The Mailbag is a weekly feature of Diamond Futures where we try to answer your questions…rather than ours. If you would like to submit a question, you may do so in one of two ways: 1) Post a comment at the end of the weekly ‘Mailbag’ article or 2) Email the question to email@example.com.
We have two questions this week. The first is from BradR who asks:
“Do you see Manny Pina or Derek Norris being the better long-term player?”
Great question as this speaks to the purpose of the ‘Hots & Nots’ list we post each week. Pina has made the list twice this year and headed the list once. Perhaps no player in Minor League baseball has been ‘hotter’ than Pina this season. When we make up the list each week we are predominantly looking for three things: 1) Players whose raw numbers over the last two weeks make you take notice, 2) Players who have legitimate prospect status (in other words, a 24yo knocking the cover off the ball in Ft. Wayne doesn’t really mean much) and 3) Things that will make interesting story lines.
Coming into the season, as a 21yo in AA, Pina was a legitimate catching prospect, but was considered more of the prototypical backup/defensive replacement. Although always young for his league, in four previous seasons Pina had not posted an OPS higher than .677 and that was in 2008 between the California League (CAL) and the Texas League (TXL)—two notorious hitter’s havens. Keep in mind Pina was signed out of Venezuela as a 17yo and the Rangers believed in him enough that even as a 165lb 18yo, he made his professional debut the following season in the Arizona League (AZL). It wasn’t as if he wasn’t a legitimate prospect coming into the year, as his age adjusted CAL season in 2008 ranked him as the league’s 39th best offensive prospect. We had him as the Ranger’s 40th best prospect overall, but remember the Rangers have the deepest system in all of baseball. But given all of that, his performance to open the season has been extremely surprising. He has gone from a 5’11, 165lb, 18yo to a 5’11, 185lb, 21yo and a catcher’s offensive skill set is often the last thing to develop, but he had hit only 4 HRs in his first 714 professional ABs and has 5 HRs in 100 ABs already this year. While he has cooled a bit lately, he is still posting a 1.020 OPS so far on the season.
Derek Norris’ performance, on the other hand, is anything but surprising. He was a 4th round pick in 2007, was one of the youngest players in the New York-Penn (NYP) League last season—yet posted a .907 OPS, and as a converted 3Bmen has a cannon-like arm that led the NYP in throwing out runners. Coming into the season, we had him ranked as a Top 100 prospect.
As to the question of which will be the better long-term prospect, I think they both have strong chances of playing in the Majors at some point. Pina is currently behind Saltalamacchia, Teagarden and Ramirez in the Rangers organization and so is going to need some players moved, while Norris is unquestionably the best Catching prospect in the National’s system. I believe more in Norris’ bat and think that he will learn to block the ball better and call a better game as he advances. When you combine that with his tremendous arm-strength, I think his defense ends up MLB average. I believe more in Pina’s defense and he is, after all, two level’s closer to the Major Leagues. If I redid the Top 100 list right now Norris would be on it and Pina would still likely not. However, if Pina is able to demonstrate this season that he can hit, say he ends the year with an OPS higher than .850, Pina will be regarded as one of the Minor’s top catching prospects and would likely be my choice. But the jury is still out.
Our other question this week comes from JoshB:
“What is your background and do you see all of the players that you write about?”
I have been meaning to answer this question in a post, so now is as good as time as any. We will use this topic as this week’s Diamond Futures Retrospective which you will find in the article below.
That’s all from the mailbag this week, so if you’d like to see one of your questions answered, just drop us a comment at the end of this post.