Here is the conclusion of our Atlanta Braves prospect Q&A with Baseball America's Bill Ballew. For Part 1 click here.
Q: Kris Medlen is a personal favorite of mine, and he did have a great year in 2008, but is he a major league pitcher? Do you think he'll ultimately end up in the rotation or the bullpen? Could he possibly close in the future if he winds up in the bullpen?
A: You have good tastes, because Medlen's also one of my favorites. While he was outstanding upon moving to the rotation last year at Mississippi, I see him more as a setup guy in the big leagues. He could be a swing guy as well, a spot starter should a doubleheader or two crop up, but a guy who is used mostly in the seventh or even the eighth inning. He definitely has the ability to pitch in the big leagues, but I don't see him being in the top half of Atlanta's rotation.
Q: Will Cole Rohrbough be the 2009 left-handed version of Tommy Hanson? Does Rohrbough have as high a ceiling as Hanson?
A: I think that's a strong possibility. Rohrbough bordered on being unhittable in 2007 before an ankle injury hindered him throughout most of the 2008 slate. He underwent reconstructive surgery in September on his ankle and is doing very well. Rohrbough truly has electric stuff from the left side. He's smart and knows how to pitch to go with an outstanding repertoire. He's also a bulldog. Most pitchers would not have thrown a pitch if they had the injury Rohrbough suffered last year. He's tough and should be healthy in 2009, which could put him on the fast track in a big way.
Q: Does Jordan Schafer have what it takes to be an everyday player in the major leagues right now? Who do you think will ultimately be a more valuable center fielder, Schafer or Gorkys Hernandez?
A: Defensively, without a question Schafer could man the middle garden for the Braves right now. And if he's given a chance, say at least 150-200 at-bats at the top of the lineup, I believe he could make the necessary adjustments to be a leadoff hitter right now in the big leagues. I don't see that happening just yet, however. Gregor Blanco was somewhat of a surprise last year, and the Braves need to give Josh Anderson an extended look. Long-term, Blanco is a fourth outfielder at best, while the jury is still out on Anderson due to his lack of opportunity. Schafer went through a lot of emotional ups and downs in 2008, which is understandable, and it wasn't until the end of the season before he was back to his normal self. A stint at Triple-A would be best for him, but a mid-season promotion could be just what the doctor ordered. As far as Hernandez is concerned, he too has outstanding potential, but for some reason I get the feeling his future might be with another organization. Just a hunch. Some scouts question his true age, but nevertheless there is no question he is a solid defender who can make things happen on offense. But with Schafer on board and Anderson still maintaining some potential, I wouldn't be surprised if Hernandez is included in a trade for a player like Xavier Nady.
Q: Can Brandon Jones and Josh Anderson be everyday major league outfielders? Should the Braves take a chance on them and put them in their opening day lineup?
A: I like Anderson's potential better than Jones'. Anderson has a fire; in football, it would be classified as a non-stop motor. He is disruptive on the base paths and is an above-average defender. If given the chance, I think he would be much more than adequate as a center fielder. Jones is a solid athlete, but it seems as if all parts of his game are rarely clicking at the same time. He's not particularly fast, and his power comes and goes, particularly from a long ball standpoint. He also strikes out too much, and needs to improve his approach at the plate in order to become an adequate hitter as a starter. His defense is good enough but not exceptional in left field. I believe Jones still has some value, but my gut tells me he won't turn the corner and emerge as a starter with the Braves.
Q: What is the biggest strength of the Braves minor league system? The biggest weakness?
A: The strength is the depth of pitching from Double-A down and the development of several potent hitters, particularly in the outfield. The likes of Heyward and Freeman don't come around often, and players such as Schafer, Hernandez, Johnson, Hicks, Eric Campbell and a handful of others are pretty impressive. The biggest weakness is a lack of everyday infielders who could become long-term solutions. This excludes Freeman at first base. While Hicks is without question the highlight at the other three positions, the cupboard is relatively bare otherwise.
Many thanks to Bill Ballew for taking the extra time to answer these questions. I hope you thoroughly enjoyed his answers, I especially enjoyed what he had to say about Medlen and Rohrbough, and his insider info on Gorkys.