Phillies Prospect Conversations: Keith Law (ESPN)
Two and a half weeks ago I was fortunate enough to spend most of my Saturday with Keith Law as I took in that afternoon’s tilt between East Carolina and Virginia. We sat basking in the glow of the first vibrant sun either of us had seen in months, wearing the same clothes we had the day before (at least I was), drinking up every ounce of pleasing stimuli emitted by the world around us. The warmth from the sun, the sights and sounds on the field, the smell of the barbecue stand behind us. It was perfect. And then, as if the baseball gods had decided we were having too nice a time, a little, blonde, southern boy proceeded to kick the seat between Keith and I for the next seven innings with what had to be a heavy pair of BK Ratch Techs. Keith, who was filming swings and needed the kid to cease and desist, politely asked him to stop several times while I spent most of the game hoping Pai Natal actually existed and that this child would be butterless on Christmas Eve.
You probably don’t need an introduction to Keith and his work, which can be found on ESPN.com and is well worth a subscription to Insider on its own. Keith’s Phillies top 10, headlined b J.P. Crawford, is here. Our conversation follows.
Eric: I want to start right at the top with Maikel Franco. You and I aren’t in lockstep when it comes to his defense, which I think, in the short term, is passable and you think is untenable. What about his work there don’t you like?
Keith: My issue with Franco at third base is his feet. He’s a heavy-legged, slow-footed guy. He’s not athletic, and his first step isn’t quick – guys with that kind of lower half tend to require a ton of work just to be average, like Matt Davidson with the White Sox. Franco’s even slower and less athletic than Davidson, so you’re left with a guy with okay hands and a plus (but not yet accurate) arm. There isn’t really a good place on a diamond for that skill set, as first base wastes the arm strength.
Eric: What kind of vibe have you gotten from the organization, either while you were building your top 100 or just from the way they’re handling Franco, about their feelings on him there. Until Larry Bowa compared him to Adrian Beltre last week, I would’ve said they were lower on the defense than the rest of the industry generally seems to be.
Keith: I think the public – both fans and the media – are or were higher on Franco’s defense than the industry. I fully acknowledge that evaluating defense is hard, and that it’s an area in which players can made significant improvements well after entering pro ball, but in terms of where he is right now, I agree with what the Phillies seem to think – it’ll be a rough ride if he stays at third.
Eric: How do you go about evaluating a prospect who performs extraordinarily well for a chunk of the season and then looks dreadful in others? This is how 2013 was for Jesse Biddle. In April he looked great, was keeping everything down and working to both sides of the plate, the spin on the curveball was so tight that you could hear it rotating from the scout seats. And then from mid-summer on he couldn’t get on top of his fastball to save his life. How do you marry performance on both ends of the spectrum into one snapshot look at a guy?
Keith: Biddle did pitch with whooping cough – vaccinate your children, everyone, because it is both ignorant and selfish not to do so – for most of the year, so I want to cut him a lot of slack. To your broader question, the answer depends on the age and experience of the player. Biddle’s young, came from a cold-weather environment, and doesn’t have a ton of innings behind him, so I’m more likely to believe that what we might call Peak Biddle will become the norm than I would if he were 24 and had been worked do death at a major university for three years.
Eric: What do you think Peak Biddle’s ceiling is? It’s a #3 for me but I think he falls a tad short of that.
Keith: Realistically, a good 3. I could paint a picture where he becomes more than that, but we’re talking 95th percentile outcomes at that point.
Keith: Yeah, I’m not sure I can be the apostle you seek on that one. I haven’t seen Severino yet, but the scouting reports I’ve gotten are a little too reminiscent of Julio and the invisi-ball that suddenly became very visi-ball after-all.
Eric: You might have seen him but mistook him one of your daughter’s classmates. I just can’t see that body pitching starter’s innings and there isn’t bat missing stuff that would make him a superior option to the dime-a-dozen plus-fastball arms you can turn into relievers, even if Sevy’s command is better. It’s a weird profile.
You and I both had Adam Morgan #1 on our lists last year and he looked great last spring until he broke. When you were doing your research for that Tommy John piece you ran a while back, did the difficulty of fixing shoulders come up? What do you have to say on that subject?
Keith: Nothing good, unfortunately. I’m not the first to point out that the greater complexity of the shoulder joint increases the difficulty of restoring a damaged shoulder to its pre-injury state exponentially over the same kind of operation on a shoulder. That’s why you’re seeing more teams try to rehab guys with shoulder injuries, strengthening the muscles around the damaged labrum or rotator cuff to allow the pitcher to compensate for the damaged bits.
Eric: The rash of injuries to Phils farm hands this year: Freak aberration or sign that something isn’t being done right? The list is long.
Keith: The list is long, but you tell me – did you detect any kind of trend, or consistent problem? It seemed to me like a lot of freak, acute injuries. I mean, Roman Quinn should hire security to protect him from himself at this point.
Eric: Well Watson, Morgan, Pettibone all had shoulder issues but other than that they’ve just been weird.
Keith: And Watson was probably hurt, or at least damaged, before the Phils got their hands on them. The Phillies take a lot of heat from me and from the industry in general, much of it deserved, but I believe they deserve the benefit of the doubt on this one.
Eric: Speaking of Quinn, I didn’t have the chance to see him much before he got hurt. What were your pre – injury reports like?
Keith: Tremendous runner, hard hard worker, probably ends up in CF, bat speed but not great feel to hit. Never got him in Lakewood because he got hurt not long after I moved, I think.
Eric: It’s midnight and Jill wants a grilled cheese. Any tips?
Keith: Shred, don’t slice.
Eric: Well, obviously. Surface to mass ratio, baby.
Let’s go off list here. Who were some names that were in consideration for the top 10 that didn’t make it?
Keith: Aaron Altherr and Jake Sweaney were 11 and 12, as far as I ranked their particular system. Had I continued ranking, I would have had Zach Green, Mitch Gueller, Cameron Perkins, Yoel Mecias, and Larry Greene in the next tier. I also mentioned Kenny Giles as a guy who could get to the majors this year if he can just stay healthy – premium stuff, iffy command, limited track record of durability. Morgan would be somewhere in that next group, but given the uncertainty around his shoulder I chose to omit him.
Eric: Jill put a 60 on the grilled cheese, by the way. Quick draft stuff: I know it’s early but who might be looked at for that #7 pick?
Keith: Their best options will likely be high school arms, assuming that the typical flight to safety occurs up top, where teams shy away from prep pitchers and go for “safer” categories, which this year would be college arms. I’m assuming Rodon, Beede, and Hoffman are all gone by that point, as well as one prep arm, Kolek.
Our other prospect conversations our here:
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