1. Julio Teheran - B/T: R/R, Born: 01/27/1991, Ht: 6'2", Wt:175 - What is there to say about Julio Teheran that hasn't already been said? After an injury plagued, ineffective pro debut as a 17 year old in 2007, he's steadily dominated, rapidly and efficiently climbing the organizational ladder, spending the bulk of this season at AAA as a 20 year old, posting a 15-3 record, a 2.55 ERA, a 1.18 WHIP, and 7.6 K/9 in 144.2 innings, a performance that earned him both the International League Rookie of the Year and Pitcher of the Year awards. He is widely considered the top right handed pitching prospect in all of baseball, and only Rays lefty Matt Moore stands as competition for the top overall pitching prospect. Some prefer Moore's strikeout ability and left handedness, but Teheran is just as skilled, and dominated at a higher level, playing a full year and a half younger than Moore.
Accolades and debates aside, Teheran is an outstanding pitcher, with a fastball that can reach the upper 90s, but stays mostly in the mid 90s where the sacrificed speed is replaced with sharp movement. He pairs it with an above average changeup and a looping curveball, the only pitch he struggles with. When the curve is working he's nearly unhittable, but when he can't find the feel for it he struggles. Teheran has filled out some since joining the organization, and he's only 20 so there's reason to believe he can add a bit more weight, but he's still slight of frame, which will always lead to some questions about his durability, though that hasn't been an issue since his first pro season. He uses his lankiness effectively to add deception to his delivery, which resembles a coiled spring uncoiling. Even with the obvious physical skills, what really makes him so lethal on the mound is his mind, which is sharp and receptive. He's a hard worker and a good listener, and has a strong desire to be the best.
Teheran made his Major League debut this season, making spot starts on May 7th and 18th, finishing the year with a 5.03 ERA and a 1.48 WHIP in 19.2 innings over 5 appearances, including 3 starts. At the moment he's poised to enter Spring Training in a competition with Mike Minor for the 5th spot Atlanta's rotation, but there's the distinct possibility a trade of one of the team's veteran starters could assure him a spot on the team. There's little left for him to prove in AAA, so it's unlikely the team would send him back even if there isn't a spot in the Major League rotation. He could be an immensely effective reliever, even if it's only temporary. Regardless of how things play out at the start of the 2012 season, Teheran is a true gem and will likely be a stalwart in the Atlanta Braves rotation for years to come.
2. Randall Delgado - B/T: R/R, Born: 02/09/1990, Ht: 6'3", Wt: 200 - In any other organization, Delgado would be a rare and special gem that fans would have been drooling over for years, but in the Braves organization he's been constantly overshadowed by Julio Teheran. Well dear Braves fans, start drooling. Delgado had an All-Star year for AA Mississippi, posting a 5-5 record, a 3.84 ERA, a 1.38 WHIP, and 8.4 K/9 in 117.1 innings, then followed it up with a respectable stint in AAA, with a 4.15 ERA, a 1.39 WHIP, and 10.4 K/9 in 21.2 innings with Gwinnett. He made spot starts for Atlanta on June 17th and August 16th, then spent all of September in the rotation, posting a 2.52 ERA and a 1.28 WHIP in 25 innings, one of the few bright performances in the midst of the team's historic late season collapse.
Delgado works his fastball in the low to mid 90s, pairing it with a changeup and a curveball, both of which are above average offerings. Despite his stuff, he rarely dominates, working through his starts with meticulous care, attacking hitters but allowing them to put the ball in play. When he struggles it's because he attempts to be too fine with his repertoire, falling behind hitters, leading to too many walks. It's a rare problem with a young pitcher, but the Braves may actually have to work on making him more aggressive with his superior stuff. Delgado is big and durable, and it's easy to envision him being a workhorse in Atlanta's rotation for years to come.
Ideally, Delgado's fine September would be enough to earn him a spot in Atlanta's rotation to start the 2012 season, but it's more likely that Mike Minor and Julio Teheran will be given a chance ahead of him. He only made 4 starts at AAA, so he could certainly use more time at that level to refine his game. He's likely to begin the season in Gwinnett's rotation, waiting until the logjam of top tier young pitching unclogs enough to give him an opportunity. Like Teheran, he has a real shot at becoming a perennial member of Atlanta's rotation for years to come.
The rest of the list after the jump:
3. Zeke Spruill - B/T: S/R, Born: 09/11/1989, Ht: 6'4", Wt: 184 - Not much could have gone worse for Spruill in 2010, as he pitched poorly and then missed several months after breaking his hand punching a concrete wall in a fit of frustration.That was an unfortunate followup to a 2009 that saw him earn a month long demotion to the Gulf Coast League in response to repeatedly breaking team rules.Coming into the 2011 season, Spruill's career was at a crossroads, grow up, work hard, and realize the potential the Braves saw in him, or continue to make immature mistakes and likely find himself out of professional baseball before the end of the year. Fortunately for the Braves, he committed himself to becoming a professional, and flourished, posting a 3.19 ERA and a 1.01 WHIP in 129.2 innings for High A Lynchburg, then following that with a 3.20 ERA and a 1.38 WHIP in 45 innings with AA Mississippi.
Braves Hall Of Famer Paul Snyder was fond of saying the team looked for high school pitchers whose shoulders resembled a coat hanger, with Kevin Millwood being a prime example of this, and Spruill is exactly that kind of pitcher. The biggest reason Snyder looked for coat hanger pitchers was their durability, and Spruill proved his durability this year, tossing 6 complete games and averaging over 6 innings per start. That durability is key, as his stuff, a low 90s fastball paired with a changeup and a slider, is only average. What he lacks in stuff, he makes up for with a bulldog mentality, attacking hitters, forcing them to put the ball in play so his defense can make outs. He'll return to AA to start 2012, and there's an outside shot he could see time with Atlanta at some point during the year. More likely, he'll spend the bulk of the season with Mississippi before moving up to finish the year with AAA Gwinnett, giving him a great shot at being a big contributor in Atlanta in 2013.
4. JR Graham - B/T: R/R, Born: 01/14/1990, Ht: 6'0", Wt: 185 - The Braves felt like they got a steal by getting Graham in the 4th round of this year's draft, since some experts had him ranked as highly as first rounder Sean Gilmartin. When he was drafted, it was assumed he would work as a reliever, because of his upper 90s fastball, and he was successful in that role at the outset, posting a 1.46 ERA and a 1.38 WHIP while striking out 13 over 12.1 relief innings to start his career with Rookie level Danville. But, he finished the year in the rotation, with a 5-1 record, a 1.79 ERA, and a 1.06 WHIP in 45.1 innings over 8 starts, and ended up winning the Appy League ERA title with a 1.72. While his fastball is special, his secondary pitches need work, though the early returns from his pro debut are encouraging. Graham is a hard worker who constantly earns the praise and respect of his coaches. Even if he falters as a starter, he'd still make a dominant reliever, and with the Braves' current depth of starting pitching they can afford to let him develop at his own pace. He'll likely start the 2012 season with Low A Rome, though a great spring could vault him into High A Lynchburg's rotation.
5. David Hale - B/T: R/R, Born: 09/27/1987, Ht: 6'2", Wt: 200 - Hale began the 2010 season in Low A Rome's rotation, but struggled mightily, posting a 9.00 ERA in 7 starts. He finished the year with a 2.16 ERA in 21 relief appearances, not only saving his season, but restoring confidence in his future. That confidence was tested at the start of this season, as he began the year by putting up a 5.64 ERA and a 1.79 WHIP in 22.1 relief innings for High A Lynchburg. He was moved into the team's rotation and ended up pitching well, with a 3.66 ERA and a 1.22 WHIP in 78.2 innings over 13 starts. At this point, it's anyone's guess as to what the future holds for Hale. Is he the guy who's a solid pitcher, utilizing a high 90s fastball, a deceptive changeup, and a sweeping slider to stymy hitters, or is he the guy who allows run after run, lacking control on his fastball and feel for his secondary pitches? And is he a starter or a reliever? Hale will be 24 years old next year, with only 210.2 professional innings under his belt. Because of his age and his late season success, the Braves will likely be aggressive and promote him to AA Mississippi to start 2012. Ideally he finished the year in the rotation, working his way toward a job at the back of the Major League rotation in a few years, but it's just as likely he finishes next year in Gwinnett's bullpen, mowing down hitters and on the cusp of a Major League promotion. Hale is a promising, perplexing, and frustrating prospect.
6. Jean Carlos Gil - B/T: R/R, Born: 10/12/1990, Ht: 6'2", Wt: 160 - Gil had an outstanding professional debut in the Dominican Summer League in 2010, with a 1.89 ERA, a 0.95 WHIP, 8.9 K/9, 0.9 BB/9 and 9.4 K/BB in 66.2 innings, then followed it up with an impressive US debut this season, posting a 2.91 ERA, a 1.19 WHIP, 8.7 K/9, 1.7 BB/9, and 5.3 K/BB in 65 innings in the Gulf Coast League. Like most Latin prospects, the Venezuelan is rail thin, but he'll be just 21 at the start of the 2012 season, so there's time for him to fill out. Until then, he puts his lankiness to good use, slinging his fastball into the mid 90s and getting good break on his offspeed pitches. Gil will move up to Low A Rome to start next year, and there's a good chance that he's going to rocket up the Braves' top prospect list in the next few years.
7. Mauricio Cabrera - B/T: R/R, Born: 09/22/1993, Ht: 6'2", Wt: 180 - Cabrera was the Braves top signing on the international market in the summer of 2010, as the team plucked the then 16 year old out of the Dominican Republic. He made his professional debut this summer in the Dominican Summer League, and while the numbers weren't impressive, a 1-5 record, a 4.30 ERA and a 1.43 WHIP in 52.1 innings, the Braves were happy with his progress and look forward to bringing him to the Gulf Coast League in 2012. At this point, Cabrera doesn't possess an impressive fastball, only just barely touching 90 with it, but his secondary pitches are incredibly advanced, including an above average curveball and a plus plus changeup. He'll only be 18 next season, giving him plenty of years to develop as a pitcher, fill out, and add some oomph to his repertoire. Down the line, Cabrera could become one of the team's top prospects.
8. Abraham Espinsoa - B/T: R/R, Born: 06/03/1993, Ht: 6'1", Wt: 175 - Espinosa made his professional debut in 2010 in the Dominican Summer League, just after his 17th birthday, and the Panamanian put up a 1.41 ERA and a 1.01 WHIP in 70 innings. He returned to the DSL this season, finishing with a 2.15 ERA and a 1.06 WHIP in 58.2 innings, giving him an impressive 1.75 ERA and a 1.03 WHIP in 128.2 innings in two years at that level. At the start of next year's Gulf Coast League season, he'll have just turned 19, giving him plenty of time to continue to develop as a pitcher. He has plenty of room to fill out in his body, which should push his fastball into the mid 90s and allow him to continue to eat up innings. Like Gil and Cabrera, Espinosa is a promising prospect who could one day be the gem of the Braves organization.
9. Lucas La Point - B/T: R/R, Born: 03/30/1991, Ht: 6'3", Wt: 215 - The Braves drafted La Point out of high school in the 23rd round of the 2009 draft, and he struggled in his first two years, with a 4.15 ERA and a 1.81 ERA in 26 innings in the GCL in 2009, and a 4.47 ERA and a 1.21 WHIP in 56.1 innings in 2010 for Rookie level Danville. He returned to Danville this year and became more adept at limiting runs, posting a 2.19 ERA and a 1.20 WHIP in 53.1 innings. La Point has a big, strong body that allows him to be durable, and while his pitches are only average, he has a workhorse mentality that allows him to get the most out of his ability. He'll head to Low A Rome as a 21 year to start 2012, hoping to build off his improvements from this season.
10. David Filak - B/T: R/R, Born: 11/24/1989, Ht: 6'4", Wt: 220 - After being selected in the 4th round of the 2010 draft, injuries limited Filak's professional debut, but he still pitched well, posting a 2.42 ERA, a 1.12 WHIP, and 9.3 K/9 in 26 innings for Rookie level Danville. He began 2011 with Low A Rome, but struggled mightily, allowing a 7.54 ERA, a 1.96 WHIP, and 6.6 BB/9 in 45.1 innings. He was sent back down to Danville at the end of June, and still struggled, putting up a 5.06 ERA and a 1.55 WHIP in 58.2 innings, though he did cut his BB/9 down to 2.9. He did finish the year strong, with a1.14 ERA and a 1.18 WHIP in 23.2 innings over his last 5 starts. Filak is a strong, big bodied pitcher who is incredibly durable, and his stuff is well above average, as his fastball sits in the mid 90s and he has a deceptive curveball, but he struggles with his command. When he's off his game none of his pitches work, his fastball typically gets left up in the zone and his breaking pitches simply don't break. If he can build off of his great finish when he returns to Rome next season as a 22 year old, he has the potential to have a breakout year, and he has the kind of skills that could make him a top prospect, but if he continues to struggle with his delivery and control he'll become just another tantalizing, frustrating prospect.