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Southern League Chat with Aaron Fitt

Moderator: Hello and welcome to the Southern League chat. Let's get started.

 Q:  Roberto Ivaldi from Chicago, IL asks:
Thanks for taking the time to chat! A couple of questions in regards to Birmingham. Were Casey Rogowski and Jerry Owens not considered for the list because of their respective ages? Also, I was very impressed by Daniel Haigwood's impactperformance during his short stint with the Barons. Was he considered? Finally, even though Ryan Sweeney doesn't have the power numbers, was he considered due to his sweet swing, excellent batting eye, and rocket arm in the outfield? Thanks!

Aaron Fitt: First of all, and I'm sure this is something I'll be repeating a few times today, the Southern League was incredibly stacked this year, and making the top 20 list was very, very difficult. That Birmingham team you mentioned was extremely talented, probably the third-most talented team in the league, but it placed just two players in the top 20. In another league, six or seven of those guys could have made the top 20. Of the players you mentioned, Roberto, Sweeney was the closest to making it - he was one of the last cuts, actually. Managers do love his raw ability, including that beautiful swing, and his season isn't bad for a 20-year-old in the SL. He very well might develop more power down the line (and I think he will), but it's hard to put a guy who hit one homer in a top 20 of a league this deep.

Aaron Fitt: I'm as big a Jerry Owens fan as you'll find anywhere, and it was very encouraging to see him respond to skipping a level by winning a batting title. He and Rogowski and Haigwood are all prospects for sure, as are Josh Fields and Sean Tracey. There just wasn't room for all of them. My personal ranking of those players: Sweeney, Owens, Tracey, Fields, Rogowski, Haigwood. Just my take.

 Q:  Bob from Arkansas asks:
Looking at the Top 10 from 5 years ago, there are some #1 starters, solid major leaguers, an undecided (Rauch), and a disappointment (Patterson). Five years from now, who from this top 10 list is most likely not to reach their potentional?

Aaron Fitt: Interesting question. I'm going with Pie - his tools are certainly there, but he remains rather raw. I'm just not convinced it's all going to come together for him. He's got a chance to be special, but will he work hard enough to make that happen?

 Q:  Teddy from Poway, CA asks:
ETA's for Guzman, LaRoche and Martin? Also, Who plays where between the 2 potential 3B?

Aaron Fitt: I think Martin will get there first - he's got a chance to break camp with the big league club next year. I would guess you could see LaRoche next September, with a chance to win the everyday third base job by 2007. Guzman is tougher to forecast, because he's almost certainly going to have to learn a new position. LaRoche is very solid at third base with a very strong arm, and he definitely looks like the third baseman of the future for the Dodgers. Guzman could end up on first base or left field. Let's say middle of 2007 for his ETA.

 Q:  Navin from Los Angeles asks:
It's a list like this that makes you appreciate how loaded the SL really is. How far from making the top 20 were West Tennessee RHP Carlos Marmol and 1BOF Brandon Sing?

Aaron Fitt: Neither was really close, only because of the amazing quality of this league. Sing might have made the top 40, if we went that far... He's a pure power hitter who can really crush the ball, but his swing is too long.

 Q:  K. Williams from Chicago, IL asks:
Is Chris Young truly a 5 tool outfielder? I'm not convinced that he has much of an arm in the outfield, and I question whether or not he will ever be able to hit for a high average.

Aaron Fitt: Scouts and managers just loved everything about Chris Young this year. He does have a chance to be a legitimate five-tool guy, as his arm is at least average, and he is learning how to hit very quickly. He made a ton of adjustments from the beginning of the year, showing improved knowledge of the strike zone and an increased ability to hit breaking balls. And he plays the game the right way. Just a terrific prospect who has really improved his stock dramatically since last year.

 Q:  Jason from New Jersey asks:
When do you see Delmon Young playing full time in the majors and compare his initial impact to one or two formercurrent players.

Aaron Fitt: It's hard to imagine Delmon not breaking through to the majors some time next season. When he gets there, he's certainly capable of making the same kind of impact that Jeff Francoeur made with the Braves this year, albeit for a non-contender.

 Q:  Mitch Miller from Los Angeles asks:
Jacksonville's stacked. Any other guys on the verge of making the list?

Aaron Fitt: You could have just ranked the top 10 prospects on Jacksonville's roster, and it would have compared favorably to the top 10s in some entire leagues. The next closest guy to making the top 20 was Edwin Jackson, who was in the 21-23 range, followed by Justin Orenduff, in the 24-26 range. James Loney, Delwyn Young and Hong-Chih Kuo also garnered consideration, but were farther down the list.

 Q:  Danny from San Diego, CA asks:
How good can Broxton be? He's a beast. Also, will Billingsley open up in the rotation in '06?

Aaron Fitt: Broxton looks to profile best in the bullpen at this point. He can be a dominant power closer without too much more seasoning - he is tough against both righties and lefties, thanks to his much-improved two-seam fastball. Billingsley isn't far off, and he has a professional approach to the game and incredible stuff that should land him in the majors some time next year, but I don't see him cracking the opening day rotation. He still needs a few more months in the minors learning to trust his stuff and not overthink.

 Q:  Mitch Miller from Los Angeles asks:
Where will Jacksonville's top five guys start next year?

Aaron Fitt: One more Suns question -- a group that talented deserves some chat time. I don't think you'll see the Dodgers throw any of their top arms into the pitchers hell that is Triple-A Las Vegas, which can destroy the confidence of young pitchers (see Jackson, Edwin). So Billingsley will likely return to Jacksonville before perhaps earning a midseason callup to the majors. Broxton will have a chance to make the big league team as a reliever in spring training, but if he does not, back to Jacksonville. Edwin Jackson will probably compete for a starting job in spring training, and Martin could win the catching job. Guzman and LaRoche could join a potent offense at Las Vegas.

 Q:  Phillip from Portland, OR asks:
Can you compare James, Pinto and Oleson. Is James last because of age-comparison only?

Aaron Fitt: James is the last lefty of the three because he lacks the power stuff and physical frames that the other two have. You've got to give Chuck James credit for putting up amazing numbers at every level, and he's undeniably a fierce competitor who gets the most out of his stuff. But he throws an 89-92 fastball and lacks a big-time out-pitch. He's probably a No. 4 or 5 starter in the majors. I'm not convinced Pinto will ever reach his potential, but he has three plus pitches (fastball, slider, changeup) and a chance to be a No. 2 or 3 starter. Olsen has the best power stuff of the three and the highest ceiling, and he is just as competitive as James. Plus, Olsen and Pinto have four inches on James and both are younger.

 Q:  Jon from Pennsylvania asks:
Dustin Nippert struggled a bit in his first two major league starts, but really seemed to come around in his third start. He also dominated Southern League hitters with a 2.38 ERA after coming back from Tommy John surgery. What kind of future do you see for him?

Aaron Fitt: Nippert's bounce-back season was very impressive. He showed excellent velocity, topping out at 96 mph with his above-average fastball, and flashed good breaking stuff at times. His size is his biggest attribute - he intimidates hitters and pitches from a steep, downhill angle. If he stays healthy and can get just a little more consistent with his offspeed stuff, Nippert could be a front-to-middle of the rotation starter.

 Q:  rob yontz from st louis mo asks:
Did any Chattanooga Lookouts come anywhere near the top 20?

Aaron Fitt: Nope. Not even close. Chris Denorfia was the best prospect in that group, and he probably checks in as the 45th to 50th best prospect in the league.

 Q:  Chris from Chicago asks:
Higher ceiling: Ricky Nolasco or Renyel Pinto? Who gets to the majors first?

Aaron Fitt: Pinto probably has a higher ceiling, being a lefthander with slightly better pure stuff. But Nolasco looks like the better bet to reach his ceiling (a No. 3 starter, in my mind), and should be an impact big leaguer first.

 Q:  TOM RESOP from Ft Myers Fl asks:
How did that closer for the Mudcats pan out this year? I know he was in low A last season and already in the major league....what is his upside and what are his weaknesses...

Aaron Fitt: Chris Resop was in the 21-30 range for this list. Considering he's only been pitching for two years since converting from the outfield, he has made terrific progress. He's got true closer-type stuff, with a 96-96 mph fastball and a slider that simulate his fastball. He just started throwing the slider this year, and it should end up being his out pitch, but he must get more consistent with it. Resop has a special arm and the makeup to handle pressure situations.

 Q:  Joel from Orange County asks:
Delmon Young: Do you see him as an all star slugging .300 with 35-40 Home Runs year in and year out, or another Mike Sweeney type hitting 20-25 while hitting .275 or so. Clearly there was a difference between this year in AA and AAA, in average and power. This mean anything or just a slump? He is very young, but I am concerned.

Aaron Fitt: Don't be. His power numbers went down, but the kid is 19 years old, and he more than held his own in the international league - a very impressive year all the way around. He is a budding superstar.

 Q:  J.P. from IL asks:
I honestly don't understand your attitude towards Nolasco. He put up phenominal numbers this year, yet was mysteriously missing for nearly all of your weekly Hot Sheets and gets ranked at #17 here. You had nothing negative to say about him in your own scouting report, so what gives?!

Aaron Fitt: Being ranked No. 17 in this talent-crammed league is hardly a slap in the face - it's quite an impressive accomplishment, especially for a guy repeating the league. I am a believer in Ricky Nolasco - he'll be an impact big leaguer. But probably not an all-star, like many of the players in front of him on this list could be.

 Q:  ISC from BMB asks:
Ian Stewart or Andy Laroche(based off of future potential)? The two seem very alike, Ian a power hitting lefty who can hit for average and power, Andy a power hitting righty who can hit for power, but according to the Scouting Reports, not a high average. How good do you see each of them being?

Aaron Fitt: You really can't go wrong with either, but I'll go with Stewart and his complete package.

 Q:  Tom McCullough from York PA asks:
Aaron: For fun, what about the next twenty Southern League prospects so that we can compare them to the top twenties of the Eastern and Texas Leagues? Do the list off the top of your head and not necessarily in order so that we can still look forward to the Prospect Handbook. Thanks. Tom McCullough

Aaron Fitt: I've got them divided into tiers after the top 20. The first tier, the guys who just missed the list, includes (in no order): Sweeney, Jackson, Resop, Josh Johnson, Enrique Gonzalez, Orenduff. Next tier: Dana Eveland, Paul McAnulty, Josh Fields, Jerry Owens, Sean Tracey, James Loney, Robert Andino. Next tier: Nelson Cruz, Rogowski, Haigwood, Sing, Jae-kuk Ryu, Wes Bankston, Delwyn Young. I believe that gives us 40. Keep in mind that is a rough and unofficial list - there are plenty of good players I haven't even mentioned, and I'm sure if I took more time to put those guys in order, it would look different.

 Q:  Jeremy from Castro Valley asks:
Did James Loney come close to making the list? It seems that he still might be the best first base prospect in the league.

Aaron Fitt: He is in the discussion for top first base prospect along with Casey Rogowski and Scott Thorman.

 Q:  Tim from Chicago asks:
I'm having a hard time buying into the Felix Pie mystique. He strikes out at a higher rate than Corey Patterson, and he gets caught stealing 40% of the time. Tell me why he's not going to be another position player who becomes a huge disappointment for the Cubs.

Aaron Fitt: That very well could happen - I don't fully buy into the Pie mystique, either. But he has so much natural talent and such a high upside that you cannot ignore him on a list of top prospects. And he is a very exciting, high-energy player. He could figure it out - don't forget that even though he's been on the prospect landscape a few years, he's still just 20 years old.

 Q:  Matt from Cary, NC asks:
Francoeur has received all the attention. But from what I recall, BA tends to believe that Hermida will end up being the better overall player. Thoughts?

Aaron Fitt: There is no unified BA opinion on that matter - it's like the great taste, less filling debate. They are two different kinds of players, with Hermida's forte being his advanced hitting approach and incredible patience at the plate, while Francoeur is a much more aggressive hitter. But managers and scouts are split on who will be the better big leaguer when all's said and done. I went with Hermida because I think his approach is more likely to yield solid results over the longterm, but I believe both players will be all-star-caliber right fielders for years to come.

 Q:  Jake from Bartlett, IL asks:
Aaron, thanks for taking my question. If Cesar Carrillo had pitched enough innings to qualify for the list, where might he have fallen on the list? Also, what is Carrillo's upside and likelihood of reaching his ceiling?

Aaron Fitt: He would have competed for one of the final spots in the top 20, but probably would have just missed the cut. But he was impressive in the SL, particularly in no-hitting the strong Birmingham lineup for six innings. He commands his low-90s fastball very well and has a big breaking ball to go along with an extremely confident mound presence. He looks like he's got a shot to be a middle-of-the-rotation starter in the big leagues.

 Q:  Roger from Charleston, SC asks:
How much separates 2-5? Chris Young hasn't received the hype that's surrounded Hermida and Francoeur, yet he ranks just below them and above Billingsley. What ETAs would you give for Young and Billingsley arriving in the majors?

Aaron Fitt: As you seemed to pick up, Delmon Young is a cut above everybody as the No. 1 guy. The next three guys are all close, with Hermida and Francoeur being interchangeable. Chris Young is a step behind because he's still more raw than those two players, but his ceiling is very high. You could make a case for Billingsley over Chris Young, but it's a judgment call. ETAs: Billingsley in mid to late '06, Young in '07.

Aaron Fitt: Ok, I've got about 10-15 more minutes, so let's go to the lightning round...

 Q:  easy e from madison, wi asks:
nelson cruz is not on the list? Top 30?

Aaron Fitt: Close to the top 30. He's got a lot of raw power and a plus RF arm, but can be pitched to. Needs to shore up his approach.

 Q:  Mike Marinaro from Tampa, FL asks:
For all the talent that Elijah Dukes has, his attitude is an obvious problem. How much do you think any organization would be willing to put up with from a player like Dukes, including the Devil Rays? Eric Wedge gave Milton Bradley to the Dodgers to improve the team chemistry. The Indians played as a driven team this season, and almost knocked the Red Sox out of the playoffs. I've heard comparisons to Bradley for Dukes. Will his confrontational attitude prevent Dukes from becoming a major leaguer?

Aaron Fitt: Makeup is the issue with Dukes. Some managers and scouts said there's no way they'd want Dukes in their organizations, even as talented as he is, but there will always be someone willing to take a chance on that kind of talent, especially because he plays the game hard. Bradley is a good comp for him.

 Q:  chad balog from new york asks:
What about Chris Denorfia? Is he considered a prospect in the Southern League or the International League.

Aaron Fitt: Denorfia does everything right, but nothing jumps out at you. He's a guy any manager would take on his team in a heartbeat - he works hard, he's a good hitter who covers the plate pretty well, stays within his own ability, doesn't swing too hard. As one manager said, he's the kidn of guy where you see him three games, you say, he's all right. You see him a lot, you say, he's a good player. But in a league this talented it was hard for him to stand out, because his tools are nothing special.

 Q:  IBC Bren from Cincinnati, OH asks:
Luis Hernandez seemed to make some big stride this year in AA, especially in regards to his plate discipline, but he dropped off a lot in his average and power. What’s next and how do you see his future?

Aaron Fitt: Hernandez hung in there as a 20-year old and hit better than his numbers would indicate, making solid contact that was not always reflected in his stats. His swing can get a little big sometimes, but he makes good contact. He went through some trouble defensively, getting too tentative at times, but he's still an interesting prospect with upside.

 Q:  Dan from Mass. asks:
Is Matt Murton going to be the starting Left Fielder for the Cubs next season?

Aaron Fitt: I think he should be. The Cubs need to give this guy a chance to hold down that job, because he's about ready for it.

Aaron Fitt: That's all I've got time for everyone. Thanks for the questions, as always. Stay tuned for Jim Callis and Kevin Goldstein live from the Sox-Sox playoff series in Chicago, and come by tomorrow for Texas League chat with Will Lingo.

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