Jim Callis, is the Executive Editor of Baseball America and considered one of the most informed minds in baseball. Jim was kind enough to answer a few questions surrounding scouting, the Rays system, and the future. I hope you all enjoy this interview and please visit and subscribe to Baseball America.
To check out the interview, click on the entry link.
Matt Bishoff: As the Executive Editor of Baseball America, you have clearly been in the business for a long time, and have definitely witnessed the sabermetric transition in baseball. How has this effected the game, and in what capacity?
Jim Callis: In the last 20 years, the quality and quantity of statistical analysis has exploded. There's a much greater appreciation of on-base percentage, obviously, and I think the most groundbreaking work is getting a better sense of exactly how much defense and individual defensive players/performances are worth. I do think the influence on scouting and the amateur draft has been overblown. Scouts consider performance, and that's nothing new. And high school and college stats are not anywhere close to translatable to the point where they're especially useful.
MB: What are your expectations for the Rays this season, and the following 2 seasons?
JC: Well, I jumped on the Rays in 2010 bandwagon a year ago--I really think they can be a legitimate contender in 2010. If their pitching stabilizes quickly, they could even contend in 2009. But 2008 will probably be more growing pains, though at the same time I think they will break team record for victories (currently just 70 games).
MB: We have heard a lot of the hype about the Rays farm system, and have heard plenty about the top prospects. Who is one player in the Rays system who you think is unheralded and deserves more respect?
JC: I'll give you a player and a pitcher. Glenn Gibson is new to the system (Elijah Dukes trade) and has yet to pitch in full-season ball, but he's a pretty polished lefthander. I think John Jaso is the best catcher in the organization, a guy who can hit and play solid defense--provided he stays healthy.
MB: A lot has been made about highly-touted prospect Desmond Jennings. Many have made comparisons between D.J. Jones and Desmond Jennings. Are these comparisons legit and do you see D.J. as a quality MLB-type player?
JC: I think those comps are legit. They're both outstanding athletes from the South who were raw when they signed. The biggest difference, of course, is that Jennings had the big breakout 2007 season in low Class A. Jones has the potential to be a big leaguer, but he also has a lot to prove.
MB: When looking at young pitching prospects, what are some unique traits that can separate 2 players with similar skill sets?
JC: I think you'd be looking at things like performance and projectability. They may have similar stuff, but who misses more bats? Does one of them project to improve more than the other? You'd also want to look at their mechanics and determine if one guy was a significantly higher injury risk compared to the other.
MB: If there were 3 players throughout the Rays system to build a franchise around, major leagues included, which 3 would you choose?
JC: That's tough, because they have so much young talent. I'll go with B.J. Upton, Scott Kazmir and Evan Longoria. Very easily could have put Carl Crawford or David Price on there, and it seems funny that Matt Garza, Jake McGee and Wade Davis aren't really considerations. Nor Carlos Pena and his 46 homers.
MB: What is your favorite baseball-related book and who is your favorite baseball writer?
JC: Just one baseball book? That's tough! I'm going to have to throw out a few, and I'm sure I'm missing some obvious ones. My favorites would include the Bill James Baseball Abstracts, the Roger Angell compilations, "Dollar Sign On The Muscle" by Kevin Kerrane, "Lords Of The Realm" by John Helyar, "The Ticket Out" by Michael Sokolove, "The Soul Of Baseball" by Joe Posnanski . . . I'll stop there, but I could go on. My favorite writer right now would be either Posnanski or Jerry Crasnick (also liked his book, "License To Deal"). They both are excellent writers as well as very informative.
MB: One trade that has sort of flown under the radar this season is the Dukes/Gibson trade. Could you give a brief explanation of what Rays fans should expect from the young southpaw, and who do you think got the better end of this deal?
JC: I like the Rays' end of this deal better, because I just don't think Dukes is going to control himself enough to be a consistently productive player. I can understand taking the gamble on him, but I also understand why the Rays were sick of him. Gibson is a projectable 6-foot-4, 195-pound lefty. I'll plug our 2008 Prospect Handbook by excerpting part of our scouting report: "He can throw his plus changeup in any count for strikes, his slow downer curveball can be above-average at times, and his fastball can touch 91 mph and has late movement. Gibson's fastball sits in the high 80s and isn't overpowering, which limits his upside and margin for error. He still needs to add strength to his frame, particularly his lower half, to improve his durability and velocity."
MB: If you had to give Rays front office a grade on a scale of 1-10 since Andrew Friedman has taken over, how would you rate them? And what was your favorite and least favorite move of the regime?
JC: A 6 or a 7. They're making progress and things seem to be headed in the right direction, but at the same time they need better results in the major leagues and they were bequeathed a fair amount of young talent. I don't know if they made a spectacular move that stands out, though it's hard to argue with spending high first-round picks on Evan Longoria (No. 3 in 2006) and David Price (No. 1 in 2007). Maybe they were concerned with Delmon Young's makeup, and they have more inside info than I do, but I wouldn't have pulled the trigger on the Young-Garza trade, even with their outfield logjam.
MB: As someone who has been a Edwin Jackson supporter since the beginning, I have to ask you: What are your thoughts on E-Jax, and how do you see the rest of career carrying on?
JC: I don't think the polish ever caught up to the stuff. At one point he was arguably the best pitching prospect in the game, but he doesn't throw enough strikes or quality strikes. He just didn't develop further, and I don't think he'll have more than sporadic success.
We would like to once again thank Jim for going out of his way to answer these questions for us, and wish him all the best.