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July 6, 2007 at 10:29 AM

SoxProspects.com Q&A with Baseball America's Jim Callis

SoxProspects.com recently had the opportunity to share some thoughts with Baseball America's Jim Callis on the 2007 Major League Baseball Draft. Jim Callis is the Executive Editor at Baseball America and was also part of ESPN's 2007 draft coverage.

What is your opinion of Yasmani Grandal? What are the chances of him eventually being able to contribute offensively at the big league level? Are his defensive skills good enough to counterbalance any offensive shortcomings? How does he compare with other catchers in the Sox system?

JC: The bat is the big question mark for me. He doesn't have a quick bat, and he's more of a contact hitter than a power guy. He is a switch-hitter, so that helps, but I think he's going to stick out more with his defense. He'd be arguably the best defensive catcher in the Boston system, though his offensive ceiling would rank behind guys like George Kottaras, Jon Egan and Ty Weeden.

The Red Sox selected five big name high school arms in the middle of the draft. We've heard indications that Tepesch isn't interested in signing, so will you rank the next four in terms of ceiling: Grimm, Cowan, Bailey, and Britton.

JC: The number I heard Tepesch was looking for is $1.2 million, and while I think the Red Sox are going to be aggressive, I can't see them signing him if he sticks to that figure. I like Justin Grimm best among the next four, as he has power stuff. I'd put Jake Cowan second because he has a better breaking ball than Drake Britton (whom I'd put third) and Austin Bailey.

Kade Keowen seems like a potential 5 tool prospect. Which tools do you feel are his strongest and weakest? Will he be able to stay in center field long-term?

JC: He has all five tools. It's just a matter of proving he can succeed against good pitching after he barely played in two years at Louisiana State before spending this spring at a Division II juco program (LSU-Eunice). With his size (6-foot-6 and 230 pounds) and bat speed, his raw power would be his most impressive tool. He runs very well, so he has a chance to stick in center, and he even has a slightly above-average arm.

Brock Huntzinger wasn't rated in the BA Top 200, but the Sox selected him 114th overall. Was he an overdraft as a "sure sign", or did the Red Sox see talent that was overlooked by other organizations?

JC: One thing that isn't always evident to people is that we complete our Top 200 list about a month before the draft so we can get it into our Draft Preview issue. Huntzinger's stock rose afterward, and on draft day I expected him to go between the third and fifth round. He wasn't an overdraft, just more of a late bloomer. He's 6-foot-3 and 210 pounds, touches 92 mph with his fastball and has a good slider--nothing wrong with that combo.

Chris Province was a senior drafted in the 4th round with average numbers in college this year. Can you explain why he was selected so early? Would he have been available in later rounds?

JC: Province was another guy who surged late. In the last week of the regular season, his fastball was up to 94-97 mph and his slider hit 86-88 mph, so there was a lot of interest. He threw hard in the past, but when the slider came on it gave him a legit second pitch. He previously struggled with a curve, and while his college stats weren't impressive, some of that can be attributed to the fact that he had one effective pitch for much of his college career. Like Huntzinger, if we did the Top 200 a couple of days before the draft, Province would have been on that list.

SP: Nick Hagadone is a big, power lefty with what has been described as a plus slider. However, his K numbers over last season are just barely more than 1K/ip. How concerning are his low strikeout numbers?

JC: He's another guy who has taken a big leap forward, though unlike Huntzinger and Province, he did so more over the course of the entire spring. I'm not too worried. He's a lefthander with a big arm whose stuff jumped this year, and I think it's more a matter of developing a consistent delivery than any glaring weakness. He should be fine.

The Red Sox selected a large number of high school players that are asking for more than slot money in the middle rounds. What steps will the Commissioner's Office take, if any, to prevent big market teams from wild spending in the middle rounds?

JC: MLB can't do anything beyond telling a team that it thinks spending more than slot money is a bad idea, and trying to talk the owner out of it. The Red Sox have established that they're willing to spend on the draft, and why shouldn't they? They spent something like $50 million on the luxury tax and revenue sharing last year, which is far more than any inflationary effect MLB might claim that the Red Sox could have on the draft.

SP: What is your view on Adam Mills? He put up great numbers, but doesn't crack 90 with his fastball. Does he project as a Major League starting pitcher in your opinion?

JC: I'd say more middle reliever. There are righthanders who pitch at 86-89 mph and are big league starters, but that's a hard trick to pull off. Mills has tremendous command, so maybe he'll be the exception to the rule. But his pure stuff grades out as below big league average, so it's hard to project him as a starter.

Who are your sleepers in the Sox draft - maybe 2-4 guys who you think will improve the fastest and outperform expectations?

JC: Tough question because the guys haven't played a whole lot yet. A year ago, I wouldn't have mentioned Kris Negron at this time, for example. I don't consider a guy like Will Middlebrooks, a sandwich-round talent who slipped to the fifth round because of signability, a sleeper, though I think he'll exceed expectation for a fifth-round pick. In terms of guys who didn't slide because of signability, Mills (eighth round), Eammon Portice (12th round) and David Marks (19th round) stand out. With his command, I bet Mills dominates the lower minors. Portice has a deceptive delivery and good stuff, and he pitched well on the Cape. He needs more consistency and control, though. Marks has a good bat.

Do you view the Red Sox 2007 drafting philosophy - taking lots of high schoolers, especially high-ceiling signability kids - as more a function of the strengths of this particular draft, a result of the significant draft rule changes, or in some other manner? As a follow-up, please give us your view of how the Red Sox's drafting philosophy differed from other teams generally.

JC: I think it was more a function of this particular draft. I don't think the draft rule changes are going to give much more leverage to clubs. I think the Red Sox simply took the guys they thought were the best players available in the early rounds. Outside of Middlebrooks (fifth round) and David Mailman (seventh round), they spent their picks in the first 12 rounds on guys who weren't going to exceed slot money. After that, they were aggressive taking top talents who slid because of signability. I think it's safe to say that signability and MLB's feelings are less of a concern to the Red Sox than they are to most clubs.

All the talk about Hunter Morris prior to the draft concerned his bat. Where does he profile defensively? Does he have the ability to stay at third? And if he moves, can his bat carry him to the big leagues as a first baseman or DH?

JC: He's not much of an athlete or defender, so I think he's going to have to be a first baseman. His bat will have to carry him. He has a very good approach, but sounds like he'll have to tighten up his swing, too. Sounds like your classic boom-or-bust high school hitter.

Will Middlebrooks was a popular draft choice among Red Sox fans. Where will he play as a professional: third base, shortstop, or pitcher? Please describe his overall strengths and weaknesses.

JC: Third base. He's a very good athlete for his size, but I don't think he's fluid enough to be a big league shortstop. He might play there a little if he does attend Texas A&M, but he'll be a third baseman down the line. He's very athletic for that position, and has the size (6-foot-4 and 215 pounds) and strength to hit for a lot of power. He may need a little time to adjust to pro pitching, but there are no glaring flaws with his swing.

The book on Dent seems to be that his athletic ability is off-the-charts, but he's very raw. What baseball skills does he possess? Where does he project defensively (and, if not short, specifically why not)?

JC: He does have some skills to go with his tools. He uses his speed well and makes a lot of contact with a compact, quick stroke. His defensive tools are just average for shortstop, and those type of guys usually wind up moving. I think he'll be a second baseman or center fielder, though with Dustin Pedroia, Jed Lowrie and Jacoby Ellsbury, the Red Sox have young players at those positions ahead of him. They'll probably let Dent play shortstop as long as he can pull it off, as they're doing with Lowrie.

SP: Can Matt Presley develop into a five tool player, or will he always be known as a power hitter with average tools?

JC: He's more of an offensive guy, probably winds up as a corner outfielder of first baseman. Best case scenario would be a third baseman. In any case, he'll be known more for his bat than for his all-around package.

SP: How would you rank the following players in terms of round value - Will Middlebrooks, David Mailman, Kade Keowen, Justin Grimm, Jacob Cowan, Austin Bailey, Matt Presley, and Yasmani Grandal?

JC: I would have rated those players in this order: Middlebrooks, Grandal, Grimm, Presley, Mailman, Keowen, Cowan, Bailey. I like Middlebrooks easily the most of that group, and I think getting a talent like that in the fifth round should be the best value when all is said and done.

SP: Scott Green - What's the big deal??? He is supposedly a projected first rounder in the 2008 draft, but his numbers weren't great at Kentucky and he's already had Tommy John surgery.

JC: The big deal is that he's 6-foot-8 and owns a plus fastball and a hard slider. I wouldn't worry about the Tommy John surgery, as plenty of guys have come back from that. He had oblique and back muscle problems this spring after missing all of 2006, so I don't think his numbers reflect his potential. He'd be a very nice sign if they pull that off.

SP: Many Red Sox fans thought Casey Crosby and Matt Harvey were sure picks in the supplemental round. Is there any reason the Red Sox avoided these players? Were players like Harvey and McGeary left alone in order to allocate money to the later portions of the draft?

JC: I haven't spoken to the Red Sox about this specifically, but even last year, when they went over slot on a number of occasions, they didn't do it early in the draft. Their M.O. appears to be to bust slot on later-round picks, but not with the early ones. The first day of the draft was much shorter this year, and they spent their last pick on the first day on Middlebrooks. I'm not sure why Boston prefers to wait on their over-slot guys (by contrast, the Yankees did not last year when they also went over-slot a bunch), but that does seem to be part of their approach.

SP: What teams did you feel had the best draft? The worst?

JC: Too early to say with much accuracy, really, as guys have barely played. My standard line is that the teams with extra picks always look very good at first, and I liked what the Rangers and Blue Jays did. The corollary to that is that the teams with the fewest picks always look worse by comparison at first, and I wasn't blown away by what the Astros did. They didn't start picking until the third round.

It seemed that a lot of bonus babies that may have been around after the 10th round in '06 were snapped up like skittles facing the five-second rule this year. What changed that made teams more confident using earlier picks on these guys in 2007?

JC: I'm not sure I have the same impression. I do think aggressive teams always like to grab the high-ceiling, high-cost guys who have slid in the last round on the first day, so other clubs can't try to get a better feeling about their signability before the second day. This year, that round happened to be the fifth rather than the 18th or 20th. But it seemed to me that an awful lot of guys who wanted even a little more than slot money slid way past the 10th round.

Tell us about your ESPN Draft coverage experience. Any interesting or humorous behind the scenes stories leading up to, during, or after the telecast you can share?

JC: Not sure I have anything humorous. I didn't get to watch it much because I was part of it, but I thought ESPN did a good job of juggling all the analysts and information they needed to convey. I was in a hot, tiny room and had gotten one hour of sleep the night before, so I'm not sure how great I looked personally, but I think we conveyed a lot of good information. In the future, I'd like to spend more time discussing strategy and trends rather than just reacting on a pick-by-pick basis.