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Atlanta Braves Top 20 Prospects for 2017

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The Braves system is very deep, particularly on the mound.

MLB: Washington Nationals at Atlanta Braves
Dansby Swanson
Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports

Atlanta Braves Top 20 Prospects for 2017

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. All of these grades are subject to change as the winter progresses. The final grades will be finished sometime in February when all 30 teams are complete.

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. 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) Dansby Swanson, SS, Grade A: Age 22, still eligible for rookie consideration just under the limit at 129 at-bats; should hit for average (.280-.300 and occasionally higher) and get on base, provide speed and occasional power with the defensive chops to remain at shortstop; obviously nothing left to prove in the minors after strong run down the stretch. ETA 2017.

2) Ozzie Albies, INF, Grade A-: Age 19, excellent in Double-A (.321/.391/.467) but weaker after moving up to Triple-A (.248/.307/.351) though very young for the level; should be excellent defender at second base and can still play shortstop if needed; high-batting average contact hitter with speed and may develop more gap power than commonly anticipated. ETA: late 2017.

3) Kolby Allard, LHP, Grade B+/A-: Age 19, posted 2.98 ERA in 88 innings between rookie ball and Low-A, 95/25 K/BB; fastball at 90-94 with more possible, features plus curveball and a change-up with promise, needs some additional command tightening but that’s normal for his age and his feel for pitching is generally very good; possible number two starter down the line; ETA 2020.

4) Mike Soroka, RHP, Grade B+: Age 19, posted 3.02 ERA with 125/32 K/BB in 143 innings in Low-A, 130 hits; excellent control of low-90s sinker, very solid breaking ball and change-up, command also very sharp, stuff not quite as electric as Allard’s but matches or exceeds him in polish; projects as number three starter with a chance for more. ETA: 2020.

5) Sean Newcomb, LHP, Grade B+: Age 23, 3.86 ERA with 152/71 K/BB in 140 innings in Double-A, 113 hits; power lefty up to 97 with a plus curve and developing change-up, excellent strikeout and hit rates confirm the stuff but control and command remains shaky, though he flashed improvement in some later outings; you can make a good case to put him a spot or two higher. Will probably need a full year of Triple-A. ETA: late 2017.

6) Max Fried, LHP, Grade B+: Age 22, 3.93 ERA with 112/47 K/BB in 103 innings in Low-A, 87 hits, nice recovery season from Tommy John surgery and was especially effective late in the season; fastball at 91-95, change-up still needs some work but curveball and slider have developed well; struck out 52 in last 39 innings in the regular season. Another guy who could be an above-average to excellent pitcher for a long time. ETA: 2019.

7) Ronald Acuna, OF, Grade B+: Age 18, hit .311/.387/.432 in 148 at-bats in Low-A limited by thumb injury; doesn’t have Maitan’s overall offensive potential but he’s performed very well at a young age; speed is best tool and he has shown good pop from 6-0, 180 build as well as some command of the strike zone; I’d like a larger sample size but the more I study him, the more I like him. ETA: 2020.

8) Luiz Gohara, LHP, Grade B+/B: Age 20, signed by Mariners out of Brazil in 2012, traded to Braves on January 11th in Mallex Smith deal; posted 1.81 ERA in 70 innings between Northwest League and Midwest League with 81/23 K/BB, 57 hits; looked like disappointment until huge step forward in '16; got in much better physical condition, fastball increased to 93-96 with reported peaks at 99-100 in Arizona Fall League; very good slider but change-up is inconsistent; number two starter upside if he stays healthy and maintains his control; ETA late 2019.

9) Ian Anderson, RHP, Grade B/B+: Age 18, first round pick in 2016, third-overall, from high school in New York; 2.04 ERA in 40 innings in rookie ball with 36/12 K/BB; low-to-mid-90s fastball from 6-3, 170 frame; slider and change-up can be inconsistent but are solid for his age; number three starter projection is a bit cautious at this point but I want to see how he handles a workload. ETA: 2021.

10) Kevin Maitan, SS, Grade B: Age 16, signed for $4,250,000 out of Venezuela, hasn’t played yet; scouting reports praise his power potential, feel for hitting, and strong throwing arm; physical tools (except running speed) are excellent and he could be a superstar eventually if reports on his feel for the game are accurate; let’s see how he performs before going all-in on the grade but an extremely high ceiling is undeniable. ETA: 2020.

11) Touki Toussaint, RHP, Grade B: Age 20, 3.88 ERA with 128/71 K/BB in 132 innings in Low-A, 105 hits; fastball in mid-90s and wicked breaking ball make him very tough when his command is working but control issues still hold him back at times, although adjustments to his delivery helped some over the summer; could be front-of-rotation starter if it all comes together, or a power reliever, but there are still a wide range of potential outcomes here. ETA: 2020.

12) Austin Riley, 3B, Grade B/B-: Age 19, supplemental first round pick in 2015, hit .271/.342/.479 with 39 doubles, 20 homers, 39 walks, 147 strikeouts in 495 at-bats in Low-A; 55 or 60 power but with questions about contact and batting average as he moves up; strong throwing arm but defense is otherwise rather raw; ETA: 2020.

13) Joey Wentz, LHP, Grade B-/B: Age 18, supplemental first round pick in 2016 from high school in Kansas, 1.32 ERA in 27 innings in rookie ball, 33/5 K/BB; excellent debut but pre-draft stock had taken a hit due to inconsistent velocity; can hit mid-90s but was mostly 88-89 in pro ball though with effective command and control of his breaking stuff and off-speed pitch. Want to see if he stays healthy. ETA: 2021.

14) Christian Pache, OF, Grade B-: Age 17, signed out of Dominican Republic in 2015 for $1,400,000; hit .309/.349/.391 in 220 at-bats in rookie ball; no homers but hit seven triples; 70-grade runner with a chance to hit if he can sharpen up inconsistent hitting mechanics; very young obviously and another high ceiling. ETA: 2021.

15) Patrick Weigel, RHP, Grade B-: Age 22, 6-6 right-hander drafted from University of Houston in seventh round in 2015; 2.47 ERA in 150 innings between Low-A and Double-A with 152/55 K/BB, 101 hits; extremely low hit rate stands out, good low-90s sinker but breaking stuff and command need more polish; could be inning-eating workhorse or perhaps a bullpen mainstay if off-speed stuff remains erratic. ETA 2018.

16) Travis Demeritte, 2B, Grade B-: Age 22, acquired from Rangers in summer trade; hit .266/.361/.557 with 28 homers, 17 steals, 67 walks, 175 strikeouts in 455 at-bats in High-A; very athletic with exciting power but also has a PED suspension on his resume; defense at second base has been very good; contact issues, batting average and OBP remain biggest questions going forward. ETA: 2019.

17) Kyle Muller, LHP, Grade B-: Age 19, second round pick in 2016, 0.65 ERA with 38/12 K/BB in 28 innings in rookie ball, just 14 hits; 90-94 MPH fastball with a chance for more from 6-6, 225 build; command, curveball and change-up all need work but rookie ball hitters couldn’t square him up very often; high upside arm but needs innings. ETA: 2021.

18) Lucas Sims, RHP, Grade B-: Age 22, has been on prospect lists for years but still young, strong in Double-A (2.67 ERA, 101/55 K/BB in 91 innings, just 64 hits) but hit hard in Triple-A (7.56, 58/37 in 50 innings, 56 hits) due to command troubles; fastball can be explosive and both curveball and change-up flash quality but he has to throw more strikes; needs to take advantage of any window soon. ETA: late 2017.

19) Rio Ruiz, 3B, Grade C+: Age 22, fourth round pick by Astros in 2012, traded to Braves in Evan Gattis deal; hit .271/.355/.400 with 10 homers, 61 walks, 116 strikeouts in 465 at-bats in Triple-A, went 2-for-7 with a triple in the majors; pretty swing with a good eye for the strike zone but results never seem to quite match the visual talent; has dramatically improved his defense over the last two years, which buys his bat more time; ETA 2017.

20) A.J. Minter, LHP, Grade C+: Age 23, compensation round pick in 2015 from Texas A&M, posted 1.30 ERA in 35 innings at three levels finishing in Double-A with 47/11 K/BB, 18 hits, coming off Tommy John surgery; fastball 93-96 with a plus slider, strong makeup, dominant presence when his command is on, closer potential. ETA late 2017.

GRADE C+ PROSPECTS
: Thomas Burrows, LHP; Derian Cruz, SS; Ray Patrick Didder, OF; Caleb Dirks, RHP; Alex Jackson, OF; Luke Jackson, RHP; Jared James, OF; Akeel Morris, RHP; Dustin Peterson, OF; Yunior Severino, SS; Jacob Webb, RHP; Bryse Wilson, RHP; Matt Withrow, RHP

GRADE C PROSPECTS: Braxton Davidson, OF; Lucas Herbert, C; Kyle Kinman, LHP; Taylor Lewis, RHP; Michael Mader, LHP; Jonathan Morales, C; Dylan Moore, INF; Phil Pheifer, LHP; Ricardo Sanchez, LHP; Kade Scivique, C; Chad Sobotka, RHP; Tyler Pike, LHP; Braulio Vasauez, SS; Randy Ventura, INF; Jeremy Walker, RHP; Isranel Wilson, OF; Juan Yepez, 1B

There is obviously an incredible amount of depth in this system, as is commonly seen. The pitching depth is incredible, though keep in mind the Rule of Five: for every five pitching prospects you have, you’re doing well if you get one actual pitcher.

Hitting-wise, you have Swanson and Albies at the top and intriguing tools guys like Acuna, Pache, and Maitan at the lower levels but not much in the middle unless you are particularly optimistic that Riley and Demeritte will deal well with their contact issues.

Overall, a very deep system.

A technical glitch is keeping me from accessing the comments thread at the moment, but I will be around to answer questions as soon as that is resolved.