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John Sickels 2005 Baseball Prospect Book is now shipping. In addition to the book, some of you might be familiar with John's work from his Down on the Farm columns for The book includes scouting reports and grades for hundreds of minor leaguers including, for 2005, 36 Blue Jay prospects. Any fan interested in minor leagues and prospects should invest in a copy of John's book.

John stepped into DaBox last year and has agreed to provide some insight into his prospect reports again this year. As always John would like you to buy the book which you can do here. John's assignment with has now concluded so look for a new John Sickels minor league blog coming shortly.

BB You previously stated that the only change in the book this year was to combine the first year players into the main section. Is this still true? You changed the font last year to make it more readable, any such non-content changes this year?

JS Yes, that is right, there no major content changes. The biggest change is folding the first-round picks into the regular part of the book, which is something readers have been asking for, for several years.

BB Did you make any change to your methodology this year; are any stats becoming more or less important in your evaluations?

JS It is an evolving process. I pay more attention to K/IP than I did four or five years ago, and I pay more attention to the ratio of home runs and extra-base hits to regular hits and innings. I didn’t use to consider home run rates very often, but I do now.

BB Baseball is in the middle of a stats based versus scouting debate. You state you use both approaches in your evaluations. Do you consider yourself to be in the middle, or do you lean more to one side than the other?

JS I lean more to the statistical side. If “pure stats” was a 1 and “pure scouting” was a 10 on a 1-10 scale, I’d probably be about a 4. Baseball Prospectus would probably be a 2.5, while Baseball America would probably be about a 6. Ten years ago, Baseball America would have been something like a 9.

BB Although you do not rank organizations, do you have an opinion regarding the strength of the Blue Jays minor league system/prospects?

JS It looks pretty strong to me. The last two drafts have been quite good, adding significant system depth with all the college guys. That, plus the development of some more traditional “tools” guys like Alexis Rios and Brandon League brought in by the previous administration, has boosted the system in my view. I’d rate the Jays above average in farm system strength at this point.

BBHow many Blue Jay players did you rank this year?

JS 36

BB In the 2004 book you highlighted Jamie Vermilyea with the **sleeper alert** tag. His performance in 2004 must have made you happy to have issued that alert. Are you more bullish on Vermilyea this year and do you think his "stuff" will make him successful in the major leagues.

JS I gave him a Grade B in 2004 and downgraded that a notch to Grade B- in 2005. But I actually like him about the same…I just decided that the original grade was too aggressive. I think he could end up being a very effective middle reliever or maybe even a fifth starter, but his margin for error will be small.

BB In 2004 the Jays saw a number of previously unranked players have very good seasons: Chacin; Tablado; Davenport; and Cota. How many of them are in the 2005 book and which one are you must optimistic for and why?

JS Chacin, Tablado, and Davenport are all in. I can’t say I’m super-optimistic about any of them. The highest grade is Chacin at C+, but I must admit to having some doubts about him as well; he has a below average strikeout rate. It worries me....I think his margin for error is thinner than his other numbers indicate. All these guys are prospects, but beware of overhype at this stage.

BB (If Gabe Gross is still rated in the book) Gross spent some time in the major leagues in 2004 and struggled somewhat. Many players struggle on their first expsoure to major league pitching, do his struggles cause you to re-evaluate your rating?

JS Gross is still in the book, at Grade B-. I still like him, but his struggles do drop his grade a notch. I no longer think he will be a star, but a few adjustments would make him a productive regular, say in a Trot Nixon-like way. But he has to make the adjustments.

BB Eric Crozier was a low draft choice and was not in your 2004 book, but had a very good year in AAA in 2004. Is he in the 2005 book and does he have a chance to succeed in the major leagues?

JS He’s in the book, as a Grade C, due to his erratic track record and age. He could end up being a Paul Sorrento-like slugger, if you remember him, someone who can hit .250-.270 with 20 homers if you give him enough at-bats.

BB Shawn Marcum has had good numbers in the David Bush/Josh Banks tradition. Do you give him a high rating?

JS I gave him a B-. His command and control are outstanding, but his H/IP mark at Dunedin was below average, and we need to see how that translates to Double-A before going too far with his grade. I saw him pitch in college, and I think he may be better off in relief in the long run.

BB David Purcey played in less than a handful of games in 2004. Did you get any insight into him, or are you relying on pre-draft reports?

JS I gave him a B+, based mostly on what I saw him do for the University of Oklahoma. I really like his stuff, and if he maintains his command he will advance very quickly. I like him a little better than Zach Jackson at this point, but both should be good if they avoid injuries.

BB What does the post ESPN world have for you? Will you show up on another website?

JS I’m still doing my newsletter, and I will start a blog called “”. That will be operational in about two weeks. Also check for updates about what I’m doing. ESPN dropped my column, but I will still be around! And there's always the book of course.

BB Finally you have a new system for delivering Canadian orders this year. I received my book in good time last year but it looks like you had some problems with the Canadian post office. Did you ever figure out what the problem was? I assume this year you are shipping books in bulk to Barry Fader this year and he is then shipping them out. Is this correct?

JS Last year, we had some customers who didn’t get their Canadian books for EIGHT WEEKS after they were mailed from here in Kansas. That was unacceptable, but there wasn't much we could do about was a matter of getting the books through customs. We’re trying a distributor this year to see if we can improve that performance.

Once again, a big thanks to John for taking the time to answer our questions.
John Sickels Steps into DaBox | 15 comments | Create New Account
The following comments are owned by whomever posted them. This site is not responsible for what they say.
Pistol - Friday, February 04 2005 @ 09:51 AM EST (#939) #
Any fan interested in minor leagues and prospects should invest in a copy of John's book.

I got my copy this week and I would agree.

IIRC, Sickels was pretty high on Chi-hung Cheng's chances to really step forward and be a top prospect.

It's funny that he said so many people wanted him to change to putting the first round picks in with all the other players. I actually liked the other way, because I like to see how they stack up against each other down the road and that way they were all together.
Mike Green - Friday, February 04 2005 @ 10:22 AM EST (#940) #
I heartily encourage all readers to support John's fine work.

If John is reading this, I have a general question about what seems to be an emerging pattern in the Jays' working of young pitching prospects. Last year, the Jays gave League, Vermilyea and Davis Romero about 1/2 a season each in the rotation and 1/2 a season in the pen. It wasn't clear to me whether this was an effort to control workload, or simply an attempt to get them accommodated to different roles. Vermilyea and Romero were used more in long relief, usually with 2 days rest. League did come back on shorter rest.

What do you think of this approach to handling pitchers who because of stature (Romero), endurance (Vermilyea) or stuff (League) may or may not be suited to starting? Would you recommend it for Marcum?
_Mick - Friday, February 04 2005 @ 10:38 AM EST (#941) #
If Gross and Crozier turn into Trot Nixon and Paul Sorrento, I have to think the Jays front office would be ecstatic to the point of incoherence.
_John Sickels - Friday, February 04 2005 @ 10:43 AM EST (#942) #
It's interesting. . .several teams have experimented with unusual pitching workloads in recent years...the Jays, the Reds, the Rangers, the Athletics have all done variations of this, shifting people back and forth between starting and relief, looking for ways to maximize pitchers' ability to stay healthy while giving them enough innings to learn their craft. I think it is too early to know if it works or not. In Marcum's case, I prefer him in the bullpen because his fastball is a bit better when he is used in that way, at least from what I've seen.
Mike Green - Friday, February 04 2005 @ 11:04 AM EST (#943) #
For fun, here is Trot Nixon's major and minor league record. When I think of Gross' reasonable comp, Paul O'Neill (Cincinnati Reds' version), comes to mind. Gross might be even better defensively than O'Neill, who wasn't chopped liver himself.
_R Billie - Friday, February 04 2005 @ 02:12 PM EST (#944) #
I figured O'Neil was a good comp for Gross as well. Or perhaps someone like Brad Wilkerson. These would be best case scenarios.

Crozier I see as a low average high strikeout guy. His value will probably come from power provided against righthanded pitching...basically the lefthanded version of Phelps but with not as much pop and a little more patience. He seems like a pretty athletic guy though and maybe he'll still progress now that he's healthy. I agree with Mick; if he turns into a Paul Sorrento type of player then the Jays should be very happy.

The Jays don't have any stars coming up though the trio of League, McGowan, and Rosario appear to have that kind of potential. But they seem to have a high quantity of B- to B+ prospects. Many of whom where adding in the last three years.
_Smirnoff - Friday, February 04 2005 @ 03:18 PM EST (#945) #
I've been meaning to say this for a while now. Gerry, I enjoy reading everything you post. Keep up the good work.
_Jdog - Friday, February 04 2005 @ 04:35 PM EST (#946) #
I second that! Gerry I love your work , keep it up!
Gerry - Friday, February 04 2005 @ 08:29 PM EST (#947) #
Thanks for the kind words guys. Look for more good stuff coming soon.
_okbluejays - Saturday, February 05 2005 @ 10:47 AM EST (#948) #
Sickels is great, thanks to all involved for arranging this interview.

If John is going to answer any other questions from the masses, I'd be interested to know if any teams contacted him regarding a position in their minor league department. Is that sort of switch something that would interest him long term, or would it be too limiting?
_Jdog - Saturday, February 05 2005 @ 06:15 PM EST (#949) #
I'd be interested in what he had to say about Ismael Ramirez! Is he in the book ? I also wonder what type of longitudinal research he has done with his projections..doing something like looking back and seeing how many off his A ball players that he graded a C became stars......!
Pistol - Saturday, February 05 2005 @ 06:47 PM EST (#950) #
Ramirez got a C+ in the book and was called a sleeper.
Thomas - Sunday, February 06 2005 @ 04:57 PM EST (#951) #
Thanks for the insight, John. Much appreciated.
_Jordan - Monday, February 07 2005 @ 01:18 PM EST (#952) #
John's assessment of Marcum as better suited to relief jibes with what I've read and heard elsewhere. That's not a bad thing, in my books -- the Jays have more than a few starting options right now.

Halladay and Bush should be rotation mainstays for the next few years. Brandon League and Josh Banks could be ready for big-league rotation spots sometime in 2006, and if he recovers well from the TJ surgery, Dustin McGowan should be too. I also have a feeling that David Purcey is going to come in a hurry. The Jays already have Ted Lilly and Miguel Batista in '05; they could extend Lilly beyond that if they so chose, and they could keep the suddenly-affordable Batista through the length of his contract if no good trades present themselves. So the rotation looks pretty solid going forward.

Though I would like to see him in the rotation, I still sense that Francisco Rosario will wind up in the pen. Vermilyea should be a reliable middle reliever, and Gustavo Chacin could be effective against lefties; Ismael Ramirez could show up sometime in 2006, and Vince Perkins is a wild-card. In that context, Marcum could rocket through the system if he gets switched to relief.

Pitching prospects should never be counted heavily upon -- ideally, teams will have twice as many arms on the farm as they think they'll need. But the Jays have some really interesting young guys on the way, and if even half of them reach their potential, the team's chances of contention will increase markedly.

Thanks once again to John for dropping by Da Box.
_R Billie - Monday, February 07 2005 @ 05:12 PM EST (#953) #
Marcum's fastball could be better in relief. But the same thing is probably true of David Bush. Bush afterall was a closer throwing in the mid-90s in college and if the Jays chose to use him as a reliever he'd probably be a very good one. However he is able to handle starting eventhough his average fastball velocity is now down around 90 mph because his control and mix of pitches is that good.

And I think that's really what's going to decide Marcum's role in the end. Can he get through innings efficiently and does he have enough variety to get both righties and lefties out at higher levels? I'm not too worried about his efficiency since his control is fine. Whether the quality of his offerings carry over to the higher levels remains to be seen. Whatever happens I think if Marcum and Vermilyea can be anywhere near David Bush in terms of control and poise we'll be quite happy with them.
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