Tampa Bay Rays: Top 10 Prospects Chat With Bill Ballew

Tampa Bay Rays: 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.

    Chris (Chicago, IL): Did Wilking Rodriguez sniff the top 10? What is his ceiling?

Bill Ballew: He definitely sniffed it and then some. Rodriguez is a classic power pitcher with clean mechanics, although he does tend to overthrow on occasion. He relieved in Venezuela and is still working his way through the nuances of starting. He doesn't rate off the charts, but he's a solid candidate to develop into a back-half of the rotation guy at the major league level, provided he continues to develop.

    John (Houston, TX): Do you see Matt Gorgen making it to the big league bullpen this year? Can he be an effective setup man in the majors?

Bill Ballew: I don't know about 2010, but I definitely think he has the stuff to be a middle reliever and possibly a setup man in the big leagues. He needs to command his pitches better, and experienced hitters in the AFL took advantage of that need. I see him opening next season back at Double-A Montgomery with a shot at reaching Triple-A Durham during the second half of the slate.

    JAYPERS (IL): Could you compare Jennings to Andrew McCutchen for us, tool for tool? Which would you rather have on your team?

Bill Ballew: I haven't seen McCutchen nearly as much as Jennings, so I really don't feel qualified to do so. Obviously, I'd taken either one if available, although that's a whimpy answer. McCutchen has already had success in the big leagues, so that gives him an edge, but Jennings was incredible last year. He has a knack for using his speed to his greatest advantage, and I believe Jennings will have some serious pop down the road. Right now I'd lean toward Jennings, but again, we're splitting some hairs here.

    JAYPERS (IL): Which 2009 draftees came closest to making your Top 10?

Bill Ballew: The Rays very quietly had an incredible draft, especially considering they didn't sign their first two picks. Outfielder Ty Morrison, OF Cody Rodgers, catcher Luke Bailey, outfielder Todd Glaesmann and first baseman Jeff Malm all found their way into the top 25.

    Ben (Leland Grove): Your thoughts on Zach Quate? Is his future as a starter or reliever?

Bill Ballew: Awesome, a Quate question. The righthander from Appalachian State was outstanding as a 14th round pick last year. He may have been the Rays' biggest surprise in their 2009 draft class. Granted, it's only one summer, but he showed signs of promise last year in the Alaska Baseball League and the Rays did a great job of scouting him. With his advanced feel for pitching, Quate could move rapidly. At this point, I see him only as a reliever in pro ball.

    Brett (SoCal): Could you give us a rundown on Jason McEachern's mechanics, and did he make your top 30?

Bill Ballew: McEachern is another guy I'm high on and another Brad Matthews sign. McEachern has some of the best overall command in the organization and does a great job of controlling the tempo to get hitters out. He's not overpowering, but he works both sides of the plate and keeps his pitches down in the strike zone. His mechanics are very smooth and easy, and the Rays believe he has the body type and the athleticism to maintain that rhythm even after he adds some strength and weight, which the team really believes he needs. Yes, he made the top 30, and I believe he has a chance to take a huge step in 2010.

    Pierre (Ottawa, Ontario): If Carlos Pena leaves as a free agent at the end of the year, is there anyone ready in the farm system to replace him?

Bill Ballew: There isn't a true first baseman ready to step in and be there for years to come. Jeff Malm is the top prospect at first currently in the system, and Mike Sheridan and Ryan Wiegand have shown some potential. For a very deep system, first base is one of the weaker areas from top-to-bottom depth.

    Trent (Fayetteville): Victor Mateo had an excellent WHIP for his first test in the US. Can he be a no. 3 or 4 starter?

Bill Ballew: You're right; he did have an excellent WHIP. Mateo has come a long way and still has a long way to go, so pegging him as a potential 3 or 4 starter at this point is a reach. He has some promise, but I'm not going to go overboard with projecting him at this point.

    Frank (GA): What is your opinion of Jeff Malm's plate and field discipline?

Bill Ballew: Malm is a hitter first. He has a smooth left-handed swing that makes consistent contact. I believe he will continue to hit for more power as he climbs the organizational ladder. His plate discipline is good, and his years of experience on the showcase circuit is obvious. Defensively, he's a little above-average, but not a great athlete. Because of that, he's likely to stay at first base, and his work ethic should allow him to develop into a solid major league performer at the position.

    Simon (Vancouver, Canada): Do you think the Rays regret not drafting Pedro Alvarez? He was the obvious choice, and could have replaced Carlos Pena next year. What were they thinking?

Bill Ballew: Alvarez is a solid prospect, but I don't see him as a sure thing in terms of long-term all-star ability, etc. Don't get me wrong—he has promise, but Carolina League pitchers this year proved he can be retired. Considering what the Pirates had to pay to get him, I don't believe the Rays are kicking themselves. R.J. Harrison has maximized value throughout all of his drafts, and I believe that will continue to be the case, even as his previous classes are evaluated.

    JAYPERS (IL): If they had it to do over again, do you think the Rays would have drafted Posey over Beckham, or was his fetching price always a roadblock? It seems to me a young, high profile fast rising catcher would have met their more immediate needs, as opposed to picking up guys such as Zaun and/or Shoppach.

Bill Ballew: Again, the asking price for Posey was in the same class as Alvarez's, which was a little rich for the Rays' blood. There seems to be some disappointment regarding Beckham, but the Rays believe he is on the right track. He displayed outstanding improvement over the course of the 2009 season and really impressed the Bowling Green coaching staff with his work ethic and coachability. Beckham may not be the long-term answer at short, but he has a chance to be a solid major league player if he continues to do what he's been doing since signing with Tampa Bay.

    Ben (Leland Grove): How close did Lobstein come to making the list?

Bill Ballew: For the second straight year, Kyle Lobstein was right there at no. 11. I'd venture to say he'd be in the top 10 of three-quarters of the other organizations. He has an ideal frame with an easy arm action and flawless mechanics. He has an advanced feel for all of his pitches and impressive demeanor. Believe me, it was tough to leave him out of the top 10, and he bounced back and forth on several occasions, based on the various conversations I had with Rays officials.

    Kyle (Charlotte, NC): With Longoria entrenched at 3B, is Matt Sweeney future trade bait, or is he more of a bench player at the major league level?

Bill Ballew: He could be trade bait or he could even be a potential candidate at first base in the near future. He has as much power as anyone in the organization and just needs to display that consistently in order to get a shot. He's definitely a strong candidate for major league time with the possibility of being at least a platoon-type player in the big leagues.

    JAYPERS (IL): How would you rank Glaesmann's five tools on the 20-80 scale?

Bill Ballew: I'm not a scout, so any numbers I'd put on his tools would have little merit. That said, his tools rate at least average in all five categories. His speed is probably in the 55-60 range, and his fielding, arm strength and ability to hit the ball with consistency are probably close to that. His power potential is probably more in the 50-55 range. Again, those are just guesses on my part, but I know he has impressed scouts with his all-around ability.

    Harry (NJ): Assuming he recovers on schedule, how many years away is Luke Bailey?

Bill Ballew: That's real hard to say since he's yet to see his first professional pitch, but even on a fast track in the Rays' system he's probably three full years away. Being a catcher, he's likely four years away. He has great promise as a hitter and receiver and could emerge as one of the team's top 10 prospects during the 2010 campaign.

    Brian (Burlington, Vermont): Where is Jeff Malm going to play in 2010? Is he a legitimate prospect?

Bill Ballew: From my previous answers, there's no question I believe Malm's legit. Most players in his situation would find themselves in Hudson Valley or Princeton next year, but it wouldn't surprise me to see Malm earn a job in Bowling Green with a strong spring showing.

    Logan (Atlanta): You have Kelly Shoppach as the catcher in the 2012 lineup. Are there any catching prospects in the system that could potentially push for that spot?

Bill Ballew: We talked about Luke Bailey a few questions ago, and I believe he has a tremendously high ceiling. The Rays also really like Jake Jefferies. Nevin Ashley played very well throughout the 2009 season, while Mike McCormick and Omar Narvaez are other receivers in the organization with some promise.

    Dara (Atlanta): Your thoughts on McGee's rehab thus far? What do you see in him that would make the Rays want to keep him as a starter?

Bill Ballew: He worked very hard to get back right about the one-year anniversary of Tommy John surgery, and while he didn't throw a ton of innings in 2009, he did get back in the swing of things, which should carry over into quicker development in 2010. I think being lefthanded is what has kept him as a starter as long as he has. His control has been iffy throughout his career, particularly in his ability to keep the ball in the lower half of the strike zone. I believe he's probably better suited to relieve, but considering the life in that left arm, the Rays probably want to make certain he can't start before shifting him to the pen.

    Kevin (New Brunswick, NJ): Alex Cobb had another nice(not dominant) season, but doesn't seem to be getting any attention. Was he in consideration at all?

Bill Ballew: Cobb is another under the radar type of prospect who doesn't get a lot of love because he doesn't blow scouts away. Nevertheless, he's made steady improvements in all phases of his game and has shown an advanced feel for pitching. He has an outstanding 11-to-5 curveball that he will throw at any time in the count, and his fastball sits in the low 90s. His changeup has good sinking action and looks like a splitter at times. His progress through the organization has been very methodical, but I believe he has the ability to start in the big leagues, especially if he continues to have success this year in the Southern League.

    Kevin (New Brunswick, NJ): Who were some of the guys who were barely off the list?

Bill Ballew: Close but no cigar on the top 10 were Kyle Lobstein, Joe Cruz, Shawn O'Malley, Ty Morrison, Albert Suarez and Fernando Perez, to name a few.

    Karl of Delaware (Georgetown, Delaware): Tim Beckham and brother Jeremy Beckham have progressed through the minors together at Princeton and Bowling Green. Is 2010 the year that they diverge and end up on different teams in the Rays's system? Which teams or team?

Bill Ballew: Could be. I don't see Jeremy Beckham having a long career as a player. Tim might be well-served to taste the Midwest League with a return to Bowling Green, but the Rays will probably challenge him by sending him to Charlotte in the Florida State League. Spring training will go a long way in helping make that decision.

    Francis (WA): Was it a cardinal mistake letting Washington slip away for such a slim amount? Are the Rays skittish in dealing with Boras in general?

Bill Ballew: Washington was anything but a sure thing, but I do think he should have been signed, from both the player's and the organization's standpoint. He would be better off in pro ball than in junior college, especially with a solid chunk of change in his pocket, and the Rays would have another classic athletic baseball player developing in the farm system. I don't know exactly what happened, but from the outside looking in, both sides dropped the ball.

    Ben (Leland Grove): With seven of the Top 10 being pitchers, which of them do you see having the biggest chance of being trade bait, considering the logjam at the Trop?

Bill Ballew: Good answer. I think Barnese would be a strong candidate, and not only because he ranks 10th on the list. I think sometimes he's his own worst enemy, which has to be a little frustrating for the organization. That could lead to a classic "change of scenery" trade. I don't see Hellickson or Davis going unless there is a big-time return. Colome is probably attracting a lot of interest; McGee is still coming back from surgery; and the Rays really like the thought of a hard-throwing lefty in Torres coming out of the pen or starting in the near future.

    Jake (Denver, CO): It's no secret the Rays don't mind doing a little "addition by subtraction", i.e. Delmon Young, when it seems appropriate to do so. Is Upton on the same type of chopping block, considering his track record this year?

Bill Ballew: I have no inside information on this, but I see that as a possibility. His name has come up in trade talks on several occasions, and my experience tells me where there's smoke, there's fire. If the Rays can lock up Crawford, I think Upton may depart, especially with the imminent arrival of Jennings. If Crawford is not locked up, Upton's services will be needed, even if he doesn't always seem to be running on all cylinders.

    JAYPERS (IL): Was David Price's 2009 a letdown in your eyes, considering the sheer amount of hype he has received in the past? What does he need to work on going forward?

Bill Ballew: It was probably a disappointment in some respects, but the expectations were almost impossible to live up to. Price needs to develop his third pitch. He got away with throwing two pitches in college, but starting in the big leagues requires command of three and the ability to throw all three at any time in the count.

    Dave (Naples, FL): This is the first year I haven't read that Hellickson doesn't have a "true strikeout pitch", yet he's racked up K's at every level. Couple his pitchability with his plus command of all three offerings and TB could have something special. Is he a #1 down the line? Do you think TB may end up trading him away for some needed bats?

Bill Ballew: He doesn't have a true strikeout pitch because his repertoire is so loaded. He is a potentially special pitcher, although I see him more as a No. 2 than a No. 1. With his talent and residing on the cusp of the big leagues, I'm sure his name is frequently mentioned by other teams in trade talks.

    JAYPERS (IL): Is lack of experience the only real reason you don't see Jennings winning a spot out of spring training, or is it just the Rays' general policy? They didn't seem to have a problem fast-tracking Longoria. Could he conceivably wow them enough in April/May to make them reconsider?

Bill Ballew: Even with Longoria the Rays sent him down out of spring training before calling him up and watching him produce. Their approach has worked, so it's hard to criticize it, although I don't believe it's a hard-and-fast rule. I definitely believe Jennings could see extensive time in the big leagues before this all-star break in 2010.

    Steve (Orlando): What's the info on Hector Guevara, the outstanding Rays 18 year old SS in Venezuela?

Bill Ballew: Guevara showed in Venezuela that he could be a breakout type of player for the Rays in 2010. He was borderline dominant this past year, which should set the stage for his U.S. debut this coming campaign. He has above-average power and hitting ability for his position, with solid range and a strong arm. He hasn't been challenged by a wide range of prospects, but he's definitely a player on the rise in the Rays' organization.

    Tommy (New York): Last year Tim Beckham ranked 28th on top 100 list. I would have to assume that he will not be in the top 50 this year if he ranks sixth on the Rays' list. Also I have heard that he has a bit of an attitude problem in regards to self-entitlement. Just how far has his stock fallen?

Bill Ballew: His stock has probably fallen with regards to the top 100, but he's easily in the conversation. I have heard of questions surrounding his attitude, but no one in the organization has indicated there's a problem. He gets very high marks with his work ethic and is generally considered to be a good teammate. I think some of that is just a bad rap, possibly from camps with an ax to grind.

    Dave (Tampa): Could you envision Beckham following in the Upton brothers' footsteps and playing an OF position?

Bill Ballew: That's definitely a possibility. He will probably be tried at third base if he is deemed incapable of playing shortstop at the major league level. If that doesn't work, then one of the corner outfield slots would be the next options. I don't see him in center, however, especially with the likes of Jennings and even Crawford in the picture.

    sportznut (Clinton Twp, MI): What is the time table for Luke Bailey to get back behind the plate? If he develops as expected, can he be considered the Rays top catching spec?

Bill Ballew: He already did some throwing behind the plate in instructional league and should be going strong back there during the second half of the 2010 season, probably at Princeton but possibly at Hudson Valley. And yes, he is the top catching prospect in the organization at this point.

    Ben (Leland Grove): Would the Rays be in the Top 5 overall farm systems, if you had a vote? Also, along the same lines, how many of the Top 10 would be in your Top 100 overall prospects list?

Bill Ballew: In my list, yes, they would be in the top five, probably the top three. I don't know most of the other organization as well as the Rays, but I don't know of a stronger organization from top to bottom than Tampa Bay's. I don't contribute to the top 100, but I would put Jennings, Hellickson, Davis, Brignac, Moore and probably Beckham in there.

    Mike L. (Tampa, FL): With Jennings waiting in the wings, would you trade Crawford to trim costs and augment a loaded farm system? If so, what is he worth? How do you think Jennings would perform?

Bill Ballew: If Jennings stayed healthy, I believe he would be fine. Speed doesn't slump, and his approach would make his defense and baserunning an asset, at the least. I would not trade Crawford, simply because of what he brings to the table in terms of putting pressure on the defense and manning left field. If the Rays can get consistent production out of Upton in right, an outfield of Crawford-Jennings-Upton would be fun to see.

    Dale W. (Saint Petersburg, FL): Who is the better CF defender Desmond Jennings or BJ Upton? Has Jennings played any left field?

Bill Ballew: Jennings...not even close. He might have played some left over the years, but he's an outstanding center fielder.

    Karl of Delaware (Georgetown, Delaware): If Rhyne Hughes had not been traded to the Orioles where would he be in the Rays's prospect rankings?

Bill Ballew: He would have been in the 20-30 range, if he made it at all.

    Karl of Delaware (Georgetown, Delaware): Pitcher Aneury Rodriquez - did he come close to making your top 10 list? What is his ceiling in your opinion?

Bill Ballew: He wasn't a strong candidate for the top 10, but he was a solid member of the top 30. I live in Asheville, NC, and I saw him pitch for the Tourists a couple of years ago and believed then he has big league ability. His velocity has decreased somewhat since then, but he's a better all-around pitcher instead of a thrower. With the Rays' ability to develop pitching talent, Rodriguez has a solid shot at taking the mound in the big leagues in the next two years.

    Henry (San Antonio, TX): After the Scott Kazmir trade, the player I heard the most about that came to the Rays was Matt Sweeney. What can you tell us about him?

Bill Ballew: Sweeney is a solid hitter with above-average power who played third base in the Angels' system, but is not likely to stay there much longer. Part of that is the presence of Longoria, but a larger part is the fact he's a liability at the hot corner. I see him as a corner outfielder or possibly a platoon 1b/dh guy. He adds some much-needed power to the organization. He is a solid return for Kazmir, especially when Cruz is added to the mix as well.

    Dawson (Boise): So who is the better defender right now and who will be four years from now fro the following: Brignac, Beckham, Bartlett?

Bill Ballew: Beckham is third of the three on both charts. Right now Bartlett may be the better fielder simply because he's a major leaguer, but Brignac is right there after making tremendous strides with the glove over the past two years. In four years, Brignic will probably have the edge.

    Mike (Kosovo): Why didn't the Rays every give John Jaso a shot last year to provide a little LH offense while Navarro was struggling? Do the Rays just not think he can catch at all?

Bill Ballew: I think the Rays have soured on Jaso as a potential major league catcher. Some scouts believe he's a little soft for the position, although there's no question his bat has some promise.

    Brett (The ILL): As a huge Upton fan, I gotta ask, why would Jennings push him to right? Upton is one of the best defensive CF's around. Is it just because Upton's arm profiles better in right?

Bill Ballew: Because Jennings is the better defender in center fielder. To me, Jennings brings the right attitude to the field every single night, which is something that can't always be said about Upton. And you're right, Upton's arm would be an asset in right field.

    Al (New York): Is it me or are there an inordinate number of high ceiling, potential frontline LH starters around minor league ball right now? How does Moore compare with some of the better ones (Perez, Montgomery, Friedrich, Matzek and Crosby...to name a few) in the minors now? Who would rank highest of this bunch?

Bill Ballew: You're right, there are a lot of promising lefties. Based on what I saw from Moore this past season, he has the ability to rank up there with any pitching prospect, right- or left-handed. Give him another year of experience, probably in the Florida State League, in 2010, and his name will be heading a lot of top prospect lists.

    Mike L. (Tampa, FL): As a Rays fan, how worried should I be about Tim Beckham's future? He seems as if he is developing into a tweener in many respects.

Bill Ballew: I wouldn't be worried, simply because the Rays haven't put all of their eggs into one Beckham basket. I believe your assessment is accurate, however, in that Beckham is looking to be somewhat of a tweener, especially with his thick lower body.

    Mike C. (Blue Ridge, VA): Thanks for the chat! How high would you rank Hellickson and Davis on your personal top 50 or 100 prospects?

Bill Ballew: Time for one more question. You're welcome for the chat. I would have Hellickson and Davis in my top 25. Both those guys would be No. 1's in many other organization. Thanks again for your time and questions! Happy Holidays!