Last season, our heralded John Sickels allowed me to make my own Top 20 midseason Atlanta Braves prospect list. Keeping with that tradition, here goes attempt No. 2.
It’s still very much a work in progress on my end, ranking prospects has never been my thing, I just like to talk to them and about them. That said, I see a lot of the Braves minor leaguers, most of them several times, and feel that I have a better grasp on this system than others.
People asked last year how I came up with my rankings. I went to my old teaching days and made a scoring rubric. I used a five-point scale (five being the best) for the following categories: primary skills (for a hitter, it includes approach as well as the basic tools; for a pitcher, it’s his stuff, delivery, etc.), defensive ability, moxie (the intangibles as some call them), MLB-readiness, and future projection. It’s not a traditional scale, it may not even make sense to most people, but it works for me for now.
For the prospects I haven’t seen, I rely on the same people I always have: the boys at Baseball America, the gents at Talking Chop (Eric Cole, Garrett Spain, Matt Powers, Gaurav Vedak and now our longtime Minor League Ball friend Sparhawk really do a killer job), John Calvagno at Notes of the Sally (the most underrated minor league guy on the internet), Grant McAuley, 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. He seems to really have a grasp on this baseball thing.
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.
If you remember last year, I was the only one who had Ozzie Albies (No. 1) ranked above Ronald Acuña, Jr. (No. 2) at the midseason point. That was simply because I felt like Albies was ready to be an All Star.
“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 (2017 Midseason Top 20).”
My point is, my rankings don’t always fall in with the common midseason rankings. I generally have people I have had the opportunity to see more ranked a spot or two higher than most. That leaves room for debate, and really, that’s what prospect rankings are ultimately for. I welcome it, and sometimes, even agree with where I may have been off a spot or two.
Without further ado, let’s get started.
The next five:
These names are important to know, especially with the trade deadline looming and the Braves in contention. If any of the top 20 is moved, a slot opens up for these guys:
- No. 25 Jefrey Ramos
- No. 24 Brett Cumberland (some looks from last year at Rome)
- No. 23 Alex Jackson
- No. 22 Jasseel De La Cruz (report from April 12, 2018)
- No. 21 Patrick Weigel
20. Bruce Zimmermann, Mississippi Braves (great write up by Talking Chop’s Doc Herbert)
Numbers to like: 123 strikeouts to 32 walks in 106 combined innings, 2.55 ERA, 1.18 WHIP.
Numbers of concern: Fastball sits at 90, his 4.40 FIP is more telling in Double-A than his 1.69 ERA.
Zimmermann is one of a few breakout stars in the Braves system this season. There are a few question marks surrounding his rise, but he seems to handle the adjustments well.
The 6-foot-2, 215-pound lefty is a DII baseball product, part of the Mount Olive rotation I ranked amongst the best in 2016. He continues to be what he was then; a solid control artist who minimizes damage by getting the big strikeout and limiting walks. And yes, if you’re wondering, the mustache played in college as well as it does now.
Zimmermann has shown the issues of having an average arsenal at Double-A, walking an uncharacteristic 14 batters over 21.1 innings, but he’s also made just four starts. He is as much moxie as he is skill, so for him to adjust won’t be a surprise at all. In a system deep with big-time pitching prospects, Zimmermann may find himself in a perfect role as a swingman/long-reliever, but for now there is little reason to give up on him as a future back-end-of-the-rotation starter.
19. Tristan Beck, Whereabouts unknown
Numbers to like or dislike: Nothing at the professional level yet, but coming off back injury in 2017, this is almost the desired result.
This was the third time Beck has been drafted, and if he continues to get back into top form, the Braves got themselves a steal in the fourth round. Originally drafted by the Milwaukee Brewers out of California high school, Beck went on to a stellar career at Stanford when he pitched. He still warranted a draft selection by the New York Yankees last season, despite missing the entire year.
Beck was sharp in his 2018 return to the mound for the Cardinal. His last nine starts saw him complete at least six innings, able to throw 95 or more pitches in five of those starts. His strikeouts-per-nine were down from his 2016 debut and his walks-per-nine were up, but this season was about his recovery. And it went well.
Armed with a low-90s fastball and nice secondary offerings, Beck has all the potential to settle down in the middle of the rotation. If there was no injury history, especially the back, it wouldn’t be surprising to see him fast tracked to the bigs. But with the wealth of pitching depth in the system, the Braves can take their time with him.
18. Jean Carlos Encarnacion, Rome Braves
Numbers to like: 20 doubles, four triples, eight home runs in 319 at bats.
Numbers of concern: A 92:13 strikeout-to-walk ratio and .879 fielding percentage.
Encarnacion, or JCE as he has been tabbed in the Twitterverse, is a unique talent. Tall and wiry, the power is for real, albeit still somewhat raw. He is just 20 years of age, so there is time to fill out his 6’3”, 195 pound frame (although at times, 195 seems generous). He has a loud right-handed bat that really barrels up on the ball, but he misses. A lot.
The swing-and-miss tendencies are nowhere near as large a concern as the fielding is. He is a work in progress with all the athleticism to excel at the position, and the arm strength to do so as well, but in my viewings at least, he needs to learn to execute. Whether it is inaccuracies in his throws or lack of confidence in them, he has shown problems reaching both second and first, but has a powerful arm to make the throws. He is good moving to both his left and right and charging as well but struggles when it comes right at him. The bat would play in a corner outfield position down the road, but with his skill set, it’s too early to give up on him as a third basemen.
It’s worth paying close attention to his development at the hot corner. He has Braves top 10 potential if he can put it all together.
17. Freddy Tarnok, Rome Braves
Numbers to like: the bullpen numbers from the first half of the season; 3-0, 1.42 ERA, 44 strikeouts in 31.2 innings, walking just three batters in June.
Numbers of concern: July numbers as a starter; 9.58 ERA, 1.40 WHIP, .259 BAA
Tarnok is just 19 years old and there is plenty to like about his future. We know he has the arm, as he was two-star in high school, primarily playing shortstop until the tail end of high school. To see where he is just a couple years later is impressive to say the least.
Thus, Freddy is a project, and the Braves knew they would have to exhibit patience when they selected him in the third round of last year’s draft. What he did out of the bullpen to start the season in Rome was more than they could hope for.
(Freddy filth provided courtesy of Chris Blessing of Baseball HQ.)
His fastball saw an uptick in velocity, sitting more consistently in the mid-90s, while his curve and change up, both works in progress, definitely showed signs of becoming formidable pitches. He allowed just four earned runs through June and after a few wild patches here and there, he looks to have his walks under control. Again, this is from not only improved pitches, but improved command of them.
Tarnok has started his last four games and the results have been less favorable. That said, it was promising to see him throw 84 pitches in his last start, as these starts are not so much about hits and runs, but stamina building back into the starter’s role. He seems to hone in on lefties very well (.193 BAA), but righties don’t have that much of an easier time (.212). Just 19, there is a lot of development left in his stuff and frame (6’3”, 185). We know he can thrive in the bullpen, let’s watch what he can do in the rotation.
16. Kyle Muller, Florida Fire Frogs (First look from April 6, 2018 in Rome)
Muller’s curious rise continues in 2018. After watching most of his draft mates flourish in Rome last season, Muller was mysteriously left behind for the entirety of 2017. The 20-year-old lefty (he bats righty, something to love about those kind of players) has been solid in full-season ball this year, making a quick jump to the Florida State League after a strong start in Rome.
He’s a beast, listed at 6’6” (probably an inch, maybe two taller) and 225, using his frame to attack the strike zone with a mid-90s fastball and accompanying curve and change. Here was his arsenal when I saw him earlier this season:
“Muller threw a lot of fastballs. The velocity was not what I expected, playing around the upper-80s and lower-90s all night. The highest I saw was 94, despite several observers saying they saw him hit the upper-90s earlier this spring. The curve was seldom used, but it seemed to break nicely and took a bunch off, coming in at 73. The change was in the upper-70s, low-80s all night, and can definitely be used as a strikeout pitch.”
Reports are that the velocity is creeping back up more steadily and holding, and he has been good in the FSL. It’s worth noting in the very pitcher-friendly league, he’s getting hit pretty well (.280 BAA) while walking the most in his young career (3.74-per-nine). Still, there is a lot of upside with Muller, and the Braves don’t seem to be worrying about how fast he gets there.
15. Isranel Wilson, Florida Fire Frogs
Tools on tools on tools. There is so much to like about Wilson, it’s just a matter of when he will throw it all together.
It felt as if Wilson was the cult prospect of 2018, the one a lot of Braves fans had heard of, but were ready to see great things. It looked like we were finally seeing that in June when Izzy was still in Rome. He slashed .289/.366/.482 with a .848 OPS. He showed off his power with four home runs and his ability to walk, drawing ten in 83 at bats. He earned a promotion to Florida after one July game and it’s been more of the same from Wilson.
Boom, like his 3-for-5 output on July 12, or bust, like his 2-for-17 streak in the five games since. Again, it’s not so much the numbers right now with Wilson, but the tools.
He won’t turn 21 until the beginning of next season, so there is little reason to panic or worry. We know he can hit, and at 6’3” and 185, he has the build to grow into some more power, which he seems to be just starting to touch the surface of. We know he can run, as it shows both in the outfield, where he plays solid center and right field, and on the base paths where he is 15-for-19 on the season and a perfect 4-for-4 in the FSL. We know that even though he strikes out a whole lot, he can draw a walk, walking 11-percent of the time thus far in his young career.
Everything is there, and when he is on, he is one of the most overall exciting prospects in the system.