Let’s give Atlanta Braves fans some reason for optimism. It has been a rough first two months to 2016, as they are 16-36 and positioning themselves for a top five pick in 2017 already. However, their farm system is already developing into one of the best in baseball, ranked second overall by our own John Sickels at the start of the season. Let’s take a look at how the top 10 has started 2016.
1) Dansby Swanson, SS – Mississippi Braves
Acquired in the Shelby Miller trade this past offseason, Swanson automatically became the top prospects in the Atlanta system. He began 2016 in High-A ball and continued to excel there hitting .333/.441/.526. His success necessitated a promotion to Double-A and he has continued to play well in Mississippi. Since his promotion, Swanson has hit .276/.359/.448 with four home runs and 15 RBI. Swanson, similar to most collegiate bats selected at the top of a draft, should continue to move quickly, with a possible MLB debut some time in 2017. He has won everywhere he has played, including a CWS championship with Vanderbilt and a Northwest League championship with the Hillsboro Hops last season, which will only bold well for Atlanta in the long run – you want to build an organization around winners.
2) Sean Newcomb, LHP – Mississippi Braves
Newcomb is another player that was acquired by John Hart and his Baseball Opts. team this offseason. He was included in the Andrelton Simmons trade. Through his first 51 innings this season, he is 2-2 with a 3.71 ERA. One of the knocks on Newcomb has been his inability to cut down on his walks. His BB% is down two percent from 2015, however he is almost halfway to his total of 76 walks last year. (He has 30 through 51 innings so far.) While his ERA may be high, Newcomb’s peripherals show he has had better success in 2016. His FIP (Fielding Independent Pitching) is better than his ERA at 3.42 and opponents are only hitting .232 against him. Newcomb starts tonight, June 2nd, against Biloxi.
3) Ozzie Albies, SS – Gwinnett Braves
Albies gives the Braves a great "problem" to have, two shortstops at the top of their farm system. The promotion of Albies to Triple-A gave Swanson the opportunity to be called up to Double-A at the end of April. While Swanson has performed well in Double-A, Albies has struggled in Gwinnett. Albies began 2016 in Mississippi and started off well. He hit .369 with a 10.5 BB% and 13.7 K%. Unfortunately for the switch-hitting SS, his numbers look like this at Triple-A - .239 batting average, four percent walk percentage and 19% K%. Still only 19, Albies has plenty of time to develop, and will only benefit in the long run for an extended stay at Triple-A.
4) Aaron Blair, RHP – Atlanta Braves
Aaron Blair has been in the Major League rotation for a month now and the results have not been pretty. He is 0-3 with an ERA over six. However, that ERA is inflated due to an outing in Pittsburgh when he allowed nine runs in an inning and a third. Other than that, his numbers have been what you would expect from a rookie pitcher projected to be a middle of the rotation starter. One bright spot for Blair came in his second career start against one of the best teams in baseball, the Chicago Cubs. He went six innings and only allowed one run. Blair’s next start was this afternoon against the San Francisco Giants and Madison Bumgarner.
5) Kolby Allard, LHP – GCL Braves
Kolby Allard was the top selection and fourteenth overall for the Braves in 2015. He made three starts for the GCL Braves after his selection at the end of the season and has yet to make an appearance in 2016. The GCL and short season A ball seasons begin towards the end of June, so Allard should be making appearances soon.
6) Touki Toussaint, RHP – Rome Braves
The soon to be 20 year old has struggled to start 2016 in High-A. He is 1-5 with an ERA over six. Toussaint has an exciting arm and has the potential to be a middle of the rotation starter if he can put it all together. Luckily, he will only turn 20 at the end of the month, so there is plenty of time to develop for Touki. He is an arm to keep an eye on over the rest of the summer to see how he improves and moves up the Atlanta farm system. Toussaint is slated to start at some point this weekend against Lexington.
7) Austin Riley, 3B – Rome Braves
Riley was selected 41st overall last season and he began 2016 in Rome. Unfortunately for Riley the strikeouts have really piled up this season. Through his first 187 at-bats, he has struck out 66 times and walked only 12 times. Riley’s defense is average, but it is his bat that will get him to the show. His power was a pleasant surprise when he hit 12 home runs in his first 217 at-bats. To put his strikeout number in perspective, in 30 less at-bats than he had in 2015, Riley already has more strikeouts than he did last season.
8) Tyrell Jenkins, RHP – Gwinnett Braves
Tyrell Jenkins continues to impress down in Triple-A. To start 2016 he is 5-3 with a 2.97 ERA. His strikeout percentage, 14.9 to 16.3, and walk percentage, 10.3 to 9, have both improved from 2015. Jenkins profiles as a middle of the rotation starter and it is only a matter of time until he is called up to the big league club to show off his potential. Now that Blair has made his Major League debut, Tyrell Jenkins is next in line to get the call up to Atlanta.
9) Manny Banuelos, LHP – Gwinnett Braves
The work for Banuelos has been light in 2016 as he has only made two starts totaling five and two thirds innings. He started the season on the disabled list with left elbow inflammation and was activated and optioned down to Gwinnett last week. Hopefully Banuelos can stay healthy and contribute to the Braves later this summer as another rotation arm or as a left-hander out of the bullpen. His next start for Gwinnett is Friday, June 3rd, against the Durham Bulls.
10) Max Fried, LHP – Rome Braves
Fried’s action in 2016 is his first since Tommy John surgery in July of 2014. There will certainly be an innings limit on Fried this season, but through his first 48.1 innings this year Fried is 2-4 with a 5.21 ERA. The results have not been there so far for Fried, but he has posted peripheral numbers generally on par with his previous career results. Similar to the other Braves pitching prospects, Fried profiles as a middle of the rotation starter.