Atlanta Braves: Top 10 Prospects Chat With Bill Ballew

Atlanta 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, 2009.

 Q:  Eric from PA asks:
Was Brandon Hicks in contention for the No. 10 spot? What is his ceiling and do you think he will cut down his strikeouts in the future?
 A: 

Bill Ballew: Yes, Eric, he was right there. He was a bubble guy, moving back and forth between the 9 thru 12 slots. His future may be at second or third or even one of the corner outfield positions, but I believe he can play short in the big leagues, too. Strikeouts, as you mention, are the keys, because he has the power to be an above-average offensive producer.

 Q:  Eric from PA asks:
Do you buy into Cody Johnson's second half improvement? I know it's asked every year but can he make consistent enough contact to be a big league starter?
 A: 

Bill Ballew: He started hitting to the opposite field more in the second half last year, which is a major step for him. With hitting coach Bobby Moore's help, he also cut down on his swing somewhat with two strikes. Johnson wants to go deep every time he steps to the plate, but he's showing some signs of maturation that should enable him to be more productive than the home run or strikeout option he displayed during the first half of the 2008 season.

 Q:  JAYPERS from IL asks:
Where would Flowers have ranked, had he remained?
 A: 

Bill Ballew: Jeepers, Jaypers, said Wally Cleaver, are you in on every BA chat? But seriously, Flowers would have been around 7th or 8th. His defense behind the plate still leaves a bit to be desired, but he is improving. Offensively, he's looking more and more like a monster.

 Q:  Ben from Leland Grove asks:
How close was it between the two H's for the top spot?
 A: 

Bill Ballew: By the H's I imagine you mean Hanson and Heyward and not Lee Hyde and Moises Hernandez. To tell the truth, Heyward started out at the top of my list until Hanson simply dominated in Arizona. Either one could have been at the top without too many arguments.

 Q:  Raymond from New York asks:
Hi Bill, Happy holidays ! Do the Braves have any hopes still for either Rasmus, Cordier or Evarts as possible pitching prospects despite their delayed progress to date ? thanks
 A: 

Bill Ballew: Hi, Raymond, and happy holidays to you as well. Sure, the Braves still have hopes for all three, but the clock never stops ticking. Rasmus has struggled to get healthy enough to pitch regularly, Cordier has had command problems since coming back from Tommy John surgery and Evarts is a combination of several factors on and off the mound. By the way, a couple of teams gave strong consideration to taking Cordier in the Rule 5 draft last week, but the command was too big an issue, even though he can throw the ball through a brick wall.

 Q:  JAYPERS from IL asks:
How far off was Brett DeVall from the Top 10, and what is your evaluation of him? Thanks.
 A: 

Bill Ballew: DeVall resided around around middle of the next 20 prospects. He had some forearm tenderness during his first taste of pro ball this past summer and did not pitch in game situations during instructional league. He's solid in all aspects...his lower ranking is more a reflection on the amount of depth in the Atlanta farm system than anything he did or didn't do after signing.

 Q:  Ben from Leland Grove asks:
What are scouting telling you about about Edgar Osuna?
 A: 

Bill Ballew: I thought there might be a chance that Osuna would be nabbed in the Rule 5 draft last week. He's extremely versatile as a starter or reliever, earning Rome Pitcher of the Year honors last season before pitching well this winter in Mexico for the second straight year. He's a classic Mexican pitcher in that he doesn't throw particularly hard, but he has a great idea of how to mix his offerings and spin the ball several different ways. He was a solid top 30 guy in the Atlanta organization.

 Q:  Paul from Anaheim asks:
Brandon Hicks - 11-20 range? What excluded him?
 A: 

Bill Ballew: Strikeouts combined with a very modest batting average were the primary aspects that kept him out of the top 10. Having said that, his solid defense, above-average power and determined approach on the field would have landed him in most top 10s throughout baseball. Hicks is definitely major league material.

 Q:  JAYPERS from IL asks:
Was David Francis' amazing start this year (16 K's in 6 IP) a fluke, or is he capable of more of the same? Did he make your Top 30?
 A: 

Bill Ballew: I don't envision Francis as the next Randy Johnson or Nolan Ryan in terms of strikeouts or Hall of Fame credentials. He excelled in the Appy League due to his advanced approach to pitching compared to the rest of the league. I believe he was somewhat of a surprise, but he has a solid chance. He was a bubble guy in the top 30...again, in a very deep organization.

 Q:  Ben from Leland Grove asks:
Did Cody Johnson make your Top 11-20 this year? Will he ever be able to cut down on his K's?
 A: 

Bill Ballew: Yes. Cody is always going to strikeout, a la Adam Dunn, Ryan Howard, Pat Burrell, etc., but the key to his success is not only reducing his high totals but having more productive at-bats when he doesn't hit the ball some 500 feet. His power is truly special, and if he learns to use it to produce line drives in addition to Ruthian shots, he can be a big-time stick in the major leagues.

 Q:  Brad from ATL asks:
Van Pope - prospect or suspect?
 A: 

Bill Ballew: Great defensive player, but right now Van is more of a suspect than a prospect. He's just not hitting for enough average and power to profile as a big league third baseman. The 2009 season will probably be his last chance in the organization to prove he can hit at the Double-A level and above. There just isn't a lot of room for Bill Mueller types of players.

 Q:  Todd from Chattanooga asks:
I love Heyward, but props to you that Hanson is the number one prospect! Heyward should pan out to be a stud, however Hason has proven himself to be dominant at higher levels. - - also - - Is Kimbrel expected to start in Myrtle Beach next year?
 A: 

Bill Ballew: Thanks for the props, Todd. You're reasoning is exactly what gave the nod to Hanson. And, yes, I see Kimbrel starting the season at Myrtle Beach. He raced through the organization last year after signing and looks to be a true bullpen candidate for Atlanta at some point in the not-too-distant future. A Myrtle Beach/Mississippi split season is what I'd expect.

 Q:  Katie from Atlanta GA asks:
I've heard the name Donavan Tate linked to the Braves as a possible draftee, come June. Any chance this could happen?
 A: 

Bill Ballew: Sure, it's possible. The Braves are never shy about drafting and signing high school players from the Atlanta metro area and even the rest of Georgia. For those who don't know, Tate is the son of former Georgia and NFL running back Lars Tate and has shown the ability to be a potential high-round pick in 2009.

 Q:  Kyle from Middletown asks:
How does Jason Heyward compare to Jay Bruce at the same age in their careers and how do they compare skills wise? What are the chances that they end up being teammates on an all-star team some day?
 A: 

Bill Ballew: I believe there are some similarities between Heyward and Bruce. Heyward is somewhat bigger physically and does not strike out as much as Bruce at the same point in their development. Both are well above-average athletes, with maybe a slight edge to Bruce, and I see both ending up in right field, even though both could playing any of the three garden slots if needed. And I also agree that both have solid shots at becoming all-stars down the road.

 Q:  Kyle from Middletown asks:
How do you like Heyward's odds of being next year's number 1 overall prospect?
 A: 

Bill Ballew: If you mean the Atlanta organization, I'd say he's the odds on favorite. In terms of the overall minor leagues, he should be a strong contender. But the Braves have several guys who should receive strong cases, including Jordan Schafer and Cole Rohrbough, both of whom I expect to have outstanding seasons in 2009.

 Q:  Jon from Peoria asks:
Is it safe to say that Flowers would have ranked among the top 10 if he hadn't been traded? Would any of the others? What type of upside does Jon Gilmore have?
 A: 

Bill Ballew: Again, yes, Flowers was in the top 10 prior to the trade. Brent Lillibridge and Santos Rodriguez were in the high teens to low 20s and Gilmore was in the 20s before joining the White Sox. Rodriguez is the sleeper of the group and could wind up having the most success. Gilmore showed signs of improving defensively at third base last year after playing short at an Iowa high school but there is some concern among many scouts about whether he will hit at higher levels.

 Q:  Phil from Chandler, AZ asks:
What happened to Chad Rodgers this year after an impressive showing at Danville in 2007?
 A: 

Bill Ballew: Inconsistency was the big problem for Rodgers. He'd have one bad inning in several starts that tarnished his overall performance; other times, he couldn't find the feel for all of pitches. He also pitched without significant offensive support in other starts. Chad needs to add some strength and continue to improve his grasp of the mental aspects of pitching in order to make a major push up the ladder.

 Q:  Tom from San Francisco, CA asks:
What kind of power does Freeman project to have at the major league level?
 A: 

Bill Ballew: Plus power, in my estimation. I love his swing. His patience and knowledge of the strike zone is remarkable for such a young player. Rome manager Randy Ingle told me, "Freddie lives to drive in runs." As he adds a little loft to his swing, I see him hitting 30 homers with 100 RBIs in the big leagues.

 Q:  Tom from San Francisco, CA asks:
Any DSL Braves that caught your attention?
 A: 

Bill Ballew: Yes. Shortstop Victor Cadette was very impressive; he just turned 18 on Dec. 6. Also, catcher Christian Bethancourt, a 17-year-old out of Panama, also impressed in the Dominican as well as instructional league. I think you'll hear a lot about both of them in the next year or so. They are products of the impressive job being done by international scouting director Johnny Almaraz.

 Q:  Fred from Ohio asks:
Hi- What are your thoughts on Ernesto Mejia? He had a really good year in high A this year.
 A: 

Bill Ballew: Mejia had a breakthrough season in the Carolina League and an argument could be made that he could have been the circuit's MVP. His defense is average at best at first base, and he was a little old for the advanced loop. Still, he crushed the ball last year. It will be interesting to see if he can continue to produce at that rate at the Double-A level. Fellow first sacker Kala Ka'aihue has had a tough go of it at Mississippi after posting similar power numbers as Mejia did at Myrtle Beach.

 Q:  Will from Chapel Hill asks:
Heyward has great skills as a right fielder, but does he also have the ability to play in the central garden? And which slabbist not in the top 10 rates as a sleeper to follow?
 A: 

Bill Ballew: Well, Will ol' chap, Heyward could man ye ol' middle garden presently, but his speed is only a little above-average and does not project to improve as he continues to develop physically. Compare him with Schafer and Gorkys with their CF defense and there really isn't anything to compare. As far as those on the hill toeing the rubber, keep an eye peeled on righty Randall Delgado.

 Q:  Hagan from Charleston, Illinois asks:
Does Cory Rasmus have any value left? I remember people talking about how he had the potential to be a very good starter before he decided that getting hurt was his new hobby.
 A: 

Bill Ballew: I wouldn't call his injuries a hobby, because he's more frustrated than anyone. That said, he's on the verge of having to show two things—that he can pitch and that he can stay healthy. The 2009 season will be a big year for him. If doesn't do much, the chances of Rasmus remaining in the Braves' long-term plans are not good.

 Q:  Jim from Orlando, FL asks:
If Charlie Morton were eligible for this list, would he have made the top 10? Also, how close was Kyle Cofield? Did he even make your top 30? I've heard good things about him.
 A: 

Bill Ballew: Morton would have been a top 10 bubble guy. Cofield was a bubble guy for the top 30. He had a very good season at Myrtle Beach last year and I believe he deserved a little more props than he received. Control problems have been the biggest hurdle for Cofield to clear. If he can do that this year at Mississippi, he could easily work his way into more of a strong prospect consideration.

 Q:  Ken Rule from Lakewood CA asks:
Thanks for the chat. Wondering about a couple of guys in the Atlanta organization. I know you writers don't put a lot of stock in the projected line ups. I was surprised that Teheran wasn't included in any part of the pitching line up for 2012. Thought he was highly projected? Also, it's surprising to me that Brandon Jones has fallen out of the Braves picture in LF. Any hope for him?
 A: 

Bill Ballew: Thanks for joining in the party, Ken. Teheran was not in the projected rotation because he's only 18 and he has yet to see any significant time on a professional mound. Shoulder worries limited his development last year at Danville, and he's likely to return to the Appalachian League in 2009, which makes reaching Atlanta on a full-time basis by 2012 pretty challenging. As far as Jones is concerned, he had a tough season at Triple-A Richmond before showing a little more in Atlanta. I know he's frustrated with his performance of late. He has solid all-around ability, but that ability has not produced consistent performances on the diamond. Major league pitchers are pretty good at finding those holes in a swing, and that's been the case thus far with Jones.

 Q:  Fred from Ohio asks:
What do you think the future holds for Eric Campbell?
 A: 

Bill Ballew: I thought Campbell had an excellent season after being suspended during the first two months of the 2008 season at Myrtle Beach. His defense was good and he put up some impressive offensive numbers in a short period of time. I think he still has a chance if he can maintain his focus both on and off the field.

 Q:  Chris from Gaylord, MI asks:
Hanson #1? That really shocked me. I love BA, I just think you guys seem to find one guy every year. Who you all fall in love with and rate them higher than they should be. This year it's Hanson. Their is no way he's a better prospect than Heyward. Give me 3 reasons as to why you picked him over Heyward.
 A: 

Bill Ballew: There are very few true number one pitchers at the major league level. Hanson will flirt with that designation, even though he may be more of a number 2. Also, he developed a hard slider midway through the 2008 season that produces memories of John Smoltz in his prime. Third, his changeup was outstanding in Arizona, which when combined with his mid-90s fastball and solid average curveball make him a major prospect. I've been on the Hanson bandwagon since early in the 2007 season, and he's considerably better now than he was then.

 Q:  Kevin from Bakersfield, CA asks:
Bill, The most interesting aspect of the Braves Top 10 this year is Jeff Francouer's omission from the Braves projected 2012 lineup. Has Francouer's stock fallen that much?
 A: 

Bill Ballew: It just seems at this point that Francoeur has felt a sense of being let down by the fans and vice versa. Some of the comments directed at Francoeur last year were uncalled for. Some people in the organization wonder if the SI article referring to him as "the Natural" might have gone to his head, but Francoeur is no Andres Thomas, a Brave shortstop in the late 1980s who thought he had it made once he reached the big leagues and stopped working. Francoeur will be in the big leagues in 2012, but there could be a parting of the ways with Atlanta if the atmosphere at Turner Field fails to improve. Then again, he could return to his all-star form with the Braves if he makes the necessary adjustments at the plate.

 Q:  Fred from Ohio asks:
Hi- Could you please tell me a bit about Matt Kennelly?
 A: 

Bill Ballew: He's a big catcher from Australia who made solid progress last year at Danville. He is fundamentally sound with a strong and accurate arm and a great ability to work with pitchers. His bat has above-average pop, but he's more of a line drive hitter than a power guy at this point. I think he has a high upside. I see him at Class A Rome in 2009.

 Q:  Mark Easley from Tennessee asks:
Statement and Question; Wren stints at whatever he is. He has decimated the Braves system and really has nothing to show for it. The Braves built to dominate the NL East for 14 years using primarily their minor league system to produce. Where would the Braves rank maong major leagues team systems if they had retained Perez and Delgado and Flowers? They would also have Harrison and Salty in the majors. They lost big anyhow; so why give up your furure for an uncertain present?
 A: 

Bill Ballew: A few corrections. One, John Schuerholz made the Teixeira trade, not Frank Wren. Two, Wren has made some outstanding deals. There's a guy named Jair Jurrjens in the Atlanta rotation and a center fielder named Gorkys Hernandez whom Wren got for Edgar Renteria in his first trade. He also got a solid return in Kotchman and Marek for Teixeira from the Angels. He has been very shrewd in not giving in to the Padres and other teams for Peavy and other major leaguers. And instead of Perez, I assume you mean Neftali Feliz, who is an unquestioned stud. But, again, that was not on Wren's GM watch.

 Q:  Freda from Lackawanna asks:
It seems Jordan Schafer has put the suspension behind him, and is ready for a breakout season. Can he possibly win the starting centerfield job in Atlanta with a dazzling spring?
 A: 

Bill Ballew: Yes, I think he can. Schafer endured an overall disappointing season in 2008, yet he was outstanding in big league camp in spring training and finished with a great final month at Mississippi. He's extremely apologetic about his HGH suspension and wants nothing more than to prove himself as the Braves' long-term answer in center field. A true baseball rat, Schafer has a chance to have a big season in the big leagues in 2009.

 Q:  Freda from Lackawanna asks:
Are there concerns in the Braves' organization about Gorkys Hernandez's real age?
 A: 

Bill Ballew: I haven't heard any rumblings about that. He's only 21, and even if you added a couple of years, that's not too bad. Again, I don't believe that's a concern. He's an outstanding player regardless of his age.

 Q:  Angelo from Buckhead, GA asks:
Which relief pitcher has the best stuff that projects in the majors?
 A: 

Bill Ballew: Craig Kimbrel. The righthander's stuff is electric. And when Cole Rohrbough is healthy, he's almost unhittable because his stuff is so nasty.

 Q:  Karl of Delaware from Georgetown, Delaware asks:
Canadian Scott Thorman is gone from the Braves organization - a good or bad idea not to protect him?
 A: 

Bill Ballew: Probably a good decision. Thorman had a chance but had difficulty putting together the necessary adjustments. I believe he can hit for power and average if he gets a chance to play everyday. I'm hoping he will have another opportunity to prove his worth after signing with the Brewers, but playing behind Prince Fielder is not a real promising proposition.

 Q:  Jason from Charlotte asks:
How similiar is Rohbourgh to what Macay McBride was at the same point in their careers.
 A: 

Bill Ballew: I can see some comparisons. The one thing that happened to McBride was his velocity dropped during the early portions of his minor league career, and his secondary offerings took some time to catch up to major league standards. Macay also was unfortunate enough to have to deal with Leo Mazzone in his latter days with the Braves. Mazzone was not wild about working with young pitchers who had some ideas of their own, and McBride falls into that category. Overall, Rohrbough's stuff is a little more electric than McBride's was at this same point. Rohrbough's body also projects a little better than McBride's did at the same time.

 Q:  Mike from Lynchburg, VA asks:
Thanks for the chat! Who is the Braves long-term answer in center field, Schafer or Gorkys? Which could make the switch to a corner easier?
 A: 

Bill Ballew: I'd say Schafer at this point. Having said that, I see both as being the top five center fielders in the minor leagues right now. Schafer does not have a peer with his defense in center. Either one could play the corner positions, but Schafer would be better in right because of his plus, plus arm strength.

 Q:  Henry T from Tiburon, CA asks:
Hello and thank you for the chat. Without giving much thought the two best farm systems in the national league may very well be those of the Giants and Braves if you were a GM and you could pick 1 to start your team with, whose farm system would you choose?
 A: 

Bill Ballew: I would take the Braves' farm system due to the depth at a variety of positions. The Giants have excellent pitching depth, particularly with Madison Bumgarner, Tim Alderson and a handful of others. But the Giants' inability to develop any significant talent among everyday players at the major league level and Brian Sabean's poor decision-making on the free agent market (Edgardo Alfonzo, Michael Tucker, Dave Roberts, Edgar Renteria) makes me wonder if the Giants will ever develop a young team with long-term potential.

 Q:  Todd from Halterman asks:
How far off the map did Brandon Jones fall? He certainly had an extremely disapointing year!
 A: 

Bill Ballew: Jones was not eligible for the list with 135 major league at-bats. He would have been in the teens, probably in the 13-15 range, if he had been eligible. He still has ptoential, but I see him being a fourth outfielder more than an everyday guy, particularly with Atlanta.

 Q:  Karl of Delaware from Georgetown, Delaware asks:
Who will be the better power guy for the Braves in 5 years: Earl Campbell or Cody Johnson?
 A: 

Bill Ballew: Earl Campbell's days are in the past in terms of pro ball; his days ended well before the Oilers became the Titans. Eric Campbell, I believe, has a better chance than most think he does, but he is a couple years older than Johnson. I would put Johnson's pure, raw power against anyone in all of baseball, so I would have to go with him.

 Q:  Tom from San Francisco, CA asks:
Whom would you rather have in your organization, Tommy Hanson or Neftali Feliz?
 A: 

Bill Ballew: You can't go wrong with either one. Hanson is the better and more refined pitcher at this point, but Feliz may get a slight edge as having the better arm. Again, you're splitting hairs with these guys. They may be the top two pitching prospects in baseball right now.

 Q:  Michael Stern from Rochester NY asks:
Was Josh Anderson eligible for the list, or has his eligibility expired? Where would he have ranked? How do you see the CF situation shaking out in Atlanta for 2009? Will it be Anderson starting out the season with Schafer coming up around July?
 A: 

Bill Ballew: Anderson's eligibility had expired. He would have been a top 10-15 candidate. It seems I like Anderson more than the Braves, because I thought he should have been recalled earlier last season than he was. Anderson has value, but he's going to have to out-play Jordan Schafer this spring in order to be the starting center fielder during the first half of the 2009 season.

 Q:  Ian from Pittsburgh asks:
Do you think this is an age where prospects are being overvalued by clubs? Teams like the Braves ask about an ace like Peavy and make an offer that assumes the top 2 or 3 prospects are untouchable. Its no wonder the A's have flipped the market and are now trading over-valued prospects for established superstars.
 A: 

Bill Ballew: Good point, Ian. Prospects are traditionally overrated. The A's are not afraid to have a prospect come back and bite them in the butt like some other teams appear to be. At the same time, trading off prospects is not always a wise decision, not with the high bonuses being paid to many high-round picks.

 Q:  Daniel from NYC asks:
hi, thanks for the chat, is there a team with better OF prospects then the braves? the Twins come to mind with Hicks and Revere, do they have the best?
 A: 

Bill Ballew: I really like Hicks with the Twins, and Revere has to be attracting some Kirby Puckett comparisons. But with Heyward, Schafer and Hernandez, not to mention Anderson and Jones and several others, it would be hard to find more depth than Atlanta has in the outfield.

 Q:  Tim from Proctorville, Ohio asks:
It's draft do-over time, version 2007. How much higher would Heyward go?
 A: 

Bill Ballew: He'd be at least fourth. How can you not like Matt Wieters? All things being equal, he would be my number one overall. For organizations needing pitching, David Price and Madison Bumgarner would have to be at the top. But if pitching and catching were not a concern, I don't see anyone better than Heyward, in my opinion.

 Q:  Eric from PA asks:
Who do you see making a bigger impact in the majors, and who is the overall better prospects between Zeke Spruill and Brett DeVall?
 A: 

Bill Ballew: Right now I'd take Spruill, only because of what he's done in pro ball. But my opinion and a dollar will get you a cup of coffee.

 Q:  Eric from Phoenix, Arizona asks:
MYTH or FACT?: The Braves are cagey traders, in that they are more likely than most teams to keep their true blue chip prospects and deal away those whose perceived value exceeds their actual abilities. On what is this reputation based? Do you think recently traded prospects (Jarrod Saltalamacchia, Elvis Andrus, Tyler Flowers, et al.) prove or belie their reputation? Where would Flowers rank in the Top 10 were he still in the Atlanta system? Thanks!
 A: 

Bill Ballew: Fact. I believe the Braves' evaluate their own players as well as any team. More often than not, they make the right decision on who to trade and who to keep. That being said, however, there are times when you have to trade a player you don't want to in order to make the deal. A classic example is Adam Wainwright going to St. Louis for J.D. Drew. John Schuerholz had zero desire to trade Wainwright, but the only way the Cards would make the deal was by including him. The Braves were trying to make a run for the World Series and thought Drew could be the final piece. Same thing with Teixeira. There was no desire to trade Andrus, but the Braves felt they could due to the emergence of Escobar. Teams that continually rip-off other teams in trades will not find many potential partners, and it takes talent to obtain talent via trades more often than not.

Moderator: Thanks for all the questions over the past two hours. Sorry I couldn't get to all of them, but I appreciate the questions. Happy Holidays!