2017 Sally League Top 20 Prospects Chat

J.J. Cooper: Actually kicking if off now. Thanks for coming out.

Henry (Washington DC): Had he not had a lost season, about where would Juan Soto have fit in on your list? thanks

J.J. Cooper: Lot of Juan Soto questions here so this is a great place to start. Soto barely played as he was hurt at the very start of May, but if he had been healthy he would have been an easy top 3 prospect in the league. I’ll answer more Soto questions and provide more detail as this chat works along.

J.P. (Springfield, IL): Thanks for chatting, JJ. What are your thoughts on Gavin Sheets? Is he limited to 1B only, and is there a suitable comp for him?

J.J. Cooper: Sheets impressed scouts less than fellow White Sox draftee/Kannapolis teammate Jake Burger largely because Burger has the position value of being likely to stick at 3B and has a little more bat speed. Sheets was seen by scouts as a very polished hitter who should produce all through the minors. He has a very good understanding of the strike zone and should get on base to go with his power, but there were questions over whether his bat speed is enough to be a big league regular at 1B or whether he’s more likely to be an up-and-down Triple-A bat.

John (Philadelphia): Was Nick Fanti considered for the top 20, and is he more deception than actual stuff?

J.J. Cooper: A whole lot of Lakewood players were in Top 20 consideration, but Arquimedes Gamboa, Daniel Brito and JoJo Romero were much closer to the 20 than Fanti. The general thought among evaluators is that Fanti kept LoA hitters off balance thanks to craftiness, a decent breaking ball and changeup but a below-average fastball. There’s some skepticism if that approach will work at higher levels.

Warren (New London): Is it safe to assume that Moniak and Rutherford will fall out of the BA top 100 after going 17 and 18 here?

J.J. Cooper: Going to be some interesting discussions we’ll be having on those two. It was there first full seasons, but neither showed the impact with the bat scouts wanted to see. I’d say Rutherford’s struggles are a little more concerning in the long-term because he’s older than Moniak and he’s less likely to be able to play CF which means he’ll have more expectations placed on the bat. Next year is big for both of them.

TG03 (NY, NY): Wondering if Freicer Perez got serious consideration for this list and your overall impressions on him as a prospect?

J.J. Cooper: Yes. Legit SP prospect in a stacked Yankees’ system. Legit fastball and there’s still some room to fill out. The secondary stuff is erratic but shows promise.

Dan (Sally Land): Pache vs Taveras seems like an interesting debate. Pache seems to show better contact skills and defense. If he can be projected to 15-20hrs, could he surpass Leody?

J.J. Cooper: It was an interesting debate. Absolutely if you were confident that Pache is going to hit for even average power I’d say he would edge Taveras, but that’s a big jump from his lack of power now. I and a number of scouts do believe he’ll fill out, but it’s projecting a lot.

Andres (Queens): What's a good comp to Andres Gimenez in terms of his offensive profile? I've read good things from Badler, but is Gimenez's potential more of a solid bat as opposed to a top hitter?

J.J. Cooper: The ceiling on Gimenez has barely been sketched out in pencil yet. His top-line potential is as an elite middle infielder, because as an 18-year-old who is twitchy and has feel for the bat, there’s a chance he takes a pretty big step forward over the next 4-5 years. But all of these projections fall along a spectrum. Spitballing, let’s say there’s a 10-15 percent chance that Gimenez ends up as a .290-.300 hitter with good OBPs, 15+ HRs and plus defense. That’s a pretty significant big leaguer, all-star in his best years. More likely he ends up as a grade worse hitter and with maybe a little less power and there are differing views on how good his glove will be. So let’s say that means there’s a 30-40 percent chance he’s a fringe first-division regular/solid second division guy. If the bat or the glove doesn’t develop as expected, there’s another 20-30 percent shot he’s a backup middle infielder who plays SS well enough to get big league time, think a lesser Wilmer Difo-type. And then there’s a 25-40 percent chance the bat is significantly less than expectations and he’s a long-time minor leaguer. Add all that up and that’s a pretty good prognosis for an 18-year-old LoA infielder.

Frank (Indianapolis IN): During his limited time in Lakewood what was the consensus opinion of Haseley? Would he have ranked higher than Moniak if he'd been eligible?

J.J. Cooper: Haseley looked as worn out as Moniak by the end of the season, which isn’t that surprising. Moniak has a better chance to be a solid CF defensively and has more speed. Haseley is more physical.

SAL guy (MD): For a guy with top shelf stuff, Sixto seems like he does not miss a ton of bats. Could that develop? Or is he more of a weak contact high GB guy?

J.J. Cooper: I’m not all that worried about that yet as his fastball is far ahead of his secondary stuff right now, but he’s very young. At his age, seeing a pitcher who can dominate by locating an exceptional fastball is a great base to build off.

Jake (Queens, NY): I realize he was never going to make your list, but what did scouts have to say about Tim Tebow? Do you believe he'll ever be a Major Leaguer?

J.J. Cooper: No I don’t. Tebow hit .223/.307/.344 between low and high Class A this year as a 29-year-old and he’s a poor defensive corner outfielder. That’s not a profile of a future big leaguer even if he has significant raw power.

Rich (NJ): Did James Nelson of Greensboro come close to the list?

J.J. Cooper: Yes. Very, very close to cracking the Top 20. Nelson can hit and he has excellent athleticism that needs to be refined with a lot of work to make him a good third baseman defensively. The tools are there but the refinement isn’t yet. He profiles as an everyday third baseman and one of the best prospects in the Marlins system.

John (Acworth, GA): Did Alex Wells merit any consideration for the list?

J.J. Cooper: So close that I wrote him up. Here’s a freebie extra report: Wells is not a man of his times. In an era where a 95-mph fastball has become normalized, Wells rarely breaks 90. Sure, he can get to 90-91 mph in certain situations, but he generally sits 86-88 mph, giving him velocity that sits well-below-average on a modern scouting scale. But the Australian possesses some of the best command and control in baseball–he ramps up and down with his velocity while pitching precisely to spots and his fastball plays way up because of deception. Wells finished the season with a 68 inning walkless streak–his last walk allowed was on June 25–and he was the league's ERA leader. In a late July start against Greensboro he threw only 12 balls in 74 pitches. Wells gets a lot of outs off his plus changeup as he abused less advanced hitters. He didn't use his breaking ball much and it generally earned below-average grades this year, but it was his best pitch when he signed and has shown promise in the past.

Logan (Oregon): The report on Wentz...wow. First negative report I've read. Most have called the curve plus, plenty of projection remaining, etc. but this review seems to suggest exactly the opposite. Were there any mixed reviews here or was the report largely consensus among the scouts you polled?

J.J. Cooper: Talked to four scouts about Wentz, some see more projection than others, but generally he was seen as a back-end starter who has to be extremely fine because right now his fastball is a fringe-average pitch at best. Guys generally liked him, but saw him as a low-impact arm unless the stuff bumps up a grade or more. His changeup caught up and in some ways passed his curveball this year. He’s got three legit pitches, but the concerns largely revolved around the fastball and how much more is in the tank as he matures.

Chris (Pittsburgh): The West Virginia Power had a couple of high strikeout pitchers in Luis Escobar and Eduardo Vera. Did either of them get any mentions for the top 20? How does either project moving forward?

J.J. Cooper: Escobar didn’t miss by much. The tough thing every year about ranking the Sally League is that the difference between the 15th and 25th best prospect in this league is very minimal and is a subject of great debate. Escobar has a chance for 3 avg or better pitches. He’s a very solid pitching prospect with some projection left.

Daniel (Oregon): I've heard a lot of reliever risk mentioned for Bryse Wilson. Were opinions split on his future, or did scouts seem more optimistic?

J.J. Cooper: Very split. There is some risk especially because of his arm action, but there’s also some thought that Wilson is just starting to show what he can be. There’s athleticism to go with solid stuff and great mound presence.

Mick (Chicago): Did scouts see progress in Gasparini this year enough to still feel confident he'll be better than Kepler, as written in his B.A. introductory article?

J.J. Cooper: That was a story we wrote when Gasparini was 15. Scouts projecting on him at that point saw him as having more potential than Kepler did. Five years later, no, he does not project as better than Kepler. He strikes out too much and while he’s still got excellent tools, the bat is the hardest tool to project and Gasparini’s bat has not developed.

Jordan (Dayton, OH): Wentz at 14 shocked me. The explanation of having a plus change-up but not premium velocity or an above ave 3rd pitch makes sense, but why is that valued so much less than top of the scale velocity and lack of secondaries, most commonly the elusive change up that scouts tag prospects for bullpen guys because they don't have it. Given the massive increase and commonality in prospects that throw 95 plus, as well as the arm injuries that are correlated with that, AND the increasing amount of MLB bullpen rolls...why is it a knock on a guy to have great control, command, and pitch abiliy? Let's not forget he's 6'5" and 19...why don't scouts think there is any projection left? Thanks for the chat!

J.J. Cooper: The projection is the big question with Wentz. Yes, he’s 6-foot-5 but the scouts I talked to weren’t confident in projecting an extra 2-3 mph in fastball velocity for him. The reality is as you spelled out in 2017 it’s very hard to find a big league starting pitcher who doesn’t sit 90-92. Using Fangraphs leaderboards, I found two MLB starters who reached innings qualifications that sat at less than 90 mph with their fastball–one of those is knuckleballer R.A. Dickey. Lefties that have good changeups are not hard to find. Finding lefties with an 87-92 mph fastball and a plus change that have a lot of success in LoA are also easy to find. If you are looking for that lefty in the Sally League, Alex Wells is the gold standard because he has 70 or better control to go with an ability to manipulate his fastball and changeup. Considering Wentz’s youth and the chance he’ll add more velocity, he is a better prospect, but those are the concerns.

Daniel (KC): Perhaps not just Sally League intensive, but as I read these lists I can't help but notice a lack of anyone from the Royals org. That seems...not great. Thought maybe Khalil Lee could make this list at least. Is the org that bad?

J.J. Cooper: He was in some early iterations. One of the best prospects in the Royals’ system. It’s pretty thin right now overall.

Erik (Maine): Is Estevan Florial next year's Ronald Acuna?

J.J. Cooper: That’s going to be tough as Acuna is younger than Florial and has better understanding of the K-zone. That being said, Florial is a very interesting, high ceiling prospect. But no, I don’t think we’ll be talking about him as Minor League POY next year.

Benny Blanco (The Bronx): Hi, So Desmond Lindsay had a tough year - injuries and had to fight to hit .220. Is he still a prospect? What do you still like about him?

J.J. Cooper: Lindsay didn’t get great reviews from scouts. And scouts do notice where a guy hits in the order…the place Lindsay hit most? 3-hole. Second most? batting ninth. He had as much games batting seventh-eighth-ninth as he did hitting 3-4-5. Scouts didn’t like the swing.

Matt (CA): Thanks for chatting with us JJ. Was Juan Soto left off due to the fact he didn't get enough at bats in this year? If he would've qualified, where on the list would he have landed? Is he someone to watch who could make an Acuna/Bichette like jump next year in prospect rankings?

J.J. Cooper: Yes. He didn’t have enough at-bats. If qualified he would have been 1-2-3, but it was hard to find scouts who saw him because he was hurt for four of the five months of the season, so if you didn’t see Hagerstown in the first month of the season, you didn’t see him. That said, yes, he could take a massive leap next year with health. If you are looking for next year’s Acuna, Soto is a likely LF, but one with an Eloy Jimenez type ceiling if it all comes together.

Noel (Portland): Is Kieboom likely a 2b in the bug leagues?

J.J. Cooper: More likely a 2b or 3B than SS, but he has enough feel to maybe make SS work for a while.

Nats Fan (DC): When comparing Victor Robles to Juan Soto, it's obvious that Robles is the far superior defender. However, when comparing them offensively, is it fair to say that Robles profiles as a #2 spot hitting CF who will hit .280 with 12-15 HRs a year while Juan Soto is your prototypical #3/#4 who in his prime should be hitting .300+ with 25-30 HRs?

J.J. Cooper: I’d say that’s fair. A lot of projection involved here, but Robles’ value comes more from speed/defense. Soto is a bat-first prospect.

Norm Chouinard (Connecticut): Thought you were a bit light on Jake Burger at 16 in an uninspiring year in the SAL. Good college bat and pro debut mitigates his risk. Profiles as a #5-6 hitter with 60 power and 50 contact skills. I think he will stick at 3B. I'd make him a 55H. Am I too optimistic?

J.J. Cooper: You could be right. He’s one spot behind a top 5 pick in last year’s draft who throws 100+ so ranking 16th isn’t a sign we don’t like him.

Justin (Chicago): Good to see Micker Adolfo healthy. What are y'all going thoughts on him also do you see him moving up future prospect ranks if he continues this progress

J.J. Cooper: Big step forward this year and he looks like a prototypical right fielder. He has to continue to build on this in 2018, but he’s a much more refined hitter now than he was a year ago.

Rich (NJ): Do you think Jhailyn Ortiz will start in Lakewood in 2018 after performing well in short season? Also, what are your latest thoughts on his potential?

J.J. Cooper: I’d be stunned if Ortiz isn’t in the middle of Lakewood’s lineup next year. Stay tuned for more when we roll out our New York-Penn League Top 20.

Roger (Greenville, SC): I'm not sure I understand the degree of risk in Leody's bat. It's hard to look at that line and see it all being a matter of power development. Are there not concerns about the eye or the feel for the barrel?

J.J. Cooper: I know it wasn’t a great stat line but the scouts who I talked to are still very confident that he will hit.

J.J. Cooper: Thanks everyone for coming out. I need to run so I can record a podcast for y’all for the weekend. I’ll be back on Monday to chat about the MWL Top 20.