Independent Leagues Chat




Moderator: Hey everyone glad to get started. Thanks for the questions about a part of the minor league game that gets less interest, but is fascinating if you pay attention to it.

 Q:  adam from greensboro,nc asks:
the southcoast league imploded before the season, although a few of their teams had drawn well the year before. any rumers of another indy attempt in the southeast?
 A: 

J.J. Cooper: No rumors that I'm hearing. The simple fact is that every independent league that has tried to make a go of it in the Southeast has failed. And there's a reason for that. Unlike the Northeast and Midwest where there were promising markets with stadiums that were locked out of the minor leagues because of territorial rules, the Southeast doesn't really have any viable "trapped" markets. And there is a ton of baseball in the Southeast already. For instance, here in Durham, N.C. we have Triple-A baseball down the street, Double-A baseball 45 miles down the road. A low Class A team and a high Class A team are 45 and 60 miles in the other direction and there is a Rookie-level team 30 miles away. And that's not even counting summer college league teams. The places indy ball can play in the Southeast are all failed affiliated markets, and the majority of them are less appealing markets with less than appealing stadium situations. I'm sure someone will try it again someday, but the future of indy ball in the Southeast doesn't look promising.

 Q:  John from Pensacola, FL asks:
Do the MLB teams that are more active in signing players scout the leagues or use reports and stats from when the players were amateurs or in affiliated ball?
 A: 

J.J. Cooper: Both are useful, but before a team signs a player out of indy ball, they usually want to get an up-to-date scouting report on a guy. Especially if we're talking about a player who went undrafted out of college, you need to see something that explains why you want to sign a guy who you didn't want to draft earlier. If it's a pitcher, has he added a new pitch or reworked his delivery? Has he added velocity? For a hitter, there are a lot of similar questions. How is he defensively? Where does he profile in affiliated ball? Can he get around on a good fastball? There are a lot of questions that a quick look at a player in a game and in BP and infield can answer. But there still are a number of indy players who are signed sight unseen, but even in those cases usually it involves a call to someone who has seen them to get a mini-scouting report.

 Q:  JAYPERS from IL asks:
Had Aaron Crow been eligible, would you have ranked him #1 overall, and do you see his stock improving any by next June?
 A: 

J.J. Cooper: He actually wouldn't qualify for this list, the same way that Jason Jarvis didn't qualify this year. To qualify as an indy prospect, you had to be eligible to sign with any affiliated club. In the case of Jarvis, Aaron Crow and Tanner Scheppers, all of them are draft eligible players so they don't qualify. While that's true, it's safe to say that Crow is a dramatically better talent than anyone on this list. He's a first-round pick, the players on this prospect list are hoping to sign with an affiliated club as a free agent.

 Q:  Andrew from Houston asks:
How likely do you think it is for J.T. Tilghman to reach his ceiling? And, separately, how much on average does it cost for a Major League team to purchase the contract of an Indy League player?
 A: 

J.J. Cooper: Tilghman will have to prove he has the makeup to be a major leaguer and he'll have to improve his command. Obviously the velocity is already there. The upper end to purchase an indy league player in season is a couple of thousand dollars and the price drops after the season ends.

 Q:  John Rafferty from Niceville, FL asks:
Any professional interest in Brandon Sing of the Pensacola Pelicans (.278/22/86 in 320 AB)? He was a reasonable prospect for the Cubs a few years back.
 A: 

J.J. Cooper: Sing had a solid season in the American Association, but the same concerns that followed him when he was a Cub, which is can he hit really good pitching, or is he someone who feasts on weak pitching?

 Q:  Mitchell from NYC asks:
Are their any of the Independent Leagues TOP prospects who are still not signed by an organized team that could be a very good or a Top 20 prospect on a organized team's chart??
 A: 

J.J. Cooper: Oh no. The best guys on this list would be lucky to make depth chart on our organization top 30s in the prospect handbook. The one player I can remember who went from an indy team to a prospect list was Bobby Madritsch when he signed with the Mariners. Now other players have obviously made it (Chris Coste, Justin Christian and George Sherrill are three obvious examples), but usually the players who sign with affiliated teams then have a long climb to continue proving themselves.

 Q:  Jon from Peoria asks:
Thanks for the Indy League chat! Was there anybody of note in the Northern League? Has there been any talk of expansion or interleague play now that they're only at six teams?
 A: 

J.J. Cooper: There has been talk of a team in Burnsville, Minnesota and the Topeka, Kansas paper speculated about a team in Topeka, but I would doubt we would see either of them for 2009. The recent credit crunch would seem to make any expansion for 2009 even less likely, but it would be a surprise if the Northern League doesn't add some teams for 2010.

 Q:  Sean from St. Louis asks:
How close was Ryan Bird in taking the POY from Breen?
 A: 

J.J. Cooper: Bird was one of the three finalists, along with the Atlantic League's Josh Pressley. It was an outstanding year for Bird, but Breen's impressive production as well as his role in getting the Flyers a title edged him.

 Q:  Mark from New England asks:
Did all your top 10 prospects from last year sign? Which ones do you think will definitely sign from this years list?
 A: 

J.J. Cooper: Everyone from last year's Top 10 list did sign with an affiliated club. No. 1 prospect Daniel Nava had the best season, as he won the California League batting title. Kane Simmons had a solid season at several levels for the Rockies and Travis Risser (Rays) and Ron Gaines (White Sox) also had some success. I would expect to see several players off of this year's list sign as well, but I will say that affiliated teams seem to be scouting the indy leagues better every year. The signed players on this year's list would largely rank ahead of the unsigned players if I had done a straight top 20. If you compared the unsigned prospects on this year's list to last year's, I think the talent on last year's list was a little better.

 Q:  Sean from St. Louis asks:
How would you rank the leagues in terms of strength?
 A: 

J.J. Cooper: It depends on what you define as strength. What I've found fascinating in putting together the indy "prospects" list is that the smaller, newer leagues are often a better source for young talent than the established leagues. In many ways that makes sense, because the more established veteran-laden leagues like the Northern, Can-Am, American Association and Atlantic League are filled with more indy veterans, which makes it harder for an unpolished 22 or 23 year old with promising talent to thrive. That's less of a problem in some of the less established leagues, which is why players like Brandon Sisk could develop from a 87-88 mph lefty last year to a much more polished 89-90 mph pitcher this year. So if you're talking about who would win a game, the veteran-laden leagues would likely win. But if you're deciding where to scout for a potential prospect, the Golden, United, Frontier and even Continental Leagues offer some bang for the buck.

 Q:  Petey Pablo from Carrboro NC asks:
Any buzz on whether Seth Loman might sign somewhere and can he handle a corner outfield spot defensively?
 A: 

J.J. Cooper: I haven't heard any buzz on where he will sign, but that doesn't mean we won't get a release tomorrow announcing a deal. You hit on one of the concerns about Loman. Most GBL managers described him as an indifferent defender in the outfield, which explains why first base may end up being his best position. That makes some sense, as Loman's bat will determine his chances of moving up in affiliated ball.

 Q:  Sean from St. Louis asks:
With the numbers Ryan Bird put up and as the best Indy League SP it is quite a surprise that he didn't make the prospect list. What does he throw?
 A: 

J.J. Cooper: The reports I got is that Bird is a very good pitcher whose velocity is the only thing that holds him back. He's got an 84-89 mph fastball (some say they've seen 90, but he definitely doesn't sit around there). He has a very solid curveball and a decent changeup. The big concerns that kept him off the prospect list were his below-average velocity, especially for a righthander, and his small frame—he's 5-foot-10. He will get a chance to show the Cardinals what he can do, now that they have signed him. He'll be looking for follow in fellow Frontier Leaguer Josh Kinney's footsteps.

 Q:  Timmy Penguin from Omaha asks:
Mike Laluna was a teammate of Jordan Zimmerman one summer playing for the Eau Claire Express of the Northwoods League. While he is a reliever and Zim a starter, does Laluna ever have the chance to be the kind of prospect that Zimmerman currently is?
 A: 

J.J. Cooper: I wouldn't go that far, but LaLuna is worth keeping an eye on. He showed a natural feel for pitching this year to go with impressive velocity. The Tigers made a wise choice to take a flyer on him. As with any of the players on this list, the cost is very negligible to sign an indy player, and the worst that can happen is you cut them after spring training. But in LaLuna's case, he has the arm to stick around.

 Q:  Sean from St. Louis asks:
The Tigers recently signed Kris Regas, is Hunton considered better than Regas? Can you tell us what Regas throws?
 A: 

J.J. Cooper: There's not a big difference between them, but Regas is 28, so he didn't qualify for the Top 10, which has a cutoff at age 25. Regas is a fascinating story, and a guy you can't help but root for. He's a lefty with a very firm fastball (low 90s) who has toiled for years trying to get a shot. Now he has one and hopefully he'll make the best of it.

 Q:  Sean from St. Louis asks:
How worrisome is Hess' control as he had 56 BB in 99 IP this year.
 A: 

J.J. Cooper: It's a concern and something an affiliated club would have to work on. Some of his problems stemmed from his flopping back and forth from one role to another, but he also had games where he lost his command. He's not polished as much as a talented arm with potential if he can continue to improve.

 Q:  Petey Pablo from Carrboro asks:
Good for Bird - didn't he pitch for St. Louis in college? ** Anyhoo, how would you assess the desirability of an indy league managerial spot versus one in the affiliated minors? Obviously, it depends on the person involved (and their desire for autonomy/a decision making role) but... your thoughts? Also, any good prospects on that front?
 A: 

J.J. Cooper: Hard for me to answer the desirability question beyond the fact that it's much easier to get a big league job out of an affiliated minor league job, and that's usually the ultimate goal. But that being said, I do think there are a lot of advantages to being an indy league manager. The best indy league managers are GMs and managers rolled into one. It's really a job that's a throwback to the 1920s and 1930s. You assemble the team, you decide who bats where and plays where in the lineup and you decide whether you'll emphasize defense, pitching, speed or power. With the salary cap and roster limits, it's all about making tradeoffs. All of that makes for a fascinating job, and one where winning matters, while affiliated managers are following the big league clubs orders as far as who plays where and who is in the rotation. As far as managerial prospects, Doc Edwards, the former big league manager for the Indians, who is now in the United League raved about Vince Moore and Ricky Van Asselberg. He said on multiple occassions that an affiliated team would be very wise to hire either one of those two for a managerial job in the minors.

 Q:  Bill from ST.Paul MN asks:
Any comments on Joe Anthonsen who was a batting champion, hits leader and exceptional lead off man for Rockford in the Frontier League?
 A: 

J.J. Cooper: Anthonsen lost out a spot on the All-Indy Team because of his lack of power, but the reality is that's not what he's asked to do. Anthonsen had an extremely impressive year leading off for Rockford. He hit .352 with a .442 on-base percentage and walked 59 times while only striking out 46 times.

 Q:  Chet from Alexandria, LA asks:
How can a player be listed as an Indy League Top Prospect and not make first or second team on the All Indy League team? Assuming it is based on single season stats versus projectability???
 A: 

J.J. Cooper: Yeah, there's two entirely different lists. One is based on projectability and age, while the all-indy league team is entirely based on this season's production. So a player like Bryan Sabatella makes the prospects list because he showed he can hit a ton as a 23-year-old, but he doesn't make the all-indy leagues team because there were older players who topped him in production.

 Q:  Sean from St. Louis asks:
Why do you think Dane de la Rosa didn't stick with the Brewers?
 A: 

J.J. Cooper: Command has always been a question mark for de la Rosa, so that would be my best guess.

 Q:  John from Pensacola, FL asks:
The Frontier League had two 2004 8th round HS draft picks in Brandon Parillo (Brewers) and Eric Ridener (Pirates). Both pitched well as relievers. Did you hear anything about them?
 A: 

J.J. Cooper: Parrillo is a guy worth keeping an eye on. He's a lefty with solid stuff and a decent feel for pitching from the one report I was able to get on him. I haven't gotten a report on Ridener, sorry.

 Q:  Stan from Fargo, ND asks:
Thank you for putting together such a comprehensive report for us Indy fans! I recognize the more veteran status of players within the Northern League, but did any players stand out as potential prospects this season?
 A: 

J.J. Cooper: You hit the nail on the head. There are a lot of veterans in the Northern League, which makes it tougher to find a lot of prospects, but there were some. Zack Penprase, who signed with the Red Sox has an above-average arm, a solid bat and good foot speed. Gerald Plexico,the Gary lefthander, shows an 87-88 mph fastball, an average curve and average change and teh command to use all three pitches at any point in the count. Billy Weitzman showed an 88-90 mph fastball and a decent slider and change. Dustin Pease, a lefty sidearmer for Winnipeg doesn't have much velocity (83 mph) but he does get strikeouts and is very durable. And Carlo Cota (Fargo-Moorhead) is a second baseman with a good bat and an ability turn a very good double play. He might earn another shot in affiliated ball.

 Q:  Grapeweasel from New Jersey asks:
As a Mets fan, would buying a Scott Grimes jersey be a wise investment?
 A: 

J.J. Cooper: That may be a little premature, but he's a very good athlete by indy ball standards who has shown developing power to go with his ability to hit for average. There are questions about whether he can stay in center field in affiliated ball. That's the key for him. If he can't because of his arm, it gets tougher to climb the ladder as a left fielder than it does as a center fielder. But he can really run for an indy ball guy.

 Q:  Sean from St. Louis asks:
A year later now Nava has performed well in Lancaster, what do you see looking forward for him?
 A: 

J.J. Cooper: Like any former indy leaguer, he'll have to prove it at every level. He likely heads to Double-A this year and has to start over, proving again that he can thrive at a more advanced level. It's a rough road from indy ball to the big leagues, as every step you have to prove that you're better than guys with a lot bigger signing bonuses.

 Q:  Sean from St. Louis asks:
You said Benacka dominated like no one before in the Frontier, didn't Mike Phelps pick up where Benacka left off? Do you think Benacka will keep up theacceptable control in affiliated ball unlike he did in the Frontier?
 A: 

J.J. Cooper: As good as Phelps was, Benacaka's strikeout rate was even more insane, but it was an amazing year for Phelps as well after coming to Southern Illinois from the Cubs. Control is an issue for Benacka, but I'm even more concerned as to whether his changeup will be enough to get more advanced hitters out when they're looking for it. It worked in high Class A, so he'll now try to prove it against more advanced hitters. And he has to show that teams can't just run wild on him if he does give up baserunners.

Moderator: Thanks to everyone for the questions. I love talking about the indy leagues, so it's been a fun hour and a half for me.