I've been a fan of Kevin Goldstein for awhile, back when he did the "Daily Prospect Report" for Baseball America. Last year or so, he decided to leave BA and became a writer for Baseball Prospectus. Right after I got done posting the John Manuel interview, I clicked on the link for the "Future Shock" article which listed their rankings of the league's best Farm Systems. We were ranked #1 and I decided to shoot Kevin an email and that's how this interview came about.
I'd like to thank him for doing this and I hope you all enjoy his thoughts.
Jake Larsen: In your future shock article today, you ranked the Rays the top system and quipped "it's not even close". I've heard many people say that our system is too "top heavy" and some of our best prospects are at the top 2 levels. Do you agree with the critics that Longoria, Brignac, Niemann and to some extent Guzman are the best "top shelf" prospects in our system?
Kevin Goldstein: I could see how some would see it that way on a hitting level, but at the same time to complain about a system with Young, Brignac, Longoria and so much more is nitpicking. It's the best system in baseball, I can't see why anybody would have a problem with it. Lots of hitting at the top, and an enviable group of young pitching. Don't get too greedy, nobody has elite talent at every level.
JL: In your opinion, what are the chances of Niemann breaking camp as a starter in our rotation?
KG: Pretty low. The Devil Rays look like they want to get him some Triple-A time and line him up for a promotion somewhere around mid-season. Keep in mind that the second half of '06 was his first healthy run since signing.
JL: My favorite Rays prospect of all-time is Reid "The Cajun God of Baseball" Brignac. I know that his bat is legit, but there's still questions on whether or not he's going to stick at SS(due to his size and high error totals at the position). Will the Rays know for sure by the end of the year where he fits in our plans?
KG: I think that's a real good call. He's going to play shortstop this year, and he wants to stay there - but at the same time, his bat may create a situation where it's so far ahead of the glove that the team can't wait anymore.
JL: Andy Sonnanstine is best known to Rays fans for his ability to log high amounts of innings, while posting outrageously great K/BB ratios. Do you think that my favorite side-arming strikeout artist can survive in the majors as a starter or does long relief suit him better?
KG: I do think he can be a starter, albeit a back-of-the-rotation one. That's not an insult at all, last I looked, that was worth about eight million a year.
JL: Many Rays fans questioned whether or not it was worth trading Huff, Hall and Lugo before the deadline, due to draft pick compensation. Are Zobrist, Talbot, Pedroza, Guzman and Ruggiano worth not getting 1st round/sandwich pick compensation?
KG: Well, we won't really know until we see how those players drafted work out. I'm not nuts about any of them, I probably like Talbot the best, and think he could also be a back-end starter. Zobrist has big league value, but maybe as a utility guy. I don't like the other three much.
JL: Was Wade Townsend an overdraft/"cheap" pick in 2005 and will we ever see him in St. Pete? If so, will it be as a starter or reliever? I remember hearing that many of our scouts wanted Andrew McCutchenson instead of Townsend, but LaMar/Wilken intervened. Would we be having a problem with Cutch in the mix right now or would he have just finished a season with Visalia for us?
KG: I can't really see how having Andrew McCutchen in your system would be a problem. Townsend's been pretty much a nightmare, but at the same time, every team has their fair share of regretful picks, and I'd argue that best system in baseball is more the result of good decisions by Wilken, as opposed to any mistakes.
JL: The Rays plan on experimenting somewhat with the 2 prospects that we received for Lugo, with Guzman being moved to 1B(where we don't really have anyone as our "franchise" 1B anymore due to Bankston suckingness) and Pedroza possibly being moved to Catcher. Which possible move do the Rays seem more likely to cash in on?
KG: Pedroza as a catcher is fascinating. It's a remarkably difficult position to learn, but if he can even be adequate there, he could be interesting. Guzman for me just doesn't hit enough to be a first baseman.
JL: We've got a trio of pitching prospects with high-upside in Jake McGee, Wade Davis and Matt Walker. Davis and McGee get all the headlines, which they deserve, but I've heard that Walker has the most "raw" potential. Is there any truth to that?
KG: Well, it depends on who you talk to. Those I've spoken to who have seen all three like Walker, but still favor Davis and McGee. I think Davis has the most upside of the three.
JL: If you were in charge of a baseball team and had to pick between Elijah Dukes and Delmon Young, who would you choose to build your team around?
KG: Delmon. I can't think of any rational person who would favor Dukes.
JL: The Rays have made it known that they plan on using once-heralded 1st rounder BJ Upton as a "Super-Utility" role of the Chone Figgins mold, what are your thoughts on this and are we hurting his potential/development by putting him at this role at the age of 22?
KG: They're definitely in a weird spot with Upton. They can't trust himm a shortstop and they have a ton of other options on the left side as it is. Further complicating things is the incredibly outfield talent. So what do you do with him? Personally, I think he needs a change of scenery, but the Devil Rays would never get value there.
JL: Is it foolish for the Rays to be scouting and labeling David Price as our top choice for the #1 pick this early into the college baseball season?
KG: Can't see how it's foolish to scout the top talent in the draft. That said, it's not as if he's the only guy they're looking at. I guarantee you that Devil Rays scouts are looking at many, many players - it's just pretty clear right now that Price is in the lead - so he gets all the attention.
JL: Best Rays prospect that noone has heard of...yet
KG: I'm imagining you and your readers are pretty astute. You've probably heard of Fernando Perez, a real favorite of mine who (I think) missed everybody's top 10 lists, but would make them in almost any other system. How about I got deeper and take catcher Nevin Ashley?
JL: When should the Rays start seeing payoffs from our Int'l Development camps?
KG: It really takes awhile to establish a presence there. I think you'll see some dividends once they really put their flag down there and spend big money on somebody.
JL: Do the Rays homegrown players and prospects have the firepower to topple the Yankees/Red Sox anytime soon?
KG: Man, living in the AL East sure is a nightmare. That said, if you told me I had to pick one team from the AL East, other than the Yankees and Red Sox, who would make the playoffs over the next five years, I'd easily take the Devil Rays. I really think this team is going to be pretty good, pretty soon.
JL Evan Longoria, 2008 Starting Third Baseman, Buy or Sell?
KG: Buy, and buy STRONGLY.