Atlanta Braves Top 10 Prospects Chat With Bill Ballew





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, 2011.

Moderator: Bill Ballew will answer Braves' questions beginning at 1:15 p.m. ET.

Bill Ballew: Hello everyone...let's see what you're questions regarding the Braves are all about.

    JAYPERS (IL): How far out of the Top 10 did Carlos Perez fall, and what's your evaluation of his mechanics?

Bill Ballew: Carlos was right there, barely missing the cut, simply because the Braves have so much pitching depth that is a little more advanced than Perez. It was a tough call, and Perez could be one of those guys who moves up significantly next year. His mechanics trouble some scouts, but right now I don't foresee that being a problem in his development.

    Ben (Leland Grove): About where will Simmons land in your Top 30, and is his offense anywhere near as advanced as his defense?

Bill Ballew: He's in the middle of the pack among the top 30. No, his offense is nowhere close to his glove. Many scouts wonder if he will hit enough to avoid getting moved to the mound in order to take advantage of his plus-plus arm strength. At the same time, the Braves were encouraged with what they saw from his bat at Danville and during instructs and believe he has a chance to remain at shortstop.

    RJ (New Orleans): Since the Braves farm near the top amongst teams, how high would Arodys Vizcaino rank on most other organizational lists, say the Tigers for example.

Bill Ballew: He'd be higher in many organizations, obviously. He would have been higher on the Braves' list if not for some concerns about his injuries over the past two years. He has a chance to be a special pitcher, especially given the improvements he made while at Rome last spring, and should become that type of hurler, provided he avoids the injury bug.

    Paul (ATL): Where will Salcedo place on your 30? What's the word on him?

Bill Ballew: He's another middle of the pack guy who has a chance to move up significantly. It didn't take long last season for the Braves to realize how little time Salcedo has spent on the field. His instincts on the diamond are not developed, and many parts of his game are raw. He needs to play without getting rushed simply because he received a high signing bonus. Rome was too much too fast for him last year. I don't know if he's a shortstop for the long haul, but his bat should be potent if he can generate a good and consistent approach.

    James (Charlotte, NC): Does Freeman's 0 walks in 24 mlb at bats concern you any?

Bill Ballew: Not really. Freeman didn't see a lot of at-bats in September and he was likely trying too hard to make a good impression. That's typical among young players. He has displayed above-average strike zone discipline thus far in his career and I expect that to continue to be the case at the big league level.

    JAYPERS (IL): Has Bethancourt's prospect stock fallen much since last year? Are the Braves going to take it slow with him?

Bill Ballew: It's fallen a little bit, although the ability is unquestioned. The concerns are centered on his lack of maturity and inconsistent work habits. Teams like to see some fire from the catching position, and Bethancourt has been lacking in that area as well. Due to their responsibilities in working with pitchers on side sessions in addition to honing their defensive skills and offensive abilities, catchers have to work twice as hard as other position players in their pre-game work. Bethancourt has been inconsistent in that regard, which needs to change if his productivity is going to wind up being greater than his potential.

    Zach (Golden, CO): Teheran or Hellickson? Why?

Bill Ballew: Long-term I'd go with Teheran, but short-term I'd go with Hellickson, simply because he's on the verge of pitching full-time in the big leagues. I feel that Teheran has a little better life on his pitches with an outstanding feel for setting up hitters. Hellickson is outstanding in his own right, but Teheran's slightly livelier arm is the difference in my opinion.

    Harry (GA): I read that at instructs, Teheran made Bryce Harper look silly with his curve. Was he just that good, or was Harper just that impatient?

Bill Ballew: I didn't see that so I can't honestly answer, but there's no question Teheran has made many hitters look silly. His breaking stuff and changeup is off the charts, and as I mentioned in the previous question, he has an uncanny feel for setting up hitters. Teheran loves to compete, so I wouldn't be surprised if he cranked it up a little bit when facing Harper.

    Wayne (Peoria,IL): Who is a good MLB comparrison to Freeman?

Bill Ballew: I'd compare Freddie to Mark Grace and J.T. Snow, but maybe with a little more power than those guys. He'll be a very strong defensive first baseman in the same vein as Snow and Grace.

    Grant (FL): Speculate for us — about how many of the Top 10 can you see making BA's Top 100 prospects list next year?

Bill Ballew: That's tough at this point, but Teheran, Freeman Delgado and Minor are gimmes with Kimbrel a strong possibility. Lipka will be on that list at some point in the near future.

    Jeff (Austin, TX): Bill! What's the matter with Zeke Spruill? ...More weaknesses than strengths would you say?

Bill Ballew: It seems like it's been one thing after another of late with Zeke. He got off to a tremendous start to his pro career before a non-baseball related incident occurred in 2009 and then breaking his hand in early 2010. Some scouts question his killer instinct and mound presence. The body and ability are there but he needs to put everything together in order to have success.

    Ty (Grand Forks, ND): Who has more speed, Lipka or Trout? thanks Bill

Bill Ballew: I haven't seen Trout in person, so it's hard for me to say. I do know that Lipka is an all-out gamer with plus speed. Combine those two traits and it's easy to say he's wide-open on the diamond.

    Jason (Charlotte): I was surprised to see Carlos Perez didn't make the Top 10. Is that a testament to all of the pitching depth in the organization? Also, who does Perez remind you of? Maybe another Perez who used to be a good Braves prospect... Odalis?

Bill Ballew: It's no slight against Perez...simply a lot of pitching depth in the organization. That's not a bad comparison with Odalis, who was a top-flight prospect in his younger days before his head and arm started having difficulty working in synch. Perez has serious raw ability and seems to be a smart kid who will be able to make the necessary adjustments as he climbs the ladder.

    Jason (Charlotte): Are the Braves that high on Lipka or is it because of the dearth of position players as prospects ? Also, how do you see his transition to CF going if he can't handle SS?

Bill Ballew: No, they're that high on him, and so am I. Everything he did after joining the organization left coaches believing he was better than advertised. His approach is infectious. Tommy Shields, the Braves' infield coordinator, believes Matt can stay at short, even though his throwing motion is a little different. If he can't, he could be a Gold Glove guy in center field given the way he would attack playing the position.

    Jason (Charlotte): I know Schafer doesn't qualify for the list anymore but what is the feeling within the organization about him. Will he be able to return from his wrist injury to be the player that we all hope for on opening day 2008?

Bill Ballew: It's taken nearly two years for Schafer's wrist injury to heal but it looks like he's finally turned the corner. He simply could not swing the bat with any authority at Gwinnett and Mississippi last year, which proved to be another lost season for him. He's close to being pain-free and working out hard in Florida with the expectation of getting back to where he was in early 2009. The Braves hope that can be the case but are taking more of a wait-and-see approach.

    Virgil Dahl (Waterloo, Iowa): Bill; how does Freeman stack up against Belt, and Singleton? thanks

Bill Ballew: I think Freeman's bat could be similar to both Belt and Singleton. Singleton appears to be headed to left field, primarily due to the presence of Ryan Howard, while Belt has moved on the fast track with the Giants but could find his way blocked by Aubrey Huff. Singleton is young like Freeman was two years ago and moves well, whereas Belt is a college guy. There's a lot of similarities with all three being outstanding prospects.

    Trevor (Albany, GA): If Matt Lipka does wind up in CF, who is most likely to be the future SS in Atlanta: Pastornicky, Salcedo or Simmons?

Bill Ballew: Pastornicky is the closest to attaining that goal and has the best combination of offense and defense to stay there for the long haul. Salcedo will have more pop in his bat than Pastornicky but is probably headed for third base or an outfield corner due to his frame and actions on defense. Simmons is a better defender than Pastornicky but has a lot of questions regarding his offensive potential, which could lead to his pitching down the road.

    Dave (Atlanta): Under Frank Wren, the Braves have consistently been one of the lowest spenders in the draft. Why doesn't the team spend more, and when will it start to hurt the organization's depth?

Bill Ballew: The organization's depth was not impressive a year ago, probably the weakest it had been in more than a decade. That scenario changed considerably with the 2010 draft and several international signings. Wren's hands are tied by the budget provided him by Liberty. Depth should not be a problem long term, however, given the Braves' willingness to spend on the international market as well as giving independent league and nondrafted guys a chance in recent years.

    CJ (Charlotte, NC): What is your opinion on Cory Harilchak? Is his bat good enough to make it to the majors?

Bill Ballew: Harrilchak has made some big improvements with the lumber during the latter half of the 2010 season and has definitely helped himself in the organization's eyes. He's an under-the-radar type of player who can play good defense at any of the outfield positions, possesses one of the strongest arms in the system, and plays with passion while demonstrating good speed on the basepaths. He's a guy who will have to prove himself at every level.

    jerry (NY,NY): Whats the word on the early start of Phil Gosselein? Anyone who took Strasburg yard I"m interested in. Rumor is is he mashed in Instructs. Whats his future?

Bill Ballew: Gosselin impressed the Braves' coaching staff as much as any 2010 draft pick. He made an outstanding transition to second base at Rome while hitting at the top of the order. He continued his momentum in instructs with his gritty, blue-collar approach. He has some pop in his bat and he's a very intelligent player who understands what he needs to do and improve upon at the keystone sack. Scouts and others aren't as high on him due to his age and average tools across the board, but Gosselin has a chance to prove a lot of doubters wrong.

    Luke (Corbin, KY): How about getting Zack Greinke with some of these surplus pitching prospects?

Bill Ballew: Not a bad idea. I've been wondering why the Braves haven't been mentioned as a possibility. They match up much better with the Royals in terms of need than the Yankees and even the Rangers. And with the Phillies loaded for bear with their pitching staff, the Braves can't simply sit around and be satisfied with what they have.

    Jeff (Tulsa): Has Mycal Jones' reported move to 2B improved his stock any within the organization?

Bill Ballew: His stock has been solid if not spectacular since he signed with the Braves last year. The Braves believe he looked much more natural at second compared to short after making the move during instructs. Mycal has a lot of tools and has refined his game significantly since joining the organization. He's somewhat of a late bloomer who could prove to be a solid utility guy at the major league level.

    CJ (Charlotte): Is Brandon Beachy really good enough to be a #3 starter? He wasn't that impressive in his 2 - 3 starts in Atlanta last year.

Bill Ballew: Wasn't that impressive? Really? Here was a guy who had been shut down after the minor league season, only to get an unexpected call to make his major league debut in a pennant race. Plus, he wasn't even starting until the middle of the season. If that's not impressive, especially with his ERA, I don't know what is. He may not be a No. 3 guy with Atlanta, but he has that ability at the major league level. Beachy has a nasty repertoire with an even better feel for pitching. He's also versatile, a guy who could be as effective as a reliever as a starter. He was the sleeper of the 2010 season who should have even better days ahead.

    Mark (Texas): Any rumblings about the Braves signing Johnny Almarez long term? He has to be one of the best in all of baseball. I don't remember the Braves ever having such a strong international presence as they do now. With Teheran, Delgado, Perez, Salcedo, Betancourt and some of the ones that were traded away (R Lopez, Neftali, Andrus, etc ). That's a pretty impressive group.

Bill Ballew: I'm not sure about Almaraz's contract, but you're right to give him credit for the Braves' presence abroad, particularly in Latin America. Bill Clark did an outstanding job in the first half of the 1990s to give the Braves a presence on the international front, which helped produce the likes of Odalis Perez, Bruce Chen and Damian Moss. Almaraz has definitely given the team's efforts a rebirth, thereby making them major players on the Latin market.

    Andrew (Minneapolis): J.J. Hoover: Could you elaborate on what the mechanical tweak did for him? Did he gain a couple notches on the fastball or was he just more deceptive after the change? Either way, 34 K in 20 IP at AA is really impressive.

Bill Ballew: Hoover changed the position of his hands in his delivery, which gave him better command as well as the ability to stay on top of his pitches, which gave them better movement. Hoover reminds me some of Kevin Millwood with his thick thighs and ability to eat innings. Hoover has some of the same power that Millwood possessed at the same point in his career.

    Kenny (Irvine, CA): Over/Under on Freeman's 2011 numbers: .280 Avg, 20 HRs, 85 Runs, 95 RBIs, 800+ OPS

Bill Ballew: Honestly, I think those numbers are a little high. I would say a line of .270, 15 homers, 75 runs, 80 RBIs and a 750 OPS is more realistic, especially if he spends the entire season in the big leagues, where opposing pitchers will make more rapid adjustments over the course of the long campaign.

    Vip (Los Angeles): Will career minor leaguer Matthew Young get his chance this year in spring training? What are the scouts saying about him? Most Braves fans feel confident with him on the bench in 2011. What are we missing?

Bill Ballew: I sure hope Matt gets a chance in spring training. He's been the quintessential organization guy with very productive numbers. He worked hard this past season to make himself more versatile from a defensive standpoint by getting reps at second base and taking infield at third in addition to playing all three outfield positions. He has above-average speed with great instincts on the basepaths. He does not have a typical frame for a major league outfielder, but he's yet another gamer who will give you everything he's got. A big league team could do much worse than to have Young as their 12th or 13th position player.

    Bob (Mississippi): How much has the Braves' scouting philosophy changed since Roy Clark left?

Bill Ballew: It's changed somewhat based on need and alterations in the draft rules. Roy was a big draft-and-follow guy who turned toward juco players during his last two drafts with the Braves. In his first draft at the head of the Braves' war room, Tony DeMacio went with more four-year college guys in order to fill holes among position players in the organization. I believe Tony will have a more balanced approach in terms of drafting four-year college players than Clark and Paul Snyder did.

    Darryl (Toronto): Probability that Kimbrel closes to open the 2011 season?

Bill Ballew: Much of that scenario will be played out in spring training and could be revisited throughout the regular season. Kimbrel will be one of the main competitors in the battle, with his primary competition (in my opinion) coming from Jonny Venters. Venters was unbelievably good last year as the 8th inning setup man, so the question is, do you take him out of that role that he handled so well or keep him there while giving Kimbrel a chance after being groomed for the job in the minor leagues?

    Ryan (Abingdon, MD): Hi Bill, looking over some of the projected rotations in the Top 10's released so far, how does the Braves' Miss. rotation of Teheran/Delgado/Oberholtzer/Hoover stack up? The others that caught my eye are the Phillies' Clearwater staff of Colvin/Cosart/May, the Rangers' Round Rock staff of Perez/Scheppers/Kirkman, and of course the Royals' NW Arkansas staff of Lamb/Montgomery/Duffy/Dwyer/Crow.

Bill Ballew: All of those have a chance to be formidable, but you have to like the depth one through four of the Braves. Teheran may be the best pitching prospect in baseball, Delgado is on a short list right behind him, and Oberholtzer and Hoover would be the top pitching prospects in some organizations. When you can throw out a rotation like that every night, you have a chance to be real good.

    Tommy (New York): Is early-career Sean Casey a good comparison for Freddie Freeman, or does he not have quite that much hitting ability?

Bill Ballew: Casey was probably a better average hitter than Freeman at the big league level, but I believe Freeman will prove to have more power and drive in more runs on an annual basis than Casey did.

    Tommy (Szarka): Thanks for the chat, Bill. In your opinion, is Julio Teheran the top-rated pitcher still in the minors/with prospect eligibility? I could see arguments for Jeremy Hellickson, Matt Moore, and Aroldis Chapman (with perhaps some Martin Perez or Michael Pineda discussion), but with his stuff and likelihood of remaining as a starter he would have to be the favorite, right?

Bill Ballew: That might indeed be the case. Hellickson is a little ahead of Teheran in terms of development but Teheran has a slightly higher ceiling in my opinion. Moore has great stuff and strikes out a ton of batters but isn't quite as polished as Teheran. Same goes for Chapman, whose arm strength is by far the best in the game.

Bill Ballew: Thanks for the questions and taking the time to contribute. Sorry I couldn't get to all of them. Take care and have a great holiday season!