John Sickels is the author of The Baseball Prospect Book 2004, which can be ordered through his web site. He is also the author of Bob Feller: Ace of the Greatest Generation.
John Sickels: Hello everyone. I am ready to start. I also want you to know that I will start taking orders for the 2005 book on my website tomorrow. I need preorders to fund production costs, so order early and often! Check johnsickels.com starting tomorrow. Now let's get to some questions.
Neil (Evanston, IL): I need optimism - does Billy Butler have a chance at hitting 30-40 HRs a year?
John Sickels: The Royals think he could be a Mike Sweeney-type hitter. High batting average, good walk rate, good power. So yes, he might hit 30-40 in a year, although we need to see what happens in full-season ball to be sure. He has exceptional strike zone judgment and good physical strength, so the signs are there at least.
jeffbrainard (Denver, CO): Hi John,
Thanks for taking my question. It concerns the new faces from the most recent Rockies draft. What do you think of Chris Nelson/Seth Smith/Matt Macri and Chris Iannetta? Thanks again and I can't wait for the new book!
John Sickels: I love Nelson. I think a lot of teams are going to regret passing on him early in the first round. I don't know enough about Smith to make a judgment right now. Macri and Iannetta are good college players. I like Macri's bat and defensive skills at third base. Iannetta hit very well in his pro debut (.314 in the Sally League IIRC) and should move quickly.
goiter6 (MN): Do you think Michael Restovich (Twins) will get a clean shot somewhere? What are Hanley Ramirez's (Red Sox) chances of becoming an impact player?
John Sickels: I know at least one team has asked about Restovich in trade talks, and I assume that others have as well. He has significant power, but isn't the complete player like Lew Ford or possibly Jason Kubel, although Kubel's knee injury in the ARizona FAll League puts him back at least a year. It is possible that they may hold onto Restovich for insurance purposes due to Kubel's injury. If someone gave Restovich 500 at-bats, he'd hit something like .250-.270 with 20-25 homers I think. Good but not spectacular.
As for Hanley, he's at least a year away from being ready to help in my opinion. HIs defense is good and his bat came a long way this year. The question for him has always been attitude and work ethic. Hard to predict that at this stage...he could be a star if he wants to be. But how bad does he want it?
bart9102 (Indy): What do you make of the Tankersley/Long for May/Bukvich trade? Also, what do you make of pitchers like Tankersley and Ben Hendrickson who get hammered repeatedly in the majors, but who have good (Tankersley) or great (Hendrickson) AAA numbers?
John Sickels: I think this is a good trade for both teams. May had worn out his welcome in KC and needs a fresh start. Long isn't anything special, but he's better than the shrubs the Royals ran out at the corners last year. Bukvich has a great arm, but lacks command, while Tankersley was once one of the best prospects in the game and is still young enough to turn into something useful, or even maybe special. But he needed a change of scenery as bad as May did.
albert2b (New York): Hi John, big fan of your work. How do you assess the development of a guy like Franklin Gutierrez of Cleveland? He performed fairly well for his age at AA, although a big part of his game (HR power) was missing. He was promoted to AAA where he struggled badly (albeit for only 7 games) and then got hurt for the rest of the year. I don't know what to make of him. Do you?
John Sickels: Nope, I don't know what to make of him either. I haven't gotten to the Cleveland system yet in the book writing process, so I need to find some updated information about his injury. He's got an explosive bat and has shown he can kill minor league pitching even with mediocre plate discipline. Grading him is tough until I get an updated injury report.
lcordero (Cape Cod, MA): Please sort in order of preference for long term value:
John Sickels: Tough one! I like it. I would go
Reason: Upton is the youngest and most athletic of the group. The fact that he can handle major league competition before he is old enough to legally drink is a great sign. Only question is his glove, of course. For this question I will assume that he settles down.
Picking between Crosby and Green is tough...they are basically even in my book although for different reasons. I think Crosby will be the better hitter in the long run, but Green is better with the glove and is no slouch with the bat himself. That one is basically a tie.
Because of the youth factor Upton has to rank first though.
Kurt (CA): Jason Kubel's knee injury sounds pretty nasty. Any news on the surgery? What's the chance of him ever being a quality major leaguer now?
John Sickels: Yeah, the last I heard the injury was actually more severe than they first thought. Barring a miraculous recovery, he will miss all of 2005. It will probably cost him his speed. Will it impact his hitting? Hard to say. Sometimes severe knee problems can mess up your balance at the plate. It is a major setback for Kubel personally and for the organization.
mikegreen (Toronto): I don't know if you've had a chance to see Shaun Marcum pitch, but can you describe his stuff?
John Sickels: I saw him pitch a game in college for Southwest Missouri State. In the game I saw, he was throwing a consistent 90 MPH with a nasty slider as his second pitch.
Gabe S. (Oregon): With his incredible 2004 season, is Huston Street now the top relief prospect in baseball?
John Sickels: Probably. Although remember what happened to Ryan Wagner this spring...there are never guarantees when pitchers are concerned.
Amos (Madison, Wisconsin): Whoops, one more. What are your thoughts on Kelly Shoppach? Big league starting catcher? Thanks.
John Sickels: He has a good glove but I'm concerned about his bat. There is some power there but he really struggled in Triple-A at times. I don't think he's ready to be a starter in '05.
Bridget Jones (England): Ian Kinsler -- fluke, or legitimate prospect? Is his upside Mike Young, or better than that?
John Sickels: Bridget! Nice to see you.
Kinsler is for real, and the Young comparison is perfect.
Suraj (New York): What can we expect from Felix Hernandez next year and beyond?
John Sickels: If he stays healthy we should see him sometime in '05. He is the best pitching prospect in the game right now. I have several questions here about him, so this will suffice. Hernandez has the best combination of pure stuff and command in the minor leagues today. If I were running things in Seattle (which I'm not of course), I would start him off in Triple-A in 2005. If he pitches well, I would promote him to the major leagues in late July or early August, and use him out of the bullpen, an apprenticship in long relief. I'd love to keep him in that role for '06 as well then move him into a full-time starter job in '07. But teams are somewhat reluctant to do an Earl Weaver-style break-in nowadays, with service time being an issue and all.
Dave (Fresno): I saw in a recent Peter Gammons article that Bill James has projected Nick Swisher for 24 home runs, a .236 BA, and a .792 OPS for his rookie season. Is that about what you would expect from Swisher? Do you expect that he eventually could put up numbers at around a 30 HR, >.850 OPS?
John Sickels: That sounds about right to me. Eventually he could post 30-homer marks, yes, but probably not in '05.
Jake (Los Angeles): Is the Vizquel signing as bad and indefensible (and completely typical of Sabean) as it looks? Why hasn't Sabean figured out that throwing $4m a year at 15 mediocre veterans doesn't work, or that Vizquel + Alfonzo doesn't equal Troy Glaus?
John Sickels: Well, I like Omar. He's got the great glove of course and he is still an effective hitter. But that's an awful lot of money for a player on the wrong end of the development curve. It's certainly a major risk in my opinion. I doubt it will backfire on them in '05 but in '06 it gets very risky.
Jerry (Austin, Texas): Is there any reason not to believe that Jason Botts will be the next Travis Hafner, their Minor League stats are scary similar...
John Sickels: I've seen both Botts and Hafner a lot in person over the last few years. They are similar physically...big, strong, beefy players. But their approaches at the plate are quite different. Botts hit for more power this year than in the past, but his swing is still more of a line-drive compact stroke than Hafner's pure power approach. It is true their numbers are similar, but I want to see if Botts carries the home runs forward to Triple-A.
jmilluh (PA): If you were the Mariners, would you trade Jeremy Reed for Ryan Howard as has been rumored on the net?
John Sickels: Hmmm....Howard can kill the ball, but it is easier to find a first baseman who can hit than a center fielder who can hit. I dunno about that one. I'd have to think about it.
thedoc85 (New Jersey): Hi John---Big fan of your work. My choice in a keeper league comes down to any of these five guys. Some thoughts if you would. Upton, Mauer, Wright, Reed and Greinke.
John Sickels: Reed isn't in the same class with the other four. The other guys are all legitimate picks. Upton has the highest pure upside due to his age. But Wright will be a star, Mauer will be a star if his knee is OK and maybe even if it isn't, and Greinke is the result of a genetic engineering experiment with the DNA of Greg Maddux and Catfish Hunter. Take your pick.
sftxfan (DFW): Thanks for coming on...What do you think of Danks & Diamond from Texas. Any chance of one of them becoming a top of the rotation guy. Thanks again.
John Sickels: Both have the pure ability to be number one/two starters. Danks suffered I think from being rushed too quickly to the CAlifornia League this year, and of course he is younger than Diamond and has yet to get through the injury nexus. Diamond's pure stuff is just fine, and his command proved to be better than advertised after he signed. Diamond is the safer bet but Danks has a better upside, the age issue being both an advantage and a disadvantage for him.
OrioleDog (Baltimore): What's your take on emerging Orioles pitcher Hayden Penn, and fading Orioles pitcher Adam Loewen? Which would you pick right now?
John Sickels: Loewen is a huge injury risk. I'd take Penn.
Thaskins5 (CT): Gustavo Chacin. High win total makes him overrated? Or, can he be a good #2 or #3?
John Sickels: I think he is overrated.
Mike (Lexington): Curtis Granderson now has two good minor league seasons under his belt. Do you think he can fill the gaping black hole that is centerfield in Comerica park, or is he likely to get pushed to a corner where his stats don't play as well?
John Sickels: Granderson keeps exceeding expectations. He hit 21 homers this year, but was helped by a friendly park in Erie. I think in the Show he's a 10-14 homer guy. But he should hit for average and get on base just fine. Some people don't think he has the range for center field though.
Jay (Madison): Multiple choice on Nick Markakis' future: a) not gonna get a sniff b) bench player c) solid regular d) all-star
John Sickels: C.
Mike (Lexington): John,
What is your opinion on Upton's defense? It seems that Tampa Bay chose not to make a decision last year and just played him sporadicly at a number of positions. He obviously has the bat to carry 3B, but his offensive stats would look that much better at short.
John Sickels: I have several similar questions about Upton's glove. I think he certainly has the athletic ability to be a fine defensive shortstop. He has the range and the arm strength. He's just not reliable yet. Some guys get over this with more reps but some never do. Ideally, for his defense, Upton would have spent the whole year in the minors polishing up his glove, but his bat was just so good they couldn't keep him down. I don't think the switching between positions was necessarily a good thing either.
On the one hand, you want to give him every chance to stick at short because his bat will be more valuable there. But on the other hand, if you leave him at short and he struggles with the glove, what if it starts to impact his hitting and confidence? But on the third hand, the D-Rays aren't going to win in '05 anyway, so maybe they should just stick Upton at shortstop for a year and see what happens.
Before making a decision like that, I'd want to sit down and watch several hours of Upton fielding videotape.
Jay (Madison): Is the buzz on Eric Duncan mostly NY hype? His numbers don't look all that astounding
John Sickels: I think he is for real. Yes, he hit just .254 with 4 homers in the Florida State League...but look deeper. He hit 20 doubles in just 173 at-bats, and was one of the youngest players in advanced Class A.
Thaskins5 (CT): How come I don't hear more about Omar Quintanilla? He's pretty much punished the ball thus far and is only 22. Bad defence? Future partner for Crosby?
John Sickels: He can hit. There are mixed reports about his glove. The couple of times i've seen him, his glove looked OK to me, but I'm told some people don't think he has very good range. Future partner for Crosby, probably.
Jeremy (NC): What do you think of Ian Stewart? How far away form the majors is he?
John Sickels: One hell of a hitter...power, plate discipline, ability to hit for average. And his defense has been better than expected. Premium talent definitely, in the Top 20 and probably the Top 10. Heck maybe Top 5.
jimbeau (Left Coast): Defense up the middle...how much do you sacrifice for how much offense. If you're Cleveland, do you go with Peralta or Phillips?
John Sickels: I think defense up the middle is very important. Now, I don't want Mario Mendoza or Luis Gomez there just because of their good gloves, but having nothing but sluggers with bad range at every position will kill you too.
If I were Cleveland, I would avoid handing either Peralta or Phillips the job right now, and would challenge them in spring training, winner of the contest getting the job and the other being his backup.
Jeff (Philly): What to make of Ryan Howard? BP has written a couple of times that the amount of strikeouts are crippling to his prospect status (and he's slightly above age-appropriate). On the other hand, 40+ homers is 40+ homers. Your thoughts?
John Sickels: Well, I agree with BP. It is a tough call. The strikeouts are worrisome, no doubt. But the power...well, like you say, 40 homers is 40 homers. Puzzling out the future of Ryan Howard will take a lot of my time when I get to the Phillies in the book. You can make an argument either way. I think he'd kill enough mediocre pitching to post good home run totals in the Show, but he coudl end up hitting .220 if pitchers figure out his holes.
Silv (NY, NY): James Loney? Olerud v 2.0 or Doug Mientkiewicz?
John Sickels: Hmm...Bruce Bochte? Wes Parker maybe?
We need to see what Loney can do when healthy. He hasn't been healthy in two years now.
David Crowe (Canada): Is it still too early to judge JP Riccardi's acumen for drafting players?
John Sickels: It takes 4-5 years before you can accurately judge a draft, so it isn't fair to judge his track record on the early results, either positively or negatively. My current impression is positive, especially on the pitching side. But guys like Aaron Hill and Russ ADams need to step up.
Joel (Washington, DC): John, Nate McLouth had a real impressive season in AA, but unless some of his 40 doubles turn into homers, he just doesn't have the power to start at a corner outfield spot in the majors. Can he handle center defensively and, if not, is he doomed to be yet another fourth outfielder produced by the Pirates system?
John Sickels: 4th outfielder I think, but a really good one. He is a sparkplug and a lot of fun to watch.
Rob in Wisconsin (Kenosha): John, Great work as always. Is the Cubs Felix Pie the Cubs RF in 2006, or a bargaining chip for a deal this winter?
John Sickels: Last question.
Pie hasn't developed as well as I expected, and his plate discipline took a hit last year in the Florida State League. On the other hand, he is still only 19 years old and has been pushed quickly. His ability to hit for average and show speeds on the bases looks good, but it is unclear how much power he will develop. I don't see him as a right fielder unless he gets more power in his game, granted he has the time to do this. But by 2006? That's too early.
John Sickels: Guys, this has been great. Lots of terrific questions, I wish I had time to answer them all. I'm going to get a cup of coffee, then return to working on the '05 book. Check johnsickels.com tomorrow for pre-ordering information. THANKS!!! None of us in the baseball analyst community would be where we are today without the support of you, the readers. We rely on you. THANK YOU!!