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Melotticus' Top 20 Pre-Season Review - Atlanta Braves

Taking a look back at how my rankings fared this year.

Second baseman Tommy La Stella
Second baseman Tommy La Stella
Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports

With John's reviews of his pre-season lists going full steam ahead, I thought it would be a good idea to go back and check out how my own personal rankings panned out. Before the year I had intended to go through all 30 teams, but I only made it through the National League plus the AL East before I ran out of time. For these purposes though, I will only go over the National League, starting with the East division and I will work my way through the Central to the West.

#1 RHP Lucas Sims, 20 years old

IP G GS BAA K/9 BB/9 K/BB ERA WHIP FIP BABIP/LOB W L SV
156.2 28 28 0.243 6.15 3.27 1.88 4.19 1.30 4.56 277/68.4 8 11 0

Sims spent the whole year in A+ Lynchburg of the Carolina League, but didn't quite live up to the hype his full season debut gave him. As a 20 year old for most of the season, Sims was still almost three years younger than the average Carolina League player and still posted decent numbers. One concerning thing about his season was a huge dip in strike outs. He struck out over 12% less batters in 2014 while improving his walk rate by 1%, and his opponents batting average also climbed 45 points despite a lower BABIP. Sims was also a better pitcher on the road in 2014, posting a 3.71 ERA and 1.18 WHIP away from Lynchburg and 4.84 ERA and 1.45 WHIP at home. He's still the best pitching prospect in the system, but the gap has shrunk quite a bit from pre-season.

#2 RHP Cody Martin, 24 years old

IP G GS BAA K/9 BB/9 K/BB ERA WHIP FIP BABIP/LOB W L SV
156 27 26 0.250 8.19 3.23 2.54 3.52 1.33 4.17 301/77.8 7 8 1

Cody Martin anchored the AAA Gwinnett rotation all year and also paced the organization in strike outs with 142, 15 more than runner-up Jarrett Miller. The 24 year old right hander was also third in the league in strike outs, sixth in innings pitched, and came in eighth in ERA for pitchers with at least 100 IP in the International League. Martin improved his walk rate by over 2% from his time spent with Gwinnett at the end of 2013, his strike out rate dropped 1.3%, and the opposition hit 22 points better against him this season. Martin was also much better at home, putting up a 2.42 ERA and 1.16 WHIP in Gwinnett with a 5.14 ERA and 1.57 WHIP on the road. Right handed hitters showed more power (240/321/443, 764 OPS), but lefties generated more contact (265/327/367, 694 OPS). I like Martin more than most and believe he can be a quality back end starter in the MLB. The emergence of Peraza and a few 2014 draftees will likely knock him down the list a bit though.

#3 C Christian Bethancourt, 22 years old

Level G AB H R 2B 3B HR RBI BB K SB/SBA OPS wOBA wRC+ BA/OBP/SLG
AAA 91 343 97 33 17 1 8 48 13 61 7-8 716 320 94 283/308/408
MLB 20 74 19 6 1 0 0 6 2 20 1-2 556 252 57 257/286/270
Total 111 417 116 39 18 1 8 54 15 81 8-10

Defensive wizard Christian Bethancourt got his first extended look in the majors this season with injuries hitting the big league roster, and he held his own despite his youth and inexperience. Bethancourt, 22, spent the majority of the season handling catching duties at AAA Gwinnett where he posted a 94 wRC+ which was just below league average offensively. With the defensive abilities he brings to the table, anything close to league average is gravy when you have gold glove defense at one of the most important positions on the diamond. Its easy to forget that the Panamanian catcher played in a league where the average age was 5 years his senior. His hyper-aggressive approach resulted in another season with a walk percentage less than 4% with a strike out rate of 16.7% in AAA. Bethancourt did not show any sharp platoon splits this year, but did hit better against southpaws (288/328/415) than righties (274/294/371). He was also a big fan of playing at home where he hit almost 100 points better (324/352/443 at home, 227/250/318 on the road). He has been getting a fair amount of playing time lately with the parent club and will probably toe the line of eligibility when all is said and done.

#4 2B Jose Peraza, 20 years old

G AB H R 2B 3B HR RBI BB K SB/SBA OPS wOBA wRC+ BA/OBP/SLG
110 469 159 79 20 11 2 44 17 47 60-75 806 365 126 339/364/441

This season saw Peraza move across the keystone from short stop to second base for the first time in his career and he did not disappoint, posting a huge breakout between A+ Lynchburg and AA Mississippi.  Nobody will ever confuse the 20 year old Venezuelan for a thumper, but he showed blazing speed with his second consecutive season of at least 60 stolen bases and eight triples. He does not walk much (3.4%, ~5% less than league average), but also doesn't strike out all that much either (9.4%, ~10% less than league average), putting the ball in play and getting the most out of his speed. Peraza also hit the ball on the ground or hit a line drive over 65% of the time in 2014. While in Lynchburg, he was almost three years younger than league average, and 4.5 years younger than the average Southern League player. The diminutive middle infielder absolutely thrashed lefties this year, hitting 380/410/472 over 118 plate appearances while tagging right handers with a 327/350/432 line. He was also a bit better at home (826 OPS) than on the road (784 OPS). His big breakout should vault him to the upper echelon of the system with designs on more than a few Top 100 lists this offseason.

#5 2B Tommy La Stella, 25 years old

Level G AB H R 2B 3B HR RBI BB K SB/SBA OPS wOBA wRC+ BA/OBP/SLG
AAA 47 167 49 18 6 1 1 23 25 14 1-2 743 346 112 293/384/359
MLB 89 309 79 22 16 1 1 31 36 40 2-3 658 298 88 256/334/324
Total 136 476 128 40 22 2 2 54 61 54 3-5

It took until late May for Atlanta to finally abandon the Dan Uggla experiment, and La Stella stepped right in and set up shop at second base for the Braves. The 25 year old's plate discipline did not waver with the jump to the highest level, continuing to post K/BB ratios around 1. In his first go round in the MLB, La Stella has not quite hit like he did in the minors where he was a career .321 hitter. He also has faded down the stretch, hitting a paltry 219/297/290 in the second half. His defense has also been a problem with a UZR/150 of -7.9 and has cost the Braves six runs according to Defensive Runs Saved (DRS). He's done some damage against same handed pitchers, posting a 316/400/439 line against left handers in an admittedly small sample size of just 65 plate appearances. La Stella has exhausted his rookie eligibility but looks to have the inside track on the second base job for the next year or two at the least.

#6 RHP JR Graham, 24 years old

IP G GS BAA K/9 BB/9 K/BB ERA WHIP FIP BABIP/LOB W L SV
71.1 27 19 0.275 6.31 3.28 1.92 5.55 1.47 3.50 328/59.2 1 5 0

Shoulder injuries put a damper on Graham's 2013 season, and he spent more time in the trainer's room this year between mid June and late July due to triceps tendinitis in his throwing arm. After returning from injury, he was put on a pitch count and then moved to the bullpen for AA Mississippi. While Graham's ERA has climbed every year since turning pro, he has yet to put together a season where he had an FIP above 3.50. This was possible this year with a combination of a high BABIP and ridiculously low strand rate, meaning more balls in play found holes and the guys brought in after him didn't do him any favors. I'm content in looking at this year as the second consecutive lost year for the 24 year old. If he can come back next spring healthy and bring his customary high 90's heat, look for a big bounce back next year.

#7 CF Kyle Wren, 23 years old

G AB H R 2B 3B HR RBI BB K SB/SBA OPS wOBA wRC+ BA/OBP/SLG
132 496 144 74 21 8 0 43 46 79 46-60 715 332 104 290/350/365

Once thought of as a nepotism pick as his dad is the GM of the Braves, Wren has turned in consistently solid production as a top of the order catalyst. The 23 year old center fielder split time between A+ Lynchburg and AA Mississippi with a league average walk rate and a strike out rate almost 5 points better than league average in his first full season. He's another player who will never be confused with a power hitter, but he puts knows his style of play and doesn't try to waver from it. He's well balanced in the box with a wide stance, plus speed, and a knack for putting the ball in play and getting on base (his lowest BABIP of his career was .333 at A+ this year). Wren performed better on the road this year (324/369/412) than at home (256/332/317), and didn't show any sharp platoon splits (286/355/365 vs RHP, 302/336/365 vs LHP). His stint in AA showed he could handle more advanced pitching and he should continue his quick ascent through the minors.

#8 RHP Jason Hursh, 22 years old

IP G GS BAA K/9 BB/9 K/BB ERA WHIP FIP BABIP/LOB W L SV
148.1 27 26 0.267 5.04 2.61 1.93 3.58 1.31 3.52 306/67.5 11 7 0

Atlanta's 2013 first round pick, Hursh skipped A+ and jumped straight to AA for his first full season after pitching at Low A Rome after being drafted. The 22 year old righty finished in the top 10 in the Southern League in IP and wins, showing he can handle a full season's work load now that he's a few years removed from Tommy John surgery. His peripheral stats won't jump out at you and may even cause slight concern for some. Opponents hit .267 against Hursh with only five balls leaving the park, and he finished 12th in the league in BB/9 for pitchers who threw at least 100 IP. Looking at his splits, Hursh was much better in the friendly confines of his home park (7-2, 2.74 ERA, 1.18 WHIP) than as the visitor (4-5, 4.61 ERA, 1.46 WHIP). Right handed hitters also fared better against him with a 282/326/367 slash line compared to lefties who only hit 253/341/330 off him. Reports say that he doesn't look for strike outs, instead using his low-to-mid 90's power sinker to generate ground balls by the bushel (55.1% ground ball rate). He also works with a mid 70's breaker and sparingly uses a low 80's change up. Due to his release point (a bit lower than 3/4), he has trouble commanding the hook and getting consistent break on it. I'd venture to say Hursh's stock is up with a healthy full season now under his belt.

#9 LF Josh Elander, 23 years old

G AB H R 2B 3B HR RBI BB K SB/SBA OPS wOBA wRC+ BA/OBP/SLG
37 137 30 19 9 0 2 21 20 32 6-6 647 305 87 219/319/328

Another player with a lost season, the 23 year old Elander dealt with tightness in his left (non-throwing) shoulder all season. He initially tried to play through the pain, but it became too much to deal with and his production suffered. He finally went on the DL for good June 1 after missing 15 days in mid May with the same issues. The few positives in his season are a solid walk rate of 12.3%, and efficient base stealing in his limited action. When at full strength, Elander is a middle of the order type hitter with a solid approach at the plate and decent speed. A converted catcher, he has a strong arm which could play in right field and good athleticism. His stock is obviously down, but he could have a bounce back year in him for 2015.

#10 RHP Mauricio Cabrera, 20 years old

IP G GS BAA K/9 BB/9 K/BB ERA WHIP FIP BABIP/LOB W L SV
33 22 5 0.221 8.45 5.73 1.48 5.73 1.45 4.30 289/53.4 1 1 0

Known for having some of the best arm strength in the organization, Cabrera joined Graham and Elander on the disabled list this year. He missed two months to a forearm injury and was moved to the bullpen for the remainder of the season once he returned to action. The 20 year old Dominican righty spent the majority of the year with A+ Lynchburg with a rehab stint in the Gulf Coast League, making five starts and 17 relief appearances between the two. The K/BB ratio is weak, as is his BB/9, but the power fastball that can scrape triple digits is still there. He also has youth on his side while facing batters on average three years his senior. A stabilization of his strand rate will also do wonders for bringing his ERA back to being respectable. In addition to the heater, Cabrera also features a change up and a breaking ball that has potential of being a real weapon.

#11 RHP Wes Parsons, 21 years old

IP G GS BAA K/9 BB/9 K/BB ERA WHIP FIP BABIP/LOB W L SV
113.1 23 23 0.267 7.62 2.70 2.82 5.00 1.35 4.19 321/60.9 4 7 0

My pick to take a big step forward this year, the 21 year old moved up the A+ Lynchburg and put up a solid year, ERA not withstanding. He was victimized by shoddy bullpen work and bad luck with BABIP which lead to the 5.00 ERA, but he posted good strike out and walk numbers while eating innings. He also induced a good amount of ground ball outs leading to a 1.75 GO/AO ratio. Parsons seemed to fade down the stretch, running up a 7.98 ERA and 1.84 WHIP from July on, also allowing half his home runs for the year in just 29.1 innings. There was no real platoon split with Parsons, but he did fare better in his eight road starts than at home. He did miss some time in late April and mid July as well with some arm discomfort. His arsenal features a low 90's fastball that can touch 95 mph, a high 80's/low 90's sinker, a mid 80's slider, and developing change up.

#12 C Vic Caratini, 20 years old

G AB H R 2B 3B HR RBI BB K SB/SBA OPS wOBA wRC+ BA/OBP/SLG
101 376 104 49 22 5 5 55 38 69 1-2 748 343 110 277/346/402

Traded to the Cubs for utility man Emilio Bonifacio and LHP James Russell, Caratini was a 2013 second round pick out of a Florida junior college for Atlanta that had already reached Low A at age 20. He moved behind the plate for good this season and was good defensively, catching 32% of would-be base thieves with eight passed balls and five errors. He split time between Rome and Kane County with above average offensive production and developing power. The switch hitting catcher produced significantly more power against lefties (300/388/511) than righties (269/332/367) while also doing more damage on the road (275/362/451) than at home (278/330/356). His stock is up even with the move to the Cubs' loaded farm system.

#13 3B/RF Edward Salcedo, 22 years old

G AB H R 2B 3B HR RBI BB K SB/SBA OPS wOBA wRC+ BA/OBP/SLG
115 383 81 52 22 1 12 51 41 99 14-19 660 302 82 211/292/368

Salcedo has always been an enigma to me. He has always been at least two years younger than the league average, and has always produced numbers that seem like he's in over his head. Yet, he still gets promoted each year to a more advanced level. Well, he reached the pinnacle of minor league baseball this year, playing at AAA Gwinnett at age 22 for the majority of the season with a short rehab stint in the GCL. He also switched positions after returning from injuring his hand in early June. Salecdo committed 16 errors in just 47 games at the hot corner before the injury, and was moved to right field for the remainder of the year where he made eight more errors as he familiarized himself with the new position. On the plus side, he did post his best walk rate of his career at 9.7% while hitting nearly the same amount of extra base hits as in 2013 in 85 less at bats. An abnormally low .256 BABIP also factored in to his weak .211 batting average. Salcedo was also markedly better against LHP (269/355/490) than RHP (190/267/323) which may indicate a potential future as a platoon bat in the outfield.

#14 LF Robby Hefflinger, 24 years old

G AB H R 2B 3B HR RBI BB K SB/SBA OPS wOBA wRC+ BA/OBP/SLG
18 59 7 4 3 1 0 3 9 25 0-0 439 218 27 119/235/203

A left wrist sprain at the end of April essentially wiped out the entire season for Hefflinger. In his age 24 season, the big left fielder was unable to find his groove in AA Mississippi before the injury hit. He'll need a hot start to 2015 to keep from falling off the prospect map.

#15 RHP Shae Simmons, 23 years old

Level IP G GS BAA K/9 BB/9 K/BB ERA WHIP FIP BABIP/LOB W L SV
AA/AAA 24 22 2 0.207 11.63 3.00 3.88 2.25 1.08 1.74 321/77.8 0 1 14
MLB 21.2 26 0 0.192 9.55 4.57 2.09 2.91 1.20 3.12 259/73.2 1 2 1

Simmons joins a long line of homegrown bullpen pieces for Atlanta, tearing up AA this year and finishing the year in the pen with the big league club. The 23 year old right hander jumped straight from AA in early June with a rehab stint in AAA at the end of the year before being shut down with a shoulder injury. The numbers speak for themselves really, and when it comes down to splits, he manhandled lefties to a 182/289/260 line while right handed hitters tagged him to a 221/287/267 triple slash. Simmons' arsenal consists of two pitches, a mid-to-high 90's fastball with sinking action and a hard biting mid 80's slider. Both pitches have received plus grades by evaluators with the slider occasionally getting tabbed as plus-plus. His stock is way up as he could close for half the teams in the majors right now, depending on if the shoulder woes are temporary.

#16 RF Victor Reyes, 19 years old

G AB H R 2B 3B HR RBI BB K SB/SBA OPS wOBA wRC+ BA/OBP/SLG
89 332 86 32 13 0 0 34 24 58 12-19 607 286 73 259/309/298

This year gave Reyes the first real set back in his baseball career. The 19 year old Venezuelan was incredibly young for the South Atlantic League, 2.5 years younger than league average. The one thing that stands out to everyone who sees him play is how thin he looks with a 6'3, 170 pound frame. Through the first two months of the season, he posted a 308/358/357 line with 14 BB to 29 K in 185 at bats, looking the part of a pure hitter. From June 1 through the end of his season (which was cut short in mid July with a leg injury) he only managed a 197/247/224 line. Reyes is yet to hit a home run as a professional, but scouts think power could come later once his body matures and fills out. At this point though, its all tools and projection.

#17 SS Johan Camargo, 20 years old

G AB H R 2B 3B HR RBI BB K SB/SBA OPS wOBA wRC+ BA/OBP/SLG
132 478 127 60 18 4 1 46 35 63 7-13 639 298 80 266/313/326

Camargo turned in a solid full season debut this year at Low A Rome and even earned a mid August promotion to A+ Lynchburg. The switch hitting 20 year old from Panama showed a good eye at the plate without much power and below average speed, overcoming a slow start to the year. His defense at short was a little sketchy making 36 errors on the year with reports that the arm is more than enough, he has the instincts, but the range just isn't there. Camargo was also tabbed as having the best infield arm by South Atlantic League managers. He was completely overmatched batting from the left side, hitting just 229/281/289 compared to 362/400/423 from the right handed box. There was also a distinct home/road split, hitting 291/339/372 at home while only managing a 241/287/282 line in away games. Age is on his side and he should continue a steady ascent up the ladder.

#18 RHP Aaron Northcraft, 24 years old

IP G GS BAA K/9 BB/9 K/BB ERA WHIP FIP BABIP/LOB W L SV
130.1 26 24 0.272 7.80 3.80 2.05 4.70 1.52 3.85 334/69.8 7 10 0

Northcraft kicked off the year back in AA Mississippi where he spent all of 2013, and was named a Southern League all-star after posting a 2.88 ERA and 1.23 WHIP with seven wins and nearly a strike out per inning. It wasn't until his first taste of AAA did he run into problems. He finished the year going 0-7 with a 6.54 ERA, 1.81 WHIP, and an opponents batting average of .317. He was allowing 1.3% more free passes while striking out hitters almost 6% less. His BABIP shot up from .293 in AA to .370 at AAA Gwinnett, and his strand rate dropped 13.3 points to just 64.3%. Northcraft also allowed 4.3% more line drives than the International League average. His repertoire consists of a high 80's sinker that can touch the low 90's, and a pair of average offspeed pitches in a change up and slider. He's built like a hoss at 6'4 230 pounds and has shown the ability to eat innings and throw strikes. Once he adjusts to AAA he could get a look at the back end of the rotation.

#19 LHP Felix Falcon, 18 years old

IP G GS BAA K/9 BB/9 K/BB ERA WHIP FIP BABIP/LOB W L SV
2.2 1 1 0.250 10.13 10.13 1.00 13.50 2.25 9.51 250/43.5 0 1 0

To quote Queen, "another one bites the dust". Falcon succumbed to injury after just one appearance in the Gulf Coast League. Rumors are that he had Tommy John surgery but nothing confirmed. He was named the DSL Pitcher of the year last year in his first pro season, and easily has the best name in the system. That counts for something, right?

#20 RHP Patrick Scoggin, 23 years old

IP G GS BAA K/9 BB/9 K/BB ERA WHIP FIP BABIP/LOB W L SV
11.1 7 1 0.333 6.35 8.74 0.73 8.74 2.38 7.31 368/45.5 0 2 0

Scoggin was a guy that posted decent numbers in Low A Rome last year as a 22 year old, and looked primed to take a step forward in 2014. This was certainly not the case. The numbers look like he was dealing with an injury and he was shut down in late April after walking 11 in 11.1 IP. I haven;t found anything to confirm the injury, but Atlanta cut ties with Scoggin, releasing him June 16 and he did not pitch the rest of the year.

Hon. Mention - RHP Aldo Silva, 18 years old

IP G GS BAA K/9 BB/9 K/BB ERA WHIP FIP BABIP/LOB W L SV
21 14 0 0.211 4.29 4.29 1.00 1.71 1.24 4.13 242/70.4 1 1 0

Silva is truly a man of mystery when it comes to prospecting. There are no reports of him signing with the Braves, let alone how much he signed for. The only real information out there on him is that he hails from Mexico and is 18 years old. He made 14 appearances out of the GCL Braves bullpen, limiting base hits and working out of jams. He had some good luck on balls in play and allowed runs in only three of his appearances with half the runs allowed being unearned. He showed no discernible platoon split (224/328/265 vs righties, 208/286/292 vs lefties), and was much better at "home" (471 OPS) than on the "road" (673 OPS).

Hon. Mention - RHP Carlos Salazar, 19 years old

IP G GS BAA K/9 BB/9 K/BB ERA WHIP FIP BABIP/LOB W L SV
64.1 27 10 0.244 8.53 7.83 1.09 6.99 1.83 4.98 314/53.6 3 7 0

Atlanta's third round pick from 2013, Salazar was challenged with an aggressive start at Low A Rome as a 19 year old. He was nowhere near ready, getting absolutely shelled to the tune of a 10.60 ERA and 2.38 WHIP with no control (9.59 BB/9). They demoted him to R+ Danville in late May and moved him to the bullpen where he flourished. Over 17 appearances out of the pen he allowed two or more hits just twice, had a 10.67 K/9, and opponents hit just .144 off him. It was also his first stint where his BABIP was on his side, posting a .214 in Danville and a .372 in Rome. At both stops the guys coming in after him did him no help either with a 60% strand rate at R+ and 51% in Low A, both way off what is considered normal (68-71%). He has a delivery I've only seen with one other pitcher, and that is Atlanta's set up man Jordan Walden. Salazar hops to the plate as he delivers the ball and has good velocity ranging from 92-96 mph with his heater. He also throws a really good change up in the high 70's with good fade to it. A low-to-mid 70's hook rounds out his arsenal and is a clear third pitch for him, but it is developing and he just recently learned the pitch. Once he shows he knows where the ball is going, his two above average pitches will buy him enough time to work on his curveball.

Other players that look primed to enter the Top 20 include RHP Williams Perez, RHP Alec Grosser, 3B Kyle Kubitza, and SS Ozhaino Albies. 2014 draftees LF Braxton Davidson and RHP Garrett Fulencheck will be considered as well.

*****

All stats and info were obtained from FanGraphs, Baseball Reference, MiLB.com, MinorLeagueCentral.com, Baseball America, Talking Chop, and Chop County.