Q&A with MadFriars.com, Part 1

I recently had the opportunity to chat with Denis Savage and John Conniff from MadFriars.com about their Padres prospect rankings for 2008. Sit back, relax, and enjoy!

Ducksnorts: You mention the challenges inherent in comparing players at different stages of development. What are some of the strategies you use to meet those challenges?

Denis Savage: I feel like Mia Wallace in “Pulp Fiction.” Good question, Vincent Vega!

There are a lot of factors that go into comparing, analyzing and ranking players. It is a combination of projection and stats — but one thing John and I have learned through the years is nothing beats watching a player live. By going to the field four hours prior to the game, we can see work habits, how they hustle when the lights are dim, and what they take into a game. It may seem minute, but pre-game workouts can define a player’s potential and ability to reach that potential.

There is also an eye for scouting involved. Is he flawed mechanically? Can he be taught properly? Does he have the makeup to take a lesson and stick with it, despite having struggles adjusting early on? The prospects who take instruction and have smaller tweaks to make can meet the projections quicker.

Then there is the raw projection. Simon Castro may not be ranked today in the top 20, but he has tremendous tools to be among those we see in the future. Think Jose Ceda — another raw kid who was traded to Chicago and will be in the majors this year.

On the stats side, John and I both weigh them a little more when a prospect is at a higher level in the system. At some point, you have to produce. That isn’t necessarily true in rookie ball but definitely true by the time a prospect is in Double-A. Age also plays a role, and future projection always has a place. There are so many little things we take into account that and blend together to make the most complete and honest analysis.

John Conniff: I think that is one reason, and it hurts my ego to write this, that the best rankings that we do are the ones that combine both Denis’ and my approaches. I tend to be more influenced by what a player is doing at a higher level while Denis places more emphasis on the potential of a player to become a game changer — however, the changes are much slighter than most people may believe.

To answer the question, we both put more emphasis on players that have performed at higher levels because they are closer to the majors; however, guys at the lower levels who have the potential to become a #1 pitcher, such as Mat Latos, or a top flight center fielder, such as Cedric Hunter, we will rank higher than someone as a Josh Geer — as long as there is some correlation between their actual potential and what they are doing on the field. This is especially true if they are significantly younger than their competition as were both Latos and Hunter this year.

Ducksnorts: These lists reflect a moment in time. Do they fluctuate during the season? If so, to what degree?

Savage: Yes and no. If a guy comes out gangbusters over the first half of the year, the natural tendency is to rank him higher. But, the entire season is the true merit of a successful season. If that same player bombs over the second half, what did he really accomplish? There are times when it is clear a prospect has made the strides necessary to move up, regardless of stats. I expect a couple of players missing from the list to be on it next year and some will inevitably fall off. It does, however, take a season of competition to truly regard each prospect on a level field.

Conniff: No, not really. We define Madfriars.com as a “webzine” in that our goal is to attempt to chronicle the Padres minor leagues during the season, which entails providing a write-up of every game in the minors, interviewing nearly everyone involved in the system. Outside of the rankings, which we do individually in November and then our official Madfriars.com ranking in March, we do a player of the month series and a player and pitcher of the year series for each level, and that is about it.

In short, we see ourselves more as reporters/journalists than pundits/gurus.

Chase HeadleyDucksnorts: You have Chase Headley ranked #1 in the system (as do most experts). What current big leaguers does he remind you of, in terms of physical attributes, style of play, the type of production you eventually expect from him, etc.?

Savage: He reminds a bit of Mike Lowell. Lowell was a kid who didn’t hit for a whole lot of power in the minors until he really blossomed in his final year in the minors, showing physical maturity at the same time. Headley has taken the same sort of path. We always knew he had some power but his body needed to catch up. That has happened over the last two years. Both have fantastic makeup and play the game the right way. That is a tremendous asset — and one reason why many believe he can make the transition to left field and still maintain a good average.

I expect him to keep his solid patience at the plate and contribute early on. The power may not be there but a full season of Headley will produce 20-plus homers and an annual flirtation with a .300 batting average to go along with a ton of doubles and solid on-base percentage. Eventually finding a home in the number three spot in the batting order would be ideal since he does so many things well.

Conniff: That is tough because Chase Headley right now is very different player than he was at Eugene and Lake Elsinore. As Kevin Goldstein said in an interview with us last week, I’m not sure many people really believed he would hit for the power that he did last year in San Antonio. The type of player that he could become on a MLB level ranges from Bill Mueller to Chipper Jones, but I do think his future is at third base as opposed to left field.

Ducksnorts: I keep thinking Jeff Cirillo, which is sort of between Mueller and Chipper. Moving on, you note that Mat Latos needs to refine his secondary pitches and learn how to become more of a pitcher. What sense do you get about his “coachability” from observing and talking to people within the organization?

Savage: Latos may be a clown off the field, but he has a switch he flips when he gets between the lines. This is a kid that scrapped a nasty splitter to go with a straight change. People have been writing that off, but it shows how much he believes in what he is being told and what he will do to succeed. When he picks up a ball, everything he does is centered around improving. He listens, fiddles with, and even lends his advice to other pitchers. He is a rare specimen.

There should be no doubt about his coachability. He has the aptitude, and I expect him to take a tremendous leap forward this year to what is already a very bright future.

Conniff: I took a second trip to San Antonio instead of Eugene this year, so Denis may be a better person to answer this question than me — but I will say this. In an interview with both Latos and his coach at Broward Country JC I was struck by how much pride he takes in the development of his secondary pitches and his fastball command. Remember, this is a 19-year-old that is 6’6″ 220 lbs and uncorks a mid-90s fastball with great ease, and he enjoys talking about the art of pitching and setting people up more than blowing people away.

His numbers indicate that he needs to improve his command within the strike zone a little better, but there is just so much to like about Latos — his size, command, the potential of his secondary pitches and most of all he is with San Diego.

Matt AntonelliDucksnorts: Matt Antonelli was drafted as a third baseman, then shifted to second base; now there is talk that he may get some looks in center field. Where do you envision him eventually playing, and how much offensive upside does he have?

Savage: I actually believe his future is in center, but it won’t be this year. This kid is one of the best athletes I have seen come through the system in some time. He has both the makeup and work ethic to successfully make the switch and be pretty good at it. Plus, there are quite a few middle infielder types that profile well at second base at some of the lower levels. I believe one of them forces Antonelli out there (Rayner Contreras, :cough:).

Antonelli provides a lot of things the Padres don’t have. Some speed at the top of the lineup and a guy who will get on base at a solid clip. The former hockey player (always have to get my plug in for hockey) is a .300 hitter waiting to happen with an on-base percentage that will be Brian Giles like (the good years). Plus, he has pop and will steal some bags. He really is a complete player.

Conniff: I have never believed that the Padres saw him as a center fielder. The only way I could see him going there is if [Tadahito] Iguchi had some incredible year, which I don’t see happening. Also Antonelli needs another year playing second full time and not being distracted by another position. The Padres in spring training the other day pretty much said the same thing, that he was going to be at second for the whole year.

Offensively I’m much more excited about him than I was [Josh] Barfield, and I liked Barfield. First and foremost he’s a guy that is going to get on base. Combine that with a near .500 slugging percentage and 28 stolen bases in 37 attempts last year, and the Padres are trying to get him to run more, I really like his value.

Cedric HunterDucksnorts: We both have Cedric Hunter ranked #4 (shameless plug: Ducksnorts 2008 Baseball Annual). What adjustments does he need to make to fulfill his potential?

Savage: Listening and learning — that will come with maturity. There have been whispers that he does not take coaching well, believing he understands his game and what he needs to do to succeed. There is some evidence that this is true, but it may just be that Hunter is figuring out who he is as a 20-year-old. He will, of course, need to heed the advice of the staff and start applying it in games. Hunter really has a sweet swing and should see a lot of benefit from the 2007 season when breaking balls comprised his diet.

Conniff: First get better teammates. Some of the guys that he had playing with him this year — well, he may as well have had you, Denis and I in the lineup, which was about as much protection as he was getting except for the last month of the season when he put up his best numbers.

Seriously, his main thing that I saw was putting in the swing adjustments that he is able to use so well in batting practice into the games to allow him to drive the ball more. He isn’t someone that is going to hit that many home runs, but I do think he can put the ball into the gaps and he has some speed. He’s always had good strike zone judgment and to me he seems like a natural number two hitter. Defensively, he needs to bring a little better effort into the field on a consistent basis and his arm strength, which improved from last year, could be better.

He should be on a much better team in Lake Elsinore this year, with [Kellen] Kulbacki, [Mitch] Canham and some others joining the team from Eugene combined with a year of full-season ball behind him, he should put up some numbers this year.

We’ll finish up tomorrow, with a look at Kyle Blanks, Yefri Carvajal, and more…