South Atlantic League Top 20 Prospects Chat

J.J. Cooper: Hey everyone. Thanks for joining me on our final Friday in September. I’m listening/watching the USA Baseball 18U game en Espanol while chatting. I may have to take a brief break later to take a call for the Draft Report Cards we’re working on. But lets start talking Sally League.

Grant (NYC): How did Chris Gittens rate, according to your sources? Loved the power - could he be a fast riser?
J.J. Cooper: The power was impressive. It’s legit plus raw and productive power, but it’s hard to call him a fast riser. He was a 2-year GCL guy out of a junior college, so he was a little old for the league. He has power, but in a big league like this he wasn’t among the just-missed list. Josh Naylor, Jose Pujols both would have made it as power-first guys before Gittens.

Carlos (Philly): Any other Lakewood pitchers just miss top 20?
J.J. Cooper: A ton. I would expect you will see a large number of Lakewood pitchers among the Phillies Top 30 in the Prospect Handbook. Tirado almost made it as a future reliever with a dominating fastball. Luke Leftwich, Edgar Garcia, Seranthony Dominguez and Jeff Singer all impressed scouts. As one scout put it: that team doesn’t have anyone who projects as a No. 2 or No. 3 starter, but it had a lot of future MLB relievers and backend starters. Impressive staff.

Marcus (New York): Not saying they belong on the list, but was there any buzz around Riverdogs like Park, Holder, or Gittens?
J.J. Cooper: Everyone loved Holder’s defense. It earned plus grades from almost everyone I talked to about him, but there are serious questions about how much he’s going to hit. Park impressed more as a more well-rounded prospect. He’s a potentially above-average defender with above-average speed and more offensive potential. We talked about Gittens above. Big power, but tough profile (first base) and he’s a little old for the league.

Harry (Miami, FL): Do you expect Tyler Kolek to repeat the Sally League once he returns?
J.J. Cooper: I’d guess that depends a little on how he looks when he gets back on the mound in Jupiter next spring, but makes a lot of sense for him to at least start there with the hope he pitches his way out of the Sally League pretty quickly. He didn’t exactly set the Sally League on fire in 2015, so it’s not a slam dunk call to just promote him to high Class A. The big thing is getting Kolek healthy and getting him where he can maintain his plus stuff on a regular turn every five days. He couldn’t do that consistently in 2015.

Roger (Greenville, SC): Obviously this league was loaded, but what kept Acuna from ranking higher? I'd have him above Luis Alexander Basabe at 9 based on a better hit tool and raw power.
J.J. Cooper: You can make a case for Acuna higher, but he didn’t get much of a chance to show scouts/coaches what he can do. He barely got enough PAs to qualify thanks to a significant thumb injury. At this point, Basabe has significantly more track record, especially when it comes to productive power. Basabe has slugged .400+ and posted better isolated power numbers than Acuna has in their admittedly short careers. Both are interesting outfield prospects, but Acuna does get dinged a little because in a list that does take into account league context, he had an injury-plagued season.

Dustin (Ft. Worth): Lucius Fox had a disappointing season in Augusta, especially with the glove. Is this just a case of him being young and overmatched?
J.J. Cooper: Yes. Very overmatched. The tools are really good, but he looked way over his head when he stood in the batter’s box. I think his year at the plate was more of a long-term concern than the glove.

Roger (Washington DC): Cory Taylor didn't have quite the breakout of his former Dallas Baptist teammate's (Chance Adams), but he was impressive nonetheless. Does he have the arsenal to remain a starter do you think?
J.J. Cooper: I agree. He was very impressive. He’s a two-pitch guy most of the time. That doesn’t ensure he ends up in the bullpen, but when Taylor was dominating, it was generally with his sinker and slider. I wrote extensively about him after a midseason start.

Rich (NJ): Did Jose Puljos of the Lakewood Blueclaws receive any consideration for the list considering his power potential? Thanks
J.J. Cooper: Absolutely. He didn’t miss by much. Him and Cornelius Randolph both made their cases for inclusion. Pujols is still putting it all together. Defensively he’s improved but still has work to do. The power is very legit, but he needs to continue to refine his plate discipline, pitch recognition and bat control to improve the hit tool to catch up more to his power. Solid prospect.

@Jaypers413 (IL): Could you give us the scoop on Josh Ockimey? Is he limited to 1B? How about his plate discipline? Those 88 BBs were a good thing.
J.J. Cooper: Ockimey was great in the first half and then fell off a massive cliff. He posted 1.000+ OPS in April and May and then failed to post a .700 OPS in July and August. He wore down and got into some bad habits as he stopped using left field as well as he had in the first half of the season. There is power there and excellent willingness to take his walks. He’s likely limited to first base and has work to do to be average there.

Stan (Baltimore): Thoughts on Ryan Mountcastle? I was surprised to not see him on the list. Was he considered for the top 20 or is his defense too much of a liability?
J.J. Cooper: You nailed it. He’s a shortstop right now, but virtually everyone I talked to said they didn’t see him being able to stick at shortstop, and with his arm, they couldn’t project him to move to second, third or center field. Some said that they thought his arm would be stretched in left field and so they projected him as a first baseman long term. He’s a good hitter, although he’s a little too aggressive at times.

Warren (New London): What do you make of Josh Ockimey after an excellent first half and an awful second half?
J.J. Cooper: Went from quick bat who used the whole field to a tired slower bat that tried to pull everything.

Rich (Arlington, TX): Thank you for stopping by to chat J.J. What is your assessment of Ray-Patrick Didder? Is there anything there besides a strong arm in the outfield?
J.J. Cooper: Yes. Legit prospect of some sort. He is a plus runner and is a solid defender anywhere in the outfield. He is a table-setter as a hitter, but he gets on base because he likes to use himself as a human pin-cushion who takes plunk after plunk.

Frank (Chicago): Did Roniel Raudes get any support for your rankings? Surprised not to see him here. Just missed?
J.J. Cooper: He had a great year and drew nearly universal praise for his ability to pitch at a very young age. What he doesn’t have is an average fastball yet. He sat 88-89 mostly, so the hope is he’ll keep adding a little more velo as he matures.

Zach (Columbus): Taylor Hearn had a bit of an odd year that involved him playing for the SAL affiliate of two different teams, with the Nationals starting him off in the rotation and moving him to the bullpen and the Pirates starting him in the bullpen and finishing the year in the rotation. Was that what ultimately kept him off your list or was it something more?
J.J. Cooper: It was an odd year for him. He just barely qualified because injuries limited him to 45 innings. He started the year with a five-inning start and he ended it with a five-inning start. In between he never threw more than four innings and generally threw three innings. It’s a big arm, a massive arm. Likely he ends up as a power reliever who can pitch at 92-99. His offspeed has a lot of work to do.

Dan (Glastonbury, CT): Hi J.J. Any support around the league for hard-throwing Nats RHP Joan Baez? Did his late-season success open any eyes around the SAL? Thanks for the chat!
J.J. Cooper: Speaking of big arms who pitched for Hagerstown. Baez was 97-98 himself at times as a starter with developing secondary pitches. To his credit his changeup has shown improvement.

Ted (Charlotte): If Austin Riley had performed in the first half like he did in the second half, how would be have ranked?
J.J. Cooper: Not a ton different. He obviously was massively better in the second half, but the concerns that keeps him ranking where he did wouldn’t change much if he was as productive in the first half. The concerns with Riley revolve around his bat speed (which isn’t exceptional but also isn’t well below average), how his body holds up as he ages and the chance of his hit tool being above-average in the long term.

Nick (Atlanta): If he can tap into some of his plus-plus raw power, how far up prospect lists do you expect to see (a healthy) Ronald Acuna rise? Also, thanks for great minor league coverage all season long.
J.J. Cooper: Oh if he is healthy all next year, he could fly up our rankings lists. There’s a ton of potential there, he just hasn’t had a chance to show it in games all that often yet.

Jonathan (Syracuse, NY): I know Cornelius Randolph had a rough year, but I was surprised to see him not sneak in amidst the last few names. Would you say that all 20 names are better prospects than Randolph at this point, or is his omission in part just a reflection of poor performance?
J.J. Cooper: He was one of the first off the list. Randolph wasn’t bad when you consider his age. He draws walks. He hit and he was 18 for the first half of the season. That’s all good. But scouts do wonder just how much impact he’ll have. He’s a left fielder who has work to do defensively and his speed has dropped a grade or more since he was drafted. Randolph will need to hit for power as a left fielder, which gives him a significant to-do list, as his opposite-field approach so far hasn’t shown much ability to hit to the wall in the oppo gap.

Charlie Donovan (Bradford, Pa): Where does Mitch Keller rank as a prospect compared with Taillon and Glasnow at the same age?
J.J. Cooper: More polished than either of them. His stuff is pretty similar with more polish. That doesn’t mean he’ll end up better than them but he is further ahead than they were at the same stage.

Jonny (Valencia, CA): Is Brian Mundell a prospect? I know he's limited to first base but seems to really know how to hit. Could play well in Coors. Thanks!
J.J. Cooper: Mundell’s season was spectacular. He hit more doubles than anyone in the minors had in the past half-century. But here’s why he didn’t make the Top 20. 1) Asheville is a great place to hit. On the road Mundell was a .271/.341/.420 hitter, which is nice but not really all that impressive for a 22-year-old first baseman. 2) Mundell has work to do on proving he can pull quality velo in on his hands. He is a very solid defender at first base who can hit, so there’s a path to the big leagues, but there is still reason for skepticism.

mjk (wyckoff,nj): hi...any fireflies of note? Does Conlon project at all to a major league bullpen piece?
J.J. Cooper: Conlon’s season was outstanding but pitchers who dominate low Class A with a below-average fastball generally leave scouts saying “prove it against more advanced hitters.”

john (delaware): any consideration for alberto tirado.
J.J. Cooper: I actually wrote him up and at one point had him in the Top 20. John Manuel thinks I shouldn’t have chickened out and pulled him. His stuff is outstanding and he finished the season with an excellent, dominating finish. No starter in the league threw harder than Tirado. That being said, I don’t know that the Phillies will protect him for the Rule 5 draft and if they don’t, I’m not convinced he’d stick as a Rule 5 pick. His control has always been erratic and he’s moved very slowly–he spent all of 2015 in high Class A and was demoted back to low Class A this year. I like him, but there is some hesitancy.

Chase Vallot (Left Out): I know i had some issues this year - hate it when you get beaned in the face - but was I at least part of the discussion?
J.J. Cooper: Big power. If it all works out, he’s a Mike Napoli type whose bat allows a team to live with the defense at catcher until he eventually slides to first base to just try to mash. His throwing is poor, but the power is impressive.

Steve (Kentucky): Was Anfernee Seymour given any consideration for Top 20?
J.J. Cooper: No. Not really. He can fly but right now that is it. He doesn’t get on base enough to take advantage of his speed and he hasn’t really found a defensive position.

Bobby (Chicago): How close did Dillion Tate come making the list
J.J. Cooper: Not all that close. That was a terrible year for a top five pick. Tate’s stuff backed up dramatically–he was pitching in the high 80s at time. The Rangers decided to sell low by trading him away just 13 months after they picked him with the fourth pick in the draft. Tate’s stuff was a little better in August with Charleston, but right now he looks more like a potential reliever than the front-line starter that scouts hoped to see coming out of the draft.

Tiffythetitan (Oakland, CA): Soooo, no one still in the Giants organization could crack the Top 20? No Augusta stand outs beyond Bickford? Thank you.
J.J. Cooper: We mentioned Taylor who was really good and didn’t miss by all that much. Jalen Miller and Lucius Fox were both overmatched. Michael Santos can really pitch.

Mike (Ontario): Were any Giants prospects close to making the list (not Bickford/Fox)? Cory Taylor, Caleb Smith, Jalen Miller, or even Kelvin Beltre?
J.J. Cooper: I answered this one too because I should have mentioned Beltre above. He just needs to stay healthy.

Jimmy (NYC): How come Luis Torrens did not make the list and where would Acevedo be ranked if he stayed in the league
J.J. Cooper: Torrens is working his way back from a very serious injury and showed the rust that comes with that. He didn’t do enough to really stand out. Acevedo would have been top 5-6. A 97-100 mph fastball with a quality changeup is pretty impressive.

Steven (Atlanta): Was rome the most stacked team in A ball?
J.J. Cooper: Probably so. Very impressive rotation. Hard to remember a team with more legit starting pitching prospects than this one.

Doc (ATL): Devan Watts and Corbin Clouse of Rome were both excellent after getting drafted in late rounds --- any significant impact here, or just a couple of dudes?
J.J. Cooper: Clouse might be a find. He’s 91-95 with a good breaking ball. There’s something there.

J.J. Cooper: I managed to get through an hour before the phone call to talk draft report cards. Thanks everyone for the questions. We’ll be back on Monday with five more chats next week talking Top 20s.

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