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Halos Heaven Interviews John Sickels

John Sickels publishes The Baseball Prospect Book, one of better annual reviews of minor league players out there. He also runs the SBN affiliate, profiling players throughout the year and ranking every organizations' talent (click here to see his Angels' review).  He agreed to answer some questions for Halos Heaven. 

rghan: Angels Scouting Director Eddie Bane has said repeatedly that he takes his lack of picks in the top half of the first round as a given - meaning no Langorias, no Prices, no Tulowitzkis, no Beckhams - and that consequently his job is to identify those type of guys out of high school.  How well do you think he has executed that mission over the past 5 years?

JS: It is too early to tell about 2009 of course, but I like Mike Trout, Skaggs, and Richards a lot.  Both Chatwood and Chaffee from the '08 draft are promising, though they aren't elite prospects at this point. Reckling was a steal in the '07 draft, and Bachanov looks good now that he's past surgery, though of course we need to see him at higher levels. Hank Conger in '06 was a solid pick. '05 doesn't look to have a gigantic impact from the early rounds, although Bell, Mendoza, and Mount all have a chance to be role players. Bourjos was the steal in that draft as a 10th rounder. Overall I would say they have done okay but it's not a super-deep system right now. Having the extra picks last year makes the bottom of the system stronger but they are thinner up top.

The Limey:  What are your projections for the Angels draft this year? Specific players they'll target? General strategy?...

JS: It is way too early to focus on specific players; we have no idea how things are going to look once the college and high school seasons get going. In general terms I think they will stick with the same strategy they pursued last year: mixing high school and college talent, but with an emphasis on tools. I don't think there is any reason to expect a big strategy change.

BryanHarvey'sMustache: Now that the Angels, once again, have five first round draft picks, how should they use them? Last year, we spent our high picks on hitters. Should they continue this trend? Where is there biggest need?

JS: Well "drafting for need" is problematic, as you can never be sure exactly what your needs are going to be four or five years down the line. Given the failure rates of pitching prospects, personally I would draft more hitters in the early rounds, then move to pitching in the middle rounds and see if you can steal some live armed guys from the junior college level, perhaps overlooked by other teams. I don't know how the Angels feel about it. They went with hitting with the early picks last year, so maybe they will balance that with more pitching this year. And as mentioned, we don't know what the draft pool is going to look like until the amateurs get on the field. "Best player available" with some affordability considerations factored in is the most likely approach.

BryanHarvey'sMustache:  Who, out of everyone in the Halos organization, has the greatest potential of being the next big time ballplayer?

JS: The highest physical ceiling is probably Trout, but we need to see if his skills are as good as they looked in rookie ball. Conger has a good chance to be a major league regular and I like him a lot. I think his glove will be okay with more experience, no gold glove but good enough to play if the bat develops as expected. There is no Grade A prospect in the system right now, though Trout has the potential to get close to that if everything breaks his way.

rghan: As the GM, who would you rather have in your system: Will Smith or Ryan Chaffee?

JS: I like both of them, but I would prefer Chaffee at this stage. He has better stuff, strikes out more guys, gets tons of ground balls, higher ceiling overall. But I like Smith, too. I just think Chaffee has a higher ceiling and I would prefer him.

Blochead:  Alexia Amarista vs. Jean Segura - who has the higher ceiling? Which one do you like more?

JS: They are very close, I had them right next to each other on my Angels prospect list, but ultimately I'll go with Segura because he's more physical.

thejd: Is Reckling as good as we think he is or are we just drinking the kool-aid?

JS: I like Reckling a lot and have since he was coming out of high school. He needs to cut back on the walks, and he really needs a full season of Triple-A. If they push him to the majors too quickly, he'll struggle. But if he's given sufficient adjustment time, I think he can develop into a solid number three/four starter. If there is kool aid regarding Reckling, I'm one of the guys passing it out.

rghan:  Despite their lack of big name Latin American signings since Kendry Morales, the Angels' system has guys like Fabio Mesa Martin, Jean Segura, Alexia Amarista, Anthony Ortega, Luis Jimenez, and until recently Alex Torres and Jose Arredondo. How well does this group stack up against other organizations' international talent?

JS: I think Martinez-Mesa and Segura are the elite of the group, though we need to see more from them at higher levels. Amarista put up the numbers but scouts seem kind of skeptical about him due to his size. Overall it is hard to rate this until we see if Segura and Martinez-Mesa pan out against better competition. Other organizations seem deeper to me.

thejd: Can Conger be an everyday catcher at the mlb level?

JS: I think he can be adequate defensively, and if he hits as well as expected it will be enough. Maybe not for Mike Scioscia, but for a lot of people it would be enough.

thejd: Do some Angel prospects get lower grades from publications or evaluators because they are taught to play a system that is contrary to Moneyball and Bill James philosophies?

JS: I doubt it. Most evaluators are still pretty traditional.

thejd: Will Trumbo get lost in the shuffle w/Morales entrenched at 1b and our new prospect depth in the OF?

JS: Yes. He has a decent bat but it's not good enough to push Morales aside, and I personally don't think he runs well enough to be more than mediocre in the outfield. My guess is that he ends up as trade bait and perhaps a Quadruple-A slugger.

rghan:  At this point in the year, having just finished your book-writing marathon, what would you rather look at for 12 straight hours: scouting reports or stat sheets? Follow-up: what does this tell us about the information you favor as you analyze prospects?

JS: Well right now I'd rather read scouting reports, as long as those scouting reports tell me something about the player's current level of skill in addition to his physical tools. What does it say about my philosophy? I don't know. I try to find a blend between the numbers and the scouting and I don't think you can do prospect analysis right without looking at both. I tend to lean to the numbers side, but ultimately I think numbers and scouting reports are complementary.

What is interesting is when they conflict. If the guy has great scouting reports but lousy numbers, or vice versa. You can find examples where the scouts were right about a player and the numbers were wrong, and you can find examples where the numbers were right and the scouts were wrong. In cases of conflict, trying to figure out which way the player will go is the trick, one I don't think we've decoded yet.

But at this point of the year, after doing data entry, number crunching, and report writing for 3 months straight, I find scouting reports more interesting than just pure numbers.

rghan: Long term, rotation or bullpen? Best guess ...

Jon Bachanov: bullpen

Jordan Walden: bullpen

Tyler Chatwood: rotation

Tyler Kehrer: rotation

Josh Blanco: bullpen

Ryan Chaffee: rotation

Trevor Bell: bullpen

Anthony Ortega; bullpen

Tommy Mendoza: bullpen 

rghan: Who has the best chance of claiming the Halos' fifth starter job long term: O'Sullivan, Bell , Ortega or Mendoza ?

JS: I don't think any of them will hold the job long-term.

If you'd like to read more about John's take on 1,170 prospects entering 2010, use the link here to check out pre-ordering The Baseball Prospect Book, 2010.