Atlanta Braves: Top 10 Prospects Chat With Bill Ballew

Atlanta Braves: Chat

Baseball America's Top 10 Prospects lists are based on projections of a player's long-term worth after discussions with scouting and player-development personnel. All players who haven't exceeded the major league rookie standards of 130 at-bats or 50 innings pitched (without regard to service time) are eligible. Ages are as of April 1, 2009.

    Tom (San Francisco, CA): Do you think Cody Johnson is just stubborn, or is he simply not capable of tightening his approach at the plate?

Bill Ballew: He actually has tightened his approach at the plate. He did a good job of that late last season and during the first three months of 2009, yet simply tried to carry the team at Myrtle Beach in July and August after Freeman and Heyward were promoted. He got out of what he was doing, and the results were not good. He's making progress, but he still has a ways to go.

    Jason (Charlotte): Bill, The year's Braves list looks a lot weaker than the last few years. However, it might have more "star" power. What are your thought on this ?

Bill Ballew: I agree, Jason. As a whole, the Braves' top 10 is pretty good, but the overall depth of the top 30 is not, aside from left-handed starting pitching. Having said that, Heyward and Freeman have very high ceilings from a position player standpoint, and while young, Teheran could be spectacular.

    Jason (Charlotte): What happened to Cole Rohrbough ? It seems like he is following the Macay McBride.... and that might be kind.

Bill Ballew: I predicted a big breakout year for Cole in '09, but he suffered a hamstring injury in April and never really could find his consistency. Some outings he'd be great, only to struggle in a big way the next time out. He said it was simply a matter of getting his mechanics together. McBride is a good comparison, and hopefully Rohrbough will work his way to the major leagues.

    JAYPERS (IL): Had Donavan Tate somehow slipped to the Braves, would they have picked him, or were they determined not to exceed slot regardless?

Bill Ballew: I thought Tate might slide to Atlanta, a la Heyward, but the Boras factor would have been a big negative and probably wouldn't have happened.

    Robert Goldberg (Lyndhurst, NJ): Did JJ Hoover get any consideration for the top 10?

Bill Ballew: A lot. Here's a hint, his name is prominent in the top 30 list. Hoover had a great year at Rome while leading the organization in strikeouts. He doesn't project as high as some of the other pitchers on the list, but he has the package to be effective at higher levels. I wouldn't be surprised to see him develop into a solid end-of-the-rotation starter in the big leagues or a setup man.

    Brian Daniels (at my desk): Bill, when seeing Tehran pitch earlier this year, I was surprised at his motion. I would compare his loose arm action to that of Juan Cruz. Based on his body size, and age, do you see him eventually breaking down with shoulder problems? Also, what prospects can we plan to see in Rome next year?

Bill Ballew: Of course we hope that doesn't happen, but his type of impressive velocity does generate some wear and tear. That said, his mid-90s heat is very easy. His delivery is a little unusual, but I don't think it's violent, which will help him over the long haul. As far as prospects at Rome is concerned, the pitching should be very deep once again. The Braves are going to have to make some decisions on a few hurlers, based on whether they remain in the rotation, piggy-back with someone, or move to the pen. There's simply a lot of wings available.

    Dale Berra's Stash (Pittsburgh): Where would J. Locke LHP and G. Hernandez OF have ranked in this Top 10?

Bill Ballew: Hernandez would probably be in the 6-8 range and Locke maybe in the 8-10 range. That's just a guess because I didn't factor them into the equation, and I didn't get a lot of feedback on their performances with the Pirates. Both had slipped a little in the Braves' eyes shortly before the trade.

    Tom (San Diego): What are your thoughts on LHP Scott Diamond?

Bill Ballew: Diamond really knows how to pitch. As a non-drafted guy, he's an underdog, but he showed at Mississippi what an excellent feel for pitching he has. He received minimal support in the Southern League and still wound up having a very good year. He definitely has a chance if he continues to stay within himself and hit his spots at higher levels.

    Jason (Charlotte): Do you think Schafer and Heyward spend til around June is AAA ? That could be a great infusion of young great talent. Also, I know Schafer doesn't qualify for the list but what are the Braves feelings on him now.

Bill Ballew: It's too early to speculate on where they'll be. Spring training will go a long ways in determining the immediate future for both. I really see Schafer needing a couple months in Gwinnett just to make sure he's healthy and comfortable. The Braves still have solid hopes for Schafer, but the roller-coaster ride that describes his career needs to get some positive consistency. I think that will happen, beginning in 2010. Heyward would have the better shot at opening with Atlanta right off the bat, but he'll have to leave no doubt in Florida that he's ready for the move.

    keith hudson (wampsville, ny): How will the Braves drafts change under DeMacio? More high schoolers? Fewer Juco's? Will the Braves still draft heavy from former East Cobb programers?

Bill Ballew: I don't think those decisions have been made yet, although I doubt there will be a big change in philosophy. Like Roy Clark, Tony DeMacio is a disciple of Paul Snyder, so young pitchers—particularly lefties—will always get the first nod. I don't see the Braves going heavy with four-year college guys. I'd imagine that with the draft-and-follow process gone that they will continue to hit the jucos hard. I wouldn't be surprised to see them pull back a little from the East Cobb kids while letting scouts from other parts of the country push their guys a little bit more.

    Mrs. O (Delaware): Brett Oberholtzer was a top 20 prospect in the Appy League this year - was he close to the top 10 prospects? And if not where exactly does he fit in the top 30?

Bill Ballew: Oberholtzer fits solidly in the top 30. He had a very good year at Danville that was overshadowed a little by impressive performances by Chris Masters and Matt Crim, but Oberholtzer's ceiling is the highest of the trio.

    Clooch (VT): This is the first I'm hearing about Spruill's non-physical DL stint. What else can you tell us?

Bill Ballew: That's really all the Braves have said. In reality, they said it wasn't physical. Anyway, that's a very minor bump in the road for a young man who has pitched very well in his first two professional seasons. If the 2008 draft were held today, Spruill would definitely be a first-round pick.

    Ben (Leland Grove): How close to the top 10 was Riann Spanjer-Furstenburg?

Bill Ballew: He really wasn't a strong top 10 consideration; he was more toward the end of the top 30. He had a very good year at Danville, but he's limited to first base defensively, and he's only average there. He also doesn't have classic power for the position, although he should hit more home runs as he learns how to drive the ball with consistency at higher levels. He's one of the more interesting position players in the organization. And should he reach the big leagues, at 18 letters, he will shatter the record for the most letters in a last name at the major league level, currently held by former Brave Jarrod Saltalamacchia.

    Kyle Reese (The Future): This system has definitely been thinned out by promotions and trades. Do you feel it is a bottom 10 system right now?

Bill Ballew: No. Some teams would kill to have the Braves' pitching depth. By the Braves' standards, it is not real deep. But when comparing it to all 30 organizations, it's probably in the middle of the pack.

    Ben (GA): Whats the future look like for Ryne Reynoso?

Bill Ballew: Reynoso is a classic under-the-radar type of guy. He's climbed the organizational ladder very quietly despite having some solid success at both Myrtle Beach and Mississippi. I don't know if his stuff is good enough to get big league batters out on a consistent basis. I also don't see him reaching the major leagues with Atlanta, meaning his opportunity would likely come with a team that's struggling with pitching depth.

    Nebo Ned (Nebo, NC): Can you explain the Braves theory for the 2009 draft? It seems like they really threw in the towel this year for something that has been an important mainstay for them.

Bill Ballew: I understand what you're saying, even if I don't really agree with it. Yes, I believe the Braves made some "safe" choices, particularly with Minor at number seven overall. David Hale is a tremendous athlete who has never focused solely on pitching, and Mycal Jones is another excellent athlete but a little old for a juco guy. I believe the Braves were trying to fill some holes in the organization with this draft while not wanting to over-spend in what most scouts believed to be a modest talent pool.

    Gilmore (AL): Are the Braves involved in the Aroldis Chapman sweepstakes, by any chance?

Bill Ballew: I have no doubt the Braves are among the ones kicking the tires, but I don't expect them to be a major player in the sweepstakes. The organization, from the major league level down, is deep with pitching, and I don't foresee the willingness to open the checkbook in a big way for Chapman.

    keith hudson (wampsville, ny): What is your take on the Braves releasing Tom Battista?

Bill Ballew: There were probably some politics and/or personalities involved because Battista has signed his fair share of high-ceiling prospects, most notably Freeman and Hanson. I don't know for certain for the reasons for his departure, but there is no question Battista was a big asset for the Braves while Clark was the scouting director.

    Nebo Ned (Nebo, NC): Doesn't paying a player "slot money" for a slot higher than he should have gone defeat the purpose a la Mike Minor?

Bill Ballew: It does provide a loop-hole in that logic, doesn't it?

    Tom T. (Houston): What happened to Brandon Hicks? I thought he was an up-and-comer before this lost season. Do you like his odds to get back on track?

Bill Ballew: Hicks really needs to reduce his strikeouts and make more consistent contact. His glove is very good at shortstop, and he plays the game the right way, with great intensity and an impressive work ethic. He has some pop in his bat, but he didn't show much power during the first half at Mississippi while trying to make some adjustments at the plate. His stock has fallen somewhat, especially since he's getting close to 25 years old. If he's going to rebound, he needs to do it pronto.

    Ben (Leland Grove): What does Heyward have now that Francoeur didn't, back in his heyday?

Bill Ballew: I believe Heyward is a smarter and savvier player than Francoeur was at the same point. Heyward also has much more patience at the plate. I don't see him pressing as much as Francoeur did when the inevitable struggles come around. I also believe Heyward is a better and smarter baserunner than Francoeur.

    JH (Berkeley): I've heard reports on Dimaster Delgado's present velocity (mid-high 80s ), but little about his projectability. Is there room to dream there, or is he pretty much guaranteed to remain a soft-tossing lefty?

Bill Ballew: I believe he's a little more than a soft-tossing lefty. With Randall Delgado and all the draft picks—Hoover, DeVall, Spruill, etc.—at Rome, Dimaster flew under the radar. I can see his fastball residing in the low 90s, which will look faster based on his solid changeup and other off-speed pitches.

    Jason (Charlotte): Adam Milligan has a great season. What kind of player does he profile as ?

Bill Ballew: Milligan did have a great season, which made him one of the biggest risers in the organization. He makes hard, solid contact and drives the ball well into the gaps. A center fielder in college, he has excellent all-around athleticism and a good arm, which should enable him to play in right field. Of course, with Heyward about to nail down right field, Milligan may want to remain familiar with left and center. At this point, he could be a solid fourth outfielder in the big leagues down the road.

    Eric (Atlanta): There seems to be a lack of good position prospects in the system after Heyward and Freeman. Their 2008 draft was pitching heavy with no first rounder and their 2009 draft was criticized by many. What did you think of it?

Bill Ballew: There isn't a great depth among the position players in the organization, but that simply provides a land of opportunity for several players. I expect DeMacio will address that situation in his first draft. As far as the 2009 process is concerned, I was surprised about the selection of Minor and Hale with the first two picks, which means absolutely nothing. I would have liked to have seen a four-year college guy with one of those picks, but the Braves didn't see it that way.

    Dane (Atlanta, GA): The Braves seem to like Kimbrel to be an arm in the big league pen in 2010, but it looks like his walks are a BIG problem. Do the Braves have any other options for the back end of the bullpen in 2010?

Bill Ballew: I wouldn't say his walks are a big problem. He started the year out of sync with his mechanics and his free passes declined considerably after he worked them out at Rome. Kimbrel is the only true candidate to see for the end of the rotation at this point, and I expect to see him in Atlanta at some point in the 2010 season.

    Nelson (Hawaii): What is Linares' ceiling at 3B?

Bill Ballew: It's not real high. Unfortunately, Linares spent three years of precious developmental time in the Dominican while trying to get a work visa after leaving Cuba. He'll be 26 next year. He had a good year in the Carolina League because of his experience, but I don't see him as a future major leaguer.

    Steve (Ohio): How has Cory Rasmus' stuff looked after his comeback from surgery?

Bill Ballew: Rasmus made a nice return at Danville this past summer and even posted a no-hitter in the Appalachian League. That was really his first extended activity in the organization after being drafted more than three years ago. His stuff is not as nasty as it was coming out of high school, and his overall feel for pitching is lagging due to the time he missed. He has a lot of catching up to do, but he still has a shot if he continues to develop and add strength.

    Rick (Dallas): Heyward and Freeman often are compared to Florida's Stanton and Morrison. Which duo would you prefer and why?

Bill Ballew: I would prefer the Braves' duo for one primary reason—Heyward. I believe he's the best all-around player I have seen in more than 25 years of following the minors. I truly believe he is the complete package. Freeman is right behind him—an RBI machine with budding power and a difference maker with the glove at first base. I believe Stanton and Morrison are exceptional prospects as well, but Heyward has a chance to be a true superstar.

    Tom (San Francisco, CA): Thoughts on Robinson Lopez?

Bill Ballew: I like the notice of Lopez! He has all the makings of a potential top 10 prospect. He was one of the best pitchers in the GCL last year and he's still a baby. His fastball is 90-92 while touching 94 with an above-average curveball and a feel for an average changeup. He really competes well and works hard, too. I believe he's the biggest sleeper in the organization.

    Bradnon (Hickory, NC): What is the word on Todd Redmond? Is he still a prospect?

Bill Ballew: Redmond doesn't light up the radar gun and doesn't get a lot of love from scouts, but all he does is win. He was the Southern League Pitcher of the Year in 2008 after coming over from the Pirates organization and was the most consistent hurler at Gwinnett after the departure of Hanson in 2009. He was dominating in World Cup play in September, which should at least keep his name in circulation. He knows how to pitch and he mixes his offerings very well. I don't see him as a factor in Atlanta, but I think he can pitch in the major leagues. I believe he'll need to have success pretty fast, however, so that he isn't labeled as a 4-A hurler.

    Wilson (King County): What are the major differences between teheran and delgado, they seem fairly similar?

Bill Ballew: Teheran's stuff is a little more electric than Delgado's. In fact, his entire game seems to be a little more polished, given the fact he's a year or so younger than Delgado. But I wouldn't say there's a huge difference between the two. Both have shown the ability to make adjustments with their impressive God-given abilities.

    David (Atlanta): Did Tony De Macio hire anyone to scout for him? I assume some of Roy Clarks guys left as well?

Bill Ballew: I know DeMacio has hired Orioles crosschecker Deron Rombach and that Tom Battista has been let go. There may be some other moves in the works, but none that I'm aware of right now.

    Tony (Battle Creek): What sort of reviews did Stovall receive? His numbers look like your typical "struggling to find control of very good stuff" young starter. Will he get a starting spot in Rome next year, and what's his ceiling if he can harness his stuff?

Bill Ballew: The numbers don't always tell the truth in the minor leagues, but Stovall's are pretty accurate. He's had trouble locating his fastball and maintaining his overall control. At the same time, the Braves are encouraged with the progress he has made. He does an excellent job of forcing batters to hit the ball on the ground, and he limited left-handed hitters to a .147 average in the Appalachian League. His 89-91 mph fastball has great movement, which makes commanding it tough for the lefty. Scouts will tell you that southpaws are slower to develop, and Stovall looks to be a classic case. He was a solid top 10 consideration and was not far from making the list.

    Jason (Charlotte): Randall Delgado really improved his control in the second half of the season. He is my pick for breakout player in 2010. I think he will really excel in Mrytle Beach ! Do you agree ?

Bill Ballew: He's definitely one of the leading candidates. After all, he had a breakout season of sorts in July and August. Of all the pitchers who opened at Rome in 2009, Delgado may have the highest ceiling. And if he can use BB&T Coastal Field to his advantage at Myrtle Beach, he could have a great season in 2010.

    Bubba Brown (Roy, Utah): Bill, what do you think would be a reasonable stat line to expect from Heyward in the bigs next year if he began the season in Atlanta? How bout a stat line in his prime?

Bill Ballew: I believe the Braves would be pleased if he hit .280-15-80 in his first season. I could see his batting average falling from his recent minor league showings, particularly if he experienced a typical slump that most rookies encounter. In his prime, he can be a .310-25-100 guy or better. I never like putting numbers on guys, but Heyward could do that and possibly even more.

    Jason Layton (St. Louis): Heyward is the best all-around player in more than 25 yrs.....would you pick Heyward over Justin Upton?

Bill Ballew: Yes. Off the top of my head, I cannot think of another position player I would take over Heyward, based on their minor league output. Eric Davis would be right there, along with a few others.

    JE (Buffalo): Great Chat thus far. When do you think Freeman will end up in the majors? Is it too late for him to develop the power that he will need in a DH'less NL, I know he is very young still but if you aren't raking at the lower levels what is the probability he will in AA/AAA/MLB ? thanks

Bill Ballew: Thanks, JE. I hope I don't blow it on this question. I can see Freeman getting a call during the second half in 2010, but I believe 2011 is more realistic. And I believe he'll hit for more power in the major leagues than he has in the minors. He hits the ball very hard and posts a lot of doubles, plus he has a knack for driving in runs. Some of those doubles will turn into home runs at the higher levels, especially once he adds a little loft to his swing without compromising his batting average.