Moderator: Bill Ballew will be here at 2 p.m. Eastern to chat about the Braves’ top prospects.
Bill Ballew: Hi everyone. Welcome to the Braves chat. Let’s see what your questions are today
Frank, the One-Trick Pony (Indianapolis IN): While we know you don't get a vote, how many of these guys would you predict will make BA's top 100 prospects?
Bill Ballew: Hey Frank. Thanks for the reminder on my lack of a vote. Nevertheless, my picks would be Swanson, Albies, Allard, Soroka and Anderson
Greg (ATL): Can you give me the backstory on Patrick Weigel? How did he shoot up prospect lists this much? I saw you listed him as the closer in 2020. Are there concerns about him starting?
Bill Ballew: Weigel is a classic late bloomer with a pretty fresh arm. The Braves liked him but he’s exceeded their expectations to this point. He has the ability to blow guys away but there’s some question if his repertoire will be deep enough at the major league level to get big league hitters out.
Larry (Savannah): What kind of power does Acuna have long term? Is this a 15-20 homer per year guy, or can he get to more?
Bill Ballew: I think he’s a legit 15-20 guy in the home run department. Assuming he reaches his potential, he has a chance to flirt with the low 20s on occasion. He’s more of a line drive hitter at this point and I expect that he will remain that type of hitter based on the results he’s getting.
Paul (Atlanta): It seems like the biggest question about Dustin Peterson is how much power he'll have. What's your projection? Enough to stick in a corner outfield spot?
Bill Ballew: If I had to guess I think he will hit for enough power to be a solid offensive left fielder. He has shown flashes of plus power in the recent past and started to display that in games last year. After all the change he has gone through in his career, I believe he started to form a foundation last year at Mississippi that will allow him to make the final two steps to the big leagues.
Bob (Carolina): Max Fried ended the year on an absolute tear - obviously plenty of risk remains, but is his upside still intact after a successful return from injury?
Bill Ballew: No doubt. In many organizations he would be a top three guy. As you mentioned, in the second half last year he showed all projections from earlier in his career are legit. Great size, great tenacity, great stuff. You could argue that he belongs higher on this list.
CCP (Taiwan): Who has higher ceiling? Allard (14th) or Anderson (3rd).
Bill Ballew: Both have tremendous ceilings but at this point I might take Anderson. But if you flip a coin you could be right regardless of the outcome.
Hank (TX): The Braves have been slow moving Ray Patrick Didder up, but his numbers looked really good at Low A this year. Heading into his 22-year-old season, is he a prospect? What are expectations for him?
Bill Ballew: He is, and you will find him on the list in the Prospect Handbook (shameless plug). He doesn’t overwhelm with a deep tool set but the guy knows how to play the game and gets the job done. He has a chance to be a fourth outfielder type, maybe a comparison to Gregor Blanco.
Grant (NYC): I assume Touki came just short of making this list? What did you think of his year as a whole?
Bill Ballew: You are correct, he missed it by that much. But Touki made some impressive strides this year. The dude had a hard time throwing the ball anywhere close to the plate at times at the beginning of the year and by the end of the season he was looking like the guy the D’backs drafted out of high school. The Braves broke down his mechanics and he went back to doing some of the things he did as an amateur. The combination and tweaking started to show results. Everything is there and he could take off next year.
Brian (Dubuque(IA)): Who do you think will be the fastest riser to next year?
Bill Ballew: Touki Toussaint could be that guy if he continues to make the progress he showed at Rome. Acuna could take off into that stratosphere of prospects if he stays healthy. I’d also keep a close eye on Cristian Pache, who turned 18 in November.
Teddy (NC): With the Luke Jackson trade, it seems like the Braves have prioritized hard-throwing relievers with Mauricio Cabrera, Minter, Jackson, Shea Simmons, Dirks, Winkler, etc. Is this strategy on purpose, and do you like it?
Bill Ballew: It is on purpose. Several other teams have gone that direction with impressive results, with the Cardinals probably at the forefront. The Braves will add an arm or two to the mix that will keep guys off-balance, but hard-throwing heat isn’t going away any time soon.
J.P. (Springfield, IL): Thanks for chatting, Bill. Between Wentz and Muller, who has the higher ceiling for you and why?
Bill Ballew: Hey J.P. Have you seen our top 30 list in the Prospect Handbook. They are virtually even in our assessments. Muller is a little more of an extreme projection than Wentz at this point, but both guys have the goods to be outstanding if everything falls into place for them.
John (NJ): Would it be safe to assume that Austin Riley is the Braves' number 11 prospect? I saw him during the Sally League playoffs and his raw power was off the charts. Is he trade bait, or do the Braves view him as the third baseman of the future? Thanks as always for the chat!
Bill Ballew: That’s a very safe bet. Truth be told, some of us (ie, me) like him higher than 11, but there are multiple voices that contribute to the ranking. Then again, look at the depth of the top 30 and it is crazy deep. Still, Riley had a great second half after a little bit of a slow start and his power potential is off the charts. He has a canon at third and he made some progress with his footwork, but some scouts really see him as a first baseman. But he who hits, plays, and Riley projects to hit big-time.
Eric (ATL): No Austin Riley? Is this just a case of trying to fit ten names into a stacked system, or did his stock drop, or both?
Bill Ballew: Just a stacked system, plain and simple. His stock is still high. Don’t be surprised with a full year under his belt if he puts on a power show next year.
Gary (Miami): Does Sims fit more into the role of a SP or RP for you?
Bill Ballew: I’ve always liked Sims as a starter but it appears that he is on the verge of moving to relief based on the lack of consistency of his third and fourth pitches. His top two offerings are outstanding and he will be able to mix in a third as a reliever to keep hitters off-balance in the big leagues. Some may see this is a reduction in his value but I think he has a chance to be an excellent setup guy in the big leagues.
William (Pensacola, FL): How far does having two elite prospects like Swanson and Albies take a system ? Like, lets assume the Braves had absolutely nothing behind those outside of organizational fillers. Still a Top 15 system ? Better ?
Bill Ballew: If all they had was Swanson and Albies, I wouldn’t think it’s a top 15 system. Both are outstanding players, but it’s not like having two Mike Trouts. It’s just different types of players. Still, it’s an impressive one-two.
Fred (Jacksonville): What are the early returns on Maitan from instructs?
Bill Ballew: The Braves love this guy, particularly Roy Clark. He has a chance to be an overall 65 guy on the 20-80 scouting scale. That’s putting a ton on such an unproven player, but that’s how much he has shown in a short period of time.
Jeff (The Frozen North): What is a realistic ceiling for Kevin Maitan, and does he have a real chance to stay at shortstop long term?
Bill Ballew: Maitan’s ceiling may be as high as anyone in the organization and could rival anyone in baseball. Pretty impressive, eh? And, yes, the Braves do feel he can remain at shortstop but are not worried if that doesn’t prove to be the case. Some guy named Chipper wound up having a pretty decent career after moving off short.
Kelly (St Cloud, MN): What were evaluators' assessments of Cristian Pache, and which OF spot is he suited for? Will he be in the 11-20?
Bill Ballew: Pache is a guy who has incredible plate coverage and plus-plus speed. He’s raw, but the sky is the limit for him. Long term he should remain in center field given his ability to run and solid average arm strength. He is solidly in the 11-20 range.
Dave (New York): With 3 plus pitches and projectability Is Ian Anderson the highest ceiling arm in the organization?
Bill Ballew: At this point Anderson probably does have the highest ceiling of any pitcher in the organization. His activity has been very limited in pro ball, of course, but the Braves were cautious with him last year and believe he has a chance to be special.
Hank (Georgia): How would you rank the Braves big International signings of 2015 and 2016? (Cruz, Pache, Maitan, Severino, Gutierrez)
Bill Ballew: If you’re talking about just these guys, I’d rank them Maitan first, followed by Pache and Cruz. Severino and Gutierrez are pretty even but still highly thought of by most evaluators. As a class, that’s a pretty impressive haul, even if it was somewhat underrated after Maitan.
Wayne (FL): The Braves were aggressive with Albies last year in bumping him to Double A. Do you think they could do the same with Acuna, or where do you think he'll start?
Bill Ballew: No, I don’t see them doing that just yet, not after he missed some time at Rome. I see him spending most of the season at Class A Florida unless he just puts up crazy numbers.
Ryan (MA): Do the Braves think there's enough contact in Travis Demeritte's bat for him to start at second or third? I'm nervous about that K rate in the low minors.
Bill Ballew: The Braves obviously like him or they wouldn’t have traded for him. But you’re right, the strikeouts are a concern. He’s a guy that creates a lot of debate. Some scouts love him, others not so much. Based on the other talent at his positions in the organization, I don’t see him as a long-time answer in Atlanta unless he really reduces the whiffs.
Lenny (Ga): What's the next step in development for Max Fried? Is it just about staying healthy, or what else does he have to do?
Bill Ballew: You got it. If he’s healthy, he should be fine. He looked incredible during the latter part of the season at Rome after showing flashes in the first half. If he continues to climb the hill, he’s in the Braves’ long-term plans.
J.P. (Springfield, IL): The Braves reportedly were unwilling to part with Swanson when negotiating for Chris Sale. If you were Coppy, what package of prospects would you have put together which would have been enough to grab him?
Bill Ballew: I don’t know what the Chisox wanted because I wasn’t in the room, but I would not have traded Swanson, either. Swanson is a winner; not the most talented guy in the game, but an outstanding player who makes his team better, which leads to victories. He showed that at Vanderbilt and he’ll be a key piece when Atlanta starts challenging for championships once again. As far as Sale is concerned, Coppy could have overwhelmed them with a huge package of promising arms but Chicago must have wanted a potential everyday guy as well.
DR (SAL): What're the odds Maitan is in Rome to start the season? To end the season?
Bill Ballew: If he doesn’t start the year at Rome, he’ll definitely see State Mutual Stadium at some point. But if I were Pete Rose, I’d bet he opens the year in the South Atlantic League.
Hank (ATL): I'm curious about grading Kolby Allard's changeup as the best in the system because I haven't heard much about it. Most of the talk is about his breaking ball. What makes the changeup special and is there plus potential?
Bill Ballew: Yes there is plus potential to the changeup if it isn’t already there. It has outstanding depth and fade, and he does an excellent job of masking it, which makes hitters think it’s a fastball coming out of his hand. Allard has taken baby steps thus far in his career but he’s moving in the right direction.
Brian (Detroit): Thanks for the chat......farm system: top half or lower half of MLB? Who makes the top 100?
Bill Ballew: I already talked about the top five guys making the top 100. The farm system is not only in the top half, it’s in the top five, without a doubt. Some would argue it’s one, two or three, and it may be one when you consider the overall depth.
Roger (Greenville, SC): I'm guessing the tools aren't quite as loud, but the similarities between Acuna's report and a young Andruw Jones are pretty striking.
Bill Ballew: That’s not a bad comparison. Jones’ instincts in center were better than anyone I’ve ever seen, and he also just screamed prospect with his power and speed combination. He never did learn to lay off breaking balls low and away, but he had an above-average major league career. Acuna could wind up having a better career at the big league level if he is able to build a solid foundation with the fundamentals.
Karl of Delaware (Georgetown, Delaware): Of Rome's 1st rounders (Toussant, Soroka, Fried, and Allard) who reaches the big leagues first?
Bill Ballew: I wouldn’t be surprised if Soroka got there first. He may not have the raw ability and tools that the other three do, but he is much more polished and has a great understanding of what he needs to do to get to where he wants to be.
Jarred (NC): What caused Sean Newcomb's drop down the list after a solid second half of the season?
Bill Ballew: His inability to throw strikes with consistency and lack of command within the strike zone.
Devonta (Atlanta): Are there any top-30 type catchers in the Braves system at this point? If not, which one are you the most optimistic about?
Bill Ballew: The Braves have quite a few catchers with promise, including Scivique, Lucas Herbert, Tanner Murphy and Brett Cumberland. I’m most optimistic about Herbert because of his stellar defensive skills and potential to hit for a decent average. Murphy has not hit at all, and Cumberland may not remain behind the plate. So I’d saw Herbert and Scivique have the highest upside.
Bill Ballew: Thanks for all the questions. I could be here until midnight and not get to everyone. I hope I touched on the most prevailing questions. Thanks again and have a great weekend!