Phillies Prospect Conversation: Kiley McDaniel (ScoutingBaseball.com)

We continue our discussions on the Phillies farm system with Kiley McDaniel, he of MSN’s ScoutingBaseball.com and formerly of ESPN, Baseball Prospectus and some front office work, all before the age of 30. Based in Florida, McDaniel does an enormous amount of in-person work on amateur and Latin American talent and, for our purposes, sees plenty of Florida State League action as well. He provides excellent video content, rock solid scouting opinions and even breaks an occasional news story once in a while, including this doozy. You can also make the case that he has a better head of hair than I do. I wouldn’t, but you could. While Kiley’s stuff is mostly behind a pay wall (it’s absolutely worth it if you’re a hardcore baseball geek) his Phillies list is not. Lucky you. Here’s our discussion:

Eric: I guess to start, I’d like to know more about the process you use to compile your rankings.

Kiley : I don’t think my process is necessarily that different than other prospect writers out there.  We all talk to scouts, look at numbers, mix in some of our own opinion, rank the players, then go back to the scouts again to make sure our list still makes sense to them.  The differences come down to the subtle ways we do each of those steps differently.

I have a background in scouting for clubs, so I trust my own opinion on players I’ve had good looks at recently.  I’ve also done a good bit of statistical analysis for clubs, both in the accuracy of lists like these and in general projections, so I like to think I can regress some of the more marginal scouting opinions I collect.  I like to think that, anyway.  This is my first time doing a top 100 and team lists after focusing more on the draft and July 2nd in the past, so it’ll be awhile until we find out if I’m better than the wisdom of the crowds on the minor league prospect rankings.

Eric: I’ve been pointing to Julio Rodriguez as a caveat for those who get excited when they look at Severino Gonzalez‘s numbers. How much of those two guys had/have you seen in FSL action and what makes Sevy more viable as a prospect, assuming you even consider him to be?

Kiley: I had Gonzalez at #20 on my Phillies list and the scouts I talked to just weren’t real enthused about his upside.  It’s easy to get drawn in with a guy that shoots through the system and signed for little money, since everyone likes being associated with a diamond in the rough, but I’ve got him as a #5 starter or swing guy with good pitchabilty.  That’s great for a $14,000 bonus but not the kind of guy fans should be pinning their hopes on.

Eric: Moving up your list we come to Zach Collier, who was incredibly difficult to watch in 2013 until he got hot late in the season. How do you evaluate a player that performs/generates reports from scouts that feature such great disparity over the course of a season?

Kiley: The longer you scout, or write about scouting, or live, really, you learn to ignore some of the more extreme things in life and try to find the truth that’s somewhere in the middle.  I saw Collier a lot in the Florida State League and know he has the tools to hit in AA, not so much that he’s a can’t miss type, but he has an aggressive approach that often lends itself to an adjustment period at new levels.  I graded Collier as a solid 4th outfielder with a 50 bat and fringy power, so it’s not so much bat that he’ll certainly sail through the minors, but I think he’ll have some big league value in the next few years, just not as a regular.

Eric: Dear god, that was life changing. Now, tell me how dumb I am for thinking Yoel Mecias has a role 6 ceiling if everything pans out.

Kiley: In the words of Kevin Garnett, “anything is possible!” but I wouldn’t bet on that.

Eric: As enthusiastic as I am on him, the one thing that I’m having a hard time dealing with is the often heard adage that, “the curveball is either in the wrist or it isn’t but a changeup can be developed over time.” Is this a theory you agree with? I know offspeed/breaking ball development is impacted by dozens of things (arm angle, hand size, finger length, etc) but in general is it more reasonable to expect a guy to develop viable offspeed stuff over time than it is to expect a breaking ball to show up?

Kiley: I tend to agree with this.  Like with any hard and fast rule, there are exceptions, but there are way more stories of miraculous learning/improving of a plus-plus changeup (James Shields, Eric Gagne, Fernando Rodney) after turning pro than with a breaking ball, as it’s more an innate skill like you mention.  That’s not to say anyone can learn a changeup, obviously, but there’s a lower barrier to entry.  Now, often guys that can’t spin it but can do everything else can learn a cutter or change arm slots to neutralize same side hitters, so there are ways to work around the limitation.  For the record, the scouts I talked to think Mecias will have three average or better pitches, but nothing plus.

Eric: Further up you have Altherr and Cozens and you note that hitter their size often have trouble making consistent contact. Can you talk about why long levers create these issues?

Kiley: Having all the different levels from high school to the big leagues is in part because there are tons of adjustments that need to be made to make it to the highest level as a hitter.  Every little edge you can get, you have to take, so mechanics and plate approaches get refined and refined and refined over thousands and thousands of reps until only the most fit combinations of tools, mental approaches and abilities to adjust get to the big leagues.  It’s natural selection.

So, imagine two players are exactly the same in every way except one has arms that are a few inches longer.  All those refining adjustments to your swing have an added level of difficulty as you have to make a decision even earlier to corral your arms to get them to the same place at the same time as the other guy.  When there’s razor thin margins between AA and MLB level hitters and so many have essentially exactly the same tools, having longer arms ends up being a difference than could be enormous in the stat line.

I should note that longer arms mean more leverage and more power, so very few of these guys are exactly the same as a smaller guy but just with longer arms.  At some point, if your skill level is to hit .240 with 30 homers, that average is low enough that you won’t get to hit 30 homers (due to not making enough contact or being on the bench).

Said another way, there’s a threshold of contact ability for power to matter (below that threshold is the AAAA slugger type) and there’s also a threshold of limb length (given typical MLB hitting tools) to make enough contact.  Height-wise, that cutoff appears to be over 6’4 for hitters.  The exceptions are from guys with freak hitting tools and freak size, like Giancarlo Stanton or Dave Winfield, and whatever few weaknesses they have are made up for with massive power.

Eric: One of the elements of risk with Cozens and Altherr are that they may outgrow their positions. What do you think the chances are that Altherr moves to a corner full time and Cozens moves to first? What about their chances to hit enough to profile if that happens?

Kiley: I would guess they both end up at those positions in the prime years.  I mentioned that I think Altherr won’t make enough contact to be an everyday guy in a corner, making him more of a good 4th outfielder for me.  Cozens is a little harder to figure as he hasn’t faced full-season pitching yet, but the last two falls at instructional league, he’s shown me some signs that he could be a .260 average with some walks and 20-25 homers, which could be enough to be an low-end everyday guy at first base.

Eric: Who, of the top three, doesn’t make it?

Kiley: Franco and Biddle are both knocking on the door, so hard to imagine them not being of some use, making Crawford the clear riskiest bet to have big league value.  That said, if I’m picking them, I ranked Biddle 3rd since he’s got the lowest expected value for me.

 

Wasn’t that spectacular? Each of these posts will continue to be updated with links to all the other conversations so you won’t miss anything. Here they are:

Chris Crawford

Still to come… Keith Law, Jason Parks, Josh Norris, hopefully Jim Callis sometime in March and maybe a surprise or two.

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5 comments

  1. Bob

    February 11, 2014 11:36 AM

    Interesting note about those 6′ 4″ and taller and contact rate. What’s a good contact rate to look for at any given level in the minors?

    • Eric Longenhagen

      February 11, 2014 12:04 PM

      Contact rates on their own really aren’t enough to tell you anything because they don’t speak to the quality of contact. And even career minor league BABIP to supplement it doesn’t help because the quality of defense at any given level is so volatile. You have to look at the swing in-game, how the player tracks pitches, how he reacts to breaking balls, etc. and then supplement that with statistical analysis while keeping those caveats I mentioned in mind. For me, 25%+ strikeout rates are worrisome and when you start to encroach up in that realm I need to see the power to justify that kind of swing and miss and then, at upper levels, the approach that will allow you to see hitters counts that will allow that power to play.

  2. Bubba0101

    February 11, 2014 12:13 PM

    I love baseball science. Im a scientist and this makes my day to read about awesomeness like this.

  3. Josh

    February 11, 2014 01:48 PM

    Awesome article. Really enjoy getting to hear the professionals think.

    Although it doesn’t make me feel great about Cozens (who I really like) hopefully he will hit more than .260 or a higher ops. Here’s hoping!

  4. Adam

    February 11, 2014 08:57 PM

    Great piece, Eric. Looking forward to your other conversations.

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