The Braves system has been thinned considerably due to Major League promotions and prospects included in trades the last couple of years. As always though, the Braves player development people are keeping the line moving and finding talent in new places.
This year, in addition to ranking the prospects in order from 1 to 30, I will also be assigning a letter grade to each prospect from A to C based on how I see their current prospect stock. This will hopefully 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. Here is a quick description of what each letter grade means:
A+: Future All-Star and top-tier player. I consider him a can’t-miss prospect.
A: A first division player, and occasional All-Star, who assumes an invaluable role on the team.
A-: A possible first division player who plays an important starting role on the team.
B+: A solid above average player with the potential to be more.
B: An important everyday role player or supporting member of the rotation or pen.
B-: Prospect potential is there for a higher grade, but needs work and experience.
C+: Solid prospect with potential to be more, but currently just a fringe player.
C: Has a tool or two that could be useful in the Majors, or needs more time in the minors to determine what kind of prospect they will be. a.k.a. The holding tank of talent.
Another note about how I rank players: I look for potential plus proximity to the Majors, and I combine what other talent evaluators have written about these players with what I’ve seen from them in person. I also pay attention to what the stats tell me, but I’ve learned that minor league stats can be misleading at some levels. I tend to shy away from players below A-ball, and I also tend to rank too many relievers. With these things in mind, here are the gondeee.com Braves mid-season top-30 prospects.
1. Lucas Sims, RHP (Grade A): One of the youngest players in the Sally League (low-A), the Braves are easing him into full season ball and watching his innings. He’s been impressive so far, and it should only get better. He’s got a classic big and strong pitcher’s body with fluid and easily repeatable mechanics. He has all the tools to be a top-of-the-rotation starter.
2. Alex Wood, LHP (Grade A): Already one of the top pitchers in the system entering the season, he learned a knuckle curve from talking with Craig Kimbrel and Jonny Venters in spring training. This gives him the depth of pitches to be a top-of-the-rotation starter or dominant setup man. While the Braves have needed him in relief this year, they could let him compete for a rotation spot in 2014, in much the same way that the Cardinals brought up Adam Wainwright.
3. J.R. Graham, RHP (Grade A): Powerful punch in a small package. He’s got top of the rotation stuff, but will still need some work to put it all together. He’s been out for over a month with a sore shoulder that is becoming a bit concerning. Because he is such a hard thrower for a smaller guy there have been some whispers that he could be injury prone.
4. Jason Hursh, RHP (Grade B+): The Braves 2013 first round pick is a hard throwing college righty. The jury is still out on whether he will be a starter or a reliever, but the Braves will likely work him as a starter to begin with so that they can develop his off-speed pitches. Expect him to follow a path similar to previous highly drafted college pitchers Alex Wood, Sean Gilmartin, and Mike Minor. His power fastball potential makes him more exciting than any of those guys — but we still need to see what he does as he moves up the ladder.
5. Joey Terdoslavich, OF (Grade B+): The switch-hitting Joey Doubles is starting to turn some of those two-baggers into home runs, and becoming quite an exciting prospect again. His history indicates that he needs time to adjust to a new level, so that newfound power may not present itself at the Major League level initially, but should show up down the road.
6. Edward Salcedo, 3B (Grade B): A frustrating or amazing prospect, depending on which day you see him. He’s starting to rein in the inconsistency, and has improved each year in pro ball as he’s moved up the ladder. The Braves will continue to push him up the ladder, and he will get a long look next spring.
7. Cody Martin, RHP (Grade B): He has a low-to-mid-90s fastball that is almost plus, with good movement, and a solid slider that’s is an effective change of speed. He adds a change-up and curve and has plus command of all four pitches. He has a chance to be a good mid-rotation starter, and if his command is for real, he could offer better velocity than Gilmartin. His recent work at triple-A has him rocketing up this list.
8. Josh Elander, OF (Grade B): Considered a first-round bat by some, he lasted until the sixth round last year because of questionable defense at catcher. The Braves moved him to the outfield so that his bat could do the talking, and he’s already one of the best hitters in the system. He’s athletic enough to play the outfield, runs the bases well, has plus power, and should hit for average.
9. Sean Gilmartin, LHP (Grade B): His lack of velocity limits his ceiling, but he could still be an above average back of the rotation work horse. He’s been on the DL since mid-June with shoulder tendinitis, and that could be a bad sign for his future as an important pitching prospect in the Braves system (and possible trade bait). If healthy, he will compete to replace Paul Maholm in the rotation in 2014.
10. Mauricio Cabrera, RHP (Grade B-): Struggling some with control he has been slow to adjust to the higher level of play in A-ball. His future might be in the bullpen, but the Braves will remain patient with him. His off-speed stuff is behind his fastball right now.
11. Tommy La Stella, 2B (Grade B-): He’s hit .300 or better at every stop, has good gap power, and walks more than he strikes out. Defensively he’s limited to second base, and there’s a question of how much power he’ll hit for in the Majors, but he should be able to hit for a consistently high average and get on base like a traditional number-2 hitter.
12. Jose Peraza, SS (Grade B-): He’s had a solid but not spectacular full season debut, though he’s struggled all season with nagging injuries. He still has the best speed in the system and the instincts and skills to succeed at shortstop. He should only need time to get better.
13. Mark Lamm, RHRP (Grade B-): I’ve liked him as a reliever since he was drafted in 2011. He began the season repeating double-A, and did what you’re supposed to do when you repeat a level, and that’s to dominate it. His ceiling is as a dominant setup man, his floor should be as a back-end bullpen option. He’s currently continuing his great season at triple-A, and could be called on down the stretch this season by Atlanta.
14. Christian Bethancourt, C (Grade B-): His bat has shown no signs of becoming viable, and he has yet to put together any consistency with the bat or displayed enough power to be seriously considered for an everyday Major League role. In his sixth professional season he is no closer to figuring it out at the plate, but his defense is great enough that there’s still hope for him as a prospect if he ever does figure out how to hit.
15. Juan Jaime, RHRP (Grade B-): His 100mph velocity makes him a curious relief prospect, and so far that velocity has been able to cover up for his excessive walk rate. He will need to lower his walk rate to be a successful setup man in the Majors, and he’ll need to figure out how to get left-handers out, but he’s very close and getting better… and he throws 100mph. He recently went on the DL with right shoulder tendinitis (a troubling recurring theme on this prospect list).
16. David Hale, RHP (Grade B-): He seems to produce inconsistent results as a starter. As a reliever he can run his fastbal into the high-90s, and the bullpen is where he has the most value, but he hasn’t found enough consistency with his secondary pitches yet. Returning from minor injury early this year he has found a renaissance in the Gwinnett rotation.
17. Gus Schlosser, RHP (Grade C+): He’s devastating against RHB with a sidearm delivery, but needs to work on getting LHB out. He’s a wormballer with an extreme ground-ball rate. He keeps succeeding as a starter as he moves up the ladder, but may ultimately find his way to the pen as a ground-ball specialist akin to Peter Moylan.
18. Shae Simmons, RHRP (Grade C+): A short pitcher at 5’9″ but he really packs a punch with a consistent mid-90s fastball. He’ll need to cut down the high leg kick or runners are going to take advantage. He’s kind of a poor-man’s Kimbrel, but that’s still pretty good.
19. Victor Caratini, 3B (Grade C+): In a system bereft of hitting prospects, even a recent 2013 draftee will make this list. Like Elander last year, the bat is the weapon here, and unlike Elander, while both were drafted as catchers, and Elander spent last season at Danville catching, the Braves aren’t going to waste Carantini’s time, and have started him off at third base.
20. Ian Thomas, LHRP (Grade C+): An independent league signing by the Braves last year, he’s an older prospect at 26, but older prospects have never scared off the Braves. He’s hard to hit, strikes batters out, and limits walks. The Braves moved him to the rotation at Mississippi, and he hasn’t skipped a beat. He continues to get both righties and lefties out, holding each to a sub-.200 batting average. There’s a lot to like here.
21. Ronan Pacheco, LHRP (Grade C): He’s been in the system for a while, and found great success this year once he was moved to the bullpen. He has steady mid-90s heat and is devastating against left-handed batters with his whip-like throwing motion and arms and legs flying everywhere. If he can figure out right-handers he has a chance to be a really good setup man.
22. Kyle Kubitza, 3B (Grade C): His strikeout numbers bear watching as he moves up the ladder, but he walks a ton — some of the best patience in the system. His defense at 3B is above average, and his power numbers are improving. I’m not a fan of his setup at the plate, but it seems to work for him. In a strong system he probably doesn’t make this list.
23. Navery Moore, RHP (Grade C): He got off to a rough start at hi-A, then righted the ship, but struggled again before going on the disabled list. He hasn’t been as effective as a starter in the pros as he was as a closer in college. A return to the bullpen should be in his future.
24. Carlos Perez, LHRP (Grade C): Formerly a starting pitching prospect who couldn’t hack it at Rome. He has found new life as a reliever; dominating hitters since moving into that role, and striking people out with one of the lowest walk rates in the system. He’s finally made it past Rome, moving up to Lynchburg. Like Pacheco, he could be very effective as a reliever.
25. Robby Hefflinger, OF (Grade C): With the power he’s shown this year we have to take him seriously, but he’s been stalled between the two levels of A-ball for four years, so he should have caught up to the speed of the league by now. His emergence this season is apparently due to a more consistent approach at the plate. We’ll see how he responds having recently been promoted to double-A.
26. Carlos Salazar, RHP (Grade C): This year’s third-round pick is a less-refined version of last year’s first round pick, Lucas Sims. Salazar is a prep hurler who can throw his fastball in the mid-90s, but his off-speed offerings need work, and how those pitches progress will determine how high his ceiling can be.
27. Todd Cunningham, OF (Grade C): A good player with a lot of baseball tools, but no tool that screams above average. Still, he could have a long career as a Reed Johnson type role player and fourth outfielder.
28. Nate Hyatt, RHRP (Grade C): A slight build, but throws a mid-90s fastball and a hard slider that makes him very effective in the late innings. Started off the season looking dominant, but ran into trouble in May. He’s had an inconsistent season and that makes his progress hard to read.
29. Ryne Harper, RHRP (Grade C): A late round selection in 2011, and throughout pro ball he has kept his walks down while racking up high strikeout rates. He still needs to figure out how to get left-handers out, but once he does he could be an effective setup man.
30. Wilson Rivera, RHRP (Grade C): A converted light-hitting infielder who turned to pitching three years ago. He had a great debut on the mound at Danville in 2011, a good follow-up season in Rome last year, and an even better season in Lynchburg this year. He can strike people out, he’s hard to hit, but he’s got to control the walks.
Others considered: RHP Aaron Northcraft, RHP Andry Ubiera, LHP Luis Merejo, RHP Yeralf Torres, OF Connor Lien, OF Kelvin Estevez, 1B William Beckwith.
Send any comments or questions to me on Twitter @gondeee.