A graduate of St. Joseph’s University in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, Eric worked for the Phillies’ Triple-A affiliate, the Lehigh Valley Iron Pigs, while in college in addition to writing for Crashburn Alley, which used to be featured in ESPN’s now defunct SweetSpot Network – which also included longtime Padre blog favorite Ducksnorts
After college Eric worked for Baseball Info Solutions, where he worked on pitch charting and video scouting. He was brought on to FanGraphs staff by Kiley McDaniel, then left to work for ESPN with Keith Law for two years before returning to as FanGraphs’ lead prospect writer.
Eric lives in Tempe, Arizona which gives him prime access to the Arizona Fall League, Instructional League and Spring Training along with assorted other trips. He was kind enough to chat with us on his recent rankings of the Padres’ system for 2016.
MadFriars: I love the way you wrote this, how did you approach setting it up?
Eric Longenhagen: I really try to see most of the guys myself. I grind pretty hard at games and between Spring Training, the AZL, the Fall Instructional Leagues and the Arizona Fall League I do get to see a good amount of players. Now that this is my full-time job, I think it adds another level to my analysis so that I am just not depending on what teams and second-hand sources tell me. Quite a bit of prospect information is provided directly by teams so seeing someone in person helps me sift through – how would you say – some of the more “liberal” scouting reports on players.
It’s important to have a good mix or sources, and there are a few guys that I really trust, so that you are not too high or too low on any particular player.
Your list seems to be weighted more towards ceiling than performance. Is that fair?
Eric Longenhagen: Yes, I think that is fair. Amateur acquisition is still by far the most cost effective way to build a contender and to develop stars. So I think a player that has the potential to become a star has more value than a future utility infielder or middle relief pitcher that is posting numbers.
One of the most difficult things about these lists is to create a hierarchy when comparisons aren’t always apples-to-apples. For example, how were you able to put Adrian Morejon at #5 despite never having pitched an inning stateside?
Eric Longenhagen: Morejon is a really unique package in that he is short, but not small. The measurables are different than the body. His pitchability and stuff is advanced with a fastball that is in the low to mid 90’s and can touch 96. His change-up and breaking ball are also plus.
I only got a two inning look at him in the Instructs before the Padres shut him down with minor elbow discomfort. It wasn’t serious because he is back throwing now.
He is slightly older than the rest of the J2 [July 2 was the international signing date] class and I think you can see some Julio Urias in him. There is not a whole lot of projection left in the body, but it is a plus body in that he is a good athlete.
His future is going to be based on him holding up, just being able to throw the number of innings that he needs too. He has a chance to become a number two or number three starter in the big leagues and a three to four WAR player; but that is a long way off. For me it was about attempting to marry the future value of him with the risk, which is why he was at number five in the Padres’ rankings.
I thought he was the second best player of this year’s amateur group.
You have Fernando Tatis, Jr. higher nearly than everyone at #6 and particularly higher than Hudson Potts (#19). What did you like so much more in Tatis than Potts?
Eric Longenhagen: Tatis has a lot more raw power, a more favorable physical projection and his defense is better. I like Potts too, but Tatis has a plus arm and will probably move over to third base once his body fills out some more. There are a few in the scouting community that aren’t sure if Potts can stick in the infield and could even end up in left field.
The industry was a little light on Tatis as an amateur, but after seeing him in the AZL and the Instructional League quite a few believe that if he were draft eligible this year – remember he’s going to turn 18 this January – he would be in the top half of this year’s amateur draft.
Paddack, who will miss all of next year with Tommy John surgery, has good low 90’s velocity on his four-seam fastball and a great changeup. The question I’ve always had is how good is Paddack’s breaking pitch and his two-seam fastball and do you see that as a problem for him moving forward?
Eric Longenhagen: I agree that you definitely need more than a two-pitch mix if you are going to be a starter at Double-A and above. Right now Paddack has always been a fastball/changeup guy first, but the breaking ball is there.
The Marlins tweaked the delivery this spring and the curve ball started to come. To throw a curve the break is either in the wrist or it isn’t. Because of the tweak in the delivery it helped to bring it out. Right now it’s not consistent, but it is there. However, the priority with Chris is going to be to get him healthy and back on the mound first.
You gave OF Jeisson Rossario a very good write-up. He’s only 17 and that is a lot of projection. Where do you see him playing at next year?
Eric Longenhagen: He should start in the AZL next year and if he looks good in spring I could even see them bumping him up to a full-season league. He started off low initially in my J2 rankings and the more I saw of him the more I kept bumping him up.
When I got to Peoria, I though he had the most impressive batting practice and had the loudest contact; which is an indicator of the quality of the contact. He moved up on the list for me just in my belief that he has the ability to hit.
You are a little lower on Luis Urias than many in the Padres organization who plan on trying him at shortstop next year in Double-A San Antonio. Do you think he doesn’t have the arm or lateral quickness to play there or both?
Eric Longenhagen: I do like him a lot – his bat-to-ball skills are incredible and from everything I’ve heard he has plus, plus makeup. He is the archetype of someone that will hit before power, but the problem is there are a lot of guys like that. Some of them really work out, like Jose Altuve, and others don’t, like Eric Young, Jr.
As for the Padres moving, or trying him out at shortstop I can see that based on the reasoning that defensive shifting does change a few assumptions about who can and can’t play a positon. Teams like Tampa, Oakland and St. Louis all take that philosophy and there are all sorts of batted ball data in the minors that is not available to the public which will show whether or not he can stick there.
I tend to be a little pickier on who I think is a shortstop and for me Urias isn’t one.
The scouting reports have Jorge Ona as having the ability to play right field because of his arm, but your report indicates that is not true. Is that based on you seeing him or on what other evaluators have said too?
Eric Longenhagen: The reports on him where more favorable on him before he got stateside. The body is a little bigger than everyone thought and he isn’t quite as explosive as many thought he would be. In general, Cuban bodies are pretty volatile and anything based on very short looks has to be taken with a grain of salt.
I think he is going to be someone that gets bigger and even if the arm plays in right field he may not be able to move out there enough for him to be an average defender. With a stronger arm and less range he may be better suited for left.
How do you differentiate between “command” and “control”?
Eric Longenhagen: Control is the ability to throw strikes with a simple delivery. Command is the ability to throw certain types of strikes – or to place the ball where you want it to go. Can you bury your breaking ball beneath the zone? Can you throw a 2-0 changeup for strikes? Those are examples of command.
For most of the J2 kids - where do you see them are starting?
Eric Longenhagen: I think the AZL and I’ve heard rumors that San Diego might add a second AZL team just because they have so many guys. Since these are Complex Teams it’s just more a question of scheduling as opposed to adding a team in the higher level rookie leagues like the Pioneer or Appalachian.
Since so much of your rankings appear to be based on ceiling, I was a little surprised you had Michael Gettys (#21) despite a .361 on-base percentage this year between Fort Wayne and Lake Elsinore. You’ve seen him play for a while, how much improvements have you seen?
Eric Longenhagen: I saw him in Lake Elsinore and in the AFL this season. Contact is still an issue and from what I saw the breaking ball recognition is still a problem for him. Right now it’s not a mechanical hiccup, but a recognition thing that is really only going to be played out by seeing more of them.
I do see him taking a lot of early batting practice, but it’s kind of something in his head. As he moves up the breaking pitches are going to get better, so it will get more difficult for him. If he can get past it, yes, he most definitely has big league tools. I’m just not confident that he will ever hit enough to become an average player in the big leagues.
Last question, Javier Guerra was near the top of most prospect rankings for the Padres last year and didn’t make your Top 30 this season. I would encourage everyone to read what you wrote about him at the end of your piece. The tools are also still there. Are you that doubtful that he will be able to tap into them next year at 21?
Eric Longenhagen: He was still a guy that I was planning on ranking in the 40 Future Value but there were so many people outside the Padres’ organization that were really negative on him. So much of it was about makeup, the bad body language, and his ability to react to failure. He doesn’t have an overly loud set of tools – he’s athletic, has good body control and gets to his power because of the loft in his swing – but he’s not super-fast or quick so he has to be smart in how he uses his tools and many scouts just don’t believe that he is in that respect.
There were quite a few people that I spoke with that believe he is unacquirable because of these facts and he is going to sink or swim with the Padres. After speaking with a number of people I ended up moving him off of my list.
You can follow Eric on Twitter @longenhagen.