League Top 20 Prospects

Southern League Top 20 Prospects Chat

Ben Badler answered plenty of questions

Moderator: Hi everyone, Ben Badler here, thanks as always for spending the afternoon. I've spent the last two weeks of my waking hours working on a team-by-team recap of what all 30 teams did this year in signing international prospects. We'll roll that out soon, beginning with the National League, but it's time to jump back into domestic prospects for a couple hours. With the Carolina ballpark close to my home, I was fortunate enough to have seen probably 40-50 Southern League games or so this year, so I've seen every player on this list at least once, with the exception of Hanson and Hellickson, and every team except for Birmingham. So let's get started.

 Q:  Todd from Chattanooga asks:
If there was ever a time on BA to have a top 30 or 40 list - this would be it for me. Great list!

Ben Badler: As about a dozen of the questions in the queue say, this league was absolutely loaded. We cut off our league top prospects lists after 20 players, but there are definitely more than 20 players in this league who I feel could become average, above-average and even all-star caliber players. It really was a pleasure to be able to follow the league this year, which I think was the most prospect-laden in the minors. This list is my best estimate at these players' futures, but I have no doubt that we'll look back here in five years at some of the players who missed the list and find them to be very good major leaguers.

 Q:  ScottAz from Phx, AZ asks:
In spring we kept hearing how Maybin was Hanley Ramirez except in CF. Is that still what is expected or have expectations been lowered?

Ben Badler: I don't think those comparisons were fair to Maybin, who has superstar potential but was not ready to make the jump to the big leagues this year. So I think that was more public misconception than anything Maybin did wrong. My expectations are still the same: he's loaded with tools, he has tremendous potential and has a good chance of reaching that ceiling with some more adjustments.

 Q:  jerald from iowa asks:
Gaby Sanchez just missed the list, does he still project out to be a solid major league regular and what is his ETA?

Ben Badler: Yes, and I could see him stepping in next year and being a league-average first baseman for the Marlins. He's a very smart hitter with good hands and power.

 Q:  Fred from Miami asks:
Chris Volstad—could he be the future ace of the Marlins—as soon as '09? He was so impressive with his poise and savvy this season. His numbers went pretty much unnoticed w/o much fanfare, yet they were incredible for a 21-year old rookie. Do you see his k-rate going up to the 7-8/9IP level?

Ben Badler: I was blown away by Volstad the first time I saw him pitch, and he continued to impress me every time I saw him at Carolina and pitching for the Marlins. If he's not the Marlins' best pitcher next year, he will be in the next few years. For a 21-year-old kid who's 6-foot-8 to have such clean mechanics is remarkable. Taller pitchers like him often take a while to put it all together, but he's already well ahead of the curve. His command isn't quite where it needs to be yet, but that'll be there pretty soon. The K rate doesn't bother me at all because of how nasty his two-seamer is and because his curve and change are both above-average pitches. If it's early in the count, he'll get the groundball. If he's got two strikes on a hitter, he can get the swing-and-miss with his curve or change.

 Q:  JP from Warrenton MO asks:
Is Parra stuck as a tweener?

Ben Badler: I don't think so, but there are scouts who feel that way. I see a player with a beautiful swing, a good feel for hitting and for the strike zone who lacks the present strength to punish hitters when they attack him in the strike zone and had to adapt to the caliber of Double-A pitching. Other than his plus-plus arm, his tools won't jump out at you... he's a guy who you have to watch several times and look at his overall numbers to appreciate. His physical development will likely dictate his future, but I'm optimistic.

 Q:  Navin from Pasadena, CA asks:
Did you hear anything on Tennessee's Esmailin Caridad who had some nice numbers in the SL? I can't wait for that international signings recap - I am a big fan of your international work. Thanks for the chat!

Ben Badler: Thanks. Very, very interesting backstory as to how the Cubs signed Caridad. I'll save that for the recap, but he's got a good fastball, backs it up with a curve and a changeup. It's not overpowering stuff, but he throws plenty of strikes and pounds the zone, so he's got a chance.

 Q:  Jore from Brooklyn asks:
Where would John Jaso have ranked? What is his upside?

Ben Badler: Jaso did qualify, but reports on his defense made it hard to justify ranking him in a deep league like the SL. The Rays had him in Double-A to start the season instead of Triple-A because they wanted to emphasize that he needed to improve his defense. From seeing him earlier in the year and hearing reports from scouts I talked to, it just sounds like the progress isn't there. Teams didn't show much restraint running on him, and the blocking and receiving skills still have a ways to go. Sometimes catchers take a little longer to develop, but if he can't stick behind the plate, that's a huge blow to his value. But he's got a very good handle of the strike zone and excellent hand-eye coordination, so there's still a lot to like there if he can put it together defensively.

 Q:  Todd from Chattanooga asks:
In your mind, how far does Schafer fall after being on top of Atlanta's prospect last season - further than 3?

Ben Badler: I wouldn't say Schafer has fallen as much as guys like Jason Heyward, Tommy Hanson and Freddie Freeman have risen. Schafer was one of the hardest guys in the league to evaluate. If scouts saw him early in the season when he was just coming back from his suspension, they didn't see what the big deal was, thought he might be a platoon player. Guys who saw him later saw a great defender and a guy with power to all fields who could make in-game adjustments. I don't like throwing out any performance data and dismissing it entirely, but given what Schafer had to deal with earlier in the season, I'll give his second half a little more weight. And that just speaks to the difficulties that scouts realize they have when they're evaluating players for a five-game series, that separating state and trait variables to estimate and project true talent isn't always so easy. So there's a lot to like there with Schafer. Of course, there's also a lot to like with Gorkys Hernandez, so I'm not sure how that one will play out.

 Q:  Scott from Springfield, Illinois asks:
Which member of the Birmingham Barons was closets to this list?

Ben Badler: Aaron Poreda, but the secondary stuff still sounds fringy. He got a lot of Matt Thornton comps when I did the Pioneer League list last year, and that name popped up a few times again this year. He'll be a big leaguer, but scouts I've talked to (and I agree) think he's more of a 7th/8th inning guy, where the velo will play up from 93-94 as a starter to probably 95-96 in the bullpen and the lack of secondary stuff won't get him kicked around the second time through the order.

 Q:  eric from California asks:
Hi Ben,I was wondering what kind of player you see Coghlan (i.e. All-Star, everyday, bench player) and where do you see potentials for growth in his game?

Ben Badler: I love Coghlan and I think he has all-star potential. He doesn't have that much more to learn about hitting... his strike-zone discipline is outstanding, and I rarely saw him ever swing at a pitch out of the zone. He always works deep counts unless he's taking advantage of a pitcher's mistake early in the count. So I don't see much skills growth there because he doesn't need much more development in that respect. I would like to see him improve his defense, which I doubt will ever be above-average. But he seems to have the work ethic and intelligence to realize that he can improve defensively. He has pretty good pop for a middle infielder too... he's not just a slap hitter by any means... but just adding natural strength as his body continues to mature physically will make him a more dangerous hitter. It wouldn't surprise me to see him and Gaby Sanchez starting on the right side of the Marlins infield next year.

 Q:  John from Pensacola, FL asks:
You mentioned Luis Valdez as just missing the top 20. Does he have anything besides a big fastball? How could the Pirates let him leave as a minor league free agent?

Ben Badler: He's 90-94 with the fastball, but his well-above-average splitter is a nasty pitch. If he can harness his control... and I'm not convinced that he will, but he might... that's a really good arm to have out of the bullpen.

 Q:  Grant from RI asks:
Does Wade Davis have a shot at TB's rotation out of spring training, or is there absolutely no room for him? If not, what's the plan?

Ben Badler: He'll get a chance. Just needs to fine-tune the command, which I think he'll do, and further develop either a changeup or a cutter to add a reliable third pitch. The latter is a bit more of a question mark, which is why I ran Hanson ahead of him, but I like Davis quite a bit.

 Q:  Tony from Battle Creek asks:
Even before he was sidelined, Jake McGee's stats were somewhat disappointing. When is he due back next year, and what are your thoughts as to his future role — closer or (#2/3?) starter?

Ben Badler: He'll probably be back at some point mid-to-late '09. He's going to still get a chance to start, but a lot of scouts think he'll be a closer, given the Rays' current depth of young starting pitchers, the injury and his skill set. McGee made the Top 20 in this league, but that might even be an aggressive ranking by me. He made some progress with his breaking ball, but he didn't use that or his changeup much, and he still needs to develop a better feel for pitching. If he were more polished, I'd be less concerned about the TJ. But now he's not really going to get the chance to practice learning how to pitch, to improve his breaking ball, etc. for another year, so it's a lost year of development for a guy who has tons of talent but really needs that developmental time.

 Q:  Matt from Seattle asks:
What kind of player do you see Michael Saunders becoming in the major leagues, perhaps a poor-man's Grady Sizemore? Do you see any all-star appearances in his future?

Ben Badler: They're comparable in terms of being premium athletes in the outfield with power from the left side, but Sizemore has a much more advanced feel for the strike zone that I don't think Saunders will ever have. But Saunders can be electrifying to watch when he's on with his speed and power. There's also a good chance Saunders moves to right field as he continues to fill out, but even as a right fielder he's the best prospect in that system.

 Q:  Matt from Seattle asks:
A little surprised to see Valbuena crack the list, what kind of future does he have in the majors? Any chance he will hit for a reasonable amount of power, or is he more of an on-base guy?

Ben Badler: He's got a bit of an Alexi Casilla skill set. He'll get on base, he'll play good defense at second and show some moderate power. I don't think he'll slug over .450 all that much, but he's got good bat speed and he'll drive the ball enough that he'll be able to make pitchers pay when they attack him in the zone. That's pretty valuable from a second baseman.

 Q:  chris from madison, wi asks:
Escobar had a very nice season at the plate, what kind of upside does he have?

Ben Badler: He has the chance to be possibly the best defensive shortstop in the big leagues in his prime, though Troy Tulowitzki should put up a good fight there. He won't have Tulo's bat, and I think there's going to be some initial struggles for him at the plate with his approach. But his hand-eye is good enough that he'll recognize and connect with all pitch types, so at some point he can be an average to above-average hitting shortstop, which combined with his defense gives him considerable upside.

 Q:  Martin from Los Angeles asks:
Thanks for the chat, Ben. Great list although I was a bit disappointed that Scott Elbert wasn't in the picture. Was Elbert left off the list because he did not have enough innings pitched or has he fallen off the BA radar? In your evaluation of the league, did coaches and scouts feel that Elbert can recover his former top prospect status or is he destined to become Greg Miller 2.0?

Ben Badler: I think Elbert's has a chance to be a good power arm out of the bullpen. Maybe he ends up returning to the starting rotation, but given his command issues and his health history, my bet would be bullpen arm. I don't think he's Greg Miller, but I don't think he'll be what a lot of us thought he'd be pre-surgery.

 Q:  Tod from Chattanooga asks:
Tyler Colvin obviously had a less than stellar year - Is he a wash or can you see him turning things around? Where do you see him playing if he does - I noticed over the last few years in Tennessee they have moved him all over the outfield?

Ben Badler: He's looking more like a left fielder than a center fielder, and I'm not sure the bat profiles there. He showed some strides being more patient at the plate, but there weren't many more positives to derive from his year.

 Q:  Jon from Peoria asks:
Do you think Donnie Veal will improve his command and potentially becoming a 2 or 3 starter? Did he receive much consideration for the list?

Ben Badler: I never really saw what the fuss was about Veal, and I didn't see it when I saw his last start of the year either. He had no clue where the ball was going when it left his hand. His velo was 88-92 (I heard reports of mid-80s in the middle of the season too) when I saw him, but he didn't touch 90 much after the second inning because he had already thrown so many pitches. The curveball has some promise but it's inconsistent, so maybe he ends up in the bullpen, but there's several arms in that system who have surpassed him, for me.

 Q:  Frank from Chattanooga asks:
Did Greg Halman qualify for the list? If so, how close was he to making it? Also, how would you say his tools stack up against someone like Maybin? Thanks.

Ben Badler: Halman did qualify and was one of the last cuts I had to debate. Does he have a higher ceiling than some of the guys at the back of the list? Yes. Scouts love the tools. But his plate coverage, his pitch recognition and k-zone discipline are all below-average. Maybe he's still able to make it work and turns into a star, or maybe he flames out. He's a high variance guy in terms of his future projection. So I rolled the dice at the back of the 20 with putting guys like Valbuena and Brantley over him. I'm a sucker for guys with good fundamental swings, good hand-eye coordination and a strong feel for the strike zone, and that's what those guys have over Halman. As far as Halman vs. Maybin, Maybin has the better tools. He's faster and a better present defender, though Halman gets good reviews for his fielding too.

 Q:  ScottAz from Phx, AZ asks:
McDonald has looked pretty good out of the pen for the Dodgers since his callup and working in short stints has boosted his fastball to 94 range. Do you think this is his ultimate role, or would it be a waste of a guy with 3 ave-above pitches?

Ben Badler: It's interesting to me that he's up to 94 mph in relief, because he was mostly 88-91 or so as a starter. He's still more valuable as a starter, just needs to fine-tune his fastball command and keep the ball down in the zone because of his lack of fastball velo and life and his flyball tendencies. If he comes out of the bullpen in the playoffs though, he could be dangerous, especially against guys who haven't seen his changeup yet.

 Q:  Eric from North Carolina asks:
What type of potential does John Raynor have? do you see him as a starting OF?

Ben Badler: He's an 80 runner but he can't play center field (and his instincts aren't great in LF), and that wasn't just because the Marlins had Maybin teamed with him at Carolina. The bat speed is just so-so and there's a lot of swing-and-miss in the bat for a guy without that much power. He's going to be a big leaguer, but I'm not sure about a regular starter.

 Q:  Kyle from Middletown asks:
Where would Chris Valaika rank on this list during an average year talent wise? Does his increased agility give him a chance to be an average defensive shortstop in the bigs?

Ben Badler: When I started with a preliminary Top 20 in August, Valaika was in my 20. But the more people I talked to about him, the more he kept falling. The bat speed is so-so, the approach isn't ideal, the tools don't overwhelm anyone, he's got a thick-lower half and the foot speed isn't great. But you know what? I still like him. He has a good feel for hitting (though not necessarily good strike-zone discipline) and just good baseball instincts. I don't think he'll stick at shortstop, but if he can stick at second base, that's fine. The move from shortstop to second base is a move down the defensive spectrum, but I also think the magnitude of that move is overrated. He ended up in that 21-25 range for me, but I think he has a good chance to prove a bunch of people wrong in the big leagues.

 Q:  Candice from New York City asks:
Hi Ben! Is Ivan De Jesus, Jr. major league ready? His bat really excelled this year and his glove has always been above average and the majority of his errors were of the throwing variety which I'm sure can be corrected. Thanks!

Ben Badler: I think he's close and will have a chance to start in the big leagues next year. But if he doesn't, no big deal. I still think he's going to need to add some strength and maybe move to second base, where his throwing errors could be quarantined, but he's not far off with his bat speed, feel for the strike zone and instincts in all aspects of the game.

Ben Badler: By the way, is there a more self-congratulating piece of technology than the pop-up blocker? Every time it blocks a pop up, it flashes a little notice letting me know of it's accomplishment. Congratulations, you did what you're supposed to do... have a little humility. Send me a report at the end of the month to remind me of what you've done if you want, but stop patting yourself on the back every time you block an ad. Sorry, back to baseball...

 Q:  Don from Rosemont, IL asks:
Michael Wilson is a guy I've also been intrigued with because of his power and athleticism. Is his problem that he doesn't make enough contact?

Ben Badler: Wilson probably had more raw power than anyone in that league, even including LaPorta. But he's also 25, and I'm not sure his approach and pitch recognition will translate well in the majors.

 Q:  Jack from Toronto asks:
I know Samardzija struggled at AA, but I'm surprised his AAA and ML performance didn't get him on the list. What was the consensus on him?

Ben Badler: I just spent the last two weeks on the phone with a couple dozen international scouts and scouting directors, where everyone has a different opinion on 16-year-old kids from Latin America. Opinions couldn't have been more unanimous on Samardzija: was underwhelmed with him in the Southern League, was 88-94 with so-so secondary stuff, surprised at the numbers he put up in Triple-A and couldn't believe it when they saw him on TV in the big leagues pumping 95-96 mph fastballs with movement. I think his long-term future is in the bullpen, where his stuff, especially his fastball, can play up. I'd love to see the Cubs use Samardzija as a two-inning reliever, but I'm guessing the more conventional 8th-inning role is probably more likely.

 Q:  john from NY asks:
I noticed that this list is light on catchers... How do salome and moore compare to some of the earlier lists that have been published and where do you see moore ending up either clement and Kenji in front of him?

Ben Badler: There's a great amount of catching talent in the minor leagues right now.`So good that you could rank the top 10-15 catchers in the minors and not include either one of those guys. Both guys have the chance to be strong offensive catchers, although I don't think anyone is quite sure what to make of Salome. There's doing things a little bit differently, like Hunter Pence or Dustin Pedroia, and then there's Salome, who is in a category by himself. But his hand-eye coordination is so good and he's so freakishly strong that it's worked. On pure performance, he's as good as anyone in the league, and easily my favorite player to watch. The Mariners' roster construction will dictate what to do with Moore and Clement, though it sounds like Moore is more advanced defensively. But both of them are better than Kenji. Right now.

 Q:  Robert Goldberg from Lyndhurst, NJ asks:
At this point, is Coghlan the best second base prospect in baseball?

Ben Badler: I might give the slight edge to Adrian Cardenas.

 Q:  Pop-Up Blocker from Your Computer asks:
I heard that, Ben. I can always malfunction on you, so don't push your luck!

Ben Badler: You're a pop-up blocker, not virus protection. I consider you to be expendable.

 Q:  Tony from Durham, NC asks:
I wanted to ask about a couple of outfielders, Daniel Dorn and Cole Gillespie. Are they future ML regulars, or role players? Dorn I suppose I can see as the RH half of a great LF platoon, and Gillespie the LH half. Or does either of them profile as more than that? Thanks.

Ben Badler: Great question, and I think you've got a pretty good take on those guys. Gillespie gets a little lost in the mix of talented bats that Huntsville had this year and that the Brewers always seem to produce. He should be a solid big league contributor, sort of like a Brandon Moss-type who won't blow you away with anything but can be a serviceable outfielder for you. Dorn's numbers in the league this year were excellent, but scouts seemed to think the tools were a little short. Kind of like Valaika, I think he has a good chance of proving the doubters wrong. He's a guy who people grew to like a little more each time they saw another one of his at-bats.

 Q:  Eric from San Jose asks:
Kershaw vs. Price - pros/cons and who will be better in the end?

Ben Badler: 1 and 1-A, for me. Fastball, breaking ball and changeup all grade out around the same, both athletic, both have clean arm action, both have great deliveries that they repeat, both should have above-average command, both get good reviews for their makeup, both have good size and good track records, both lefthanded. So there's a lot of similarities there. The two slight separators for me are that Kershaw is already having success in the big leagues and at a younger age, whereas Price has not. And perhaps slightly more important is that Price did miss six weeks or so in the beginning of the season with an elbow problem. Now, he's back to throwing mid-90s fastballs, but any elbow or shoulder injury is always worth remembering—and Price does throw a slider—so that's what set Kershaw just a tick above Price.

 Q:  Chris Volstad from Florida asks:
With my departure from the minor leagues and separation from other pitching prospects in the Marlins organization, what does the future hold for my buddies Tucker, Thompson, Sinkbeil, West, and Vanden Hurk?

Ben Badler: I hit on Tucker and Sinkbeil in my Southern League playoff scouting reports last week. I'll add that even if Tucker still continues to struggle with the consistency of his slider and ends up staying in the bullpen, with his arm slot, delivery and arm speed, I could see him adding a splitter and becoming sort of a mini-Papelbon. But the Marlins are pretty smart, so I'm sure they'll do whatever's best for his future. The health on those other three guys scares me. I really, really liked Thompson going into the season, but his control took a huge step backwards this year. He's got a sneaky fastball with some armside run, a plus slider, a promising changeup that he might benefit from using with greater frequency and the ability to keep the ball on the ground with all of his pitches. So if he stays healthy and gets his control back, he could take off.

 Q:  Matt A from Raleigh asks:
How much work does Hanson still need at the minor league level? Will the Braves wait for progress on the changeup and the slider before they bring him up? Or do they think his other stuff is ready now, so he can work on that at the ML level?

Ben Badler: I went to (I think) six Mississippi games this year when Hanson was with the team and didn't get to see him throw in any of them, aside from watching him throw a bullpen. But it sounds like his slider and changeup are already above-average pitches. The stuff seems to be all there, but I would estimate that he'll see some Triple-A time early in '09 before getting a callup by midseason.

 Q:  Navin from Pasadena, CA asks:
Thanks for answering my previous question. Who was the closest Smokies player to making it? Jose Ceda or Welington Castillo?

Ben Badler: Ceda. He needs to improve his control, but he's pumping 96-98 mph heat on every fastball and backing it up with a good hard slider out of the bullpen.

Ben Badler: That's it for today. We'll finish off Double-A tomorrow with the Texas League... enjoy the playoffs!