If you haven't visited Project Prospect's website, you should. Adam Foster and the crew do a fantastic job giving first hand evaluations of MLB prospects. They're outside the box thinkers so you'll get opinions and evaluations that are different takes than what you might see everyday. One example Cubs fans will like is the ranking of newly acquired prospect Ronald Torreyes as the #75 prospect in baseball. They also ranked the Cubs farm system as the 15th best in all of baseball. They do more than prospect lists, however. They do individual scouting reports and articles which give you some insight into the scouting process. I asked Adam a few questions about some popular Cubs prospects and he was kind enough to take time out of his busy schedule to respond.
Here's the interview...
John: Tell us a little bit about yourself and how you evaluate players. (i.e.,Do you use statistics, traditional scouting, or a combination of the two?)
Adam: You have to be a combination of the two these days. Minor league data, at least the stuff that's available to the public, isn't nearly good enough to use as a stand-alone method to evaluate minor leaguers. Seeing a guy in person and/or studying up on film of him is also a must. The numbers can only tell you so much. I try to learn as much as I can from every available angle.
John: How concerned are you about Anthony Rizzo's struggles at the major league level last season? Do you feel it exposed a weakness and, if so, do you think it's one that can be corrected?
Adam: They're worth noting for two big reasons. 1. He played in a hitter-friendly Triple-A environment and produced to a level that expectations started to get very lofty. 2. First basemen need to hit a ton in the big leagues to be impact regulars. Rizzo's short MLB stint and struggles should serve as a reminder that there is a learning curve and there's surely a chance that he doesn't hit enough to be an average big leaguer. That said, he's young with big power and some patience. As far as minor leaguers go, there aren't many better starter kits for potential average or better MLB first basemen in the upper minors as Rizzo.
John: Junior Lake seemed to have something of a breakthrough in the AFL. Did you see an improved approach in the field and at the plate or was it the fluky result of a small sample size?
Adam: This year at the fall league was the first time I saw Lake play. Keep in mind that the AFL is a very hitter-friendly environment where the pitching level is around High-A. A lot of guys produce there. Lake doesn't have a good plate approach nor is he a good bet to stick at shortstop. He's a physical presence with power upside, but I saw an aggressive approach that's not close to big-league ready.
John: Speaking of approaches, my personal observation of Vitters is that he's not a wild swinger in the Soriano sense so much as that he swings at too many pitcher's pitches and doesn't work the count enough. The hope here is that Vitters is still young and can learn, especially with a front office that emphasizes OBP and grinding out ABs. In your experience, is plate discipline something that can be corrected or is Vitters doomed to be the Cubs version of Jeff Francoeur?
Adam: You're more hopeful about Vitters than I am. He has a beautiful swing and makes some impressive contact, but he doesn't have a clue at the plate. He doesn't work the count. If anything, he'll take pitches, but he's not identifying that it's not his pitch and holding off. He's largely deciding if he will swing at anything close before the pitch has been thrown. I've seen very little progress in the way of plate approach from Vitters over the years. I'm not sure if he's programmed with a hitting mindset that will work, given his tools, in the big leagues. I think banking on him ever surfacing as a reliable regular is pretty ambitious.
John: Ronald Torreyes seems to have an uncanny knack of squaring up on the ball. I'm worried that some reports have him listed at 5'7", do you think he will have extra base power in the majors? What's your opinion on his glove at 2B?
Adam: Torreyes' upside is as a gap-hitting second baseman. He's a pretty solid bet to reach it, too. From what I've seen from him, he's more of a gets-the-job-done guy at second base than defensive asset.
John: Do you think Javier Baez has the skills to play SS or possibly 2B and if not, does he have the bat to carry 3B or LF?
Adam: I've seen a limited amount of footage of Baez on defense. I don't see him as a shortstop or second baseman. He could hit enough to be an above-average regular at third base or left field, though. There's a lot to like with his bat.