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Interview with John Sickels of Minor League Ball

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DRAYS BAY recently had the opportunity to speak with John Sickels of Minor League Ball about some of the players in the Devil Rays minor league system.

John Sickels used to write the great Down on The Farm column at ESPN, and worked with Bill James from 1993-1996.

I am one who enjoys seeing home grown talent make it to the show, so it was great thrill to chat with Mr. Sickels who has great insight on the minor league players.

DRAYS BAY: What do you feel is BJ Upton's position, is he a MLB SS?

John Sickels: Well, I think he has the athleticism and arm strength to handle shortstop, with more experience to improve his reliability. However, I can understand why they might want to move him. You don't want his defensive problems to undermine his overall confidence and impact his hitting in a negative way. The injury risk is also higher in the infield than in the outfield. So while I think he would improve at shortstop if given enough time, moving him also makes sense.

DRAYS BAY: Dewon had dominating stuff in college, but has not really developed into a #1. What happened there?  Will it be different with Jeff Niemann?

John Sickels: I don't think Brazelton was handled particularly well. He was rushed before he was ready. Even in college, scouts said his breaking ball was inconsistent and needed to be improved before he would be ready for the Majors. That still seems to be his biggest problem. As for Niemann, who knows? We just need to see how he adjusts.

DRAYS BAY: John Jaso wasn't in your book, but he was one of the best hitters in the NY-Penn League. What are the chances he could one day be a major-league backstop?

John Sickels: Jaso hit .302/.378/.427 in the NY-P, solid performance. I should probably have put him in the book. I want to see what he does at higher levels before going overboard with his grade.

DRAYS BAY: Jose de la Cruz got a nice write up in the BA handbook - what can you tell us about him and his stuff. Is he a potential closer?

John Sickels:I have an above-average velocity report on de la Cruz, but at this point I don't know much more about him other than that and his numbers. The numbers are certainly impressive: 1.02 ERA in 44 innings, 46/13 K/BB ratio, just 30 hits allowed. K/BB, K/IP, and H/IP all much better than New York-Penn League average. He turns 22 this year, so we need to see what he can do in full-season ball before getting super-excited. However, given his strong ratio set, there is certainly reason to be optimistic. If he keeps those numbers up at higher levels he will move quickly.

DRAYS BAY: Matt Spring is said to the best power among all the 2004 Rays draftees.  Can he stick behind the plate and what is his potential at the plate?

John Sickels: Spring is a big strong guy, but he has serious issues with the strike zone and making contact. He struck out 62 times in 50 games in the New York-Penn League. Unless he improves that, he won't survive at higher levels. His experience at catcher is limited; he has an adequate arm but didn't catch much until last year and needs to improve in all phases of the game. So what we have here is a guy who is raw defensively, who has power but can't control the strike zone. He has time to improve and he will need it.

DRAYS BAY: Among the top 3 high school pitchers taken in last year's draft, which pitcher do you like more among Jake McGee, Wade Davis, and Matt Walker?

John Sickels: Davis has the best arm strength but was horrible in short-season ball. McGee is a lot more polished but doesn't have the same physical ceiling. Walker went in the 10th round, but could have been a second or third round pick under different circumstances. He threw 92-94 MPH at times in high school, but faded in the weeks before the draft. He didn't pitch yet as a pro, but is impressive on video footage, with a very nice curveball. If he gets his fastball back he could be the best of the trio.

DRAYS BAY: Is there any hope that Jason Pridie breaks out and becomes the premium prospect we envisioned two years ago?

John Sickels:I know I harp on this a lot, but so many players like Pridie see their physical tools go to waste because they cannot or will not control the strike zone. Pridie made some slight improvements last year but was a league repeater. He definitely still has a chance, of course. If he'd gone to college, he'd be entering the draft pool again just this year. So yes, there is still hope.