The 2016 Atlanta Braves: A Team Built for the Trade Deadline

By now it should be no secret: the 2016 Atlanta Braves are not built to be a contending team. A team that expects to compete against the strong and deep rotations of the Mets and Nats doesn’t take a week at the end of spring to decide whether Williams Perez or Jhoulys Chacin should be their fourth starter or fifth starter. A team that expects to contend doesn’t hold up as their top free agent signing of the offseason a backup catcher or backup infielder.

None of that should be taken as an indictment against how this 2016 Braves team is constructed, but we should be honest about this team: they’re not built to be a contending team. They are, however, built to take full advantage of the desperate needs of other teams leading up to the July 31 trade deadline. They are built to continue the rebuild that started after the 2014 season.

The Atlanta front office has stacked the 2016 Braves with as many tradable players as they can fit on a roster. They have parted ways with players still owed money in order to equip their roster with players who have the best chance to build trade value.

Most likely to be traded

Yesterday I was trying to figure out why the team would bring in Drew Stubbs at the end of spring to essentially usurp a roster spot from the popular Michael Bourn, and even Emilio Bonifacio — two players owed a combined $15 million this year. The best answer I came up with was that Stubbs’ career .444/.528/.756 slash line as a pinch-hitter is vastly superior over Bourn’s .137/.200/.176. Both of those are extremely small sample sizes of just over 50 plate appearances spread out over multiple seasons, but with such extreme numbers for each player the team must be hoping that while neither is expected to get regular playing time, Stubbs has the better chance of putting up good numbers in a pinch-hitting role.

Assuming they once again put up good numbers in the pinch this year, guys like Stubbs and Jeff Francoeur could have value at the trade deadline for teams seeking pinch hitters and role players. They could add value to trades when they’re paired with a reliever like Jim Johnson or Jason Grilli — the two most likely relievers to be traded. Veteran relievers Eric O’Flaherty and Alexi Ogando could rebound this year and raise their swap value.

Veteran infielders on one-year deals like Erick Aybar, Gordon Beckham and Kelly Johnson are all likely to be shipped off by the deadline. It’s a reassuring comment on the potential value of seemingly small trades of role players that one of the prospects Kelly Johnson was traded for just last year, John Gant, is already making his big league debut with Atlanta. One of the players that Jim Johnson was traded for last year, Hector Olivera, is expected to be an integral part of this year’s team.

While the stating pitching for the Braves is thin to begin the season, the first wave of rebuilding pitching prospects is going to be ready in a few months. That means the Braves will need to create spots for these young starters by shipping off veterans like Bud Norris and Jhoulys Chacin.

While many of the names I mentioned likely don’t have huge trade value on their own, as we saw last year, the Braves were able to combine players in trades to receive a better return. They were also willing to include a top prospect like Jose Peraza as a sweetener in a trade to acquire the player they really wanted in return. With some surplus of prospects, I wonder if we’ll see the Braves include one of their second tier of prospects in a deadline trade in order to get a top tier prospect in return.

Less likely to be traded

While the Braves have Nick Markakis on the books through 2018 at what seems like a reasonable $11 million per year, that lower-dollar contract is also what could make him attractive on the trade market. More years of control on a player should net better players and prospects in return.

The same could be said for Ender Inciarte, who has a whopping five years of team control left. After Atlanta acquired him this past offseason there were reports that many teams called to inquire about his availability. The Braves GM has even bragged in interviews about how many teams (20, by some reports) have expressed interest in Inciarte. Even with Ender filling a valuable role as a leadoff hitter and center fielder, the emergence of prospect Mallex Smith in that same role could make Inciarte available.

A good first half out of Jace Peterson could have Braves fans thinking he’s the second baseman of the future, but it could also raise his trade value to the point where the Braves would strongly consider moving him if another team expressed interest. Once again, five years of team control could add to his value in any deal, and with infield prospects Albies and Swanson arriving soon, there’s reason to think that Peterson could be considered surplus.

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In order to put a contending team on the field for the opening of their new park in 2017, the Braves need to give their young prospects the space and time to cut their teeth in the majors. Consider too that many of their young prospects won’t be ready to join the major league roster until after the All-Star break. The team then needs to clear spots on a roster currently crowded with veterans. The confluence of those three things, as well as the potential tradability (described above) of so many of these players, seems to auger well for a flurry of mid-season trades.

At some point the team is going to have to stop trading away valuable pieces, but that point is not just yet. This year’s Braves team is still all about building for the future, and not yet about winning now.

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Atlanta Braves 2016 Making the Team Meter: Final Week

The Atlanta Braves Making the Team Meter (MTM) is nearing the end of spring, and there are still many unknowns surrounding the remaining position battles and opening day roster construction.

kjohnsonThis week I’ll take a look at each area of the team in one post. I will list the locks, then discuss which spots are still up in the air. The players listed in red are the ones who have not yet made the roster.

Lineup (8 of 8 spots are locks): Surprisingly, the lineup is not quite a sure thing because of possible platoons at second and third, though it’s mostly set, especially if we base our guessing off of the lineups of the past few spring games. This seems to be the prevailing lineup:

1. Ender Inciarte, CF (L)
2. Erick Aybar, SS (S)
3. Freddie Freeman, 1B (L)
4. Adonis Garcia, 3B (R)
5. Nick Markakis, RF (L)
6. Hector Olivera, LF (R)
7. A.J. Pierzynski, C (L)
8. Jace Peterson, 2B (L)

While I’ve had Garcia on the roster bubble all spring, comments on a recent broadcast by the GM, and Garcia’s repeated inclusion in lineups, leads me to believe that he will be the starting third baseman. That said, both he and Peterson will share a large part of their playing time with Beckham, Johnson, and Bonifacio.

Bench (3 of 5 spots are locks): At least three bench players are known: backup catcher Tyler Flowers, infield backup Gordon Beckham, and everywhere backup Kelly Johnson. That leaves Emilio Bonifacio to find a spot, as well as the crowded veteran outfield trio of Nick Swisher, Michael Bourn and Jeff Francoeur.

There has been mention that the team could cut Bonifacio loose and eat his $1.25 million salary. Until recently he was hitting poorly, and still leads the team in strikeouts this spring — not a good sign for a low-power contact hitter off the bench. That decision to cut money is complicated by the probable need to eat some, if not most, of the salaries of both Swisher and Bourn.

Both Swish and Bourn have had good springs, so it seems reasonable to believe that the Braves can find teams that are interested (as long as Atlanta eats a large portion of their salary). If the Braves can find a taker for one of those guys, then they probably cut Bonifacio and keep Francoeur and whomever between Swisher and Bourn wasn’t traded. That gives them the greatest veteran trade power leading up to the trade deadline in July — as I presume they will swap as many veterans on short contracts as they can for prospects, much like they did last year.

We should know more on Tuesday, when the team is required to inform Francoeur of where he will start the year.

Rotation (3 of 4 spots are locks): The top three spots in the rotation appear to be solid locks, while the fourth spot is still up in the air with the poor finish to the spring by Chacin. Atlanta will not need a fifth starter until April 12, so while I’ll list those candidates, they will start in the minors and get recalled on the 12th.

jchacinThe right-handed heavy rotation of Julio Teheran, Bud Norris, Matt Wisler and Jhoulys Chacin seem like the four the team will take north. Chacin is the only question mark after some rough outings recently. With starting pitching so thin throughout the majors and in the Braves organization, I have to believe that they’ll at least see what they have in Chacin for the first few weeks of the season. If he’s not up to the task, then they have a phalanx of young starters who should be ready by mid-April.

The team will take the extra two weeks of not needing a fifth starter to decide between Manny Banuelos and Mike Foltynewicz.

ManBan had been the early favorite, but Folty came on strong in his last start while Banuelos has been hit hard in two of his three appearances. Neither seem like options to be in the opening day rotation due to their delayed start to spring.

Young righty John Gant was considered for the fifth spot for a hot minute, but he’s much more likely to begin the year in the minors. Though his good spring could accelerate his timetable. The forgotten one, Williams Perez, could sneak into some sort of roster spot in the rotation or bullpen.

Bullpen (6 of 8 spots are locks): This is the area with the most uncertainty, and an area that could change a lot between now and opening day due to trades, releases and waiver claims. The locks appear to be Arodys Vizcaino, Jason Grilli, Jim Johnson, Alexi Ogando and Jose Ramirez, all right-handers.

With the acquisition on Sunday of left-hander Eric O’Flaherty, he becomes another lock. One of the remaining spots seems like it will go to Rule 5 reliever Daniel Winkler, who received a strong vote of confidence from the GM on a weekend broadcast.

That leaves one bullpen spot, and until recently is sounded like it would go to another left-hander — the helmet-hat wearing Alex Torres. Like Chacin, A. Torres has gotten hit a lot lately, and the team may be rethinking his inclusion in the bullpen. The only other competition at this point seems to be from righty Carlos Torres, the improbable resurgence of Hunter Cervenka or someone else from minor league camp, or one of the starting candidates falling to the pen.

With that eighth spot in the pen going away in mid-April once the team needs a fifth starter, my best guess is that spot will be filled by Banuelos or Perez, with either of them serving primarily as long relievers. If I had to put money on it right now, I’d choose Perez, but a lot could happen between now and opening day.

For a bit of fun reading, click here for a look at the final MTM post from last spring.

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Atlanta Braves 2016 Making the Team Meter: Week 3

mwisler2The Atlanta Braves Making the Team Meter (MTM) continues as your one-stop shop for all the team’s spring training roster battles. The roster got trimmed a couple of times this week, and the Braves are not wasting any time on pitchers who aren’t throwing well.

Every weekly MTM this spring I’ll present the locks for each area of the team, then the guys trending up and down. Those guys trending up and down (listed in red text) are the ones to keep an eye on, and should constitute the bulk of the players competing for open roster spots. The rest of the guys in camp are listed next to the ax, because, well, they will (more than likely) eventually be axed from the spring roster.

First up, the locks for roster spots (barring injury, of course):

icon-lockRotation locks (3 of 5): Julio Teheran, Bud Norris, and Matt Wisler continue to be on track as the top three in the rotation.

Bullpen locks (3 of 7): Jason Grilli, Jim Johnson, and Arodys Vizcaino are all still bullpen locks, though Grilli’s start to the season could be delayed by a few weeks. Relievers can get ready in a hurry, so I’ll keep him in the lock section until his status is clearer.

Lineup locks (5): Aside from a wrist scare, the five lineup locks stay the same. Ender InciarteErick AybarFreddie FreemanNick Markakis, and Hector Olivera are all lineup locks.

Lineup platoon and bench locks (6 of 8): There will most likely be three platoons on the diamond for Atlanta. A.J. Pierzynski and Tyler Flowers will share the catching duties. Gordon BeckhamJace PetersonKelly Johnson, and Emilio Bonifacio should all share time between second and third base. There’s a chance that Peterson could be a victim of remaining minor league options left while the team tries to find spots for their high priced veterans (below).

Next up are the players trending up to make the team. There may be more players listed than spots available, but as spring training goes on I’ll whittle these players down.

icon-thumbs-upTrending up for the rotation (1-2 spots): Jhoulys Chacin rockets to the top of the rotation competition as he continues to put together good starts. The release of Kendrick and the slower pace of Folty removes a large part of the competition. Chacin really is rising to the top in the battle for the fourth spot in the rotation. He could be a nice reclamation project and a good success story this season.

The Braves early season schedule with off days means they will not need a fifth starter until April 12, and even though Manny Banuelos had a rough start to his spring, it’s still early and he has plenty of extra time to catch up. It sounds like the team wants him in that fifth spot so they can see if he’s the real deal or not.

Trending up for the bullpen (4-5 spots): The bullpen competition continues to get refined by cuts and a separation in performances. Non-roster veteran reliever Alexi Ogando seems to still be a favorite to land a spot, especially now that Withrow has been optioned to the minors.

jramirezLefty Ian Krol still looks to be in line for a spot as other LOOGYs get cut from the roster. Out of options reliever Jose Ramirez has looked good this spring, and sounds like he’s close to locking up a spot.

I’m moving Rule 5 lefty Evan Rutckyj to the trending up section this week, rejoining fellow Rule 5’er Daniel Winkler. We’re going to have to wait and see what the team is thinking on these two pitchers. But if Grilli is unable to start the season in Atlanta, that could open up another spot in the pen, and the team may want to use that time to audition these two Rule 5 guys.

I’m also moving lefty Alex Torres and righty Carlos Torres into the trending up category. Both of these non-roster veteran relievers have pitched great this spring, and with more relievers getting cut as the roster gets trimmed, their chances keep going up. I still believe there is a large temptation to stash them in Gwinnett as experienced depth, especially if finding 40-man roster spots becomes a problem (see bottom of article).

With today’s cuts taken into account, that leaves seven relievers competing for four spots that are definitely open, and what could be two more spots if Grilli is not ready to start the season and if they opt to carry an extra reliever instead of a fifth starter on opening day.

Trending up for the lineup or bench (2 spots): Adonis Garcia continues to be a favorite to pick up some playing time at third base in a very crowded field.

I’m moving both Michael Bourn and Jeff Francoeur to the trending up section this week, mainly to talk about them and Nick Swisher in the same breath. It will be interesting to see what happens with these three veterans — two of them (Swisher and Bourn) being very high priced. This decision doesn’t have to be made until the end of the spring. I still believe that Frenchy is the fly in the ointment, and the Braves will find a way to put him on the roster. That would be made easier if Swish and/or Bourn can be traded.

The next group of players are trending down. For one of these guys to make the team they would have to have an amazing spring, or there would have to be an injury to a player above.

icon-thumbs-downTrending down for the rotation or bullpen: Williams Perez is being given every opportunity to win a spot in the rotation. Both he and Ryan Weber are having good springs. They’re still in the trending down section however, not because of their spring performance, but because Chacin seems preferred over either pitcher right now. ManBan also seems to be preferred by the team in the fifth spot, but because the team doesn’t need that spot filled until April 12, both Perez and Weber will likely join ManBan in the minors to start the season. If Banuelos falters, then that could open the door to either Perez or Weber. There’s also a chance that either Perez or Weber could open the season in Atlanta’s bullpen as the long reliever.

Mike Foltynewicz is behind schedule this spring, and it sounds like the team wants to take the slow approach with him while they stretch him out to join the rotation. That will likely happen in the minors to start the season.

Below are the rest of the guys in camp, and while there is some talent in this group, they are not likely to be around the Major League camp in the final weeks of spring. That being said, I may move one or two of these guys up if they have a great spring or there is some buzz about them in the press.

icon-axAxed from rotation consideration for now: Kyle Kendrick was the biggest cut this week, as the team released him after he got blown up in his second start. It was a short leash to be sure, but with other options pitching better, there’s no reason to keep a non-roster guy around who is not making his pitches.

The team also moved most of the prospects to minor league camp, along with non-roster guys Madison Younginer and David Holmberg. Veteran Chris Volstad was released after producing similar results to Kendrick.

Casey Kelly and Tyrell Jenkins were also reassigned to minor league camp, as expected.

I’m moving Aaron Blair down here this week. While I was bullish on his chances at the beginning of spring, other candidates have risen above him, and it looks like he does need more time in the minors. John Gant is also still hanging around, but having not pitched above double-A, I can’t see him making the jump to the majors quite yet.

Axed from bullpen consideration for now: Chris Withrow was a surprise cut from the spring roster this week, as he was optioned to Gwinnett. This is likely just to give him more time to regain his form after missing last year because of surgery.

Left Matt Marksberry was given no quarter after a rough outing, as the team sent him packing to the minors. He was looking like a strong LOOGY candidate, but it sounds like the team prefers the veterans Krol and A. Torres.

Hunter Cervenka also encountered some rough waters this week, and didn’t survive the latest round of cuts.

Danny Burawa was sent to minor league camp, and is someone I still believe is a candidate to be slipped off the 40-man roster.

Axed from roster consideration for now: Daniel Castro and Chase d’Arnaud were reassigned to minor league camp this week. We may need to keep a closer eye on Reid Brignac, who is hitting pretty well right now. But with such a crowded infield picture already, even a hot hitting Brignac is a longshot.

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40-man roster picture: The Braves 40-man roster is at 40 players right now. Here is one way that the team could find spots for the players that seem to be winning them.

Needing spots (5): Chacin, Ogando, Frenchy, Torres and Torres.

Vacating spots (5): Paco Rodriguez (60-day DL), Andrew McKirahan (60-day DL), Burawa (candidate to be waived), Swisher and Bourn (candidates to be traded).

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Atlanta Braves 2016 Making the Team Meter: Pitchers, Week 2

mbanuelos2The Atlanta Braves Making the Team Meter (MTM) continues as your one-stop shop* for all the team’s spring training roster battles (*initially divided up between pitchers and hitters). The roster is getting trimmed quickly this year, as the team has already made their first round of cuts — some of the earliest significant cuts I can remember.

Every weekly MTM this spring I’ll present the locks for each area of the team, then the guys trending up and down. Those guys trending up and down (listed in red text) are the ones to keep an eye on, and should constitute the bulk of the players competing for open roster spots. The rest of the guys in camp are listed next to the ax, because, well, they will (more than likely) eventually be axed from the spring roster.

First up, the locks for roster spots (barring injury, of course):

icon-lockRotation locks (3 of 5): Julio Teheran, Bud Norris, and Matt Wisler continue to be locks for the starting rotation. Though neither JT nor Wisler have thrown in a major league spring game yet.

Bullpen locks (3 of 7): Jason Grilli, Jim Johnson, and Arodys Vizcaino are all still bullpen locks, with Vizzy striking out the side in order (a “Kimbrel”) during his first Grapefruit League action.

Next up are the players trending up to make the team. There may be more players listed than spots available, but as spring training goes on I’ll whittle these players down.

icon-thumbs-upTrending up for the rotation (1-2 spots): Moving to the trending up section this week is Manny Banuelos. ManBan is apparently penciled in as the fifth starter — a spot in the rotation which won’t be needed until April 12 according to the AJC — even though he has yet to appear in any spring games.

It still looks like non-roster starters Kyle Kendrick and Jhoulys Chacin are in a good position to compete for the remaining rotation spot. Either one of them could also fall to the bullpen, and serve as the long reliever for at least the first two weeks of the season. In their first appearance of the spring on Sunday, Chacin seemed to take the lead with two spotless innings.

Trending up for the bullpen (4-5 spots): With the Braves indicating they will not need a fifth starter until April 12, that opens up the bullpen competition to one more spot. Mike Foltynewicz is still on the bubble between the rotation and the bullpen, so an eye will be kept on how long the team stretches him out in games.

aogandoMoving to the trending up section this week is Alexi Ogando. He has received a lot of praise throughout the spring, and it sounds like Atlanta want’s another veteran reliever in the pen. If the reports of his rejuvenated velocity are true, he could be a nice find.

Chris Withrow looks good in early spring action, and is likely a week or so from becoming a bullpen lock. Ian Krol sounds like the early favorite for the LOOGY role, even though he got Krolshed™ on Sunday.

While it’s been mentioned that the Rule 5 relievers Rutckyj and Winkler might be hard-pressed to make the club, Daniel Winkler remains trending up after two impressive appearances. Out of options reliever Jose Ramirez has also tossed two scoreless innings.

The next group of players are trending down. For one of these guys to make the team they would have to have an amazing spring, or there would have to be an injury to a player above.

icon-thumbs-downTrending down for the rotation: Aaron Blair moves to he trending down section this week. I still want to be bullish on his chances, but with ManBan now penciled into the fifth spot, and Kendrick and Chacin hoovering, Blair seems to be crowded out of a rotation spot to start the season. Besides, there’s no reason to rush the young hurler.

Even before tweaking his delivery, Tyrell Jenkins had drawn praise for his good work in camp — though like Blair, there’s no need to rush him. Williams Perez and Ryan Weber are still options, but they both seem to be further down he depth chart at this point.

rweberCasey Kelly is hanging around, and like Perez and Weber, he’s a long-shot right now.

Chris Volstad hurt his chances by getting rocked in his first game action of the spring, and David Holmberg hasn’t had any buzz about him. Both 4-A veterans are likely to be among the next round of cuts and become triple-A depth.

Trending down for the bullpen: While Matt Marksberry has pitched well and has received praise from the coaching staff, his available minor league option and the veteran relievers ahead of him will likely push him to open at Gwinnett. Fellow lefty Hunter Cervenka finds himself in a similar spot.

Both Alex Torres and Carlos Torres have thrown well and received some praise, but they are still likely behind other non-roster options such as Ogando, Chacin and Kendrick. With the Braves wanting to stash some experienced bullpen depth in the minors, the not-brothers Torres fit the bill perfectly.

Danny Burawa did not have the kind of first outing in this crowded field that gets him noticed in the right way. With another bad outing he becomes a candidate to be slipped through waivers as the team looks to create 40-man roster space.

Another victim of the roster space battle could be Rule 5 lefty Evan Rutckyj. He moves to the trending down section this week.

Below are the rest of the guys in camp, and while there is some talent in this group, they are not likely to be around the Major League camp in the final weeks of spring. That being said, I may move one or two of these guys up if they have a great spring or there is some buzz about them in the press.

icon-axAxed from rotation consideration for now: No change in the ax status of John Gant, Chris Ellis, Sean Newcomb, and Lucas Sims.

Madison Younginer has received some praise, but is still a ways away from major league ready.

Axed from bullpen consideration for now: The two big shocking pieces of news this week were the release of OG David Carpenter, and the probable second Tommy John surgery for Andrew McKirahan. Carp’s unexpected early release was likely due in part to two main factors, the lack of an available roster spot and a continued decline in velocity. While he had appeared in only one game, the Braves staff has a gun on every pitcher virtually every time they throw, and they know where a pitcher’s velocity should be at this point in the spring. OGDC’s velo likely wasn’t keeping up with other non-roster guys like the Law Firm of Ogando, Torres and Torres ©.

Shae Simmons is on the new 15 month recovery plan in return from his TJ surgery. Mauricio Cabrera and his 100 mph heat have been talked about this spring, but ultimately his control is not yet ready for prime time.

Ryan Kelly was released along with Carpenter.

The hitters MTM will be up at the end of the week.

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Atlanta Braves 2016 Making the Team Meter: Hitters, Week 1

ffreeman16Week 1 of the Atlanta Braves Making the Team Meter (MTM) continues with a look at the hitters in camp. While there is a slew of competition and uncertainty about who will ultimately make up the pitching staff, there only seems to be a decision or two regarding the lineup and bench.

This year’s lineup and bench construction lend themselves to a lot of platoons, especially in the lower half of the order. That might not be such a bad thing on a team like the Braves that will likely lose a lot of games. Allowing many of the veterans on the team to play in beneficial platoons in the first half of the year should maximize their output and make them more attractive trade targets at this year’s trade deadline.

Every weekly MTM this spring I’ll present the locks for each area of the team, then the guys trending up and down. Those guys trending up and down (listed in red text) are the ones to keep an eye on, and should constitute the bulk of the players competing for open roster spots. The rest of the guys in camp are listed next to the ax, because, well, they will (more than likely) eventually be axed from the spring roster.

First up, the locks for roster spots (barring injury, of course):

icon-lockLineup locks (5): Atlanta’s lineup is coming together quite nicely, and the top half of the order looks to be set. Newcomers CF Ender Inciarte and SS Erick Aybar will likely bat at the top of order, followed by lefties 1B Freddie Freeman and RF Nick Markakis. Now-left-fielder Hector Olivera will likely follow, and then it gets platoony…

Lineup platoon and bench locks (6 of 8): There will most likely be three platoons on the diamond for Atlanta. A.J. Pierzynski and Tyler Flowers will share the catching duties. Gordon Beckham is apparently trying to start at third base, though he was already considered part of a platoon at second base with Jace Peterson. Kelly Johnson could figure into parts of platoons at second, third and left field, and Emilio Bonifacio could see some starts in addition to being the super utility player.

That leaves just two spots from a slew of other candidates. In terms of positional need, there doesn’t seem to be any. Bonifacio can fill in everywhere on the diamond and Beckham can play all over the infield in a pinch. Johnson can cover the field as well. So there’s no need to carry a player just to backup shortstop or center field.

Next up are the players trending up to make the team. There may be more players listed than spots available, but as spring training goes on I’ll whittle these players down.

icon-thumbs-upTrending up for the lineup or bench (2 spots): The questionable wrist of Freeman will probably have the Braves keeping first base backup Nick Swisher around, just in case. The team would no doubt still like to trade him if anyone came calling, but they’re probably less likely to cut him with Freeman questionable. If Swisher is indeed fully healthy again, as he claims, then keeping him on the team to build some value leading up to the trade deadline would fit with the Braves’ de facto intention to trade off most of their veterans leading up to July 31.

Adonis Garcia should be a heavy favorite to get a lot of playing time at third base, if not win the job outright. Though even with a strong ElOsoBlanco-esque showing in winter ball, Garcia still has questions about his bat and even bigger questions about his glove. Still, it sounds like Atlanta want’s to see what they have in Garcia, and intend on giving him playing time to let him show it.

The next group of players are trending down. For one of these guys to make the team they would have to have an amazing spring, or there would have to be an injury to a player above.

icon-thumbs-downTrending down for the bench: The other weighty outfield contract after Swisher, with seemingly nowhere to play is Michael Bourn. Before Atlanta acquired Inciarte it looked like Bourn had a definite spot to begin the year in a mentoring role for M. Smith, while starting about half the time. Inciarte pushed Bourn to the bench, but still with a definite spot. The arrival of Jeff Francoeur muddies the water. A hometown favorite like Frenchy might be tough to keep off the team when they’re desperate to sell a few extra tickets in Turner Field’s lame duck season with a 100-loss team.

jfrancoeur16Both Bourn and Francoeur’s roster chances are hurt by a roster that doesn’t seem to have any spot for them… right now. Injuries, ineffectiveness or trades can all create spots.

Daniel Castro and Mallex Smith are the only other position players on the 40-man, and each are worthy of a mention above the Axed section. Castro can play all over the infield, and could see time if Aybar or Bonifacio are injured. Smith likely has little shot this spring unless Inciarte is traded.

Below are the rest of the guys in camp, and while there is some talent in this group, they are not likely to be around the Major League camp in the final weeks of spring. That being said, I may move one or two of these guys up if they have a great spring or there is some buzz about them in the press.

icon-axAxed from roster consideration for now: None of the remaining Braves non-roster invitees are of too much interest. Reid Brignac is a former top prospect turned 30-years-old. Nate Freiman may have the right last name to be an Atlanta first baseman, but that’s it.

Chase d’Arnaud and Matt Tuiasosopo have major league experience, but don’t hit enough to warrant higher consideration.

After them the rest of the fielders in camp include the team’s top prospects getting a taste of big league camp: Dansby Swanson, Ozhaino Albies, Rio Ruiz and Braxton Davidson.

Ryan Lavarnway is a non-roster catcher, and probably the first one called if AJ or T-Flo get injured.

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Atlanta Braves 2016 Making the Team Meter: Pitchers, Week 1

jgrilliThe Atlanta Braves Making the Team Meter (MTM) returns for its 11th season as your one-stop shop* for all the team’s spring training roster battles (*initially divided up between pitchers and hitters).

With so much turnover this offseason, much like the last offseason, the MTM is more vital now than ever, and the pitching side of the ball has the most uncertainty. Which 12 hurlers will break camp with the team is a complete mystery at this point.

Every weekly MTM this spring I’ll present the locks for each area of the team, then the guys trending up and down. Those guys trending up and down (listed in red text) are the ones to keep an eye on, and should constitute the bulk of the players competing for open roster spots. The rest of the guys in camp are listed next to the ax, because, well, they will (more than likely) eventually be axed from the spring roster.

First up, the locks for roster spots (barring injury, of course):

icon-lockRotation locks (3 of 5): Julio Teheran, Bud Norris, and Matt Wisler should all be locks for the rotation at this point in the spring. Norris is coming off a horrible season, so he’s got a lot to prove, and at just a $2.5 million contract, he’s not above being cut if he continues to be horrible. Wisler also needs to have a decent spring to stay among the locks.

Bullpen locks (3 of 7): Jason Grilli, Jim Johnson, and Arodys Vizcaino are all bullpen locks, as they were at this time last year. These three relievers represent a strong core of the back of the bullpen, and a strong cadre of trade bait.

Next up are the players trending up to make the team. There may be more players listed than spots available, but as spring training goes on I’ll whittle these players down.

icon-thumbs-upTrending up for the rotation (2 spots): It’s hard to say who has the inside track on one of the final two rotation spots — it’s likely that no one does at this point. Non-roster starter Kyle Kendrick is coming off a season of Colorado shell shock, but he would represent another veteran arm in the rotation, which seems to be what the Braves want. That extra veteran arm allows them to give their young pitchers more time. As a pitcher who mainly relies on sinkers and splitters, Kendrick also seems like a guy who would benefit from the tutelage of Roger McDowell.

Jhoulys Chacin is a non-roster veteran guy who bounced around last year after major shoulder problems in 2014. He’s had some impressive years in the rotation even while pitching in Colorado. If his injury woes are behind him, he could be a nice reclamation project in advance of the trade deadline.

ablair2My gut tells me Aaron Blair is ready for a rotation spot, and that he’s the prospect among the next wave of Braves starting pitching prospects who is the most prepared to break camp with Atlanta. He’ll still need to have a good spring, but he too should benefit from McDowell’s area of expertise.

Trending up for either the rotation or the bullpen: Manny Banuelos and Mike Foltynewicz both fall into a tweener category I’m creating this year. They figure to make the team, it’s just a matter of where they fit on the team. Folty is delayed by a couple of weeks because of offseason rib surgery, and ManBan is coming off a year in which he was plagued by elbow soreness and diminished velocity. The Braves would love for both pitchers to step into rotation spots, but questions about their ability to remain starters in the majors have been pervasive for the past couple of years.

Trending up for the bullpen (4 spots): The health of Chris Withrow will be a hot topic this spring. He’s an immensely talented reliever, but he missed all or part of the last three seasons, first with Tommy John and then back surgery.

Evan Rutckyj and Daniel Winkler are both Rule 5 picks who must break camp with the Braves or be returned to their original teams. With decent springs they should make the club. Jose Ramirez is in a similar situation, as he is out of options. It will be interesting to see if the Braves can find spots in the bullpen for all three of these guys, with Rutckyj being the biggest risk, having only thrown 18 innings above A-ball.

Ian Krol was acquired in the Maybin trade from Detroit, and is still pretty young (he won’t turn 25 until May). Atlanta is likely looking to him to be a LOOGY, with an eye towards continuing his development so he can handle full inning relief stints. His reverse platoon split last season should be an aberration.

Just a year after trading him to the Yankees, OG David Carpenter returns to Atlanta as a non-roster invitee. Not to be confused with the other David Carpenter who was with Atlanta last year. We’ll see if OGDC can once again thrive under McDowell… if he makes the team he’ll just need to sit out the series with the Indians at the end of June, when Juan Uribe will be in town.

The next group of players are trending down. For one of these guys to make the team they would have to have an amazing spring, or there would have to be an injury to a player above.

icon-thumbs-downTrending down for the rotation: Tyrell Jenkins might get an extended look, and he should be competitive for a spot. He’s listed down here because he’s just a tad behind some of the others… though he has the ability to suddenly put it all together and leap into contention.

Certainly Williams Perez and Ryan Weber will be talked up by many as rotation options, but I believe the two sinkerballers are pitchers of last resort, owing that opinion mainly to their lack of ceiling and their available minor league options, as well as the crowding out from the other candidates.

Casey Kelly is an interesting option, and one who bears watching this spring. He’s still coming back from his long history of injuries. He’s got options left, so that’s another reason he’s trending down.

Chris Volstad is a non-roster veteran guy who will most likely be ticketed for rotation depth at triple-A. David Holmberg is a non-roster southpaw with starting experience in the majors, though it’s mostly unimpressive. He’s also more than likely minor league depth.

dburawaTrending down for the bullpen: Danny Burawa pitched well for Atlanta after they plucked him off the waiver wire from the Yankees last year. He has some good upside, but will need to have a lights-out spring to rise above the crowded field.

Matt Marksberry and Andrew McKirahan are both strong left-handers with minor league options left, and non-roster lefty Alex Torres isn’t as effective against left-handed batters as he is against right-handers. They should represent good depth in the minors, with McKirahan probably having the best shot of the three to make the opening day roster. SLEEPER ALERT: Hunter Cervenka is another non-roster lefty whom the Braves signed out of Indy ball in the middle of last year. He put up terrific numbers at Gwinnett after he signed, and if that dominance continues this spring he could finally get a chance in the majors.

Alexi Ogando is another non-roster reliever, and one we should watch very closely. He’s a former All-Star who was dominant in both the rotation and bullpen for a few years with Texas until shoulder problems derailed him in 2013. His velocity crept back up last year with Boston.

Below are the rest of the guys in camp, and while there is some talent in this group, they are not likely to be around the Major League camp in the final weeks of spring. That being said, I may move one or two of these guys up if they have a great spring or there is some buzz about them in the press.

icon-axAxed from rotation consideration for now: John Gant, Chris Ellis, Sean Newcomb, and Lucas Sims are all great prosepcts who we will eventually see in Atlanta, just not to open this season.

Madison Younginer is a non-roster invitee who just last year reached double-A, then triple-A, but in doing so had better results than he had ever had. He’s likely triple-A depth, but could be a nice find by the Braves.

Axed from bullpen consideration for now: Shae Simmons is a year removed from Tommy John surgery, but the Braves will likely bring him along slowly and give him some innings in the minors before putting him into a bullpen role in Atlanta.

Mauricio Cabrera and his 100 mph heat will get talked about this spring, but ultimately his control is not yet ready for prime time.

Ryan Kelly was very impressive at triple-A last year, but couldn’t translate that success to the majors. I don’t see him as an option to start the season in Atlanta right now.

The hitters MTM will be up at the end of the week.

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Braves trade Christian Bethancourt to Padres

The Atlanta Braves rebuild continued last week as they shipped one-time-prospect catcher Christian Bethancourt to the Padres for one-time right-handed pitching prospect Casey Kelly and catching prospect Ricardo Rodriguez. It was rumored for a while that Atlanta wanted to move on from Bethancourt, and when the team brought back veteran catcher A.J. Pierzynski several weeks ago, then signed another veteran catcher in Tyler Flowers last week, it was clear the young Bethancourt was soon to be dealt.

cbethancourtThe Braves didn’t seem to have much patience with Bethancourt this season, with indications coming from the beat writers and announcers that the team wasn’t happy with his defense and game calling. Of course, they also weren’t happy with his anemic hitting, as he posted a slash line of .200/.225/.290 in 48 games. It should be noted that 48 games isn’t much time to make an impression or get totally comfortable in the majors, especially when he never started three days in a row during the first two months of the season. With more consistent playing time, Bethancourt hit .327/.359/.480 after he was sent down to triple-A.

A supposedly rebuilding Braves club didn’t seem to have much of a desire to play the 23-year-old Bethancourt after he was recalled late in the year, preferring instead to play the 38-year-old Pierzynski. Either because of that or simply because his bat still hadn’t caught up to major league pitching, Bethancourt reverted to his poor offensive numbers, slashing .204/.232/.296 after getting called back up in late August.

Bethancourt will be just 24 years old next season, and has only started 72 major league games across parts of two seasons. The modus operandi for him throughout his minor league career was that he initially struggled at each new level, but was able to succeed at that level in his second full season go-around. With that in mind, and some regular playing time, Bethancourt might be able to catch up to major league pitching in the next year. So it’s strange that with a rebuilding year planned for the Braves in 2016 they don’t seem to want any part of trying to develop a catcher.

The answer to that question may lie in Bethancourt’s defense more than his offense. His throwing arm was always his plus-plus defensive tool, but the rest of his defensive game was generally considered pretty poor and a work in progress. The biggest knocks on his catching game seem to be in his pitch framing and game calling. There were games this season when he and Julio Teheran were simply not on the same page, and as an observer watching on TV it was quite obvious — something pretty rare to see in the major leagues. Clearly the Braves don’t believe that he can improve upon those skills, and so they chose to move on.

It should also be mentioned that when trying to develop a young pitching staff it’s important to have a catcher who is good at calling games and framing pitches in order to get his pitcher that extra bit of advantage. Pierzynski and Flowers are two catchers who are really good at both of those things. So from the standpoint of building a team through pitching, as the Braves are doing, having a competent catcher is a must.

ckellyIn considering both the positive and negative aspects of Bethancourt’s game as I described them, Atlanta seems to have done pretty well with their return in this trade. Casey Kelly was a huge pitching prospect, ranking among the top-100 prospects for four years from 2010 to 2013. He was also one of the main prospects traded to San Diego in the 2010 Adrian Gonzalez trade with the Red Sox. Everything seemed to be on track for him to be an important part of the Padres rotation until ye olde elbow ligament went bad in the spring of 2013, and he had to have Tommy John surgery.

It’s been a really long recovery for Kelly, who went all the way down to double-A this year to try and figure things out. He made it back to the majors this year for three games (two of them starts) at the end of the season. I like this acquisition by Atlanta. Sure, he’s potentially damaged goods, but if he can regain that top-100 talent he showed before the injury, then they found a mid-rotation starter. Kelly also has options left, so he can compete for a job in spring training, but spend the year at triple-A if he doesn’t make the opening day roster. He also performed pretty well as a reliever this year.

The final piece in this deal is catcher Ricardo Rodriguez. He was one of the top-30 international prospects when he signed with the Padres in 2014 for $800,000 out of Venezuela. Described as a defense-first, bat-later backstop, he doesn’t have any standout tool behind the plate, but is athletic and does everything well at a young age. Many scouts seem to believe that his bat is the biggest question mark, with many wondering if he’ll ever hit enough to be more than a backup.

Therefore it was an odd debut last year for Rodriguez, who split time between the Dominican League and the Padres complex ball rookie league. He hit better than expected, slashing .266/.336/.376, but made eight errors in just 25 games behind the plate. He’s still very young, and very raw in all facets of the game, but his skill set shows a solid foundation for an above average catching prospect. I expect he’ll start the year with one of the Braves rookie league teams, as the organization takes a slow and methodical approach to his development.

He does rank among the top-35 Braves prospects for me, based on bonus received and scouting reports. He slots in at No. 26, and will be the highest ranked catcher in a system now completely barren of catching prospects at the upper levels.

Overall this was a decent trade for the Braves. While they may have given up on Bethancourt too soon, it was pretty obvious last year that he wasn’t in their plans. Despite his poor performances they still managed to wrangle a solid catching prospect from San Diego, albeit one who is a long ways away, and a decent gamble on the once highly thought of Kelly.

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Braves acquire Swanson, Blair and Inciarte from Diamondbacks for Shelby Miller

The Atlanta Braves pulled off another blockbuster trade on day two of the Baseball Winter Meetings. They sent starting pitcher Shelby Miller and reliever Gabe Speier to the Arizona Diamondbacks in exchange for shortstop prospect Dansby Swanson, right-handed pitching prospect Aaron Blair, and outfielder Ender Inciarte.

dwansonFor weeks the rumors of a Miller trade were everywhere on the internet, and the reports were that the Braves were holding out for a huge return. Boy did they ever get a huge return in this trade. Starting with Swanson, who was the number-1 overall pick in this year’s draft out of Vanderbilt. Blair was a first round pick in the 2013 draft, and is now one of the top-100 prospects in baseball. And Inciarte is no slouch, establishing himself as a solid all-around center fielder the past two years.

The inclusion of Swanson is simply amazing. Not only because he was this year’s first overall pick in the draft (the earliest a first round pick has ever been traded, thanks to new MLB rules), or because he’s considered one of the top-10 prospects in baseball, but because he’s a kid from Marietta, who will likely be ready to see the majors when the Braves open their new park in Cobb County in 2017. He instantly becomes the Braves top prospect, and the talk of the farm system next year. He should start his 2016 campaign at high-A Carolina, and should see double-A Mississippi by mid-year. That sets him up to start at triple-A in 2017, with a mid-year promotion to the majors. Of course, if some reports about how good his hit tool is are true, then he could be ready even sooner.

ablairAfter all the pitching prospects Atlanta has acquired in the past year, they finally get a top-flight bat. Of course, they also got a really good pitching prospect in this deal, Aaron Blair. He was a collegiate arm drafted in 2013 at No. 36 overall, who ascended to triple-A this season. He could follow a similar path next year to the one that Sean Newcomb will follow — starting the season in triple-A, then moving to the majors mid-year. He throws a mid-to-low-90s fastball with heavy sink that gets a lot of ground balls. He compliments that with a plus change and plus curve, as well as a developing slider. Blair likely slots in as the No. 5 prospect for the Braves, behind Ozhaino Albies on my top-35 prospect list.

The major league return for the Braves in this trade, Ender Inciarte, is not just a throw-in. He has played all three outfield positions the past two years in the majors, but should slot in at center field for the Braves, pushing Michael Bourn to a backup role. At the plate the left-hander makes solid contact, and mainly hit leadoff for Arizona last year, slashing .304/.340/.421 when batting first. He has some speed, but could stand to get better at the craft of stealing bases. He likely becomes the leadoff hitter in the Atlanta lineup next year.

The Braves do give up a big top-of-the-rotation starting pitcher in Shelby Miller, but with so many pitching prospects in the Atlanta system, he should be replaced by the time the team is ready to contend. Heck, in two or three years, Blair could be as good as Miller. Yes, Miller will be missed in the rotation, but as the Braves have clearly stated they are rebuilding, and the opportunity to get this many top prospects in return for him as well as a starting center fielder is too good to pass up.

einciarteSpeier is a minor relief prospect the Braves acquired from the Tigers last month in the Cameron Maybin trade.

This trade is a huge win for the Braves… if not an absolute steal! In the past year Atlanta has pillaged the Diamondbacks’ farm system, acquiring three first round picks (Swanson 2015, Touki Toussaint 2014, Blair 2013) as well as the No. 75 overall pick in this year’s draft. I wonder if Arizona needs anything else.

Of all the trades the Braves have made since the end of the 2014 season, this might be the best of the bunch. This trade should also go a long way towards helping repair the rocky start that General Manager John Coppolella got off to this offseason when he traded fan favorite Andrelton Simmons. Getting such high-value prospects in this Miller deal, plus such a highly-touted local kid in Swanson, will make for great headlines even while dealing away an established player.

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Braves acquire Jose Ramirez from Mariners

The Atlanta Braves acquired what seems like a minor bullpen piece today when they received right-handed reliever Jose Ramirez from the Seattle Mariners for a player to be named later and cash considerations.

Atlanta was attracted by the power arm of Ramirez, whose fastball sits in the mid-90s, and even tickles 100 mph at times. He compliments that with a plus changeup that can act like a split. He also throws a slider, but has not had consistent success with that pitch, and it’s lack of development is what pushed Ramirez from the rotation to the bullpen.

jramirezWhile he has a great fastball/changeup combination that profiles him as a dominant late innings reliever, his control has been suspect due to a long whip-like arm action that can be difficult to repeat. Guys like this sometimes take a long time to develop (if they ever develop), so clearly the Braves are hoping that they can somehow jump-start his seemingly stunted ascent to a permanent bullpen role in the majors. They must believe that he has either figured out his control problems, or that they can correct those problems once he begins working with their coaches.

He was originally a Yankees prospect, and as such was very familiar to some members of the Braves front office who used to work in that organization. He was dealt to the Mariners at this year’s trade deadline for Dustin Ackley. In today’s trade, the Braves now owe Seattle a player to be named, so far there are no rumors as to who that might be.

Some media outlets are reporting that Ramirez is out of minor league options, meaning he would need to make the team this spring or risk being lost. But because he’s had several injuries the past few years (including an oblique injury), an option may have been saved.

Ramirez has appeared on Yankees prospect lists for Baseball America dating back to 2009, soaring as high as No. 13 last year. He was also said to have the best fastball in the Yankees system for several of those years. He has some major league experience, though those numbers in limited innings look terrible due to nearly a walk per inning. His free pass numbers in the minors in recent years also don’t paint a pretty picture. At 25-years-old he still seems to be a work in progress, which is not always a good sign for a prospect.

In considering where to rank him on my Braves 2016 top-35 prospects list, my gut tells me to put him close to Mauricio Cabrera, another hard-throwing reliever with control problems who used to be a starter. While Ramirez is at a higher level than Cabrera, he’s also three years older, though he’s been better than Cabrera at every level, so I’m inclined to rank him higher. Therefore, I’m going to insert Ramirez at No. 26 on the top prospect list, moving Cabrera (and everyone below him) down a spot.

The Braves bullpen is starting to fill out for 2016, here’s what it looks like so far:

Probable and on the 40-man roster (4): Arodys Vizcaino, Jim Johnson, Daniel Winkler, Chris Withrow

On 40-man and in competition (6): Ian Krol, Danny Burawa, Brandon Cunniff, Matt Marksberry, Andrew McKirahan, Jose Ramirez

On 40-man, but not likely options (3): Mauricio Cabrera, Jason Grilli, Shae Simmons

Non-roster invitees to spring training (2): OG David Carpenter, Madison Younginer

There’s no guarantee Grilli or Simmons will be ready by opening day. This list also doesn’t take into account any pitchers that might drop from the starting rotation into the bullpen like Manny Banuelos or Mike Foltynewicz.

The baseball Winter Meetings start Sunday night, so we’ll see if the Braves make any more moves to add to this bullpen mix.

I’ll have to see who the player to be named later is that the Braves will give up for Ramirez to pass final judgement on this trade, but at this time it looks like a solid low-cost, low-risk deal for a live arm with decent upside.

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Braves 2016 Top-35 Prospects

It’s Atlanta Braves top prospect time, and boy oh boy is the system loaded with talent… after all it should be loaded with talent, having dealt away all the major league talent to acquire this prospect talent. Of the 35 prospects listed, 15 were acquired from other organizations in the past year, and 8 were added via the draft and international signings.

The system is a little bottom heavy, though there are a handful of players who should become major contributors in Atlanta in 2016. The system is also very deep, which is why I chose to list 35 prospects this year as opposed to the normal 30. The previous prospect list (2015 mid-season) can be found here.

I’m presenting the prospects both ranked in order from 1 to 35, and in groups based on letter grades. Hopefully this will give you a better idea of what I think of a prospect even though they may be ranked higher or lower than you would expect. I also find this helpful in establishing the different levels of talent throughout the system.

Grade A+: This grade of a prospect is, and should be a rare grade. It represents a prospect who could one day be a superstar and a franchise cornerstones.

1. Dansby Swanson, SS (Low-A) — Recently acquired
dwanson1Possibly the biggest prospect the Braves have ever acquired from another club, having come over from the Diamondbacks in the Shelby Miller trade. Swanson was the first overall pick in the 2015 draft out of Vanderbilt, and went to high school in Marietta, Georgia. In so many ways he’s the perfect fit for the Braves and their impending move to Cobb County, as the team hopes he will become one of the leaders on the team, while representing a local boy who made it big — like a return to the popular days of Francoeur and McCann. As for Dansby the baseball player, he’s a good one, who could be a great one. He projects to hit for a high average at the top of the batting order, while producing good power to the gaps and eventually hitting around 10 to 15 home runs a year. He’s a plus runner who should steal plenty of bases, and that speed also allows him to maintain plus range at shortstop, where he plays smooth and fluid defense with a plus throwing arm. One comp that has been thrown out there for him by some scouts is Derek Jeter with better defense. Swanson will likely start the year at high-A Carolina, but should move quickly to double-A. He will likely be ready at some point during the 2017 season, if not sooner. [Inserted into top prospect list after trade, pushing all other prospects below him down a spot.]

Grade A: These are prospects who I believe will be first division players, and occasional All-Stars, while filling valuable roles on the team.

2. Sean Newcomb, LHP (AA, A+, A-) — Recently acquired
snewcombAcquired as the principle prospect in the Andrelton Simmons trade, Newcomb has the makings of a front of the rotation starting pitcher. He has a big frame that can handle the workload of a power pitcher. His fastball sits in the mid-90s, reaching higher, and is his only offering that grades as plus right now. His breaking ball and change flash plus at times, but they are inconsistent and he has a hard time repeating his delivery with them. The development of those pitches and his ability to consistently throw them effectively will match his ceiling. If he can master those pitches then he’s a one or two in the rotation. If he struggles to command his offspeed stuff, then he ends up a tweener or pushed to the bullpen (like Folty). He probably starts next year back in double-A with an eye towards a quick promotion to triple-A with any sign of success.

3. Austin Riley, 3B (R+, R-) — Previously unranked
I was cautious with Riley in my mid-year rankings after he was drafted. While the draft reports on him were that he was a late comer and a two-way player who many teams liked as a pitcher, the Braves felt strongly enough about his bat to draft him higher than many prospect outlets had him ranked. So far the Braves are looking like geniuses, as Riley had the best pro debut of anyone in their 2015 draft class. His power is said to be legit, and while he will strike out, it’s not because he’s chasing bad pitches but because he’s taking aggressive swings in the zone. That good knowledge of the strike zone should also allow Riley to hit for a good average. Said to have a strong enough arm for the hot corner, his average range may push him to first base. He should start 2016 as part of a stacked Rome team of talented teenagers — which should be the most exciting team for the Braves at that level in nearly a decade.

4. Ozhaino Albies, SS (Low-A) — Previous rank: 2
oalbies2It’s no secret that one of the biggest reasons the Braves were comfortable trading Andrelton Simmons (and Jose Peraza) was the presence of Ozzie Albies. Like Simba, Albies is from Curacao, and also possesses that natural instinct at shortstop that gives him an extra step on the ball. He has a strong arm and grades as plus on defense across the board (although not as high as Simmons, who is on another plane of existence). At the plate Albies has good bat control and a quick swing, but it is geared towards making contact and line drive power not over-the-fence power. As such, Albies will likely never hit many home runs. His speed on the bases is also a factor, and when coupled with his ability to make solid contact that should make him a table-setter in any major league batting order. He’s slated to start the year at high-A Carolina, but I wouldn’t be surprised if the Braves pushed him to Mississippi with an eye towards taking over in Atlanta mid-year. Albies is one of those players who could make a Furcal-like jump from the low minors to the majors.

5. Aaron Blair, RHP (AAA, AA) — Recently acquired
ablairPerhaps the forgotten player acquired in the Winter Meetings trade with Arizona, Blair should not be overlooked. He was drafted No. 36 overall by the Diamondbacks, five spots after Atlanta selected Jason Hursh. While Hursh flamed out as a starter in double-A and fell to the bullpen, Blair kept going strong in double-A, and on into triple-A while staying in the rotation. Like Hursh, Blair also features a sinking fastball as his main weapon, but that’s where the similarities end. Blair gets a lot more swings and misses, not only from his sinker, but also from a plus changeup and a potential plus curveball. He also has a developing slider, a pitch that if developed into a consistent weapon, would give him a commanding four-pitch arsenal. He is currently projected to have the floor of a mid-rotation starter, and if his offspeed offerings continue to develop, he could project as a number-2 starter. One of the best comps for him may actually be Shelby Miller. Blair likely starts the year at triple-A, with an eye towards competing with Newcomb to see who gets called up to the majors first. [Inserted into top prospect list after trade, pushing all other prospects below him down a spot.]

Grade A-: The next group of prospects I grade as possible first division players who will all play important starting roles in the majors.

6. Lucas Sims, RHP (AFL, AA, A+) — Previous rank: 9
lsims4No other prospect has been reassessed by me in the past year more than Sims. Before the new regime tear-down began Sims was the number-one prospect. It wasn’t until Matt Wisler arrived in the organization that Sims lost the top spot in my eyes. That was changed in the mid-season list, as Sims dropped to ninth after a bad start. All along there have been widely varying scouting reports, with some claiming Sims is a mid-to-top of the rotation arm, while others insist he is merely a back of the rotation prospect. Even now when scouting reports claim that Sims’ fastball was lively, others that have seen him will jump in and claim otherwise. What we do know about Sims is that when he’s on, he’s one of the best, with a mid-90s fastball, an unhittable curve and a respectable change. While he’s lessened his inconsistencies, they still show up, and when he’s off he’s quite hittable. Yet still, I list him here above three other highly valued arms because among this group he’s the closest to ironing out those inconsistencies and being that mid-rotation (or better) force he’s been projected to be. He will likely start the year in Mississippi, eyeing a mid-year promotion to Gwinnett. If things go really well, he might see Atlanta in 2016.

7. Kolby Allard, LHP (R-) — Previous rank: 11
kallardAdmittedly I was higher on Allard before news of his recent back surgery came to light (first reported by me). Ranking him here is no slight against his skills, but it does take into account the huge injury risk that is still unresolved. While the Braves dismissed the surgery as a “minor back procedure,” I had more than one scout tell me that there’s no such thing, especially with a young pitcher. But the whole reason Allard was around on the draft when the Braves first picked at 14 was because of the red flags about his back. With that risk also comes significant upside. Allard has a plus curve and plus fastball that sits in the mid-90s. His change needs work, but his command is good across the board. His small sample size in the GCL was tantalizing, though where he will start next season depends on his health. If he’s healthy in the spring, he’ll start at Rome, though there’s every reason for the Braves not to rush him.

8. Touki Toussaint, RHP (Low-A) — Previous rank: 3
ttoussaint2Much like how evaluators are split on Sims’ future, they are also split on Touki’s future. Toussaint has battled inconsistency in his outings mainly because of an inability to repeat his delivery — common with young pitchers, especially those with limited experience like him. His raw stuff though is some of the best in the system, with both a curveball and fastball that grade as plus on his good days. His change is far behind his other pitches, as Arizona didn’t allow him to throw the pitch when he was in their system. The Braves began adding it back to his repertoire, and that led to even more inconsistency and poor results at Rome. Because of that pitch in progress it’s best to take his poor stats at Rome with a grain of salt. More than anything he needs innings, so I expect to see him back at Rome next year.

9. Max Fried, LHP (Did not pitch) — Previous rank: 4
mfried2The highest overall pick of any prospect on this list (before Swanson was acquired), Fried was taken No. 7 overall in 2012 out of high school, where he was a teammate of the No. 16 overall pick, Lucas Giolito, a Nationals prospect and widely considered one of the top pitching prospects in the game. Even before Fried had to go under the knife for Tommy John surgery in 2014, his star didn’t seem to be burning as bright as his former teammate, as his changeup had not progressed at the same rate. Before the surgery Fried had a plus-plus curve and a plus fastball in the low-90s, with most scouts believing he would grow into more velocity. We’ll have to see how the Braves ease him into the season, and how many innings they let him throw. My guess is that they’ll start him out by letting him pitch out of the bullpen, slowly lengthening his outings, then tapering them off in the second half. He should be a very exciting prospect to watch this year with the raw talent he possesses.

Grade B+: These players grade as solid above average players with the potential to be much more.

10. Mallex Smith, OF (AAA, AA) — Previous rank: 10
msmith2No prospect acquired since the end of the 2014 season has improved their stock in a Braves uniform more than Mallex. Considered by many to be the fourth-best prospect in the Justin Upton trade, I ranked Mallex No. 20 before last season, then No. 10 at mid-year. Mallex is a late bloomer as a prospect. Always known to have plus-plus speed, some scouts were undecided on Smith’s ability to hit at the higher levels. His 2015 campaign should have put all of those concerns to rest, as he slashed .340/.418/.413 at Mississippi before getting promoted to Gwinnett. He struggled at first to adjust to triple-A, which brought the doubters out for a minute, before Smith silenced them again by slashing .325/.394/.414 in his final 39 games. He has game-changing speed on the bases, and is focused on getting on base via bunts and walks so that he can use that speed. With the trade of Cameron Maybin, Smith is queued up to take over center field in Atlanta at some point in 2016, with Michael Bourn (who had a similar prospect trajectory) serving as his mentor.

11. Braxton Davidson, OF (Low-A) — Previous rank: 8
bdavidsonWith perhaps some of the best strike zone judgement in the organization, Davidson tries to make the most of every at-bat, and is considered by many to be a tough out. Of course, other evaluators believe that he gives away too many at-bats by being too selective and not aggressive enough. He seemed to get stuck in one of those ruts of being overly-selective towards the end of the season, these ruts also seem to sap his extra-base power. At some point a coach is going to get in Braxton’s ear and tell him to be more aggressive, and he likely won’t have a breakout season or move up the prospect rankings until that happens. While some may point to his high strikeout rate as a sign that he shouldn’t be more aggressive, his patience and selectivity led to him strikeout looking more than swinging and missing. He should be ticketed for Carolina in 2016.

12. Mike Soroka, RHP (R+, R-) — Previous rank: 17
Because Allard was the team’s first pick (at No. 14 overall) this year, it’s easy to forget that Soroka (at No. 28 overall) would have been the highest first round pick that the Braves have had since they selected Sims at No. 21 in 2012. Soroka was a late bloomer in high school, and is still adding velocity to his fastball. His calling card on the mound has been his command and control of three average pitches that can flash plus at times. That command was on display in his early work in the rookie leagues, as he posted a combined strikeout-to-walk ratio of 37-to-5 in 34 innings between Orlando and Danville. He should start 2016 at Rome, and looks like a mid-rotation workhorse of a starter, with a chance to be more.

13. Derian Cruz, SS (Has not debuted yet) — Previous rank: 12
The Braves biggest international signing in 2015, the Dominican switch-hitter inked a contract worth $2 million, with the Braves trading a number of other prospects for additional cap space (read more). That’s the highest bonus the Braves have ever given an international signing. Cruz is an athlete and a runner, and with near-80 speed (on the 20-80 scouting scale) he has a chance to be better than Mallex or Albies on the base paths. While he hasn’t played a professional game yet, he gets this high a ranking based on scouting reports, signing bonus and the players dealt to create the room to sign him (as well as two more 2015 international signings on this list). We should see Cruz start in the GCL next year, as has been the case with the other high-profile international bats the Braves have signed.

14. Tyrell Jenkins, RHP (AAA, AA) — Previous rank: 7
tjenkinsThe first new prospect acquired last year at the beginning of the rebuild. Jenkins is still somewhat of an unknown quantity, but he rebounded well last year from shoulder surgery to throw 138 innings between Mississippi and Gwinnett. He put up good numbers at both stops, but gets knocks for not striking out enough batters to be considered top of the rotation material. He still has trouble finding a consistent release point at times, and he could stand to add more velocity to complement his plus curve and solid change. Ultimately he might become a No. 2 starter, but he looks more like a solid mid-rotation workhorse. Jenkins should start the year back at Gwinnett, but should see Atlanta at some point in 2016.

Grade B: With these prospects, the potential is there for a higher grade, all they need are experience and reps, but there is less certainty that they will emerge as impact players.

15. Manny Banuelos, LHP (MLB, AAA) — Previous rank: 5
mbanuelos2The results for ManBan in 2015 were mixed. Minor league observers had his velocity back into the 90s, though he rarely reached that high during his brief stints in the majors. He encountered some tenderness in his elbow mid-season that caused the Braves to shut him down for most of August. He returned only briefly before being shut down for the season after having a bone spur removed from his elbow in late September. That was likely the cause for the poor velocity.  When he was healthy he showed great control and good separation on his fastball and breaking ball — something that should get even better if he can regain more velocity. He’s expected to be ready for spring training and compete for a spot in the Atlanta rotation to open 2016.

16. Chris Ellis, RHP (AA, A+) — Recently acquired
A big-bodied hard-thrower, he was the second of two prospects the Braves received in the Simmons trade. Ellis has the makings of a mid-rotation workhorse. His fastball sits in the low-90s, and he compliments that with a solid change and a decent curve. He’s thrown a slider off and on throughout his career, but it’s unknown if that’s still a part of his repertoire. Ellis reached double-A last year, and will likely start there again. Walks are a cause for concern, and he’ll need to sort out what’s causing those if he is to stay in the rotation. At worst he probably ends up as a setup man out of the bullpen.

17. Juan Yepez, 1B/3B (R+, R-) — Previous rank: 25
Last year’s top international signing for Atlanta, the Venezuelan right-hander received a $1 million bonus. International scouts were mixed on his ability, but Yepez silenced many of their concerns about his bat while slashing .299/.364/.458 (.822 OPS) between both rookie ball leagues. The remaining question though is where he’ll end up in the field. The Braves seemed determined to put him at first base this year, even though he was signed as a third baseman. He struggled defensively which may have led to scouts not being as excited about him, and a move to first puts more pressure on his bat to add over the fence power. Still, as a 17-year-old getting his first taste of professional baseball, he was impressive — and in my book his stats live up to the signing bonus he got last year. Every pitcher he faced was older than him, and that trend should continue next season when he hopefully starts the year at Rome.

18. John Gant, RHP (AA, A+) — Recently acquired
jgantOne of the arms the Braves got in a mid-season trade with the Mets, Gant opened a lot of eyes with his great finish at Mississippi after the trade. A mechanical change he made just before the Braves acquired him has led to a steady improvement in velocity into the low-to-mid-90s. He already had good command and a plus changeup, so the added velocity is what led to such good results late in the season. Already considered a mid-to-back of the rotation guy with good command and a consistently low walk rate, he now projects as a mid-rotation arm. I’m still maintaining a bit of skepticism that these new results will last, since it’s hard to believe the Mets would trade a pitcher like that for two rental players. With a good spring training, Gant should find himself starting at triple-A, with an eye towards a mid-year call-up if all continues to go well.

19. Rio Ruiz, 3B (AA) — Previous rank: 15
Here’s a guy who can be found up and down prospect lists. A lot has to do with the day you see him or what you choose to ignore in his stats. The folks that like him will point to his strong finish to the season, saying that he was finally catching up to double-A — an advanced level for a 21-year-old. His detractors will point to his power numbers prior to this year as mediocre for the hitters’ leagues he was playing in, and how that lack of power reared its head in Mississippi. He’ll probably need to repeat double-A to start the season, and from there we’ll have a better idea if the late-season adjustments he made have paid off.

20. Dustin Peterson, OF (High-A) — Previous rank: 13
dpeterson2I was bullish on Peterson when the Braves acquired him last offseason. I still see him as a late bloomer who could improve as he moves up the ladder. He was showing signs of a breakout year, hitting .314/.392/.448 at the time of the Mudcats’ bus crash in mid-May. He missed a few weeks and struggled upon returning to the field. There are some who aren’t sold on Peterson’s hitting ability, but he showed great strides in 2015, lowering his strikeout rate and greatly increasing his walk rate. I’ll give him a mulligan on his decrease in power due to the bus crash, but he does slide down the prospect list some due to his move from third base to the outfield. We’ll see how he handles Mississippi next year, but his improved approach at the plate this year bodes well for his ascent to the high minors.

21. Cristian Pache, OF (Has not debuted yet) — Previous rank: 18
Signed for $1.4 million, he was the team’s second huge international bonus player this year. Like Cruz, Pache is out of the Dominican Republic, and is also a good athlete with plus speed. Pache is considered a plus defender in center field, with great range and a solid arm. At the plate he shows good bat control, albeit with a stroke that’s described as funky. Look for the Braves to keep him and Cruz together to begin their career, with both likely starting their professional careers stateside in the GCL.

Grade B-: With these prospects, the potential is there for a higher grade, all they need are experience and reps, but there is even less certainty that they will emerge as impact players.

22. Ricardo Sanchez, LHP (Low-A) — Previous rank: 16
rsanchezHe’s still a bit of an enigma for me. The Braves folks obviously love him, as they traded a third baseman who was close to the majors for him last year, and he continues to flutter around the top-10 of many lists. He certainly has a terrific curve and a good change, but his fastball is inconsistent in both velocity and location. He’s a smaller pitcher, so unless he grows a little more and bulks up there will be some questions about his ability to stay in the rotation. The Braves pushed him to open the season at Rome, which may have been a bit aggressive. While he didn’t face a batter younger than his 18 years of age, he showed his youth in games, letting his emotions get the better of him a few times. He needs to mature both physically and mentally, and will probably be back at Rome this year, though it wouldn’t surprise me to see them hold him back for Danville.

23. Isranel Wilson, OF (R-) — Previously unranked
A native of St. Thomas, who trained in the Dominican, Wilson was signed for $350,000 in 2014. He sports five tool potential, with power being the standout tool, though some believe he’s more of an all-or-nothing swinger. He’s new to playing the outfield, having moved off shortstop, but has the arm and range to play center field. He got off to a bad start in the GCL this year, but made steady improvement as the season progressed. That progress matches reports that his quick bat and plus athleticism will help him make adjustments and correct the holes in his swing. The Braves moved him slower than some of the other big international signings who made their debuts in 2015, and it will be interesting to see if they start him in Danville or Rome in 2016.

24. Ronald Acuna, OF (R+, R-) — Previously unranked
Another good interntational find out of Venezuela in 2014, Acuna has both plus speed and power, and showed both as he progressed from the GCL to the Appy League. He’s a quick-twitch athlete who at just 17-years-old is likely not done filling out his frame. It’s easy to dream on the well-rounded tools here, and posting a .269/.380/.438 slash line during his first taste of professional ball bodes well for the future. Acuna will probably start with Rome next year.

25. Zach Bird, RHP (AA, A+) — Recently acquired
zbirdAcquired from the Dodgers in the Hector Olivera trade, Bird was considered a project when he was selected in the ninth round out of high school. He has a loose arm and has gained velocity over the past two years, and now sits in the mid-90s, while touching 99 mph. His offspeed stuff needs a lot of work, though his slider shows good promise. The lack of refinement in those pitches leads to an extremely high walk rate. He’ll need to show progress with his secondary offerings in order to remain a starter, otherwise he likely ends up being a late-innings reliever where his top-end velocity will play up. The Braves will probably put him back at double-A to start 2016.

26. Ricardo Rodriguez, C (R-) — Recently acquired
The only prospect acquired in the Christian Bethancourt trade with the Padres, Rodriguez was San Diego’s top international signing in 2014, agreeing to an $800,000 bonus out of Venezuela. The squat 5-foot-10 backstop is said to have good overall catching skills in an athletic body, without one standout tool. While his catch-and-throw skills are raw, he’s considered very coachable and should show steady improvement in a Braves system known for developing catchers. His bat displays some good power, though it was believed that he may not hit for a high average. All of these assessments were of a 16 year old prospect, who debuted last year in the Dominican Summer League at age 17, before getting a short cup of coffee in stateside rookie ball. He will likely continue his sojourn through rookie ball next year as the Braves hope to develop both his bat and his glove. [Inserted into top prospect list after trade, pushing all other prospects below him down a spot.]

27. Juan Morales, SS (Has not debuted yet) — Previously unranked
The less-heralded of this year’s trio of international signings, Morales is less refined than either Cruz or Pache. The Venezuelan shortstop is also less well known than the other two, and while they received million-plus bonuses, Morales received $450,000. That’s still a hefty sum compared to many of the bonuses paid by the Braves in recent years. He’s said to have good hitting ability that should develop some power, as well as a strong arm that has a good chance to stick at shortstop. He too likely starts next year in the GCL.

Grade C+: This group of prospects also has the potential to be more, but are currently just fringe guys based on experience and/or lack of refinement.

28. Jason Hursh, RHP (AAA, AA) — Previous rank: 19
No prospect had a more disappointing fall in 2015 than Hursh. The Braves inexplicably had him repeat double-A to start the season, and he didn’t take it well, getting lit up for almost a month. The Braves pushed him to the bullpen in July, and he did well enough there to finally warrant a promotion to triple-A. It’s hard to say if his struggles to start 2015 were mechanical, or mental (after the disappointment of finding himself back in Mississippi). He got beat up some in the Gwinnett bullpen, but he showed increased velocity in one-inning stints, with his fastball sitting in the mid-90s, reaching 99 mph. He may not return to the rotation, but could become a solid force in the bullpen for Atlanta in 2016.

29. Juan Ramirez, RHP (MLB, AAA) — Recently acquired
jramirezAcquired from the Mariners in early December, Atlanta was attracted by the power arm of Ramirez, whose fastball sits in the mid-90s, and even tickles 100 mph at times. He compliments that with a plus changeup that can act like a split. He also throws a slider, but has not had consistent success with that pitch, and it’s lack of development is what pushed Ramirez from the rotation to the bullpen. While he has a great fastball/changeup combination that profiles him as a dominant late innings reliever, his control has been suspect due to a long whip-like arm action that can be difficult to repeat. Guys like this sometimes take a long time to develop (if they ever develop), so clearly the Braves are hoping that they can somehow jump-start his seemingly stunted ascent to a permanent bullpen role in the majors. They must believe that he has either figured out his control problems, or that they can correct those problems once he begins working with their coaches. [Inserted into top prospect list after trade, pushing all other prospects below him down a spot.]

30. Mauricio Cabrera, RHP (AFL, AA, A+) — Previously unranked
mcabreraNo pitcher in the Braves organization throws harder than Cabrera. Unfortunately he struggles mightily to throw it over the plate. His move to the bullpen seems permanent, but if he can clean up his control and get more consistent with his slurve, he could be a strong force at the end of games. His fastball sits in the high-90s, and tantalizingly reaches 104 mph. That’s an exciting number for a prospect, but there have been many before him with that kind of heat who were never able to aim it consistently. He likely starts in Mississippi this year, and if he shows improved control he’ll be in Atlanta.

31. Rob Whalen, RHP (High-A) — Recently acquired
Along with Gant, Whalen was the other member of the mid-season trade with the Mets. Whereas Gant brought some velocity, Whalen is more of a classic control and deception pitcher. He has four pitches that he can command, but his fastball and curve are the best, and feature the most deception. His profile reminds me of Cody Martin, and like Martin I expect Whalen to have trouble getting left-handers out and to eventually be pushed to middle relief in the bullpen. However, that’s likely his floor, and there’s still plenty of opportunity for him to exceed that projection. Especially if, like Gant, he finds some additional velocity. I actually like this approach by both of these guys — work on command and control first, then add velocity later. That’s the approach that Chasen Shreve used with great success. Expect Whalen to start the year at double-A.

32. Andrew Thurman, RHP (AFL, AA, A+) — Previous rank: 20
athurmanThe third prospect in the Gattis trade, he was a second-rounder in 2013 out of UC Irvine. Since then scouts have thought Thurman would move quickly through the minor leagues, but that just hasn’t happened yet. He has a decent four-pitch mix that lead some to believe he could develop into a mid-to-back of the rotation starter. Since being drafted he’s struggled with his mechanics, which shows up in the inconsistencies from one start to the next. He was another player who lost a lot of time after the Carolina bus crash, as he was showing signs of figuring some things out before that happened. He’ll likely be back at Mississippi to start 2016, though the Braves may shift him to the pen.

Grade C: These prospects have a tool or two that could be useful in the majors, or they need more time in the minors to determine what kind of prospect they will be; a.k.a. the holding tank of talent.

33. Lucas Herbert, C (R-) — Previous rank: 22
lherbertThis could be a big under-rank of Herbert, who was drafted No. 54 overall this year. He tore his meniscus in his third game after getting drafted, and there are some concerns about catchers with that particular injury. Herbert is athletic enough that he should be able to bounce back. He was considered the best defensive catcher in the 2015 draft class, and some reports indicated that his bat wasn’t a slouch either. We need to see him healthy and on the field next year before we can fully judge his future, but he has a chance to be the best true catcher the Braves have drafted since McCann. If healthy he likely starts the year at Rome.

34. Leudys Baez, OF (A-, R+) — Previously unranked
Another late 2014 international signing, the 19-year-old Dominican signed for $400,000, after his 2013 contract with the Nationals was voided over a reported discrepancy with his age (that actually never was proven). The switch-hitter is said to have a good approach from both sides of the plate, and should hit for both average and power. He started off the season hot in Danville, but fizzled late in the season after a promotion to Rome. He’s good defensively with a plus outfield arm. Because he’s a bit older he doesn’t get as much praise as some of the younger international players on this list, but he still shows some good potential. He should start at Rome, though the organization may be aggressive with him and push him to Carolina.

35. Dan Winkler, RHP (MLB, AFL) — Previous rank: 29
dwinklerThe Braves’ Rule 5 pick last year who spent the season recovering from Tommy John surgery. Winkler is a command and control pitcher without overpowering stuff. He adds a ton of deception in his three-quarters delivery which works better against right-handed batters than left-handers, though he’s still highly effective against lefties. His minor league track record indicates that he’s good at limiting hits and getting strikeouts, and as such should be a valuable part of any bullpen. Because he’s a Rule 5 selection who still needs to remain on the active roster to be kept, he’ll spend the season in Atlanta.

36. A.J. Minter, LHP (Has not debuted yet) — Previous rank: 23
Selected No. 75 overall in 2015, the Braves were not scared off by a pitcher recovering from Tommy John surgery he had in March. In college Minter was a closer with a dominant mid-90s fastball. The Braves selected him because they believe he can be an elite closer once he hopefully makes a successful recovery from surgery. They will likely ease him back into games in 2016 while watching his innings. He probably starts at Rome.

37. Connor Lien, OF (AFL, A+) — Previously unranked
clienA late-round find in 2012 out of high school, Lien has progressed slowly yet methodically through the Braves system, showing improvement as he’s moved up the ladder. He’s got a nice profile as an athletic outfielder with a chance at five tools. He gets a little long in his swing, and strikes out a lot, but not yet to an excessive degree. He’ll get challenged when he opens 2016 with Mississippi, and if he can swim at that level he should shoot up prospect lists.

38. Wes Parsons, RHP (A+, A-) — Previous rank: 21
The past two seasons have seen Parsons’ promise fall into question as shoulder problems have kept him off the mound. While the nagging injuries are very much a concern, Parsons is still considered by many to be a prospect. He shows good control of both a low-90s fastball and array of breaking balls. When at his best that combination profiles him as a mid-rotation starter. He may eventually slide to the bullpen, where he still has plenty of value.

39. Max Povse, RHP (A+, A-) — Previously unranked
The imposing 6-foot-8 Povse is still more about projection than results. He shows a good low-to-mid-90s fastball and a good complimentary pitch in a mid-80s slider. His control is still a work in progress, but when it’s good he shows a lot of promise. There is some concern that he was shutdown in July with a possible unknown injury. If healthy, he’ll likely start 2016 back at Carolina, needing to make great strides to stay on the prospect radar.

Other Grade-C prospects considered for the top-35: RHP Steve Janas, OF Randy Ventura, OF Dian Toscano, C Tanner Murphy, RHP Alec Grosser, RHP Josh Graham, C William Contreras, RHP Ryan Weber, C Jonathan Morales.

Other 2016 Braves prospect lists:
Baseball America top-10
Minor League Ball top-20

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