Over the last two weeks, Talking Chop's prospect team put our heads together to rank the twenty-five best prospects in the Braves minor league system going into the 2014 season. The list is a weighted compilation of the lists of five of our writers: Ben Duronio, Mark Smith, Ethan Purser, Andrew Sisson, and Daniel Simpson.
For the list, eligibility was determined based on the major league at-bats/innings pitched requirements for rookie eligibility. If a player has used up their MLB rookie eliability, they will not be on our list.
All statistics are from the player's full 2013 season for all levels. Level designations are from the level at which the player completed the 2013 season.
Without further ado, we'll kick things off at the bottom and work our way up!
A third round pick in 2012, De La Rosa has enviable tools behind the dish but is eons away from the majors. The 19-year-old moved up to the Appalachian League this summer, slashing .261/.328/.306 with five doubles and an 11:30 walk-to-strikeout ratio in 127 plate appearances. While his current offensive tools are very raw, he projects to be at least an average hitter in time, with whippy bat speed, looseness, and a simple barrel delivery. Power will likely come to the gaps, but his squatty 5-foot-8, 200-pound frame doesn’t foretell much physical projection or over-the-fence pop, though he could approach double-digit totals at full maturity.
His meal ticket to the highest level is on the other side of the ball. De La Rosa projects to be a plus defender at a premium defensive position with an absolute rocket for an arm. He threw out 41 percent of would-be base stealers last season, showcasing impressive arm strength, a quick release, and impressive footwork behind the dish.
De La Rosa should get his first taste of full-season ball this year at Rome, and while an impressive statistical showing at the dish is unlikely to occur, look for the 20-year-old to make developmental strides as the season progresses.
Juan Jamie still probably owns the fastest heater in the system, possessing the ability to hit triple digits on the radar gun. The problem? He doesn’t really have a second pitch. Towards the end of the regular season, rumors were the righty reliever was working on a split-finger type offering. Anything that is a change of speed to his fastball, that can keep hitters honest, would go a long way towards furthering his path to the majors.
Last season in Mississippi, he blew away hitters with a 37.2% strikeout rate and only gave up one homer all season. A walk rate around 15% will be a tough hurdle to clear, but overall, a 2.53 FIP suggests he outperformed his 4.07 ERA. Jaime remaining healthy will be key in his continued effort to find a consistent secondary offering in 2014.
If Juan Jaime is power at the expense of control from the right-hand side, then Ryan Buchter would be his left-handed counterpart. Buchter was originally drafted by the Nats way back in 2008 before making his way to the Cubs system. There, he was traded to Atlanta in a one-for-one swap for journeyman Rodrigo Lopez. Buchter is a reliever all the way, possessing a nice two pitch arsenal with better-than-average velocity but not much control to speak of. Throwing out of a low three-quarters arm slot, Buchter offers a fastball that sits in the 93-95 range with some decent late life, and can crank it up a few ticks higher if he needs to. He also offers a slurvy slider than he isn't afraid to throw to lefties or righties. He used those two pitches to thoroughly dominate the International League last year, posting a 14.95 K/9 mark, second best in the league. His K% was an equally obscene 37.6%.
So what's the problem? Well, his control is awful, to put it simply. He walked 7.40 batters per 9 innings last year, good for an 18.6% BB%. That simply won't cut it when you're facing major league hitters with decent eyes. The good news for Buchter is that the Braves have a history of working to get control problems, well, under control (I'm sorry). If he can translate his gaudy AAA strikeout numbers to the big leagues, he could prove effective as a LOOGY.
Buchter is already on Atlanta's 40-man roster, so don't be surprised if he gets an extended look in spring training or takes the final spot in Atlanta's bullpen.
Ian Thomas actually cracked Keith Law’s top ten, which shows how much some scouts think of his abilities. Thomas is going to pitch this season at age 27 which means saying that the clock is ticking on him is an understatement. His most likely utilization on the roster will be as a reliever, and the Braves can certainly use another quality left-handed option in the back end after losing Eric O’Flaherty to free agency and while they await Jonny Venters’ return from his second Tommy John surgery.
Thomas pitched for three seasons with the Winnipeg Goldeyes and part of a season with the York Revolution before getting signed by the Braves and sent to Rome in 2012. Consider him the Evan Gattis of pitching prospects.
Pitching his entire 2013 at double-A Mississippi, Thomas made 26 appearances as a reliever before the Braves stretched him out to start. This leaves some possibilities of Thomas being utilized as a starter going forward. With J.R. Graham’s shoulder injury last year potentially pushing him to a full-time bullpen role, the Braves may feel that Thomas may be more necessary as depth in the rotation rather than the bullpen. Our ranking of him this low in comparison to Law’s is our feeling that he ends up being used as a reliever more than a starter in the majors and that his age will limit the potential value he can provide over the course of his major league career compared to others.
Johan Camargo is the latest in a long line of impressive Braves' international signings out of Panama, joining the likes of Randall Delgado and Christian Bethancourt. Camargo, while young, has shown some intriguing potential with his bat so far. At the plate, he shows a knack for contact, being able to barrel up pitches with regularity thanks to a solid approach, impressive bat control, and a compact swing. He doesn't have any power yet to speak of, but his line drive swing and projectable frame suggests he could develop gap power as he puts on muscle and grows into his body.
In the field, Camargo plays a decent shortstop with a great arm. His speed is only average though, and given his strong arm, many scouts think he'll probably end up at third base at some point during his career. His glovework is still very raw, but should come along with repetition in full season ball. Look for him in Rome this year.