We’re introducing a new format to some of our posts. In an effort to further clarify and explore some of the different prospect rankings, we’ll bring you more opinion-oriented posts where erik, roarke and myself discuss prospects from a variety of angles. Today we unveil the first of this irregular and unplanned series with Allen Craig and David Freese.
[edit: Kevin Goldstein's Top 11 may come out today. Feel free to discuss that in this thread as well.]
azruavatar: David Freese obviously hit our rankings like a ton of bricks this year. Perhaps we should be thankful that the Cardinals make as few trades as they do in recent memory given the disparity between how well we know Cardinal draftees from day one and how well we (or anyone for that matter) know some random prospect from another team. That said, I’m not sure I see a difference between Allen Craig and David Freese. I ranked them #9 and #8, respectively, but that could have just as easily gone the other way.
roarke: The difference, for me, comes down to their levels. I am a really big fan of Craig, but he put up his good numbers at AA, while Freese was a level closer to the big leagues. That gives Freese a bit of an advantage in my mind. I also think that hitting at a high level in Memphis is inherently more impressive than doing so in the hitter’s environment of Springfield. On top of the level difference, I think defense comes into play. Freese is probably capable of being the backup 3B this year, but I’m not sure that anyone is sold on Craig having the ability to play 3B in the majors.
azruavatar: The lack of anything resembling a public and reliable defensive statistic is crippling when talking about defense. Beyond the fact that we’ve all seen players that “look” great and turn out to be average, the difference between a player that looks above average and one that looks below average is really difficult to put in objective terms without a stat. Are we talking about a +2 and a -2 player or a +8 and a -7 player? Impossible to know.
erik: It is hard to know for sure, but for what it’s worth, (and it may not be much) we do have BP’s FRAA, which has Freese a +15 player this past season. Of course, BP’s magic formula for calculating FRAA isn’t based on play by play info and they don’t really explain it. We are told to accept it by faith. Last year we had Dan Fox’s Simple Fielding Runs, which is explained in some detail and actually correlated pretty well with UZR and Dewan’s +/- . It had Freese as a +12 defender for Lake Elsinore. So at least we can say have two metrics that come from “smart people” that conclude that David Freese is an outstanding defender at 3B. We also know that Freese was named BA’s best defensive 3B in 2007 by managers and coaches of the California League, so we a little scouting to go with the numbers. For me, factoring in his glove and the fact that he leapfrogged AA gave Freese the slight edge for me. Freese should stick at the hot corner while it sounds like Craig is a strong candidate to play as a corner outfielder this year at Memphis. That diminishes his stock some, as the system is rather full of corner outfielders as it is.
roarke: I really don’t have Freese and Craig that far apart, in reality. On my list Freese was #4 and Craig was #10, but you can’t look at that in a vacuum. The guys in between them for me were Jones, Anderson, Motte, Todd and Jay. I really think that is a solid group of second tier prospects that all fall really close. I give Freese the edge on Craig, but I don’t think the difference is quite as big as might be expected between a #4 and #10 prospect. The depth in our system really shows there because you could randomize the order of the back half of the top ten and it wouldn’t seem unreasonable.
erik: Going back to my point about the defensive metrics for just a moment. I thought it was important I give Craig his fair shake by looking up his defensive metrics. BRAA has him at a +5 last season. SFR had him at +3 in 2007. So it’s not like Craig is an awful third baseman, at least if you can believe the stats. I dug up my BA Prospect Handbook to see what they said about each player’s defense. Of Craig, BA said “His range is limited, his arm is no better than average and he doesn’t look smooth when throwing, but he makes plays and the Cardinals think he can stick at the hot corner”. For Freese, ” [SD] has been pleased with his consistency at third base, where he has shown solid-average range, hands and actions to go with an average throwing arm”. Again, Freese wins, but it’s not like he’s worlds apart from Craig. Perhaps it’s not completely fair for me to say Craig’s value is going to be diminished by moving to a corner OF spot when he’s shown he can at least adequately handle the position. It’s no fault of Craig, but rather because there’s a logjam at the position and neccessity may dictate it. Unfortunately for Craig, there’s an organizational logjam in the outfield as well.
azruavatar: 3B has certainly become a position of depth for the Cardinals with three legitimate prospects at AAA (caliber if not geography) in Craig, Freese and Wallace. Glaus is a free agent at the end of 2009 but he’s not exactly going to be ancient at age 33. Projecting him as a 3.5 WAR player in 2009, his 2010-2012 WAR total would be something like 9 WAR worth about 35M over 3 years. Is it possible that the Cardinals go with the reliable veteran and move one or both of Craig and Freese? Glaus had a tremendous season last year (5 WAR) and stayed on the field the whole year. How do the Cardinals work in Freese/Craig/Wallace at the big league level to find out if they can really afford to let Glaus go?
erik: That’s a darn good question, and one I’m not sure I know how to answer. Maybe the better question is- Will Glaus price himself beyond what the Cardinals would be willing to spend? There’s a good chance that could happen. Getting back to your question, I’m sure it wouldn’t hurt Freese’s development to be up with the big club, perhaps in a John Mabry/Scott Spiezio sort of role as backup 3B/1B/LF/RF/inter-league DH. It’s not like he has that much development left given that he is 25. That frees up Craig to play 3B in Memphis and Wallace to at least start there at 3B. Both players get looks at the position.
azruavatar: With the release of Rico Washington and no Josh Phelps-esque signing, the Cardinals seem to have made space at AAA for at least two of Freese, Wallace and Craig. It would seem a real disservice to Craig to try and fit him into the Memphis outfield given how crowded it is. Craig has hit and hit well each year in the Cardinals system. While you want to get your best prospects adequate playing time, trying to keep he and Freese in the minors would seem to be a real disservice to one or both of them. Craig’s defense at third isn’t outstanding but I’ve yet to see/read anything that makes me think he isn’t average at the position. At the same time, given the obvious depth at 3B, it’s surprising that the Cardinals haven’t moved one of these two players to a team like the Twins. Is the rest of the industry just not that convinced that these two are major league hitters?
roarke: The market has been very slow in developing this offseason, so I wouldn’t necessarily count out a move of one of these guys yet. That being said, if Freese and Craig are still with the organization on Opening Day, I would like to see Freese at the major league level, as Erik suggested. I would also like to see Craig start the season as the starting 3B at Memphis and Wallace start the season in Springfield. I would guess that Wallace would be ready to move up quickly, but oftentimes these kind of logjams sort themselves out through injuries and needs in other places. As for the future, I’d like to see Glaus allowed to leave, the Cardinals pick up a draft pick for him, and let the best of Freese/Craig/Wallace get a shot at 3B and bank the excess payroll for Pujols’ next contract.
erik: You would have to think the Giants would be interested in either Craig/Freese. Given the fact they are kicking the tires on the an good glove/ mediocre hitting Joe Crede, I don’t see why Freese wouldn’t be an interest to them. I don’t know what the Giants would realistically offer in return, but you would think that a Freese acquisition would be another win on Sabean’s offseason scorecard. The market has been glacial, to say the least. I’m also surprised we haven’t heard Bryan Anderson in more trade rumors this winter.
azruavatar: We’ll have to wait with bated breath to see how this plays out in 2009. While neither seem to be future superstars, I think we all agree that both Craig and Freese seem like legitimate B-type prospects at the corner sack. What level they’ll play at remains largely undetermined for 2009 but it’s a rather congested path to the majors in the short term.