Monday, July 25, 2011

Newberg Report Night at the Ballpark: Part 1

At Rangers Ballpark in Arlington yesterday, over 300 Rangers fans gathered almost five hours before the first pitch for the 8th annual Newberg Night at the Ballpark. Jamey Newberg of has been providing this opportunity to the members of his mailing list of Rangers super-fans. This year at the event, over $15,000 were raised for the Texas Rangers Foundation Memorial Fund in Honor of Shannon Stone.

The event included over an hour of Q&A time with minor league experts Kevin Goldstein and Jason Parks of Baseball Prospectus. Rangers GM Jon Daniels and Asst. GM Thad Levine provided over an hour and half of their time for Q&A as well.

Below is a lengthy summary of the Q&A topics addressed by Goldstein and Parks. (A summary of Daniels and Levine will follow in a separate post).

How does the scouting of international prospects differ from the scouting of US based prospects?

International scouting is about projecting a player's body and his mind. One tactic in evaluating players at such a young age is to evaluate the physical stature of the player's parents, which can give some indication of the "genetic" projection of the player.

How do you rank the farm systems in the AL West?

Goldstein's ranking of the AL West farm systems - Texas at the top; Oakland and Los Angeles not far behind; and Seattle as a so-so system, but not a terrible system.

Oakland's strength is in arms, not bats. They do have UTA product Michael Choice who is playing very well. Grant Green is the other legit bat in the system.

Will the Rangers make a move at the trade deadline?

The Rangers are likely to trade for relief help. Heath Bell is the #1 target and the primary competition is likely going to come from St. Louis. The price is going to sting with Parks mentioning the name Robbie Erlin as a possible name in the discussion.

When talking about Heath Bell later in the discussion, Parks and Goldstein both pointed out that the Padres farm system isn't very good, which translates into a real need to add a solid prospect or three in a Heath Bell deal. Parks just spent some time watching the AZL Padres and commented on how they look really weak.

Carlos Beltran is also a possible target, but since he's the main legitimate bat available, the deal will go down to the deadline as the Mets try and drive up the price.

Hiroki Kuroda is also a target on the starting pitching front but his no trade clause makes it a particularly complicated transaction. Kuroda has stated that he only wants to be on the West Coast.

This trade season does not include a Cliff Lee or a big bat, which makes it a different market than year's past.

Which teams have the best farm systems in baseball?

Goldstein provided a top five off the top of his head (and made that qualifier pretty clear) of the Royals, Rays, Rangers, Yankees and Braves. Parks threw the Braves out there at the end and Goldstein quickly agreed.

Who was the best player the Rangers traded away last season?

Justin Smoak was the clear answer. He's going to sting, but as Goldstein so clearly got the Rangers to the World Series.

Blake Beaven still profiles as a guy who is going to be a 4th or 5th starter and a guy who will eat innings.

Josh Lueke is a useful late inning arm, but those guys are replaceable. Fabio Castillo was mentioned as a similar arm in the Rangers system.

How good is shortstop Jurickson Profar?

Goldstein stressed that Profar is very, very young. He's six month's younger than uber-prospect Bryce Harper and until recently was playing at the same level...and playing very well with power and defense at an elite defensive position. He profiles as a guy who hits .280 in the big leagues with 15-20 homers and 15-20 steals, but he is several years away.

Parks disagreed a bit on the timeframe. He pointed out that Profar is a guy that adjusts very well to his stage. He likes to play up to his competition. Parks could see an opening assignment in AA Frisco to begin next year and thinks Profar could be in the big leagues by age 20.

What are the chances of seeing Cuban signee Leonys Martin in September and what are the chances he is the starting centerfielder for the next few years?

Good and good. The comment was made that Martin's bat was better than others were led to believe.

What is the difference between Chris Davis at AAA and Chris Davis in the big leagues?

If they knew that, they'd be rich. The talent difference between AAA and MLB is huge, but also Davis has struggled making adjustments from pitch to pitch and from game to game.

Would Mike Adams have more value than Heath Bell?

Yes, because of his years under control, which is also why the cost will be significantly higher. The issue with trading for a reliever, especially a rental like Heath Bell, is that the price you pay only gets you around 90 outs. Often that can make the price too steep.

Do the Marlins and Rangers match up for a pitching centered trade?

No. The Marlins won't trade anyone the Rangers want. The Marlins need to hold on to their key pieces because they are opening a new stadium next year.

What is the scouting report on Japanese starter Yu Darvish?

No one knows for sure if he will come over to the US. He is a celebrity in Japan. Together with his supermodel wife, they are Japan's version of Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie. In years past, it has been pretty certain he would stay in Japan, but now it is unknown. Bottom line, he is probably a 2nd or 3rd starter in MLB, but he will inevitably get paid like an ace.

What pitcher has the most upside in the Rangers system?

David Perez. [With no hesitation]. Next would be Martin Perez. Martin profiles as a #2 starter. David is really raw, but he's a big kid. He's 6'5" with really long arms and really long fingers. He sits in the mid-upper 90s. He really needs to put on about 20 lbs.

Why are the Rangers so active in Latin America?

The Rangers work in Latin America because they can get the player's they want. In the amateur draft, the Rangers didn't even scout the top flight talent because they knew they wouldn't be able to get them based on draft position. In Latin America, if you identify a player you want, you have a shot at him.

What is the scouting report on recent international signee Nomar Mazara?

Mazara has 80 grade power. Legitimate, top flight, world class power. The name referenced was Juan Gonzalez. What remains to be seen is if the contact rate will be sufficient and whether he can properly develop when facing real competition. A lack of legitimate competition is one of the struggles with evaluating international talent. Often you have to go where the player's are, which may be a sandlot or a field with a chicken running through it.

Outside of the Perezes, how do the next tier of Rangers arms (Ross, Erlin, Wieland and Ramirez) profile?

Robbie Erlin, Joe Wieland, and to a lesser degree, Robbie Ross are all pitchability guys. They are pitchers with excellent strike zone command but who lack top flight "stuff." The Rangers have pitchability guys everywhere. Ross is a bit different. He has better stuff than Erlin and Wieland but doesn't always know where it is going. His fastball darts all over the place. He also has a "wierd" body (a bowling ball was mentioned). Roman Mendez, Luke Jackson and Cody Buckel are "stuff" pitchers.

For comparison, the Astros have Jordan Lyles as their pitchability guy and they don't have a "stuff" pitcher. The general consensus is that the Astros are in really, bad shape. They'll be down for a while.

How does 18 year old catcher Jorge "The Legend" Alfaro profile?

He has massive raw power and a massive arm. He's learning to catch and learning to hit. It takes a lot of time to learn the catcher position. Regardless of if he ever develops as a catcher, he has a bat that will play in RF. It is just going to take a while for him to develop.

Is converted infielder Matt West the next Alexi Ogando or the next Pedro Strop?

Alexi Ogando is a very unique situation. No one is the next Alexi Ogando. As for West, right now he is just a guy that throws hard. He is learning to pitch. He is working on a slider that shows promise at times. It's probably too late for him to learn an effective change, so he's never going to be a starter.

Will the Angels make a deadline move?

One key factor is that the Angels hate, absolutely hate, trading their prospects. The second factor is that the Angels aren't convinced themselves that they are in the race. Certainly more likely that they don't do anything.

Will we see an international draft or any other major, similar changes?

No. An international draft can't happen. It's probably not legal and it's not feasible. The NBA draft has international leagues to associate with. No such leagues exist in Latin America. The international market is the wild, wild west.

One possibility is trading draft picks in the amateur draft. It will probably be restrictive to only one draft in the future (the Rangers could trade a 2012 pick, but not a 2013 pick) or limited to only the first 5 rounds.

Hard slotting on the amateur draft is a possible sticking point in the negotiations of the upcoming renewal of the Collective Bargaining Agreement. The players do not want to commit to anything that resembles the beginning of a slippery slope to a salary cap. A more likely scenario would be a hard "budget" for all amateur acquisitions, both through the draft and internationally.

What is Julio Borbon's future?

He could be a very useful fourth outfielder.

What is Eric Hurley's future?

Probably not much of a future. He could develop into a long reliever. Parks really hopes he makes it because he's seen the amount of work Hurley has put in. Injuries are killer. Regardless, Hurley's future is likely not with the Rangers.

Which Rangers pitching prospect is the best bet to make it?

Martin Perez is the best bet to make it to the top of the rotation. Robbie Erlin is the best bet to make it into the back half of the rotation.

How would you review the Rangers draft this year?

The Rangers took some players higher than the industry experts expected. They were guys who would sign at slot and sign quickly. There is a real advantage to having players who sign quickly because they get ahead in the development curve. The draft was a head-scratcher for the Rangers until you saw what happened on July 2nd with the Rangers international signees. Kevin Matthews didn't expect to get drafted in the 1st round. He thought he'd go in the second. The bottom line with Matthews is that he really wants to succeed.

Parks didn't think the Rangers went cheap on talent. All the guys they got are legitimate talents. They also fit the profile of the type of player the Rangers like.

How does failure matter to a team's evaluation of a prospect?

Failure can test mental toughness. Many players straight out of high school have always succeeded. Teams want to know how they handle an 0-24 streak. They also want to know how they handle a big failure, like truly getting shelled in a start. The importance of mental toughness is a reason why makeup and scouting are more important to stats.

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