19 Questions with Steve Holley
I ventured into sports journalism in the spring of 2000. Around that time, I met David Marran, the Sports Editor for the Kenosha Daily News in Wisconsin. Dave has had several books published on the subject of Cubs Trivia, and he ran a popular Cubs news site through Rivals.com so that’s how we me met. At the time, Rivals.com covered not only college sports, but the NFL and of course, Major League Baseball. I joined Scout.com a few years later when they managed to head up a group of former Rivals’ baseball editors to publish several of their team sites.2. What’s the day-to-day job entail? How much do you get to travel to see the teams? Which Cubs personal are the most forthcoming with information? Does Oneri Fleita run and hide whenever he sees you?
I fill the role of editor, publisher, cross-checker and reporter all rolled into one. You can add photographer to that list whenever I’m at one of the ballparks during the summer. I do a lot of traveling and have been fortunate to do some beat reporting at various parks and press boxes over the last few years, and interview many of the Cubs’ top prospects and their coaches. The teams that are a little out of my region so to speak, we usually have beat writers assigned to cover those clubs.
Most all of the Cubs’ personnel are very forthcoming, and Mr. Fleita is one of the most forthright and honest men I’ve ever spoken to. No Farm Director in baseball knows his system as thoroughly as he does.3. One of the most impressive things I find on “Inside the Ivy” are the in-depth interviews with the players. How do you go about choosing the players you’ll interview and how friendly are you with the players? Are there any specific players you’re really chummy with?
I’d like to think I’m chummy with most every person I interview. With that said, Steve Wilstein of the Associated Press once wrote that there is a very fine line between being friendly with the person you’re interviewing and being friends with that person.
As for how players are chosen for interviews, that’s a really good question. Obviously, you have to find an angle on each player and then get a read on that player before you can really dive into it. In other words, there has to be a reason for why you’d like to interview a player. If you’re lucky, that will lead to a good interview.4. The Cubs hired Tim Wilken last offseason as their new scouting director. Have you had any dealings with him and what can you tell us about him if so? Also, have you noticed any changes through the system in terms of instruction or parts of the game that are stressed since he’s come along.
I’ve talked to Tim on numerous occasions and the one thing I’ve been able to pick up on from him is that the Cubs are placing more of an emphasis on base-running since he arrived. Bob Dernier was added to the Cubs’ staff of Roving Instructors and it will be interesting to see what kind of an effect he has on Felix Pie’s base-running skills next season. Tim is one of the most down-to-earth and knowledgeable people in the industry and I suspect that’s one reason why he was just named East Coast Scout of the Year.5. What’s your reaction and those you’ve spoken to in regards to Hall of Famer Ryne Sandberg heading to Peoria to manage?
The reaction from those I’ve spoken to in and around Peoria has been very positive. The conspiracy theorists seem to believe that this is merely an audition for a future big league job with the Cubs. Whatever transpires to be the case, I hope Sandberg has a more enjoyable experience in the dugout than another Hall of Fame infielder did a few years back. I’m speaking of course of Mike Schmidt, who from my understanding spent the majority of his time in the Florida State League complaining more about post-game meals than anything else. I hope Ryno enjoys the art of managing, but most importantly, I hope he does a good job in helping to develop the young players.6. Before we breakdown the 2007 list, I wanted to ask about a pitcher that didn’t qualify because of his time spent with the big league club, Angel Guzman. It appears there’s no room for him at the major league level. Are the Cubs still very high on him and has he appeared to lose any of his “stuff” before his injury streak hit? Also, was there any hint of bitterness from him during his call-up in June where he was only used twice in a three weeks?
Angel is usually very outgoing and chatty, but it was hard to get a good read on whether he was bitter or not when I interviewed him last July after he had returned to Iowa. Would he have liked to have stayed with the big league team? Sure, but I think he understood his situation at the time. As for his stuff, he still throws pretty hard (92-94 mph) and has shown good command overall. It was encouraging to see the number of innings he logged a year ago.7. To this year’s top 50 list and the Scout.com Baseball Prospect guide that it is publishing (due to be shipped on March 1st). First, what will we find in the magazine that we can’t find at the various Scout.com team websites?
I’d say that you’ll probably find a little more opinion than what we normally showcase on the website. Because of all the rankings, we were able to feature a little more analysis in addition to the news and scouting reports we’ve picked up from the coaches.8. Now how did you go about compiling this list? How much is your opinion versus the opinion of scouts and coaches and other baseball personal? What are the criteria used to determine their rankings? How much do their stats play into it?
That’s a good question. Stats almost always play some role or another when it comes to rankings, but you have to be careful not to get a little carried away by them. The rankings are compiled based primarily on what the scouts and coaches are telling us rather than what I might feel about a certain player. As much as these players are spread out during the course of a season from town to town, it would be impossible for me or anyone else to get as good a read on them as the scouts, coaches and managers. As for criteria, a lot of factors went into this: potential, ceiling, makeup, tools, body, build, and so on.9. As for the players, did Iowa second basemen Mike Fontenot kick someone’s dog? His offensive numbers seem to suggest a player who could contribute something to the major league level but he’s been ignored by the big league club including being passed over for a spring training invite. Is he just biding his time until he can get out of the organization or is there any hope for him? Can he handle anything besides second base and is a utility role possibly still in the cards?
Fontenot is an interesting study. As you say, by looking at his career totals he has always hit well for average and generally posted solid on-base numbers. However, I know there have been some questions raised with regards to certain areas of his game, particularly his awareness. To give you an example, a couple of years ago in Omaha, he made a fine running catch over near the right field line and proceeded to toss the ball into the stands – with only two outs. As a result, the runner on third tagged and went home to score.
Also, you have to understand that the Cubs are very loyal to players drafted and signed by their scouts and Fontenot, through no fault of his own, is not one of those players. I don’t believe he’s necessarily in anyone’s doghouse and he could reasonably be a 24th or 25th man on many a club’s roster. I just don’t think it will ever be the Cubs’.10. Jose Ceda(#21) was our prize for trading Todd Walker to the Padres. He’s obviously a long way away from the majors, but how good can he become and how good is that fastball?
Ceda is a guy whom the Padres found in the middle of a rainstorm in the Dominican Republic a couple of years ago. They clocked his fastball at 99 mph and he’s not lost any of that velocity since coming over to the Cubs. Both the Cubs and Padres have likened his potential to a Lee Smith or Jose Mesa type pitcher. That might eventually persuade the Cubs to put him in a relief role, but what’s particularly encouraging is that not only does he consistently throw in the mid-90s, he’s shown quality command thus far.11. Does Billy Petrick(#17) have much of a shot of regaining the form that once made him a top prospect in the organization or have the injuries taken too much of a toll?
The early returns on Petrick are promising. He lost some velocity while pitching hurt at Daytona prior to the shoulder surgery he had in 2005, but he was throwing in the mid-90s at Boise last year. I know he had to work through some command issues upon his return last year, but he seemed to square those away. The Cubs shut him down after sending him back to Daytona, but it was just precautionary.12. You gave Brian Dopirak (#11) a pretty high ranking despite two consecutive disappointing seasons. Does it look like he’ll start in AA again and is the leg finally healed?
I spoke to Brian a few weeks ago. The leg and more specifically the fractured metatarsus (i.e. the pinky toe) in his left foot are all but completely healed. As you know, he had a second surgery performed on the bone near the tail end of the season. After speaking to him, I can tell you that he is as anxious as ever to get back on the field. I normally don’t make predictions on a player’s upcoming season, but I expect big results from him in 2007 and feel he would have had them last season if not for the injury.13. Alright now, to the top 10; Ryan Harvey[#8] seems like an enigma wrapped in a puzzle. Prodigous power (when he makes contact) along with a cannon in right. He seems to be regressing though when you look at his overall numbers but continues to get promoted through the system. What is it that you think is hampering him? And do you think the Cubs will ever think about putting him back on the pitcher’s mound as he did in high school?
Scouts have always gone gaga over Harvey and with his frame and power potential, that is to be expected. However, he cleverly disguised a mediocre .257 average at Peoria a couple of years back with 24 home runs and 100 RBIs. Last year, I think folks really began to see him for what he is at this point in his career – a power bat that either hits big or misses even bigger. I doubt he’ll ever be the kind of player that finishes near the top of any league in average and his strikeout totals show no sign of tapering off. With that said, potential being what it is, I suspect he’ll always be at or near the top of prospect rankings lists. I haven’t heard anything with regards to him going back to pitching, but will keep my ears open.14. Scott Moore (#7) seems intriguing to me. A former first round pick who displays good power and plate discipline yet looks to be blocked by Aramis Ramirez for years to come. I know he’s been trying some other positions like shortstop and the outfield. What are his chances of finding a new position and do you or anyone you talk to get a sense he could play shortstop at the major league level? If he could handle it defensively, he’d likely end up being quite a plus with the bat at that position.
Moore got some reps at second base during the 2005 Instructional League and was of course drafted as a shortstop. The Cubs preach versatility to most every player in the system and Moore is no different. With Ramirez blocking his way, he’ll almost certainly have to catch on at a new position before he’s able to have any sort of long-term major league career with the Cubs. As for plate discipline, his strikeouts totals were a little high last year, but his coaches at Double-A were quite pleased with the job he did in the second half to cut back on them. I was covering the Southern League All-Star Game last July and can tell you that he had everybody in the pressbox and clubhouses buzzing. He was clearly the cream of the crop that night.15. Eric Patterson(#4), how different is he from his brother and what can you tell us about his defense? Is he going to be able to cut it at second base or is a position change in the future?
The errors at second are obviously a concern, but I’m not reading too much into him playing center just yet and I’d wager a full month’s rent that he’ll start 2007 at second base barring an ungodly spring. To the best of my knowledge, the Cubs are not asking him to focus more on the outfield than second. Again, it all goes back to what I said earlier about the Cubs preaching versatility to their minor league players. The talk of him moving to the outfield got a lot of publicity because he is one of the top prospects in not only the Cubs system but all of baseball.
As for the difference between Eric and Corey, Eric is more outgoing and genuinely comes off happier. Subsequently, that can help lead to a more relaxed approach and better results. Also, I think Eric differs from Corey in the sense that he isn’t fixated on rushing through the farm system. The Cubs have taken a lot of heat for rushing Corey through the system, but I’ve always felt it was a two-way street. The fact is, Corey Patterson did not want to be in the minor leagues at all. To some degree, you could say that he sort of pressured the Cubs into granting him his big league debut as quickly as they did. The organization won’t make the same mistake twice, either with Patterson or Pie.16. Out of our top three pitching prospects, Donald Veal(#2), Mark Pawelek(#3), and Sean Gallagher(#5), is there much difference in their ceilings? Who can we expect in the majors first out of the group? What do each of them still have to work on to get there?
A common misperception is that Pawelek and Veal are power pitchers while Gallagher is not. In reality, this is only partly true. While Gallagher doesn’t typically throw as hard as Veal or Pawelek, he nevertheless has the ability to run his fastball up in the mid-90s.
Pawelek obviously needs to work on better strength and conditioning. He really took one on the chin for showing up to spring training out of shape last year, but this offseason he had a better idea of what is expected of him. Plus, he’s very strong mentally and will be able to block out his struggles last year and move forward. From a pitching standpoint, he spent a good bit of last season working on location.
Veal is the one person in the Cubs’ system that I’m most excited about, but he could stand to cut back on his walks. As you know, we named him our 2006 Pitcher of the Year and as good as his season was, imagine what he could do in ’07 if his strikeout to walk ratio is a shade better. He spent a good amount of time last year working on his changeup, which in the end became as effective as his fastball when it was on. He’d probably like to polish up his curveball a little more, but I sensed he was overly pleased with its progress last year.
Gallagher just needs to keep building on the momentum he’s been riding. Few players that were drafted in the 12th round progress as quickly through a farm system as he has, and he has mounds of confidence under his belt. I know that his mechanics got into a bit of a funk at West Tenn right after he was promoted there last year, but he straightened everything out once he went back to basics. I’m not going to single out Les Strode (the Cubs’ Pitching Coordinator last season), but from what I’ve heard and from what Sean has told me personally, Les and some of the coaches got a hold of him and tried to change a few things. It didn’t work out and if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.17. Felix Pie (#1) might as well be a frog in a freshman biology class for how often his game has been dissected. He seems right on the brink of the major leagues but there are definitely still question marks on his game. Will he be making his Cub debut this season and what do you think are his chances of sticking with the major league club? Do fans need to worry that he’ll be the next Corey Patterson or can he overcome his free swinging ways? (*Questions were asked before Floyd was signed and Soriano said he'd try out centerfield)
I think he’ll make his major league debut some time in ’07, yes. Whether it’s as a September call-up, a mid-season addition or even right out of Spring Training as the opening day starter in center, that remains to be seen. A lot of it will depend on how well he does in camp and also whether or not the Cubs add a free agent like Darin Erstad or Steve Finley. The longer the Cubs go without a definitive starter in center, I’d say the job is Felix’s to lose.18. Are there any hidden gems in the Cubs system that seem to be overlooked at the moment? Anyone I didn’t ask about that, that I should have? Basically, who’s the next Ryan Theriot?
I’ve been very impressed by what Sam Fuld has done to this point. I know a lot of people will point to his age, but he’s always been a solid hitter that gets on base, runs quite well and has a genuinely accurate throwing arm in center. His on-base numbers are quite impressive (in fact, he reached base safely in 33 straight games for Daytona last year) and I want to say Baseball America gave him the honor of having the best strike zone discipline in the Cubs’ system. Of course, I was also pretty high on Adam Greenberg a couple of years back and both are eerily similar in terms of size, background and the numbers they each put up this early in their careers.
From a pitching standpoint, Clay Rapada is a guy that has always intrigued me and we have him ranked very high on our list. He has that deceiving, sidearm windup and is able to get a lot of good sink on the ball. He throws on average of 88-91 and features four quality pitches (fastball, change, curve, slider) for strikes. Barring an injury, I’ll personally donate a bottle of 12-year-old scotch if he’s not pitching at Wrigley before September.19. And finally, When are those free Prospect guides coming for all our readers?
As soon as Scout.com lets me know, I’ll let you know! Seriously, you can always tell when Scout.com is picking up the hotel tab because the Bibles in each room come attached to a chain …
TCR would like to thank Steve for the insight and time he provided us and he has graciously agreed to try and answer any of your questions today (time permitting), just drop them in the comments below and he'll do his best to answer them all. Otherwise you can catch Steve's work at the website or tune in once a week once the season starts to the Daytona Cubs postgame radio show, available locally or via the Internet.