Mid-season Atlanta Braves prospect list time! The pre-season list can be found here, along with explanations of how I rank and grade.
I am getting a bit more cautious by dropping some ranks lower, but overall the system is still loaded with premium talent. With these writeups I’m not focusing on giving you scouting reports, for that please refer to the pre-season list, but instead these writeups are like a status report where I also explain why I’m moving a player up or down the list.
Graduating from the list were Dansby Swanson (1) and Luke Jackson (26).
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. Ronald Acuna, OF — Previous rank: 14
I’ve warmed up nicely to the prospect pedigree of Acuna, as I jump on the Acuna-mania bandwagon. His five tools have finally been on the field for a significant portion of a season, and he has hardly slumped, even for a week — showing some amazing consistency, as well as power and speed and ability to hit for average and outfield arm… a full complement of tools that should produce a player who is a major force in the lineup every day. He’s zoomed through the system this year from low-A to double-A and now triple-A. The majors are not far off.
2. Ozzie Albies, 2B — Previous rank: 2
Albies has definitely rewarded the pre-season ranking of him as an A+ prospect. While he started off slow at triple-A, likely a remnant of returning from offseason elbow surgery, it only took a month for him to get back to his old self, then another month to kick it into high gear. He has enough upper level success under his belt to play in the majors now, so it should only be a matter of time (or trade deadline) before a spot opens up in Atlanta for him.
3. Mike Soroka, RHP — Previous rank: 7
He’s the Canadian reincarnation of Greg Maddux. Soroka vaults up here above Allard because of his consistently low walk rate, low HR rate, modestly low hit rate and high-enough strikeout rate. I feel like he’s kind of a throwback player too, in the way he goes deep into games. Half of his starts are quality starts, and he’s completed five innings in all but two starts.
4. Kolby Allard, LHP — Previous rank: 5
Much like Soroka, Allard is a premium pitching prospect and future top of the rotation stalwart. He’s just about even with Soroka, and most will probably rank Allard higher since he’s a lefty and was drafted higher. My inclination is that Soroka has separated himself slightly, but that takes nothing away from the bright future that Allard should have ahead of him.
Grade A: These are prospects who I believe will be first division players, and occasional All-Stars, while filling valuable roles on the team.
5. Kyle Wright, RHP — Recently drafted
This year’s top draft pick, and recipient of the largest bonus in club history, the Vanderbilt product enters the Braves system with high expectations. He has the potential for four plus pitches, and can already keep his fastball in the mid-90s late into games. With smooth mechanics and good control he is exactly what teams look for in top-of-the-rotation college arms.
6. Kevin Maitan, SS — Previous rank: 3
The team’s top international signing in 2016 out of Venezuela. Maitan was the wunderkind of last year’s international class, and has been dubbed by most scouts as a can’t-miss impact player. It likely won’t be long before he’s the organization’s top overall prospect.
7. Sean Newcomb, LHP — Previous rank: 4
In Newcomb’s handful of first-half MLB starts, we’ve seen the good and bad of young pitching. His fastball and curve have been on display, and unhittable when located well. But his penchant for issuing free passes has also surfaced. The good is still outweighing the bad, and it should be fun to watch as Newcomb tries to adjust as the league figures him out. This is the process with any young pitcher. During the last two years of the rebuild we’ve seen young guys like Matt Wisler and Aaron Blair fail to make the necessary adjustments, and have to return to the minors to figure things out. Newcomb may be no different, but the extra giddy-up on his fastball should help him adjust more effectively.
8. Luiz Gohara, LHP — Previous rank: 15
The bonus-sized Brazilian dominated high-A, then kept on dominating after his promotion to double-A. Like Newcomb, Gohara has that high-octane fastball that should help him overpower hitters as he moves up the ladder. Because he’s newer to the system, coming over from the Mariners in an offseason trade, he’s not as well knows as some of these other pitchers, but he’s yet another arm with top-of-the-rotation talent.
9. Ian Anderson, RHP — Previous rank: 6
Last year’s first pick is putting together a nice first full-season campaign. His 11.4 K/9 rate is splendid, though his 4.7 BB/9 rate is less so. He has yet to surrender a HR this year, and he only gave up one last year, though he’s not a ground-ball pitcher. That squares with reports about the weak contact that hitters get on his pitches.
10. Joey Wentz, LHP — Previous rank: 16
Pretty much everything I said about Anderson, but a lower walk rate and 1 home run allowed. As the season has gone on, Wentz has been near-unhittable at times. While the organization probably wants to get him a full season at one stop, he could handle high-A now.
11. Bryse Wilson, RHP — Previous rank: 19
Wilson was sort of the forgotten high school pitcher from last year’s draft, but brings nearly as impressive a repertoire as Anderson, Wentz and Muller. He’s been the most consistent throughout the season, and could be the Soroka to their Allard. There’s a lot of young pitching to keep up with, but don’t sleep on Wilson.
Grade A-: The next group of prospects I grade as possible first division players who will all play important starting roles in the majors.
12. Alex Jackson, C — Previous rank: 10
The warm weather of the FSL has been good for A-Jax. His .883 OPS is the best he’s posted in any of his previous three professional seasons, due in large part to the highest slugging percentage he’s ever had. He’s put together his best offensive season while playing catcher for the first time since 2014 in high school. Behind the plate he’s done pretty well, with a 21% caught stealing rate and a low number of passed balls. He does have 9 errors, but overall the conversion back to catcher has been smooth.
13. Austin Riley, 3B — Previous rank: 9
Riley has been streaky this year, and seemed to slump when A-Jax was out for nearly a month with an injury. He’s also OPS’ed nearly 150 points lower on the road, which is dragging down his overall numbers. That split wasn’t present last year, so there may not be much more than coincidence behind it. Overall Riley is on track for a solid campaign this year. He’ll have a challenge ahead of him as the Braves moved him up to double-A mid-season.
14. Lucas Sims, RHP — Previous rank: 20
Sims has solved his biggest problem this year, posting the lowest walk rate of his career. His 2.8 BB/9 rate is better than half the 5.9 rate his posted last year. He’s still striking out more than a batter per inning and keeping his hit rate low. His home runs allowed are up, especially on the road. He’s still just 23-years-old, and has already shown a terrific ability to make adjustments (by correcting his walk rate). It should only be a matter of time (or trades) before he sees Atlanta.
15. Abraham Gutierrez, C — Previous rank: 17
Considered the top catching prospect in last year’s international class, he debuted state-side in the GCL. This was what most expected out of the young Venezuelan teenager. He’s still only 17 years old, so there’s a lot of development time ahead.
16. Kyle Muller, LHP — Previous rank: 18
Muller was the only one of the big-four prep arms from last year’s draft that got held back from full-season ball. He started at short-season Danville, and the organization seems to be watching his innings very carefully. His prospect stock hasn’t changed since pre-season, but he’s been leapfrogged by Wilson, who spent the first part of the year succeeding at Rome. Muller is still just 19 years old with plenty of development time ahead of him.
17. A.J. Minter, LHP — Previous rank: 22
Moving into the A-grade prospect group, the closer of the future for Atlanta has been pretty filthy this year… when he’s been healthy. The Braves are still taking it slow with Minter as he comes back from TJ, and he missed a couple of months early in the year with elbow tightness. He seems to pitch well at whatever level they assign him to, reaching triple-A earlier this month, so I say put him in Atlanta and see how he does. That day should be fast approaching (especially with Jim “Blowey” Johnson closing games).
Grade B+: These players grade as solid above average players with the potential to be much more.
18. Max Fried, LHP — Previous rank: 13
After a very successful comeback last season from TJ surgery in 2014, Fried has been erratic so far this year. He’s given up a run or more per inning in a third of his starts, but a third of his starts are also quality starts. The other third have been average to poor. The Braves have eased off his innings in the past month, after some signs of dead arm. These struggles lead me to move him down a grade, but he’s still only 23 years old, so still plenty of time.
19. Patrick Weigel, RHP — Previous rank: 11
Piggly-Wiggly had TJ surgery in late June. Before that everything was on track this season. He had solved double-A, and had one bad start at triple-A before his final game that make his stats look bad. He was on the fast track to Atlanta, now it will likely be 2019 before he’s ready. I’m moving him down a grade until we see what he’s like when he returns to the mound.
20. Rio Ruiz, 3B — Previous rank: 21
Big River is showing some improvement in his second tour at triple-A, specifically increasing his power output. His month of games in Atlanta haven’t been spectacular, but he’s shown flashes of a dynamic player who can impact the game on both sides of the ball. He’s nonetheless a notch below being an impact player right now, but at just 23 years old he’s got time to work on his game while he’s still a prospect. Though the Braves timetable to fill the third base hole with someone other than a converted All-Star first baseman could come due faster than Rio is ready to take over.
21. Dustin Peterson, OF — Previous rank: 8
Slowed by a hand injury in early March, he didn’t get on the field at triple-A until late May. The injury really zapped his power, and he’s finally getting it into gear in July. I’ve dropped him down a grade for now, as I’m not sure he’s on the same level as A-Jax or Riley. That said, he’s still just 22 years old, and with the injury he shouldn’t feel pressure to push to the majors this year, instead targeting next season to break into the majors. With Acuna now ahead of him, Peterson will have a hard time cracking the outfield, unless the team moves Kemp.
22. Touki Toussaint, RHP — Previous rank: 12
I’ve lost some confidence in Touki’s ability to make adjustments quick enough to be considered in the elite A-grade group. He still has good stuff–fastball and curve–but his consistency of command is suspect. What I want to see is a sustained period with a low walk and hit rate. Some of that has started, as he’s beginning to limit the extra base hits that were plaguing him early in the season.
23. Derian Cruz, SS — Previous rank: 24
The top international signing from 2015 scuffled while opening the season at low-A Rome, and was demoted to Danville mid-May. He’s turned things around in D-town while displaying his power/speed combo. His defense seems to be a long-term project, as so far in his career he’s making an error every two games.
24. Cristian Pache, OF — Previous rank: 25
The other top international signing from 2015, Pache has remained at Rome this year, and put together a decent but not elite first full season. His play in the field and at the plate has drawn some raves from scouts, but he has yet to hit a home run as a pro. A less than stellar comp may be former Braves prospect Victor Reyes, who has never seen his power blossom. Like Reyes, Pache’s power comes from his speed and the ability to turn singles into doubles, and doubles into triples.
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.
25. Yunior Severino, SS — Previous rank: 29
The switch-hitting five tool shortstop got some early playing time in the DSL before joining the GCL team when their season opened. Still not enough playing time to judge the results so the grade remains the same, but I expect him to move up this list at year’s end, especially if he gets promoted to Danville this season.
26. Drew Waters, OF — Recently drafted
With the 41st overall pick in this year’s draft, the Braves snagged Georgia’s top prep hitter. The last two times that happened–Jason Heyward and Jeff Francoeur–it turned out pretty well. Waters is a switch-hitter with line drive power from both sides, and speed in the field and on the base paths. The five tool outfielder could move up the prospect list quickly, especially if he gets promoted to Danville, after starting his pro career in the GCL.
27. Freddy Tarnok, RHP — Recently drafted
The team’s third round pick this year (80th overall) was a two-way player in high school, but the Braves will develop him on the mound as a starting pitcher. It’s hard to say how high school arms like this will progress, as previous picks in this range (Carlos Salazar in 2013 and Garrett Fulenchek in 2014) did not work out. Based on draft pedigree and bonus, this is where I start his ranking off at, we’ll see where he goes from here.
28. Travis Demeritte, 2B — Previous rank: 23
The former first round pick from Winder has struggled mightily in his first try at Double-A. He’s struggling to make contact and adjust as the league adjusts to him, leading to an ongoing slump that started over a month ago. His K-rate is down slightly, so his struggles don’t seem to be creating bad habits, but he’s making less hard contact. He’s still young, and still has time, but I moved him down a grade until he makes those corrections.
29. Brett Cumberland, C — Previous rank: 33
A second round pick last year (76th overall), the switch-hitting backstop was billed as a bat-first catcher. So far about half of that bat has shown up in the professional ranks. He has been much better from the left side than from the right side, with most of his power and all of his home runs coming as a left-handed hitter. The Braves saw that and promoted him from low-A to high-A mid-June. How that right-handed stroke progresses will pace his success as a prospect.
30. Lucas Herbert, C — Previously unranked
The Braves gave him an overly-aggressive assignment last year when they started him at Rome. He did not do well, and the team sent him back there this year. It took him a couple of months, but he’s starting to put up some good numbers. Even though he’s repeating a level, he’s young enough at just 20 years old that we can expect him to adjust a bit slower. The scouting report on him when drafted two years ago was that his bat would come on slowly.