The minor league short-season leagues started this week, which includes two teams in the Atlanta Braves organization: the Danville Braves and the Gulf Coast League Braves. Both teams are considered to be “rookie” level, with Danville serving as advanced rookie ball, and the GCL team considered “complex” ball (owing to the fact that they play at the Braves spring training complex).
Every year a few unexpected gems, usually players from Latin America, emerge from these teams. Last year it was SS Ozhaino Albies and RHP Jorge Zavala. This is also the first place we see many of the team’s draft picks make their debuts. Below are some players to keep an eye on, with an emphasis on some of the more unknown Latin players.
Prospects to watch in Danville
Leudys Baez, OF: A switch-hitting center fielder signed this past year out of the Dominican Republic. He makes his pro debut at Danville, and turns 19 tomorrow, so he’s a little older for an international prospect. Still, the Braves gave him a $400,000 bonus last year, and hope his bat and strong arm in center can propel him as a prospect.
Jordan Paroubeck, OF: One of the prospects acquired in the Craig Kimbrel trade from San Diego. Drafted No. 69 overall in 2013 out of the high school ranks in California. He projects to have a good hit tool with power as well as some speed on the bases and in the field.
Garrett Fulenchek, RHP: The team’s second-round pick last year out of high school, he is still just 19-years-old and the youngest pitcher on the team. He suffered through some terrible control problems in his pro debut at complex ball last year, and all eyes will be watching to see if he can iron those out this year.
Others: RHP Josh Graham is the highest draft pick (4th round) from this year playing at Danville. INF Luke Dykstra (son of Lenny) will be an interesting player to keep an eye on. 3B Dylan Manwaring also has baseball bloodlines.
Prospects to watch in GCL
Ronald Acuna, OF: A speedy and toolsy center fielder signed last year, he’s only 17-years-old. His speed should play plus on the basepaths and he has a real chance to hit for moderate power.
Juan Yepez, 3B: The Braves top international signing last year from the Wren regime, the 17-year-old Venezuelan inked for a reported $1 million. His main asset are said to be his quick hands, which should help him hit for average and power. (Pictured on left)
Isranel Wilson, OF: One of the Braves top international signings last year from the Hart regime, Wilson has good size and athleticism and profiles as a five-tool center fielder who hits to all fields. He’s originally from St. Thomas, but trained in the D.R.
Dilmer Mejia, LHP: While he’s repeating the GCL, he performed well in the league last year as a 16-year-old. He has advanced control for his age, and should just need to time to refine his fastball and offspeed offerings.
Luis Barrios, LHP: The Braves top international signing in the 2013-14 signing period, he received a $600,000 bonus coming out of Columbia. This will be his stateside debut after mixed results in the Dominican summer league last year.
Jhoniel Sepulveda, RHP: An 18-year-old signed by the Hart regime last year out of the Dominican, he already sports a mid-to-high-90s fastball. He’ll need to develop a good offspeed pitch, but he could follow in the footsteps of Zavala as a power relief prospect.
Others: Just about every high school player the Braves selected in the 2015 draft is playing at this level. Early-rounders C Lucas Herbert and 3B Austin Riley as well as late-rounders OF Bradley Keller and LHP Jaret Hellinger are players to keep an eye on. As are some junior college players like OF Justin Ellison and RHP Dalton Geekie.