Friday, November 21, 2008

The Minnesota Underground: Seth Stohs' Prospect Handbook Review

If you have spent any amount of time trolling the Intertubes for Twins blogs, you are probably aware that Seth Stohs, the purveyor of the seminal Twins website, has assembled a compilation of the entire Twins organizations’ cadre of minor leaguers.  When he made his announcement to the Twins blogosphere writers early on, I was immediately infatuated.  Music lovers are enthralled by the no-name bands that perform in no-name bars, listening to them long before there is ever a record deal.  Technophiles love gadgets that haven’t even hit the mainstream markets, reading all about the forthcoming iPhones months in advance of their release and attempting to be an early adapter.  In this fashion, baseball fans are captivated by minor leaguers.  Prospects, much like a new band or touch-interface gizmo, represents the future.


In his inaugural edition of his Prospect Handbook (2009) Stohs delivers detailed accounts of players, providing background that goes beyond the nuts-and-bolts of statistics.  Unlike many of the diatribes found here at Over the Baggy expounding on a strikeout rate to gauge a player’s ebb and flow in the Twins’ minor league system, Stohs has frequently admitted in various forums that statistics aren’t necessarily the tell-all when it comes to prospects.  True to his word, this manual's premise hones in less on those numbers than it does on the player’s recent development.  The handbook covers the entire system from Allen (comma Michael) to Yersich (comma Greg), providing insight for players not only on Baseball America’s radar, such as Ben Revere and Aaron Hicks, but also those players that only their immediate families are familiar with. 
Though the tendency might be to flip to the top prospects or the dividends of the Johan Santana trade, the book is filled with enough tidbits of the lesser known players to capture an average fan's attention.  For example, Czech Republic native Jakub Hajtmar was given 85 at-bats with the Gulf Coast League Twins, twenty of which resulted in strikeouts.  Stohs gave him precisely 38 words but the last six might be the most telling: "In October, the Twins released Hajtmar."  Blink and you would have missed the Hajtmar Experience.  On the other hand, the Twins also have two left-handed pitchers in the lower ranks, both of the last name Lobanov, both hailing from Moscow and both with a good likelihood of coming back in 2009.  This begats more questions.  Such as just exactly how much are the Twins budgeting on scouting Eastern Europe?  Can a former Communist really throw a curveball? 
Similar to his website that avoids overly negative reports, the Handbook too veers away from highlighting obvious transgressions in a blunt manner.  Stohs has a knack of isolating any potential upside.  Whereas a standard write up from Baseball Prospectus might blatantly state that a former first round draft pick Matt Moses should have “failure” tattooed on his forehead, Stohs provides evidence that there were some flickers progress prior to drawing the conclusion that there is zero chance of seeing Moses in the Metrodome besides as a paying customer.  Although some experts have begun to question centerfield prospect Joe Benson’s status, Stohs peppers his analysis with silver-lined words, noting that Benson is still young for the Midwest League dispite his disappointing season and should expect to rebound in the Florida State League. 


Stohs has numerous invaluable sources in a myraid of levels throughout the organization and uses them to help lend credence to his analysis.  One source told him that Ben Revere resembled Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim’s Howie Kendrick - a glowing review in any language.   Likewise, emerging talent Mike McCardell, a right-handed pitcher at Beloit, was given a rave review by a scout from another organization, suggesting that McCardell has enough stuff and "moxie" to become a major league starter.  It is the addition of these nuggets packed within the write-ups that help mentally project the raw statistics. 


An fan avid of ranking prospects, Stohs adds the rankings from other notable bloggers like Twinkie Town's Roger Dehring, Taylor's Twins Talk's Josh Taylor and Josh's Thought's Josh Johnson among others.  This bonus feature provides a comparison from across the Twins community, a sort of wisdom-of-the-crowd approach to the top prospects.  Naturally, the Top 40 from is included though Stohs provides Sleeper Watch and a brief description to a handful of players that didn't perform well enough to crack the Top 40 but have the tools to possibly contribute at the Major League level.
There is room for improvement as the Handbook looks towards its second edition in 2010, such as supply more league-oriented context (what do the numbers mean in comparison to the league average?) and projections (provide a specific ETA, if any?), but the initial offering to what should be an annual update is strong.  In all, this is an very useful collection of analysis that should adorn any Twins fan coffee table or desktop for quick reference on anyone in the system. 

For further information on how to order or purchase a copy of the Seth Speak's Twins Prospect Handbook (2009), please visit