Independent Leagues Top 10 Prospects Chat With JJ Cooper
Jon (Peoria): Even though this is a prospects
chat, what do you think will happen to the four remaining Northern
League teams? Will they add a couple of teams or try to join the
Frontier League? Are each of them financially stable?
Hey everyone. As someone who loves
independent league baseball, this is one of the more enjoyable days of
the year for me.
All indy questions are on the table, so we can talk league realignment,
prospects or the All-Indy Team. That being the case, this is a perfect
question to start off with, since the recent news of four Northern
League clubs joining the American Association is some of the bigger news
in years in indy ball.
The Northern League is saying that they plan to go ahead in 2011 and
hope to add a couple of teams. That being said, if common sense applies,
it would seem more likely that some, or all of the franchises that
remain for the Northern League would end up in the Frontier League. In
Rockford's case, they were a Frontier League team until last year, so
their fans are already very familiar with Frontier League baseball. In
Schaumburg and Joliet's cases, they have had financial troubles in
recent years and publicly have been on the market to be sold. The
reduced costs of the Frontier League would make sense for those markets
as would the reduced travel. As far as Lake County, they would also make
geographic sense for the Frontier League if they can get their stadium
ready to go.
Karl (Belleville, IL): Does anyone else ever make it out of independent ball?
(Coaches, umpires, scouts, etc...)
Yes. Daren Brown, the Mariners manager
this season after Don Wakamatsu was fired, spent seven seasons as an
independent league coach and manager in Amarillo before he joined the
Mariners' organization. Mark Parent was a recent Golden Baseball League
manager (he managed current big leaguer Daniel Nava in Chico) before
heading to the Phillies organization where he led Lakewood to the South
Atlantic League title this year. There are more examples, but those are
two off the top of my head.
David (Nixa, MO): How many scouts do you get to speak to when making the Indy ball list?
Not a whole lot of scouts, largely because
in this case anything a scout sees is likely to be info that he and he
alone has. If a scout working for a team has a sleeper he finds in an
indy league, he's usually going to sign him for his club, not tell me
about him which indirectly means that other teams will find out about
him. But there are cases where scouts have told me about a player that
doesn't fit for their team, but deserves a shot somewhere. Most of this
list is put together by talking to league managers as well as other
people involved in indy ball. Indy league managers have to serve as
scouts in a way—they often are in charge of putting their own teams
together—so I've found them to be pretty good judges of talent.
Bill (Raleigh): JJ, I heard recently that Matty
Johnson signed as a free-agent with the Red Sox. I've personally seen
him and he can fly and he generates enough bat speed to get himself on
base. While he definitely lacks power, for his size, he's just as
effective and can be compared to Juan Pierre, and last time I checked
Juan was still playing ML baseball with the White Sox and has had a
decent career thus far. What do you see in Matty that may limit him
rising up the system?
With Johnson you hit on the big
thing—he's fast enough and he has a good enough eye for the strike zone
to be succeed as a leadoff hitter if he proves he has enough pop to
make pitchers pay when they challenge him. If he can't get do something
with a good fastball then pitchers won't give him many chances to draw
walks. I'm not really that worried about his lack of height, as for an
on-base guy that may help him thanks to his tiny strike zone.
George (Dallas, TX): I'm curious why you like
the Indy Leagues so much. Don't they consist of obscure prospects who
have almost no chance at ever seeing the Majors?
Generally yes. But there are guys who have
been overlooked and deserve a shot at affiliated ball. Like a lot of
people, I'm fans of the underdog. When it comes to baseball, indy
players are the underdogs. The leagues are also filled with people who
love baseball—to play or coach in indy ball ensures lots of long hours
for little pay—so the people who do it are people who love the game.
And beyond that, indy ball is a very pure form of minor league baseball.
A manager/GM put together a team to the best of their ability and then
try to win a title, which makes for a fun brand of baseball.
Petey Pablo (Carrboro): Beyond those mentioned
in the write-up, who were the top indy prospects that did land
affiliated deals this year? (Also, I see that some of the top 10 have
already landed with big league squads - Garcia w/ ATL, for one).
Yeah, the top three from this list have
already signed: Johnson has signed with Boston while Alsup and Garcia
have signed with Atlanta. I'd expect a few more will be signed in the
next couple of weeks.
As far as guys who signed earlier, Jason Lowey has good stuff as he
showed the Braves in Myrtle Beach. Matt Meyer was absolutely dominant in
the American Association before the Angels signed him. But the best
player I heard of all year in indy ball was Justin James, who bounced
back from some arm problems to show dominating stuff with the Kansas
City T-Bones. Oakland signed him and saw him make it all the way to the
big leagues by the end of the season.
Dave (Atlanta): The Braves signed several
interesting indy leaguers in McGill, Lowey, and Aslup. Do you see them
having an increased presence like the Phillies or Red Sox?
I think Atlanta keeps a pretty close eye
on indy ball. Tampa also seems to be paying plenty of attention in
addition to some of the teams that always do a good job of signing indy
players like Oakland, the Yankees and the teams you mentioned.
Tim (Pittsburgh, PA): Chris Sidick (washington wild things)...no longer a prospect?
Interesting player, but as a 27-year-old
the window of time to make it to affiliated ball is getting pretty
small. That's not to say it can't happen, but it would have been easier
when he was tearing up the Frontier League as a 23-year-old, and
unfortunately for Sidick it didn't happen back then.
Jason (Walnut Creek, CA): The Oakland A's have a
penchant for signing Indy Leaguers, especially recently.
Bobby Cramer made a couple of starts in the big leagues at teh end of
the year and pitchers like Kyle Middlebrook, Michael Benacka, and Jon
Hunton are knocking on the door.
Have they signed any of these current Top 20 Prospects?
They haven't as of yet signed anyone from
this current list (although Hunton and Benacka were guys that made
previous lists), but as I mentioned earlier they have already signed
Justin James who is probably the best arm in indy ball this year.
Mike (Fort Wayne): Whats the latest on Larry
Bigbie? Sounds like he's making a comback to MLB. I did see that he made
your All Indy-Team with solid numbers. As an older guy in the league
with big league experience, will he sign somewhere?
I could definitely see him ending up back
in Triple-A at some point, but for guys like Bigbie it seems to come
down to being in the right place at the right time to make the jump back
to affiliated ball. The numbers he put up in the GBL this year can't
Dave (Atlanta): Jason Lowey had a strong debut
for Myrtle Beach after the Braves acquired him, pitching eight scoreless
innings with 16 strikeouts and getting a Mexican winter league
assignment. Where would he have ranked on your list?
If we were including everyone who signed
during the season he would have been near the top of the list (although
behind Justin James). He has good velocity and is still a relatively
fresh arm as he was primarily a position player in college.
Jon (Peoria): Were there any players from the Atlantic League that were young enough to be considered?
There were some, especially at the end of
the season when players from other leagues often are added to rosters,
but the Atlantic League is a very tough place for a 22 or 23-year-old to
Zeebs (Palo Alto, CA.): David Harris went from
unknown to GBL star. What are his chances of making an impact in
organized ball? And what do you make of his skill-set?
Here's the scouting report I got on him.
6-1, 185, 23 years old. True rookie out of Pepperdine University where
he was a starting corner outfielder for two seasons after being
recruited out of Santa Barbara City College where he was a Junior
College All-American. Played as a freshman for the University of San
Diego where he hit .318. Earned a spot in the starting lineup after
beginning the season as a reserve. Showed good speed and an excellent
batting eye to go with a solid stroke.
Joe R (Newport News, VA): Do you get to see many independent games yourself?
Very few. We're located in Durham, N.C.
which is hundreds of miles from the nearest indy parks. I've been
fortunate enough to get to a couple of indy parks while traveling over
the last couple of years, but 99 percent of what you see hear comes from
working the phones.
Chris (KC): How about Northern League Triple
Crown winner Jacob Blackwood? Does he not make the list because he was
picked up by the Giants last week?
He was close to making the list, but as a
25-year-old we opted to go with some younger players. Here's a scouting
report on him: Good bat who was locked in from day one to the end of the
season. Always a tough out with an ability to center the ball on the
bat. Defensively he can play multiple positions, but he'll have to hit
as he isn't really a standout at any spot.
Bill (Chicago): With a lot of these top Indy
prospects already signing, what is the typical timeline that MLB clubs
look to sign them by? Is it before the minor league free agent date or
Right around now is when a lot of them
sign. The funny thing though is for the player, the best time to sign, I
believe, is during the season. Making it out of spring training as an
independent league signee is very, very tough. You're joining a club
that will be looking to release dozens of players before the end of
spring training, so there are more players than roster spots. If it
comes down to an indy player (who cost almost nothing to sign) or a
former high round draft pick who cost a lot to sign, teams will often
give the former pick one more chance. Now if you're an independent
league player, you can't turn down the opportunity to report to spring
training, it's too good of a chance, but a lot of those guys can have
good springs and still find themselves back in indy ball come April. If
you sign during the season, you know you're going to get some at-bats or
innings in games that count. And because a manager and coaching staff
will get to know you, by the next spring training, you will seem more
familiar to the decision makers than a guy who just came in during the
But guys to make it to affiliated clubs after signing during the
offseason every year, so it can be done.
Jim (Lancaster, PA): Aaron Herr had a very good
season at 3B in the Atlantic League with impressive power numbers. Is
he someone that could get a spring training invitation?
Absolutely. It really depends on a team having the need for a veteran corner bat.
Bill (Raleigh): Hi again JJ, I have seen many
Indy games and I agree with you on how much fun it is to the guys who
have to act as not only Manager but GM in evaluating talent to make
their team etc. Chris Coste, Nava, former All-Star with Texas,
Zimmerman, former Brave - Kerry Leichtenberg, all made impacts in the
Majors and formerly played Indy ball. Who do you feel in your opinion
will come out of this year's group of prospects to make an impact at the
From the top 10, Wes Alsup has very good
stuff if he can stay healthy—but that's a big if as he's struggled with
his health and his delivery isn't particularly clean. Matty Johnson's
ceiling is limited by his size, but he's the rare leadoff hitter who
fully embraces being a leadoff hitter. He's not trying to do more than
he can do.
boyd (llos angeles): IS the Can AM league scouted?
Yes. That doesn't mean there are scouts in
the stands every night, but there are scouts that check in on tips or
see a game every now and then. But also a lot of teams "stat scout"
where they'll keep an eye on the stats from the leagues, see a name or
two to check up on and then send an area scout or make some calls to see
if a guy is worth pursuing. That happens for pretty much all of the
leagues including the Can-Am League. There have been future big leaguers
who have been signed by clubs without ever seeing him in person until
he shows up at his first affiliated game.
Joe LeCates (Easton, MD): When does the steel cage match take place between you and John for the right to do an hour long Indy podcast?
As much as I would enjoy doing it, I don't
think that an hour-long indy podcast is in the cards. That being said,
we did talk indy ball briefly on the podcast that will be posted
JAYPERS (IL): What are you hearing on James Paxton? Will he likely sign with the M's before next year's draft?
I don't have any first-hand knowledge, but
as I would see it there's too much harm to Paxton to putting his career
on hold to wait for another year. He's already missed nearly a year of
development right now, getting a couple of showcase starts in an indy
league before next year's draft isn't the same as spending a year in pro
Bryce (TX): Is there one team that dominates coverage on any particular league?
I don't know what you mean by dominating
coverage, but there are teams that stand out. Sioux Falls had an
excellent lineup this year with a lot of names Baseball America readers
would be familiar with—like Brandon Sing and Reggie Abercrombie. You
know year in and year our Doug Simunic will have Fargo-Moorhead near the
top of the standings. Normal put a pair of interesting prospects on the
Top 10 list.
Thanks for all the questions. We'll be back with another indy chat at this time next year.