As part of Baseball Prospectus' promotion of his 2012 Annual, I had the chance to chat with BP contributor Kevin Goldstein, who provides a lot of BP's prospect coverage. This is part 1 of a 3-part recap of that conversation, and focuses on the system as a whole. Unless I put something in quotes, KG's comments are my summation of what he said.
APV: You described your Top 11 Prospect list for the Indians that you made this year the hardest, strangest and riskiest such list you have made. Could you comment a little bit more on what you meant by that and what went into your list?
KG: That list was hard because there are a lot of different ways you can go with it. The upper levels of the system are basically empty, and a lot of that is for good reasons (movement of Kipnis, Chisenahall to Cleveland, trade of White and Pomeranz), but there is nothing left. Sure, I could talk about a guy like Chen Lee, who might be a 7th inning reliever at the big league level, but do I really want him over these young toolsy kids who don't even have a full season of pro ball. And I mean really young, most of these guys are still teenagers. If you offered 30 GMs in baseball the choice between Lee and one of these toolsy kids, some of which haven't played above the complex leagues, every one of them will take the tools. Every one of them takes Dorssys Paulino over Chen Lee. That's how I ended up evaluating the system.
APV: How do you evaluate these guys with so little experience?
KG: I talk to scouts, I talk to people in the organization, I talk to contacts in Venezuela and the Dominican Republic. In some cases I was following these guys before they entered the organization. And you can get a pretty good view of the tools a guy, say Robel Garcia, has, even if there is a lot of risk and uncertainty in how those tools might develop.
APV: So is the Indians system one they can feel good about? Is it an indication the organization is doing things right?
KG: Right now it might not look very good, but they have worked with what they had. They helped the big league team a lot last year, both in the guys they promoted and the trades they made. That's what the system is for. This will be an interesting year for the system certainly, and if things go right, if guys like Garcia and Francisco Lindor and Ronny Rodriguez and Dillon Howard play well and stay healthy, they could easily be in the top half of the league [editor's note: KG ranked the system 24th in league recently]
APV: The Indians system seems to be full of middle of the field prospects, particularly at SS, but thin on the corners. Is this a problem or an organizational issue?
KG: No, not at all. Pretty much everyone signed out of the Dominican Republic or Venezuela is a SS or a CF. This is how all systems start, as a concentration of athletes. We only know what they are right now, not what they will become as they age and develop through the system.
APV: Looking through things last night, I think I convinced myself that Ben Francisco is the only outfielder the Indians have drafted and then developed over the past decade. This, following the 90s, when the organization drafted and developed Albert Belle, Manny Ramirez, Brian Giles, Richie Sexson and a number of other major league outfielders. Are they doing something wrong?
KG: Obviously it is a horrible run, no one is debating that. But almost every team has something like that, where you can point out that they haven't been able to develop a starting catcher or a starting shortstop of whatever position you want to identify. And it also is not as if they Indians have invested a ton in outfielders over that time, either.
APV: Changing gears a bit, is there a more exciting minor league team heading into the 2012 season than Lake County. I think something like 8 of your top 11 guys in the system have a chance of playing there this season?
KG: It might be. The funny thing is, what is more interesting are the decisions being made over the next few weeks that you and I aren't privy to in terms of where guys will start the season. There are only so many at bats and innings available at Lake County, or any given level. They will make the decision about who is ready to play in Lake County and what is the best use of those opportunities. And some of these young guys might not be there this year yet.
APV: So does the organization's decision on where guys get placed influence your evaluation of individual players?
KG: No, not at all. It isn't a statement on the kid's talent, it is an organizational decision about how they want to use those at bats and innings and who is ready for them.
APV: Perhaps less so in the past couple of years, but one gets the sense that the Indians organization is pretty conservative or cautious in how they approach player development. Is that your sense?
KG: That might be pretty fair. But you could certainly argue that last year the promotions of Jason Kipnis, Lonnie Chisenhall and Alex White were just the opposite.
APV: Since Brad Grant took over the Director of Amateur Scouting role in Cleveland (replacing John Mirabelli, who was promoted within the ogranization), has the organization's approach towards player development and acquisition changed in your view?
KG: John [Mirabelli] is still a strong voice in the organization, and still highly involved in the whole draft process, so I would say there hasn't been a big organizational change.
Parts 2 and 3 of the interview will come in the next few days and focus on specific players within the organization, as well as the approach Kevin takes towards evaluating talent.