Matt Lipka led a crop of talented shortstops who joined the Braves organization in 2010.
1. Matt Lipka - B/T: R/R, Born: 4/15/1992, Ht: 6'1", Wt: 188 - After signing Billy Wagner to be their closer, the Braves didn't have a pick in the first round of the 2010 draft, bu they feel like they had gained a first round talent when they selected Lipka 35th overall. He signed quickly for $800,000 and dominated the Gulf Coast League as an 18 year old, hitting .302 with a .758 OPS, 8 doubles, 4 triples, a homer, 24 RBI, and 20 stolen bases in 210 plate appearances. He earned a late season promtion to Danville, where he went 2-16 with a RBI and a stolen base in 4 games. Lipka's calling card is his speed and hustle, and he showed plenty of both in his debut season, still running out grounders hard in September, when most players are mentally packing for the offseason. He's a line drive hitter, and he has a thick, strong body, but he doesn't utilize it enough in his swing. If he can put more of his body behind the ball he can become a very dynamic hitter, combining above average pop with well above average speed. Even if his power doesn't develop, his swing and approach are solid and he should develop into a fine top of the order hitter. Lipka made 11 errors in 42 games at shortstop, but most players with his youth and athleticism pile up the errors early in their careers. He has good instincts at shortstop and his arm is adequate enough for the position, but, from a physical standpoint, he isn't the protoypical shortstop. His body is a bit thick and looks capable of muscle, and if it did a move to second base would be more appropriate. Alternately, the Braves may decide to make use of his speed and hustle in centerfield, a position that would allow him to both use his atheticism and add muscle. No matter where he ends up on the diamond, Lipka has a bright future and the determination and work ethic to become successful. He'll move up to Rome in 2011 for his first full season.
2. Edward Salcedo - B/T: R/R, Born: 7/30/1991, Ht: 6'3", Wt: 195 - The Braves made a big splash in February when they signed Edward Salcedo for 1.6 million dollars, the most they'd ever given a foreign born amateur free agent. In 2007, the Indians nearly signed him to a contract worth over 3 million dollars, but questions about the validity of his birthdate arose. MLB finally determined that July 30th, 1991, the date Salcedo had presented from the start, was his actual birthdate, but only after he'd missed out on two years of development and millions of dollars. Regardless of how he came to them, the Braves were thrilled to add him to the organization and planned to get him acclimated to the pro game through Extended Spring Training, then send him to Rome in early June. That plan was derailed when Salcedo ran into visa problems after returning to the Dominican Republic following Spring Training to be with an ill relative. He ended up stuck in his native country, but was able to make his professional debut with the DSL Braves, hitting .297 with a .885 OPS, 5 doubles, a homer, 11 RBI, and 8 steals in 95 plate appearences. He was finally able to return to the US and join Rome in early July, hitting .197 with a .534 OPS, 5 doubles, 4 triples, 2 home runs, 16 RBI, and 6 stolen bases in 209 plate appearances. He also made 27 errors at shortstop in just 52 games for Rome. Statistically, Salcedo's debut season was a bust, but numbers don't tell the whole story. While MLB was keeping him in limbo the last two years, he wasn't able to take part in any high level, organized baseball, meaning that when he came to Rome as an 18 year old, already an aggressive assignment by the Braves, the only "real" baseball he'd played was a few weeks of Spring Training and 23 games in the Dominican Summer League. While the numbers weren't pretty, the Braves themselves couldn't have been more happy with how Salcedo performed, both on and off the field. He is the protoypical five-tool player, and while 2010 is proof that he's going to need some seasoning to develop, there's little doubt he can turn himself into an every day Major Leaguer. He made a ton of errors, causing some to question his defense. Rust led to some of the errors, but mostly they were just the growing pains that all young, incredibly athletic players deal with. He gets to balls that other, less talented players simply can't get to, and occasionally he makes an error on those plays, something that he will grow out of as he becomes more experienced. Salcedo's size has also been an issue, causing some to wonder if he'll eventually need to shift to third base. But, for now he's still lean, and exactly the same size that the top shortstops in the National League, Troy Tulowitzki and Hanley Ramirez, were at 19. Salcedo will return to Rome in 2011, with a promotion to High A Lynchburg possible based on his performance. It will be interesting to see how the Braves find at bats for both Salcedo and Lipka on the same team.
The rest of the list after the jump:
3. Andrelton Simmons - B/T: R/R, Born: 9/4/1989, Ht: 6'2", Wt: 170 - When the Braves selected Simmons in the second round of this year's draft they actually announced him as a pitcher. It made sense that the team would want to put him on the mound as a professional, he posesses a 98 mph fastball. But, Simmons wanted to hit, and the only way the Braves could bring him into the organization was if they signed him as a shortstop and gave him every chance to succeed as a hitter before trying him out on the mound. He was surprisingly good in his debut with Danville, hitting .276 with a .695 OPS, 11 doubles, 2 home runs, 26 RBI, and 18 stolen bases in 269 plate appearances. Still, those numbers aren't exactly great for a player with college experience, and with Matt Lipka and Edward Salcedo both slotted in at shortstop at Rome in 2011, Simmons may be forced to jump to High A Lynchburg. That jump might be too much and could derail his chances as a position player. He's incredibly thin, so there's reason to question whether or not he'd be able to drive the ball at the higher levels. If Simmons can't make it as a position player it will be a shame, because his defense if Major League caliber already. His arm is an 80 on the 20 to 80 scouting scale, and his long lean frame and nearly unmatched athleticism allow him to reach everything hit even remotely close to him.
4. Tyler Pastornicky - B/T: R/R, Born: 12/13/1989, Ht: 5'11", Wt: 170 - When the Braves traded away Yunel Escobar, they not only acquired their current shortstop in Alex Gonzalez, but possibly their next one in Pastornicky. Drafted in the fifth round of the 2008 draft, he hit .258 with a .724 OPS, 16 doubles, 6 home runs, 35 RBI, and 24 stolen bases in 331 plate appearances for Toronto's High A Dunedin affiliate before the trade. The Braves were aggressive after he came to the organization, promoting him to AA Mississippi, where he hit .254 with a .699 OPS, 5 doubles, 2 triples, 2 homers, 15 RBI, and 11 steals in 160 plate appearances. After the season, he played in the Arizona Fall League, where he hit .278 with a .649 OPS in 54 at bats. Pastornicky is a slap and grind hitter. His smallish frame isn't likely to generate much power, but he knows this and has focused on becoming a better contact hitter. If he can improve his average out of the .250 range it will help his on base percentage and allow him to become a top of the order hitter, which is where his skill set profles best. He's a solid fielder who uses his speed well and makes intelligent decisions. He's played some second base, a position that may suit him better in the long term. Pastornicky will return to Mississippi to start 2011, with a promotion to AAA Gwinnett likely at some point in the year.