Moving forward with our look at young talent on each of the 2010 playoff teams, we shift to the National League and the Atlanta Braves. The focus here is on players who were rookies, or any player 24 years old or younger, and what I see for their future.
Brandon Beachy, RHP: Turned 24 in September, an undrafted free agent out of Indiana Wesleyan who had a remarkable season, 1.73 ERA with a 148/28 K/BB in 119 innings in Double-A and Triple-A. He lost two of three major league starts, but did post a 15/7 K/BB in 15 innings. He looks like he can be a useful fourth starter at the major league level.
Michael Dunn, LHP: 25 year old rookie, posted a 1.89 ERA with a 27/17 K/BB in 19 innings in the Braves bullpen. Needs to get the walk rate down to sustain that ERA over a full season, but his strikeout rate is excellent and he has a good chance to be a successful reliever for some time to come.
Freddie Freeman, 1B: Didn't turn 21 until mid-September, hit just .167/.167/.333 in 24 major league at-bats, but .319/.378/.521 in Triple-A. One of the best first base prospects in the game, he just needs a chance to play. Was a second round pick from a California high school in 2007.
Tommy Hanson, RHP: Didn't turn 24 until late August. Sophomore went 10-11, 3.33 with a 173/56 K/BB in 203 innings, 182 hits, firmly establishing himself as one of the best young pitchers in the game. He will be a rotation anchor for years to come barring health problems. Was drafted in the 22nd round in 2006 from Riverside Community College.
Jason Heyward, OF: Played most of the season at age 20, hitting .277/.393/.456 with 18 homers and 91 walks. As good as he was, he's just scratching the surface of his potential, particularly in the power department. He will be a superstar, and it will be interesting to see him perform on the big post-season stage. Drafted in the first round in 2007 from high school in Georgia.
Brandon Hicks, INF: 25 year old rookie, went 0-for-5 in 16 games for Atlanta after hitting .211/.280/.333 in Triple-A. He has a chance as a bench guy if he can make sufficient contact due to speed, defense, and some sparks of power, but he has no chance as a regular. Drafted out of Texas A&M in the third round in '07.
Craig Kimbrel, RHP: 22 year old reliever, posted a 0.44 ERA with a 40/16 K/BB in 21 major league innings, following up a 1.62 ERA with an 83/35 K/BB in 56 Triple-A innings, 23 saves. Ideally-suited for use as a middle reliever and could get a shot at closing eventually. Was a third round pick in 2008 from Wallace State Community College in Alabama.
Kris Medlen, RHP: 24 year old sophomore, had a good season as a swingman, 3.68 ERA with an 83/21 K/BB in 108 innings, 108 hits, started 14 games and relieved in 17. A 10th round pick in 2006 from Santa Anna Community College. He's just a very solid pitcher when healthy. He is now out with Tommy John surgery, so we'll have to see how his recovery goes.
Mike Minor, LHP: 22 years old, posted a 5.98 ERA in the majors with a 43/11 K/BB in 41 innings, 53 hits, following up a 3.44 ERA with a 146/46 K/BB in 120 Double-A and Triple-A innings. Vanderbilt product drafted in the first round in 2009 got to the majors much sooner than anyone expected a year ago. He needs to make a few more adjustments, but I see him as a solid number three starter going forward.
Jair Jurrjens, RHP: Has been a full-time starter for three years but is still just 24 years old. 4.64 ERA with 86/42 K/BB in 116 innings this year, 120 hits, not at full strength due to some injury problems. I think his "true level" of performance is better than this year but not as good as 2009; look for something like his 2008 season more frequently, assuming good health. Originally signed by the Tigers from the Netherlands Antilles.
Jonny Venters, LHP: 25 year old rookie, 1.95 ERA with a 93/39 K/BB in 83 innings for the Braves, 61 hits allowed, excellent bullpen debut. Extreme ground ball pitcher with a high strikeout rate, a potent combination. Another junior college guy, drafted in the 30th round in 2003 then signed as a draft-and-follow in '04 after pitching for Indian River CC in Florida. The Braves look at the JC ranks very intently.