2013 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.

Bill Ballew: Hey everyone...let's see what Braves questions you have today.

    Harry (NJ): How do Tommy LaStella's tools look to evalators? Top 30 guy to you?

Bill Ballew: La Stella's a nice all-around player who is a fringy big league prospect. None of his tools really stand out, but the overall package adds up nicely. For long-term Braves fans, he might remind you a little of a guy like Mike Mordecai, although he's not a versatile with the glove. He's a gamer who will get every bit out of his ability.

    Brady (ATL): Just curious why Nick Ahmed didnt make the list this year? Thx Bill.

Bill Ballew: Ahmed was really, really close and honestly was on and off the list as we went through the process of ranking the organization. Based on what I learned, his stock increased substantially this season. I believe he will emerge as a big leaguer, at least as a utility guy.

    Ike (Philly): While Teheran is still a virtual lock to make BA's top 100, do you believe Graham and Gilmartin are worthy as well?

Bill Ballew: I definitely see Graham making it. He has made major progress since signing and is continuing to get better. Gilmartin's ceiling is not as great as Graham's at this point, but he could find a spot in the lower part of the top 100.

Bill Ballew: I definitely see Graham making it. He has made major progress since signing and is continuing to get better. Gilmartin's ceiling is not as great as Graham's at this point, but he could find a spot in the lower part of the top 100.

    Jerry (Texas): I know he was injured this year, but is Matt Lipka still considered a prospect or has he fallen off the map? Thanks!

Bill Ballew: He may have slipped a little bit but he's still on the Braves' radar. He made a solid move to center field before suffering the injury at midseason. His progress has been choppy to this point in his career, particularly at the plate, but the tools are still there. His makeup is off the charts and I believe he has the ability to be a well above-average center fielder. That said, the 2013 season will be an important one for Lipka to make some serious progress on the field.

    Patrick (Sandpoint, Idaho): Okay I'll ask.....is this system SO good that Cody Martin couldn't crack the Top 10 or is Cody just not as talented as his numbers indicated? He was exceptional in 2012.....what is his outlook and what kind of ceiling does he have?

Bill Ballew: Martin was very good in 2012, but numbers do not tell the entire story in the minor leagues. He's definitely among the Braves' top 30 prospects, but there are several things that he needs to improve upon in order to crack the top 10. He has a great one-two punch with his fastball and slider, and the Braves believe he could help at higher levels in a variety of capacities. He's heading in the right direction, and his not being in the top 10 is not a slight on the progress he has made.

    Tom (San Francisco, CA): Gattis moves around adequately enough in left to be deemed plausible out there?

Bill Ballew: Gattis is a good athlete for his size. He may not be a Gold Glove winner out there, but he will get to most balls that he should catch and his arm would be well above-average. Still, putting him in left field would primarily be a way to get his bat in the lineup. It will be a work in progress, but I believe it's a viable option.

    Ben (Leland Grove): With Bethancourt the heir apparant to McCann and their outfield taken care of, where does this leave Evan Gattis once he gets the call? Strictly a utility guy, or trade bait?

Bill Ballew: This is much like the last question. Gattis could be a solid third-string catcher. Major league teams used to carry three catchers before pitching staffs grew to 12 and sometimes 13 players. If he wasn't starting in left, he could play first base, catch, DH in interleague games or provide power off the pines. His versatility will earn Gattis a long look in spring training.

    Steve (Sarasota): Thank you for the chat and for the list. I was surprised that Edward Salcedo was not included in Atlanta's top ten. According to BA's stats he hit 17 homeruns and stole 23 bases at HiA and is only 21 years old. Is there a problem I am missing?

Bill Ballew: No problem on the chat. Salcedo's power numbers were good, but his other numbers were not impressive. More importantly, he had difficulty making adjustments and making consistent contact at the plate, resulting in high strikeout totals. The other big concern is his defense. Having made the move from shortstop to third base in 2011, Salcedo continued to struggle with the glove and especially with his throws at Lynchburg. I'm surprised the Braves haven't tried him at an outfield corner yet. Atlanta still has expectations for him, but Salcedo has made only marginal progress in a variety of weak areas.

    Roger (Greenville, SC): If Teheran's breaking ball doesn't develop further, would he be better suited to the pen?

Bill Ballew: That could be the case with Teheran. He kept his pitches up in the strike zone for much of 2012, but some of that centered on some mechanical changes he was making. He pitched much better in three of his final four starts but he still needs more consistently with the breaking ball. His changeup and fastball are solid pitches, but you're right to suggest he needs that third average offering to pitch consistently in the big leagues.

    Tom (Atlanta): I'm curious whether you feel the pace at which Bethancourt is being pushed through the system will ultimately hurt or help him? To avoid being relegated to a defense-first backup catcher, it would seem that he'd really benefit offensively from repeating a level.

Bill Ballew: The Braves have tried not to push him but his offense has definitely lagged behind his defense. When motivated, his defense is outstanding, and his catch-and-throw skills compare favorably to any other receiver in the minor leagues. Scouts believe he has some raw power, but that has been evident only occasionally to this point in his career. Bethancourt doesn't need to be a .300 hitter but he must be able to handle the bat reasonably well in order to succeed in the big leagues.

    Joe (Syracuse, ny): Is Carlos Perez back on track after moving to the pen?

Bill Ballew: Possibly. He finally showed some progress after returning to Danville again last season. He's still very young and his arm has a lot of electricity in it. He's too young and too talented for the Braves to give up on him. They're really hoping that a permanent shift to the bullpen is what it takes to reignite his status as a prospect.

    Jim (Atlanta, GA): Bill, How close was Aaron Northcraft from making the top 10? I've read a ton of good things about him and was a little surprised he didn't make it.

Bill Ballew: Northcraft made the top 30 after putting together a solid season at Lynchburg. He also was rewarded with a spot on the 40-man roster, which represents a major milestone in his career. A lot of his progress came this past season after Hillcats pitching coach Derek Botelho suggested that Northcraft move from the right side to the left side of the rubber. Northcraft has a nice repertoire of pitches who records outs quickly and really challenges hitters. I believe he made as much progress as any pitcher in the organization this year and I'm excited about watching him this coming year at Mississippi.

    Andrew (NJ): Gattis: better or worse LF than Klesko?

Bill Ballew: Better. Klesko was a decent athlete but Gattis has more athleticism. Klesko also tended to take his at-bats to the field with him, which is something I haven't seen Gattis do to this point. The fire is burning brightly in the pit of Gattis' stomach, which I believe will lead to good things in the near future.

    Karl of Delaware (Georgetown, Delaware): Doubleheader: 1) comment on Juan Jaime and his super heater. 2) what can you tell us about power guy William Beckwith?

Bill Ballew: Two underrated guys. Jaime really bounced back with some impressive arm strength last year at Lynchburg after missing two seasons due to Tommy John surgery. The Braves' pro scouts did a great job of picking him off the waiver wire from Arizona and I believe he has a real shot at helping Atlanta in the near future. The ball really jumps out of his hand and he is not afraid to throw inside, traits that will go a long way in helping him at higher levels. Beckwith has above-average power and makes consistent contact. He had a little bit of an attitude problem early in the year at Rome but seemed to turn that around as the 2012 season progressed. There are a few holes in Beckwith's swing that need to be closed up. If he can do that, he has a chance to make an impact in the organization with his raw power.

    Dave (Atlanta): I'm a Braves fan and have been a BA subscriber since 2000. To me, this system is as bad as it's been since then, from a depth and impact standpoint. Agree/disagree?

Bill Ballew: Every organization has ups and downs, and right now the Braves do not have a plethora of big impact prospects, especially among position players. That said, they have developed and delivered Jason Heyward, Freddie Freeman, Andrelton Simmons and Tyler Pastornicky to the big leagues over the past three years. I believe there is some solid pitching depth at the lower levels in addition to a few guys near the top, but again this is not the same depth we saw in the 1990s and 2000s. Remember, the Braves rarely see picks before the first 20-plus are off the board in the first round, which makes loading the farm system that much more difficult.

    Dave (Minnesota): Bill, Is Todd Cunningham a prospect for LF/Leadoff Hitter and what kind of prospect is he? Thanks

Bill Ballew: He could be with an impressive spring, but I believe Cunningham still has some work to get done in the minor leagues. He made tremendous progress this past season at Mississippi and has developed into an above-average defensive center fielder. He makes steady contact but is not a true leadoff guy or a hitter who will produce solid power numbers. I believe he needs to refine his small-ball skills in order to become a true candidate to be a leadoff man in the big leagues.

    Tim (Atlanta): I feel like Kyle Kubitza has the tools to be successful but just hasn't pulled it all together. What's your take?

Bill Ballew: I believe you're right on target with Kubitza. He struck out way too much at Rome but he has the ability at the plate and in the field to be a solid prospect at higher levels. His first full season was an adjustment, and I believe there's a good chance he will make bigger gains this year at Lynchburg.

    CJ (Charlotte): No prospect ranking ever lists Ernesto Mejia anywhere. He has tremendous power from the right side. Could he help the Braves as a pinch hitter next season or does he simply strike out way too much to ever be of help to the MLB club.

Bill Ballew: He does strike out a lot, but there's no denying that Mejia has been very productive from a power standpoint over the past couple of years. The Braves added him to the 40-man roster, but with his power potential, you would think he would at least get a long look at some point instead of being labeled a 4-A guy. He'll finally get a chance this spring, but with Freddie Freeman holding down first base, I don't know how much Mejia will be given a shot as a bat off the bench.

    CJ (Charlotte): There seems to be a lot of disagreement among scouts and fans alike about Christian Bethancourt. John Sickels ranked him as the 17th best prospect, you guys have him at #3, and Talking Chop (Braves site) has him at #7. Why such a disparity? We all know he has outstanding defense but he has never been able to hit at the minor league level. Can he be fixed?

Bill Ballew: I believe it centers on his offensive potential. As I mentioned earlier, his average has been lukewarm and his power has been nonexistent. His body language also does not create a lot of rave reviews from some scouts. Remember, he's still young and still maturing, and some catchers hit better at higher levels because the pitchers are around the plate more consistently. We'll see if that's the case with Bethancourt, who needs to improve offensively in order to be a legitimate number one receiver in the big leagues.

    Tom (San Francisco, CA): Has Joe Leonard stalled?

Bill Ballew: Leonard had a pretty good season last year but in some ways he has seemed to stall. His power has been decent but it has not blossomed the way the Braves envisioned when they drafted him out of Pittsburgh. I like his action at third and I believe he has more ability than other guys in the organization who get more attention. At the same time, Leonard is a little bit older and needs to have a true breakout season in order to be considered a top prospect.

    James Arnott (Cole Harbour, Nova Scotia, Canada): If Lucas Simms dominates in the first half next year do the Braves skip Hi A and promote him to AA or is he too young to consider such a move?

Bill Ballew: No, I don't seem Sims moving that fast this year. The Braves limited his innings this past year at Danville after experiencing a decent workload in high school and they will most likely do the same thing in his first full professional season. I see Sims spending most of the season at Rome, with the possibility of a late-season promotion to Lynchburg, provided his innings and pitch counts are not high. Getting a full-seaosn foundation of success under his belt is the most important thing for his development at this point in his career.

    Eric (CT): Hi Bill. How does the Braves organization look as a whole comapred to other teams? I know they have graduated a lot of top prospects recently, but they do still seem to have enough talent to rank in the middle of the pack, #15-#18 range? Thoughts? Thanks!

Bill Ballew: I'm not sure where BA would rank them right now, but I believe you're correct to suggest it might be in the 15-20 range among the 30 major league organizations. The talent is a little down, but the depth has been increased over the past two years in both the draft and on the international market.

    Dan (Idaho Falls): Curious where Luis Merejo falls within the top 30. Quick synopsis? Thanks.

Bill Ballew: Merejo fits close to the middle of the top 30 and has a chance to move up even more in the near future. He has excellent command and mixes three advanced pitches very well for a young pitcher. The Braves love his feel for pitching and the way he gets ahead in the count. He skipped the Dominican ranks last year by making his pro debut in the Gulf Coast League. Throw in his plus makeup, and Merejo has a chance to be a breakout prospect in 2013, where he will likely see Rome at some point.

    Nils (Stamford): Could Mauricio Cabrera take the next step this year to get to Teheran's level in terms of prospect status? Do they have similar ceilings?

Bill Ballew: It's possible. Teheran, of course, has been considered one of the top righthanders in the minor leagues and some observers feel he will live up to those lofty rankings. Cabrera, meanwhile, is not to that point but he's headed in the right direction. Let's see how he does on the full-season ranks before putting that type of pressure on him. Yet considering what he has shown to this point in his career, Cabrera's development is something that should excite all Braves fans.

    Tom (Atlanta): Thanks for the chat Bill. I'm curious who would be your sleeper to make the top 10 list a year from now?

Bill Ballew: I've kind of given it away, but I would say Luis Merejo definitely fits that description. Juan Jaime is another guy who could move into the top 10. A true sleeper would be Nathan Hyatt, a reliever out of Appalachian State who excited a lot of people in the organization in his first taste of pro ball.

Bill Ballew: Thanks for all the questions once again. I'm always impressed with how much depth BA readers have in their knowledge of the lower ranks of the minor leagues. Have a great holiday season and thanks again for your interest!