2012 Atlanta Braves 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.

    Laura (ATL): While Simmons clearly has the better arm for SS, does Pastornicky have the better bat between the two?

Bill Ballew: Pastornicky's bat is more advanced than Simmons'. In many ways they're different players. Simmons is a defense-oriented guy with some style, while Pastornicky excels in doing the little things on a consistent basis that may not show up in the boxscore but will win games for you.

    @Jaypers413 (IL): How far off the Top 10 was J.R. Graham, and how high are you on his mechanics?

Bill Ballew: Graham was close but he had some more experienced and more advanced competition to battle within in the organization. His mechanics don't bother me, but some scouts are worried about his height. I believe that's often overrated. Jason Marquis has had success with a similar build.

    Ben (Leland Grove): Your thoughts on Lipka's transition to the OF? Is he a 11-20 prospect at present?

Bill Ballew: Lipka was making nice strides at shortstop, although he didn't always look pretty doing it. I believe his defense was underrated, but the Braves suddenly have a lot of middle infielders. I think he'll be more comfortable in center field, which should allow his offense to turn the corner.

    Grant (NYC): Navery Moore - future SP or RP?

Bill Ballew: I see Navery as a reliever instead of a starter. His stuff and overall repertoire could make him a dominant late-inning guy at higher levels. Plus, with the Braves stacked with starters, he could move quickly out of the bullpen.

    @Jaypers413 (IL): What does Carlos Perez need to work on, how far out of the Top 10 did he slip this year, and will he likely repeat Rome in April?

Bill Ballew: Perez was not good every time I saw him this year. Maybe he was nervous with me in the crowd—ha, ha. Seriously, he did not look like a premium prospect in any way. He ended up being a fringe top 30 guy who will have a lot to prove while repeating at Rome next season.

    Ben (Leland Grove): Do you see Vizcaino as being more likely to contribute as an RP next year, or do the Braves have enough confidence in him to let him return to starting?

Bill Ballew: I think it's more of a numbers game right now for Vizcaino. He could return to starting in the next two seasons, but if the Braves need him in the bullpen in 2012, that's where he'll be. I get the feeling he will get another crack at starting. It isn't like he wasn't doing well as a starter...the Braves just needed help in the bullpen and Vizcaino and his electric arm were ready to answer the call.

    Chris (Alabama): With a logjam of SS in their system, where does Nick Ahmed fit in? Is a switch to another position needed?

Bill Ballew: No, I don't see Ahmed switching, at least not for the foreseeable future. He's a good defensive player, and the Braves loved what they saw from him at the position during instructional league. I see him making the jump to Lynchburg in 2012 where he should show a well-rounded game with solid upside.

    Jacob (DC): Where would Minor rank on the list were he eligible?

Bill Ballew: He would be in the top three, either two or three. He would be ahead of Delgado, and it would splitting hairs to separate him and Vizcaino, even though they are two different types of pitchers.

    @Jaypers413 (IL): If you had to choose between this year's Top 10 and last year's, which one wins out and why?

Bill Ballew: Interesting question. Last year's was impressive with four players having outstanding rookie seasons in Freddie Freeman, Craig Kimbrel, Mike Minor and Brandon Beachy. Throw in Teheran and Vizcaino and that's pretty darn formidable. I like this year's group as well, but I'd give the edge to last season's due to their accomplishments.

    Matt (Scranton): Without giving too much away, where does Joey Terdoslavich rank and what does he project to become? I didn't expect him in the Top 10, but seeing him in the 2015 project lineup gives some hope.

Bill Ballew: Terdoslavich was a strong consideration for the top 10. He lives to hit and he does it well. I was a fan of his before some of the more recent followers jumped on board because of his determined approach at the plate. The Braves believe he could be a corner defensive player at higher levels, but I'm a little concerned if he will be more than simply an adequate guy anywhere with the leather. If he could improve his skills at the hot corner, he could be a fit for when Chipper decides to hang it up.

    Kyle (Atlanta, GA): He's no longer a prospect, but could you comment on Heyward's year for us? Do you give him a mulligan and say he'll bounce back next year, or is there cause for concern?

Bill Ballew: I believe he will be back, but the Braves are not going all in on that happening. He's going to have to fight for a full-time job in spring training. That said, I feel he gets a mulligan. I see it as a combination of several factors, including the dreaded sophomore slump, a series of nagging injuries, and a couple of doubts that might have entered his mind for the first time in his career. He has the ability and the intelligence to overcome those hurdles, and I see him as a fixture in right field for years to come.

    William (Pensacola, FL): If Bethancourt's defense doesn't improve in 2012, any ideas on where the Braves could possibly move him ?

Bill Ballew: I wouldn't say Bethancourt's defense is bad. He has excellent catch-and-throw skills with a plus arm and good footwork. I think it's all a matter of him maturing. He needs to bust it back there every play, which means doing a better job of blocking balls and showing more leadership abilities that the job requires. That should come as he gets older. He was only 19 this past season. I saw Yadier Molina come up through the Cardinals' organization and I see some parallels in their careers. Bethancourt has a solid future, if he wants deep down to be that kind of player.

    William (Pensacola, Florida): So is Sean Gilmartin basically Mike Minor revisited ? His fastball didn't look all that spectacular my week in Arizona.

Bill Ballew: That's a fair comparison. They're both intelligent, left-handed college pitchers who have solid repertoires and the knowledge of how to work batters to their advantage. I believe both will have lengthy major league careers.

    Derek (ATL): Just in - Derek Lowe traded to the Indians. Does this mean Vizcaino could be looked at for the rotation next year?

Bill Ballew: Possibly. Frank Wren has made it clear that the starting pitching will continue to get younger in 2012. Hudson will be back to go with Hanson, Jurrjens, Minor, Beachy, Teheran and possibly Delgado. Unless there's another trade or two on the horizon, it could be tough for Vizcaino to crack the rotation at this point, but remember he has a special arm. It should be interesting to see how it all works out.

    Tom (San Francisco, CA): More of an observation, but I can't help but think that the Braves are an organization in decline. From their alternately tight-fisted and indifferent ownership, to the mildly addled leadership of Frank Wren & Fredi Gonzalez to the shift in drafting philosophy that has nothing to do with the "Braves way", I don't hold out a lot of hope that they'll be able to sustain any degree of competiveness. Thoughts?

Bill Ballew: Tom, I have to admit I've had similar thoughts, although I've mellowed on some of those assessments since doing some pretty deep digging into the organization over the past month. I believe Wren and Gonzalez are better than "mildly addled" in terms of leadership, but you are not the first to suggest that. I agree with the ownership being tight-fisted and indifferent, which has tied Wren's hands much of the time. The past two drafts have been unusual, especially since scouting director Tony DeMacio is a direct descendant of Paul Snyder, but frankly one or two of Roy Clark's drafts turned out to be fairly mediocre. I think it is most accurate to say that the Braves continue to have top prospects, but I don't see as many mid-level guys as in the past. Of course, that could change with the development of several guys drafted out of college, but their shortened shelf life is what worries many Braves fans.

    Dan (Chicago): Why Delgado as the 5th starter in the 2015 lineup and not Vizcaino if Vizcaino is ranked as the better prospect?

Bill Ballew: At this point Vizcaino would be a reliever, and with Kimbrel owning the closer role, that would leave Arodys as a set-up guy, which isn't listed in the chart.

    Karl of Delaware (Georgoetown, Delaware): Evan Gattis is a receiver with a lot of pop - does he stay at catcher, particularly in view of the Braves having Betancourt?

Bill Ballew: Having one guy ahead of you on the depth chart does not merit a position change. I see the Braves continuing to give Gattis every opportunity to remain behind the plate in hopes that he could be a solid back-up receiver with above-average pop off the pines. If he doesn't develop at catcher at higher levels, then he could move to first base or a corner outfield position.

    Steve Pfeiffer (Sarasota, Fl): I thought Mike Lipka would show up at least at the bottom end of this list. It looks like he can steal a base, but is his bat just too light?

Bill Ballew: Lipka had a better second half of the season but his lack of offensive consistency, especially in his ability to drive the ball, is what's holding him back right now. He needs to polish his small-ball approach at the plate in order to take greater advantage of his plus speed.

    Dave (Atlanta): Christian Garcia and Evan Gattis has big seasons at Rome, though each was old for the league. Which player has the best chance of success at higher levels?

Bill Ballew: Gattis. Garcia did well at Rome, but he was signed out of an independent league and was an older, more experienced guy going against young players. Even though Gattis turned 25 in August, he missed nearly four years due to an injury and a three-year hiatus from playing the game during his college tenure. If Gattis maintains the desire to play, he could make an impact at higher levels.

    Richard (Lauderdale): Any thoughts on Mychal Jones?

Bill Ballew: Jones had a tough year, especially during the first couple of months. Mycal had a foot injury in spring training that cost him April and then was arrested for suspicion of DWI in May. Add to that a position change to center field after playing shortstop his first two seasons and second base in the 2011 instructional league and there's little wonder why his performance was uneven. Knowing his character, Jones should get back on track in 2012, even if he returns to Mississippi. I like his athleticism and approach to the game and believe he has a chance to play in the big leagues.

    Jesse (AZ): Bill, what are you hearing about JJ Hoover in light of his move to the bullpen? Short path to the majors, or better fit longer term?

Bill Ballew: Both. Scouts are mixed on Hoover's ceiling. I think it's higher than many believe. His body may not get a lot better, but he competes very well and was throwing four pitches for strikes as a starter at Mississippi in 2011 before shifting to relieve. He mixed his slider and fastball with aplomb as a reliever and dominated more experienced hitters in the International League. He would prefer to start but is happy to relieve if it means making the big leagues. If I were another team with needs in both starting and relief pitching, I would be interested in acquiring Hoover in order to gauge where he fits best. With Atlanta, it seems like he's on the verge of getting caught up in a numbers crunch.

    Halvy (Seattle, WA): The write-up said, "Atlanta has shifted its draft philosophy. The Braves used to focus on younger players. Now they concentrate primarily on college players who might have lower ceilings but cost less and will move faster through the minors." The Braves have an embarrassment of high-end young pitching talent, and the last few years have seen them graduate Heyward and Freeman, among others. It seems like the old philosophy was clearly effective. Why the change? What is the rationale behind moving away from something that has worked so well? Thanks for your insight.

Bill Ballew: The initial reason was to add depth to the middle of the farm system, particularly among the position players, where the organization had become very thin while focusing so much on young pitching in the draft. The second part to the equation is an assumption on my part, but I believe it involves ownership putting the squeeze on the budget. The Braves did not any significant money this year in the draft or on the international front after signing Mike Minor and Edward Salcedo in 2010. It seems to me that the commitment from Liberty Media is lukewarm at times, which has contributed to the limited number of a big-splash amateur signings in recent seasons.

    Norm (Portland, OR): Will Andrelton Simmons be in the majors by the end of next season?

Bill Ballew: He might, especially if he makes the same improvements as he did in 2011. The Braves are penciling him at Double-A Mississippi to open the 2012 season, but his defense is already better than that. It all depends on how he progresses against better pitching and how well he does the little things that will make him a better player at higher levels. Simmons' experience is limited due to his late departure from Curacao but you have to be impressed with the development he has shown in such a short period of time.

    stew (indianapolis): who is the favorite to play SS next year for the braves?

Bill Ballew: At this point I would say Tyler Pastornicky. The Braves have not been shy about giving rookies starting jobs if they prove they are ready. At the same time, I could also see Atlanta signing a veteran to keep the seat warm for part of the season while Pastornicky gets comfortable in the key infield position. I'm not sure if Mark DeRosa could handle shortstop on a day-in, day-out basis in the big leagues any longer, but someone like that who could help Pastornicky make the adjustment would give the Braves a backup plan and/or a safety net.

    Dave (Atlanta): Any speculation as to why Kurt Kemp left the organization?

Bill Ballew: The farm director job is a 365-days-a-year responsibility. It requires managing a lot of coaching egos, handling the constant bombardment of agents begging for more opportunities for their player clients, and living with the ups and downs associated with the overall development of the athletes. Kurt has always been a scout at heart, and while he did a solid job as farm director, he may have tired of the toils associated with the constant pressure. That's just my assumption, and if true, Kurt wouldn't be the first one to step back to catch his breath.

    Taylor (Auburn, AL): Talk about Todd Cunningham. He seems to be a high-upside OF with the chance to play all three spots. Is that accurate?

Bill Ballew: That's a fair assessment. He battled an injury for two months this past season and was not the same offensive player upon his return in August. He's looked good in Arizona and has above-average defensive abilities that even had the Braves considering giving him a look at third base upon drafting him. I see him remaining in the outfield, however, and I would not be surprised if he had a breakout season at the plate in 2012.

    Dave (Atlanta): No Braves player made BA's GCL top 20. Are there any sleepers from that team?

Bill Ballew: The Braves really did not overwhelm anyone with their talent in the GCL this year. On the mound, Jean Carlos Gil has some upside. I also like Ronald Luna at shortstop and Carlos Franco at third base.

    Dave (Minnesota): If trading Lowe opens a spot for one of the trio of prospects and the projected 2015 starting rotation doesn't include him, where does this leave Brandon Beachy? Also do you see Chris Medlen returning to the starting rotation at some point?

Bill Ballew: I see Kris Medlen working out of the bullpen for the foreseeable future. And I wouldn't be a bit surprised if Brandon Beachy was still in the rotation in 2015. Other guys may be more heralded, but Beachy has proven he's the real deal in his ability to do so many things well on the mound.

    Neil (New Zealand): With the trade of Derek Lowe which of those 3 top pitching prospects (teheran, delgado and Vizcaino) has the first crack at winning the final rotation spot or is it mike minors to lose? Who in your opinion would be the best bet for 2012 of those 3?

Bill Ballew: I believe the job if Mike Minor's to lose at this point. Teheran could spend some time improving his fastball command at Gwinnett during the early portion of the season, while Delgado and Vizcaino could definitely use some fine-tuning in Triple-A, particularly if they are going to remain as starters. That said, I expect both Minor and Teheran to spend the majority of the 2012 campaign in the Atlanta rotation.

    Jason (Charlotte): There seems to be an opinion that Teheran didn't live up to the hype this season and got overtaken as the best pitching prospect in the minor by Matt Moore. Do you think this is a product of Teheran's lack of development in a breaking ball or Moore being that good

Bill Ballew: Those are simply opinions that will be determined in the end by their performance in the big leagues. I believe Teheran will live up to the hype; he simply has a few minor things to work on. And if you're considered second behind Matt Moore among all pitching prospects, that's not an insult. Moore is a beast.

    @Jaypers413 (IL): As you compile both the Braves and Rays lists, who would you choose between these pitcher/SS combos - Teheran/Simmons or Moore/Lee?

Bill Ballew: That's an awesome question, but it's really hard to answer. Given Lee's performance at higher levels than Simmons and Moore doing what he did in the big leagues at the end of 2011, right now I'd give the edge to the Rays players.

    Efrim (CT): Given that their drafting strategy has changed and gone from high school players with upside to low ceiling/high floor college players, is this the last year the Braves are viewed as a strong farm system?

Bill Ballew: Farm systems are always in a state of flux; it's the nature of the beast. Does it appear at this point that the Braves will be hurting in terms of having a plethora of top-shelf prospects next year if the top three graduate? Yes. But player development will be the cornerstone of the Braves for years to come, and I expect they will continue to thrive in that department, even if they falter a little on the prospect lists over the next season or so.

Bill Ballew: Thanks for the questions, everyone. Have a safe Halloween and keep on burning up the hot stove!