Last up in my series of interviews with prospect gurus around baseball is someone who may be new to many people out there. Deric McKamey is an independent scout and the author of the 2008 Minor League Baseball Analyst. It's a great book that I just picked up for the first time this year. Like many of the other prospect books, he has write-ups for dozens of players from each team, but what he also adds are grades on each skill set, potential major league roles, and expected major league debut.
He ranks the 2008 top-10 Braves prospects in his book, and he was nice enough to let me share them with you:
- Jordan Schafer (OF)
- Jason Heyward (OF)
- Jair Jurrjens (RHP)
- Brandon Jones (OF)
- Gorkys Hernandez (OF)
- Brent Lillibridge (SS)
- Tommy Hanson (RHP)
- Cole Rohrbough (LHP)
- Jeff Locke (LHP)
- Cody Johnson (OF)
Below are 10 questions I asked Deric via e-mail. As you may have noticed by now, I repeat some questions for each prospect analyst - I like to do that to see how different people answer the same question. This is the last one this spring, but I'll likely have a roundup of all the Q&A sessions tomorrow, and more prospect stuff throughout the next month (I love talking about prospects).
Q: For you, why does Jordan Schafer rank higher than Jason Heyward as the top prospect on your list of the top-15 Braves prospects? Isn't Heyward's ceiling higher?
A: I consider both elite-type players and have them ranked fairly close on my top 100 (Schafer #23 and Heyward #36). Heyward has more of a ceiling offensively, possessing more power potential, and is three years younger, but those may be his only advantages. Schafer has a broader base of skills and has performed at a higher level than Heyward, proving he can hit for batting average. He is also a standout defender in CF with plus arm strength and solid range, and is a plus runner (4.05 to first base). Because Schafer will have value with his speed and defense, there is less reliance on his bat to be superior. That is not meant to take anything away from Heyward, as he runs well for his size and should be an average defender in the corner outfield.
Q: Who will be better long term and why, Cole Rohrbough, Jeff Locke, or Tommy Hanson? You list Rohrbough and Hanson as having #2 starter potential, and Locke as having #3 starter potential, but do any of them have a chance to be a major league ace? Can Rohrbough succeed at higher levels without having an above average change-up?
A: I ranked them Hanson, Rohrbough, and Locke, projecting them to the roles you mention. I think Hanson will be better long-term with his velocity and plus command, but he is also a safer pick at this point, as Rohrbough and Locke haven't spent a full season in the minors. I think you might be able to place the "ace" stamp on Rohrbough, simply because of his projectable size, velocity, and left-handedness. His knuckle-curve is a true knock-out pitch and he seems to know what he's doing on the mound. As you mention, he doesn't change speeds that well, but that is based on not repeating the arm speed consistently, which should improve with experience. I think Rohrbough has been over-hyped to an extent based on his statistics, but I'd like to see him pitch well over the course of a whole season before anointing him anything higher than a #2 starter.
Q: What kind of shortstop will Brandon Hicks be? Will he develop more power? Will his speed start to show on the base paths?
A: I project Hicks to be an average starting SS in the Majors, similar to a Jack Wilson. Hicks is a good athlete with strong defensive skills, namely his arm strength, soft hands, and instincts. I'm not convinced he's going to develop much power as he doesn't have great bat speed, but does make good contact and is a disciplined hitter. Hicks' speed is just slightly above average, but I do believe he'll net a fair amount of steals due to his baserunning instincts.
Q: You list Erik Cordier as having the potential to be a #3 starter in the majors, and that we would likely see him in Atlanta as early as 2009. He's now missed two full seasons because of injuries, what leads you to believe that he still has #3 starter potential after losing two seasons of experience, and what leads you to believe that he will be major league ready by 2009?
A: Cordier had one of the more electric arms in the minors prior to his elbow surgery and the Braves did a solid job of acquiring him from Kansas City. He gets outstanding movement to his 89-95 MPH fastball and repeats his delivery well enough to give a solid change-up and above average command. His curveball has some distance to go and of course, his workload will need to be monitored closely and will need to regain the feel for pitching. I just like his total package of velocity, arm action, and ability to repeat his delivery, and that's why I feel his upside is still that of a #3 starter. As to when he's Major League ready? I think he will debut in 2009 (September), but don't see him establishing himself until 2010.
Q: You list both Eric Campbell and Van Pope as having the potential to be starting third baseman, and you list both as arriving in the majors in 2009. Can each of them turn it around this year, and if they both turn it around this year, who gets the job, and who will be better long term?
A: I like Pope's chances of turning things around more so than Campbell. He has a better work ethic and is a better-rounded player. Campbell has enormous power potential, but doesn't bring much else to the discussion. Should both of them turn things around, I like Pope as the player most likely to stick at 3B for the long-term. His plus arm strength and first-step quickness should allow him to be an above average fielder, and I still believe in his bat.
Q: Still speaking of third baseman, do you think Jon Gilmore will be better than either Campbell or Pope, and if so why? What current or former major league player does Gilmore compare to?
A: I really like Gilmore's bat and think he's markedly better than both Pope and Campbell. His bat speed is exceptional, so I don't question the power, but I'd like to see him take a more patient approach at the plate, as I think his over-aggressiveness can work against him at times. The move from the middle infield to 3B suits his defensive skills better where he shows good arm strength, but marginal range. I would compare Gilmore to a Mike Lowell/Joe Crede type player.
Q: Atlanta has a lot of talented outfielders, did they really need to acquire another when they traded for Gorkys Hernandez? Should they have used that trade to try and strengthen other needs?
A: When a GM is acquiring young talent (especially at Class-A and lower), I don't think it is really necessary to focus on the position that a player plays. The focus should be on upside potential and overall value. Did the Braves need another outfielder? No, but they did acquire one of the top 75 prospects in the game with Hernandez who is a plus runner, strong defender in CF, and excellent contact hitter. I say let Hernandez develop, and perhaps he turns into a player the Braves can use on the big league club or he has sufficient value to bring back a player that fits Atlanta's positional needs.
Q: Do either Brandon Jones or Brent Lillibridge have a chance to be the 2008 NL Rookie of the Year? Which one will be the best major leaguer in 2008?
A: Everyone has a chance, but no, I don't see either challenging for that award based on playing time limitations. Jones appears to be part of a platoon with Matt Diaz, so he's not going to get more than 400 at-bats if things play-out. Lillibridge will face an even tougher challenge for playing time, especially after missing-out playing winter baseball. I love Lillibridge's athleticism and multi-faceted skill set, and hope the Braves leave him at SS. I believe Jones will have the [better] 2008 season in the Majors.
Q: If you had to fill out the Braves major league pitching rotation this year, who would you choose, Jo-Jo Reyes or Jair Jurrjens, and why?
A: I've seen both pitch several times in the minors and would side with Jurrjens, assuming you had to leave them in the rotation all year. Reyes, because of his 2007 experience, is probably better equipped to succeed off the bat than Jurrjens, and just needs to be more consistent and trust his stuff. Jurrjens sports an excellent combination of velocity, command, and ability to change speeds. His fastball velocity (88-94 MPH) is solid, but it tends to lose its movement at upper velocities. He can be long to the plate which could make him susceptible to stolen bases. I think over the course of the season, Jurrjens would pass Reyes in effectiveness, due to his pitchability and avoidance of the big inning.
Q: What is the biggest strength of the Braves minor league system? The biggest weakness?
A: Atlanta's biggest strength is the continuity of their prospect pipeline that never seems to run dry. From a positional standpoint, the organization has several quality outfielders and pitchers (starters and relievers). I don't see a lot of infield talent, especially up the middle, and that's probably their greatest weakness at the moment.