Prospect Chat with Marc Hulet, FanGraphs
As the offseason begins to hit a fever pitch and with Toronto general manager Alex Anthopoulos’ stated preference to improve his major league roster through trade rather than free agency, some fans are understandably anxious about what any potential upgrades may cost to the Blue Jays’ already depleted prospect pool. It wasn’t very long ago that Toronto was ranked by the respected baseball website FanGraphs as having the second-best minor league system in all of baseball. That report was written in March of 2012 however, about nine months before a pair of blockbuster deals would see the team bid farewell to 5 of their top 10 prospects.
The man responsible for writing both of those reports was renowned prospect expert Marc Hulet of FanGraphs, a London, Ontario native who was voted by Sun Media as one of the 100 most influential Canadians in baseball. Marc graduated from the University of Western Ontario and has a background in both print and broadcast journalism. He has been writing about baseball for over a decade, and is the second most tenured writer at FanGraphs.com (since 2008), while also having written for ESPN, Rotoworld, NBCSports, MLB Trade Rumors, BaseballAnalysts, SBNations, and Heater Magazine.
Marc recently posted his list of the Top 10 Prospects in Toronto’s system. Breaking Blue was able to get in touch with him for an interview during which time he shared with us his insights into prospects, the draft process, and the state of the Toronto Blue Jays minor league system.
BB: Hi Marc, thanks for taking the time to talk a little baseball with us here at Breaking Blue. I guess one of the first questions we want to ask since it’s pretty fresh in our minds and some of us are still a little confused about what happened exactly is, do you believe that Toronto intentionally “punted” the Phil Bickford pick in 2013 in order to have the 11th pick in a supposedly deeper draft?
MH: Punting a draft pick is a risky thing due to the general volatility of the amateur draft. It might seem like there’s a ton of talent coming in the 2014 draft when you’re looking at it in June 2013, but a lot can change in a year. Plus you’ve lost a year of development on a high draft pick.
BB: Do you agree with Keith Law’s opinion that there’s never any logic in punting a pick and why? Keith Law believes we should have simply drafted JP Crawford at our 10 and that there likely will not be a comparable talent available for us this year at 11? There’s no denying Crawford’s success, but do you agree with the no comparable talent assessment?
MH: It’s easy to say Toronto should have just taken Crawford, but there is no saying the organization felt he was worthy of the 11th overall selection. They may have preferred Bickford and felt he was signable based on conversations between their scouts and the Bickford camp.
BB: Speaking of the draft, what do you think about the Blue Jays’ draft philosophy? Taking so many high school pitchers seems like compounding risk upon risk – it doesn’t seem like a great longterm strategy.
MH: Toronto has one of the largest scouting staffs in baseball and they get a lot of looks at the players they’re drafting. As you mentioned the draft is risky to begin with so don’t shy away from it. Embrace it! It only takes one success story per draft to really pay off.
BB: Again on draft philosophy, do you think a team is better served employing a more integrated philosophy like the Red Sox and Cardinals, not surprisingly, two of the better drafting organizations over the last five years. Marcus Stroman is a perfect example of this perhaps, and he is an outlier as far as Blue Jays picks in recent times. Is it ever good to have such a closed philosophy all high school or all college, and what is the ideal balance?
MH: I think you have to let the talent pool dictate the approach. If you prefer to draft college players and it’s a draft where there’s a strong prep class, then you’re just shooting yourself in the foot if you stick to your philosophy.
BB: Are pitchers a bit easier to scout than hitters? Things like pitch velocities are readily quantifiable talents. Hitting prospects only have those types of readily quantifiable tools in less important areas (arm, speed), whereas velo might be the most important developmental factor for a pitcher.
MH: I don’t know that it’s easier to scout one over the other, and I don’t know that I agree velocity is the most important factor. Velocity can increase over time, but it can also diminish. As well, just because you throw 95 mph, it doesn’t mean you can command it, or that it has good movement, or that hitters can get a really good look coming out of the hand. There have been a ton of amateur arms that could throw 95-100 mph that never learned to command the pitch and flamed out in A-ball.
BB: Have the new draft and international rules hurt or helped teams like the Jays?
MH: I think it’s fairly clear that the new rules are hurting teams that used the draft and international markets to compensate for their inabilities to play with the big boys in the free agent market.
BB: About the Jays current prospects, Stroman vs. Sanchez, is it simply a question at this point of Stroman being a safer bet but Sanchez having notably more upside?
MH: Yes and no. Stroman is “safer” but you also have to buy into the fact that Stroman will stick as a starter for a significant period of time. There are few if any pitchers that have had significant careers in the starting rotation that stand 5’9″. He can probably hold up for four or five years but I doubt he can do it for 10 or 12 years. With that said, Sanchez may never show enough command/control to realize his full potential.
BB: Since we’re talking about Stroman, do you think a pitcher’s height actually matters? Fact or myth?
MH: Yes, look at Tom Gordon. He’s probably a good comp for Stroman. Hard thrower, same height and he only held up as a starter for a short period of time.
BB: How did A.J. Jimenez bounce back from Tommy John surgery?
MH: He had a lot of problems with the elbow in 2013, which resulted in DL stints and the cancelling of his trip to the Arizona Fall League. You have to hope that the arm bounces back after some rest because his bat probably won’t really play at another position.
BB: Where do you see him from here on out, is his potential a backup, or can he be more? He spent some time in AAA, do you think he could contribute at the MLB level this coming season?
MH: He could potentially help in the second half of 2014. I see him as a fringe-average to average regular or a very good backup or platoon catcher.
BB: Coming into next season, who are two sleeper prospects in the system that no one is talking about?
MH: I’ll go with two pitchers. Miguel Castro destroyed the Dominican Summer League last summer to earn a late-season trip to North America. The second is Ryan Borucki. I had a talent evaluator say some really good things about him right before he got hurt and required Tommy John surgery, causing him to miss all of 2013. Both pitchers should open the year in extended spring training.
BB: Who do you see rising up the system in 2014?
MH: People are starting to talk about Dalton Pompey and I think that will continue in 2014 as the Canadian continues to put all his tools together. Ryan Tepera is a guy that I could see moving quickly now that he’s in the bullpen. If he’s not popped in the Rule Five draft I could see him reaching Toronto in the second half of 2014.
BB: Which guys in the system do you see contributing in the Majors for 2014?
MH: If they’re not traded, I’ll go with Stroman, Jimenez, Tepera, John Stilson, and maybe Andy Burns. Generally speaking, the pitching prospects in the Jays system are better than the hitters but Burns could be a real keeper.
We thank Marc once again for his time.