Navigating through a sea of blazers and baseball minds, I wandered into a small convenience store named “Fuel” inside the Dolphin Resort in Orlando, FL. With my five-dollar water in hand, my eyes widened when I turned the corner and saw the venerable Jim Callis, MLB.com’s prospect guru, chatting away. He was nice enough to take the time to speak about a slew of major league prospects, and even more gracious to sit down for a 30-minute chat about everything college baseball and beyond.
Without further adieu, here is my transcribed talk with Callis.
Lance Brozdowski: Do you think if Shohei Ohtani is successful at the major league level, more teams will allow their two-way players to progress higher into the minor leagues?
Jim Callis: I don’t necessarily think so. Ohtani is interesting too, because I really think the majority of teams, if they had their way, would make him a pitcher only. Because it was such a unique situation with him signing and money really wasn’t an issue, teams weren’t going to sign him unless you gave him a chance to do both.
I haven’t heard any inclining of this, but I wouldn’t be surprised if the Angels aren’t heartbroken if the hitting doesn’t work out [for Ohtani]. From a scouting standpoint, the raw power is great, he’s fast out of the batter’s box, and both of those will play up.
When I first started working at Baseball America, John Olerud was a two-way guy, and he was fairly comparable to [Brendan] McKay. [Olerud] was more so a good pitcher than an overpowering guy, and he fooled around with [playing both ways] in the instructional leagues, but that was it for him. McKay is going to be the key to this. How he does with the Rays – and they’re going to give him a chance to do both – is more important to what teams will do going forward.
McKay is an outlier, too. In the history of the draft there has been two guys who have been top-five consensus as a hitter and a pitcher, and it was McKay and Dave Winfield – who are two entirely different types of players.
It’s so hard to be good at one, let alone [both hitting and pitching], and my personal preference is, if I could have the guy who is good at two things, or great at one, I’d probably lean towards the guy who is great at one. Because it’s so difficult to do both, that if McKay succeeds, you could even say, “Well, he was unique…”
It’s a long answer, but I really think [McKay] will be key to opening the door [for two-way guys] a little more than Ohtani.
LB: Is there anything in the space of workload management that might allow for a higher quantity of two-way players to rise inside the top ten on draft day?
JC: I don’t think we’ll see a bunch of them. When I first started with Baseball America, there were a ton of two-way guys back then – Tim Hudson, Darren Dreifort, on and on – who were very good at doing both. It really depends on the individual team and how they intend to use a guy and what makes sense. There must be more thought given to it than what I’m saying now, but it’s more like, this is where he fits on a given team and we’ll work around it as needed.
Even for McKay, as great as he was, he was tired at the end of last year, he was throwing a lot of 89, 90, 91 down the stretch. Because he was so effective, he threw about 110-120 innings and he was playing everyday, getting 4-5 at-bats. He was just so interesting because the top three teams in the draft – the Twins, Reds, and Padres – all liked him more as a pitcher, but the team that drafted him, the Rays, and the Braves who picked fifth, liked him as a hitter. There wasn’t even a consensus among them.
LB: I was hoping we could walk through some of the players projected towards the top end of the 2018 MLB Draft. Let’s start with Jarred Kelenic. You’ve said he truly has five tools, but I feel like we’re going to get a lot of comparisons to lefty contact bats, so how much power do you think is actually in his bat?
JC: That’s the question. You can argue he’s the best hitter in the high school crop. He’s solid, I don’t think he has a weakness, but I don’t know if he has another plus tool. So is he another 12-15 home run guy? Is he 20+?
LB: So do you actually think he’ll ever get to 20+? His swing right now seems pretty polished to me. What do you see in his swing?
JC: Everybody always says power comes last, but I’ll always say the more gifted hitters can make adjustments easier. I think [MLB.com] gave him average power for now, but if you told me he’s a 20-25 home run guy with time, I could see it. He’s got great instincts, he really knows how to hit.
There might be teams out there that say, “You know what, we think this is plus power.” That’ll be the team that takes him.
LB: We’ll stick with hitters for a bit – how about Brice Turang? I think he has a lot of motion in his hands with his swing, but he should be able to stick at short and his speed will play up.
JC: You know what’s interesting talking to people about him? Talking to people, they think he changed his some during the summer.
LB: Yeah, I remember in June you guys at MLB.com had him number one overall.
JC: We have him right behind [Nanader} De Sedas now on our top 50. I don’t know if [Turang] was trying to hit for more power, but talking to those who saw him, the swing was better to start the summer than it was to end the summer. It’ll be interesting to see what happens with him; De Sedas versus Turang is going to be an interesting subplot of next year’s draft.
I think Turang is probably the better pure hitter than De Sedas, but De Sedas probably has more power. Turang is probably a better shortstop, but De Sedas has a chance to play short, and if he does, he possesses more offensive upside.
LB: Seth Beer is another player who has been touted the best college power hitter. I’m particularly interested in the comparison to who many thought was the best pure power hitter last year from Virginia, Pavin Smith.
JC: Well, Smith was more of a bat over power guy.
Beer is definitely the most polarizing hitter in the draft. When he left high school, and he got off to such a great start, everybody thought he was going to go first overall. But you talk to teams now and they don’t even have him in the first round.
LB: Why is that specifically, do you think?
JC: It’s because of his hitting with wood bats. In his two years at Clemson, he has hit around 35-40 home runs, and he’s walked twice as much as he’s struck out. In his two years with Team USA with wood [bats], he’s hit around .200, with not much power, and if you go back to his high school years, he had a tough summer as well.
People saying he would’ve been a first round pick if he didn’t go to Clemson, that’s not true. At least, guys I talked to saw him his as more of a third round pick [at the time].
If you believe in the Clemson numbers, then you’re looking at the best left-handed power hitter in the draft; you think the power will play. But if you aren’t on him, you’re looking at the numbers with wood, which have really been down, he’s a 20-grade runner, I don’t want to call him a DH, but at best he’s an adequate first baseman.
If that’s the case, then he really has to hit. And if you have any question about the bat then you’re not taking him in the first round.
As I said with Kelenic: you get drafted by the teams that like you the most. Out of 30 teams, 20 might have grave concerns about Beer, but there will still be 5-10 teams that believe in his Clemson numbers.
If the draft was today, it would stun me if he went inside the top ten.
LB: Do you think his power not showing up with wood bats is because of mechanics? Is it something he can fix?
JC: There’s just not a lot of “twitchiness” to him. I think it worries people.
LB: Let’s jump into some pitchers now. Brady Singer is the first I wanted to talk about. He killed it on the Cape; Alex Faedo and A.J. Puk are the two most recent University of Florida arms, Singer hails from there as well. I wanted you to take a look at this video with me and how you would break him down.
LB: His motion to me is pretty robotic – that’s not a bad thing – but overall it looks clean, pretty rigid. His glove arm comes through high, but when you look at this angle, what do you see?
JC: The first thing that jumps out is that he has good balance over the rubber.
LB: Is Singer’s upside as high as Puk or Faedo?
JC: I’d say Puk’s upside is the highest because he is left handed and throws hard, and you could also argue he has the best slider. Faedo is coming off arthroscopic surgery on both knees and his velocity was down partially because he didn’t have his regular offseason program. Singer has a better chance than either Puk or Faedo had to go number one.
Singer has a really good slider too, but it’s not a wipeout slider, it’s more of a good slider that he can change the velocity and the break of. He commands it really well.
LB: How about Kumar Rocker?
JC: Coming into the summer [Rocker] was the top high school pitcher. And I think now people will tell you that Ethan Hankins from Georgia is probably the top high school arm right now.
With Hankins, the question is the breaking ball. They think Rocker has the better breaking ball. It’s interesting though because both have similar velocity, but Rocker’s might play down a little bit because the life [on the pitch] is just ok, and the command is just ok. With Hankins, I’ve had guys put an 80-grade fastball on him because of the life and he commands it very well; it dances all over the place.
That’s another one of these subplots that I want to keep an eye on.
Right now, I think you’d probably give Hankins an average breaking ball, and how many guys with just an average breaking ball go at the top of the draft? It’ll be interesting to see where both these guys go next summer.
LB: So to close us out, who are some guys in the circuit who have a chance to come into the top ten and some who might fall out?
JC: We just did our top 50 and I think Rocker wasn’t inside out top 10. If he has a big spring, I think he can rise up into the top 10.
Xavier Edwards, a Miami area shortstop, has a chance to jump up.
From the college side, we didn’t have a college hitter inside the top 10 – we’re lining them up on talent, not where they’re projected to go – but I know there won’t be zero college hitters taken in the top 10 come June.
Nick Madrigal I think will definitely go inside the top 10 because he is so polished. I think Jeremy Eierman, from Missouri State, he didn’t have a great summer with Team USA, but guys like him more than Jake Berger, and a lot of guys liked Berger last year.
Travis Swaggerty, from South Alabama, is another one. If he comes out and his power kicks up a notch, he can go in the top ten as well. During one scout day, he ran a sub 6.4 60-yard [dash time] and hit a 400ft bomb. Sure, it was one look, but it caught people’s attention.
Thanks again to Jim Callis for taking the time to speak with me for our network!