John Sickels (JS): Following prospects was something I did as a kid, beginning as early as age 12. I grew up in Des Moines, so most of the baseball games I saw were Triple-A. I only made it to one or two major league games per year. When I discovered Bill James' writing in 1983, a whole new aspect of the game opened up to me. I was particularly taken with his concept of MLE (Major League Equivalents) and how minor league performance, properly interpreted and understood, did tend to predict major league performance.
Actually doing this for a living is just something that I stumbled into. I was a graduate student in history in 1993 at the University of Kansas, when I accidentally got a job as Bill James' assistant. I did that for three years, then moved out onto my own in '96, first working for ESPN.com back in the early internet days.
Q: Do you have any projects you are working on currently besides your writings at www.minorleagueball.com?
JS: I do minor league coverage for Rotowire.com. I host Down on the Farm Friday on XM Satellite radio, XM 175, 12 noon Eastern on Fridays. I write the John Sickels Baseball Newsletter, and I write the yearly Baseball Prospect Book. You can find out more about those things at JohnSickels.com.
Q: Has your prospect evaluation mindset changed over the past 10 years? Are there things that you now think are important that you did not before?
JS: Well, ten years ago I was a lot more "fundamentalist" when it came to strike zone judgment and pure statistical analysis. My perspective has broadened now I think. Strike zone judgment is still critically important, don't get me wrong, but there's more to it than that, and it isn't just a matter of drawing walks. And I'm a lot more comfortable with things like "projectability" and tools than I used to be. Granted, my emphasis is still on blending statistical analysis with traditional scouting, but my point is that I'm a lot more aware than I used to be of the fact that there is no Holy Grail or magic bullet when it comes to this.
Le me put it this way: I'm a lot more comfortable saying "I don't know" about a player than I used to be.
Q: Jeff Stevens is off to an unbelievable start in the Kinston bullpen. He was the player the Indians received for Brandon Phillips last year. Is he someone to keep an eye on or not?
JS: He's got a 24/4 K/BB ratio in 20 innings with just six hits allowed. I'd say that's unbelievable. Given his age (23), we need to see what he can do at higher levels before we know how seriously to take this. His performance in the Reds system was decent but not this outstanding. His best pitch is his curveball. So yeah, he's definitely worth keeping an eye on, but let's see what happens in Double-A.
Q: Jared Goedert is off to a sensational start in Low-A Lake County. Is this a breakthrough year for him and could he be someone to consider in the future as a top prospect? His power and plate discipline to date have been great. What is the scouting report on him?
JS: Like Stevens, we need to see what he can do against better competition, although his numbers for Lake County are stunning: .377/.515/.831 with 10 homers already and a terrific BB/K/AB ratio. I saw him play for Kansas State in college, and while he struck me as a pretty good athlete with some offensive potential, I didn't think he'd do anything like this as a pro. He's still young, too, just 21. If I were the Indians I'd move him up to advanced A as soon as feasible to find out exactly what they have here.
Q: Trevor Crowe is off to a very slow start, and he acknowledged this recently saying he is pressing and trying to do too much. Do you think the problems go beyond that, and is his stock in danger of dropping (or has it already)?
JS: Well, I have never been as high about Crowe as some people have, and in fact I got some flack from Indians fans for giving him "just" a Grade B- in my book this year. Now, that said, I want to warn of sample size again. Just as we should not overreact to Stevens and Goedert having fast starts, we should not overreact to Crowe's slow start. I'd also point out that his strike zone judgment has remained pretty good. My guess is that he'll gradually pull out of it, but it wouldn't surprise me to see him end up as more of a really good fourth outfielder type down the line rather than a star regular.
Q: Is Adam Miller ready to play in the majors right now? If not, what else does he need to work on? What type of player do you think he will become?
JS: His control still needs a little bit of work, but I think he'll be ready by late June. You could stick him in the rotation now and he would hold his own. If he stays healthy I think he can be a guy you build your rotation around.
Q: What are your thoughts on John Drennen and Brad Snyder?
JS: I like Snyder. His strikeout rate scares me a bit, and I think his batting average will be erratic, but I like his power/speed combination. Possibly a Jeromy Burnitz type with more speed? An outfield version of Howard Johnson? Something like that.
Drennan is young enough to develop into just about anything. He could add more power, or focus on batting average. . .I could also see him stalling and becoming something of a "tweener," doing well overall but lacking that one strong skill that pushes him into a regular job. It's too early to tell for him basically.
Q: What is Chuck Lofgren's ETA, and what are your thoughts on him?
JS: Lofgren is 2-2, 4.05 in four starts for Akron. I like the 26 strikeouts in 20 innings. He still needs to sharpen his command a bit, but I think he'd be a candidate for a September call-up. I wouldn't want to push him into the rotation until mid-2008, though. I'm a big believer that pitchers, especially, need as much Double-A and Triple-A time as possible. I really don't like skipping levels. I gave him a B+ in the book and don't see any reason to change that. He's one of the top ten lefty prospects in the game.
Q: Will shortstop Asdrubal Cabrera ever be more than a utility player for the Tribe? What is his time table?
JS: Cabrera is off to a hot start in Double-A. He was rushed to Triple-A ahead of schedule last year and I think that hurt his performance a lot, but he's still just 21 years old and has plenty of development time left. I like his glove a lot. At worst he's a good utility guy, but it would not surprise me at all if he developed enough offense to be a decent regular. I don't think he'll produce a ton of power, but I could see him being solid in the batting average and OBP departments.
Q: Is there more potential upside to Franklin Gutierrez? Or, have we seen what he is capable of and he may at best be a 4th outfielder?
JS: He's got lots of athleticism and tools, and is playing very well at Buffalo right now. And he's still just 24 years old. So in theory he still has quite a bit of upside. However unless he shows that he can handle the strike zone at the major league level, I'm skeptical about his ability to improve on what he did for the Indians last year. I could see a power increase, and him developing into something like a .270/.320/.450 hitter.
Q: Is Wes Hodges the real deal? Indians Farm Director Ross Atkins says he is being fast-tracked, how soon can he make the majors?
JS: Well, I like him. But we need to see what he does once he gets to Double-A. He's been quite hot lately but it is still early enough in the season for sample size considerations to distort the statistics.
Q: Any final thoughts on the Indians system?
JS: Overall I think Cleveland fans have a lot to be happy about for the future.
Thanks again to John Sickels for taking the time to provide some insight into the evaluation of prospects and his thoughts on some of the players in the Indians system. Be sure to check out his books, radio show on XM, and his minor league content at www.minorleagueball.com.