It’s mid-season Atlanta Braves top prospect time! The Braves system is currently bursting with talent, and several of these prospects are already in the majors, or soon will be.
Players who have not yet surpassed the rookie requirements are still considered eligible for the prospect list. The following players listed on the pre-season prospect list have graduated to the Majors: Mike Foltynewicz (3), Christian Bethancourt (8), Jace Peterson (16), Cody Martin (22).
While I am not a scout, I do see a lot of minor league games and I have seen most of these players. I also use stats to determine where players should be ranked as well as conversations with scouts and other evaluators.
Grade A: None of the prospects in the Braves system grade as A+ for me, so we start with the guys I rank with a grade of A. These are prospects who I believe will be first division players, and occasional All-Stars, while filling valuable roles on the team.
1. Matt Wisler, RHP (MLB, AAA) — Previous rank: 1
The Craig Kimbrel trade is already paying huge dividends. Wisler has handled his first major league assignment with aplomb, and looks to be a rotation stalwart. The pedigree he came to the Braves organization with has been realized, as he has already proven he can be a mid-rotation starter. Now the question is whether or not he can become a rotation ace.
2. Ozhaino Albies, SS (A-) — Previous rank: 17
I was cautious before the season in ranking Albies in the middle of the pack. He spent the first half of full-season ball proving that he is a legit hitter with plus speed and good defense, all while being one of the youngest hitters in the league at just 18-years-old — every pitcher he’s faced this year has been older than him. He is better than Peraza in every phase of the game, especially at getting on base.
3. Touki Toussaint, RHP (A-) — Recently acquired
Atlanta spared no expense to essentially buy Touki from the Diamondbacks. Arizona’s public comments indicated that Toussaint wasn’t the pitcher that his draft scouting reports said he was, but he has proven Arizona’s assessment wrong since coming to Atlanta. His velocity has been in the mid-to-high-90s, and he has posted good performances while every batter he has faced is older than him. With top-of-the-rotation stuff that is already excelling in full-season ball at such a young age, Touki rises above so many of the other great young starters on this list.
4. Max Fried, LHP (has not played) — Previous rank: 4
Fried is the highest draft pick on this list, having been selected seventh overall in 2012 (by San Diego). While still recovering from Tommy John surgery he had last August, his potential is nonetheless that of a top-of-the-rotation starter. Until he returns to the mound and proves that assessment wrong, I’ll still consider him to have that high-end pedigree.
Grade A-: The next group of prospects I grade as possible first division players who will all play important starting roles in the majors.
5. Manny Banuelos, LHP (MLB, AAA) — Previous rank: 10
ManBan has been terrific during his handful of appearances in Atlanta, which was simply a continuation of the great numbers he posted at Gwinnett early in the season. While his fastball velocity doesn’t seem to have fully returned to where it was pre-surgery, that could be a function of the Braves not yet wanting him to throw with full effort. He is looking like another terrific offseason acquisition, and a pitcher who could be a mid-to-top of the rotation stater.
6. Jose Peraza, 2B (AAA) — Previous rank: 5
Don’t mistake my ranking of Peraza lower than most as a sign that I don’t like him as a prospect, because I do like him. However, I have some reservations about his ceiling and some serious holes in his offensive game. After posting an average walk rate in 2013, his walk rates the past two years have been too low for a player who should profile as a top-of-the-order table-setter. This was obscured last year by a high batting average, which was driven by a high BABIP. With the same walk rate this year, but a low batting average (and BABIP) his lack of on-base ability is glaringly obvious, and something that could be massively exploited in the majors.
7. Tyrell Jenkins, RHP (AAA, AA) — Previous rank: 7
I ranked Jenkins higher than most before the season, and that confidence in his prospect pedigree is paying off. His walk rate is still a little high, and his K-rate is a bit lower than I’d like to see it, but the Braves felt he had seen enough of double-A to promote him to triple-A. He’s another guy with a chance to be a top-of-the-rotation starter. He’s got some work to do, but the results so far have been heading in the right direction.
8. Braxton Davidson, OF (A-) — Previous rank: 9
Davidson has been pretty much exactly how he was described when he was drafted last year. His advanced batting eye and patience at the plate can be seen in his appearance among the top-5 in the league in walks and on-base percentage. This despite a middling batting average, but one that should rise as he gets more reps against the advanced pitching he’s facing. His power doesn’t stand out, but he’s shown enough to make me think he’ll grow into more power as he grows. Every pitcher he’s faced this year is older than him.
9. Lucas Sims, RHP (A+) — Previous rank: 2
He’s fallen down this list quite a bit as he struggled early in the season while repeating high-A. He was showing signs of figuring things out when the Carolina bus crash happened, so this might be a lost season for him. Even before this season there were some evaluators who were down on Sims, as they didn’t see the explosive fastball or mix of pitches that is associated with a top-end starter. He has plenty of work to do to put himself back into the good graces of scouts.
10. Mallex Smith, OF (AAA, AA) — Previous rank: 20
Smith lit the Southern League on fire in the first half of the year, hitting .340 with a .418 on-base percentage. He is better than Peraza or Albies at taking the walk and getting on base, and has just as much speed to steal the extra bag once he is on. He’s ranked lower than those two because he doesn’t profile with much power and while his range on defense is good, his arm is only average. He gets compared to the Reds’ Billy Hamilton a lot, and while Smith isn’t quite as fast, he’s better at reaching first base than Hamilton.
11. Kolby Allard, LHP (has not played) — Recently drafted
Finally signed after a mild moment of nail-biting, Allard brings with him a similar draft pedigree to that of Max Fried. Allard likely would have gone as early as Fried did had he not had a back injury this spring that scared some clubs away. The Braves saw his upside and were convinced he was healthy. I list him this low because of the injury concerns and lack of playing time this year. We’ll have to see what the Braves have once he gets on the mound, but I expect Allard to move steadily up this prospect list in the years to come.
12. Derian Cruz, SS (has not played) — Recently signed
The 16-year-old Cruz was given the largest bonus the Braves have ever given an international amateur player. Atlanta moved several good prospects and players in trades to get enough international spending cap room to sign him and two other players. Like Albies, Cruz is a plus-plus athlete with potential plus-plus speed. We won’t know what his full skill set can be until he fills out and is finished growing, but I’ve ranked him here based on the bonus the Braves gave him, and how he was ranked among the other international prospects this year.
Grade B+: These players grade as solid above average players with the potential to be much more.
13. Dustin Peterson, OF (A+) — Previous rank: 14
I like Peterson more than most, and he is rewarding my faith in him. His numbers this year aren’t eye-popping, but he has raised his OPS nearly 100 points from last year to this year while moving up a level. He’s also doing this as one of the youngest hitters in the league, having only faced a pitcher younger than him in five of his 260+ plate appearances. Like so many of his fellow teammates at Carolina, he missed time after the bus crash. I’m giving these guys the benefit of the doubt with their second half numbers, as the physical toll that crash took could have lingering effects throughout the rest of the season.
14. Arodys Vizcaino, RHP (MLB) — Previous rank: 12
The 80-game PED suspension behind him, Vizcaino is back in the big league bullpen and likely included on his final prospect list (as he will soon lose his rookie status). Even before Atlanta closer Jason Grilli went down, there was a very real possibility that both him and Jim Johnson would be traded at the deadline. Vizcaino was and still is the most likely internal candidate to get a shot at closing games once Johnson is traded (not if, but when). His mid-to-high-90s velocity and mix of offspeed pitches should make him a good, if not great, setup man or closer.
15. Rio Ruiz, 3B (AA) — Previous rank: 6
Ruiz has been perhaps the most disappointing prospect in the first half, with his power outage at the plate being the most alarming. He did play in hitter-friendly leagues the last two years, and is playing in one of the more pitcher-friendly leagues this year. Still, the drop-off is severe from the .430 slugging percentages he posted the last two years to the .280 SLG he’s posting this season. He’s still just 21-years-old, so there’s time for him to continue to develop, but at this point it looks like he’ll need to repeat double-A next year and show a lot more than he’s showing this year.
16. Ricardo Sanchez, LHP (A-) — Previous rank: 18
Another talented young starter, Sanchez has struggled to control his repertoire and his emotions. When I saw him pitch earlier this year his velocity was in the low-90s with little movement and poor location. His change and curve both flashed plus, and he used his curve to get most of his K’s. He’s still just 18-years-old, so there’s plenty of time, but right now I don’t see him as a top-of-the-rotation arm, more of a mid-rotation guy or reliever due to his small 5-foot-11 size.
17. Mike Soroka, RHP (R-) — Recently drafted
The Braves second pick in this year’s draft, he has great size and velocity with good secondary pitches. He’s ranked here based on his draft position, though I’m still being cautious with this ranking since he’s from a cold-weather part of the continent.
18. Christian Pache, OF (has not played) — Recently signed
Like Cruz, Pache is another 16-year-old international signing whom the Braves are very excited about. He’s an athlete and is apparently already a good hitter who uses the whole field. We’ll need to see how he fills out to know what kind of player he might be, but the tools certainly seem to be there.
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.
19. Jason Hursh, RHP (AA) — Previous rank: 11
Hursh has completely fallen apart this year. There are some scouts who think he was pissed when he didn’t begin the year at triple-A, after he had a good year at double-A in 2014. Whether or not that’s the case, he got lit up to begin the season. He rebounded and regrouped in mid-May to put together a good run, but even then he hasn’t looked as good as he did last year. There’s still talent here, but with results like this year’s he’s not going to get noticed in the new pitching-rich Braves system.
20. Andrew Thurman, RHP (A+) — Previous rank: 23
The bus crash really put a damper on his season. He looked like a sure thing to get promoted to double-A with another good month of work, but hasn’t made it back to Carolina since the wreck. That lost development time will hurt his prospect status, as he was already a guy that many evaluators were pushing into the pen.
21. Wes Parsons, RHP (A+) — Previous rank: 21
Out all season with an undisclosed injury, Parsons only made it back to the mound in Orlando a couple of weeks ago. He should join a full-season team soon, but this year already looks like a lost year for him developmentally. His 2014 season was also pockmarked by some nagging injuries, which led to unflattering results. I still like the profile of Parsons as a future mid-rotation starter, but the injuries have not allowed him to go deep into games the past year, setting his development back considerably.
22. Lucas Herbert, C (R-) — Recently drafted
Herbert tore his meniscus after just a few games to start his pro career. He should recover this year and be ready for spring training next year. With a good spring the Braves might be tempted to put him at Rome. He’s ranked here based on his draft pedigree, that of a terrific all-around defensive catcher and up-and-coming hitter.
23. A.J. Minter, LHP (has not played) — Recently drafted
Minter had Tommy John surgery in March of this year, so we won’t see him on the bump until next year. The Braves will probably work Minter as a reliever when he returns, and as such he profiles as a candidate to close games in the majors.
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.
24. Steve Janas, RHP (AA, A+) — Previously unranked
Janas was mostly unimpressive last year in Rome, but was lights-out to start this season for Carolina. Then the bus crash happened and Janas missed almost two months. However, the Braves wasted no time after he returned promoting him to double-A. He missed time in college after Tommy John surgery, and so his ceiling may be higher than his sixth-round selection might indicate.
25. Juan Yepez, 3B/OF (R-) — Previous rank: 27
A 17-year-old kid out of Venezuela, Yepez was the Braves biggest international signing last year. He begins his pro career stateside in Orlando, and projects to have good power with a high average. His ultimate position is likely not yet decided upon, but Atlanta will try to keep him at third as long as they can.
26. Jose Briceno, C (A+) — Previous rank: 13
Briceno has had an atrocious 2015 campaign so far. As a pro he moved very slow throughout the Colorado system before the Braves acquired him in the offseason. His BABIP has dropped nearly 100 points, so there is some bad luck at play here, but there is nothing in the stats to indicate that there are any other bad habits going on. His K-rate and BB-rate have stayed the same, which is a good sign that his approach has not been radically altered. My best guess is that he just takes a long time to catch-up to a new level, much like Christian Bethancourt.
27. Dian Toscano, OF (has not played) — Previous rank: 29
Toscano still hasn’t played due to visa issues. When he does get on the field everyone will be eager to see what he can become. The scouting reports indicate that he’s a good hitter to all fields without much home run power. He’s got good speed and plays good defense in center or left.
28. Alec Grosser, RHP (A-) — Previous rank: 24
Grosser has gone through some rough patches in his first taste of full-season ball. He’s also missed some time and seems to be transitioning to a relief role in the second half, which might indicate some soreness or fatigue. He’s young, at just 20 years of age, and is still working through struggles with command and consistency. Grosser is one of those project arms for the Braves, possessing loads of talent that just needs to be harnessed.
29. Dan Winkler, LHP (has not played) — Previously unranked
Recovering from Tommy John surgery, Winkler will not be ready until next year. As a Rule 5 player the Braves will need to keep him in the majors all season. He’s a classic control pitcher without overpowering stuff, but he does create deception with his delivery, and led the minors in strikeouts in 2013. Atlanta will likely use him out of the bullpen, at first as a LOOGY, then gradually taking on full-inning assignments.
30. Tanner Murphy, C (A-) — Previous rank: 25
Tanner has had a rough go of it in his first taste of full-season ball at Rome. He seems to be improving as the season moves along, and while his batting average is low, his component ratios haven’t been that bad. He’s still quite young at just 20-years-old, and his bat is likely just taking extra time to catch up to this level of competition. Even if he repeats Rome next year he’s not behind in his development.