The most pressing need for the Braves at the Major League level is in the outfield, with major question marks in both left and centerfield. Unfortunately there isn't much immediate help on the horizon in the minor leagues for the Atlanta organization.The team's most promising outfield prospects are still in A-ball, and none are sure things. The outfield prospects for the Braves are more boom or bust than any other position, as any, or all, of them could turn into stud prospects, and any, or all, of them could turn into afterthoughts.
1. Cory Harrilchak - B/T: L/L, Born: 9/27/87, Ht: 5'10", Wt: 175 - Harrilchak's rise to the top of the outfield heap has more to do with the disappointing seasons of some of his fellow prospects than it does with his own play, but that play shouldn't be ignored. After being drafted in the 14th round in 2009, he had a fantastic debut season with Danville, hitting .324 with a .842 OPS, along with 19 stolen bases in 253 plate appearances. He followed that up by combining to hit .287 with a .754 OPS, 26 doubles, and 22 stolen bases in 510 plate appearances between Rome and Myrtle Beach. While he possesses only an average arm, Harrilchak is a plus defender at any outfield position, spending the majority of his time with Rome in rightfield, and the majority of his time with Myrtle Beach in centerfield. At worst, he profiles as a Ryan Langerhans-like 4th outfielder, capable of providing great value off the bench. At best, he could become a solid everyday outfielder, with his skill set profiling best in centerfield. To reach that level he's going to have to become more adept at stealing bases, he's only been successful on 71% of his steal attempts, improve on his ability to drive the ball, his .400 slugging percentage was just unacceptable, and continue to refine his natural ability to get on base. He played well enough with Myrtle Beach that he'll likely begin 2011 in AA Mississippi.
2. Todd Cunningham - B/T: S/R, Born: 3/20/89, Ht: 6'0", Wt: 200 - After he was selected in the 2nd round of this year's draft, there was talk that the Braves would move Cunningham to third base, but he spent all of his time in the outfield, playing 45 of his 65 games in centerfield. His debut wasn't as spectacular as some of his fellow draftees, as he hit .260 with a .679 OPS, with 9 doubles and 7 steals in 263 plate appearances for Rome. His on base skills were decent enough, as he got on at a .341 clip, but his slugging left a lot to be desired, as he slugged just .338. He has a tendency to look to slap the ball away, a tactic that is useful in certain situations, but not ideal for most hitters. Cunningham won the batting title in the 2009 Cape Cod League, so the ability is there. The Braves will look to get him to drive the ball more and if he can do so he has a much better chance of reaching his potential as an everyday, top of the order centerfielder. His defense is above average in center, and with the influx of third basemen from this year's draft it's unlikely that he'll be moved. He'll likely open 2011 with the team's new Lynchburg affiliate.
The rest of the list after the jump:
3. Adam Milligan - B/T: L/R, Born: 3/14/88, Ht: 6'3", Wt: 210 - Milligan's career has been waylaid by injury. After signing with the Braves as a 6th rounder in 2008, the 3rd time the team drafted him, he missed his entire first season with a knee injury. He got a late start to 2009, beginning the year in June with Danville, before his torrid play led to promotions to Rome and Myrtle Beach. He finished that year with a .344 average, a .985 OPS, 20 doubles, 13 homers, and 49 RBI in 285 plate appearances. He looked like a star in the making, but after a hot first week to start 2010 with Myrtle Beach, he hurt his shoulder, and after fighting through the pain for a few more weeks, he was forced to have rotator cuff surgery that ended his season. He hit just .200 with a .653 OPS in only 94 plate appearances, and those numbers were significantly affected by the injury. Milligan is, at best, an average defender, so his value as a plyer lies in his bat, which has huge potential. If he can come back from his latest setback, there's no reason to believe that his hulking frame can't continue to punish baseballs, but there's plenty of reason to wonder if he can stay healthy. He'll open 2011 back with Myrtle Beach, and if he can stay healthy he could develop into the kind of middle of the order power threat the Braves have sorely lacked.
4. Hector Garcia - B/T: S/R, Born: 6/19/92, Ht: 6'2", Wt: 170 - While he may be the most unknown name on this list, Garcia was one of the Braves' major international signings in 2008 when they plucked him out of his native Columbia. A childhood friend of Julio Teheran, he won't move nearly as fast at the fireballing righty, but the lanky outfielder is oozing with potential. He's spent the first 2 years of his career with the Dominican Summer League Braves, and after hitting just .165 with a .446 OPS in 95 plate appearances there in 2009, he improved to hit .260 with a .663 OPS and 16 stolen bases in 221 plate appearances. Garcia is capable of playing any of the outfield positions, though because of his speed he profiles best in centerfield. If he is able to add muscle on his large frame he could develop into a powerful, quick rightfielder. At this point the sky is the limit for Garcio, he only needs more experience to give a better view of what he can become. He will look to play in the US for the first time in 2011, and while there's an outside chance he could win a job with Rome to open the season, it's much more likely that his season begins in June with Danville, just after his 19th birthday.
5. David Rohm - B/T: R/R, Born: 1/22/90, Ht: 6'3", Wt: 215 - After being selected in the 9th round this year, Rohm was a pleasant surprise, combining to hit .319 with a .784 OPS and 9 doubles in 158 plate appearances between the GCL and Danville. His season was cut short after he broke his foot with a few weeks left in the season, but he should be completely healed and ready for Spring Training. He was drafted as a first baseman, but played just 3 games there, playing mostly leftfield for the GCL team and only rightfield for Danville. Regardless of where he plays, his large frame makes him a subpar defender, so that's an aspect of his game that needs a lot of work. Fortunately, that same large frame lends itself perfectly to hitting, where his strong base allows him to consistently drive the ball. The Braves envision him as a slugging rightfielder and he'll go to Rome in 2011 to work on continuing to develop his offensive upside and to try to turn himself into an adequate defender.
6. Kyle Rose - B/T: R/R, Born: 5/24/89, Ht: 6'0", Wt: 165 - Rose had a fine debut in 2009 after being picked in the 8th round, hitting .293 with a .750 OPS, including a .397 OBP, and 27 steals. He also went 3-5 with another stolen base in a 1 game stint with Danville. But his 2010 season was marred by injury, he played in just 91 games, missing time with a sever hamstring pull, and ineffectiveness, as he was caught stealing 23 times while being successful 29 times. Unlike most speedsters, Rose is long and rangy, a quality that lends itself perfectly to being an above average centerfielder with outstanding range. If he can harness all of his skills, he could become the quintessential leadoff hitter, but he has a number of areas that need improvement. He has shown almost no ability to drive the ball, as his slugging percentage was a pathetic .299 in his 362 plate appearances for Rome. Add in this a 19% strikeout rate last year and he has a lot of work to do to make more contact. As fast as he is, he simply needs to put the ball in play and let his speed put pressure on the defense; the slugging will come naturally with increased contact. He needs to harness his speed better when he does get on base, something that can be accomplished with experience and coaching. Again, Rose could develop into the ideal leadoff hitter, but there's also the unfortunate possibility that he could end up like many speed players who are uanble to steal first base. He'll start 2011 back in Rome, hoping to improve on his showing from this season.
7. Cody Johnson - B/T: L/R, Born: 8/8/88, Ht: 6'4", Wt: 240 - Perhaps no player in the entire Atlanta organization had a more trying 2010 than Cody Johnson. The slugging leftfielder had broken his team's single season home run record in both 2008 and 2009, and was looking to challenge AA pitchers as a 21 year old in 2010, but his contact issues caught up to him. The strikeouts had always come with the power, as he struck out in 34% of his plate appearances in 2008 and in 35% of his plate appearances in 2009. That rate rose to 39% in 2010, and all that kept him from fanning 200 times was missing large stretches of the season with a severely injured hamstring. That injury was the beginning of the end of his time in AA, as he seemed ot get hot in early May after epic struggles in April, only to have that stretch end by going on the shelf. He never got right again and ended up being demoted to Myrtle Beach, hitting .189 with a .613 OPS and 10 homers in 260 plate appearances with Mississippi. He did better after the demotion, hitting .264 with a .839 OPS and 6 homers in 102 plate appearances. The possible outcomes for Johnson's development are starkly different, either he figures out how to make enough contact to make his power, which is arguably the most impressive in all of the Minor Leagues, worthwhile, and he becomes a Rob Deer or Adam Dunn type player, or he doesn't, and he becomes one of the more disappointing first round draft picks in Braves history. He'll return to Mississippi in 2011, looking for compltely opposite results.
8. Kurt Fleming - B/T: S/R, Born: 8/30/91, Ht: 5'11", Wt: 193 - The Braves selected both Kurt (8th round) and his older brother Kenny (19th round) in this year's draft. Kurt shows more potential, and while his debut wasn't spectacular, he hit .266 with a .701 OPS and 8 steals in 186 plate appearances for the GCL and Danville, he did show plenty of promise. He spent the majority of his time in centerfield, though he may not have the speed required to play there regularly as he gets older. He is a slightly above average defender regarless of where he's at the in outfield, and even if he is forced to shift to leftfield in the future, his bat shows the kind of all-around game that is typical of regular outfielders. Fleming is a lot like Cory Harrilchak, in that he does a lot well without being that spectacular, though he's already shown a bit more propensity to drive to drive the ball. Like Harrilchak, at worst he could become a Ryan Langerhans-like 4th outfielder, at best a solid everyday leftfielder. He'll move up to Rome in 2011, hoping to further refine his game.