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: Welcome to the 2012 version of the Rays top prospects chat. Let's see what you're thinking about besides candy canes and sugar plums...

    Grant (NYC): How close to the top 10 was Derek Dietrich, and do you see him sticking in the infield?

Bill Ballew: He was close, one of those guys who filtered in and around the top 10 but didn't quite make it. I see him staying on the dirt, but it will likely be as a second or third baseman down the road.

    Frank (Chicago): How many of the top 10 do you believe are worthy of making BA's top 100 next year?

Bill Ballew: I don't contribute to the top 100, but I see only Matt Moore and Hak-Ju Lee as the only sure things. Archer has the ability to be on the list as do one or two others, but right now Moore and Lee are the only ones I see as certainties.

    @Jaypers413 (IL): After drafting Guerrieri and Mahtook, did the Rays not have enough pennies saved to afford more of the bigger-name guys in the Sandwich round, or did they simply choose not to?

Bill Ballew: The Rays had so many picks in the first two rounds this year that they could not go overboard with a high-dollar selection. Plus, that's not the Rays operate on any level under the current brass. I believe scouting director R.J. Harrison did an outstanding job of balancing quality and quantity in the Rays' unprecedented haul.

    @Jaypers413 (IL): Of the 2011 draft picks not on your top 10, who do you think has the highest ceiling?

Bill Ballew: Shortstop Jake Hager has a chance to be a solid major league player. He's probably first, but lefthander Blake Snell and third baseman Tyler Goeddel are in the conversation as well.

    Ben (Leland Grove): What went wrong with Josh Sale's swing this year, and how far down the list did he fall? Are you confident he can regain it, and is he likely headed back to Princeton?

Bill Ballew: I believe it was more of a mental thing than any other aspect. He got a little pull happy and seemed completely out of rhythm. In people I've spoken with, some believe he had so many things going through his head that it was paralysis by analysis. Hopefully he can clear his mind this winter and arrive in spring training with a clean slate. He's likely headed to Princeton or Hudson Valley.

    Sam (Miami, FL): How do Wilking Rodriguez's pitches stack up against the others in TB's system? Is he ready for the FSL?

Bill Ballew: Rodriguez was overshadowed in 2011 after he missed the first half of the season while remaining in extended spring training with a shoulder injury. His arm strength has been compared to that of Alex Colome, with his fastball registering between 90-95 mph. In addition to honing the quality of his secondary pitches, he's learning how to set up hitters and pitch to his strengths by getting ahead in the count. I believe he's ready for the FSL, and he could even reach the Southern League during the latter half of the slate.

    Frank (Chicago): How does LHP Felipe Rivero compare to Enny Romero, if at all? Was he in the 11-20 range?

Bill Ballew: It's hard to compare players, but there are similarities. Rivero has an excellent feel for pitching and mixes his offerings effectively without depending too much on one particular pitch. He gets in trouble when he leaves his pitches up in the strike zone but improved as last season progressed while making impressive strides with his overall command. He was in the 20 range but has a chance to move up significantly by this time next year.

    Mike (Tallahassee): Are the Rays still as high on BJ Upton as they were at this time last year? Gut feeling - is he going anywhere anytime soon?

Bill Ballew: This isn't really a prospect question but I have a feeling he may be on the move in the not-too-distant future due to his salary and projected long-term contributions. The Rays will have options to replace Upton with younger talent, so I would not surprised if he dealt, a la Delmon Young a few years back.

    Rachel (Tampa, FL): Did Guyer's overall athleticism take a dip since last year's list, or did Morrison's improve? Who came closer to the top 10?

Bill Ballew: Guyer was a bubble top 10 guy who narrowly missed getting in. Morrison was a little lower. Both of them are solid athletic baseball players with Morrison simply a little more so based on performance this past season.

    Ben (Leland Grove): If you were Andrew Friedman, which starter would you trade to make room for Matt Moore in the rotation?

Bill Ballew: It all depends upon what I could get in return. I believe James Shields would produce the largest haul, but would it be significant enough to significantly improve the team? I would bet no, which would lead to me shopping Wade Davis to see if I could fill a specific hole. It's not an easy decision, that's for sure.

    @Jaypers413 (IL): Is Justin O'Conner still amongst your top 30? What New Year's resolutions would you make up if you were him?

Bill Ballew: O'Conner is definitely in the top 30. It's all about making more consistent contact and ironing a few rough spots in his catching mechanics. He has good bat speed but struggles with his balance and his plate discipline, which led to a strikeout rate of 40 percent. That has to improve, but O�Conner is a hard worker who has the drive and determination to succeed.

    Xavier (Denver, CO): Jason McEachern showed a few flashes of brilliance in the NY-P, but struggled in the MWL. What's the word on him?

Bill Ballew: McEachern remains a raw pitching prospect with considerable upside but needs to start putting things together on the mound with more consistency. You're right, he was lights out in the NYPL but struggled in the MWL. The 2012 season is a big year for him. He needs to step up and have a solid showing in a full-season circuit, and the Rays are confident he will do that.

    Adam (Charlotte, NC): The Rays don't seem to think 1B is that much of a priority when drafting. What can you tell us about 8th rounder John Alexander? Is he the Rays' best bat at that position, or are you higher on Jeff Malm?

Bill Ballew: Nice job in noticing Alexander. He was somewhat of a surprise with his ability to put the bat on the ball after signing for $325,000 out of a California high school in June. The Rays believe his power will be at least average and probably better from the left side as his body matures. I like him better than Malm, who seems to garner attention simply because of his solid amateur career.

    Billy (Rockford, IL): Is Giants' prospect Eric Surkamp a decent comp for Kyle Lobstein?

Bill Ballew: Maybe. I don't know as much about Surkamp as I do Lobstein. For whatever reason, Lobstein is not showing the arm strength that he flashed in high school. The Rays expected him to add velocity as his body matured but that has not been the case. His fastball resides in the upper 80s with late life and he gets a good angle on the pitch. At the same time, Lobstein has become a better pitcher. He started pitching to contact more often last season and batters were rarely able to barrel the ball. Evaluations are all over the board regarding Lobstein. I like him more than many scouts do and I believe he could pitch in the big leagues even if the power does not come.

    Jasen (FLL): Do you think Torres can remain a starter? His measurements suggest otherwise

Bill Ballew: You are asking if I think he can. I really do not see him as a starter in the major leagues due to his height, or lack thereof. I do believe he has a major league arm and can be an effective late-inning reliever. But starting every fifth day in the AL East does not seem likely, in my opinion.

    JB (Dallas): Did Grayson Garvin place in the top 20?

Bill Ballew: Garvin is definitely in the conversation, but with so many picks and with Garvin not signing until the deadline, he has trouble getting as much love as he might deserve. Garvin had an excellent career at Vanderbilt but what concerned scouts prior to the draft was that while his two pitches were enough to retire college hitters, his chances for success in pro ball will be determined in part by the development of his below-average slider. Hitters did not have trouble making contact against the breaking ball. Garvin, however, has spent some time working on new grips in order to improve his third offering.

    Tony (Lakeland, FL): What type of an offensive ceiling do you predict for Luke Bailey?

Bill Ballew: Bailey has made significant strides over the past two years at the plate. He struggled offensively most of last season, even after getting off to a strong start . He generates good bat speed and is capable of driving the ball, with 25 of his 55 hits going for extra bases. At the same time, his long uppercut swing limits the time his bat stays in the strike zone, which resulted in strikeouts in nearly one-third of his plate appearances. Scouts believe he could improve his on-base percentage by leveling his swing and focusing on making more consistent contact, especially given the fact how well he runs. If everything comes together, Bailey has the potential to be at least an average hitter for a major league catcher.

    Mike (Central NY): How far off the top 10 was Tyler Goeddel? Do you think he's a five tool talent, and do you think he sticks to 3rd, or will he be moved to the outfield.

Bill Ballew: He was a few picks from the top 10 but a solid top 30 guys. Goeddel has solid tools across the board, although some are rawer than others. I believe he could play virtually anywhere on the field. He has good hands, plus arm strength, and moves well laterally, especially for a player his size. He was a shortstop in high school and I see him sticking at third for the long haul.

    Whooper (Minneapolis, MN): Why do you think Chris Archer had such a bad year numbers wise in 2011????

Bill Ballew: The Rays are wondering the same thing. For some reason he tended to lose confidence when teams laid off the slider, and his changeup was not good enough to get advanced hitters out. He also struggled to repeat his mechanics, which cause more issues with his control and command. He had a couple of good outings in Triple-A late in the season, but the Rays right now need to see some more development and adjustments before expecting big things from Archer.

    Jason (Salem,OR): Where does Ryan Brett fit into the Rays system? Is he a top 20 guy or is his lack of size just too much to overcome?

Bill Ballew: Brett was a borderline top 10 guy. His size is not overwhelming, but he is a grinder with solid all-around tools. He is starting to live up to the high expectations by making numerous adjustments in all phases of the game, especially with his defense, where his overall actions became smoother last season. He makes steady contact and repeats his smooth and compact swing consistently and displays good plate discipline. I believe Brett has a chance to be a major leaguer regardless of any perceived lack of size.

    Jeff (LA): Do the Rays believe Leslie Anderson will stick at the major league level?

Bill Ballew: No. I don't believe he has enough defense or enough offensive consistency to contribute in the big leagues.

    MJ (Milwaukee): What has happened to Nick Barnese? Still a decent SP prospect?

Bill Ballew: Barnese seems to have stagnated somewhat in his development. Scouts believe his pitches do not have enough life and crispness in order to succeed in the major leagues. He still has a chance to develop, but he needs to alter the momentum in his overall body of work.

    Bill (Tampa): Bortnick has close to a career 860 OPS and never gets any love from you guys. I dont get it? He seems like the perfect guy that would fit well in Tampa's system. Gets on base, steals bases, and most importantly, he scores runs! Please enlighten me as to why he never gets the credit he deserves.

Bill Ballew: You know, Bill, that's a good question, because I love the guy. I believe Bortnick has a chance to not only play in the big leagues, but be a better-than-average player at the keystone sack. I saw him at Coastal Carolina and liked him there and believe he has made impressive strides since college. Good speed, good motor, solid hitter, above-average fielder. He too is a grinder, and don't be surprised when he overcomes the naysayers. Plus, Joe Maddon really likes him.

    Bjorn J (Target Plaza, MN): Do you think Taylor Guerrieri's makeup concerns were overstated, and do you think that Guerrieri has similar upside to Dylan Bundy? What pitcher currently in the Majors draws a strong comparison to what Guerrieri could become?

Bill Ballew: I believe they were overstated. I don't know the whole story, but there was something involving his high school situation that led to his moving as a senior. The Rays are big on scouting character and they believe the issues were blown out of proportion. His upside could be in the same class as Bundy.

    Adam (White Plains, NY): What's the skinny on Kes Carter? Thanks.

Bill Ballew: Carter was the 56th overall selection but played only three games at Hudson Valley due to a lower-leg stress fracture. An excellent all-around athlete, Carter flashes five tools. He has a smooth stroke from the left side and has become a much more disciplined hitter who worked hard in college on developing a middle-away approach to drive the ball to left-center. He also reduced his strikeout totals by becoming more patient in getting an offering he can drive. He needs to hit left-handed pitching more consistently but should be able to make the adjustments while seeing southpaws more often in pro ball.

    Kevin (NJ): Did you hear anything from a scouting standpoint on VSL stat-monster Oscar Hernandez?

Bill Ballew: I knew I'd get an Oscar Hernandez question. The young man has impressive tools but he's very raw at this point. He's flown under the radar somewhat but is likely to attract more attention if he continues to produce this year in the U.S., either in the GCL or Appy League. He has good bat speed with quick wrists and solid raw power. He's definitely a player to keep an eye on.

    Ron (Wisc): I know you ranked Archer highest of the 3, but Colome, Archer, Torres all seem to me to be in range of arms that end up "missing" or being organizational depth. Which one do you pick as your best arm longterm with most contributions? Thanks!!

Bill Ballew: Torres attracts the most attention for his arm strength, Archer garners love for his hard slider and projected high ceiling, but I love the potential of what Colome brings to the party. It would not surprise me if he had one of the breakthrough seasons in the organization in 2012.

    Brian (Vermont): Russ Canzler's not the typical high upside prospect but given his AAA production can he make in impact in the majors?

Bill Ballew: He could be a steady role player who contributes off the pines and as a designated hitter. I would not be surprised to see Canzler stick in 2012 with the big league club. He brings a lot of the intangibles that Joe Maddon loves to have on his clubs.

    Steve (Florida): Do you see Braulio Lara as another back end of the rotation guy or a reliever??? He is another lefty with a power arm.

Bill Ballew: Lara has a smooth and easy delivery with his fastball but has had difficulty maintaining the same fluidity with his secondary pitches. How he improves in that area will determine whether he remains a starter or moves to the bullpen. Scouts are not big on the poise he has demonstrated on the mound and believe that too will keep him from developing into a starter at higher levels.

    Pierre (Ottawa, Ontario, Canada): Do the Rays still have a top 3 farm system?

Bill Ballew: From a quantity standpoint they might be close, but from a top-of-the-line talent perspective, probably not. They're in the top 10, but right now I believe there is more major league talent in a handful of other organizations.

    Paul D. (San Francisco): I'm shocked Mikie Mahtook is only #10! He's not even projected to be a starter in 2015. He played great in college, and had a terrific pro start in the Arizona Fall League. Why so negative on his chances to crack the roster in 3 years?

Bill Ballew: It really isn't negativity. We try not to project trades and free agent signings, but I honestly would be surprised if someone like B.J. Upton was still in Tampa in 2015 if Mikie Mahtook was considered to be a starting major league outfielder. Mahtook will be in the big leagues, and he'll be with the Rays.

    Mike (New York): Hey Bill. Thanks much for the discussion. Given that most of the middle infielders from Asia in the past haven't quite gotten the job done in MLB (Kaz Matsui, Tad Iguchi, Tsuyoshi Nishioka, etc.), is there any concern about Hak-Ju Lee's ability to translate his skills to the highest level as a starting shortstop? Granted, he's in a different boat because 1) he's Korean (the others are Japanese) and 2) he's been brought up through the system in America as opposed to first playing professionally overseas. But would his long-term potential be different in any way if he happened to be from a different background? Dicey question, I know.

Bill Ballew: You mention some interesting points, Mike. I don't believe the Rays have any concerns about Lee's potential, including his nationality. As you mentioned, he's been developed throughout his formidable years in the U.S. and he has the tools to be successful at higher levels. Given his speed, defensive ability and offensive potential at or near the top of the lineup, Lee should be in the discussion among the top shortstop prospects in the minor leagues.

    Guy (Hawaii): Where does Lenny Linsky rank in the organization?

Bill Ballew: Linsky is a solid top 30 guy. He's durable and has a closer�s mentality. He was dominant in 29 1/3 innings split between Hudson Valley and Bowling Green and should move quickly through the organization, unlike most Rays players.

    Noel (Portland, OR): I too think Archer is destined to be a reliever. Do you think that he'll start out the year in the AAA rotation, or will they begin grooming him to close right away?

Bill Ballew: I believe they want to see if he can remain in the rotation, but I would not be surprised either to see the Rays move him to the bullpen if he does not show some progress by midseason. Right now he does not have a deep enough repertoire to be a big league starter.

    Mike (Montgomery, AL): What is your take on the Matt Moore signing? It seems like a necessity for a team with a small payroll to sign young prospects with the most potential to long term deals.

Bill Ballew: My take is just about what you said. The Rays try to use every option available to them and were aggressive by signing Moore to some guaranteed money. This is a little risky on their part, but Moore has shown to be worth that gamble.

    Eric (Visalia, CA): If healthy, do you take Moore or Brett Anderson?

Bill Ballew: Moore. Nothing against Anderson, but I love the way Moore competes in addition to his nasty repertoire. Both are outstanding, but Moore is at the top of the charts.

    Ricky D. (Montpellier, VA): Bill, thanks for the chat. What is the Rays biggest strength in their system right now/biggest weakness right now? Merry Christmas!

Bill Ballew: Thanks, Ricky, and Merry Christmas to you. The biggest strength is the overall depth, especially among the pitchers. Ironically, I would say the weakness might be the lack of top-shelf prospects, especially after you get past Moore and Lee. From a position standpoint, first base and left field are weaker areas than others. Center field and second base are strengths.

    Ryan (Michigan): I haven't heard Matt Sweeney's name in a while. How has he looked? Is he still a prospect?

Bill Ballew: Sweeney has been a disappointment since coming from the Angels. The Rays had high expectations for him upon acquiring him in the Kazmir deal, but right now he does not appear to be on track for a major league career.

    Cy (western Mass.): Hak-Ju Lee hit over .300 in A ball and under .200 in AA. Was he just tired or in over his head? Thanks, Bill

Bill Ballew: I believe he was a little tired and a little overmatched. He did not have a lot of time to make adjustments in Double-A, and I believe he will do that when he returns to Montgomery to open the 2012 season.

    Jasen (FLL): Who has the better offensive tools, Vettleson or Mahtook?

Bill Ballew: I like Mahtook. I believe he's more polished than Vettleson and still has room to improve even though he's coming out of college.

Bill Ballew: Thanks for all the questions. There's no way I could get to all of them but I tried to answer as many different topics I could. I hope everyone has a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year. And remember, once the New Year rolls around, it won't be long until pitchers and catchers report. Take care!