Earlier this summer, I had the good fortune of meeting my fellow Washington DC denizen Adam McInturff, who is a great online resource for baseball fans interested in prospect development. Adam has worked in the Baseball Operations departments of the Texas Rangers and the Baltimore Orioles.
Since leaving the Orioles’ baseball operations, Adam has helped establish 2080 Baseball — an online prospect scouting forum for which he is the Assistant Director, Pro Scouting. Both Adam and 2080 Baseball are must follows on twitter for all prospect lovers. Adam loves to talk ball, and he’s generously agreed to share some thoughts on scouting and the Giants’ system with us.
MCC: As you know, online prospect conversations have a tendency to go heavy in the way of “scouting the box score.” So I’d really like to start by just talking a little bit about the scout’s approach to watching prospects. What are you looking for when you go to a game? What are those obscure things scouts are always writing down on their sheets?
AM: This is a great question, albeit one that’s a bit challenging to condense into a response that fits this Q/A format. In a very general way, evaluators are trying to understand the how, and statistics recant the what.
Scouts are interested how a player’s physical abilities look now, then combine that information with a myriad of other factors (body type, athleticism, physical projection, baseball instincts, attitude, intellect, etc.) to make an educated guess about that player’s potential impact and value at the Major League level. They’re looking at how someone plays, and the ways that player’s tools and abilities compare to others at the same level, age group, etc. On the flipside, traditional statistics give an account of what happened, providing a summary of a player’s in-game outcomes. Teams understand the balance between these two sides, and it’s for this reason that there are always statistical performers who aren’t prospects, and prospects that aren’t putting up numbers on par with their rankings.
This is a different conversation, but what’s so powerful about the new information available today is its ability to quantify the how, something that wasn’t possible before. Tracking data can give an objective answer to how a pitcher’s fastball moves, or how a defender takes routes to the ball (just two quick examples)—things that previously could only be measured by a scout’s subjective grade on the 2-8 scale. I’m not suggesting this renders scouts obsolete by any stretch—if anything, there’s a chance that the industry’s embrace of new information streams has almost been overzealous, suddenly turning scouting and development into unexpected market inefficiencies. That said, I wouldn’t be answering this question accurately if I didn’t mention the ways that new statistics and measurements are impacting the ways Major League organizations are evaluating prospects. Video has made a big impact as well.
MCC: Earlier this summer, I believe it was you I saw tweeting about what it was like that first time you walked onto a field and saw IT, a total stud — and how that influenced the way you evaluate. I think, in my case, of seeing 18-year old Matt Cain for the first time, or a 19-year old Manny Machado in Bowie -- there was just a sheer physicality that really separated them from everyone else on the field. Can you describe an example of that from your own scouting career and what it was that really made you stand up and take notice?
AM: That may have been me, as this is a theme I talk about a good amount. You do this for a few years and clearly see literally thousands of players, and especially at the professional level, all of these guys are very talented (that goes unsaid too much, if you ask me). It isn’t often that a player stands out above his competition to such a degree that it’s really a “wow” moment. Generally, the times I have walked to the parking lot after a game feeling I have seen something really unique have been when a player that’s absurdly young for a level is dominating aspect(s) of the game.
Scouting Carlos Correa as a teenager in Double-A was one of those times. The mix of present physicality and physical projection was rare, and there was just a fluidity and ease with which he did everything on the field that immediately stood out as special. He was 20-years-old at the time, and by Double-A there are plenty of guys who are in their late-20s, have played in the big leagues, etc. Correa wasn’t just holding his own, he absolutely dominated the competition. Taking into account the age, body, and tools, all I could think to myself was “Alex Rodriguez must have looked something like this at the same age.”
Juan Soto is another one in this category, though for reasons that are unique and a bit different than my experience with Correa. For one, I saw a lot more of Soto early in his career, so my track record with the player went back longer than it did with Correa. With Soto, the most special qualities weren’t entirely physical: his demeanor, mental game, and ability to make adjustments stood out more than anything. When I saw him in 2017, he obviously was a very gifted player and looked like a future big leaguer and top prospect, though one that I wouldn’t necessarily put into the “rare air” tier. Then he comes back in 2018—at 19-years-old, by the way—the most improved player at this age that I’ve ever seen after just one off-season. It sounds like hyperbole, but it’s true: Soto literally shored up all the holes scouts poked in his game the year prior. He trimmed up his body, got faster, became a better outfield defender, improved his selectivity and the plate, and made major strides against same-side pitching. We’ve seen the end result in the big leagues this year.
Maybe this will look bad in a few years, but guys like Vlad Guerrero Jr., Fernando Tatis Jr., and Royce Lewis are current prospects that have all struck me in the same way. When you see players every day, you’re happy when you feel there were even a handful of big leaguers on the field, even one. So these “next level” guys are just beyond special, and usually it is because of a combination of makeup and amazing natural ability.
MCC: That is a comment that goes unsaid too much, I agree. So let’s just repeat: everybody on a professional field is extremely talented. Now turning to the Giants’ system: just in general, how many players in the Giants organization that you’ve seen have a reasonable chance, in your opinion, to develop into average or better big league regulars? What about first division regulars?
AM: My primary coverage has been the Giants’ affiliates in Augusta and Richmond, so I don’t see many from the organization save for those two clubs. Still, off the top of my head, I’d say Joey Bart and Heliot Ramos are the two guys with the best chance in my mind to be legitimately above-average big leaguers, a Role 55 player (or higher) in our scouting system at 2080. Guys like Steven Duggar, Shaun Anderson, and Chris Shaw are three names I can see in a Major League lineup/rotation in a regular basis.
MCC: On to specific players, let’s start with Heliot Ramos, who just turned earlier this month. As an 18 year old in his first full season he was thrown into the deep end a little bit this year. What do you make of the season he had? And how does his year affect how you view him long term?
AM: I think that people put too much stock in his AZL performance after signing. The competition level between Rookie ball and even full-season Class A is a bit of a jump, as is dealing with much more travel, moving to an unfamiliar part of what is already a new country (in Ramos’ case), and playing in front of a crowd every night. I wrote a scouting report on Ramos after seeing him in June, and I didn’t come away too concerned about his occasional struggles this year. He won’t fully unlock his ceiling as a power/speed centerfielder if the pitch recognition and free-swinging approach can’t improve, but given his age, I think that conversation is premature. He’s a special athlete, the type that can make adjustments quickly. It’s worth mentioning he finished the season strong, slashing .282/.312/.476 the last month of 2018. The tools to impact the ML level are here; I wouldn’t start worrying until after 2019 or 2020.
MCC: I suspect you had a chance to see Aramis Garcia this summer. He scuffled a bit with injury through the year, but has recently had a nice debut at the big league level. With Catcher position suddenly in a little bit of a muddle for the Giants this winter, how close to ready do you think Garcia is, and what role do you seem him best filling in the nearish future?
AM: Garcia is 25-years-old and basically fully developed as a player, so from that perspective, he’s ready to help the big league club. Service time and player options can dictate quite a bit, so I can’t say for sure what the team plans to do with him from a roster perspective in 2019, but in a vacuum, he’s ready.
I wrote a scouting report on him in July, and I’m sticking to my guns about the type of player I see him being. Garcia doesn’t strike me as a high-average bat, though he’s physical enough to run into some mistakes and put 12-15 balls out of the park over a full Major League season. His defense at catcher is the calling card, and I liked the mobility and framing behind the plate. I like him as a second-string catcher with a low-average bat and some pop.
MCC: I know you’re more on the pro side. Did you get a chance to see much of Joey Bart this spring?
AM: I am mostly on the pro side, but Nick and Burke (our Draft guys over at 2080 Baseball) are great about having us check out a handful of top amateur prospects. I saw some top college guys leading up to the 2018 Draft and was out at the Area Code Games this summer, a great place to see some of the top high school names in this year’s class.
I did see Bart this February, and I wrote a draft spotlight at the time that looks a bit light now. I came away feeling strongly he was one of the top players in the class, so it was rewarding to see the industry agree and to have him popped with the second pick this year. At the very least he’s going to be a solid big leaguer for a long time, and if he can fully get to the raw power, he’ll have some star-level peak seasons. Bart is a good mix of floor and upside, which is the outline of a top prospect—usually one that can rank within the top 30 or so before graduating to the big leagues.
MCC: There are a couple of SS in the system who I believe you liked as sleeper types: Ryan Howard and Manuel Geraldo. What impressed you about each of them and what kind of roles can you see them developing into?
AM: I did like both players to some degree, and I agree they’re sleepers in the system. Both guys can get to the big leagues and contribute.
Starting with Howard, who I wrote a scouting report on this year. I think that the ability to hit for average could be enough to warrant everyday playing time on a 2nd division club, that’s the best-case ceiling in my mind (even if it is at second base). The drawbacks are he doesn’t have much power, nor is there one particularly loud “carry tool” to get in a Major League lineup everyday if the hitting ability falls short. I went out on a limb a little bit by saying he could be a regular, in part because I wanted to draw attention to how much I believe in the ability to hit. The safer grade would have been a FV 45, and to me, that’s the absolute floor: a useful utility infielder and role player. He’s 24-years-old, which makes me pause about if he will ever hit for power.
Geraldo is the bigger sleeper of these two players. He’s an athletic, switch-hitting shortstop who makes a lot of contact and projects to play all around the infield at the big league level. He has more strength in his body than you’re expecting, though that hasn’t translated to much in-game power yet. I liked the well-rounded skillset and contact ability, though he’ll need to shore up an over-aggressive approach to keep hitting for average at higher levels. I’m not ready to slap a FV 50+ grade on him yet, but he could be a useful bench piece. Interested to follow him up the ladder.
MCC: The Richmond club had a few interesting relief arms (Wolff, McNamara, Ruotolo, and earlier Cyr). Any guys you like out of the group to ultimately help the big club?
AM: I saw the most of Wolff and McNamara of the list you mentioned. Here’s my scouting report on Wolff, who pitched better than his numbers show for Richmond. He had two really bad outings and struggled to regain feel for limiting walks coming back from injury. The stuff was loud, though, with a high-90s fastball and sharp mid-80s slider. I think he could be a big league ‘pen guy in short order, though he’s 27-years-old and has a track record of injuries. His ceiling is higher than McNamara’s in my opinion.
Dillon McNamara put together an absolutely dominant season for Richmond and was named an Eastern League all-star. He basically just throws a fastball and cutter, and there were some reasons to be skeptical about whether he will prevent walks against Major League hitters the same way he did in Double-A. I think he shows up in the big leagues, though I’m anticipating it’s more as a matchup reliever to right-handed hitters than someone who truly fits a late-inning profile. You can read my scouting report on McNamara by clicking the hyperlink.
MCC: Jacob Gonzalez in his first full year really struggled -- particularly the second half when he seemed to wear down (not unusual). In a way his year was similar to Ramos, but he also comes without some of the contextual mitigation that Ramos has: he’s a year older and he lacks Ramos’ overall athleticism and potential defensive value. Where are your thoughts on Gonzalez at this point?
AM: Gonzalez did struggle badly this season, and you hope that it can be turned into a learning experience. What stood out to me the most was that he just can’t play third base at a professional level. He’s a very large kid, extremely muscular like his dad, and the mobility just was not there for the hot corner. I would try him in left field before immediately dropping him to first base, but the consensus is he’s going to move down the defensive spectrum. The bat will ultimately make or break the profile.
I saw him in June and wrote a scouting spotlight at the time. The strength and leverage are there to hit for power, and despite pedestrian peripherals this season, Gonzalez has awareness of the strike zone and can lay off fastballs. Handling off-speed pitches and covering the inner-third of the plate are areas he needs to shore up.
MCC: I’ve been pretty bullish on Logan Webb all year, as he’s come back from TJ and looked very sharp—though the peripherals this year weren’t telling as great a story. Is this a guy I’m right to be excited about?
AM: You are 100% right to be excited about him, and I am too. He’s on a shortlist of pitchers that got to Double-A after dominating High A with little fanfare. I recently updated my scouting report on him after seeing a second start of his in August. The stuff is there to fit as a mid-rotation starter—the question will be if he’s able to iron out the command/control. Webb is a no-doubt big leaguer in my mind, and one with considerable ceiling. He probably falls short of our Top 125 this off-season, though the grade I put on him in my report will get him in the conversation. If we build the list out to a Top 250, I would anticipate Webb to rank in that range.
My thanks again to Adam McInturff for sharing some knowledge with us! Adam will soon be heading out to Arizona for the Fall League where he’ll get to see many of baseball’s best prospects — including a group of Giants’ players including Melvin Adon, Garrett Williams, and Heath Quinn. He’s a must follow on twitter @2080Adam. And you can get notifications of all of 2080 Baseball’s scouting reports emailed to you by signing up at 2080 Baseball. It’s well worth it and you should head over there right this second!