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Tampa Bay Devil Rays Top 10 Prospects

Moderator: Bill Ballew will begin answering your questions at 2 p.m. ET

 Q:  Russ from NY asks:
Who has the best breaking ball in the system? Would James Houser rank near the top of the list?
 A: 

Bill Ballew: Houser definitely has two good curveballs that he uses to get hitters from both sides of the plate out with. Right now, though, Chad Gaudin throws the best slider, and Seth McClung has the top curveball in the organization.

 Q:  John Ledbetter from Lockport, Il asks:
We have all heard about the position players for Tampa, but what about the pitchers, the only one I have heard anything about is Jon Switzer and Brazleton, are they destined to be the Rangers all hitting and no pitching. Also which one of the Gomes brothers do you think will be a better ML player.
 A: 

Bill Ballew: The Rays are definitely heavier on hitting than pitching. But there are some decent arms in the organization, including Switzer and the reemerging Brazelton along with Doug Waechter, Chad Gaudin, James Houser, Seth McClung, Carlos Hines and a handful of others. Many organizations are not as deep as the Rays on the mound. As far as the Gomes are concerned, Jonny has the nod at this point, although Joey has some talent, too.

 Q:  Joe from Normal, IL asks:
What is the feeling within the Devil Ray organization about the future of Josh Hamilton?
 A: 

Bill Ballew: Tampa Bay is holding its breath about Hamilton. It's really a wait-and-see situation. There's no question he has the talent to play in the big leagues.

 Q:  Steve from Tampa Bay asks:
Bill- Both Delmon Young and Josh Hamilton were No. 1 picks. Which of them were more highly thought of coming out of high school? In other words, which received higher grades from scouts and Baseball America? (ignoring Hamilton's later troubles). Thanks!
 A: 

Bill Ballew: Young was considered the better offensive player, while Hamilton was deemed the better all-around athlete. But suffice it to say both of them graded out near the top of the chart in most categories.

 Q:  Pete Pablo from Gainesville Florida asks:
What's the deal with Josh Hamilton? The kids still has unlimited potential. Did he play in the DRays instructional league and do you see him playing in Orlando this year? Please have some good news on him.
 A: 

Bill Ballew: Hamilton did not participate in instructional league. His lone activity after spring took place in Durham, where he hit some batting practice a time or two. Orlando is a likely destination if he gets his act together.

 Q:  Doug from Philadelphia, PA asks:
Go Eagles! Anyway, if you had your choice of only one of the following, who would it be and why - Baldelli, Crawford, Upton, or Delmon Young?
 A: 

Bill Ballew: Tough choice! I'd go with Upton right now, because he plays a premium position, has great athleticism, and can rake with emerging big-time power.

 Q:  Jay from Fl asks:
Will the Rays be patient with Bankston's selectivity, or will they ask him to be more aggressive? His lack of contact seems to not be in sync with Piniella's image of a ML hitter.
 A: 

Bill Ballew: Bankston's approach at this point may not dovetail perfectly with Piniella's image, but the Rays are more interested in getting Bankston to the point where he can compete for a major league roster spot. He's still developing and building a foundation, and as long as he's putting lumber to the ball with more than a little pop, the Rays will have a smile on their collective face.

 Q:  Doug from Geneva, IL asks:
What MLB player would be a good comparison for Delmon Young (I hope it's not his brother)?
 A: 

Bill Ballew: Comparisons are rarely fair to either player. Having said that, I see similarities to Gary Sheffield. Like the newest Yankee slugger, Young can hit for power and average, and hits the ball extremely hard.

 Q:  Chuck L. from Tropicana Field asks:
Bill- We seem to have more OF prospects than empty seats at a Tiger game. I count 10- (Hamilton, Young, Huff, Gathright, Baldelli, Crawford, Bankston, Pridie, Gomes and Gomes). How will this all shake out? Who can I expect to be playing in 2007, and why?
 A: 

Bill Ballew: Obviously, time has a way of working things out, but at this point I'd go with Crawford in left, Baldelli in center and Young in right. With his new contract, Huff has a chance to stick around and contribute. The other guys have solid talent, but they're not at the level of the competition just yet.

 Q:  Jacob Larsen from Waukegan, IL asks:
Do you expect any of the Rays' top prospects to get invited to Spring Training(ala Rocco Baldelli) and if so, do you think they stand a chance at making the team?
 A: 

Bill Ballew: I believe you'll see the likes of B.J. Upton and Delmon Young in spring training, if for no other reason than to observe the protocol at the major league level. I wouldn't expect either one to reach the big leagues just yet, but stranger things have happened. Both of them are that talented.

 Q:  Al from The Bullpen asks:
Who has the best power arm in the system?
 A: 

Bill Ballew: Although his is not a classic power arm, Carlos Hines flirts with triple digits on a regular basis.

 Q:  Kris from Burlington asks:
With the D Rays depth of prospects in the outfield would they have been better off taking Richie Weekes or is Delmon Young too good to pass up?? Thanks
 A: 

Bill Ballew: Weeks is an excellent player, but Young is a couple years younger and a special all-around player. The fact that the Rays were able to sign Young is a big step in the right direction for the franchise.

 Q:  Jay from FL asks:
What are the chances Matt Diaz and Pete LaForest become ML regulars, better than or less than 50%. How about Shawn Riggans, he was rated a top-notch defensive catcher last year, does he project out as an everyday catcher in the bigs? Thanks.
 A: 

Bill Ballew: Matt Diaz's best chance will come as a reserve and part-time designated hitter. LaForest has a lot of natural ability, but he's still very raw behind the plate. Still, if he continues to improve, he could at least be a platoon receiver. Riggans showed signs of recovering from Tommy John surgery last year. His catching has improved as much as it could despite not being able to throw. Even so, his calling card will be the pop in his bat, and it's too early to project him as an everyday catcher in the big leagues.

 Q:  Tony from Phoenix asks:
Will there ever be a day when the Rays can get out of fifth place?
 A: 

Bill Ballew: Yes, if Young and Upton are as good as advertised. They competition right now in the AL East is incredible, but the Rays have as much hope for the future as they have ever had.

 Q:  Sal from La. asks:
Bill, do you think Joey Gathright has a chance to be called up before Sept. 1? The outfield for the Devil Rays seem to be a source of some good young players. Once in the bigs, how do you project him as a player, Ive seen comparisons to the Marlins Juan Pierre. Do you think that comparison is accurate?
 A: 

Bill Ballew: Gathright could be called up, especially if Baldelli should go down or need an occasional day off. I saw Pierre in 1999 when he was in low Class A and Gathright reminds me a lot of Pierre. Pierre's work ethic is unmatched at the major league level, which is the reason he's had success. If Gathright has a similar approach to the game, he could be a Pierre clone at some point soon.

 Q:  Mike Marinaro from Tampa, FL asks:
Can Pridie and Bankston rebound from 2003 and return to 2002 performance levels? Who do YOU think will be a better major league HITTER: Upton or Young? Thanks. (It's even cold down here).
 A: 

Bill Ballew: I don't think Pridie and Bankston had bad years. Sure, it wasn't what they put together in the Appy League in '02, but they kept their heads above water while making strides in their development during their first full professional seasons. Both Bankston and Pridie are good hitters who will probably have better seasons this year at the high Class A level. As far as the better hitter between Upton and Young, the coin comes up heads, which represented Young.

 Q:  Jay from FL asks:
After his success with the junior national team, is Jon Barratt close to Houser?
 A: 

Bill Ballew: I wouldn't say Barratt is closer to Houser, but he's an emerging prospect in his own right. Standing no taller than 5-foot-10, Barratt doesnt have the size on the mound that many teams want, even for a lefty, but his arm was deemed the quickest in the draft among high school hurlers. He throws a low-90s fastball that can touch 94 with a plus changeup and a good split-finger fastball. He also has a decent curveball that should continue to be a workable pitch as he moves up the organizational ladder. The addition of Barratt to a class that includes Young, Houser and Travis Schlichting gives the Rays one of their strongest drafts in team annals.

 Q:  Brian B. from Ft. Lauderdale asks:
Bill- I have seen a few scouting reports for Joey Gathright that seem to indicate a junior Juan Pierre. Looking at his stats, it seems to indicate a junior Jason Tyner with the complete lack of pop he shows. Is this some that will get better? Even Pierre has hit a few homers.
 A: 

Bill Ballew: Gathright is more of a Pierre clone than a Tyner twin, IMO.

 Q:  Kristian from Burlington asks:
Is there any chance of Upton making the team out of spring and I have heard comparisons of him to Jeter but now does it look like he might have more power and speed?
 A: 

Bill Ballew: I think Upton will have a lot more power and speed than Jeter. Will he have as much savvy, leadership and fielding prowess remains to be seen. He could earn a job in spring training, but it would have to be an out-of-this-world performance.

 Q:  Carlos from Tampa asks:
Bill- Jason Pridie- Still a prospect or hopelessly buried in an organization with a surplus of OF's? Whatever happened with him trying out at 3B. Thanks.
 A: 

Bill Ballew: Pridie made the shift to third during instructional league, but his speed and instincts make him a better fit in the outfield. He's got a tough road ahead based on the competition, but that's true for everyone who reaches the big leagues. And remember, there are 30 teams at the game's top level.

 Q:  Mick from Chicago asks:
The Ray's obviously have a glut of outfield talent. Is there any talk of bringing Jason Pridie back to the infield? I remember reading in the top ten capsule from last year, he was viewed as a capable infielder when drafted out of his Arizona high school. I realize if he doesn't hit better than last year, it won't matter.
 A: 

Bill Ballew: I believe Pridie is in the outfield for the long haul. He could become a decent utilityman down the road, but at his age, he's better served learning one position. And he'll hit again. His swing is too sweet not to produce.

 Q:  Kris from Burlington asks:
Which of Tampa's young arms do you think can be top of the rotation guys if any?
 A: 

Bill Ballew: Top of the Tampa rotation and top of a contender's rotation are two different worlds. If he builds on his AFL showing, Brazelton can be a top-of-the-rotation guy for the Rays. Doug Waechter fits that same mold. Houser is a long way off, but he has potential to be a starter in the top half of a rotation.

 Q:  Brad Olsen from Ft. Lauderdale, FL asks:
What are the chances of Scott Autrey and Chris Seddon becoming quality starters in the majors? Seddon had a strong year in 2001 before having an injury and missing 2002. Could either be a #2 or #3 starter? Also, biggest sleeper or two within the D-Rays minor league system? Thanks
 A: 

Bill Ballew: I don't see Seddon or Autrey rating as high as a No. 2 or 3 starter. Both have talent, but true No. 2-3 starters are few and far between. I think their ceilings will be at the end of the rotation or in middle relief. As far as sleepers, second baseman Elliot Johnson has the tools to surprise a lot of people after hitting just .212 in 151 ABs at Charleston last year.

 Q:  Scott from Orlando asks:
Delmon Young- As good as advertised? (Albert Belle without the personality) Where will he start and is Sept. 2005 realistic ro expect him up?
 A: 

Bill Ballew: If his AFL showing proves to be a harbinger, look for Young late in the 2005 campaign. Yes, he's as good as advertised, and could be much more than the malcontent Belle.

 Q:  Jay from FL asks:
Does Chris Seddon and Jarod Matthews make the top 20? Matthews seems to be a sleeper, is there a good chance he could break out this year and finish in the top 10 next year?
 A: 

Bill Ballew: Seddon ranks among the Rays' top 20; Matthews does not at this point. Matthews does some nice things, especially with his excellent overall command of his pitches. But he has proven to be very hittable, partly because he pitches in the strike zone so consistently. That tells me his offerings don't have a lot of movement, which would limit his long-term potential.

 Q:  Kris from Burlington asks:
Will Pete Laforest ever get a chance, I think he could be another Matt Lecroy but it seems like he is blocked right now. Do you see him as just a DH?
 A: 

Bill Ballew: LaForest is blocked right now, but he should get a chance soon, at least as Toby Hall's backup. If he continues to make the progress he has made of late, he could be a better catcher than LeCroy. Offensively, LeCroy may have more pop than LaForest.

 Q:  Kathy from Greensboro asks:
Bill- There is no question that BJ Upton is a huge talent, but wouldn't it be rushing him to expect him up this year, based on his age. He was the Number 1 prospect in the AFL, but did only hit .214. Wouldn't the Rays be better served to not rush him, after all, the sooner he's up means the sooner he's a free agent.
 A: 

Bill Ballew: The Rays have no intention of rushing such a prized prospect as Upton. He has the tools and he put them to use last year and during the fall, but his defense makes him a long shot to contribute in the big leagues in '04. The best thing that could happen for B.J. is for the Rays to consider him at least a year away from Tampa.

 Q:  Jay from FL asks:
How far did Jason Pridie's star fall last year, and is he still considered a good prospect? How about Elijah Dukes, he has all the tools anyone could ask for. He seemed to show nice on-base skills for such a raw baseball player.
 A: 

Bill Ballew: Pridie is still considered a solid prospect, ranking just shy of the Rays' top 10. Dukes is raw but developing quickly. If he can stay focused and continue to make the necessary gains, he could be a force in Tampa. Dukes has some of the best power in the organization with plus speed. That combination could prove to be scary if he puts everything else together.

 Q:  Craig from Park Ridge, IL asks:
Love these chats, thank you for doing them. What level will Delmon Young start at this year? And what level do you see him finishing the year at? Could we see him in Tampa mid year 2005?
 A: 

Bill Ballew: You're welcome for the chats. I see Young starting the season at one of the Rays' Class A clubs, probably Charleston. An in-season taste at Montgomery (I said Orlando out of habit earlier), a la Upton, would not be surprising. He remains a possibility for Tampa in '05, although in his mind that might be '04.

 Q:  Charles Berg from Houston, Texas asks:
Who do you see as having the highest long term ceiling, Rocco Baldelli, Delmon Young or BJ Upton? Thanks.
 A: 

Bill Ballew: I'd take my chances will all three of them. All three are athletic, with Young owning a slight edge in power over Upton. If all three continue to develop, what a trio for one team! Yet the highest long-term ceiling would probably be Upton.

 Q:  Russ from NY asks:
Travis Schlichting: Future D-Rays 3B?
 A: 

Bill Ballew: He's my leading candidate for the hot corner by 2007.

 Q:  James from Guthrie OK asks:
Hi Bill. How high do you project Switzer, McClung and Gaudin? And is Standridge and Cantu still prospects?? Thanks.
 A: 

Bill Ballew: Switzer, McClung and Gaudin can all be solid major leaguers. They may be bullpen guys, but will contribute if healthy. Standridge and Cantu are borderline top 30 prospects after ranking higher in years past.

 Q:  Charles Berg from Houston, Texas asks:
Do you think Dewon Brazelton has really regained his stuff or is he going to be a dud draft pick?
 A: 

Bill Ballew: I was less than impressed with Brazelton before he return to his college delivery and dominated in the AFL. I think he has a better chance at becoming a solid major league starter than a dud over the long haul.

 Q:  Big Daddy from Salem asks:
The downside to rushing kids like Crawford, Baldelli (and, from the sound of it, Upton) to the big leagues at such a young age is that the D-Rays have lost a year in arbitration-eligibility and have basically pushed each of them off the Tampa Bay roster a year or two before it would have been necessary. What is the upside to rushing those players (if any)?
 A: 

Bill Ballew: The Rays have been in a position of having to put butts in the seats and feel that young players can give the Trop some energy that's been lacking. Sure, it's a gamble, but failing as a franchise is worse. It's a tricky science, but the Rays have gambled and won with Crawford, Baldelli and even Huff.

 Q:  Jimmy from Birmingham, Ala asks:
Bill- In BA's season in review book (excellent as always, by the way), in the Tampa section, Aubrey Huff is compared to Brian Giles. Are you in agreement with the comparison? Who might you compare him to, especially if he keeps improving?
 A: 

Bill Ballew: Huff is probably the best player many fans have never heard of. I may be going out on a limb, but he may be better than Giles, especially when their ages are taken into consideration. The Rays got a bargain when they reinked Huff last week.

 Q:  Rob Flynn from Middletown, NJ asks:
Whatever happen to Toe Nash? And was his ability legit?
 A: 

Bill Ballew: Last I heard on Big Toe was the Reds had signed him. I don't know if he's still there or not. His athleticism is legit, but the rest of the package is lacking big-time.

 Q:  Carlos Reyes from AAAA asks:
How would you rate Matt Diaz, specifically on defense?
 A: 

Bill Ballew: Diaz is a good offensive player with serious defensive limitations. He's also a little long of tooth, which means the future is now for Diaz's big bat.

 Q:  Dale from Toronto asks:
Is BJ Upton the best shortstop prospect since Alex Rodriguez?
 A: 

Bill Ballew: He may be, although Upton is much faster than A-Rod.

 Q:  Charles Berg from Houston, Texas asks:
Who can we expect to see playing for the Montgomery Biscuits at the start of this year?
 A: 

Bill Ballew: The Rays could give the Biscuits some solid talent, possibly Upton, Hamilton and Gathright. The Rays' minor league rosters are among the most difficult in the game to project, based on the uncertainty from the top down.

Moderator: That's all the time we have today. Thanks for all your questions. And there's less than 100 days until Opening Day.

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