Atlanta Braves Top 20 Prospects for 2016
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 2016 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 FEBRUARY 14, 2016
1) Dansby Swanson, SS, Grade A: Age 22, first round pick by the Diamondbacks in 2015 out of Vanderbilt, traded to Braves in Shelby Miller deal. Outstanding across-the-board prospect with moderate power, good speed, excellent strike zone judgment and line drive hitting ability, above-average to excellent defense at shortstop, superior makeup. Won't need long in the minors at all, should be long-term regular and potential All Star.
2) Sean Newcomb, LHP, Grade A-/B+: Age 22, acquired from Angels in Andrelton Simmons trade, 2014 first-rounder out of Hartford, 2.38 ERA with 168/76 K/BB in 136 innings with just 97 hits between Low-A, High-A, Double-A. Easy heat in low/mid-90s with peaks at 98, plus curveball, change-up needs work but is improving, stuff in general is usually overpowering. Needs tighter command, potential top of rotation arm if he gets it.
3) Aaron Blair, RHP, Grade B+: Age 23, another component of Shelby Miller deal, posted 2.92 ERA with 120/50 K/BB in 160 innings between Double-A and Triple-A, workhorse build at 6-5, 230, heavy plus fastball can hit 94-95, good change-up, curveball has steadily improved. Will be ready for a trial this year, potential number three starter.
4) Hector Olivera, 3B-OF, Grade B+: Cuban defector traded from the Dodgers, age 30, expected to take regular spot in Braves lineup. Tough call, performance wasn’t great but he was working off two years of rust, while adapting to a new culture, while fighting injuries, while playing at seven different stops in the space of four months. I think you have to give him some slack for that. I’m not sure how well he will age, but my guess is that in the short run he will (if health allows) be an above-average hitter, say .280 with 18 homers and a reasonable OBP in a full season. Currently hitting well in Puerto Rico. Position unclear at this time, was supposed to be a third baseman but now it sounds like he will be an outfielder.
5) Kolby Allard, LHP, Grade B+: Age 18, first round pick in 2015, fanned 12 with zero walks in six rookie ball innings working his way back from stress injury in back, would have gone much earlier in draft if not for that. Plus fastball, plus curve, could move very quickly. Can make a good case for number one.
6) Ozzie Albies, SS, Grade B+: Hit .310/.368/.404 with 29 steals in Low-A at age 18, not much power yet but that’s nitpicking given the total package, athleticism, makeup, youth. You can make a good case to have him number one and ultimately I may go there depending on what happens with Olivera over the winter.
7) Austin Riley, 3B, Grade B: Age 18, supplemental pick in 2015 draft, hit .255/.331/.500 in GCL then .351/.443/.586 in Appy League, combined for 12 homers. Whiff rate is rather high but power is genuine, he makes an effort to control the zone and he has a chance to be a complete hitter, needs more defensive polish but that should come if he doesn’t gain too much weight.
8) Lucas Sims, RHP, Grade B: Still just 21, erratic but finished well in Double-A, will hold same aggressive grade as last year, still needs to refine change-up and overall command to go with impressive fastball and curve.
9) Mike Soroka, RHP, Grade B: Age 18, Canadian drafted in first round, posted 37/5 K/BB in 34 innings in rookie ball, doesn’t throw quite as hard as Sims but more polished compared to Sims at same age, very good curve, low-90s heat.
10) Touki Toussaint, RHP, Grade B/B-: Age 19, Arizona’s first round pick in 2014 unexpectedly traded to Braves last June, highest ceiling right-handed arm in system. This is an aggressive grade not backed up by the metrics at this point, notably a poor 39/33 K/BB after the trade. High risk. Beware. But if it works out. . .
11) Mallex Smith, OF, Grade B/B-: Age 22, stole 57 bases between Double-A and Triple-A hitting combined .306/.373/.386. Lacks home run power but makes contact and uses his blazing speed very well. Optimistic take: Ben Revere/Michael Bourn/Juan Pierre category of player. Pessimistic take: Jarrod Dyson type reserve.
12) Tyrell Jenkins, RHP, Grade B-: Age 23, still love the arm and athleticism but growing concerned about poor component ratios, 88/61 K/BB in 138 innings in high minors. Seems strange to rank him behind Touki since Jenkins has been at higher levels, but TJ is still relatively unpolished, doesn’t have quite the same upside as TT, and is four years older now. Check comments section below for more thoughts on Jenkins.
13) Zachary Bird, RHP, Grade B-: Age 21, acquired from Dodgers, electric right arm with upside similar to Jenkins but similar issues with consistency and command, 4.69 ERA with 103/60 K/BB in 102 innings in 2015, mostly in High-A.
14) Braxton Davidson, OF, Grade B-/C+: Age 19, hit .242/.381/.374 with 10 homers, 84 walks, 135 strikeouts in 401 at-bats in Low-A. Has not produced expected home run power but very patient, perhaps too patient. Still young enough to tap his strength of course.
15) Max Fried, LHP, Grade B-/C+: Age 21, missed season with Tommy John. Wild guess on placement. Some like him as high as seven but some think he was over-rated even before he got hurt.
16) Ronald Acuna, OF, Grade B-/C+: Age 17, hit .269/.380/.438 with four homers, 16 steals, 28 walks, 42 strikeouts in 201 at-bats split between GCL and Appy. Solid across-the-board numbers with scouting reports that are very positive regarding overall tools and good polish for his age. Some risk that he could be a tweener, but off to a good start. Aggressive grade.
17) John Gant, RHP, Grade C+: Age 23, acquired from Mets, doesn’t have stuff of the guys ahead of him but he is efficient, throws strikes, eats innings, 3.08 ERA with 134/50 K/BB in 140 innings, finished strongly in Double-A after the trade (1.99, 43/14 in 41). Non-zero chance he turns into Collin McHugh type.
18) Chris Ellis, RHP, Grade C+: Age 23, part of the Simmons deal with Angels, 3.90 ERA with 132/63 K/BB in 141 innings between High-A and Double-A, slightly above-average fastball in low-90s, good change-up, curveball erratic but good at times, needs general command sharpening. Another workhorse possibility, could also relieve.
19) Manny Banuelos, LHP, Grade C+: Age 24, hasn’t lived up to hype generated with Yankees, shut down early with more elbow problems. My guess is that he’s a reliever long-term.
20) Josh Graham, RHP, Grade C+: Age 22, fourth round pick from University of Oregon, converted catcher showed surprising polish given lack of pitching experience, 2.60 with 21/3 in 17 innings in rookie ball. Need to see at higher levels and long-term role unclear, but a definite sleeper to track.
21) Juan Yepez, 1B-3B, Grade C+: Age 17, very impressive rookie ball debut, hit .299/.364/.458 with 22 walks, 55 whiffs in 201 at-bats. Defense needs work, contact may be an issue at higher levels but off to an excellent start. Possibly the highest ceiling bat other than Riley in the system.
22) Lucas Herbert, C, Grade C+: Second round pick, Kolby Allard’s batterymate in high school, tore meniscus in third pro game but should be okay for spring. Strong defensive reputation and a chance to hit for some power, stock will certainly rise if that happens.
23) Rio Ruiz, 3B, Grade C+/C: Age 21, hit disappointing .233/.333/.324 in Double-A, drew 63 walks but just five homers. Erratic, productive in June (.310/.424/.380) and August (.302/.353/.481) but well below Mendoza Line in May and July. At times he looks excellent with a pretty swing and a good eye. Other times his swing gets out of whack, too mechanical. This has been his pattern since Low-A.
24) Andrew Thurman, RHP, Grade C+/C: Age 23, pitched pretty well in High-A (3.77, 43/11 in 57) but control slipped after moving up to Double-A (14/16 in 24, 5.18). Scouting reports remain more impressive than numbers. I bet he becomes a reliever eventually.
OTHER GRADE C+: Derian Cruz, SS; Luke Dykstra, 2B; Connor Lien, OF; Ricardo Sanchez, LHP, Rob Whalen, RHP; Isranel Wilson, OF
OTHERS OF NOTE: Jason Hursh, RHP; Kyle Kinman, LHP; Jonathan Morales, C; Christian Pache, OF; Wes Parsons, RHP; Dustin Peterson, OF; Randy Ventura, OF; Ryan Weber, RHP; Dan Winkler RHP
I will be in the comments section tomorrow with an organization overview as well as answering questions and making any necessary clarifications. This list went through multiple drafts due to borderline grades and several players with pronounced performance/projection dichotomies. This won't be truly final until spring but I have to move on to other clubs.