Midwest League Top 20 Prospects Chat With Jim Callis

    Jake (ATL): Which of these 20 names will make it to the big leagues first, in your opinion?

Jim Callis: Hi, everyone. Glad to be here for the
Midwest League chat, and I believe I’ve now done the MWL Top 20 for 10
straight years, which must be a record. As for Jake’s question, the
favorite is probably James Darnell, even though he’s only the
15th-ranked player on the list. He’s the most polished of the college
players on here, and the Padres could use his bat. The sleeper to be
the first is Mike Montgomery, and I wouldn’t rule out one of the elite
young hitters (Josh Vitters, Brett Lawrie) racing to the majors.

    Frank (Chatham IL): What are scouts telling you about Brett Jackson's performance for Peoria this year? Any love for this list?

Jim Callis: Scouts loved Brett Jackson. Strikeouts
weren’t as much of a problem for him as they were in college, and he
was an athletic center fielder with promising power. He would have
ranked no lower than third on the list but fell 10 plate appearances
short of qualifying.

    JAYPERS (IL): If you had the opportunity now,
    would you have picked Hosmer as high as the Royals did, knowing what
    they didn't know then, based on pure ceiling?

Jim Callis: No, I wouldn’t. He had a confounding year,
where he wasn’t as good as advertised, and his vision issues are
puzzling because you’d think they would have been detected before the
draft. Then again, as much as he struggled, he did hit .300/.406/.455
against righthanders. He’s a tough one to figure out, but he certainly
wouldn’t be third pick in the 2008 draft if they re-did it today. In a
related question, do you think the Rays are kicking themselves for not
taking Buster Posey No. 1 overall?

    Ben (Leland Grove): Did Mauricio Robles get any consideration? What's the skinny on him?

Jim Callis: A little, but he wasn’t really close to
making the list because spots are at a premium when I have 14 teams to
choose from for 20 prospects. (It’s going to get worse next year, when
the MWL expands to 16 clubs.) Robles is a lefty with a low-90s
fastball, but there’s not a lot of projection remaining, his curveball
is a below-average pitch and he still needs to throw more strikes.
Promising, but not a Top 20 guy.

    Charles (Houston): Jim, any consideration
    given to Angel Morales? He had a dreadful start but down the stretch he
    seemed to be much more productive and made better contact.

Jim Callis: Morales was in the same boat as Robles: a
talented youngster, but not a guy who was going to crack the Top 20.
He’s a high-risk, high-reward athlete. One scout said Morales was
similar to Engel Beltre, who made last year’s list but was terrible in

    Robert Goldberg (Lyndhurst, NJ): Will Cody Scarpetta's big league contract force the Brewers to accelerate his development?

Jim Callis: Scarpetta doesn’t have a big league
contract, but he’s on the 40-man roster because a finger injury led the
Brewers to avoid his original deal before re-signing him. I believe he
has three options remaining, in which case it’s not a big issue. If he
has only two options remaining, he’d have to be ready by Opening Day
2011, and even that’s not out of the realm of possibility.

    Brad (MO): Does Dee Gordon's lack of polish
    turn off any scouts? For a player that has been around major league
    baseball his whole life do you have to question his mental makeup when
    he is still very raw at 21?

Jim Callis: Not at all. He doesn’t have the baseball
background you might think, despite being the son of longtime big
leaguer Tom Gordon. Dee played no organized ball until he was a senior
in high school, and he didn’t play at all before the draft in 2008
because of a transcript snafu at Seminole (Fla.) CC. He had only two
springs of baseball under his belt before he signed, and scouts
recognize that. He’s raw for a 21-year-old but not raw for his
experience, if you get my meaning. Even if he can’t hack it at
shortstop, there’s no reason he can’t be a dynamic center fielder.

    Joe LeCates (Easton, MD): How close was the
    gap between Vitters and Lawrie? As bat-first, glove...well, they can
    hit - are they almost interchangeable at #3 and 4, or does one hold
    more significant long-term value?

Jim Callis: They are pretty interchangeable. Lawrie
has more bat speed, but Vitters has a better swing and does it with
less effort. If you wanted to give Lawrie the edge because he has
better plate discipline, that would be a legitimate argument.

    Serge (El Nido): What is Vitters' problem at
    the plate? Is it more of him swinging at garbage way out of the zone,
    or is it more of a thing where he's swinging at things just out of the
    zone and pitchers' strikes? And if it's the latter, does that mean it's
    more likely that it'll improve with age?

Jim Callis: It’s not so much that he’s swinging and
missing at pitches way off the plate. It’s that he goes up there to
swing, often offering at the first pitch, and makes contact so easily
that he gets himself out on pitcher’s pitches. It’s something he can
fix, though he’ll probably never draw a ton of walks.

    Brad (MO): In putting Hosmer at 12 are you
    predicting that the 11 players in front of him will be more productive
    in the majors or is this list based on the skills they showed this

Jim Callis: There’s some league context factored into
these lists, as compared to our offseason Top 30 lists by
organizations. Based on the way these players performed in the MWL this
year, I would take the 11 players ahead of him instead of Hosmer.

    Fred (Ohio): How good is Jaff Decker? He seems to have all of the necessary tools to become a really good major league hitter.

Jim Callis: Decker was another tough one to figure
out. As a hitter, he’s right there with Vitters and Lawrie, and he’s
the only lefty of the group. But while those two have most of their
value in their bats, Decker has all of his value in his bat. As I
wrote, one scout joked that Decker’s speed rated a minus-10 on the
20-80 scale. He’s only 19 and has a bad body, and it’s going to get
worse as he gets older. He lives in the same city (Peoria, Ariz.) as
the Padres’ training complex, yet he still couldn’t get himself into

    Serge (El Nido): How close was Kyler Burke to
    making your list? He was a .303/.405/.505 guy and my understanding is
    he's pretty projectable as well. What kind of ceiling does he have?

Jim Callis: Burke was much improved compared to his
2008 MWL performance, and he would have been in the 21-30 range had we
gone that deep. He’s a lefty hitter with some strength in his swing and
has a plus arm. He doesn’t hit lefthanders, so he’s probably a platoon
player as he moves up. He’s a below-average runner, and though he has
good instincts he’s not going to stay in center field.

    JAYPERS (IL): Did any Lugnuts get any consideration for this list? Perhaps Henderson Alvarez?

Jim Callis: Alvarez ranked No. 20 in some earlier
versions of my list. He has the chance to have three solid pitches and
he had the best changeup in the league. Lansing’s Tyler Pastornicky is
an interesting shortstop.

    Grant (Detroit, MI): I thought that Anthony Bass would be on the list? Did he not qualified because of innings?

Jim Callis: Bass qualified and I think he has a good
chance of pitching in the majors. But it probably will be as a middle
reliever. He throws strikes with three decent pitches, but doesn’t have
an out pitch.

    Jimmy T. (Colorado): What are the
    qualifications to be considered a top 20 prospect for your list. As
    some players get promoted and only play half or third of the season.

Jim Callis: To qualify for a full-season Top 20, a
player must have either a) one plate appearance per team game; b) 1/3
inning per team game; or c) 20 relief appearances.

    bhsportsguy (los angeles): Every league has
    some sort of bias, is the Midwest League's a hitters or pitchers league
    and what is a good way to gauge the age appropriateness of your team's
    prospects (is 20 too young, etc.) Though keep in mind that you have to
    look at a player's background, as discussed with Dee Gordon. He was old
    for the league at 21, but had less baseball experience than almost
    anyone in the MWL. You don't want to lose sight of that. A lot of
    people underrated Jonathan Papelbon as a prospect because of his age,
    but he signed as a 22-year-old junior and advanced rapidly.

Jim Callis: It’s definitely a pitcher’s league and has
played that way for years. For ages, 20 is the dividing line between
being old or young for the MWL.

    Lance (Vacaville, CA): Hi Jim,

    So can Grant Desme overcome all the strikeout numbers, and make it to the show as a starter>

Jim Callis: Maybe. But I think it’s more likely that he’s a platoon player, and I’d put Kyle Russell in the same category.

    Charles (Houston): Not sure if he counted, but
    what were your initial impressions of Mark Krauss? He seemed to be
    hitting well before going down with bone spurs.

Jim Callis: I like Mark Krauss and he would have
ranked in the 11-15 range if he hadn’t gotten hurt just before getting
enough at-bats to qualify. I really believe in the bat, and one scout
comped him to Lyle Overbay with perhaps more power.

    Tony (Durham, NC): Fall is in North Carolina!
    Before you head outside to play some frisbee football, I was wondering
    if you could tell us what makes Simon Castro and Cody Scarpetta
    (slightly) better prospects than Ethan Martin.

Jim Callis: I’ll bet it’s colder up here outside of
Chicago . . . Martin just has a lot farther to go as a pitcher right
now. He has a lot of velocity on his fastball, but he needs to add life
to the pitch. He needs to throw more strikes. He needs to improve the
consistency of his curveball. He needs to develop a changeup. His long
arm action is going to make those goals a little more difficult to
achieve. Castro and Scarpetta also have great arms and are more
well-rounded at this point.

    Dillon (Pasadena, CA): You mentioned in a chat
    that you thought Decker had a higher ceiling than Travis Snider. Since
    Decker is only ranked 8th, is it safe to say you're down on Snider or
    do you see Decker as a potential high-OBP + high-SLG hitter?

Jim Callis: Did I say that? If so, I’m surprised I
did. I like both guys, but while Snider isn’t Aaron Hicks, he’s a
better athlete than Decker and should be acceptable in the field for
years to come. They’re similar as hitters, with Decker showing more
on-base ability.

    John (Texarkana): What is Mike Montgomery's ceiling. Is it a No. 2-3 starter, or even higher?

Jim Callis: Montgomery has a projectable frame, so he
could wind up sitting at 93-95 mph. His curveball and changeup are
potential plus pitches. He’s athletic, so repeating his delivery isn’t
an issue. So there’s a lefthander with three possible plus pitches and
possible plus command. That equals a ceiling as a No. 1 starter.

    Don (Rosemont, IL): Would it be fair to
    compare Kyle Russell's bat to someone like Russell Branyan? Is
    Russell's power enough to make up for all of the strikeouts?

Jim Callis: Very fair. In fact, I quoted Burlington manager Jim Gabella doing just that in the report on Russell.

    Jon (Peoria): Were there any catching prospects that stood out? What was the assessment of Tony Delmonico as a catcher?

Jim Callis: No catcher was close to making the Top 20
list. Delmonico was probably the best catching prospect in the league,
but he still has a long way to go defensively after making the
transition from second base.

    Navin (NorthSideBaseBall): So if I read your
    Brett Jackson response correctly ("no lower than 3"), you'd rate
    Jackson as a better prospect in the MWL than Josh Vitters? I'm
    surprised by that.

Jim Callis: I would have been to before I started
working on the list. But everyone loved Jackson, and he’s going to have
more value if they both develop as hoped and he’s playing center field
while Vitters is playing first base. Not sure which way I’ll go after
delving into this further for our eventual Cubs Top 30.

    Craig (Phoenix): Heartbroken - heartbroken, I
    say! - not to see any Angels on the list (though not necessarily
    surprised). Anybody on that team I should get excited about? Will
    Smith? Alexi Amarista? Tyler Chatwood?

Jim Callis: Cedar Rapids didn’t have any Top 20
prospects but they had some interesting guys. Amarista is really about
5-foot-5, but he can hit, he has more pop than you’d think, he can run
and he can really play second base. Tyler Chatwood and Ryan Chaffee
have big arms but don’t have a real clue what they’re doing yet. Will
Smith is a pitchability lefthander, could see him reaching the majors,
but he doesn’t have a plus pitch. A sleeper to watch is lefty reliever
Andrew Taylor. Kernels manager Bill Mosiello raved about Taylor’s
fastball/slider combo.

    Paul (San Diego): Who would be your Padres' top overall prospect — Decker, Darnell, Castro, or young Tate?

Jim Callis: Hmmmm. The easy answer would be Tate,
because of all the money and the No. 3 overall pick invested him, but
his bat worries me some. If you could give Decker’s offensive ability
to Tate, you’d have the best prospect in baseball, but I digress. I’d
be tempted to go with Castro.

    Justin (Nashville): Just wondering, are the
    rankings compiled strictly on what Midwest managers league saw, or is
    performance outside the league considered in these rankings? I'm kind
    of surprised, for instance, to see that Vitters ranked behind Aaron
    Hicks, who only had a .735 OPS. I kind of wondered if Vitters bad
    Daytona run played a factor in where he was ranked. Thanks!

Jim Callis: Vitters’ FSL performance didn’t play much
of a role in the rankings. I was cognizant of it, of course, so it
probably added a little to the concerns about his free-swinging ways.
What stood out to everyone about Hicks is not only does he have very
good tools across the board, but he also controlled the strike zone as
a 19-year-old. No one could remember an athlete as good as Hicks who
had done that in the MWL.

    David Bowen (Brushton, New York): Aaron Miller
    seemed to do very well in two different leagues and yet, did not make
    any of the top 20 lists. I am assuming that he did not have enough
    experience. If he did, where would he rank?

Jim Callis: Miller just didn’t pitch enough to
qualify. If he had he would have been in the 11-20 mix. He’s still
figuring some things out, understandable because he was more of an
outfielder at Baylor, but he’s a lefthander with a 91-94 mph fastball
and a hard slider. I’d take him over Pedro Figueroa.

    Jared (LA): How close was Nathan Eovaldi to making the list?

Jim Callis: He wasn’t one of the last guys lopped off
the Top 20, but everyone recognized his arm strength. He hit 98 mph,
but he has less breaking ball and less polish than Martin. Definitely a
guy to keep an eye on.

    Jon (Peoria): What was it that put Montgomery
    slightly ahead of Crosby? Who would you say has the better pure stuff
    and who has the better command?

Jim Callis: I went back and forth on that one. Crosby
has a better pure arm, Montgomery has a more well-rounded repertoire
and will have better command.

    Rob (Alaska): Given how raw he is, what's a reasonable timetable for Dee Gordon to get to the majors?

Jim Callis: He’s going to need at least two more full years in the minors.

    Jeff (Chicago): How confident are you that
    Vitters will be a successful MLB hitter w/out controlling the strike
    zone? Is a decent comparison Pablo Sandoval, in the sense that he
    doesn't walk much but has an uncanny ability to square up balls on the
    barrell of the bat? Please tell me that this guy will succeed.
    Was Flaherty on the bubble? Do you think he will reach the majors as a
    platoon type player?

Jim Callis: I really like the Sandoval comparison in
terms of not walking but barreling up balls with ease. That’s a good
way to put it. I like Flaherty some but he doesn’t fit great
defensively anywhere in the infield. He might have to be a lefty bat
off the bench who gets time at 4-5 different positions.

    JH (Berkeley): If Brett Lorin hadn't been traded and had spent the entire year in the MWL would he have made the list?

Jim Callis: No, but he was one of the better guys on a Clinton team that didn’t excite anyone.

Jim Callis: Thanks for all the questions and interest
in the MWL. We’ll be back with another Top 20 chat tomorrow, with that
one covering the South Atlantic League.