Q&A: John Sickels on key Rays prospects

Rob Carr

John Sickels, who runs the SB Nation site Minor League Ball, recently completed his survey of the Top 20 prospects for 2014 by organization, while in the midst of recovery from a severe concussion (read his descriptions of living with a concussion here). We followed up with a few questions regarding some key players in the organization. Below are his thoughts.

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DRaysBay: On two pitchers projected to land in the back of the Rays rotation: Jake Odorizzi is often described as "athletic", while the newly acquired Matt Andriese is often described as "physical" - could you help clarify the difference between the two, specifically regarding pitching? (Is it a matter of Endurance vs Strength?):

John Sickels: I think these two examples are particularly illustrative of the difference. Odorizzi was also a prospect as a shortstop in high school and had enough athleticism and speed to excel as a wide receiver. He's still listed at 6-2, 185 (the same as in high school), while Andriese is slightly taller but significantly stockier at 6-3, 210. Andriese was listed at 6-2, 170 in high school, so he's gained some height and about 30 pounds over the years while Odorizzi hasn't. I would assume that Odorizzi would beat Andriese if they were running track, and generally speaking Odo is a better pure athlete.

In pitching terms there is not necessarily a direct correlation between durability and size/height/weight. Odorizzi's athleticism has helped him hold up under a pro workload, but Andriese has held up well too. Both of these guys have been quite durable actually and have shown they can eat innings. Both pitchers are efficient and repeat their mechanics well and that helps any pitcher of any size stay healthy.

DRB: From a national perspective, Kevin Kiermaier came out of nowhere last season to wow just about everyone, and he even reached the majors as a defensive replacement in the playoffs after starting the year in Double-A. He was also recently named the top defensive outfield prospect in the minors by Baseball Prospectus. Should we be hesitant to rank him highly when he was barely in the discussion a year ago?

JS: His glove has always stood out as a positive, but he didn't hit well enough to get into the broader picture as more than a fringe prospect. There are many good defensive outfielders in the minors who never get an opportunity because they don't hit enough. The Rays always knew about him, obviously, but people outside the organization took a closer look after his hot start. Personally I see him as a fourth or fifth outfielder. His run at Montgomery was out of career context and I wouldn't expect him to repeat that in the major leagues.

DRB: How far should Taylor Guerrieri's stock fall after Tommy John surgery?

JS: Well, the track record for Tommy John recovery is pretty good, but it isn't perfect and not everyone gets their stuff and/or command back. Baseball people will tell you that the player's makeup makes a big difference in how they come back and that guys who do the rehab work diligently have a better record of full recovery than those that don't. That makes sense intuitively, although it isn't always true and there are some cases where players do everything right and still don't bounce back completely.

In Guerrieri's case there were some makeup questions even before the injury, so that might add a little more caution. Personally I think it is a bad idea to assume full recovery even in a perfect case, so I think we have to dock his stock somewhat until we see what happens.

DRB: Curt Casali had a hard time transitioning on offense after his promotion to High-A two years ago, then he destroyed Double-A after his promotion last season. How does this impact your evaluation?

JS: I think Casali is one of the most interesting sleeper prospects in baseball. He didn't dominate early in High-A but his overall track record is solid. If you look carefully, even in A-ball when he wasn't putting up the big slash numbers, he was still controlling the strike zone reasonably and hitting some doubles.

Although it was his glove that drew most of the praise, he hit well in college too, so it isn't like his success at Montgomery is just completely out of the blue. Now, granted, we are still talking about just 48 career games in Double-A, which is a fairly small sample. But his strike zone judgment remains excellent and he seems to have picked up where he left off last year. I like him as a prospect.

DRB: Alex Colome, Enny Romero, and Nathan Karns have all been projected towards the bullpen by national writers. Do you agree?

JS: I definitely do in the case of Colome since he can't seem to stay healthy as a starter. Romero and Karns look like they can handle a starter's workload, although both still need to show the necessary command and both need better changeups. I think using them as starters in Triple-A makes perfect sense for now, as it gives them a chance to prove themselves either way. Overall I think it is 95% that Colome winds up in relief. Romero and Karns in the bullpen is a better than 50/50 bet but not a slam dunk yet.

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Thank you to John for taking time from his editing process to answer our questions. John's prospect annual is available for preorder now.

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