Our First Spotlight Interview… Perfect Game’s Patrick Ebert

This is Greg Pappas… It’s my pleasure to conduct our very first “Spotlight” interview with Perfect Game and 5ToolTalk.com’s Patrick Ebert.
GP… Patrick, can you give us some background information on how you got into writing about the MLB Draft, your professional progression -including what you are doing now, and what you hope to accomplish going forward?

PE… I’ve been a prospect junkie since the late 1980s, years before I had ever even heard of Baseball America, and when The Sporting News was still an amazing publication for all things baseball.  There wasn’t much info on the draft back then, but I tapped into as much as I could.

The internet really gave me the first opportunity to share my own thoughts.  I started posting on the Milwaukee Brewers message board at ESPN in the late 90s, and that is where I came in contact with Brian Kapellusch, founder and creator of Brewerfan.net.  Brian is a very talented programmer that was able to create admin functions so I could present my top prospect lists and scouting profiles in a very aesthetically pleasing fashion.  I’m a graphic designer by trade, and was able to provide some creative guidance to Brian to help make Brewerfan.net arguably the best fan-site out there.  I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, but I can’t thank Brian enough to providing the platform for me to get to where I am today.

I believe I started my top prospects lists and scouting reports the year after Brewerfan’s inception in 2001, and at the time I can’t think of anyone else, even for several years after that, that was covering the draft, other than pay sites, like I was.  I would argue that Toby Harrmann’s Power 50 top minor league prospect list and Jim Goulart’s daily minor league link report were also among the first of their kinds on the world wide web, which really made Brewerfan.net a fun and unique venture to be a part of.

I came in contact with Jerry Ford at Perfect Game in the spring of 2004 as I was working on a story on the top prospects in Wisconsin.  It turns out his son, Ben Ford, made the Brewers opening day roster that year, which caused him to visit Brewerfan.net and my work more and more as the season progressed.  It came to the point that Jerry hinted at bringing me aboard his team, which prompted me to visit him at the Perfect Game headquarters in Cedar Rapids, Iowa.  Beginning that December, I became a weekly columnist while also offering creative guidance for both Perfect Game and PG Crosschecker.

PG Crosschecker began a few years later, when Baseball America founder Allan Simpson left BA and joined the Perfect Game team.  That became a perfect fit for me, since PG Crosschecker created the bridge between the high school players that attended the numerous Perfect Game showcase and tournament events and the MLB Draft.

Since my Perfect Game employment is only part-time, I decided to start my own venture, 5 Tool Talk, to not only showcase my knowledge of baseball, prospects and the MLB draft, but to also show off my newfound web design skills.  I’m pretty encouraged by how many people have already reached out to me, both those that were aware of my work with Perfect Game and/or Brewerfan.net, and those that weren’t.

It’s hard for me to say or even guess where I go from here, because I never expected any of this to begin with.  I would love to have the opportunity to make this venture a full-time opportunity, but I’m not sure that is a realistic goal.  Since I have began my part-time employment, I have been promoted at my day-job and doubled the size of my family, so I’m not in the position to take a step backward to pursue a different career.

For now I intend to continue what I have been doing and for all I know new opportunities will present themselves.  I really have enjoyed the times I have traveled to cover events, and have already circled April 23rd on my calendar for a projected matchup between Anthony Ranaudo and Drew Pomeranz in Oxford, Mississippi next spring.  Not only would the matchup be great to watch, but the rivalry between these two perennial SEC powerhouses is pretty intense.
GP… Being such a passionate Brewers fan, do you find it difficult to separate your professional views from your opinions as a fan, as far as the prospects they acquire? And a follow up to that… can you give us a brief review of the Brewers system, including their top prospects?

PE… Actually I think it is the opposite.  Writing about baseball and following prospects from all teams have made me realize just how hard it is to reach the Major Leagues.  How many top prospects have we all seen labelled as can’t-miss that did indeed miss?  That is why even Stephen Strasburg isn’t a sure-thing, because so much can and will happen.

Quite often it is due to injury, but the more baseball people I talk to the more I learn about how many different things can hold a player back.  These are often referred to as character attributes, as you can have all of the talent in the world and struggle to succeed if you don’t have the aptitude to make the necessary adjustments.

As for the Brewers, it is fun to follow a team that has procured so much talent through the draft in the last five to seven years.  Ryan Braun and Prince Fielder may be the best one-two punch in baseball, and Yovani Gallardo is the best young pitcher in the game that no one has heard of.

And while there isn’t as much impact talent on the way up, there are still plenty of exciting pieces to look forward to.  Alcides Escobar is going to be given an everyday opportunity to play shortstop now that J.J. Hardy has been traded, and he should be a regular on Baseball Tonight’s Web Gems.  Mat Gamel got a good look a year ago and may be ready to make the team for good out of spring training.  General Manager Doug Melvin is talking about Jonathan Lucroy, who has drawn a ton of rave reviews in the Arizona Fall League, also making the team out of spring training, where he would split time behind the plate.  (The Brewers haven’t developed an everyday catcher from within since Mike Matheny in the 90s.)  Angel Salome gives the Brewers enviable depth at the catching spot, and Brett Lawrie’s bat may be forcing the Brewers’ hand to fast-track him to Milwaukee.

The obvious weakness is pitching, which really hurt the big-league team last year, and likely won’t be much help next year either.  Zach Braddock is a big-bodied lefty that may pitch out of the bullpen next year, as it seems as though he can’t stay healthy enough to start, and Josh Butler may provide depth at the AAA in the event of injury.  They’ll have more talent at AA next year in Amaury Rivas, Mark Rogers and Evan Anundsen, and they really have focused on arms the past two drafts, but it’s going to take a while to see those arms in Milwaukee.

The Power 50 is still alive and well at Brewerfan.net for anyone interested in learning more about the team’s top prospects.
GP… Looking back on the 2009 Draft, were there any players that you considered undervalued or “sleepers”, and if so, who were they and what sort of careers might you anticipate?
PE… The first name that pops out to me is Jonathan Walsh.  He wasn’t a sleeper in that he was a member of the Aflac All-American game the summer prior to his senior year in high school, and his commitment to Texas was considered to be very strong.  That said I think he could be a first-rounder coming out of college three years from now.  He may not stick behind the plate, but he’s a good enough overall athlete and a very good hitter who could enjoy a similar career path as Jayson Werth.  Word out of Texas is that he was better than expected in fall ball, and is going to force Augie Garrido for regular playing time in the spring as a freshman.

Scooter Gennett is similar to Walsh in that he participated in the Aflac game and is also a very good, mature hitter.  The Brewers took him in the 16th round of the draft and signed him away from Florida State for a quarter of a million dollars.

I really liked what I saw from LSU’s Louis Coleman last spring.  He pitched mostly in the upper-80s, and his delivery may fit better for the bullpen if he doesn’t make some adjustments, but he has a killer slider and commands it as well as his fastball very well.

The sixth round had quite a few players that I liked that I thought would go higher:  Matt Graham, Daniel Fields, Ruben Sierra Jr. and Chris Herrmann.  I’d add Brooks Raley to the list, but he signed for second round money.

Catcher Carlos Ramirez (eighth round), righty Chris Fetter (ninth), lefty Wes Musick (ninth) and Jared Clark (round 12) were among some of the more astute picks that signed in the top eight to 12 rounds.

In addition to Walsh, Brian Goodwin really is going to be a stellar player for the Tar Heels.  He was ranked as one of the top prep players in the nation, and had a rock solid commitment to North Carolina, but I’m surprised no one stepped up to sign him away from that.  The same goes for catcher Andrew Susac, now at Oregon State.
GP… The 2010 Draft grows nearer every day, and while the amateur season is months away from starting, can you tell us who you feel the top five players are at this stage, including a brief scouting report of each?
PE… It’s impossible not to put Bryce Harper at number one.  He has a legit 80 arm and some grade his power at 80 as well.  It’s hard to find prospects that have one perfect tool much less two.  He’s a good overall athlete and hitter, and while he runs well, he isn’t quite the blazer and overall five-tool prospect that the frequently discussed Sports Illustrated feature story makes him out to be.
I have prep righty Jameson Taillon (The Woodlands, Texas) as the second best prospect, and have suggested before that if the Nationals are looking to avoid the negotiating headaches with Harper, who in my mind isn’t a lock to go first overall anyway come next June, Taillon may very well become the first prep righty taken first overall.  He’s a tall, physical and fearless pitcher with great command of a power fastball/curveball combo.
LSU ace Anthony Ranaudo is my third best draft-eligible prospect at this point in time.  He too is a taller righty that is still adding strength to his frame and continues to get better.  His fastball can touch the mid-90s but sits in the low-90s, and dipped into the upper 80s late last year and pitched pretty well in the College World Series despite not having his best stuff.  He also throws a slider and a changeup.
I think most have those three among the top three draft-eligible prospects, with some flip-flopping Taillon and Ranaudo.  My fourth best prospect at this point in time is college lefty Chris Sale, who pitched extremely well on the Cape.  He is very tall and very projectable, although rail thin.  His fastball velocity continues to improve, and he also has a nasty slider.
Cal State Fullerton shortstop Christian Colon is my fifth-best prospect for the 2010 draft, as I really like his baseball acumen as much as his solid tools across the board.  He has performed at a high level everywhere he has played, including two stints with the National Collegiate team for the Team USA program.
My semi-sleeper to soar up and be in the conversation for the top three to five overall picks come next June is University of San Diego lefty Sammy Solis.  Solis missed most of last season and summer due to an injury not related to his arm.  He had a bulging disc in his lower back, suffered while lifting weights, and has been working hard and reportedly is at full strength, determined to show what he’s capable of.  His repertoire isn’t as well rounded as former Torero and fellow towering lefty Brian Matusz, but he is more likely to throw harder more consistently during his professional career.
GP… Regarding Bryce Harper… with so much hype surrounding him (coupled with a bit of drama), what do you anticipate we’ll see from him in the coming season?
PE… If anyone can handle the pressure, it’s Harper.  He is very confident in his abilities, yet also grounded enough to not let his confidence get the best of him.  I suspect he’ll tear up opposing juco pitchers, and the only thing that will keep him from becoming one of the first picks next June, if not the first overall pick, is his expected pricetag.
GP… There are those in the industry, including some apparent team philosophies, that seem to have the idea that selecting draft prospects from one group of players -say Collegians- yields a better long-term investment than another -say High School’ers. What is your view on this matter, and has there been any studies done (that you are aware of) that are indicative of an answer -one way or the other?
PE…I actually have conducted a few loose studies at Brewerfan.net.  I know Baseball America has done the same, as have others.  I’ll provide those links for you.
My loose studies have shown that taking college players is a safer way to go in trying to procure future big-leaguers.  Not only are they safer bets, but they are also more likely to ascend to the upper levels of a team’s farm system, giving them more value in trade earlier in their professional careers.  High school players definitely have the higher risk to not only flame out completely, but to do so earlier in their careers.

However, many believe the gap between high school and college pitchers is greater than it actually is.  College hitters, at least in the focus years of my studies, had a much greater chance at succeeding than high school hitters.
Hitters from both levels taken in the first round did seem to have a much higher rate of success than pitchers from both levels, so when all things are even go with the bat.  However, the second round seems to be a good round to find good arms, possibly better than the more heralded ones selected in the first round.
And it does seem as though the best hitters are more likely to come in the first round, and early rounds, overall.  Pitchers seem to offer more upside when it comes to finding diamonds in the rough in the later rounds.
One of my biggest points of contention in all of my work is that it doesn’t matter how or where you take a player, even if you’re passing on players that are generally considered to be better prospects, but who you take.

For example, it wouldn’t be a big deal that the Pirates passed on Matt Wieters in the 2007 draft had they taken someone like Madison Bumgarner or Jason Heyward.  For the sake of their organization and their fans, I hope they took the right player this past year in Tony Sanchez, a player most didn’t think would be taken in the first half of the first round, much less the fourth overall pick.
Which leads me to say that if you have too strong of a preference one way or the other, you’re going to miss out on some really good players.  If you go college all of the way and make it a point not to draft prep pitchers In round one, you may miss out on the next Roy Halladay, Chris Carpenter or CC Sabathia.

GP…On behalf of all of us here at Draft America, I’d like to thank Patrick for his time, and ask that our readers check out his efforts at 5ToolTalk.com.

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