaukee? What's his name...K-i-e-s-c-h-n-i-c-k?
Rany Jazayerli: Hmmm...looks like Garth has checked in from the Royals' complex.
David McCarty is going to camp with the Red Sox with the ambition to be a two-way player; he hasn't pitched in over a decade, but then Kieschnick hadn't pitched in nearly as long when he went back to the mound.
I think that we're going to see a trend towards more two-way players as teams realize that you can maximize the value of your 25-man roster by having a mop-up man who can also serve as a pinch-hitter off the bench. I do think the strategy makes sense primarily for NL teams, though.
Greg (MA): Do the arguments (like the one to which Jonah allued in the roundtable) that Mauer is overrated hold merit? What are those arguments exactly -- is it still the lack of true power?
Rany Jazayerli: The main concern with Mauer, other than the fact that he's a catcher, is that he's very tall - 6'4", I believe.
As early as 1987, Bill James postulated in his annual Abstract that tall catchers tend to develop more poorly than their shorter brethren, and speculated that it might be because taller catchers would suffer knee problems from repetitive squatting-and-standing. Sandy Alomar, after all, is 6'5". But then Mike Piazza is 6'3", so it may mean nothing.
Ronn (San Francisco, CA): Can't we take a moment to appreciate that Sex and the City just left television, and baseball's about to return to it?
Rany Jazayerli: Why should we settle for just a moment?
dorkus14 (San Francisco, CA): Rany- seems to me like this list tilts heavily towards high school players with pie in the sky ceilings. Is there too much optimism in that respect?
Rany Jazayerli: It's certainly true that the majority of pitchers on our list were drafted out of high school or signed internationally. Why is that? I think that there has just been an unusually high number of great high school pitchers in the last few years - Greinke, Kazmir, Hamels, and Greg Miller were all first-round picks in 2002 alone - which is somewhat of an anomaly historically.
I do think that we're seeing teams take better care of their young pitchers' arms than at any point in baseball history, which does shift the cost-benefit analysis of drafting high school pitching a bit. But the bottom line is that half the pitchers on the list will undergo an operation sometime in the next three years. We just don't know which ones.
Andy Rehrer (Tulsa OK): WHERE'S MY BOOK?!?!?! I NEED THE BOOK!
Rany Jazayerli: Okay, I think we all get the message that some of you are starting to wonder where your book is. Please rest assured that, if you ordered it from Amazon, it should be in the mail by tomorrow, meaning there's a good chance you'll be able to curl up with it this weekend.
And since there's already been some confusion about this, please note that taking a BP author hostage will *not* insure a speedier arrival of your book. Especially a BP intern; we really don't care about them.
Blake (Chicago, IL): Rany,
As someone who traded away Zach Greinke in an unnamed, ill-advised Pizza Feed transaction, I'm curious as to his impact on the upcoming season. Will he make the rotation out of spring training? Thanks for chatting.
Rany Jazayerli: It will probably take injuries to two or three other starters (on top of the one to Kyle Snyder) for Greinke to break camp with a job. I think the Royals would like him to spend the whole year in Triple-A; realistically, pitcher attrition will probably open up a job for him by August 1st.
If the Royals make the playoffs, there's about a 50% chance that Greinke will be in their postseason rotation.
Brian Rudd (Lexington, KY): I think Carlos Zambrano is going to break down in a big way this year due to his heavy workload. Just wondering your thoughts on that, and, who do you see being the prime candidates to breakdown this year due to abuse?
Rany Jazayerli: Zambrano certainly tops my list of pitcher injuries waiting to happen, and is the reason why I *don't* think the Greg Maddux signing was an unnecessary luxury for the Cubs.
There really aren't that many other pitchers whose workloads screams "injury risk". The reduction in pitch counts for starting pitchers over the last five years is nothing short of stunning, in my opinion.
I should take this moment to point out that Roy Halladay, who led all of baseball with 266 innings, is about as sure a bet to stay healthy as any starter in the game. Like Greg Maddux a decade ago, he's so efficient with his pitches that he can throw 270-280 innings a year with no problem.
Josh (K.C.): Do you believe that--once all GM's have incorporated sabermetric evaluation into their decision-making processes--small-market teams are essentially doomed? Or, do you believe that substantial innovation can continue ad infinitum, and that small-market teams can compete, provided they stay on the cutting edge?
Rany Jazayerli: I think that the concerns that revenue streams will become more important once sabermetric thinking permeates every front office are legitimate, but a little overblown.
First off, at the current pace it's going to be 25 years or more before every team is comfortable with statistical analysis. Right now, it appears that about one new team joins the revolution each year, and how many are on board right now? Counting Los Angeles, four, with Cleveland, Kansas City, and San Diego knocking on the door.
Second, never underestimate the influence of ownership on the way teams are run. As long as teams are wildly expensive, they're going to be owned by ridiculously rich men who are inclined, by virtue of their wealth, to think that what worked in getting them rich in the first place will work in baseball.
There will always be owners who want to buy a pennant; there will always be owners who want to make a profit and don't give a damn about winning. I think there will always be an opportunity for a team that knows what it's doing to win, no matter where their payroll is.
Mike (Fresno): Hey, can a brother get some dollar values? How about some BP dollar values?
Rany Jazayerli: Mike, and anyone else who's got a Rotisserie or fantasy draft coming up, look for the debut of fantasy.baseballprospectus.com, coming Real Soon Now.
Derrick (Seattle, WA): What's the best possible outcome for the Mariners? If Olerud bounces back, and Meche stays healthy, can they keep up with Oakland and Anaheim?
Rany Jazayerli: The best possible outcome for the Mariners probably involves a bench-clearing brawl between the A's and Angels that results in a couple one-year suspensions on each side. The team is old, and the Mariners punted an opportunity to dramatically improve at third base by signing Scott Spiezio to play the position. I think their window has just about closed.
Drew (Nevada): If you had to include Dontrelle Willis and Miguel Cabrera on this year top rookie list where would you rank them? Thanks!
Rany Jazayerli: Forget the rookie list - if you were starting a franchise from scratch and could draft any player in baseball, Cabrera should probably be one of the first 10 or 15 players selected.
As for Willis, he probably ranks only fourth among rookie starters last year in terms of long-term potential (behind Brandon Webb, Rich Harden, and Jerome Williams). And I *like* Willis. That is one impressive group of rookies.
Greg (Montpelier): Do you think Jeter will ever start over ARod at shortstop for the Yankees, or do you think Jeter will ostentatiously move for the good of the team, and if so, where?
Rany Jazayerli: Barring an even further decline in Jeter's fielding ability at shortstop, I think it's highly unlikely that he'll move in 2004. I do think that after the season, Jeter will quietly accept a move to second base (if the Yankees sign Carlos Beltran) or centerfield (if they don't), allowing the Yankees to upgrade their defense at two positions in a single stroke.
Rany Jazayerli: Thanks for all the great questions everyone - that's all the time I have for today. I want to use this space to specifically thank Susan Graham, the BP intern who had the thankless job of turning three weeks' worth of email discussions into our most dramatic rose ceremony...er, our biggest Roundtable ever.
Here's hoping everyone gets their books soon!