Independent Leagues Top 10 Prospects Chat

Moderator: J.J. Cooper will answer questions about the independent leagues Top 10 Prospects in our first ever independent leagues chat.

Moderator: Hey everyone. This is truly a first at Baseball America, an independent leagues top prospects chat. Thanks for all the questions. The independent leagues are definitely a niche in what we cover at Baseball America, but they are an interesting niche. I'll probably mention this a couple of more times, but consider my top 10 list an informed but by no means complete list of independent leagues prospects--with more than 60 teams and roughly 100 players signed to affiliated ball every season it's impossible to list everyone who has a chance of getting to affiliated ball.

 Q:  Wes from Mt. Berry, Ga asks:
Why no love for Palmer Karr? The guy has major league juice in his bat, and showed that he can hit at the right times by earning post-season MVP honors. I don't get it. Am I missing something?

J.J. Cooper: Hi Wes. Karr was one of a number of United League prospects who were mentioned. He's a solid power hitter who uses the entire field while showing average speed and enough defensearm to play in left field. He was someone who has a chance, but when ranking the top 10 prospects, his lack of a solid defensive position and his vulnerability to good pitching (reports are he has a few holes in his swing) meant he didn't make the Top 10.

 Q:  Luke from Des Moines asks:
Love the Indy chat,JJ. I don't know too much about the leagues, but I'm looking to learn more. Would any of the Indy ballers fit into a major league team's Top 30 or is there that much of a talent gap? Thanks.

J.J. Cooper: In only the rarest of circumstances does an independent leagues player jump right into a Top 30. The best examples I can think of are Bobby Madritsch, who showed a 95 mph fastball in the Northern League and was immediately worth of a top 30 spot in the Mariners system when he signed and the Golden Baseball League's Manny Ayala, who was just missed making the Padres top 30 after signing with them a couple of years ago. Generally the talent gulf between an organization's top 50 prospects and the best indy league talent is pretty wide. When looking at this top 10 list don't think of it as comparing to the Southern League or Florida State League lists that we've been rolling out. The best independent league prospects are guys who hope to sign with an affiliated club, but do so knowing they'll have to prove themselves on each step up the ladder.

 Q:  Peter Toms from Ottawa Canada asks:
As you know, my hometown of Ottawa has lost it's AAA franchise, to begin play in the Allentown area spring of 08. Can Am League Commissioner ( and baseball legend ) Miles Wolff has been in Ottawa at least twice since the AAA season ended. Mr. Wolff is negotiating with local government for the opportunity to have a Can Am franchise play out of the municipally owned stadium commencing next season. Complicating matters are lawsuits between the AAA franchise owner and the city over parking and stadium construction costs, in fact the sale of the AAA franchise to the Allentown group has not been officially finalized. In short, will I be watching Can Am ball in Ottawa this season?

J.J. Cooper: Ottawa is a perfect fit for the Can-Am League, but the big question seems to be whether the variety of legal issues between the Lynx and the city of Ottawa get worked out, and that looks unlikely to happen in time for the Can-Am League to move in for next season. At the present the city and the Lynx are squabbling with the city saying that the team has to fulfill it's lease, which doesn't end until 2009 while the team is suing the city saying that the city failed to live up to the lease in terms of parking and other issues. Because of all that the Lynx haven't even officially announced that they are moving to Pennsylvania for the 2008 season, even though everyone knows they will. In the long-term if the city doesn't do anything crazy like bulldoze the stadium we're likely to see a Can-Am team in Ottawa eventually, but it doesn't look like that will happen for 2008.

 Q:  Magic Mike Mazza from CNBC asks:
Hey JJ...thanks for taking my questions. With the emergence of Edwar Ramirez, and his rapid rise from the United League to pinstripes, are teams looking at independant leagues more now? Were guys like Adam Cox (Boston Red Sox) and Justin Dowdy (Oakland Athletics) from Alexandria elegible for the list even though they have been signed by Major League teams? What do you think is Dowdy's timetable to eventually be setting up for Huston Street?

J.J. Cooper: I don't know if they're looking at it more closely as Ramirez was just the latest example in how team's can find inexpensive gems in the indy leagues--the Brewers' findPadres reliever Joe Thatcher is another example of an indy leaguer who made an impact this season. Dowdy was eligible while Cox wasn't because he's too old (27) for this list. In Dowdy's case the lefty almost made it, as he has a very solid two-pitch repertoire with a 90-92 mph fastball and a good changeup. In talking to numerous managers the biggest question with Dowdy is whether he has the makeup to climb the minor league ladder. He's had a couple of chances at affiliated ball before and his approach has seemed to be the biggest hurdle between him making it and ending up back in indy ball. Looking back I found an article I wrote on Dowdy back in his first swing through the independent leagues in 2004.

 Q:  Tobias Funke from Railcat Island asks:
Any love for Chad Blackwell? Where did he end up? Any consideration for the top 10 ?

J.J. Cooper: Blackwell is definitely a guy to watch and one would have made the list if it went 20 deep. He's one of a number of indy leaguers the Blue Jays snapped up this season as they've started scouting the leagues heavily this year. The former South Carolina Gamecock and Kansas City Royals prospect has an interesting delivery that makes it tough for hitters to pick up the ball. He was effective in a relatively short stint with Dunedin late in the season and could get a chance to make it to Double-A New Hampshire next season.

 Q:  Tom Lewis from Smyrna, DE asks:
I think there were 2 new Indy leagues who made it through to the end of this year. Do you anticipate any expansion or realignment for next year?

J.J. Cooper: It wouldn't be an independent leagues offseason without plenty of movement. Just in the last day or two the Calgary Vipers have announced that they and the Edmonton Cracker Cats will be pulling out of the Northern League. The two teams were unhappy with the travel subsidy the league has made them pay to the six other league members. There was talk a while back of them going to the Golden League, although that would not appear to make much geographic sense for either party. Over in the American Association it's not clear if Coastal Bend or St. Joe's will live to see another day--both teams are in limbo as the league is looking for new ownership. If neither team is saved the league will remain at the same number of teams as this year with expansion teams in Wichita, Kan., and Grand Prairie, Texas filling out the schedule. The South Coast League is looking to expand after solid if unspectacular attendances in the first season while the Can-Am League could be without both teams who played in this year's finals (Nashua and North Shore). That's a quick summary of the highlights, but there's sure to be more movement than just that over the offseason. In indy ball every offseason seems to be a matter of leagues replacing weak franchises with potentially stronger ones in a perennial survival of the fittest.

 Q:  Josh H from Texas asks:
Where is the American Association Love?

J.J. Cooper: I figured I'd get at least a couple of questions about the lack of American Association representation on this list. I worked the phones to try to see if I was missing anyone from the A-A, but the general consensus around the league from managers (and one scout who followed the league) was that the league did not have much young impact talent this year. The roster rules have been relaxed to the point where the league has become more veteran heavy, which is good for the quality of play and good for fans who get to know players who stick around, but it's bad for putting guys on a Top 10 Prospects list. I also want to point out that when the all-independent leagues team comes out later this week it was a similar story: there were solid players through the American Association but few players had the kind of standout season that could earn a spot on the first team.

 Q:  Joe R. from Newport News, VA asks:
It's not too surprising that there aren't any Atlantic League or American Association players on the list, because those leagues generally appeal to veterans. Is the Can-Am league also in that group, or were there just not as many good prospects this year?

J.J. Cooper: You hit the nail on the head as the Atlantic League is simply too full of veterans with big league experience (Carl Everett and Junior Spivey were among the stars in the Atlantic League this year) for many young players to hold their own. As far as the Can-Am League, there were a number of guys who got mentions and could have made the list if it went deeper. They included: Jeremy Pickrell an outfielder with exceptional power and decent speed for his size, former Angels minor leaguer Karl Gelinas (87-89 mph RHP with a good change and curve and impeccable command), versatile first basemancatcher Joe Burke (a line drive hitter with good speed) and reliever Adam Piechowski (89-91 mph fastball and good slider with a deceptive delivery) and first baseman Chris Colabello (solid line drive swing produces line drives).

 Q:  Steve from Tucson, Arizona asks:
If you guys had a list similar to this one last year, of that list how many of the players on it got picked up?

J.J. Cooper: Last year was the first time we attempted to put together an independent leagues prospect list. As a first effort it took a good bit just to get people aware we were doing it, so it ended up as a top eight instead of a top 10. Last year we limited to players who were unsigned at the end of the season. Of that group, four of the eight signed with affiliated clubs, although Mike McTamney did not make it out of spring training. Catcher Craig Hurba saw sporadic time at three levels for the Mariners; Ian Church spent the season in the Florida State League and Jimmy Mojica had a productive season with the West Virginia Power.

 Q:  James from Sacramento, CA asks:
Luke Massetti of the San Angelo Colts was a workhorse this season. He had great numbers and chewed up a lot of innings. Where does he stack up with the players on this list?

J.J. Cooper: Massetti is a very solid prospect by indy league standards and would have ranked somewhere between No. 11-15 if the list went deeper. He's had shoulder problems in the past, but he showed he has recovered from those by sitting at 89-91 mph this year while also showcasing a short, quick breaking curveball that could give him a second average pitch and a developing changeup. Massetti signed with the Yankees after the season, where he'll rejoin former San Angelo teammates Chase Vasek and Stephen Artz. Former big league manager Doc Watson did an impressive job of finding talented young arms in San Angelo this year.

 Q:  Jon from Peoria asks:
J.J.: Do you think Tanner Watson will get another shot in affiliated baseball? He had a very solid year with Rockford. Also, are there any other potential Frontier League guys to keep an eye on other than Risser?

J.J. Cooper: Watson could earn a trip back to affiliated ball on the basis of his season--he showed solid stuff and improved feel for pitching. Other than Risser, Tanner Watson got some mentions as did Reggie Watson (more on him in an upcoming question), Mike Coles (solid line drive swing, average runner, average defensively), Chris Sidick (who made this list last year and is still an impressive athlete) and Matt Sutton (power hitter with a good arm) all are worthy of team's taking a look.

 Q:  Tom Lewis from Smyrna, DE asks:
After turning down a 7 figure bonus and languishing in indy ball for several years, Matt Harrington signed with the Cubs this spring. I haven't seen anything about him all season. What happened?

J.J. Cooper: Harrington apparently pitched pretty well for the Cubs in spring training, but not well enough to make a roster and was released. At this point, it's going to be hard for him to earn another shot at affiliated ball unless he rediscovers the fastball he had in high school, which is tough to do almost a decade later.

 Q:  Jon from Peoria asks:
What will the status of the Northern League be now that they will lose Edmonton and Calgary after earlier missing out on Wichita? Are they looking to expand?

J.J. Cooper: The Northern League has talked about potential interleague play, something the American Association had floated a couple of years ago. At this point it will be very hard to find anywhere to expand to for 2008, although expansion for 2009 is a distinct possibility. The reality is that there are four leagues in the Midwest battling for a small number of viable markets. That's great for cities, as competition leads to some good deals and plenty of opportunities, but it makes for a pretty dog-eat-dog world out there for the different leagues.

 Q:  Steve B from MN asks:
How was the South Coast League comparable to other Indy leagues in its innagural season? Any players worth mentioning?

J.J. Cooper: I was very impressed with the talent level in the South Coast League this year. Without even mentioning the former big leaguers like Damian Moss and Bryce Florie, the league did a very good job of finding talented ex-minor leaguers like like Jon Zeringue, Jan Granado, Bradley Key and others. There are several other players worth mentioning from the SCL. Second baseman Steve Garrabants earned another shot at affiliated ball, while it wouldn't surprise me if Granado (a pitcher with a low 90s fastball, a solid cutter, curve and change) and lefty Brian Gartley also get shots.

 Q:  Deon from Texas asks:
What do you think is the secret for the FTW Cats 3peat? Which of thier players do you see as still having enough left to give affilated ball another good shot?

J.J. Cooper: A lot of credit goes to the Stans, manager Stan Hough and pitching coach Stan Hilton, and the team's player personnel director Barry Moss, and don't forget that Twig (Wayne Terwilliger) is still there as well. It's a franchise that knows how to assemble a roster of solid independent league players who know how to win. And as we've seen the last couple of years, they don't really get nervous when they fall behind in a series.

 Q:  John from Harrisonburg, VA asks:
Reggie Watson played very well in the Frontier League this year- so much so that the Padres signed him. What do his skills look like, and did he receive any consideration for your list? Thanks!

J.J. Cooper: Watson is a slightly above-average runner who knows how to read pitchers and understands baserunning, which makes him a threat on the basepaths. He has a nice line drive swing and does a good job of going the other way. The big question with him will be whether he can stick in center field now that he's in affiliated ball. If he can, it will do wonders for his chances of moving up the ladder, but there aren't many independent leaguers who can handle a middle-of-the-diamond position in affiliated ball.

 Q:  Jay from New York asks:
JJ This is more a comment than a question. I think you overlooked a couple of kids in the Can Am League. Much more difficult for a 23 yr old to do well in this league. Chad Gabriel and Jamie Baker have the tools to warrant another shot with a ML organization.

J.J. Cooper: Jay, I checked with several Can-Am League managers (and a scout who saw several of the teams) and Gabriel and Baker were not the first names off of anybody's tongues. That doesn't mean that they don't have a chance, but I scoured plenty of sources to try to put together this list.

 Q:  Joe from Virginia Beach asks:
Brian Adams had an amazing year with Somerset. Why hasn't an affiliated team signed him yet?

J.J. Cooper: As a 30-year-old, Adams wasn't eligible for this list. He did have an outstanding season, but at his age it's just a matter of the stars aligning right where a franchise has a need and a desire to sign a polished pitcher.

 Q:  Randy from San Diego asks:
JJ - thanks for the questions. With Chico winning the GBL and Nava getting some love, what are the chances that some of the other guys (Boggs, Dragicevich, Matteucci or Ungricht) who hit close to .300 get an opportunity to find their way back into affiliated ball? As a follow-up, what type of season does it take for a position player to get a sniff at a Spring Training invite? Thanks

J.J. Cooper: Thanks to all of you for the questions. Dagicevich is a little older where it may be tougher for him to make it back to affiliated ball unless he falls into the right opportunity. From the discussions I had with GBL managers Nava stood a couple of steps above Boggs, Matteucci or Ungricht as far as potential for affiliated ball).

 Q:  Don from Rosemont, IL asks:
If you were to give out a Freitas-type award to indy teams, who would you rank among the best operations?

J.J. Cooper: Don, We do give out such an award. Our first independent league franchise of the year award went to the St. Paul Saints last year. It was a fun trip as I got to present the award to them on their opening night this year. We're presently working on compiling a short list of finalists for this year's winner. Unlike our Freitas Award, we look at on the field success as well as off the field success in determining the award since an independent league club has control over the quality of the on-field product.

 Q:  Kyle from Middletown asks:
Who are the five best bets to make it to the majors outside of your top ten?

J.J. Cooper: I don't know if I could throw out a top five, as I should point out how difficult it is for an independent leaguer to make the majors. I worked up a count at midseason this year and found that at that moment there were 12 players in the big leagues signed originally out of independent ball. There are plenty more if you count Atlantic Leaguers who have made it back to the big leagues, but the odds are very long for an indy leaguer who was undrafted to make it to the big leagues. But it does happen, which is why we put together this list.

Moderator: Thanks for all the questions. This was very much an experiment to see if there was enough interest to make it worth everyone's time to do an independent leagues' chat. Hopefully you all enjoyed it as much as I did.