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John Manuel: The Return

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John Manuel, the co-editor-in-chief of Baseball America, has once again been gracious enough to agree to a short interview with Stephen Shelby. Less than two weeks ago, John answered some questions about Giants prospects who were recently added to the Giants 40-man roster. Baseball America's annual ranking of the Giants top ten prospects was published Friday on its website. With several publication deadlines looming, John was particularly busy. Accordingly, Stephen pared his original lengthy list of questions to those he felt were the most relevant to ask before the top ten list is revealed. Perhaps there will be an opportunity for some of the other questions at a later day.

SS: It strikes me that one challenging issue for you this year in ranking the Giants prospects will be how to rate the relief pitchers, particularly Jeremy Accardo, Scott Munter and Jack Taschner who have accumulated a fair amount of service time already. They have proven themselves against major league competition, but middle relievers individually play a relatively marginal role in the game. How do you rate middle relief prospects in general? Generally speaking does a pitcher need to profile as a starter or a closer to make a top 10 prospects list?

JM: That is a tough one, that's a great challenge with ranking prospects. If I think a guy has a chance to be an impact reliever--a durable 100-innings middle guy, or a closer--he's got a chance to be a top-10 guy. It's pretty impossible to predict the former, and also hard to find the latter. Most guys who are great big league closers were starters in the minors; the Huston Streets and Chad Corderos are rare, although seemingly a growing trend. Accardo has the highest ceiling of the aforementioned trio, but is he more certain to close than Brian Wilson, or even Craig Whitaker, who I think can be an impact reliever? I don't know; that's up in the air. Taschner has to do it for more than one year for me to be a top 10 guy; I'm just a little skeptical of him still. Munter is what he is, an extreme groundball guy who probably will never close, and I rated him accordingly. All three are in the top 30, however.

SS: The difficulty in rating middle relievers seems somewhat similar to the difficulty of contrasting (a) players who have relatively low ceilings but are very close to the majors and (b) players who have higher ceilings but are much further from the majors. The Giants top two infield prospects may be Marcus Sanders and Kevin Frandsen, and they provide a concrete example of this. I anticipate that many fans will insist on ranking Frandsen considerably higher than you do. How do you respond to them?

JM: Well, I blew it on Frandsen last year, let's start with that. He should have been in my 21-30 range, as I originally had him, and I talked myself out of it for some reason. But comparing him and Marcus Sanders . . . let's go tool by tool. Hitting: Sanders has a better chance to hit .300+ in the major leagues and has shown more patience, albeit at lower levels. Sanders has shown more power when healthy, but I'll call that a push. Defense, edge to Frandsen. Speed, big edge Sanders. Arm, edge to Frandsen. So it's 2-2, one push, Sanders is younger and wins the most important tool--the bat. So for me, Sanders is the better prospect. I didn't mean to get all Nick Bakay on you but it comes down to tools, and both have performed, though Frandsen's performance does mean more because he did it at higher levels. I certainly believe Sanders has the highest ceiling, and that usually gets you ranked higher by just about anyone who does this for a living.

SS: A year ago I was quite forward with offering my best guess how you would rank the Giants top ten prospects. This year I feel more reluctant to do so, and so I have saved it for my final question. I feel decently confident about the top five, but pretty uncertain after that. Just to be on the record, here is my guess for this year:

  1. RHP Matt Cain
  2. SS/2B Marcus Sanders
  3. RHP Merkin Valdez
  4. LF/DH Eddy Martinez-Esteve
  5. CF/LF Fred Lewis
  6. 3B Pablo Sandoval
  7. RHP Jeremy Accardo
  8. RHP Brian Wilson
  9. 1B Travis Ishikawa
  10. RF/LF Nate Schierholtz
Any comments on this list? Based upon what I currently know--and the search for more information is why I and others so value the information you provide in the annual Baseball America Prospect Handbook--I had a tough time convincing myself that Sandoval is really that far ahead of Ben Copeland and Daniel Griffin. Nor am I sure that Ishikawa and Schierholtz belong on this list any more than Dan Ortmeier, Craig Whitaker, Jonathan Sanchez and Kevin Frandsen. Is there currently that much difference between the Giants 6th best prospect and their 15th best prospect?

JM: No, there is not that much different between, for me, No. 2 and on, frankly. Every Giants prospect after Matt Cain has warts. My list is different from yours, pretty different actually, but if you went 2-15, not that different, which proves your point. I can't quite go there on Sandoval in the top 10 yet; he's pretty unconventional. If he still caught, he'd be top 10 easy. Dan Ortmeier was the toughest guy for me to leave out of the top 10, but I did. And I'm a bigger Jonathan Sanchez and Craig Whitaker believer than you are. Whitaker . . . he might ruin my ranking reputation, if I have one left. Either him or Travis Ishikawa. I'll add one other thing, ranking the Giants' system was harder this year than ever because of the parity of players. I think I have a more informed take on it than most, but that doesn't mean I'm going to be more correct on it.

But it's a fun organization to do because they have interesting players with good backgrounds, some unconventional guys. And I always enjoy visting with people in the organization, most of all Jack Hiatt. He's a great guy to sit and talk baseball with. Those interviews are the best part of the job, because I think we all agree that if you're a baseball fan, one thing that's great about baseball is talking about it, debating it, and Jack is great for that. One more tangent: look for Merkin Valdez' hair with his top 10 picture, great stuff, our photog caught Merkin in an off-field moment apparently.