Bill Shanks: Braves Prospect List Q&A 2010, Part 1

The third in our series of Braves prospect list Q&A's continues today with part one of my Q&A with Braves prospect guru Bill Shanks. Bill has many ventures, including The Bill Shanks Show on Fox Sports 1670 AM in Macon every weekday from 3-6 pm ET, his website The Braves Show (a part of the network), and he is also a columnist for the Macon Telegraph. Bill has been an expert on the Braves farm system for some time, so I am excited to have him share his opinions on our most recent Braves prospects. Part 2 of this Q&A will be posted tomorrow.

Q:  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 think Jason Heyward will start the season in Atlanta, barring a catastrophe in March. He's a beast. If any 20-year-old kid can make a jump like that, Heyward can do it. He's a legit five-tool player, and for me, he's another Dave Parker. They want to push him, and I see no reason why Jason can't be ready to go on Opening Day in Atlanta.

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:  The depth is similar to what the Braves had back in the early-to-mid-2000s, when they had Adam Wainwright, Horacio Ramirez, Matt Belisle, Kyle Davies, Blaine Boyer, Macay McBride, Zach Miner, Jose Capellan, Dan Meyer, Chuck James, etc. Those are ten guys who got to the big leagues, and not all farm systems produce like that. But the upside of guys like Mike Minor, Julio Teheran, Randall Delgado, and Arodys Vizcaino make you think this could be a special group. And I think the Braves have a number of pitchers who could be mid-low rotation starters one day, guys like Richard Sullivan, Jacob Thompson, Zeke Spruill, and J.J. Hoover. And I have not given up on Cole Rohrbough. As far as the Rome rotation... good luck in trying to figure out how that will shake out. Don't rule out Teheran popping up to Myrtle to start the season if he has a good March. But Vizcaino should be there, along with Brett DeVall (as long as he shows he's healthy in March, and they believe he is right now), and maybe David Hale. Then you've got all those kids from Danville who did so well last season. They will battle for rotation spots in Rome during spring training.

Q:  Beyond Jason Heyward, do you see any of our position player prospects being impact players in the major leagues? Will Freddie Freeman have more success than Christian Bethancourt? Will Adam Milligan have more success than Cody Johnson?

A:  Heyward, Freeman, and Bethancourt are the three you can feel comfortable about being impact players right now. Those are the elite players in the system. I think Adam Milligan and Cody Johnson are two players that will have a shot if they continue developing. I want to see what Milligan does in 450 at bats over the course of a full season, but he has legit power. It's hard to compare Freeman with Bethancourt, since they play different positions. And heck, Christian is still a baby compared to Freddie. But Bethancourt could be at Rome this year. I am a Cody Johnson fan. You just can't ignore that pure power. Sure, he strikes out too much, but you just don't find many players with that type of power very often. So you have to be patient with him.

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:  Lee Hyde is the one that stands out on that list. He'll pitch in the big leagues this season. He's got three quality major league pitches, including a knuckle-curve that is tricky coming from a southpaw. I think Lee has a shot at being a solid lefty specialist. Cofield and Venters have got to get their walk totals down, but I'm a big fan of Venters. He's a lefty with good size, and if he can get those walks down he's got a shot. Lyman has a good arm, and did well out of the pen last season in AA. I've never been a big fan of Ortegano, but he just keeps getting people out. The coaches love the guy, and that's why he is on the 40-man. Same with Redmond - his stuff is ordinary, but he just gets people out and you have to take those guys seriously. Impact guys? Maybe not, but a few could be contributors, and more importantly possibly trade bait.

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:  Let's hope C, and the upside of Vizcaino is the reason you have to go with that package. Look, anytime you get a team's number one pitching prospect, it's a big deal. I know the outcry over Melky, and there are legit concerns with what he might do this season. But the Braves got the New York Yankees top pitching prospect. Just think how many Braves fans would feel if Teheran were traded. They'd be ticked. So getting someone of that caliber is what makes you think package C could be special. And don't forget about Dunn. He could join Lee Hyde as two very solid lefty relievers for the future of this organization. I'm anxious to see how Flowers does in the big leagues. He's a moose who can mash the ball. Gilmore was a disappointment for them last year. And I like Charlie Morton. He's going to be a good middle-of-the-rotation pitcher for the Pirates.

Check back for five more questions and answers from Bill Shanks tomorrow.

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