Interview with Prospect Writer and Minnesota Twins fan John Sickels
Minnesota Twins fan and prospect writer John Sickels sits down to talk with Puckett’s Pond
Seemingly, a number of American League Central team fans have become fairly major national writers over the years, and Minnesota Twins fan John Sickels was one of the first writers to take baseball prospects to a more “general” audience with his “Down on the Farm” column with ESPN. He’s now the Executive Editor and writer for SBNation’s Minor League Ball blog.
John took the time to talk with Puckett’s Pond about his writing career and his Twins fandom, along with a bit on the Minnesota Twins farm system:
Puckett’s Pond: You’ve had a fairly interesting career path, working with Bill James, working with ESPN, going at it independently, and now working with SB Nation for a while. What first got you into writing/covering the game, and writing about prospects specifically?
John Sickels: I was a graduate student in history in 1993 at the University of Kansas. One day, Bill James walked into the luggage store where my wife was working. She recognized him and mentioned that her husband would love to work for him. He said “if he’s serious have him call me” and gave her his business card. I called him, we had lunch, and he hired me to help him write his Player Ratings Books. I had been studying minor league prospects since I was in junior high so it was a natural fit. I stayed in grad school for a few more years but eventually I realized that baseball was more fun. The internet was just getting started in 1996 and the way was open. I was in the right place at the right time and I married the right person. Mostly, it was good luck that I found my niche.
Puckett’s Pond: You’ve often mentioned your Twins fandom in your writing over the years. What affect do you think covering the totality of the game over the years has had on your fandom?
John Sickels: I used to be a complete fanatic Twins fan and unhealthily emotionally invested in the team, unable to sleep during the pennant races in 1987 and 1991 for example. Over the years it has become my profession rather than my hobby and the emotional connection has cooled. I’ll always be a Twins fan but I can be more objective about it now. When they do well, I’m happy, but when the team struggles, I don’t get upset.
Puckett’s Pond: As far as prospecting goes, when you’re watching prospects, what is the type of player you feel most comfortable giving a confident review on? (for instance, fastball-dominant lefty pitchers or three-true-outcome corner guys)
John Sickels: Pitchers. I find it much easier to analyze pitchers than hitters, both from a sabermetric standpoint and from a more subjective, scouting standpoint. I find it very difficult to properly analyze hitting mechanics for example. Pitchers are much easier, the strengths and weaknesses of their mechanics are easier for me to understand, the stats are more straightforward, and I’ve developed good objective and subjective methods over the years for picking out pitching sleepers. This is much less true for hitters. From talking with other analysts and people in the industry, this seems like a common experience.
Puckett’s Pond: You experienced a very public experience of post-concussive issues a couple years ago. Has this changed your writing schedule, travel schedule, or your long-term intentions with the Minor League Ball site?
John Sickels: The concussion really changed my life. The acute and nearly constant symptoms lasted for about five months and even after that it was close to a year before they completely went away. Even now, I still feel the effects…I used to have instant recall memory and while my memory is still good, it isn’t as good as it was before the concussion. My stamina to write isn’t what it used to be either. I tire more easily and can’t write as much or as long. Part of this may be age, I’m 49 now and I’ve been doing this for 21 years, but there was a clear dividing line between before the concussion and after. My wife says I am more likely to make verbal grammatical mistakes or mix up my words while speaking than I was before the concussion. From my own experience, it is no wonder that players who suffer multiple concussive episodes (or even a single serious concussion) are often not the same as they were before, even after they have been medically cleared to play again.
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Puckett’s Pond: On Twins prospects specifically, many know the big names – Gordon, Romero, Gonsalves – but who are some of the guys who have caught your attention that perhaps aren’t even on your top 20 that you’d put a personal bet on “making it” over a typical C+/C guy?
John Sickels: He was in my top 20 but Mitch Garver sure seems like someone who could make a difference in the majors once he gets a chance. Right-hander Griffin Jax has impressive potential, as does Jordan Balazovic although he’ll need a lot more time. Jax could be in the majors in two years. Akil Baddoo intrigues me a lot but he’s years away as well.
Puckett’s Pond: In general, it would appear that the Twins have improved the depth of their system, although there’s perhaps not the same top-level guys as a Braves or Yankees system. Where do you see the Twins minor league system right now overall?
John Sickels: I can answer this better in about three weeks once I’ve completed my mid-season reviews, but I think the system is above-average.
Next: Fernando Romero Scouting Report
We would like to thank John for taking the time to talk with Puckett’s Pond, and encourage readers to check out his Mid-Season Review on his offseason Twins top 20 list that he posted on Wednesday.
We will be looking for other great Twins fans around the game for pieces just like this. Who would you like to see interviewed? Comment below!