The Atlanta Braves farm system is starting to rebuild itself after several big trades and many more graduations of prospects to the Majors. It’s not quite to the level it was at several years ago, when the list was headlined by the likes of Heyward, Freeman, Teheran, Minor, and more, and we may not see that level of prospect awesomeness again for some time, but the Braves always find ways to discover talent they can use — either in Atlanta or in trades.
The major graduation from the 2013 mid-season list was pitcher Alex Wood. Outfielder Joey Terdoslavich also lost his rookie status, and therefore his prospect status. Pitcher Sean Gilmartin was traded, but would have dropped in this year’s rankings.
In the rankings below I also assign 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 2014 top-30 prospects.
1. Lucas Sims, RHP (Grade A): Possibly one of the most appropriate Braves draft picks ever — a high school pitcher from Georgia with a power arm and plus off-speed offerings. He has top of the rotation stuff and great composure on the mound. Without question, the complete package. He should be ready to compete in Atlanta by 2016.
2. Jason Hursh, RHP (Grade A-): A flamethrower who should get a chance to stay in the rotation and work on his off-speed stuff. The Braves coddled him last year and kept him on a strict innings limit, so we’ll have to see if they unleash him in 2014. His power arm could be useful in the Braves pen as early as late 2014, and Atlanta could use him in much the same way they used Alex Wood last year — working him between the bullpen and the rotation, allowing him to gain Major League experience as a reliever in low leverage situations before becoming a starter.
3. J.R. Graham, RHP (Grade A-): Missed a significant amount of time because of shoulder soreness in 2013, but reports are that he should be fully healthy for 2014. Because of the missed time he may be more suited to the bullpen instead of working his way back as a starter. Almost 100-mph heat will tempt the Braves to give him a long look for a bullpen spot this spring. He’s also a pitcher who could benefit from an easing into the Majors like Wood, though his body type has many scouts convinced he is best suited as a reliever in the long run. If healthy, expect a J.R. sighting in Atlanta at some point this season.
4. Tommy La Stella, 2B (Grade B+): I’ve been the conductor on the Tommy La Stella train long before many others joined. I love his approach at the plate, walking more than he strikes out. He doesn’t have much home run power, but he’s not that kind of hitter. He’s got good gap power, and when combined with superior on-base skills, he’s an asset in any lineup. Defensively he’s adequate at second base, no better and no worse than Uggla. He’s a classic high floor, low ceiling prospect whose minor league numbers should accurately reflect what he can produce in the Majors. He’ll have a chance to earn a spot this spring.
5. Christian Bethancourt, C (Grade B+): He seemed to turn the corner offensively in the second half of 2013, but that was after 8 months in double-A, which he repeated last year. So he finally caught up with double-A, but will his bat and approach at the plate continue to produce as he moves up the ladder? I have serious doubts that his bat will ever play at an advanced level in the Majors. Most other evaluators think Bethancourt will make the jump, so I’ll defer to their expertise by ranking him this high, but I am not sold on him.
6. Jose Peraza, SS (Grade B+): The best baserunning speed in the system, a solid on-base first approach at the plate, above-average defense and range at shortstop, and developing gap power — Peraza is a shortstop cut out of an Omar Vizquel mold. He should continue to climb the ladder and put up solid numbers while refining his approach, and could see the Majors by 2016 and possibly earlier. With a Gold Glove shortstop already entrenched in Atlanta, Peraza should be a valuable trade chip for Atlanta the next couple of years. He could also likely transition easily and quickly to playing second base if needed.
7. Mauricio Cabrera, RHP (Grade B+): Flashed shades of brilliance at Rome in 2013, but was not consistent from start to start. Control is still the major problem, but once he stops walking people the results and the consistency should get much better. Mid-to-upper 90s heat and just 20-years-old having completed low-A is a nice package. He should be Major League ready sometime in 2016.
8. Josh Elander, OF (Grade B): His power slumped when he was moved up from Rome to Lynchburg mid-season, but his K and BB component ratios remained the same, which show that his approach at the plate stayed consistent while he caught up with the more advanced pitching. He was fighting a slump just before he was promoted, so the drop-off in power may have just been one of the ups and downs of the season, and not due to the more advanced level. How much power he can produce will determine how good a prospect he is, as he’s limited defensively to an outfield corner. If all goes well he could be ready by the end of 2015.
9. David Hale, RHP (Grade B): Much like the path I project for Jason Hursh, and the path that Alex Wood took, Hale could work between the bullpen and the rotation in Atlanta in 2014. His two impressive starts late last year will probably put him in a position to compete (with Wood) for a rotation spot in spring training this year. He’s a curious case as his minor league numbers might be a lagging indicator of what he is capable of. His improvement throughout his tenure in the Atlanta system could continue as he ascends to a regular role in the Majors, especially since he added to his repertoire last year by developing a sinker. Meaning he could be a better Major Leaguer than he was a prospect.
10. Victor Caratini, 3B/C (Grade B): A switch-hitter with a line-drive stroke, he hit a ton of doubles in his pro debut at Danville, but only knocked one over the fence. Those doubles should turn into home runs as he moves through the Braves system. His line drive approach is similar to Freddie Freeman’s and Free was dogged with questions about his home run power as a prospect. Caratini played third base last year, but the organization may move him back to catcher. That transition could initially delay his prospect clock. A typical path through the system would put him at a 2017 arrival, but once his defensive position gets worked out his bat should propel him through the system quickly and he could be ready as early as 2016, especially if he stays at third.
11. Cody Martin , RHP (Grade B): He moved through the system rapidly, even while making the transition from college closer to starter. Good command to go along with solid low-90s velocity. He’s more of a back of the rotation starter, and the Braves could work him into the Majors this season in the bullpen using him in a similar role that they used Cristhian Martinez.
12. Edward Salcedo, 3B (Grade B-): The Braves are still waiting for the $1.6 million Dominican bonus baby they signed in 2010 to emerge as a legitimate candidate for some Major League playing time, but he has yet to post the kind of numbers that were expected of him. The tools are all there — best bat speed in the system, which can translate into natural power, and a strong arm for the hot corner. But like many young players he hasn’t learned good strike zone judgement and he’s still very error-prone in the field. I still believe in him, but pretty soon we’re going to need to see some production that matches the hype.
13. Shae Simmons, RHRP (Grade B-): Small but powerful reliever. He’s got closer’s stuff and should get an invite to spring training this season. He’s a real long shot to make the team to begin the season, but a call-up at some point this year is a real possibility. On the mid-season list I called him a poor-man’s Kimbrel, and that description still holds, and is still a compliment.
14. Juan Jaime, RHRP (Grade B-): The best K/9 in the system, but still walking way too many batters. Can throw 100-mph… but walks way too many hitters. Once he sorts out that walking problem he should be pretty good. That “could” happen as early as this season.
15. Victor Reyes, OF (Grade C+): Buzz, make sure you don’t get hit in the face by the buzz on this kid. Atlanta’s top international signing in 2012 ($365,000), Reyes played state-side for the first time last year as an 18-year-old. Though he has yet to hit a professional home run scouts love his big frame which should generate power as he fills out. His batting eye is solidly above average already, as he’s posted close to a .300 or better average at every stop so far. He seems to know how to take a walk and not strike out excessively. If he can add pop to his game, then he could become the Braves best position prospect. He should get a shot at full season ball this year at Rome, and that will give us a better idea of what kind of player he can be and how far away from the Majors he is.
16. Kyle Kubitza, 3B (Grade C+): Some people are absolutely in love with this guy, I’m kind of ‘meh’ on him. Good defense at third base; he might be the best at the hot corner in the system. His power numbers are intriguing, but I see warning signs in his high strikeout rate and an odd and inconsistent stance at the plate — two things that might be tied together. The picture of his stance on the right doesn’t tell the whole story, as he likes to straighten out his back leg, which seems to slow his swing down. He’s good, but not spectacular.
17. Ian Thomas, LHP (Grade C+): Thomas begins a run of three decent mid-to-back of the rotation starting pitching prospects, who are more likely to break through in the bullpen. These guys are the depth in this area that allowed the Braves to trade Sean Gilmartin. Thomas held both lefties and righties to an identical .192 average against last season, though he was more susceptible to the home run ball from right-handed hitters. Equally effective in the bullpen and the rotation. He might get to see some Major League time this year out of the bullpen. More of a deceptive lefty than a stuff lefty, but still reportedly has good stuff.
18. Gus Schlosser, RHP (Grade C+): With a sidearm delivery he dominates right-handed batters with a sub-.200 batting average against. Lefties hit him okay, so I don’t want to hang the ROOGY tag on him yet, but with his sidearm delivery and ground-ball tendencies he has a floor of one of those need-a-double-play relievers, with the potential to be more. One of the things I look for when ranking prospects is improvement when a player moves up the ladder, and Schlosser lowered his ERA by a run while moving from A+ to AA — a hard jump to make. Expect to see him this season if the Braves get desperate for relief help, but he should get a taste of the Majors by 2015.
19. Aaron Northcraft, RHP (Grade C+): A workhorse starter without any jump-off-the-page stuff. He’s a sinkerballer who is more effective against right-handers than lefties. He’s slated for triple-A this year and could represent decent starting pitching depth, but he’s probably behind 5 guys, and his stuff has not had the consistency of the others. The hope here is that everything comes together the closer he gets to the Majors, in a Jonny Venters sort of way. That’s a long-shot.
20. Wes Parsons, RHP (Grade C+): A non-drafted free agent signed (for $200,000) in mid-2012 out of the Northwoods League, a summer collegiate league. Parsons will be just 21 next season, and spent his first year in the Braves system dominating on the mound at Rome. He has added velocity since college, and with a lanky 6-foot-5 frame there is likely room to add more. He throws a heavy fastball that sits in the low-90s with a developing slider and change. He goes after hitters with one of the lowest walk rates in the system (1.72 BB/9, lower than any Braves Major Leaguer this season). Huge, enormous sleeper prospect.
21. Mark Lamm, RHRP (Grade C): My affinity for relievers begins now. I love ‘em, and the Braves love ‘em too, that’s why they have focused on stockpiling them in the minors for the purpose of filling out their Major League bullpen. Lamm is a no-frills, good-velocity, get-the-job-done kind of reliever who should see some time this year as a durable middle-man.
22. Ronan Pacheco, LHRP (Grade C): While he started his pro career as a starting pitching prospect, he’s now solidly a reliever, but still a prospect due to his mid-to-high-90s heat from the left side. His whip-like throwing motion is devastating against left-handed batters, whom he held to a sub-.100 batting average last season. He’s got work to do against right-handers, but his ground ball tendencies keep him in the ballpark and help his prospect stock. He could see time in the Majors this season, but next year is more of a sure thing. He’s also the kind of pitching prospect who gets included in minor trades.
23. Ryan Buchter, LHRP (Grade C): Dubbing him the next Jonny Venters might be a bit too grandiose, but like Venters, Buchter has the fastball — in the mid-90s — and a bonafide second strikeout pitch in a big sweeping slider that no one seems to be able to hit. His 14.95 K/9 was among the best in all of baseball, but he’ll need to stop walking people to have success. His 7.4 BB/9 rate is the highest on this prospect list. Once he sorts out his control, he could be really really good. He’s due to arrive in the big league bullpen this season, and but for the control problems would have gotten a chance last season.
24. John Cornely, RHRP (Grade C): Another big fastball reliever with spotty control problems. He should only need more innings to get better, and will get a big test in double-A this year. He’s a bulldog on the mound with a closer’s mentality. The Braves had enough confidence in him that they sent him to the AFL this year, and while his strikeouts played well there, his control problems were evident. We could see him in the Majors as early as this year if he stops walking people, if not, it could be a couple of years.
25. Carlos Perez, LHRP (Grade C): Once one of the big international starting pitching prospects in the Braves system, his control collapsed in 2012 and he couldn’t make it out of Rome. He has a big windup and long delivery, but the Braves got him to shorten up and moved him to a full time relief role. His mid-90s heat plays up there, and he’s corrected his control problems, and made it past Rome. He’s still an big question mark, but he has a live fastball and a good work ethic so the Braves should be patient with him.
26. Carlos Salazar, RHP (Grade C): It’s time to be bullish on draft position, and Salazar gets ranked here because of his 2013 draft stock and position (3rd round, 102 overall). He’s a hard throwing high school arm with an electric fastball and flashes of brilliance in his secondary stuff. The Braves will need to develop that secondary stuff, but the organization excels at refining raw pitchers. Salazar will only be 19 next year, and likely won’t be ready until sometime in his early 20s.
27. Kyle Wren, OF (Grade C): The General Manager’s son out of Georgia Tech, he was an 8th round pick last year that many folks scoffed at as nepotism. Wren quickly silenced the peanut gallery by getting off to a blazing hot start — reaching base in his first 13 professional ballgames, and getting promoted from Danville to Rome after only 5 games. As a college senior he should have been more advanced for the competition at Danville, but he also excelled after his promotion to Rome. He’s a one-tool player — speed — but he gets the most out of that tool. He’s already the best bunter in the system, has some of the best baserunning speed, and covers a lot of ground in center field. His speed could allow him to move quickly through the system, and his small-ball game is better than that of Jose Constanza. Wren has a floor as a long-time 4th-outfielder, who doesn’t hurt you if he’s forced to start for a few weeks.
28. Johan Carmargo, INF (Grade C): Here’s another guy, like Kubitza, that many folks are bullish on, but I don’t quite see it. Of course, this could be a matter of me seeing him at the wrong time. He’s listed as a right-handed hitter, but he’s actually a switch-hitter, though it doesn’t look pretty from either side. His setup from the left side had his hands in front of him when he starts his swing, and his right-side setup is also less than elegant. He’s unpolished in the field and overall needs more playing time to work out the kinks. We should see what he can do at full-season ball in Rome this year, and then we can have a better feel for his prospect stock.
29. Wilson Rivera, RHRP (Grade C): After four years in the Braves system as a light-hitting no-pop outfielder, Rivera converted to pitching with great success three years ago. He has steadily climbed up the ladder, and should be at Mississippi this season. While he will be 24 next season, he doesn’t have a lot of mileage on his arm with his late start on the mound. If he can fix the walks, he could be a solid middle-reliever in a David Carpenter-like mold.
30 Eric Pfisterer, RHP (Grade C): A personal favorite of mine, at first because of his last name, and then because of his dominance throughout the summer. He was a 15th-round pick out of high school in 2008 by the Reds, but chose to go to Duke. He was one of their top starters for a few years, then he fell off the map. He signed with Atlanta late in 2012, and joined Rome in mid-June 2013 and was terrific from day one. So far he’s just a bullpen arm, but he’s durable and effective. He’ll be 24 next year, so he’s older for a prospect, but he missed a few years so he gets a mulligan.
Send any comments or questions to me on Twitter @gondeee.
A big, huge thank you to CB Wilkins (@cbwilkinstweets) for all the awesome photos, and a few scouting notes and ranking help.