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, 2009.

Moderator: Welcome, everyone. This chat should be a little different than those involving the Rays in years past. The Rays are now winners! So let's see what's on your minds...

 Q:  JAYPERS from Ill. asks:
I don't understand how Hellickson didn't budge any on your Top 10 list since last year, as he absolutely dominated Vero Beach, and adapted nicely to Montgomery after a rough start. Could you elaborate? Also, if he dominates next season could he see TB as early as September?
 A: 

Bill Ballew: The names ahead of Hellickson are pretty darn impressive. Plus, Hellickson had an opponents batting average of .292 in Montgomery. He was dominating in the FSL, and he's headed in the right direction, but he's not there yet. He definitely could see time in Tampa in 2009 if he makes the same progress as he did this past summer.

 Q:  Ben from Leland Grove asks:
Is it too optimistic to expect Tim Beckham to put together a .320+ season at whatever level he plays next year? Also, what does the future hold for his brother Jeremy?
 A: 

Bill Ballew: I think Beckham will hit better than he did last year, simply because he will make the adjustments to pro ball. I expect him to be at Low A Bowling Green to open the season, although a bump to Port Charlotte would not be a surprise at some point in the campaign. As for his brother, Jeremy, he has decent tools, but the entire package does not add up to that of a strong prospect.

 Q:  Ben from Leland Grove asks:
With such a crowded rotation, approximately when in 2009 do you see Wade Davis getting his shot, and will he be used in the pen as Price was?
 A: 

Bill Ballew: I know this isn't the answer you're looking for, but it really depends on what the Rays do this offseason and how Davis pitches in spring training and early next season. I expect the Rays to deal some starting pitching to clear room for David Price. Davis would join the likes of Mitch Talbot and some others as replacements should someone go down to injury in the rotation. So right now it's just a little too early to tell. But Davis is definitely getting close.

 Q:  Jean-Paul from Land of Lincoln asks:
If Jennings can stay healthy next year, what kind of numbers do you project for him? Has your stock in him wavered much, or do you think it's just a case of bad luck?
 A: 

Bill Ballew: His stock has wavered a little bit, but not much. He does need to stay healthy, but I think it has been bad luck, as it is most of the time. He's an exciting player to watch and has the chance to be a true leadoff hitter with above-average power for the role. He should flirt with a .300 average, 10+ home runs and 50 stolen bases.

 Q:  Kent from London, UK asks:
Are the Rays planning to use the Scott Elbert stratagem upon McGee's return? (meaning, throw him immediately into a bullpen role and limit his innings).
 A: 

Bill Ballew: I hate to be vague, but it's too early to tell. McGee's return is reportedly right on pace, but his debut likely will not come until mid-season. I wouldn't be surprised if he did start out in the bullpen to gradually build up his arm strength.

 Q:  JAYPERS from Ill. asks:
While he's not getting any younger, Chris Nowak has been consistently solid throughout the past few years. With Longoria blocking him at third, do you see him being trade bait? And did he crack the Top 30 this time around?
 A: 

Bill Ballew: Nowak was a strong contender for the top 30. He had an excellent season at Montgomery and briefly with Durham, showing the ability to hit for average, drive in runs and hit with average power. He's somewhat of an underdog who is blocked by Longoria. I think he could be a fairly versatile player in Tampa, but his best chance in the big leagues is likely with another organization.

 Q:  Ben from Leland Grove asks:
As you said, Niemann has nothing left to prove in the minors. If he's potential trade bait, why didn't Friedman want to part with him before the trade deadline? His talents would be better served with a team that will give him a legit shot in the Majors, one would think.
 A: 

Bill Ballew: The Rays obviously did not receive any offers that they felt was worth dealing Niemann. I really believe he would already be in the big leagues if he were with most other organizations. With a solid rotation already in the big leagues and several starters knocking on the door, including Niemann, you have to think he's prime trade bait, perhaps for a more permanent solution in right field.

 Q:  TB Rays Fan from Tallahassee, FL asks:
Could I get your opinion of D.J. Jones? Is he on your Top 30 this year?
 A: 

Bill Ballew: Jones was a near-miss on the top 30 after ranking 30th last year. I was a bit rawer this year than many expected. He has solid tools across the board, but I'm concerned about his lack of bat speed. He got the bat knocked out of his hands quite a bit in the Appalachian League. His ceiling remains high, but he's got quite a bit of competition in the organization when it comes to ranking in the top 30.

 Q:  TB Rays Fan from Tallahassee, FL asks:
How close did Alex Cobb come to making your list? Your evaluation on his mechanics?
 A: 

Bill Ballew: Very close. Those who remember the South Atlantic League Top 20 from this past season know I'm a big Cobb fan. He's not overpowering and he doesn't project off the charts for a righthander, but he knows how to pitch and repeat his delivery. I believe he has the ability to pitch in the rotation at the big league level.

 Q:  Harry from RI asks:
It's been said that Jake Jefferies has great plate discipline. Are his catching skills anywhere near as good as his plate skills, and did he sniff the Top 30?
 A: 

Bill Ballew: He's a solid middle of the top 30 prospect in the organization. Jefferies is a solid catch-and-throw receiver with fringe-average arm strength and good accuracy on his throws. He has solid footwork with a quiet setup and blocks the ball well. He has a chance to become a big-time sleeper out of the draft.

 Q:  Jean-Paul from Land of Lincoln asks:
Could I get your evaluation of Kyle Lobstein, and did he make the 11-20 range?
 A: 

Bill Ballew: Lobstein was a near-miss for the top 10. Scouting director R.J. Harrison saw Lobstein numerous times since they both live in Arizona. Lobstein saw a decrease in velocity last year before displaying everything the Rays hoped to see during instructional league. He's an excellent athlete with good projectability who gives the Rays another potential high-impact starting pitcher.

 Q:  Jean-Paul from Land of Lincoln asks:
What's been the reason(s) for Ryan Royster's regression this year? Is he still one of the most powerful guys in the system, and is he still in the Top 30?
 A: 

Bill Ballew: He has great power, a true country boy with an old-school approach of swing hard in case you hit it. The problem in the FSL this year was he failed to make the necessary adjustments to make significant progress. He showed signs of cutting down on his swing and using the entire field more often late in the campaign, which gives the organization hope that he can resume development as a top prospect.

 Q:  TB Rays Fan from Tallahassee, FL asks:
Ryan Reid put up excellent numbers out of the pen for both levels he played for this season. Many of us Rays' faithful would like to see him succeed in TB's bullpen sooner than later, but do you think management shares this sentiment?
 A: 

Bill Ballew: I believe that Reid would be a solid addition to the pen and might get his chance on a full-time basis in 2009. Management has no reason to hold him back, particularly with the way major league bullpens seem to be a revolving door. I believe your patience will be rewarded with Reid this coming season.

 Q:  JAYPERS from IL asks:
I see 7 of the names on this list were on last year's Top 10 list. Why do you suppose this is?
 A: 

Bill Ballew: The Tampa Bay roster is no longer the land of opportunity for players as it was in the team's first decade of existence. It's taken a while, but the Rays' finally have a numbers situation involving the major league roster, particularly if they continue to try to add a veteran presence or two, a la Percival and Floyd in '08.

 Q:  Ian from Tampa asks:
As far as you know, are the Rays interested in dealing Sonnanstine and/or Jackson to make way for Price and possibly Davis?
 A: 

Bill Ballew: I don't have exact knowledge of the day-to-day situation, but I have no doubt those names, especially Jackson, have been mentioned in potential deals. I would be surprised if more than one rotation member was traded this offseason, but I would be shocked if at least one was not dealt, too.

 Q:  ScottAZ from Phoenix, AZ asks:
After a slow start are offensive expectations tempered for Beckham? Is 270 ave with 15 homers about right, or something better?
 A: 

Bill Ballew: First overall pick in the 2008 draft needs to hit better than .270. I see him pushing .300 with decent power for a shortstop and solid offensive numbers across the board.

 Q:  ScottAZ from Phoenix, AZ asks:
If you compiled a list of top pitching prospects of the decade, where would Price be on the list? Top 5? Top 3?
 A: 

Bill Ballew: If you're talking about Rays prospects, I'd saw first. If you're talking about all of baseball, he's still definitely in the top 5, and probably in the top 3.

 Q:  Steve from Salt Lake City, Utah asks:
Where does Mitch Talbot fit in the Rays plans for '09? It doesn't seem like he has anything left to prove in the minors. With almost 8k per 9 ip and a 4-1 K/BB ratio, he would seem like an ideal trade candidate to an organization that needs pitching at the back end of their rotation.
 A: 

Bill Ballew: I agree wholeheartedly, Steve. Talbot had an outstanding season in 2008 that was mostly overlooked due to the emergence of Price and the solid showings by Davis, Hellickson and others. If I had to guess, I would expect to see Talbot traded or serve as a middle reliever in Tampa.

 Q:  Timmy L. from San Francisco, CA asks:
Next 5 years of production: Timmy Lincecum or David Price?
 A: 

Bill Ballew: Ladies and gentlemen, welcome the 2008 NL Cy Young Award winner. You can't go wrong with either one, but Lincecum has proven it at the major league level for the past year and a half, so he would have to be the safer choice.

 Q:  Kyle from Middletown asks:
How quickly do you think Tim Beckham can make it to the big leagues? Is opening day 2011 too optimistic?
 A: 

Bill Ballew: He obviously will have to hit better in '09 than he did in '08 in order to be in the big leagues that fast. So many things depend on the moves made at the major league level. Right now, OD 2011 might be pushing the situation, but he could make his big league debut at some point in that campaign.

 Q:  Kyle from Middletown asks:
If Tim Beckham struggles at shortstop like the Upton brothers did, does he have the bat to play in a corner outfield spot?
 A: 

Bill Ballew: I don't see Beckham having the ideal power to be a corner outfielder at the major league level, but he could handle the job if the Rays make up the deficiency at another position. This is a hunch, but I see him possibly being a plus second baseman with solid offensive production if he doesn't stick at short.

 Q:  Kyle from Middletown asks:
Which big leaguer does Tim Beckham best compare to? Does Edgar Renteria sound like a fair comparison?
 A: 

Bill Ballew: Renteria in his prime a couple of years ago is not a bad comparison. I see a little bit of Jeter in him, too.

 Q:  Kyle from Middletown asks:
How much trade value does Brignac have left after a poor showing last year? Obviously you believe he can still be a starter in the big leagues because of where you ranked him, but when do you see that happening?
 A: 

Bill Ballew: I believe Brignac has solid trade value, but he's not going to bring an established major leaguer in the prime of his career. Yes, Brignac had some difficulty at the plate this year, but he's a solid defensive shortstop who is capable of hitting with above-average power.

 Q:  Ryan Swanzey from Elon, NC asks:
How passable is John Jaso's defense? I know it used to be considered poor a couple years back, but has he improved to the point where he would be passable as a regular? His offensive skill set looks impressive.
 A: 

Bill Ballew: You're right, Ryan, Jaso is an above-average hitter. His defense has improved significantly, if for no other reason than he has been healthy enough to get behind the plate on a regular basis. He'll never be confused with Johnny Bench back there, but he's definitely passable, particularly in working with pitchers and calling a game. If he platooned back there, he would be a viable option at DH on days he didn't catch.

 Q:  mike from arizona asks:
Dioner Navarro seems to be a decent catcher at best. Do you think Buster Posey would have been a better addition than Tim Beckham considering they have Bartlett and Brignac at shortstop and really nobody at catcher to grow with that great young staff?
 A: 

Bill Ballew: Your suggestion definitely has merit and one I probably would have opted to take. But the Rays have always been about getting the best athlete among position players and Beckham was considered to reside in that group in 2008.

 Q:  Joe from Staten Island, New York asks:
Hi Bill, do you see Beckham as a shortstop in the majors or do you see him moving to another position like BJ Upton?
 A: 

Bill Ballew: I believe at this point he has shown the ability to stay at short. If that wasn't the case, I don't believe the Rays would have used the first overall pick on him.

 Q:  Denny Hitmmee from South Bend asks:
Reid Fronk, Low A MVP. Where does he stand?
 A: 

Bill Ballew: Fronk is an underdog and overachiever who is a better professional player than many expected he would be. He opened my eyes when I saw him this past season. Some members of the organization believe Fronk could excel as a Ryan Freel type of player in the big leagues, a utilityman who could play a variety of positions in the infield and outfield. Right now the Rays want him to continue to produce and develop, which will be at Port Charlotte in 2009.

 Q:  Bryan from San Francisco asks:
What type of ceiling does Matt Moore have? Other than Price, is it possible that he ends up the best pitcher in the Rays system? Thanks!
 A: 

Bill Ballew: Moore's ceiling is very high at this point. Sure, it's possible he could turn out to be the best pitcher of the group, but with the likes of Hellickson, Davis, McGee and several others also in the hunt, that's quite a bit of competition. But betting on Moore to emerge at the top would not be considered a long shot.

 Q:  Jon from Peoria asks:
How would you compare Price's ceiling with Johan Santana?
 A: 

Bill Ballew: They're two different pitchers. Santana is so filthy because of his changeup, whereas that is Price's weakest offering. Plus, Price is much more of a physical pitcher than Santana. Price shows every indication of becoming a special hurler, but let him establish himself in the big leagues before having to be compared to a perennial Cy Young Award candidate.

 Q:  Jon from Peoria asks:
The Rangers and A's systems are thought to be the top two right now in baseball. Do you think the Rays would be next after those?
 A: 

Bill Ballew: They're definitely in the neighborhood, particularly when you consider the amount of depth found in the Rays organization from 1-40. In my opinion, they're easily in the top six.

 Q:  Scott from Philly asks:
Take a stand, Wieters or Price as your overall #1?
 A: 

Bill Ballew: Get your apples, get your oranges! That would be what I'm selling at my stand, Scott. How can you not love a switch-hitting catcher with power like Wieters or the power potential on the mound with Price. Again, it's an apples and oranges situation, but most baseball people tend to take the everyday guy over a pitcher, who contributes every fifth day.

 Q:  Simon from Ottawa, Ontario asks:
Could Reid Brignac eventually move to second base?
 A: 

Bill Ballew: Sure, it's possible, but I see him moving to another organization in a trade as a shortstop before he would move to second base with the Rays.

 Q:  Nick from Old Greenwich, CT asks:
Is there a bad player in the Rays system? All of their position players in the top 10 seem to be good players and I didn't see one pitcher who throws less than 91 mph. The Rays rotation already looks pretty set with Kazmir, Shields, Price and Sonnanstine. When McGee, Hellickson, Davis, Moore and Barnese are ready who are they going to kick out? I guess the easy way to put it is, when these prime arms are ready to go in the show who will they replace?
 A: 

Bill Ballew: No doubt the Rays do a great job of signing and developing talented players. Based on the decisions made in the postseason, I would see Edwin Jackson as the first one to be traded to open a spot, probably for Price. After that, things have a way of working out. You can never have too much pitching due to the nature of the beast that involves climbing the mound. With injuries always a possibility, the Rays have no reason to unload a bunch of arms just because there's somewhat of a backlog starting to form.

 Q:  alexei from St Johnsbury Vt asks:
How does Emeel Salem rate (tools, projection role)? Are there any others OFs in the Rays system that have upside?
 A: 

Bill Ballew: You've mentioned another one of the my favorites. Salem did not crack the top 30, but there's a lot to like regarding his game. He got off to an impressive start at Columbus last year before suffering a season-ending injury. He's a little long of tooth for the Class A level, but he has the package of tools that could make him an impact player. Keep an eye on Salem, because he has true sleeper potential. As far as other outfielders, Jennings is a little ahead of Salem, and Royster has the potential to be a good one as soon as he makes the adjustments.

 Q:  JB from Upstate NY asks:
Okay, I'm sure you're going to get hammered on this, so might as well get it out of the way first: Why is Hellickson below Barnese and Moore?
 A: 

Bill Ballew: Maybe because Hellickson got hammered in the Southern League. Yes, he made the adjustments, but he was not the dominating hurler against Double-A competition that he was in the Florida State League. Moore was off the charts—granted, at a lower level—and Barnese would be getting a lot more love if not for the presence of Price and Davis in the organization. All three are outstanding prospects and someone had to be ranked ahead of the other two.

 Q:  Kevin from New Brunswick, NJ asks:
How close did Mitch Talbot come? Could be a viable bullpen weapon in 2009 with his good changeup?
 A: 

Bill Ballew: Talbot was a solid middle of the list prospect, but not really a strong top 10 guy. Yes, his changeup could make him a viable reliever. Right now, I see him remaining as a starter, but probably not with Tampa. If he remains with the Rays, it will be as a fifth starter or in the pen.

 Q:  Kevin from New Brunswick, NJ asks:
Can Niemann be a viable relief option, or is his need for a lengthy warm-up period too much to overcome?
 A: 

Bill Ballew: He could be, but you hit the nail on the head with his apparent inability to get loose in a hurry. I don't know why that is other than he is simply accustomed to being a starter.

 Q:  Dave from Midwest asks:
It seems the Rays have done a great job of producing pitching prospects over the last few years (Sonnanstine, Price, Kazmir, Shields, etc.). Why is this?
 A: 

Bill Ballew: Good scouting, a high volume of draft picks used on pitching and good player development. It's not rocket science, although some clubs seem to think it is.

 Q:  Kevin from New Brunswick, NJ asks:
Did Kyeong Kang make the top 30? What do scouts think of his bat?
 A: 

Bill Ballew: Yep, he was in the lower part of the top 30. The lone Asian player in the farm system, Kang has many observers in the organization believing he has a chance to develop into a special player. He remains raw in many phases of the game and needs to continue to play in order to improve in all aspects. He led Hudson Valley in several categories, including RBIs and slugging percentage, and showed solid improvement in the outfield. He'll open the 2009 season at Class A Bowling Green.

 Q:  M.D. from Ashburn, VA asks:
Bill: Allow me to digress, when do you see the Rays moving out of that Home Depot with Neon Lights and Catwalks and into a real baseball stadium? Economically it may not be the best time, but down the road? Your thoughts? Thanks.
 A: 

Bill Ballew: Let's hope so. There's been talk about building a ballpark on the current site of Al Lang Field by the water, which is one of the premier ballpark venues in the game. Of course, it all comes down to money. But it would be nice to be able to play a game without worrying about hitting catwalks, etc., in the atmosphere of an abandoned warehouse.

 Q:  JH from Berkeley asks:
Tampa Bay has all but gotten out of the high-dollar international signing game. Now that they don't look to be getting as many high draft picks in the coming years, do you see them jumping back into it to keep their system stocked?
 A: 

Bill Ballew: That would not be a surprise. The Rays have developed more of a presence over the past two years in Latin America, particularly Venezuela and the Dominican, so I would expect them to continue in that direction since they will not be drafting the cream of the crop, at least not in 2009.

 Q:  Mike Loomis from Tampa, FL asks:
What is happening with Chris Mason? He had a terrible year in '08, and he seems to be having a difficult time in the AFL.
 A: 

Bill Ballew: Talk about a fall from grace. Mason was brutal in 2008 and was eventually banished to the bullpen. Some observers question his dedication to the game, particularly with regards to his weight and even filtering down his frequent change of hair color in the past. I saw a lot of potential shortly after he signed out of UNC Greensboro, but something has changed in the past year. Hopefully he can get back on track in 2009.

 Q:  Mo Green from Hartford asks:
Brignac is starting to look like a mirror image of Bartlett (opposite side of the plate.) Have the Rays given any thought to a strict platoon of Brignac and Bartlett?
 A: 

Bill Ballew: I don't see that happening. Bartlett may not overwhelm with his bat, but he has a knack for coming through with big hits and plays a very solid shortstop. I also don't see Brignac being able to find any rhythm at the plate or in the field as a platoon player early in his major league career.

 Q:  Steve from Va asks:
I was surprised to see Fernando Perez didn't make your top 10 after the year he had. How close was he to making it and what do you see as his future with the Rays?
 A: 

Bill Ballew: Perez was very close to making the top 10. I see him being at worst a fourth outfielder. His speed is as close to an eight on the scouting scale as you'll see. He has become more proficient at playing small ball, and he's a good defensive player and an improving base runner. I believe he's every bit the player as Minnesota's Carlos Gomez.

 Q:  Kevin from New Brunswick, NJ asks:
Is there any hope left for either Wade Townsend or Matt Walker?
 A: 

Bill Ballew: There's always hope, but don't go holding your breath. For whatever reason, it just isn't happening for them. Townsend has been one of the biggest busts in franchise draft history.

 Q:  Mark from Davis asks:
What will happen with Chase Fontaine?
 A: 

Bill Ballew: I don't have a crystal ball, but I don't see him as a big prospect. He was a disappointment in the Atlanta organization prior to being traded to Tampa Bay. Double-A is as high as I see him going unless he makes some major adjustments with his footwork on defense and his bat at the plate.

Moderator: Thanks for all the questions. I apologize for not getting to all of them. Hopefully we can do this again real soon!