Atlanta Braves: Top 10 Prospects Chat With Bill Ballew

Altanta Braves: 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, 2008.

Moderator: Welcome, boys and girls, to another Baseball America chat. Some may say they save the best for last, but in the words of the scholarly father of Ricky Bobby, "If you ain't first, you're last." So let's see what's on your minds...

 Q:  Peter Griffin from Quahog, Rhode Island asks:
Just how far down did Van Pope fall, with BA and with the organization? His season was very lackluster at the plate, but it seemed like his biggest issue was finding a hole for the ball. His power was down, but his XBH were there, as well as a respectible plate discepline. Was it just a case of pressing too much for family and friends in Mississippi? Still the heir to Chipper at 3B?
 A: 

Bill Ballew: Pope fell into the 20s. Yes, he seemed to press in front of friends and family, especially the first two months. His power was way down, but his defense did not suffer while he was struggling at the plate. He needs a good season in 2008 to get back to being deemed the eventual replacement for Chipper. Fortunately for Van, no one is on his heels in the organization to knock him out.

 Q:  Aaron from Boston, MA asks:
What's the word on Gilmore so far? I assume he just missed the cut...
 A: 

Bill Ballew: You're right. Jon Gilmore was this close to making the list. He's been impressive in short time in the organization. The Braves are thrilled with what they've seen, so much so that he has a good shot at opening next season at Class A Rome.

 Q:  Mike from Little Rock, AR asks:
Where did Cory Gearrin fall on the list?
 A: 

Bill Ballew: Gearrin is in the top 30, but not in the top 10. He just joined the organization, and while he had an outstanding debut in the professional ranks, he faced a lot of guys swinging from their heels. He's definitely a pitcher to keep an eye on because he has a bright future.

 Q:  Glenn Quagmire from Quohog, Rhode Island asks:
Complete this sentence for me - Jayson Hayward is the next....?
 A: 

Bill Ballew: I've heard scouts say Roberto Clemente, but I don't believe his arm is that strong. I've heard others say Fred McGriff and Willie McCovey, but Heyward is more athletic at the same age than they were. I liken him to a young Dave Parker. He could be a beast.

 Q:  Adam from NYC asks:
What are the chances the organization pushes Jordan Schafer into a CF role in 2008? He will obviously be a ST invite, but does he have any realistic shot to make the roster? It has been clearly stated his defense is major league ready, so why not see if he can hold his own, especially given his strong AFL season?
 A: 

Bill Ballew: The major league cemetary is filled with guys who were rushed to the big leagues before their bats were ready and wound up losing all of their confidence. Some coaches in the Atlanta organization believe because of Schafer's maturity that he could handle the promotion. Yes, he's made strong adjustments at the dish and has raked from start to finish in 2007, but the fact remains he has yet to play his first game above the Double-A level. He's close, but maybe not Opening Day close.

 Q:  Reese from Buckhead asks:
Prior to the acquistion of Jair and Gorkys, would you have considered the ATL farm system to be bottom 10 in MLB with all of the tradespromotions? Where do you rank it now?
 A: 

Bill Ballew: No, not at all. I believe it was easily in the top 10 BEFORE the trade with the Tigers. With the incredible amount of left-handed starting pitching and high-ceiling outfielders in the organization, I'd put the Braves' depth in the top half-dozen.

 Q:  Merkado from White Plains, NY asks:
What is the overall consensus of Brandon Jones being on the opening day roster within the organization? He has made some great strides at the plate within the last year, so it's clear he needs a bigger challenge. If he doesn't make the roster out of spring training, when will see him LF? What is his overall ceiling?
 A: 

Bill Ballew: I'd say there's at least a 50-50 chance of Jones being on Atlanta's Opening Day roster. It depends a lot on spring training. He's playing well in Mexico after his dominating minor league season, but he was overmatched at times during his September callup. He's made impressive strides in the last 18 months and may need just a little more seasoning in Triple-A before he can be deemed ready for the starting left field job in Atlanta.

 Q:  Tom T from Houston asks:
With Yunel Escobar's emergence last season, is Brent Lillibridge still buried on the farm even after Renteria is gone? Does he need another trade to get a chance as a starter? I have heard some rumors about moving him to the outfield to cover for Andruw's departure - is there any truth to that?
 A: 

Bill Ballew: I don't know if you'd say Lillibridge is buried. He made a big leap in 2007, jumping from the Class A ranks at the end of 2006 to Mississippi to Richmond. R-Braves manager Dave Brundage said Brent made more improvements in the last six weeks of the season than any other player on the roster. He has the ability to play shortstop in the major leagues, but the Braves love his speed and athleticism and are considering if there is any potential of his playing center field. He also could be trade-bait, but I don't see that as a sure thing.

 Q:  Cajun from LA asks:
Is Teheran really that good that he could make the top 10 without throwing a single pitch in the US? Is it because he is so good or just a lack of depth in the system?
 A: 

Bill Ballew: He was that good during instructional league. I know, I know, it was just instructional league, but I had scout friends from other organizations calling me with raves about Teheran. Plus-plus changeup for a 16-year-old with a plus fastball that he dials up in the mid-90s and a great feel for a breaking ball. He looks like he could be very, very special.

 Q:  Billy from Georgia asks:
Where did you rank Cody Johnson?
 A: 

Bill Ballew: Johnson ranked right on the cusp of the top 10. Scouts still beat him up for his supposed lack of athleticism, but he can produce cannon shots while that bat. He also started to get a feel for playing left field late in the 2007 season at Danville.

 Q:  Jay Pee Schwartzkoff from Russia with love asks:
I'm somewhat surprised that Jones didn't move up or down any notches on this list since last year, after having a breakout minor league season and getting the call. You call him ATL's future in LF and label him their best athlete for the second straight year. What kept him from ranking higher?
 A: 

Bill Ballew: I can feel the love all the way over here. No one is down on Jones...there's just some huge talent in the few spots above him. Schafer has the polish and had as good a year as Jones, while Heyward does some things that are off the charts. I believe the top four or five guys in the organization could have gone in any order...they were that close.

 Q:  Jean-Paul Baptise from The Vatican asks:
Where did Kala Kaaihue fall overall in your Top 30, and why?
 A: 

Bill Ballew: Forgive me, Father, but KK didn't exactly light up the Southern League after a strong showing in the Carolina League. KK has outrageous power, can hit for a solid average and is getting better and better with the leather. But every time he makes a jump to the next level, he puts waaaaay too much pressure on himself and winds up struggling. I believe he can have a solid showing with Mississippi in 2008, but the game is all about making adjustments.

 Q:  Maybin Maniac from Cameron, IL asks:
Where did 2007 draftees Gilmore and Freeman fall overall, and who would you say is the bigger sleeper of the two?
 A: 

Bill Ballew: Both are in the second 10. I would say that Freeman is the bigger sleeper of the two simply because many teams wanted him to pitch and the Braves were willing to let him follow his dreams of swinging the lumber. Those are two pretty darn good corner men to get out of the 2007 draft.

 Q:  Duke Denim from Levistrauss, NY asks:
Cody Johnson had a very good comeback this year, but apparantly not enough to crack the list. Where did he rank overall, and where will he be starting next season?
 A: 

Bill Ballew: Cody at one point was at the end of the top 10, so he just narrowly missed it. He'll be in left field with Rome next year. There might not be a better bargain in baseball next season that the Rome Braves, not with Johnson in left and Heyward in right while batting back-to-back in the lineup.

 Q:  Ben from Leland Grove asks:
Has Pope's stock fallen since last year, and what does he need to improve on?
 A: 

Bill Ballew: Yes, Pope's stock has fallen, but his status has not gone to junk bonds. He needs offensive consistency, particularly in making hard contact.

 Q:  from asks:
What does Schafer project to do at the Major League Level? Id guess at his peak he is a .300 15HR 60 Guy, with 15-20 SB. Am i close?
 A: 

Bill Ballew: From parts unknown, we have another question...I laugh when I see some publications project modest minor leaguers with big-time major league numbers. In this case, however, I believe Schafer can be even better. The .300 norm is about right, but I see him flirting with 20-20 seasons and 70+ RBIs.

 Q:  Todd from Chattanooga asks:
With the Renteria trade, it appears to be a definite upgrade to the Braves farm system. Do you believe that J.Jurrjems will have immediate impact in '08? Do you think he fits well in the Atlanta rotation? also - with Gorkys, when do you see his major league projection? 2 more years away?
 A: 

Bill Ballew: Jurrgens had a great season at Double-A Eric in 2007 and pitched well at times during his seven starts with Detroit. I believe he will be a strong contender for a spot at the end of the Atlanta rotation during spring training. Hernandez probably three years from contributing significantly with Atlanta. He was only 19 this past season, and that will make him only 22 even at that point.

 Q:  CJ from Orlando asks:
What's Jeff Locke's ceiling
 A: 

Bill Ballew: It's higher than your average vaulted ceiling. He was lights out at times with Danville this past season. The Braves believe he could move fast through the organization and be a mainstay in the rotation for years thereafter. In other words, like the vaulted ceiling, the Braves are pretty darn high on him.

 Q:  CJ from Orlando asks:
How close was Evarts?
 A: 

Bill Ballew: He was another guy who just missed the cut. With players like Steve Evarts, Cody Johnson, Jon Gilmore, etc., not making the cut shows how strong the Atlanta farm system remains even without the players shipped to Texas for Teixeira.

 Q:  Tom from Atlanta asks:
How, if at all, do you think the Braves' farm system will change with Wren taking over as GM?
 A: 

Bill Ballew: Frank Wren will do some things the way he likes, but overall the philosophy will not change at all. Wren has been a major contributor to the organization since late 1999, so any change is really more akin to passing a baton in the long-distance relay race.

 Q:  Todd from Chattanooga asks:
Wow! Jason Heyward made a big impression I take it! Do you believe he has the makeup of a true left-fielder, what kind of arm does he have?
 A: 

Bill Ballew: I believe Heyward could play right field in the big leagues, but there is a fellow by the name of Francoeur residing there, so that is what will push Heyward across the diamond if the situation remains status quo.

 Q:  Robert from Flower Mound, TX asks:
Bill - Where would the Andrus, Harrison, Feliz group rank among the Braves current Top 10? Thanks.
 A: 

Bill Ballew: Andrus was having a good but not great year in Myrtle Beach. The same thing with Harrison in Mississippi. Feliz was very impressive in Danville prior to the deal. I'd say Andrus and Harrison would be in the 4-6 range with Feliz falling in shortly thereafter.

 Q:  Todd from Chattanooga asks:
Can you tell us a little something about the Braves 2007 International signing of Julio Teheran? Do you see him in Danville next year at 16 yo?
 A: 

Bill Ballew: He may go to the Gulf Coast League due to his age and his parents' desire that he be watched carefully by the organization. He has spent very little time in the United States, and being the age of a high school senior next year, Julio is probably better suited to the regimen of the GCL at this point in his young career.

 Q:  Emmett from Fayetteville, GA asks:
Do the Braves stand a chance of turning Dennis Dixon towards baseball full time?
 A: 

Bill Ballew: Within the past month, he has told scouting director Roy Clark that he wants to stay with baseball. Of course, reality suggests that with every passing week of beating top 10 teams in college football, Dixon's signing bonus with the Braves will look like chump change compared to an NFL contract as a draft pick in the first round or two.

 Q:  Jason from Charlotte asks:
Van Pope and Eric Campbell both had horrible seasons. Is there any reason to think they can turn it around next season ?
 A: 

Bill Ballew: Yes, because they both have exceptional talent. Pope made major strides at Myrtle Beach in 2006 and several scouts that I've spoken with believe he will bounce back in 2008. This season, however, will be close to a do-or-die situation for him as a prospect. Same thing with Campbell, who was sent home in August for not delving into his rehab with much zeal. Eric marches to the beat of a different drummer, but when he crosses those white lines, he is as intense and competitive as they come.

 Q:  Emmett from Fayetteville, GA asks:
The Braves drafted a lot of college middle infield talent this year (Hicks, Fisher, Jones). Where do they slot in the organization and where do you see them playing in 2008 (both positionally and at what level) ?
 A: 

Bill Ballew: Hicks is the best of the bunch. In fact, he is another guy who narrowly missed the top 10. He really had a strong season at Texas A&M and continued that momentum right into his first taste of pro ball. While Hicks can stay at shortstop for the long haul, Fisher needs to move to second base, where Jones already plays. Fisher projects as a potential utility player and Jones maybe the same, with Hicks have potential to be a big league starter.

 Q:  Jon from Orlando asks:
It seems that Brandon Jones has only gotten better and better over the course of his career. Is he viewed as someone who has staying power in the Atlanta OF, or as mid-season trade bait? What major leaguer is he comparable to?
 A: 

Bill Ballew: He has staying power, no doubt. Left field has been a revolving door in Atlanta of late, but Jones has the potential to bring that to a screeching halt. As far as comparisons, Jones reminds me of former Reds outfielder Eric Davis.

 Q:  Jason from Charlotte asks:
What is your opinion of Joey Devine ?? He certainly made enough trips to and from Atl this season. Is he anything more than a middle reliever ?
 A: 

Bill Ballew: Devine was once thought of as the closer of the future in Atlanta, and even though he filled that role for Richmond in the R-Braves' Governors Cup championship, he's probably more of a situational guy in the seventh or eighth inning. He doesn't retire left-handed hitters with enough consistency right now. He did, however, come on strong this past season after returning to his college mechanics, so maybe there is a big role for him in the future. But right now, I see him as a sinkerslider guy versus right-handed batters.

 Q:  Emmett from Fayetteville, GA asks:
A couple of names stand out that I expected to see in the top 10: Cody Johnson and Joey Devine. I'm assuming Johnson and significantly raised his stock after his pitiful first year.
 A: 

Bill Ballew: Cody Johnson is definitely on the Braves' radar screen after his brutal debut in the GCL in 2006. Devine rebounded somewhat in 2007 but needs more consistency veruss southpaws.

 Q:  Pete from Sarasota asks:
Thanks for taking my question. What are your thoughts on Kris Medlen? How close was he to making the top 10?
 A: 

Bill Ballew: Medlen is a true sleeper. He had a great season in 2007 and has continued to overpower hitters this fall in Hawaii. I admit I may have underrated him somewhat because he is impressing more and more people by the day. He's in the top 30, no doubt. His size is not impressive, but the way he throws the ball is. He is as good a competitor as there is in the organization and could continue to move quickly through the farm system.

 Q:  Eric from PA asks:
Jon Gilmore did not hit for much power in the GCL this summer. He only had 5 doubles, 1 triple, and 1 home run, and his slugging percentage was only .346. Does he have enough power to remain at third?
 A: 

Bill Ballew: A fellow by the name of Chipper was a chump in the GCL in 1990, when he batted only .229 and had only three extra-base hits among his 32 safeties. The wood bats and the military-type environment in weather that makes Hades seem cool by comparison can take its toll on a lot of young players. If Gilmore has a repeat performance at Rome or Danville in 2008, then there might be a cause for some concern.

 Q:  Guerry Baldwin from East Cobb Baseball asks:
Bill, What is the ETA on Jason Heyward? 2010? Also, do you see the Brave's draft strategy changing under Wren or will it still be high school heavy?
 A: 

Bill Ballew: Wren's strategy will be the same, particularly since Roy Clark recently turned down the Giants' overtures to become assistant general manager and signed a two-year contract extension to remain as the Braves' scouting director. Heyward could be in Atlanta by 2010, but 2011 is probably a safer bet since he has played only 12 professional games to date and just turned 18 shortly after signing.

 Q:  Dan from Dallas asks:
Am I crazy or could the Braves have 7 guys in the Top 100?
 A: 

Bill Ballew: Dan, I am not a registered psychiatrist, so I don't know about the crazy part. But, yes, seven Braves definitely could make the top 100.

 Q:  Dan from Dallas asks:
What's Rohrbrough's upside?
 A: 

Bill Ballew: Top half of the rotation guy in the big leagues. He's a polished lefthander who made mincemeat out of the Appy and South Atlantic league hitters last year. He'll stumble at some point, but this guy really knows himself and how to pitch.

 Q:  Roger from Charleston, SC asks:
7 out of 10 on this list were not in the Braves' system a year ago. How does the overall talent level compare to last year's top 10?
 A: 

Bill Ballew: Very similar. I don't think it's lower. You make a good point in how quickly the Braves were able to reload even though five prospects were traded at the end of July. I believe overall the Braves' depth is better now than it was at this point last year.

 Q:  keith from Lombard asks:
How serious are Cory Rasmus's injuries? Could he still be a two or three in a major league rotation?
 A: 

Bill Ballew: He underwent surgery in the spring and should be back during the first few months of 2008. His ceiling is still very high. He was a high school draft pick in 2006, so even though Rasmus missed a full year, he really won't be far behind in his development as long as everything heals as expected.

 Q:  Jose from Miami asks:
What’s the word on Anthony Lerew? I know he had surgery and might be out until the all-star break, but is he still considered a prospect as this point? It’s hard to overlook his stats before 2006 and how he pitched against San Diego when he was called up this year. What’s your take on him?
 A: 

Bill Ballew: He's starting to get up in age a little bit, and the 2008 season figures to be little more than trying to get back on the mound. You're right about how effective Lerew was in 2006, and I wonder how long he had been hurting based on his sudden dropoff. If he can bounce back to his previous form, Lerew could be a power pitcher and a nice addition to the rotation. But right now everything is on hold.

 Q:  Mark from Miami asks:
Julio Teheran vs. Neftali Feliz? Why?
 A: 

Bill Ballew: I'd go with Teheran simply because his repertoire is deeper at a younger age. Feliz is a nice pitcher with some filthy stuff, but Teheran is a potential four-pitch guy.

 Q:  Mark from Miami asks:
Any players in the DSL that we should keep our eyes on? Any of them coming over to the states next year?
 A: 

Bill Ballew: There's several guys making strong progress. The Braves opened a new academy in the Dominican in May and are really putting a new emphasis on Latin America with the impressive efforts of Johnny Almaraz. In the early part of the next decade, the Braves will have several homegrown Latin players contributing in Atlanta.

 Q:  Jose from Miami asks:
What should we expect from Jon M. Owings?
 A: 

Bill Ballew: Unfortunately, Jon Mark Owings can't stay healthy. He has a potent bat and plays an impressive right field, but his consistency has been hurt by his inability to stay on the field for long periods of time. I'd love to see the numbers he could produce in a healthy full campaign. Maybe '08 will be that year at Myrtle Beach.

 Q:  Dave from ibc.poweralleycircuit.com asks:
Is Brandon Jones the real deal? Can we expect .300 20 Hr's and 100 RBIs yearly?
 A: 

Bill Ballew: I believe he can be the real deal provided he makes the necessary adjustments at the major league level. His swing is as sweet as sugar and he has the raw power and athleticism to be a star. He might be more of a .285-20-85 guy.

 Q:  Chris from Ann Arbor, MI asks:
Where does Jurrjens fit? Will he be a better pitcher than Chuck James next season?
 A: 

Bill Ballew: He can be a better pitcher if James does not improve on his second half of 2008. James has been impressive as a big leaguer until then, and Jurrjens has a higher ceiling than James ever did. Jurrjens is also about four years younger than James, so that should give you an idea about their long-term worth to the organization.

 Q:  Roger from Charleston, SC asks:
Those who say Schafer isn't ready for Atlanta keep pointing to the fact that he hasn't played in AA yet. However, he's dominating the AFL alongside many AAAAA prospects. How does that experience compare?
 A: 

Bill Ballew: Nowhere is more hitter friendly than the AFL, and while there are some Triple-A guys there, much of the talent is solid Double-A. Schafer has had a great year, but lets not crown him king before he's ready.

 Q:  marlowe from Rochester asks:
What's up with Eric Campbell? I heard is season was cut short by injuries, but then heard that he was sent home for disciplinary reasons. Which was it? Is he still regarded as a prospect by the Braves?
 A: 

Bill Ballew: Both are correct. He is still considered a prospect, but he's running out of chances after also being sent home early from Hawaii last fall.

 Q:  Rubi Koko from Willemstad, Curacao asks:
Do the Braves have any future plans for Cody Johnson? Were his 2007 stats for real? Might he be a better player than Gorkys Hernandez?
 A: 

Bill Ballew: Johnson and Hernandez are two different players. Johnson is a power-hitting left fielder, while Hernandez could become a prototypical center fielderleadoff hitter. Both have promising futures in the Atlanta organization at this point in their development.

 Q:  Dan from Hartford asks:
Bill, how close did Diory Hernandez come to cracking the list? Would he have made it before the Renteria trade?
 A: 

Bill Ballew: No, he would not have made it, but Diory made as much progress last year as anyone in the organization this side of Schafer. His attitude was 100 percent better, he hit with consistency and solid power, and looked comfortable playing second base for the first time as well as shortstop. Hernandez reestablished himself in the prospect world.

Moderator: Time for just a few more questions...so many, many questions!

 Q:  Robert Goldberg from Lyndhurst, NJ asks:
I realize that there's no way that he would've cracked the top 10, but do some feel that JC Holt can play in the big leagues, or is he now just an organizational player?
 A: 

Bill Ballew: Most scouts do not believe Holt is a major league player, but I like him more than most. He has made significant strides with his defense at second base and he put up some pretty decent numbers at Mississippi and Richmond last year. Time may prove me wrong, but I think Holt has a chance.

 Q:  Mike Marinaro from Tampa, FL asks:
Are the Braves going to regret the Teixeira trade in a couple seasons?
 A: 

Bill Ballew: Any time you roll the dice with a Boras client, there is a chance for disappointment. I hope the Braves can re-sign Teixeira this off-season; otherwise, Boras will have him test the market, which does not bode well for his long-term future in Atlanta. Saltalamacchia has a chance to be an all-star, and long term he would have looked pretty darn good at first base or catching with the Braves.

 Q:  clv from way back in the hills of nc asks:
It's great to see that you think so highly of Jurrjens. The bigger question is what type of a ceiling do you see Tommy Hanson having?
 A: 

Bill Ballew: Well, howdy, pardner. Ol' Tommy is one tenacious pitcher. He doesn't have an overpowering pitch, which brings him down a notch in some people's book, but he can throw four pitches for strikes. I believe he has a chance to be a solid middle-of-the-rotation pitcher in the big leagues.

 Q:  Brian from Richmond, VA asks:
What are the thoughts on Eric Campbell? Had a tough year at Myrtle Beach but he is not the first to struggle there. Are the Braves looking to keep him at 3B for now or still possibly switch to 2B ?
 A: 

Bill Ballew: Campbell isn't moving to second. That shift didn't take last year in Hawaii before he returned home. He's a good third baseman with a potentially potent bat. If he can get his head on right, Campbell could be a significant contributor.

Moderator: I appreciate all of the questions and everyone taking the time to chat today. The top prospects party continues on Wednesday, so stayed tuned to Baseball America, bat fans!