Keith Law has been hard at work this offseason, providing individual and team prospect reports. For those who follow prospects his work should not be missed. So far, he has revealed team rankings (Cardinals here),Top-100 (Index here), where the Cardinals placed four players, and the Just Missed List where you can read about Harrison Bader. His post on Cardinals prospects just went up today. I participated in conference call and had the opportunity to ask him a few questions about the system.
VEB: Jack Flaherty was in your top 100 last year and he found himself there again. Junior Fernandez was on and just missed last year and didn't make the same list. I'm wondering if he's about in the same spot, and just, in general, how you evaluate players who are young and are holding their own at higher levels but there's not really anything that jumps off the page compared to older players who are getting better results.
KEITH LAW: Sure. Good question. In a case like Flaherty, who he was the at the end of the list, essentially because of what he was right then; that is: good athlete, great command. Stuff is good, not great.
I know his stuff picked up a little bit at the very end of the season. I'd like to see him hold that for longer before getting more aggressive with the ranking. But the reason he's on the list really for both years -- where he is right now, he's not that far off from a back-end starter in the big leagues.
I mean, there's upside remaining. But when he's got all of the elements I just described, I feel like the floor is pretty good. I'd be shocked if this guy were not a big league starter at some point. May not be soon. I just don't know that they need him. But he's on that track already.
And in the case of Fernandez, what may have hurt him more than anything is [Sandy] Alcantara was just better this year. And they are both good. They were kind of together for most of the year. They both got promoted to Palm Beach...I happen to have a couple guys who saw both those players in both 2015 and 2016 and the ones who thought Fernandez was better before, both thought Alcantara had passed him this year. Sandy is taller, may have a better breaking ball right now. He throws a little harder. And that's not always the biggest criterion, especially. We know you have to be able to locate it or move it or something.
Even a year ago, I thought Alcantara probably had the higher ceiling, but Fernandez was the more polished guy. He looked like he was going to be a more advanced pitcher. And then we had pretty comparable performances this year, but Alcantara took a step forward. Whereas Fernandez probably plateaued a little bit.
I guess it's a long way of saying: Look, I think it's accurate this year. I have Alcantara I think one slot ahead of Fernandez on my Cardinals top ten.
VEB: With Alcantara, given how high you have him on the Cardinals list, do you project him as a starter going forward and how important is the distinction for you between starter and reliever? I know Luke Weaver is maybe the guy that you have gotten the most feedback from Cardinals fans on, after your list came out.
KEITH LAW: I think Alcantara is a starter. And when I say that, I've been trying to put more probability on things, trying to give people more of a sense that doesn't look so binary. Alcantara, and Fernandez, for that matter, probably 70/30 chances to be starters right now and the Cardinals have every reason to leave them as starters going forward.
If I think a player, a pitcher is a sure reliever, 80 percent, 90 percent change to be a reliever, he's just not going on the list. Because we have some fairly clear data saying the best relievers are not as valuable as average starters and they don't last as long, either. And I'm not going to be the one saying this guy is going to be Mariano Rivera and he's going to last 15 years; I'm not that good.
If a guy is a reliever now or I look at a Reynaldo Lopez and say that delivery is a bullpen delivery, period, you're not going on the list.
In the case of Weaver, I worry that he's six foot. I worry his fastball does not have life or plane, and he's really never had a breaking ball. He didn't have one in college. He's a confusing one to me because his arm is plenty fast. Usually if your arm is that quick, you can usually throw an okay slider and he can't.
I know they have had him working with a cutter but I don't think it's there yet. I think it's a great strategy. The Cardinals are a good player development organization. I think that's exactly the right thing to do to try to salvage him as a starter.
But looking at all the things that are not necessarily wrong, but that point against him being a starter, the fastball issue, the lack of quality the third pitch; I don't even think there's great deception in the delivery. That's a lot of factors that tend to push guys to the bullpen, which is why I feel he's much more likely to end up a reliever than a quality starter.
VEB: The Cardinals spent a lot of money during the current international cycle, especially in Cuba on guys like Randy Arozarena, [Jonathan] Machado and Johan Oviedo, which at least to me came as a surprise for his dollar value. Now, these guys are older than your typical international signing, so how difficult is it to get information and evaluate them?
KEITH LAW: The difficulty, it's really about whether they were seen much at all...I saw plenty of video of Machado, too. He's a long way away. I think physically he's just not that developed. Whereas Arozarena, being older, and actually I think played in the Cuban Series National, too; so there's even some history with him. He's been seen in games in the past.
So there's a better sense of folks I talk to -- I've never seen those guys, but there's a better sense of who I talk to, among who I talk to, especially of who he is as a player. Whereas Oviedo, it's premium stuff. I had one guy say to me, this guy might be in the Fernandez, Alcantara class a year from now once he's pitched in the U.S. and he's seen more.
I just would not have had enough -- I don't know that I could have had enough information to rank him more aggressively given how little he pitched. He just wasn't seen -- it wasn't like [Adrian] Morejon, where everybody saw that guy; the Padres lefty who is on the top 100. Couldn't run out of people who had seen him. Whereas in the case of Oviedo, there just weren't as many people who had seen him. He pitched a little in the DSL, but he was also old for the level, and of course he dominated.
Thanks to Keith for answering the questions.