League Top 20 Prospects

Independent Leagues Top 20 Prospects Chat With J.J. Cooper

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    Keith Hudson (Wampsville, ny): The Braves seem to do well with Indy signings and made several signings during the season. Ian Thomas was one of those signings. Can you tell me about Thomas and any other players of note that signed with the Braves, during or after the season? Thanks

J.J. Cooper: Hi Keith. Thomas is a guy who was mentioned by a lot of indy managers who saw him before he signed with the Braves. He's a lefty with improved velo. He used to be 85-88, but has improved his velo to where he touches 90, 91 much more often nowadays. But even with that, his velo will always be a question mark. He does have a good changeup that has late fade and good deception. Put those two together and I wouldn't be surprised to see him keep climbing the ladder in the Braves system for a while. He had a good affiliated debut this season in Rome and looks ready to move to high Class A.

    keith Hudson (wampsville, ny): After reading through the top ten, this appears to be a pretty solid group. Is this group one of the deeper top 10's in recent years? Thanks

J.J. Cooper: It's definitely deeper than last year. Last year was really a struggle to find 10 guys to write up. As mentioned in the opening paragraphs, velocity is much better in indy ball now than it was five years ago. I remember when it was tough to find almost anyone in indy ball who could maintain 91-92 mph without a delivery that would make you cringe. Now you're seeing teams fielding entire bullpens who throw 92-93 +. With that being said, the best guys don't go unsigned through the season like they used to. Five years ago, Daniel Nava could be the Golden League MVP as a 23-year-old rookie and go unsigned through the season. Now I would imagine 2-4 teams would snap him up by the all-star break. Indy ball is much better scouted and followed now than it was several years ago.

    Dave (Atlanta): Did you hear anything about the quality of play in the CanAm League? They only sold one player to a MLB organization this season-less than the Pecos League.

J.J. Cooper: It's a pitcher dominated league usually. I would expect to see them sell some more contracts in the offseason here, but with the A-A and Atlantic League's sharing the same geographic footprint, the Can-Am League has more trouble than most established leagues in the battle for top talents. If you live in Texas and want to stay close to home, you have only a few options. If you live in California or on the West Coast, you have even less potential teams in your area. But if you live in the Northeast, there are a ton of teams to choose from if you want to stay close to home as a player.

    Dave (Atlanta): Do you think the North American League returns next season? They didn't sell a single player to an MLB team this season, and the league hasn't updated its website in months.

J.J. Cooper: At this point the North American League is really two separate leagues sharing a name. The United League portion had a pretty solid season in 2012. The "Northern Division" which is really the West Coast division had a rougher time, operating with some pretty significant travel costs (two teams in Hawaii and two in California) that required some creative scheduling. I know the West Coast division is looking to expand in 2013, but it also faces competition for markets from the newly formed America West Baseball League. Both leagues face a stark fact—it's been tougher for indy ball to make it on the West Coast than it has in the Midwest and Northeast. The Southeast (if we're counting Texas as Southwest) is the only area of the country that has had a tougher time making indy ball work.

    John (Amarillo, TX): What does Adam Buschini need to do to get on your list? He has the stats, tools and versatility playing the 1st half of the season in OF and in the 2nd half playing 2B. He runs a 6.5 60 yd dash and was top 5 in most categories in the American Association.

J.J. Cooper: Buschini is at the top-end age wise (25), but he does have very good tools. The biggest thing he's going to have to prove to scouts is that his excellent A-A numbers are proof he's made some adjustments and is a better hitter than he was in his first go at affiliated ball with the Phillies. It was only a season and a half, but his struggles in affiliated ball in his first go-round are going to make scouts a little more skeptical about giving him a second shot. Personally, I think he should get at least some tryouts based off the numbers he put up this past season.

    Steve (Wichita): Outstanding job on the list as always. Had Josh Lowey (Wichita, American Association) been young enough, where would he fit into this list? His lifetime numbers speak for themselves. He has excellent stuff, and interestingly, he has an identical twin brother (Jason) who got a chance with the Braves a couple of years ago.

J.J. Cooper: Thanks Steve. I've been following Lowey since the year I did a story about Jason right before the Braves signed him. Josh has excellent numbers, but as you mentioned, his age is going to work against him as far as getting signed. Jason had slightly better stuff when the two were both indy ball players, but Josh has clearly taken some steps forward since then.

    Wes (atlanta): You missed one from Indy Ball...David Harden 6'4—210 rhp #1 starting pitcher from Frontier League champion Southern Illinois Miners...Although a pitch to contact guy...has been clocked at 94—went 12-5 overall, including two wins on the road in the playoffs...150 innings pitched -90 k's, and here's the kicker...ONLY 20 walks and 4 homeruns..don't you think it's better to get an out on 1 pitch rather than a minimum of three for a K??

J.J. Cooper: Appreciate the comment Wes. Your arguments about 1 pitch vs. 3 pitches may be true in many cases, but I'll tell you right now. Talking to pro scouts who follow indy ball, they want to see that pitchers have a strikeout pitch. If you're not getting strikeouts in indy ball, most scouts I talk to are very hesitant to sign a pitcher, largely because they worry that if you can't generate swings and misses in indy ball, you're going to get squared up way too often in affiliated ball. You may consider that fair or unfair, but I'm just passing on what I've been told by guys in the industry.

    Dave (Atlanta): Any info on Chaz Roe and Matt Way, two early round picks signed by Arizona after the American Association's season ended?

J.J. Cooper: Few if any teams scout the Indy ball circuit harder than the Mal Fichman/Bill Bryk combination in Arizona. Both are guys who have a very good chance of making it through spring training and ending up on clubs next year, which in itself is a feat for indy ball signees. Roe is a good athlete who has made some strides since his release from the Mariners. It was a dominating year he put together in Laredo. I'll throw one other name to keep an eye on with the Diamondbacks—Bo Schultz, the former A's righthander who signed with them midway through the year. Schultz used to be a soft-tossing sidearmer with the A's. Now he's back up to a more conventional delivery and is touching 95-96 mph at times.

    John (Ohio): JJ, you had a nice story about Ben Klafczynski who converted from RF to RHP. Boston signed him. What are your thoughts about his chances? Thanks

J.J. Cooper: He's got a very good arm and several teams were interested in him, so he's got about as good a chance as anyone coming out of indy ball. He has a lot to catch up to as a pitcher since he spent the past 5+ years as a position player, but there are some tools there.

    Kevin (Utah): Where's Roger Clemens??? In all seriousness, can you touch a bit on Rick Devereaux?

J.J. Cooper: If you want to be skeptical, Devereaux was a first baseman in college who is trying to catch now. Very few guys can make that jump up the defensive spectrum when moving up to a higher level of the game. But he was putting together some 2.0 pop times in indy ball and seems to have some idea of what he's doing behind the plate. He has to put up better numbers in indy ball before a team is going to sign him, but he also looks like he has an idea at the plate. He's more of an indy follow guy than someone who's ready to make the jump to affiliated ball right now. He's a perfect example of what indy ball can do for a young player—it can give him innings behind the plate and at-bats at the plate to work through some of his inexperience.

    chase (chicago): Can you tell me of some players with potential but are a little older than 25 that may off just missed

J.J. Cooper: Not trying to give too much away about our All-Indy League team that will go live tomorrow, but Blake Gaillen is a post-25 guy who I do think could step in and help a Double-A club. He got 100 at-bats in Double-A in 2011 with the Angels (he was signed and sent to Arkansas when Mike Trout was promoted). He didn't do great in those 100 at-bats, but he's hit everywhere he's gone in indy ball (.348 career indy ball average) including a dominating year in the Atlantic League this year. He's undersized, but Gaillen is athletic and can hit.

    Mack (Texas): What are the odds of Carlos Hereaud catching on with an affiliated club for next season? Didnt stick long with the Brewers after being drafted in 05 but has put up decent numbers in Edinburg.

J.J. Cooper: Hereaud had an excellent year in the United League portion of the North American League this past year, but his age (27 before next season starts) is going to be his biggest hurdle to getting another affiliated shot.

    Kevin (UT): Though just missing on the age (25), any thoughts on San Angelo's Closer, Erik Draxton?

J.J. Cooper: Got good reports on him. Throws 92-94 at his best with a good split and a decent slider. Again, he's a guy who should get some workouts based on his results and his stuff. If he gets to a workout, then it's just a matter of finding a scout who really believes in him. I've heard of guys going to one workout and getting turned down and then going to another one and really impressing a scout.

    Andrew Brotherton (Atlanta, GA): Do you see the Yankees going after any independent leaguers this year?

J.J. Cooper: The Yankees have followed indy ball pretty well through the years—Justin Christian, Edwar Ramirez and Scott Patterson are three guys signed by the Yankees out of indy ball who made it to the big leagues. They always keep an eye on it, but as with pretty much all of these players, those names make it clear that we're generally talking about potential org guys and role players, not impact guys, especially when you're talking about a team with the payroll of the Yankees.

    Derick (Milwaukee): Where could you see Nick Lenzendorf at next year? He did pretty well this year as the closer of the Rio Grande Valley WhiteWings in the North American League. At 24 and with college experience and now a year of pro ball experience, is another indy league in his future?

J.J. Cooper: Hard to say which indy league Lenzendorf ends up in next year if he doesn't return to the NABL, that's a level of detail that goes beyond what I know. But he is an example of what indy ball can offer to a player. Lenzendorf was a small school (NAIA Viterbo) two-way player who player a lot more as a first baseman than as a pitcher. Indy ball gives him a chance to get significant innings and continue to develop. The chances of him, or anyone in indy ball, getting signed is always pretty small, but in indy ball he gets a chance to see how far he can go.

Moderator: Thanks everyone for all the questions. I can't believe I have to leave some on the board, but I need to get some other things done today. Thank you all for stopping by.