MMO Exclusive: Prospect Expert Keith Law, Part 1

During the Major League Baseball Winter Meetings last week, I had the chance to talk to ESPN analyst and senior writer Keith Law.

Law is regarded as one of the top player evaluation experts in baseball, whether it’s covering transactions or prospects.

The Long Island native previously worked for Baseball Prospectus, and also spent time in the front office with the Toronto Blue Jays.

Law’s book, Smart Baseball, came out in 2017 and is still currently Amazon’s No. 1 bestseller in Business Facility Management. I would highly recommend the book, it’s an approachable look into how baseball is currently evaluated correctly, and incorrectly.

MMO First off, what are your thoughts on the Mets and Mariners trade? Were you surprised to hear Jared Kelenic’s name involved?

Law – I wasn’t surprised because, my understanding was that Brodie (Van Wagenen) got the job because he thought the Mets could win now, with a team I don’t is particularly well built to win now. Once you’ve made that promise, you kind of have to put everyone on the table. I think it’s a really dumb deal for the Mets, it’s not just a bad deal because there are ways this could work out. Edwin Diaz could repeat is performance from last season, and maybe age doesn’t hit Robinson Cano just yet after a strong second half.

I think it’s a dumb deal given the rest of the Mets roster and the extreme undervaluing of two of their top prospects, they did not maximize the value of Jarred Kelenic and Justin Dunn. If they essentially went to teams saying we will give you Dunn and Kelenic, what will you give us? They could’ve done a lot better than a soon-to-be 36-year-old not second baseman and a very good reliever, knowing that relievers are extremely volatile.

Jarred Kelenic/Photo by Ed Delany, MMO

MMO – Does the Mets getting say J.T. Realmuto, Andrew Miller and another player change your perception of the deal?

Law – No, because they still didn’t maximize the value of their two best prospects. I think Kelenic has a very good chance to be a superstar and Dunn could be a No. 3 starter or better. If you decided your trading those two, you need to get better, a lot better. What it might do, is mitigate – if they were to add other significant pieces – the short-term impact of the deal. And it could mitigate fan disappointment, if you do get a playoff appearance out of it this year, it will look better.

The problem the Mets are running into, is the three teams ahead of them in the NL East are still ahead of them. The Nationals are likely going to add a second baseman and the Phillies might add one of the top two free agents (Manny Machado, Bryce Harper). I’m not sure what the Braves are going to do, but of course they won the division last year and already made a significant add in Josh Donaldson.

Do the Mets continue to add? And do they add more than the teams ahead of them. That will be tough because they already traded two of their best prospects, now you can’t go out and make a higher impact deal.

MMO – So you had Kelenic and Dunn as your top two Mets prospects instead of Andres Gimenez and Peter Alonso?

Law – Want to make it clear I’m only referring to my own rankings, because people say well “that’s not what Baseball America said.” I don’t want to denigrate Baseball America, but I see the players and I rank them myself, so of course I’m going to use my own rankings.

I also talk to a lot of people in the industry and I believe that my rankings better reflect the industry view. A lot of people in the industry – myself included – question whether Peter Alonso can play first base. I think a lot of people in the industry – myself included again – question whether Andres Gimenez‘s bat is really going to have much impact. He’s a big leaguer for sure, but his ceiling is quite a bit lower than that of Kelenic. And I would say Dunn actually has a higher ceiling than Gimenez too, Dunn has a ton of untapped upside because he just hasn’t pitched that much for a guy that is extremely athletic.

I have not published my rankings yet, but that was definitely my top four Mets prospects (Kelenic, Dunn, Alonso, Gimenez) and you can probably add Ronny Mauricio to give you the top five. I was going to have Kelenic No. 1 and Dunn No. 2.

MMO – You haven’t released your top 100 yet, but where would say Kelenic and Dunn rank?

Law – Kelenic was No. 46 in my midseason update, but the process for the midseason list is nowhere near as extensive as the full 100 for the start of the season. I’m going to guess that Kelenic ends up somewhere in the 20-40 range, I had seen him in spring and loved him. Then the reports on him from pro ball were extremely positive, leading some pro scouts to wonder why he wasn’t the No. 2 pick (he was picked 6th).

Dunn is probably somewhere closer to the back of the 100, probably in the 70-90 range. Dunn was on my list in 2016, then after a poor 2017 he fell off, but answered a lot of the questions scouts had about him. The reports were glowing on him this year – and we still favor athletes as an industry though different than the way we did like 10 years ago – but that still gives him a far amount of industry value. Good makeup kid with a tremendous arm and super athletic, that’s the type of player that teams like to bid high on.

MMO – Speaking of athletes, the Mets have targeted them recently with high picks and top-end money wise in international free agency. So given that, would you say the Mets system has high upside guys despite a lack of depth in the system?

Law – I actually think the Mets have some depth in their system. They were clearly a top 10 system for me before the trade, not anymore of course. I think Van Wagenen and ownership have decided they would rather win more games over the next two years than build toward a consistent winner.

I do agree with the part of your statement where you said they’ve stockpiled athletes. I think that Marc Tramuta and Tommy Tanous have profiled a particular group of players that they like to go after with their first couple of picks and it has re-emphasized athleticism. And in a really positive way, they aren’t getting really raw or crude athletes, they’ve done a good job of getting the right guys.

Simeon Woods-Richardson (Mets 2nd rounder in 2018) by the way is a guy I didn’t have great reports on from the spring, then he comes out to play pro ball and stops playing shortstop. He almost immediately blossoms. He is throwing harder, he’s throwing a better breaking ball and he’s throwing better strikes before the Mets even got to do much with him. That’s a credit to their scouting system, and another thing that can happen when you draft great athletes.

MMO – What are your thoughts on Van Wagenen saying he wants to see Alonso as the Mets Opening Day first baseman? And your thoughts on the Mets not maneuvering around extra year of control deadline?

Law – That’s good, I think that teams trying to contend should stop worrying about gaining that extra year of control. Specially considering that he’s older, Alonso was a college pick. Now, you wouldn’t do that with a younger guy like Vladimir Guerrero Jr. or Fernando Tatis Jr., the financial case to gain a year of control is much much stronger.

With a college player when you’re trying to compete and you think he’s your guy, then he should be the OD first baseman. But I heard that statement from Van Wagenen, and wanted to say, “Have you seen Peter Alonso play first base?”

It is not good right now, its not to say it would never get better, but it’s not just good. My personal opinion is that it’s never going to be average, and simply saying you’re going to give him that job now before spring training, is saying the quiet part out loud. Right, you can absolutely think that or internally say we’d like him to be our OD first baseman, but there’s no benefit to saying that now. You say we really believe in Peter and he will get every opportunity to earn the job in ST, but to phrase it that way was putting too much on the kid.

And by the way, destroying any value that Dominic Smith might have had. You just told the whole industry that “we’re out on him.”

MMO – Obviously you’ve been bullish on Smith in the past, so given what they said about Alonso, what do you do with him know?

Law – You essentially have two options, trade him or do nothing. I would trade him. If you do nothing, he’s probably not going to play unless Alonso gets hurt or stinks. There’s no more opportunities for Smith. He’s only had a half of season of MLB at-bats – now they haven’t been good – but they also haven’t come with consistent playing time over a year stretch and while also playing outfield.

They already tried this with him in high school, they played him at all kinds of positions. He can really throw, but he’s really only a first baseman. I still think he’s a good defensive first baseman. I’ve joked that if you could take Smith’s defense and Alonso’s offensive production, then you would have one helluva player.

I think ultimately you have to trade him because barring an injury to Alonso he’s not going to play and you’re simply hurting his trade value even more. Unfortunately, they’ve kind of gutted his value with these statements. My fear would be that Smith becomes a second or third piece in a trade, whereas there was a point not so long ago that he could’ve probably headlined a trade.

MMO – What would you see the value of Amed Rosario right now (at time was included in potential J.T. Realmuto trade) given his immediate MLB struggles though he finished well last season?

Law – He’s still very young and he did start to perform better as the season went on last year. I think there are a few specific things that he can do to continue that improvement, there were some little things he did with his swing and saw the results in the second half.

I think Rosario needs to get stronger too. He’s got electric bat speed, but the quality of contact so far has not matched that and I think a lot of that has to do with hand/wrist strength. The frame is there to get stronger. I believe people in the industry still see him as an everyday shortstop with quite a bit of offensive upside.

If the Mets were to trade him now, again my fear would be they would be getting cents on the dollar because they are trading him at the wrong point. In this case, it would be different than Smith, it would be more of that Rosario has yet to reach much of his potential. The potential is there, but he hasn’t performed well and his value has likely taken a small hit.

Even if they think Gimenez can be the long-term shortstop they should keep Rosario for a year. Gimenez isn’t ready yet, let Rosario go out and continue to play better and he will have more trade value. I had him No. 1 on my MLB prospect list, and didn’t have a single person in the industry tell me no. These guys don’t fail often – sometimes, but no often – and I don’t think Rosario is going to fail.

MMO – Would trading Rosario for Realmuto be another example of the Mets undervaluing their young player?

Law – Absolutely, I think so. Realmuto is a fine player, but why not simply sign Wilson Ramos? Or Yasmani Grandal? I don’t see huge difference between these guys. Grandal had a terrible October and I don’t terribly concern myself with the optics, but the optics of signing him right now are probably not great. But you’re correct, you would be better off signing Grandal or Ramos than trading for Realmuto, yes. And that’s not a Mets specific answer, I would give that answer for any team.

Ramos was very good last year, by all accounts he’s also a great kid and good in the clubhouse too. I would worry that the Mets would be selling low on Rosario in this situation while also creating a short-term void.

MMO – Do you think that trading Conforto or Nimmo for Realmuto would be undervaluing them as well?

Law – I love Conforto, always been a Conforto guy and I think he’s going to be a star. I’ve made some comments about worries with Chili Davis in his last two stops. I think they were more about communication than actual mechanics, I worry about him working with the Mets guys in the analytics department. Conforto has shown power already and he now seems to have a healthy shoulder. This is a guy that can hit .300 with 20 plus homers and a huge on-base percentage. There’s no way I’m trading that guy, he’s a centerpiece guy. He makes almost no money at this point, you build around him.

Nimmo, my concern with him is that up until this year he never did much against lefties. They platooned him early, so he didn’t get a ton of chances necessarily, but that’s always been a weakness in his game. If you told me Nimmo was the price of getting an elite player back in return, I wouldn’t love it but you’re going to pay something to get something.

I’m not sure I would trade Nimmo for Realmuto necessarily, because again, you have comparable options available in free agency. It would just cost you money, you wouldn’t have to give up prospects or in Nimmo’s case – a very good major league player. Even if Nimmo never hits lefties, what he does against righties is really valuable, he’s a 2-3-4 win player just in what he does against righties.

Trading from a strength is one thing, maybe the Mets said hey we have David Peterson and Anthony Kay so we feel comfortable dealing Dunn. Okay, that’s fine, but if you deal Nimmo or Conforto who is going to replace them? Now you have to go sign somebody else.

Follow Keith on Twitter @keithlaw

About Michael Mayer 1219 Articles
Lifelong Mets fan born in 1987 meaning I still haven't witnessed a championship. Lived in Maine my entire life so I get my Mets fix from MLB.tv and MiLB.tv. Still playing and coaching baseball.Follow me on twitter @mikemayermmo