Talking Chop's 2014 Prospect Sleepers

Matt Lipka headlines out favorite sleepers - Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

The Talking Chop minor league team picks their favorite sleepers for the 2014 season.

When you compile any list, there will invariably be things that don't make the cut. This is no different for prospects. Last month, Talking Chop released our Top 25 Prospect List, and, as always, there are some intriguing players that were buried a ways down the list or left off entirely. Today, the prospect team breaks down our favorite sleepers: guys who may not have gotten a ton of love from the lists, but are still intriguing.

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Carlos Salazar, Right-Handed Starting Pitcher

The Braves’ third-round pick of the 2013 amateur draft this past June was a hard-throwing right-handed high school pitcher out of Kerman, California, just a few miles down the road from Fresno State, where he committed to play baseball before signing with Atlanta. Breaking the supposed draft ethos of the Braves as a team that prefers to focus on high-floor, low-ceiling college arms in the draft, Salazar had some of the best velocity off of the mound in last year’s amateur draft, as he sits in the mid-90’s with his fastball, occasionally touching the upper 90’s. It’s difficult to know exactly what to make of Salazar’s secondary pitches at this point, considering the fact that he’s only thrown 14 professional innings, although most reports indicate that his slider has the potential to be an out pitch in the future, but his changeup and curveball are lagging behind in their development.

It shouldn't be surprising that Salazar has a substantial amount of development left before we can really begin accurately projecting his potential future impact with the Braves, but I’m of the opinion that his outstanding velocity and wipeout slider could plausibly give him the ability to be a mid-rotation starter for Atlanta in the future. However, there is a line of thought that would suggest that Salazar’s relatively short stature (he’s around 6 feet tall), lack of projectability (despite being only 19 years old), and the uncertainty surrounding his other secondary pitches would better suit him to a relief role in the future as a high-strikeout, high-leverage option out of the bullpen. It will be interesting to follow Salazar’s progress this year as he gains more experience and pitches more innings in Danville. If he continues to strike out batters at an impressive rate and adds refinement to his control, command, and secondary pitches, Salazar could become a hot name and an extremely intriguing prospect to keep an eye on in the future.

- Ian Morris

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Daniel Castro, Second Baseman

If you haven’t heard the name yet, I don’t blame you. Castro was originally signed as an international free agent in 2009 as a 17-year-old, going straight to the Dominican Summer League in 2010 and 2011. Since then, he has spent much of his time playing in his home country of Mexico.

Castro finally came over to the states for the first this past summer, playing 26 games for high-A Lynchburg. The 5’11" 170 lb middle infielder spent most of his time at 2B, posting a .284/.337/.318 triple slash in 95 PA. The past two seasons in Mexico, he put up a very respectable .303/.330/.464 line, being named an All-Star in 2013. Castro, playing at age 21 this season, was by far the youngest player on the Lynchburg roster in 2013, and I presume that’s where he will begin in 2014. It is interesting to see the Braves push him to an advanced level for his age, especially considering it was his first time playing professional baseball in the US.

I’ll fully admit, "mystery" would probably be a more appropriate label than "sleeper," but that’s part of the fun in this. With no video of him to speak of, and the apparent nickname "Boy Wonder" in Mexico, I’d be lying if I didn’t have whiff of curiosity here to see how he adapts in his first full season of US baseball.

-Andrew Sisson

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Matt Lipka, Center Fielder

It’s hard to come to terms with the fact that we live in a universe where Matt Lipka is a sleeper, but yet, here we are. Lipka’s story is well documented amongst Braves fans who follow the farm system: a former supplemental-round selection in 2010, the raw, athletic Texan has posted lowly to middling results thus far in his four professional seasons. His 2012 season was marred with a hamstring injury that left him able to play only 51 games at Lynchburg, so the Braves sent him back to High-A for the 2013 season. A slash line of .251/.305/.362 seemingly puts his numbers in the middling category, but there were legitimate and distinct improvements therein.

The center fielder showed that he has the ability to drive the ball, posting 41 extra-base hits, including five home runs. While his swing in previous seasons was geared toward spraying the ball to all fields with little-to-no power projection within, Lipka showed much better lower-half actions in 2013 that, coupled with his naturally quick bat, allowed for the increase in power production. Despite the hamstring injury in 2012, Lipka is still a burner, stealing 37 bases in 51 attempts last season and showing off plus range and a well above-average arm in center. Lipka will make the ever-critical jump to Double-A in 2014, and despite the unappealing statistical results thus far in his professional career, Lipka has the type of toolset to be an exciting player at the major-league level. Is it possible that he was so overrated as a young post-draft prospect that he’s now somewhat underrated? I think that’s a distinct possibility, but, for what it’s worth, I’m also a sucker for tools.

- Ethan Purser

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Andry Ubiera, Right-Handed Starting Pitcher

The Braves' international scouting team is quite underrated, and Andry Ubiera has the chance to be the latest proof of this. Ubiera has a very solid fastball that sits in the 93 range, and he can kick that up a few ticks if he needs to. With a lean frame and his young age, it's also not impossible to see him adding a few miles per hour, but I wouldn't go so far as to assume that's likely. In addition to his four-seamer, he also shows a curve that is admittedly still raw, but flashes plus on occasion. This has led to fairly impressive strikeout numbers in the minors so far, as Ubiera's averaged right around a strikeout per inning in his minor league career.

As with most international signings, Ubiera's success will hinge on his ability to polish his raw tools. He needs to put some serious work in with his curve, as well as refining his command. Additionally, if he wants to start at higher levels, he'll need to flesh out a third pitch, most likely a changeup.

Having never thrown more than 50 innings in a professional season, it will be interesting to see how Ubiera adapts to full-season ball. Whether or not he sinks or swims will go a long way to determining his future. For now, I could see Ubiera being a solid back-end reliever if things break right, but there's always a chance he's able to put everything together and be a high-end #5 starter in the bigs.

Dan Simpson

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