Atlanta Braves: Top 10 Prospects Chat With Bill Ballew

Braves Top 10 Prospects Chat




Baseball America's Top 10 Prospects lists are based on projections of a player's long-term worth after discussions with scouting and player-development personnel. All players who haven't exceeded the major league rookie standards of 130 at-bats or 50 innings pitched (without regard to service time) are eligible. Ages are as of April 1, 2007.

Moderator: Happy New Year everyone. Let's see what you guys want to talk about regarding the Atlanta Braves...

 Q:  Chris from Detroit, MI asks:
What does Neftali Feliz need to do to realize his potential and move to the top of this list next year?
 A: 

Bill Ballew: Feliz just needs innings and consistency. He made as much progress as any pitcher in the organization last year and is starting to gain quite a bit of attention. He's on the right path in his development.

 Q:  Joe from Dallas asks:
I'm interested in your thoughts on Brandon Jones. He's #4 on the list, but isn't in the 2010 lineup. Is that more that you can't project who will or won't be there, or does he profile as a 4th OF? Thanks!
 A: 

Bill Ballew: When you have the likes of Francoeur and Andruw ahead of you in the big leagues, it's hard to find a spot. It's hard to speculate if Andruw will re-sign with Atlanta, but at this point he can't be considered gone. That said, Brandon still has a ways to go in his development. He appears to have turned the corner into being a baseball player as well as an outstanding athlete. Now he needs to fine-tune his skills in order to determine what type of impact he will have at the major league level.

 Q:  Joe from Dallas asks:
Do you project Yunel Escobar as a major league starter, or do you see him as more of a utility guy? Thanks!
 A: 

Bill Ballew: Escobar has the ability to start in the big leagues, but the Braves are still in the process of determining what kind of an impact player he will be. To me, he currently looks like a Wilson Betemit-type player at the major league level.

 Q:  Joe from Dallas asks:
Is there any hope for Jake Stevens to be a productive major leaguer? Thanks!
 A: 

Bill Ballew: Stevens has fallen as far out of favor as any top prospect I have seen in the past 15-plus years covering the Atlanta organization. He needs to get a grip on his maturity and mound presence instead of fighting everyone. He's shown some signs of being able to do that, but the consistency in his approach continues to lack.

 Q:  jon ray from new york asks:
Where do you fit Cody Johnson? Is he a bust of a pick? I could drive a truck through his swing. He definitely taskes the long way home.
 A: 

Bill Ballew: Nice comparison, Jon. There's no question Johnson had a tough start to his professional career. There were and still are mixed reviews in the Atlanta organization regarding their feelings about Johnson's long-term potential. The Braves gave a ton of money to guy who has big-time power, but makes Rob Deer look like he had compact swing. It's too early to call him a bust, but there are major adjustments needed in his game.

 Q:  Thom from Ann Arbor, MI asks:
Most other prospect sites have campbell ranked well ahead of pope. How close were the two and do you have a good reason as to why people undervalue pope and overrate campbell?
 A: 

Bill Ballew: I believe Pope and Campbell are about the same in terms of their long-term potential. Pope has added more polish to his game of late, while Campbell has posted better numbers thus far in the minor leagues. There's a lot to like about Pope's defense and his potential at the plate. Campbell can mash when he's in a zone, but his defense is only a tad above average. The Braves like both players a lot and are trying to get both of them on the field at the same time by shifting Campbell to second base.

 Q:  Chris from Detroit, MI asks:
I'm glad to see Van Pope get some recognition for his impressive development over the past year, but he really struggled against right-handed pitchers in 2006. Is this an anomaly or a cause for concern?
 A: 

Bill Ballew: It's a concern, if for no other reason than he's at the point in his career where he has to start solving such mysteries if he is going to make the climb to the big leagues. There's a lot to like about Pope, but it is time for him to post some significant numbers over the course of a full campaign.

 Q:  Scott from Cleveland asks:
I would like your opinion who will win the second baseb job between aybar, prado, and johnson? who has the most upside of the group to be an effective regular 2b?
 A: 

Bill Ballew: All three have their strengths. Aybar was a welcome addition in the middle of last season and proved he can be a productive utility man and possibly more. Prado is an overachiever and a scrapper with a magic wand at times at the plate. The Braves have loved Johnson for a long time. Drafted as a shortstop, he moved to third base in the minors before manning left field just prior to his promotion to the big leagues. Johnson has spent much of the offseason working with Glenn Hubbard on the nuances of the keystone sack. Nobody turned the double play better than Hubby in his day, and if even a little bit rubs off on Johnson, he should become a fixture at the position. I see Johnson as the leading candidate at this point.

 Q:  Jason from Albertsville asks:
Would you comment on y.escobar and why hes dropping so fast out of the braves top ten?
 A: 

Bill Ballew: Escobar was a bubble guy. He had a strong showing in the Arizona Fall League after a mostly disappointing season in Double-A. Escobar and 2006 Mississippi manager Jeff Blauser did not see eye-to-eye on a lot of things and I believe that had a major impact on his performance. Escobar's personality can rub some people the wrong way, and he can be somewhat sloppy in his approach to the game, despite his impressive package of tools. Considering the questions surrounding his makeup and the rumors that the Braves were shopping him this winter, Escobar fits at No. 10.

 Q:  Steve Jones from New Hampshire asks:
Is this the weakest Offensive system in baseball, or did they just have a horrible combined season? The top hitters hit .230, .265, .257.273, .263..etc. When you get to Campbell the #6 guy he hat least hit .296. What's up with all these guys?
 A: 

Bill Ballew: Saltalamacchia in particular had a down season in Mississippi, with an ailing wrist contributing to his problems in the first half. The rest of the hitters were up and down, but this is where relying too much on numbers can make for misjudgments. At this point, the organization is down somewhat in terms of significant all-around offensive players. The track record, however, that includes such recent homegrown standouts as Francoeur, McCann, LaRoche, et al, shows the Braves have an idea of what they are doing.

 Q:  JAYPERS from IL asks:
Where would you rank 2006 draftees Gustafson and Rasmus overall, and why?
 A: 

Bill Ballew: Both were strong candidates for the Top 10 and are part of the Top 30 that will appear in the Prospect Handbook. With a full year, Rasmus has all the ability in the world to crack the top 10 next year. Gustafson surprised the Braves as well as many other scouts and organizations and could move quickly through the farm system.

 Q:  Kory from Jackson Hole asks:
Saltalmacchia has to be really good to survive a horrible season, hit for nothing, and still be a top prospect right? or is this just such a bad system it's hard to tell? Is Salty still a special player?
 A: 

Bill Ballew: A switch-hitting catcher with power and improving defensive skills usually meets the qualifications for a special player. Even if he should move to first base or an outfield corner, Salty will still be deemed a special player. Last year was merely a bump in the road in his development, whcih became evident during his last few weeks of the season as well as with Team USA and his short stint in the AFL.

 Q:  JAYPERS from IL asks:
Odds of Salty making a position switch before getting the callup?
 A: 

Bill Ballew: Right now I'd set the odds at 50-50 if he remains with the Braves. If he's traded at some point, there's a much greater chance he will remain behind the dish.

 Q:  Joseph Winkleman from Atlanta asks:
I was excited that we drafted the younger brother of Colby Rasmus, but he only appeared in 3 games. What is the story of Cory Rasmus? How does he throw it, and what does he project?
 A: 

Bill Ballew: Rasmus is one of the top pitching prospects in the organization. He has a 92-94 mph fastball that touches 97, but his best pitch is an 11-to-5 curveball that had hitters buckling their knees throughout the fall. He also has a good changeup, but tends to rely on it too much. His body does not project well, although he does have a quick arm. Once he gains a little more command, he should make rapid progress through the organization.

 Q:  JAYPERS from IL asks:
How would you rate Schafer's tools overall, and did he make the teens on your top 30?
 A: 

Bill Ballew: Jordan was right on the cusp of the top 20. He's an excellent athlete and a premier defender in the middle garden, but he remains raw in many aspects of the game. Despite his speed, he gets caught stealing too much, succeeding only just 62 percent of his attempts last year. He also swings and misses at too many pitches and needs to improve on his pitch recognition. He doesn't have much power, but the other tools are there. He just needs to play and see how well he can make the necessary adjustments.

 Q:  JAYPERS from IL asks:
Approximate timetable for an eventual Elvis callup?
 A: 

Bill Ballew: Remember that Elvis is still a teenager. That said, with steady success during the first half of 2007 at Class A Myrtle Beach, he could move up to Double A during the latter half of the campaign. I don't see him making his major league debut until the end of the 2008 slate at the earliest, with 2009 a more reasonable expectation. Still, he's a special player who has already impressed a lot of people.

 Q:  Adam from NYC asks:
Is it possible that we could see Yunel Escobar starting the season at 2B after the loss of Giles? What is his major league ceiling? Is it possible we could see more power from him when facing major league pitching?
 A: 

Bill Ballew: Escobar would have to put together an incredible spring in order to get the nod at second base. He's capable of doing that, especially considering he comes from Cuba, where the pressure to succeed is intense, and is already 24. Escobar has a few things to iron out, and how he goes about doing that will determine his role in the big leagues.

 Q:  Adam from NYC asks:
Where do you see Van Pope ending up in the future? Will he stay at 3B and be the heir to Chipper Jones? Why was he absent from the 2010 projected lineup?
 A: 

Bill Ballew: I think Pope can remain at third base, and the Braves would love for him to be the guy that replaces Chipper. Chipper, however, has been the face of the franchise for a long time, and while some of that has shifted to Francoeur, Chipper will remain in the lineup as long as he is capable. The 2010 could prove to be Chipper's swan song, but there's a lot of time between now and then.

 Q:  Josh from St. Louis asks:
Is Eric Campbell the Braves' second baseman of the future? how did he look there in the Hawaii winter league?
 A: 

Bill Ballew: Campbell did well enough at second base in Hawaii in order for the Braves to continue with the experiment. He has quick reflexes and plenty of arm strength for the position, but has a ways to go in mastering the footwork and other nuances of the slot. He's definitely a work in process at this point.

 Q:  Jake from NH asks:
What do you think about Jeff Locke? Did he make the Top 30? Where do you think he will play next year?
 A: 

Bill Ballew: Locke made the top 30 and has a chance to establish himself as one of the better pitching prospects in the organization. The New Hampshire product as a low 90s fastball, a solid slurve and a good, developing changeup. He's young and doesn't have a lot of mileage on the mound, which kept him out of the top 10. Right now, he seems to be headed for Class A Rome for the 2007 season.

 Q:  Sonya from Bolton asks:
What happens at 2B? Does Pete Orr have a shot at starting or is he strictly a utility guy.
 A: 

Bill Ballew: I can see Orr getting a decent number of appearances at second base, particularly if no one really establishes himself at the position. But for the most part, Orr looks to be the quintessential utility guy for the Braves.

 Q:  Greg from MS asks:
Who were the next 5 on the ATL prospect list?
 A: 

Bill Ballew: Buy the book and you too will know the answer! But since this is the giving time of year, the next five were 1B Kala Ka'aihue, pitchers Anthony Lerew, Jeff Lyman and Cory Rasmus and catcher Clint Sammons.

 Q:  Schaef from Vicksburg asks:
What's your opinion of Gregor Blanco (OF) and Zach Schrieber (CL)?
 A: 

Bill Ballew: Blanco was considered a top prospect several years ago before falling out of favor. He has made an impressive rebound and earned a slot on the 40-man roster in November. Blanco runs well and is capable of putting the bat on the ball. His defense is good but inconsistent. He has a chance to be a Damon Hollins type of player, only without as much power. Schreiber is coming off an impressive season in which he posted 24 saves between Myrtle Beach and Mississippi. He surprised a lot of people in the organization and could have a defined role in the 7th or 8th inning in the big leagues with continued improvements.

 Q:  Dan Williams from Sutton, MA asks:
Was there any rumblings that Anthony Lerew was injured at all during 2006? How do you explain his pounding at AAA?
 A: 

Bill Ballew: There's been some suggestions that Lerew was not 100 percent for much of last year, but the biggest problem centered on his inability to repeat his delivery. His mechanics were a mess at midseason before Kent Willis ironed out some problems in Mississippi. He is one of the hardest throwers in the organization and could still be an impact pitcher if he remains in synch on the mound.

 Q:  Scarlet Knight from New Brunswick, NJ asks:
Hi Bill: Is there any hope remaining for Bill McCarthy. He regressed badly last year. Was he hurt?
 A: 

Bill Ballew: McCarthy had several nagging injuries at midseason that hurt his production for the remainder of the slate. After a disastrous 2005, which was also injury-related, McCarthy could be nearing the end, particularly with the Braves. When healthy, I think he has a chance to be a solid backup outfielder in the big leagues. What's more, he's also one of the classiest players in the game, which makes pulling for him that much easier.

 Q:  Steve from Owltown asks:
How do a couple of lefties from the CWS, Lee Hyde of Georgia Tech, and Kevin Gunderson of OSU, fit into the Braves mix?
 A: 

Bill Ballew: I think both Hyde and Gunderson have a chance to help in the Atlanta bullpen in the near future. The Braves received a lot of value with their 4th and 5th-round picks last year by going the college route, which is a different philosophy for the organization, particularly at that point in the draft. If they both stay healthy, I believe they will reach the big leagues and contribute.

 Q:  ttnorm from Connecticut asks:
Chuck James for Rocco Baldelli straight up. Even trade or not?
 A: 

Bill Ballew: I must like Baldelli a lot more than most people do. There are a lot of teams needing help in center field, and if the Rays are indeed dangling him in trade talks, I don't hesitate to take him, especially with the price of finding good help these days. That should take nothing away from James, who has proven the critics wrong at every step in the minors before putting together and impresive rookie season in Atlanta. He's one of the game's best competitors and he chucks from the left side, which adds to his value. He's a solid fourth or fifth starter in Atlanta, but could be a middle-of-the-rotation guy elsewhere.

 Q:  Tony Farlow from Asheville, NC asks:
Over the Braves unprecedented run of divisional championships they used their farm system extensively to bolster the major league roster, with the promotions of Francoeur, McCann, James and a few others (which is a lot of talent to come out of a system in short period) are the Braves in a rebuilding mode from a farm standpoint?
 A: 

Bill Ballew: From a player position standpoint that is probably the case, which is also why the Braves went out on a limb and took Cody Johnson in the first round last June. The Braves have reloaded on the mound in the past two drafts and are beginning to stockpile some young arms in the lower reaches of the minors. For the Braves, this could be considered a rebuilding.

 Q:  Tony Farlow from Asheville, NC asks:
With all of the talk about trading Adam LaRoche do you think the Braves feel Scott Thorman is the answer at First Base? If so what are your thoughts on that?
 A: 

Bill Ballew: Thorman is not near the defensive whiz at first base that LaRoche is, but he is at least serviceable. Thorman has big-time power, but LaRoche really developed into a force in the middle of the Atlanta lineup last year. With their budget limitations, the Braves are considering dealing LaRoche only because arbitration is just around the corner. Otherwise, I see no reason why LaRoche should be on the block, even with the presence of Thorman.

 Q:  Jon from Peoria asks:
Hi Bill: What type of ceiling does Cory Rasmus have? And how big of a project is Cody Johnson?
 A: 

Bill Ballew: Rasmus' body does not project off the charts, but he has the repertoire and the ability to be a No. 2 or 3 starter in the big leagues. Johnson is a big-time project, and the Braves realize they must go slow with the power hitter. I believe he will play the 2007 season at Danville in the Rookie-level Appalachian League.

 Q:  Robert from Wilmington N.C. asks:
Is Jarrod Saltalamacchia against a position switch. I read on a different web site that he did not want to play left field. Also does Scott Thorman have a chance to start in left field for the braves this year. Thanks
 A: 

Bill Ballew: What do other websites know? C'mon, Robert, stick with the most reliable source in the game. Yes, Thorman has a chance to start in left field this year, particularly with Kelly Johnson giving second base a shot. Thorman has a cannon for an arm, particularly for left field, and enough athleticism to do a solid job. As for Salty, he's put so much time and effort into being an above-average catcher that he simply wants to stay there. In my opinion, he most likely destination would be first base, but for now there's no reason to move a switch-hitting receiver with power. By midseason, that scenario could change.

 Q:  David L. from Cambridge, MA asks:
What is your assessment of last year's second round pick Jeff Locke? And will the lefty out of New Hampshire crack the top-30 list?
 A: 

Bill Ballew: Locke is a top 30 guy who is only lacking experience. I think we will hear quite a bit about Locke in the upcoming campaign.

 Q:  Trevor from VT asks:
How far do you feel Elvis Andrus will develop his hitting? Is he more likely to be Adam Everett than Omar Vizquel?
 A: 

Bill Ballew: Elvis will hit for more power than Everett and Vizquel. I'm not saying he's going to go yard 20 times a year, but double figures, a la Rafael Furcal, are within reach. Andrus probably will not be quite the defensive standout of Everett and Vizquel, but he will be a plus defender.

 Q:  Petey Pablo from Carrboro NC asks:
Where did Kala Kaaihue rank? I was slightly surprised not to see him in the top ten.... Thanks!
 A: 

Bill Ballew: Honestly, I was a little surprised that the research landed KK near the top 10. He has a potent bat, no doubt, but I question how much he will hit for average at higher levels. The Braves, however, like just about everything regarding KK, both now and down the road. He has excellent athelticism around the first turn for a big man and he doesn't have to hit the ball solid in order to drive it out of the yard. He's another guy that is easy to cheer for, not unlike his older clone, Andres Galarraga.

 Q:  Bruce Benedict from Orlando asks:
Would it be more likely that the Braves will keep McCann behind the plate and move Saltamacchia to a position where he could better utilize his superior athleticism?
 A: 

Bill Ballew: Is that your view from behind the plate, Bruce? I think Salty could move simply because McCann has developed so well (and beyond expectations) with his game behind the plate. McCann is one of the premier all-around receivers in the game, in my opinion, by proving he can do the job at the big league level. Given that scenario, it makes for a difficult decision regarding anyone that is coming up the ladder.

 Q:  Jeff from ny asks:
What are your thoughts on former LSU standout JC Holt?
 A: 

Bill Ballew: The Braves have been patient with Holt and he rewarded them with a strong second half at Myrtle Beach and an excellent performance in the AFL. Consistency, both at the plate and in the field, is his greatest need. Holt has developed into a very good defensive second baseman, but he has yet to put all aspects of his game together at the same time. He and the Braves hope that the 2007 season at Double-A Mississippi will produce just that.

 Q:  Kilty from Cross Gate Lane, VA asks:
With all the budget issues the Braves have to keep Salty no? Is Harrison a #2 or #3 starter in the bigs? How much did Drayton Moore leaving hurt the front office?
 A: 

Bill Ballew: Whoa, Kilty. One at a time. OK, at this point, I don't think budget issues play a big role with Salty, especially since McCann has to be considered a long-term building block. Harrison is 3 or 4 starter in the big leagues to me. Moore's departure had an impact because he was so respected and well-liked within the organization. Players, coaches, secretaries, me, everyone loved working with Dayton because of his honest approach and impressive knowledge. That said, Kurt Kemp has made a seamless move from scouting to player development and is attracting the same type of rave reviews that Dayton always did.

 Q:  Petey Pablo from Carrboro NC asks:
Do the Braves view Bueno as a starter going forward or in the pen and is it accurate to compare him to Odalis Perez (as I've seen done on two sites)? Thanks!
 A: 

Bill Ballew: I also see many similarities between Bueno and Perez. Remember, the Braves did not start Perez in the mid-to-late 1990s for fear that he would hurt himself because he threw the ball so hard. Bueno does not have quite the arm strength that Perez did, but his arm could be special. The Braves are being cautious with Bueno in his development but are expected to loosen the reins somewhat in 2007.

 Q:  Don from Gilbert, AZ asks:
Tommy Hanson and Jamie Richmond were both very successful in their rookie league debuts at Danvlle. Hanson struck out 107 batters in 72 innings while Richmond had only 4 walks in 67 innings. Hanson and Richmond were not listed in your "Projected 2010 Lineup". Do you see Hanson and Richmond developing into top of the rotation starters after 2010 (say a year behind JoJo Reyes)?
 A: 

Bill Ballew: It's too early to tell if Richmond and Hanson can be top-of-the-rotation guys. So few pitchers actually attain that level, and since neither one has pitched above the rookie league level, to place them in those slots for 2010 is not being realistic or fair to them.

 Q:  Dave Buan from St. Paul, Minn, asks:
I'm currious as to why Chuck James is projected as no better than the Braves 5th starter in 2010. He doesn't seem to get the respect he deserves for the numbers he has put up throughout his career.
 A: 

Bill Ballew: James could move up and be a number three or even possibly a number two. I agree with you that he doesn't get the respect he deserves, but I believe opposing teams will give him all the respect he has coming to him in 2007.

 Q:  Robert from NC asks:
I just read in the organizational reports that Salty is not going to move from catcher. Does this mean that he will never reach the majors in a braves uniform or will McCann move to a different position
 A: 

Bill Ballew: That simply means Salty is not moving from catcher heading into the 2007 season. He could very well reach the big leagues with Atlanta.

 Q:  Oden from Detroit asks:
Lerew had a terrible year, what are the chances of him rebounding and being back in the top 10 next year?
 A: 

Bill Ballew: If he keeps his mechanics together and remains healthy, Lerew has the ability to be a member of the Atlanta starting rotation in the near future. He has that kind of ability, but the other things need to fall into place as well.

 Q:  willie from north georgia asks:
what do you think the chances are for former uga players startup and morris to make the show?
 A: 

Bill Ballew: Startup could be a situational pitcher in the Atlanta bullpen if he continues to show the stuff he did in Myrtle Beach and Mississippi. I see his role as being very specific if he does reach Atlanta. Morris has a ways to go, but is a solid defender with a potent bat. He should start this season at Myrtle Beach.

 Q:  Teddy from Tennessee asks:
What do you make of Jamie Romak? Big size, young...had a big second half in Rome. Anything there?
 A: 

Bill Ballew: The Braves believe there's a lot there. His development is similar to that of fellow Canadian Scott Thorman. It's taken a while for his solid overall skills to catch up from an experience standpoint with other professionals. it looks like that is the case now and he could be on the verge of putting together a big season in 2007.

Moderator: Thanks for all the questions. Sorry there's never enough time to answer everything, especially when you're talking about the Braves. I hope everyone has a Happy New Year.