FanGraphs breaks down future Padres

By Ben Davey

In the last part of MadFriars’ four part series we interview Marc Hulet, FanGraphs prospect maven, on the San Diego Padres’ top prospects for 2013.

FanGraph’s is one of the premier baseball sites in all of baseball, particularly in the field of sabermetrics.

Every year FanGraphs compiles their own team by team top prospect list. FanGraphs, like its counterpart Baseball Prospectus, relies heavily on newer statistics as compared to more traditional scout-driven publications like Baseball America.

Marc Hulet, who has been covering and writing about prospects for more than a decade with FanGraphs.  He is the second longest tenured writer with them and has also written for ESPN, Rotoworld, and NBCSports.

This week FanGraphs came out with their Padres’

prospects rankings and Marc was kind enough to give us some time on his views of San Diego’s system.

FanGraphs is such a unique site as it often incorporates sabermetrics in their calculations. When making your own individual rankings how much do you rely on sabermetrics vs the traditional stats and scouting reports?

Marc Hulet: I don’t really look at “traditional stats” with the exception of ERA for pitchers and batting average for hitters. I weigh them against things such as FIP [fielding independent of pitching] and BABIP [batting average on balls in play].

I also look at league averages and league/stadium effects. With the minor leagues it’s really pointless, for the most part, to rely on counting stats like wins, hits and home runs. Rate stats such as strikeouts per nine innings, hits per nine innings, and percentage of ground-ball outs for pitchers are much more helpful.

The best information still comes from scouting reports and from talking with people in the game. I like the watch the players for myself, as well, usually on video.

Six different sites have ranked five different Padres’ prospects number one.  How did you differentiate between the Padres top five?

Marc Hulet: Any ranking is tough, but especially when an organization has so much intriguing talent at the top and with such a range in experience.

I was a huge [Max] Fried fan prior to the 2012 draft so he was easy. The most difficult to place was [Jedd] Gyorko, because of questions about his future defensive home and the fact that the Padres’ double-A and high-A clubs play in leagues that favor hitters and skew offensive numbers.

[Austin] Hedges got the No. 1 overall nod because of his wide range of skills. I have been able to see him play and really like his athleticism.

Quite a few prospects in your Top 15 either missed most of the season with injury or were shut down early.  How much did injuries and the rehab process factor in your rankings?

Marc Hulet:  I definitely get nerves when an organization has a noticeable number of injuries; especially to young pitchers.

It probably caused each of them to slide down one or two slots from where they might have landed had they been fully healthy.

[James] Darnell may not have made the list at all because he likely would have spent enough time in the majors to cause his rookie eligibility to expire.

Seven of your top ten prospects were pitchers.  Does this speak to the depth of the Padres pitchers or the lack of quality hitting prospects?

Marc Hulet:  Probably a little bit of both. I tend to favor pitching when I do these lists, given how much overall value they have as assets to the organization;both as future big league contributors and as trade chips. The organization has a few intriguing bats but, for the most part, they seem to be more complementary than true stars-in-the-making.<

Travis Jankowski is an example of a guy that came close to making the list but was a late scratch because I went with guys like [Keyvius] Sampson and [Zach] Eflin instead.

The Padres spent three of their first four picks from last years draft on high school pitchers.  You have all three of them in your rankings.  While we have heard a lot about Fried, what made you so high on Eflin and [Walker] Weickel?

Marc Hulet:  Upside. They’re both high-ceiling guys that look good on the mound. Once they improve their command and round out their repertoires, they could really take off… assuming they can stay healthy.

Keyvius Sampson had a pretty steep fall from grace after being ranked in the top five last year.  What factors caused you to keep him over the likes of [Donn] Roach, [Burch] Smith, and [Matt] Andriese?

Marc Hulet: One thing that bugs me about some top prospect lists at times is how volatile they are; although that kind of goes hand-in-hand with prospects.

Some lists are too quick, in my opinion, to jump on one-year wonders or first-year pros, despite a lack of data or background information to justify it. I like to give the benefit of the doubt to guys that have shown success and potential in the past and give them a mulligan.

There are always exceptions to the rule, though, such as with San Diego and its influx of outstanding draft picks from 2012. Andriese was a tough guy to leave off the list; I really like big, strong, ground-ball-heavy pitchers.

Which prospects just missed your list?

Marc Hulet: I’ve alluded to some of them already, but names that just missed included Travis Jankowski, Matt Andriese, Donn Roach and Brad Boxberger.

After being named the top prospect in 2011, Yoan Alcantara suddenly became Yeison Asencio and aged.

Did he do enough in 2012 to make scouts forget about the scandal?  Would he had been a top prospect without the scandal?

Marc Hulet:  Not for me. I saw him play a little bit -with the caveat being that it was a small-sample size look – and I don’t love the projection on the body and I felt his baseball instincts were lacking. He didn’t stand out on the field in a way that top prospects usually do.

Between [Kyle] Blanks, Darnell, Jaff Decker, and Donovan Tate which players, if any, will ever contribute in San Diego?

Can any of them still reach the potential they had a few years ago when they were all ranked in your top 10?

Marc Hulet:
I have to go with Darnell because he was ranked ahead of the other guys. Had he been healthy in 2012, I think he would have spent some time in the majors.

Tate would be my next guy, but he’s got a huge hill to climb. His speed and defensive values play better in San Diego than some of the other guys.

Who is your sleeper pick for both a pitcher and a position player?

Marc Hulet:  Andriese would probably be my sleeper pick for pitcher. I think he has a chance to be a solid number three or number four pitcher in San Diego.

As for hitters, I’ll go with Jankowski and 2012 draftees: catcher Dane Phillips and infielder Fernando Perez.

What is your overall view of the system?

Marc Hulet: The overall organizational rankings will come out in March after the Top 15s are done, but San Diego should be in the back-end of the Top 10.