We continue our series of prospect guru Q&A's with John Sickels of Minor League Ball. I've done a Q&A with John each of the last three years (2007, 2008, and 2009), and every year he has some great insight into the Braves minor league prospects. John publishes his annual Prospect Book every year, and there is still time to grab the 2010 edition if you haven't already pre-ordered it. The book is a great source for learning about the Braves prospects -- there are usually 30 to 40 players per team reviewed -- and it's a great resource to have on hand in case we acquire a prospect from another team.
: Give us your prediction of where Jason Heyward
will start the season, and what kind of year he will have. Is Heyward ready to be an everyday major leaguer from opening day 2010?
A: I won’t guess what the Braves will do….the most common rumor is that it’s 50/50 on whether Heyward starts opening day or not, so I assume that they don’t know themselves. I imagine we won’t know until spring training gets further down the road. If I was making the decision, I’d send him to Triple-A for another 300 at-bats. He has just 173 at-bats in the high minors, and as advanced a prospect as he is, a little more experience won’t hurt. As Matt Wieters showed last year, even the best prospects often need adjustment time in the majors, and having some Triple-A experience to fall back on can’t hurt. It also saves time on the arbitration clock. So, if it was me, he’d be in Gwinnett through early July and I’d call him up at that point if he’s doing well. But I tend to be pretty conservative about moving prospects.
Q: Where would you rank Arodys Vizcaino on the Braves prospect list? How does he compare to Julio Teheran and Randall Delgado, who are your 3rd and 4th ranked Braves' prospects?
A: I slotted Vizcaino at number five on my revised list, ahead of Kimbrel at six but behind Teheran at three and Delgado at four. I like Vizcaino quite a bit. Of the three, Teheran has the highest ceiling, Vizcaino is probably second and Delgado a close third, but Delgado is a little ahead on the development track so I put him a notch above Vizcaino when revised the list. All three are strong Grade B prospects who could be B+ or A- guys a year from now.
Q: Who will be ready to contribute to the major leagues first and why, Craig Kimbrel or Mike Minor?
A: Kimbrel has better stuff and has higher level experience. Minor is polished of course, but has a lower ceiling. I expect we’ll see Kimbrel in the majors first as a relief reinforcement.
: Beyond Jason Heyward and Freddie Freeman, do you see any of our position player prospects being impact players in the major leagues? Will Mycal Jones have more sucess than Brandon Hicks
A: Frankly, I don’t see a lot of impact hitters beyond Heyward and Freeman. Jones has good speed but it is very early to know how he will develop, and I don’t really see him as too comparable to Hicks at this point. Cody Johnson has huge power potential, but also a high risk of failure. Adam Milligan is a decent bat but his walk rate is low and ‘d like to see him hit outside of the Sally League.
A: All those guys look pretty marginal to me, guys who could be 10/11th men perhaps but rather fungible overall. Osuna could be a fifth starter or long reliever but in the end I don’t think he’s a huge loss either.
: Which reliever has the highest upside and why, Michael Dunn
, David Hale, or Cory Gearrin?
A: Gearrin and Dunn will get there faster, but I think Hale has the best stuff of the trio and the highest ultimate ceiling.
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 think I’d pick C. Cabrera has lots of major league experience but is still young, Dunn should be useful in the pen, and Vizcaino has an electric arm. Option A has one good prospect in Flowers, but I don’t like either Lillibridge or Gimore much at this point, and Santos is a long way away. Option B…I’ve never been a big Charlie Morton guy, and neither Gorkys or Locke look like huge impact people to me.
Q: Can Cory Rasmus come back and be a valuable major league prospect? How about Erik Cordier?
A: We need to see Rasmus at a higher level than the Appy League to get a read on that. Cordier seems to have his arm strength back, but his secondary pitches need work and he’s showing the effects of the lost time. I’d rate both as Grade C guys at this point, with some chance to develop.
Q: No longer a prospect, but what does the future hold for Jordan Schafer?
A: He needs to shake the injury rust off and 400 at-bats in Triple-A would be a good idea. I felt he was rushed ahead of schedule even before he got hurt. I don’t think he’ll be a star, but I can see him as an excellent fourth outfielder or an average regular.
Q: What is the biggest strength of the Braves minor league system? The biggest weakness?
A: The biggest strength is depth in pitching at the lower and middle levels. There have Teheran, Delgado, and Vizcaino, and there is also a large group of C+/B- type pitching prospects who could be Grade B or B+ guys a year from now: Zeke Spruill and J.J. Hoover are two favorites of mine The biggest weakness is the lack of hitting talent beyond Heyward and Freeman.