It’s mid-season Atlanta Braves top prospect time! The Braves system is currently quite thin with top-tier talent, and there is a big drop-off after the first 8 or so prospects. There is a lot of budding potential in the system, and the Braves always seem to get the most out of mediocre prospects.
Braves top prospect, Lucas Sims (photo by CB Wilkins)
Graduating from the previous prospect list to the majors are Tommy La Stella (4), David Hale (9), Shae Simmons (13), and Ian Thomas (17).
An explanation of the grades I use can also be found on the previous prospect list.
1. Lucas Sims, RHP (High-A) — Previous rank: 1 (Grade A)
It’s been a rough first half for the Braves top prospect, with a 4.97 ERA, but of the 446 times he’s faced a batter this year, all but 3 of those times that batter has been older than Sims. He is one of the youngest players in the Carolina League, and that shows how the Braves push their top prospects and challenge them against tough competition. Sims’ stats will start to look better, but more importantly, after taking his lumps here Sims will emerge a better pitcher. He’s still the best high school pitching prospects to come through the Braves system since Adam Wainwright. Sims also threw a no-hitter earlier this year, so that shows the kind of potential he has. MLB ETA: 2017
2. Christian Bethancourt, C (MLB & AAA) – Previous rank: 5 (Grade A)
CB has held his own while filling in for Evan Gattis in Atlanta. It’s clear he’s not a finished product, both offensively and defensively, but not all prospects arrive in the majors as finished products. Bethancourt’s raw skills and intangibles are terrific, especially behind the plate. I’m still a skeptic about his bat, but he’s getting quicker at making adjustments, and has grown out of the prolonged slump problems that plagued him earlier in his career. MLB ETA: Now
3. Jose Peraza, SS (AA & High-A) — Previous rank: 6 (Grade A-)
What hasn’t this kid accomplished this year? Between two levels he’s slashing .347/.372/.461, and swiping bags at a Furcalian rate — 42 steals in 54 chances. He even changed his stance in the middle of the season. My only real gripe with him is his lack of walks. Because of his speed he profiles as a leadoff man, and a 3.6 BB-percentage is not good (MLB average is 7.8 this year). He’s a great contact hitter, but eventually that will slump, and an approach at the plate which generates more walks would make him more valuable. MLB ETA: 2015
4. Mauricio Cabrera, RHP (High-A) — Previous rank: 7 (Grade B+)
The Braves were overly-cautious early this season, when they kept Cabrera on the DL for almost two months with a right forearm injury. He’s one of the team’s prized arms, so they’re going to make sure he stays healthy. Like Lucas Sims, Cabrera is just 20 years old, and playing at an advanced level — the team has challenged Cabrera in this manner every year, and likely will continue to do so. As his innings build and he begins to face hitters two and three times in a game, we’ll start to see whether he can stay in the rotation. MLB ETA: 2017
5. Braxton Davidson, OF (Low-Rookie) — Previously unranked (Grade B+)
The Braves first round pick this year (32nd overall) is starting off his career at “complex ball” — that’s the Braves Gulf Coast League team at their Orlando spring training complex. Stats from down there are not worth reading into. For instance, Davidson currently has a .672 OPS; very similar to Freddie Freeman’s .674 OPS during his first taste of pro ball in Orlando. MLB ETA: 2018
6. J.R. Graham, RHP (AA) — Previous rank: 3 (Grade B+)
Plagued by injuries last season, the injury bug has bitten Graham against this year. Last year it was shoulder tendinitis which kept him out for five months, this year it’s a right forearm strain which landed him on the DL a week ago. This year Graham has pitched like a guy who missed last season, with an unflattering 5.18 ERA. We need to see Graham healthy, a problem that seems to be frustrating him as much as it’s frustrating us. MLB ETA: 2015
7. Kyle Kubitza, 3B (AA) — Previous rank: 16 (Grade B+)
My opinion of Kubitza has changed a lot this year. At the beginning of the year I wrote about how Kubby’s stance at the plate was wildly inconsistent with a lot of unnecessary movement. In seeing him again this year, he’s ironed most of that out. The numbers he’s putting up certainly seem to indicate that he’s found more consistency in his swing. His OPS the last three years has gone from .742 to .814 to .888 this season. That improvement has come in both the power and on-base department, with the improved on-base numbers being a product of his rising batting average (.239 to .260 to .310). Kubitza is essentially Chris Johnson, but with the added potential of better defense at third and an above-average walk rate. His emergence this year as a viable replacement for Johnson at the hot corner in Atlanta makes me question why the Braves felt it necessary to give Johnson a contract extension through 2017. MLB ETA: 2015
8. Victor Caratini, C/3B (Low-A) — Previous rank: 10 (Grade B+)
I still list him as a catcher slash third baseman, but for the past few months he’s exclusively been a catcher. That’s probably the right position for him, and certainly the one that would ultimately carry the most prospect (trade) value. He hasn’t had a breakout season by any means, but it’s been a decent season so far. He’s retained his patient approach at the plate, and his power has remained the same. I’d like to see him add more power, and as I’ve said before about Caratini, I believe there is power there, and it will emerge with time. He’s a switch-hitting catcher, that’s rare. MLB ETA: 2017
9. Jason Hursh, RHP (AA) — Previous rank: 2 (Grade B)
I most certainly over-ranked him to start the season. I thought he’d show more improvement in his strikeout rate, but instead that hasn’t changed, and he’s proven to be more of a pitch-to-contact sinkerballer. The early reports on him raved about a mid-to-high 90s fastball, but I haven’t seen that velocity translated into results. Because he had Tommy John surgery in college, he didn’t throw as much as most guys drafted as college juniors. For that reason, I’m now a bit more bearish in ranking him, understanding that he needs an additional year of development to further refine his game — especially as it relates to making his delivery more repeatable and less error-prone. The Braves skipped him from Low-A to Double-A this season, so he’s also facing much tougher competition, and has not been able to handle it as well as previous college early-rounders like Mike Minor and Alex Wood. Read more about Hursh from a report I wrote earlier, and Baseball Prospectus. MLB ETA: 2016
10. Wes Parsons, RHP (High-A) — Previous rank: 20 (Grade B)
Parsons makes the biggest jump of anyone on this list, but really, I had him higher a month ago. He’s struggled some this season against tough competition, but he’s continued to perform like he will eventually be a mid-rotation workhorse. He left his start recently with what sounded like arm trouble, so let’s hope that’s nothing serious. MLB ETA: 2017
11. Juan Jaime, RHRP (MLB & AAA) — Previous rank: 14 (Grade B)
Jaime was pretty darn good in his brief cup of coffee in Atlanta last month, filling in for an injured reliever. His numbers at Triple-A have also stayed pretty much the same from last year. His K/9 is still robust at 13.1, but he continues to get himself into trouble with walks. His 7.7 BB/9 is more than twice the MLB average (3.0), and unacceptable in the long run. Strangely, he only walked one guy in his four innings in the Majors, but he went back down to Gwinnett and has walked 7 in 5.1 innings. He truly has the inconsistency of a middle reliever. MLB ETA: Now
12. Aaron Northcraft, RHP (AAA & AA) — Previous rank: 19 (Grade B)
Northcraft did a good job and improved in just about every facet of his game while repeating Double-A to begin the season. The Braves rewarded him with a promotion to Gwinnett, but it hasn’t gone so smooth there. He did put together one really good start at Triple-A, so it’s likely just a question of harnessing his consistency. He’s one of those forgotten pitchers in the Braves system, but he could emerge as a serious candidate for the rotation next spring. It would also be interesting to see if he could transition to a bullpen role, using his hard sinker to be the Braves new ground-ball-double-play-reliever. MLB ETA: 2015
13. Victor Reyes, OF (Low-A) — Previous rank: 15 (Grade B)
Tools, that’s pretty much all Reyes is right now. He needs to add muscle, as his lack of power accounts for the biggest hole in his game thus far — he’s hit zero home runs in 187 professional games. He’s one of the youngest players in the Sally League, so once again we see the Braves challenging their young prospects. MLB ETA: 2018
14. James Hoyt, RHRP (AAA & AA) — Previously unranked (Grade B-)
Hoyt was dominating Southern League batters, and assumed the M-Braves closer duties when Shae Simmons got promoted to the majors. That only lasted about a week before Hoyt got promoted to Triple-A. The minors’ highest level has not been as easy to solve for Hoyt. His BB/9 and H/9 more than doubled, but his K/9 stayed about the same. MLB ETA: 2015
15. Cody Martin, RHP (AAA) — Previous rank: 11 (Grade B-)
The plus about Martin since he was drafted, has been his command of 4 pitches. The negative has been that none of those pitches really grade as plus. Martin has to keep hitters off balance by constantly mixing his pitches, but he can usually reach back for a little extra when he needs a strikeout. He was a closer in college, and while he’s done well as a starter in the Braves system, he hasn’t emerged as anything more than a back-end rotation arm. His future is likely more suited to middle or long relief. MLB ETA: 2015
16. Garrett Fulenchek, RHP (Low-Rookie) — Previously unranked (Grade B-)
Fulenchek is a big, tall-framed high school pitcher, and this year’s second round selection. He has a body that scouts drool over when assessing the projectability of young pitchers, and he already has a live mid-90s fastball. He’s a long-term project for the Braves, so we won’t start addressing his stats until he’s gotten some development time under his belt. MLB ETA: 2019
17. Chasen Shreve, LHP (AA) — Previously unranked (Grade B-)
Shreve has emerged from obscurity this season to become Mississippi’s closer (post-Shae Simmons and James Hoyt, who were both promoted to higher levels). He sports a nifty 12.7 K/9 rate and a minuscule 1.5 BB/9 rate. The big change with Shreve has been his decision to throw harder. He was throwing in the high-80s last season with good command, but has upped his game this season and his fastball is now sitting in the mid-90s, while retaining good command. In the Braves long search for a lefty reliever, in the post-Venters, post-EOF era, Shreve could be the answer. Read more about his rediscovered velocity here. MLB ETA: 2015
18. Gus Schlosser, RHP (MLB & AAA) — Previous rank: 18 (Grade C+)
His early season stint with the big league Braves was decent, though probably underwhelming to most people. Of course, Schlosser is not a pitcher who is going to blow anyone away. He’s a work-a-day reliever, or Harang-like starter. As the Braves say, he’s got good pitchability. There is still plenty of value here, as he could fill in for an injured starter or reliever, and will occasionally hit highly productive hot streaks while he does a good job of limiting the cold streaks. MLB ETA: 2014
Kyle Wren (photo by CB Wilkins)
19. Kyle Wren, OF (AA & High-A) — Previous rank: 27 (Grade C+)
Speed! Wren has 39 steals in 50 chances, and does a good job of getting on base, slashing .295/.359/.353. As you can see, there’s not much power there, but that’s not his game. Think of Wren as a more under-control and refined Jose Constanza. Wren could provide good value to the big club as a fourth outfielder, and a pinch-hitter who is an accomplished bunter. If asked to play everyday, he likely wouldn’t hurt a major league lineup, and would probably be a disruptive force on the base paths. MLB ETA: 2015
20. Josh Elander, OF (High-A) — Previous rank: 8 (Grade C)
Elander has had the most disappointing season of just about any prospect on this list. He’s worked hard to make adjustments since getting promoted to Lynchburg last year, but those adjustments have been slow to come. They’ve also been slowed by an injury to his non-throwing shoulder that he tried to play through earlier this season. That caused his numbers to take a dive, and eventually landed him on the 15-day DL in early May, then back on the DL since the beginning of June. I still believe in his bat, and that he can hit for consistent power and a decent average. He just needs to get healthy. MLB ETA: 2017
21. Edward Salcedo, 3B (AAA) — Previous rank: 12 (Grade C)
Salcedo has one of the best hitter’s bodies in the Braves system. You look at him and it looks like he should be an athletic five-tool player, and maybe one day he might be. The Braves have pushed Salcedo to a higher level each year, even though he didn’t show signs of conquering the previous level. That makes him one of the youngest players at Triple-A, and he’s certainly playing like a guy who is a little over-matched. Salcedo will probably stay at Gwinnett next year, and that may be the year we will finally see what he can do. MLB ETA: 2015
22. Andry Ubiera, RHP (Low-A & High-Rookie) — Previously unranked (Grade C)
Ubiera may finally be emerging as the next international power arm in the Braves system. He has a fastball that sits in the low-90s, and can reach 95. He compliments that with several good off-speed pitches, which have made some strides this year. He adds an element of good pitchability, and is a fierce competitor on the mound. MLB ETA: 2017
23. Phil Gosselin, INF (MLB & AAA) — Previously unranked (Grade C)
Gosselin has scouts talking this year. He apparently added some muscle over the offseason, and it shows in his increased power at the plate — Gosselin is slugging 100 points higher than he has in any season of his pro career. His versatility makes him valuable as well. He’s played more than 10 games at multiple positions — left field, second, third and short. Gosselin could turn into a bit of a poor-man’s Martin Prado in the next year or so. I expect we’ll see a lot of him this September when rosters expand. MLB ETA: 2014
24. Todd Cunningham, OF (AAA) — Previously unranked (Grade C)
I’ve often described Cunningham as a “jack of all trades, master of none” outfielder. He’s got decent speed, some power, a good throwing arm, and he has the ability to hit for average. He’s rarely put all that together at one time, but at some point the expectation is that he will. That will make him a good fourth outfielder and pinch-hitter, and someone who won’t hurt you if he has to play everyday. Working against Cunningham, is the emergence of Kyle Wren, a guy with a similar profile who offers more speed on the bases. MLB ETA: 2014
25. Tanner Murphy, C (High-Rookie) — Previously unranked (Grade C)
The Braves 4th round pick last year, Murphy was drafted out of high school, and is already playing in the Appy League as a 19-year-old. Last month in my Danville Braves game report, I mentioned that I would probably wait to rank him until he reached full-season ball, but my thinking has obviously changed — though he’s still the 25th name on this list. He’s shown an above-average approach at the plate this year, along with some power. That combined with his plus skills behind the plate, and I’ve talked myself into ranking him here. MLB ETA: 2018
Braves Prospect Oort Cloud — the next 10
There are about 10 other prospects who I considered for the top-30, but I couldn’t narrow them down, nor rank them in any meaningful fashion. I still wanted to mention them, so they are listed below in alphabetical order, and will now be referred to as the Braves prospect Oort cloud.
Tyler Brosius, RHP (Low-A) — Like Hursh, Brosius didn’t pitch a lot in college, as he was the backup QB for NC State. He’s got a power arm, and his velocity has been good this year. He needs to harness his control to ascend to the next level.
Johan Camargo, INF (Low-A) — A switch-hitting Panamanian with little-to-no power. His profile reminds me of Elmer Reyes, another infielder in the Braves system at Triple-A. Some consider Reyes a prospect, but he doesn’t have much speed, no power, and doesn’t walk much. There’s more hope for Camargo, as he has shown the ability to take the free pass, and there’s a chance his bat could grow into some power.
John Cornely, RHRP (AA) — I’ve been a fan of Cornely for a while. He’s a max-effort power reliever with swing-and-miss stuff. As with so many young power pitchers, control has been his Achilles’ heel. If he can stop walking so many people, look out.
Yean Carlos Gil, LHP (Low-A) — He was on the prospect radar several years ago as an up-and-coming international prospect, but was waylaid by Tommy John surgery in 2012. This is his first full season after that surgery, and while he’s had his ups and downs, he’s shown signs of the prospect he used to be. He’s more of a pitchability guy, but he has a decent fastball which plays up because of his command.
Alec Grosser, RHP (High-Rookie) — An 11th round pick in 2013 out of high school, the Braves went over-slot to sign him away from his college commitment. Grosser was considered a long-term project, but he’s ahead of schedule with his good work this season in the Appy League as a 19-year-old.
Ryne Harper, RHRP (AA) — He’s had a good year that’s gone mostly under the radar due to the success of other relievers at Mississippi stealing the spotlight. His K/9 is back up to 11.9, but his BB/9 and H/9 are also up. He’s a long-shot as a 37th round pick (from 2011), but he could still emerge as a valuable middle reliever.
Nate Hyatt, RHRP (High-A) — I’ve like Hyatt since he was drafted out of Appalachian State in the 13th round in 2012. He was a college closer with a mid-to-high 90s fastball, and he put up pretty good numbers in his pro debut. He followed that up with good work last year at High-A, but the Braves had him repeat High-A this season, and there haven’t been too many improvements.
Connor Oliver, OF (Low-A) — An athletic young outfielder, and a late-round find by the Braves in last year’s draft. He’s definitely a work in progress, but he’s playing against advanced competition for his age (20 years old) and holding his own. I’ve seen him play a couple of games this year at Rome, and have been very impressed by his setup in the batter’s box and his defense in center field.
Carlos Salazar, RHP (Low-A & High-Rookie) — The Braves started him off in the rotation at Rome this year, but he wasn’t ready for that. He’s had more success out of the bullpen in Danville. His delivery is a bit like Jordan Walden’s, with a little hop off the mound toward the plate as he throws. Whether it’s that, or something else, his command has been pretty terrible. He’s a work in progress to be sure.