[Taylor's note: In an effort to make the off-season more interesting, Griffin and I are bringing in several guest writers (we've seen the likes of R.J. Anderson and Jay Yencich so far), as well as a possible permanent writer in Nathan Hoover. Here's the second part of our interview with the incredibly knowledgeable Mariners prospect master Jay Yencich.]
Sodo Mojo: In your opinion, who is the fastest man in the Mariners minor league system as of right now? The one with the most power potential? The best overall defender? The best pitching prospect?
Jay Yencich: For speed, now that Gillies has skipped town, that title probably falls to Ezequiel Carrera. He and Ackley are both more in the vein of making good use of what they have, and Carrera is a tick above the others.
Power is probably Greg Halman, who was nearly a 30-30 man in ’08. There are other bigger guys that are close to him in terms of what they can do, Dunigan and Peguero for example, but I don’t know that I see Peguero in particular doing it as he moves up. An organization can often be littered with huge dudes who can hit a ball really far, but aren’t likely to enough to get them by.
Best defender is probably Gabriel Noriega on the infield. He’s in the AsCab/Oswaldo Navarro vein of defenders from years back. Noriega is above-average, though not jaw-dropping in all the defensive categories and handles himself well out there. If he can hit, he’s a good prospect.
Best pitcher? It’s probably Pineda, though that’s personal bias speaking. That brings us to…
Sodo Mojo: What do you think of Michael Pineda? What do you like about him? What do you dislike about him? How big of an issue is the elbow going to be heading forward?
Jay Yencich: The past couple of years, I’ve actually liked him quite a bit more than J.C. Ramirez, but I had to keep that on the down low because every time I’d mention it someone would freak out and start telling me that Ramirez was the next Rafael Soriano, when the numbers very much disagreed. Now that he doesn’t really have anyone to contend with up top except maybe Cortes, I can just come out and say it: Pineda is awesome.
I can definitely see why many fell harder for Ramirez though because Pineda is not a sexy prospect. He doesn’t throw 96 miles an hour, his breaking ball has not been awarded its own nickname, and his height does not reach into the stratosphere relative to us normal people.
What Pineda does do is everything else that’s associated with pitching acumen. Movement? He’s got that. Deception? Certainly. Command? Intelligence? Whatever it is that allows guys to throw inside? Yes, yes, and yes, and he combines all of the above with offerings that are better than average. He throws a fastball, a cutter, a change, and a slider, and none of them are bad, or even show-me pitches.
The main strike against him right now is the elbow. I’m personally in the camp that thinks we could stand to be a little more reserved in judgment on these matters. Over the past several years, we’ve learned that attrition rates for pitchers are astronomical, and that top prospects are equally suspicious to lesser arms. This has led the bulk of evaluators to go into this “it’s time to abandon ship and all the lifeboats are gone” mode whenever anyone spends time on the DL. It’s not a bad bet to make because in reality, most minor leaguers won’t succeed, but individual circumstances come into play as well.
What I’ve heard with regard to how Pineda was throwing after he came back leaves me less concerned. If anything, I’d be more inclined to chalk his issues this season to pitching 138.1 innings in Wisconsin two years ago when his previous high was less than half that. He has some issues he could still work out, like he overthrows a bit sometimes (which could contribute to the elbow issues), but otherwise it’s all there.
Sodo Mojo: Minor league statistics are often helpful in player evaluation, but they don’t really tell the entire story. What non-statistical tools do you use to form your own evaluations of minor league prospects?
Jay Yencich: First, I think it’s clear that I do use as many stats as I can get my hands on. I’m not on the cutting edge of analysis, especially relative to the M’s blogosphere, but I spend a good amount of time looking at splits, giving numbers context, and I’m at least aware of the thought process involved in FIP and whatnot.
As the non-statistical stuff goes, I’ll also use whatever’s available. I listen to broadcasts, I talk to the announcers, I read the local papers, I watch the videos, I’ll attend games now and then, and on rare occasions I’ll talk to the players too. I don’t get everything that someone with connections in the scouting world might be able to pick up on with a few well-placed phone calls, but I do my homework and all of this feeds into some larger conception of what a player is about and what expectations we can have of them.