Braves 2017 Top 30 Prospects

The Atlanta Braves minor league system is ABSOLUTELY LOADED right now. There are perhaps more premium prospects on this list than have ever existed at one time in the Braves system. The majority of those premium prospects are below double-A, so while there will be good prospects debuting in the majors the next two years, some absolute tidal waves of premium prospects should be approaching Atlanta in 2019 and 2020.

I base my prospect rankings on a mixture of many elements, including my own personal observations of these prospects, conversations I have with scouts and evaluators, and scouting reports I read online. I also consider draft position, bonus numbers, proximity to the majors and age.

As they always do, these rankings will differ from other rankings, as my interpretation of the elements listed above and my opinion or bias comes into play. My goal in the writeups of each player is to not only educate you about the prospect, but to also tell you why he is ranked where he’s ranked.

In addition to ranking the prospects I also assign a letter grade from A+ to C. This is so that the talent level of prospects can be compared. 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.

The previous (mid-year) prospect list can be found here.

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 cornerstone.

1. Dansby Swanson, SS (MLB, AA, High-A) — Previous rank: 1
Still one at-bat shy of removing rookie status, the Braves top prospect is one of the top-10 prospects in baseball. The former No. 1 overall pick from 2015 showed how good of an all-around player he can be during his late-season call-up last year. He slashed .302/.361/.442 in 38 games for Atlanta, while displaying an intangible leadership quality on the field. If he continues his development, we should see his defense improve at shortstop, while he maintains a .300 or better batting average with good on-base ability and power. He’s the complete package, and should be a huge part of the middle of Atlanta’s order for years to come. We are now in the Era of Dansby. Enjoy the show.

2. Ozzie Albies, 2B (AAA, AA) — Previous rank: 4
I’ve warmed up a lot to Albies’ potential stardom, after being keen, but not overly gushing about him in previous years. I was waffling about whether he was an A+ or merely an A grade prospect, but I finally settled on an A+ grade. He handled double-A without any problem, and did well at triple-A, while being the youngest batter in either league. Albies will be 20 years old next season, and if he comes back from a fractured elbow injury he suffered late in the year, could get a strong look to open the season as Atlanta’s starting second baseman. He seems to play better when he’s with Dansby, and he had a good spring campaign last year (hitting .371 in 16 spring games). He should combine top-of-the-order on-base ability with speed to be a dynamic leadoff hitter at the major league level… it’s just a matter of when.

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

3. Kevin Maitan, SS (Has not debuted yet) — Previous rank: 3
The Braves handed the 16-year-old Venezuelan Maitan the highest signing bonus the team has ever given an international free agent, a reported $4.25 million. He is a five-tool prospect who has been called a once-a-decade talent along the lines of Miguel Cabrera. He should debut this year at either one of the short-season clubs, or perhaps at Rome, if the Braves feel he’s up for it. He’ll likely be on this prospect list for several years as he works his way through the Braves system, but he could be ready for the majors as a teenager in 2019.

4. Sean Newcomb, LHP (AA) — Previous rank: 2
The Braves top pitching prospect took a big step towards the big leagues last year. He spent the entire year at double-A, as the Braves didn’t rush him as they did some of their other pitchers. He has a legit three-pitch mix of a plus mid-90s fastball, plus curve and a solid average changeup. His big durable frame (often compared to Jon Lester) allows him to hold his velocity deep into games. With the flurry of veteran starting pitching additions this offseason for Atlanta, the Braves are sending a clear signal that they are not rushing any of these top pitching prospects. Newcomb will start the year at triple-A, and could see Atlanta at some point if his development continues. Even though he finished strong at double-A last year, his walks remain a bit of a red flag, and the organization would like to see fewer of those before they try him in the major league rotation.

5. Kolby Allard, LHP (Low-A, R+) — Previous rank: 10
The No. 14 overall pick in 2015, Allard came into the draft with some concerns about his back, then had back surgery shortly after being drafted. He returned to the mound last year without many ill effects aside from some rust. He was part of the great second-half run by the Rome Braves, posting a 2.61 ERA after his return there in mid-July. Like Newcomb, Allard has a three-pitch mix that should all play as near-plus pitches. He’ll start the year at the high-A Florida Fire Frogs, and we’ll see just how fast the Braves want to push him. With most of their top prospects the Braves like to give them a full year at one stop to build a strong foundation. Because of his injury recovery last year, Allard didn’t get that full year at Rome. If he has a really strong first half, the Braves will probably push him to double-A, but the safer bet is for a full year in Florida. MLB ETA is likely 2018 at the earliest, with 2019 more likely.

6. Ian Anderson, RHP (R+, R-) — Previous rank: 13
The No. 3 overall pick last year, Atlanta focused on him for months as part of their “all high school pitching” 2016 draft strategy. He signed a below-slot $4 million deal, and projects at a top-of-the-rotation starter. He has a big mid-90s fastball and a plus slurve with a developing changeup. Anderson should anchor another amazing starting rotation at Rome this year, and if his development continues as planned, he could see Atlanta as early as 2019, with 2020 more likely.

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

7. Mike Soroka, RHP (Low-A) — Previous rank: 11
The tall Canadian pitcher personifies a work-horse starter. He’s an interesting prospect in that he seems to have a high floor for such a young pitcher, though he also possesses a pretty high ceiling. He has two low-90s fastball–a two-seam sinker and a four-seam runner–that play up with his plus command and increasing movement, a tight curve and solid average changeup. He works all of his pitches down in the zone and keeps the ball on the ground. Soroka only allowed three home runs all year in 143 innings, one of which was an inside the park homer. Of his 25 starts, 12 were quality starts, highlighting his ability go deep into a game and to be consistent from start to start — all of this is really rare for a pitcher his age in this era of specialization. While he will begin 2017 at high-A, Soroka is a prime candidate for a mid-year promotion to double-A. His MLB ETA could be as early as late 2018, with 2019 a safer bet.

8. Dustin Peterson, OF (AA) — Previous rank: 6
I like Peterson a lot more than other folks, and what I see is a young power bat who has a chance to hit for a good average in the middle of the order. He’s improved each year as he’s moved up from level to level in the minors. He’s added more power at each stop, hits both lefties and righties, and has ironed out some of the inconsistencies that caused slumps in the past. While everyone seemed to be ooing and ahing over the Arizona Fall League season of Demeritte, Peterson posted an OPS nearly as good with a higher batting average and fewer strikeouts. He’ll start the year at triple-A and might see Atlanta this year, but should definitely be MLB ready by 2018 (when he’ll only be 23 years old).

9. Austin Riley, 3B (Low-A) — Previous rank: 7
Another young power bat that I’m really high on is Riley. He started off slowly at Rome last year, but turned a corner in June. His strikeouts dropped, his batting average showed a big improvement, and most notably his power emerged from hibernation. He hit 17 of his 20 home runs in the season’s final 66 games — one dinger every 14.9 at-bats. Riley shows good strike zone judgement, which should lead to his strikeout rate decreasing as he gains more experience. He had a high error total at third base, but his fundamentals are sound so that too should get reduced with time. He could see Atlanta as early as 2018 if things go really well, but more than likely his arrival date will be sometime in 2019.

10. Alex Jackson, OF (Low-A) — Recently acquired
Acquired in a late November trade with the Mariners, Jackson was the No. 6 overall pick in the 2014 draft. At that time he was considered one of the top two or three prep bats in the country, and certainly the one with the most power. Having played against advanced high school talent it was thought that Jackson would arrive polished and move quickly through a system. Things did not go as planned. Jackson struggled to hit at just about every stop, and has never really “gotten things going” in pro ball. The M’s essentially gave up on him and shipped him off to Atlanta, where the Braves gladly welcomed him into their organization. Jackson will be 21 next season, and will likely start at the high-A Fire Frogs in the Florida State League. A year in the warm-weather FSL might be just what the doctor ordered for Jackson to get his career back on track. It’s hard to put an ETA on a player trying to figure things out, so we’ll just focus on this year and seeing if he can be the prospect everyone thought he would be after the draft. The Braves are also considering moving him back to catcher, which could be an interesting development.

11. Patrick Weigel, RHP (AA, Low-A) — Previous rank: 24
The highest riser on this prospect list, everyone will be watching to see if Weigel is for real this year. A 7th-round pick in 2015 out of the University of Houston, Weigel was know for premium velocity with spotty control. He found better control in the Braves organization, and kept much of that high-90s velocity. The Braves thought enough of Weigel as a prospect to promote him from low-A to double-A late last year, skipping a level. He finished the season at the advanced level strong, pitching into the 9th inning of his final regular season start. With Weigel’s premium velocity and developing slider and curve, he’s a late bloomer who has a chance as a top of the rotation guy. And that chance could come in 2017, but more likely the following year.

12. Touki Toussaint, RHP (Low-A) — Previous rank: 8
The 16th overall selection in the 2014 draft out of high school, Touki was the first major prospect the Braves plundered from Arizona — essentially purchasing him along with a bad-money contract in 2015. He scuffled after the trade, but was able to reset to begin 2016, and put together a stellar campaign for Rome. He began controlling his mid-90s fastball and plus-plus curve with greater success. As I’ve said since Touki was acquired, it is likely just a matter of collecting reps and innings before he unlocks his full potential. He’s the kind of talent that could shoot up this list and quickly become Atlanta’s best pitching prospect. He’ll move up to high-A this year with his fellow top-of-the-rotation mates, and could start sniffing the majors in 2018, with 2019 being a more likely arrival year.

13. Max Fried, LHP (Low-A) — Previous rank: 9
The 7th overall pick in the 2012 draft out of high school, he had Tommy John surgery in 2014 and missed most of that year and all of 2015. Last year the Braves let him establish a solid foundation of success at Rome, though he needed some rest throughout the year as the innings caught up to him, and he was sidelined some with blister problems. Building up his arm the right way will dictate how fast Fried moves towards the majors. There has been a lot of buzz about him possibly contributing this year, as he was added to the 40-man roster because of service time requirements. If he does, it will be a late season contribution in Atlanta, and more likely he’ll compete for a rotation spot in 2018. His low-to-mid-90s fastball is paired with a plus curve, but it will likely be his changeup, and how that develops, that will determine his ceiling. The Braves will likely skip Fried over high-A this year and see how he fares at double-A, that should accelerate his timetable.

14. Ronald Acuna, OF (Low-A) — Previous rank: 26
Acuna-mania has afflicted many Braves prospect watchers, and while I’m not drinking the Kool-Aid yet, I’m getting close. He has the full compliment of five tools that talent evaluators love to see, and he seems to be able to put the bat on the ball with above average regularity. I’m not quite ga-ga about him yet due to his lack of playing time — he missed a significant amount of the 2016 season with a thumb injury. That said, he is still an A- prospect in my book, and at just 19-years-old next year he has plenty of time to get on the field and demonstrate his talent. If everything clicks and he stays healthy, he could see Atlanta as early as 2018, with 2019 being a more likely arrival year.

15. Luiz Gohara, LHP (A, Low-A) — Recently acquired
Acquired in early 2017 from Seattle in the Mallex Smith trade. He signed with the Mariners in 2012 for $880K, a record for a Brazilian player. The knock on him since then has been his lack of conditioning, something he started to get serious about last offseason, leading to much better results in 2016. He sits mid-90s with a three-quarters delivery and can tickle 100 mph. He pairs his plus fastball with a plus slurve, and both pitches could be future plus-plus, especially if his changeup continues to improve. Gohara should join the army of top-of-the-rotation starting pitching prospects assembling for the Fire Frogs first season, and at just 20-years-old, he has plenty of time to develop at his own pace. His ETA is probably 2019.

16. Joey Wentz, LHP (R+, R-) — Previous rank: 14
The No. 40 overall pick last year, he had a successful debut between both rookie ball leagues. He struggled some in his first month in Danville, but finished strong. He has solid-to-plus low-to-mid-90s velocity, a plus curve and future-plus change. Wentz also features advanced control for his age, and profiles as a mid-to-top of the rotation workhorse. He’ll be ticketed for Rome this year, with an MLB ETA around 2020.

17. Abrahan Gutierrez, C (Has not debuted yet) — Previous rank: 16
Considered by many to be the top catching prospect of the 2016 international class, his $3.5 million bonus would have been the largest bonus ever given by Atlanta to an international player, but for Maitan getting a larger bonus last year. He’s only 16, and will likely debut in the GCL this year with Maitan, but as a catching prospect he will move slower through the system. He has displayed good catch-and-throw skills, a strong arm and good contact at the plate, but all of his tools are raw.

18. Kyle Muller, LHP (R-) — Previous rank: 15
The No. 44 overall pick last year, the Braves left him in the GCL in his debut season, and kept a close eye on his pitch count per game, never extending him more than three innings. He had some eye-poppingly good numbers, but he rarely faced batters more than once, and didn’t have to extend his stuff deep into a game. The Braves want to build up his velocity, which currently sits low-90s, and they will work with Muller on a successful third pitch after his fastball and future-plus slurve. This season should give us a better idea of what kind of prospect Muller could be, as he’ll either start the year in Rome, or get held back for Danville.

19. Bryse Wilson, RHP (R-) — Previous rank: 28
The No. 109 overall pick last year, he had a nearly identical first pro year to the one that Muller did. His velocity is reportedly a tick higher, but his control isn’t quite as advanced. He was still pitching well in the instructional league late last year, with reports of a mid-90s fastball and possible future-plus pitches with his slider and changeup. As with Muller, we’ll have to wait and see if the Braves start him at Rome or hold him back for Danville.

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

20. Lucas Sims, RHP (AAA, AA) — Previous rank: 5
The biggest drop of any prospect on this list, Sims hit a big wall after an early season promotion to triple-A. He was sent back down to double-A, and showed some signs of sorting things out, but 2016 nonetheless leaves some black marks on his prospect pedigree. While he has worked to iron out his mechanical issues, his inconsistencies there lead to a really high walk rate, which is the biggest thing going against him at this point. Since 2015 he has posted BB/9 rates higher than 5.2 at every stop — that is impossible to pitch around, and as he moved up the ladder it caught up to him. That will be the thing to watch this year, as he will once again spend it between AAA and AA. If he can lower that walk rate and iron out the mechanical issues that may be behind it, then he could still be a solid mid-rotation starter. If not, then he’s still likely a late-innings reliever, as his fastball can reach the high-90s in short stints — in that scenario he could follow a similar path to the one Luke Jackson has (see his writeup further down this list).

21. Rio Ruiz, 3B (MLB, AAA) — Previous rank: 17
I’d love to rank Rio higher, and he may be a better prospect than I’m giving him credit for, but right now he’s simply behind the folks in front of him because of his lower ceiling. He’s catching up though, moving in the right direction, and could be on the cusp of becoming an A-grade prospect. I just can’t shake my initial comp of him as a Chris Johnson-type player with a better walk rate. He had a cup of coffee with Atlanta last year, and it will be fun to watch how he pushes Adonis Garcia at third base this season. Ruiz likely offers more long term than Garcia does, but it might be hard for Ruiz to crack the love affair that the Braves seem to have for Garcia.

22. A.J. Minter, LHP (AA, High-A, Low-A) — Previous rank: 20
The No. 75 overall pick in 2015 out of Texas A&M, Minter served as the school’s closer before going under the knife for Tommy John surgery prior to the draft. The Braves were undeterred by that, and saw in Minter the best closer prospect in the 2015 draft. He made his pro debut in May of last year at Rome, then got promoted to Carolina two weeks later, then got promoted again to Mississippi about five weeks after that. He didn’t give up his first pro run until his 15th game, and he didn’t give up his second pro run until his 28th game. The Braves closely monitored his workload and gave him lots of rest between appearances — he had at least two days of rest between every appearance. His fastball was up to 98 mph even late last year, and he compliments that pitch with a developing cutter and a hard slider. A 12.2 K/9 rate last year, along with a low 2.9 BB/9 walk rate, and minuscule 4.7 H/9 rate make Minter a future closer prospect. He should see Atlanta at some point in 2017, but when might depend on how much the Braves want to use him this year, or whether they will continue to give him multiple days between appearances.

23. Travis Demeritte, 2B (High-A) — Recently acquired
The No. 30 overall pick in 2013 by the Rangers out of Winder, Georgia, the Braves acquired him last year for some spare pitchers in what amounted to a potential steal of a trade. Don’t be fooled by his rank down here, as he could easily be thought of as a top-10 prospect in the Braves system by some folks. He’s a five tool second baseman who will only be 22 years old next year. He has Uggla-esque power as well as the high strikeout rate that goes with it. A PED suspension in 2015 caused him to miss 80 games, and his position is still not settled, with a possible move to third base in store for 2017, when he will also get his first crack at double-A. His MLB ETA is probably 2018, though how he performs this year at double-A will show us if he’s on schedule or not.

24. Derian Cruz, SS (R+, R-) — Previous rank: 12
The Braves top international signing in 2015 had a successful pro debut state-side in 2016. He hit well for a month in the GCL, then scuffled a bit for a month after a promotion to Danville. His premium athleticism were on display at both stops, but like most young international players he has a lot of refinement to do. He swings at everything, and as a switch-hitter he has more work to do to refine his swing mechanics. Both speed and power showed up in his game, and his arm remains strong enough to stay at shortstop, though more work on his fielding is needed. He’s a long-term project for the Braves, so he’ll probably yo-yo up and down this prospect list for years to come. Still too far away to put an ETA on him.

25. Cristian Pache, OF (R+, R-) — Previous rank: 25
Like Cruz, Pache was another top international signing in 2015, and followed Cruz to the GCL and Danville this year. Unlike Cruz, Pache did not suffer a drop-off once promoted. He’s a five-tool center fielder, and he’s also a long-term project, and it may take some time before all of those tools show up on the field.

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.

26. Luke Jackson, RHP (MLB, AAA, AA) — Recently acquired
The No. 45 overall pick in the 2010 draft, Jackson got MLB experience each of the last two years with the Rangers. He was dealt to Atlanta this offseason for Brady Feigl and Tyrell Jenkins. It’s been a long development path for Jackson, and he’s essentially been stalled in the high minors since he reached triple-A in 2014. He switched to the bullpen the next year and better results followed. Walks are still a major concern (similar to Sims), but he’s got a good fastball-curve combo that gives him closer potential should he sort out his control. He’s a bullpen option for Atlanta to start the season, but the Braves will likely want him to work on his control in the minors and get a good foundation of success before thrusting him in late-inning situations.

27. Ricardo Sanchez, LHP (Low-A) — Previous rank: 37
One of the big gainers on this list, Sanchez had a problematic 2015 season in which poor conditioning and a youthful attitude led to poor results on the mound. Better conditioning and a more mature approach in 2016 resulted in continued improvement as the season went on. He’s still in the low-90s with his fastball, and showed improvement in his secondary pitches. His ceiling is that of an undersized lefty starter with good stuff and good pitchability. He’ll be a part of the Fire Frogs rotation this season in High-A. I’d rather take a wait and see approach before putting an MLB ETA on him.

28. Drew Harrington, LHP (R+) — Previous rank: 31
The No. 80 overall pick last year as a Junior out of Louisville, he is a classic pitchability lefty. His fastball has good life and sits in the low-90s, and he has a solid slider. His changeup is a work in progress. The Braves didn’t throw him much after he signed, and that leads some to believe he might be ticketed for the bullpen. This year will tell us what the Braves’ plan for Harrington is. His ceiling is that of a mid-to-back of the rotation starter, or high leverage lefty reliever.

29. Yunior Severino, SS (Has not debuted yet) — Previous rank: 34
With all the international buzz last year about Maitan, Severino and his $1.9 million bonus slipped under most folks’ radar, but no prospect list should miss this guy. The Braves are really excited about him, giving him young Hanley Ramirez comps. Severino is a switch-hitting shorstop, and only a year behind fellow switch-hitting Dominican shortstop Derian Cruz. Both are a bit undersized, but athletic and talented, flashing five possible tools. Severino should debut stateside in the GCL, and we’ll see where he goes from there.

30. Matt Withrow, RHP (High-A) — Previously unranked
I’m intrigued by Withrow, who didn’t pitch that much in college, but was built up to 120 innings last year by the Braves. The organization seems determined to make him a starter, and the early results are good. While everyone was raving about Max Povse at High-A Carolina, Withrow was also there, and posted a nearly identical ERA and K/9 rate (though a much higher BB/9 rate). He may have a similar ceiling to Povse (another reason Povse was expendable in a trade) so long as he can lower his walk rate. His floor is likely that of a middle reliever. Double-A this year will be a nice test for him.

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, and they are more likely role players.

The next 10 are presented without comment, and are all B- prospects.

31. Braxton Davidson, OF
32. Connor Lien, OF
33. Brett Cumberland, C
34. Michael Mader, LHP
35. Juan Yepez, 3B/OF
36. Ray-Patrick Didder, OF
37. Caleb Dirks, LHP
38. Yenci Pena, 3B
39. Juan Contrereas, RHP
40. Thomas Burrows, LHP

Other Braves top prospect lists:
Baseball America Top 10
Minor League Ball Top 20
Baseball Prospectus Top 10
Talking Chop Top 25
Grant McAuley Top 30

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