Infinitesimal.

Amir Alexander’s Infinitesimal: How a Dangerous Mathematical Theory Shaped the Modern World is less a history of math (although there is quite a bit) than a history of the people and institutions who fought a protracted philosophical battle over something we now consider a trivial bit of precalculus. The idea of infinitesimals, at the time of their development called “indivisibles,” sparked vociferous opposition from the supposedly progressive Jesuits in the 1600s, becoming part of their vendetta against Galileo, leading to banishments and other sentences against Italian mathematicians, and eventually pushing the progress of math itself from Italy out to Germany, England, and the Netherlands.

If you’ve taken calculus at any point, then you’ve encountered infinitesimals, which first appeared in the work of the Greek mathematician Archimedes (the “eureka!” guy). These mathematical quantities are so small that they can’t be measured, but their size is still not quite zero, because you can add up a quantity (or an infinity) of infinitesimals and get a concrete nonzero result. Alexander’s book tells the history of infinitesimals from the ancient Greeks through the philosophical war in Italy between the Jesuits, who opposed the concept of indivisibles as heretical, and the Jesuats, a rival religious order founded in Siena that included several mathematicians of the era who published on the theory of indivisibles, including Bonaventura Cavalieri. When the Jesuits won this battle via politicking within the Catholic hierarchy, the Jesuats were forced to disband, and the work involved in infinitesimals shifted to England, where Alexander describes a second battle, between Thomas Hobbes (yep, the Leviathan guy) and John Wallis, the latter of whom used infinitesimals and some novel work with infinite series in pushing an inductive approach to mathematics and to disprove Hobbes’ assertion that he had solved the problem of squaring the circle.

Wallis’ work with infinitesimals extended beyond the controversy with Hobbes into the immediate precursors of the calculus developed by Isaac Newton and Gottfried Leibniz, including methods of calculating the area under a curve using these infinitesimals (which Wallis described as width-less parallelograms). Alexander stops short of that work, however, choosing instead to spend the book’s 300 pages on the two philosophical battles, first in Italy and then in England, that came before infinitesimals gained acceptance in the mathematical world and well before Newton or Leibniz entered the picture. Hobbes was wrong – the ancient problem of squaring the circle, which means drawing a square using only a straightedge and compass that has the same area as that of a given circle, is insoluble because the mathematical solution requires the square root of pi, and you can’t draw that. The impossibility of this solution wasn’t proven until 1882, two hundred years after Hobbes’ death, but the philosopher was convinced he’d solved it, which allowed Wallis to tear Hobbes apart in their back-and-forth and, along with some of his own politicking, gave Wallis and the infinitesimals the victory in mathematical circles as well.

Alexander tells a good story here, but doesn’t get far enough into the math for my tastes. The best passage in the book is the description of Hobbes’ work, including the summary of the political philosophy of Leviathan, a sort of utopian autocracy where the will of the sovereign is the will of all of the people, and the sovereign thus rules by acclamation of the populace rather than heredity or divine right. (I was supposed to read Leviathan in college but found the prose excruciating and gave up, so this was all rather new to me.) But Alexander skimps on the historical importance of infinitesimals, devoting just a six-page epilogue to what happened after Wallis won the debate. You can’t have integral calculus without infinitesimals, and calculus is kind of important, but none of its early history appears here, even though there’s a direct line from Wallis to Newton. That makes Infinitesimal a truncated read, great for what it covers, but missing the final chapter.

Next up: The Collected Stories of Katherine Anne Porter, winner of the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 1966.

Klawchat 7/21/16.

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Klaw: The past is gone but something might be found to take its place: Klawchat.

Brian: Can you think of a player that has sustained the type of injury Kyle Lewis did this week and return Ed to form after rehab? Thanks,
Klaw: Off the top of my head, no. I’m afraid in this case that it takes away his chance of staying in CF, which was never a given and now might be close to zero.

Ryan: What do you think of the Cubs trade for Mike Montgomery? Theo seems to think that he is the next great left handed reliever. Your thoughts?
Klaw: I think he’s a great left-handed reliever. I also think Vogelbach had no value to the Cubs but could end up a league-average DH now that he’s in the AL. As much as we’ve all mocked his lack of position and his, uh, physique, he has very real (70 or 80) power and a decent feel to hit.

Bob: Have you had a chance to see Jorge Alfaro this year? Seems like there are some indications that his catching has improved. His offense – at least by OPS – is about as good as it’s ever been too. What do the Phils have there?
Klaw: Yep, the catching has improved, at least according to the scouts I’ve talked to. (I haven’t seen him myself.) And if he stays back there and is even just fringy with the glove he’s got a very good chance to be an above-average regular because I think he’ll be a fairly high BABIP hitter (who never walks) with power.

Brian: Have you been able to see much of Aaron Sanchez? I’m curious if his mechanics have changed sufficiently that your concerns have been mitigated. He has certainly been a delight to watch this season.
Klaw: I discussed him in the top 25 under 25. His mechanics are not very different and I’d still like to see his stride longer for his long-term health. His body, however, is very different and I think that’s the cause of his jump in performance this year.

Jack: Last week you said something like Jose De Leon doesn’t have a strikeout (or swing and miss) weapon. I’m trying to reconcile that observation with the fact that he keeps getting strikeouts. He’s been over 30% K% in both AA and AAA now. He’s got a high minors strikeout pitch that won’t translate? Can you give us some other examples of guys who generated these kinds of strikeout totals in the high minors who couldn’t translate any of that success to MLB?
Klaw: History is littered with guys who had adequate K rates in the minors and couldn’t hold it in the majors. Sean Manaea punched out 146 in 121 innings in his first year in pro ball, but that hasn’t held up. I like De Leon as a prospect but see a limited ceiling because he lacks that out pitch – and you’re not telling me he has an out pitch, or what it is, but are just pointing to a stat line.

Eric: Is it time to move Jake Thompson to the big leagues? Doing really well in AAA
Klaw: I assume he’ll be up shortly. Another guy with good feel to pitch but probably lacking that swing-and-miss weapon.

Von Hayes: Hi Keith, do you believe Yoan Moncada will start next season in the big leagues? Also, what is your major league projection for Bobby Bradley? Can he be similar in production to Chris Carter?
Klaw: I don’t think Moncada will be in the big leagues to start next year nor should he be. Carter is a good comp for Bradley’s ceiling although I don’t think Bradley has that kind of present raw power – you’re projecting on it quite a bit there. I saw Bradley again the other day and his recognition is really poor.

Aaron C.: A’s SS Marcus Semien has worked hard to improve from a horrific defensive player to merely a below-average one. In addition, he’s enjoyed a nice HR spike in his age 25 season. Are these sustainable gains or — to his bat — is he still the same hitter (.307 OBP in 2016) that he’s always been with a sprinkling of fluky power?
Klaw: The defensive gains could be real – we’ve seen a lot of guys improve at the big-league level on defense because they’re getting good coaching for the first time. But the power looks like a stone fluke.

John: Why is Julio Teheran constanly on the trade rumor despite that his GM asserts he won’t be traded.
Klaw: Because writers need to eat.

Alan: I know you’ve said that Atlanta shouldn’t deal Teheran. What am I missing? He’s a pitcher who could fall apart at any point, they won’t be good for a couple years, and he could bring back the type of impact hitter they need. I know he’s cheap, but it seems shortsighted for them to keep him.
Klaw: I don’t agree with the premise. He could fall apart at any point only in the sense that any pitcher could – I don’t see any particular reason why he would. And I don’t know that he brings back the impact hitter they need, not by himself; he’s not getting you Benintendi, for example. He’s good, not great, probably still improving but not as good as his ERA might imply. And I think they need him to be respectable next year in their first year at the Big Con.

Alex: Dakota Hudson seems to have everything a front of the rotation starter needs- do you believe he has that high of a ceiling?
Klaw: He has nothing a front of the rotation starter needs. I’m not even 100% sold he’s a starter, given the delivery. I believe he should start as long as he’s able, because there’s a good chance he’s a mid-rotation guy, but front of the rotation? Top 20 in baseball? I don’t see that at all.

Tony: I’m traveling to Nashville for work in two weeks and staying at the Gaylord Opryland Resort. How effed am I with regards to doing anything interesting without having to spend $30+ for a cab? Based on an old review of yours I stumbled on when looking for restaurant recommendations, it seems like I’m pretty effed
Klaw: Yeah, pretty much. Or rent a car. Might be cheaper. Nashville’s a wonderful city, but the Gaylord is somewhere in the state of Franklin.

Max G.: While I agree with you that the Astros should move Correa to third and put Bregman at short, It isn’t going to happen. Do you think Bregman could handle CF?
Klaw: No. I think he could handle 3b or 2b but really right now he is their best SS option, and they’re going to have to have that conversation with Correa this winter.

Jon: Triston McKensie keeps trucking along with a sub 1.00 ERA. Have you heard anything about his stuff? Making a push to be a top 100 prospect over the winter?
Klaw: Heard he’s the most promising of all the arms on that MV roster but it’s still a lot of projection (meaning stuff to come in the future rather than present).

Eric: I am a fan of the Phillies selling high on their overachiever bullpen guys Gomez, Nerud and maybe Hernandez. But when is the line between getting value for them and holding onto a few so your bullpen isn’t completely decimated? Thanks!
Klaw: Neris is the one to keep, as he’s younger and costs nothing. The other two, ship ’em out, then start trying other arms from within the system to fill the middle relief roles and see who can handle it. Every system has failed starters who could at least find value in the bullpen – even so-so starters like Pinto, Lively, Pivetta could break into the majors in relief, with an eye toward maybe sliding one or more into the rotation next year.

Rickey: What is Ryon Healy’s ceiling and what are reasonable offensive and defensive expectations for A’s fans excited by his first week in Oakland?
Klaw: I think bench guy/below average regular.

Kraig: What is the difference between DJ Peterson this year and last year? His numbers this year are dramatically better.
Klaw: Repeated AA, and wasn’t even that great there. Now he’s in the PCL, which is full of hitters parks, with a .426 BABIP (including HR). You tell me.

Tom: How good is Yulieski Gurriel?
Klaw: I saw him in 2013 and he was awful – out of shape, moving slow, appeared not to have a position. But scouts who saw him last winter and execs who saw him work out this past month raved – body in shape, quick twitch returned, bat speed better, actions in the field better. So he might be a star today who turns into a bench guy by the end of the deal (when he’ll be at least 37).

Munchkin: Dom Smith: are his weight and body type concerning? Some people wonder if that might affect his health, flexibility and durability in the future, while others think that doesn’t matter as long as he keep hitting.
Klaw: I think he’s going to have to work more on his conditioning. He’s a great defensive 1b, but if he puts on 20 pounds he’s going to be a DH. Another reader asked about his recent surge and whether i’d slide him up the rankings (he was #44 last week) – no, although I’m very glad to see his performance, it’s over a fairly small sample and I prefer to see more extended success. The fact that he’s striking out so infrequently is probably the best aspect of this little run he’s on.

Derek: What’s Tohomas Szapucki’s realistic upside? Any chance you’ll be stopping by Bkln to see the loaded Cyclones team?
Klaw: Might be #2 starter upside. Not sure I’ll get up there as I have been spending most of my free time working on my book.

Jay_B: Can you tell us anything about Blackburn and Pries, the two lesser-known pieces of the Cubs-M’s trade?
Klaw: Blackburn’s a command RHP, had projection in HS but stuff never ticked up. Might be a 5th starter, probably less. Pries is an org starter but I wonder if there’s a thought to put him in the pen full-time and see if his fastball ticks up.

Nathan: What else will the new Twins’ GM need to do to right the ship? As a fan, I’m frustrated with the talent failing to develop and I’m wondering where the issue lies and what needs to be done to fix it. But getting a new GM is at least a start if they can hire the right one for the job and not Ryan 2.0
Klaw: They need to build an internal analytics department, first and foremost. You can’t operate in MLB right now unless you have that, if only for competitive intelligence purposes. I also have real questions about the MLB coaching staff, and the owner’s statement that Molitor is the manager next year would really concern me if I were a Twins fan. It’s a great job for someone – good market, great city, fantastic stadium, solid farm system, strong amateur scouting dept – but not if it comes with shackles.

Adam: Could it be argued that the Padres didn’t do enough to mitigate risk in the Pomeranz trade considering the volatility of young arms, especially in a one-for-one deal?
Klaw: I guess, but I don’t think you worry as much about mitigating risk when you’re rolling the dice on someone like Espinoza, who’s about as good an 18-year-old arm as we’ve seen in pro ball in a while.

DH: Boba Fett, sorry, Bo Bichette is off to a good start. You’ve been fairly bullish. What are the skills/results you’ll look for to indicate he’s on track to being the player you think he can be?
Klaw: If he keeps up the contact rate, I’ll be satisfied. But remember his brother, whom I was very down on as a draft prospect (not even on my top 100), had a huge GCL stint, and hasn’t done anything since.

Brett: Does Max Kepler becoming an All Star or even an every day regular help bring MLB popularity to Europe?
Klaw: I certainly hope so. I figure there are probably some good restaurants to check out in Munich.

Larry: When you rank Anderson Espinoza so high in your mid-season rankings, do you feel you accurately account for risk of such a young pitcher? Do you use a statistical model to properly value the risk/reward value?
Klaw: Yes, I feel I do. No, I don’t use a statistical model; such a model would be worthless because of the subjective nature of the inputs. GIGO.

Anonymous: Are you a believer in Verdugo (I do not recall your thoughts previously) and has his performance in AA at 20 solidified or changed your opinion. Is there a chance of All-Star game with him or is best case a first division regular? Thanks too for the board game reviews. My young-ins are thoroughly enjoying multiple suggestions.
Klaw: He was on my top 50 last week.

Ralph: From this year’s draft, who do you see having bigger upside, Josh Lowe or Alex Kiriloff?
Klaw: Kiriloff, although I understand why some people would argue Lowe.

Ralph: Why do you think Bryan Reynolds dropped so far in the draft? Seemed pretty polished for a college bat. Do you think he ends up a major leaguer?
Klaw: Strikeout rate. Has plate discipline, but needs to be more aggressive when ahead in the count. Jeren Kendall is going to face a similar criticism next year but is more athletic overall and I think is a 1-1 candidate.

Andrew: What are the Rangers doing with Profar? He started hot but now it seems like he starts once a week and is otherwise a pinch hitter? Is he good enough to contribute now or just a trade chip not being showcased?
Klaw: I think he’s good enough to play every day, and I assume now that Fielder is out he will do so.

Nick: Did Tyler Naquin show big raw power as a prospect, or is his performance thus far really completely out of nowhere?
Klaw: I think it’s really out of nowhere. Glad they gave him the opportunity, though.

D: I bought your Allen and Ginter card off eBay… Is there somewhere I could send it for you to sign?
Klaw: Yes, to me c/o ESPN, 1 ESPN Plaza, Bristol CT 06010. A couple of people have found my home address and sent something here, but I do ask everyone to respect my family’s privacy and I will not return anything that comes here.

Scrapper: Who says no to Eloy Jiminez straight up for Andrew Miller?
Klaw: I would think the Cubs would.

Scrapper: For those of us who care about things, hate political rhetoric and anti-science jibberish, this last year has been particularly frustrating. Has the last year affected how you view our country?
Klaw: Yes, almost entirely for the worse. I did not think this white-resentment strain of politics would be as popular as it is, but apparently I was quite out of touch.

Hal Steinbrenner: Do you see future stardom out of Ronald Guzman or Tyler O’Neill?
Klaw: More like future everydaydom.

Brian: I was wondering if you might comment on the differences between Joey Gallo and Dylan Cozens? I know people have said that Cozens has massive raw power like Gallo, and I was curious as to what the difference that has you thinking Gallo is at minimum a .230-.240 hitter w/big power and Cozens is something significantly less.
Klaw: Gallo is a way better athlete and a better pure hitter. Cozens’ year is skewed by playing at Reading and he doesn’t hit LHP at all.

Mike: Do you think Tyler Skaggs will pitch well coming back from injury for the Angels?
Klaw: I’m optimistic. Was always a fan, going back to HS, except for the year when he was with Arizona and they decided to screw up his delivery.

Drew: If the Twins called you tomorrow and offered you the GM job would the idea that Molitor can’t be fired be a road block? If you took the job would you trade Joe Mauer for just about anything? One of my favorite Twins but he’s not going to be on the next playoff team and I’d rather see Sano/Park/Vargas/whoever play 1B/DH. If there are no takers, would you cut him loose?
Klaw: Speaking strictly hypothetically – I don’t expect this call and don’t want anyone to think I’m campaigning for any job here – I would say yes, it’s a roadblock, and would want that on the table for discussion. I’d be willing to sit down and make the case for a managerial change, not just that I want to hire my own guy for its own sake. As for Mauer, I think he’d be close to untradeable, I doubt he or ownership would be amenable to a trade, and I don’t know enough about his health to guess what kind of player he’ll be going forward.

John: You listed Matt Strahm as your sleeper in the KC system and he’s doing quite well in Double-A. Potential #3 starter? Or too optimistic?
Klaw: I think I had him as a potential 4, but I wouldn’t argue the point here. Has touched 96, will pitch at average, curve is a potential out pitch and kills LHB.

Jack: What are your thoughts on Giants prospects Austin Slater and Steven Duggar?
Klaw: Both are probably bench guys/4th OFs, although I think Slater could be more if he can make more hard contact. He can hit, but I would bet his exit velocity isn’t very good.

Todd: Do you think we’ll get to see JP Crawford and Nick Williams in Philly this season?
Klaw: Probably both. I would hope this silliness with the AAA manager benching Williams is over now.

David: Cheslor Cuthbert legitimate? Or just a fringe guy?
Klaw: I have always loved his swing. I think he can be an average defender at 3b. But he either has to take a walk or develop some above-average power to be more than a fringe guy. I’d probably still bet on him because I just really like the swing and I think where there’s this kind of feel to hit there’s always hope.

Pete: Would you say that your ceiling has changed at all for Conforto with his recent struggles? Or is it just an injury that is delaying the true breakout?
Klaw: Nothing has changed except that Terry Collins appears to have lost his mind.

Kay: I try not to scout the stat line – but often that’s the only way I can check in on most of these guys. What stats are MOST useful in checking progress of MiLB players?
Klaw: There’s no easy answer to that. It depends a bit on the player’s tools/skills, and also what you might want to see improve. So for Joey Gallo, we know he has power, but we want to see his K% improving. Same for an Aaron Judge. But I mentioned Slater above – his K% is fine, and probably always will be, so for him it’s other things like more extra-base hits or more walks.

JG: In your humble opinion, who’s the best person (keeping Kim Ng in mind) that the Twins could bring in as the GM?
Klaw: Aaron Gleeman mentioned Jason McLeod on Twitter yesterday, and I seconded it. He’s got a good track record of success and has worked in several analytically-minded organizations, so he should be able to come in and help build that department. (I view that as the single most important criterion for the Twins in hiring a new GM. If you can’t build that capability, you can’t be the GM.)

JWR: Are you watching the conventions this year? Why or why not?
Klaw: I never watch that stuff. I’m voting straight-line Democrat this year and I still won’t watch the DNC. Bunch of rah-rah bullshit.

Andy: Strange as it seems, picking up Jean Segura hasn’t been terrible for the D-Backs. He’s walking slightly more than before and looking like an adequate fielding 2B. There’s still major questions about the process in getting him, but he hasn’t been their issue this year.
Klaw: He’s been fine, not great, still not a good leadoff hitter, but they’ve had much bigger problems. The problem was, as you said, the process – they gave up way too much, especially given how bad he’d been the previous two-plus years.

addoeh: Do you think Christopher Correa is the fall guy or did he act alone?
Klaw: I have been surprised all along that he was the only person accused in this, but absent any other evidence how could I claim otherwise?

Ray: Any chance Willie Calhoun can stay at 2B? Can Francisco Mejia be an Impact fantasy catcher down the road?
Klaw: I think Calhoun’s a LF. Can hit, though. Yes on Mejia.

UGW: Erick Fedde is on a heater… 3 ER in his last 38 IP. # 3 starter?
Klaw: Reliever. Lacks a third pitch. Not sold on the delivery.

Jacob: Jose Berrios continues to dominate in AAA. Have you heard any reports of him refining his stuff to allow him more success in the majors?
Klaw: No, sounds like the same guy, too good for AAA, needs to pitch in the majors even if it means struggling now. Gotta learn to get those guys out at some point.

Anonymous: Mandated apparently said they’re looking into limiting the use of relief pitchers somehow (due to speed-of-game and effectiveness concerns). Good idea?
Klaw: I assume that’s Manfred, and I said on the BBTN podcast today I’m not a big fan of changes that materially alter the game on the field for marketing reasons. If teams had to carry fewer active relievers per game, however, that might accomplish the same goal without limits like saying a reliever has to face a minimum of three batters.

Patrick: Keith, I’ve got no place to go, so Klawchat question! For three-year college players, is being assigned to rookie ball seen as a step backwards? Should these players be skilled enough for low or high A immediately?
Klaw: Good three-year college players should be able to go right to low-A after the draft. I understand sometimes players go elsewhere for other reasons (taxes, geography, working with a specific coach), but when they’re placed too low it makes their performance suspect.

Jonah: Have your thoughts changed on Travis Macgregor? Seems to be doing very well in the GCL and making a name for himself
Klaw: He’s thrown 8 innings. What?

Jim: You said earlier this year Beede’s velo was down, is it back? Has Bickford improved the breaking ball?
Klaw: His velo was down because he was throwing sinkers, not four-seamers. He’s throwing the four-seamer again, so the velo is there. Bickford you saw at the Futures Game – his velocity really is down and I don’t think there’s good enough secondaries there. He’s very available in trade.

Jay: Kevin Newman or Gleyber Torres?
Klaw: Newman is the higher probability guy, Torres has much higher upside.

DHS: Wilco is coming out with a new record in September. Are you a fan? If so, your favorite record by them?
Klaw: Nope, sorry.

Matt: I remember you were a fan of Mike Folynewicz when he was coming up. It’s been a rough few years of development, but he looks to have turned a corner of late in terms of harnessing his absurd stuff. Do you think he can be a legit mid-rotation type long term?
Klaw: I think he can be a #2 or better.

Chris S.: Hi Keith, thanks for the weekly chats. Logistics question: with 400k followers on Twitter, how do you keep up? I imagine you get bombarded all day long with a mixture of intelligent discourse and trolling. You’ve responded to me a handful of times and I’m amazed I can get through the chattel. How do you manage it?
Klaw: It’s becoming more and more difficult, but I use the mute and block features there very heavily to try to keep my replies manageable. People who troll or insult me are just wasting my time, and clearing them out makes it more likely I’ll see stuff I really want to see – stuff that’s worth the response, whether it’s there, here, or somewhere else.

Shining Light: Did someone run over your puppy today? Good God you’re in a bad mood.
Klaw: Right, you read a bunch of chat questions and answers and decided what kind of mood I’m in. That’s clever. Go away.

Tony: Forrest Whitley is a big Texas RHP. Build reminds me a little of Tyler Kolek. Is a 3rd starter too much to rely on for Whitley?
Klaw: Built like Kolek, WAY better pitcher today. Kolek was a breaking point for me – I’m done overrating the big kids who throw hard but aren’t much in the way of pitchers. I missed on too many of them over the years and I should have learned my lesson earlier.

Tony Alva, Dogtown, CA: How high could you have seen Brandon McIlwain being drafted if he played his senior baseball season instead of leaving early for Univ. of South Carolina?
Klaw: He was a first-rounder. MLB teams don’t particularly care for that because it doesn’t work.

Tony: Reasonable expectations for Jordan Sheffield?
Klaw: I think he’s a reliever in the long run. Maybe a great one, but short RHP with rough arm action usually ends up in the pen.

Tony: Nolan Jones was high on a lot of draft rankings but then fell pretty far in the draft. Reasonable ceiling for him?
Klaw: Fell only due to money. I think he has star potential.

Tom: Verdugo was your top 50, but there seems to be others who think he’ll end up as a tweener. Can you see that viewpoint at all?
Klaw: No, I can’t.

Oren: Justin Smoak – he’s bad, right?
Klaw: He’s one tick above replacement level. You don’t give that a two-year deal.

Zach: Hey Keith, I used to cover basketball for a living and it’s pretty accepted that teams have access to a lot of sabermetrics that fans/journalists don’t. Do MLB teams also have inside analysis/metrics that greatly differ from what’s available on say, fangraphs? It strikes me that the individual nature of baseball would make the gap between insider/outsider knowledge less pronounced. Thanks, always appreciate the chats.
Klaw: Yes, they do, and they’re not going to tell us about it.

Billy and the Boingers: Favorite Bloom County Character or Storyline?
Klaw: I loved everything with the Banana Jr. 5000.

Cal: Does Nick Gordon still profile as an everyday SS?
Klaw: Yes, I think he does. Probably a solid-average regular or a little better.

BlueInSF: With MLB getting younger generally + the latest knowledge showing that defense and pitching peak much earlier than previously suspected, shouldn’t we logically see the draft shade more towards HS over college prospects?
Klaw: No, because in that case college guys should be able to come quickly to the big leagues. And they have.

Jeff: Cashner for Yohander Mendez and Ronald Guzman…who says no?
Klaw: Rangers would say no. And so would I.

Scherzer’s Blue Eye: How do you differentiate trolling and just good-natured giving you a hard time? (psst…I rely on the latter one)
Klaw: Judgment call, but when in doubt, I mute. Think about how many replies I get – and all the comments/feedback I get through outlets other than Twitter, too. If I don’t attempt to curate, it all becomes useless to me. If I mute someone by mistake, it’s a shame, but it’s probably not doing any significant harm. And I’ve always unblocked people who’ve asked me to.

Glen: Can Gregorius handle 3rd base if/when Mateo is ready?
Klaw: I’m not moving Gregorius for Mateo. Didi’s going to be the better defender.

Klaw: That’s all for this week – thank you as always for reading and for all of your questions. I’ll be at the Under Armour Game at Wrigley on Saturday and hope to see some of you there.

The Sellout.

My updated ranking of the top five farm systems right now is up for Insiders.

I first heard about Paul Beatty’s farcical novel The Sellout when looking at predictions of nominees for the 2016 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction, which also led me to Edith Pearlman’s Honeydew … neither of which ended up a finalist for the prize, won by Viet Thanh Nguyen’s The Sympathizer. It did win the National Book Critics Circle award for Fiction, and ended up on several top ten lists for 2015. I’d already picked up Beatty’s book at Changing Hands during one of my trips to Arizona, however, and am glad I found it, because it is absolutely hilarious – offensive by design, taking Zadie Smith’s brand of hysterical realism and distilling it through a filter of American racism to produce a unique work of indignant comedy.

The narrator of Beatty’s book, known only as “Me” in one of many examples of absurdist wordplay in the novel, grows up in the Los Angeles-area town of Dickens, so poor that cartographers prefer to ignore its existence. It’s a segregated, neighborhood originally filled with farms, but the only farm remaining is the one the narrator runs, having inherited it from his militant black atheist sociologist father, who had some rather interesting ideas on child-rearing. (The novel’s satirical strain runs deep; the narrator is raised by a single father, and has no idea who his mother is, eventually finding the woman his father claims gave birth to him only to learn she had no idea what he was talking about.)

After his father is killed by a white policeman – prescient, or merely evergreen? – the narrator embarks on a bizarre quest to reestablish Dickens on the map and improve its lot by reinstating segregation, first on the local bus route and then in the local schools. He even takes a man as a “slave,” although the slave sort of volunteers for the role, doesn’t work, and loves to rant about the lost Little Rascals films in which he appeared. He erects new road signs and paints a literal border on the ground around Dickens, all of which has intended and unintended consequences. Of course, he can only get so far in this effort without running afoul of white authorities, and he ends up facing the Supreme Court – getting high on one of his hilariously named strains of marijuana while waiting in the corridor.

The novel’s best character, however, is Foy Cheshire, the would-be intellectual whose ambition outstrips his abilities, and whose brand of liberation theology involves quixotic endeavors like rewriting classics to improve or star African-American characters, such as The Great Blacksby, Uncle Tom’s CondoThe Point Guard in the Rye. By turns fatuous and pathetic, Foy is part con man, part demagogue, representative of a brand of empty black intellectualism for which Beatty appears to have no use whatsoever.

Beatty doesn’t spare anyone or anything in The Sellout, and that includes many jokes at every race’s expense that, if we’re all being honest here, wouldn’t see the light of day if they came from a white writer. I have no problem with this; if anything, the parody is far more effective coming from a writer of color, lampooning many of the people and institutions that purport to help black and Latino Americans but are primarily there just to help themselves. Charles Dickens was known for social commentary in his work, some of it veering into satire; Beatty draws on that tradition of criticism, marrying it with realism run amok – what critic James Wood termed “hysterical realism” in an essay on Zadie Smith’s White Teeth – for a sendup that scorches the very earth Me uses to grow his prize satsumas, watermelons, and weed.

I’m sure there are allusions and subtexts in The Sellout that I missed or simply couldn’t appreciate as a white man who grew up in a very white town and knew racism because I read about it once, but I still found the book by turns funny and thought-provoking. It’s one of the most laugh-out-loud books I’ve read in the last few years, and pushes the boundaries of what modern realism in literature can include. There may simply be more here that I didn’t catch.

Next up: Amir Alexander’s Infinitesimal, on how the Jesuits did everything they could to stamp out the mathematical concept that gave rise to the calculus.

The Stories of John Cheever.

John Cheever won the Pulitzer Prize in 1979 for the compendium The Stories of John Cheever, which contains his complete output other than a few pieces of juvenilia. I’d only read Cheever in novel form, the outstanding Falconer (on the TIME 100) and the middling The Wapshot Chronicle (on the Modern Library 100), but his short stories nearly all cover the same old ground: Failing marriages and alienation in suburban America, with the settings and times changing but the themes and the drinks remaining the same.

Cheever himself was bisexual, alcoholic, and depressed, and these factors inform nearly all of his stories. His characters all drink; spouses rage and cheat; children suffer emotionally; marriages falter, but in many stories they hold together for the sake of appearances. He makes frequent half-joking references to sumptuary laws and his women (and many men) gossip excessively. Whereas Richard Russo’s output shows that author’s clear affection for his wounded suburbanites and their dying towns, Cheever seems to disdain everything about modern suburban life, which is especially evident in the stories he wrote after World War II, in the first stages of urban flight. His husbands become, if anything more faithless, and more drunk, while his wives increasingly show the desire for independence or at least some greater standing in their own homes.

The sixty-one stories in the collection include some variation, with Cheever even showing a charitable take on human decency (as in “Christmas is a Sad Season for the Poor”), and even delving into the occasional bit of what we might now think of as magical realism. A few of my favorites from the collection:

* An Enormous Radio: When a couple in a New York apartment building replaces their radio with a large, expensive new model, it allows them to tune in to the conversations of all of their neighbors. At first, of course, it’s salaciously amusing, but eventually the wife starts to hear things from other apartments she wishes she hadn’t.

* The Angel of the Bridge: A story about what we’d now call panic attacks, although at the time I doubt the disorder even had such a name. The narrator can’t drive over a bridge without suffering from one, until an “angel” appears to distract him as he’s struggling to complete such a trip.

* Reunion: The narrator is meeting his father during a 90-minute stopover in New York, a lunch that turns increasingly disastrous as the father, an alcoholic with a haughty, condescending air, gets them thrown out of four restaurants as he abuses staff and becomes more drunk and belligerent with each stop. I wondered if this was Cheever’s swipe at his own father, who was also an alcoholic and a financial failure.

* An Educated American Woman: Jill and George are a married couple with one child, Bibber, living in suburbia, of course, but Cheever flips the script by making Jill the intellectual half of the couple (George is just a Yalie) and the ambitious half as well, where George seems to resent her drive and perspicacity, while she feels unappreciated by her husband and stifled by suburban mom life.

* The Geometry of Love: An engineer decides to apply mathematical principles to some decidedly unmathematical problems in his life, including problems in his own marriage. Hilarity and tragedy ensue.

* The Swimmer: Cheever’s most famous story – one turned into a somewhat obscure movie starring Burt Lancaster that had to play like a horror film – involves a suburban husband and father, drunk at a party where everyone else has also had too much to drink, who then decides to swim his way home across the various pools and lawns of his tony neighborhood. Partway through, however, his memory starts to fail him, and it appears that time is passing at an abnormal rate, enough that when he arrives at his house he doesn’t find what he expects to.

Where Cheever lost me was in the stories he set in Italy, which frequently touched on dated themes like the declining aristocracy or life as an American expat. As much as I adore Italy and Italian culture, the country he depicts doesn’t resemble the bits of Italy I’ve seen or what I know of the country from my cousins there. While his paintings of American suburban life after World War II or even marriage and infidelity between the wars don’t apply directly to any of my experiences, in those stories he managed to capture more universal themes that make those stories the timeless entries in this collection.

For more on Cheever’s mastery of the short story, the Telegraph ran a great profile of him and his works last October, doing a better job with this collection than I could.

Next up: I’ve already finished Paul Beatty’s madcap farce The Sellout and begun Amir Alexander’s Infinitesimal: How a Dangerous Mathematical Theory Shaped the Modern World.

Anomalisa.

Anomalisa is the best depiction of depression that I’ve come across in any medium of fiction, even though it’s, of all things, made with puppets and stop-motion animation. It uses one incredibly effective gimmick to show us the main character’s illness without resorting to lengthy explanations, and then is carried forward by the three voice actors’ performances in a story that is at times heartbreaking yet often deliberately silly. (It’s also available on iTunes.)

Michael Stone, voiced by David Thewlis (a.k.a., Remus Lupin), is a successful author and public speaker on the topic of customer service, and he’s just landed in Cincinnati to give a talk on the topic. He’s also battling what we learn is a very longstanding case of depression, which is shown to us via his senses: He sees all other people as having the same face, and all their voices as identical as well. Male, female, child, adult, whatever, they all look and sound alike to him. (All of these characters are voiced by character actor Tom Noonan, who just moderates his pitch slightly for age and gender, nothing more.) Many of the people he meets are comically annoying, from the cab driver who gets him to the hotel to the bellman who just won’t leave, followed by a disastrous reunion with the girlfriend he left without explanation ten years earlier.

Later that night, he hears a different voice for the first time in years, Lisa (Jennifer Jason Leigh), a very insecure woman who drove in from out of town with her friend just to hear Michael’s talk. Michael pursues her, discovering that she’s lonely in her own way, and … things move from there, but I wouldn’t say they “progress,” so much as they stumble, because Michael is still depressed and Lisa – whom he dubs “Anomalisa” when she refers to herself as a sort of anomaly – is not the cure.

I have been there, so to speak, not for the length of time that Michael has apparently been depressed but for long enough stretches to recognize what he’s enduring, and I’ve described it as a sort of fog. Colors seem less bright, everything is darker, edges are less crisp, and memories are always less clear. You don’t even necessarily know what’s wrong until you’re out of it and realize that your perception of the world and everyone in it was warped by your condition. I never suffered from the sort of modified Fregoli delusion that writer Charlie Kaufman (Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, Being John Malkovich) gives Michael, but it works perfectly as a metaphor for depression in general. Your brain perceives the world without its details, so everything becomes less interesting or able to hold your attention, and you become overwhelmed with a feeling of sameness. (I assume the name Anomalisa also alludes to anomie, a sociological term that can refer to the loss of direction or purpose an individual might feel due to a sense of alienation or disconnect from society. Michael also stays at the Hotel Fregoli for another bit of Kaufman wordplay.)

Anomalisa also avoids showing depression as a one-dimensional disorder. Michael is depressed, but he can still function. He got on the plane. He’s given these speeches before and even written a best-selling book. He has fans. He’s supposed to be quite good-looking (for a puppet). Depressed is not dead. You can be depressed, or anxious, or even bipolar, and still lead a functional life – just not a fulfilled one. And for whatever reason, Zoloft, a very widely prescribed anti-depressant, doesn’t appear to have helped Michael. His foggy status could be a combination of the depression and the side effect of SSRIs that they tend to take the edges off your emotions, for better or for worse; at one point he mentions being unable to cry, something I’ve experienced on escitalopram (Lexapro) as well.

The film’s concluding sequence is somewhat jarring after the languorous pace of everything up to and including Michael’s encounter with Lisa, although it’s a logical series of events – it’s simply missing a few pieces, notably a last conversation between those two before Michael returns to Los Angeles, his miserable wife, and attention-starved son. Kaufman’s better at beginnings than endings; Being John Malkovich is a brilliant idea that crashes into the wall on the final lap, although I thought Eternal Sunshine ended well by returning to the beginning. Here, his script finishes with one final, beautiful flourish, a glimmer of hope in Lisa’s words and a visual trick you might miss if you’re not looking for it, that salvaged the slightly incongruous editing at the end.

If you’ve ever struggled to understand depression, perhaps because a friend or loved one has it, watch Anomalisa. All three voice actors are superb, especially Leigh, whose intonation reveals her character’s insecurity long before we understand her reasons for it. Kaufman’s script gives the disease an authentic, uncomfortable (quite so, at times) treatment for the serious, multi-dimensional story mental illness deserves. It’s a sad film, but never humorless, and left me wanting to see more.

Stick to baseball, 7/16/16.

Busy week for me over at the four-letter, with my updated ranking of the top 50 prospects in the minors going up on Thursday, four days after I watched and wrote about the Futures Game.

I wrote up Boston’s trade for Drew Pomeranz and their trades for Brad Ziegler and Aaron Hill. And I held a Klawchat.

I’m not writing up the Yuliesky Gurriel signing but Chris Crawford did, with a tiny bit of help from me.

I also appeared on Alex Speier’s 108 Stitches podcast, discussing the Pomeranz deal and the Red Sox’ farm system.

And now, the links…

Klawchat 7/14/16.

My midseason ranking of the top 50 prospects in baseball is now up for Insiders.

Klaw: It’s the school exam and the kids have run away. Klawchat.

Dan: Bobby Bradley (Cle) did not earn a mention on your list. Has your opinion of him altered during this season, or is he progressing as you expected/hoped and is just a sub-57 prospect?
Klaw: Nothing new. He’s a 1b only guy with questions about his ability to make contact and hit for average.

Dan: Glad to see that Hunter Harvey (Bal) is still worth a mention (honorable) on your list. Did you see either of his Aberdeen starts? If not, have you heard anything to suggest that he is still (post injuries), or can become, the prospect that you had previously projected?
Klaw: I have not seen him yet, but I’ve heard the stuff is fully returned. He just has to show he can stay healthy, which he hasn’t done since his first full year in pro ball was cut short by injury.

Ken Naylor: With reports Jason Groome is in Boston taking his physical, if he signs, where does he rank on your Red Sox list?
Klaw: He’s going to sign – I’ve said that all along – and would be 5th in the system.

Marty: Would you include Eloy Jimenez in a deal for Andrew Miller? Or do you think the Cubs have enough other parts to get it done with the Yanks?
Klaw: I would not, not for what is likely to be about 20 innings + the playoffs of value this year. He has more time on his contract, of course, but you’re doing it primarily to win this year, and I think relievers in general are volatile commodites and he in particular could go at any moment.

Will: Are you alarmed by Javier Guerra’s K rate and overall offensive non-performance this season? Seems like a lost year for him.
Klaw: I’ve heard that he’s played like his head is not in the game at all. It’s a lost year so far and he needs to pull his head out.

Nick: By no means did I expect to see him in the top 50, but what are your thoughts on Jake Thompson? At this point, no reason for Philly to delay giving him a cup of coffee, right? (Trying not to just scout the stats though)
Klaw: I agree, he could come up at any time. Solid back-end starter, durable, lacking a real out pitch or a big fastball to make him more than that. But I like him for what he is and see him outperforming his stuff a little bit.

Pat: I am driving across the country next week. I’m not usually a books-on-tape guy, but do you have any recommendations for something that might be a good listen (from Audible, e.g.)?
Klaw: I do 5-10 audiobooks a year. The best one I’ve ever listened to is The Ballad of the Whiskey Robber. I also would recommend The Sixth Extinction, which won the 2014 Pulitzer for Non-fiction. (Post-chat addendum: Undeniable, written and read by Bill Nye, is also a fantastic listen.)

JD: Did I hear correctly that Dylan Cease touched 103? Could that be right?
Klaw: Yes. And last night Michael Kopech hit 105.

Brian: Keith, I don’t want to scout the stat line but have you heard any news about Nolan Watson for Lexington in the Royals system. Numbers have been pretty poor all season and wondering if there is something to explain it. Thanks.
Klaw: Watson, Ashe Russell, Scott Blewett, and Foster Griffin have all struggled this season, not just in performance but in stuff. Russell was mid-80s in the spring and I haven’t heard anything better than 87-91.

JD: Any sense of *why* Mateo isn’t performing as well this year? Effort, instincts, position change, something else?
Klaw: He doesn’t make hard contact. I seriously debated whether to put him on the list at all.

Richard: With Josh Bell likely back down in Indy this time next week, where would he have ranked on your list? 30-40 range?
Klaw: Yep, that’s about right. Also, this is really stupid – they should just play him at 1b already.

Philip: In what range would you put Morejon amongst prospects? Top 150?
Klaw: Probably, since he’s 17 and won’t pitch anywhere in the US this year. Same for Maitan, who’s 16.

Brian: Do you think the Rangers have a plan for Joey Gallo, and if so, what is it? I have been confused this year by the way they have handled him.
Klaw: So have I. I don’t know the answer.

Frank: Rob Whalen currently leads the Southern League in Ks and just got promoted to Triple A. Seems like he’s mostly viewed as a pitchability guy, but have you heard anything about him? Can he start in the big leagues?
Klaw: I don’t think so – more likely a reliever.

Jon V: I believe this is the first time you’ve moved Frazier significantly ahead of Zimmer. Driven more by Frazier’s progress or Zimmer’s decline?
Klaw: Zimmer needs to make more contact, especially vs lefties (K/PA of 33%). I think Frazier is clearly ahead of Zimmer in everyone’s eyes at this point.

MIke: Hi Keith. Thanks for the chat!! Do you have any thoughts on Giants AA reliever Ray Black? He’s my wife’s cousin and I was wondering if you think he has a chance to make it to the majors this year or ever? Thanks again!
Klaw: He’s 98-102 without a second pitch and with poor control. I’m sure someone will give him a chance in the majors but until he develops something else I don’t know what use he’ll be.

Jack: Doesn’t the player you described that alfaro can become an allstar? Or really close to it?
Klaw: Possibly. If he’s posting a .280-290 OBP, then probably not. I see a wide range around his potential performances, though.

Frank: I opened this link to ask you a Sean Newcomb question, but I’m not even sure what to ask. Is there any hope? The walks continue.
Klaw: Like I said in the writeup I don’t know what the fix is. He’s there on stuff and lefthandedness.

Nick: Watched some of the PG All-American selection show yesterday. They mentioned there was more high-end prep talent for 2017 than in recent years. True (to date)?
Klaw: I think that’s accurate. It’s also looking like the best college class since 2011. (Notice that it’s two three-year cycles after that: HS kids who didn’t sign in 2011 became top picks in 2014, pushing the 2014 HS crop to college to become top picks in 2017.)

Jojo: Do you think Willie Calhoun is good enough to get serious time in the bigs in 2017?
Klaw: I think he can hit but needs a position and may end up with contact issues too.

Michael: You can obviously disagree, but I am not sure it is helpful to label All Lives Matter as racist. People who say that may be misguided and missing the point, but are they necessarily racist? That sort of rhetoric (calling them racist) exacerbates the problem in my opinion.
Klaw: If someone says to you “Black Lives Matter” and your first response is to say something that defends white lives, yeah, that’s racist in my opinion. All lives matter, but all lives are not in equal danger. No one says White Lives Matter because, duh, when has the opposite ever been true in our nation’s history>

Chris J: (Will be in work meeting at 1, so posting early.) In the past, you’ve supported the idea of a team keeping good pitching prospects in a starting role through the minors until they show they’re better off as a reliever (your thoughts on Alex Meyer comes to mind, for example). Recognizing his basic 2 strong pitch arsenal and potential height issues, but with continued good performance through the minors (one start in AAA not withstanding), what would be the moment where you’d definitively conclude he’s a reliever? (Reworded – I know you’ve stated repeatedly that you believe he’s most likely a dominant reliever in waiting. But when would you make that switch, and why?) Thanks Keith!
Klaw: Depends on what the issue is with the pitcher. If fatigue in starts is the issue, or inability to turn a lineup over a third time, I’d switch him early. If development of a third pitch is an issue, however, I’d let him start as long as I could so he could try to develop that additional weapon.

Nick: After an awful (bad luck-fueled?) start in AAA, JP Crawford is hitting well again. Is it time for him to replace Galvis?
Klaw: If they trade Galvis, yes. Otherwise, let him finish the AAA season and then call him up.

Nic: Noticed you had Kohl Stewart as an honorable mention in the top 50 piece. With him being in Double-A what kind of ceiling do you currently project for him?
Klaw: I think he projects as a 3 or 4 starter. If you want ceiling, he’s going to have to miss some more bats, which he has the stuff to do but has not done, instead generating a lot of groundballs (which is still a good thing).

Eugene: Do you agree with the notion that the best way to assemble a bullpen is to just collect a huge number of arms? If so, is that strategy because very few relievers actually have differentiated skill?
Klaw: I think it’s better to do that than to go out and buy relievers who’ve had great performance, because predicting relievers is way too difficult. But you do want certain things in relievers too, and you might look for, say, right-handed pitchers with good changeups who could become effective relievers without platoon splits.

Michael: Any reaction to Justice Ginsburg’s comments on Trump? You’ve mentioned before that you think Scalia let his religious beliefs affect his jurisprudence–I don’t agree and I think you would have a hard time providing evidence of that. However, Ginsburg made it pretty clear that politics dictate her decisions. Isn’t that way worse?
Klaw: Don’t all justices’ politics tend to dictate their leanings on certain issues? Isn’t strict constructionalism vs loose a matter of politics? Anyway, I thought Ginsburg dissented, along with Justice Thomas, on the ruling about criminals with past domestic violence convictions having access to guns, citing a technical matter – which would appear to me to go directly against what we know about her political leanings. As for her comments on Trump, I have no issue with that, nor would I have an issue with another justice coming out in support of Trump or in opposition to Clinton.

Justin: Trout for Betts, Benetendi and Kopech…who says no?
Klaw: Angels have made it very clear they have no intention of trading Trout.

Adam: John Coppolella came out and flatly said the Braves won’t trade Julio Teheran. Do you think he is just playing hard to get, or is he being truthful?
Klaw: I think he’s being truthful. Why would they trade Teheran? He’s good, improving, under control cheaply through 2020 (I think), and is their Opening Day starter at the Big Con next April.

Steve: How is your book coming along? Can you give us any details?
Klaw: I’m behind where I’d like to be on it. I expect there to be a release about it in the next few weeks.

Adam G.: What do you make of this Michael Kopech situation? By situation I mean…. first, 105? really? second, how much are Boston fans over reacting when we’re putting him in the same conversation with Espinoza (and hopefully Groom).
Klaw: He’s on my top 50, and that was before he hit 105 (but he had hit 103). I don’t really know what to do with him – has any starter had this kind of velocity without blowing out in the short term? Relievers have, starters haven’t. Is he the great exception?

Millie from Philly: Everyone in Philly is going gaga over Hoskins and Cozens. Even with the hitter-friendly environment, it’s hard to ignore the gaudy #s. Anything to see here? You prefer one over the other (or neither) to have any real MLB impact? Thanks!
Klaw: Prefer Hoskins because I think he has better feel to hit, whereas Cozens is less polished with more brute strength. Both will play in the big leagues. Doubt either gets to this kind of power again.

Nick: You put Hunter Harvey in your honorable mentions. His talent has never been the issue. Does his high propensity for injury not concern you? Is it because largely speaking they aren’t related to his arm?
Klaw: If he had never had those injuries, he’d have been in the top 10.

Matt: It seems like Atlanta’s strategy is to trade from its young pitching depth to acquire bats. Is that strategy too simplistic? Would teams give up ML bats for pitchers that are a few years away and could easily not pan out? Thanks.
Klaw: Those pitchers who are a few years away now will be close to the majors at some point, which is when I think you’ll see some of them traded for bats.

Sean: After a horrendous start, Carson Fulmer seems to have turned a corner in AA. Do you think his new cutter can help him succeed in an MLB rotation?
Klaw: If you saw the Futures game, you can see why I don’t think he’ll ever last as a starter. He has a violent delivery with big stuff and poor command.

Jason: The Mets actually seem to have interesting pitchers now with Dunn, Kay, Wotell and Szapucki…..in what order would you rank that group and can you see any of them junping into your top 100 any time soon?
Klaw: Dunn, Szapucki, Kay, Wotell. I did not rank 100 players this time, so I couldn’t tell you who’ll be on that list other than the handful of guys I considered for the top 50 who didn’t make the final cut.

Kimchi Dad: What are your thoughts on GMOs? Do you avoid them when cooking/eating if possible, or are you okay with them?
Klaw: I have no objection to GMOs on my plate or in the world in general, but since I prefer organic produce I don’t think I eat much in the way of genetically modified foods.

FireDrayton: Thoughts on AJ Reed’s rough start to life in the bigs?
Klaw: The big leagues aren’t easy.

Fly high: Wu-Cheng Chang a possible top 100 guy for you next season?
Klaw: I assume you mean Yu-Cheng Chang. I hope to see him this weekend when Lynchburg is here. The power is kind of out of nowhere but if it’s legit it makes him a much more intriguing prospect.

Jay: Sergio Romo after watching Bickford in high-A felt that he had room to get stronger and throw harder as a result. Agree?
Klaw: i do not. Also, Bickford used to throw harder, and now he doesn’t. That’s a concern given his injury history.

Adam G.: I’ve been trying to rack my brain for a historical comparable body type to Moncada. 6’1″ 210 at 20 is huge. Can you think of any baseball players were that size and fit?
Klaw: Bo Jackson. A football body in a baseball uniform.

JT: Michael Conforto’s recent struggles – a blip on the radar or something more serious?
Klaw: I think the wrist issue plus TC benching him against lefties all the time are likely both factors.

Anonymous: In one of you draft follow ups you had Corey Ray as the #2 prospect for the Brewers ahead of Trent Clark. In today’s Top 50 you have Clark slightly ahead of Ray. Has something changed between the two?
Klaw: Yes, my opinion changed.

Bob A: Are you worried about Dillon Tate? A 21 y/o struggling in single A has to worry you
Klaw: More worried that his velocity has been down much of the year.

Ben: No Josh Hader on your list? Is it his delivery?
Klaw: His delivery and his command. He’s like Fulmer and …

CVD: I know you profile Reynaldo Lopez as a reliever, but was he given any consideration to the top 50?
Klaw: …Reynaldo Lopez. All three look like relievers. You don’t see starters hold up with those deliveries. Maybe one will be an exception; maybe they all will. Chris Sale looked for all the world like a reliever (and I was far from the only one saying so), and he’s turned into a Cy Young contender. But he is an extreme outlier.

George: Folty and Manaea both had really good starts to end the 1st half. Which one do you think has more career upside and which one do you think has more upside this season?
Klaw: Foltynewicz has more upside. If he can keep the ball in the park (11 HR in 49 IP this year) he’s got #1-2 potential.

Ben: Psyched to see 3 Cubs still in the top 50. Is there any hope for pitching in the farm system? Are the Cubs bad at developing pitchers, or is the lack of P prospects a result of the draft philosophy?
Klaw: There’s pitching coming and Dylan Cease was a consideration for the end of this list. I do think they’re going to end up trading a couple of bats for major-league ready arms, though, because all of the pitching they have is in A-ball and below.

Jordan: Can Chance Sisco hit enough to be an elite catcher?
Klaw: Yes. Did you see that HR he hit Sunday? That’s some serious hand/wrist strength. If he even hits 12 HR/year with his other skills he’s going to make some All-Star teams.

Scott: How close was Jose DeLeon to making the list? Are there injury concerns based on the past few months or is the upside not as high as the others on the list?
Klaw: Just don’t see the upside. Great makeup, good feel to pitch, but there’s a lack of a swing-and-miss weapon there.

Anonymous: With the performance of several of the Brewers top prospects this year, David Stearn’s first order of business has to be to clean house in the minor leagues doesn’t it?
Klaw: I truly thought that would be his first order of business last September. They’ve had far too many prospects enter the system and fail to develop or regress over the last 5+ years.

Ben: Will you be attending either the PG or Under Armour games?
Klaw: Under Armour. Chris Crawford will attend the PG game for us. I love that event, and San Diego is one of my favorite cities, but I can’t take another cross-country flight for just one or two nights out there, not with other stuff I need to be doing.

ray: It seems like the rest of the scouting community seems to be catching up to you with Kevin Newman’s prospect status – what was it that made him a top 25 prospect for you right off the bat that you don’t think others were seeing?
Klaw: He’s done great so far and I’m thrilled to see it, but obviously he’s still got to reach the majors and continue this performance before we can really talk about it like that. I saw a true SS with a 6 or better hit tool and plenty of strength despite the lack of game power in college. I like those guys.

Adam: How much interest is Melvin Upton Jr garnering on the trade market?
Klaw: That’s a better question for Buster. I don’t monitor the trade market.

Keith: You’re higher than most on Dom Smith; I’m not sure what the issue is – he’s not dominating, but he’s showing good contact, good defense, starting show power, all at a pretty young age. Why the doom and gloom about him as a prospect? Is it a 1B only thing? Not much else to go on so the bat has to be outstanding?
Klaw: Yes, I think it’s the 1B issue and that’s a fair one. Also, he should he hitting for a higher average; he’s making contact but not always the right (hard) kind.

Ben: What’s the holdup on Brax Garrett? His Vandy committment that strong?
Klaw: Yes and bear in mind that the Marlins are the same team that lowballed Heaney a few years ago. Ownership there doesn’t seem to like to pay players.

Mike: You would have Groome ahead of Kopech? 105 mph
Klaw: Velocity ain’t everything, sparky.

Jonah: Do you believe Harold Ramirez has declined as a prospect?
Klaw: No, i don’t think anything has changed there. LF only who has to hit.

Stephen: My wife and I are always looking for new two-player games… where would you rank 7 Wonders Duel? I love the base game, but Duel looks very interesting for 2 players. Also, any expansions to the base game you recommend?
Klaw: It’s great and I highly recommend it. I just bought the Babel expansion on Prime Day; we haven’t played any of the others.

Tom: We all know the D-Backs got jobbed in the Shelby Miller Trade, but I don’t think anyone expected him to be bad this year, much less terrible. Have you seen him pitch? What’s he doing (or not doing) to pitch so ineffectively? Is there any hope for a rebound?
Klaw: His mechanics went to shit. I don’t know who bears responsibility for that.

Dan: Profar and Cordell for Pomeranz and Hedges, who says no?
Klaw: Padres because Cordell is not much of a prospect at all.

Marcus: Don’t know if you’ve had a chance to see him since he returned, but is Tim Lincecum done as a starting pitcher? And if so, could he become an effective relief pitcher? I admit that I’ve been a fan of his since his Cy Young days, but it is hard to watch him now.
Klaw: He’s not a starter. I don’t know if relief would help but I’d try it.

A: Re: the guns SCOTUS case, Sotomayor was the one who broke with the lib wing
Klaw: Thank you. I knew it was one of the women on the Court but forgot which one. So there’s a case of a judge clearly voting against her politics because of a question of law.

Peppa Pig: With Matt Bush changing his life and now breaking into the bigs, do you have any idea what happened to Donovan Tate?
Klaw: He’s playing for Rancho in the Dodgers’ system. The biggest problem with Tate is that he was never that good. I thought he was a reach at 3 overall and never had him on a top 100 list.

mark: You said last week that you had heard $20-22 million for Morejon…that was including the 100% penalty?
Klaw: Correct.

Drew: Thanks for recommending / ranking White Teeth. It’s kind of amazing the historical perspective and insight Zadie Smith had when she was 15, huh?
Klaw: That book made me jealous of how gifted a writer and thinker she is. If you liked that, I definitely recommend In the Light of What We Know and you’d probably enjoy The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao.

Anonymous: What’s your opinion on bringing up Reyes to the Cards bullpen? I’m worried about his walk rate getting even worse versus MLB batters.
Klaw: I agree. Also I’d like to see some kind of improvement on the breaking ball, although with his delivery that may be impossible.

B. Cohen: You have Benintendi above Moncada among Sox prospects when those two are reversed almost universally elsewhere. Are you just super high on Beni, or do you have reservations about Moncada?
Klaw: I don’t care what “elsewhere” says. I think Benintendi’s the better prospect.

Paul: What position does Moncada end up … 3rd?
Klaw: Third or perhaps the outfield.

mark: How would you rate your personaly experience at the ASG?
Klaw: I have never attended an All-Star Game in person.

Trevor: I always love to get your political takes. Do you agree that we have almost circled back to what led to this country’s founding? The non-indictment of Clinton, even with the FBI director admitting she broke many laws, as well as the secret meeting between the AG and Bill….we now have a society where those in government (along with their close allies) are above the law. Our founding fathers fought a revolution and tried to devise a system to prevent that, yet here we are. What are your thoughts?
Klaw: I worry that we’re headed back towards a sort of oligarchic democracy because of the issue I mentioned last week – we keep drawing top candidates from the same tiny pool of people – and because the amount of money required to run for high office further restricts the pool.

Philip: Any new eats you have in SD?
Klaw: Bracero was fantastic, and I had coffee at Copa Vida and James as well as at my usual Bird Rock.

Dustin: Has Stephen Gonsalves done enough to see him as a potential high-end pitching prospect? He has made continuous progress in the Twins system.
Klaw: Not high-end. Good changeup but lefty without a breaking ball and with average-ish command? I see back end.

Dustin: Does Bregman eventually move Correa off of SS?
Klaw: I think so – he’s a better defender there right now.

Tom: How much consideration, if any, did you give Chris Paddack for the top 50? What held him back?
Klaw: No consideration. Let’s not overrate him just because he’s been in the news.

Dustin: What’s your favorite IPA?
Klaw: Evolution Lot #3.

Joe: I travel occasionally for work, and I always feel weird eating by myself in a non-fast food restaurant. Every experience that?
Klaw: No because I bring a book and/or sit by the kitchen and chat with the cooks. No one should ever feel bad for eating alone, though.

Richard: I’ll be in KC next weekend for Royals/Rangers. Any “must eats” while in town, particularly BBQ? Thanks.
Klaw: KC Joe’s in the gas station, SLAPs (Squeal Like a Pig), and Bluestem Cafe for not BBQ.

Alex: As a Braves fan worried about the future, Swanson seems like a solid player at the big leagues but nothing more. What am I missing?
Klaw: High floor. Not huge ceiling. I preferred Rodgers and Newman on draft day and while Swanson is a tick ahead of Newman right now obviously I’ve got Bregman ahead of all of them.

Ryan: Have you tried Pokemon Go? Do you think there are ways ESPN could make use of AR?
Klaw: I have not. This does not appeal to me.

Jon V: How would you rank McKenzie, Hillman, Aiken, Sheffield in terms of long term potential?
Klaw: Aiken still has the most upside if the stuff returns 100%. Probably McKenzie, Sheffield, Hillman behind him just in terms of potential upside, but Hillman is sneaky good and going to be pitch in the big leagues.

Nate: Keith, Tim Anderson has been a valuable player so far in the majors, however his ceiling obviously is limited by his walk rate. Do you think he can ever have an at least manageable approach?
Klaw: I think rushing him to the majors is going to severely retard his ability to improve his plate discipline.

Bryan: Rowdy Tellez is tearing up AA of late as a 21 year old. Can he possibly become a league average 1b/DH in MLB? I believe I recall you saying he has a “long swing”–will that prevent him from reaching the big leagues?
Klaw: No. Can’t hit quality pitching.

Bernie: There have been new rumors if a Gallo/Miller trade. Is that close to the framework (main pieces) of an equitable swap?
Klaw: There’s no way I’d give up Gallo for a reliever unless I’d decided Gallo was simply never going to hit.

Randy: Frances Martes still a top 75 guy for you? Only 20 in AA and has reall turned it around last 1.5 months. Bonus question–buy or sell Musgrove as a possible #3 starter?
Klaw: Need to see better offspeed from Musgrove. I see strikes and a sinker, but not the full repertoire. Martes is somewhere in there, yes.

Chad: How close was Mitch Keller to your new top 50?
Klaw: He wasn’t a consideration.

Aaron: If Kyle Lewis shows any semblance of reaching his potential in the minors…how far can he go up on the prospect list?
Klaw: Depends on what you believe his potential to be. I think he ends up a low-average guy (due to strikeouts) with power. That’s probably not a top 25 prospect at any point.

Alex: Why doesn’t MLB use the same draft model as the NHL, where you draft an 18 year old, who can then go to college if he so chooses, with the team that drafted him retaining his rights, while he plays at the college level? Seems like a win-win all around.
Klaw: How is that a win for the player? Or for the team, really, if the kid goes to Arizona and takes a bunch of naps while throwing 138 pitches on three days’ rest?

Philip: Do you believe Wil Myers comment on Mexican food is worthy of trading him?
Klaw: I think he needs someone to take him to Bracero. Or any place that isn’t Taco Bell.

Corey: Could Moncada be ready by early next season ? If so, should Sox consider moving him to 3B soon since that’s where he likely ends up ? Side note – do they just eat the Panda contract ?
Klaw: That’s reasonable all around – the timeline and the position idea.

Tripp: Saw Alex Young has been having a nice season this year for ARI. What are your thoughts on him?
Klaw: Fringe prospect. Was 22 in low-A and didn’t miss any bats. Stuff is nothing special.

JB: When scouting a pitcher, how much weight is given to the movement of a fastball as opposed to just pure velocity? As an example, Hunter Strickland throws in the high 90’s but it’s dead straight and it seems good hitters just kill a guy like that.
Klaw: It matters a ton. Jeff Hoffman isn’t on my top 50 because he throws hard but it’s straight and hitters see it well (no deception).

Joe: Given your love for Schoop, how much room for growth do you think he has? He’s not treating walks like the plague anymore.
Klaw: And he was never a hacker in the minors. Anderson has never walked, ever, so we’re saying he’d need to add a skill he has never displayed. Schoop had some patience before he was rushed up the ladder, and now it’s coming back, likely because he’s having success in general and not just trying to survive his at bats. I buy it and think there’s even more growth to come. He’ll be a top 3 2b in the league at some point.

Rob: Have you had a chance to see Ian Clarkin this season after his missed year? Curious how it compares pre injury, whatever it was that cost him a season.
Klaw: Saw him in the AFL, not this year, and he was all the way back. Mid-rotation starter. CB is a hammer.

Anonymous: I’m thinking Vizcaino and Erick Aybar to the Mariners for Alex Jackson or Tyler O’Neil + prospect. Thoughts?
Klaw: Did you drug Jerry DiPoto or tie him up and throw him in a closet?

Ken Naylor: Your thoughts on Byron Buxton and his development?
Klaw: Two thoughts. One, be patient. People want to write off any prospect who doesn’t succeed right away. Two, I think Molitor & company are the wrong staff for this job, and their trouble with Buxton would be exhibit A. They were on him to be more aggressive early in the season, and look where that got him.

Tom: Do you think that IQ tests have any scientific value? If so, what?
Klaw: I don’t think they have any at all.

Chris: Can Ryne Stanek be a late inning reliever with that heat, or is the FB just too flat?
Klaw: The guy we saw on Sunday is not a big league reliever. I’ve never seen hitters rushing to the bat rack to face a guy throwing 99 before.

RM: So regarding your position on the value of relievers, there really is no reason for the Yankees to trade Miller. It doesn’t appear they’d get much back so they might as well take what he delivers to them on the field.
Klaw: You’re conflating my view of relievers with what the market might provide. Of course they should shop him.

Josh: Is Krilloff a future major leaguer?
Klaw: Yes, of course. Most first-round picks reach the big leagues at some point. The question is what kind; I think he ends up an above-average regular in RF.

Chris: Chase Vallot is having a pretty strong season so far, and I’ve heard the defense will keep him behind hte plate. Can he move into your top 100 next year if he keeps it up and even moves up to HiA?
Klaw: I’ve heard the defense will NOT keep him behind the plate. I do think he can hit and has above-average power, but he’s repeating the level (at 19, so age-appropriate) and I don’t want to overrate the performance. It’s a good sign overall that he’ll be able to profile somewhere else.

Ron: It’s great to see Kepler in right and getting the experience in a lost season. Also Buxton playing every day if he is not hurt. The Sano experiment in RF is done, isn’t it? If not, they need their heads examined. He’s not any worse at 3rd than Plouffe. What are your thoughts?
Klaw: I think Sano is a 1b/dh and unfortunately they’ve blocked him there. But yes, Kepler and Buxton should be playing every day.

Chris: Does Eddy Julio Martinez make the Top 100 by the end of the year?
Klaw: Probably not, even though I do like his ability quite a bit. I’m glad to see the performance catching up to the tools a little bit lately.

Tom: I know that there is no such thing as clutch hitting, but every year the collective batting average with runners in scoring position league wide is less than the average with no one on base. Is it possible that there is not clutch hitting, but there is choking?
Klaw: It’s also possible that teams start to play matchups more with RISP late in games.

John: Were any of these remotely in consideration for the top 50? – Luke Weaver, D.Paulino, D.Acevedo, W.Calhoun, Reid-Foley, J.Flaherty, Soroka?
Klaw: No, no, no, no, no, no, and no. Good talk.

Klaw: That’s all for this week. I’ll be back next Thursday for another chat before I head out for the UA game on the 23rd. Thanks for all the questions this week and, as always, for reading my work.

Ex Machina.

My thoughts on prospects in the 2016 Futures Game are up for Insiders.

Ex Machina is a quiet mindbender of a film featuring a smart script that explores questions of consciousness, free will, and the power of the machine without becoming hyperbolic or paranoid. It made a number of critical best-of-2015 lists but was largely shut out of the major Academy Awards, although one of its stars, Alicia Vikander, won Best Supporting Actress for her part in The Danish Girl and could easily have earned a nomination for this as well. (Is there a rule precluding one actor from earning two nominations in the same category in the same year for different films?) The movie features three outstanding performances and some otherworldly CG graphics that somehow never manage to overwhelm the rest of the film. The movie is free for Amazon Prime members and also available on iTunes.

Caleb Smith (Domhnall Gleeson, son of Brendan “Mad-Eye Moody” Gleeson) is a young coder at a hugely successful search engine company called Blue Book, named for the journals of philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein, and wins a contest to spend a week at the remote house of the company’s founder, Nathan Bateman (Oscar Isaac). Nathan has been working on developing a robot with an AI good enough to pass the Turing test and has chosen Caleb to partake in the test as its human half. Caleb meets the robot, named Ava, who has a human face and shape but otherwise looks like a robot in a humanoid case. She can understand nuances in speech and read microexpressions, and early on it appears that she’s going to pass Caleb’s version of the test, although in an actual Turing test the human subject would be unaware whether he’s talking to a computer or a person. Eventually Ava, whom Nathan has confined to her little apartment within his compound, expresses her desire to escape, and Caleb agrees to help her.

The unfolding of this simple plot provides the film with strong narrative greed – I had a guess at what would happen and was only about half right – is largely secondary to the issues the script is trying to explore, even though it can’t answer any of them in full and doesn’t seem to try to do so. Is Ava alive? Is not, what is she, since she has consciousness, self-awareness, and what certainly appear to be emotions? Does she have free will if her cognitive processes are the results of code, not biology? Is it ethical to keep her confined as Nathan does – or unethical to let her out? Once Caleb has learned more details about Nathan’s experiment, then does he have any obligations in the matter?

One thing Ex Machina doesn’t do is delve into excessive paranoia about the machines taking us over. There’s a cautionary note inherent in the story, because it’s clear that Nathan’s robots would be indistuinguishable from people on sight, but director and writer Alex Garland, whose script got the film’s only non-technical Oscar nomination, lets the story create that concern in the mind of the viewer rather than laying it on thickly with the AI going bananas on screen.

The performances drive this film more than anything else. Vikander is superb in every way, communicating this perfect childlike innocence that provides a stark, useful contrast to her character’s intelligence. She’s beautiful, as the AI has to be for the plot to work properly, but in specific ways (especially her eyes) that accentuate her character’s otherness rather than making her strictly a fembot.

There are plenty of little flourishes that enhance the film overall without taking away from the main storyline. If you’ve seen it, you know how incredible the dance scene is – and how much the movie benefited from that one real moment of levity. Wittgenstein wrote about the mind-body problem of philosophy and his writings were forerunners to the school of functionalism, which defines states of mind by their purpose rather than the feelings that they comprise, so his work would clearly inform debates over what Ava actually is. “Enola Gay,” the OMD classic about the bombing of Hiroshima – another history-altering use of technology – plays early in the film while Caleb is first getting ready in his suite within Nathan’s house. (“Is mother proud of Little Boy today?” might have the genders flipped, but otherwise appears to apply to Nathan and Ava.) The code Caleb writes when he’s hacking into Nathan’s house security contains a great Easter egg (and that isn’t the only one in that scene). The score as a whole is superb, right down to the use of Savages’ “Husbands” over the closing credits. If I have one quibble, it’s with Caleb’s choice of how to check whether he is in fact a human – a plot twist I was wondering about, which would have made the film almost too much of a Philip K. Dick knockoff – doing so in a way that would likely have killed an actual person.

Then there’s the ending, which might be the only hiccup in the plot as a whole, but to be honest I don’t see how else the film could have ended given what came before. It’s not the comfortable ending you might have wanted, but Garland led the film to this point, and if it’s a little too pat, at least it’s not clean.

I don’t normally do a “next up” for films but I’ve already rented Anomalisa so I know that’ll be the next movie I watch.

Stick to baseball, 7/9/16.

My annual top 25 MLB players under age 25 ranking went up this week for Insiders, and please read the intro while you’re there. I also wrote a non-Insider All-Star roster reaction piece, covering five glaring snubs and five guys who made it but shouldn’t have. I also held my usual Klawchat on Thursday.

My latest boardgame review for Paste covers the reissue of the Reiner Knizia game Ra.

Sign up for my newsletter! You’ll get occasional emails from me with links to my content and stray thoughts that didn’t fit anywhere else.

And now, the links…

San Diego dining guide.

I’ve never lived in San Diego – I’d certainly love to try – so this isn’t a formal, comprehensive guide like the one I put together each year for Phoenix. Instead, here’s a list of my favorite spots around the city, several of which are on my to-do list for this weekend’s trip there for the Futures Game.

Juniper & Ivy, Little Italy. Top Chef winner Richard Blais opened this spot dedicated to the best ingredients California has to offer, a little over two years ago, and it repeatedly comes out on top of polls of the best restaurants in San Diego. It’s one of my favorite places to eat in the country, and while the menu keeps changing by the season, two perennials on the menu I always recommend are the yellowtail crudo and the Yodel dessert. There’s also currently a BBQ carrot dish on the menu that is one of the best vegetable dishes I’ve ever eaten – smoky grilled carrots served over a jalapeño chimichurri with peanuts and pickled apricot puree. They also have a great craft cocktail menu. Full review.

The Crack Shack, Little Italy. Right next door is Blais & company’s new spot, dedicated to all things fried chicken, three meals a day. J&I exec chef Jon Sloan often wanders over here as well. They have the usuals, like a bucket of fried chicken and various fried chicken sandwiches, but also fried chicken oysters, chicken lollipops, fries cooked in chicken fat, and more. It also has a full bar. Full review.

Bird Rock Coffee, Little Italy. Across the street is the best coffee roaster in San Diego, in a great location to hang out for a little while and enjoy the San Diego weather. Excellent espresso as well as pour-overs via V60 and Chemex.

Searsucker, Gaslamp. Top Chef contestant Brian Malarkey’s flagship has a similar mission to Juniper & Ivy’s, with a rotating menu that includes a lot of smaller plates. He has a brand new place, Herb & Wood, that appears to have just opened in Little Italy.

Cucina Urbana, Bankers Hill. Rustic, earthy Italian food, starring pastas and breads made from scratch. The polenta board is a highlight if you go with a group. Review in this post.

The Mission, multiple locations. Breakfast and lunch with a hipster vibe; I love their egg dishes, not so much their pancake options. Whatever you get, make sure you try their breakfast potatoes.

Prep Kitchen, Little Italy. Seasonally driven cuisine, much of it locally sourced, offering brunch as well as lunch and dinner. I’d put it behind J&I and Searsucker, but Prep Kitchen is a bit less haute-cuisine and more accessible if that’s your jam. Review in this post.

Bottega Americano, near Petco. An Italian market, a sandwich shop, a sit-down place for a casual lunch. Review in this post.

I don’t know how much I’ll explore this trip, since I have a few work commitments and a few favorites I want to visit again, but I’m intrigued by Herb & Wood, Carnitas Snack Shack (on Harbor Drive at the west end of downtown), and Solunto Bakery & Deli (Little Italy, the place to be).