Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Is There An Ace To Be Found? An Interview With Project Prospect

This morning we bring to you a short conversation with Adam Foster off Project Prospect where we discuss the status of the Mets starting rotation, both present and future.  Project Prospect, which bills itself as a scouting and statistical analysis baseball publication focused on evaluating prospective big leaguers, just released its Top 100 Prospect List in the end of January and provides pre-draft rankings and information as well.  On this occasion, I picked Adam's brain a little bit on both Matt Harvey, Zack Wheeler and even a bit on Jon Niese.  Here what he had to say:

Robert Patterson: With the state of the Mets franchise being what it is today, it seems as though more fans have started to turn their focus towards the organization's minor league system.  Those fans look forward to prospect reports, lists and rankings from the likes of Project Prospect, ScoutingBook.com, and Baseball America.  What is it that Project Prospect does differently, as opposed to some other "competitors" with regards to researching, evaluating and ranking minor league prospects?

Adam Foster:  We make a point to study guys first-hand. We see as many prospects as we can, review video and form our own opinion. When we consult scouts, we're asking, "Who should we be considering in this kind of company?" not, "Tell us what to think about this guy."

We also tend to be more floor-friendly than some publications. We'll roll the dice on ceiling at times, but we'll generally gravitate toward potential long-term regulars with very high floors over long-shot stars who could easily never become MLB regulars.

We also have put a lot of time and energy into studying numbers, including collaborating with statistical front-office minds regularly

RP:  More specifically to the Mets, your 2012 Top 100 Prospect List placed three Mets within the Top 100, with Matt Harvey (#25), Zack Wheeler (#31) and Jeurys Familia (#71) making the cut, and all three moving up significantly from that prior year.  Different lists have varied when comparing Harvey versus Wheeler, many finding Zack to be the organization's best prospect.  What was it about Matt that gave him the edge on your list?

AF:  Harvey is a pretty safe bet to be a MLB No. 2-3 starter. He was a coveted high school arm who went on and put together a healthy college career. Harvey throws hard, gets a lot of ground balls and misses bats. Expectations for first-round-caliber prep arms tend to be very high. Harvey probably won't turn into an ace. He gets by on sink and ground balls as much as strikeouts. It's a player profile that tends to be undervalued in the prospect realm.

That said, Wheeler's raw stuff may be better than Harvey's. He may have a slightly higher upside. For a number of reasons, his odds of surfacing as more than a No. 3 starter aren't the greatest, though

RP:  A lot of emphasis is put on where these prospects will land on a major league rotation.  We often hear questions like,  is he an ace, a middle of the road or a back end of the rotation type of guy?  While I'm aware that each of these kids have a lot of maturing to do and needs to avoid the injury bug, do you feel that there is an ace to be found amongst the Harveys, Wheelers and Familias of the world, or do the Mets just have a solid starting pitching framework in place at this point?

AF:  I'd bet against any of them surfacing as aces.

RP:  Obviously not restricting your analysis to the minor league level, on Monday morning you tweeted that you believe Jon Niese is poised to have a break out season.  I think most Mets fans would agree that despite some minor injury issues, he has shown flashes of brilliance over the past two years and probably possesses the best "stuff" on the rotation.  However, what is it about him right now that makes you think he can bring it all together in his third full major league season?

AF:  Niese doesn't have plus velocity, but he does have a well-above-average fastball. He also has multiple offerings that get whiffs, throws strikes and gets a lot of ground balls. It can take years before guys who don't light up the radar gun start getting appreciated. If Niese stays healthy all season, I fully expect him to pitch like a true ace in 2012.

So there you have it.  I'm still pretty new when it comes to understanding prospect values, so I found it a bit surprising that neither Harvey or Wheeler really project to be an ace.  I am however very surprised to find someone in the know, who hasn't given up on Jon Niese, who I still think throws the Mets first ever no-hitter at some point in his career.  Nonetheless, we thank Adam for his time and hope that we can connect with him again in the not so distant future to discuss the every changing realm of Minor League Baseball.

You can follow Adam Foster on twitter at @AdamWFoster

You can follow me on twitter at @RobPatterson83