I know what you’re going to say. This is John Sickel’s territory, he is the master of the prospect lists.
I agree with you. That’s why I’m terrified of what’s about to unfold.
You see, I’ve been profiling prospects for going on four years now. I’ve never attempted a list or ranking before because, well, when you write for someone like John, you let the boss do his thing.
But we got to talking (emailing, to be precise). “John,” I said. “Do you think it would be silly if I did my own Top 20 Braves prospect list?”
For some reason, he said go for it.
So here we are. My first-ever Midseason Top 20 list, focusing on the farm system I know best, the Atlanta Braves. I’ve seen a lot of these guys in person, so it will be heavy with my opinion, as most prospect rankings are.
That being said, I haven’t seen every prospect in the system. For those, I’ve relied on some people that I have come to trust as reliable evaluators of Braves prospects: Ben Badler and the boys at Baseball America, the gents at Talking Chop (our own Eric Cole, Garrett Spain, Matt Powers and Gaurav Vedak), John Calvagno at Notes of the Sally, Grant McAuley, Ben Chase, and other guys out in Rome that have given me insight over the years like Kevin Karel, Ben Poplin and Blake Silvers. And of course, I always referred to John’s past evaluations.
I also added any scouting profiles I’ve done on the said player. Some may be from last season when I saw them in Rome before they headed somewhere I can’t travel to with regularity. Since these are little snippets, you may be more interested in reading those for detail
Got it? Let’s get started.
20. RICARDO SANCHEZ, LHP (scouting profile from 8/2016)
2017 numbers to like: 9.50 strikeout-per-nine, 43.4 percent ground ball rate
2017 numbers to worry about: 4.23 walks-per-nine
Sanchez was part of the 2016 Rome Braves South Atlantic League Championship rotation, however he wasn’t used in the postseason with all of the other star power on the roster. Still just 20, there is a lot to like about the young southpaw.
He is currently pitching for the Fire Frogs in the Florida State League (translation = I haven’t seen much of their MiLB TV-deprived games). The first tidbits I was ever given about Sanchez last season was that he had a great low-90s fastball and good command of a swing-and-miss curve for a 19-year-old, he just couldn’t seem to avoid that one bad inning.
The same holds true this year. He may have slipped some in other people’s eyes, but there’s always a lot to like a young lefty in the Braves system.
19. LUCAS SIMS, RHP (scouting profile from 5/2017)
2017 numbers to like: 10.02 strikeouts-per-nine, a career-best 2.79 walks-per-nine, 1.15 WHIP
2017 numbers to worry about: 43 percent fly ball rate, 4.50 FIP
Remember Jim Carrey, when he played the Riddler and his real name was Dr. E. Nygma? Sims has become Dr. Enigma to me as well. Is he a starter or a reliever? Is he finally for real or will the inconsistencies in his mechanics strike again? Just how pretty is that curveball?
I like Sims. I want him to be better, and at times he is.
I saw Sims earlier in the season when he was amid his hot streak, striking out batters in bunches and not allowing runners to score. As Bartolo Colon was heading for his meltdown, Sims was hit hard in four-straight outings. Sean Newcomb got the call instead, and on the very same day, Sims hurled eight innings of shutout ball against Lucas Giolito, striking out seven and walking two.
That’s who Sims has become to me. I love his curveball, it bites hard and makes hitters look silly sometimes. There’s nothing wrong with his fastball that he has little trouble keeping in the 92 to 94 range. His other tools are effective as well. Saturday night as I was finishing this, Sims went seven shutout innings, striking out nine and walking one. The six starts before that? He allowed 10 home runs.
18. DUSTIN PETERSON, OF
2017 numbers to like: 8.3 percent walk rate, second highest in career
2017 numbers to worry about: 20.5 percent strikeout rate, 92 wRC+
For one reason or another, I’ve slept a lot on Dustin Peterson. It is likely because by the time he got to the Braves organization he had bypassed Rome. He also has never been anything flashy, but looking at his overall game he has plenty of potential.
Peterson was selected in the second round by the San Diego Padres in the 2013 MLB Draft. He was part of the haul in the Justin Upton deal, heading to Atlanta with Max Fried, Mallex Smith and Jace Peterson. Even in that deal, he was kind of “the other guy.”
Peterson struggled early on, striking out 137 times in 564 plate appearance in his first full-season in the Padres organization. He was out of position though, struggling with third base.
The Braves acquired Peterson and immediately moved him to the outfield. He’s had some bad luck in his development (the bus accident in Carolina and then a broken hamate bone to start 2017 on the shelf), but his one full season with the Braves was a good one.
Last season in Mississippi, Peterson slashed .282/.343/.431 with 12 home runs and a Southern League-best 38 doubles. While his over the fence power is almost all pull, he does a good job using both gaps and lines for the rest of his extra base hits.
The 100 strikeouts last year were certainly discouraging, and his lack of walks this year hasn’t helped remove those concerns. With so much outfield depth on the pipeline, it will be interesting to see where he fits in, but at his best, he should even if it is in a fourth-outfielder role.
17. DREW WATERS, OF
2017 numbers to like: 1.020 OPS in 14 Gulf Coast League games before promotion
2017 numbers to worry about: 15-to-2 strikeout-to-walk rate since promotion to Appalachian League
I haven’t seen Waters yet, but he was one of the more highly-touted high schoolers in the MLB Draft. The Braves didn’t have to go far to find him, as Waters grew up right around the corner in Woodstock, GA. He blew up in his first 14 games in the GCL, getting 17 hits in 49 at bats, including three doubles, one triple and two home runs.
Waters has five-tool potential, but he is a centerfielder by trade. The Braves suddenly find themselves stacked with toolsy outfielders. Pache mans centerfield, and Acuna has already been moved to right to accommodate that. It will be interesting to see what the Braves do with Waters as he moves up the ladder, but he looks like he has the skills to excel anywhere in the outfield.
16. TRAVIS DEMERITTE, 2B/3B
2017 numbers to like: eight of his 12 home runs are at his home ballpark
2017 numbers to worry about: walk rate is way down to under 10 percent for first time in three stops
I was torn on what to think of Demeritte, but luckily he hit a pinch-hit bomb Saturday night to help keep him in the top 20.
The first time I saw Demeritte was actually several years ago in Hickory, when I used to frequent LP Frans Stadium more often. The Rangers 2013 first-rounder exploded for a 25 home run-season in 2014, but followed it with an 80-game suspension in 2015, leading many to wonder if the power was for real.
He responded with 28 home runs split between the power-happy California League and pitcher-friendly Carolina League when he came to the Braves in a somewhat lopsided trade in Atlanta’s favor.
Yet another high-upside middle-infielder, Demeritte has shown his versatility adapting to third base, which will likely be his quickest route to the big leagues. It hasn’t been pretty thus far in Mississippi, slashing .216/.296/.389. Although his patented high strikeout totals remain, they are actually the lowest of his career. Demeritte may be more Dan Uggla (the one we were excited about) than Jose Altuve when it’s all said and done, but that power profile in the infield is too much to ignore.
15. BRYSE WILSON, RHP (scouting profile 4/2017)
2017 numbers to like: 2.81 ERA, 1.04 WHIP, just over 4-to-1 strikeout-to-walk ratio
2017 numbers to worry about: nothing jumps out
The Braves struck gold with Wilson, and not many people saw it coming. Chosen in the fourth round of the same draft as Ian Anderson, Joey Wentz and Kyle Muller, Wilson is as good as any of them thus far.
The first time I saw Wilson was Tim Tebow’s first night in Rome. A sellout crowd on a Monday night in Low-A baseball and Wilson pitched well. He admittedly never pitched in front of a crowd like that — not many 19 year olds have — and he handled it like a pro. That spoke volumes to me.
Oh, then you can throw in his mid-90s fastball that moves and ever-improving secondary stuff (his breaking ball breaks hard when it’s at its best, making batters look silly) you have an exciting young righty prospect.
14. ALEX JACKSON, C
2017 numbers to like: a career-high .279 batting average and 14 home runs, a slightly improved strikeout percentage for a third season in a row
2017 numbers to worry about: 13 walks in 257 plate appearances
This trade could very well turn out to be the steal of all Braves trades. Jackson is three years removed from being the sixth overall pick in the 2014 MLB Draft. He entered his professional career touted as the best high school power hitter in the draft, his 70-grade pop at age 18 rivaling the most advanced collegiate players.
And the Mariners gave up on him at the age of 20.
Jackson was quickly labeled a bust, never developing into the outfielder the Mariners had hoped. His arm strength helped him to pile up the assists, but at the plate, he looked lost.
The Braves traded away two pitchers (Rob Whalen and Max Povse) that likely didn’t have much of a future in the rebuild. In return, the Braves got Jackson (is he officially A-Jax yet?) and moved him back behind home plate.
How has he responded? He’s third in the pitcher-friendly FSL with 14 home runs. He’s hitting a career best .279 behind a much-improved .342 on-base percentage. His strikeout rate is still high, but at a career-low as well. The walks, well, let’s just assume A-Jax (now it’s official) is not going to be one for many free passes with his aggressive, big swing.
Most importantly, Jackson has a .970 fielding percentage behind home plate, playing backstop for the first time since he was in high school. He’s thrown out ten runners, and has only allowed four passed balls, and that’s catching the sometimes wild Sanchez and Touki Toussaint killer curve.
What’s not to like?
13. JOEY WENTZ, LHP (scouting profile 6/2017)
2017 numbers to like: 2.65 ERA, 2.43 FIP, 1.13 WHIP, 100-to-28 strikeout-to-walk ratio
2017 numbers to worry about: not much right now
The fact that Joey Wentz is not a top ten prospect speaks a ton to this organization. All Wentz has done this year is pretty much improve each and every time he takes the hill.
The first time I saw Wentz this season, he took a no-hitter into the fourth inning, fooling hitters with stuff that looked like this:
Joey Wentz has his breaking ball working tonight pic.twitter.com/IPbvBKrNmp— Eric Cole (@leprekhan) June 13, 2017
Wentz is another lefty with enticing stuff, particularly that dazzling breaking ball. What’s that you say? A Braves pitching prospect with an awe-inspiring breaking ball? I know, hard to believe.
One thing I like to watch with young pitchers is how they rebound after the one rough inning they seemingly always run into. Wentz came out and completed the sixth after getting roughed up in the fifth that night, and only needed 17 pitches to dispose of Augusta. That says a lot to me.
There was a lot of hype about Wentz’s high-90s heater in high school. While he hasn’t found that velocity as a pro, he has learned how to pitch, which is better in my opinion. He cruises into the sixth inning — often around the mid-80s pitch count — quite frequently. His strikeout-to-walk ratio of nearly 5-to-1 shows his command. Oh, and he’s allowed more than two runs just once since the first week of May.
12. MAX FRIED, LHP (scouting profile 6/2016)
2017 numbers to like: 8.81 strikeout-per-nine, 50.9 percent ground ball rate, FIP is nearly two points lower than his misleading high ERA
2017 numbers to worry about: high walk rate (4.52-per-nine), high WHIP
Fried’s ranking is all based on potential, because his 2017 is not indicative of who the lefty is. The problem has been injuries.
Fried was the San Diego Padres first-rounder back in 2012. Despite having Tommy John surgery, the Braves front office long coveted the southpaw, and were able to get him in the Upton deal.
The 23 year old missed his entire first season with the Braves, and 2016 was an emotional roller coaster. He was humble, and knew that it was a rebound season, willing to adhere to the Braves plans of a slow return. He had great starts and rough patches, missed nearly all of July, but down the championship run, Fried was electric. A bevy of double-digit strikeout games was capped off in the championship clincher when he went seven innings, striking out 13 in a loaded Lakewood lineup.
Fried has a — stop me if you heard this — nasty curveball and once had upper-90s heat. Some of the guys at Talking Chop have told me that his velocity is way down, and seeing him more than I this season, they feel that bite on the curve isn’t as sharp. Fried has no doubt struggled in 2017, but again, he has reportedly been dinged up on and off.
It would be incredibly exciting to see what Fried has to offer in a full-season, unscathed by injury. If he can find his way and return to the ace-form he was down the playoff stretch last season, he’ll return to the top ten prospect he once was.
11. CRISTIN PACHE, CF
2017 numbers to like: career-high walk rate, 21-for-28 in stolen bases, 12 outfield assists
2017 number to worry about: zero home runs, career-high strikeout rate
FACT: Pache has not gotten a single hit in any trip I have taken out to Rome this year (this would be a great spot for an angry face emoji).
That being said, he has made plenty of contact and I love his swing and athleticism.
How good is Pache in centerfield? Acuna is currently playing right field in Gwinnett. Sure, it has a lot more to do with Ender Inciarte hogging the middle of the outfield in the bigs, but it says something that Pache hasn’t moved yet as well. That’s because he has a laser of an arm (the aforementioned 12 assists), ridiculous instincts that make him a vacuum out there and incredible range thanks to that top-notch speed.
He signed with the Braves in 2015, and in his 2016 debut he had little trouble with the GCL and Appy Leagues. Pache is now 18 years old, slashing .285/.344/.353 for Rome in the South Atlantic League. He’s one of the youngest players in the league, so based on his ability to make contact, I don’t think the spike in strikeout rate is too worrisome. Even at it’s worse, it’s still well under 20 percent. It seems like he has a little chop in his swing, that maybe if he adjusts, some power will develop. Still he sprays the ball well all over the field (he goes opposite field in the video above), I’d just like to see more extra base hits.
If he develops power, the Braves future outfield will be one for the ages.