Talking Houston Astros Prospects with Jim Callis on Talking Stros
The Houston Astros have one of the top farm systems in MLB baseball, except Keith Law’s rankings, which we discussed here: Houston Astros: ESPN Farm System Rankings Revealed. Through Law’s post, he ranked the Astros as the 17th best farm system. Baseball America and MLB.com has ranked the Astros a little stronger than Law does. Two weeks ago, we had Baseball America’s J.J. Cooper on my talk show called @TalkingStros on
@KTXFdbTheReel. You can read or listen to it here: Astros Prospects: Talking Stros w/ JJ Cooper, Defends Martes over Bregman.
This past week we had we had Jim Callis come on the show to defend Alex Bregman over A.J. Reed. Everyone has their own opinions, we were just trying to decide which talent evaluator has the right idea. We invited Callis on the show following Cooper to offer his side of the story. Let’s see what he says, you can listen or read below.
The Jim Callis Interview
CTH/TexSR: How did you get the gig you have now?
Callis: I was at Baseball America for about 25-years in two different stints, right out of college, and then I moved up to Chicago, then I worked for Stats INC for three years, then Baseball America asked if I wanted to come back? I did, the in about 2013, the opportunity to go work for MLB.com presented itself. I loved my days at Baseball American but it was kind of like a Godfather offer, it was too good to turn down. I miss BA, but that prospect handbook ran my life for four months each year.
CTH/TexSR: We had J.J. Cooper on last week, do you have to be a Georgia Bulldog to work for Baseball America?
Callis: It’s funny because I think that we are the only two Bulldog’s to work for BA, there are actually a bunch of North Carolina guys there. I came a little before JJ, but you have back to back Bulldogs. I never really knew JJ, because he was after me, I didn’t know him at all until he applied for a job with Baseball America.
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CTH/TexSR: The real question is, are you as big of a New Girl fan as JJ is?
Callis: I can’t say that I have never seen it, but that is something that my nine-year-old daughter watches, not trying to diss JJ, I never really watched much of it.
CTH/TexSR: What goes into your decision-making for rankings, I’m not sure who does the most, you or Jonathan Mayo?
Callis: There are three of us, me, Mayo, and Michael Rosenbaum. With the top-100 prospect list, that’s normally us getting together to hatch it out. I actually have not made our Astros list in the past, but I am doing it now, we will have an entirely updated Top-30 list soon, we will release all of them before the end of the month.
When making these lists, you look at a variety of factors, you look at
- Statistical performances
- Statcast or Pitch FX
- Videos of the guys if you have not seen them in person.
- Talk to people in the organization.
When you do this for a living, it’s a nice job to have, a lot of it just builds on itself. I have talked to people about Daz Cameron for the past three years or Alex Bregman; I remember that he might have been a high draft choice out of high school if there weren’t concerns about signability during that draft. You see these guys around, so we are not really starting from scratch with these guys. In a lot of cases, you are talking about them way longer before you have to write about them. I remember talking to people about A.J. Reed out of high school, even though he was dead set on going to college.
CTH/TexSR: Can you give us some justification on why BA ranked Bregman 1st over Reed?
Callis: If you look at the MLB Pipeline T0p-100, you would see that we have Francis Martes as the third-ranked Astros prospect behind Bregman and Reed. The five guys on the Top-100 list is, of course, the order we would have them on the Astros list when it comes out, but the rest of the list dates back to July.
CTH/TexSR: So why Bregman over Reed which was the opposite of what BA had?
Callis: There are a couple of reasons, one, you have to look at positional values while Bregman might not play shortstop because of Carlos Correa, but shortstop is a premium position. You have to rank prospects in a vacuum; you can’t rank a Rockies hitter higher because he will play at Coors field or the Astrodome. I like Bregman over Reed because I think he’s a better bet to hit for average when he gets to the bigs, but he won’t have Reed’s power, but he could have good pop for a middle infielder. You can debate back and forth who would have the higher on-base percentage and Bregman brings tons of value as the up the middle guy. Bregman won’t be a prolific base runner, but he could steal 15-20 bases in a year, and he will be a great defensive player wherever he winds up. You can argue either way, but that’s why we went with Bregman.
CTH/TexSR: Where do you see Bregman in five years, will he be with the team or have been used as trade bait?
Callis: I think he will be an Astro if you made me guess, and you never know how things will play out between now and then. You have Jose Altuve locked up for four years and Correa for longer and even though Correa could play third, I think that he is a better shortstop than Bregman. I think Bregman winds up being the third baseman for the Houston Astros. I think he is a better overall hitter and more competent on defense than Colin Moran. To be honest, if you told me that Bregman was the Astros opening day third baseman in 2017, I don’t think that is impossible at all, there is a chance that it could happen.
CTH/TexSR: What’s going on with Jon Singleton?
Callis: I thought that he would be a better hitter than this coming up the ranks, but he doesn’t make enough contact now. I thought he would be a guy to hit for power and average, but he could potentially project to a player like Chris Carter was, but even Carter never batted .176 in a season. Singleton does walk, and he does hit for power, but he has struck out in about 40% of his plate appearances in the big leagues. There is no question about it, whenever Reed is ready, he will push whoever is playing first base out of the picture. I’m kind of at the point where I have written Singleton of, it might be a little early for that. If you look at Singleton coming up, not sure what happened, maybe trying to hard. He needs to go back to being a hitter and let the power come back to him by making better contact.
CTH/TexSR: With Reed needing a little bit of Triple-A this year, it might open the door for a young man named Tyler White, what can you tell us about him?
Callis: It’s really hard to get a read on a player like him, someone who put up tremendous minor league numbers and are a little bit older, but he can really hit. He is not your traditional prospect being 25-years-old now, and he was a 33rd round pick. He doesn’t have your traditional body, 5’11” and 225, but he hits everywhere he goes. He’s played third, but he is really a first baseman or designated hitter. White can hit for average and controls the strike zone well, but the question will be how much power will he have which could affect his playing time in 2016. He may not be more than a 12-14 home run guy who is not a great defender, but he can put the bat on the ball and has really good hand-eye coordination. If you were to tell me that White would have outperformed Singleton in the big leagues would have seemed insane a year ago. White is a better pure hitter and controls the strike zone better than Singleton.
CTH/TexSR: Did we really give up that much in the Ken Giles trade?
Callis: That trade was a little tough, on one hand, that’s a lot to give up for a closer. That said if Giles continues to pitch as he has, and he contributes to the Astros winning the pennant by making the bullpen better, I don’t think that people will complain about it. Also, from talking to the Astros, they have a lot of enthusiasm for Jonathan Arauz, the infielder they got in the trade. You look at the Astros track record of finding elite talent in the lower levels of other teams like Martez and David Paulino. Of the guys they gave up in the trade, Brett Oberholtzer is back of the rotation guy, and I don’t know much about Harold Arauz, but of the three young arms the Astros give up, I think Vincent Velasquez could be the one the Astros regret down the road.
I’m not the biggest Mark Appel or Thomas Eshleman fan, to be honest with you. It’s still early in Appel’s career, but he is 24, and we have seen him struggle the past 2.5 seasons, I don’t think he will live up to what the Astros thought they were getting when they drafted him. Appel has a good chance of being a good number three starter, but he might not be the ace as he was drafted to be. Eshleman can throw strikes, but he doesn’t have the best stuff, he compares very well to Kirk Saarloos in the back of the rotation.
CTH/TexSR: Is there an Astros prospect who is flying under the radar a little?
Callis: Their top ten is pretty famous, so I will throw out a different name, Miguelangel Sierra, I rated Arauz a little higher than Sierra. He is a definite shortstop, and he has line drive gap power contact approach. Both those guys are two middle infielders who have not been hyped a lot. Another pitcher in last years draft who could make his debut with the Astros this season, the Astros don’t have the second lefty in the bullpen, the Astros could call up Michael Freeman in 2016 with very little time in the minors. It’s like he is throwing whiffle balls out there, lefties have no chance, and he holds his own against righties.
CTH/TexSR: J.J. Cooper is pretty big on Jon Kemmer, what do you think of him?
Callis: J.J. is driving the Kemmer bandwagon, he’s another guy who has hit everywhere, he has more power than White, and he’s a better athlete, but he is still an all bat type of player, I’m not on the Kemmer bandwagon yet. I don’t think that David Paulino is a sleeper, but I don’t think people realize how good he is. They got Paulino in the Veras trade; he was coming off of Tommy John, I like Martes better, but he’s not too far removed from Martes.
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CTH/TexSR: Where does Tony Kemp fit in the Astros future?
Callis: I think that he is a utility guy, the thing that hurts him is that he doesn’t have the arm to play shortstop or third base, but I can see him as an outfield/second base combo player who can come off the bench and make contact and steal some bases. He has plus speed, if you didn’t have Altuve, I think he would have a shot at the second base job. However, Kemp would just be keeping second base warm until Bregman got there if he Altuve were not around. On a good team, he is a good utility man, he would be useful for the Astros being a lefthanded hitter of the bench.
CTH/TexSR: What do you think about Joseph Musgrove?
Callis: I’m curious to see what he does for an encore, it’s not too often that you see a guy go through a season with eight walks and almost a strikeout an inning. I like him; his stuff is solid, I’m not sure he has a plus pitch. Realistically, I think he is a mid-rotation type of guy. I don’t see him with a ceiling of Martes or Paulino, but if he can duplicate what he did last year, he might be ready before those guys are. He won’t be a guy for the front of the rotation, but he could contribute in the middle.
CTH/TexSR: What about Moran and J.D. Davis for third base since you have handed the keys over to Bregman as the future guy?
Callis: Moran is a good average and on-base guy, but his lack of baserunning ability and speed, he’s not a terrible runner, but he is a below average runner, so the on-base average plays a factor with a lack of power. I like him less than the Astros do and most likely less than J.J. does. Davis, yeah I like him there is power arm-strength there, and he is not a big runner either, he does have some swing and miss in him.
I have covered the Astros long enough to know that if you are hitting less than .300 at Lancaster, there is something to prove. I’m curious to see how his stats look not playing in Lancaster this year. I like those guys, but Bregman will hit at least .280 with 15-20 home runs and be a good defender at third.
There was much more that was discussed by Callis in the Talking Stros podcast, but I would also like you to listen to it as well. He compares Reed to Joey Gallo and spends a little time comparing Matt Duffy to White. Thanks to Jim Callis for coming on the show, be looking out for the Top-30 prospects from each team to be released towards the end of the month. He wanted us to remind you that unlike BA, everything on MLB.com is free.