Tampa Bay Rays: Top 10 Prospects Chat With Bill Ballew

Tampa Bay Rays: 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 to the Rays' top prospects chat. Let's see what's on your minds...

 Q:  David from Boulder asks:
The Rays have been relatively slow to promote position players to the majors in the past (Upton, Young and Dukes) do you think they will be just as cautious with their up and coming pitchers namely Price, Davis and McGee?
 A: 

Bill Ballew: I believe the Rays will be deliberate with the pitchers as well, but particularly Price might push the issue. The Rays have a greater need for pitching than they did for position players, and I expect Price to move quickly through the organization. Davis and McGee, especially McGee, could be knocking on the door sooner rather than later as well.

 Q:  JAYPERS from IL asks:
McGee a closer in five years' time? Say it ain't so, Bill! Everything I've read about him just SCREAMS starter. Is there really that little room in your book between a potential # 2 starter and a power reliever? Isn't it safe to say McGee has more to offer in the rotation than Shields? If his secondary stuff really is that big of a concern, why did he rank above Davis? Just because he's a lefty?
 A: 

Bill Ballew: Being a lefthander has a lot to do with it. But don't underestimate the need for a solid and consistent closer. Yes, McGee does look like an excellent starting candidate, but a young team looking to build confidence cannot afford to lose tight games because of a poor closer.

 Q:  JAYPERS from IL asks:
Assuming Price is the real deal, do you really see him having a shot at being promoted to TB as early as this season, Major League deal or not? Especially taking into account Friedman's apparent philosophy of promoting prospects at the speed of molasses. (I've never before seen such a glowing scouting report for someone without an inning of pro experience.)
 A: 

Bill Ballew: I believe Price is that good. It seems that many Rays fans have Dewon Brazelton in the back of their minds, but scouting directors from other teams have been emphatic that Price is a true stud. Price may start out as low as Class A Columbus, but he has a solid shot at reaching the big leagues by the end of the season if he continues to pitch the way he did at Vanderbilt.

 Q:  Ben from Leland Grove asks:
I've noticed in last year's Prospect Handbook, Longoria's speed was rated average, and now it's below average. What's changed?
 A: 

Bill Ballew: His speed is fringy average. Part of it is his body maturing and getting bigger and stronger. That sometimes comes at the cost of his speed, but he is not a base clogger. Longoria is a smart player who knows how to play the game and adjust any of his minor limitations.

 Q:  Ben from Leland Grove asks:
I've noticed Niemann isn't on your 2011 Lineup Card. You still think his future is a starter, or will he eventually be groomed to be a reliever? I'm wondering if the latter won't be true eventually. Where does he fit in, assuming his comeback doesn't actually happen?
 A: 

Bill Ballew: The Rays will give him every chance to emerge as a starting pitcher at the major league level. He's a massive guy with an intimidating presence. Pitchers of his size (former Oriole Tim Stoddard comes to mind) tend to perform better as a reliever due to stamina concerns as a starter, but it's too early in his career to determine that. He'll be a starter in 2008 after a solid showing last summer.

 Q:  Jean-Paul from Midwest asks:
At the major league level, TB is in desperate need of good relievers (i.e. Percival). That said, how quickly do you see Morlan ascending through the system, and where will be begin 2008? Did he make the 11-15 range?
 A: 

Bill Ballew: You're right about the Rays' bullpen, which is why McGee might eventually become a candidate for the role. Morlan is not as high as 11-15, but he is a solid prospect in an organization that's pretty deep in pitching. Morlan spent last season in the Florida State League with the Twins and pitched only briefly at the Double-A level. I see him opening at Double-A Montgomery in 2008.

 Q:  Jean-Paul from Midwest asks:
Is Jennings' knee back to 100%? Also, who would you say is the better overall athlete - him, or the dearly beloved, dearly departed Dukes?
 A: 

Bill Ballew: Yes, Jennings is expected to be 100 percent. It was only a minor cleanup that had started to bother him late in the 2007 season. I can't say that Jennings is a better athlete than Dukes, simply because Dukes was one of the most athletic and powerful players I've ever seen. Jennings is in his class from an athletic standpoint, but not from a strength standpoint.

 Q:  TB Junkie from Tampa Bay asks:
What would you grade Jennings' power on the 20-80 scale? Is he a speedy hitter only, or do you see him developing some serious longball ability as well? I'm wondering if this kid could one day become a Maybin clone. Possible, or not likely?
 A: 

Bill Ballew: I don't envision Jennings having as much power as Cameron Maybin. Jennings will hit for more power as his body matures and he gains experience, but I'm not talking about more than 20 homers in a season. His power might rate as a 50 or 55 on the scouting scale.

 Q:  TB Junkie from Tampa Bay asks:
As you alluded to in his scouting report, do you see any of Maddux in Hellickson? With a lot more experience under his belt, when is the earliest he could see Tampa?
 A: 

Bill Ballew: Greg Maddux is the first name virtually everyone in the organization mentions when talking about Hellickson and I don't think it has anything to do with trances or mantras or the like. When I saw him this past summer, I saw a very intelligent pitcher who controls the game extremely well for such a young hurler. I believe the Maddux comparisons are valid, although that's pretty lofty stuff for a young pitcher to live up to.

 Q:  TB Junkie from Tampa Bay asks:
If Crawford eventually gets dealt, could Royster's timetable be accelerated any, especially if he puts up another season like he did last year?
 A: 

Bill Ballew: Naturally you would think any time an opening occurs at a higher level there would be an acceleration experienced throughout the system. That said, Royster has only played at the low Class A level. He should have been the South Atlantic League Player of the Year last season, but he's at least two full seasons away from being a strong candidate for the major league team.

 Q:  Frustrated Rays Fan from Sarasota asks:
How close to untouchable is Kazmir? The rumors of his possible trade got some of us rattled.
 A: 

Bill Ballew: It appears that is not untouchable, although I feel he should be. The Rays robbed the Mets a few years ago and there is absolutely no reason for them to lose a lefthanded cornerstone who is one of the only starting pitchers the franchise has ever had that can produce consistent hope for a win every time he takes the mound. The Rays have to start ponying up some cash in order to maintain a nucleus or else the merry-go-round will never cease.

 Q:  Ben from Leland Grove asks:
Who wins a foot race between Jennings and Perez?
 A: 

Bill Ballew: My gut tells me Perez, but I saw Jennings go from home to third on a triple last season as fast as anyone I've ever seen. It would be interesting.

 Q:  Jonathan Small from Atlanta asks:
Do the Rays view Chris Mason as just another guy, or someone who will make an impact at some point?
 A: 

Bill Ballew: Mason looked like a building block after he was drafted out of UNC Greensboro, then saw his stock drop terribly in 2006 before he rebounded impressively last year. I think the thing that keeps the lid on the enthusiasm is the way he presents himself. He's on the heavy side and seems he changes his hair color every day. Even so, he had an excellent season last year.

 Q:  THill from Tufts University via The Peddie School asks:
Fernando Perez, a top notch defender and speed demon, has consistently hit and improved in all areas the last few years at High A and AA. Do the Rays have any plans for him or is he forever going to be stuck behind Crawford, Baldelli, Upton and the rest?
 A: 

Bill Ballew: I believe he could slip in as a fourth outfielder. I don't think most scouts see Perez as an everyday player in the major leagues. My instinct tells me that by playing every day in the big leagues that Perez's bat would get exposed. He could be a solid fill in and a top-notch pinch-runner if he continues to develop at the higher levels of the minors.

 Q:  Frustrated Rays Fan from Sarasota asks:
After Price, which 2007 draftee ranked the highest in your Top 30, and for what reason? We don't really hear much about the other picks, aside from the Draft Report Card. Who has the highest ceiling?
 A: 

Bill Ballew: I think it's third-round pick Nick Barnese, who showed "necessary arrogance" and great command at Princeton after signing. His fastball has good movement in the low 90s and his slurvy breaking ball is an effective pitch. He works fast and is not afraid to challenge hitters. He ranked in the middle teens with a chance to move higher with experience.

 Q:  David from Boulder asks:
I understand the 2011 projections are more for fun and less for true projection but is McGee closing because you don't envision him refining his changeup, or there's so many pitchers to cram in there somehow?
 A: 

Bill Ballew: Both. You're right, it is simply a way to look into the crystal ball and make an educated guess or two. McGee could be the team's number two or three starter by 2011. But as I said earlier, the team is going to need a good closer in order to make a dent in the AL East.

 Q:  TB Junkie from Tampa Bay asks:
Are Bankston and Guzman considered writeoffs at this point, or are they salvageable? Did both make the Top 30?
 A: 

Bill Ballew: Bankston is gone after failing to live up to high expectations early in his career. The opinion on Guzman is mixed, although I am not a believer. Yes, he is salvageable, but I believe the Rays have better long-term options that will not bode well for Guzman.

 Q:  TB Junkie from Tampa Bay asks:
What's been the main reason for Matt Walker's downfall? He was once considered one of their top arms.
 A: 

Bill Ballew: Walker endured an awful season in 2007. His best friend was killed in a house fire and later he simply could not find the strike zone. If not for a strong rebound performance during instructional league, he might be released. Walker has ability and needs to put everything together in 2008, which figures to be a make-or-break campaign for the pitcher.

 Q:  TB Junkie from Tampa Bay asks:
When will Jaso get a shot in the bigs? He got the title of Best Hitting Ability, but how far behind are his defensive skills?
 A: 

Bill Ballew: Jaso hasn't been able to stay healthy enough to fine-tune his defense. He's hit at every level, and he has done a good job behind the plate when he has been able to get back there. He still has a ways to go, but he is making progress. Plus, he who hits plays in the major leagues.

 Q:  TB Junkie from Tampa Bay asks:
With Pena firmly entrenched at 1B for the foreseeable future, where does that leave Nowak? Did he crack the 11-20 range, and how would you evaluate him?
 A: 

Bill Ballew: Nowak was close, but he fell just short of the top 30. While that's a tribute to the organization, it also is a reflection on Nowak's long-term potential, which looks to be a potential 4-A guy, especially he turns 25 next month.

 Q:  Frustrated Rays Fan from Sarasota asks:
How close was Rollins to the list, and will he be joining Price in Vero Beach this season, or does he have more to accomplish in Low A first? How would you evaluate his mechanics?
 A: 

Bill Ballew: I can't believe it took this long for a Rollins question to appear. I've been a Heath Rollins fan since he was a two-way star at Winthrop. He outsmarted and outpitched the competition in the South Atlantic League last year. While his stuff is fringy average and his mechanics a little different, he will continue to move as long as he's producing. I believe he starts 2008 in the Vero Beach rotation.

 Q:  JAYPERS from IL asks:
Is Iwamura considered to be a mainstay at 2B, or could Elliot Johnson get a shot there anytime soon?
 A: 

Bill Ballew: I see Iwamura as the answer for the foreseeable future. Johnson struggled mightily last year and I don't see him at this point challenging Iwamura for the starting job.

 Q:  Ben from Leland Grove asks:
Is Talbot being labeled a future reliever, or will he get a shot at the rotation?
 A: 

Bill Ballew: In 2006 after arriving from Houston, it appeared Talbot would be a starter for the long haul. He was solid last year at Durham, but I believe his future at the major league level could be in the bullpen, much like Brad Hennessey has done in San Francisco for the past couple of years.

 Q:  Jean-Paul from Midwest asks:
How would you compare Josh Butler's stuff to the other arms on this list? Is he still a Top 30 guy? He showed a few flashes of brilliance last year.
 A: 

Bill Ballew: Butler has some filthy stuff. He throws hard with a nice tight spin on his curveball and an improving changeup. He could be a sleeper in the organization. Some minor ailments slowed his progress in 2006, but he has a chance to make some noise in 2008, beginning at Vero Beach.

 Q:  Jean-Paul from Midwest asks:
Would you place Gibson on the 2nd tier of upcoming young arms, or lower? Will TB eventually be thought of as having gotten the better of that deal with Washington?
 A: 

Bill Ballew: He might be in the second tier, but I really don't know that much about him. I believe the Rays have already gotten the better of the deal, using the formula addition by subtraction.

 Q:  Luke from Des Moines asks:
Hey Bill! Thanks for chatting. The Rays look like they're rising quickly with a new logo and stadium, and lots of young talent. But it seems like they have almost too much pitching. Kazmir, Garza, Shields, Price, McGee, Davis, Hellickson, Mason, Niemann, Hammel, Sonnanstine, Gibson, Howell, and more. What are they going to do with just 5 slots in the rotation? Thanks.
 A: 

Bill Ballew: No problem on the chat. And the Rays will not have a problem with too many arms. In more than 125 years of professional baseball, that has never been a problem due to the constant presence of attrition. The game has a way of allowing the cream to rise to the top. That depth may be why the Rays have entertained the idea of trading Kazmir, but that's a mistake in my book. Stick with Kazmir, give Garza the shot he needs, let Price develop, and the rest will take care of itself.

 Q:  THill from Tufts University via The Peddie School asks:
How close was Fernando Perez to making the Top 10? I know the Rays have one of the best farm systems in the league, but was he at least in the discussion or in the 11-15 range? Where would he rank in one of the weaker teams Top 10, like for example the now depleted DBacks system?
 A: 

Bill Ballew: Perez is an early 20s guy in the Rays organization, and I don't see him being higher than a mid-teens player in most other organizations. He does a lot of things well, but his power is almost nonexistent and his age is on the verge of working against him. As I mentioned earlier, I like him and believe he could be a solid fourth outfielder for many teams.

 Q:  Luke from Des Moines asks:
What's the scouting report for Nick Barnese, one of Tampa Bay's '07 draftees? Where will he begin next year?
 A: 

Bill Ballew: Barnese is a big of a gunslinger who strikes out a lot of guys by challenging hitters. He'll need to get outs by hitting a few more bats at higher levels because his stuff is not overpowering like, say, Randy Johnson in his prime. Knowing the Rays' deliberate ways, he'll probably start 2008 at Hudson Valley, although he will compete for a job at Columbus in spring training.

 Q:  Joe from Easton, MD asks:
Who is the better third baseman in the future - Longoria or Alex Gordon?
 A: 

Bill Ballew: Hard to tell since Gordon has a year of experience under his belt, but there is a lot to like about Longoria. Taking nothing away from Gordon, I would go with Longoria.

 Q:  THill from Tufts University via The Peddie School asks:
Who would you rather have Scott Kazmir, Joba Chamberlain or Clay Buchholz?
 A: 

Bill Ballew: Give me Kazmir for one major reason: he's had a signficiant amount of success at the major league level. Plus, he's done it without the best of supporting casts thus far. If he were pitching for a major market team, the entire baseball world would be well aware of Kazmir.

 Q:  Luke from Des Moines asks:
Bill- I know you did the Braves list. Who do you think has the brighter future: Jennings or Hernandez, and Hellickson or Hanson? Thanks.
 A: 

Bill Ballew: I assume you mean Diory Hernandez with the Braves, who is a middle infielder. Given the two, I believe Jennings has the higher ceiling. Tommy Hanson with the Braves has a chance to be special, but so does Hellickson. Based on people I've spoken with, I would say the majority believe Hellickson has a little more upside.

 Q:  Joe from Easton, MD asks:
Ryan Royster: product of a 21-year old with a couple of years of pro experience playing Low A ball, or is there reason to believe he may be starting to blossom as a player?
 A: 

Bill Ballew: He put his experience to use, but I also think the light came on, so to speak. Royster is a country boy whose game came together last year. He's definitely blossoming into a solid all-around player.

 Q:  Luke from Des Moines asks:
What should we expect out of Carlos Pena this year? Will he show that 2007 was a turning point or just a fluke?
 A: 

Bill Ballew: As you know, Pena has long been heralded as a potential major contributor, back to his days with the Rangers, A's and Tigers. I think he found a comfort zone in Tampa that included being out of the spotlight. He believe he will continue to be productive, but asking him to repeat his 46 homers and 121 RBIs every year doesn't appear to be realistic to me.

 Q:  Eric SanInocencio (Rays Anatomy) from Birmingham, AL asks:
Jeremy Hellickson has been compared to Greg Maddux, but some say his velocity won't allow him to be a frontline starter. In BA's SAL review, it said he touched 95. Will he continue to gain arm strength, or is his current velocity what we can expect going forward?
 A: 

Bill Ballew: I think he has enough arm strength. The movement of the heater needs to stay consistent in my opinion, but I think that will prove to be the case. Maddux was sneaky fast at the prime of his career even though he did not reach triple digits on the radar gun and I believe Hellickson will follow suit.

 Q:  Dave from Apex, NC asks:
How many of the Rays' top prospects could be the #1 ranked prospect in a weaker farm system?
 A: 

Bill Ballew: Definitely David Price in as many as two-thirds of the other organizations. Jake McGee would also receive some very strong number one consideration in other farm systems.

 Q:  Luke from Des Moines asks:
The Rays have really made an effort recently to make character in the organization a priority. Last year they cleaned out the whole Durham staff, and they recently traded Delmon Young and Elijah Dukes. Also, they signed veteran presences such as Troy Percival and Cliff Floyd. What impact will this good-behavior emphasis have on the young team, and when will the Rays finally start to contend with the beasts of the East? Thanks.
 A: 

Bill Ballew: That's been one of the things I believe that has held the Rays back. I was surprised the Rays shipped out Delmon Young, but his sense of entitlement and unrelenting arrogance rubbed lots of people the wrong way, and his run-in with Maddon sealed the deal. Signing Percival and Floyd will be major positives in the clubhouse, particularly if they are able to perform. But if they are injured most of 2008, their impact will be minimal.

 Q:  BronBron from Cleveland, Ohio asks:
How large is the gap between between Jake McGee and David Price? You mention McGee possibly developing into a power reliever, what are the chances the Rays take him off the starter track? Thanks!
 A: 

Bill Ballew: There's not a big gap, other than Price having more polish at this point. I believe McGee remains a starter at least in 2008 with the overall needs of the organization determining which role he will eventually fill.

 Q:  Casey from Corvallis, OR asks:
Wow Royster at nine. Haven't heard much about him since he hit a tape measure bomb in high school, what does the future hold for Royster?
 A: 

Bill Ballew: Royster has a chance to be a solid major league hitter with above-average power. He's still very raw and has a ways to go with his defense, although he is an extremely hard worker. He's still in the early stages of his development.

 Q:  Kevin from New York asks:
How does Longoria stack up to David Wright, Ryan Braun, Ryan Zimmerman, and Alex Gordon?
 A: 

Bill Ballew: Longoria is better defensively and has a strong arm than the four you mentioned aside from Zimmerman. He's a better athlete than Braun and possibly Wright. His power potential is not as high as Braun's, but better than Zimmerman and on par with Gordon and Wright. In sum, I believe he fits nicely into that group as some of the premier third basemen in the game for the long haul.

 Q:  Todd from Wauwatosa asks:
Eliot Johnson was dealt a setback with his performance at AAA. Is he still considered a Top 30 prospect?
 A: 

Bill Ballew: He was a strong contender but is a bubble guy at this point. You're right, Johnson did fall considerably last year, but there is still some hope for him with a strong 2008 showing.

 Q:  Sylvain, from Montreal asks:
Why do you think the Rays traded Delmon Young for Garza when they have a bunch of pitchers (Price,McGee,Davis,Niemann) coming soon to the majors.
 A: 

Bill Ballew: I think they wanted a change of clubhouse dynamics and getting rid of Young went a long ways toward accomplishing that goal. Garza gives the Rays another strong piece to pitching puzzle while adding depth that could lead to another trade involving a moundsman or two. Also, the Rays got a decent starting shortstop in Bartlett in the deal along with a guy in Morlan who should contribute in the bullpen in the near future.

Moderator: Thanks for all the questions...there's never enough time to answer every one. Take care and we'll do it again soon.