Anybody who has read Minor Lines in my time writing it knows how indebted we are to the excellent work of Augusta Chronicle’s sports writer David Lee. In years past, David has, among his other duties, covered the Augusta Greenjackets’ daily beat for the Chronicle. He is also a frequent contributor to Baseball Prospectus, where his prospect coverage focuses on players from the South Atlantic League, home of the Greenjackets (as well as David’s beloved Rome Braves — but we’ll overlook that part!).
As Augusta has been the one-full season club in the Giants’ organization that has no video feed, and for several years prior to 2018 had no radio feed, David’s eye-witness reporting from the games has made him a must-follow twitter feed (@David11Lee) for Giants’ fans wanting to learn more about their A-ball team.
And today David is gracious enough to sit down with us and have a little chat about the 2018 edition of the Greenjackets — a roster that carried many of the organization’s hopes and dreams for the future.
MCC: David thanks so Much for doing this. Of course, I have long been a fan of your work and wanted to talk more in depth with you for some time. So, first off, what was your high-level view of the Sally this year? How do you think the talent stacked up with recent years and who were the best rosters that you saw?
DL: It definitely wasn’t a banner year for the South Atlantic League. It started pretty strong for me by seeing the more prospect-heavy teams early, like Lexington, West Virginia and Rome, but by the end of the season it was a struggle getting anything out of the league other than a brief visit by Nick Madrigal. You can only take so many looks at college senior signs. It was refreshing getting a loaded Lexington team again. M.J. Melendez, Nick Pratto and Seuly Matias have loud, major-league-potential tools. West Virginia was fun with Oneil Cruz and Calvin Mitchell. Rome had one of the best prospects I saw this year in Drew Waters, who I think has five-tool potential in center, to go with an exciting catcher in William Contreras and some raw arms with velocity. Greenville was down this season but still had some intriguing, younger guys. The main theme for me was more position player prospects than normal within the league.
MCC: And then following from that — what was your sense of the Augusta roster relative to the league at large? And also relative to recent Greenjackets squads?
DL: Augusta’s roster received an immediate prospect boost from Heliot Ramos. Having a team’s No. 1 prospect makes you an automatic go-to spot for evaluation. Beyond that, the development of Manuel Geraldo, a little intrigue from Jacob Gonzalez and Malique Ziegler, and a couple arms with stuff made Augusta at least middle of the pack in terms of guys to circle for evaluation. I think the roster was pretty much in line with recent Augusta teams, perhaps a little more ceiling than usual.
MCC: This was the first year in a new stadium. Did you get any sense of how it’s going to play? The stat lines from hitters didn’t make it seem much more offense friendly than Lake Olmsted.
DL: I haven’t run a final tally yet on offense at SRP Park compared to Lake Olmstead, but judging by my eye and a lot of trips there this season, I’d say it’s a good bit more hitter-friendly. The ball certainly jumps to left field a lot more. It’s still tough going to center and right, and right-center is a dead zone, but I think it will be much closer to neutral than Lake Olmstead. I know hitters are enjoying it more. Augusta’s hitting coach, Thomas Neal, played at Lake Olmstead and he’s noticed a difference.
MCC: So, let’s dive into Heliot Ramos. What were your impressions? If you have to hang a FV on him right now, what grade are you giving him?
DL: Ramos is tough to grade because he’s still very raw and you have to envision what he could become. The physical nature of his frame is noted, and that makes you think the power is in there, even though he rarely showed it. He made adjustments in the second half to find the barrel more often, and there were flashes of barrel awareness to go with pitches the other way with authority or pop pull-side singles. But, for the most part, he just didn’t look comfortable at the plate. Also, entering the season, he was sold as an athletic, up-the-middle guy with a power/speed combination, but the speed isn’t really there. He’s below-average down the line and relies on reads and routes to range in center. On the positive side, there’s untapped potential in the hit/power tools and he has natural ability in center. I’m thinking a 50 FV right now based on the potential to stick in center. If he has to move to a corner, that grade will take a significant hit.
MCC: I feel that among Giants prospect fans there is a camp that finds Ramos season disappointing, and a camp that says, “he’s still young; everything’s fine.” I sort of sit somewhat in the middle of those two camps. How about you?
DL: Again, I think the perception on Ramos’ season goes back to how raw he still is. You have guys like Drew Waters and Calvin Mitchell who are at similar stages in age and level, but their feel for the game is beyond Ramos’ right now. That’s a slight knock on Ramos, but it’s more of a compliment to Waters and Mitchell. Being able to not just hold your own but succeed like those two did as teenagers in the South Atlantic League is a big feat. It also helps that both have clear major league potential hit tools. Ramos doesn’t have that advanced feel or present hit tool, so it’s going to take longer and there will be more bumps in the road. His season was a little disappointing, but I knew it was going to happen after my first series look and realizing how raw he is. Development is different for everybody.
MCC: Moving on to the 2nd rounder, Jacob Gonzalez suffered through a really rough second half — which is not unusual for a HS pick in his first full year where fatigue can really set in (Ryder Jones went through something similar for instance). What were your impressions of Gonzalez this year both offensively and defensively?
DL: Regarding Jacob Gonzalez, I’ll start by saying he’s the type of guy you want in your clubhouse. He’s a positive influence and knows how to carry himself like a pro baseball player. He was also easily one of the hardest workers on Augusta’s team this year. The second half wasn’t a surprise considering his body type and age. He’s a big kid who likely suffered fatigue in his first full season like Ryder Jones did. I’m a fan of Gonzalez’s swing. It’s quick, he has quick wrists for his size, and the plane is mostly consistent to the zone and through. He probably had the most power potential in Augusta this year. His overall game is uncertain, though. His approach isn’t bad but he got beat by basic sequencing fairly often and didn’t adjust to it. His power could be limited in the future by a hit tool that I don’t see reaching above 40. He works extremely hard on his defense at third, but I think he’s a future first baseman based on his arm and actions, which means the bat needs to max out. There’s major league potential here. Is it in an everyday role? Maybe not, but I think the answer will be clearer by this time next year.
MCC: A couple sleeper guys of interest to me on this squad were Malique Ziegler and Manuel Geraldo. Did either or both catch your eye at all?
DL: Malique Ziegler and Manuel Geraldo both excited me early. Ziegler was the most athletic player on the team besides Logan Baldwin. He has easy plus speed and can hit 70 speed down the line when he leans out of the box. He also ranges really well in the outfield and can play all three spots. Those are all obvious tools, though, and what left me excited was Ziegler’s sneaky pull-side power. He occasionally popped some to left that opened my eyes and left me dreaming of him tapping into that more consistently to go with his speed. His swing tends to get long and he’s raw at the plate, so the hit tool will have to come along in addition to staying healthy, but he’s worth watching. Geraldo turned himself into a guy this year. He developed physically to the point where I barely recognized him, and it translated on the field with a much greater feel to hit and some gap pop. There’s utility potential here.
MCC: Not sure if you caught Aaron Bond at all during his stint w Augusta. He didn’t find much success in the SALLY but had a very good year in the Northwest League (NWL) when sent down with interesting athleticism/power. If you saw him, any thoughts about his future?
DL: I know some scouts were intrigued by Aaron Bond because of his projectable frame and athletic ability. He didn’t really do it for me, though. The swing needs tweaking to avoid beating down on the ball and cutting off his extension. Also, his athleticism didn’t translate to quick baseball actions, especially down the line. His numbers at Salem-Keizer paint a different picture than what I saw in Augusta, so hopefully he found some comfort and adjustments in the Northwest. I understand the interest and I’m hopeful he can keep it going beyond the short-season league.
MCC: The rotation ran up a lot of strikeouts on the year, from an assortment of pitchers with very different repertoires. Who should we be keeping our eyes on from the group of starting pitchers?
DL: Jose Marte was my guy in Augusta’s rotation this year. He hit 97 pretty much every time I saw him and had the arm strength to consistently sit mid-90s into the later innings. The secondaries are behind the fastball and his command lags because he’s raw, but there’s plenty to like here and he’s one to watch going forward, even if it’s just as a velo guy in the bullpen. Garrett Cave is a reliever and the quicker the Giants realize that, the better it is for his sake and the organization’s. If he can regain his mid-90s fastball in short bursts, he has a major league arm. Aaron Phillips, John Gavin and Joey Marciano all have either spot starter or relief potential.
MCC: Let’s talk Camilo Doval. What should Giants’ fans level of excitement be for Camilo? Is it “wake me when he’s in AAA and throwing strikes” or “stop what you’re doing when he heads to the mound and watch this guy throw?”
DL: Any time a kid comes out throwing 99 with plus arm speed and some feel for a darting breaker, you pay attention. That was Camilo Doval this year. At his best, he’s showing late-innings potential. At his best means he’s actually finding the zone. When he’s not at his best, he’s nowhere near the zone and it makes you wonder if he gets past Double-A. He’s frustrating, but I like Doval and think he could be a high-octane reliever in the future. Fans should remember his name.
MCC: And, lastly, to step away from the Augusta roster, you got to see a fair bit of Joey Bart the last couple of years at Georgia Tech. I know you’re a fan. What do you like most about him?
DL: I’m a huge fan and Giants fans should be thrilled he’s in their system. I watched him at Georgia Tech for a couple years and came away thinking he was going to be a star major league catcher. It didn’t surprise me at all to see him climb up draft boards to the point of being in the discussion for No. 1 overall. He’s aggressive and there will be swing-and-miss in his game, but he’s going to hit, he’s going to mash bombs to all fields, he’s going to catch at an average to above-average level, and he’s going to be a positive clubhouse presence with the ability to lead a pitching staff. Bart is the real deal and without a doubt your No. 1 prospect.
Thanks so much to David Lee for taking the time to answer our questions and give us his up-close and personal view of the 2018 Greenjackets. You can follow David on twitter @David11Lee for much more of his in-season thoughts on the Greenjackets, and look for his scouting reports in Baseball Prospectus’ “Notes from the Field,” “Monday Morning Ten Packs,” and other features.