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Atlanta Braves Top 20 Prospects for 2015

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The Braves farm system was thin and helped cost GM Frank Wren his job, but winter trades have provided a big boost.

Jose Peraza
Jose Peraza
Stacy Revere, Getty Images

Atlanta Braves Top 20 Prospects for 2015

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 2015 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. In theory, they have a good chance of becoming stars or superstars. Theoretically, most Grade A prospects develop into stars or at least 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. Many end up as role players or bench guys. Some don’t make it at all.

Finally, keep in mind that all grades are shorthand. You have to read the full comment in the book for the full analysis 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 REVISED MARCH 14, 2015

1) Jose Peraza, INF, Grade B+: Age 20, slick defender took step forward offensively with .339/.364/.441 campaign in High-A/Double-A, with 60 steals. There are still questions about his power and his walk rate is quite low, but the complete package is worth buying into given youth, athleticism, and consistent improvement.

2) Mike Foltynewicz, RHP, Grade B:
Age 23, acquired from Astros in Evan Gattis traded, posted 5.08 ERA with 102/52 K/BB in 103 innings in Triple-A last year, 5.30 ERA with 14/7 K/BB in 19 major league innings. Throws very hard, mid-to-upper-90s, shows a good curveball and change-up but command and control remain inconsistent.

3) Lucas Sims, RHP, Grade B:
Age 20, struggled in first half in High-A but finished strong, 4.19 ERA with 107/57 K/BB in 157 innings, 146 hits. Still projects as rotation workhorse with fastball up to mid-90s, secondaries still under development but promising.

4) Rio Ruiz, 3B, Grade B: Age 20, hit .293/.387/.436 with 11 homers, 82 walks, 91 strikeouts in 516 at-bats in High-A. Acquired over the winter from Astros in Evan Gattis deal, Ruiz has a clean swing and sharp strike zone judgment but has not fully tapped his power yet. Double-A transition will be illuminating but still projects as a regular.

5) Christian Bethancourt, C, Grade B-: Age 23, his .248/.274/.274 line in the majors is a fair representation of his ability in the batting average/OBP departments and he will show more SLG in time. Great throwing arm, still prone to mistakes, overaggressive approach cuts into his hitting. If he makes some adjustments, think Miguel Olivo.

6) Tyrell Jenkins, RHP, Grade B-: Age 22, acquired from Cardinals in the big Shelby Miller/Jason Heyward trade, posted 3.28 ERA with 41/23 K/BB in 74 innings in High-A. Career has been marred by shoulder issues but when healthy he shows impressive stuff, mid-90s heat with a strong curve, change-up still needs some work but a very high ceiling.

7) Ozhaino Albies, SS, Grade B-: Age 17,speedy contact hitter with impressive defensive projection, athletic, already a polished hitter for his age, hit .356/.429/.452 in the Appy League. Needs to get stronger and prove himself in full-season ball but stock on the rise, could be at the top of this list next year.

8) Braxton Davidson, OF-1B, Grade B-:
2014 first-round pick, age 18, hit zero homers in first 50 pro games although scouts see lots of power in the bat. Already draws walks, Nick Swisher-like potential.

9) Jason Hursh, RHP, Grade B-:
Age 23, 3.58 ERA with 84/43 K/BB in 148 innings in Double-A, 1.65 GO/AO. I may like him more than I should due to memories of seeing him pitch college ball, but his sinker is impressive and I think the secondaries have more potential than the current low strikeout rate implies. Workhorse type or possibly a multi-inning reliever.

10) Jace Peterson, SS, Grade B-: Age 24, acquired from Padres in Justin Upton trade, hit .307/.402/.447 between Double-A and Triple-A with 51 walks, 59 strikeouts, 16 steals in 322 at-bats. Hit just .113/.161/.113 in 53 major league at-bats. Overmatched in his first look but his track record is solid, showing speed and intriguing on-base abilities with some gap power.

11) Max Fried, LHP, Grade B-:
Age 21, part of the Upton deal, missed almost all of 2014 with a bad elbow that eventually required Tommy John surgery. Will miss 2015 in recovery, when healthy features good command of low-90s fastball, good curve and change, number three starter upside.

12) Manny Banuelos, LHP, Grade C+:
Age 24, acquired from Yankees in the off-season, missed all of 2013 with Tommy John surgery. Pitched 77 innings last year between three levels with 4.11 ERA, 73/31 K/BB, 64 hits, 10 homers. Has his arm strength back, 90-94 MPH fastball, curve and change are generally solid, still needs to prove his stamina and his command wasn’t as good as it was pre-injury. Number four starter or bullpen arm.

13) Arodys Vizcaino, RHP, Grade C+
: Age 24, acquired from Cubs for Tommy La Stella, posted 3.51 ERA with 42/18 K/BB in 41 innings at three levels, 4/3 K/BB with one run in five big league innings. Took two years to recover from Tommy John and his stamina is still in doubt. 94-97 MPH when healthy with impressive curveball but shaky command.

14) Ricardo Sanchez, LHP, Grade C+:
Age 17, acquired from Angels in off-season trade, posted 3.49 ERA with 43/22 K/BB in 39 innings in rookie ball. Low-90s fastball with improving curveball and change-up, command still needs work but he is very young. Mid-rotation upside if he proves he has stamina.

15) Dustin Peterson, 3B, Grade C+:
Age 20, hit .233/.274/.361 with 10 homers, 25 walks, 137 strikeouts in 527 at-bats in Low-A, acquired in the Upton deal. Supplemental first rounder in 2013 but did not live up to expectations in his first season, bedeviled by contact issues and poor pitch recognition. High ceiling bat but can he refine his approach?

16) Alex Grosser, RHP, Grade C+ :
Sleeper Alert, age 19, 3.68 ERA with 63/22 K/BB in 64 innings in Appy League. Braves fans are well aware of him and he’s starting to get more press nationally, so not a sleeper for much longer. Needs to make full-season transition but low-90s fastball, slider, and changeup project well. Another possible mid-rotation guy.

17) Cody Martin, RHP, Grade C+:
Age 25, 3.52 ERA with 142/56 K/BB in 156 innings in Triple-A. Not a high upside guy but knows how to pitch, throws strikes, eats innings, back-end starter or relief option who is ready for a trial.

18) Mauricio Cabrera, RHP, Grade C+:
Age 21, missed most of season with forearm injury and was ineffective in High-A due to command troubles when he did pitch. Throws very hard, up to 98 if not higher, but struggles with mechanics and control of secondary pitches. High-end closer if it all comes together or a number three starter, but big risk too. Higher ceiling than Martin.

19) Shae Simmons, RHP, Grade C+:
Age 24, impressive in the majors last year with 2.91 ERA 23/11 K/BB in 22 innings. Not a fluke, but always difficult to know where to rank middle relief prospects and there’s injury risk with this one, shoulder injury that ended season early. If healthy I like his chances. Nice late-round college find (22nd round, Southeast Missouri State, 2012).

20) Mallex Smith, OF, Grade C+:
Age 21, hit .310/.403/.432 with 88 steals, 69 walks, 103 strikeouts in 477 at-bats in A-ball in the Padres system, then traded to Braves. Blazing fast and can work a count, ideal leadoff type if he shows enough pop to keep the pitchers honest at higher levels.

21) Williams Perez, RHP, Grade C+:
Age 23, doesn’t get as much attention as other Braves prospects but out-pitches most of them with sinker/change-up combination, posted 2.91 ERA with 94/39 K/BB in 133 innings in Double-A. 6-1, 230 body weighs against him with observers but the stuff is decent and he uses it well.

22) Johan Camargo, SS, Grade C+: Would rank as high as seven if you go by tools and upside alone, age 20, from Panama, hit .266/.313/.326 in A-ball. All projection and little production at this point, could develop into a regular, or a bench guy, or nothing at all.

23) Max Povse, RHP, Grade C+:
Borderline C. Age 21, third round pick from UNC-Greensboro, very tall at 6-8, rough secondaries were troublesome in college but he made some progress in the Appy League, 3.42 ERA with 37/11 K/BB in 47 innings.

24) Garrett Fulenchek, RHP, Grade C:
Borderline C+. HIGH CEILING ALERT. Would rank higher on pure ability (Baseball Prospectus slots him aggressively at fifth in the system, which may look like a great call four years from now), age 18, struggled with consistency in rookie ball but second round pick could become a three-pitch starting force if it all comes together. A year behind Grosser but could be on similar trajectory.

25) Victor Reyes, OF, Grade C
: Age 20, hit .342 in rookie ball in 2013 but just .259/.309/.298 in Low-A in ’14, zero homers. Looks good in uniform, nice swing, overall tools are there but no power yet, defense is ahead of hitting at this point.

26) Daniel Castro, INF, Grade C
: Age 21, hit .286/.312/.398 in Double-A/Triple-A. From Mexico, held his own at a young age, good defensive versatility. You could put many of the "other" Grade C guys in this slot but Castro seems to me like a guy who could sneak up on us.




OTHER GRADE C PROSPECTS: Jose Briceno, C; John Cornely, RHP; Todd Cunningham, OF; Chris Diaz, LHP; Jordan Edgerton, 3B; Sean Godfrey, OF; Phil Gosselin, INF; Ryne Harper, RHP; Nate Hyatt, RHP; Juan Jaime, RHP; Kyle Kinman, LHP; Connor Lien, OF; Dilmer Mejia, LHP; Aaron Northcraft, RHP; Wes Parsons, RHP; Elmer Reyes, INF; Greg Ross, RHP; Carlos Salazar, RHP; Fernelys Sanchez, OF; Chad Sobotka, RHP; Ian Thomas, LHP; Andrew Thurman, RHP; Dan Winkler, RHP

THIS LIST WAS REVISED MARCH 14, 2015:

As you can see, this list looks much different than the version published back in November. The system was quite thin back then but trades have injected new blood including four of the current Top Ten. Pitching remains the key strength but the additions of Ruiz, the two Petersons, and speedy Mallex Smith add some additional intrigue to the hitting side, though it is still not as good as the pitching. Here is the original commentary:

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It is not secret that the Braves farm system has declined, a decline which recently helped cost GM Frank Wren his job.

The organization has some strengths: there remains a nice group of interesting arms, beginning with Lucas Sims, and the scouting staff has done a good job finding useful arms in later round of the draft as well as plucking pitchers out of independent ball. Simmons and Shreve were terrific late-round finds and there are plenty of bullpen options to look at including hard-throwing Juan Jaime and lefty Ian Thomas. They’ve also found some middle infield talents and have found some bargains in Latin America, with Peraza and Albies the best two current examples.

The big weakness here is obvious: bats. There aren’t many and most of the interesting position guys are defense-oriented players. Kubitza could be an exception and Braxton Davidson was one of the more exciting bats in the ’14 high school class, but more depth is obviously needed. If you want future utility infielders there are many candidates.

The chain of causation for such problems is difficult for an outsider to parse. Remember that this is the same organization that developed Freddie Freeman and (more impressively from a sleeper perspective) Evan Gattis, so I wouldn’t conclude that they simply can’t find hitters. Bargain-hunting in the draft has been an issue: it seems to work with pitchers but less so with hitters (Gattis excepted) in the modern context. It will be interesting to see if the change in leadership opens up the purse strings or leads to a change in philosophy.

Christian Bethancourt

Christian Bethancourt, photo by Jim McIsaac, Getty Images