I have been a huge fan of Andrew Stoeten, going back to his work with the blog Drunk Jays Fans (which inspired me to start this humble blog a couple of years ago), and his latest gigs with his own blog (the excellent Andrewstoeten.com), and the National Post.
I have never met the man, but I suspect I would enjoy watching a ballgame and having an adult beverage with him. He's a guy of strong opinions, but they're generally well informed. Because of a comment about Blue Jays prospect Devon Travis made by ESPN's Keith Law, Stoeten and I got into a debate on Sunday night that turned into a bit of a street fight, with others joining in to attack my (supposed) position, while still others rushed in to defend me with equal veracity.
Here's Laws's comment about Travis that started it all:
Had a great year but as you said, he's old for where he played, and he's an undersized guy without tools. Not a prospect for me, nor for any of the scouts I talked to who'd seen him.
We're all entitled to our opinions, and I greatly enjoy Law's work as well, but I found this one to be cheap, weak, and dismissive, and I've come to expect better from him. And this is what I said in response to a tweep who pointed out that Blue Jays radio guy Mike Wilner had brought up Law's comments on The Fan 590 Sunday afternoon. I also said that Law tends to form an opinion about a prospect, and rarely changes it: case in point, Aaron Sanchez. Law saw Sanchez get tonged in a Florida State League start in 2013, and that brief outing has formed Law's evaluation of him to this point. Law questions Sanchez's delivery, even though the majority of people in the prospect business rave about the ease and looseness of it, and how the ball seems to explode out of his hand. Granted, Sanchez had huge command issues in the minors, and his success last year can be attributed as much to the Blue Jays cutting his repertoire in half, as opposed to any adjustments to his mechanics. At the same time, his view seems to be out of step with the majority's. But that's his opinion, and it's my right to point out what I perceive to be the flaw in it.
So, Law is certainly entitled to his views about Travis, even though it doesn't sound like he has seen much (if any) of him live. According to Baseball Reference, the average age of an Eastern League player last season was 24.7, meaning that the then-23 year old Travis was below the league mean. Maybe 23 is a bit old for a prospect, but not necessarily the EL, and maybe not for a college grad who has been deliberately moved up one rung of the system's ladder at a time (and hit at every one of them). But that's beside the point, and was not what I had originally said.
Those who were critical of me questioned Travis' future value, and they have every right to do that. Since he's a prospect, there's no guarantee that he will even stick in the majors, let alone become at least a league-average player. Stoeten suggested, though, that I was critical of Law because of my feelings about Travis. And here's the thing: at no point during this debate, on this blog, or anywhere else where my writing appears, have I ever said that Travis is a top prospect. Even though BA labelled him the top prospect in a weak Tigers' system prior to the Anthony Gose trade, I didn't include him in my Blue Jays Top 10 prospects in November. I have never said that he's an all-star in the making, and I don't even see him making the team this spring unless he has a knockout time at the plate that leaves the club no choice but to head north with him..
I am not a scout, and will never pretend to be one. A scout can look at a kid at 18 and project whether or not they can eventually play. They are wrong far more often than they are right, but they have the skills to project a player several years in advance. They can look past mechanical issues (see high schooler Daniel Norris), and see the diamond in the rough. I, for my part, have a list of things I look for when I watch a prospect, and that's a post for another time. My evaluations of Blue Jays prospects come from chiefly what others have said and/or written about them over several seasons, a bit of stats-based scouting (you have to consider all data, in my opinion), and my own impressions, either from seeing them play live, or from milb.tv. While I admit to never having seen him play live, the thing I like about Devon Travis is that he has hit everywhere he has played. I do not see him as a top prospect, but I do think he would nicely fill what has been a bit of a black hole for the Blue Jays for some time. The scouting report on him suggests that he does not have one outstanding tool, but his bat will play, and that's huge in this runs-starved era. But, again, this was not my point.
That tweeps, Stoeten included, continued to be critical of me ignored the fact that at no point had I said anything about Travis' projection is both amusing and bewildering. Are we so quick to jump on others that we give the facts of the situation a pass, so that we can continue the argument, and prove that we have the superior position? I was being attacked for positions I hadn't even taken. My original (and only) point was that Law sometimes makes his evaluations upon the slimmest of facts, and tends to stick with them. Law sees a great many players from high schoolers to college players to minor league prospects. It's probably next to impossible to have a thick database on each and every one of them. I will admit that sometimes I have the odd mental gap and/or lapse about a Blue Jays prospect, especially those outside of my Top 20. We are all entitled to our opinions; I try to make sure mine is as informed as it can be. Law's opinion of Travis, in my opinion, is a bit lazy, and flies in the face of what many others have said. At the same time, Law has more than enough of a body of work that I can live with that - and disagree with him, if I so choose.
To get back to Mr Stoeten, who chided me for my views on Law, and helped ignite a debate that raged on Twitter as Tom Brady marched the Patriots down the field for what turned out to be, thanks to what some called questionable play calling (the late, great Earl Weaver would call it, "A move that didn't work"), the winning Super Bowl touchdown: just as I think Law is capable of better, so is he. I admit that I can mis-read and misinterpret the comments of others as easily as the next person. As a close friend and mentor entered the final hours of his losing battle with cancer a week ago, I misread a text from my son that said the friend was in critical condition, thinking that it meant he was in the hospital (he wasn't; he passed peacefully at home, surrounded by his family), and that set off a series of unfortunate events among my friends and family that I deeply regret. Stoeten is a great writer, offering go-to scoops and insights into the Blue Jays. He missed the point of my original rebuttal completely, and helped launch a tidal wave of tweets that swept many of us, chief among them me, away. I'm a big boy, and more than capable of handling criticism, but we all have a responsibility for our comments. Stoeten may not have been responsible for the words of others, but he did have one to be certain of the ground he was occupying.
It all kind of reminded me of a schoolyard melee, something I'm far more acquainted with than Devon Travis.
No harm, no foul, Andrew. I'm still a big fan. I will leave the last words to someone else, however:
@ @ I like reading Keith but like many of us he doesn't like to admit mistakes. Consensus is he's wrong on Travis