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Brew Crew Ball Q&A with John Sickels

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Yesterday, prospect guru John Sickels was kind enough to share his time and expertise in a chat with BrewCrewBall.com.  John writes the blog MinorLeagueBall.com, as well as a subscription newsletter and his excellent annual, The 2005 Baseball Prospect Book.  In other words, if you want to read more John Sickels, it's out there, just waiting for you.  I hope you find our discussion interesting--I know I did.

BrewCrewBall.com: Let's start with the two guys Brewer fans care the most about: Prince and Rickie.  Both have some question marks--Rickie took some time adjusting to AA last year, and showed up this spring with a retooled swing.  Prince is still really young. What will they have to do this year at AAA to stay on track and earn that A- ranking you gave them?

John Sickels: I'm not worried about either one of them frankly. Prince needs to prove he can stay in shape, but he's a better athlete than his dad, and by all accounts is also more motivated to succeed. Rickie continues to improve his defense, and I think his hitting will come around this year. I think both will do just fine in Triple-A. In Weeks' case, it will be interesting to see how much home run power he develops. I think his average and OBP will be just fine.

BCB: You've mentioned on your site that you need to see more from a guy like Mark Rogers before ranking him any higher. This probably applies to Yovani Gallardo, as well: what kind of performance would it take from either of these guys in their first full minor league season for you to consider them, say, B or better prospects?

JS: Gallardo is ahead of Rogers as this point due to superior command. Rogers probably has a higher physical ceiling, but his walk rate was rather high in rookie ball. I think Gallardo could move very, very quickly and could be a B or B+ guy this time next year. Rogers I'm less excited about in the short term. He has a lot of command work to do.

BCB: Josh Baker was Milwaukee's fourth pick last year, and the oldest player they drafted in the first several rounds. Obviously you don't have an extensive statistical record to go on (just 50 pro innings in rookie ball, plus his college stats), but you've ranked him at #17 among Brewers prospects, relatively high for a 4th round pick, I think.  How soon do you think we could see him in Milwaukee?

JS: I saw Baker pitch in college and was impressed with him. His command needs some sharpening up, but I think he has a high ceiling. He may be better off in relief long-term. In his case, pitching for Rice was a double-edged sword. He got lots of exposure because of being a teammate to Townsend and Humber and Niemann, but it worked against him in one way because he's not quite as talented as that trio, so he was always an afterthought when the Rice pitchers were discussed. If Baker had pitched at a different program, he would have been the ace in most cases.

BCB: The Brewers organization seems to put a premium on getting guys like Dave Krynzel consistent playing time in AAA over occasional AB's with the big club.  What do you think about that approach in general?  Are there specific types of players who would be better served by serving a kind of "apprenticeship" as a 4th OF or 6th bullpen guy rather than starting in the minors?

JS: It totally depends on the player. Some guys need the extra Triple-A and as many repetitions as possible. Generally, if a guy projects as a starter in the majors, you want him to get as much PT as possible rather than have him rot on the bench. But if a guy is destined to be a reserve (and that is what I think will happen to Krynzel), then you can let him get started on the bench. Also, there's a difference between using a young guy for 350 at-bats over the course of a season, and using a guy for 150 at-bats. The former can be a good way to break in a guy, but the latter lets too much rust build up.

BCB: Based on the strengths of the Brewers system, what would you be looking for from a trading partner if you were to move a major contributor like Carlos Lee or Junior Spivey come July?  Do any particular prospects or systems spring to mind as good matches?

JS: I'd probably be looking for them to pick up some pitching prospects. The system has some really good hitting prospects, but the injury attrition rate for the pitchers has been high and more live arms are needed. So if the Brewers are in the trade market, I imagine pitching will be what they ask for.

BCB: Along the same lines, if you were making 2005 amateur draft selections for the Brewers, what would you try to acquire?  

JS: Last year's draft was high school heavy. If I were making the decisions, I would look more to college guys this year, just to leaven the system a bit. I think the best way is to draft a mixture of high school and college guys, leaning college but not exclusively college. But that's just my philosophy.

BCB: Let's talk about a few guys Brewers fans can expect to see with the big club at some point in 2005.  Ben Hendrickson.  He was horrible with Milwaukee last year, but lights-out at AAA.  How do you see him faring this year?

JS: He has been awful this spring. I like his curveball, but he seems to have trouble finding the boundary between "nibbling" and "hitting your spots." He's mastered Triple-A but is still trying to make the transition against major league hitters. I've also got some concern about his elbow--it has bothered him in the past. As badly as he has thrown this spring I have to wonder if he is physically 100%.

BCB: Corey Hart.  He's bounced around from position to position and is currently blocked everywhere, but he might be the most ML-ready of the Brewers AAA guys.  Can he contribute off the big-league bench?

JS: Yeah, I think so. I like his power and he runs well for a big guy. He has some issues with plate discipline, but I think he's ready for a trial.

BCB: Jose Capellan.  

JS: Awesome arm. But what is his role? I think he is better-suited to relief, but it would be tempting to use him in the rotation. But there are issues with command.

BCB: Derrick Turnbow.  

JS: He hasn't shown the ability to stay healthy longer than five minutes. I would not count on him to fill a major role.

BCB: Jorge de la Rosa.  He's out of options, so odds are he'll be with the big club on Opening Day.  What can we expect to see out of him?  Do you think he's best suited as a back-of-the-rotation starter or lefty out of the pen?

JS: Good arm, but unimpressive statistics. His command was really awful last year during his Major League trial. I think he's better suited for bullpen work.

BCB: I'm curious about Alec Zumwalt, best known to Brewers fans as the unheralded part of the Capellan/Kolb trade.  Based on his 2004 season at Greenville (AA), where he went 3-7 with a 5.09 ERA, he's a big question mark.  Do you think he has a shot to bounce back, or is he just organizational filler at this point?

JS: Another guy with a good arm but command problems. Like the other guys, if he throws strikes he can be good, but that's a big if.

BCB: The Brewers system has gotten a lot of raves the last couple years; any Brewer prospects you think are seriously overrated?

JS: I think the team overrates Krynzel. He looks like a bench guy to me. Weeks and Fielder are NOT overrated in my opinion.

BCB: As the Brewers are a young organization and they aren't averse to drafting high-school guys, some of their lower-level clubs (notably the A-ball West Virginia Power) will be young for their league.  What are the pros and cons of putting players against older competition?

JS: Well, for the elite prospects I think it is a good idea. Challenge them, find out what they are made of. For run-of-the-mill prospects, or guys who may not have a lot of self-confidence, it can backfire. Every player is different. Some guys respond well to being challenged, while others need more gentle handling early in their careers. It completely depends on the player in question. I think figuring out which players to push and which ones to be patient with is the most important job a farm director or minor league administrator has.

BCB: Anything or anyone I haven't asked about that you'd like to share with Brewers fans?

JS: Watch Gallardo. I like him a lot.

Thanks again, John.