This is the final segment of a 3 part interview conducted with Kevin Goldstein, of Baseball Prospectus.
APV: Two players who have been borderline prospects in the past, but who are likely to be important in Cleveland this year are Michael Brantley and Jeanmar Gomez. What kind of upside do you see with these two?
KG: I can see Brantley as a solid, even a little bit above average starting centerfielder. There have been signs of him figuring things out and I'm actually quite optimistic about him. Gomez, as you say, he might be a #5 starter, and that's probably his ceiling. He might go out and give you six innings and three runs for awhile, but there is a lot of value in that.
APV: Any reason to hope for Matt LaPorta or Nick Weglarz?
KG: No. I don't want to be all negative, but no. LaPorta is going to be 27 years old this year. He should be peaking right now. How much more time can you wait for him to come around? And Weglarz hasn't been healthy AND good since 2007 when he was in Lake County. Josh Tomlin was on that team. Jeanmar Gomez was on that team. Weglarz is still in Akron.
APV: Which of the young guys you like are candidates to be top 100 prospects in the next year or two?
KG: Lindor is the gimme, he already is one. Ronny Rodriguez could get there. If you are looking at his .274 OBP this past season at Lake County and discounting him, you are doing it wrong. Because of circumstances, he was making his pro debut in low-A, which is incredibly challenging for a teenager. And he played a solid SS with a little flash in his glove, showed speed, showed some power. He is the kind of guy who could rise quickly, but obviously there is a lot of risk that it just doesn't come together. Dillon Howard, if he pitches to his potential, you can get excited about that.
APV: Who is the best player in the system your average LGT or BP Indians fan has not heard about but should pay attention to?
KG: Eric Haase, maybe? You won't see him this year until the short season leagues, but there is a lot of really raw potential in him. He is going to have to figure things out defensively, but he can hit. There is power in there somewhere. Realistically, he might be more like 2 years off from being excited about, though.
APV: Why did Cleveland put Juan Diaz and Danny Salazar on their 40-man roster? Is there anything there?
KG: These are the kind of guys who are going to get picked up by other teams if you don't. Salazar throws hard, Diaz plays middle infield. They might just be one-tool guys, but that tool draws interest. The better question is who would you have put on the roster instead?
APV: The fan who follows your writing is probably pretty knowledgable about the prospects in a team's system. What advice would you give to that fan if they were to head out to a local minor league park if they wanted to have a more informative or interesting experience?
KG: Good question. It is good to watch the game from behind home plate. It gives you the best view of everything on the field. Focus less on what is happening, and more on how things are happening. For a pitcher, watch his legs and arms and how he throws. Look for the consistency he shows in those movements, the fluidity in his movements. Watch how hitters track pitches out of the glove. Watch different parts of a hitters body as he swings. What are his legs doing, what is his core doing, what is he doing with his hands? Pay attention to who is making it look easy and who isn't. I'll come back from a minor league game and my girlfriend will ask who won, and honestly, much of the time I don't know.
APV: You, along with Keith Law (ESPN), have stated your dislike of "performance scouting," or simply evaluating players based solely on their numbers. That said, what numbers do you look at to fill out the picture you get from your own observations and conversations with other scouts and organization personnel?
KG: This is getting a little into a danger area, but for hitters, walks and strikeouts are important. Strikeouts sometimes more than walks. I also look at what percentage of a players hits are going for extra-bases as an indicator of what kind of power a player might have. A guy might hit .220, but if 40% of his hits are going for extra bases, he might be interesting. For pitchers, just innings pitched, hits, walks and strikeouts. That's it.
APV: Aside from health, what are the biggest development hurdles faced by most pitchers?
KG: For most pitchers, it is learning or realizing that they can't just throw the ball hard and get everybody out, which is where a lot of them are coming from. They have to learn how to sequence their pitches and set hitters up, and they need to develop their secondary offerings. The changeup is a huge challenge for so many pitchers because you are telling them to not throw the ball hard, which is the opposite of what they have been doing.
APV: And for hitters?
KG: Learning how to hit. How to recognize which pitches are likely to be pitches that they can hit well.
APV: If you had to just watch one level of minor league ball as a means of evaluating players, what level would you watch?
KG: Low-A. You learn a lot by looking at a kids first exposure to full season baseball. For most of the guys, this is where they first fail, where they first have to make adjustments, and where they begin to transition from being an athlete to being a baseball player.
APV: How important a factor is the age of a player relative to their competition? Or alternatively, how much experience they have had relative to their competition?
KG: It is very important to look at age. I should have mentioned before, one of the numbers I look at for everyone is date of birth. Still, it is easy to get caught up into saying a guy didn't perform because he's young for the level. There are a heap of guys you are young for their level, and a lot of them never end up figuring it out. I don't really care where a player is from, in terms of their background exposure or whatever, I care where a guy is at in his ability.
APV: From a fans' perspective, what the is the best part of the 2012 BP Annual?
KG: There really isn't just one thing. We try to focus on quality all throughout. I guess I would have to say the player comments section, though. We put a ton of work into those comments. We talk to people in the game, we do real research, we try to get great nuggets of information into those comments while also being entertaining.