League Top 20 Prospects

South Atlantic League Top 20 Prospects Chat With Bill Ballew

    Steven Alengakis (NYC): Hi Bill, Did Yankees prospects J.R Murphy or Jose Ramirez get any serious consideration for the Top 20 list? Also, would Graham Stoneburner have been on this list had he not been promoted? Thank you

Bill Ballew: Yes, both received quite a bit of attention. Murphy attracted praise of his bat speed and his ability to put the ball in play, but managers were had neither positive nor negative reactions to his defense. Most believed he was behind Sebastian Valle, Christian Bethancourt and Kyle Skipworth in the league. Ramirez has good size at 6-foot-5 but his stuff right now is fringy across the board. Stoneburner would have been in the discussion but probably would not have made the top 20.

    Dave (Atlanta): Were any of the other Braves pitchers like Brett DeVall, Cory Rasmus, or David Hale close to making the list?

Bill Ballew: David Hale was the closest of the three to making the list. He made a nice adjustment to relieving after struggling early as a starter. Hale has good movement on his fastball and has an excellent feel for pitching. DeVall and Rasmus had good seasons after both struggled with injuries during most of their careers. Honestly, neither one received a lot of attention as one of the league's top prospects.

    Jason (Charlotte): What is your opinion of Edward Salcedo ? Coming into the season Brave's fans thought he was the heir apparent to Chipper at third. What should me make of this season ?

Bill Ballew: Salcedo was rushed to Rome and struggled for most of the second half. I believe he has a lot of ability, but he needed to be in the Gulf Coast League in order to get acclimated to the speed of the game in the professional ranks while also adapting to a new culture. It's too early to tell if he's the heir apparent to Chipper. Right now I would say no, but I believe there is significant talent that could develop.

    Jon (Peoria): How big is the gap between Colvin, Cosart, and Vizcaino?

Bill Ballew: There were all very close. What hurt Vizcaino most from a long-term perspective are the injuries that have cropped up the last two years. I believe all three have bright futures if they can stay healthy.

    Jason (Charlotte): Bethancourt was somewhat of a disappointment for the Braves this season. What are the Braves feelings about him ?

Bill Ballew: They believe he has a world of talent but doesn't always push himself to get the most out of his abilities. Opposing managers felt he was lackadaisical at times and wanted to see more fire from the leader of the defense. His arm and athleticism are unquestioned, but he needs to turn up the intensity a notch while continuing to work on his consistency at the plate.

    Mike C. (Lynchburg, VA): Thanks for the chat! Did Matzek's prospect stock rise or fall in your eyes this season? When do you think he might reach Coors if all goes well?

Bill Ballew: You're welcome, and I feel it rose. After not signing until August 2009, this was his first taste of pro ball and he responded to the challenge with aplomb. His delivery looks effortless and the ball tends to jump out of his hand. This season was all about getting his feet wet, and I believe Matzek easily passed that test. He could up quickly, but I don't see him reaching Denver until 2013.

    Dale (Cleveland): Who would you rather have over the next 10 years: Matt Moore or Tyler Matzek? Why?

Bill Ballew: That's a tough one. I guess I'd go with Moore simply because he's proven himself at a higher level (Advanced A). Moore's delivery does have a little violence in it compared to Matzek's, and Moore tends to try to strike out batters more than Matzek. I really like both of them and picking one over the other off the top of my head can't produce a right or wrong answer.

    Jeff (Pittsburgh): Interesting that Jiwan James failed to make the cut. What did league sources have to say?

Bill Ballew: James was fairly close, but it seemed like I liked him more than several managers. I believe if they understood he was a pitcher until recently that he would have received more love. To me, James has exceptional athleticism who showed improvements in center field and started to make adjustments at the plate. His combination of speed and pop at the plate should bode well for him in the near future. I wouldn't be surprised at all to see him take off in 2011.

    Tom (Riverside): Kyle Skipworth did not make the top 20 after repeating the Sally league? Marlins think enough of him to go to the AFL

Bill Ballew: Managers either loved Skipworth or hated him as a prospect. The negative tallies centered on his being a one-tool player, although his power is as impressive as anyone in the minor leagues. I think he's a little underrated behind the plate. He may not be a starting catcher in the big leagues, but I believe he can develop into a steady number two receiver who plays first base or left field as well. Regardless of where he plays, his offense will be his calling card, and he needs to make more consistent contact to go with his power in order to be a major league player.

    Michael Stern (Rochester NY): JD Martinez - only 17th on the list. Is that because he was an older player in the Sally league, or were his numbers considered maybe a fluke? You'd think with such dominance he'd rank a lot higher.

Bill Ballew: His age played a role in the ranking as did his modest tools aside from his ability to make consistent contact. I consider Martinez more of a prospect than some others, and I believe his performance in the Texas League shows he has a chance to hit at the game's highest levels. His defense improved a lot in 2010, and while his arm does not resemble a cannon, his throws are accurate and he has a quick release. Some observers questioned Hunter Pence in the SAL several year ago, and I believe Martinez has a chance to follow in those footsteps.

    Chris (Secaucus, NJ): How much does a player's age effect how you rank him? For instance, does Heathcott even make the list if he's 21, or does Singleton rank No. 1 if he isn't 18?

Bill Ballew: It plays a significant role, particularly in the lower levels. Heathcott may not have made the list if he was 21, but Singleton would have been in the top 10, in my opinion, if he had been as old as 21. Obviously different players progress and develop at different rates, but with all things being equal, a young player will receive the nod over another similarly talent but older player.

    Bryan (Orange, CA): Zack Wheeler seems a little low on the list for a guy with number one starter potential. Is there a reason for this?

Bill Ballew: Wheeler really didn't pitch that much this season. When he did, he displayed excellent arm strength who was up to 97 with his fastball. Wheeler was not as polished as advertised this year, but he has the ability to move quickly once he develops his secondary pitches and starts throwing strikes early in the count with his fastball. In no way was he a disappointment, and scouts believe he still has the potential to be a number one or two starter in the big leagues.

    Jiovanni Mier (Lexington, KY): I had a down year this year, but how far am I from making the top 20 list? What's my prospect status now, and should I expect to be back in Lexington in 2011?

Bill Ballew: Mier really wasn't one of the close-but-no-cigar guys for the list. His defense was above-average but his bat showed virtually no consistency over the course of the campaign. He needs to add considerable strength and fine tune all phases of his game that are considered to be strengths. He's obviously still a prospect, but he's generated some serious questions regarding his offensive potential. I wouldn't be surprised to see him back in Lexington in 2011 but the Astros may want to see what happens if they push him to the Advanced A level after a strong showing in spring training.

    Zeebs (Palo Alto, CA.): Now that he has a full season of pro ball under his belt what is the potential for C Tommy Joseph? Does he still have All-Star catching potential? Or does he have too many holes in his swing?

Bill Ballew: Joseph has easy power and easy arm action. His balance at the plate is exceptional, but he gets in the habit of trying to pull too many pitches. A reduction in his strikeouts by shortening his swing, particularly in two-strike situations, would lead to some improvement. He needs to refine his catching skills but has the tools in place to accomplish that. I believe he has a chance to be a starting catcher at the big leagues, but that fellow named Posey may block his path to San Francisco. If Joseph finds more consistency at the plate, first base could be an option as well.

    Paulo (San Diego): Eliezer Mesa - prospect or suspect?

Bill Ballew: At this point I would say more suspect than prospect. Mesa possessed a magic bat for the first four months of the season before appearing to tire late in the year. While he has good athleticism, his size and minimal power would limit his potential as a corner outfielder, and I don't see the instincts for him to play center field everyday in the big leagues. A lot of his skills are fringy average, but the sum of the parts is greater than the individual pieces.

    Kyle (Philadelphia): Sebastian Valle, future catcher or 3rd baseman? Does he advance to High A to begin 2011?

Bill Ballew: Valle's strength is his catching ability. He handled the Lakewood staff well and showed solid average athleticism. He can catch and throw and his footwork is good. In many ways it may be too early to tell if he'll be a starting catcher at higher levels, but I believe his chances are as good as anyone in the SAL this year. The concern for me is his offense. He doesn't use the entire field and his entire body rarely seems to be in sync with his swing. I think he has some mechanical flaws at the plate that need to be corrected in order for him to reach his potential.

    Zeebs (Palo Alto, CA.): Chris Dominguez: very good college player and minor leaguer or actual prospect and possible impact major leaguer?

Bill Ballew: The first part is true and the second part is to be determined. Managers were split down the middle on him. Those that loved him rave about his power at the plate and his arm strength, both of which are impressive. I also believe he moves better at third base than he's given credit for. A lack of consistent contact due to the holes in his swing is his most glaring weakness at this point. I would say he's more of a suspect than a true prospect at this point, particularly considering he will turn 24 on November 22.

    Mike (MO): Did Wilmer Flores not qualify to make this list? If he is eligible, how did he not make this top 20?

Bill Ballew: Flores has the ability to hit for average and his defense is steady on balls he can reach. The problem is Flores does not run well and has very limited range at a key defensive position. He's going to need to change positions, and with that position change his limited power will become a bigger negative. Flores is young (he turned 19 in August) and he plays easy with the ability to put the ball in play. In my mind, at least, the sum of his strong tools do not add up to an exceptional player at higher levels.

    Jack T (Staten Island, NY): Marc Cohoon receive any consideration for this list?

Bill Ballew: Cohoon did attract some attention and deservedly so. He was an older pitcher (he turned 23 two weeks ago) who had success before earning a promotion, and being a left-handed pitcher with the ability to throw strikes generated some deserved praise. He throws three pitches for strikes and has a great feel for what he's trying to accomplish on the mound. If you're looking for a sleeper in the Mets' organization, Cohoon would be a strong candidate.

    Bill (Raleigh): JP Ramirez, suspect or prospect?

Bill Ballew: Ramirez is an interesting guy. While his defense improved this year, he continued to display solid bat speed and power at the plate. He expands the strike zone at times, but his strikeouts were relatively low for a guy who looks to put the ball in play. He received a decent bonus as a mid-round pick and simply needs to play the game at this point in order to reach his potential, whatever that might be. In my opinion, he may have been the top prospect at Hagerstown, even though he remains somewhat raw.

    Fred (California): Why is Jared Clark not in here he put up big numbers.

Bill Ballew: Clark hit very well when he was healthy and was a big reason the Tourists were able to contend for the second-half crown. The Cal State Fullerton product was also one of the oldest players in the league, having turned 24 on May 9. His defense was good at first base and his power numbers were impressive, but he was playing his home games at McCormick Field, one of the smaller ballparks in the league.

    Michael Stern (Rochester NY): Was Eury Perez close to cracking the 20? Any future for the burner in Washington down the line?

Bill Ballew: Perez was one of the closest players to not make the list. He possesses incredible speed who has the ability to be a leadoff hitter down the road even though he hit in the ninth spot for most of this year. He made good adjustments at the plate after leading the GCL in hitting in 2009. He is also a good defender and has learned how to bunt to add to his repertoire. Perez is still a little raw but it would not surprise me to see him make several top prospect lists in the seasons ahead.

    PT (IBC): Anyone who didn't qualify that would have made the list?

Bill Ballew: Julio Teheran of Rome would be the top name on that list. Teheran was dominant in Rome during the first month of the season and breezed through Myrtle Beach before ending the season with some strong starts in Double-A Mississippi.