John Sickels Q&A

John Sickels started writing about prospects as Bill James's research assistant in 1993. He has become one of the most respected prospect analysts, writing for ESPN before launching, where he puts out consistently great work. He is about to publish his annual prospect handbook, a mandatory purchase for anyone with even a passing interest in prospects and great writing.

John took a few minutes to answer some questions about his view of the Padres minor league system.

You begin your review of the system with "that's a helluva farm system." Obviously its strength is the depth of talent, with no clear cut A/A- guys to headline the act. Was this a harder organization than most for you to order players within the top 20?

John Sickels: It is always difficult when you get a lot of guys in the same grade range, especially in the B/B- range, and C+ types are very difficult to rank properly. The Padres have a lot of players in those categories, so yeah, it's something of a pain.

Of the three position guys you have at the top of the system, Hedges has the best blend of performance/scouting, Gyorko is more performance than scouting, and Liriano is the reverse. Is it a coincidence they shook out in that order in your rankings?

Sickels: No, not a coincidence. My ratings are usually a blend of scouting and performance. Hedges has the best combination I'd say, plus he also has a positional premium as a catcher who can hit, while Gyorko the infielder and Liriano the outfielder don't have that advantage. Hedges seemed pretty clear as the top guy to me. Between Gyorko and Liriano, I went with the safer pick at the top.

You headline the deep pitching list with Kelly and Erlin, but express concerns about the injuries they both had last year and question whether they are more than mid-rotation guys. Erlin's a guy whose individual component scouting ratings are usually greater than their sum. What do you see and hear as strengths and weaknesses when you evaluate him? If he were three inches taller, would he be getting more attention?

John Sickels: I love Erlin. The size thing is usually less of an issue for LHP than for RHP, and in general there is less bias against shorter pitchers than there used to be. In Erlin's case, I think it is less an issue of height and more an issue of velocity since he doesn't have a blazing fastball. But what he does have plays up due to his superb command and his ability to deceive hitters and change speeds. Scouts recognize that. All you hear about is how deceptive he is, and how well he keeps hitters off-stride and how good his makeup is. That's all true. If his arm holds up, I think he'll be very successful.

Evaluating guys with limited professional track records is obviously more of a challenge, but as you look at Fried, Weickel, Eflin, Walker Lockett and to some degree Joe Ross and even Matt Wisler, that's a lot of potential high-end arms without a lot of experience.

Recognizing the high attrition rate among pitching prospects, if you had to bet on one of these guys to be a straight A in 12 months, who would you pick? If you were in charge, would you put the high school guys from last year's draft out in a full-season league to open 2013?

John Sickels: I'd say either Fried or Wisler if I had to bet on a grade A. Wisler doesn't get nearly enough attention outside of Padres sources. A friend of mine who is a respected scout thinks Wisler will be one of the very best pitchers to come out of the 2011 draft for any team.

As for 2013, I'd have all of the 2012 guys in extended spring in April. Assuming everyone is healthy, I think Fried is advanced enough to open May in Low-A. Weickel, Eflin, and Lockett would probably wait until short-season ball gets going in June.

Among the college arms in the bottom half of the system, you're higher on Donn Roach than just about all the prospect evaluators out there. What do you see in him that puts him that step ahead of Andriese and Smith?

John Sickels: I've liked Roach since he was in college. I just love that sinker, and he's developed very good command. I like Andriese and Smith too, especially Smith who was another guy I saw a lot of in college and was fond of, but Roach has one of the most extreme sinkers I've ever seen and I just think he's very unique.

You, like me, remain skeptical on Portillo after he posted dominating surface-level stats in Ft. Wayne but then had the wheels fall off in San Antonio. Do you think he can avoid the Daniel Cabrera Phenomenon?

John Sickels: He's young enough to figure things out but aside from part of last year in Low-A, I just don't see a lot of evidence that he will. He strikes me as the type who will always tease us.

If Joe Ross's older brother was unknown to us all, do you think we'd be more inclined to give him a pass on this last year?

John Sickels: Well if his name was Joe Roberts maybe, but any young pitcher with command issues and a health concern is going to send up a caution flag for me. Ross is obviously very talented but I think it best to keep short-term expectations to a reasonable level. The good thing is that the Padres have so much young pitching, there won't be a real temptation to rush him.

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