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Atlanta Braves Top 20 prospects for 2018

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A look into the deep Braves farm system. . .

Minor League Baseball: Arizona Fall League-Peoria Javelinas at Glendale Desert Dogs Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Atlanta Braves Top 20 Prospects for 2018

(this list was updated December 18, 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) Ronald Acuna, OF, Grade A: Age 19; breakout campaign exceeded all expectations, hitting .325/.375/.522 at three levels, 21 homers, 31 doubles, 44 steals, 43 walks in 557 at-bats, including a .344/.395/.548 slash line in 54 games of Triple-A; dominant multi-category player against older competition; has the physical tools to match the numbers; only caution flag is high strikeout rate however his whiffs actually declined as the season progressed, an excellent sign; best overall prospect in baseball with superstar potential. ETA 2018.

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

2) Luiz Gohara, LHP, Grade A-/A: Age 21, posted 2.62 ERA with 147/44 K/BB in 124 innings at three levels, 106 hits, including 3.31, 48/16 K/BB in 35 innings in Triple-A; 4.91 ERA in 29 major league innings, 31/8 K/BB; mid-to-upper-90s fastball, has made progress with slider, change-up, and overall command although can still show some rough edges; stuff appears too good for the minors at this point and he needs major league innings to hone his craft; upside: Brazilian version of CC Sabathia. ETA 2018.

3) Kyle Wright, RHP, Grade B+/A-: Age 22, first round pick from Vanderbilt in 2017; posted 2.65 ERA, 18/6 K/BB in 17 innings in pro debut between rookie ball and Florida State League; mid-90s fastball with peaks at 97-98, along with curveball, slider, change-up; all three secondary pitches are plus at their best; command will wobble occasionally and performance didn’t always match stuff in college but few pitchers have a shot at four plus offerings; possible number one starter if it all comes together. ETA 2019.

4) Mike Soroka, RHP, Grade B+/A-: Age 20, first round pick in 2015; posted 2.75 ERA with 125/34 K/BB in 154 innings in Double-A against older competition and didn’t look rushed at all; low-90s fastball with sharp command, mixes in above-average curve and change-up, loads of polish and mound presence beyond his years; stuff isn’t quite as electric as Wright’s but command should compensate. ETA late 2018.

5) Kolby Allard, LHP, Grade B+: Age 20, first round pick in 2015; posted 3.18 ERA with 129/45 K/BB in 150 innings in Double-A; like Soroka Allard was pushed to Double-A rapidly and handled it well thanks to superior command and composure; interestingly enough scouting reports indicate a slight velocity decline compared to 2016 but command of curveball and change-up made the difference; still seems like an elite prospect to me. ETA late 2018.

6) Ian Anderson, RHP, Grade B+: Age 19, first round pick in 2016; posted 3.14 ERA with 101/43 K/BB in 83 innings in Low-A, 69 hits, zero homers allowed; heavy fastball up to 95 with more possible; above-average curveball; change-up needs more polish and walk rate needs to come down but the Ks, low hits, and no homers aren’t lying about the quality of his stuff; it will be interesting to see if the Braves advance him as aggressively as they moved Gohara, Soroka, and Allard; with a bit more refinement he could be the best pitcher on this list a year from now. ETA 2020.

Atlanta Braves v Miami Marlins Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

7) Max Fried, LHP, Grade B+/B: Age 23; pitched poorly for much of the season in Double-A (5.92, 85/43 K/BB in 87 innings) but improved late in the year, threw six shutout innings in Triple-A then posted 3.81 ERA, 22/12 K/BB in 26 major league innings; blister problems early in the season were an issue; fastball 90-96, curveball can be excellent, flashes a good changeup as well; when his command is working he can dominate; statistics don’t justify the grade in this case and the risk is high but my instincts say he figures things out, though perhaps not until 2019. ETA 2018.

8) Austin Riley, 3B, Grade B+/B: Age 20, hit .252/.310/.409 in 306 at-bats in High-A but surged to .315/.389/.511 in 178 at-bats after moving up to Double-A, combined for 20 homers; 43 walks, 124 strikeouts; significant improvement on defense, with good-enough range, very strong arm, and better reliability; like many Braves hitters there are questions about his approach/OBP abilities against the best pitching but he’s young and has shown ability to make adjustments; probably needs a good dose of Triple-A; ETA late 2018.

9) Joey Wentz, LHP, Grade B+/B: Age 20, comp round pick in 2016 from high school in Kansas; 2.60 ERA with 152/46 K/BB in 132 innings in Low-A, 99 hits; there’s concern in some quarters that his fastball declined from his high school peak but that’s rather typical and there was certainly no loss of dominance, reports on secondary pitches are likewise mixed, some sources reporting that both his curveball and change-up have improved while others saying the curveball in particular is weak; I like his delivery; I do tend to be biased in favor of cold-weather pitchers and am giving him the benefit of the doubt. ETA 2021.

10) Bryse Wilson, RHP, Grade B+/B: Age 19, fourth round pick in 2016, posted 2.50 ERA, 139/37 K/BB in 137 innings in Low-A, 105 hits allowed; gets less press than the pitchers ahead of him but was right there with them on performance basis and there’s nothing wrong with his arm; fastball up to 95; as with Wentz the reports on secondaries are mixed, particularly the change-up; again as with Wentz, he gets the benefit of the doubt for now. ETA 2021.

11) Touki Toussaint, RHP, Grade B: Age 21, famously electric arm with fastball up to 98 and nasty breaking ball but spotty command; 4.53 ERA with 167/64 K/BB in 145 innings between High-A and Double-A, 131 hits; looks like a superstar on the right day but still very erratic and can’t match the guys ahead of him on polish; I think there’s a decent chance he winds up in the bullpen. ETA late 2019.

12) Cristian Pache, OF, Grade B: Age 18, signed for $1,400,000 in 2015 from Dominican Republic; hit .281/.335/.443 with 13 doubles, zero homers, 32 steals, 39 walks, 104 strikeouts in 469 at-bats in Low-A; young for the level; draws praise for outstanding defense, speed, athleticism; fun to watch especially in the outfield; raw as a hitter, aggressive approach and lack of power will be an issue at higher levels, though at his age he has time to compensate/develop; with his glove it will be tempting for the Braves to push him quickly but I think his bat would benefit from a one-level-at-a-time approach; could develop into an All-Star if the bat comes or a fifth outfielder/defensive sub if it doesn’t. ETA 2021.

MLB: Atlanta Braves at Philadelphia Phillies Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

13) A.J. Minter, LHP, Grade B-: Age 24, compensation round pick in 2015 from Texas A&M; 3.33 ERA with 30/12 K/BB in 24 minor league innings at four levels, posted 3.00 ERA in 15 major league innings with spectacular 26/2 K/BB; I never know where to rank relief prospects since relief pitchers as a whole are difficult to value in relation to everyday prospects or starting pitchers; bottom line, what he did in the majors is not a fluke and if he stays healthy he should have a long and productive career; whether that means he gets a chance to close or is just a solid middle man remains to be seen. ETA 2018.

14) Alex Jackson, C; Grade B-: Age 21, former first round pick of the Mariners, traded to Braves in November 2016 after fizzling with the bat with Seattle; Atlanta returned him to his high school position of catcher and he responded, hitting .267/.328/.480 with 19 homers, 23 walks, 106 strikeouts in 367 at-bats between High-A and Double-A; still has issues with contact/approach but is getting to his power more frequently; glove needs more work as you’d expect given three years of rust but showed sufficient mobility and arm strength to merit patience. ETA 2019.

15) William Contreras, C, Grade B-: Age 19, signed out of Venezuela in 2015; hit .290/.378/.432 with 24 walks, 30 strikeouts in 169 at-bats in Appalachian League; needs polish on defense but athleticism and arm strength will play and should make him a plus defender in time; good strike zone judgment and enough bat speed to project more power; younger brother of Willson Contreras; breakthrough candidate for 2018. ETA 2021.

16) Kyle Muller, LHP, Grade B-: Age 19, second round pick in 2016 from high school in Texas; 4.15 ERA with 49/18 K/BB in 48 innings in Appalachian League, 43 hits; a typical live-armed Braves pitching prospect from the South, fastball 90-94 with more possible, both breaking ball and change-up have plus potential but needs better control, another breakout candidate for ’18 and potential mid-rotation arm. ETA 2021.

17) Drew Waters, OF, Grade B-: Age 18, second round pick in 2017 from high school in Georgia, hit .347/.448/.571 in 49 games in Gulf Coast League then a more human .255/.331/.383 in 149 at-bats in Appy League; stole six bases, 23 walks, 70 strikeouts in 198 at-bats combined; intriguing tools combo with potential to have above-average power and speed to go with center field defense; needs some work with contact, high ceiling and another breakout candidate. ETA 2021.

18) Freddy Tarnok, RHP, Grade C+/B-: Age 18, third round pick in 2017 from high school in Florida; 2.57 ERA in 14 rookie ball innings, 10/3 K/BB; small sample of course but he performed well in his debut; can hit mid-90s and has more projection with 6-3, 185 frame; curveball flashes at least average, should have a good changeup eventually; there’s some effort in his delivery but the raw ability is here. ETA 2022.

19) Patrick Weigel, RHP, Grade C+: Age 23, seventh round pick in 2015 from University of Houston, excellent season in 2016 (2.47, 152/55 K/BB in 150 innings, just 101 hits), got off to a good start in Double-A in ’17 (2.89, 38/11 K/BB in 37 innings) but hurt elbow after moving up to Triple-A, had Tommy John surgery; up to mid-90s when healthy with plus breaking stuff; mentioning him here so he doesn’t get overlooked as he recovers from injury.

20) Anyelo Gomez, RHP, Grade C+: Rule 5 pick from Yankees system, from the Dominican Republic, posted 1.92 ERA in 70 innings between Low-A, High-A, Double-A, Triple-A, with 87/21 K/BB; legit stuff with mid-to-upper-90s fastball, plus change-up, and good-enough breaking ball; would have been protected in most systems but the Yankees had so much minor league pitching depth they couldn’t keep everyone.

You could put most of the C+ guys in the 20-spot.

GRADE C+: Travis Demeritte, INF; Thomas Burrows, LHP; Derian Cruz, SS; Brett Cumberland, C; Tucker Davidson, LHP; Drew Harrington, LHP; Akeel Morris, RHP; Wes Parsons, RHP; Jefrey Ramos, OF; Ricardo Sanchez, LHP; Devan Watts, RHP; Isranel Wilson, OF; Huascar Ynoa, RHP

GRADE C: Troy Bacon, RHP; Corbin Clouse, LHP; Cutter Dyals, RHP; Jean Carlos Encarnacion, 3B; Josh Graham, RHP; Lucas Herbert, C; Landon Hughes, RHP; Jared James, OF; Drew Lugbauer, 1B; Dustin Peterson, OF; Philip Pfeifer, LHP; Jordan Rodgers, INF; Kade Scivicque, C; Anfernee Seymour, OF; Luis Valenzuela, SS; Jeremy Walker, OF; Jacob Webb, RHP; Matt Withrow, RHP.

Obviously a deep system, and you could order the guys in the B+ range in any number of ways with good solid logic. I like Wentz more than many people do, so your mileage may vary with him in relation to the other pitchers.

The loss of Kevin Maitan and other prospects was not as catastrophic as it could have been.

I will be around in the comments section for discussion.