Feature Photo: Dansby Swanson, SS, Braves
By David DeFreitas and Nick J. Faleris
With impact positional talent at the top of the system and a cadre of potential impact arms spread across both the upper and lower minors, the Braves are well on their way to assembling the core for another playoff-bound squad – perhaps as early as 2018.
CREAM OF THE CROP
The Tools: 65 hit; 50 power; 55 field; 60 arm; 55 run – Swanson blends bat speed, balance, a keen batting eye and explosiveness in the barrel to produce impact potential with the bat. Defensively, he has a true shortstop skillset that includes good range to both sides, soft hands, and plus arm strength. He can make strong and accurate throws on the run, whether its charging in, ranging up the middle, or stretching deep into the hole. He’s an above-average runner that flashes sub-4.2 second home-to-first times, while showing a quick first step on the bases and in the field.
The Profile: The former first overall selection from the 2015 MLB Draft, Swanson has easily lived up to his promise over his brief two years of professional ball, reaching the majors after just 127 minor league contests, and jumping directly from Double-A Mississippi to Atlanta this past August. The 22-year-old was unfazed by his two-level leap to Atlanta, slashing .302/.361/.442 over 145 plate appearances, and showing increased comfort in the box over the course of his 38-game debut.
Swanson does everything well, and he has a chance to grow into a true double-plus stick with average playable pop, thanks to an advanced approach, good balance, above-average bat speed and well-above-average barrel control. He creates extended swing plane/pitch plane overlap, allowing him to square up balls with authority to all fields, drive the gaps and show the potential for solid over-the-fence pop. His above-average speed, coupled with an aggressive and heady approach on the base paths, should help him rack up extra bases in short order.
Swanson projects as an above-average defender at the six-spot, and he should be locked in as Atlanta’s shortstop for the foreseeable future. In addition to his physical skills, Swanson has the work ethic and personality to emerge as a leader in the clubhouse and on the field, and to eventually establish himself as the face of the franchise. If you’re making a short list of candidates for the distinction of best prospect in the game, Swanson is undoubtedly on it – and he’d likely be near the very top.
The Tools: 60 hit; 70 run; 55 field; 60 arm – Albies boasts well-above-average hand/eye coordination fueling his high-contact stick. Wiry strength and good bat speed complete the package, helping the hit tool to project to plus, with the young middle infielder likely to pick up some infield hits and extra bases by virtue of his impact speed, as well. It’s an above-average defensive profile, but he isn’t quite the overall defender that Dansby Swanson is, lacking the Vandy product’s physicality, which makes a full-time shift to second base likely. His plus arm strength is an asset around the bag and his range, hands and arm will all play up at the keystone.
The Profile: Just 19 years old for the duration of the 2016 season, Albies was challenged with an aggressive assignment to Double-A Mississippi, skipping High A ball completely after a strong showing with Class A Rome in 2015, and was then bumped again at the beginning of May to Triple-A Gwinnett. While his feel for contact and comfort in the box were apparent with Gwinnett, Albies was slightly overmatched by the competition, producing an unspectacular .248/.307/.351 slash line over 247 plate appearances. He returned to Mississippi for the balance of the season where his production took off, batting .305 over his final 60 games and finishing the season with an aggregate Double-A slash line of .321/.391/.467 over 371 plate appearances.
The switch-hitting middle infielder has a combination of contact ability and impact speed that could serve as a core competency at the top of a big league lineup, with Albies capable of filling the role of catalyst and producer alike, and perhaps in short order once getting his call. Even when slightly overmatched at Gwinnett, Albies showed a plan of attack in the box, an ability to find the ball with the barrel, and a willingness to leverage his speed to keep pressure on the defense. While he has little to offer in the way of raw power, he can spray from pole to pole, and he should be able to drive up his extra-base hit totals such that his ISO ultimately outdistances his physicality.
Albies showed well defensively at both shortstop and second base in 2016, with his quick-twitch actions, above-average arm and soft hands playing well up the middle. With Swanson entrenched at shortstop in Atlanta, Albies’s most likely path to everyday gig will come at second base, where his skillset should fit well. He profiles as a potential tandem with Swanson, both on the dirt and at the top of the Braves’ order, giving Atlanta a quality young pair to place at the core of their future rosters. Albies is ready for another go-round in the International League to start the year, abut he could debut in Atlanta sometime in 2017, as opportunities dictate.
Ronald Acuna, OF, Class A Rome | Ceiling/Realistic Role: 65/55
Ht/Wt: 6’0”/180 B/T: R/R Age (as of December 1, 2016): 19y, 11m
The Tools: 65 hit; 55 power; 50 run; 50 field; 55 arm – Acuna already shows quality pull-side power and projects to above-average playable pop at maturity. Wielding plus bat speed and an approach that belies his junior age and limited pro experience, the 2014 J2 signee is already showing impressive on-base production and an ability to hit for average, projecting comfortably to a plus or better hit tool. He’s an above-average runner now that figures to slow some and settle in around average once his body fully matures. His arm will play in right and center field alike.
The Profile: Signing for just $100,000 out of Venezuela in 2014, Acuna is well on his way to proving himself one of the best bargains on the international market over the past few signing periods. Just 18 years old entering the 2016 season, the talented young hitter jumped right to full season ball with little issue, raking his way through April before a thumb injury in early May sidelined him for the bulk of the season. Returning in late August, Acuna ended his 40-game showing with Class A Rome with a .311/.387/.432 slash line, showing impressive aggressiveness on the base paths, as well, swiping 14 bags in 21 attempts over that 40-game span.
The offensive upside is impressive, with Acuna already showing signs of in-game power, good feel in the box, and an ability to track and identify pitches. With a fair amount of physical projection remaining, even an aggressive projection of 65/60 grades on the hit/power tools could wind up being light, with Acuna displaying the type of athleticism that tends to marry well with additional physicality through the tail end of development. While it’s likely he loses a step or two along the way, Acuna shouldn’t be a clogger on the bases, and there’s an outside chance he maintains enough mobility to retain positive value as a runner.
Defensively, Acuna handles center field just fine at present – making up for some missteps and inefficient routes with his foot speed, all the while showing an ability to make the flashy play at the fringes of his range. His arm is an asset, and its strength should make right field a comfortable fallback if his ultimate range proves light for center field. At best, Acuna could be an impact bat in center, capable of hitting for average and power while providing value on the bases and on the grass. At worst, he looks the part of a solid right fielder who will show some pull-side power and consistently put together quality at-bats. Despite logging just 171 plate appearances in the Sally League, the Braves could push Acuna to High A Florida this spring with an eye towards a Double-A debut in 2018.
Ian Anderson, RHP, Rookie Danville | Ceiling/Realistic Role: 65/50
Ht/Wt: 6’3”/170 B/T: R/R Age (as of December 1, 2016): 18y, 6m
The Tools: 65 fastball; 60 curveball; 60 changeup – Anderson’s fastball plays low-to-middle 90s with a chance to pick up a tick or two as he finishes filling out. He works downhill well, helping the offering to play up do to the tough angle, and he can elevate it effectively when ahead in the count. His curveball and changeup both flash plus at present, and they project to settle in there, given his solid feel for each offering, and his easy mechanics and quick arm. The command profile is presently average, and projects to above average, helping an already impressive arsenal to project well at maturity.
The Profile: Taken third overall in the 2016 MLB Draft and signed to an under-slot deal, Anderson is much more than a cost-savings mechanism for the Braves. The native New Yorker is well built – with more physicality to come – and utilizes an easy and repeatable delivery that should help the righty to maintain consistency in execution and solid command of his arsenal.
The fastball will show plus already, sitting in the low-to-middle 90s, and should play slightly above that grade when all is said and done, thanks to the downhill angle he creates and his ability to command the pitch. His curveball and changeup each have their moments, with the former showing good depth and plus snap at its best, and the latter coming with good deception and dive when he turns it over well. The body and arm work in similar fashion to the Cardinals’ rotation stalwart Adam Wainwright. Though the two righties have a sizable height differential, Anderson’s manageable mechanics and good angles should, like Wainwright, help him to an above-average command profile, and help him to regularly avoid hard contact.
Still several years away, the tea leaves point to Anderson potentially having a mid-rotation arm once fully baked. He needs reps to build up arm strength and durability, as well as to refine his stuff and, in particular, improve the consistency of his breaking ball. Given the path we’ve seen other talented, young Braves’ arms blaze through the system, it’s reasonable to expect Anderson to log significant time with Class A Rome in 2017, and it’s not inconceivable to think he could catch up to the likes of Mike Soroka, Kolby Allard and Touki Toussaint over the course of the next 12-to-24 months.
Mike Soroka, RHP, Class A Rome | Ceiling/Realistic Role: 60/55
Ht/Wt: 6’4”/195 B/T: R/R Age (as of December 1, 2016): 19y, 4m
The Tools: 60 fastball; 60 curveball; 60 changeup – Soroka has seen a steady uptick in the quality and consistency of his stuff stretching back to his senior year of high school, with the heater now sitting comfortably in the low 90s with heavy action, and reaching as high as 95-to-96 mph up in the zone out of a true three-quarters slot. His curveball will flash as a true plus offering with sharp 11-to-5 action and impressive depth, and his changeup plays very well off the same trajectory of his fastball but operating around a 10 mph velocity delta from the fastball, with some arm-side action.
The Profile: Soroka upped his prospect profile as much as any arm in this talented Braves’ system, compiling 24 starts in the South Atlantic League and averaging just under six innings per outing. He consistently worked in and around the strike zone with all three offerings, showing improved power on his curveball and consistency with his changeup, each playing comfortably off of a heavy, low-90s heater that regularly drew soft contact.
One of the youngest draftees in the 2015 class, Soroka played all of 2016 as an 18-year-old and did so admirably, handling full season ball with little trouble. Perhaps more impressively, the projectable and limby right-hander has begun to fill out physically, and he’s seen a noticeable uptick in his stuff, with neither of the changes impacting his ability to refine and then repeat his mechanics and consistently execute. It’s not uncommon for big-bodied pitchers with longer levers struggle some with repeating their delivery. But the Canadian prep product showed a noteworthy level of athleticism and comfort in not only maintaining his actions but improving upon them, staying on tempo with a quick arm and showing fluidity in his actions.
There’s still more strength to come for precocious righty, and it’s easy to see each of his offerings settling in as above-average to plus with an ability to play up thanks to a quick arm that causes the ball to jump on hitters. He shields the ball well which, when combined with his arm speed, provides challenges for hitters trying to identify spin out of the hand. A cerebral pitcher, Soroka already shows some feel for sequencing and formulating a game plan – a skill that should aid him in making adjustments to more advanced bats as he continues to climb through the system. He’ll tackle the High A Florida State League in 2017, and he projects as a potential mid-rotation arm that should have no trouble eating innings.
Max Fried, LHP, Class A Rome | Ceiling/Realistic Role: 60/55
Ht/Wt: 6’4”/185 B/T: L/L Age (as of December 1, 2016): 22y, 10m
The Tools: 60 fastball; 60 curveball; 60 changeup – Fried sports a low- to mid-90s fastball that can climb as high as 97 mph up in the zone and comes in on a tough angle thanks to his high release point. His curveball is a plus offering with 12-to-6 action at its best, working well to change the eye level of hitters and partnering well with the heater. His changeup lags slightly behind the the other two offerings, but Fried shows feel for the pitch and has improved the deception of the offering since raising his arm slot. It projects as a third potentially plus offering that can miss bats and draw soft contact.
The Profile: After missing almost two full seasons following a late-2014 Tommy John surgery, Fried returned to action in earnest in 2016 to rave reviews. Sporting a long and broad frame, Fried flashed the same pop in his stuff that drove him to the Padres as the seventh overall pick in the 2012 MLB Draft – nine spots ahead of his then-injured senior year teammate at Harvard-Westlake (CA), Lucas Giolito (RHP, Nationals). Fried has already layered on good mass since his draft days – particularly in the trunk – and looks the part of a durable lefty arm, while retaining some additional projectability in his core.
The quality of the southpaw’s stuff has returned to pre-TJ form, and his feel for his secondaries was impressive considering he endured a layoff of almost two full years. At present he works out of a slightly higher slot than he did while with San Diego, which has helped improve deception with his changeup, a pitch which had previously come with more pronounced arm deceleration and a slightly higher slot than that of the earlier versions of the fastball and curveball.
Detractors question whether Fried will be able to command his stuff effectively enough to reach his ceiling as a quality number three starter, but the lefty is athletic in his actions and has successfully integrated and implemented tweaks to his mechanics, all while working to regain feel for his release post-surgery. After a successful and healthy 2016, Fried should be free to progress as quickly as his stuff and production warrant, with his strides this past summer hinting at a quick ascent once the gloves are off. He should report to High A Florida to start the season and could reach Double-A Mississippi before year’s end, setting him up for a potential big league debut as early as 2018.
Kolby Allard, LHP, Class A Rome | Ceiling/Realistic Role: 60/50
Ht/Wt: 6’1”/180 B/T: L/L Age (as of December 1, 2016): 19y, 4m
The Tools: 60 fastball; 60 curveball; 55 changeup – Allard will show you three above-average or better offerings, starting with a low-90s fastball that can reach 95 mph out of a three-quarters slot. His curveball is a hard breaker with 1-to-7 action that plays well both in and out of the zone, while his changeup showed good growth in 2016, flashing plus on occasion with solid fade.
The Profile: Another young arm that has missed some time due to injury during the early stages of his development – Allard’s ailment being a stress reaction in his back during the spring and summer of 2015 – the former first-round pick was eased into action in 2016 with an extended stay on the complex before logging five dominant outings for Rookie Danville, and then finishing up the year with an 11-start tour through the Sally League with Class A Rome.
Allard was aggressive with his arsenal, working out of an up-tempo motion that comes with some effort and can limit his command and consistency. The arm speed is impressive, but his timing can slip, causing both drag that can force his fastball up and out and from time to time resulting in the inadvertent burying of his breaking ball. When Allard is able to hit his mechanical check points and release, all three of his offerings will play as at least above-average offerings, flirting with plus. The curve is probably the most impressive out of the three, at its best showing potential as a swing-and-miss weapon in and out of the zone as well as an effective drop-in offering early in the count. He made good strides with his changeup in 2016, looking more comfortable with the pitch and consistently extracting more natural fade.
Because of the effort in his arm, and some difficulty with execution and in-zone precision, there’s some risk that Allard struggles turning over more advanced lineups as he progresses through the system. It’s loud enough stuff, however, that he could retain big value as a late-inning reliever if worse came to worst and the bevy of Braves’ arms force him to the pen. Allard’s yet another potential number three starter with a nice little fallback as a candidate to close. He’ll likely report to High A Florida to start his 2017 campaign.
The Tools: 60 fastball; 55 curveball; 50 changeup – Newcomb works primarily in the low-90s with his fastball, though he can reach the middle 90s with regularity and has topped out at 97-to-98 mph, all with little effort in the arm. His upper-70s curveball is an above-average offering with downer action that’s particularly effective as a chase pitch when ahead in the count. He’ll mix in an average changeup, as well, rounding out a trio of average-or-better offerings with which to attack upper level hitters. He has no difficulty maintaining the quality of his stuff late into starts.
The Profile: The primary piece received from Los Angeles in exchange for Andrelton Simmons (SS, Angels) a little over a year ago, Newcomb showed well in his 2016 Braves debut, tossing 140 innings for Double-A Mississippi while averaging over a strikeout per inning and a 2.1 strikeout-to-walk ratio. The burly lefty was selected by the Angels with the 15th-overall pick in the 2014 MLB Draft as a low mileage, cold weather arm out of the University of Hartford, wielding impressive but unrefined stuff.
A four-pitch arm on draft day, Newcomb has since all but scrapped a short slider in favor of a power curveball that better fits his arm slot and action, and he’s done well to find more overall consistency. The control and command still play to below average at present, but the quality of his fastball and curveball have helped him to miss enough bats to remain effective even when struggling to hit his spots and running up pitch counts as a result. There is a tendency for the lefty to work underneath the ball, and his visits to the top half of the strike zone were more frequent this past year, leading to an increase in fly ball rates as well as less frequent soft contact.
Despite the developmental strides already made, Newcomb still has a good deal of refinement to come if he’s to reach his potential as an innings-eating, mid-rotation arm. On the positive side, he should retain a fairly high floor even if he falls short of that optimal outcome, with his durability potentially useful in the back end of the rotation, and the quality of his fastball/curveball combo such that the Braves could mold him into a high-leverage lefty relief arm should the need arise. With at least another full year of development ahead, there is plenty of room for Newcomb to continue to grow his game as a starter – most likely beginning the year as a part of the Triple-A Gwinnett rotation.
ON THE HORIZON
A.J. Minter, LHP, Double-A Mississippi | Ceiling/Realistic Role: 55/50
Ht/Wt: 6’0”/205 B/T: L/L Age (as of December 1, 2016): 23y, 3m
Quick Hit: Minter saw his junior year at Texas A&M cut short just one month into the season, undergoing Tommy John surgery in the spring of 2015. That didn’t dissuade the Braves from selecting him with the 75th-overall pick in the MLB Draft that June, and the live-armed lefty rewarded the club with a dominant pro debut one year later. Working exclusively in relief, Minter logged 34 2/3 innings across three levels (Class A, High A and Double-A) allowing just 18 hits and five runs over the entirety of the season while averaging 14.9 strikeouts per nine innings pitched.
Minter’s stuff plays extremely well out of the pen. There’s effort in the arm, but he repeats well out of the stretch and commands each of his three offerings well, starting with a mid-90s heater that can reach 98 mph with heavy arm-side action. He’ll blend a hard cutter and deeper true slider, as well, with the former reaching as high as 90 mph, and the latter playing as low as 82 mph. The result is a bewitching arsenal that can run from the low 80s to the upper 90s, with each pitch running on the same plane before veering off into a distinct finish. He’ll flash a rudimentary straight changeup, as well, but he seldom has use for it.
Minter could compete for a bullpen spot this spring, though the Braves may be incentivized to send him to Gwinnett to start the season in order to secure an extra year of team control. He has a closer upside and, at a minimum, he should be able to handle high-leverage situations for Atlanta.
Quick Hit: Ruiz put together a solid 2016 campaign with Triple-A Gwinnett, ultimately earning a cup of coffee with the big club in September. Over 133 International League contests Ruiz totaled 533 plate appearances, slashing .271/.355/.400. After struggling to drive the ball consistently in 2015, the former fourth-round pick saw his average pop emerge more frequently in-game this past season, highlighted by his ability to drive the oppo-gap. Ruiz still has work to do to fully leverage his core strength and turn on balls on the inner half of the plate, but 2016 was a positive step forward which he’ll look to build upon this upcoming year.
Ruiz has a fringy glove at the hot corner and has lost a step over the past few years of pro ball, but has retained enough range for his hands and above-average arm to play on the left side. He has a chance to hit for solid average and provide decent on-base utility to go with average playable power for Atlanta, and while there isn’t a standout tool here, Ruiz should do enough different things well to compete for an everyday spot in 2017.
Travis Demeritte, 2B, High A Carolina | Ceiling/Realistic Role: 55/45
Ht/Wt: 6’0”/180 B/T: R/R Age (as of December 1, 2016): 22y, 2m
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Quick Hit: To say Demeritte had an eventful 2016 would be an understatement. The Georgia native and former 30th-overall selection in the 2013 MLB Draft began his year in the Rangers’ system as part of the High A High Desert squad before coming over to Atlanta just ahead of the July trade deadline in a deal for Dario Alvarez (LHP) and Lucas Harrell (RHP). After finishing the season with High A Carolina, Demeritte was shipped out west to compete as one of the younger players in the Arizona Fall League, where he slashed .261/.333/.522 over 22 games.
Demeritte has a broad, athletic build and shows quick-twitch actions and good strength, helping him to project as an above-average glove at the keystone with plus arm strength and a quick release. The carrying tool is his above-average power, which is driven by above-average bat speed and impressive torque through his core. Though he can drive the ball out to the deepest part of the park, his approach his pull-centric and raw overall, leading him to often work from behind in the count.
He still has a tendency to expand the zone and too often give away at-bats, and there’s risk that the swing-and-miss that results will eat too deeply into his playable power for the profile to work as an everyday contributor. He will likely report to Double-A Mississippi to start the year, where he’ll continue to work on increasing his rate of quality contact. The upside is an above-average everyday second baseman but the space between that and his floor remains significant. That said, he did show a more contact oriented approach in this past Arizona Fall League while still driving the ball with some authority. If he can carry that over into 2017, the Braves may soon be able to add the Demeritte deal to their growing list of trade coups.
Patrick Weigel, RHP, Double-A Mississippi | Ceiling/Realistic Role: 50/45
Ht/Wt: 6’6”/220 B/T: R/R Age (as of December 1, 2016): 22y, 5m
Quick Hit: A 2015 seventh-round pick out of the University of Houston, Weigel overpowered Class A hitters this past year with his four-pitch mix, earning a brief jump to Double-A Mississippi to cap off his first full season. His fastball plays in the 92-to-94 mph range, reaching as high as 97 mph up in the zone but lacking life. His curveball has good depth, but has soft action, and it can get loopy at times. His low- to mid-80s slider shifts between tilted and vertical break out of his high release point, and his changeup is his fourth best offering, with some soft dive.
Weigel has a simple phonebooth motion that he repeats well, displaying good body control and a sturdy durable frame, all of which have incentivized Atlanta to develop him as a starter for now. He has a soft front side, however, and the arm can drag, with each of his breaking balls still showing a fair deal of inconsistency. While he generally works around it, there’s a lot of imprecision between the black – something that more advanced hitters could capitalize upon.
Overall, it’s a solid repertoire with a chance to refine into average-or-better grades across the board. He profiles best as a back-end starter capable of shouldering solid work loads, provided his lack of deception and average arsenal continue to play against more advanced bats. 2017 could see him skip High A Florida and return to Mississippi for a full run through the Southern League.
Quick Hit: Like Travis Demeritte, Moore is a former Rangers’ farmhand who found his way to the Atlanta system this past summer – this time in a three-way deal involving Miami and resulting in three international signing slots landing in Texas and right fielder Jeff Francoeur shipping to the Marlins along with cash considerations. Moore spent a brief – but loud – stint with High A Carolina post-trade, slashing .343/.415/.457 over 41 plate appearances to end his 2016 regular season before shipping out to the AFL, where he slashed .317/.378/.537 over 11 games.
A seventh-round pick and not particularly tooled out, Moore found himself stuck behind some of the higher upside athletes in the Rangers’ system. While he may not wow people in any one particular category, he does a lot of things well, and he plays with an energy that will help him maximize the raw ability that he does have. The majority of Moore’s value is rooted in his defensive versatility, with the UCF product logging time at every defensive position but catcher in 2016. Athletic and well put together, Moore has solid present strength and he can drive the gaps effectively, showing a little bit of bat speed and decent feel for contact. Though he launched 14 home runs in 2016, he projects more to doubles power than regular over-the-fence pop at the highest level, and he could eventually fill a super-utility role with an overall profile similar to Jamey Carroll (INF, 2002-13) or Clint Barmes (UTIL, 2003-15). Though it’s not a particularly high ceiling, there’s a good chance Moore reaches it. He’ll move up to Double-A Mississippi in 2017.
Luke Jackson, RHP, Texas Rangers | Ceiling/Realistic Role: 50/40
Ht/Wt: 6’2”/210 B/T: R/R Age (as of December 1, 2016): 25y, 3m
Quick Hit: Yet another product of the Rangers’ prospect pipeline, Jackson completed his first full season of relief work in 2016, showing swing-and-miss stuff but too often struggling to throw strikes while working high and loose when he did find the white. His heater is a hard, mid-90s offering that can jump on hitters and he pairs it with a sharp-breaking, low- to mid-80s curveball with downer action. He has improved the quality of his changeup, though he largely abandoned the offering during his brief major league appearance in Texas.
While the power stuff is enticing, Jackson continues to frustrate with his inability to manage his high-effort mechanics and consistently execute. Acquired by Atlanta from this December in exchange for Tyrell Jenkins (RHP) and Brady Feigl (LHP) from the Rangers, Jackson adds to a growing stockpile of power arms that will be competing for innings in Atlanta and represents an upside play for the Braves who will take a stab at helping the former first-rounder to harness his power stuff and work more consistently in the bottom “U” of the zone. He has consistently averaged over a strikeout per inning throughout his minor league career, but needs a developmental nudge to bridge the gap to a big league pen as, at this point, it’s a late-inning arsenal with AAAA consistency.
Akeel Morris, RHP, Double-A Mississippi | Ceiling/Realistic Role: 50/40
Ht/Wt: 6’1”/195 B/T: R/R Age (as of December 1, 2016): 24y, 1m
Quick Hit: The Mets shipped Morris to Atlanta last summer in exchange for Kelly Johnson, providing the Braves with yet another young power arm to compete for late-inning action. The righty boasts an impressive fastball/changeup combo that drives a double-digit strikeouts-per-nine rate, with the heater working consistently in the low 90s and touching 96 mph up in the zone, and the changeup coming with significant arm speed and pitch-plane deception, nasty dive, and a 12-to-15 mph velocity delta off the fastball.
Morris’s arm action is long on the backside, leading to inconsistencies in release and execution out of a high slot and limiting the utility of his below-average slider. While the quality of his fastball and changeup, combined with a deceptive delivery and good downhill plane, should continue to miss bats, Morris may need to trim down his walk rate and work down in the zone with more regularity in order to find consistent success against major league bats. There’s little reason for Atlanta to push him to the majors, though he’ll likely get a look in camp. The more likely path sees Morris shipping to Gwinnett to seek more consistency in execution, and to reduce his heavy fly ball tendencies. He has set-up upside, and at a minimum he should eventually be able to fill a middle-relief role.
Quick Hit: Peterson backed up a solid Double-A campaign in 2016 with a solid AFL performance over 18 games and 70-plus plate appearances, sporting .282/.343/.431 and .324/.352/.471 slash lines, respectively. Selected by San Diego as a high school infielder in the second round of the 2013 MLB Draft, Peterson came to the Braves as part of a package of players from San Diego in the Justin Upton trade after the 2014 season. Atlanta then moved the Arizona prep product to the outfield, where he has taken well to left field.
Peterson shows solid comfort in the box with some pull-side power and a chance to get to an average hit tool at maturity. On the other hand, it’s an aggressive approach with aggressive swings that, when combined, can limit his on-base profile as well as his contact rate. With a fairly high offensive bar to clear in order to fit as a quality everyday left fielder at the highest level, Peterson has a very small margin for error given his likely average power, fringe-average to average hit tool, a batting-average dependent on-base percentage, and strikeout rates generally more fitting of a high-power producer. He’ll move up to Triple-A Gwinnett in 2017 with a chance at a cup of coffee by season’s end, and an eye toward competing for a 25-man spot in 2018.
Quick Hit: A 2012 first-round selection by the Braves, Sims has hit a bit of a developmental wall in the upper minors, with two straight seasons now of command/control issues, and the failure of an effective third offering to emerge in the arsenal. His fastball, while straight, sits comfortably in the middle 90s and can touch 97-to-98 mph, with a chance that a shift to the pen could see the heater more consistently reach the upper 90s. He also leans on a power curveball that can show plus, and could serve as a putaway offering at the big league level – provided he can find enough consistency with the pitch. His changeup is flat and firm, and the former Georgia prep product has struggled to develop feel for the pitch.
With extended control and command issues and two potential power pitches at the front of his repertoire, it may be time for the Braves to consider a shift to the pen for the well-built righty. On pure stuff alone, he could provide value as a swing-and-miss, late-inning arm, but there’s not tons of deception to help keep advancedl bats off of the straight fastball, regardless of velocity, and Triple-A hitters had no difficulty shrugging off the inconsistent secondaries to fastball hunt. His stuff will continue to keep him in the long-term picture, but without a significant developmental step forward at Triple-A Gwinnett in 2017 he seems destined for a sixth- or seventh-inning role.
Quick Hit: Pfeifer found his way to the Braves’ organization last June – along with RHP Caleb Dirks – in exchange for right-hander Bud Norris from the Dodgers. A third-round pick by the Dodgers in 2015, the former Vandy standout hides the ball well through his high-effort delivery, helping his low-90s fastball to jump on hitters, and making it more difficult to pick up his changeup and curveball out of the hand. The breaking ball plays to average, with 1-to-7 action, while the changeup comes with solid arm speed and some fade.
Pfeifer looks the part of a lefty specialist whose stuff plays above it’s raw grading because of the deception. While the strikeout rates were impressive through High A, Double-A Southern League bats faired better in terms of contact, though it was mostly soft contact – which is the type of contact he projects to with his stuff, provided he can continue to keep hitters off-balance. He could break camp anywhere between Double-A Mississippi and Atlanta, depending on where the Braves end up with their lefty bullpen options, but there’s a solid chance he debuts at some point in 2017 regardless. It’s may not be sexy, but getting two potential major league pieces in exchange for a three months of an inexpensive $2.5 million Bud Norris signing underscores how deftly this front office has amassed talent in the system – particularly on the pitching side.
Michael Mader, LHP, Double-A Mississippi | Ceiling/Realistic Role: 45/40
Ht/Wt: 6’2”/195 B/T: L/L Age (as of December 1, 2016): 22y, 10m
Quick Hit: Drafted in the supplemental third round of the 2014 MLB Draft by the Marlins out of the always interesting Chipola (Jr.) College (FL), Mader was acquired by Atlanta along with shortstop Anfernee Seymour this past summer in exchange for lefty reliever Hunter Cervenka. Immediately thereafter, Atlanta bumped Mader from High A, sending him to Mississippi where he logged five starts between August and September, pounding the strike zone and notching 26 strikeouts to just six walks over his 30 innings of work.
Mader has quieted his mechanics since beginning pro ball, displaying more balance and consistency, as well as more ease in his arm action. His fastball has some arm-side action sitting in the lower 90s, playing particularly well on the outer half against righties. His 12-to-6 curveball will flash some snap, but on occasion he’ll revert back to the softer, slurvier version he wielded in college. His changeup is a solid-average offering with arm-side dive that mirrors the action on his fastball. Nothing pops in the arsenal, but it all works, and Mader does a good job of filling up the strike zone with all three options. He fits the bill of a potential back-end arm or lefty swingman, and he could see a quick bump to Atlanta – perhaps as early as 2017 – if the Braves are looking for short-term help from the left side.
Johan Camargo, 2B/UTL, Double-A Mississippi | Ceiling/Realistic Role: 45/40
Ht/Wt: 6’0”/160 B/T: S/R Age (as of December 1, 2016): 22y, 11m
Quick Hit: Camargo’s overall feel for the game helps his otherwise average tools to play up across the board – most markedly on defense where he can ably man any position on the dirt by virtue of a true first step, good reads off the bat, soft hands and a solid left-side arm. An average runner, his speed plays up a half-tick thanks to a heady approach on the bases and early and accurate reads off the bat, allowing him to go first-to-third or second-to-home more often than you otherwise might expect.
Camargo lacks impact with the bat, showing below-average power and a limited on-base profile, with Double-A arms regularly and aggressively challenging him in the zone last summer. His swing works well enough from both sides of the plate for his average bat speed to play, but he’s likely a down-order producer at best unless he can add more strength between now and his big league debut. There is enough here to leave open the possibility of a future utility role with Atlanta, but the more likely fit could be on the shuttle squad, based in Gwinnett and running up to Atlanta to help fill injury-related gaps as needed.
Caleb Dirks, RHP, Double-A Mississippi | Ceiling/Realistic Role: 45/40
Ht/Wt: 6’3”/220 B/T: R/R Age (as of December 1, 2016): 23y, 6m
Quick Hit: Dirks’ acquisition last June in the Bud Norris deal was the second time in as many years that Atlanta pulled the trigger on bringing the physical righty into the organizational fold, having signed him as a 15th-round selection in the 2014 MLB Draft prior to shipping him to the Dodgers in exchange for an international bonus slot. The reunion was a successful one, as Dirks continued his impressive Double-A performance with Mississippi after hurling 31-plus frames for Double-A Tulsa (Dodgers) over the first three months of the season. He finished the year with a combined 61 innings of relief work, averaging just under ten strikeouts-per-nine and a 3.72 strikeouts-to-walk ratio.
Dirks sports a low- to mid-90s fastball that lacks life and plane, but can be difficult to square because of a deceptive motion and lunging drive to the plate that can combine to shorten the hitters time to track and allow the pitch to play at a higher “effective velocity”. His slider is a short breaker that has a tendency to back up on him, while his changeup works well off the fastball to disrupt timing and draw soft contact. Because Dirks lacks plane on his offerings and life on his fastball, hitters don’t have much trouble getting the ball in the air – something that could hurt the overall effectiveness of the righty coming out of a major league pen. He profiles as a sixth- or seventh-inning arm, but one that could be ready for a major league test drive in short order – provided he continues to keep the ball in the park.
Keith Curcio, OF, Double-A Mississippi | Ceiling/Realistic Role: 45/40
Ht/Wt: 5’10”/170 B/T: L/R Age (as of December 1, 2016): 23y, 11m
Quick Hit: A 2014 sixth-rounder out of D-II Florida Southern College, Curcio provides some potential value via his speed, defensive versatility and disciplined approach at the plate. Not overly physical, Curcio has a compact swing that stays on plane, helping him to find the ball with barrel with regularity and maintain above-average contact rates. He has a patient approach and tracks the ball well, showing a willingness to work a walk, and an ability to extend his at-bats while working to find a pitch he can handle.
There’s not much upside in the profile, but he could find some utility as a fourth outfielder who could add value as a pinch-runner and lefty stick off the bench. The biggest question mark is the level to which his on-base production can be maintained if his limited pop is insufficient to force advanced arms to pitch to the margins of the zone. If he turns into an average-driven on-base guy, the stick may be too light to occupy a 25-man spot, leaving him as an up-down talent in a very deep system.
Armando Rivero, RHP, Triple-A Iowa (CHC) | Ceiling/Realistic Role: 45/40
Ht/Wt: 6’4”/190 B/T: R/R Age (as of December 1, 2016): 28y, 10m
Quick Hit: The Braves popped Rivero with the fifth selection in the 2016 Rule 5 Draft this December, adding to the cadre of hard-throwing relievers in the mix for 2017 innings. With a broad and lanky build, Rivero’s arm action can get long, limiting his control and his consistency with his secondaries. There’s some crossfire to his delivery, helping to create a tough angle but also placing additional pressure on his control profile, with lots of opportunities for his arm to get out of sync.
Rivero’s best offering is a lively mid-90s fastball thrown out of a three-quarters slot that also works well for his mid-80s tilted slider and fringe-average changeup. He can maintain his stuff into a second inning of work, making him an interesting option as a potential sixth- or seventh-inning arm and increasing his utility in the pen in 2017 as a multi-inning option in low-leverage situations.
The Braves will have spring training to work with the Cuban righty to see if they can simplify his motion some, or at a minimum help him to more frequently hit his mechanical checkpoints. There’s risk that he’s a quick punt back to the Cubs, given the plethora of future relief arms knocking on the door in Atlanta. But if the Braves believe there is something to work with here, Rivero has the skillset to stick for a full season in the pen and ultimately fill a middle-relief role, bringing with him some swing-and-miss upside.
Kevin Maitan, SS, International Signee | Ceiling/Realistic Role: 65/50
Ht/Wt: 6’2”/190 B/T: S/R Age (as of December 1, 2016): 16y, 10m
Quick Hit: Roundly considered the top talent in this year’s J2 class, Maitan has drawn spiring comparisons to the likes of Hall of Famer Chipper Jones thanks to his easy power, leveraged swing from both sides of the plate, and advanced approach for his age and developmental level. He sports a broad but athletic frame and moves well for his size, particularly considering he is still growing into his body and being tasked with manning a high-skill position while doing so. Given the amount of room still left to fill out, there is no shortage of prognosticators predicting a shift to the hot corner, but he is more than capable at the six-spot at present, and he’ll have every chance to stay there, long term, given his athleticism.
Maitan’s swing works well from both sides, and it isn’t outlandish to project double-plus power potential at maturity. There’s good bat speed and easy leverage generated by torque through his core. While occasional length can creep into the swing when he loads long and low, Maitan has such a good feel for the barrel that it’s reasonable to expect his feel and physicality to win out in the long run. Even if some swing-and-miss hangs around, he should be capable of at least an above-average hit tool, even if it falls shy of his lofty power potential.
It’s all-star potential given his age, physicality, athleticism, and impressive feel, and while the frame is broader with more opportunity for thickness in the trunk than that of Jones, the spirit of the comp is spot on. It’s rare to see this combination of skills and mental aptitude in a teenager, let alone one that would not be draft-eligible until 2018 were he a U.S. high schooler. He’s capable of debuting as a 17-year-old on the complex in 2017 with the potential to hit his way to Rookie ball. If things click quickly, he could move quickly through the system, and up national lists.
Touki Toussaint, RHP, Class A Rome | Ceiling/Realistic Role: 60/45
Ht/Wt: 6’3”/185 B/T: R/R Age (as of December 1, 2016): 20y, 5m
Quick Hit: One of the highest-upside talents in the 2014 MLB Draft Class, Toussaint came off the board to Arizona with the 16th-overall pick, lasting the long largely due to the fact that he was a late arrival to the game – picking-up the sport as a teenager – and represented a fair amount of developmental work. The Diamondbacks parted ways with the hard-throwing righty as part of a salary dump, sending him to Atlanta along side an injured Bronson Arroyo who was still owed $10 million, proving once again that there is no opportunity the Braves’ front office will not pursue in its efforts to stuff the organization with talent.
While the development of Toussaint has been slow and deliberate, he took a nice step forward in 2016, logging 132 1/3 innings for Class A Rome while sporting his highest strikeout rate since his pro debut in Rookie ball. Primarily a thrower in high school, Toussaint works a little more deliberately at present, sacrificing some velocity for movement and control and working most often in the 92-to-94 mph velocity band, though he can reach back for 96-to-97 mph here and there. His curveball has flashed double-plus in the past, but with a high degree of inconsistency. The offering currently projects as an above-average to plus pitch with good depth, shape and 12-to-6 action. His changeup has its moments, coming with cut or fade depending on the day you see him.
There is a lot less effort in the motion now than in years past, and Toussaint does a much better job staying on line and on time, though the command and control both remain below average. Notwithstanding the progress made since coming over to Atlanta, the most likely outcome for Toussaint in a starting role may be as a solid number four starter who will spin both the occasional dominant start and three-inning stinker. Still, it’s important to note his limited experience and pure stuff do leave open the possibility he still reaches his ceiling as a high end number three arm as a top five-percent outcome. While the Braves should be in no rush to shift him to the pen, his fastball/curveball combo could be deadly in short stints, giving him closer upside.
Kyle Muller, LHP, Rookie GCL Braves | Ceiling/Realistic Role: 60/45
Ht/Wt: 6’6”/225 B/T: R/L Age (as of December 1, 2016): 19y, 2m
Quick Hit: One of three high-upside high school arms grabbed by the Braves in the first 44 picks of the 2016 MLB Draft, Muller was a spring riser benefitting from a velo jump during his senior year season at Dallas Jesuit Prep (TX), regularly working into the low 90s after operating primarily as a mid- to upper-80s arm the prior summer and fall. The big Texan operates with athleticism and fluidity that belies his massive frame, working out of a high slot with some slight crossfire that combines to create very uncomfortable angles for hitters to deal with – particularly those occupying the lefty batter’s box.
After signing with Atlanta, Muller continued to impress with his improving velocity, maintaining his stuff well through his pro debut. His breaking ball is a quality 12-to-6 curveball with good depth that plays similar to a 1-to-7 offering because of the angle, and it projects as a potential plus weapon in time. He also throws a developing changeup that works from the upper 70s to low 80s, and projects as a third above-average or better offering considering his easy arm action, and the growth he’s shown with the pitch over the course of the past year.
As impressive as Muller was in his debut, striking out 38 over his 27-plus innings of work while allowing just 14 hits and 12 walks, there is still plenty of developmental work ahead of him. Averaging just three innings an outing during his first taste of pro ball, the Braves will work to stretch Muller out beginning in 2017, likely with some extended work on the complex before shipping him to Danville to tackle the Appy League. There is mid-rotation upside here, but there remains a very large gap between that and that present skillset.
Ricardo Sanchez, LHP, Class A Rome | Ceiling/Realistic Role: 55/45
Ht/Wt: 5’11”/170 B/T: L/L Age (as of December 1, 2016): 19y, 8m
Quick Hit: Already well beyond his listed 170 pounds, Sanchez ran into some developmental hiccups in 2015 due to poor conditioning, leading to an early shutdown. He bounced back well this season, throwing 119 1/3 innings for Class A Rome while showing the potential for three above-average pitches. His body is likely to always carry some extra weight – particularly in the trunk – but his actions are athletic, and he’s done well to increase his strength and stamina, limiting some of the typical “bad body” concerns. He sits in the low 90s with a very lively fastball out of a silky arm action, showing an ability to pump the heater as high as 95-to-96 mph, and it has a chance to see a bump in velocity as he matures, physically.
His best secondary is a sharp and deep 1-to-7 curveball, and he can also break off an impressive changeup with arm-side dive and both pitch-plane and arm-speed deception. While he’s a bit undersized at a listed five-foot-eleven, he does a solid job creating angles, and he’s working to mix in his curveball effectively to keep hitters from sitting on one plane. Provided Sanchez can continue to stay on top of his conditioning, he represents an interesting upside play as a three-pitch lefty whose athleticism and arm speed could see his arsenal take another step forward before his development is complete. He’s ready to tackle the Florida State League in 2017 where he’ll work as part of one of the most talented rotations in the minors.
Quick Hit: Atlanta used some of it’s savings on the Ian Anderson under-slot signing to buy Wentz out of his UVA commitment, giving the supplemental-first rounder a $3,050,000 signing bonus almost twice the allotted amount for the 40th-overall pick ($1,616,800), making him the recipient of the 17th-highest bonus handed out in the entire class. Sporting a long and projectable frame, Wentz can already run his fastball up to the middle 90s, with the pitch playing anywhere from 88-to-96 mph depending on the day, though it can play down even at the higher end of his velocity band do to loose control in the zone. His mid-70s curveball shows good depth presently and shows plus potential, coming with good spin and solid feel. He will flash an above-average changeup to round out the repertoire, coming with circle dive in the 80-to-83 mph velo band, and with the potential to grow into a true plus offering with a little more refinement. There’s even a chance it plays up more if he can tighten up the fastball some and place the heater with more purpose.
Working out of a high three-quarters slot, the southpaw creates good angle on his heater while hitting a uniform arm slot across all three of his offerings, and his simple mechanics and easy arm action allow for projection across the arsenal as he continues to mature physically and add strength. Wentz is poised on the round and already demonstrates an ability to create and modify a game plan depending on the quality of his stuff on a given day – feel for the craft not typically evident in cold weather prep arms who have thrown limited innings.
He’s another potential mid-rotation arm with swing-and-miss weapons whose ultimate role may come down to his in-zone command. There’s significant proximity risk to the profile, and Wentz needs to show he can maintain the quality of his stuff while shouldering a lengthy pro season, but the ingredients are all here. He’ll tackle full season ball in 2017 with an assignment to Class A Rome.
Quick Hit: Despite solid athleticism and major league bloodlines – his father, Dion, enjoyed an eleven-year career as an outfielder for four different clubs, including just over 300 games played with the Braves – James lasted all the way to the 34th round of the 2016 MLB Draft, where the Braves happily selected him. Over 60 games split between Rookie Danville and Class A Rome, the Cal Poly Pomona product slashed .300/.379/.500, showing a disciplined approach at the plate and solid gap power.
James stays compact to contact with a simple load and level swing, maximizing the barrel’s time in the hit zone and working a middle-of-the-field approach. He’s a fringe-average runner who’s better once underway, moving well enough to leg out extra bags while falling shy of a true “threat on the bases” designation. He shows good instincts in the outfield but likely lacks the range to log significant innings in center or the arm to handle right. There’s some room in the frame to add strength, with a little more pop potentially being enough to nudge his hit and on-base potential to average or better.
He should ship to High A Florida to start 2017 and could reach Double-A Mississippi quickly if the bat continues to play comfortably above his competition. It’s not an impact profile, but there’s a chance for him to emerge as an everyday option with a solid likelihood he’s at least a part time lefty bat – that would be quite a coup given his Day 3 draft status.
Alex Jackson, OF, Class A Clinton (SEA) | Ceiling/Realistic Role: 50/40
Ht/Wt: 6’2”/215 B/T: R/R Age (as of December 1, 2016): 20y, 11m
Quick Hit: The former 2014 first-rounder has struggled mightily through his first 192 pro contests, striking out in almost 30% of his plate appearances and failing to yet advance above Class A ball. Sporting a sturdy build and wielding quality bat speed, Jackson has easy raw power but struggles to tap into the pop in-game due to a swing that takes his barrel quickly in and out of the zone. He has the makings of a quality approach, showing a willingness to work the count and wait out the (at times) inconsistent Midwest League arms, helping to provide some cushion to his offensive profile by way of on-base utility.
He handles right field adequately, and has more than enough arm strength to make an impact on the opposition running game. A catcher in high school, Jackson’s impact arm and decent athleticism gives the Braves some options as to how they proceed with his development. A shift back behind the dish would take some pressure off the bat developing to the heights of its potential, but would also require more developmental attention – taking time away from his offensive work.
Obtained this winter from Seattle in exchange for likely back-end righties Rob Whalen and Max Povse, Jackson stands as evidence that the Braves’ aggressiveness in identifying opportunities to bring in high-upside talents doesn’t stop on the pitching side. He’ll be one of the more closely watched players in camp this spring, with a chance for assignment to either Class A Rome or High A Florida, depending on what developmental path Atlanta settles upon.
Cristian Pache, OF, Rookie Danville | Ceiling/Realistic Role: 50/40
Ht/Wt: 6’2”/185 B/T: R/R Age (as of December 1, 2016): 18y, 0m
Quick Hit: One of Atlanta’s big J2 signings in 2015, Pache impressed in his stateside debut, slashing .283/.325/.377 over 236 plate appearances between the complex and Rookie Danville at just 17 years of age, while showing an above-average glove in center field and an ability to impact the game on the base paths. He shows good feel for contact and a swing that should play well to the gaps, with a chance for an average-or-better hit tool at maturity.
His power is below average at present, but there’s still physical projection remaining in the frame and a chance to do a little more damage with the stick once that added strength comes. That power growth, however, will be reliant on improved balance at the plate, and he’ll need to focus his aggressive approach some in order to improve the quality of his contact. There’s a lot of development required, but Pache will play the entirety of his 2017 season as an 18-year-old in full season ball, and the Braves have no reason to push him harder than his progress dictates. There’s potential for an everyday center fielder with a two-hole offensive profile if it all breaks right.
Quick Hit: A third-round selection out of Louisville in the 2016 MLB Draft, Harrington profiles as a back-end starter or lefty specialist, depending on how well his stuff holds up over a long pro season. He brings to the bump three solid-average offerings in his fastball, slider and changeup, showing a high level of comfort with all three and an ability to work both sides of the plate with each. His fastball features good sink and some arm-side life, working primarily in the 87-to-91 mph range, with his slider and changeup each clocking in around seven-to-ten miles-per-hour lighter.
It’s a quick arm with some deception, helping the arsenal to play up some and leaving open the door for a little more juice to come should he transition to shorter stints in the pen. He utilizes an up-tempo motion and works quickly and with purpose, pounding the strike zone early in the count with all three pitches and working to expand the zone down with his secondaries and up with the fastball once ahead. There’s likely a small margin for error given his lack of a true impact offering, but he’ll have a chance to continue in the rotation until opposition bats, or the Braves, tell him otherwise. Eased into Rookie ball after a long collegiate season in 2016, he’ll head to full season ball this spring and could be pushed quickly given his relatively high level of refinement.
Anfernee Seymour, SS, Class A Rome | Ceiling/Realistic Role: 45/40
Ht/Wt: 5’11”/165 B/T: S/R Age (as of December 1, 2016): 21y, 5m
Quick Hit: The second piece coming back to Atlanta from Miami in the Michael Mader/Hunter Cervenka deal, Seymour’s carrying tool is his top-of-the-scale speed, which translates both on the base paths and in the field. The athletic middle infielder has a quick stroke in the box that’s well-suited for contact, but has very little in the way of impact pop. The approach is still underdeveloped, as well, which could limit his on-base production as he climbs the ladder, and his ability to fully leverage his speed lessens.
A former center fielder, Seymour could ultimately find a major league home as an up-the-middle utility option, capable of shifting around between short, second and center field while adding value as a runner off the bench in games that he doesn’t start. He’ll need to prove capable of at least a fringe-average hit tool for that profile to come together, however, which is still far from a given. Seymour will turn 22 this upcoming season, making a push to High A Florida likely.
Lucas Herbert, C, Class A Rome | Ceiling/Realistic Role: 45/40
Ht/Wt: 6’0”/200 B/T: R/R Age (as of December 1, 2016): 20y, 0m
Quick Hit: A glove-first backstop with solid arm strength and an impressive catch-and-throw game, Herbert logged 65 games behind the plate working with one of the most talented rotations in the minors at Class A Rome this past summer. He displays athleticism behind the dish, including smooth side-to-side actions, and draws positive reviews for his on-field demeanor and leadership skills.
Though a strong and sturdy specimen, Herbert has struggled to make an impact on the offensive side of the ball thus far in his pro career, showing solid pre-game pop but struggling to make consistent quality contact once the lights turn on. He doesn’t track the ball or identify spin as well as you’d generally expect a catcher to, with some evaluators questioning whether his offensive issues center on a simple inability to see the ball well enough. Despite his offensive woes, Herbert could join his 2016 battery mates at High A Florida in 2017. He profiles as a glove-minded backup or below-average regular at present, but could see his stock tick up a notch or two if he can start to show some life with the stick.
Quick Hit: In his first taste of High A ball, Davidson continued to so plus power potential, but his swing-and-miss issues limited his overall production thanks to punching out 184 times over 516 plate appearances. Davidson has good bat speed and natural loft in his swing, but can too often work uphill with the barrel, and the swing can get hitchy, limiting his workable contact zone. He has also struggled with quality spin, further complicating his ability to find the ball with the barrel.
The rest of the profile is fringy to below average, with the former first-rounder showing below-average speed and an adequate but unimpressive glove in right field. Davidson is still too young to give up on completely, but it’s looking more and more like his limited contact ability may prove too much to overcome. His pedigree and big time raw power should help him to continue to climb the ladder, but the ultimate outcome probably lies much closer to that of a reserve bat as opposed to the middle-of-the-order impact producer Atlanta envisioned.
Austin Riley, 3B, Class A Rome | Ceiling/Realistic Role: 45/40
Ht/Wt: 6’3”/220 B/T: R/R Age (as of December 1, 2016): 19y, 7m
Quick Hit: Like Davidson, Riley shows impact power potential with contact concerns dampening the overall projection of the offensive profile. The former Mississippi prep product launched 20 bombs with Class A Rome this past year, while also whiffing in 27% of his plate appearances. But unlike Davidson’s profile, Riley showed less plate discipline and a more unrefined approach. His numbers trended up through the summer, but most of the increased production came in the form of more balls dropping in, as well as a huge jump in HR/FB% in August/September, with half of his home runs coming in the final 32 games of the season.
Riley has big arm strength that’s well-suited for the hot corner, and he has cleaned up his actions some over the past two seasons, giving him a chance to stick at third base long term. It’s probably not more than a fringe-average glove, however, with a penchant for lapses in concentration and kicking around the routine play. A shift to first base would place even more pressure on the bat, so the Braves will give him every opportunity to prove he can handle the hot corner. Riley will jump to High A Florida in 2017 where he’ll hope to prove his late-season jump in production was more than just a statistical glitch.
Quick Hit: A converted catcher out of Cal Berkley, Cumberland was selected by Atlanta in the second round of the 2016 MLB Draft based on his power potential, which could be above average particularly for his position. Cumberland has a lofted swing with heavy uphill plane and good leverage that comes with length. He has the raw strength to drive the ball to the deep parts of the park from both sides of the plate, and enough oomph to mishit a ball and still get it out to the pull side. At the same time, the holes in his plate coverage in either box are significant, including under his hands and over a good portion of the outer-half of the plate. He’ll need to tighten those up in order for his power to play at the higher levels.
Behind the dish there is work to be done, with his lower half a bit sluggish, and his throws to second showing below-average pop times and also coming with some hump and lacking finish. It was a long season for the former Golden Bear, and some of his sluggishness can be attributed to that. Nevertheless, questions remain on both the offensive and defensive side of his game, with the switch-hitter requiring not insignificant work across the board. He profiles as a potential offensive-minded backup, but it might take some time to get there.
William Contreras, C, Rookie GCL Braves | Ceiling/Realistic Role: 45/40
Ht/Wt: 6’9”/255 B/T: L/L Age (as of December 1, 2016): 19y, 11m
Quick Hit: A member of Atlanta’s 2015 J2 class, Contreras made his stateside debut on the complex in 2016, showcasing a solid defensive skillset with a quality arm, good athleticism, and feel for receiving. He moves well behind the plate, including advanced footwork in his throwing game for his age and experience, and has no trouble getting in the dirt to keep balls in front of him.
There’s some feel for an approach in the box, as well, though the hit and power tool both grade out as below-average at present. If he can make enough hard contact to keep his head above water at the highest level, he profiles as a solid defensive-minded backup or second-division regular, albeit with a decent amount of risk attached.
Quick Hit: Despite limited in-game action in 2016, Wilson showed some physical tools on the diamond worth keeping tabs on, including good wiry strength, bat speed, and plus foot speed both in the grass and running the bases. He doesn’t have any issues getting the ball in the air, and while he swings through too many hittable balls, there’s potential for average playable power at maturity, as well as some on-base production given his solid ability to track balls and manage the zone.
He covers enough ground to stick in center field long term, and has a strong enough arm to handle right should his reads and routes ultimately force him off of the middle of the field. Given his age, below-average Appy League production, and some undisclosed issues that resulted in a team-issued suspension towards the end of August, Wilson will likely hit the reset button and head back to Danville in 2017 with an eye towards tightening up his overall game and refocusing his on-field efforts. There’s enough raw material to work with to envision the young talent emerging as a fourth outfielder with some speed and power utility at maturity.
Yunior Severino, SS, International Signee | Ceiling/Realistic Role: 50/35
Ht/Wt: 6’0”/170 B/T: S/R Age (as of December 1, 2016): 17y, 2m
Quick Hit: Signed out of the Dominican Republic this summer for $1.9 million, Severino shows quick hands and good leverage in his swing, with slightly more length from the left side but enough bat speed to make it work. He’s strong already, with a broad and athletic frame that should layer on good strength as he continues to mature. He has solid balance, particularly given the high effort in his cuts, but needs reps in order to find more consistency in his mechanics and to allow his upper and lower halves to more consistently work with each other.
Severino’s hands are adequate and his average arm is loose enough that it could see a slight tick up as he gets stronger, but his lower-half actions and range are probably better suited for third or second base, long term. There’s impact potential with the bat, so a defensive shift should not impact the overall profile. Overall, Severino provides an interesting collection of offensive tools with which to work, giving Atlanta another high-upside youngster to keep tabs of. He should debut stateside on the complex in 2017 with a chance to reach Danville if things go well.
Derian Cruz, SS, Rookie Danville | Ceiling/Realistic Role: 50/35
Ht/Wt: 6’1”/180 B/T: S/R Age (as of December 1, 2016): 18y, 2m
Quick Hit: Cruz earned a $2 million signing bonus as part of Atlanta’s 2015 J2 class, drawing Jose Reyes (SS, Mets) comps thanks to his position, impact speed, switch-hitting ability, and Dominican heritage. He earned a promotion to Danville in his first year stateside, showing good athleticism across the field, though the rawness of his game shown through.
Cruz shows a better feel for contact from the right side, but at present is too aggressive for his own good – often forcing soft contact and working himself behind in the count early. There’s some bat speed present and he should grow into enough power to drive the gaps with regularity, but in order for his game to play in an everyday capacity he will need to find a way to draw more walks and get on base more frequently in order to fully leverage his speed. He’ll play all of 2017 as an 18-year-old, giving the Braves plenty of options as far as an initial assignment for the season, with a solid likelihood he makes another run at the Appy League after some extended work on the complex.
Abrahan Gutierrez, C, International Signee | Ceiling/Realistic Role: 50/35
Ht/Wt: 6’0”/205 B/T: R/R Age (as of December 1, 2016): 17y, 1m
Quick Hit: Part of Atlanta’s 2016 J2 haul, Gutierrez was signed out of Venezuela as an advanced defensive backstop with good receiving skills, a solid catch-and-throw game, and quality actions behind the dish. Offensively, his bat speed is average and the swing comes with some length and a tendency to work around the ball, but Gutierrez has shown some feel for an approach in tournament play, as well as some power potential, so it shouldn’t be a black hole with the stick.
He’s advanced enough defensively that he could make his way to the complex in 2017 as a 17-year-old, and he could see quick improvements across the board as the body matures and the physique tightens. The upside is an everyday catcher with a solid defensive skill set, but given the proximity risk and underdeveloped offensive game that upside comes with some flameout risk.
|1. Dansby Swanson, SS, MLB||6. Max Fried, LHP, A||11. A.J. Minter, LHP, AA|
|2. Ozzie Albies, SS/2B, AA||7. Kolby Allard, LHP, A||12. Kyle Muller, LHP, Complex|
|3. Ronald Acuna, OF, A||8. Sean Newcomb, LHP, AA||13. Ricardo Sanchez, LHP, A|
|4. Ian Anderson, RHP, Rk||9. Kevin Maitan, SS, Int’l||14. Joey Wentz, LHP, Rk|
|5. Mike Soroka, RHP, A||10. Touki Toussaint, RHP, A||15. Rio Ruiz, 3B, MLB|
The Braves are loaded with talent up and down the system, and particularly on the pitching side, giving them lots of options in the coming seasons. While the focus at present is building a strong homegrown core, there is potential impact sprinkled throughout the organization, giving the Braves the horses they need to get aggressive on the trade market when the time is right, and the depth of bullpen arms at the upper levels could allow the club to turn over major league relief assets in the short term at a time where bullpen arms are seeing a surge in value across the game.
Obviously, the most impactful trade assets, as a group, are the young starters Atlanta has working their way through the lower minors. With another year of growth under their belt, Atlanta should start to get a better handle on which arms look to fit best into the long-term construction of the club and which arms might be tolerable as trade currency for filling some major league holes as the team transitions out of its rebuild.
As was the case with the Padres’ farm system, a glut of high-upside teenagers provide an opportunity for an already-strong system to look even better at this time next year, which could further broaden Atlanta’s flexibility.
In very short order the Braves have become one of the most dangerous organizations on the horizon. With impact and depth alike, general manager John Coppolella and the rest of the Atlanta front office has quickly built an impressive pipeline of talent to the big club, setting the former NL East division goliath up for another extended run as a divisional powerhouse. While the current set of young starting arms transitioning to the majors – Mike Foltynewicz, Matt Wisler and Aaron Blair – hit a bit of a speed bump in 2016, each retains mid-rotation upside, and each should still be at least a viable cost-controlled contributor rotation.
Swanson, Albies and eventually Acuna should join first baseman Freddie Freeman and center fielder Ender Inciarte in forming a new offensive core for the club, and there are of course a couple waves of potential impact arms pushing their way out of the lower minors that could start providing quality innings for Atlanta as early as 2019. If there is any chink in the armor here, it is the fact that they don’t have much in way of offensive impact after the likes of Acuna and Maitan. They have a plethora of potential backup and second-division-regular types, but may need to dip into their bag of arms to bring in another power bat once their young core arrives in Atlanta.
The outlook is bright for the Braves, and with impressive returns on both international and domestic amateur acquisitions over the last couple of years, as well as savvy aggressiveness on the trade market, there’s no reason to expect any slowdown in the accrual of quality talent any time soon. This is going to be a competitive club very soon and they are setting themselves up well for the long haul.
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