AFL Top 20 Prospects Chat

Kary Booher chatted about the Arizona Fall League

Q:  Richard Smiley from Chicago, IL asks:
Kary — Thanks for doing the chat. How does this year's AFL crop stack up in comparison to those of the past few years?

Kary Booher: Everybody up and ready? We'll try to get to as many questions as possible, but a pre-emptive apology if there is a slight delay in the middle of today's chat. We're trying to track down the package in the Khalil Greene trade to the Padres. The St. Louis paper is reporting that its' two minor league pitchers that weren't on the active roster at the end of last season. That leaves open several possibilities. Mitchell Boggs wasn't called back up in September after a midseason audition, but he could fit the Padres needs if and when they do part with Peavy. No way they would part with Clayton Mortensen, their 07 first-round supplemental pick out of Gonzaga. He reached Triple-A by the second week of June this past season and could be valuable if Carpenter is a no-go and the rotation remains in flux. Anyway, let's get on with the chat ...

Kary Booher: Thanks for writing from Chicago. I probably should offer a disclaimer on this year's Arizona Fall League list. It was my first swing through the circuit, as BA brought me on board in late July to fill the role of since-departed Chris Kline (save your applause). But what I gathered was that this year's crop of talent in the AFL was pretty well-balanced, deep in hitting and pretty nice in an array of arms. Four 2008 first-round picks appeared on our Top 20 list, and two of the biggest stories in the minors this year—Matt Wieters and Tommy Hanson-parlayed their success into productive time in Arizona. The list was fun to funnel from a large batch of possibilities, and I'll admit that a few guys who could've been on the list had to be left off. So if you don't see one of your organization's key names, it may not have been any fault of his own.

 Q:  Robert from San Francisco, CA asks:
What is Bud Norris' ETA in Houston? It seems like he could have a more immediate impact as a reliever but if he can throw 3 pitches will he have more value as a starter? Thanks.

Kary Booher: A couple of questions popped into this chat about Norris, who reached the Top 10 on this list because several scouts thought he had the best and most exciting stuff after you talked about Tommy Hanson and Brian Matusz. Thing is, we could see Norris in Houston early next year, especially if they don't know exactly-or are too cautious about—the health of Felipe Paulino's shoulder. Norris missed two months this year because of an elbow strain, then was eased back at Double-A Corpus Christi. He still showed enough to wow scouts, tinkering with a changeup late in the season. When he was in Arizona, he had the sizzle back on his fastball and that alone had scouts sensing he could be a back-of-the-bullpen kind of guy. But it's the Astros, who need a lot of help, and Norris could be valuable in the rotation immediately. His slider breaks down and away, and that will keep him in the majors. Short term, I say he's a starter now. But I'd like to see how he fares his second time through the NL Central.

 Q:  Keith from Fort Dix NJ asks:
What do you think Astros will do with Bud Norris? Thanks

Kary Booher: One more thing on Norris that I didn't mention on the prior question. He's listed as a 6-foot righthander, so his downward plane isn't as great as others. That could be a factor if he is stays in the rotation. If he can keep pounding the zone, yes. But when his stuff flattens out, he's hittable and, in Minute Maid Park, well, you know how that can be.

 Q:  David Bowen from Potsdam, NY asks:
What? NO love for the Dodgers? Were either Lambo or DeJesus close to the Top 20? How would you rate them?

Kary Booher: Man, this is a tough crowd today. Accusations of no love for the Dodgers or the Brewers' Lorenzo Cain already. Fun stuff. In speaking with a number of scouts, no one singled out Lambo, so I took that as a sign that he was in that after-20 pack of a really good, not great guys. But DeJesus did get consideration for the back half of the list, falling out because he didn't hit enough and did commit nine errors, one that saw on a routine play in which he lolly-gagged scooped it and then threw the ball into the dugout. Scouts liked his range and think he'll be in the majors. I docked him a little for that and, with Eric Young Jr. surging at the end, I left No. 20 open for the taking. So Young snagged it.

 Q:  Sean from Norwich, CT asks:
Andrew Carignan only gave up runs (2) in 1 of 12 outings in the AFL and struck out 18 in 12 ip. I know relievers don't get much love on these lists, but did he get consideration for the Top 20? When do you see him being in the A's pen?

Kary Booher: Carignan was another guy that I strongly considered before other guys nudged him out. If you're an A's fan, you'll like him. I had the opportunity to see him this year in the Texas League, and his stuff was so good at the TL All-Star Game that it was one of those next-day sidebars I would have written about had Double-A Springfield not been playing. He should be valuable in Oakland's pen by the end of the year. I think part of it will come down to whether Ziegler has an encore performance and Gray is reliable as he's advertised himself to be in the past year or so.

 Q:  joshua from yulee fl asks:
what is the potential of logan morrison also when do you think he will reach the majors, is it out of the question he gets invited to spring training with the marlins also what is the potential of scott cousins thank you.

Kary Booher: Here at BA, when you talk first base prospects, some come down on the side of the Giants' Lars Anderson and others think a lot of Logan Morrison. I haven't seen Anderson, so I can't speak about him as much. But in Morrison, the Marlins obviously have something special. I like his background—he came from Maple Woods CC in suburban Kansas City, the same juco from which the great Albert Pujols was drafted. He's going to provide a lot of power, very nice for a lefthanded hitter, and could challenge for Florida's big-league job this spring now that Jacobs was traded to KC. As for Scott Cousins, some scouts liked him, some didn't. The ones that didn't saw his crazy routes to the ball and questioned his power. The ones that liked him will point out that his power was diminished while playing at Roger Dean Stadium in Jupiter, Fla., and if you've ever been there, you'll understand why. I remember asking the Cardinals this year about Daryl Jones and why he wasn't showing better power numbers, and that was one of the first things they pointed out. And he played in the same ballpark. With Cousins, though, I'd like to see him in Double-A, but I think Morrison will make it and stick.

 Q:  ScottAZ from Phx, AZ asks:
Why move E. Young to CF when you have Fowler set to patrol there for the next decade? Are they planning on having him play multiple positions ala Chone Figgins? Or does he really not have a place in the organization?

Kary Booher: The Rockies placed Young on their 40-man roster, a great sign for him that Colorado sees him more than a mere utility man. They had him in CF just to gauge how well he might fare there. To me Young could be the Rockies' version of Chone Figgins. He's blocked in the middle infield, he doesn't hit for enough power at third but is athletic enough to spot up for Fowler on his days off. He may not have the appeal of being the star at one position, but you can win with a guy like Young on your team.

 Q:  Timmy L. from San Francisco asks:
Did Kevin Pucetas get any consideration for the top 20? If he is in the Giants rotation as the #5 starter, what do you project out of him?

Kary Booher: Pucetas could have made this list if not for others that had slightly better AFL stints, and I'm talking about guys like Jeff Manship, who ranked No. 19 on this year's list. Pucetas' Scottsdale manager, Shane Turner, who also is the Giants' field coordinator, did a lot of politicking for Pucetas, talking up the fact the guy knows how to win. He's 32-7, 2.35 with 266 strikeouts in 341 innings since coming into pro ball as a 17th-rounder out of Limestone College, whose baseball program, Pucetas poined out, was given a huge boost from former big-leaguer Gaylord Perry. The one night I saw Pucetas, he was busting guys inside and controlling the game. And when he walked off, he had this presence about him that really stood out. It wasn't lost on scouts in attendance that night, either. I think he could be serviceable as that No. 5, if not a No. 4 if he works his way into that role.

 Q:  Doug from Brooklyn asks:
Let me get this question out of the way early for you- where would Hughes and Buchholz reside on the top 20 if they were eligible?

Kary Booher: They would have been right up there. The night I hoped to see Hughes, he was pushed back to the following week because of a finger nail problem. Buchholz had an encouraging performance, his last start in the AFL I believe, and one scout liked the way he showed much more confidence in throwing his fastball. Some guys who had no business making solid contact against him were getting good rips against him, but you could tell he was more concerned with commanding his fastball again than getting hit.

 Q:  christian from palm beach asks:
It looks like Adam Ottavino had a tough time, but he did have three scoreless outings and did strike out more than a batter per inning. Did scouts have anything to say about him that was positive?

Kary Booher: Ottavino was a guy I covered this year at Double-A Springfield. The knock on him is that he seems to always be going through the motions without any sense of urgency. The Cardinals say they did see improvements out of him in the AFL, with 25 strikeouts and 10 walks in 23.1 innings. He got knocked around in his other appearances pretty soundly. It's hard to know what to make of him, though. Early in the year, he had some nice stuff but bottomed out to the point that the Cardinals shut him down, brought in Buddy Biancalana to re-motivate him and get him on the right track. That next start, he was dominating. But he never could quite sustain it. Some scouts simply do not like him. A few, and you might have a hard time finding them, might still be holding out hope that he can be a big-league starter.

 Q:  Steven M from NY asks:
What's the chances of Brian Matusz starting for the Oriols this year?

Kary Booher: I think probably slim and none, all because there is no need to rush him. The Orioles are rebuilding and have a chance to do their franchise right finally with Andy MacPhail now sitting in the president's chair and wheeling and dealing as their GM. His job is more than to just bring in talent. It's also to change the culture of the clubhouse after years of that ship sailing aimlessly in the AL East. I think that starts with Markakis and Jones, and Wieters will eventually become that franchise's big face. There is no need to bring Matusz into the fold just yet. Let him get his feet wet in the minors, much like Wieters did this past year. But even then, two years in the minors wouldn't be bad for Matusz or the Orioles for that matter. You're talking a guy who could be in a rotation with Chris Tillman and Jake Arietta. That would be something.

 Q:  Scott from Longview, WA asks:
How close was Greg Halman to making the list? What kept him off?

Kary Booher: Halman is a difficult guy to rank, just ask our guy here (who shall remain nameless, to protect the innocent) compiling the Mariners' Top 30 prospects. He's got the athleticism and at times the bat. But scouts sort of passed over him when I mentioned his name. While he had a pretty nice regular season, scouts saw an impatient and sometimes-fooled hitter (he struck out 37 times against 10 walks in 83 at-bats). It's hard to say it was a completely lost AFL for Halman, who was also asked to take on more of a leadership role by taking 18-year-old Carlos Triunfel under his wing. The Mariners were pleased with him chaparoning him.

 Q:  Mitchell from NYC asks:
Not 1 Yankee prospect in the Top 20?? Was any even considered??

Kary Booher: The sky isn't falling, my NYC friend. Go to the pizza joint on 136th street in Spanish Harlem, maybe hit Vincent's for a great Italian meal in Little Italy, enjoy the tree at Rockefeller Center. But there is no need to get your blood pressure up, or no need to think that no Yankee on the list equals an automatic ominous sign. Some scouts did like Austin Jackson, a guy I considered but slipped down the list in order to get Borbon and other outfielders on our Top 20. One scout I spoke with liked the balance in his swing and his athleticism. It was just a matter of, where do you put him in a list like this? I think you'll breathe easier once our Hawaii Winter Baseball list comes out. Brackman, the Yankees' 2007 first-rounder out of NC State, had a very encouraging time there.

 Q:  JAYPERS from IL asks:
Its pure speculation, but do you think if Hanson hadn't dominated the AFL, the Braves might have reconsidered trading him in a potential deal for Peavy?

Kary Booher: That's a pretty interesting question. But I'd have to say that the Braves went into the fall league having already placed Hanson on the "untouchables" list after the year he had. There was already a lot of buzz about him by the end of the season, from us here at BA and elsewhere, as he showed he could be a huge arm in a starting rotation. They may have considered it, but I think some within the organization, especially those who coached him this year, would have encouraged the Braves not to make that kind of move. He's a guy that can usher in a new era, a guy you can build around, and they'll need that now that their rotation is being reconstructed and Chipper Jones is not far from the twilight of his career.

 Q:  Kyle from Middletown asks:
Do you think that Stubbs will be in the top 100 again after the improvements he made this year (except for the fall league)? Do you think that he can still be a Mike Cameron kind of player in the big leagues?

Kary Booher: Not sure if he'll be in the Top 100 again, as we'll have a new batch of guys to consider along with last year's crop. But who knows? Stubbs still is among the Reds top prospects, and it's safe to envision him as a Mike Cameron type at this point even though he didn't show as much power as people would have liked. One thing about the AFL is that, when guys don't have good showings, you can't always look at the numbers. Not only is it a small sample size, but scouts say that a lot of players look a fatigued and are just battling through it. No surprise there. The casual fan assumes these guys show up the first week of April when the reality is that they work out year-round, then go from 7 a.m. to 4 p.m. every day at spring training. So I'm not defending Stubbs here so much as kind of theorizing that his lack of production in the AFL wasn't solely on one factor, i.e. the pitching.

 Q:  Joseph from Fort Worth, TX asks:
Thanks for the chat Kary. As far as the Ranger prospects on this list, how far do you think Smoak and Borbon are from contributing in Arlington. I was very impressed with Smoak's plate discipline. Do you think Bakersfield for Smoak and OKC for Borbon as starting points next year? Thanks again.

Kary Booher: This would be a good question when the Rangers' Top 10 comes online, but I think Smoak will open in Bakersfield but Borbon goes back to Double-A Frisco. But I wouldn't be surprised if Smoak opened in Double-A as well. With that bat, why not? The Cardinals showed that it wasn't a stretch to send Brett Wallace to the TL late in the year, and I think Smoak would handle it. As for Borbon, he could benefit with another half-season in Frisco. His routes to the ball need polishing, and Triple-A is really no place to learn on the fly.

 Q:  Jerry from Tulsa,Oklahoma asks:
Do you think Triunfel projects as a better hitter/slugger than Smoak, Wallace and G. Beckham in the future? I cant see him being ranked higher than these three players as far as a future impact player..

Kary Booher: Good to hear from the frontier plains, and from Tulsa, where it looks like they are going to get their new ballpark built despite the tough economy. The Tulsa World had an insightful story on it in the paper Tuesday morning. As for Triunfel, I think Smoak and Wallace will hit for more power, with Beckham probably a little more as well. But he gets the nod because he was 18 and holding his own in the AFL, where guys are mostly 21-24. And I know when somebody says, "holding his own," it sounds like a throwaway line. But the truth is, he was doing just that. The night I saw him play, he made three very impressive plays. One was a nine-pitch at-bat with his team down 3-0 in the eighth, and he ended up singling by squeezing a ball just inside the first-base bag and down the line. Playing third, he also bare-handed a ball in the grass and made a strong throw, then later made a nifty stop on a ball to his right, executing a perfect drop step with his left foot (young shortstops playing the spot might have charged in on it or stabbed at it). The power will always be a question with him until he actually shows it. But he's already got the body of a 24-year-old and could show the power as he gets older. Will it be more than Smoak? Tough to stay because he's so young.

 Q:  JAYPERS from IL asks:
Did Wes Hodges get consideration for this list? What kept him off? His AFL numbers certainly weren't the reason.

Kary Booher: Hodges was one of the few bright spots on that Surprise team the first few weeks when it struggled, and their manager, Gary Allenson, did like his bat a lot. But Allenson, like many of the scouts, wondered about his third-base defense. Some of it was his arm strength. But he also looked like, at times, he had trouble getting his feet right on sharply hit grounders and didn't quite have the grace you need to play off the line.

 Q:  Todd from Chattanooga asks:
Would you rank Hanson above Heyward as the Braves top prospect? -also- What are your thoughts on Kris Medlen - could you see him as a serviceable setup man in Atlanta in the near future? Thanks

Kary Booher: I'm sure that will be debated internally here as we narrow down our Top 10 lists for each organization before the handbook goes to press. It's hard to argue with Hanson and what he did this year. I even thought about ranking him No. 1 on our AFL list, but gave way to Wieters because he had more of an impressive package (switch-hitting, very good catcher, lots of leadership). As for Medlen, you're right to think he could be a set-up man down the road. Did you catch my story on him back in August? You might Google it or do a search on our site. The Braves brought him out of the bullpen and into the rotation at Double-A Mississippi, where he really took off. He may not have the pitches to lock down a starting rotation slot in the majors, but he could be a valuable swing guy with potential eventually to work in a set-up role.

Kary Booher: Folks, thanks for writing in and I wish I could get to more questions. Unfortunately, other work is sitting here waiting for me on my desk. It's always nice to interact with the readers and fans because I'm one, too. Happy holidays and be careful out there.