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:
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?

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

 Q:  John from Pensacola, FL asks:
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?

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?

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:
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?

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:
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.

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:
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??

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:
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?

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?

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?

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?

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?

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:
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?

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:
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?

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?

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.

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:
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?

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:
comments on Joe Anthonsen who was a batting champion, hits leader and
exceptional lead off man for Rockford in the Frontier League?

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:
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???

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?

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:
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?

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:
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

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?


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?

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?


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.