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Devil Rays Top 10 Chat

Moderator: Bill Ballew compiled the Devil Rays top 10 prospect list and will field questions on the Tampa Bay organization at 3 p.m. ET.

 Q:  Jason Palazzo from Rockaway, NJ asks:
A very simple question. Should Rocco Baldelli start the year with the Devil Rays?
 A: 

Bill Ballew: Probably not, simply because he has very little time at Double-A and Triple-A under his belt. If the D-Rays had a crystal ball and could tell that Baldelli's development would not be harmed by going to the big leagues now, why not do it? It's not like the team has had a run of 70-win seasons. I think the chances of Rocco being in TBay on Opening Day is 50-50 at this point.

 Q:  Gerry from Toronto asks:
Is Nick Bierbrodt a prospect or a suspect?
 A: 

Bill Ballew: Bierbrodt does not qualify for the top 30 since he no longer has rookie status. Even if he did, he's probably only a marginal prospect due to his control problems.

 Q:  Ben from Arizona asks:
With Cam Bonifay running both the farm system and draft, do you see the Devil Rays changing their focus? Dan Jennings has drafted quite a bit of talent over the years...do the DRays have what it takes to compete over the next few years?
 A: 

Bill Ballew: I don't see the D-Rays' changing their focus that much. Chuck LaMar and the D-Rays are committed to building a strong farm system with high school-oriented drafts, which is the formula the Braves have used so successfully for the past 15 years. As far as having the sutff to compete, not in 2003 and probably not in 2004.

 Q:  Ben from Arizona asks:
The DRays seem to stack up with some of the best organizations in terms of their top 5-6 prospects. How do you feel? Do they have good depth beyond their top guys?
 A: 

Bill Ballew: The D-Rays' top 7 or 8 matches up with any team in baseball. The rest of the talent is about middle of the road, although there are several athletes and budding pitchers in the bunch that have potentially high ceilings.

 Q:  Minor Fan from St. Pete Florida asks:
Heard that the Rays lobbyed hard to gt Bobby Seay in the top 10 - #10 - What were BA's reasons for not including him.
 A: 

Bill Ballew: Not true. The D-Rays did not lobby at all for Seay or anyone else in the top 10. Seay has not been consistent enough or shown the ability to succeed at higher levels of competition. Yet the fact that he's left-handed keeps him interesting.

 Q:  Allard Barnes from St. Pete asks:
How much will the loss of Dan Jennings hurt the Rays?
 A: 

Bill Ballew: Any time you lose a guy like Jennings, it hurts. But the D-Rays landed on their feet by moving Bonifay into the job. Bonifay will not be as much of a frequent flier as Jennings, but there should not be a noticeable dropoff in production.

 Q:  Ben from Arizona asks:
It's very early, but would the Devil Rays take one of the young OF's with the #1 pick this year? They've got to be hoping a pitcher develops...maybe Kyle Sleeth or Jared Hughes?
 A: 

Bill Ballew: The D-Rays' philosophy is to take the best affordable player available, and if that happens to be an outfielder, I think they'll go for it. Still, looking at the depth in the organization, a pitcher would have to be the likely choice.

 Q:  Kelly Kapowski from Bayside, Calif. asks:
Will Lou Piniella make any difference? Was it a waste to give up Randy Winn for him?
 A: 

Bill Ballew: I don't think it was a waste to give up Winn for Piniella. Lou will be a sweet addition to a team that needs some positive P.R. among the locals. He can't improve upon the team's performance to date, is contraction the next logical option?

 Q:  Mick from Chicago asks:
Is Jace Brewer in the radar of the parent club for at least a utility man position? Has his "D" been as good as advertised, and his offense as bad?
 A: 

Bill Ballew: The D-Rays said positive things about Brewer when I was conducting the interviews and research, but many scouts wonder if he will ever be a solid player. Defense is definitely his strength, while his bat has struggled aside from the early part of last season.

 Q:  Steve from Tampa Bay asks:
WEll at least we see hope for the hometown team! Welcome Lou! Who on the top 10 list do you feel has the same attitude as Lou when it comes to winning?
 A: 

Bill Ballew: As far as attitude, Baldelli will as he gains confidence, McClung, Bankston and Pridie. But all 10 guys are legitimate major league prospects.

 Q:  Frankie Foley from Varina, VA asks:
Great chats...one question about Travis Harper. I know he is not a "top prospect" but does he have a chance to contribute at the major league level? Or is he destined to be a modern day Dave Eiland...deal at AAA and struggle at the big league level. (not that i have anything against Dave Eiland). Thanks.
 A: 

Bill Ballew: I think Harper will get another chance. If he can't get a shot with the D-Rays' starting rotation, where will he? He may wind up being a 4-A pitcher, but he has some definite ability.

 Q:  Chris from Charleston SC asks:
With the talk of Steve Cox's going to Japan and the outfield looking well stocked - who do you think will be the starting rotation for the rays - and what does your crystal ball say about the pen and closer?
 A: 

Bill Ballew: The closer's job has never been settled since the D-Rays came into existence. Delvin James could be the man one day. As for the rotation this year, that's tough. Brazelton and Kennedy are pretty much givens. No one else is a sure thing with Piniella in the saddle.

 Q:  Chuck Lamar from Tropicana Field asks:
What do you see as my future with the Devil Rays Organization?
 A: 

Bill Ballew: Tell Vince to butt out and things would be a lot better. Still, with Lou now in place, yes sir, it's time to starting making noticeable improvements in the W-L column.

 Q:  Dave Cowen from Santa Rosa, CA asks:
Would anyone from the Baltamore, Boston or NY lists have even cracked Tampa's top 5? 10?
 A: 

Bill Ballew: I didn't do the other lists, but IMO, Hanley Ramirez and Juan Rivera would get a long look in the top five while the top five or so Blue Jays like Dustin McGowan, Jayson Werth, Kevin Cash, Brandon League would factor in as well. The Rays strength is in the first five or so, then there's a significant drop off.

 Q:  Jeff Spicoli from Ridgemont High asks:
Any chance the BJ Upton will move from shortstop to another position (i sure hope not)? Does he take any walks? And do you think Upton or Antonio Perez will get to the majors first? And will Perez get there at SS or 2B? Thanks!
 A: 

Bill Ballew: Sure, there's a chance since he hasn't played a professional game yet. But I see Upton as a long-time shortstop. I believe Perez's future is at second base, especially with Brent Abernathy as the primary competition at this point.

 Q:  Fenster from San Diego asks:
Hey Bill, Granted Crawford, Baldelli, Upton, and Hamilton all have wonderful natural ability, but say five years from now all they become are a bunch of fleet footed hackers, because the Rays organization forgot to tell them pitchers throw something besides strikes, they throw balls too, lots of them? Crawford is painful too watch. Nine walks in 259 MLB AB's. That's not nervous jitters. That's just embarrassing. Thanks.
 A: 

Bill Ballew: Baldelli is much like Crawford in that walks are not part of their games, at least not yet. Upton, it's too early to tell. Hamilton is patient and will take a base on balls.

 Q:  Nick from NJ asks:
I heard that Jason Pridie was being moved to 3b. Is that true and, if so, does that affect how you would view him as a prospect? Also, I've heard so much about the Gomes brothers but neither is in the top 10. Where do you rank them and what do you think about each of them? Thanks alot.
 A: 

Bill Ballew: Pridie is getting a look at third base. He's a hitting machine and the move does nothing but help his long-term potential, especially with the large number of OFers in the organization. The brothers Gomes are solid power hitters who ranks in the second 10 of the Rays' prospects. They would be in the top 10 in many organizations.

 Q:  JIM from Coral Gables asks:
Do you think the DRays will push BJ Upton through the system quicky in order to help fill their hole at SS. Lou is already complaining that they are weak at SS and need someone who can field. What is Uptons ETA in Tampa? Thanks
 A: 

Bill Ballew: Yes, I think Upton will be pushed as quickly as possible. Fortuantely for him, he appears to have that type of talent. Even so, I think he's close to three years from the big leagues, especially after not playing at all in the professional ranks last season.

 Q:  Drew Cobb from Apopka, FL asks:
Why were the Gomes brothers left out of the top ten?
 A: 

Bill Ballew: There's simply so much talent at the top of the D-Rays' list. If the Gomes have another year in 2003 like they had in 2002, it will be tough to keep them out, regardless of the competition.

 Q:  Mr. T from Chicago asks:
Does everyone at BA agree that Tampa Bay has (by far) the best minor league system of the AL East teams?
 A: 

Bill Ballew: The Rays are the best, but Toronto is pretty close behind. The Yankees, Red Sox and Orioles have some work to do.

 Q:  Drew Cobb from Apopka, FL asks:
Given his rocky debut in the AA Southern League last summer, what do you expect to see from Seth McClung this year?
 A: 

Bill Ballew: The D-Rays wanted McClung to get his feet wet in Double-A last year in order to increase his comfort level with Orlando in 2003. That scenario should lead to a better performance this year, which should put him within shouting distance of the Trop.

 Q:  Will Crawford from Fort Smith, AR asks:
Why no mention of Pierre LaForest?
 A: 

Bill Ballew: LaForest probably made as much progress as any player in the organization last year. He's in the middle of the second 10.

 Q:  Peter Friberg from San Diego, CA asks:
With an abundance of OFers, and a dearth of middle infielders, and since Lou has indicated the team's need of a SS, should we expect the D'Rays to deal?
 A: 

Bill Ballew: I don't see a deal, but I wouldn't be surprised if the D-Rays picked up someone on the cheap when teams trim rosters over the next two months. If that doesn't happen, a trade in spring training would be a strong possibility.

 Q:  Michael Smith from SLC, UT asks:
Hi, Bill. I was wondering what you think about Jonny Gomes? Is he a future All-Star or just a future regular? His stats look magnificent. His OBP of .430 and his OPS of over 1.000 were one of the tops in all of the minors. He was also a good age relative to his competition. Thanks for answering my question. Michael
 A: 

Bill Ballew: Hi Michael--I think Jonny Gomes is the real deal. I saw him in 2001 with Princeton and I couldn't believe he was still on the draft board so late. A future all-star or even a future starter is not a certainty at this point, however. Let's see how he does at Double-A this year before putting that type of pressure on him. That said, he's moving fast by pounding everything in his path.

 Q:  dave taggart from CA asks:
how good can rocco baldelli be?...do you think he will succed in the big leagues this yr?...what are your predictions for him this yr?
 A: 

Bill Ballew: I think Rocco will struggle if he is in the big leagues this year. Pitchers in the big leagues make rapid adjustments, and Rocco doesn't have the experience to match wits with them just yet. That said, his natural ability would enable him to have at least marginal success. A half-season at Durham would do him wonders.

 Q:  Peter Friberg from San Diego, CA asks:
Yesno question - In your opinion, will Hamilton ever be a credible (more than a cup of coffee) big leaguer?
 A: 

Bill Ballew: Yes, if he gets healthy.

 Q:  Dan from Tampa, FL asks:
If Rocco Baldelli does not make the team in Spring. Who starts in center until his arrival? Would Damian Rolls be a good candidate?
 A: 

Bill Ballew: I don't know if Rolls is a "good" candidate, but he probably will get a look. Jason Tyner, Jason Conti could get looks, but it's pretty wide open right now.

 Q:  NWPadre from Vancouver Washington asks:
Which Propects did you see breaking through this year for TB? Did Lou have a hand in getting Antontio Perez going to Tampa Bay?
 A: 

Bill Ballew: Yeah, Piniella had a hand in getting Perez to Tampa Bay. Brazelton and Baldelli have the best chance to make the jump full-time this year. A real strong spring by Perez and a difficult showing from Abernathy could give Perez a chance.

 Q:  JB from Windsor Locks asks:
What are the chances Baldelli will be starting in Center for the D-Rays next season?
 A: 

Bill Ballew: 50-50

 Q:  Matthias Peters-Kroll from Franklin and Marsshall College asks:
with their multitiude of OF prospects do you see any of them being dealt (besides baldelli, crawford, and hamilton) for help to fill other holes on the organization at the major andor minor league level?
 A: 

Bill Ballew: That's one of the roles of the farm system, to use prospects to acquire help at the major league level. One or both of the Gomes brothers could fall into that category. Many teams would love to jump on Bankston and Pridie.

 Q:  Michael Stern from Rochester N.Y. asks:
With a plethora of young talented outfielders (a good problem to have) who do you see as the odd men out in Tampa between Crawford, Hamilton, Baldelli, Bankston and Pridie? They all look so talented with such huge upside. I like Pridie the best - and he's ranked lowest! Michael Stern Rochester, N.Y. mscf24@hotmail.com
 A: 

Bill Ballew: Pridie is getting a look at the hot corner for that reason. Bankston has only a year of the Appy League under his belt, so it's tough to make an accurate statement about him. Crawford-Baldelli-Hamilton has long been the D-Rays' dream outfield.

 Q:  Matthias from Franklin and Marshall College asks:
what do you see baldelli and crawford's numbers at when they are in their primes?
 A: 

Bill Ballew: Crawford can be a .280-20-80-25 guys down the road. Baldelli is a tougher call, but .310-25-90-25 would not be unreasonable to project.

 Q:  BG from California asks:
Jonny Gomes had a pretty good year outside of his SO tendency, how far was he from TBs top 10? How high is his ceiling?
 A: 

Bill Ballew: He was close, and there was considerable discussion about Jonny and Joey. It was just a case of close but no cigar.

 Q:  David from Chestertown, Maryland asks:
Is Josh Hamilton one of Tampa Bay's top 10 propsects for 2003?
 A: 

Bill Ballew: No. 2

 Q:  Michael Stern from Rochester N.Y. asks:
Who do you see Tampa going after with the first pick in this year's draft? Will money be a concern, or will they take the best player? Will they pass on guys like Milledge seeing as they have so many talented outfielders already in the system? Michael Stern Rochester, N.Y.
 A: 

Bill Ballew: Money will be a concern, although the D-Rays will make a strong push for the best player, a la Upton last year. I don't think the D-Rays are in a position to pass up anyone, regardless of the farm system's depth.

 Q:  Matthias from Franklin and Marshall College asks:
is dewon brzelton good enough to be a true #1 or does that the fact that his breaking ball as good as his fastball and changeup limit him to only being a #2-3 type starter?
 A: 

Bill Ballew: I see him as more of a No. 2 or 3 starter, but that has nothing with his breaking ball and changeup being as good as his fastball.

 Q:  David from Chestertown, Maryland asks:
Where league will B.J Upton be starting in the spring of 2003?
 A: 

Bill Ballew: My guess is the Class A Charleston RiverDogs, unless he really struggles in spring training, which I do not believe will be the case.

 Q:  Mike from Tampa asks:
The most recent BA team report on the Devil Rays features a short article about Wes Bankston where Wes mentions that the organization is so stocked with outfielders that they're moving Jason Pridie to 3B. How has the move gone so far and do you think Jason has what it takes to make it work?
 A: 

Bill Ballew: Pridie got a look at third base late in instructional league, so it's too early to tell. Even so, he had a solid middle infield glove in high school and has the athleticism and reflexes to handle the position in the professional ranks.

 Q:  Steve from Jacksonville asks:
Hi, Any chance of seeing Jonny Gomes in the Bigs this year? Will he be in spring training this year? Thanks.
 A: 

Bill Ballew: Gomes reaching the big leagues this year seems to be a stretch to me, but anything is possible in Tampa Bay. Still, Double-A with a possible mid-year promotion to Triple-A is the best case scenario.

 Q:  Walter Madison from Talahassee, FL asks:
I saw Rocco Baldelli in the AFL and he looked awfully frail. I saw the athletic ability the scouts obviously like, but I don't agree with projecting him with more than 15-20 homers a year. I guess my question is do any other scouts see this in Baldelli also?
 A: 

Bill Ballew: His body is still developing, but his swing and strong wrists will enable him to hit 20 homers annually in the major leagues. That said, you are not alone in your assessment of his body, but I don't think that will be a long-term concern.

 Q:  Mike from Tampa asks:
I was surprised to see that Johnny Gomes didn't make the Top 10. Where would you rank him among Rays' prospects and how did two outfielders from the most recent draft (Bankston and Pridie) make it higher than Gomes, who has now had two successful pro seasons in a row?
 A: 

Bill Ballew: The rankings are based on long-term projections and ultimate value to the organization. All three are solid players, it's just that Bankston and Pridie are considered to be better all-around players with more tools, but that's taking nothing away from Gomes.

 Q:  Shad from Frostburg St. University asks:
Love these chats. I know that Toe Nash is no longer with the team but will he be picked up by anyone this year? He was at least I thought fairly impressive in his debut in the Appy League? I just figured that the Yanks would scoop him up because they can get anyone or maybe the Orioles(What would they have to lose?). Thanks
 A: 

Bill Ballew: Many opponents had concerns about the way Nash carried himself in the Appy League in 2001. I don't see him getting another chance after the events of the past year or so.

 Q:  David Niemi from N. Fort Myers, Fl asks:
Dewon Brazelton had 2 good starts at the end of the year do you think that he is ready to be a major league pitcher in 2003?
 A: 

Bill Ballew: I don't think Brazelton is completely ready for the big leagues, but I think he will pitch there in 2003. Some time at Durham would really help him, IMO.

 Q:  Jason Palazzo from Rockaway, NJ asks:
Where does Baldelli bat in TB's lineup next year, ifwhen he gets called up?
 A: 

Bill Ballew: Either near the top or near the bottom, depending on how he shows he can handle the pressure during spring training.

 Q:  David Niemi from N. Fort Myers, FL asks:
Will Josh Hamilton be ready for spring training and if healthy could we see him in the majors by September?
 A: 

Bill Ballew: Hamilton is expected to be healthy in spring training. A solid, healthy season could lead to a September callup.

 Q:  Mike from Tampa asks:
Which top prospects do you think will start the year at Double A Orlando and have the biggest impact there?
 A: 

Bill Ballew: Seth McClung is my top candidate. Josh Hamilton could also fit into that category.

 Q:  AP from New Jersey asks:
What is the status with Matt White ?? Will he ever make it to the big leagues ??
 A: 

Bill Ballew: He will make it, if he can physically handle it. Not that he deserves it, but the D-Rays are determined to give him a shot. The front office remains very high on White, although many others do not see it.

 Q:  Robert Goldberg from Lyndhurst, NJ asks:
Just how highly ranked are the Gomes brothers in the TB system? Early teens for Jonny, late 20s for Joey?
 A: 

Bill Ballew: You got it.

 Q:  Peter Friberg from San Diego, CA asks:
It would seem TB has had problems converting potential into performance. While Sweet Lou won't be developing the prospects himself, what is his reputation in that arena?
 A: 

Bill Ballew: Piniella traditionally prefers veterans over young players, but his philosophy will require some changing this year due to the D-Rays' personnel. Even so, I think he can handle the challenge.

 Q:  David N. from Fort Myers, FL asks:
Will the outfield of Josh Hamilton, Carl Crawford and Rocco Baldelli be one of the best in history?
 A: 

Bill Ballew: From a potential standpoint, it could be. But that's assuming a lot, especially considering the progress all three need to make in order to reach that level.

 Q:  Dan from Tampa asks:
Toby Hall's Catchers ERA was 5.91 last year, whereas Flaherty's was 4.55. With the loss of Flaherty, who do you see coming in as the backup catcher and do you think Hall will improve that number?
 A: 

Bill Ballew: I think Piniella will acquire a veteran, a Tom Prince type of guy, to work with the pitchers and tutor Hall. That will help Hall's game improve.

 Q:  Ben from Arizona asks:
Who are some of the young arms outside of the top guys like Brazelton, McClung and Switzer? Is Chris Seddon a young prospect?
 A: 

Bill Ballew: Seddon is a leading guy. Chris Flinn and Chad Gaudin have decent ceilings. Romelio Lopez is a name to keep in mind.

 Q:  Tay from Canada asks:
Could Antonio Perez be in the second base running sooner rather then later in Tampa?Thanks
 A: 

Bill Ballew: Yes

 Q:  Will Cobb from Lowell, AR asks:
Why was Pierre LaForest not mentioned as a prospect?
 A: 

Bill Ballew: He is a prospect, he just didn't make the top 10. There's no question he's the top catching prospect in the organization.

 Q:  Dan from Tampa asks:
Where do you see Lance Carter next year? Rotation or Bullpen. He had excellent control numbers at AAA and he put up great numbers in september.
 A: 

Bill Ballew: Carter is a bubble guy, could be at the bottom of the rotation, could be in the bullpen. My bet is the 4th or 5th starter.

 Q:  Eddy from Lachine, Quebec asks:
Where will Aubrey Huff play, and was last year his career year?
 A: 

Bill Ballew: No, I don't think last year was a career year. His future is at the corner infield spots, probably first.

 Q:  Jim from Phoenix asks:
What is your impression of three college pitchers the D-Rays selected this year: Brian Bulger, Scott Autrey and Mike Prochaska?
 A: 

Bill Ballew: I like Autrey the best of the three. He was a top 30 candidate with a good fastball in the low 90s. He's out of the University of North Carolina, and should prove his value this year in a full season league.

 Q:  bob from tallahassee,florida asks:
I guess you dont want to answer my question on Matt Diaz.Sorry to hear that,because you will be missing the boat when he plays in the major leagues and all these other hype-types wont.
 A: 

Bill Ballew: There's no denying Diaz had solid numbers last year at Orlando. He does several things well, which gives him a shot, especially with Tampa Bay. At the same time, his name is not mentioned often among the D-Rays' decision-makers.

 Q:  Juan Henderson from Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic asks:
I think the D Rays have been shy scouting young players outside of The United States. Many major league organizations have had success signing foreign players, mainly from the Dominican republic, Puerto Rico and Venezuela. Do you think that they will be more agressive scouting players out of United Sates.
 A: 

Bill Ballew: They should become more aggressive as time goes on, but the financial situation has prevented the D-Rays from jumping in with both feet. They tried with some early signings in the late 1990s, but have been focusing on the draft over the past few seasons.

 Q:  Dave from New Orleans asks:
Would you take TB's farms system over Cleveland's or San Diego's? What about their top ten, top 5?
 A: 

Bill Ballew: I'd put the D-Rays' top 5 against any team's, while their top 10 ranks among the top 10 in baseball.

Moderator: Thanks for the questions. Hopefully the D-Rays' prospects will make the Trop a more interesting place in the near future.

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