Here we are. Round two of the Atlanta Braves Midseason Top 20. In case you missed No. 20 through No. 11, you can check them out here:
Just wanted to add a few quick notes before we jump into the top ten. I’m sure you’re wondering about a few names not on the list.
Patrick Weigel is not on the list, but likely would be if it weren’t for injury. He had a fantastic 2016, last year’s Bryse Wilson breakthrough, and continued to roll in Double-A. The bottom line is he struggled a bit at Triple-A and hopefully the Braves have him pitching again by the time he turns 24 next year. No, Weigel isn’t a lost cause by any means, he’s honestly probably No. 21 just missing the list mainly because of Tommy John. But since he wasn’t an overwhelming power-pitcher to begin with — relying on those breaking balls as equally as the fastball — the command may take some extra time to return.
Sean Newcomb graduated as far as I’m concerned. The only reason the Braves would send him back is to cut short his innings and keep his rookie status in tact. Seven starts into his big league career, he’s exactly what we know he is. A pitcher with electric stuff that will battle erratic command.
Some people asked about some other names. If I had a “next five”, they would consist of the following (in no particular order): Brett Cumberland (profile 6/2017), Rio Ruiz (profile 5/2017), Weigel, Randy Ventura and maybe Lucas Herbert because of his huge improvements this season. I’m also way higher on Devan Watts than most, so he would be in consideration as my sleeper.
So, without further ado, here we go:
10. AUSTIN RILEY, 3B (Most recent profile, 6/ 2016)
2017 numbers to like: career-low strikeout rate, 14 home runs
2017 numbers to worry about: 10 doubles (39 last year), .313 OBP
I watched Riley turn from a 19-year-old with raw power and little plate discipline into arguably the most feared hitter in the South Atlantic League at the end of the 2016 season. He slashed .289/.367/.604 with 21 doubles and 17 home runs after the All Star break. He accomplished in half a season what many SAL prospects would be happy with as their FULL season stats.
Riley has continued his progression this year and was recently promoted to Double-A, where he has already launched two home runs in his first ten games. Right now, even with Travis Demeritte’s big bat, he is the best power-hitter in the Braves organization. Add in a vastly improved strikeout rate of 21.4 percent and a walk rate almost exactly the same as last year, you have an exciting third base prospect.
When people asked me about Riley’s defense heading into this season, I always said the same thing. I’ve seen him make unbelievable plays. I’ve seen him make unbelievable throws. I just rarely saw him make an unbelievable play and throw at the same time. He has sneaky range, a natural athleticism and being a former pitcher, has a cannon. This year he has seemed to control his big body more and looks improved at the hot corner. There is still some thought that he is a future first baseman, but time will tell.
Riley has a little bit of Gronk in him. He’s a big dude, but always having fun. That’s the kind of guy you want in your clubhouse. A monster on the field, a fun-loving teddy bear with the team.
9. TOUKI TOUSSAINT, RHP (most recent profile 7/2017)
2017 numbers to like: 3.52 FIP, 115 strikeouts in 100.1 innings, career-low fly ball rate, career-high ground ball rate
2017 numbers to worry about: walks over four-per-nine
Toussaint’s stuff is that of a top ten prospect. I can see where his numbers have led people to think otherwise the past two seasons. That said, his stats are completely deceiving this year, as he has actually improved greatly in many aspects of his game.
There is nothing like seeing Toussaint in person. His mid-90s fastball pounds the glove, and his curveball is one of the greatest things to watch in the minor leagues.
Has Toussaint been hit hard in the past? You bet. Has he had command issues? Still does. But to watch the improvements he made over the course of the 2016 season and see those same qualities this year show me a young pitcher with exciting potential.
You can look at the 3-9 record and 5.11 ERA and call this season a loss. But I see a pitcher who has lowered his ERA more than a full point since June began. I see a pitcher who has struggled with command, yet is posting a career-best strikeout AND walk rate. I see someone that is posting a 44 percent ground ball rate, six points higher than his most recent totals, and a lot of sloppy play around him. A FIP two points lower than one’s ERA shows that Toussaint is a victim of bad luck. His last two starts? He’s gone 15 innings, striking out 21 and walking three, allowing just two earned runs on nine hits.
That’s not to say he’s perfect by any means. He still needs work in his mechanics, consistency and especially hunkering down when runners reach base. But at just 21 years of age, Toussaint has everything an exciting pitching prospect needs.
8. IAN ANDERSON, RHP
2017 numbers to like: 90 strikeouts in 69.2 innings, 2.93 FIP
2017 numbers to worry about: 4.65 walks-per-nine
Joey Wentz and Jeremy Walker love me. Every time I go to Rome, it’s one of those two pitching. I have yet to see Anderson live, but I’ve watched him plenty on MiLB TV and have talked to plenty of people about him. There is always one word they all seem to share when describing Anderson.
According to Notes from the Sally, Anderson’s fastball is clocked in the mid-90s when he starts the game, and drops a tick or two by the third inning. He relies heavily on the fastball, but has a mid-70s 12-6 curve that is effective. His sinking change hits the low-80s.
Three effective pitches and he’s 19.
His fastball command has been erratic this season, leading to the high walks. Our own John Sickels mentioned he was cautious jumping on the Anderson wagon this season because he wanted to see how he handled the workload. The Braves have not been as aggressive with Anderson as they were with their teenage rotation last season, as he’s skipped a few starts and seen his inning limit reduced.
There is plenty to like about Anderson. It just seems that the Braves are going to be more patient with him than the others before him.
7. LUIS GOHARA, LHP
2017 numbers to like: 1.96 (High-A), 2.56 (AA) FIP, strikes out roughly ten-per-nine
2017 numbers to worry about: none are alarming
Gohara was my favorite trade of the offseason. The Braves got an exciting, but curious pitching prospect in return.
The knock against Gohara was his work ethic. Many felt he had more potential, but he didn’t keep up with the conditioning and work to get there. Many also left out that he signed as a 16 year old, and was showing signs of being an adult when he reached that age.
I don’t know why, but when Gohara came to the Braves with reports of his improved fastball reaching triple-digits, I had delusions of grandeur. Close your eyes, if you would. Imagine a 2020 rotation with names like Soroka, Allard, Newcomb, and Fried with Touki a swingman and Gohara slamming the door as the closer.
Gohara destroyed those visions by putting together his best season as a starter yet. He uses the fastball, paired with that electric slider and has reduced his walk rates while maintaining his normally high strikeout rate. He jumped to Double-A at age 20 and has handled it just fine, not allowing more than two runs in any start since June 13th. His last outing this weekend saw Gohara go six shutout innings with 11 strikeouts, no walks and just five hits allowed.
Any further questions?
6. KYLE WRIGHT, RHP
2017 numbers to like/ worry about: N/A, has pitched 3.2 innings as of publication
Obviously, no one can really evaluate the Wright Stuff as a pro, because he made his debut a week ago and has pitched a whopping 3.2 innings in a Gulf Coast League Braves uniform.
So what do we know about Kyle Wright?
Well, he was Vanderbilt’s ace, and if you haven’t paid attention to Vanderbilt starters, they usually are first-round material. He entered Vanderbilt undrafted and began his career as a reliever for their College World Series championship run, making him a teammate of Dansby Swanson’s. His sophomore year he became a starter and that’s where he remained. This past year he went from SEC battle-tested, Vanderbilt ace to the top right-handed college arm in the draft.
Wright went 19-11 in his college tenure, posting a 2.78 ERA and a 290-to-86 strikeout-to-walk rate in 255.1 innings. His main weapon is a mid-90s, four-seamer, but has two different breaking balls and a change. Listed at 6-foot-4 and 220, Wright could still develop more power and finesse and become a truly special pitcher.
I can’t wait until he’s in Rome next year.
5. KEVIN MAITAN, SS (scouting report from John Calvagno 7/23/2017)
2017 numbers to like: On a seven-game hitting streak in which he blasted his first home run
2017 numbers to worry about: He’s played 16 games, too early to worry
Let me say that I have a hard time putting teenagers with small sample sizes into the top five of any list, especially those I haven’t seen in person. But Maitan is 17 years old and proved too much for the Gulf Coast League in nine games. Already in the Appy League, if he’s barreling up on the ball like the reports are showing, he’s as good as they say he is.
I was messaging with John Calvagno right after he saw Maitan and was working up the scouting report I shared above. The first thing he said was “he's the real deal. Offensively, potential for 60-hit (left-handed) and 70-raw. Impressive.” In regards to the home run, he said, “He just flipped his wrists and the ball went 360 opposite field, easy power.”
I was in awe and immediately jealous he was able to get to Danville. I told him that I may just have to break my code and get him in the top five after all. “If you don't rank him highly, you'll catch the wrath of Braves fans lol.”
4. KOLBY ALLARD, LHP (interview from 8/2016)
2017 numbers to like: 3.76 FIP
2017 numbers to worry about: strikeout rate is down and walk rate is up
His walk rate is up, his strikeout rate is down and his last three starts have been, well, frightening. The naysayers have quickly emerged from the shadows, jumping off the bandwagon.
Here’s some facts. Allard is still two weeks short of his 20th birthday, playing his third season as a pro at the Double-A level as one of the youngest pitchers in the league. Were the Braves a bit aggressive? Perhaps, but it hasn’t been terrible.
Allard has a low to mid-90s heater that he establishes well on both sides of the plate when he’s on his game, a plus-curve and an improved changeup. He loses his command every now and then, and maybe it’s the workload — throwing more starts and innings than any other stop — or maybe it’s the level, but it has been hurting Allard of late.
His fly ball and ground ball rates are identical (41 percent). He has an oddly increased IFFB rate of 28 percent, which means maybe more hitters are getting some loft on him, which would be scary for a pitcher at SunTrust Park.
Here’s the problem with Braves pitching prospects. Almost all of them had lofty expectations. Newcomb, Allard, Soroka, Anderson, Fried, and now even Gohara had top-of-the-rotation tags placed on them. What if Allard’s ceiling lowered a little bit? What if the fastball command isn’t elite and the curve may have lost some bite? What if he is merely a middle-of-the-rotation arm and not the ace many pundits envisioned?
All that means that Allard is still one of the best left-handed prospects in baseball. He still shows his advanced feel at times at a highly-advanced level of ball for his age. Should you temper expectations on Allard? Perhaps. But to jump ship is lunacy.
3. MIKE SOROKA, RHP (Profile from last season’s playoff start in Rome 9/18/16)
2017 numbers to like: 2.38 ERA, 3.06 FIP, 1.79 walks-per-nine, an over four to one strikeout-to-walk ratio
2017 numbers to worry about: seven home runs allowed for Soroka is the equivalent of 15 for most pitchers
What can you say about Mike Soroka?
If you want make-up, he’s probably the coolest and calmest 19-year-old you’ll meet. He keeps his composure on the mound and has no issues making starts and going into games.
Whereas Allard’s 2017 performance in Double-A has raised question marks, Soroka’s has erased them. He has a true four-pitch arsenal, including two fastballs (a sinking two-seamer and a steady four-seamer) to go along with two off-speed pitches that he seemingly controls with ease. A 1.79 walks-per-nine as a 19-year-old in Double-A? Are you kidding me?
Soroka has been so dominant this year his numbers are hurt by a select few outings. He had a three-start span in which he hurled 22 innings of shutout ball, striking out 19 and walking one. ONE!
The friendly competition between the Rome staff from 2016 makes them all better, and Soroka has without question taken the biggest leap.
2. RONALD ACUNA, OF (Scouting profile, 7/ 2017)
2017 numbers to like: Every... single... number
2017 numbers to worry about: On paper 107 strikeouts and 32 walks are frightening, but he is 19 years old, so this needs to be taken in context
I know. I’m the only one that has Acuna at No. 2, but in my eyes he’s really 1-B. Both of the Braves top prospects are amongst the most exciting in the game.
Acuna hardly played in an injury-riddled age-18 season in Low-A Rome when I first saw him. Then he turned 19 and jumped from High-A to Double-A and now Triple-A. He hasn’t simply played well, he has excelled at each stop. Acuna already has 14 home runs and 55 RBI this season. His speed makes him a threat on the bases and in the field, and now that the power is developing, he profiles as a true five-tool right fielder.
His swing is amazing.
His play in the field and on the base paths is simply exciting. He has handled the switch to right field very well, and his power surge now profiles his bat as a corner outfielder as well.
Here’s my one negative, if it’s really even a negative. Acuna is still only 19 years old. He has clearly slowed down a bit in Triple-A, but this could be equal parts fatigue as it is the level. He still doesn’t have 750 career at bats and is still four games shy of his first 100-game season. That is somewhat a small sample size in the big view of things. The way he has handled himself up the ladder speaks volumes, but I want to see more in the minors before the Braves rush him to the big leagues.
Which means the number one Braves prospect is still:
OZZIE ALBIES, 2B (most recent profile 5/2017)
2017 numbers to like: 18 doubles, 8 triples, 9 home runs, 21 stolen bases are all on pace to set career-highs or already are
2017 numbers to worry about: 19.9 percent strike out rate and 6.1 percent walk rates are career-lows
Yes, I’m biased. Ozzie Albies was the first scouting report and interview I did when I started covering the Rome Braves (not a bad star, huh?). But do you know why I’m biased?
Because from the age of 17 to the age of 20, nothing has change.
Well, of course some things have changed, but his overall game remains very much in tact. I’m not going to sit here and tell you that Albies’ ceiling is as high as Ronald Acuna’s because it’s not. He’s likely maxed out on his size and may not add that much more to his game. But he could arguably be one of the safer prospects in baseball, and maybe the best all-around second base prospect in the game.
There are two primary reasons I chose Albies for No. 1. When everyone was down on him this season, did you see how he responded? He responded by being Ozzie Albies. The same Albies who was striking out in mass quantities and struggling to hit to start the year, is right back up to a .285 average and second in the International League with 109 hits. He’s been mired in a “slump” of late, batting just .227 over his last ten games. Over that same stretch, he’s reached base in nine games, and got a base hit in eight of them. After dealing with years of Dan Uggla, that kind of slump has to excite Braves fans everywhere.
Secondly, I feel like people forget this guy is 20 years old and the Braves said, ‘hey, move to second,’ and he did it flawlessly. I watched him once again last week, and he was all over the place, back-handing balls up the middle, catching pop-ups in short right field, and turning double plays with ease.
Albies is listed at 5-foot-9 and 160 pounds. When he is on the field, however, he is the largest player out there. You can tell other players just respect him. Albies is going to hit and play solid defense one day soon, and I personally can’t wait for it.