Atlanta Braves Top 20 Prospects for 2013

Julio Teheran - Scott Cunningham

Atlanta Braves Top 20 Prospects for 2013

The list and grades are a blending of present performance and long-term potential. Comments are welcome, but in the end all analysis and responsibility is mine. Full reports on all of players can be found in the 2013 Baseball Prospect Book. We are now taking pre-orders. Order early and order often!

QUICK PRIMER ON GRADE MEANINGS:

Grade A prospects are the elite. They have a reasonable chance of becoming stars or superstars. Almost all Grade A prospects develop into major league regulars, if injuries or other problems don't intervene. Note that is a major "if" in some cases.

Grade B prospects have a good chance to enjoy successful careers. Some will develop into stars, some will not. Most end up spending several years in the majors, at the very least in a marginal role.

Grade C prospects are the most common type. These are guys who have something positive going for them, but who may have a question mark or three, or who are just too far away from the majors to get an accurate feel for. A few Grade C guys, especially at the lower levels, do develop into stars. Some end up as role players or bench guys. Many don't make it at all.

Also note that there is diversity within each category. I'm a tough grader; Grade C+ is actually good praise, and some C+ prospects (especially at lower levels) turn out very well indeed.

Finally, keep in mind that all grades are shorthand. You have to read the full comment in the book for my full opinion about a player, the letter grade only tells you so much. A Grade C prospect in rookie ball could end up being very impressive, while a Grade C prospect in Triple-A is likely just a future role player.

THIS LIST WAS LAST REVISED APRIL 4, 2013

1) Julio Teheran, RHP, Grade B+:
Choosing between Teheran and Graham at #1 on this list is a very tough call. I had Graham ahead much of the winter but am flipping them now. That might change depending on what spring training reports show. Teheran pitched quite well in winter ball. RAISED TO B+ after strong spring training. That might still be too low.

2) J.R. Graham, RHP, Grade B: I really like him and I'm actually more confident that he'll reach his ceiling than Teheran will reach his, although Teheran is younger and most scouts will tell you that he projects better despite his issues. As for Graham, plus stuff, very athletic, good statistical profile add up for me.

3) Alex Wood, LHP, Grade B-: Borderline B. Unconventional but it works, had some excellent outings and should move quickly through the system. This grade may go up a notch but I have a couple more things to review first.

4) Luke Sims, RHP, Grade B-:
Borderline B. Seems like a very solid high school pitching prospect to me. I really don't see ace upside, but project him as a solid mid-rotation guy if it all comes together, if he stays healthy, etc.

5) Sean Gilmartin, LHP, Grade B-: Solid command guy but upside is relatively limited and I also see him as a number four starter. But that's not an insult. Will be ready sooner than Spruill.

6) Mauricio Cabrera, RHP, Grade B-: Needs to refine breaking ball and sharpen command, but pitched well in the Appy League and has one of the highest upsides in the system. Candidate to move well up the list in 2013.

7) Tommy La Stella, 2B, Grade B-: I love this guy: pure hitter with superb plate discipline/contact skills, gap power, and underrated glove. Unconventional approach turns some scouts off and we do need to see him at higher levels, but he should not be underestimated.

8) Jose Peraza, SS, Grade B-: Impressive tools, especially on defense, and his ability to make contact stands out. Early in his career, grade could go considerably higher in a year or two. On pure tools, would rank higher than La Stella, but also has a greater chance of failure.

9) Aaron Northcraft, RHP, Grade B-: Doesn't excite scouts, but K/IP shot way up this year and he gets a huge number of ground balls, all markers of a significant sleeper.

10) Cody Martin, RHP, Grade B-: Borderline C+: Control artist out of Gonzaga was part of very successful Lynchburg rotation.

11) Evan Gattis, OF-C, Grade C+: Borderline B-. I have really struggled with this grade. I believe in the bat, but at age 26 it is difficult to grade and rank him. You can make a case to place him as high as 7th with a B- grade. This is quite preliminary and I may bump him up by book time.

12) Edward Salcedo, 3B, Grade C+: Would rank higher on pure tools, but continues to hamper himself with a poor approach at the plate. Arizona Fall League scouts noted indifferent effort on defense and generally weak instincts all-around. Young enough to improve substantially but there is a lot of work to do.

13) Christian Bethancourt, C, Grade C+: Another guy who would rank higher on pure tools. Very impressive defense but his bat is awful and several sources regard it as hopeless. Saving grace is youth. He could be a late-bloomer but that might be seven years from now.

14) David Hale, RHP, Grade C+: Live arm, continues to make incremental progress harnessing it. Could see him in the majors in '13 as emergency starter or in the bullpen.

15) Luis Merejo, LHP, Grade C+: Could plausibly rank as high as 11th depending on how you want to balance risk/upside/distance from the majors. Bargain signing at $65,000, not a big guy but looked solid in rookie ball low 90s, throws strikes, and has a promising breaking ball.

16) Navery Moore, RHP, Grade C+: Live arm from Vanderbilt, still adding polish to his game after injury-plagued college career. Step forward possible in '13.

17) Todd Cunningham, OF, Grade C+: I like the speed and defense, another guy who could easily rank eight or nine spots higher. Lack of power keeps him from being a premium prospect but he could have a long career as a fourth outfielder.

18) William Beckwith, 1B, Grade C+: Doesn't receive a lot of attention outside of Braves circles, but an interesting player. Good athlete for his size, left-side power, plate discipline needs some work but someone to watch closely.

19) Josh Elander, C, Grade C+: This might be too low. I like his bat, not sure about the glove.

20) Joey Terdoslavich, 1B, Grade C+: Not as bad as he looked in Triple-A, but it will be hard to find a place to play him.

OTHERS: John Cornely, RHP; Carlos Franco, 3B; Ryne Harper, RHP; Ross Heffley, 2B; Nathan Hyatt, RHP, Juan Jaime, RHP; Kyle Kubitza, 3B; Matt Lipka, OF, Mark Lamm, RHP; Joe Leonard, 3B; Connor Lien, OF; Gary Moran, RHP; David Peterson, RHP; Carlos Perez, LHP; Williams Perez, RHP; Cory Rasmus, RHP; Wilson Rivera, RHP; Patrick Scoggin, RHP; Gus Schlosser, RHP.

I really struggled with this organization and have spent more than a week trying to rank these guys. But at some point I have to give up trying to make it perfect and just publish the damn thing. This system has thinned out but it isn't as bad as I thought it was on my first look-thru.

The top six are pretty clear to me (although I've gone back and forth on Graham/Teheran at the top), but after that you can come up with a few dozen ways to plausibly rank these guys. Many, many of the grades are borderline calls, right in the B-/C+ zone, and I expect some of these grades will change by the time the book is ready to publish.

I again emphasize that grades are always a shorthand.

The organization still has considerable depth in pitching. Although nobody here has a perfect profile, the Braves have more arm depth than a lot of systems. Hitting is much thinner. There are guys with very impressive tools (Salcedo, Bethancourt) who can't hit, or at least they haven't hit yet. Braves partisans think they will, but sources outside the organization are much more doubtful, especially about Bethancourt. There are some guys who can hit (Beckwith, La Stella in particular) but who don't have plus tools. Gattis is a real quandary from an analytical perspective due to his age, but the more I study him, the more I like him.

Looking at the 2012 draft, I like the one/two pitching punch of Luke Sims and Alex Wood at the top. I also like eighth round pick Dave Peterson as a reliever who could move quickly through the system, as could 13th round pick Nathan Hyatt and 15th round pick Alex Wilson.

I am much less impressed with the hitting. The Braves drafted several athletes with questionable bats. Third round pick Bryan de la Rosa has very impressive defensive tools behind the plate, but was helpless against rookie ball pitching. Scouting reports about his bat from non-Braves sources are just as bad as his numbers. He's young enough to improve but it will take a lot of time if it happens at all. Fourth round pick Justin Black is a toolsy outfielder from Montana; like de la Rosa, both stats and scouting reports about his hitting skills are negative at this point and he's already 19, which makes a difference when plotting out his risk/reward curve.

I saw fifth round pick Blake Brown play at the University of Missouri. The story is similar here: great athlete, good tools, but looked lost at the plate in college, unable to handle below average breaking balls. I see no objective or subjective reason to expect a quick turnaround in pro ball.

I am much more impressed with sixth round pick Josh Elander, another college guy I'm very familiar with. He is much more polished than Brown and has a decent set of tools himself although it remains to be seen if he's a catcher or an outfielder.

I also think 12th round outfielder Connor Lien should be watched very closely. He is raw and has some issues with his hitting approach, but I think he has a better chance than de la Rosa or Black to figure out what he's doing. He's still a five-year project though.

16th round pick Fernelys Sanchez needs to get further past his spring leg injury before we can get a valid read on either his tools or skills.

18th round pick Ross Heffley isn't toolsy but performed well making a direct jump to Low-A and will likely end up being a better baseball player than several of the athletes drafted ahead of him.

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