Baseball Prospectus on top Padres prospects

Jason Parks, a.k.a. “Professor Parks” to those who know him from his BP Podcasts, has stepped into some very big shoes with Kevin Goldstein, the former Managing Partner of Baseball Prospectus, prospect maven extraordinaire and his co-host on the BP Podcast, left to accept the Pro Scouting Coordinator position with the Houston Astros.

But Parks who began his career writing about the Texas Rangers’ system seems to be more than up to the challenge.

“I have always really enjoyed watching prospects; being on the back diamonds in the spring and the complex leagues of Arizona and Florida.”

“Kevin had every contact in the world so he could pull up ten pretty substantive opinions on a guy in about an hour but I’m on the road for three months during the season so I tend to go more off what I see.”

Prior to writing for Baseball Prospectus Jason had also worked as an independent scout for a number of teams and had assisted on the Baseball Prospectus Annual as well as the podcast.

Jason was kind enough to take some time out of his schedule and talk to us about what he sees in the Padres’ prospects for 2013.

A note on his rankings.  Even though Jason has seen nearly every prospect in San Diego’ system he also solicited not only the Padres’ opinions but also other team’s front offices and other scouts.

Regardless if you agree or disagree with his opinions, the man is thorough.

Whenever I read these lists the first thing I always do is disagree where someone was or was not ranked which is wrong.

Briefly, your list seems to be based on the value you believe each player will ultimately have in the majors if they reach their potential, is that correct?

Jason Parks: For the most part yes. I want to create a high-end ceiling list but also have to take into account risk factors so that it avoids being a ceiling only compilation.
For this year’s list after talking with scouts and what I have seen myself I do like players like Austin Hedges, Rymer Liriano and Max Fried more than Jedd Gyorko, Casey Kelly and Robbie Erlin because I think eventually they will have more impact.

The danger for me is falling in love with a player. Robbie Erlin is a great example.  I have seen him since he came into professional baseball and I can’t get too high on him because I have to think what he will be when he faces better talent at upper levels. 
At the same time you can’t fall too in love with the tool guys or you won’t be giving comprehensive reports.

I love these lists, and we do them too, but never believe they are truly an apples-to-apples comparison because so much always seems to be weighted more towards what someone has the potential to become as opposed to their their ability to do perform on a consistent basis.

For example your predecessor Kevin Goldstein had Donavan Tate in his top rankings for years despite arguably only ever having one solid season (Eugene in 2011).

For the casual fan, how do you avoid high rankings for players like Donavan Tate or even Matt Bush who have never really done anything on the field?

Jason Parks: An example that might be good to answer this question is Max Fried.  Internally I do realize that he has only pitched around seventeen innings in a complex league [The Arizona League] but what when I do rankings I really want to focus as much as I can on the player.

Fried is a good athlete.  In high school he was solid as a position player and was good at basketball.  He’s left-handed, sits around 91 to 94 MPH, good curve and change and when you see him he seems to have a natural “pitchability”.  By that I mean it doesn’t look like he struggles to learn things.  It’s just all about refinement.

Casey Kelly is a very good pitcher and probably will be a solid major league starter, I just like the upside on Fried more.  Some of the teams that I have spoken with had him as the number one ranked player in the draft, his talent is very legitimate.

I don’t disagree with what you are saying but if this was the winter of 2010 couldn’t someone have made a similar argument with Donavan Tate?

Jason Parks: You can and that is why this is tough to do.  Tate was more of a freak of nature athletically.  But there are many similar guys that are multi-sport athletes in high school but never really develop the instincts for the game that baseball only guys tend to have.

I don’t think someone can learn a feel for baseball in your early twenties.  Now there are guys who can get to the majors and be really successful but you have to be really outstanding at one aspect of the game.  Sammy Sosa never really had a feel for the game but could really hit.

The big problem with Tate is that his lack of feel for the game prevented his talent/tools from coming out. I know there were some teams that were interested in him at the beginning of last year but not as many now.

To this year’s list, Austin Hedges is the top pick.  Everyone knows about his defense but why do you think his bat will continue to progress?

Jason Parks:  I believe in the kid.  When I first saw him catching bullpens I thought he looked like a major leaguer.  He has great footwork, understands his role and just has really outstanding make-up which is what you need in a catcher.

Most people are happy with the stick.  He has good balance at the plate and if he can’t handle a certain pitch he will work around it.  If he develops into an average major league hitter hitter – and by average I mean around .270 with 10 to 15 home runs – he will be an all-star because of his glove.

I mean we are talking about Yadier Molina level of defensive talent and we have him in our overall Top 20.

Jedd Gyorko is a little lower on your list than on ours.  My assumption is you don’t see him having the ability to play second?

Jason Parks: He can play out of position but no; long-term he is not a second baseman.  With Tate we were talking about all the tools he brings to the table before he plays the game and with Jedd its the opposite, you have to look past that and focus on his bat.

Gyorko can really hit and he has a talent of putting the barrel of the bat on the ball.  I think he can become a solid major league player and he does have a chance to make the big club as a second basemen even though his eventual position may end up being third or even first.

What player surprised you most in the system as you went about your research?

Jason Parks: Oddly enough Adys Portillo.  I’ve seen him pitch five or six times and with pitchers I am a bit of a velocity monger.  He was throwing 96 to 99 MPH as a teenager, so that was something I really liked.

What was interesting was that a lot of teams and scouts said that his fastball wasn’t that big of a bat-misser.  Not a whole lot of deception and it tended to be pretty straight and no one was that impressed with the secondary offerings.

If that is the case he tends to profile more as a relief pitcher with only one outstanding pitch and that one as we just found out has some warts.

Some players that have been ranked highly in the past aren’t on either of our lists.  What is your take on the problems that Jaff Decker had after some very good years in the lower minors?

Jason Parks: Decker is struggling because more pitchers can hit their spots in AA, Decker can hit fastballs and his pitch recognition skills are sound. He has trouble hitting better located fastballs and sliders.

AA is a man’s league and you have to be able to do more than know balls and strikes.  You have to be able to pick up spins and release points.  Hitting a baseball is hard and at this level you have to be able to make adjustments.

I don’t think he is going to be the offensive monster that some predicted based on his A-ball numbers but I do think he has a chance to be a major leaguer.  He can hit, he’s just going to have to adapt his approach to playing against better competition.

Who is your sleeper?

Jason Parks:  I like a few guys but two that jump out at me are Matt Wisler and Matt Andriese.  Wisler is a really good pitcher with a lot of pitchability and raw stuff.  He’s in our Top 10 this season but I think he has the potential to jump even higher.

Andriese is not going to shoot up prospects lists but he had a very good season in the High-A California League which is just a brutal place to pitch.  He just pumps the zone with low sinking fastballs and the hitters could never seem to elevate it.  I think he’s going to be a major league pitcher and that has some value.  Possibly a Derrick Lowe light and his stuff will play very well at PETCO.

Overall assessment of the Padres’ system?

Jason Parks: You can make a good case that this is one of the top five systems in baseball.  There is just so much balance in the system.  One one hand you have a lot of high end/ high risk prospects like Liriano, Hedges and Fried but you also have solid major league prospects in Gyorko, Kelly and Erlin.

They have some other interesting prospects in shortstop Jace Peterson and some Latin American guys that are interesting.

A really solid organization top to bottom.