Sorry for the lateness. I guess this is about the timeline you can expect — maybe a couple of days within the podcast’s release. (Transcribing takes time, people!)
A: Ashley MacLennan
B: Brandon Day
C: Chris Brown
B: Welcome back, it’s the Bless You Boys Podcast; blessyouboys.com is your home for all things Detroit Tigers Baseball and beyond on the SBNation platform. I’m your host, Brandon Day; with me today we’ve got my usual co-host, a staff writer and editor at Bless You Boys and elsewhere, Ashley MacLennan. Ashley, how’s it going?
A: Not bad, how about you?
B: I’m doing pretty good. We were just joking, we do not want to have to talk about the CBA and the players vs. the league and the owners any more, but I’m afraid it just keeps coming up.
A: We don’t want to, but we have to.
B: We’re required by law. We have a special guest with us tonight, Chris Brown, who writes for TigsTown and covers the Detroit Tigers farm system, and is co-host of the most excellent podcast over on TigersSRD with our buddy Roger Martin. Thanks for coming, Chris.
C: Thanks, good to talk to you.
B: Good to hear you on here. So, we’re going to get into one thing first because I wanted to hit on this. Ashley, you had an article on Hardball Times today, achieving one of your many goals to write something for every baseball publication out there.
A: I’m coming for you, Baseball Prospectus. You’re next.
B: Want to tell us a bit about it, and we’ll use it to lead into the whole bigger topic, if possible?
A: I explored the idea of franchise stars, and the idea that a player is the face of the franchise, being with the team from beginning to end of their career, and how it’s something we’re not seeing anymore. Not that it’s been a huge thing historically; in my research I found 170 guys who’ve been with one team, beginning to end, ever, in baseball. Which is not a lot, but we tend to get attached to these guys, franchise stars – in the case of Tigers fans, Justin Verlander’s one of those guys you saw being a beginning-to-end franchise guy. Nobody thought he was going anywhere; you figured he was untouchable, and lo and behold, off he gets traded. The same offseason, we’re seeing the Rays do it with Evan Longoria, who’d been with them since his drafting through ten seasons. The Pirates trading Andrew McCutcheon, obviously Stanton getting moved from the Marlins, which nobody thought would happen with the $265 million contract. So, I explored the idea of what it means to have franchise stars, if there is such a thing, if that era is ending, which I think it is. I think teams are getting a lot smarter about doing early contract renewals with young guys to keep them under cheap control for as long as they can, and off you go when you’re 31 years old and your prime is over and we can trade you at the end of the deal for another 21-year-old, 22-year-old phenom, and you can go spend the rest of your career in San Francisco.
B: At a certain point, basically anyone above 30 is becoming a hired gun, where it used to be more 35, 36, ten or fifteen years ago. To some degree it’s not necessarily a problem for the game, but it is a problem in that I don’t think, when I hear Manfred and other executives around the league, and other owners, talk about it, they don’t think it’s a problem at all. I do think that sometimes they’re missing – and this goes back to sabermetrics, the modern fan having more data at their hands and more invested in how the front office of their team operates and all those different sorts of things. But there’s still a huge contingent of, just to put it in Tigers terms, Tiger fans who are just going to go to the park and be upset that Justin Verlander isn’t there. It’s one of those things that really does burn you, especially if your team isn’t good.
A: I touched on that too, in the packaging of the Tigers season tickets. They were sent out with no players on them; there was no marketing of any players, because at the time it was up in the air if Michael Fulmer would be traded, and they didn’t want to send anything out with a star who might not be there. But the fact that you’re going to send out promo material without Miguel Cabrera on it? You’re just saying, “Here you go, you don’t know anybody who plays for us anymore, but please buy our tickets.” I think, in an effort for teams to have what’s new and hot and cheap, they’re overlooking that one fan continent, which is a huge number of people, who are there for their favourite player. Making decision that are smart from a baseball point of view does kind-of tend to feel like a slap in the face to people like that.
B: Something we’ve complained about a lot is, Major League Baseball, compared to a lot of sports, isn’t great at marketing their stars to begin with. And both of those two things feel like they don’t recognize that a great many fans are still attached to the player themself, even if it’s not a great player. Maybe this won’t hurt the league, maybe we’ll get used to it; everybody in Tigerland is going to have to go out there and find someone new to root for. But it’s the kind of thing that keeps steadily becoming more and more of a certainty, that your favourite player isn’t going to be around much longer. That’s something that football, obviously, deals with for players; typically players only last a couple of seasons. It’s definitely taking place in baseball. Chris, do you have any thoughts on this? Obviously this has been something that’s coming, and there haven’t been too many franchise players left, but does it mean anything to the game that there’s less of these guys around anymore?
C: I think it does mean a little bit. There’s something to be said for having that guy on your team for so long you feel like you grew up with him, or you feel like you watched him grow up. I think people in Seattle, I’m sure they might not be terribly happy with Felix Hernandez right now, the way his career’s been recently, but I’m sure they’d be sad if he were somewhere else. It’s strange the way we get attached to players, the way that watching Justin Verlander for 12 years could make us root for the Astros, all of a sudden. So, I think there’s something really cool about a player who gets to stay in one market, and it becomes their home. Al Kaline’s from Baltimore but he’s Mr. Tiger because he played here his whole career. So there’s something cool about that; it’s a shame it doesn’t happen more often. Sometimes it’s just the reality of the business.
B: Which is becoming more and more prominent.
A: It’s funny that you mention Al Kaline, because I noticed that there are a lot of Tigers guys who did their whole career. We were talking about Bill Freehand last week, but Trammell spent his whole career there, Whitaker spent his whole career there. It almost feels like a Detroit thing, to keep that homegrown guy, and you keep him so that they’re there at the end. That’s what made Verlander’s trade feel a little extra harsh.
B: A buddy emailed me when Verlander got traded; his take was that this was the end of old-school baseball, you’re never going to see anybody like that again. And it did feel like Detroit was the last holdout, as far as having multiple guys – Miguel Cabrera isn’t quite that guy, but he’s going to be around the rest of the way, I think we know that much at least. To take that and lead it into the ongoing war that seems to be developing between the owners, Major League Baseball and the players’ association and Scott Boras in particular, and some of the other agents out there. We did have another major shot fired, and I think we’d all love to see this end and not have to talk about this, week after week. It’s a lot more fun talking about players getting signed, teams getting better, trying to figure out what final piece would get the Cardinals back up to where you could really see them taking down the Cubs and holding off the Brewers. But that’s not where we’re at yet, we’re still listening to Scott Boras and, in this case Major League Baseball’s chief legal officer Dan Halem, via Twitter and I don’t know what else between the media. Scott Boras has been taking all the owners to task for the fact that tanking is becoming a predominant strategy in the game at this point, and teams are using the concept of the rebuild to sell off all their pieces, strip the payroll down to the bare roots, and turn things around. We’ve talked about this at length so I don’t want to belabor it much, but Halem came in and said that Mr. Boras – here, I’m going to quote him directly, “If Mr. Boras spent as much time working on getting his players signed as he does issuing inflammatory and unsubstantiated statements to the press, perhaps the events of this offseason would be different.”
C: That’s just schoolyard ass-talkin’. Can we swear on this podcast?
A+B: Oh yeah.
C: That’s schoolyard shit-talkin’. Nobody questions Scott Boras’ work ethic, or how hard he goes to get his players signed. That’s just shit-talkin’.
B: That really did come off like a Facebook comment, how people responded to it.
A: So stupid. Anybody who’s, “If Scott Boras worked harder”... say what you will about Scott Boras, but that man is out there asking for those eight-, nine-figure, ten-year deals for his guys. There’s nobody who goes to town harder for their players.
B: The real kicker to this one was Major League Baseball replying that there were all those 9- and 10-figure offers out there and players wouldn’t take them. Of course this puts their foot in their mouth and walks into the trap of sounding like collusion, because Major League Baseball isn’t supposed to know what all the offers are. The owners aren’t supposed to know who’s getting what offer, and that was, of course, one of the major sticking points of the collusion arguments of the late ‘80s, that the owners had a sheet of, “these are what the offers that have been made this year,” and they knew what every player had been offered. Because of that they were able to suppress free-agent salaries. Even coming close to talking about that gave Boras another needle to stick in them. Some of these deals that people are asking for do seem ridiculous to me; I didn’t really expect J.D. Martinez was going to get much more than $100 million, and I certainly wouldn’t pay Eric Hosmer much more than that.
A: It’s not even the amount for Hosmer, it’s the number of years.
C: What is it, nine years?
A: Eight or nine year deals? That’s outrageous. For Hosmer? I’m sorry, but you’re hoping for maybe four solid seasons out of him at this point. Anything over five years is a joke.
B: I have to agree. Eric Hosmer has been a pretty good player for a couple of years, but he doesn’t consistently put up anything approaching MVP numbers. He’s only had a couple of above-average seasons. He’s 28, he’s a solid player, but he’s also a first baseman, which is not the hottest commodity, generally, unless you’re out there hitting 50 home runs. It just feels like a weird thing, because there’s a really good argument to make that the players’ share of revenue is declining, but the guys who turn down these offers aren’t making a very good case for themselves because they’re asking for money that most fans think are just insane for the players that are out there. Chris, could you possibly see paying Eric Hosmer somewhere in the neighbourhood of $160 million over eight years? That’s insanity, isn’t it?
C: That’s MVP-player money, and he is a good, solid Major League player. That’s a weird thing that’s annoying on all sides – the players are expecting the free agency market to continue to grow as it has. Maybe that’s reasonable, but it’s kind of obvious that it’s not. But it seems like the gulf between what they want, and the owners are coming in so much lower than even a nice compromise. And it seems like it happened just in one year. Maybe there were signs of this last year, but I can’t really remember – it wasn’t a great free agent class, but...
B: When the CBA was signed there was certainly some chatter that they’d given some away in the national market, but it wasn’t so much that, oh, “players really screwed themselves,” guys who were eligible for free agency.
C: It’s weird, it’s that the de-facto salary cap seems to have stopped these Yankees/Dodgers teams that are pushing it to the brink, from signing anybody. If anything, that raises the eyebrows: why are these teams suddenly... I guess there are new penalties, but they’re all, “Nope, we’re no going past the luxury tax again.” All at the same time.
B: It comes at a point where the Yankees, the Dodgers – the big boys, the Red Sox are close to it – I don’t consider them constrained, because they could just keep spending and not bat an eye. But at the same token that’s they’re rationale. Of course there’s the free agent class of next year with Machado and of course Harper; maybe this is just a one-year blip, maybe everybody comes out next year, big deals are getting signed, and things look perfectly normal. It’s hard to say, but we’re a week from pitchers and catchers reporting, and there’s something like 70 or 80 actual, legit free agents out there available.
A: All the pitchers, the major pitchers, are still available. The Minnesota Twins are now shitting themselves because Ervin Santana is out for three months at least, and you know they want Darvish. At this point, I feel like this team’s going to be like, “Do whatever the agent says.” They need two starting pitchers at this point, and at some point something’s gotta break. If teams want to be competitive, they need to pick up these players, because right now our own manager, Rob, said that if Santana’s out, the Tigers are suddenly looking like the second-best team in the AL Central, I think, with our shit lineup. So, something’s gotta give, and it’s gotta give soon.
[Jeez, they really opened the shit-gates on this one, didn’t they? RIP, Jim Lahey. -fp]
B: It would be hilarious if we went out and signed Darvish and just took him right out of everybody’s hands.
A: Pull a dump truck of money up to somebody’s house and say, “Would you like to play for us for a year?” Why not?
C: “Here’s $30 million.”
A: The team can afford it, just do it!
B: They cut payroll by almost $100 million, compared to where they were starting out last year. They could drop fifty? C’mon, Chris Illitch, what’s $50 million?
A: He won’t hit the threshold, so just do it! Sign someone!
B: I’d like to see some action. Obviously it’s crazy to think of the Tigers doing that and getting out there and compete, but it’s a fun exercise... “Think, you have $50 million to spend. What would you get?”
A: One almost looks at it from the perspective of, “What can one player teach the young guys?” Go out, spend the money and be like, “What can having one guy like Jake Arrieta or Yu Darvish on this team for a year teach this squad of young pitchers?” Is that not, even in and of itself, worth $50 million? I mean, what do I care, I’m not spending $50 million, it’s not coming out of my bank account. In my imaginary world, sure, why wouldn’t having a guy like that on your team for a season be beneficial just beyond the name-draw and fans coming in, and would be huge? Just having that prestige and maybe getting you a couple more games, if tanking isn’t a concern. It would just make for some more interesting baseball.
B: The real crux of it would be to figure out a way to get a couple of those free agents cheap who would actually be flippable. That’s the dream; maybe we would have a good first half and we think about it, but if you got enough guys, maybe a starter and a reliever, maybe a Carlos Gonzalez – unless, corner outfielders, unless you’re a monster, nobody’s going to give up much for you at this point. But it just seems like the Tigers are – really feels like the Tigers are done. I’m not sure the Tigers are even paying any attention to it.
C: It does feel that way. Part of me just wants them to sign every decent reliever that’s left. Who cares, because do they really have that-established a bullpen at this point?
B: You could sign Lance Lynn.
A: Wilson’s working for a starter position. You have a bunch of people that we couldn’t even, off the fly, remember half of the people in the Tigers bullpen. Warwick Saupold, he’s still around, right? Let me think.
B: There are some good arms, but...
C: It’s possible, maybe, the Tigers have considered that. But from the players’ perspective, they want to do everything they can to avoid a one-year deal. Everybody wants that security, and they also don’t want to be caught up in next year’s free agent class, probably.
B: Yeah, you’d feel like you were run over by a truck, competing against those guys. Alex Avila isn’t a super player, but we were talking about this last week, he’s been worth 3.5 WAR by the Fangraphs calculation over the past few years and he got, what, $4 million a year for two years? It seemed like he was just, “Can I just have some security and raise my family in the desert for two years, and not have to bounce all over the place?”
C: The Todd Frazier deal that we joked about earlier, what was it, two years and $17 million in total? I think he’s put up 6 wins the past couple of years, and he’s, what, 32? I’d have expected something like three years, $40 million.
A: It seems really low.
B: It doesn’t seem like there’s any remedy for this until the next CBA is negotiated. One surprising absence from this is Tony Clark; it’s really the agents, Scott Boras, out there, acting like the MLBPA; screaming at the owners and the league and really getting upset about this. At the end it’s going to come back to the players having to look at themselves and saying, basically, “You allowed a salary cap.” Don Fehr, who was the MLBPA union chief for a really long time, and who was an absolute warrior and said it wouldn’t happen – they allowed it to happen. The only real concessions they got were extra seats on buses when they’re travelling, and a chef and things like that. They were focused on those “quality of life” things that are small potatoes when, all of a sudden, they turn around and realize nobody’s going crazy to pay Lance Lynn $80 million, or – I don’t even know what Yu Darvish wants at this point. I’d think that, blowing up in the World Series like he did, he’d be a little more moderate in his desires. Maybe he just wants to go where he wants to go, that could bit it, too. Maybe he just won’t play for the Twins. But the Twins’ plans for contending are definitely on hold at the moment; my opinion was already kind of sketchy about that pitching staff. Right now they’ve got Berrios and a couple of decent arms, and that’s it.
A: With Santana out, that’s a huge blow for them.
B: We’re going to turn it over to Prospect Season, because there’s been a deluge of top-100 lists, top-10 team lists from Baseball Prospectus, Baseball America, Keith Law at ESPN, and then finally Fangraphs came out yesterday and it just felt like they kicked me in the gut a little bit. I wasn’t expecting huge rankings but, Chris, were you surprised that Franklin Perez snuck in there at 100th as the only prospect they had listed?
C: Yeah, I was, but mostly just because you get a general sense from all the other lists of about where he’ll be. The first ones that came out were Baseball America; he was the top-40, I think.
B: They had him at 35, yeah.
C: He’s been progressively lower on every other list, so what’s happened? It’s nice to talk about players where money’s not an issue because they don’t pay ‘em. One of the things about Fangraphs, I like the way they do it, they lay it out by potential overall future value. They’ve got Ohtani as the one potential 70-value player, so when you get down to the 30s and 40s, they basically have all those guys as “future Major League average player.” I think they added another 30 guys in there – Beau Burrows, Matt Manning and Christin Stewart. So we could look at it like, oh man, have him has the 100th best prospect, that’s kinda lame – or you could think that the Tigers have four guys who are going to be average major leaguers of the future. Which I think feels a lot better.
B: Yeah, as I pointed out, their number-43rd ranked prospect was a 50 future value, as the first one in that 50 future value tier, and that went all the way down to player 136 on their rankings.
C: I like these top 100 lists because they’re fun, and it spurs conversation, and it’s fun to learn more about them. But it’s really pointless; it’s a man-made construct. There are, what, 6000 minor-league players every season? Being in the top 100 is pretty legit. I was looking, Aaron Judge, last year Baseball America had him as the 90th best prospect in Major League Baseball, and he went out and hit seven million home runs, and it was an 8-win season. So I think prospect rankings matter in the aggregate; it’s better to have more good prospects, more highly-ranked prospects. It’s like college football recruiting. But it doesn’t really mean anything to an individual player; guys can vastly over-perform or under-perform in their rankings. You could take any name off that list... I could give you a scenario where he completely busts or becomes a superstar, basically. Not any name could be a superstar, but when you overdo their projection.
A: So much of it is what’s being seen and being reported too, right? With the Tigers everyone’s like, “Where’s Alex Faedo on these lists?” He didn’t pitch anywhere! So, if nobody’s seeing him, and seeing what stuff he has, he’s not going to make any lists. But that doesn’t mean he’s any less valuable than when the Tigers picked him in the draft.
B: There’s something about where you see him – obviously Matt Manning has been a controversial one because a lot of people saw him early in the year, staying in extended Spring Training, then going to Connecticut, and he wasn’t nearly what people were expecting to see, he was a little bit stiff. So you get all these reports, “It looks like he’s way too mechanical out there, he’s not throwing hard, the curveball hasn’t come along,” and then I talk to people in Grand Rapids who watched his last two or three of his last starts and they’re like, “I’ve never seen anything like it. He was absolutely dominant.” There’s so much variability because we’re talking about variable people; these are prospects who are still learning the game, and you can value them based on what you think their max potential is, or you can value them on what you think is likely. There are so many ways to go about it. One of the reasons I like Fangraphs a lot, and they’re one of the ones I hold up a little higher than the rest, is the way that they articulate their system for ranking players, and what they’re concerned about and what they’re not. But again, Matt Manning comes up next year and is on fire in the first half, and all of a sudden, “Oh, Matt Manning is a top-50 prospect.”
C: If you’re uptight about it, just hope the players come out and do well. One of these Tiger prospects is going to step up and do well next year, that’s the way it goes. I don’t want to jinx it. One of the things I enjoy is that there are a handful of outlets out there, you can reverse-engineer what they value and what’s interesting to them, and so Faedo didn’t make any of the lists but Baseball America had him in the 50 range.
B: They had him 50th, yep.
C: They place a lot of value on their own draft rankings and things like that. Baseball America covers everything as deeply as they possibly can, so they’re still sitting on that amateur scouting report. You see someone like Keith Law, he seems to be – I don’t want to say overly focused, but you’ll notice he, talks a lot about pitching or hitting mechanics, and if there’s someone he particularly doesn’t like, he stings them for it. I’m not saying there’s one right or wrong way, as long as you stand by what you say, it’s fine.
B: If you’re consistent, you’re probably not going to do any worse than anyone else; there’s a lot of 50-50 guesses out there. I remember Keith Law last year was, “I don’t like Manning because I don’t like guys who throw a spike curveball.” That can wipe out a lot of people; Lance McCullers throws a spike curveball. If you don’t like that, and you see that in a prospect, even if it’s a good looking pitch to the eye, you’ll might think, “He’s going to have more injuries.” Everybody has their preferences for what they want in their players.
C: The one thing, like you said – Fangraphs articulates it pretty well. They have a two-pronged approach; they had a chat today and they admitted that Eric Longenhagen prefers toolsy guys, so you’ll see Fangraphs really push up somebody like Luis Robert and Jose Siri, I think they’re the only people who have Jose Siri on a list, the Reds prospect. But they have Colin McDaniel who seems to favour safer, lower-ceiling guys. So you see they also have these random infielders who aren’t really on other lists just because they’re probably going to stay on the dirt and make the majors. Was it Cole Tucker for the Pirates? And they also have random... not random, I mean they’re still prospects, but... left-handed starting pitchers with a 50 fastball but a plus-changeup. That seems to be a profile that they like.
B: I think Colin McDaniel also says he likes to see people repeat; take a step forward and repeat it. That plays to the Tigers, because a lot of their better prospects broke out this year like Daz Cameron, Jake Rogers or Franklin Perez, even.
C: That’s one of the most interesting things about all these lists is that you’ll see... Keith Law had Daz Cameron in his top 100, and Derek Hill just outside of it, and nobody else did. Seeing Jake Rogers just outside of the mlb.com list, the Tigers have a lot more lumps of clay than they did last year. They’re not necessarily fully formed yet, or fully weaponized, but I would recommend Tigers fan to not get too discouraged by these prospect rankings.
B: Don’t be bothered when I freak out, for sure.
A: There’s definitely been moves, the system as a whole, up the chain. I think people are saying it’s up four, I want to say 24th last year, and it’s definitely climbing, as a whole. It’s a good sign, as they only started digging into this rebuild halfway through last year.
B: You can look at it as, there are really good prospects, there are really fringey – maybe that guy has one or two tools, if they come along, maybe they’ll come along – and then are legit prospects. Maybe there’s 150, the Tigers probably have eight to ten of those guys now, and if anybody takes a step next year and has a good year, they could find themself ranked 50th all over the place. What’s nice about the Tigers system right now is there’s a bulk, there’s a surplus of actual, legitimate prospects, all of whom have a chance to be above average chance in the major leagues, even if that’s not their most likely outcome.
C: They’ve improved their overall talent and depth. They still have a long way to go, but they’ll have two of the top 45 picks in this draft, a draft that looks pretty good. So there’s no excuse for them not getting two guys they can slide into their top ten. They’ll need to start hitting on some more international players; they haven’t had a great success with that.
B: Like Willy Adames.
C: Adames, and Suarez, and Garcia all ended up having pretty good years. It’s just, several years after leaving the Tigers.
B: Chad Green has been a decent reliever over there for the Yankees.
C: Yeah, that’s one of those things I never would’ve expected. I think we had a 40 grade on him, so I guess technically he’s become a 40 middle reliever. But he’s gone beyond that and become a super-reliever.
B: Just based on stuff.
C: Didn’t see that coming.
B: But that also worked well because we traded him and got Justin Wilson, then traded him and got Isaac Paredes, who’s really impressed a lot of people this year as an 18- or 19-year old. Then you also picked up Jeimer Candelario, who may be our third baseman of the future.
A: Brandon. Brandon. “JEE-mer.” We had this discussion.
B: I know, but I want to call him “HAI-mer.”
C: Paredes is still 18, I don’t think he turns 19 until later this month.
B: I accept this correction. “JAY-mer.”
A: I know you don’t believe this is how it’s supposed to be pronounced.
B: He’s “JAY-mer!” I have to make him “Port-u-GUESE.”
A: But he’s said it in interviews. I think he’s clarified it.
B: He’s just being nice to the gringos.
A: Yes. White people do have a lot of trouble pronouncing Spanish words and Portuguese words.
[My ladyfriend and I are going to Spain this summer. We’re learning Spanish online; we know French because we both took it in school, because that’s what we do up here. I’ve actually found Spanish to be pretty easy to pick up; the syntax is a lot like French, as is some of the vocabulary. Normal words, there’s nothing tricky about their pronunciation... but names, that’s a whole different kettle of fish, no matter the language. -fp]
C: He’ll be one of the few fun people to watch this year, so I’m looking forward to that.
B: I think a lot of peoples’ attention is going to be turned to the farm system, and I encourage anyone out there who’s interested to get a TigsTown subscription because it’s definitely worth reading. I always enjoy reading your takes on things; you do a really good job over there, and you get a lot more detailed perspective, especially on the guys who aren’t the top five or ten guys, which really helps. I don’t know how much Keith Law would know about Eduardo Jimenez or Gregory Soto, perhaps, even at this point. Very valuable for all that.
C: Sometimes Mark is the one who really digs deep. We had Eduardo Jimenez on our list two years ago, and here he is getting added by the Tigers to their 40-man roster. Kind of shocking, but in the end not really, because he’s one of those fast-moving relievers.
B: We wrote about that this week, but as we saw last year, if you find your command, the Tigers probably have fifteen arms who are all capable of jumping multiple levels. Zach Greneiger, Jimenez, Jairo Labourt all did that last year.
C: And unfortunately Brian Garcia.
B: Brian Garcia went down.
A: He’s still apparently waiting for the final verdict.
C: Just get it done.
B: They’re just messing with us, the PRP injections and all that. But more often than not it seems like that doesn’t really work out.
C: The number-99 prospect on Fangraphs list is my wife’s cousin, Alex Kirilloff from the Twins. He was their first-round pick two years ago. He won the Appalachian League MVP over Vlad Guerrero Jr. but had, late in the year – he’s an outfielder but he pitched in high school. He tore his elbow with an outfield throw and they tried to rehab it, but it didn’t work. So he had to get Tommy John last March, and he missed all year. I understand the desire to try to tough it out or go through it but, man, you know, you’re losing a year and a half.
B: You have to look at the timetable. If they’re Brian Garcia, just get it done, because if you do, you should be back and throwing and starting to get ready next spring, 2019. If you wait and mess around for three or four months, by the time you get the surgery and come back it’s going to be 2020. You’re going to be pitching in the Arizona Fall League or something, briefly. The odds aren’t good enough to justify not getting the surgery.
A: But if he doesn’t need the surgery, he shouldn’t get the surgery. That’s the one caveat. He’s going to see Dr. Andrews; part of me feels that Dr. Andrews’ default is, “Let’s cut ya open!” But I don’t think Dr. Andrews is going to cut him up if it’s not necessary, so it’s good that he’s going to see the best in the business. But it’s most likely, 9.5 times out of 10, going to end in Tommy John.
B: You’ve gotta think there’s gotta be a pretty good UCL tear to get to this point.
C: Remember a couple of years ago, Masahiro Tanaka, you thought he was going to down. He apologized to his teammates in a very Japanese way. But he came back without surgery, so, alright – but I think the Yankees have some weird arm-mojo-magic going on over there.
B: They seem to burn out a lot of arms, but they seem to get them back faster than other people. I’d like to know that. I’d like to know if Tanaka’s UCL is still torn. Does that heal? I know there’s some healing that’s possible, but it’s odd – “Yeah, it’s torn, but until it breaks, I’m good.”
C: That’s a good question, I don’t know. I don’t they did any surgical procedures; maybe they went in there and put in some mesh.
B: I think they just gave him some injections and he’s been good. Plasma-rich injections or something. A lot of these guys I keep thinking, “Let them take the year off and let them take HGH or steroids, get the arm back.” I mean, we’ve already taken ligaments out of dead bodies and put them in there, so, steroids! Oh no!
C: Steroids are illegal. Cow heart, fine.
B: As long as you’re clean by the time you’re pitching I really don’t care. Keith Law was definitely one of the more interesting ones, and I wanted to bring him because I wrote about that and was talking about the way prospect writers evaluate a guy’s path to the Major Leagues, or multiple paths. I thought it was interesting that he had Jake Rogers ranked as the 15th prospect in the Tigers system, but also had Derek Hill ranked number three, despite both of them drawing really high grades for his defence. Derek Hill obviously draws elite grades for his defence. But neither of them has really hit that much; Jake Rogers is older and a little more established. It seems like both of them have a pathway that’s based on defence that’s going to get both of them to the Major Leagues, at least in a backup role. Do you have any thoughts on how you get all the way to number three with Derek Hill?
C: I don’t. With Rogers, at least, there’s some raw power there. And I guess you could say with Hill there’s also the speed. But you’ve got to get on base to use that speed.
B: A lot of injury risk, too.
C: Yeah. I’ve always liked Derek Hill as a prospect, and I could understand, thinking he has the ceiling to be the number three prospect in the system. But to rank him there over some other guys didn’t make a lot of sense to me, other than maybe he’s just a big believer in the hit too. I’ve never seen anybody project Derek Hill over a 50 grade hit tool, at least since he was drafted. If he becomes an average hitter playing plus-plus defence with plus-plus speed I think that’s a really good player. But it seems like the odds of that happening are a lot steeper than Jake Rogers becoming a below-average hitter with plus defence and plus raw power.
B: That’s going to get you a starting job on a lot of teams, and at the very least a backup role. Derek Hill’s defence is great, but there are a lot of fast outfielders out there who can’t hit. It’s not a super-scarce profile. It’s also interesting – I was happy to see Derek Hill get some love, because I certainly haven’t given up on Derek Hill as a prospect. But he also missed two-thirds of a season coming back form his Tommy John surgery rehabilitation, as an outfielder. He looked bigger; there were signs that he was in better shape than he was beforehand. But he only got 180, maybe 190 ABs before the season ended.
C: These are always just snapshots in time, and we don’t necessarily know how much these evaluators are basing their rankings on their own viewings, or how much they’re basing them on talking to scouts or other front-office people. So it could be that Keith Law sat in on a GCL Tigers series when Derek Hill was coming back and was really impressed with what he saw, and that stuck in his mind. It’s tough to know.
B: It really is. They really all are just subjective opinions, and as you said earlier, some of the most interesting parts is to piece-out the rationales from different people, rather than getting irate because Daz Cameron is 86th here and not ranked here, and that sort of thing. In the end this will all play out the way it plays out, and we’ll find out this season. There you go: follow your local minor league coverage a little more closely.
C: It should be fun this year to watch the minors. There’s a lot of interesting players, to follow their progress. It’s always been fun for me, and I’m looking forward to covering the draft pretty soon too.
B: That’s your big thing, for sure. And all the coverage is coming back your way; when you were toiling in the Tigers minor league system in 2011, 2012...
C: I’ve got a piece coming out where I went back and looked at all the drafts since 1997. Looking at the top 45 players from each draft, trying to find patterns. What was the best pick to make, what was the riskiest, all that stuff. So that’s coming out soon.
B: I love it when you go crazy and do some super-huge piece like that.
C: I’m glad someone other than me likes that.
A: That is some thankless research, my friend. Good job.
C: I’ve got the average WAR per season for every damn player.
B: Really? Wow. That’s going deep. One of those things where, it’s like, who saw a player come up like Renaldo Rivera, who the Tigers took in the second round; they overdrafted a little bit to save some money to get Sam McMillan. But they took him in the second round; you can think of him as a third-rounder, I guess, if you want to. Eric Longenhagen from Fangraphs was mentioning that the Tigers may have just had data on him that no other team had. Have you heard of that before? Was that something you guys considered at all?
C: No, I hadn’t heard that, but he did – I think they played the Junior College Championship played at Joker Marchant Stadium, so it’s possible that they have some tech there that allowed them to say, “This guy, look at the exit velocity.”
B: I do remember he murdered the baseball in that series. His OPS was something like 1.400.
C: He had a monster season. I haven’t seen too many people killing him yet for his bad pro debut, but a lot of them are sceptical, based on, they thought he was an overdraft and he went out there and he didn’t perform. But it’s 70 grade raw power, so if you can figure it out, you might have something there. But it seems pretty risky; I’m a little bit sceptical, but I’m going to give him this season to see what happens.
B: Do you have any impression, where you think he’s going to play this year? Is he going to be with the Whitecaps? Is he 19 this year, maybe 20?
C: I wouldn’t be shocked if they hold him back, give him the New York-Penn League again. But I’m trying to think of who else might... what’s the name, is it Juan Soto? No, he’s a prospect. Who am I think of? Jose Quiero, he’s another first base-type prospect that they really like who can hit. So it’s going to be interesting to see how they deal with him and Rivera. Technically Rivera is an outfielder; I’m not sure how long I’ll buy that.
B: They seem to want that, anyway.
C: I can see them plopping him in right field at West Michigan and giving him a chance, at least at the beginning of the year. What you don’t want to do is send him there for two months, then have to send him down to the New York-Penn League.
B: That’s a blow to the confidence, if two years in a row he got a start in short-season ball and couldn’t handle it last year; you put him in A-ball this year and he struggles. Then you’ve gotta wonder if you’ve burnt him out a little bit. You do have to wonder, when somebody goes that sour, over two months worth of time, whether or not it was mental to some degree. I always think that with a young guy, it just overwhelmed him; he didn’t expect to be drafted, or what have you.
C: These guys, they’re coming off a college season. The college season is still pretty long, but a lot of the Tigers draftees last year didn’t have very stellar pro debuts. So it’s tough to say anything based on that first couple of months. It’s one of those things where, if they perform well, that’s good. Mike Gerber had a really good pro debut up in Connecticut, I think it was. So that put him on the maps, but if he hadn’t had a pro debut and still put up numbers people would’ve said, “Hey, this guy’s kind of interesting.”
B: That can tip your perception about whether or you have expectations, or whether this guy comes up from out of nowhere and think, “This is great.” I was going to ask you about Matt Manning because I talked to him, interviewed him a couple of weeks ago. He’s one of the ones who, out of the Tigers best prospects, has been the most controversial. Coming off the year he had, how do you perceive him at this point?
C: I liked that interview, by the way. I still view him has the guy with the highest ceiling in the Tigers system. It’s hard not to when you’ve got an athletic kid who’s shown the velocity in the past, and he’s got a curveball that I’m a little bit sceptical about the curveball playing at higher levels, but I’m also willing to accept that he might be able to continue developing it because he’s young and very raw.
B: Younger than even his age in baseball terms.
C: Depends on how you look at it, I guess. Piston fans – this is to make a random sports comparison – Piston fans are very bummed out because of Luke Kinnard this year, and passed over this kid, Donovan Mitchell, who looks like a future all-NBA player. I look at the Tigers and go, “Matt Manning is pretty cool, but Forrest Whitley was there.” But I wasn’t saying it at the time. When you see somebody in the top 10 your expectation is that they’re going to mow down minor league hitters and move through the system pretty quickly. And that’s just not the profile of Matt Manning yet. What he does this year will be really interesting; I think he said he wanted to go to Lakeland, right?
C: I don’t blame him. I don’t know if they’ll challenge him like that, I think they might send him back to West Michigan, at least for a couple of months. But if he’s pitching well in Lakeland at the end of the year and the stuff looks good, I think that’s pretty much right on track for what you expect from a high school pitcher.
B: I think that some things that surprise me was, some of the evaluations didn’t take into account just how raw he was. I think they raved about the pick and then turned around later and said, “This guy’s got a lot of work to do.” Yeah, that’s the bargain! This is a long play here, to hope that, three or four years down the road, a couple of levels up things clicked for him. We know the fastball is pretty potent as it is. He talked to me about having a lot of mechanical thoughts coming out of extended Spring Training and not letting it go. Some scouts are going to hear that and think that’s a bunch of nonsense: “You’ve gotta throw hard to throw harder.” But I definitely got the impression that he was still feeling his way early on, and I think that’s to be expected. I didn’t really come away from this past season with any changed impression of him at all, other than we’re going to have to see how it goes this year. I would suspect, too, that the Tigers were really careful with him last year; they’ll turn him loose a little more in terms of innings. It’s still hard to see him pitch much over 100 innings this year; he’s a project and they’re bringing him up carefully, which is to their credit. We’ll see how he does, but I imagine he’ll be at extended Spring Training for maybe a month. If he looks great there, we’ll say, Lakeland, well, you’re here already. We’ll see how that goes, but he’ll be interesting.
C: It’s basic stuff he needs to... he needs to find a delivery where he’s comfortable, where he gets a release point where the stuff feels good coming out of his hand. That’s stuff that even more polished guys are working on; Beau Burrows was more over the top coming out of high school, and is more three-quarters now. Guys make adjustments as they go, and people forget Beau Burrows – he had a really good year, but the year before was a bit alarming. He wasn’t striking anybody out at low-A; “Jeez, what’s up with this?” Development takes a long and winding path. You mentioned earlier, it depends on when you saw Manning; when he started pitching, we were getting reports of them putting him in as a seventh inning reliever –
B: As his future!
C: Yeah, and like you said, he had a couple of really good starts at West Michigan, and, “Oh, I see it now.” It depends on when you see him, and when he can get that consistency.
B: That there illustrates how hard it is to grade an entire country’s worth of prospects, and to see anybody regularly. Even with all the contacts people have, there’s still a lot of guesswork and waiting to see what happens in a lot of players. I did like the season Burrows had; like you said, he changed to a three-quarters delivery which seemed to play a little better with the slider, which I’ve seen people noting. The slider took some steps; it needs more consistency but it looked pretty good this year. He changed his foot strike, the landing position that he’s in, and that’s in his second full season. There’s still a lot going on there, a lot of moving parts. You could say he handled that really well and pitched really well, but some people, I think Longenhagen said this, we want to see how those changes affect his stuff long term. There’s a lot of conservatism out there; it would have been nice, when it comes down to that Fangraphs list, I would’ve liked to have seen one guy that they were really willing to go to bat for.
C: For sure. You want to see guys ranked... higher. I’ve talked about this on my show with Roger; the Tigers have a lot of solid prospects right now, but don’t have a lot of guys who look like true impact players yet. That may come soon, but like you said, there’s nobody to really go to bat for right now: “This guy is a no-doubt stud.” I’m higher on Isaac Paredes than a lot of people, but he might not be anything more than a second-division infielder. It’s tough to say right now, we’ll see in a couple of months.
B: That’s all there is to do. Give them time and see how it goes.
A: The ol’ “wait and see” approach.
B: This is one of the reasons we’ve been focusing so much on Bless You Boys, because that’s what’s everyone’s interested in. But it’s also a huge adjustment period for a lot of Tiger fans; there are a lot of fans who have followed the minor leagues all along, but there are a lot of people who are catching whiplash, even just trying to follow the terminology, “What does this ranking stuff mean?” I’m glad to have you on as well, to break this down a bit.
C: I appreciate you having me on to talk about prospects. We joked about this before, I’ll talk about prospects anytime. Movie director prospects, NASCAR prospects.
B: Who’s the best young actresses...
C: The best young trees in the neighbourhood.
A: There’s a mighty fine oak down the block.
C: Oh, nice. Sturdy. Gotta cover ‘em in the winter, though.
B: We’re going to find out tomorrow, looks like in Michigan, anyway, the snow’s going to kick back in. How’s things in Winnipeg, just to check in?
A: Effing cold. Too cold.
B: Too cold for snow cold?
A: Oh yeah. It’s been a really weird winter here, not that anybody cares about Manitoba’s winter weather, but it hasn’t snowed a lot at all. We’ve had snow, but I’m used to way more of it, and having to have it cleared way more often. Or we have these six- to eight-foot snowdrifts that get ploughed off the road, and we haven’t had that this year. It’s been cold, and that’s it.
[I think we got all the snow in Toronto that Winnipeg didn’t. -fp]
C: When does winter end up there?
A: Never! Um... usually we’ll have snow through March and into the beginning of April.
B: That’s not too much different from here, but you guys are in that wind belt too. It can be a little nasty.
A: As far as I’m concerned, the second February ends, winter is over. It’s an absolute psychological game I play on myself. The second that February is done, “Cool, spring is here! It’s gotta come soon! It’s gotta happen eventually!”
C: That’s why we all love baseball, right?
B: Truck Day happens, pitchers and catchers report, then let’s go outside and throw the ol’ ball around. And then, hell no, there’s still a foot of snow on the ground, and we’re all freezing to death.
C: We were planning on going down to Florida, but my wife got a new job so we couldn’t do it. But that’s alright, I’ll listen on the radio.
B: Just happy with the new job?
C: Absolutely, it’s awesome.
B: I may still sneak down there at the beginning of March. My parents are in Fort Myers, I should just go buy a ticket and just go down for a couple of days and drive up to Lakeland, see what’s what.
A: I’m going in May!
B: Miami, that’s right!
A: Miami, Tampa Bay and Atlanta. Doing a full road trip.
B: How many ballparks do you have, Ashley?
A: I’ve got 14 right now, so this would give me 17.
B: I’m at... five. I’ve got a long way to go.
A: I try to specifically plan my vacations so I can get a bulk of stadiums in one go. A year ago, almost two years ago now, I did both Chicago stadium, which I’d already been to, and Milwaukee, a three-stadium thing there. When I was in California I got four out of the five stadiums done.
B: So you’ve been to AT&T?
A: Yeah, AT&T was awesome. The only one I didn’t go was Petco in San Diego, that’s the only one I’m missing.
C: Do you get the ice cream helmets?
A: I collect pins from every stadium, a little enameled pin in every stadium I’ve been to. Depending on the team I might have picked up a t-shirt or something. Usually if it’s an NL team I’ll grab a shirt because I’m less team-devoted on the NL side. Sometimes you just see a fun-looking one, or if it’s a player I like, I’ll grab something.
B: When you’re in Tampa you’ll go nuts, right?
A: It’s the 20th anniversary season for the Rays this year. They’re unveiling a new logo tomorrow, which is a combo current Rays flash and the old-school Devil Rays ray. So they’re releasing the hats and everything, it’s going to look so frigging cool. My poor credit card when it gets to Tampa is going to be in bad condition. I might be able to do one of the games from the press box too.
B: If it’s cool enough, you can wear your DJ Kitty onesie.
A: I’m sure they’ll love that in the press box in Tampa. “Yep! Okay, we’ll let this crazy woman in.”
B: The MLB writers from Tampa Bay, they’re all out of their mind anyway.
C: “Does Verlander exist? Only AL East pitchers exist.”
B: “That Rick Porcello kid, he’s got moxie.” Alright, we’re going to wrap it up; Chris, if I can cut something in here I’m going to play a little bit of J. Dilla, because I believe today it’s the 15th or 16th anniversary of J. Dilla’s death, a master Detroit producer of many legendary hip hop acts. I think it was 2002 or 2003.
B: He worked with the Roots, Common, the Pharcyde, and other greats.
C: Tribe, yeah.
B: We’ll try to put a little cut in there, and if you don’t know who that is and you’re a Detroiter, you should find out who J. Dilla is. That’s going to do it for this episode of the Bless You Boys Podcast. Thanks, Chris, for coming on; we’ll repay you guys, or Ashley will, and come on the Tigers SRD podcast.
A: Yeah, we both have been, so we’re no strangers to SRD, neither Brandon or myself.
C: Always a pleasure to talk to you guys.
B: Hopefully we’ll get together with you and Roger and hit some games this summer.
C: Sounds like a plan to me. Always fun.
B: It really is. It’s quite a gathering, when we get together. Ashley, thanks a lot for being on, as always. Find Ashley’s stuff at Hardball Times, and Fangraphs, and DRaysBay, and Bless You Boys, and local bookstores near you.
A: I’m everywhere!
B: Putting us all to shame.
A: Good night!
C: Good night.