Evaluating the 2016 Prospects: Atlanta Braves by Dan Farnsworth November 23, 2015 *EDIT: After a strong showing from internet commenters, I added a couple changes to this piece. You’ll see that Austin Riley and Kolby Allard were both added to the list, as well as some notes under Ryan Weber’s report. I’m going to leave the overall grades the same here, though AS WITH EVERYBODY overall grades may change by the time I get to the composite prospect list. I originally wanted to put three overall grades in these reports, then thought about leaving them out entirely because of their likelihood to change, before finally settling on putting a likely future value in for some comparisons. The innernets say no. I’m new here. I’m reserving the right to change grades as I go along, this being the first time I’ve compiled reports on a volume this scale, though I have decided to put three values in for overall grades in the future lists. This should help clear up some of the questions people have about how I can agree that pitcher Mel Clark has a high ceiling, but only makes it on the list in the 45+ section. Enjoy! The Braves have made some headlines this year with a number of trades to bring in young talent. While the short-term picture suffers with the loss of some popular, productive players, they are setting their future up with a lot of depth in their farm system. With a few players on the verge of contributing to the big league team, the next year or two may not be as bad as it could be trading away so much present value. The big push of prospects could come from players at A-ball Rome and below. There are a lot of interesting talents who have entered the system in the last year or two that haven’t yet revealed how high their ceilings could be. The lower-level collection of players has a lot of risk involved, but the sheer volume of players with talent should ensure the Braves will reap the benefits of the work they’ve put into the farm. Here’s the primer for the series and my scouting thoughts in general. The grades I put on players heavily weight the functionality of each tool in game situations, rather than just pure tool grades. Here is a table to understand the position player grades: Scouting Grades in Context: Hitters Grade Tool Is Called Batting Average HR ISO Baserunning Runs Fielding Runs 80 80 0.320 40 0.300 12 30 75 0.310 35-40 0.275 10 25 70 Plus Plus 0.300 30-35 0.250 8 20 65 0.290 27-30 0.225 6 15 60 Plus 0.280 23-27 0.200 4 10 55 Above Average 0.270 19-22 0.175 2 5 50 Average 0.260 15-18 0.150 0 0 45 Below Average 0.250 12-15 0.125 -2 -5 40 0.240 8-12 0.100 -4 -10 35 0.230 5-8 0.075 -6 -15 30 0.220 3-5 0.050 -8 -20 As well as one to understand what the overall grades approximate: Scouting Grades in Context: Overall Grade Hitter Starting Pitcher Relief Pitcher WAR 80 Top 1-2 #1 Starter —- 7 75 Top 2-3 #1 —- 6 70 Top 5 #1/2 —- 5 65 All-Star #2/3 —- 4 60 Plus #3 High Closer 3 55 Above Avg #3/4 Mid Closer 2.5 50 Avg Regular #4 Low CL/High SU 2 45 Platoon/Util #5 Low Setup 1.5 40 Bench Swing/Spot SP Middle RP 1 35 Emergency Call-Up Emergency Call-Up Emergency Call-Up 0 30 *Organizational *Organizational *Organizational -1 One other difference for the way I’ll be communicating scouting grades to you is the presence of three numbers on each tool instead of just two. The first number is the current grade. The second number is the likely future grade; or, if you prefer percentiles, call this the 50th percentile projection. The third number is the ceiling grade, or 90th percentile projection, to help demonstrate the volatility and raw potential of a tool. I feel this gives readers a better sense of the possible outcomes a player could achieve, and more information to understand my thoughts on the likelihood of reaching those levels. In the biographical information, level refers to where they finished the year, unless they were sent down for injury rehab or other extraneous reasons. Ages are listed as of April 1, 2016. You can also find each player’s previous rank from Kiley’s list last year. Below, Dave Cameron shares his thoughts on the general state of the organization. Returning for his popular cameo, Carson Cistulli picks his favorite fringe prospect toward the end of the list. Next up will be the Baltimore Orioles. Organizational Overview Rather than make a run at mediocrity while hoping to catch a few breaks along the way, the Braves have instead chosen to start from scratch, almost completely revamping a roster that won 96 games as recently as 2013. Freddie Freeman and Julio Teheran are all that remain of that roster, and the pieces now surrounding those two are not much to speak of. Barring some remarkable improvements, the 2016 Braves are going to be awful. The bet, however, is that the stockpile of arms that the team has spent the last year acquiring can bring the team back to contention in short order. Betting on arms — especially high-risk arms, which is what the team has specialized in acquiring over the last year — is a path fraught with peril, but with risk comes opportunity, and if the Braves are right about several of the young hurlers they’ve picked up recently, it’s not entirely far fetched to see them following in the footsteps of the Mets. They’ll have to add some better hitters along the way, and I don’t know that I’d have bet my franchise’s future on so many arms with health and/or command issues, but if a couple of the high-end starting prospects pan out, the Braves won’t be awful for too long. If these bets don’t pay off, though, there could be a long string of dark days in Atlanta. 50+ FV Prospects 1. Ozhaino Albies, SS Current Level/Age: A/19.2, 5’9 150, S/R Acquired: Signed in 2013 out of Curacao by ATL for $350,000 bonus Previous Rank: 1 Albies has made quite the impression since entering full-season ball in 2014. He has obvious abilities on defense with a lightning-fast release and above-average arm strength. Albies brings simple but direct footwork into each play at shortstop, and will have no problem sticking at the position at an above-average clip in the future. His baserunning skill has already shown up with 51 stolen bases and 13 times caught stealing across the last two seasons. On both sides of the plate, he takes advantage of the lesser defenses in the lower minors with a high ground-ball rate, where his plus to plus-plus times down the line give him many extra hits. Though these will not be as plentiful against better fielders, he has enough line drive lift in his swing to keep hitting at a high level. I do have some concerns over his ability to continue barreling up offspeed pitches as they become more difficult to hit. Albies gets away with being off-balance and off-timing because of a great bat path and quick hands. He has to rely on it a little too often for me to comfortably project him more than above-average as the most likely result. If he can improve his balance and/or pitch recognition, he can reach his ceiling as a plus to plus-plus hitter. The power production will continue to be the result of well-struck line drives in the gaps, as well as his speed on the bases. He shows a little more potential from the right side to hit for power with more use of his legs in his swing, but overall he is not projectable as a major power threat. Hit: 35/55/65 Power: 25/30/35 Run: 60/60/65 Field: 55/60/65 Throw: 60/60/ FV/Role: 60 2. John Gant, RHP Current Level/Age: AA/23.7, 6’5″/205, R/R Acquired: Drafted 642nd overall (21st round) in 2011 out of Florida by NYM for $185,000 bonus, Traded to ATL 7/2015 Previous Rank: NA Gant has steadily put up big numbers over the last three years without much attention paid to him. Placed in Double-A to start the year, his strikeout rate dropped and his walks spiked. After being demoted to High-A, he went back to striking out more than a batter per inning and turned a possible setback season into another step forward, continuing his success when promoted once again. I think too much emphasis is put on reasons to doubt him rather than focusing on his strengths. Watching him pitch, he often finishes his delivery with his back leg stuck behind his body, giving the whole thing a stunted look. It happens even more obviously when he tries to reach back for extra velo. However, all the important parts of his delivery are very good. He keeps himself in line with the plate very consistently, gets good drive out of his legs, and has some of the cleanest arm action you could ask for. Gant throws a low- to mid-90s fastball with great command, an average-ish curve elevated by his ability to throw it for strikes to both sides of the plate, and a wicked changeup with split-type action. You can point to his delivery or his build as limiting factors, but he does more than enough things very well to make it work for him. I think the Braves made a great move grabbing this guy before he faces high-minors competition and invalidates his doubters. I put Gant at the top of the pitchers in the system because he has the clearest path to getting hitters out after multiple looks. He won’t wow you with his stuff, though across the board it looks better than average. His ability to locate the ball and knowing when and how to use his offspeed pitches are huge separating factors from most pitching prospects. Others on this list have that potential, but none have it already, combined with a legitimate starter’s repertoire. Fastball: 50/55/60 Curveball: 45/55/60 Changeup: 60/65/70 Command: 55/60/65 FV/Role: 60, #3 Starter Video courtesy of Prospect Pipeline 3. Sean Newcomb, LHP Current Level/Age: AA/22.8, 6’5″/245, L/L Acquired: Drafted 15th overall (1st round) in 2014 out of U of Hartford by LAA for $2.518 million bonus, Traded to ATL 11/2015 Previous Rank: 2 (LAA) Newcomb came over in the recent trade for Andrelton Simmons, adding to the quality of pitching depth in the upper levels of the system. His brief track record since being drafted in 2014 has shown promise, including more than one strikeout per inning through 33 starts and a superb home-run rate. His control and command will be the biggest limiting factors if they are not improved. He has an easy delivery with velocity that belies his effort level, which looks like he should not have a problem repeating as he climbs the ladder. Still, his core is rather tight and he has some mild sequencing issues as a result. Even with the ease of his motion as a whole, his stiff midsection leaves his his velocity more dependent on his arm than at first glance. His fastball ranges anywhere from 91 to 95 on a given day, touching 97, with good life that led to a lot of ground balls this year. The changeup, curve and slider all have their moments, but none of them really stand out as above average on a regular basis. The slider and change have more deceptive movement, but his curve has the best arm action and most comfortable look. Newcomb has the ceiling of a high-end starter, but with some sequencing and command issues that need to be addressed, his likely future role is a bit lower than that. I think it balances out to give him room to grow on his command and feel, though with a slightly lower ceiling than might be expected given his overall stuff. Fastball: 91-95 (97) 55/60/65 Curveball: 45/50/55 Slider: 45/50/55 Changeup: 45/50/55 Command: 40/45/50 FV/Role: 55, #3/4 Starter 4. Kolby Allard, LHP Current Level/Age: R/18.6, 6’1″/180, L/L Acquired: Drafted 14th overall (1st round) in 2015 out of California by ATL for $3 million bonus Previous Rank: NA Not much has changed with regard to Allard’s potential on the mound since being drafted, but the injury concerns cloud his picture for me. He had his second back surgery of the year at the end of the season, but a Braves source I spoke to was confident Allard would be ready to go at the start of 2016, with management of his innings a primary focus. He has excellent stuff across the board, but he already looked very stiff in his shoulder blades and back as an amateur. It remains to be seen how the surgeries help or hinder him going forward, and that uncertainty is why I have left him unranked. For now. *EDIT: This is about where I think Allard falls on this list currently, assuming he can get past his back injuries and get a healthy season under his belt next year. My concerns don’t really change, given the biggest problem I had with projecting him was how his upper back stiffness would affect his arm health and ability to progress overall. My choice to leave him unranked was not a comment on his talent in any way, and in the future I will be sure to avoid any confusion by ranking players in this type of situation and explain the context there. *Second back surgery was a false report. Hopefully this puts his future development on a normal track, and I’ll be looking forward to see his progress in 2016. Fastball: 50/60/65 Curveball: 45/55/65 Changeup: 40/50/60 Command: 40/50/60 FV/Role: 55, #3/4 Starter Video courtesy of MLB 5. Ryan Weber, RHP Current Level/Age: MLB/25.7, 6’0″/180, R/R Acquired: Drafted 658th overall (22nd round) in 2008 out of St. Petersburg JC by ATL for $125,000 bonus Previous Rank: NA The kind of pitching prospect I love to project, Weber has had to earn every promotion along the way to making his major league debut in 2015. He has limited free passes throughout his professional career, racking up just enough strikeouts to be interesting, but never being fully recognized in prospect circles. This season helped put him on the map, with his excellent pitchability giving him a chance in the young Braves rotation during a losing season. Weber has a bit of funk to his delivery, with a lot of torque in his motion but not a ton of drive toward the plate. He throws from a low-three-quarter slot with excellent rotational sequencing. Despite some concern that his arm angle may put stress on his elbow, his pitching style relies on command and movement more than arm speed, and he has a clean arm action with good natural finish. He has had platoon issues in the past, through 2015 marked his best year in that department. His stuff draws impressive marks for movement across the board, with the command he has of his full arsenal being his carrying tool. Projecting as a starter, he will need to continue developing his front-door two-seam fastball and further hone his command to be a weapon against opposite-handed hitters. There’s a chance he ends up limited to solid reliever status if he doesn’t, but I see enough ability here to be a mid-rotation contributor, even more if the command steps forward. *EDIT: Alright, in retrospect, I could make the point about Weber without doing it in a way that enrages everyone. However, I stand by the individual pitch grades and his possible ceiling, not based on stuff, but on his movement and command profile. I hate player comps, and I may enrage more people with this, but I don’t think there’s much separating Weber from a guy like Dallas Keuchel. Weber has a similar approach, trying to live in the low-and-away quadrant of the strike zone to survive, though without the same present command as Keuchel. Weber has a bit better movement, a bit less deception. Not saying that’s his future, just that there’s an alternative route to productivity for this type of pitcher than just “throw harder”. Fastball: 89-92 50/55/60 Curveball: 50/55/60 Changeup: 55/60/65 Command: 55/60/65 FV/Role: 55, #3/4 Starter 6. Austin Riley, 3B Current Level/Age: R/19.0, 6’3″/220, R/R Acquired: Drafted 41st overall (Supplemental 1st round) in 2015 out of Mississippi by ATL for $1.6 million bonus Previous Rank: NA Riley is a third baseman who hit for impressive power in Rookie ball after being picked up in the supplemental first round of the same draft, whose bat could be really good as long as he keeps the strikeouts in check. *EDIT: I admit, I screwed up leaving Riley off the list. There isn’t a ton of great information on him after the draft, but his talent is too high to be left out, and I can’t even give a reason why I did that. My mistake. Though I didn’t write on the 2015 draft, he was one of my favorites to follow as the draft happened. Riley has made the decision to have him focus on hitting instead of pitching look like an easy one after his strong showing in two levels of Rookie ball. The concerns over his bat speed were over-hyped, as he has one of the best swing paths in the 2015 draft. He uses his legs and hips very well, creating big rotational force without needing a lot of effort due to its efficiency. His current weaknesses center around his hit tool. Though he gets on plane early with his hands, his swing has a one-piece quality to it, where he commits all the small movements of his upper body at the same time (hands, elbow, barrel, shoulders, core…). If he starts on time, he mashes the ball. If he starts early, he has to slow his whole swing down to make up for it, rather than just slowing down a small part of his swing while keeping his hands and barrel uncommitted. He will have to work to keep his core from getting too thick, as that would add another kink in the part of his swing sequence he needs to smooth out. He has enough athleticism to improve over time, though it certainly bears watching how well he keeps his strikeouts down. I also wonder about his pitch recognition against better competition, though the swing qualities I mention above may be the root cause of looking fooled against poor offspeed pitches as an amateur on occasion. Defensively, he has the overall athleticism and arm strength to play at least an above-average third base. Hit: 30/45/60 Power: 40/55/65 Run: 40/40/40 Field: 55/55/60 Throw: 55/60/60 FV/Role: 55 7. Lucas Sims, RHP Current Level/Age: AA/21.9, 6’2″/225, R/R Acquired: Drafted 21st Overall (1st round) in 2012 out of Georgia by ATL for $1.65 million bonus Previous Rank: 6 Sims had a good development year in 2015, reaching Double-A and making nine starts there to finish the season. The strikeouts and home run prevention have been on point, but he gave up a lot of free passes this year over his 20 total starts (5.2 BB/9). He is still ironing out mechanical issues, with sequence and rhythm inconsistencies that cause him to rely on his arm more than most, though his arm action is clean. He has put up some excellent numbers in the Arizona Fall League, with the work he’s done to sharpen his command raising his potential ceiling. He threw many well-placed pitches down in the zone in my looks at him. Sims relies mostly on his mid-90s fastball and a sharp breaking ball in the low-80s to put hitters away, while his changeup lags behind in both movement and deception. It will take more than a good fall season for his command issues to be forgotten, and the lack of a viable third pitch and reliable mechanics may end up relegating Sims to the bullpen. His fastball and curveball are strong enough that he may be able to remain in a starting role for now, but his future is likely as a strong back-end bullpen option. Fastball: 93-96 (98) 55/60/65 Curveball: 55/60/65 Changeup: 35/40/40 Command: 45/50/60 FV/Role: 55, Mid Closer 8. Hector Olivera, 3B/LF/2B Current Level/Age: MLB/30.99, 6’2″/220, R/R Acquired: Signed in 2015 out of Cuba by LAD for 6 years/$62.5 million, Traded to ATL 7/2015 Previous Rank: NA Olivera had a solid first year in the states, after some minor controversy during his signing process. Lingering rumors early in the year left questions about his past (missing time with a blood disorder) and current injury concerns (damaged arm?). His plus arm strength has yet to really show up, so perhaps there was some merit to the rumors, but Olivera still had a strong freshman season, dealing with a culture change, multiple minor league levels and a trade to another organization. Despite his age, he has some potential for growth in his game as he settles in. The offensive tool kit is impressive, though the application of it is a bit less so. His barrel uncoils very early in his swing, widening the arc it takes to get to the ball. He’s strong enough to control it surprisingly well, but the length makes it unlikely he will be a high-average hitter. He makes up the ground lost in his bat path with exceptional contact ability and hand speed, though the swing makes it seem difficult to consistently barrel up the ball. He has some looseness in his hands that helps him channel his raw strength into average game power, but Olivera does not utilize his full body well, often looking like his shoulders and hands take over very early in his swing sequence. He has the upper body strength to make it work, but the ceiling on his power may be more limited than another player of similar tools. His contact rate leaves open the possibility for approaching plus in-game power, but I don’t see it as a high likelihood. Possessing above-average raw speed, his running game is relatively unimpressive, but is enough to keep him from being a liability on the bases as a whole. The speed is more useful under way rather than on the first step, making his range in the infield just average. His feet get heavy fielding ground balls, and it takes some extra time for him to get rid of the ball with his quick, athletic arm. His soft hands are the best part of the defensive package, keeping him viable as an infielder nonetheless. His range may be better in the outfield where he will run greater distances, but his hands will be underutilized. Hit: 45/50/55 Power: 45/45/55 Run: 45/45/45 Field: 55/55/55 Throw: 50/50/60 FV/Role: 50 Video courtesy of Nathaniel Stoltz 9. Max Povse RHP Current Level/Age: A+/22.6, 6’8″/185 A+, R/R Acquired: Drafted 102nd overall (3rd round) in 2014 out of North Carolina-Greensboro by ATL for $425,000 Previous Rank: 31 A tall, lanky righty with good body control for his size, Povse put up impressive numbers in A-level Rome before getting promoted to the Carolina Mudcats this year. He features a fastball that sits in the low-90s and a developing curveball and changeup. His secondary pitches flash above-average, though presently they are not as useful as his hard-running fastball. He made his last start in July due to a non-serious injury issue. While Povse has limited walks very well so far in his minor league career, bouts of wildness crop up occasionally, although less than you might expect from his tall frame. He has a solid delivery with good arm action, using his whole body very well. He can sling the ball a bit out to the side when he sinks into his back leg too far, but overall his delivery is pretty consistent and conducive to command gains. Without a clear go-to pitch for a secondary offering, Povse may go down the relief route eventually. That said, I like his athleticism on the mound enough to think he parlays his control into three average or better pitches, and stays on the starter track. Fastball: 45/55/65 Curveball: 40/50/60 Changeup: 45/55/60 Command: 45/55/60 FV/Role: 50, #4 Starter 45+ FV Prospects 10. Mallex Smith, CF, VIDEO The 2015 MiLB leader in stolen bases, Smith was a nice get for the Braves on account of his baserunning prowess alone. He has amazing top-end speed, and wreaks havoc on the bases with a good idea of when he can take advantage of opposing teams. That speed only helps him so much in the field currently, since he takes crooked routes to balls and doesn’t change directions well. The potential is still there for him to play an excellent center field, but the reads will have to drastically improve, and I don’t think his hands are particularly soft either. His arm is below average overall due to rough footwork and just an average release. At the plate, his minor league numbers have been fueled by less-skilled fielders pumping up his BABIP. He has a ground-ball/low line-drive swing with next to no power. His speed will give him some doubles and triples, and he does possess pretty good contact skills. His plate discipline needs improvement for him to continue getting on base enough to start, since right now he is more patient that selective. Big league pitchers will be able to attack him more efficiently. Hit: 35/45/55 Power: 25/30/30 Run: 80/80/80 Field: 50/55/65 Throw: 45/45/50 11. Mike Soroka, RHP, VIDEO Soroka rolled through 34 innings across two Rookie levels after getting nabbed in the first round last year. He struck out just over a batter per inning, with only 5 walks and no homers allowed. He throws from a three-quarter slot with a fastball that plays above its low-90s velocity due to movement and deception. His offspeed pitches need work, but the Braves are confident they will tighten up over time. I will be interested to see how well he cleans up his delivery. He slings the ball from a closed-off stride, often running out of room for his arm to decelerate, putting stress on his arm to carry the effort. He receives praise for being very intelligent and mature beyond his years, and with some attention from Braves coaches he has the chance to jump up this list quickly. Fastball: 40/55/65 Curveball: 40/50/60 Changeup: 45/55/65 Command: 40/50/60 12. Max Fried, LHP, VIDEO Fried has not pitched in a game since July 21, 2014 due to recovery from Tommy John surgery. Prior to the injury he showed a lot of promise, with three pitches that scouts loved. He will look to get his development back on track in 2016, and the Braves will be able to see better what they have in Fried. He shows good balance in his delivery, with better lower body strength than he had in high school. However, he doesn’t have a lot of rotational athleticism, in that his hips lag behind his arm often. He ends up stiff-arming a lot of pitches, throwing with his larger muscles in his upper body rather than the loose, quick driving forces you see with elite pitchers. He throws a curveball that is easily his best offering, having excellent movement even when thrown for strikes. The feel for the changeup isn’t consistent, but it has flashed plus on occasion. His fastball sits 90-92 without much movement or command to really project it optimistically. Overall his command left a lot to be desired, and with his reliance on a reconstructed arm in his delivery, I’m not sure I see a ton of improvement in the future there either. You can’t ignore the stuff he has, but the question marks leave Fried looking less projectable to me. Fastball: 40/50/55 Curveball: 45/55/65 Changeup: 40/45/50 Command: 40/45/55 13. Touki Toussaint, RHP, VIDEO On pure stuff, Toussaint has possibly the best one-two punch in the minors with his fastball and curveball. His delivery has some deception, giving hitters a difficult task picking up his hard, running fastball out of the hand. His curveball has top-of-the-scale potential, with excellent arm speed, great tilt and sharp break. I don’t see the changeup becoming a real weapon. Still, Toussaint has struggled to repeat his release with any consistency, though there have been some strides made in that department. His lower half has gotten stronger and more stable as a result. He almost jumps toward the plate, disconnecting with the ground early and not having much hip rotation to start his throw. Luckily his upper body is very athletic and his arm is fast and clean throughout the delivery. He really doesn’t have anything you can point to and say why he struggles with commanding the ball. There are slight mechanical and tempo issues, but I’m not sure fixing them will get him there, as he seems to lack any feel for the ball. However, his stuff is good enough to contribute toward the back end of the bullpen. Fastball: 45/55/60 Curveball: 45/55/65 Changeup: 35/40/50 Command: 35/40/50 14. Mauricio Cabrera, RHP, VIDEO Cabrera has a very athletic arm with strong but inward-turned legs. He gets too reliant on his arm, especially with his offspeed pitches, tending to leave them up in the zone. He doesn’t have much current feel for his slider or changeup, though his change flashed average with good run in my look at him in the AFL. He hasn’t missed a ton of bats so far, but throwing 100 mph makes it easier to project. Honing a decent second pitch will help the strikeouts kick up quickly. Fastball: 99-101 (103) 60/70/75 Slider: 35/40/45 Changeup: 40/45/50 Command: 40/45/50 15. Chris Ellis, RHP, VIDEO Ellis is another recent import for the Braves, just finishing an impressive first full professional season. He had a great showing in the California League before seeing his walks and homers tick upward upon moving to Double-A ball. Ellis has a slightly closed-off stride with a quick arm that can be a little late getting to release, making him have to rush and struggle to find his release. He doesn’t stay connected to the ground very well with his legs, forcing his core and arm to do the bulk of the work, leaving his command a bit iffy at times. His curve/slider and change show some promise, but in all he looks like a reliever to me. Despite the impressive numbers in a notorious hitters’ league, his delivery and command likely won’t let him turn over a big league lineup multiple times. Fastball: 45/50/55 Slider: 40/45/55 Changeup: 40/45/55 Command: 40/45/50 16. Daniel Castro, 2B/SS, VIDEO Castro has been young for every level in his career, and this year he showed he could play anywhere in the infield at the major league level. He has soft hands, sound footwork and a quick release on throws. Though his hitting numbers were underwhelming, Castro makes a ton of contact and can manipulate the barrel at a decent level. He will continue being a ground-ball-hitting machine, but his ability to square the ball up may give him a better chance of starting than most hitters of his ilk. Hit: 40/45/45 Power: 30/35/35 Run: 50/50/50 Field: 60/60/60 Arm: 60/60/65 40+ FV Prospects 17. Braxton Davidson, RF, VIDEO Davidson doesn’t offer much in terms of defensive or baserunning value, but he has solid potential with the bat. He struggled with strikeouts in his first taste of full-season ball, and the power he demonstrates in batting practice hasn’t shown up consistently in games yet. He has a lot of excellent swing qualities, though he does have a tendency to let his barrel get away from him early. This causes him to have to make bigger last-second adjustments with the bat, especially on inside pitches. He will need to make better contact for his bat to carry him, though the threat of the homer should continue to reward his patient approach with on-base opportunities. Hit: 30/40/50 Power: 35/55/65 Run: 40/40/40 Field: 45/45/45 Throw: 50/50/50 18. Ricardo Sanchez, LHP, VIDEO Sanchez is an interesting young player who got his first taste of full-season ball in 2015. As a left-handed pitcher with good velocity and a developing curveball, there’s not much more you can ask from an 18-year-old prospect. He has some mechanical work to do, with a bit of a crossfire delivery that relies on arm strength rather than total body involvement. Though his curveball shows excellent movement at times, his arm action is not as clean on the pitch, leading to poor command at present. There are some really good athletic qualities to his movements on the mound, though, and youth is definitely on his side. Fastball: 40/50/55 Curveball: 40/50/60 Changeup: 35/40/45 Command: 35/45/55 19. Tyrell Jenkins, RHP, VIDEO Jenkins’ 2015 season marked a huge success, as he crossed the 100-inning threshold for the first time in his professional career, tallying 138-plus innings between Double-A and Triple-A. The strikeouts are not there yet, and his walk rate isn’t low enough to make up the difference, but he was able to generate mostly weak contact this season with a good, not great ground-ball rate. Mechanically he has good direction to the plate, albeit with a lot of stiffness rotationally. Though he has a fairly clean arm action, he struggles to repeat his release and has to throw a lot of fastballs to stay in counts. I have doubts about him finding the consistency he would need to be a starter, but he is an interesting prospect for bullpen conversion where he can scrap his changeup and concentrate on making his fastball/curve combo as tough to hit as possible. Fastball: 50/55/60 Curveball: 45/50/50 Changeup: 40/40/45 Command: 40/45/45 20. Rio Ruiz, 3B, VIDEO Ruiz struggled upon graduating to Double-A Mississippi this year, but still managed to maintain the solid walk and strikeout numbers that have been staples of his performance to date. He has some untapped raw power that will be limited by the extra length to his swing, as well as by his hands pushing past his body early and leveling out his swing path. On the positive side, he has some athletic moves at the plate and does a good job dispersing line drives around the field. He makes a lot of contact, though the added length and average bat speed make the quality of contact somewhat unimpressive on well-executed pitches. As he sits now, he’s unlikely to develop more than fringe-average power, though he will be able to produce a high enough batting average to at least be a good bench/platoon bat. Given his lack of impact tools in the field and on the bases, he will have more incentive than most to start lifting balls. He will need to do just that to improve both his average and power production, since he doesn’t have the speed to justify ever hitting the ball on the ground. If he can make an adjustment, he’s a starter, but I want to see it happen before adjusting his likely future grades. Hit: 35/50/60 Power: 30/45/55 Run: 40/40/40 Field: 40/45/50 Throw: 50/50/55 21. Andrew Thurman, RHP, VIDEO Thurman had an excellent start to the year in High-A Carolina before being promoted to Double-A for five starts to end the season. His walk rate jumped up, and remained elevated relative to his early season results as he worked through the Arizona fall season, when I got to see him. In my view, his stuff looked below-average across the board, and he exhibited a propensity to show what pitch was coming with his upper body speed. His lower half doesn’t contribute much to the delivery, forcing his core and arm to supply the majority of the effort to move the ball. Earlier in the season his command and deception had seemed to take a step forward, but late in the year both had taken a big step back. Thurman did miss some time in May due to the Carolina team bus crash, which the Braves official I spoke to attributed to his running out of gas the last couple months of 2015. I’m willing to discount his numbers on that account, but there are enough deficiencies here, coupled with an arm that lacks looseness, that I’m unsure his stuff plays at the big leagues at more than a reliever’s level. Seeing a rested Thurman in 2016 will go a long way to providing more clarity on his future. Fastball: 45/50/55 Curveball: 40/45/50 Slider: 40/45/55 Changeup: 40/45/55 Command: 40/45/55 Players of Note Dustin Peterson, 3B/LF, VIDEO Peterson has had a reputation for being a solid hitter, but so far his production hasn’t quite lived up to expectations. His power is likely to be limited to his pull side due to a flat swing path that comes across the path of the pitch. The power production could progress as he matures over the next few years, but his hit tool hasn’t stood out enough to make him highly projectable. His batted ball profile will be too much on the ground-ball/low line-drive side without conscious changes to his swing and/or approach. He has demonstrated decent walk rates with good pitch recognition, and he makes enough contact to keep progressing. With fringe-average usable speed and below-average defensive skills overall, he is going to need his offense to step forward to profile as a starter. It’s early enough yet that he has time, but right now he looks like a fringy big leaguer. Hit: 30/40/45 Power: 30/40/45 Run: 45/45/50 Field: 45/45/45 Throw: 50/50/50 Luke Dykstra, 2B, VIDEO Son of Nails forced his way into A-level Rome with a good performance in the GCL this year. Though the homers are likely to stay off his stat sheet, Dykstra hits the ball hard and often, with a steep downward plane to his swing. He gets overcommitted with his stride and his upper body gets pulled toward the pitcher by his hand path leading to a lot of ground balls, yet he has enough strength to sneak some balls past outfielders for occasional extra-base hits. Between two levels this season, Dykstra only struck out an impressive 7.1% of his plate appearances. To succeed enough to climb the ranks, he will need to improve his balance and/or pitch recognition at the plate, since advanced offerings will make it difficult for him to continue relying solely on his hand-eye coordination to earn him hits. Hit: 30/40/50 Power: 30/35/40 Run: 50/50/50 Field: 50/50/55 Throw: 40/40/45 Jason Hursh, RHP, VIDEO Injuries have buried a lot of the promise he had in college, but Hursh has a little potential left as a ground-ball-inducing middle reliever. He will need one or both of his offspeed pitches to take a step forward to reach that level. Fastball: 50/50/55 Slider: 40/45/50 Changeup: 35/40/45 Command: 40/40/45 Sean Godfrey, OF, VIDEO Godfrey is a fun player to watch, with the intangibles you look for in a player to exceed expectations. He is very unlikely to develop more than below-average game power, but his ability to adjust to speeds and movement may allow his quick hands to play at or above an average hit tool level. He has the speed and tenacity to cause problems on the bases for opposing teams. Having only seen minimal first-hand looks, I’m not comfortable projecting him higher than his reputed 4th OF/bench player future, but with some chances against advanced pitching this year, Godfrey may just force himself into the conversation for more than that. Hit: 35/40/50 Power: 30/35/45 Run: 50/55/55 Field: 55/55/55 Throw: 50/50/50 Connor Lien, CF, VIDEO Lien is an athletic outfielder who has trouble finding consistency at times. With plus speed and an above-average arm, he has the physical tools to stick anywhere in the outfield, but he still needs work on his reads and footwork to project as a plus fielder overall. He has a good swing path at the plate, but his bat, hands and back elbow get locked up at the start and make it hard for him to barrel the ball up with regularity. His strikeouts are on the high side, and I’m not confident in him being able to square enough balls up to fully tap into his power, or to generate tons of hits facing better pitchers and defenses. He does enough well to potentially be a starting outfielder, but I think it’s much more likely he ends up a useful bench piece. Hit: 30/40/45 Power: 35/40/45 Run: 60/55/60 Field: 50/50/55 Throw: 45/50/50 Johan Camargo, SS, VIDEO Camargo’s swing gets long on the left side, compared to his right side where he’s much more compact, but he has a choppy bat path on both. His raw power fails to shine though regularly because of it. He’s a legitimate plus defender with good transfers and a strong arm. He’s a poor runner, though he still has the range to play any infield position capably. Hit: 30/35/40 Power: 25/30/35 Run: 35/35/35 Field: 60/60/60 Throw: 55/60/65 QUICK HITS OF Dian Toscano finally looks to be able to play for the Braves, and was scheduled to play in Puerto Rico for winter ball, though he has not appeared in games yet. The Braves will bring him into spring training with Triple-A a likely starting point, though a source I spoke to would not rule out him breaking camp on the big league roster. C Joseph Odom has some pop in his bat, but a choppy path and just OK bat-to-ball skills keeps him from hitting the ball over the fence or for a decent average. He has a strong arm but slow feet, and I felt he was too low energy behind the plate with poor receiving skills. Lucas Herbert was taken in the second round in 2015 as a catcher with a strong pop time and an interesting bat. Ronald Acuna is young hitter who already has some ability to drive the ball gap to gap, and played an easy outfield in Rookie ball. Isranel Wilson is an outfielder who moved from shortstop. He plays good defense, has some power and handles same-sided pitchers well already. Juan Yepez exceeded internal expectations this year and is in the mix for starting in Rome in 2016. He moved to first base likely for good, but will still play some third base on occasion. CF Randy Ventura has 80 speed and can really go get the ball in the outfield. He is likely to start in the GCL and end up in Danville by the end of the year. C Tanner Murphy really struggled offensively in 2015, but a Braves source was quick to point out how he never let if affect his defense. He gets strong reviews for being a great leader, mentally strong, and handling the pitching staff very well. Jonathan Morales is another young catcher with leadership qualities who really does well taking care of his pitchers. RHP Brandon Barker doesn’t have much intrigue in his three-pitch mix, but he put up good numbers filling in at the High-A and Triple-A levels for spot starts. If he can continue locating the ball and improving his command he could sneak into the big leagues. RHP Alec Grosser had a backwards year and his mechanics got screwy. He’s working hard to get back on track, and he has some fantastic sink on his ball when he’s on. Ryan Clark is a righty who won’t wow you with his stuff, but has the potential to eat some innings and throw three pitches for strikes. LHP Andy Otero had a good year in relief in Carolina. He’s a small, slight-bodied pitcher who throws with a lot of conviction despite the lack of size or big fastball. Cistulli’s Guy Willians Astudillo, C, VIDEO No qualified batter in affiliated baseball recorded a lower strikeout rate (2.4%) than Willians Astudillo in 2015. In 2014, no qualified batter in affiliated baseball recorded a lower strikeout rate (4.3%) than Willians Astudillo. Willians Astudillo conceded the entire 2013 season to injury and didn’t qualify in 2012 (although, if he had, he’d have recorded the lowest strikeout rate in affiliated baseball). Do you remember 2011? Not everyone does. If you do, however, you might also remember how Willians Astudillo recorded the lowest strikeout rate (0.9%) in affiliated baseball. And it would have reminded you, that distinction, of the previous year, by the conclusion of which Willians Astudillo had recorded the lowest strikeout rate (1.8%) in affiliated baseball. Now 24, Astudillo’s defensive skills at catcher remain questionable. His athleticism doesn’t — which is to say, there’s no question that it’s comfortably below average. What Astudillo does do, however, is make contact better than every other batter in affiliated baseball. After entering minor-league free agency this fall, he was signed by Atlanta, with which club he might soon begin his career as a full-time pinch-hitter.