Now that all of the major prospect outlets have released their rankings and top prospect lists I have asked several prospect gurus to review their list and tell us a little about what they think of the Braves system. First up is Kevin Goldstein of Baseball Prospectus. Kevin is one of the most knowledgeable guys around when it comes to the minor leagues and scouting baseball talent. You can read his latest article here, in which he ranks the Braves system as the 14th best system in baseball. Here are my questions and his answers regarding his top-10 Braves prospects and the Braves minor league system in general.
Q: What criteria do you use when ranking players on a top prospect list?
A: It's kind of the secret sauce really -- you are combining a player's ultimate ceiling, his likely ceiling, as well as the chances he has to reach both. I'd love to say that I have some secret formula that that just pops out a prospect number that I can just sort, but I don't. There's a lot of gut feel from years of doing this, and of course, it would be impossible to do without all the scouts and front office folks I get to talk to about prospects. I couldn't do my job without them.
Q: Where would Brent Lillibridge rank on your list?
A: No. 2 or No. 3. Behind Salty, but pretty much even with Matt Harrison in my mind.
Q: We've seen several different players at the top of different prospect lists, Salty, Elvis, and Campbell, what factors led you to rank Salty above these other players?
A: In my mind, Salty went into the '06 season as the No. 1 prospect in the system, and while he may have slipped a bit, nobody really stepped up to take over that position. His big second half and impressive (albeit brief) Arizona Fall League run just solidified it for me. I think he'll be fine. Andrus has yet to really do much performance wise, and while I like Campbell, there are some questions surrounding his defense, approach and makeup.
Q: Who do you see being the next big impact starter to come out of the Braves minor league system?
A: Your question points to a sudden weakness in the system. I don't see a bigtime impact starter right now. What I do see is a TON of young arms like Evarts, Feliz, Jones, Locke, Lyman, Rasmus, etc. where chances are pretty good one of them will take a big step forward and become that - we just don't know which one it will be.
Q: Tell us why you think Neftali Feliz is such a good prospect. And where do you see him winding up eventually, the bullpen or the rotation?
A: A lot of this goes back to my answer to [the first question]. He's very good now and has plenty of projection. It's pretty special to find a 18-year-old with that combination of velocity and projection. As far as his future role, it's pretty impossible to know at this point - he's so young and inexperienced. He's likely not pitching until the Appy League season starts - so exercise the same patience with him that the Braves are.
Q: Which of the "big three" do you think has the most upside, Steve Evarts, Jeff Locke, or Chad Rodgers?
A: I like Locke the best - 1. lefty 2. plus velocity 3. excellent control.
Q: You didn't list Scott Thorman on your prospect list, but technically he is still a rookie and therefore a prospect. Did you leave him off intentionally because you do not think he warrants inclusion, or do you not think him a rookie (in that case, where might he fall on the list)?
A: He was my #11 actually. I'm just not a huge fan of first base prospects unless they can REALLY, REALLY mash, and for me, Thorman just isn't that guy. I think he's maybe a replacement-level first baseman, and that's not worth much in my mind.
Q: When will Elvis Andrus' stats start to show that he's the talent everyone says he is, and who would you compare him to on the major league level?
A: That's the million-dollar question, and for me it's still an open one, which is a little bit of a concern. I ranked him 5th in the system, and he's not in my Top 100, which will be up next week. The gap between what we are told he can be and what we are seeing is just too massive. That said, if you are looking for a breakout season, Myrtle Beach is not exactly the ideal spot for it if you are a position player.
Q: How far away from the majors are guys like Chase Fontaine or Kevin Gunderson?
A: Those are two pretty different creatures. Fontaine is a position player who will probably be a one-year-at-a-time guy, while Gunderson is a polished college reliever without much upside but a ton of polish who could move very quickly. I think Gunderson could get there in 2008 and be a decent middle-innings guy.
Q: What is the biggest strength of the Braves minor league system?
A: Young, projectable pitching.
Many thanks to Kevin for agreeing to this 10 question e-mail interview. I thoroughly enjoyed his answers as I hope you did, especially his response to the question about Elvis - I feel the same way about him, I just haven't been able to put it into such a concise statement.