Deric McKamey on Cards Minors Overall: 2008

One of baseball's preeminent minor league experts returns to The Birdhouse to answer reader questions about the improving Cardinals prospect pipeline. The focus today is on general Q&A with pitchers and position prospects following.

Deric McKamey has been BaseballHQ's Director of Minor League Analysis for ten years now and a baseball analyst for twenty. A long-time disciple of Bill James and formally trained by MLB's Scout School, McKamey is uniquely skilled to integrate sabermetrics and scouting.

Once again, McKamey and HQ are publishing the "Minor League Baseball Analyst", in which Deric profiles 1000 prospects from across the game with in-depth scouting reports and stats that include batter skills ratings, runner speed, pitch repertoires, Major League equivalents, ultimate potential and much more. The book, in its third year, is available for ordering now for shipping next month.

Last week on this site, McKamey provided a special advance preview from his book for Scout.com subscribers. The excerpt covered the top 15 Cardinals prospects along with the Cardinals' organizational rankings in contrast with their National League Central Division competitors including year-to-year comparisons.

In this, the first of three follow-on articles, McKamey responds to questions posed on our premium message board about those Cardinals prospects and much more. Today's focus is on general questions about ranking and the system.

If you are a Scout.com subscriber, make sure you check back here the next two days for the subsequent sets of questions and answers focusing on top Cardinals pitchers and position player prospects.

Previous article in the series:
Deric McKamey on Cards Prospects: 2008 (subscribers-only)

If you haven't yet joined Scout.com, there is no better time to do so than right now. Upon subscribing, you will receive access to all four McKamey articles as well as all the details behind our Cardinals prospect rankings in our "Forty Days, Forty Nights, Forty Prospects" feature here at stlcardinals.scout.com.

If you select our annual Total Access Pass(tm), you'll also receive the 2008 Scout Prospect Guide, the perfect hardcopy, glossy companion to "Forty Days", expanded to include the top prospects from all 30 MLB organizations, 56 issues of Sports Illustrated magazine, a $39.95 value, and much more!



Q: You project the Cardinals prospects as eight solid everyday players and one elite player. How does that compare to other organizations?

A: The Cardinals, with the influx of talent from the last three Drafts, rank in the middle third of all Major League organizations. I've got four Cardinals in my top 100 (Rasmus, Garcia, Anderson, and Perez) and that's about average. Most of this talent is concentrated at Double-A and below, which the team is going to need in order to be more active in the trade market.

Q: Do you put more weight on experience than other raters? Why or why not?

A: Probably so, but bottom-line, you want to identify the best players, taking everything into consideration. Everyone gets excited over the young, tool-laden player in the low minors, but as we all know, there are risks involved, and that's before factoring-in development time. I try to address those risks with my Potential Ratings.

Players that have performed well in the upper minors are certainly less risky, but you still have to make the call on whether they will be Major League starters or reserves. For example, an older pitcher like Josh Kinney (before he injured his elbow) would have more value to me than a younger, less experienced pitcher like Kenny Maiques or Mitchell Boggs.

Q: Are your radar gun readings conservative compared to other reports? Why or why not?

A: I wouldn't say they were conservative, I'd say they were true. I have a Stalker Pro model that is in-line with the other scouts' radar readings around me. A lot of what gets reported in the media in reference to pitchers' velocities are generous to say the least. In most cases, the media is trying to sell a magazine or newspaper, and a pitcher throwing 97 MPH looks a lot more impressive that one throwing 92 MPH.

I don't know how many times that I have read about a pitcher's velocity, only to find that it is much lower when I've seen them pitch. I saw Adam Wainwright pitch three times as a starter in the minors, and not once did he go over 92 MPH (mostly 87-90 MPH). Radar guns at stadia throughout the minors aren't always correct either.

Another factor is the time of the season that I see them pitch. If it is early in the season when they are still trying to figure things out or late in the year when they might be tired, it will affect their velocity readings. Obviously, I don't get to scout all the pitchers that I write about and have to use other sources, but the ones I do are going to get the readings that I record.

Q: Did you get a chance to observe any of the Cards rookie league teams during 2007?

A: Not in 2007. I had planned on seeing Batavia when they came to Mahoning Valley, but something came up and I didn't get to make the trip.

Q: Talk to me about your rating process. Specifically, how can you defend rating Pete Kozma and Clayton Mortensen that high yet when the jury is still out on those two? Also, do you think Kozma is ready for full-season ball?

A: When I rank prospects, whether on an organizational level or minor league level, I ask myself this question, "if I'm a GM or scouting director, which player do I want?" Others may have different criteria for ranking, and that's fine, but I've been ranking prospects this way for a long time and feel I've had success.

Kozma was a first-round pick and Mortensen was a supplemental first-round pick, so obviously more than one organization thought they were pretty good. Baseball America, who many consider the standard in the industry, had both ranked in the top 10. I would definitely rather have Kozma and Mortensen than any of the players that I have ranked below them.

Kozma was the consensus, top high school SS in the country, though it was a down year at that position. His instincts are off the chart, and he is a solid defender. There are questions about his bat, but I don't think we can draw conclusions based on 146 professional at-bats. He likely won't have much power, but from the reports I've read and the scouting video I've seen, he should be close to a .300 hitter and will draw walks. Defensively and mentally, he's ready for a full-season league, but may struggle offensively in the early going. If the Cardinals had not taken him when they did, he would have been gone in the next couple of picks, so other organizations were hot after him too.

Mortensen is a very intriguing pitcher. He has the size, delivery, and stuff to be a front-line pitcher. His power sinker induces tons of groundball outs and both his slider and change-up are average pitches. Check those strikeout rates; he can miss bats too. His quick arm action and delivery gives the impression that the ball is coming much quicker to the hitter. It would not surprise me at all, if, assuming Rasmus loses his rookie eligibility in 2008, that Mortensen is the Cardinals' top prospect next year (and everyone will know it).

Q: When talking with scouts and officials from other organizations, is there a perception that the Cardinals prospects aren't as good as they really are? Or are they just not that good?

A: Every team, and I mean EVERY team, rates their prospects better than other organizations. The stud players in an organization (Rasmus) have the same value in all organizations, but it is the second-tier players (Anderson and Ottavino) and fillers (Haerther and Pomeranz) that have better perception in their own systems. As I mentioned in a previous question, the Cardinals rank in the middle third of all organizations in terms of quality and depth of prospects.

Q: What do you think of Rick Porcello? In general, do you think high-upside high school pitchers are worth the risk of being taken in the first round?

A: Porcello was rated the top high school pitcher in the 2007 Draft, and I concur. He touches 97 MPH with his four-seam fastball and has two breaking pitches (slider and curveball) that both grade as above average. Add-in his projectable frame and smooth arm action, and you have a potential #1 starter.

Taking high school pitchers in the first round is all relative to what Draft position you are selecting at and the available talent pool at the time of the selection. Major League organizations have known for years that high school pitchers are risky, but you have to weigh that risk with potential and the instincts of your scouts. In my opinion, the first round of the Draft should be used to secure top-end talent; period. On the rare occasion, that gets thrown out the door if you have multiple picks, like the Athletics in the Moneyball Draft or the Padres last season and/or have a budget to follow, but in general, that is what the first round is for.

I would take a high school pitcher in the first round if he was clearly the best player at that point. The farther you go down the Draft board, the more players' talent start to converge, but I think you do find a lot of projectable high school pitchers taken in rounds 3-5 that might have fallen due to signability or college commitment issues.

I'll assume that the hidden question here is whether I thought the Cardinals should have taken Porcello in the first round. I would have been perfectly comfortable with St. Louis taking Porcello instead of Kozma with the 18th pick, but there was more than talent (signing bonus) to consider when making that pick.



Brian Walton can be reached via email at brwalton@earthlink.net.

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