Phillies Prospect Conversation: Jim Callis (Baseball America)
Nobody covers baseball below the Major League level more comprehensively than Baseball America. They have monopolized a niche few baseball fans find themselves obsessed enough to occupy. Even the most passionate seamheads, the ones who keep up with the prospects and minor leagues, often couldn’t care less about what was going on in the ACC over the weekend or who made the U18 national teams. It takes a special kind of goober to get excited about stuff like this, or spend an hour combing through lists like this for fun (Eric’s note: go look at #52 on the 1995 top 100. He was called “Bob”?) I am that goober.
If that’s too deep for you, you should be interested in the Prospect Handbook, an annual purchase I’ve made since my senior year in high school and something that I carry with me 75% of the time from March to November. Ask my fiancé.
I got in touch with Jim Callis about the Phillies list and he granted me permission to call him on the phone during working hours, a true honor. Callis is Baseball America’s prodigal son. He began work at BA straight out of college, left for STATS for a few years, then came back and is now BA’s Executive Editor. It’s good to be Jim Callis and it was even better to talk to him, if only for about a half an hour, while my homemade chocolate ice cream was turning in the background.
Eric: Jim? It’s Eric Longenhagen.
Jim: Hey, Eric, how’s it going.
Eric: Great, man. Thanks for taking the time to talk to me.
Jim: Happy to help out.
Eric: I wanna talk about this list
(Baseball America’s Phillies Top 10:
1. Jesse Biddle
2. Roman Quinn
3. Tommy Joseph
4. Jon Pettibone
5. Adam Morgan
6. Ethan Martin
7. Cody Asche
8. Maikel Franco
9. Darin Ruf
10. Carls Tocci)
and your relationship with the list. I know you’ve done interviews where BA’s lists are scrutinized or a player’s scouting report is questioned and you’re sort of forced to stand by a list that is not necessarily yours since you assign teams’ systems to each of your writers. Can you talk about what that’s like?
Jim: Sure. When the guys do the lists and finish them they get sent to me for editing. I try not to tinker with them too much because our guys have their own opinions and work hard to acquire the information they put in to the list.
Eric: Looking at Matt’s list for the Phillies, is there anything you’d do differently if you had carte blanche to alter the list?
Jim: Yeah, I think mine would be a tad different.
Eric: Let’s talk about Roman Quinn. I’m in the beginning of this process and already he seems like a polarizing guy. You guys had him all the way up at #2. What are your thoughts on Quinn and do you think he’ll develop physically and add the strength he’ll need to hit at the big league level?
Jim: I don’t think adding strength is a big deal for him because it’s not part of his game. This is a guy who’s going to do use his legs and put balls in play and make all sorts of things happen on the bases. He’s never, ever going to hit fifteen or twenty home runs. Even without that, I think there’s a useful player there. (Eric’s note: I really need to see Quinn. All of these different opinions bug me. Want to decide for myself)
Eric: What about the defense? You think he stays at shortstop?
Jim: I’m not too worried about him staying at short because even if it doesn’t work out, the fallback option is center field and that’s still so valuable. He played a lot of center field in high school.
Eric: Ahead of him you have Biddle. I want to know why you have Biddle at number one even though it seems you gave him the same projection as Adam Morgan and even John Pettibone. They’re all listed as #3 starters. What separates Biddle from those guys for you?
Jim: I think Biddle has better stuff than the other guys. He’s left handed, which matters. I know Morgan is, too, but then when you factor in age, the fact that Biddle is doing this sort of stuff and almost two years younger than Morgan…that’s a factor. And Biddle’s very safe for someone that young.
Eric: Speaking of Adam Morgan, I love him. From what I saw last year this guy looks like he has a chance to be a really nice mid-rotation starter. I’ve considered putting a list like this together and have thought about sticking him way up on my list. What do you think about his growth last year?
Jim: You know…it would be defensible to stick him at number one on this list. (Eric’s note: mostly unsolicited, this is the second time I’ve heard this exact phrase uttered by men who are way better at this than I am)
Eric: How do you guys go about compiling your lists? Is it your standard, “our writers see guys and have opinions that are supplemented by scouting contacts?”
Jim: Yeah. It’s an ongoing, year round process and even longer than that, really. We have a history of covering these kids back from when they were amateurs and that stuff lingers in our minds. We cover these guys all season and our thoughts about them build. We get stuff from teams about their own players and then go around sourcing all over. (Eric’s note: Interesting. It seems BA’s process draws info from a longer time period where as others seem to make a higher volume of calls when the time comes to make a list. BA might talk to a scout in June, write down what he says and use it months later when the time comes to make the list. Good? Bad? Needs more thought)
(Jim and I talk about college and high school baseball in the northeast for a little bit)
Eric: Oh, where would Trevor May be on this list if he were still in the organization?
Jim: That’s a good question. Let me pull up the list from before we he was traded and see
(Jim types some stuff into his computer)
Jim: Here it is. Matt had him at #6, between Adam Morgan and Ethan Martin. I am not a Trevor May fan and probably would have dropped him a bit once I got hold of the list.
Eric: Give me some names you think are going to bust out this year.
Jim: Dylan Cozens, who we sort of under estimated and Austin Wright (Eric’s note: That’s a new name.)
(thanking and good byes)
Before we wrap up, one thing I love about BA’s lists are the prospect superlatives they add on. They talk about things like, who in the system is the best defensive outfielder, who has the best curveball…that sort of stuff. I’ve included those along with my comments on each selection:
Best Hitter for Average: Cody Asche (Eric’s note: Steve Susdorf isn’t really a prospect, otherwise I’d stick him here)
Best Power Hitter: Darin Ruf (…….I guess. Who else would I go with? Larry Greene?)
Best Strikezone Discipline: Darin Ruf (I don’t care about walks, I care about production)
Fastest Baserunner: Roman Quinn (Quinn is the fastest man in all of baseball not named Billy Hamilton)
Best Athlete: Roman Quinn (The system is loaded with so many athletes. Aaron Altherr might be the fit here)
Best Fastball: Kenny Giles (Pure reliever, up to 98mph)
Best Curveball: Jesse Biddle (a potential legit 60 hook)
Best Slider: Adam Morgan (Yeah)
Best Changeup: Jon Pettibone (I’d have gone Morgan again)
Best Control: John Pettibone (No doubt)
Best Defensive Catcher: Sebastian Valle (Valle’s pop times aren’t spectacular but he’s one hell of a receiver)
Best defensive infielder: Cesar Hernandez (The fact that a second baseman takes this spot is really pretty sad)
Best infield arm: Maikel Franco (an easy one, some outside the Phils organization wanna see him catch and throw from behind the plate)
Best defensive OF: Tyson Gillies (a 70 runner, plays a legit CF)
Best outfield arm: Kyrell Hudson (an interesting name who I know little about)
Here’s a link to my other conversation(s) and our series primer: Aqui