Here is the second installment of our prospect list interviews. This time we are joined by long time prospect evaluator John Sickels. He once worked for ESPN, but he now works for himself, evaluating prospects and writing on his blog, which is part of the very same blog network that I belong to, SB Nation. John also publishes possibly the most complete prospect book out there, which I believe is still available through his site. I already have my copy and I can tell you there is plenty of good information about nearly 30 to 40 prospects per team; including 37 Braves prospects. Here are my questions and his answers regarding his top-20 prospect list and the Braves minor league system in general.
Q: What criteria do you use when ranking players on a top prospect list?
A: I have no set formula. It is a blending of stats, scouting reports, personal observation, and instinct.
Q: Where would Brent Lillibridge rank on your list?
A: I like Lillibridge a lot. I'd say around 5 or 6 on a Braves Top Ten list. That might be higher than some people.
Q: We've seen several different players at the top of different prospect lists, Salty, Elvis, and Campbell, what factors led you to rank Campbell above these other players?
A: I like his overall game, particularly the low strikeout rate combined with good power production. That should translate nicely to higher levels. I probably like him a bit more than some people do.
Q: Others have ranked Reyes higher than Richmond even though he slumped a bit at the end. What makes you believe that Jamie Richmond is better than Jo Jo Reyes?
A: I don't like the way that Reyes' walk rate spiked after he moved up to Myrtle Beach. Now, the counterargument is that Richmond hasn't pitched at the same level of competition as Reyes, which is true. But I really like Richmond's projection. He has a better body than Reyes in terms of projectability and potential for future growth. If he maintains the same level of command, he should be very impressive.
Q: After Harrison and Reyes which starting pitching prospect is closest to making their major league debut for the Braves?
A: I don't think there is a clear standout candidate beyond those two in the short run. Pitching depth in the system has thinned out at the higher levels. There are some intriguing lower level arms of course.
Q: Which of the "big three" do you think has the most upside, Steve Evarts, Jeff Locke, or Chad Rodgers?
A: Evarts probably has the most pure projectability, but I'm a big fan of Locke.
Q: You didn't list Van Pope in your top-20 list, even though other lists have him as high as fourth. What makes you think less of him than other players on your list?
A: His numbers didn't stand out and I didn't have a really strong positive report on him at the time I did the Braves list. Remember that those early Top 20 lists were 'works in progress' as I was working on the book. After other people pointed him out to me, I took another look at him and made sure he got in the book. I gave him a Grade C+. At this point his glove is better than his bat. He's got offensive potential but I'm not totally sold on the stick just yet.
Q: When will Elvis Andrus' stats start to show that he's the talent everyone says he is, and who would you compare him to on the major league level?
A: Give him another year. Edgar Renteria.
Q: Each of the last three years Anthony Lerew has dropped in your list from 7th (B-) in 05 to 10th (B-) in 06 and now to 11th (C+) in 07. What has been the biggest impediment to his progress?
A: His command has shown no improvement and Triple-A exposed this last year.
Q: What is the biggest strength of the Braves minor league system? The biggest weakness?
A: The biggest weakness is lack of upper level depth. The biggest strength is a proven ability to recharge quickly, through the draft and in Latin America, particularly with pitching. They won't be down for long I don't think.
Many thanks to John for agreeing to do this 10 question e-mail interview. I enjoyed his answers as I hope you did, especially his take on Eric Campbell.