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.
Shae Simmons, who appeared as a sleeper on our mid-season list, finished with a dominant 2013 campaign that included a strong showing in the Arizona Fall League. The 22-year-old made 50 appearances between AA and AAA, sporting a 1.69 ERA. He not only owned a remarkable 82:22 strikeout-to-walk, but was able to keep the ball on the ground, limiting batters to a .163 average against.Since being drafted, Simmons has yet to surrender a home run.
The 5’9" reliever packs a punch with a fastball that can touch the mid-90’s and a sharp slider that dominated hitters in the lower minors. As a non-roster invitee to spring training, he likely won’t break camp with the team, but could find his way into the bullpen at some point during the 2014 season.
The Braves have played it slow-and-low with Northcraft, barbecuing the 23-year-old California native who has in turn rewarded the organization by producing well at every stop in his developmental journey, including a very effective stay in the Southern League in 2013. The 6-foot-4, 230-pound right-hander posted an ERA that was 13 percent better than the Southern League while posting above-average strikeout and groundball rates.He was plagued with control issues and was far too hittable in the Arizona Fall League, leading to a statistical line that was NSFW.
Northcraft utilizes a drop-and-drive delivery and a low three-quarters arm slot, producing some deception to arm-side hitters by throwing across his body (which is partially due to his placement on the first-base side of the rubber), though lefties can pick the ball up easily out of his hand. He throws a sinker that has great life in the lower quadrants, sitting in the upper-80s to low-90s. His sweeping slider is effective against arm-side hitters, but the offering won’t miss a ton of bats at the highest level. His changeup comes and goes, and at its best it features good fade to the arm side.
The best-case scenario is that Northcraft, a former 10th round pick, turns into a back-of-the-rotation starter who can chew 150+ innings per season. The likely outcome, however, is that he is exposed against lefties at the highest level, forcing him into the bullpen as a sinker/slider reliever, potentially a swingman who can log 70+ innings per season. A 40-man roster member, Northcraft should start the season in Gwinnett and is an injury or two away from seeing time in Atlanta.
The 19-year old outfield had a successful stateside debut in 2013. Reyes remains more promising than finished product, but a lithe frame and broad shoulders promise a more physical future that could substantially improve the non-existent power he displayed in 2013. What Reyes can do is hit for average (well over .300 at each stop, though yes sample size), avoid striking out a lot (keeping at 15% K% or lower), and take more than his share of walks (around 10% BB%).
That's a good set of skills to have as a foundation, especially when you expect the player to fill out as he grows. And he'll need to fill out and add power as Reyes has already been fitted into a corner slot. He might add some secondary value on defense and on the basepaths, but as he fills out, he'll probably lose some of his current speed.
Ah, the enigmatic Edward Salcedo. 2013 was an up-and-down year for the Braves' 2010 top international signing. Salcedo was considered to be one of the best offensive players to come out of the Dominican Republic in quite some time, but, like most international prospects, was very raw. Salcedo was pushed aggressively to AA Mississippi in his third full season stateside, and many scouts thought it would be a key year for the power-hitting third baseman.
Salcedo starting 2013 scorching, putting up a .327/.385/.551 line in the month of May, and leading many to believe he was ready to turn the corner. But summer wasn't kind to Salcedo, as he hit the skids in a big way, posting just a .207/.272/.315 line from June to August. He continued to walk at a decent clip, but his average plummeted and his power evaporated.
The good news is that Salcedo was young for the level. Of his 518 PAs, only 24 of them came against pitchers younger than he was. That said, this will end up being somewhat of a make-or-break year for Atlanta's young third baseman. If he can't (re)discover his stroke, his chances of ever cracking the majors are slim. He'll also need to work on his approach against righties, as his marked platoon splits last year were discouraging (.631 OPS vs RHP, .811 OPS vs LHP).
Salcedo received an invite to spring training with the Braves, but expect to see him in Gwinnett (or possibly Mississippi) to start the year.
Some will scoff at such a lofty ranking for Kubitza, but hear us out. The 6-foot-3,190-pound third baseman had a solid season in the Carolina League, posting a 130 wRC+ as an older 22-year-old, showing incredible plate discipline and great extra-base pop. In fact, over 40 percent of Kubitza’s hits went for extra bases during his campaign, 12 of which were home runs.
The native Texan showcased his talent in the prestigious Arizona Fall League this offseason, slashing .305/.431/.458 with a 13:22 walk-to-strikeout ratio in over 70 plate appearances. He possesses an easy plus arm, and while he still makes plenty of miscues in the field, he has the potential to be an average to above-average defender at the hot corner with solid hands and range.
There are plenty of holes in his game, however, especially on the offensive side. He has slowed down since being drafted as he continues to put on muscle and lacks impressive instincts on the bases, and his paltry stolen base numbers reflect this reality. He struggles with balance at the plate and there is some length to his swing due in part to his long arms and his propensity to extend early in sequence, which has led to swing-and-miss issues in the strike zone. In a vacuum, he has slightly above-average raw power, but the extent to which the power plays is dependent upon the hit tool’s ultimate development.
Is he a first-division player? Probably not. The likely outcome is that he is a second-division player, but I see a major leaguer who can contribute modest power and show commendable discipline at the plate, all while playing above-average defense. Double-A should be a good sink-or-swim test for Kubitza.