Evaluating the Prospects: Atlanta Braves

Evaluating the Prospects: Rangers, Rockies, D’Backs, Twins, Astros, Cubs, Reds, Phillies, Rays, Mets, Padres, Marlins, Nationals, Red Sox, White Sox, Orioles, YankeesBraves & Athletics

Scouting Explained: Introduction, Hitting Pt 1 Pt 2 Pt 3 Pt 4 Pt 5 Pt 6

Amateur Coverage: 2015 Draft RankingsNovember Update2015 July 2 Top Prospects & Latest on Yoan Moncada

The Braves’ off-season reload has been well-documented, trading veterans Jason Heyward, Justin Upton and Evan Gattis, along with some smaller deals. 8 of the top 13 prospects on this list have been acquired this off-season, along with their 4th best young big league asset. This targeting of high upside pitching turned a below average system into my 6th ranked system.

It’s a confident bet on the organization’s ability to develop young arms, some with specific issues that the team thinks Roger McDowell can fix along with a bet that the Braves’ pro scouting is better than the competition. Judging from the success the club has had in waiver claims and in the minor league portion of trades, that belief appears to be well-founded. We’ll likely see one or two years of the Braves not being playoff contenders, but the 2017 team is being set up to possible start another long run of success, just as the club’s new stadium is set to open.

Here’s the primer for the series and a disclaimer about how we don’t really know anything. See the links above for the ongoing series about how I evaluate, including the series on the ever-complicated hit tool.

Most of what you need to know for this list is in the above links, but I should add that the risk ratings are relative to their position, so average (3) risk for a pitcher is riskier than average risk (3) for a hitter, due to injury/attrition being more common. I’d also take a 60 Future Value hitter over a 60 FV pitcher for the same reasons. Also, risk encompasses a dozen different things and I mention the important components of it for each player in the report. The upside line for hitters is the realistic best-case scenario (a notch better than the projected tools, or a 75% projection while the projected tools are a 50% projection) and the Future Value encompasses this upside along with the risk rating for one overall rating number.

Below, I’ve included a quick ranking of the notable MLB players 27 and under that aren’t eligible for the Braves’ prospect list and Dave Cameron shares some general thoughts on the organization. Scroll further down to see Carson Cistulli’s fringe prospect favorite. Next up are the A’s and Angels.

27 & Under Big League Assets
1. Freddie Freeman, 1B, Age 25, FV: 65
2. Andrelton Simmons, SS, Age 25, FV: 65
3. Craig Kimbrel, RHP, Age 26, FV: 60
4. Shelby Miller, RHP, Age 24, FV: 60 (Video)
5. Alex Wood, LHP, Age 24, FV: 60 (Video)
6. Julio Teheran, RHP, Age 24, FV: 60 (Video)
7. Mike Minor, LHP, Age 27, FV: 55
8. David Hale, RHP, Age 27, FV: 45

Organizational Overview by Dave Cameron

Faced with a very strong contender at the top of the division and murky Wild Card prospects, the Braves decided to punt 2015, even if they won’t publicly admit that at this point. By trading most of their line-up away, the Braves stocked up on young arms for the future, and also likely put themselves in a position to pick near the top of the draft in 2016. With some very good young players under contract for the long-term, this doesn’t have to be a painful rebuild, but the front office will have to do better than spending their available cash on expensive mediocre veterans in the future.

50+ FV Prospects

Video Credit to Lennard Pietersz

1. Ozhaino Albies, SS
Current Level/Age: RK/18.1, 5’9/150, B/R
Signed: IFA at age 16 on July 2, 2013 out of Curacao by ATL for $350,000 bonus
Hit: 20/55, Raw Power: 30/40, Game Power: 20/35, Run: 65/65, Field: 50/60, Throw: 60/60

Scouting Report: This is probably the most aggressive ranking you’ll see on Albies. Actually, it’s definitely the most aggressive ranking you’ll see on Albies. I broke his signing last year but didn’t know much about him as a prospect at that time, just knowing he was small, from Curacao and had a lot of energy and speed. Curaco has a great recent group of quick-twitch infielders with Andrelton Simmons, Jonathan Schoop and Jurickson Profar, while nearby Aruba has recently produced Xander Bogaerts.  Albies is next in line, with some scouts comparing him to a smaller Francisco Lindor or Rafael Furcal with less arm strength.

Some scouts are already throwing 60’s on Albies hit tool after a huge pro debut, where he hit .364/.446/.444 in 239 plate appearances over two Rookie ball levels with 22 stolen bases and more walks than strikeouts. He continued his assault by impressing the more heavily-scouted instructional league and every scout that has seen him told me they can’t argue with this ranking.

Power isn’t a big part of game and likely will never be, but he does everything else so well at such a young age, that no one seems to care. He has excellent feel for the stike zone and the bat head, plenty of bat speed, knowledge of when to use his gap power and when to keep the ball on the ground, along with easy plus speed and plus everything on the defensive side, enough to comfortably project to stay at the position.  There has to be universal praise for me to go this high on a guy this young and this small that I’ve never seen before, but I think I’ll have him first on this list next year, so I feel fine getting ahead of the crowd now.

Summation: Albies will head to Low-A Sally League next year in one of the most anticipated full-season debuts, with matchups between him and Yankees SS Jorge Mateo a must see for prospect fans in the southeast. I think he’s a smaller guy that will reach his peak sooner than most prospects and will be moved accordingly and likely quickly, like Peraza ranked below.

Upside: .290/.360/.410, 8-10 homers
FV/Risk: 60, High (4 on a 1-5 scale)
Projected Path: 2015: Low-A, 2016: High-A/AA, 2017: AA/AAA, 2018: AAA/MLB

Note: The next four players are all 55 FV and, in the early version of my top 100+ prospect list, are very tightly bunched; all within 10-15 spots of each other. In keeping with the spirit of a recent article, 2-5 on this list may change in the next couple weeks when that list is ready.

2. Rio Ruiz, 3B
Current Level/Age: High-A/20.7, 6’2/215, L/R
Drafted: 129th overall (4th round) in 2012 out of California HS by HOU for $1.85 million bonus
Hit: 20/55, Raw Power: 55/55, Game Power: 20/50+, Run: 40/40, Field: 40/50, Throw: 55/55

Scouting Report: Ruiz signed with the Astros for an over slot $1.85 million with the money they saved going under slot on SS Carlos Correa as the #1 overall pick in 2012.  Ruiz slipped to the 4th round after being in the top 50 pick discussion early in the spring, due to a blood clot in his neck that prematurely ended his season.  He was also a standout quarterback in high school, which shows with his above average arm strength, but the 6’2/215 lefty hitter isn’t a traditionally great athlete.  He was acquired earlier this month in the Evan Gattis deal.

Ruiz is a 40 runner with fringy range that limits his defensive upside, though it looks right now like he’ll be able to stay at the hot corner, with the above average raw power to profile.  The carrying tool is the bat and Ruiz took a step forward statistically in 2014, but some scouts would like to see him do it outside of the Cal League before throwing a 60 on his hit tool (though some already put a 60 on it). Between his deep hand load, the power not showing up completely in games yet and the lack of plus bat speed, scouts still have offensive questions; Ruiz’s limited pre-draft exposure also contributes to the prevalence of the conservative opinions.

Ruiz has a loose swing with good power to the opposite field in games already, which is often a harbinger of home run numbers spiking down the road.  The Astros and Braves both weren’t too concerned about the defensive questions as Ruiz is a hard worker that spends more time on defense than most prospects with a bat-first profile. While his range is fringy, his hands are sure and much of Ruiz’s defensive troubles come not on range-type plays coming in or moving to either side, but flubbing routine plays, sailing easy throws or staying back too long and letting the ball play him.  If he can’t stay at third, the best fit is likely first, so it’s important for his value that Ruiz stay at the hot corner.

Summation: Ruiz could answer many of these questions in Double-A in 2015 at age 21. I also adjusted Ruiz up a grade, as a result of seeing where players were landing after doing multiple lists, but also getting a positive first look at him in the Arizona Fall League.

Upside: ..280/.360/.460, 20 homers
FV/Risk: 55, Medium (3 on a 1-5 scale)
Projected Path: 2015: AA, 2016: AAA/MLB, 2017: MLB

Video Credit to DiamondScapeBaseball

3. Max Fried, LHP
Current Level/Age: Low-A/21.0, 6’4/185, L/L
Drafted: 7th overall (1st round) in 2012 out of California HS by SD for $3 million bonus
Fastball: 50/60, Curveball: 50/60, Changeup: 45/55, Command: 40/50

Scouting Report: The 6’4/185 lefty was half of what may have been the best 1-2 punch in high school baseball history, with Nationals top prospect RHP Lucas Giolito at Harvard Westlake High School in 2012.  Unfortunately, Giolito’s senior season ended prematurely with soreness that led to Tommy John surgery and Fried himself also had the surgery performed on him this past August.

Scouts were concerned going into the 2012 draft spring about the unusually high volume of pitches with limited down time on the high school’s pitching program, but these sorts of injuries are always due to a number of factors and some bad luck.  The Braves acquired him from San Diego this winter as the headliner in the Justin Upton deal.

Fried was shut down early in 2014 as a precaution, his subsequent MRI was clean, he went on a long rehab program and when he went back to the mound, his elbow popped a few starts into his return.  He’s due back on the mound sometime around fall instructional league in 2015.  Even in those few starts before his elbow popped in 2014, Fried’s stuff was still pretty close to his peak stuff: 90-93, hitting 96 mph with a plus curveball and improving above average changeup.

His stuff will vary start to start and his changeup flashes 60 for some scouts, but not often and never when at the same time as his curveball.  Fried’s clean mechanics aren’t a concern and he has lots of projection to his frame, so these future grades could be conservative.

Summation: The upside is huge, with shades of Cole Hamels at his best, but Fried has lost two years of development with 2014 and 2015 both essentially a wash. He’ll have some considerable mental and feel for pitching type obstacles to overcome when he returns.  Fried is a candidate to go to the Arizona Fall League next year if everything checks out by October and the Braves are hoping the roughly 85% success rate on Tommy John surgeries applies to Fried; he wouldn’t have been on the table for the Upton deal if he was healthy.

FV/Role/Risk: 55, #3/4 starter, High (4 on 1-5 scale)
Projected Path: 2015: None, 2016: High-A/AA, 2017: AA/AAA, 2018: AAA/MLB

Video Credit to David Lee

4. Jose Peraza, 2B
Current Level/Age: AA/20.7, 6’0/165, R/R
Signed: IFA at age 16 on July 2, 2010 out of Venezuela by ATL for $350,000 bonus
Hit: 30/50, Raw Power: 40/40, Game Power: 20/35, Run: 70/70, Field: 45/50+, Throw: 50/50

Scouting Report: While the drafts were hit and miss at times, the Braves international operations have always done well, especially when handing out smaller bonuses than the rest of the industry. Peraza is a smaller middle infielder with contact skills and lots of speed that looks like the typical kind of player that reaches his peak early. He’s shot through the system, passing through High-A and Double-A at age 20 and he’s unlikely to return to Double-A next year.

Peraza is a plus-plus runner with game-changing speed and he knows how to use it on the bases, stealing 60 and 64 bases in his last two seasons. He started as a shortstop, was converted to second base full-time in 2014 and handled it well; his average arm isn’t enough for that throw in the hole from shortstop, but he’s good enough for emergency duty at short.

Peraza doesn’t have much power, but it isn’t a big part of his game, likely hitting 5-12 homers depending on how he matures as a hitter. He doesn’t see many pitches and aggressively attack the first hittable pitch he sees, using his speed by keeping the ball on the ground and leading to low walk and strikeout rates. This works in the big leagues for some players with good speed and exceptional bat control, but can cause strikeouts to skyrocket for less talented players. It’s a fine line Peraza will have to walk, but most think he’ll be able to make it work.

Summation: Peraza likely starts the year in Triple-A after only 44 games in Double-A and 66 in High-A. There’s some chatter he could open the year on the big league club, but that looks very unlikely right now.

Upside: .290/.340/.410, 10-12 homers, plus plus base running
FV/Risk: 55, Low (2 on a 1-5 scale)
Projected Path: 2015: AAA/MLB, 2016: MLB

Video Credit to Christopher Blessing

5. Mike Foltynewicz, RHP
Current Level/Age: MLB/23.0, 6’0/190, R/R
Drafted: 19th overall (1st round) in 2010 out of Illinois HS by HOU for $1.305 million bonus
Fastball: 70/80, Curveball: 50/60, Changeup: 45/50+, Command: 45/45+

Scouting Report: Foltynewicz got an 18.2 inning taste of the big leagues late in 2014 and started 18 of his 21 minor league appearances, but is far from a finished product.  He sits 95-98 mph and has hit 100 mph as a starter with a curveball that flashes plus at times, but his lack of command of the pitch causes the pitch to play to average most of the time. His changeup has flashed plus for some scouts, but plays average to slightly above at best for others.

There’s a lack of feel here that causes many to doubt Foltynewicz’s future as a starter. He’s a solid athlete and his delivery isn’t that bad.  The Braves top scouts have seen the best version of Foltynewicz and they’re confident that big league pitching coach Roger McDowell can coax the starter traits out of Folty on a regular basis.  Some scouts still think he’s a slam dunk reliever, though: one saw “brutal” body language in a poor Triple-A start this year and Astros execs conceded he  may not have been ready for a big league look in 2014.

Summation: It’s hard to walk away from this pure stuff and I’ve adjusted his FV up a notch after his 50 FV grade in the Astros list.  After the trade, I was able to find more scouts that saw the best versions of Foltynewicz and, in combination with the Braves confidence in McDowell and a change of scenery, I think there may be close as high as a 50/50 chance that he can stick as starter, but there’s closer upside if he can’t.

FV/Role/Risk: 55, #3/4 starter/Closer, Medium (3 on 1-5 scale)
Projected Path: 2015: AAA/MLB

6. Lucas Sims, RHP
Current Level/Age: High-A/20.7, 6’2/195, R/R
Drafted: 21st overall (1st round) in 2012 out of Georgia HS by ATL for $1.65 million bonus
Fastball: 55/60, Curveball: 50/55, Changeup: 45/50+, Command: 40/50

Scouting Report: Sims was a big name prep pitcher for the 2012 draft and played in the deep Atlanta-area prep high school ranks. In the above video, he’s facing Parkview High School, who had A’s 1B prospect Matt Olson go in the sandwich round in 2012 and in the video Sims also faces Orioles CF prospect Josh Hart, who went in the sandwich round in 2013.

Sims has gotten more physical since the video and has drawn Matt Cain comparisons from scouts who have bought all the way in.  Sims sits 91-94 and hits 96 mph with his fastball and his curveball was inconsistent this year, sometimes around average and other times flashing above average to plus like he did in high school. Sims has developed a better changeup in pro ball, flashing average to above in most outings. His strikeout rate backed up this year, due to inconsistency in his delivery, but he was back to striking out roughly a batter an inning and walking one every three innings in the second half.

Summation: The Braves see a high upside arms that things are starting to click for, expecting a breakout season in 2015. Sims may head back to High-A next year, but likely opens in Double-A and has a chance to take a huge step foward.

FV/Role/Risk: 50, #4 starter, High (4 on 1-5 scale)
Projected Path: 2015: AA, 2016: AAA/MLB, 2017: MLB

7. Christian Bethancourt, C
Current Level/Age: MLB/23.4, 6’2/205, R/R
Signed: IFA at age 16 on March 12, 2008 out of Panama by ATL for $600,000 bonus
Hit: 30/45, Raw Power: 50/50+, Game Power: 30/45, Run: 40/40, Field: 55/60, Throw: 80/80

Scouting Report: Bethancourt was getting buzz as soon as instructs after he signed out of Panama at age 16, for his athleticism and ridiculous arm strength that now gets either 7o or 80 grades from scouts. He steadily made progress with adding strength and making contact–sometimes very slowly–but broke though at age 20 in Double-A in 2013, earning a September call-up. He performed similarly well in Triple-A this year, but struggled in 117 big league plate appearances, though the Braves chalk that up to being fatigued.

As I mentioned in my Austin Hedges report from the Padres list, a 40 bat with 45 power and 60 defense/arm is a 50 FV and one of the top 30 catchers in the game, provided he’s healthy enough for regular at bats. Bethancourt should be right in that range this year and may never get much higher than that. He isn’t too patient at the plate and that holds him back from getting to his power in games, but he has made strides to be passable in both areas

Bethancourt has good feel for the bat head that give him enough offensive potential to rely on everyday but his the carrying tools are on the defensive side. He’s very quick behind the plate and has a quick release that can help him post pop times in the high 1.7s or 1.8s. Bethancourt has made progress in recent years with the finer points of catching, especially in working with pitchers on a plan to attack hitters.

Summation: Bethancourt will get a chance to be the starting catcher for the Braves this year after long being called the catcher of the future. A.J. Pierzynski will be there as a backup in case Bethancourt’s bat really falters, but his defense allows him to learn on the job and still be starting quality.

Upside: .270/.305/.440, 15-18 homers
FV/Risk: 50, Medium (3 on a 1-5 scale)
Projected Path: 2015: MLB

8. Ricardo Sanchez, LHP
Current Level/Age: RK/17.8, 5’11/170, L/L
Signed: IFA at age 16 on July 2, 2013 out of Venezuela by LAA for $580,000 bonus
Fastball: 45/50+, Curveball: 55/60, Changeup: 45/50+, Command: 40/50+

Scouting Report: Sanchez was a rare higher dollar international signing by the Angels in 2013, as they saw a physically limited pitcher with plenty of stuff and feel for his craft.  He was excellent in his pro debut in the Arizona Rookie League, racking up grounders and strikeouts against older competition, thanks to his plus curveball and feel for pitching.  Some scouts were surprised to hear Sanchez was available to the Braves this off-season for a trade headlined by 3B Kyle Kubitza.

Sanchez has only pitched in Rookie ball so far, but he could be a quick mover as he’s likely going to reach his ceiling earlier than most pitchers, common for smaller pitchers that don’t have much physical projection.  Sanchez has a clean delivery and arm action and he can repeat them both. His plus curveball is the headliner here, but his oft-used changeup is also above average at times and his fastball velocity varied in Arizona but he sat 88-92 and has hit 95 mph in the past year. Our Eric Longehagen wrote up Sanchez from his viewings in the AZL and provided this video.

Summation: I’m projecting aggressively with Sanchez for a quick move through the minors on a quick journey to  becoming a 4th starter. If his velocity ends up being more often in the low-90’s, touching 95 mph and he continues to sharpen his changeup and command, you could see him become a #3 starter.

FV/Role/Risk: 50, #4 starter, High (4 on 1-5 scale)
Projected Path: 2015: Low-A, 2016: High-A/AA, 2017: AA/AAA, 2018: MLB

45 FV Prospects

9. Braxton Davidson, RF Video: Davidson was a fixture on showcase circuit and his high school played in his junior and senior years is the heavily-scouted NHSI tournament. With all these looks, Davidson got a chance to prove that, despite being backed into a corner as a mature-framed high school first baseman, he had enough bat and power to justify taking in the top couple rounds. The Braves took him 32nd overall this year out of a North Carolina high school and moved him to right field, thinking that his solid average arm and below average speed are good enough to stick in right field.

Davidson was a little sluggish after signing, somewhat expected from the long season, but the bat speed was still there and the Braves expect him to slim up a bit this offseason to improve his chances to stick in right field. Davidson was 60 raw power and while he hit his share of homers in showcase season (including one off 2014 #2 overall pick RHP Tyler Kolek), he also was a tough look because he goes so deep into counts, he put fewer balls in play that scouts hoped to see.

10. Tyrell Jenkins, RHP Video: Jenkins was acquired early this off-season in the Jason HeywardShelby Miller blockbuster and he could swing the balance of the trade if he hits his upside. He missed the first half of 2014 recovering from shoulder surgery on a muscle in his shoulder (not the joint itself), something that had been bothering him for years. He turned 22 in the middle of this season and was understandably a bit rusty in half a season at High-A, but started to find his stride in the Arizona Fall League, where I scouted him a few months ago.

Jenkins sat 92-94 and hit 96 mph, flashing above average fastball life at times, with an above average 80-83 mph hard curveball and a changeup at 81-84 mph that’s average when he keeps it down in the zone. He’s incredibly athletic, his velo has been even a tick higher and the breaking ball has flashed plus at higher velocities, so there could still be even more in the tank than what I saw. I’d like to get a full, healthy 2015 on the books for Jenkins before i give a projection with some certainty, but he seems to be headed in the right direction now, with enough starter traits to project him in a rotation with 3/4 starter upside.

11. Manny Banuelos, LHP Video: Banuelos was a big name prospect a few years ago due to both his impressive talent and the Yankee Prospect Hype Machine. The Mexican-born Banuelos has always been mature-framed at 5’10/205, but at his peak flashed three above average to plus pitches with feel to pitch while also being a couple years young for each league he was in. In 2011, the problems began, with his command backing up around the same time he encountered some minor injuries, eventually leading to Tommy John surgery after the 2012 season, which also knocked out his 2013 season.

Banuelos returned this season and looked okay, but the stuff was mostly average, flashing above average at times and with that same inconsistent feel for his stuff. Typically, the command takes a step forward in the 2nd or 3rd years after TJ, so the Braves are encouraged after seeing flashes of improved stuff from Banuelos in instructs.  He’ll head to Triple-A and if he’s back to his pre-2011 form, will be a big league option in short order.

12. Arodys Vizcaino, RHP VideoVizcaino went from the Yankees to the Braves early in his career in the Javier Vasquez deal, then the Braves flipped him to the Cub sin 2012 for LHP Paul Maholm before re-acquiring him this offseason in a low-profile deal for 2B Tommy La Stella. This lowering trade value represents Vicaino’s slowly-reducing ceiling, from potential mid-rotation starter around the Vasquez deal to a power reliever with command/health issues in the La Stella deal. Vizcaino missed the 2012 and 2013 seasons with elbow injuries and had expectations to rush to the big leagues this year when he came off the DL, but had problems repeating his delivery and keeping his pitches down in the minors.

He still has the same 94-97 mph fastball that touches 98, curve that flashes plus and usable changeup that flashes 55, but the command caused the stuff to play down and, despite starter stuff, no one thinks that’s a real option.  Expectations are lower now, as some red flags get set off by a guy with a history of arm injuries that’s not repeating his delivery, but the Braves are confident that pitching coach Roger McDowell can right the ship and they know Vizcaino well enough to think a change of scenery may be what he needs.

13. Mallex Smith, CF VideoSmith was acquired from San Diego in the Justin Upton trade and the former 5th rounder in 2012 out of a Florida junior college has an easy tool to buy into: 80 speed. He has instincts to use that speed on the bases, and his 88 regular season stolen bases bear that out.  Smith is a little rougher defensively in center field, but that kind of closing speed means only small improvements are necessary to be above average with the glove.  He has simple swing mechanics, but can have a higher-effort swing with an abrupt finish at times and still needs to adjust his approach to strike out less and put the ball in play on the ground more often.

Smith doesn’t have the handsy looseness at the plate scouts are looking for, but he has some feel for hitting and is a patient, late-count hitter that shows all the attributes of a potential leadoff hitter.  His speed and approach will play up his pure hit grade in game situations; Smith is likely to be at least a reserve outfielder in the big leagues. Braves officials seem higher on Smith that Padres officials were, with multiple Braves execs comparing Smith to Michael Bourn and expressing no concerns over his hit tool.

Note about Pro Scouting: Both Vizcaino and Smith were graded a notch lower in my previously-written reports after I was a little surprised how low the clubs that had those players were on their own talent. That was further proven when the Braves traded for both of them in separate deals and, after asking a wider swath of the industry about the players post-trade, it looked like the clubs that had both players were a little lower than most teams on their talent.

You could say this means the players aren’t that good and that’s why the teams traded them, but the Braves have a good track record in waiver claims and in choosing minor leaguers in trades, so that clearly isn’t always the case. This also happened with Stephen Tarpley (Orioles list), whom the Orioles traded a few days ago. It’s a sign of a good pro scouting department to identify those players and acquire them.

It would be impossible to tell the track record of these types of players in trades, but certain teams trust their own scouts and take chances like with Tarpley, Smith and Vizcaino, while others will lean more towards industry consensus, long track records, lots of information and pedigree in coin flip situations for trades. I’d be willing to bet very few teams have Albies as the Braves #1 prospect for these reasons, but I think a few of them do.  The Braves are high enough on him that I don’t think he’d be on the table for almost any deal, but the dichotomy is interesting.

14. Jason Hursh, RHP Video: Hursh had Tommy John that knocked out his sophomore year at Oklahoma State, returning as a draft-eligible redshirt sophomore in 2013, when the Braves took him 31st overall. Hursh’s velocity came back first, sitting 92-95 and hitting 98 mph with heavy life. His command has just been okay so far and his slider and changeup are average at times, but sometimes are more fringy. Hursh performed pretty well as a starter in Double-A at age 22 last year and will start in Triple-A next year, but needs to improve his feel to project in a rotation. There’s at least a solid ground ball middle reliever here and there may be a back-end starter if the feel continues to improve as he gets further away from elbow surgery.

15. Shae Simmons, RHP Video: A couple scouts have called Simmons a poor man’s Craig Kimbrel due to his size, delivery and lively stuff: a nice find in the 22nd round in 2012. Simmons shot through the upper levels in 2014 and posted 21.2 quality innings in the big leagues on the strength of his 93-96 mph fastball that hits 97 mph. Simmons also has a 55 curveball and 50 splitter, but they can waver at times when his delivery and command get out of whack. There’s setup potential here and Simmons may get there early in 2015.

16. Mauricio Cabrera, RHP Video: Cabrera was getting a lot of buzz in 2013 as a starting pitcher making hsi full-season debut at Low-A as a 19-year-old. He was in the mid-to-upper-90’s with an electric arm and off-speed stuff that flashed above average and command that looked like enough to start at times. Cabrera took a bit of a step back this year and was moved to the bullpen to help him find more consistency. He runs his heater up to 100 mph in relief but his fastball command regressed as the velocity increased.

Cabrera seems to have a reliever mentality and he can get a little lazy with his delivery at times. He’s on the 40-man and will be in big league camp where Roger McDowell will be able to work with him on his delivery and consistency. Cabrera’s slider is a 55 and his changeup is a 50 when he uses it; there’s still a starter in here, but it may be smarter to develop him as a quick-moving 8th/9th inning arm.

17. Garrett Fulenchek, RHP Video: Fulencheck was an unknown prospect until last fall when the power righty from rural Texas hit 96 mph for scouts. The projectable righty took another step forward in the spring, sitting 91-95 and hitting 96 mph while also flashing a 55 slider and enough changeup and command to project as a starter, which led the Braves to take him in the 2nd round.

He has limited miles on his arm, limited experience versus top flight competition and turned 18 after the draft, so he was young for his draft class as well. His velocity dipped into the high-80’s at times during the spring, but his arm speed recovered late, impressing in the GCL and in instructs, with lots of sink to his fastball that induced boatloads of grounders.

40 FV Prospects

18. Alec Grosser, RHP Video: Grosser was an 11th round overpay in the 2013 draft, signing for $400,000 out of a Virginia high school. At 6’2/190, Grosser doesn’t have a ton of projection and he throws from a lower slot, but he sits 89-94, hit 96 mph and is an ultra-athletic former high school quarterback. He’s still pretty raw and will run up high pitch counts due to wandering fastball command, but the slider and changeup both flash above average potential, so there’s plenty of ceiling here.

19. Jace Peterson, 2B Video: Peterson was acquired in the Justin Upton deal and the former college football player at McNeese State has a chance to contribute to the Braves in 2015. Peterson was an under-slot bonus sandwich round pick in 2011 and he may not even have a 55 tool, but he makes the most out of what he has.  His average or so speed plays up on the bases and in the field; he came up as a shortstop, but fits better at second base and third base, where his defensive tools profile. Peterson doesn’t have huge bat speed, power or even the prettiest mechanics, but he has a good approach at the plate, works counts in his favor and gears his in-game swing for contact over power, with a good approach versus lefties.  He would have to really outplay his tools to become an everyday player, but he’s consistently played better than his tools and can contribute at multiple premium positions.

20. Dian Toscano, CF: Toscano’s deal was finalized yesterday; the 25-year-old Cuban signed for $6 million over 4 years. He’s still somewhat mysterious as he didn’t play for the Cuban national team, so scouts haven’t seen him play too much. He’s a 60 runner with a 40 arm that fits as a 4th outfielder given what we know right now, but he has feel to hit from the left side, so his pro debut may reveal an everyday player. Similar older Cuban outfielders like Baltimore’s Henry Urrutia and Dariel Alvarez (Orioles list) are 40 FV prospects and likely reserves as well, so it seems fair to group them together for now, but we haven’t seen Toscano fail yet, so the ceiling is unknown.

21. Wes Parsons, RHP Video: Parsons was a late-bloomer out of Tennessee Juco that signed as an undrafted free agent in 2012 due to a standout performance in Northwoods League (a college summer league). He sits 89-92 with a sinker that hits 94 mph, an above average slider and average changeup and command. Parsons will head to Double-A next year at age 22 and has a chance to go from undrafted to potential big league starting pitcher in three or four years.

22. Tanner Murphy, C: Murphy was a 4th rounder out of a Missouri high school in 2013 that had a ways to go developmentally, but he’s performed well in two years of short-season ball. The Braves really like this kid and see a breakout year coming in 2015 at Low-A, praising his makeup, receiving ability, solid average arm, average raw power and flashes of hitting ability and an approach.

23. Andrew Thurman, RHP VideoThurman’s was acquired in the Evan Gattis trade and his velocity is a moving target that dictates his prospect status. He was 88-91 until a spike late in a summer on the Cape to 91-94, then tailed off before the Astros took him at the top of the 2nd round in 2013 as a pitchability back-end starter type. Then, in 2014 Spring Training, he hit 97 mph and sat 91-95 during the season, but the new-found velocity caused command issues for his 50 slider and 55 changeup. If he can get back to throwing strikes with solid-average stuff, he could move quickly, but adjustments are needed.

24. Juan Jaime, RHP Video: Jaime is a pretty easy evaluation as a 6’2/250 righty knocking on the door of the big leagues with a 96-99 mph fastball that regularly hits 100 mph. This year, he made progress with his command and off-speed stuff, flashing solid average with his curveball more often and hitting spots with it for the first time in his career.  Jaime also mixes in an average splitter and now has confidence with both pitches, so if he can command them consistently, he could be a late inning option in the big leagues in 2015.

25. Brad Roney, RHP Video: Roney was an inconsistent but talented two-way prospect at Southern Miss that never quite put it together, but the Braves took a flier on him in the 8th round. His arm speed always suggested a higher ceiling on the mound and Roney sat 94-97 mph in instructs with an above average to plus curveball, a notch or two better than he’s ever thrown either of those pitches. He still hasn’t pitched much and his higher effort delivery means the command can get away from him at times, but there’s late inning stuff here.

26. Zoilo Almonte, RF Video: Almost not eligible for the list due to 149 big league plate appearances, I included Almonte because he’s still a developmental question mark, given his MLB line of .211/.242/.282.  The Braves signed Almonte to a big league deal after the Yankees allowed him to become a minor league free agent and will look to make a left field platoon with him and Jonny Gomes in 2015. Almonte is a fringy runner that fits on either corner, with a solid average arm that can work in right or left. He has solid average raw power and the question for him come down to how much contact he’ll make. Almonte is 25, has the tools to be an MLB factor and has performed above average the last three years in the upper levels of the minors, so the elements are here.

27. Daniel Castro, SS Video: The Mexican-born Castro signed last year and got to Double-A in this second season, young for the level at age 21. He’s performed well at each level in pro ball, roughly league average offensively, and can play shortstop at a big league level already.  There aren’t any huge tools or big upside here, but he’s likely to find a utility infielder role in the big leagues within a few years and may already be the emergency shortstop option in 2015.

28. Dustin Peterson, 3B Video: Peterson was acquired in the Justin Upton deal and is the younger brother of Mariners #2 prospect 1B D.J. Peterson; D.J. went 12th overall in the 2013 draft out of New Mexico while Dustin went 50th overall to the Padres out of an Arizona high school in the same draft.  D.J.’s rise likely contributed to scouts moving Dustin up boards as they regretted underrating his older brother three years prior. Dustin played shortstop in high school but scouts debated where he would end up in pro ball, with second base, third base and left field the potential fits.

Peterson played third base this year in Low-A but his defensive home isn’t completely set, as the Padres tried Peterson in left field in instructs, though the Braves will let him try to stick at third. He’s a fringy to average runner with a below average arm, so the defensive value will never be huge, but Peterson has above average raw power and bat speed as his carrying tools.  He has an advanced feel for the bat head, so the tools are here for an everyday player, but Peterson will have to clean up his approach and hit a lot more, particularly if he ends up moving to left field long-term

29. Johan Camargo, SS Video: The Panamanian-born Camargo is an advanced defender at shortstop and has a plus arm, but can make careless errors at times as a results of lapses in concentration. He’s been maturing physically in recent years and is a 45 runner with 45 power, so he may grow out of shortstop, but that would likely come with an increase in power that would allow him to profile at the hot corner. Camargo has solid feel for the zone but needs to integrate power into his swing more often in games.

30. Williams Perez, RHP:  Perez has a 90-93 mph sinker and he’s a ground ball, pitch-to-contact type arm with a fringy slider and average changeup.  The 6’1/230 Venezuelan righty has steadily moved through the system with consistent results and the upside is as a 5th starter, with a chance to be more of a long man/spot starter.  He’ll head to Triple-A in 2015 and could be a big league option late in the season.

31. Max Povse, RHP Video: The Braves took Povse in the 3rd round this year out of UNC Greensboro and he’s still raw, so it’s unclear whether he’s more starter or reliever at this point, but his size is a clear plus. The lanky 6’8 righty but is somewhat narrow-framed, so he may not put on much more weight, but he gets tons of plane on his pitches. He threw a lot of innings in college, so the Braves didn’t let him throw much after signing, but he sat in the low-90’s, hit 95 mph this spring and has a fringy slider and changeup that flash better at times.

32. Jordan Edgerton, 3B: Edgerton was almost completely off the draft radar in 2014, going in the 9th round and signing for $115,000 from UNC Pembroke. He put up huge numbers at his DII school in the spring and hit well in the Appy League as a 20-year-old, though he didn’t show much power. Edgerton is a solid defensive third baseman that more of a grinder with a line drive, contact-oriented bat that should produce doubles more than homers. The Braves love his makeup and think they have a steal that could open eyes in Low-A next year.

Cistulli’s Guy

Corban Joseph, 2B

Under the category of “ringing endorsements” for a prospect, one doesn’t generally find “released by drafting club as 25-year-old having recorded just seven (7) career major-league plate appearances.” Said comment applies to Joseph, however, who signed a minor-league deal with Atlanta in November. Joseph’s slash line with the Yankees Triple-A affiliate in 2014 (.268/.320/.387) isn’t a source of inspiration, but he retained the strong contact skills he’s basically always exhibited, recording just a 12.1% strikeout rate, while also still making some starts at second base. Moreover, Steamer remains optimistic, projecting Joseph to produce a 98 wRC+ despite a BABIP figure (.276) more than a standard deviation below league average. He’s a candidate to play some second base for a club that has a number of options at the position (Alberto Callaspo, Kelly Johnson, maybe actual prospect Jose Peraza), but few obvious answers.

Others of Note

Three arms to watch in the upper levels are RHP Aaron Kurcz (Video higher effort power reliever was in the Theo Epstein trade and the Braves got him Anthony Varvaro; he works 93-96 mph with a big-breaking, above average curveball, fringy splitter and below average command), RHP Danny Winkler (Rule 5 pick from Colorado is recovering from Tommy John and may not appear in the 2015 regular season, but the Braves love his deception, moxie and command; he works 86-92 with lots of life, often up in the zone with an average slider and changeup) and RHP Cody Martin (6’3/230 righty is performer with fringy stuff that’s succeeded as a Triple-A starter in over 200 innings, is solid spot starter/inventory arm that was a threat to be taken in the Rule 5).

Four arms to monitor in the lower levels are RHP Carlos Salazar (Video 2013 2nd rounder is a power arm that sits 91-95 and hits 97 mph but command and consistency have been problems with a delivery that includes him literally jumping off the rubber toward the plate; with some delivery tweaks he could be a rotation piece, with a 55 changeup and 50 slider), RHP Chad Sobotka (Video 2014 4th rounder out of USC Upstate was a revelation on the Cape, but missed much of the spring with a back injury; 6’7 righty shot up 6 inches in college and sits 92-94, hitting 96 mph with a 55-60 slider in shorts stints at his best, but he hasn’t pitched in pro ball yet), LHP Yean Carlos Gil (lefty had Tommy John in 2012, getting his first full season in 2014, performing well as a starter in Low-A, but was old for the league and will need to move fast; he’s already up to 94 mph with his fastball, an average curveball and a below average changeup that’s improving) and RHP Zach Quintana (acquired from Milwaukee for CF Kyle Wren after the club was done cutting ties with his father, former GM Frank Wren; he’ll flash four average pitches and hit 95 mph as a starter, but the stuff and command still wander at times).

Three position players with some prospect value in the upper levels are SS Elmer Reyes (Video prototypical utility guy can play shortstop and make contact and had a nice winter; he could be a big league option in 2015 if things fall the right way), RF Todd Cunningham (Video classic 4th outfielder type fits best in right field, is playable in center field, has excellent instincts to make up for solid average speed; he has just enough hit and power to be a big league option, earning a cup of coffee in 2014) and RF Sean Godfrey (another 4th outfielder profile type has solid average arm and average raw power, but it plays down in games due to a line drive approach; 2014 senior sign out of Ball State may grind his way into a big league role).

There are five interesting bats in the lower levels, including SS Ray-Patrick Didder (Aruban-born shortstop has some of the raw tools of Albies and has tools to stick at the position, but is still raw in all phases; hopefully his good friend Xander Bogaerts can help), CF Connor Oliver (high-end athlete has 65 speed and a 65 arm, is still learning to steal bases and is more of a doubles threat, but could take off with some adjustments), LF Victor Reyes (19-year old Venezuelan showed solid contact and on-base skills for his age in Low-A, but has complete lack of power right now; his lanky frame can add strength and Atlanta is focused on doing this), 2B Luke Dykstra (Video 2014 7th rounder from SoCal high school is classic grinder that can play shortstop but fits better at second base, has solid average speed, solid pop for his profile and an unconventional swing that works for him) and CF Connor Lien (was on loaded high school team in Orlando area that included Jesse Winker, Nick Gordon and Walker Weickel, with Lien signing for by far the least of the four: $375,000 in the 12th round in 2012; 6’3/205 athlete has plus arm, speed and defense in center field with solid average raw power and great makeup, but real swing-and-miss concerns).

Kiley McDaniel has worked as an executive and scout, most recently for the Atlanta Braves, also for the New York Yankees, Baltimore Orioles and Pittsburgh Pirates. He's written for ESPN, Fox Sports and Baseball Prospectus. Follow him on twitter.

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9 years ago

What’s your opinion on the Barves’ apparent strategy of stockpiling pitching prospects instead of position players? Is it true that such a strategy is riskier, or is that perception just the product of the failed Royals group/currently successful Cubs group?

9 years ago
Reply to  Eminor3rd

Pitchers have more injury risk, so you need more quantity to make it work, but the Braves are playing to their strength as an organization. I prefer the Cubs’ approach, but I absolutely see the logic for the Braves because this is where they have the most confidence in their coaches and scouts.

9 years ago
Reply to  Roger

I don’t know I kind of see it the opposite: they’re so great at finding pitchers out of no-where and developing them that I was hoping their focus this offseason would be to use their trade chips on what they likely wouldn’t be able to find and develop on their own: high-upside bats. They found what look like some nice role-players, but I don’t see any one that’s going to take a bottom-barrel offense and help turn it around.

Pitchers, in general, are riskier and you’ll never win if your offense isn’t adequate. Still, with a little luck, their strategy could work. They could very well have a fun team to watch in a few years.

9 years ago
Reply to  Smurf

if everything goes right.

9 years ago
Reply to  Eminor3rd

The answer lies in the Braves teams of the last 10 years or so. They’ve continuously cycled through a couple good seasons, then get wrecked by injuries.

Building around pitching isn’t necessarily wrong, but it’s much, much riskier. I’d prefer to go the Cubs’ route and flip pieces for healthy arms (or sign them in free agency) when you’re close to competing. There’s a higher probability that your window is going to stay open for longer if you minimize the risk involved with your long term assets.

I like that ATL’s farm is ranked so much higher now, but most of that is on the backs of risky arms, so I’m cautiously optimistic, but not convinced they’re going to turn it around by 2017.

9 years ago
Reply to  Eminor3rd

“Buy the bats, Grow the arms” has been a popular strategy for lower revenue/payroll teams. Unfortunately, with their horrible TV deal, the Braves are going to have to adjust to being more like the Padres, Brewers, Twins, etc especially when it comes to keeping their top players (see Upton, Heyward). That’s why you’re seeing them sign their young guys to those 8-10 year deals.

Phantom Stranger
9 years ago
Reply to  Doc

That is exactly what is going on here. Premium free agent pitching costs too much money for the Braves’ finances. They will never be able to sign a Kershaw or Verlander on the open market.

9 years ago

It’s been very, very long time since ATL has won a bidding war on a top shelf bat, though. I think free agency in general isn’t something we should be counting on for impact players.