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Atlanta Braves Top 10 Prospects

Moderator: Bill Ballew assembled our Atlanta Top 10 Prospects list and will begin taking your questions at 2 p.m. ET

 Q:  MPK from College asks:
any concerns about Adam Wainwright's struggles in the AFL while pitching for team usa?
 A: 

Bill Ballew: No. The Braves are happy that Wainwright has stayed healthy and he has plenty of innings under his belt from 2003. He's mechanically sound and moving in the right direction.

 Q:  Jason from Charlotte asks:
What is your long term projection of Marte? Who do you think he compares to long term?
 A: 

Bill Ballew: I think he will be the Braves' starting third baseman at some point in the next two years. He's a line-drive hitting machine and an above-average defensive third baseman. I don't think comparisons to a Scott Rolen are unfair, although Marte may not hit quite as many homers as Rolen.

 Q:  Ken from Baltimore, MD asks:
Who is the MLB player Jeff Francoeur most compares to?
 A: 

Bill Ballew: He reminds me of former Brave Dale Murphy. That includes his makeup and all-around abilities. Compared to today's players, Francoeur might be a Jim Edmonds type of player, hopefully healthier.

 Q:  Jason from Charlotte asks:
At this time last season there was some doubt as to whether Wainwright projected to be a #1 type starter. From what I have read that is more doubt about him being a #1 starter. How are the Braves projecting him?
 A: 

Bill Ballew: The Braves still believe he could be a top of the rotation guy, but I've always seen him as a middle of the rotation pitcher. No reason; just my gut instincts.

 Q:  Jason from Charlotte asks:
I would like to hear your opinion on two Braves prospects that had disappointing seasons for different reasons, namely Gonzalo Lopez and Carlos Duran. What is your feeling for there chance to rebound in 04
 A: 

Bill Ballew: Both Lopez and Duran need fires lit under them. Lopez was sent home at midseason for his lack of effort while Duran lasted all year at Myrtle Beach but was the mots disappointing player on the Pelicans. Both have obvious talent, but neither one has proven they have the toughness to overcome significant obstacles they would face at higher levels.

 Q:  Max from Washington DC asks:
Not to burst anyone's bubble, but aren't all the things being said about Jeff Francoeur now the same things that were said about Braves OF prospect George Lombard a couple of years ago?
 A: 

Bill Ballew: True, but Francoeur is more of a pure baseball player than Lombard was. Lombard had played only a handful of games in high school and was considered primarily a running back. Francoeur is a baseball player first as well as an outstanding athlete.

 Q:  Dave from Maryland asks:
What are the chances of Adam Wainwright making the starting rotation in 2004?
 A: 

Bill Ballew: Not good. It would take an incredible spring training and an injury or two for Wainwright to make that leap. I don't see it happening this spring.

 Q:  Jason from Charlotte asks:
What is the Braves feeling on Bubba Nelson? He seems like a perfect candidate to fill the Braves #5 spot in the rotation. I realize that the Braves like to start their young pitchers in the pen to give them some experience, but he fairer pretty well in Double A this season.
 A: 

Bill Ballew: Nelson is a stud. I think he has a much better shot at the fifth starter's role for 2004 than Wainwright. The Braves sent him to Richmond at the end of the 2003 season as a reliever in order to prepare him for a possible callup to Atlanta. He'll be back in the starting rotation in 2004, either in Richmond or, possibly, Atlanta.

 Q:  Erick from Columbus asks:
Good afternoon, In August the Braves traded Matt Belisle to the Reds for Kent Merker. Would Matt have made the Braves top 10 list had he not been traded? Thanks.
 A: 

Bill Ballew: No. Belisle had fallen considerably in the Braves' eyes over the past two years. With less competition, Belisle should have a solid shot with the Reds.

 Q:  Dave from Maryland asks:
Where does their farm system rank among in baseball?
 A: 

Bill Ballew: Based on the organization's depth, I see the Braves definitely in the top 10. They're quickly becoming "old school" with their preference for drafting and developing high school players. Still, the long-term payoff and the Braves' dedication to player development should allow Atlanta to continue to be a standard-setter in the game.

 Q:  Mike Marinaro from Tampa, FL asks:
Dan Meyer looks unbelievable at times, and average at others. Which is the real guy, and where is Meyer's ceiling? Also, has Betemit's star fizzled out already at age 21?
 A: 

Bill Ballew: Meyer is simply learning the ropes of what it takes to pitch in the professional ranks. He's a middle of the rotation guy who could also be a reliever if starting opportunities are limited. As for Betemit, his star may not be as bright as it was two years ago, but the Braves believe he is on the verge of turning the corner and competing for a major league job after two mediocre years at Triple-A.

 Q:  Greg from LA asks:
Assuming that the Braves don't resign Maddox, Sheffield, Castillo and Lopez, do they have enough in the farm system to replace those guys this year?
 A: 

Bill Ballew: What farm system has the talent to immediately replace four guys that have been all-stars in their career? It will hurt, but the Braves have known for more than a year that this day was coming. Nelson or Paul Byrd could step in for Maddux, DeRosa will hold third base until Marte is ready, Johnny Estrada will take over for Lopez and a free agent will likely fill in for Sheffield, if he isn't resigned.

 Q:  Dave from Maryland asks:
could Jeff Francoeur split time next year between (A) Myrtle Beach and AA Greensville?
 A: 

Bill Ballew: It's possible, a la Chipper Jones in 1992. The plan is for Francoeur to spend all of 2004 at Myrtle Beach, but his performance could alter those thoughts.

 Q:  Jason from Charlotte asks:
Jeff Francoeur had a nice season. His tools are all there but he plate discipline is a little shaky. He didn't strike out an extraordinary amount, but he didn't walk an extraordinary amount either. Do the Braves think he is their next "great" of prospect and what is his aptitude to learning better plate discipline.
 A: 

Bill Ballew: The Braves believe Francoeur has as high a ceiling as anyone in the organization as well as the game. His plate discipline does need improvement, but that's why he's at the Class A level instead of the major leagues.

 Q:  Dave from Maryland asks:
Who does Macay McBride compare to?
 A: 

Bill Ballew: In high school, McBride was compared to Billy Wagner, but he's more of a Tom Glavine clone now with a little more mustard on the fastball and an outstanding slider.

 Q:  Spicoli from Ridgemont High asks:
Any truth to the rumor that Rafael Furcal may be moving to the outfield? If so, who would take over at short?
 A: 

Bill Ballew: There's been talk of Furcal moving to the garden, but that's all it is at this point. Chipper and Andruw are set in left and center, and Furcal does not have enough power to handle right. Betemit could be a replacement at short if Furcal is moved.

 Q:  Will from Atlanta asks:
Adam LaRoche - The next John Olerud or the next Rico Brogna?
 A: 

Bill Ballew: LaRoche reminds me a lot of Olerud, but he may be a better defensive first baseman than the Mariner. And Olerud was the AL Gold Glove this year.

 Q:  Jason Connatser from Morristown, TN asks:
Who are some guys from Atlanta's minor league system that could make an immediate impact next season?
 A: 

Bill Ballew: I assume you're referring to the major leagues, and the big guys would be LaRoche and Estrada. As I mentioned earlier, Nelson could be a sleeper for the rotation.

 Q:  Jason from Charlotte asks:
Matt Esquivel demonstrated nice power this season, granted he was repeating the same level. Can he make enough contact to excel in upper levels?
 A: 

Bill Ballew: I think he can. Esquivel makes hard contact and has surprising speed in the outfield with outstanding instincts for a player his size. He's going to whiff 100 times a year, but that's OK if he does enough in his other ABs.

 Q:  Dave from PA asks:
Was Carlos Duran a near miss on Atlanta's top ten or has his lack of plate discipline really hurt his prospect status?
 A: 

Bill Ballew: No, Duran was definitely in the group of the second 10. He has great natural talent, just a lack of discipline and drive at times.

 Q:  Michael from Salt Lake City asks:
What are your thoughts on the struggles of Carlos Duran? Is he still a top prospect? Thanks for doing this great chat.
 A: 

Bill Ballew: Duran remains a prospect, just maybe not at the same level he was considered to be a year ago. A rebound year at Myrtle Beach in 2004 would put him back on the front burner pretty fast.

 Q:  Jason Connatser from Morristown, TN asks:
What is the current outlook the Braves have for former top prospect Wilson Betemit?
 A: 

Bill Ballew: He could earn a job in Atlanta this spring. The Braves really believe he is on the verge of emerging from his two-year rut at Richmond.

 Q:  Will from Atlanta asks:
How much of Jeff Francoeur's poor plate discipline would you ascribe to Rocket Wheeler's "aggressive" hitting philosophy?
 A: 

Bill Ballew: Not much. Francoeur has always been an aggressive hitter, which is the reason he makes things happen at the plate. Wheeler likes guys that swing the bat, but what manager doesn't?

 Q:  Jason from Charlotte asks:
Scott Thorman didn't have the best of seasons. Can he turn it around and get back in the "prospect status" or is he another Wes Helms?
 A: 

Bill Ballew: Thorman has the potential to be a better contact hitter than Helms, but at the moment Helms had better numbers at the same point in Thorman's career.

 Q:  Jason from Charlotte asks:
Is Wilson Betemit finally toast?
 A: 

Bill Ballew: No

 Q:  Dave from Maryland asks:
What is the future of Luis Atilano?
 A: 

Bill Ballew: Atilano had a few difficulties making the adjustment to pro ball and the US last summer in the GCL, but the Braves remain very high on the young pitcher. Although he will start for the foreseeable future in order to get innings, he could be a reliever down the road.

 Q:  Mike from Milwaukee asks:
What is Jason Marquis' status? Is he done as a Brave?
 A: 

Bill Ballew: I wouldn't be surprised if Marquis is being shopped. I think Bobby Cox has lost confidence in Marquis, who has not responded well when being used on an inconsistent basis. Confidence, or lack thereof, is the biggest thing with Jason right now.

 Q:  Dave from Maryland asks:
Is Jeff Franceour there best outfiel prospect in the farm system?
 A: 

Bill Ballew: Yes.

 Q:  Jason from Charlotte asks:
During this chat last season I seem to remember how high you were on McBride. What are your personal feelings now? He doesn't project to be much more than he is now. Is he a middleback end of the rotation or is he destined to be a situational lefty from the pen?
 A: 

Bill Ballew: I'm still high on McBride. I disagree with people who say he doesn't project to be much more than he is. McBride is a fighter with three solid pitches and a great feel for what he's doing on the mound. He has and will continue to make adjustments and will be a middle of the rotation starter for someone in the major leagues.

 Q:  Galen from Cedar Rapids asks:
Do you feel that LaRoche has a good chance to be part of a platoon at 1B for the Braves next season? And if so what kind of numbers would you expect to see from him, Thanks.
 A: 

Bill Ballew: I wouldn't be surprised at all to see LaRoche and the ancient Julio Franco platoon at first base in 2004. If he plays two-thirds of the time, LaRoche will hit .270+ with 12-15 home runs and 50+ RBIs.

 Q:  Jason Connatser from Morristown, TN asks:
How long before Macay McBride has a shot at playing in Atlanta? He had a good year with Myrtle Beach (2.95 ERA, 13949 - KBB).
 A: 

Bill Ballew: McBride is probably a year and a half from getting a serious long-term look for the Atlanta rotation.

 Q:  Jason from Charlotte asks:
Can Brian McCann make it to Atlanta as a catcher or is he a first baseman waiting to happen?
 A: 

Bill Ballew: McCann has many of the tools you like to see at catcher, especially in the catch and throw department. He may wind up at first base, but the Braves will do everything possible to keep him behind the plate.

 Q:  Paul from Philadelphia asks:
Where does 7th Rounder (2003) RHP Ryan Basner rate in the organization? He was the first college player drafted by the Braves this year. Do they see him moving quickly?
 A: 

Bill Ballew: He could. I saw Basner pitch at Western Carolina and the guy is a winner. His ceiling is not exceptional, but I could see him having an excellent season this year at Rome or Myrtle Beach.

 Q:  BANDPOFIT from ARROGENT SOSH asks:
PURE TALENT OR COACHING? WHICH DO YOU THINK IS THE MOST IMPORTANT, BC THE BRAVES ALWAYS SEEM TO DEVELOP VERY GOOD PITCHING PROSPECTS COMPARED TO OTHER TEAMS. OR IS IT MONEY?
 A: 

Bill Ballew: The Braves combine deep, thorough scouting with complete dedication to the player development process. Yes, money helps, but that has not played a significant role in the vast majority of the organization's signings over the past four years.

 Q:  Dan from NYC asks:
How similiar do you see Marte being to David Wright the Mets 3b prospect? What seperates them? Thanks
 A: 

Bill Ballew: Marte and Wright are very similar players in my mind. Very little separates them, other than the fact that Marte has hit for a little more power at this point in their careers. I see them facing one another quite often at the hot corner in Atlanta and New York.

 Q:  Jim Ten Eyck from Hyde Park, NY asks:
Richard Lewis is having an outstanding mini season in the Arizona Fall League. Is this an aberration, or does he project to be a top 2nd base candidate?
 A: 

Bill Ballew: He could be a solid second baseman in the big leagues, but not a top-tier guy. He came from Georgia Tech, so he's facing the same type of competition in the AFL that he saw in college. He's having an excellent fall, but the numbers have to be there all year in order for him to be deemed a potential starter at the game's top level.

 Q:  Paul Colbert from Bandon OR asks:
With such a deep farm system, do you see any good Brave prospects being exposed for the Rule 5 draft? My Tigers need all the help they can get!
 A: 

Bill Ballew: The Braves are nervous about the Rule 5 draft due to the limited number of players, particularly pitchers, that can be protected. Kyle Davies could be one of the first to go in December.

 Q:  Jim from Hyde Park asks:
To what do you attribute Adam Wainright's difficulties in the Olympic Trials -- The Arizona air, lack of stamina or conditioning after restarting his season, or an indication that his stuff is just not that good?
 A: 

Bill Ballew: It's hard to put a finger on it since I wasn't at the Trials. Other guys simply pitched better than Wainwright, who can fall into a funk, a la mid-2003, before bouncing back to his dominating self.

 Q:  Chris from Beloit, WI asks:
Bill, Any chance that BA will include all scouting transactions in the transaction section of the magazine? Hirings and firings of all scouts for each team and their areas.
 A: 

Bill Ballew: I'll mention your suggestion to the powers that be.

 Q:  Will from Atlanta asks:
Anthony Lerew has performed very well at each level he has faced so far. Given his age, is he a candidate for more rapid promotion? Does his ranking reflect that you think his ceiling is lower than some of the Braves other pitching prospects?
 A: 

Bill Ballew: Lerew may rank lower than some of the team's other pitching prospects, but that's no slam against Lerew. He's coming off two excellent seasons and is thought of highly in the Atlanta organization. I see even better things for him this year at Myrtle Beach.

 Q:  Jason from Charlotte asks:
Could you expound more on your "gut" instinct in regards to Wainwright? I have seen him pitch a couple of times each of the last two seasons and tend to agree with you. However, he still has plenty of projection left as his frame fills out.
 A: 

Bill Ballew: Wainwright just seems to be "off" some nights, much like his performance in Arizona. That said, he does have a chance to get better and better as his body and game mature. I think that will be the case and will allow him to be a solid No. 3-4 starter in the major leagues.

 Q:  Will from Atlanta asks:
What do you think of some of the successful hitters on the GCL Braves this past year (Doetsch, etc.)?
 A: 

Bill Ballew: Steve Doetsch had an outstanding season, as did Keith Eichas and Carlos Moreta. Their numbers in the GCL were impressive; I'll be more impressed when they repeat that performance at Rome.

 Q:  Jim from Hyde Park asks:
With a low round pick, Trey Hodges, already in the majors and other high round pick moving steadily through the organization, how do you rate the Braves 2000 draft, and which of the players drafted are likely to reach the majors?
 A: 

Bill Ballew: The 2000 draft has a chance to be the Braves' best draft in franchise history. The top eight picks are incredible, featuring Wainwright, Thorman, Kelly Johnson, Aaron Herr, Bubba Nelson, Bryan Digby, Blaine Boyer, Zach Miner. It also had Matt Merricks, Matt Wright, Hodges and LaRoche. Not too shabby.

 Q:  Jason Connatser from Morristown, TN asks:
Who are some top Atlanta prospects that will be playing in the Southern League next season?
 A: 

Bill Ballew: I think Greenville will have Macay McBride, Andy Marte, Aaron Herr, Brayan Pena, T.J. Pena and maybe Scott Thorman and Zach Miner. That's a pretty good start for a Double-A Roster.

 Q:  Daryl McDaniels from Hollis Queens asks:
Bill, Overall I enjoyed reading your list and I thought it was fairly accurate, with one exception. How and why did you rank Kyle Davies ahead of Anthony Lerew?? As a matter of fact I was suprised that Davies was in the Top 10. Not to take anything away from him, he is a good young pitcher who possesses a solid fastballcurveball combination. He also works quick and has an aggressive approach which is certainly a plus. But, Lerew is certainly more physical now and projects to have a much better body down the road. And, I would make the case that he has better stuff. Lerew has an impressive 3 pitch arsenal with the ability to throw harder down the road. He kind of reminds me of Kevin Millwood (with a better body). On top of this, he outperformed Davies this season. If you are looking at now and most certainly down the road, the edge has to go to Lerew.
 A: 

Bill Ballew: I misspoke (mistyped?) earlier when I said Davies might be the first to go via the Rule 5 draft. I meant to say Bryan Digby. Anyway, Davies ranked slightly higher (by just a hair) than Lerew based on the input from many sources within the Braves' organization. You make several good points, and they have many similarities. May the better pitcher win more games.

 Q:  Glenn from Frankfort, IL asks:
Could you give a little scouting report and an ideal of the upside for Saltimacchia (sp?)? Thanks.
 A: 

Bill Ballew: Justin Saltalamacchia is an offensive catcher with an average body but some solid upside. He's a little raw behind the plate, but the Braves like his potential. Regardless of how he develops defensively down the road, I still see his bat bringing home the bacon.

 Q:  Jim from Hyde Park asks:
Can you compare Brian McCann and Jason Sal... Which one has the better catching tools?
 A: 

Bill Ballew: McCann right now, simply because he has an extra year of pro ball under his belt. I know what you're getting at and you're right--they're both offensive receivers.

 Q:  CraigM from Fargo ND asks:
Dooes the organization feel it can replace Maddux's innings from within, or do you think they'll spend a lot to bring him (or maybe Millwood) back?
 A: 

Bill Ballew: I think Millwood is a distinct possibility. He will do a Paul Byrd and give the Braves a decent discount in order to pitch in Atlanta. If not Millwood, the Braves have several other avenues to pursue. I think Maddux would return for $2 or 3 million, but the players association would put tremendous pressure on him not to do that and I think the Braves are ready to move on.

 Q:  Joe from NYC asks:
Do the Braves really have any pitching at the Rookie League level that can compare at this point and in the future to say a 19 year old guy like Winer Mendez (5-1, 1.52 era, 44 SOs, 10 BBs, 93 top v-lo)?
 A: 

Bill Ballew: I think so. The Braves are very high on Jo Jo Reyes, and believe Luis Atilano will be fine once he gets his feet under him. Jake Stevens is another guy with tremendous upside.

 Q:  Nick from NY asks:
I haven't heard much about Kelly Johnson lately. Approximately where does he rank in the Braves Top 30 and what kind of future, if any, do you see for him in the major leagues? Thanks.
 A: 

Bill Ballew: Johnson narrowly missed the top 10. He put together a solid finish to the 2003 season by spreading out more at the plate. He has above-average power and has a chance to be a starter in the major leagues. I don't see him as a shortstop; probably a corner infielder or outfielder.

 Q:  Michael from Salt Lake City asks:
What are your thoughts on Gregor Blanco?
 A: 

Bill Ballew: Blanco has solid tools and could be on the verge of a big breakout year. He was a strong consideration for the top 10. He is one of the Braves' top outfielders in the minor leagues.

 Q:  ROBERT EVANS JR from ARCADIA asks:
WHAT POSITION DO YOU SEE WILSON BETEMIT PLAYING & WHICH PITCHING PROSPECT HAS THE MOST POTENTIAL TO BE A #1 STARTER
 A: 

Bill Ballew: Betemit will be a third baseman or shortstop in the major leagues, based on the team's needs. Personally, I think Bubba Nelson has the best shot at being a number one starter. I believe comparisons can be made between Nelson and another former Brave minor leaguer, Jason Schmidt.

 Q:  Robin from Murray, KY asks:
Any chance Salas could be the next Lopez? And what about, Dan Curtis, could he be a long reliever or a rule 5 waiting to happen? One last thing? Where does ATL stand with Buddy Hernandez?!?! Let the guy pitch! Pass it on!
 A: 

Bill Ballew: Salas will not be the next Lopez, in my opinion. Daniel Curtis could be a Rule 5 guy and would make another club very happy. The same goes for Buddy Hernandez, who went through the process last year and would likely stick in the big leagues if he goes elsewhere in 2004.

Moderator: Thank you so much for the overwhelming number of questions. Michael Levesque will be hitting the chat room on Friday to discuss the Montreal Expos.  

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