One of the most popular off-season series of posts at Talking Chop is back, starting today with the first Braves Prospect List Q&A for 2010. We'll have at least four of these Q&A's this year, and the series kicks off with Kevin Goldstein of Baseball Prospectus.
First, a general note about the Q&A's; I try to ask questions based on the prospect guru's top-Braves-prospect list, but I also try to go beyond that to incorporate some prospects who we may not have seen on the list, but nonetheless care about as a Braves community. I will ask many of the same questions from one person to another, with some variety, but that is by design, as I find it interesting how different analysts answer the same question.
Kevin Goldstein has been doing this Q&A for me since I started this series three years ago. He is one of the more respected names in prospect analysis, and always seems to have surprise prospects on his Braves prospect lists. He is one of the best reasons why everyone should have a subscription to Baseball Prospectus. If you'd like to review the Q&As from previous years, here is 2009, 2008 and 2007. His ranking of Braves prospects this year can be found here.
Q: Give us your prediction of where Jason Heyward will start the season, and what kind of year he will have.
A: The first part of that question is really hard, and I think it's just going to come down to spring training. If he does really well, he's there Opening Day. I'll give you a sneak preview that nobody outside of BP has seen. Our projection system, PECOTA, thinks he'd hit .277/.350/.473 in the big leagues, and that sounds about right to me.
Q: Is Heyward ready to be an everyday major leaguer from opening day 2010?
A: Yes. He's not a great one yet, but I certainly think he will be. If there is a service time concern, you could see a Tommy Hanson-esque year where he's not there until May, but he can produce now.
Q: Does the depth of pitching at the lower levels of the Braves organization represent the greatest depth the organization has ever had? How good will the rotation at Rome be?
A: "Ever" might be a bit strong, there were some years in the 90s where the system was amazing. The Rome rotation could be crazy, Teheran and Vizcaino are for sures, Lopez is a distinct possibility, and then you probably have Stovall, and any number of guys like Oberholtzer, Hale, Brewer, Masters, etc. It's going to be tough to pick just five.
Q: Who will be ready to contribute to the major leagues first and why, Craig Kimbrel or Mike Minor?
A: It's a crazy tough question. Like I said in the write-up, if Kimbrell starts throwing strikes in spring, he could break camp with the Braves. If he keeps walking guys left and right, he might never get out of Gwinnett. Minor on the other hand has a more defined path that you can have a lot more confidence in him staying on.
Q: Beyond Jason Heyward and Freddie Freeman, do you see any of our position player prospects being impact players in the major leagues? Will Adam Milligan have more success than Cody Johnson?
A: Well, I have Milligan higher for a reason, no? That said, Braves people I talked to are convinced that Bethancourt has the ability to move way up this list. He has the best star possibility after Heyward for me, even more so than Freeman.
Q: Among the pitching prospects on the Braves 40-man roster, do you see any useful major leaguers emerging from the group that includes Todd Redmond, Jeff Lyman, Jose Ortegano, Lee Hyde, Kyle Cofield, and Jonny Venters? Could any of these prospects be impact players?
A: Impact? None of them. That doesn't mean there's no big leaguers in that group. I think Ortegano is the best of that group by a good margin; he actually just missed the Top 15. Hyde could end up like an O'Flaherty kind of guy and would be my second choice from that group.
Q: Are there any comps to Christian Bethancourt? Any insight into why Braeden Schlehuber had a rough year, might he not have been 4th-round material? Do you see any prospect future for Matt Kennelly?
A: I'm not a big fan of comps, unless they are really, really obvious. There's not one for Bethancourt, especially as right now there's a lot more to what he can be than what he is, so what are we really comping to? Schlehuber was just plain bad last year, but he's hardly the first fourth round pick not to work out – happens all the time, and not something to get too worked up about. Kennelly is really no more than an organizational catcher.
Q: Which young player package will be better in the long run? Which group would you prefer?
(A) Tyler Flowers, Brent Lillibridge, Jon Gilmore and Santos Rodriguez
(B) Charlie Morton, Gorkys Hernandez, and Jeff Locke
(C) Melky Cabrera, Mike Dunn, and Arodys Vizcaino
A: I see what you did there. I'd probably take group C. In fact, I'm quite sure I'll take group C.
Q: Is there any hope for Cole Rohrbough to bounce back from his rough 2009 campaign?
A: I think there's some hope. I wouldn't totally write him off, but the reviews from scouts left me with no choice but to leave him off the Top 15. He's still got size and stuff, but that stuff took a big step backwards in 2009.
Q: What is the biggest strength of the Braves minor league system? The biggest weakness?
A: The biggest strength might be that they have the best position prospect in the game. No other team can say that, and that's huge. After that, it's all the young arms. Just so much talent there, including three with upper-echelon possibilities. The weakness is up the middle guys, especially middle infielders. I don't think there's a second baseman or shortstop of note in the organization.
Many thanks to Kevin for agreeing to this 10 question e-mail interview. I thoroughly enjoyed his answers as I hope you did, I especially like his praise of Christian Bethancourt.