5.27.2005

Future Forty May Interview

BGF: Steve, with your second Future Forty list out (on your May 17th entry of your website) comes our second interview. Thanks again for agreeing to a discussion of your thought process going into the creation of your list.

SS: Again, I enjoy the chance to talk about some of my thoughts about why I rank players where I did. This is a nice forum for some comments.

BGF: First off, I wanted to get your impression on who you thought was the: 1) best player performance; 2) biggest surprise; and 3) biggest disappointment?

SS: For the season, Eddy Martinez-Esteve continues to be hitting very well. Over the last four weeks, I think the hitting standout is Todd Linden. For me, the best surprise has been Jeremy Accardo. He's put it all together very quickly and gotten to the major leagues, although obviously circumstances have a lot to do with creating his opportunity. I think the biggest disappointment has been John Bowker. Last year's third round pick is primarily known for his hitting, and he has struggled to reach the Mendoza line for most of the season.

BGF: OK, onto the rankings. Starting from the top down, why didn't Craig Whitaker's rank suffer from his poor stats? Is it because it was just for two games?

SS: I think this may be a case where focusing on rank is misleading. I have been disappointed with Whitaker's command issues this year, and I think his stock has fallen a bit because of that. I still like his long-term ceiling, and I didn't see any other prospects that I would now rate ahead of him.

BGF: OK, that said, while Todd Linden got a big jump from 16th to 9th, why didn't he go higher than, say, Schierholtz (or Schierholtz fall behind him), who still hasn't shown much power (or as much as anticipated by his awesome hitting at Hagerstown last season) even in a repeated season at High-A San Jose? Or am I too focused on ranking again?

SS: Linden has a history of being a streaky hitter, so having him jump so much in the rankings may have been a stretch. But again this may be a bit more of a function of a lot of the players whom I had previously ranked above him having disappointing starts to their 2005 seasons as much as it is a function of Linden having hit very well for the last few weeks. Schierholtz's high strikeout rate does concern me, but he is still young, and I think his long-term ceiling remains appreciably higher than Linden's ceiling. Depending upon how you define power, whether it is home runs or extra base hits, will say a lot about how you look at Schierholtz's power. If you think of it primarily as extra base hits, then Schierholtz's power performance has not declined that much from Hagerstown to San Jose.

BGF: Well, I was OK defining power via extra base hits last season because I had no direct comparison but EME has come in and blasted a bunch of homers off the bat while Schierholtz is still trying to figure it out. Even Ishikawa has been able to keep his homer pace close to before - 1 every 20 last season, 1 every 23 this season - but Schierholtz only has 2 HR in 122 AB.

SS: I don't concern myself too much with home run rate for such young hitters. It also seems that San Jose's home park is a tough place for left-handed hitters to hit for power.

BGF: Two thoughts come to me from that last statement. One is that Ishikawa is a lefty but it hasn't affected him much, if any. Two is that they play half their games on the road and yet Schierholtz hasn't shown any HR power there either.

SS: I realized those same points when I said what I did about San Jose's home park being tough on left-handed power. I don't have a good explanation for it. One possibility is that since Schierholtz first came to San Jose the Giants' hitting coaches have had him working on other aspects of his hitting. I like Schierholtz's raw power, and I think it will come, whatever the stats are now. In my mind, the questions about Schierholtz are whether he can control the strike zone and hit for enough average. Right now he is hitting for average, but the high strikeout rate indicates that he may have more problems at a higher level.

BGF: I agree that high strikeout rate is a concern for both Schierholtz and Ishikawa. Next, I was curious why Ortmeier didn't at least flipflop positions with Simon in this list given the opposite directions of both performances at the same level and Simon's possible conversion to relieving, reducing his future value?

SS: This was a tough one for me. Ortmeier is still hitting for just a .260 AVG on the year. If Simon becomes a reliever, that diminishes his value. For now, I left Simon ahead of Ortmeier. It seems to me that many fans have been more impressed with David Aardsma than Simon this year. That is mainly a function of their ERA. If you look at their peripherals, stats like H/IP, BB/IP, K/IP and HR/IP, then they have notbeen that different.

BGF: Yes, thanks, did not notice that they were that close, though Simon is much higher in hits given up. Next up, why did Niekro's pretty good performance in the majors not earn him a much higher position, like Linden got for his improved AAA performance (Linden rose 7 spots, Niekro 1), like, say, 14th behind Ishikawa? He's hitting well enough to platoon with Snow plus be a HR presence on the bench when not starting whereas Misch has done poorly in Fresno and Accardo has been so-so at the MLB level.

SS: What Niekro has done has been impressive. But has it been more impressive in a SportsCenter highlights kind of way than in a way that wins games? I remind you that Niekro still has a sub-.300 OBP. How many first basemen can you name with a sub-.300 OBP? I think Misch and Accardo still deserve to rate ahead of Niekro because of their age. That Accardo is in the major leagues after just one year of pro baseball is impressive.

BGF: Wow, did not catch that either, I was too focused on his OPS and homers. That is pretty bad, very good point about naming another one. I guess he is the Ying to Snow's Yang since Snow is all OBP and little homers, though that has partly been because he can't hit them in SBC Park, he hit 1 in 25 AB on the road last season vs. 1 in 34 AB at home. I was wondering, Clay Timpner stayed the same rank despite doing so well for San Jose, was it his K-rate? He hit for average and power plus stole a lot of bases while playing a challenging defensive position, CF, where he's already been anointed by one service as the best fielding CF in the Giants system.

SS: I think this is again a case of focusing too much on the rankings. I agree that Clay Timpner has improved his stock, although as you point out, he has struck out too much for a traditional leadoff hitter. I just was not yet ready to rate him ahead of the guys I listed above him.

BGF: OK. While I agree that it should have jumped up, why did Accardo's so-so performance in the majors warrant a jump from 21 to 14, while Munter stayed at the same rank (20th)? Was it Munter's high WHIP?

SS: For me, the issue here is more about tools than stats. Accardo has found his plus slider again. That gives him two above average pitches, potentially a setup man. Munter relies on his fastball with plus sink, which seems to make him a middle reliever.

BGF: Thanks, that's interesting info to know. I was also wondering how Begg fell 3 spots with those stats and at AA? Only Reina of the three that pushed him back (Hutting, Frandsen, Reina) seemed to have better stats and that was at a lower level.

SS: Given Begg's age, I am not overly impressed with Begg's Double-A stats. The stats are similar to his performance with Norwich last year. I don't think we are going to learn much about Begg until he gets another shot at Triple-A. I like what the younger players listed above him have done this year, although they all come with caveats. For example, Frandsen has shown very little power, with no home runs and 83 percent of his hits being singles. I can't say that I have strong feelings about any of these players, and the differences between them are slight enough that it does not make much difference in which order you rank them. Ranking the two position players and the left-handed pitcher ahead of the right-handed pitcher seems reasonable to me.

BGF: Lastly, why did Bateman not rank higher? Was it strictly an age thing?

SS: You seem to be a bigger fan of Bateman than I am. Given his experience, I just think we should expect Bateman to be dominating High-A hitters. Until he shows us that he can similarly dominate hitters in the upper minors, I find it difficult to get too excited about him as a prospect. From what I have seen I think he is deserving of a promotion.

BGF: I guess that's what confused me about the Giants and Bateman. They promoted him to AA near the end of last season and in 12 games he had a 2.78 ERA in 22.2 IP, 20 hits and 8 walks for a WHIP of 1.24, only 1 HR given up and 17 strikeouts. Then they end up pushing him down to high A-ball this season (he started in the Sally League last season before moving up to Norwich) where he has been doing great - 0.64 ERA in 28 IP with 15 hits and 3 walks, 0 HR and 26 strikeouts as of May 16th - until that recent game where he was battered around (shortly after you posted your list). I understand that he is much older than the players in the Cal League at 25, but I don't know why he didn't stick at Norwich, especially with Threets and Montes getting battered around and now Mazone suspended for steroid usage.

SS: I wouldn't read too much into a brief promotion at the end of the season. For travel reasons, it may have made the most sense. Sometimes you see pitchers promoted from short-season Salem-Keizer to high-A San Jose in mid-August and then spend the next season in low-A on the East Coast. I thought the two suspensions in Norwich might present an opening for Bateman there, but the Giants appeared to fill those two spots with one pitcher effectively coming off the DL (from extended spring training actually) and another pitcher coming up from low-A (the latter probably just a two week assignment). I think Threets has pitched reasonably well, and so I would not say that he has been "battered." You are right that Montes has struggled this year. He pitched moderately well his last two years in Norwich.

BGF: Well this was another fun discussion. Thanks for agreeing to another interview. I appreciate it as I love discussing the Giants with another fan.

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