Independent League Top Prospects Chat

Moderator: J.J. Cooper, BA’s resident indy ball expert, will be chatting about the top independent leagues’ prospects at 2 p.m. Eastern.

Corry (Portsmouth, VA): Have you heard any rumblings about the Virginia Beach team that is supposed to be in place in the Atlantic League in 2016?
J.J. Cooper: Initially it was supposed to be in the Atlantic League for 2015, but when talking about expansion, these timetables often get pushed back by a year or two or 10. The last I checked, which admittedly was a while ago, no dirt had yet been moved. The last we heard the hope is now 2017 but there are financing issues still to be worked through. The Atlantic League has looked at multiple additional sites for expansion (including Raleigh, N.C.) but as of right now we have not heard of any that seem likely for 2016.

Steve Jonas (Phoenix, AZ): Ballpark the liklihood a team takes a flyer on Patrick Johnson and invites him to spring training.
J.J. Cooper: 40-60? Johnson had an excellent year this year and is one of the best pitchers in indy ball. He has solid stuff as well. A team looking for a reliable AA starter/swingman who could surprise could do a lot worse than picking up Johnson and sending him to the EL/TL or SL. But working against Johnson is his age (27), his height (5-10) and the fact that there’s not really a massive difference between who he is now and who he was when he was in the Rockies’ system or in college at North Carolina. He has better control and command now, so maybe a team takes a chance, but he isn’t a guy who projects as a power reliever, which is the demo of pitchers most likely to be signed from indy ball.

Casey W (Fort Worth): Would any indy league players place as a top 100 prospects?
J.J. Cooper: No. Never when they are still in indy ball. We have had a few guys go from the indy top prospects list to make it into the Prospect Handbook–Daniel Nava, Chris Colabello and maybe next year Balibino Fuenmayor are a few to come to mind, but in all cases they crack the Prospect Handbook (making them roughly top 900 prospects) after doing something in affiliated ball. The best player n indy ball is very unlikely to make a thin team’s Top 30 the year he is signed.

John M. (Boston): I just read the Independent League Top Prospect List. I was curious as to where you get your information and the criteria used on how the list is ranked? Thanks
J.J. Cooper: When I first came up with the idea of doing the Indy Top Prospects list, there weren’t as many sources to turn to. The first time we did this, there was very little scouting of indy leagues so putting the list together consisted of a lot of calls to managers to talk about the best players they saw. They still are the key source for these lists but nowadays there are scouts who have seen some of these players and can be useful sources on the players they have signed. The criteria is simple: Most likely to provide value to a big league team. It’s a list that hopefully will hold up in 5-10 years where there is a guy or two who you can say, hey that guy made it. Ideally most of the players on this list will get shots in affiliated ball, but if 5-7 of the 10 do, that’s a good year. This list couldn’t be assembled without the help of a very dedicated group of indy ball managers–they really do want to help get deserving players into affiliated ball and I look forward to all the conversations we get to have at this time of year.

jason (philly): does former Indy POY KC Serna make the bigs ever? The bar certainly isn't too high in Philly for a least a Sept callup one of these years, right?
J.J. Cooper: It’s still unlikely as that involves getting a spot on the 40-man roster but it’s not impossible. Serna was the 2013 Indy Leagues No. 1 Prospect and he’s parlayed his time in indy ball into a very solid career with the Phillies. He’s made it to Triple-A and shown defensive versatility.

Joe (Syracuse NY): Did the Braves make any notable signings from the Independent League during or after the season? Thanks
J.J. Cooper: The Braves, like many teams, were a little less active than normal this year. Probably the most notable signing was Matt Bywater, the Southern Illinois lefty who was one of the best pitchers in the Frontier League. He wasn’t great in his end of year stint with high Class A Carolina but he did miss some bats.

@Jaypers413 (IL): Thanks for the chat. I'd like to get your thoughts on Zach Collier. Is he a viable candidate to become a productive major leaguer someday?
J.J. Cooper: If you’re in the Atlantic League that’s going to be an uphill battle from indy baller to productive big leaguer. He made some strides this year and he’s still relatively young for an indy ball player, but right now I’d say “worthy of being picked up by an affiliated club to help a minor league roster” is a better initial goal.

DR (MD): Hear anything about Navery Moore, Joliet (Fron.)'s closer? Always known for premium velocity, but seemed to never fall into a role with the Braves org. 62K in 46 IP, and his H/9 nearly dropped in half. BB went up, but perhaps a new approach that could lead him to a new affiliated club?
J.J. Cooper: He’s got a chance to be picked up because as you note he does have some ability to pick up strikeouts but his control needs to improve. Teams are likely to let him prove he can throw strikes more consistently than he did in 2015 before they would consider bringing him back to affiliated ball.

Dalton (StL): Southern IL Miners have sent Clay Zavada, Tanner Roark and Brandon Cunniff to MLB in recent years. Any clue why some teams get several guys up there like this and some never get any?
J.J. Cooper: Combo of things, some teams have really good talent acquisition skills, good development and have contacts to help them get into affiliated ball. All those things help.

J.J. Cooper: Thanks for the questions. We’ll be back with the International League Top 20 Prospects chat on Monday.