Q&A with MadFriars.com, Part 2

Today we continue our chat with Denis Savage and John Conniff from MadFriars.com about their Padres prospect rankings for 2008. In our first installment we covered player evaluation strategies, Chase Headley, Mat Latos, and more. This time we focus on Kyle Blanks and Yefri Carvajal, among others. Enjoy!

Kyle BlanksDucksnorts: Kyle Blanks is a personal favorite of mine, in part because you just don’t see guys that big on a diamond. What path do you see his career taking?

Denis Savage: This is an interesting question. Honestly, I expected more in 2007 but a 21-year-old — and he will be 21 through the 2008 season — in Double-A is pretty special. I want to see more than 24 homers from him this season. He has the talent to do it and obviously has the power. I felt he sort of loaded up last year in some hitters parks, skewing his stats.

Blanks can be a dominant force but will need to continue to make strides in his power game. His defense has been a disappointment, as he just doesn’t move well around the bag, which is surprising given his athleticism.

For me, Blanks will be around long enough to ensure Adrian Gonzalez is healthy. Then, I would not be surprised to see him traded. He can be a middle of the order bat that hits 30 homers over a season — but his value is tied to first base alone. That limits his ability to thrive in San Diego, as Gonzalez is becoming one of the faces of the franchise along with [Jake] Peavy. I don’t think Blanks becomes a bust and believe he will carve out a healthy career in the bigs — I just don’t feel it will be in San Diego.

John Conniff: I know the Padres thought of putting him in the outfield after the Arizona League a few years ago but they just came to the conclusion that he is just too big to play out there. He’s never going to weigh around 260, which is the weight they thought he needed to be to play out there, so he’s going to be solely at first base. As we know the problem with that is Adrian Gonzalez is at first base so it’s hard to see him in San Diego — but you never know.

If you are just looking at him as a prospect, there are a few things that do concern me some in addition to his rather obvious attributes. One, his conditioning could be a little better and two, he tailed off in the second half, 1.019 OPS to .821. Finally there were pretty big differentials in some of his splits (.370 against lefties, .280 against righties and .317 at home, .287 on the road). San Antonio is a much tougher place to hit than Lake Elsinore, both from a competition and park standpoint. He’ll have his work cut out for him.

Ducksnorts: Headley took a huge jump forward on moving up to San Antone; what allowed him to do so, and can Blanks tap into some of that?

Savage: Headley is in a class by himself. John and I talked about this a lot at the end of the season and we felt he answered the questions we had on him — can he hit for more power? Can he become a more consistent right-handed hitter? Will the extra weight serve him well?

He answered each question with a resounding yes, and if you talk to Headley he was actually disappointed in how he ended the year. Unbelievable character — a guy everyone wants on their team.

Blanks is just a different sort of player for me. He has a more laid back approach, and I would like to see some meanness in him. Growl a little bit — he has the size to be an intimidator and can use that to his advantage. Use that and watch the walk totals rise and his power increase because of better pitch selection.

Conniff: Headley has gotten much stronger than when he first came into the system — he was around 190 lbs and now he’s a pretty solid 215-220 lbs — is part of it, and the other is in San Antonio he started looking to drive balls more when he was in hitter’s counts.

With Blanks I think it has to begin with his conditioning. Also he can become a little too selective looking for the perfect pitch. He may tap into that, but it’s also important to realize that Blanks had his biggest year in terms of power in the Cal League where he set personal records for home runs, extra base hits and slugging percentage.

I think the biggest numbers that people should focus on is what he does post-All Star break, which will indicate if he was serious about getting in shape.

Ducksnorts: Plate discipline is a huge concern right now for Yefri Carvajal. How realistic is it to expect that he’ll tighten up his strike zone as he moves up the ladder? If he does, what kind of player can he become?

Savage: This is sort of a misnomer. Carvajal has what I call “big eyes.” When he gets ahead in the count, he commits to swinging at just about anything instead of continuing his patient approach and waiting for a fastball in his hitting zone. Basically, he gets himself out as a result.

He made tremendous strides in the Padres Instructional League, winning MVP honors. A lot of that had to do with his improved pitch selection. He truly believes he can hit any pitch thrown and gets into bad habits because of it. In Instructs, he became a lot more aware of his own strengths and stuck to them in every count instead of becoming anxious and swinging for the fences.

Carvajal can be the best hitting prospect to come out of the Padres system in quite some time. He has raw power that rivals Blanks and Daryl Jones, has the ability to hit for a high average, has one of the best arms in the system, and profiles as a middle of the order bat that drives in a lot of runs.

If you get a chance, watching him bat is a treat. There is a distinct sound off his bat that only Nic Crosta matches in the system.

Conniff: He’ll have to tighten up his strike zone if he’s going to move up the ladder. His big problem is anything that isn’t a fastball; he has a tendency to chase. He’s very young, has a great deal of promise but is probably going to struggle at first in the Midwest League, which is just a brutal place to hit.

I haven’t seen him play in person yet as opposed to Denis, and I’ve heard he could be everything from another Kirby Puckett to Bill Madlock.

Ducksnorts: Among the prospects not currently in your top 10, which are most likely to be there next year, and why?

Savage: The first shoe-in, to me, is Drew Miller. Power arm that has developing secondary pitches. Injuries prevented him from making that leap last year, but I think a big year is coming.

Southpaw Corey Luebke had a plus fastball from the left side and understands pitch sequencing. He should benefit from time off and really blow the doors off the competition in 2008.

My sleeper is Rayner Contreras. This kid has a lot of talent packed into his strong, wiry frame. He has a chance to be special and injuries cost him some time last year. With solid protection around him, Contreras could excel this season.

Conniff: Two that come to mind are Drew Miller (#11) and Mitch Canham (#14). If Miller is healthy and develops his changeup he’s going to be pretty high. He didn’t have that great a year statistically in Fort Wayne, but when he was healthy he showed a lot of promise.

Canham is a tremendous athlete who is still learning how to play catcher; he was a third baseman in high school. Two things which will really speed his ascent are improving his defensive mechanics, especially his throws, and a few tweaks in his swing which should result in more power to go along with a good batting average and OBP.

Also as a sleeper I’ve always been a Craig Cooper fan, and to me he seems like he’s in about the same situation Chase Headley was last year, someone who hits for average and OBP, but needs more power.

Ducksnorts: As you note, there is very little margin for error with a guy like Josh Geer, and many pitchers with his profile have failed at the big-league level. What separates Geer from those pitchers?

Savage: Geer is the model of the Grady Fuson regime. He throws strikes, attacks hitters by using the corners, is not afraid to go inside, and uses all of his pitches to keep hitters off-balance.

The best Fuson quote of all time was in regard to Geer: “He’s the poster child for what 70 percent of the minor league pitchers need to be; ability to locate, disrupt batters timing, and compete.”

He succeeds because of the aforementioned attributes. His ceiling may not be as high but he legitimately gets the job done.

Conniff: The pitcher who reminds me of Geer on the major league level is Justin Germano and if he will succeed is a very open debate between myself and the former hockey goon (Denis) as demonstrated by our individual rankings (John #10 and Denis #30).

I think Geer can be better than Germano because his best pitch is what he throws the most, a sinker, that he can place anywhere he chooses.

Germano’s best pitches are a curve and change, but until this year when he began to throw a two-seam fastball (more of a sinker) instead of a four-seamer (faster but straighter), he had difficulty getting ahead in counts so he could throw his plus pitches. It’s still his worst pitch, but if his two-seamer is on, Justin will usually have a pretty good day.

Geer’s fastball/sinker’s velocity improved along with his change, and his slider is improving. His biggest asset according to his catchers, Colt Morton and Nick Hundley, is an almost uncanny ability to see things before they occur. Morton told me that he sat on the bench with Geer one night and Geer not only called what the opposing pitcher was going to throw beforehand but where the ball was going to end up. He has a great ability to throw pitches that batters aren’t expecting and keep hitters off balance.

As a reader and fan of Ducksnorts I know there are quite a few of you guys that are very comfortable with a wide variety of sabermetric projections and it’s tough to see someone like Geer having success on the major league level. I’m not sure if he will either, but I do think his best assets, intelligence and competitiveness, are hard to quantify and thus to project.

Guys like Geer are always going to have to put up numbers to get a chance and he should be able to do it again in Portland. It’s an overused phrase, but he does know how to pitch. Finally, as someone who has written that he would struggle in the California League and then the Texas League and was proved wrong each time; I’m getting tired of being beat.

Ducksnorts: Here’s hoping that Geer’s intangibles can make him the exception. Staying with pitchers, Aaron Breit had a miserable 2007, but you still like him quite a bit. How does his upside compare to that of Latos? How about his chances of reaching that upside?

Savage: One thing that often gets lost is what a kid is doing to get better — and the stats are deceiving in many ways. Breit changed his mechanics and instead of going back to his old ways, he stuck with the new way and broke through at the end of the year. His upside remains huge — not Latos-like, but more like Miller. His changeup is still too hard and his fastball hits the middle of the plate too often, but Breit can be a #2 or #3 at the big league level.

I don’t like giving “chances” when projecting a player. I prefer to use what he needs to work on and if he hits “these marks” he will reach that potential. Breit has things to work on — if he hits the marks he can reach his potential. I think we will find that once he does improve, he will begin to move fast. There is no doubt in my mind that he ends up in the majors.

Conniff: Well we liked him quite a bit last year too for the reason there just are not that many guys that have his size and ability to uncork mid-90s fastballs on a consistent basis. His biggest problem right now is strike zone command and learning that he has to do more than simply try to overpower hitters. His best month was his last, and Wally Whitehurst, his pitching coach at Fort Wayne, believes that he has turned the corner.

Ducksnorts: You have Cesar Ramos ranked #20. Who missed the cut because of him, and why?

Savage: The most unpopular decision John and I ever made — Will Inman.

When we first started this roundtable, I mentioned that nothing replaces what we see with our eyes. We saw Inman throw once — and we were not as impressed as we thought we should have been. His velocity was way down. His location wasn’t good. We expected to see more. We admitted it was a bit unfair to count one bad start against him, but it is all we had to go on. Even in a bad outing, certain traits of future success are evident. Inman didn’t have that this time around.

Having said that, I expect Inman to have a tremendous year in 2008. Very reliable people I have spoke with say he was a far different pitcher in the Milwaukee system, and they admit to being surprised at how different he appeared in the Texas League. Unfortunately, we could not weigh what he did in the Milwaukee system fairly without seeing him. Our steadfast rule has always been not to rank any player we have not seen. That is why Nick Schmidt only appears on our All-Injured team and not anywhere in the top 60. Inman will find it again. and we will be there to applaud his efforts.

Conniff: I think it would probably be Jared Wells, Will Venable or Will Inman. Although Wells did pitch well after being converted to the bullpen, there are still some questions about him as shown with his struggles in winter ball and really if he has the makeup to be a quality relief pitcher. There is much to like about Inman, but his numbers above A ball — especially his ERA — cause some concern along with the fact that he really doesn’t have a plus pitch. Venable didn’t have a bad season but doesn’t really have enough of a bat to play a corner outfield slot or enough of an arm to play anywhere other than left. He may be able to show some more power, but right now there are several better candidates, in our opinion, ahead of him.

Ducksnorts: I hope you’re right about Ramos. His numbers are pedestrian, and he didn’t impress me at all the couple times I’ve seen him, but we shall see.

Thanks again, guys, for stopping by and chatting Padres prospects with us!

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30 Responses »

  1. Great interviews Geoff. It seems like they are extremely high on Headley, and after the start Chase has gotten off to in ST, I can definitely see why.

    Here’s a question to the DS crowd: If Chase can only get as much as a platoon situation with Hairston this season, is it worth it to have him up the whole year? Would it be better to have him playing full-time in AAA and wait until someone in LF falters?

  2. I don’t see how they can keep both Headley or Kouzmanoff. They just aren’t going to hit enough to be much more then average in LF. Headley’s best case would be to turn into something like Pat Burrell — that’s certainly not bad but it seems to a waste of his ability.

  3. Thanks again, Geoff! Really enjoyed these insights.

    1: I think if there is a reasonable platoon partner for Hairston, it makes much more sense to allow Headley to play full time and be sharp if needed for a call up. With so many options (P-Mac, Gerut, Davannon) I don’t think it makes sense to have such a young, inexperienced guy sitting on the bench most of the time when he could be playing everday, especially while learning a new position.

  4. 1: I think a platoon with Hairston would see more playing time for Headley (if he wins it in ST) because Hairston would probably get more of the starts against lefties an Headley most of the starts against righties.

  5. 4: Yeah, you’re right. I wasn’t thinking about it as a Lefty/Righty platoon, but as a Hairston starting/Headley relieving platoon. But if Headley, as the LH batter, were starting, that wouldn’t be a bad way to go for him.

  6. I was just looking at the schedule for planning purposes. We play 9 games against the dodgers in Septemeber! 6 on the road and 3 at home. That could make for a very interesting few weeks if we are both in contention for a playoff spot.

  7. 2: The average LF in Petco hits .266/.339/.426 (according to ZIPS). ZIPS has Headley projected to hit .264/.353/.410, so if he can hit like that and play average defense in left he’s a real asset, especially while he’s really cheap. Sure, he’s more valuable if he’s a third, but perfect swaps of value where we trade Headley for a left fielder who’s a better hitter to a team that needs a third baseman rarely happen.

    1: I would rather see Headley win the job outright and let Hairston platoon with Edmonds or Giles, who need it a lot more than Headley. Put another way, I think Headley will hit lefties better than Giles and Edmonds will. However, if they’re set on platooning in left, it would make sense to let Headley play full time in AAA and keep Gerut or McAnulty as the platoon partner.

  8. 1: My bet is, they would give Edmunds, Giles and maybe Kouz one day off a week. Then you would have Hairston playing two or three days a week in left, one in right and one in center. That gives Chase three or four days a week in left and one at third. Five guys covering four slots, plenty of at bats for everyone and you keep everyone fresh.
    The caveat being, Hairston must be adequate in center field. If that happens they will run into problems with Pmac being out of of options, and Gerut being able to opt out, if he does not make the 25 man roster.

  9. I doubt that Headley can play an adequate LF. Most scouts don’t rate his as particularly athletic and he’s not fast (he’s never stolen more then 4 bases in the pros, 6 is his high in college) either. So it just seems a stretch to expect to be decent in the outfield considering he’s learning on the job in the majors.

    As I said, it just doesn’t seem to be a very efficient use of their resources to move what could be an above-average 3B to make him an average (at best) leftfielder. However, if he can be an above-average leftfielder in the field, it could make sense to move him.

  10. Stauffer has given up 4 runs (3 earned) in 3 innings with homeruns by Rowand and Aurillia. I wonder if his 40 man roster spot is in danger if he pitches poorly this spring?

  11. O.k it’s early, but what an incredible bonus it would be if PMAC shows the potential we thought we would see from him last year.

    Does anyone know if Chip Ambres is out of options. This guy could help us win a few games down the stretch if we can keep him.

  12. There is going to be some seriously interesting decisions to be made this spring. I think a Headley platoon could severely stunt his growth and Hairston deserves a real chance IMO as well. Gerut seems to be hitting pretty well also. Anyone else see the potential for a Giles trade? Would he have any value? If Headley, Hairston and Gerut have good springs who plays? Also, P-Mac seems to be swinging a decent bat as well. After all the hype around Headley can you really see the team sending him to AAA if he has a great spring? I know it’s early but I didn’t think it was going to be nearly this competitive.

  13. It’s as if McAnulty doesn’t WANT to go back to Portland.

    If Headley goes to AAA, does he play third or LF? I’d prefer 3b, as LF should be easier to fill later if needed. Gerut could solve the whole LF situation if he keeps hitting, making Hairston the 4th OF playing 4-5 games a week.

  14. Re: 13 I would love a Giles trade but what can you get for a 37yo OF whos coming off of knee surgery, does not hit for power, is not quick on the base paths and has at least $12M left on his contract?

  15. Blanks has a sick fro

  16. 15: Not much, plus we would most likely have to pick up 4-5 mil of his contract to get any suitors. This is Giles last season here, the only way he goes is if someone sees a need for him at the deadline.

  17. 12 – we signed Ambres to a minor league deal…not sure if that means he can go to AAA or if he can refuse it…

  18. Obviously Giles money would be an obsticle but I could see a team like say Oakland maybe even a team like the Reds (Giles hits for power there haha) or Phillies wanting his bat. Maybe a team with a DH spot like Seattle or Cleveland. He was a solid bat last year and had a good showing I thought out of the lead off spot. Of course it’s not likely but if a team gets an injury it could be an option. I just don’t see a way at this point to fit all these guys on the field and pretty much every single one of them has more future possibilites and upside here in SD than Giles does. The only thing for sure is that if these guys keep hitting in the spring the Padres hand is going to be forced in one way or another.

  19. While I’m glad our OF candidates are performing so far, spring training success is a far cry from regular season success. See Sledge, Terrmel.

  20. I wanted to say John Roskos, but that would be quite obscure.

  21. Anyone picked up MLB 2K8 yet?

  22. 22: Just got it a few hours ago, Khalil’s hair is red!

  23. 23: Seems like it has always been red in the 2k series. This game seems real choppy to me and also if you do a franchise with the Padres its impossible to call up and send down players. Its fine with any other team.

  24. After only 5 sloppy spring training games I am punch drunk already as I reconsider the possibilities in the outfield. Might it not be as bad as I expressed here ? (#21) Yes, I remember Roskos quite well but lets not forget Eric Owens. Can we get a couple Eric Owen’s offensive type years (1999-2000) out of this heap Gerut, Ambres (I like the way Ambres swings the bat-he is my Roskos/Owens darkhorse this year) , PMAC (could it be..PMAC starts believing again that he can really rake) , Davanon (I think Davanon is done) along with just one healthy, productive year between Giles and Edmonds ? The wild card is Headley- is it possible that he is a good offensive year with his bat with limited liability in the field. Certainly not far fetched. The best of this lot though is Scott Hairston – I know it was a small sample last year, but I have a strong feeling that this guy finally blossomed-he has a lot of confidence now and all the tools, he looks like the real deal to me.

  25. I was at the game today … beautiful day! A few observations …

    – McAnulty got 2 ABs and smoked the ball both times … first one was a line drive rope that was basically right at the RFer … the 2nd was his HR to RCF (off a LHP, with 2-strikes on him, after he had words with the ump on strike 2, a *very* impressive AB) …

    – Stauffer looked “done” … he hit the first batter he faced … gave up the back-to-back HRs (both BOMBs) in his next inning … then led off his next inning by walking the opposing pitcher … he did not look comfortable at all … he did not look like he was able to do better … he just looked “done” … and that pains me to say that as I am a fan of his …

    – Stansberry made 2 good plays at 3B, fielding a swinging bunt with runners on 2nd+3rd in the 3rd inning … then fielding a tough hop to his left in the 6th … at the plate, he had 2 solid ABs (a ground ball single up the middle and a walk) …

    – Crabbe fielded 3 routine plays at SS … and had a solid RBI single to CF … but seems to run the bases like Jack Clark (ie. like he’s invisible), trying some delay’d steal for a CS in the 6th :-(

    – Venable is a much bigger guy than I had imagined … now I can see how he played Div1 hoops …

    – Gerut and Headley both had poor PH ABs

    – Maddux was just classic to the first 5 hitters of the game … no solid contact … then the 6th hitter managed a line drive, but it was right at the LFer …

    – Wilton Lopez looked to have a little zip on his fastball … GY – I noticed you didn’t mention him in the book … fyi ;-)

    – As mentioned by FFD in comment #16, Blanks stood out with his fro sticking out under his hat (Oscar Gamble-ish) … and baggy “old school” knickers, showing some sock … a *very* unique look … he walked in his only PA …

    – Edmonds hit a ball hard his first time up … carom’d off the SS’s glove … scored an E6 …

    – Edgar roped a double down the LF line … then was called out on strikes on a *bad* call by the home plate (who looked to be having a rough/inconsistent day) …

    I’ll be over at Phoenix Muni stadium for tomorrow’s game vs A’s …