20 Questions with Jim Callis of Baseball America

Jim Callis, Baseball America's Minor League Editor, sits down for "20 Questions" with the staff of NYF to give his thoughts on the Mets' prospects. You can read more of Jim's content at BaseballAmerica.com and you can also purchase Baseball America's 2004 Prospect Handbook at their website. Who's the "dark horse" among Mets' prospects? Will Coach Rick Peterson have an effect on the pitching prospects? You can find this out and much more right now!

1) Jim, I'm wondering how Met top prospect Scott Kazmir matches up with his counterparts, Greg Miller and Cole Hamels. The three are considered by most as being the cream of the crop among lefties, who in your opinion is the man with the highest ceiling and how do you rank or compare their 'stuff'? What is the significance of Scott Kazmir's growth over the past year, growing an inch in height and adding 15 lbs of muscle? Last year, the Mets handled Kazmir with kid gloves, severely limiting his pitch count. Have you heard anything about how they plan to handle him in 2004?

I'd rank them Miller, Kazmir, Hamels, with Baltimore's Adam Loewen also part of that first tier of lefthanders. Kazmir probably has the highest pure ceiling because he has the best pure stuff, but Miller's is very close and he's got better command and a stronger build. Extra muscle isn't always a good thing for pitchers, but in Kazmir's case he didn't get too bulky or lose anything. The Mets will continue to handle him carefully, because lefties with mid-90s fastballs and power sliders are hard to come by, but he should be allowed to go deeper into games this year.

2) David Wright's 2003 season was excellent, mostly hidden by the horrible hitting environment he toiled in. How likely do you think it is that he puts up monster numbers in 2004? Just months ago it seemed David Wright was one of the more underrated prospects. It seems his performance in the second half, including the FSL playoffs and fall league have put him on the map sky rocketing him up many rankings, possibly overrating him a bit. Where in your opinion should he be in a overall prospect ranking, what range would you put him in?

It's not real easy to put up monster numbers at Double-A Binghamton. I do think he can hit .300 with 20 homers, but he'll be just 21 and in Double-A and not a friendly hitting environment. I ranked him 13th on my overall list as we prepared for our consensus Top 100 Prospects list. He'll hit for average and power, and I think he'll be a good third baseman.

3) There seems to be two very different opinions on Matt Peterson. I've read from Baseball America and heard from Met General Manager Jim Duquette in an interview that Peterson is a middle of the rotation guy but from all eye witness accounts and more in depth scouting reports, Peterson has the potential to be an ace, his numbers certainly back that up. What would you say his upside is both realistically and optimistically if he can overcome his flaws?

I think people slap the term "ace" around too liberally. He has a ceiling as a No. 2 starter, more realistically would be a No. 3--and that's pretty good. He has good but not overwhelming stuff, fine but not extraordinary command. He just needs to improve his overall consistency.

4) Yusmerio Petit, Lastings Milledge, Aaron Baldiris, Tyler Davidson each draw much intrigue despite having such a small taste of proffessional baseball. What could you tell us about these very young players in development prospects. What type of potential do these guys have? And does Aaron Balderis' frame support his adding useful muscle mass? If so, how much would his swing support increased home run power and extra base hit power? Does he have far to go to become a doubles-hitting machine?

Milledge has the highest ceiling of that group, by far. He's a five-tool guy if he puts everything together. Baldiris can get stronger, and he needs to, because he didn't hit for very much power at all last year. He needs to do that to play regularly in the majors, and his two best positions are going to be blocked by David Wright and Jose Reyes. Petit's command is more impressive than his stuff, and we'll have to see how he does in full-season ball. Davidson has a great body and impressive raw power, but we need to see how he does against competition his own age.

5) Recently with the exception of Reyes, Mets seems to take their time developing their prospects, perhaps it's the circumstance. It appears now that there are a few in the system that are in position to be on the fast track or are capable of at least. Seeing the success the Dodgers and Devil Rays have had so far lately, is it a real possibility that one of Wright, Peterson, Kazmir, Huber could see some time in the bigs this year with lets say Milledge in AA by seasons end?

I think that's too optimistic. Peterson would have the best shot of getting there. You might see Wright in September because he has to be on the 40-man. Kazmir doesn't, and like Wright has yet to spend a day in Double-A yet. Huber has some defensive issues to work out, though maybe you see him in September because he'll have to be protected anyway. Milledge is somewhat raw and I'll be shocked if he moves past Class A this year. He might top out in low A in 2004.

6) We've heard about the big boys, how about the lesser touted guys like Bob Keppel, Victor Diaz and Mike Jacobs. Each had a tremendous season last year. What about them keeps them down where they are, Diaz especially considering he's done nothing but hit like a beast everywhere he's played ever since he's been drafted?

All of those guys are interesting, and all have things they need to work on. Keppel needs a better breaking ball and must stay healthy after having forearm and shoulder soreness last year. Diaz can hit but he's a butcher defensively and needs to dedicate himself to improving in that area. Jacobs had a breakout year with the bat last year, but he's fringy defensively as a catcher and must prove he can hit like that again.

7) Although it is probably much too soon to even venture any thought about this, with the third overall pick which players who do you expect the Mets to have a great deal of interest in? Do you think they'll go after a pitcher or will they go with the bat? It's a little early for this, but are there any rumors about who the Mets are targetting with the #3 pick in the draft?

When you pick that high, you have to take the best available player. This year, it's likely that guy will be a college pitcher. The Mets aren't zeroing in on anyone yet, but I'm sure righthanders Jeff Niemann (Rice), Justin Verlander (Old Dominion) and Jered Weaver (Long Beach State) are at or near the top of their list.

8) Blake McGinley has dominated in his minor league career so far, yet scouts seemingly have no idea how he does it. Any ideas?

He doesn't really have a plus pitch, but he changes speeds, locates well and has good life on his fastball.

9) How would you rank these catchers defensively: Phillips, Wilson, Huber, Jacobs, Piazza.

Tough call, because not a lot of standouts there. I'd say: Vance Wilson, Jason Phillips, Justin Huber, Mike Jacobs, Mike Piazza. The last three guys aren't strong behind the plate.

10) How much of a concern is it that much of Victor Diaz' hitting sucucess revolves around batting average? Does he project to maintain similarly high batting averages as a Major League hitter? How much of a concern is his defense, really? And, has he shown signs that he can improve his defense? What defensive skills does he have? What position do you see Victor Diaz ending up playing?

He did have 31 doubles and 16 homers last year, so he does have some pop. But his defense is so poor that it really hurts him. Diaz doesn't work very hard or control his weight very well, and that has to change. Right now, his best position might be left field. Ideally, he'd be a second baseman.

11) Aside from Lastings Milledge, what OF in the Mets OF-weak system has the highest upside, and how likely is he to reach it?

Probably Tyler Davidson because of his power, but he has to prove he can even handle left field. He's far from a sure thing at this point.

12) Do you think Tyler Yates will stay in the rotation this year? He had established himself as a pretty dominant reliever before needing Tommy John surgery, and it seemed odd that the Mets would convert him to a starter immediately following his recovery. What is the likely time frame for a complete recovery for Tyler Yates from his injury? What must he show before you'd consider him ready to be called up? Does his stuff translate as well as a starter or as a releiver and would his time frame be different if called on as a starter than as a reliever?

I think they just wanted to get some innings after he missed time, and his secondary pitches (slider, changeup) are fairly solid. Most guys need 18-24 months to get all the way back from Tommy John surgery, which for Yates would be the first half of this year. He'll be in the big leagues as soon as he throws strikes. He could handle either role, probably would be better as a reliever because of his sometimes-shaky command.

13) What do you expect from Jose Reyes this year? When he was promoted to the majors in 2003, he seemed to follow the same pattern as he did in the minors: struggle for a few weeks, then start tearing the cover off the ball. Do you think he'll suffer a sophomore slump?

I think he'll be a star and have no concerns about him. I'm a little surprised that they'd move him to second base, but getting Kazuo Matsui was a nice pickup.

14) Heilman, Griffiths, Seo - who has the most upside?

Those guys are more about pitchability than pure stuff. I still like Aaron Heilman the most out of that bunch.

15) How much of a concern do you view Bob Keppel's low strikeout rate as? Does he have the capability to improve his strikeout rate?

That is a concern, and it speaks to his lack of a good breaking pitch. He also gets more movement on his fastball when he doesn't overthrow it.

16) Patrick Strange seems to be edging his way into a shadow. What significnace does his bad showing at Norfolk in 2003 have? Has your view of his potential changed and what are his chances of becoming a successful Major League player?

I was never a big fan of Strange and don't see him doing much in the majors.

17) How significant is Lenny Dinardo's brilliant performance in the AFL? Does he have the stuff to maintain high strikeut rates in MLB? Do you think he'll stick with the Red Sox or will he be coming back to the Mets?

DiNardo throws a ton of cutters to make up for a 82-85 mph fastball. I don't think he'll stick with the Red Sox in spring training. Whether anyone claims him on waivers remains to be seen.

18) Does Craig Brazell's strikeout-to-walk ratio accurately reflect on his knowledge of the strike zone? (I.e. is there some other reason he looks so bad. Does he take a good number of pitches?) Is he capable of improving his ratio?

There's a lot of debate as to how much a player can improve his plate discipline. For Brazell, the best thing he could do would be to tone down his swing a little. I do like his bat, though.

19) Who is a "dark horse" prospect in the Mets system and why?

Outfielder Bob Malek. He was slowed after signing in 2002 by Tommy John surgery, but he can be a high-average, high-OBP right fielder. The Mets could use some guys who know how to get on base.

20) The Mets have seemingly appointed Rick Peterson to head up their pitching, both in the majors and the minors. Given his track record with the A's, and his eagerness to use modern technology in his work with pitchers, what kind of an impact do you think he'll have on the system?

Peterson got a lot of credit for helping to develop arms like Mark Mulder, Barry Ziton and Tim Hudson with the A's. It's hard to say exactly how much was the raw talent those guys brought to the table and how much was Peterson, but both deserve credit. I'll be very interested to see what becomes of Kazmir with Peterson overseeing his development.

We would like to thank Jim Callis for taking the time to answer our questions at NYfansonly.com on the Mets prospects & farm system. We would also like to remind everyone that you can read more of Jim's work at BaseballAmerica.com and that Baseball America's 2004 Prospect Handbook is available for purchase at their website.

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