We have a little treat this morning. Yesterday, I completed a brief interview with Kevin Goldstein of Baseball America. Kevin was nice enough to provide some insight into the Braves minor league system and give us some tips on some of the prospects we should be watching. Thanks Kevin!
JH: With 7 of the Braves top 10 prospects jumping to the Majors in 2005, should we expect a letdown in the talent that will fill in this year's (2006) slots?
KG: Well, on a certain level, that shouldn't be a disappointment, should it? I'm not sure if 7 out of 10 is unprecedented, but it's certainly way on the upper scale. Still, the majority of the Braves talent now is/was in A ball or below, so I don't think the same amount of rookie talent will be available in 2006.
JH: Joey Devine looked a bit shaky in the little major league action he had in 2005. Do you think the Braves will give him a little more time to develop or will he get a shot with the big club in 2006?
KG: I think much of that will come down to the numbers game and spring training. I imagine he'll be given every chance to earn a job, but he will have to earn it.
JH: Atlanta's representatives at the Arizona Fall League don't include the high profile names that you see from other organizations. Is there any Atlanta player worth watching in the AFL?
KG: Well, they did send Jarrod Saltalamacchia there, and he's one of the top prospects in their system, and also one of the youngest players in the AFL. He's definitely one to watch, and certainly one of the best catching prospects in the game. After that, there is a dropoff, though outfielder Josh Burrus could be a sleeper.
JH: Wilson Betemit has been all over the Braves top prospect lists the last several years. He excelled in a part-time stint with Atlanta in 2005. Do you think he's ready to take over at SS should Rafael Furcal depart via free agency?
KG: I think it's a situation where he's probably their only option if Furcal leaves. He could be solid, if unspectacular there.
JH: Are there any diamonds in the rough that have appeared to go unnoticed that might have an impact down the line at the Major League level in Atlanta?
KG: I mentioned Burrus before, but if I had to pick one sleeper in the system, it would be outfielder Brandon Jones - an excellent athlete who took a major step forward in 2005 in translating those tools to production.
JH: Andy Marte has struggled in the limited time he has played with the Braves. Do you feel his lack of success can be attributed to playing time or are there some holes that are just now being exposed in the young prospect?
KG: Well, I think some people could be over-reacting there. You have 57 major league at-bats to go on, or four full-seasons of very good production from a 22-year-old to go on. Logic tells us the four years are your better indicator.
JH: Chuck James burst onto the scene in 2005 after not even making the Braves top 10 prospect list at the start of the season. Is James really as good as his numbers this year, and where do you see him playing in 2006? Richmond? Atlanta? What type of role do you think he'll eventually settle into with the Braves?
KG: He's good, but while his numbers were among the best of any pitcher in 2005, he's not among the best pitching prospects. Lefthanders who can throw strikes and change speeds often put up numbers in the minors that are not truly indicative of their skill. James is a VERY good pitching prospect, but probably profiles as more of a 3 or 4 starter.
JH: Other than Joey Devine, who are some of the recent Braves draftees that have been impressive thus far?
KG: From 2005, Yunel Escobar was VERY impressive, as was lefty Beau Jones. Eric Campbell, their 2nd round pick (and top pick) in 2004, was outstanding in the Appy League, and 17th round pick Jon-Mark Owins (the younger brother of 2005 Arizona pick Micah) is a real nice sleeper.
JH: To your recollection, has there ever been an organization who promoted so many prospects to the majors in one season? And has any organization been as successful with those same promotions?
KG: To my recollection, no. But I'm sure somebody better at research could find one. As far as being successful, it's just more evidence that under Schuerholz, the Braves continue to be a model organization when it comes to scouting and player development.