Over at fellow SBNation Blog Bucs Dugout, there's a story about some statements that Pirates President Frank Coonelly made during a bloggers info session regarding Pirates LHP prospect Rudy Owens. Please click the link above for the full story, though I'll throw out the choice quote after the jump...
-P- There were questions for both Coonelly and Huntington about the Pirates being placed in the lower half of all farm systems this offseason by Baseball America and Keith Law. Huntington said that he did not agree with those sources, that the Pirates graduated a number of top prospects, that there were injuries to other prospects, and that the Pirates' focus was on "developing players who will help the Pittsburgh Pirates win," not on having players put up big numbers in the minors.
Coonelly was downright indignant about it. Like Huntington, he pointed out that the Pirates graduated several top prospects, but he went further, saying that the Pirates' 25-and-under talent compares favorably with that of theKansas City Royals (!). (The Royals have the best farm system in baseball right now.) He also said that Rudy Owens' statistics and stuff (with a 93-94 MPH fastball and great command, he said) compared favorably to Kyle Drabek, and yet prospect gurus consistently rated Drabek as one of the better prospects in baseball while ignoring Owens. He also suggested the low ratings were possibly partly due to the Pirates not promoting their own prospects enough to Baseball America.
Coonelly seemed particularly fond of Owens in particular, and later said he couldn't believe Owens hadn't been making top 100 prospect lists.
Pretty provocative stuff, I think. Before responding about how Coonelly is wearing black and yellow colored glasses (which would look sweet but probably cause some visibility issues), consider three things:
1. He did not favor the Pirates "farm system" over the Royals, but instead "25-and-under talent." In that regard, I think it's a defensible point (Pirates get McCutchen, Alvarez, Walker and Tabata, Royals only really Butler).
2. He named Rudy Owens in particular as an example, and not just some general statement about the farm system or the young pitching. To me this indicates that they truly believe that he's elite. Elsewhere he mentioned some of the other more advanced arms like Morris, Locke and Wilson, but the choice to single out Owens for praise is one that I think warrants attention.
2. There might be something to the idea of self-promotion in scouts' rankings. I think every good prospect expert has contact with a number of different scouts, whose reports form the basis of a great deal of his opinion on a player. If certain teams are better at making a buzz about players in scouting circles, the noise reverberates and the player gets hyped everywhere. It's no secret that hype begets hype in the prospect world. I would guarantee that there's not one single scout who has personally had sufficient exposure to even 60 of any Top 100 list, let alone all 100.
Why could it not be entirely reasonable that Owens is in a similar league as Drabek? Sure, one was a 28th round draft and follow and the other a 1st rounder. One was considered a fringe prospect prior to 2009 and the other the son of a former Cy Young winner. But that doesn't mean as much looking forward as it does looking back.
Owens is a 6'3" 215 lbs lefty who just turned 23 last month. He threw 150 sterling innings in AA last year, with a 2.46 ERA, a solid K% of 22.6, a low BB% of 4.8 and a 46.1% GB rate. Scouting reports aren't great on him, but again, this might be because scouts aren't biased by pedigree or hype. They certainly aren't negative. The consensus is that he has plus command, a solid average to above average fastball that goes 91-93, a plus changeup according to Goldstein(helped his effectiveness against RH) and a work-in-progress breaking ball that some think is solid and others think is not quite there yet.
As for Drabek, I think he'll be very good. I'm not sure I'd credit him with being a top 20 guy, though. He has produced well over the past two seasons, but here's some food for thought. Goldstein had him rated at 99 way back in 2007, based almost exclusively on pedigree. The seeds of hype were planted from even before the 2006 draft, based on his dad's name, his first round pedigree and OMG Texas righty! In 2010, he flew all the way up to 16 at BP, 25 at BA and got a B+ (2/3 starter projection) from Sickels on here. While he did have a fine year, he was also in the news pretty much every day of the offseason in relation to the Halladay trade talks. Hype hype hype. After a good 2010, there was no way he could possibly move down in the rankings, of course.
I'm not suggesting Owens is better than Drabek at this point. But is Drabek really a top 15 overall prospect and Rudy Owens a fringe 125 or 150 guy? Discuss.