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John Sickels is a long time minor league analyst and in his latest book he has rated over 1,000 prospects.

He recently released his Blue Jay Top 20 Prospect Ranking over at his terrific website and agreed to step into Da Box to discuss the Jays prospects further.

A few weeks back Baseball America released their organization rankings with the Blue Jays ranking 25th. Many people felt that was too low, including Jays Director of Pro Personnel Tony LaCava in a recent Batter's Box interview. Sickels seemed to agree with this assessment. "I havenít done system rankings formally, but 25th seems somewhat low to me. Off the top of my head, I think the Jays probably rank in the middle of the pack, not terrific but not terrible, perhaps somewhere in the 18-20 range. The system looks like it has a good number of decent prospects, C+/B- types, but not many potential impact players right now."

The general consensus is that Dustin McGowan is the cream of the crop among Blue Jay prospects, but Sickels rated him 3rd behind David Purcey and Ricky Romero. "McGowan's stuff is first-class but I still worry about his control. I know that Romero and Purcey ranking ahead of McGowan is controversial, but I think they are both safer picks at this point, while McGowan has the higher upside. You can make the case either way of course, I recognize that."

One player that Sickels is high on is the Jays first round pick in 2005, Ricky Romero, ranking him the Jays top prospect despite not pitching above A ball. While Jim Callis believes that Romero will be number three starter Sickels is more optimistic. "I fell in love with him as a college pitcher. I like his combination of movement and precision. This is something of a projection I suppose, since he hasnít faced Double-A yet and my general policy is to be reasonably cautious about players until they face that level. So in that sense I am going against my general grain here." Sickels considers Romero to be very polished and feels that he can reach Toronto at some point in 2007 assuming he pitches well in Double-A.

The Jays took two OFs that they had similar ratings on prior to the draft in Brian Pettway and Ryan Patterson. Once they started in Auburn they headed in different directions. Patterson had a terrific year winning the team's MVP while Pettway struggled considerably. What should Bauxites think of this? "I try not to make a big deal out of short-season performance, even advanced college players have problems making the adjustment at times, so it is way too soon to give up on Pettway. His plate discipline was pretty good in college, but went backward on him as a pro. Scouts report that he was too power-conscious, trying too hard to hit home runs. Nevertheless, the fact remains that Patterson hit well at Auburn and Pettway did not. So we have to rank Patterson ahead of Pettway at this point, but in the sense of being happy with Patterson and 'wait and see' with Pettway."

Sticking with the 2005 draft Sickels felt that there were a couple 'sleeper prospects' in the draft class. "I like Robert Ray (7th round, RHP, Texas A&M) a lot and I think he has a good chance to surprise people. He has good stuff but didnít mix his pitches as well as he should have in college. If he can mix up his arsenal a bit more and continue to throw strikes, he should do well." Sickels also noted that Jacob Butler (8th round, OF, Nevada) has a "good power bat" but needs a position.

Two players that appear to be fairly similar are Shaun Marcum and Josh Banks. However, Sickels rated Banks as a B and Marcum as a C+. The differences Sickels sees between the two are down the road. "I agree they are similar. They both have exceptional command, but Banks is younger, physically larger, and has a better chance to pick up a little more additional velocity."

One player that the Box minor league crew think highly of is Davis Romero who was ranked 11th in the end of the year prospect rankings. This is in contrast to scouts who generally don't think too highly of Davis Romero. Sickels wants to take a 'wait and see' approach. "Statistically, Romero is just awesome. His velocity isnít terrible, either, and he gets terrific movement on his pitches. But scouts doubt him because he is small and doesnít burn radar. At this point, he deserves a full shot in Double-A. Will he do well? Frankly I donít know, it really is something of a 50/50 bet right now. If he does make it to the majors, it will probably be as a short relief type to avoid overexposure."

The Jays picked up Sergio Santos in the Glaus trade. Santos was a former 1st round pick, although he really struggled this year in AAA. Sickels is not optimistic about Santos at this point. "He has problems with plate discipline, and his swing is quite erratic, sometimes short and compact but sometimes too long when he tries too much to hit for power. His glove is OK but he has to hit to play regularly, and at this point I donít think heíll be much better than he already is."

A player that didn't make the cut in Sickels' book is Ryan Roberts who posted a solid line in NH in 2005. "I had him rated at Grade C but cut him from the book due to space reasons. Every year there are 1 or 2 guys from each organization that end up getting dropped from the book. Anyhow, Roberts is one of those Grade C guys. He has intriguing power and drew some walks last year, but he also struck out more than once a game in Double-A at age 24."

Often times certain prospects get an undue amount of hype while other players fly under the radar. When looking at players who might be over and under rated Sickels goes back to Romero and McGowan. "Well, I think Romero is underrated. At least he better be underrated or I will end up looking stupid for putting him ahead of McGowan. I donít really think that McGowan is overrated on other lists, as I said, his stuff is first-class but I just have this nagging doubt about his command. It could be an intuitive thing or maybe just a brain fart on my part. It is also possible that Iím a bit worried about McGowan because of what happened with Brandon League last year. In Leagueís case, I ignored my nagging intuitive doubts about his command and gave him a lot of positive praise. In his case my intuition was right and I was wrong to ignore it. So perhaps I am overcompensating this year with McGowan. We will see how that pans out."

Sickels mentioned earlier that he thinks Robert Ray is a sleeper who could emerge. Another player that he thinks could make a big jump forward this year is Chip Cannon. "If he retains command of the strike zone, he could really blossom with even more impressive numbers than he posted last year."
------

As mentioned earlier Sickels' 2006 prospect book is available. I get the book each year and I've had my copy of the most recent book for a couple weeks now and I recommend it. It's a great resource to have now on minor leaguers, and I find it's also fun to go back and read evaluations from a few years back. Fantasy leaguers can also find it useful.

The book is available through Sickels' site: Canadian orders and US orders

Many thanks to John Sickels for taking the time to share his opinions with Batter's Box.

John Sickels Interview | 43 comments | Create New Account
The following comments are owned by whomever posted them. This site is not responsible for what they say.
timpinder - Saturday, February 11 2006 @ 02:23 PM EST (#140994) #
That was great to read, an excellent post.

The one thing I found interesting was that Sickels said the reason McGowan ranked third was because of his lack of command, yet he ranked Purcey second.
Jim - Saturday, February 11 2006 @ 03:07 PM EST (#140997) #
If you took the GPA of the grades for the teams that Sickels has posted so far on minorleagueball.com, the Blue Jays look to be the lowest so far. He hasn't posted many of the top 20 lists yet but the ones he has posted aren't exactly the strongest (Atlanta, Minnesota, Baltimore, San Francisco, Houston).

I'm guessing based on the grades he's given the top 20 they aren't 18-20 in his rankings, they are closer to 25.
Mike Green - Saturday, February 11 2006 @ 03:11 PM EST (#140998) #
Evaluation of pitching prospects is a tough thing. I remember when Bush was considered to be behind McGowan, Arnold, League and Rosario. Some people might still have him behind McGowan, and perhaps League and Rosario. In a lot of ways, for pitching prospects at least, it might be ideal to have performance and scouting ratings separately. So, David Purcey might be a B- performance and an A- scouting. Davis Romero might be a B+ performance and a C- scouting. How one combines the two is devilishly difficult.

I have two questions for John if he's reading. Most people here give Lind a slight edge on Thigpen as the best position player in the organization. What were your reasons for preferring Thigpen? Also, last year's 5th round pick Eric Fowler was highly thought of, and performed well in the NYPL after a rough start. What do you think of him?

Thanks, again, John, for stepping into the Box, and to Pistol for a fine interview.
Pistol - Saturday, February 11 2006 @ 04:09 PM EST (#141000) #
Sickels in his book had the Jays with 8 B- or better players. There's 11 teams that had fewer than that and 3 with just as many.

Given that I think his initial feel of 18-20 is where he'd end up if he did formal rankings.
Glevin - Saturday, February 11 2006 @ 04:17 PM EST (#141001) #
"In a lot of ways, for pitching prospects at least, it might be ideal to have performance and scouting ratings separately."

I agree. For hitters, their stats (age and league included) and their prospect status are very tightly linked. For pitchers, not so. Kerry Wood in his last year in the minors had a 4.68 ERA but was still considered (rightly so) a complete stud prospect because he threw regularly in the high 90's with a killer curve. Similarly, every year, there are a couple of guys who win 17 games and have a dominant ERA in the minors but who have stuff that would never get major leaguers out. A very interesting read.
greenfrog - Saturday, February 11 2006 @ 04:19 PM EST (#141002) #
It's interesting how fine a line there is between farm system success and failure. If, say, two of McGowan, Purcey, and Romero become solid big-league starters over the next 2-3 years, then I think the current system will have been successful, despite the lack of positional prospects. One or two successes can make all the difference. On the other hand, having touted prospects doesn't mean a thing unless they succeed at the big league level (or you trade them for successful players--eg Marte-for-Crisp).

On the whole, though, the system seems short on upper-echelon talent. I like our top 8, but a lot of formerly touted players are falling fast (Rosario, Quiroz, Griffin, League, Perkins).
Ron - Saturday, February 11 2006 @ 04:57 PM EST (#141003) #
Hmm GQ isn't even in the top 10. Looks like Sickels and BA don't think highly of him anymore. Blair was on MLB Daily yesterday and he said the Molina signing was big because the Jays had no catching depth.

IIRC GQ was one of the best catching prospects 2 years ago. I wonder if anybody still considers him an elite prospect.

It appears the Jays lack high ceiling prospects which is a problem. Producing solid players is nice but I would rather have one uber prospect than 3 solid ones.

Before I looked at Sickels list, I had forgotten about JFG. It will be interesting to see if he sees any action with the Jays this season.
Geoff - Saturday, February 11 2006 @ 05:30 PM EST (#141004) #
One player that Sickels is high on is the Jays first round pick in 2005, Ricky Romero, ranking him the Jays #2 prospect despite not pitching above A ball.
Doesn't he rank Ricky the #1 prospect?
VGeras - Saturday, February 11 2006 @ 05:54 PM EST (#141005) #
I'm not a big fan of Sickels...I respect BA (their actual reports on players, not their rankings), but have found Sickels to be too inconsistent
Pistol - Saturday, February 11 2006 @ 06:11 PM EST (#141007) #
"Doesn't he rank Ricky the #1 prospect?"

Good catch. In his book Sickels has a top 50 pitcher list and he had Purcey ahead of Romero and McGowan. I wrote up the interview prior to his list today so he must have changed to Romero from the time he wrote the book until now.
Gerry - Saturday, February 11 2006 @ 07:09 PM EST (#141008) #
Good job Pistol. I think this points out that there is very little between these three pitchers. They each have a chance to be very good and they each have questions over their future development.

Consider it a toss-up.
VGeras - Saturday, February 11 2006 @ 07:44 PM EST (#141009) #
According to Insidethedome.com the Jays signed some australian catcher named Chris House....17 years old
TA - Saturday, February 11 2006 @ 08:32 PM EST (#141010) #
Interesting sign. Perhaps he'll get lucky and sit next to Jo Jo on the flight over. Rodriguez is probably busy.

http://www.baseball.com.au/?Page=18389
Geoff - Saturday, February 11 2006 @ 08:40 PM EST (#141011) #
Isn't that sweet...Canada is his favourite place in the world. This catcher is also a Twins fan and high on lacrosse.

And it's almost happened... a Jays prospect born in the 90s. When they are born after the WS seasons, then I'll know how long ago it's been. Ah, the good ol' days.

JayWay - Sunday, February 12 2006 @ 03:32 PM EST (#141024) #
Ron,

Aaron Gleeman in an article on RotoWorld a month or so back mentioned Quiroz as an outside ROTY hopeful.
Jim - Sunday, February 12 2006 @ 05:54 PM EST (#141028) #
Well he's posted 7 and they are last of the 7. I didn't order the book.

These aren't exactly the Devil Rays and Angels ahead of them so far:

GPA
Twins 2.79
Giants 2.72
Braves 2.71
Orioles 2.67
Cubs 2.60
Astros 2.59
Blue Jays 2.52

Maybe I'm wrong and there are 10-12 systems he'll rate worse but I'll believe it when I see all 30 teams.
MatO - Monday, February 13 2006 @ 09:54 AM EST (#141046) #
I've bought Sickel's book the last couple of years so I enjoy what he does but rating Purcey and Romero ahead of McGowan is pretty ridiculous. McGowan's problem is control within the strike zone. With Purcey you just hope he finds the strike zone and with Romero it's just too early to tell. McGowan has 3 major league plus pitches that I've seen with my own eyes and can't imagine those two guys are better.
Mike Green - Monday, February 13 2006 @ 10:48 AM EST (#141048) #
I don't know that I would call it ridiculous, Mat. McGowan has had TJ surgery, and the record of power pitchers as starters after TJ surgery is not uniformly good. John Smoltz has done well (albeit that the Braves took him out of the starting role for quite a few years), but most have not. The real post-TJ successes- Tommy John, David Wells, Mariano Rivera have been different from McGowan in important ways.

In addition, there have been reports that McGowan has been able to get consistent bite on his off-speed stuff post-surgery.

Combining the arm surgery with his less than overpowering performance measures, it is not unreasonable to make McGowan a B prospect. John would freely admit, I am quite sure, that rating Ricky Romero as a B+ prospect was largely a subjective opinion.

We all have subjective opinions. I think Shaun Marcum will have a much better career than McGowan, but I might be the only one on the planet who has that opinion. Objectively, though, the chances of any one of the Jay pitching prospects being very good is less than 50%. The chances for a number of them are probably in the 20-40% range. In those circumstances, just about any ordering is reasonable; there is probably more value in the author's reasoning than in the conclusion.
MatO - Monday, February 13 2006 @ 11:33 AM EST (#141055) #
What are the chances that Purcey will ever find his control? I'd take my chances with McGowan and his TJ surgery before Purcey finding his control. Indications were that McGowan's UCL was only a partial tear thus less serious unlike Rosario's complete tear for example. Besides that I've never seen a study on TJ surgery and the future effects only anecdotal comments. Is there a difference between a partial and complete tear recovery etc?

PS Yes you are the only one that thinks Marcum will have a better career than McGowan.
Mike Green - Monday, February 13 2006 @ 12:14 PM EST (#141058) #
What are the chances of Purcey ever finding his control? Hmm. I don't know. 40 per cent maybe. His chance of being a truly outstanding pitcher while in his pre-free agency years is about 1-2%, in my opinion. He is the kind of pitcher who has a better chance, maybe 3-4%, of being outstanding in his early 30s. I do agree that McGowan has a better chance than Purcey of being a truly outstanding pitcher in his pre-free agency years, but his chances are not great either.
Jim - Monday, February 13 2006 @ 12:24 PM EST (#141059) #
'Yes you are the only one that thinks Marcum will have a better career than McGowan.'


Marcum's mother is in that boat as well. I'm in the non-believer camp on McGowan myself. I think Janssen is the best pitcher of the bunch so opinions do range everywhere.
Joe - Monday, February 13 2006 @ 01:16 PM EST (#141061) #
In addition, there have been reports that McGowan has been able to get consistent bite on his off-speed stuff post-surgery.

Mike, is this a typo? Did you mean "has" or "has not"?

Mike Green - Monday, February 13 2006 @ 01:34 PM EST (#141062) #
Thanks, Joe. It is a typo.

It should have read: "there have been reports that McGowan has not been able to get consistent bite on his off-speed stuff".
Wildrose - Monday, February 13 2006 @ 03:11 PM EST (#141063) #
I don't necessarily disagree with Mike's anecdotal view that post TJ surgery, a lot of pitchers wind up in the bullpen.

I think recuperation from this rather serious operation takes place in two phases.

1.)After a rehab of 12-18 months the hurler returns to the active roster. Intitially many players are pleasantly surprised to find their fastball velocity is all the way back ( and in a few cases enhanced), but unfortunately they tend to struggle with command/control of the breaking ball.

2.)Phase two involves trying to regain the ability to throw breaking pitches on a consistent basis. Many hurlers report twinges of elbow pain when throwing off speed pitches ( not surprising given these type of throws put more strain on the elbow) In fact there were reports the Blue Jays refused to allow McGowan to use all his repetoire of pitches until late in the season. Breaking pitches also require feel and touch, and given a 24 month hiatus from using these pitch types,understandly regaining form takes time.

Time however, is a precious commodity in pro baseball. The tenure of pitching coaches/managers can be short and sweet. Pressure to extract value from your charges is immense. I think what happens in many instances is that organizations lose patience with their young post TJ pitchers, particularly if they throw hard (Gagne,Koch, Ryan Dempster), and push them to the bullpen where they can primarily throw fastballs as relievers.

Hopefully the Jays are patient with McGowan (they should be as they control his contract for the next 6 years)as he strives to regain his off speed pitches. I share the view of a lot of scouts ,that this guy has significant upside as a top end rotation starter if he gets better pitch control( I think top starters are more valuable than top relievers). He has outstanding velocity and from what I see, quite good bite on his breaking pitches ( a product of his very good arm strength ).

In short ,his stuff is top shelf, although concerns about his focus and ability to repeat his pitches are valid. If it was my team I'd give this guy plenty of latitude.
Newton - Monday, February 13 2006 @ 03:34 PM EST (#141065) #
McGowan:

It would be interesting to see a breakdown of the constituent factors considered in arriving at an overall grade for each prospect. ie physical tools, performance, perceived upside, perceived risk etc.

Is there anybody else who wishes we still had Bush in place of McGowan?
MatO - Monday, February 13 2006 @ 04:25 PM EST (#141067) #
No and I'm a Bush fan.
Flex - Monday, February 13 2006 @ 04:25 PM EST (#141068) #
Bush is solid, but he hasn't half McGowan's upside. I'd take the star potential of McGowan over the solidity of Bush any day.
Mike Green - Monday, February 13 2006 @ 04:40 PM EST (#141069) #
When Bush and McGowan were both prospects in New Haven in 2003, I liked Bush better. It was definitely a minority view then. That was before McGowan's surgery, but even now I suspect that most people would still prefer McGowan.
R Billie - Monday, February 13 2006 @ 08:41 PM EST (#141082) #
I was very concerned about McGowan's command and pitch count per inning in 2004. I'm certain in hindsight that it was mainly because of his elbow that he was struggling somewhat.

He was very good early in the year and progressively got worse, culminating in a game where he was taken apart, taken deep 3 or 4 times, and left early because his pitch count got up so high. It was shortly after that that it was announced he would have TJ surgery.

As a reliever he looked great. That doesn't necessarily mean anything but he looked good enough that I would be much more comfortable with him being in the majors in short relief over say, Brandon League who I was much more iffy about last year. I think McGowan's command and mechanics and maturity are significantly ahead of League.

But I think he has too much potential to leave him in short relief right away. It's worth rolling the dice a little to see if he can establish himself as an above average starter. He has all the tools, it's just a matter of being able to do it for 100+ pitches per game once again. His command does have to get better and despite his good fastball, he needs his changeup and curve to work in order to start. I am cautiously optimistic.

In my book, it's McGowan clearly on top of the list, Romero clearly second, and Purcey clearly third because of his very significant command issues. In fact I'd rate Purcey even lower if it weren't for the fact that minor leaguers really seem to have a tough time hitting him. If Bobby Jenks can gain enough command to be a good major league pitcher then there's certainly still hope for a lefty like Purcey.
Marc Hulet - Tuesday, February 14 2006 @ 08:29 AM EST (#141124) #
Purcey's command is good enough that he will be at least an average MLB reliever, if not a closer. Whether it improves enough to be a starter... that remains to be seen. He has good "stuff" though so the Jays will give him every opportunity to figure it out.
Jim - Tuesday, February 14 2006 @ 12:16 PM EST (#141146) #
Anaheim GPA 2.76
Pistol - Tuesday, February 14 2006 @ 02:10 PM EST (#141157) #
The Angels, under this GPA method, came out lower than the Twins (which I don't think many people would agree with).

If I were to try to quantify it (and I might), I'd probably take all players above C+ and assign values to each letter grade and then sum the total (because C is as low as you get and there's many Cs left off of the top 20 lists). Maybe something like:

A: 12
A-: 9
B+: 6
B:  4 
B-: 3
C+: 2
This way an A is worth the same as two B+ or three B, or 4 B-; Two B- = One B+; Three B- = One A-. Using GPA one A and one C is worth the same as two Bs.
Pistol - Tuesday, February 14 2006 @ 02:24 PM EST (#141160) #
The results are similar to Jim's using the method I have above:
Team	Total
Angels	76
Twins	76
Giants	70
Braves	67
O's	59
Astros	58
Cubs	53
Jays	51
Mets	32
Jim - Tuesday, February 14 2006 @ 02:28 PM EST (#141162) #
The Mets score a lovely 2.28 using the GPA method.

Should be hard to do worse.
Mike Green - Tuesday, February 14 2006 @ 03:27 PM EST (#141168) #
The Mets system is the converse of the Jays. Two really nice prospects at the top in Milledge and Pelfrey and then a big, big gap. That's actually not a terrible place for a large budget team to be at, whereas it would be very bad news indeed for a small or medium budget team. The ability to buy average talent, especially pitching talent, changes the dynamics considerably.
Mylegacy - Tuesday, February 14 2006 @ 05:15 PM EST (#141179) #
On McGowan's command:

I remember Duane Ward, when the Jays picked him up from Detroit (I think) the "word" was he had a million dollar arm and a two cent brain GREAT stuff but no control and couldn't and wouldn't take instruction. If I remember correctly he turned out OK. McG is MUCH less a project than Duane was.
Mick Doherty - Tuesday, February 14 2006 @ 05:22 PM EST (#141180) #
Actually, Ward came to TO from the Braves -- though I can see why you'd think Detroit. If I recall right, it was for Doyle Alexander, who the Braves later flipped to DET for a youngster named Smoltz. Of course, he turned into Doyle Cleveland Alexander for the Tigers down the stretch in '87, so it was a good trade for everyone (even the Jays, who certainly weren't unhappy with having Ward in the bullpen).
Chuck - Tuesday, February 14 2006 @ 09:44 PM EST (#141195) #
McG is MUCH less a project than Duane was.

But Ward's transmogrification is much more the exception than the rule.

Jim - Wednesday, February 15 2006 @ 08:16 AM EST (#141218) #
A: Ward made a grand total of 2 major league starts. Looking at the start/relief splits for McGowan last year, he might be on that career path.

B: The Mets have a bit of an excuse for their system, they did subtract a lot this offseason, but it's pretty comfortably the worst system in baseball if you ask me.
Jim - Wednesday, February 15 2006 @ 10:45 AM EST (#141227) #
Royals Sickels GPA 2.49
Thomas - Wednesday, February 15 2006 @ 10:53 AM EST (#141230) #
Someone over at AN used an actual GPA calculator and John's book to rank the farm systems.

Toronto finished in 17th place, as Sickels roughly guessed. In the AL we rank ahead of Texas, KC, Detroit, White Sox, Seattle and the Yankees. Tampa Bay, Baltimore and Boston finished 10, 12 and 13, respectively.
Mike Green - Wednesday, February 15 2006 @ 10:59 AM EST (#141232) #
For years, I've spelled "transmogrification" as "transmorgification". That's what happens when you never hear the word. "Renumeration" instead of "remuneration" caused me much embarrassment.

"The transmogrification of Duane Ward" sounds like a horror movie title to me. And I do agree that McGowan is much more likely to be successful in a relief role...if he is placed in this role, hopefully the club will be gentle with his workload. A torn labrum is indeed a horror.
Jim - Wednesday, February 15 2006 @ 12:31 PM EST (#141236) #
Toronto finished in 17th place, as Sickels roughly guessed. Guess I was wrong again.
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