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Chat: John Coppolella

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Welcome to Baseball Prospectus' Friday August 26, 2011 4:00 PM ET chat session with John Coppolella.

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Please join us for a special guest-chat with Braves Director of Baseball Administration John Coppolella.

John Coppolella: I'm glad to be here and ready to take some questions ...

anello52 (Chicago): Ideally, how does your rotation look in 2013? Hanson, Teheran, Vizcaino, Minor, Beachy/Delgado?

John Coppolella: It's so hard to predict what young pitchers will do from start-to-start let alone year-to-year. All six of those pitchers you mentioned are exciting young options and we are glad they are in our organization. You didn't mention Jair Jurrjens, who some people feel was the best pitcher in the first half of the 2011 season.

Bob (DeKalb County): Huge Braves fan! Can you talk about the Bourn deal? How close did that come to not happening? He's been such a huge addition for us.

John Coppolella: We were excited to add Bourn, who has added a speed dimension we have lacked for many years. Obviously credit goes to GM Frank Wren and our scouts for targeting the right player, but also for being able to acquire him without giving up young pitchers like Minor, Vizcaino, Teheran, and Delgado. It's like any trade -- until it happens you are always scared something might happen at the last minute.

Mikey D. (Omaha): Julio Teheran didn't exactly look great in his big league auditions. Can you tell me why I should still be excited about him?

John Coppolella: Teheran is 20 years old with three plus pitches and is 13-2 with a 2.14 ERA in Triple-A. He's arguably the best pitching prospect in baseball and still projectable, both in terms of his stuff and pitchability. We are extremely excited about him.

culligan3 (decatur, ga): how did you guys get jose costanza?

John Coppolella: Like a lot of things at the Braves it was a team effort. Our bench coach, Carlos Tosca, mentioned him to our Assistant GM Bruce Manno and me at our organizational meetings. Special Assistant to the GM Tim Conroy also pushed for him when we called him regarding potential free agent signings. We worked hard to get him in the fold and it's great to see somebody who has spent so long in the minor leagues realize some success here in Atlanta.

Shorts (Indiana): John, I know you are a Notre Dame grad. What is your take on the Irish football team this year? Go Irish!!

John Coppolella: I worked for the football team as a Student Manager, but between working in baseball and chasing after my kids, I haven't followed the team as closely as in the past. I check with my friends and they say the team continues to improve and we should be in the Top 20 this year. My big hope every year is that we beat USC!

Nick (NJ): Hi John -- Thanks for the chat! I'm a few years out of college and have been trying to find a job with a Major League club with absolutely no luck... Are there any suggestions you would have for a job seeker?

John Coppolella: Keep trying. As a freshmen at Notre Dame I wrote to every team in baseball -- Major Leagues and all four single-season minor league affiliates -- 150 in total. I got roughly a dozen responses, all of which were form letters, and that in itself was pretty cool. I kept writing and got lucky. A fellow ND grad named Brent Boznanski was the Director of Operations for the Lake Elsinore Storm, an affiliate of the Anaheim Angels, and he hired me as a non-paid intern in the summer of 1997. I'm grateful to Brent for the opportunity. It led to another internship with the Storm (summer 1998) and an internship with the Angels (summer 1999). The Angels finished in last place that season and many of the people I worked with were fired after the season. I kept writing to teams -- even after securing a job with Intel -- and got a call from the New York Yankees. It was probably the 7th or 8th letter I had sent them in four years. There is a fine line between being persistent and being annoying, but the more shots you take the better chance one rattles in the basket.

Ronny (New Jersey): How do you feel about the hurricane ruining the Braves' weekend in NYC? Obviously you can't do anything about the weather, but does it make things more difficult down the stretch?

John Coppolella: The most important thing is the safety of our players. It does make it more difficult down the stretch because we will have to play more games in less time which will further tax our players. It's like anything else, you can't worry about the things you can't control. On the positive side, with a day off on Monday, we will have three days to rest our pitchers so it's kind of like a mini-All Star break in late August.

Cyborgology (California): What does the job of director of baseball administration entail?

John Coppolella: My job is to assist GM Frank Wren and Assistant GM Bruce Manno. The majority of that is spent doing prospect lists and depth charts. We have created our own prospect lists here, which change everyday, as we speak with our scouts. Likewise, the statistics we use and their application to the rankings vary from player to player. Maintaining these lists means that I get the opportunity to learn about pretty much every player in baseball and that translates to other responsibilities I have in the minor league free agent market and salary arbitration. I'm also on the road a lot, having been on a few road trips with our Major League club and seeing all four of our minor league affiliates. My job could probably be labeled a lot of different ways, but the ironic thing is that I don't actually do much administration.

stydings (NJ): What are your thoughts on the Heyward/Constanza playing time situation?

John Coppolella: I don't think that's my place to comment. Fredi Gonzalez and his staff have done an outstanding job and, like every Braves fan, their goal is to win as many games as possible.

Zack (El Paso): I'm a huge Braves fan, but I'm frustrated as to why we never spend big money in the draft, like other teams. Is there a reason for that?

John Coppolella: Spending big money doesn't mean you are going to be successful. We are proud of the players we drafted and feel like they will be able to help us accomplish our goal of winning another World Series for the city of Atlanta.

In the win on Tuesday night 23-year old Mike Minor got the win, 23-year old Craig Kimbrel got the save, and 22-year old Jason Heyward hit a grand slam. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, since MLB adopted the save rule in 1969, it was the first tim that three teammates 23 years of age or younger had earned a win, notched a save, and hit a grand slam in the same game. All three of those players were signed at or very near to slot recommendations.

Jason Parks (Mexico City): What are your thoughts about being included in the discussion for upcoming GM positions? It must be both an exciting and terrifying scenario to participate in.

John Coppolella: Professor Parks!!! It's always an honor to be included in any discussion for potential GM positions and the hope is that it reflects well on the Braves organization. I've been fortunate to learn from so many good baseball people at the Braves like John Schuerholz, Frank Wren, and Bruce Manno as well as the Yankees like Brian Cashman, Damon Oppenheimer, and Mark Newman. My name being included is a reflection of those people and countless others in both orgainzations who have helped me.

dave (atlanta): The Braves have been one of the most active teams in acquiring indy league players. Does the team have scouts assigned to the individual leagues or do you focus mainly on their stats and previous scouting reports?

John Coppolella: Our statistical department targets independent league players and, as we move toward signing a particular player, usually we will send a scout in to see that player. It doesn't make sense for us to have scouts watching players in those leagues full-time because 95% (or more) of players are non-prospects and the leagues themselves are somewhat volatile.

Zooey (LA): Does the Braves Front Office have any regrets trading away Yunel Escobar who has been terrific since joining the Jays?

John Coppolella: None. We root for Escobar because we want every trade we make to be win-win for both organizations involved. Alex Gonzalez helped us reach the playoffs last year with his Gold Glove defense and had a huge hit in Game 2 of the NLDS to tie the score. Gonzalez has helped us have a great season again in 2011. Escobar is an extremely talented player and we hope he does well in Toronto and, to his credit, he's shown his 2010 numbers in Atlanta were an aberration.

The interesting thing about that deal, which often goes unmentioned, is the second and third players we got in the trade. Tim Collins, who was used a couple of weeks later to help facilitate a trade for Kyle Farnsworth and Rick Ankiel, has spent the entire 2011 season in the Major Leagues as a left-handed reliever for the Kansas City Royals. The third player, Tyler Pastornicky, projects for us as an everyday shortstop and has hit .315 with 7 HR and 27 SB as a 21-year old in Triple-A. There was a lot more to that trade than just Escobar and Gonzalez.

Chris (Alabama): Why don't we ever see prospect for prospect trades? For instance, it would be in the Braves' best interest (at least before the Bourn trade), I believe, to trade Teheran and another (lower) prospect for Mike Trout.

John Coppolella: It's hard because clubs believe so much in their prospects and have so much invested in them -- financially and emotionally. I can't get into specifics, but we have been close to acquiring at least current under-25 young position players in trades over the past 3-4 years only to have the trade fall apart before it was completed. It's frustrating to see those players you were so close to acquiring succeed at the highest level, but also gratifying to know we were on the right players.

GBSimons (Boise, ID): Chipper's apparently coming back in 2012, which is good news. Who do you see in the farm that could step into the 3B role in 2013?

John Coppolella: There are definitely options on the farm with guys like Edward Salcedo and Joe Leonard. More likely would be Martin Prado, who has played 3B this year every time Chipper has not, as the answer -- at least in the short term.

Dianagram (Scrabble Central): What are you drinking? Aroyds Vizacaino . . . special talent, yes?

John Coppolella: I'm drinking a Dasani lemon flavored water that was leftover from our draft room. It's not ideal, but it was free and it's got 0 calories.

Vizcaino is a special talent. I did an interview with the amazing Kevin Goldstein a few years back where we talked about Vizcaino as a latter-day version of Neftali Feliz. Both have effortless arm actions as well as swing-and-miss off speed stuff. The amazing thing about Vizcaino, at age 20, is how he has adapted to pitching in big situations during a pennant race at the ML level. Credit for that obviously should go to the player, but also to our entire staff from Braves pitching coach Roger McDowell to the pitching coaches in the minor leagues to guys like Johnny Almaraz who remained close with the player and pushed him to achieve success. Like pretty much everything here it's not one person -- or even a few -- responsible for success.

Nate (Maryland): How much sabermetrics does the braves organization incorporate into the evaluation process?

John Coppolella: Every decision we make involves sabermetrics to some degree. Veteran scouts like Jim Fregosi and Dom Chiti might not use words like WAR or wOBA when we are discussing players, but the general principles of those statistics apply in every conversation. When we analyzed Michael Bourn those scouts said their eyes told them that he was one of the best defensive players and best baserunners in baseball. That's the same thing the advanced statistics we use here at the Braves told us. Our scouts are often in line with sabermetrics -- even if it's unintentional. Better than that, they are willing to listen to somebody like me drone on about things like BABIP or Line Drive %. We use a mix of both but we are blessed with outstanding scouts.

Kristen (Iraq): Besides Baseball, what other sports do you follow?

John Coppolella: I love college football, although as my earlier answer indicates I don't follow it as closely as I once did. I also like the NFL and college basketball, especially March Madness. If I had to break it down I would say, even in the off-season, I am watching baseball more than 50% of the time even if it's old games or just MLB network. I have a very understanding wife.

Kevin Goldstein (Chicago): Is it fair to say the Braves farm system is in the Top 5?

John Coppolella: I figure I should answer this question since he's helping moderate this chat. I think if you include Teheran, Vizcaino, Delgado, and Minor, yes, we are a Top 5 farm system. If you consider them graduated to Atlanta I still believe we are in the Top 10 of all farm systems. The impressive thing for me is the graduation rate we have had with young playersr like Kimbrel, Venters, Hanson, Freeman, and Heyward all coming to Atlanta really in the past two years.

accies (UK): John, Do you envisage the current arbitration system being part of the game in 5 years time? What change would you most like to make to the CBA?

John Coppolella: No idea on how long arbitration will be a part of the game, but I can tell you that the universal belief -- among front office executives, agent, players, everybody -- is that it's a terrible system.

My change to the CBA -- and this is just me speaking and not the Braves -- would be to end draft pick compensation for marginal players. When I see somebody like Juan Cruz as a Type A free agent and the agents and MLB and the teams involved have to go through an ordeal just to get him signed to a contract it's a sign to me that the system is flawed.

The Osa (Cleveland): Does the Tribe's acquisition of Jim Thome change the AL Central race in your eyes?

John Coppolella: Thome is a great guy and a nice story, but I still think that race will come down to pitching.

Shaun (Atlanta): Could you give us some insight into the process of evaluating Prado and coming to the conclusion that he could be more or less an everyday left fielder? I always find it interesting when teams are willing to make creative moves like this.

John Coppolella: Prado had played left field in winter ball and is a very good athlete so that helped factor into the equation. Obviously Frank spoke with our coaching staff and our scouts before making the move, but it's been a positive one and Prado has done a great job at his new position while also providing us with a 3B on the days off for Chipper.

Bill Simmons (LA): Do you consider the Red Sox the favorite to win the World Series this season?

John Coppolella: I doubt this is the real Bill Simmons, but if it is I am a huge fan of your work.

I think the Red Sox have a great team. However, the World Series often isn't won by the best team but rather the team playing the best baseball at the end of the season. I think the team that wins the World Series will be the team that gets hot at the right time.

stydings (NJ): Which trade/FA signing that you were in on are you most proud of?

John Coppolella: Frank involves all of our front office and scouts in all of the major decisions so it's never a case of "we got this player because of this person." I am proud of all the moves we have made, but it's nice to see career minor league players like Constanza or Brooks Conrad get an opportunity here in Atlanta when they were signed as minor league free agents. I'm also proud of some of the guys we have found on the waiver wire, acquiring the likes of Eric O'Flaherty and Cristhian Martinez for $20,000 per claim.

Matt (Calgary): Hi John, I'm a Jays fan, but I've always had a place for the Braves in my heart (because of TBS I watched a lot of Braves games as a kid) and it's great to see you chatting here. As a follow up to Kevin's question, what non-Atlanta teams do you think have the best farm systems and why?

John Coppolella: It's so fluid with prospects rising and falling it's tough to say, definitively, what other teams have the best farm systems. I can tell you that there are bright days ahead for your Blue Jays.

Dweety (Palo Alto): You've worked for two of the best organizations in baseball - the Yankees in the Braves. Who in your opinion would be the third leg of that group in terms of performance and player development?

John Coppolella: By "third leg" I assume you mean my next destination? I don't really focus on any of that type of stuff -- all I do is try to help the Braves get better everyday.

GBSimons (Boise, ID): How concerned are you about Heyward's big-league performance to date? What are your expectations for him in 2012?

John Coppolella: Baseball is a really tough game. I know I was so bad at playing baseball I got cut from my high school team. Jason Heyward is incredibly talented and having a tough year. Look across the locker room and you see Dan Uggla who was hitting .173 on July 4th before catching fire. People forget Heyward is 22 years old and he's playing an incredibly difficult game. My expectations are that his talent will shine through and he will be a huge part of the Braves present and future.

Rick (KC): Can you tell us how you got into baseball. I'm just starting college next week and that's my career goal. What did you study and how does it happen?

John Coppolella: I talked about this a little bit in an earlier question, but it was basically blind luck. I always wanted to work in baseball, but had no ties to the game and didn't even play it beyond the high school level.

My advice to you as somebody starting college is ... party it up while you can!! Just kidding. The ability to speak Spanish fluently is a huge asset to anybody in baseball as well as a general business background because baseball is a business. I don't feel qualified to tell anybody what to study in school, but both of those things are important in today's game.

Chris (Alabama): Was there any consideration by the Braves' front office to claiming John McDonald off waivers? It seems he would be a better utility infield fit than Julio Lugo at this point in their respective careers.

John Coppolella: We consider every player on waivers and talk about it on a daily basis. I can't comment on specific trade negotiations (or the lack thereof), but we run through every name and are continuously looking for ways to upgrade our club.

Colin (chicago): Obviously the Braves are your number one priority, but have you paid any attention to the Cubs recent GM vacancy? How good/bad of a situation do you see the next GM getting him/herself into?

John Coppolella: I have paid attention to the Cubs GM vacancy. It's something we talk about here a lot because Frank and Bruce were both close friends with Jim Hendry and they were sad to see him lose his job. Baseball is a fraternity of sorts and you hate to see anybody lose their job. I realize fans get frustrated and want to win, but one thing that gets ignored a lot is that those are people who got fired.

The Cubs GM position is one of the most coveted jobs in baseball for a myriad of reasons. The next GM will have some key assets -- especially that shortstop -- but also a lot of work to do. In my option it's going to be a challenge and take some time to do things the right way, but there is opportunity within the difficulty. Given the nature of the job there will be no shortage of interest.

Kevin Goldstein (DeKalb ): That KG questions wasn't me. I don't live in Chicago!

John Coppolella: Hey -- it said Kevin Goldstein! Everybody in here is on the honors system ...

Aaron (YYZ): What's the organization's feel on Matt Lipka's struggles? Are there more positives on the scouting/developmental front than what we're seeing in his numbers this year?

John Coppolella: Lipka's numbers may not show it, but he has had a fine first full-season. Lipka was a star high school football wide receiver who didn't commit full-time to baseball until he signed with the Braves. We moved him to low-A at age 19 and he's more than held his own in a league where he is one of the youngest players. He's an extremly gifted athlete with speed and strength, but what separates him from so many others is his makeup and work ethic. This is a special kid who will continue to improve and is a big part of our future.

anello52 (Chicago): Who is a lesser known prospect within your minor league system who you are excited about?

John Coppolella: Zeke Spruill. Young, projectable athletic right-handed starter who throws a bowling ball of a sinker with a good curveball and a developing changeup. He's been moved to Double-A at age 21 and has gone 3-1 at that level. I feel like we have so much pitching he gets overlooked, but he's one of the best pitching prospects under the radar and we get hit on him often in trades.

Dodger Fan (Yorba Linda, California): If The Dodgers get a new owner, Ned Colleti goes onto the Cubs, would you consider going to the Dodgers? What would be the first 3 things you think the Dodgers need to do?

John Coppolella: People forget this team was in the NLCS -- one step away from the World Series -- less than two years ago. What has happened to that franchise with their ownership is a shame for all of its fans and it has put their front office in a very difficult position. I don't feel qualified to answer what the first three things they would need to do, but I do know they need to get their ownership situation resolved.

Matt (Calgary): Trout or Harper? I know it's almost impossible to decide, but if you could pick only one to be in your organization, who would it be? Or does it depend on what side the specially made Trout/Harper coin, that I assume all front office employees have, lands on?

John Coppolella: Ferrari or Lamborghini? Does it really matter? They are both very special players.

Chris (Alabama): How much say did the Braves have in the divorce with TBS? So many of the younger players in today's game grew up as Braves fans (David Price, Matt Wieters, etc.) due to them being on television nationwide. It seems like they must have lost a big national following by not being on the 'Superstation' anymore. It has to hurt in recruiting free agents in the future, as well. Guys typically want to play for their childhood team.

John Coppolella: It's impossible to tell whether the break from TBS had a positive or negative effect on Braves fans for a variety of reasons. I saw a poll on SI.com a few months ago that had us ranked as the third-most popular team in baseball. We have great fans and Braves country reaches far across America and into foreign nations.

rawagman (Toronto): Mr. Coppolella - thanks for chatting. A question many readers of BP have long sought answers to is, how can we break into a front office. If, hypothetically speaking, you were to be offered a job as an MLB GM, what traits would you look for in staffing your hypothetical front office?

John Coppolella: I've talked about this somewhat in earlier questions, but it's more luck and being in the right place at the right time. I don't want to be negative, but it's probably a longshot for everyboday. After three summers as an intern, experience with the Athletic Department at Notre Dame, and really good grades, I found myself with no opportunities in baseball. I needed to get a job so I accepted a job outside of baseball. I still kept writing to teams, even after landing the other job, and got a call a few months later.

OK lightning round here ...

Rachel (New York): In your opinion, is Roy Halladay the best pitcher in baseball?

John Coppolella: I prefer Verlander

Bill (New Mexico): Thanks for doing this. You might have to beg off on answering this one, and if so, I'll understand, but anyway: Can you give any insights into the way the Braves are receiving the idea of expanding the post season? Is there a position, or is it more of a "we'll cross that bridge when we get to it" kind of perspective?

John Coppolella: Sorry -- begging off

The Rose (Michigan): What are your thoughts on a pitcher winning the MVP? Could Justin Verlander win the AL Cy Young and AL MVP this year?

John Coppolella: I see both sides of the argument. Verlander certainly could.

Dweety (Palo Alto, CA): What's your philosophy regarding college pitchers? I know alot of teams are hesitant to draft them, figuring that after high school and college, the minor leagues would already represent the "third leg" of their careers.

John Coppolella: Take the best player on the board.

kcshankd (Lawrence KS): More and more teams have been willing to go way over slot, especially in later rounds. How much of a handicap is sticking to the slotting system? (Moranda and Moore excepted) Long term this has to damage the farm system, doesn't it?

John Coppolella: We have been arguably best scouting and development organization for the past 20 years so it hasn't done too much damage.

Chris (Indiana): John, So far, what is your favorite moment from this Braves season?

John Coppolella: Maybe because it just happened, but the Freddie Freeman GW 2-run single off Brian Wilson. It was 3-2, 2 outs, bottom of the 9th down one run, get the hit or go home ... and Freddie did it.

Cutty Sark (Westside): What do you think the value of Bartolo Colon will be next year? Could he be in line for a multi-year contract, or will his age scare teams away?

John Coppolella: Value is whatever one person in the market is willing to pay. And like PT Barnum said, "There's a sucker born every minute"

Bret (Toronto): What's your take on SS Tyler Pastornicky? Could he be a starting shortstop for you next year?

John Coppolella: Very young and underrated player who continues to improve.

DetroitDale (Florida (eternal spring training)): With Carlos Guillen and Magglio Ordonez done, the Tigers have an extra $20M/year to play with in the offseason, I say go get Jose Reyes, put him at second, then you can run out an infield of C Alex Avila, 1B Miguel Cabrera, 2B Reyes, SS Jhonny Peralta, 3B Nick Castellanos. Sound like a plan? If not who should the Tigers go after with the $20m?

John Coppolella: I would check with Dave Dombrowksi on that stuff -- he seems to have Tigers going pretty good these days

Jim (Georgia): I get to see a lot of minor league games as I'm close to Gwinnett, and I've been very impressed with the relievers Abreu and Ascencio. Are they part of a future bullpen that is even nastier than what we have now?

John Coppolella: Abreu was traded to Houston and called up yesterday. Asencio has been very good this year and should compete for ML job next year.

Chris (Alabama): Was there any chance to sign Anthony Rendon back when the Braves drafted him out of high school or was he 100% going to college?

John Coppolella: I don't know the details, but know we made a hard push.

AbnerD (Washington DC): Coop, What are your true feelings on Ketchup?

John Coppolella: I think I know who asked this question -- and yes, I enjoy ketchup.

I think this is a good place to end the chat. Thank you for all of your questions and thanks also to Kevin Goldstein and Baseball Prospectus for setting up this chat.

John Coppolella: Thanks for all the great questions and to BP for hosting this.


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