After a fine sophomore season, Freddie Freeman has firmly implanted himself as Atlanta's first baseman of both the present and the future, but the future is nowhere near as clear across the diamond, where the retirement of Braves legend Chipper Jones has left the team with a gaping hole at third base. Fortunately, the Braves have money to spend as well as viable internal options in Martin Prado and Juan Francisco to fill the void at third, because they don't have anyone on the farm who's ready to make an immediate impact.
1. Edward Salcedo: 3B, B: R, T: R, Ht: 6'3", Wt: 195, DOB: 7-30-91
The was a lot of fanfare when the Braves signed Salcedo out of the Dominican Republic in March of 2010 for a 1.6 million dollar bonus, but so far, the 21 year old hasn't lived up to expectations. After shifting from shortstop to third base full time in 2011, he spent all of 2012 at the hot corner, but still made 42 errors. And while he put up some encouraging stats, including 26 doubles, 17 homers, and 23 steals, his overall numbers weren't very exciting, a .240 average, a .707 OPS, and 61 RBI.
Even after two full seasons in the system, Salcedo is a bundle of potential. He's big and strong, yet athletic and fast, the kind of power/speed combo that lends itself well to projection. Despite racking up huge error totals, he is a slick defender with a strong arm. His defensive issues arise when he loses focus, as shown in the fact that most of his errors came in 1 or 2 game clusters. At the plate, he is more than capable of putting a sting on the ball, rapping out 40% of his hits this season for extra bases, but he struggles making contact, striking out in 28% of his at bats, and he's shown little patience, walking in only 6% of his plate appearances. What Salcedo needs to do to realize his potential is obvious, he needs to shore up his mental lapses on defense and become better at pitch recognition to allow himself to make more consistent contact so that he can utilize his natural power.
When the Braves first signed Salcedo they were hoping they were getting the next Miguel Cabrera, but at this point his career path looks more like Wilson Betemit's a former Braves prospect who was full of excitement and potential that he never quite realized, yet was able to parlay his natural skills into a respectable Major League career. Salcedo is still young, he won't turn 22 until the end of July, but 2013 is going to be a put up or shut up year as far as his status as a prospect. If he can put some things together and have a good year with AA Mississippi, the Braves and fans alike will feel more sure about his future. If he has another maddeningly inconsistent year, other players are going to leapfrog him on the prospect list.
2. Joey Terdoslavich 1B, B: S, T: R, Ht: 6'0", Wt: 200, DOB: 12-9-88
After an outstanding 2011 with Lynchburg that saw Terdoslavich break a 65 year old Carolina League record by clubbing out 52 doubles, the Braves had high hopes for his 2012 season, moving him across the diamond from first base to third, and skipping him up to AAA Gwinnett, with the hopes that he could make himself a viable incumbent for Chipper Jones in 2013. That plan fell through almost immediately, as Terdoslavich had trouble at the hot corner, committing 22 errors in 56 games with Gwinnett, then took those defensive struggles to the plate, where he hit just .180 with a .515 OPS, 4 doubles, 4 homers, 20 RBI, and 50 strikeouts in 215 plate appearances with Gwinnett. At the beginning of June, the Braves demoted him to AA Mississippi and shifted him back to first bases, moves they hoped would salvage his season, and it did the trick, as he managed to hit .315 with a .852 OPS, 24 doubles, 5 triples, 5 homers, and 51 RBI in 333 plate appearances with the M-Braves, though he did make 11 errors in 68 games at first.
Terdoslavich's biggest problem as a prospect is that the Braves play in the National League and can't use a DH on a daily basis. He actually wasn't a terrible fielder at third base, his biggest problem was a poor throwing motion that cause the ball to sail on him, but when he struggled there and at the plate the issues compounded one another. He's adequate enough at first base, but has hard hands which lead to more errors than most teams would be willing to accept at that position. Terdoslavich's bat is going to play well in the Majors, as he's a line drive hitter who generates torque with a strong lower half and he doesn't strike out much for a power hitter, fanning in 21% of his plate appearances with Mississippi, while walking at a good clip, taking a walk in 8% of his AA plate appearances.
As a hitter, the 24 year old Terdoslavich is close to Major League ready, and could likely contribute to Atlanta sometime in 2013, but with Freddie Freeman firmly entrenched at first base, the Braves will likely try to change his position again, possibly even giving him another try at third base. Terdoslavich will return to Gwinnett to start the year, and we shouldn't expect him to have any trouble hitting there like he did this season. No matter where he ends up, he'll probably always be a subpar defender, but his bat should be potent enough to make up for his defensive shortcomings.
3. William Beckwith: 1B, B: L, T: R, Ht: 6'2", Wt: 220, DOB: 8-19-90
Beckwith turned in a solid debut season in the GCL after the Braves drafted him in the 21st round out of Wallace Community College in Alabama back in 2010, but he put himself on the prospect radar with a dominant 2011 that saw him hit .282 with a .929 OPS, 13 doubles, 3 triples, 11 homers, 45 RBI, and 8 steals in 248 plate appearances for Rookie level Danville. He followed that up with an impressive 2012 where he was Rome's most consistent hitter by batting .291 with a .838 OPS, 26 doubles, 15 homers, 78 RBI, and 17 steals in 426 plate appearances.
Beckwith possesses a thick, strong body, which some have called pudgy, that allows him to generate a great deal of power with his bat, with 37% of his hits this year going for extra bases. He's also fairly patient for a power hitter, talking a walk in 8% of his plate appearances this season, and he strikes out at a reasonable rate given his skill set, fanning in 24% of his at bats. He's also a surprising athlete for a player of his bulk, stealing 25 bases in 164 games in the last 2 seasons, and that athleticism might serve him well if the Braves choose to move him to the outfield, since he is, at best, an average defender at first.
So far, Beckwith seams like a nice steal in the draft, and he'll move up to Lynchburg in 2013 as a 22 year old and continue to refine his game. It may take another few years of facing more advanced pitching before the Braves really know what they have in Beckwith, but he seems to be on the path of becoming a quality Major League contributor.
4 Joe Leonard: 3B, B: R, T: R, Ht: 6'5", Wt: 215, DOB: 8-26-88
Leonard had a disappointing 2011 with Lynchburg, hitting .247 with a .689 OPS, 27 doubles, 8 homers, and 63 RBI in 452 plate appearances, but he was able to turn in a more respectable 2012, hitting .263 with a .733 OPS, 22 doubles, 3 triples, 9 homers, and 66 RBI in 487 plate appearances with Mississippi. After the season, he was named a Rawlings Gold Glove winner, being cited as the best fielding third baseman in all of Minor League baseball.
Defense is Leonard's calling card, as he could step onto a Major League field and instantly become one of the best fielders at third base at the game's highest level. Big, strong, and sure handed, he rarely makes either physical or mental mistakes. Still, he has yet to really show dominance at the plate, though there are strong signs for his future, as collected a walk in an impressive 10% of his plate appearances this season while striking out in a reasonable 20% of his at bats. The Braves thought they were getting a power hitter when they drafted Leonard in the 3rd round in 2010, though that hasn't really been the case so far. Despite slugging at a higher rate this season, .392 compared to 2011's .378, he actually had a lower percentage of his hits go for extra bases, 30% this season compared to 36% in 2011.
Leonard will move up to AAA Gwinnett as a 24 year old in 2013 and he'll have to have a more than solid offensive season to give hope that he can become a Major League regular. While having an outstanding defender at any position is a huge plus, most teams look for offense out of the corners, so Leonard's projection as an average to poor Major League hitter hurts his prospects. If he can build on the improvements he made at the plate in 2012 and tap into his huge frame for some extra base power, the Braves could very well have their long-term answer at third base.
5 Brandon Drury: 1B/3B, B: R, T: R, Ht: 6'2", Wt: 190, DOB: 8-21-92
The Braves knew Drury was raw when they drafted him out of an Oregon high school in the 13th round in 2010, so it wasn't much of a surprise when he struggled in his debut that year, hitting .198 with a .539 OPS, 7 doubles, 3 homers, and 17 RBI in 207 plate appearances in the GCL. What was surprising was his 2011 season that saw him win a batting title as an 18 year old with Danville, hitting .347 with a .891 OPS, 23 doubles, 8 homers, and 54 RBI in 278 plate appearances. Unfortunately, he couldn't build on that success in 2012, struggling though his season with Rome, hitting .229 with a .603 OPS, 22 doubles, 3 triples, 6 homers, and 51 RBI in 480 plate appearances.
As bad as his 2012 season was, Drury was able to show an ability to make adjustments and improve, recovering from hitting .187 with a .495 OPS in the first half to hit .279 with a .730 OPS in the second half. He has a tendency to be a handsy hitter with wandering feet, which prevents him from using his size to drive the ball and allows more advanced pitchers to take advantage of his aggressiveness. That aggressiveness is his biggest problem as a hitter, as he walked in just 4% of his plate appearances this season, which was actually an improvement over the 2% of the time he walked in 2011. Still, he only struck out in 16% of his at bats this year, so he isn't as wild a hacker as he could be. Defensively, the Braves are still trying to figure out what to do with Drury. He was drafted as a shortstop, and played a few game at second base early in his career, but seemed to settle in well at third base before the Braves tried him out at first base this season, where he excelled, committing just 1 error in 55 games. Even if he's able to reach his full potential at the plate, Drury is unlikely to profile as a typical first baseman, so the Braves may give him another chance around the infield.
Drury is still young, so it won't hurt his development to return to Rome in 2013 as a 20 year old. If he can return to his 2011 hitting form and find a defensive home, the Braves will have a very promising prospect, but if he falls prey to being too handsy and aggressive at the plate, he might never make it out of A ball.