Tampa Bay Rays Top 10 Prospects Chat With Bill Ballew

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, 2011.

Bill Ballew: Hello boys and girls and fans of all ages. Let's talk about the Rays' top prospects...

    JAYPERS (IL): Assuming he doesn't get overwhelmed at Montgomery, is a promotion to Durham a real possibility for Moore next year?

Bill Ballew: I believe so, although that may not take place before the last month or so of the season. The Rays are not aggressive about promoting their players, particularly pitchers, opting instead to create a strong foundation at each level. Moore's progress to date has been methodical, but the Rays may push him a little bit if roster moves are needed at the major league level for 2012.

    Ben (Leland Grove): How far off this list was Joe Cruz?

Bill Ballew: Cruz was in the top 20. I would venture a guess that he could be a top 10 guy in several organizations. The Rays were very pleased with the progress he made at Charlotte last summer while working with pitching coach Neil Allen. He became adept at adding and subtracting from his pitches while dialing up a fastball as high as 95 mph. He has the potential to be a fourth or fifth starter in the big leagues and will move up to Montgomery in 2011.

    Mike (Tampa, FL): Did Wilking Rodriguez' stock rise or fall this year in your eyes?

Bill Ballew: I believe it stayed about the same; it's just other guys in the organization did even better. Wilking experienced a combination of unluckiness and giving up hits in crucial situations. He has a very live arm and has proven capable of learning from his mistakes but needs to develop his changeup in a big way in order to be considered one of the top pitching prospects in the organization.

    Ben (Leland Grove): What does Alex Cobb best project as? Is he in your 11-15 range?

Bill Ballew: That's exactly where he is. Cobb has solid but unspectacular overall stuff, which keeps him from receiving tons of attention. Still, he led the Southern League with 9.51 strikeouts per nine innings last year and ranked fourth in ERA. Fastball command is his greatest need at this point. If he can harness that, he could be punching his ticket for the big leagues.

    Eric (NYC): Concerned at all with Jeff Malm's slow start? Did he make your top 30 this year?

Bill Ballew: Yes, I believe it is a concern. Malm really hasn't put up any significant numbers in his first two years of pro ball. Of course, there's more to player development than numbers, but a player like Malm, who is expected to provide offense, numbers play a big part when the evaluations are made. The Rays feel he turned a corner late in the season, but the 2011 campaign will be a significant one in terms of how the organization considers him going forward.

    Adam (NY): Did Dietrich get any props when putting together your list?

Bill Ballew: He did. Derek Dietrich was considered one of the top high school infielders when he was drafted by Houston in 2007, and although his ceiling has been lowered somewhat in terms of expectations, he has plenty of potential. Scouts question whether or not he'll be able to stay at shortstop, but he played some third base at Georgia Tech and has the instincts to play left field as well. Dietrich has shown an increase in power in the past year, which could make him a viable option at either position.

    Ben (Leland Grove): Why do you suppose the Rays added Matt Bush to the 40-man? I'm scratching my head at this decision.

Bill Ballew: Honestly, Ben, I am too. I keep trying to figure out if there is some type of front-office maneuver involved, but I can't determine that, either. Someone in the Rays' front office must like what they saw this past season, but those admirers are few and far between.

    Wanda (Watertown, NY): In retrospect, was Tim Beckham an overdraft? What made the Rays choose him over someone like Posey?

Bill Ballew: Yes, Beckham was an overdraft. The reason centered on money (i.e., the signing bonus) the Rays felt they would have to give someone like Posey. After ponying up a significant sum for David Price the previous year, the small-market Rays felt they were better off trying to go with a potential offensive infielder at a lower price. So far, that hasn't work out well, although the Rays believe Beckham is making some progress.

    Steve (Charlotte): Now that the Rays have moved Isaias Velasquez to the outfield, do you see him contributing in the bigs???

Bill Ballew: Possibly. Charlotte manager Jim Morrison really liked what he saw in Velazquez out in the garden in 2010. He has fringy plus arm strength with good accuracy and plus athleticism that allows him to cover center field from gap to gap. His offense also improved as he garnered a better feel for the strike zone. Only 22, Velazquez is a sleeper among the outfielder prospects in the organization.

    JAYPERS (IL): Your thoughts on Zach Quate's season, and is he a viable candidate to break into TB's bullpen someday?

Bill Ballew: I believe he is, maybe not as a closer, but as a setup man. He had another outstanding season while making the jump to the Florida State League. His hard slider can be unhittable at times. He also does a great job of keeping everything at the knees and below. Hitters rarely put the barrel on his pitches, which indicates he has good deception and nasty movement. This coming season in Double-A should go a long way in determining his role at higher levels.

    Brian (Florida): Bill, did anyone from the 2009 draft class come close to making the list? What about guys like Kevin James, Jeff Malm and Luke Bailey? Thanks.

Bill Ballew: Luke Bailey was a near-miss, while Zach Quate, Todd Glaesmann, Scott Shuman, Jeff Malm and Kevin James all received strong support. In addition to Quate, Glaesmann and Shuman improved their stock in the scouts' eyes as much as anyone.

    Karl of Delaware (Georgetown, Delaware): You will probably get a million Tim Beckham questions. My question is "Does he make the major league Rays sometime in 2011?"

Bill Ballew: I'd be shocked if that happened.

    Dara (STL): Should we write off Ryan Royster?

Bill Ballew: I'm not big on writing off guys, but Royster definitely has not lived up to the expectations his performance at Columbus in 2007 generated. He had a decent year in the Florida State League in 2008 but the past two seasons have not been positive showings. Chances are he'll need to show some promise in spring training in order to make the Montgomery roster.

    Don (Rosemont, IL): Scott Shuman had a really good K/9 ratio with Bowling Green. Could he be a sleeper reliever prospect? What is his stuff like?

Bill Ballew: Shuman definitely earned some attention with his performance in 2010. After a somewhat disappointing final two years at Auburn, Shuman showed the ability to work off his fastball that was clocked as high as 98 and mixed it with a mid-80s slider. He has setup man written all over him if he can continue to perform at higher levels. If he can maintain command of his two primary pitches, the future could be a bright one for this righthander.

    csj (texas): Who was closest to the top 10 among the following three players: Nick Barnese, Tim Beckham, and Enny Romero?

Bill Ballew: Nice question. Romero was 11th, Barnese was 12th and Beckham a little bit lower (you'll have to buy the book to find out exactly where). In my opinion, Romero may be the first big find in the Rays' recent emphasis in Latin America. The southpaw has two plus pitches—a 92-96 mph four-seam fastball and a 12-to-6 overhand curveball. Barnese has battled some ailments in each of the past two seasons, but he increased his workload by 40 percent last year compared to 2009. Both guys would merit top 10 consideration in any organization.

    Kyle Reese (The Future): Can you thumbnail Barnese and Lobstein and how they fit in the Top 30 (roughly, of course).

Bill Ballew: I just answered the question about Barnese. Lobstein encountered a hot-and-cold summer. He has a good feel for pitching with an easy arm action and smooth mechanics, but his velocity has been lower (86-87 mph for his fastball) compared to what he showed in high school. The Rays believe he will return to that level as his body matures, but many scouts are already labeling him as a soft-tossing southpaw. He's definitely top 30 material and is still making the adjustments to pitching in pro ball.

    Jordan W. (Raleigh, NC): What do you think of Leslie Anderson's future with the Rays?

Bill Ballew: Nice game-winning hit by Leslie in the AFL Rising Stars Game on Saturday night! He's an older guy (29 in 2011) who doesn't have a world of projection, but he did not appear to struggle significantly at any level during his first season in the U.S. last year. I believe he'll play in the big leagues with the Rays, possibly as a fourth outfielder, backup first baseman and designated hitter. His defense is a huge question mark, but he showed the ability to put the ball in play. If he continues to do that, he could be a solid piece to manager Joe Maddon's always-changing lineup.

    Dan (D.C): How much seperation is there between Moore and Hellickson for the top spot? Any scouts out there argue Moore for #1?

Bill Ballew: I'm not going to say there is a lot of separation between the two, but suffice it to say that Hellickson is one of the premier pitchers in the minors. He's much more refined at this point than Moore and his frame has at least as much projection. I don't want to take anything away from Moore because he has the chance to be special as well, but Hellickson is among the elite in terms of prospects at this point.

    Dave (st catharines, on.): Hi Bill. assuming there are no trades, who is the future catcher in the Rays system?

Bill Ballew: Jaso did a great job of establishing himself in 2010 after some observers felt his opportunity had come and gone, at least as an everyday catcher in the big leagues. At this point, Justin O'Conner and Luke Bailey are the two top catching prospects in the organization but both are high school signs and neither one has a full minor league season under his belt. In other words, both are probably a minimum of four years away from Tampa, which should give Jaso ample opportunity to prove 2010 was not a fluke.

    Dan (D.C): I'm excited at the prospect of Desmond Jennings growing into a little bit of power, looking at his prior year stats I had imagined him to be more Pierre-esque. Do you see the power coming next year, or is it something he'll grow into in his late twenties?

Bill Ballew: Jennings definitely has more pop than Juan Pierre. And while he may not show it on a consistent basis during the 2011 season, I believe it will be obvious before he's in his late 20s. I doubt we're talking about 20 home runs annually in the big leagues, but double digits should be commonplace for him.

    JAYPERS (IL): Could we get your impression of Todd Glaesmann's stint this year? Does he need a second year at Princeton, or do you see him starting at Bowling Green?

Bill Ballew: The 2010 season was really Glaesmann's first after playing only five games in 2009. He showed flashes of five-tool potential at Princeton and should add power as his game develops. He's probably headed to right field in the near future, and he has plenty of arm strength to handle the position at higher levels. Glaesmann doesn't get a lot of mention when the Rays' top prospects are discussed, but he has a chance to be a good one in the not-too-distant future.

    Jason (Behind You, GA): Man, Josh Sale's bat sounds exciting. Assuming he can hold down an outfeild spot when can we expect him in the majors?

Bill Ballew: Sale is an exciting player, but remember the organization he's with. The Rays are methodical in their promoting of players. If he can hit the breaking ball with consistency, he could move quickly, reaching the big leagues at some point in late 2013 or 2014.

    Ryan (California): Does the fact that the Rays have 4 2010 draft picks in their top 10 prospects indicate that they have a weaker system than in the past or are those prospects just really good.

Bill Ballew: Both. The Rays' depth is as good as any other organization, but the guys with the highest ceilings include several of the newcomers. That could be the case once again in 2011, when the Rays have the potential to have as many as 10 picks in the first three rounds.

    Petey Pablo (Carrboro): Does Bortnick have a shot as a 2B or utility guy going forward?

Bill Ballew: I think he does. Tyler Bortnick is a blue-collar guy out of Coastal Carolina who doesn't get a lot of recognition. But this guy is a winner who isn't afraid to get his uniform dirty before the end of the first inning. His tools don't rate off the charts, but he plays the game the way it's supposed to be played and he's capable of manning a variety of positions. That sounds like a Joe Maddon-type player to me, so don't count out Bortnick, even if he doesn't rank highly on many top prospect lists.

    Doc (Birmingham, AL): McGee—closer in 2011 for the big club?

Bill Ballew: That could be a lot to put on a player with limited big league experience, but I believe he has the stuff and the makeup to handle the job. He's more likely to be eased into the job, although the opportunity is expected to be there with the pending departure of free agent Rafael Soriano.

    joe (Tampa): What does Colome need to do to become a legit top of the rotation starter? Do you think he makes it?

Bill Ballew: In my opinion, the biggest thing Colome must do is refine both his command and control. The top starters in the big leagues can throw any pitch at any time in the count and place it where they want it. Colome does not walk a lot of batters, but he gives up too many hits when he's ahead in the count. If he can improve that area, his ceiling is unlimited.

    Lyonel (VA): Luke Bailey's K rate was rather high in his debut campaign. What was the word on his plate discipline, as well as his receiving skills?

Bill Ballew: Bailey needs to do a better job of controlling the strike zone. He has good power to all fields, but he tends to get pull-happy when he strikes out early in games. He needs to be more patient at the plate and develop a better approach from AB to AB. Defensively, he has good arm strength despite having Tommy John surgery in 2009 and does a good job of blocking balls. He's still improving on the nuances of catching, but progress is being made.

    Candice (Washington State): Do you see Luke Bailey moving up to Princeton or Hudson Valley this coming season?

Bill Ballew: I'd expect Bailey to be at Princeton, although the Rays have to decide if they want to separate Bailey and Justin O'Conner or have them work together early in their careers. If I were to predict, I'd say Bailey will be at Princeton and O'Conner in Hudson Valley, but that's strictly a guess.

    Aneury Rodriguez (Durham, NC): What does the future hold in store for me?

Bill Ballew: You know, Aneury, you had another pretty good year but right now the future doesn't look bright for you in the Rays' organization, even if Garza and/or Shields are traded. Fortunately, there are 29 other teams, including some that will need assistance either as a fourth or fifth starter or in the seventh or eighth innings out of the bullpen. Hang in there, because I believe it'll happen at some point.

    Jason (Muskegon): Who is more likely to be traded...Shields or Garza?

Bill Ballew: I believe both will be by the end of the trading deadline next season. At least one will be dealt by the end of the winter meetings, and it would not shock me if both were gone before New Year's. Still, with teams always desperate for starting pitching at midseason, I see the Rays holding on to one in order to get someone to overpay with prospects.

    Jon (Peoria): How would you compare Jennings with Upton when he was the same age? Who would you take at the same point in their development?

Bill Ballew: Jennings will be 24 in 2011 and Upton completed his first full season in the big leagues (and hit .300) shortly after he turned 23. Obviously Upton developed quicker, but Jennings was a football player and a two-sport standout while Upton focused strictly on baseball. To answer your question, it's a little bit of an apples-and-oranges scenario, but Upton would have to be the pick at the same age and point in their development.

Bill Ballew: Hey guys, thanks for the questions. The 2011 slate should be an interesting one for the Rays, thanks in part to the expected departures, which will necessitate contributions from the farm system. And look out for the 2011 draft, where the Rays are expected to be loaded with picks. Thanks again!