Phillies Prospect Conversations: Josh Norris (Baseball America)

Better than anyone, Baseball America has been providing comprehensive coverage of all levels of America’s Pastime for over three decades. Whether you’re a subscriber to their website, magazine or purchase the annual Prospect Handbook (which you can find here) you’re going to get well written, informative, dynamic content. I visit their site on a daily basis and encourage you to do the same. The July 2 coverage is second to none, they do outstanding reporting (like Aaron Fitt has on the Phillies/Ben Wetzler story) and generate content with excellence in all forms of media. I’ve been purchasing the Prospect Handbook since my senior year of high school (when Phil Hughes was on the cover) and have been a subscriber ever since I left the IronPigs and could no longer steal the new mag issues from the Coca-Cola Park press box. This year the BA writer covering the Phillies list is Josh Norris, formerly of The Trentonian. Our conversation follows.

Eric: I guess I’d like to start by asking how you compiled your list.

Josh: Obviously a lot of it was done based on what scouts and other evaluators thought. But you’re right, there are a lot of guys with very similar future potentials in the book. I noticed that too, so I wrote all of their names on a white board and started putting different colored stars by each of their names.

If you had a blue star it meant you’d had injury concerns. A yellow star meant you had succeeded at the upper levels, a green star at the lower levels, a brown star meant you had defensive questions, and so on.

Once that was done, I arranged by which guys had the least amount of risk and voila, the top 11-30 was born. The top 10 was done prior because of magazine deadlines. Some guys got moved in the editing process, and obviously the ranking was finalized before Morgan and Watson had their surgeries.

Being that this is the first year I’ve done rankings after being a beat writer for six years (I covered the Yankees’ Double-A team in Trenton), I think my tendencies skewed toward guys I’d seen and liked. For example, if I’d gone just on numbers and outside observation, Jesse Biddle might have been a little lower.

I’ve seen him at his best multiple times, however, including the 16-punchout game in Harrisburg, so I know what he’s capable of when everything’s working.

Same goes for Tocci and Quinn (although Quinn got moved once his Achilles popped). I’ve seen them many, many times, and I like their skill sets, so they obviously got a little bump.

Eric: What’s the most favorable report(s) you got on someone who did not make you top 30?

Josh: These guys are few and far between, so I’ll give you a couple:

Mike Nesseth is one guy. He’s a big guy who throws in the mid-90s with sink, but both off speed pitches —slider and change-up — are works in progress. His command isn’t great either, but if a few things click he could work himself into a low-leverage bullpen role.

The other is righthander Lewis Alezones, a right-hander who pitched all of last year at 17 years old in the GCL. He throws in the low-90s now with a fringy curveball and changeup. He’s 6-foot-3 with room to grow and got good results this summer, so he’s someone to project.

Eric: You have Malquin Canelo down at #28. Was there any optimism regarding the future of his bat? Even enough that he’ll be able to hit enough to hit eighth or ninth in a lineup?

Josh: Not particularly. The best comps I got for his bat were with guys like Ramiro Pena, Alberto Gonzalez. But he’s a very good defender, so his glove alone may earn him a spot as the 24th or 25th man on a roster.

Eric: You have a couple of impressive power prospects in the next section of your list (Cozens, Pujols, Green). What obstacles will they need to overcome to actualize that power?

Josh: In the cases of Pujols and Cozens, the answer is reps. Cozens is still working on becoming a polished ballplayer instead of a raw athlete oozing with potential. He has light-tower power, but he doesn’t recognize spin terribly well and gets beaten by most offspeed stuff. Lakewood this year will provide a very big challenge.

Pujols has arguably the most raw power in the system, but he’s crazy raw as well. He can hang with just about any fastball you throw him, but curves and most anything with a wrinkle gets a swing and miss. He’s likely to spend another his age-18 season in extended spring training and the GCL polishing his approach before he’s ready to leave the complex.

And although Green is much farther along and performed incredibly well both in the opinions of evaluators and in the stat line, he too has to deal with the challenges offspeed pitches provide. He did strike out a ton, and that concerned some scouts. That said, they almost universally believed he was a major leaguer, be it at third base or elsewhere.

Eric: You’re the high man on Cameron Perkins. Sell me on Perk and give me your theory on why this system is so thin on college bats.

Josh: Perkins is a guy who really came on this year. He made a position change and took well to the outfield. He’s got a good feel for the barrel, and drew multiple comparisons to Hunter Pence for the way he plays. He’s got excellent hand-eye coordination and room to get stronger, so some of the doubles he hit could turn into home runs in time (and will at Reading).

As for the lack of college position players, the Phillies typically draft more toward the toolsy athletes (Crawford, Sandberg, Cozens, Quinn, Altherr), which generally doesn’t include college guys unless it’s toward the very top of the draft. Plus, the system is pretty thin in all areas.

Eric: In the Phillies section of the book it’s clear you’ve discussed the system with the organization. Did you get a feel for what they think Ethan Martin‘s ultimate outcome will be?

Josh: It’s a matter of command and control for Martin. If he harnesses it, he’ll be in the rotation. If not, he’ll be in the bullpen. Phillies officials say he’ll compete for a rotation spot, but acknowledge that he won’t get there without improved control.

Eric: Did you get a feel for what the organization thinks about Maikel Franco’s chances to stick at third base?

Josh: This is actually a funny question. Of all the evaluators surveyed, I think the Phillies’ seemed lowest on Franco at third. Outside scouts uniformly believed he will stick at third (provided he doesn’t eat himself to first), but the Phillies were a little more cautious. They didn’t say he was definitely going to move, but giving him that time toward the end of the year at Reading to give him positional versatility was definitely a sign that they aren’t necessarily sold on him there. All agreed, however, that his arm will play there.

Other Prospect Conversations:

Kiley McDaniel

Chris Crawford

Still to come: Keith Law and Jason Parks

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  1. Bob

    February 28, 2014 10:35 AM

    Love these interviews. If Franco and Asche have comparable defense at 3B, it’s Franco then, right?

    Have any of the toolsy picks the Phillies made ever panned out? Isn’t the hardest thing to do in baseball is to hit a breaking ball? How can this be taught? Just through repetition?

  2. Mark66

    March 02, 2014 03:23 PM

    After watching Sat game vs Yankees, the Phils should have put their money on Tanaka rather than Gonzalez. They looked like nite and day, complete opposites.

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