Here at Minor League Ball, we’ve taken a look at the Atlanta Braves elite farm system. The midseason top-20 was broken down into three parts, first looking at those who just missed the cut and Nos. 15-20, with the second part looking at the heart of the lineup, Nos. 6 through 14.
All that’s left is the cream of the crop. Just who is that top 5? The most fun curve in the system to watch, a five-tool superstar in the making, the second coming of C.C. Sabathia, the GOAT, and the next Greg Maddux. Got that?
Without further ado, here’s the best of the best.
5. Touki Toussaint, Gwinnett Braves (Most recent profile from 7/2017)
The above video is part of what makes Touki Toussaint so special. What else makes him a top 5 prospect? His filthy fastball, an ever-improving changeup, a self-awareness of what he needs to improve on, and most importantly, showing those improvements throughout every season he’s pitched.
When the Braves got him for Phil Gosselin in 2015, they knew Toussaint was a bit of a project. The Arizona Diamondbacks 2014 first-rounder had electric stuff, but struggled with command. While Toussaint’s biggest nemesis is still that consistency in commanding the strike zone, he has improved greatly and is on the precipice of his big league career.
Toussaint, who is listed at 6’3” and 185 pounds, could have rested on his well-known curve but as early as 2016 as a 20-year-old, he focused on using it less to hone in on his changeup and power up his fastball to one that can hit the upper-90s but sit perfectly fine around 95. His changeup is heads and shoulders above where it was. Toussaint may never be a command artist, but a big league pitcher he will be.
There are still those that question his future role. The 22-year-old has appeared a few times out of the bullpen in All-Star games and is absolutely filthy. But it’s time to believe that he can excel as a starter. Sure, his strike throwing ability may hurt him at first, limiting him from going deep into games, but the stuff is just too filthy to ignore. His growth as a pitcher from the 2016 Rome rotation to now is remarkable if you’ve followed his path.
4. Cristian Pache, Florida Fire Frogs (profile from 8/2017)
Much to my personal dismay, Pache was hitless in the many starts I went to Rome last year to see him. There was plenty to like without a base hit, as he truly is an all-around player. When he finally exploded for a four-hit performance in August, I was excited. It was then I knew I was watching a very special player.
The 19-year-old can do it all. He’s lightning quick on the base paths and in centerfield he’s a vacuum. If on the rare occasion a ball does land in a gap he can’t chase down, chances are the right-hander will throw out the runner, with not only a powerful arm, but accurate one at that.
The biggest concern was that in two seasons as a pro, Pache hadn’t hit a home run. Watching his swing and talking to people around him, they all saw it was there. Put those worries behind you. Pache has a career-high in doubles (18) and has hit eight home runs in a very pitcher-friendly Florida State League. While he’s been crushing left-handed hitting this year, it seems he is developing his power against both righties and southpaws. And he has done it without sacrificing his contact skills, still hitting .284 this season. If he can learn to draw a few more walks, especially with that speed, watch out.
The Braves don’t need to rush Pache. But if he continues to improve at a rapid rate, they will have to do so.
3. Luiz Gohara, Gwinnett Stripers
Gohara has certainly had his struggles this year. When you look at what he’s gone through with his family, and the fact that he is still merely 21 years of age, he gets a pass. There is nothing to indicate that his stuff still isn’t there. And that stuff is filthy.
The Brazilian native is turning into a gift from the Seattle Mariners. His arsenal alone is worthy of top prospect status. His fastball is down a bit in velocity this year, but he’s also learning how to pitch it, as opposed to throwing it with triple-digit heat like last year. It was already a big-time weapon, if he does improve its command, it becomes lethal. Speaking of lethal, his slider is a thing of beauty. It can hit the mid-80s with nasty break. The changeup has been behind, but he’s honing that as well.
Thanks to that fastball-slider combo, I felt Gohara would be nasty at the back of the bullpen when the Braves acquired him. I’ve personally changed my tune on that, and do think he is future rotation material. He is big, and the Braves will have to work with him from getting bigger as work ethic and training was his biggest knock in Seattle (which doesn’t seem to be the case here). That said, if Gohara gets his mental edge back, he’s nasty on the mound and should be a featured part of the 2019 rotation, and could be a huge (no pun intended) arm down the playoff stretch.
2. Austin Riley, Gwinnett Stripers
Sitting in the 2016 Rome Braves press box, I called Austin Riley the GOAT. I will stick to my guns on this, and the 21-year-old third baseman has done nothing but improve year in and year out to finally turn some heads to his greatness.
The biggest takeaway from Riley is in-season improvements. In 2016 at Rome, he looked like Pedro Cerrano when a breaking ball came his way, but he exploded in the second half to hit 21 doubles, 17 home runs and increase his walk rate. Riley was good last year to start the season in the Florida State League, but he may have been at his all-time best at Mississippi as one of the youngest hitters in the Southern League. This year has been hampered by injury, and while he wasn’t Riley-esque to start his Gwinnett debut, you’ll never guess what’s happening. He’s hitting .326 with an .830 OPS since his return from the DL. Strikeouts will always be a bit of a concern with Riley, but not enough to diminish his value.
There is also no longer any reason to be worried about his defense. From where he was as a 19-year-old in Rome to where he is now, not only speaks to his athleticism, but his work ethic. The improvements he has made are huge, and huge improvements only come with work. That said, his ability to enjoy the game makes his demeanor amongst the best in any clubhouse. Is he the best defensive third base prospect in the game? No, not at all, but he’s heading in a better direction than many other past third base prospects in the system.
Will Riley truly be the GOAT? That’s a lot to ask from a guy that’s the same position as another guy that’s one week away from Hall of Fame enshrinement. That said, he is well on his way to an exciting career.
1. Mike Soroka, Atlanta Braves DL (latest profile April, 2018)
Let me make this as simple as possible. Growing up a non-Braves fan, Greg Maddux was my favorite pitcher in baseball. In the above April profile I said Soroka reminded me of the Maddux I watched as a young adult. Any questions as to why he is No. 1?
Soroka’s injuries have made 2018 a disappointing one, but that is about all that has been disappointing. The 20-year-old righty once again dominated his league as one of the youngest in it, this time the International League before his call-up. He defeated Noah Syndergaard in his big league debut going six innings of one-run ball while striking out five and walking none, and later looked almost perfect defeating Jacob deGrom in a 6.1 inning, one-hit performance beating a 2018 Cy Young candidate. Still have questions?
Soroka commands all of his pitches well, and he sees the strike zone in that Matrix-type way that Maddux did. He controls not only the strike zone, but the tempo, thus allowing him to dictate the at bat as well. He does it all without the big velocity numbers (although when he was healthy this season, it was increased), and without the breaking balls that many of the Braves prospects get rave reviews about. Instead, he is able to throw a fastball multiple ways, a breaking ball multiple ways, and use his changeup to keep batters off balance.
The Braves are wise not to rush him back from the DL and be patient. Soroka is a special talent, and well worthy of a No. 1 ranking in one of the best farm systems in baseball.
(Shameless plug: My YouTube page “The Minor League Prospect Video Page”, now has over 150 videos, primarily of these top 20 Braves prospects. Please give it a look and maybe even subscribe if you like it. Thank you!)