Jonathan Mayo covers the minor leagues and the draft as a senior writer for MLB.com. Mayo also has a book coming out that has some remarkable timing. It is a look at what it is like to face Roger Clemens and is appropriately titled Facing Clemens. The book was written and put to bed prior to the release of the Mitchell Report and will be available on March 1st, though you can pre-order it now.
Regardless of your feelings about Clemens, steroid users, and their place in history, the book looks to be a fascinating read. Mayo interviewed many of the great hitters about what it was like to dig in with Clemens on the mound. Whether or not Clemens did it naturally doesn’t change what the batters experienced when squaring off against the Rocket.
Mayo was kind enough to answer some questions about the now-depleted Tigers farm system as well as a look forward to the 2008 draft.
Detroit Tigers Weblog: After the trades this off-season, the Tigers seem to be deepest in the middle infield. Of Scott Sizemore, Mike Hollimon, Danny Worth, Cale Iorg, Tony Giarratano, and Audy Ciriaco who do you see having the highest ceiling, and who is most likely to make it to the majors?
Jonathan Mayo: From a pure upside standpoint, I think Ciriaco is still the guy. I know he only hit .224 in his full-season debut, but he’ll still be just 20 when the season starts. I think he has to start taking the raw tools and turn it into performance this year. As for “most likely to succeed,” I’d probably go with Worth or Hollimon at this point. I’ve seen Hollimon play several times and he just looks like a big leaguer to me. He also has the best bat of this group as of right now. Those kinds of offensive skills will play at 2B in the bigs. Worth, even though he hit when he got pushed up to Erie, will be a big leaguer more because of his glove. How much he can hit will determine whether he’s an every-day shortstop or a utility guy.
DTW: James Skelton had a great season for West Michigan, yet there is still concern about his size. How big of a concern is this, and if he does prove to be too small to play catcher is his offense enough to warrant moving him somewhere else?
JM: I sometimes think that too much is made of size when assessing prospects. That being said, catching is one of the few places where it can be a concern – more strength than pure size, actually. It all comes down to how durable he is. Skelton shared catching duties in West Michigan – the Tigers clearly didn’t want to run him into the ground – catching 84 games and picking up 353 ABs along the way. Still, his numbers did decrease in the second half – not precipitously, but enough to make you wonder. I think if he were going to move, it would have to be to the outfield, where his speed, athleticism and arm strength would play well. He doesn’t have the pop to play a corner infield position, in my opinion. For now, I’d leave him behind the plate and take advantage of the arm that threw out 42.5 percent of would-be basestealers and make him prove that he can’t handle the rigors of catching at higher levels.
DTW: Rank Yorman Bazardo, Jordan Tata, and Virgil Vasquez
JM: I’ll go: Vasquez, Bazardo, Tata.
DTW: With Maybin and Hernandez gone, who do you see as the Tigers top outfield prospect?
JM: Well, if they take my advice and move Skelton out there… In all seriousness, it’s slim pickings, isn’t it? I’d probably say Brennan Boesch, though I like Deik Scram, not necessarily as a high-ceiling prospect who’ll wow you. I just like the way he plays. I’m operating under the assumption that Ryan Raburn no longer qualifies as a prospect because of his big-league time.
DTW: Ilitch/Dombrowski/Chadd have ignored the draft slotting system with great results and it’s widely accepted that they’ll replenish the system with the same methodology. Do you think that this will still be an advantage going forward, or will other teams learn from Detroit’s example and finding “signability” guys will become more difficult?
JM: Sure, it will be an advantage for as long as that loophole of sorts is open. Other teams might learn from Detroit’s example, but few will be able to do much about it. Most of the teams who pass on the Rick Porcellos of the world do so because they can’t afford the price tag. Or, more importantly, they won’t. So as long as the Tigers braintrust doesn’t mind getting a scolding now and again, there will always be opportunities to pick up high-end talent that others feel they can’t sign.
DTW: How does the 2008 draft class look at this point? Where is it deepest?
JM: It’s so early to tell, but right now, it’s looking kind of balanced. If there is one strength right now, I think there’s a slight edge towards college bats at the high end, but there are some good college arms as well. But at the same time, there are some interesting high school players who’ll be interesting to watch how they progress once the season gets under way. But if you’re going to force me to go in one direction, especially at the top of the draft, I’ll go with the college bats.