Prospect Hot Sheet Chat With J.J. Cooper

Moderator: J.J. Cooper will answer your prospect questions beginning at 3 p.m. ET.

@Jaypers413 (IL): Hi, JJ. I've just learned that Brian Cashman is putting Dellin Betances into a permanent relief role. Reaction?
J.J. Cooper: Hey guys, let’s get going. Yeah credit to Donnie Collins and Joel Sherman for tracking down the news that Betances is moving to the bullpen. My reaction is it’s the Yankees’ last hope of generating some kind of return on their investment in Betances. He’s out of options next year, so if they keep trying him as a starter, barring a miracle, he’s going to be hitting waivers next April. By moving him to the pen, there’s at least a small chance he’ll do enough to warrant a big league job by next year. Do I think it will happen? No. As good as Betances’ stuff still is, he doesn’t throw nearly enough strikes to be an effective pitcher. He’s walked nearly 5 batters per nine innings for his career. Really 2010 is the only time in his career that he showed he could repeat his delivery. He’s been trying, and not succeeding, at getting back to that form ever since.

Ben (Leland Grove): Between Gausman, Wheeler and Cole, who do you think gets the call first?
J.J. Cooper: Wheeler. The Mets have a very clear need for a fifth starter while the Pirates will give Jeanmar Gomez a chance to prove he can keep doing what he did in his first start after replacing Jonathan Sanchez. The Orioles are in a similar situation where they have no clear reason to make a rotation move right now.

Sepo (Peoria, IL): What is wrong with Billy Hamilton? Still getting steals but starting to look like there is no way he gets a call this year.
J.J. Cooper: Oh I think there is very little chance he doesn’t get the call at some point this year. If he hit .100 for the rest of the year, how would he not help a potential playoff team as a pinch-runner and CF defensive replacement come September when rosters expand. As great a season as Choo is having offensively, he’s a well-below average center fielder. Hamilton would be a perfect late-inning defensive replacement (when the Reds are ahead) or pinch-runner (when the Reds are behind). As far as his offensive struggles, his lefthanded swing has not looked good early this season. The skeptical approach is that he’s hit a level where pitchers can simply overpower a slap hitter. I think more realistically, he’s in a slump much like we saw him suffer through during the first half of the 2011 season, when he was hitting .195 through late May, figured things out and hit over .300 for the rest of the season. I don’t think he’ll go that crazy offensively, but I do expect you’ll see him make significant improvements over the rest of the season.

T Ham (Napa, CA): After a hot start, looks like Zunino is struggling at the plate up in Tacoma... any ideas why?
J.J. Cooper: That was a very aggressive assignment for a 2012 draft pick. In fact, it’s one of the most aggressive Opening Day assignments we can remember for a hitter. He’s had nights where he’s a little over his head as Triple-A pitchers are a bit more polished than the SEC pitchers he was facing at this time last year, but I wouldn’t worry about it long term.

Matt Mosher (Whippleville, NY): I love the Hot Sheet, but Cesar Puello holds the minor's longest hitting streak this season and tore it up this week. Noah Syndergaard had two great starts. How close did these guys come to the Team Photo? It seems to me that some less-deserving players made it in their place.
J.J. Cooper: Sorry your definition of tearing it up and mine must differ as far as Puello. He hit .269/.321/.731 this week with four home runs. The four home runs are very good. I wrote about his two home run Wednesday night in Thursday’s prospect notebook, but who should have been left off for that this week? The closest week to that to make the Hot Sheet was probably Jorge Alfaro’s .300/.391/.900 week which also included four home runs, and he did it as a catcher while also walking twice (Puello didn’t walk once this week). Hitting home runs is nice, but usually to make the Hot Sheet a guy who hit for average, got on base and hit for power is going to top the guy who hit for home runs but didn’t hit for average or get on base that week. As far as Syndergaard, it was a nice week (13 IP, 12 H, 2 R, 2 ER, 2 BB, 12 Ks) but to be honest, he wasn’t even on the short list. We had to leave off Lance McCullers (5 IP, 2 H, 0 R, 1 BB, 9 Ks), Ariel Pena (8 2/3 IP, 5 H, 1 R, 0 ER, 4 BB, 13 Ks), Bryan Brickhouse (6 2/3 IP, 2 H, 0 R, 2 BB, 9 Ks) and a few others.

.269 .731 .321

John (Chicago): Aside from Gerrit Cole's, how many better fastballs in the minors than Ventura's?
J.J. Cooper: Pure velocity wise I can’t think of many or maybe any. But as far as effectiveness, I could probably think of quite a few. Ventura’s fastball is a very good pitch, but if you are talking about a 6-foot-5 guy with a high 90s fastball compared to a sub-6-foot guy with the same fastball, the short pitcher’s fastball is more likely to be in the hitters swing plane for longer (it has less angle). Because of that, Ventura can get punished a little more for mistakes than a bigger pitcher with the same fastball. It hasn’t been a problem for Ventura in the minors, but then it wasn’t a problem for Kelvin Herrera until recently either.

Roger (Greenville, SC): How would you rank Yordano Ventura, Jesse Biddle, and Alex Wood as prospects?
J.J. Cooper: That’s an interesting grouping. Couple of rankings for them, because there are some nuances to all of them. Safest to be a multi-year big league starter 1. Biddle. 2. Wood. 3. Ventura. Highest ceiling. 1. Ventura, 2. Wood. 3. Biddle. Safest to be a successful big league pitcher. 1. Ventura. 2. Biddle. 3. Wood.

Nolan Fontana (Lancaster): Will I ever get to show off my ridiculous plate discipline everyday in MMP or am I destined to back up higher ceiling guys.
J.J. Cooper: Is this John Manuel asking this? There is no bigger Fontana fan in the office than John. I think he has a chance to grab the starting shortstop job for a little while, but he has Carlos Correa to then snatch it away from him a couple of years later. He’s a low-ceiling, very high floor guy whose approach should keep working on the way up the ladder. If you’re looking for a comp, he’s what the Royals hoped Christian Colon would be when they drafted him.

John (Birmingham): Tommy La Stella has been raking for a couple weeks now, did he get any consideration this week or last? Seems like all he's missing is the long ball, but everything else is gaudy.
J.J. Cooper: The guy can hit, probably enough to sniff the big leagues. Where he can play if he got there? I don’t have a good answer for you on that one.

Paul (In a van down by the river): Alex Wood has just been dominating the Southern League, and I like the Cingrani comp. Outside of his deceptive delivery, why has he been so good and what do you see as his ceiling? Thanks for the chat.
J.J. Cooper: He’s been so good because he pairs a deceptive delivery with an ability to hit his spots, and he’s doing it with a plus fastball from the left side. There aren’t many lefthanders who can put those three things together. If the Braves had an injury and needed a starting pitcher, if I was them, I’d rather see Wood come up than Gilmartin or J.R. Graham right now.

Jay (Palo Alto, CA): Among guys who could conceivably end up in the top 20-25 prospects, which players have done the most so far this year to help their prospect status?
J.J. Cooper: When the season began, if you told me that Byron Buxton got off to a slow start and was just starting to figure it out right now, I’d think that was a pretty expected occurrence. Instead, he’s been the best player in the Midwest League. That’s a pretty good start for a guy who has some of the best tools in baseball.

Hinkle (Twin Cities): Does Buxton have the skill set, makeup, and ceiling to be the #1 prospect in the game heading into the 2014 season?
(assuming Profar, Taveras, and Myers will be ineligble)

J.J. Cooper: He’ll be in the discussion. He’s got all the tools and he’s showing the skills you would want to see as well.

Eric K (St Louis): Thanks for the chat! How would you rank Yelich, Myers, and Taveras and who has the highest floor/ceiling?
J.J. Cooper: Taveras, Myers, Yelich for both.

Pierre (Ottawa, Ontario, Canada): Why aren't Carlos Correa & Rio Ruiz playing for Quad Cities this week? Were they demoted?
J.J. Cooper: No both are on the DL. Correa was hit by a pitch that bruised his hand and Ruiz has a strained oblique.

Eric K (St Louis): What can you tell me about Brad Miller. Is he an every day player or more of a utility guy? Nick Franklin get all the pub, but Miller has had a pretty consistant minor league career thus far.
J.J. Cooper: He should hit enough to be an everyday guy, but he still needs to improve his consistency to prove he can be an everyday guy at shortstop defensively. Personally I think he’s more likely to be a long-term SS than Franklin, who I expect will end up at 2B in the long-term.

John (Chicago): Do you also spend hours clicking through old scouting reports on the scout hall of fame website? Do you have a favorite report on there?
J.J. Cooper: Yes. Like many others, it’s hard to beat the Bo Jackson one. I also enjoy reading some of the Braves’ reports from the early 1990s because when I first started covering baseball, it was the 1995-1999 Macon Braves, so there are some guys who I saw play as minor leaguers showing up in the reports.

C.W. (Houston): Jarred Cosart had a great week and has yet to make the list. Why?
J.J. Cooper: That long list of guys who just missed? You could add Cosart to that group. It was one of those weeks where there were a lot of good candidates. Considering all the problems the Astros have, it shouldn’t be long after the Super Two deadline passes before we see Cosart in Houston.

Nate (Maryland): if you were to redo the braves top 10 prospect list right now, where would Alex Wood sit?
J.J. Cooper: Off the top of my head, he’d be pretty high in the top 5.

Jack (Staten Island): Kevin Plawecki C (Savannah) is having quite an offensive (near .400 BA) season. How is his defense progressing and will he be major league ready by 2015?
J.J. Cooper: The defense still has plenty of work to go. He’s working at it, but he still has plenty of work to do to become a polished receiver.

Victor (Los Angeles, CA): Joc Pederson is off to a hot start, but where do you see him in the future? Even if one of the Dodger's current outfielders are moved, that would make room for Yasiel Puig, does Pederson fit in the picture?
J.J. Cooper: More as a backup outfielder probably. Hard to see him cracking the starting lineup even with a trade.

Patrick (Durham, NC): Which unpronounceable Astros pitcher will have the most big league success: Foltynewicz or Asher Wojciechowski?
J.J. Cooper: I’ll go with Folty.

Cards fan (St. Louis): Will we see Taveras up next month?
J.J. Cooper: To play where? Every Cardinals outfielder is posting an above-average OPS compared to the league average. Matt Adams was hitting .500/.552/.962 and still couldn’t get regular at-bats because the lineup is loaded. Taveras looks like he’s in Triple-A for a while unless there is an injury.

Jack (Fla): Alex Colome had a nice 10 K outing this week. Given the Rays starting depth and issues in the pen should they give him a shot in their pen soon? Or do you think he's still got a shot to be a quality starter long term?
J.J. Cooper: No reason to move him to the pen unless you have a glaring need you think he can fill right now in Tampa. The Rays have amazing starting pitching depth, but starting pitchers are more valuable than relievers, so he should keep starting. He’d be a nice trade chip if nothing else.

Bryan (Chicago): Hey boss....Sunday May 18th...should I go see Kane County and Vogelbach at Cedar Rapids and Buxton/Polanco/Goodrum or Beloit and no prospects at Quad Cities and Carlos Correa
J.J. Cooper: Go to Cedar Rapids. That’s a very fun team to watch.

Tony (MD): Pierce Johnson can't stay in MWL that long, can he?
J.J. Cooper: You wouldn’t think. He looks ready for the sun of Daytona doesn’t he?

brad (catawissa): when can i hope to see lindor and sano make their move to the eastern league?
J.J. Cooper: Keep waiting a little while. Fans love to see guys get promoted after the first good week or good month. But for teams, there is very little upside in making a very quick promotion and all kinds of downside–teams hate to see a guy get in over his head because that often ends up slowing down development. If those two spent all year in high Class A, they’d still be on the fast track. I wouldn’t think it would be that long, but there doesn’t appear to be any reason to not keep both of them around til the all-star break at least.

John D (Wilmington, NC): Sano or Soler?
J.J. Cooper: Give me Sano, but they’re both very good.

@Jaypers413 (IL): What are the odds Oscar Taveras gets called up before August 1?
J.J. Cooper: That’s asking me to predict injuries, which is very hard. I’d say 50-50.

Two Dog$ (Wigwam): JJ, big fan. Favorite breakout prospect this year?
J.J. Cooper: Burch Smith. He’s proven a lot in a little time this year and is now headed to the big leagues for the Padres.

Steve (Philly): Did the Reds damage Billy Hamilton by pushing him to AAA this year? Looks like he needs to go down to AA for another year.
J.J. Cooper: He hit in Double-A last year, so what’s to be gained by repeating. Guys struggle sometimes, which is OK. Teams would much rather see a guy work these things out in the minors than the majors.

Al (San Diego): I'm surprised that the Padres called up Burch Smith for saturday's start having Erlin and Roach in the mix. Why do you think the Padres called up Smith over those two? and what sort of projection does he have?
J.J. Cooper: He has better stuff. I’ll be interested to see if his secondary stuff is consistent enough to succeed right away, but a 95+ mph fastball with life is enough to make even big league hitters struggle.

Paul (Minnesota): Danny Salazar - has 2013 to date been just natural progression - or has he improved his tools? How do you see his floor/ceiling?
J.J. Cooper: Biggest concern with Salazar is can he stay healthy. He was touching 98 mph before this year as well. So far, so good on the health standpoint so he is on track to give the Indians two solid starting pitching prospects who are nearly big league ready (him and Bauer). The big caveat there is that is all contingent on him staying healthy and there have been health problems in the past.

Robert (Seattle): How do you think Burch Smith is going to do now that he is called up. Is there a potential surprise bustout here?
J.J. Cooper: If I needed a starting pitcher in a fantasy league, I’d take the risk on him. It’s a great park to pitch in and Smith has big-time stuff.

Tim (MD): How much of Brett Jackson's struggles this year (when he played) due to injury/adapting to a new swing? Or is this a case of a guy whose instincts simply won't mesh enough to the lower the K rate significantly. Granted, he's got enough skills that if the K rate just dropped a bit, he probably has a shot.
J.J. Cooper: Personally, I’m not a believer. I did a study on everyone who struck out close to as much as Jackson did in his big league debut (http://www.baseballamerica.com/blog/prospects/2013/01/brett-jacksons-strikeout-rate-reaches-historic-level/), and there are very few success stories in that group. If it was so easy to retool a swing and eliminate strikeouts after a poor big league debut, more guys would have pulled it off. I think he’s always going to have a problem with strikeouts.

Jack (Toronto): JJ, are you a believer in Vogelbach's bat?
J.J. Cooper: I believe he’ll hit. Hit enough to be an NL player without a DH? I’m more skeptical on that.

Casey (Friendswood): Has Rio Ruiz's stock dropped at all? He seems to be struggling.
J.J. Cooper:/strong> Right now he’s hurt. Getting healthy is step one for him.

Terry (St. Paul): Kyle Gibson's first start this week made him ineligible for the list, but his second was mighty impressive. What can we expect from him as a major leaguer?
J.J. Cooper: I wrote about that yesterday. Doing it against Toledo, which is a pitchers’ best friend, played a part in Gibson’s dominance, but yeah, he’s pretty much ready for the big league call. I think he could be a solid middle of the rotation starter, which in Minnesota means he’ll be at the front of the rotation before long.

Ben (VA): Pick one - Rio Ruiz or Tanner Rahier?
J.J. Cooper: Ruiz.

Ron "JP" Moriconi (Ct): Is it finally time that we give up on Kyle skipworth?
J.J. Cooper: I think I gave up on him in 2011. If he was a 10th round pick, he would have likely been released by now. Nothing personal against him, and I’ve heard good things about his work ethic, but he just doesn’t make enough contact.

Casey (Texas): Can you remember a better group of Twins prospects than what they have now? Best overall Twins farm system I can remember.

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J.J. Cooper: Can’t think of an organization that has had a better start to the minor league season.

John (Chicago): Thanks for answering my question about Ventura's FB. You did give it a 75 grade in the BA Top 100, so I was surprised that you believe other FBs will be more effective.
J.J. Cooper: On pure velo it’s a 75-80 pitch. But I wanted to give a little further insight into what scouts are telling me about it.

Noel (Toronto): Not a question, but a comment. I thought that the intro to the Soler profile was inappropriate. I'm sure it was meant tongue and cheek, but it was low and beneath BA's standards in my opinion.
J.J. Cooper: Thanks for your opinion. It was tongue and check and I think we’ve been clear here in multiple stories/Tweets that 1) no one should be heading towards an opponent’s dugout wielding a bat and 2) we don’t think it’s a sign that Soler is going to have long-term makeup problems.

Michael Wacha (Memphis): Do I need an injury in St. Louis' rotation to see the show this year, or will I get a cup of coffee in the bullpen this year?
J.J. Cooper: Right now that bullpen already has a lot of starters converted into relievers. To me it makes the most sense for Wacha to keep starting in Triple-A. If there is an injury, the Cardinals will need someone who is stretched out and ready to go as a starter.

Daniel (Houston): Can yelich become a 40 hr type of player? can he become a perennial 20-20? His career will be more like Bob Abreu? or Ken Griffey? Thanks
J.J. Cooper: I have never heard a scout think of him as a 40 HR type or anything close to that. Those are too very lofty comps you are throwing out there. I think he ends up as a high average 20 HR guy. If you want to comp that to Abreu, feel free.

Jerry (San Diego): What are your thoughts on Derek Dietrich? Has his prospect status changed much with his solid start this year?
J.J. Cooper: Pretty much same guy I was writing about in the FSL last year. More pop than the average 2B/3B. He’s in a great situation now with Miami, and if he gets 500 ABs, I could see him hitting .250-.260 with fair-to-middling defense but 10-15 HRs and some doubles.

Ben (Providence): Today's Hot Sheet said that Yelich's arm "keeps getting better." How does that happen? Is it stronger? Did he have bad mechanics before?
J.J. Cooper: I had a long conversation about this a year ago with George Lombard, the Red Sox coach and former Braves’ OF. Lombard himself will admit that when he broke into pro ball he had the worst arm around (when I saw him in Macon, teammates would tease him about it) It was a bad 20. But by getting on a good throwing program (long toss) and working on it, by the time he retired, he had a 45-50 arm. When Yelich signed, his arm was really bad, but he’s worked at it, developed arm strength and sped up what is still a very long release. Now he has arm strength and his ball has decent carry, but he just has a long release so it takes him a good while to get from the catch to the release on his throw.

Ron (Minnesota): I've been a Twins fan my entire life...the last SUPERSTAR player I recall was Kirby Puckett (No major disrespect to Mauer...he's just not that godly). Anyway, is Sano the next superstar player the Twins will have, and does he truly have Cabrera like potential as hard as it is to be THAT good?
J.J. Cooper: Our definitions of superstar appear to be different because if a three-time batting champ, three-time Gold Glove, MVP catcher isn’t a superstar, than who is? But Sano and Buxton both have superstar potential, at least by my definition of a superstar.

J.J. Cooper: I’ve got to run so we can get the BA Top 100 Draft Prospects up. Thanks for all the questions.