Atlanta Braves Top 20 Prospects for 2014

Lucas Sims - Used with permission of Flickr user BeGreen90

The Atlanta Braves farm system is currently thin, but for a good reason: they graduated several prospects to the major leagues in recent years.

Atlanta Braves Top 20 Prospects for 2014

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 2014 Baseball Prospect Book. We are now taking pre-orders for the book, so order early and order often!

All of these grades are preliminary and subject to change.

QUICK PRIMER ON GRADE MEANINGS:

Grade A prospects are the elite. They have a reasonable chance of becoming stars or superstars. In theory, most Grade A prospects develop into major league regulars, if injuries or unanticipated 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 guys at lower levels who are just getting started) 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.

1) Lucas Sims, RHP, Grade B+. Borderline A-. All the attributes of a future number two starter. I want to see how he handles a larger workload going forward, but that’s nitpicking at this point. Clearly the class of the system. Went 12-4, 2.62 with 134/46 K/BB in 117 innings in Low-A, just 83 hits. Low-to-mid-90s, good curve and change, throws strikes, athletic. Complete package.

2) Tommy La Stella, 2B, Grade B: Borderline B-. What? Why so high? Simple: I get the Matt Carpenter/Allen Craig St. Louis Cardinals type massively underrated prospect vibe with this one, and I swore this year that I won’t get talked out of where my analysis leads me. La Stella can simply hit and his fielding is underrated. My main concern is durability, but if injuries don’t get in the way I think he is going to outperform a lot of guys who get more hype.

3) Christian Bethancourt, C, Grade B-: Borderline B. He’ll rank ahead of La Stella on everyone else’s list I’m sure. Defense looks very impressive despite some sloppy mistakes, he’s developed some power, and he’s very young. However, his approach at the plate remains very raw and major league pitchers will exploit it. Maximal outcome: Yadier Molina if you want to dream on his bat. Mid-point: Miguel Olivo. Worst case: Henry Blanco. Bethancourt will most likely have a long career but I am still very uncertain about the shape that career will take. He could be an All Star but he could also be a scrub.

4) Jose Peraza, SS, Grade B-: Borderline B. Stole 64 bases in Low-A and has a slick glove at shortstop, but lack of power is problematic and I want to see how he handles High-A and Double-A pitching. Like Bethancourt, he will reach the majors on the strength of his defense and will probably have a long career, but will he be a strong regular or just a useful reserve?

5) Mauricio Cabrera, RHP, Grade B-: You have to love an arm that can hit 100 MPH, but breaking ball and command are unrefined and he had command issues in Low-A. I do think the Braves have a better shot at developing him than many teams. This is a guy with B+/A- potential but he’s not quite at that level yet.

6) J.R. Graham, RHP, Grade B-: I would rank him at number two with a strong Grade B or maybe a B+, but the shoulder problems that cut short his season are worrisome. Track any reports about his health closely this spring.

7) David Hale, RHP, Grade B-: Older arm at age 26 but I think he’s made enough progress to rate well. Does he start or relieve? His component ratios aren’t great but I think there is enough stuff here particularly if used in pen.

8) Jason Hursh, RHP, Grade B-: I liked what I saw of first round pick Hursh at Oklahoma State, but he needs to refine his secondary pitches to go with the hard sinker. Need for better secondaries seems a common theme with Braves pitching prospects, but the organization has a good track record with young pitching.

9) Joey Terdoslavich, OF-1B, Grade C+: Borderline B-. Not technically a rookie due to service time, but he is well under the at-bat limit so I will include him as requested by some readers. Adapting to the majors while being used as a pinch-hitter is tough, but if given sufficient at-bats I think he would be productive, say a .270 hitter with decent power.

10) Victor Caratini, 3B-C, Grade C+: Borderline B-. Solid line drive hitter with good strike zone judgment, hit just one homer in the Appy League but some scouts believe that the homers will come in time. Others aren’t sure, but at least he has a good eye. Will be interesting to see how he adapts defensively.

11) Cody Martin, RHP, Grade C+:
Borderline B-. Could rank as high as 9. Workmanlike strike-thrower should be ready for major league trial in ’14, could be a fourth/fifth starter or fit a variety of bullpen roles. Closed in college at Gonzaga but Braves have used him as a starter with good results.

12) Josh Elander, OF, Grade C+: Texas Christian product battered Low-A (.916 OPS) but slumped after moving up to High-A (.716 OPS). Adaption to Double-A will tell us more. Overall hit .293/.365/.463 with 15 homers. Most potent current bat in the farm system.

13) Kyle Wren, OF, Grade C+: Eighth round pick out of Georgia Tech quieted nepotism assumptions (he is the son of the Braves GM) by hitting .328/.352/.456 with 32 steals in 47 games in Low-A after signing. Will have to see about power at higher levels but has leadoff potential.

14) Sean Gilmartin, LHP, Grade C+: Ugly season in Triple-A (5.74 ERA, 112 hits in 91 innings) was marred by shoulder problems. If healthy, profiles as a strike-throwing fourth starter who gets by on feel and moxie rather than pure stuff.

15) Aaron Northcraft, RHP, Grade C+: Ground ball machine fared well in Double-A (3.42 ERA, 121/51 K/BB in 137 innings) but sagged with command problems in Arizona Fall League. Probably more reliever than starter in the long run since he can throttle right-handed hitters.

16) Johan Camargo, SS, Grade C+: Borderline C. Panamanian infielder hit .294 in Appy League with good reports on his glove, but lack of power is notable (.360 SLG) and he doesn’t have a lot of speed either. Young enough to develop further at age 19.

17) Victor Reyes, OF, Grade C: Borderline C+: A year younger than Camargo, hit .342/.387/.409 between GCL and Appy. Good reports on his feel for hitting, hasn’t developed his power yet but may in time. Definitely worth tracking.

18) Shae Simmons, RHP, Grade C:
At this point, the names are basically interchangeable with the guys in the "others" section, so don’t get bent out of shape on the exact placement as this is more of a tier approach at this stage. I’m picking these three to write about because I want to highlight them as intriguing arms that non-Braves fans might not be familiar with. Hard-throwing 5-foot-9 right-hander turned some heads with Arizona Fall League performance; picked up 24 saves with 82 strikeouts in 53 innings during the regular season in Low-A and Double-A. Could slot into middle relief role quite nicely.

19) Ian Thomas, LHP, Grade C:
Thomas is a big lefty (6-4, 210) with sweet Double-A numbers (2.76, 123/37 K/BB in 104 innings, just 72 hits) but was signed out of independent ball, is already 26, and doesn’t excite scouts. He’s deceptive however and the performance can’t be ignored, especially with more famous guys like Graham and Gilmartin having health issues. It wouldn’t surprise me at all to see Thomas have a run of success in the majors, at least for a short while.

20) Wes Parsons, RHP, Grade C:
Another successful non-drafted free agent, dominated the Sally League (101/21 K/BB in 110 innings, 2.63 ERA), throws strikes, is still just 21, and still has some projectability in 6-5, 190 frame. We need to see him at higher levels but he’s quite interesting.

Other Grade C prospects (interchangeable from 17 on): Ryan Buchter, LHP; John Cornely, RHP; Todd Cunningham, OF; Alec Grosser, RHP; Ryne Harper, RHP; Robby Hefflinger, OF; Juan Jaime, RHP; Kyle Kubitza, 3B; Mark Lamm, RHP; Connor Lien, OF; Matt Lipka, OF; Wirfin Obispo, RHP; Carlos Perez, LHP; Carlos Salazar, RHP; Edward Salcedo, 3B; Gus Schlosser, RHP; Andry Ubiera, RHP.

SUMMARY:
The Atlanta farm has thinned out considerably, and looking at just the talent in the minors currently, it is a bottom tier system. Of course, the reason it has thinned out is a good one: the big league roster that won 96 games was filled with home-grown talent including recent system graduates Freddie Freeman, Andrelton Simmons, Evan Gattis, Mike Minor, Kris Medlen, Julio Teheran, Alex Wood, and Craig Kimbrel. There is a cycle to player development and even strong systems will go through reload phases. The Braves are in one now.

That said, there are some bright spots, headlined by 2012 first-rounder Lucas Sims although he's probably two years away. Shoulder injuries to J.R. Graham and Sean Gilmartin are worrisome, but there are other live arms available should they falter. There is quite a bit of potential bullpen material among the Grade C guys.

Lack of impact bats looks like an issue. Bethancourt is a defense-first guy who will have a long career but still needs a lot of work with the bat to live up to his press clippings. His power is coming around but his OBP is going to be awful and I would avoid elevated expectations. I am a huge fan of La Stella (obviously) and if he stays healthy I think he is going to really surprise people. Caratini's plate discipline stands out as a positive and the power may come.
Also keep a close eye on recent international signees like Camargo and Victor Reyes, who could blossom within the next year or two.

Although they have taken some heat for recent draft decisions, the Braves have done a good job mining unusual sources of talent by signing quality undrafted free agents and being open-minded about unconventional draftees like Gattis.

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