We continue our rollout of Talking Chop's midseason top 25 prospects list today, with a look at prospects 11 through 15. If you missed either of our first two installments of the list, you can find them via the links below.
15. Kyle Wren, Center Fielder, Mississippi Braves
Preseason ranking - #19
I am pretty convinced that Kyle Wren will be a major league baseball player, the question to me is in what capacity. What I envision out of Wren is a guy who is utilized as a fourth outfielder, but could eventually have the potential to take on a starting role either in center or as a Brett Gardner-type left fielder.
Wren hit well enough at Lynchburg along with running the bases like a demon and playing, from most reports, high quality defense. He earned a promotion to double-A Mississippi a few weeks back and has not faired quite as well in his first experiences in the upper minors, but he has still managed a .340 OBP which with his speed is very valuable. He has very little pop, even in terms of doubles, but if he can continue to steal bases with a very high success rate being a slap hitter has its uses. My expectation is that he ends up being a fourth outfield type on a successful club, but again I could see a scenario where he earns himself playing time as a starter as well.
- Ben Duronio
14. Garrett Fulenchek, Right-Handed Starting Pitcher, Gulf Coast League Braves
Preseason ranking - not ranked
The Braves’ second-round selection in this year’s draft, Fulenchek is a 6-foot-4, 205-pound Texan with prototypical size and a well-rounded arsenal. As an amateur, the big righty’s fastball touched 95 miles per hour, sitting 90-92 throughout starts, with big downhill plane and tons of barrel-missing sink. The secondary arsenal is still developing, but the slider flashes above-average to plus with sharp two-plane break and some amateur sources preferred the changeup to the breaking ball in their pre-draft looks. The 18-year-old has struggled a bit in his professional debut in the Gulf Coast League, walking eight in six and two-thirds innings of work, but this should be taken with a massive grain of salt given the size of the sample and the large workload he’s shouldered this season. In terms of the upside, most are in agreement that he could be a solid mid-rotation starter, with some going as high as a number-two starter. While he’s a long way away, Fulenchek has the type of upside to warrant the relatively high ranking on this list.
- Ethan Purser
13. Alec Grosser, Right-Handed Starting Pitcher, Danville Braves
Preseason ranking - not ranked
A new arrival on Talking Chop’s top prospect lists, the 19-year-old righty clocks in at number 13. Grosser was an eleventh-round selection in last year’s draft out of a Virginia high school, and was given a well over-slot bonus to lure him to pro ball. Grosser hasn’t disappointed thus far, as he posted a 2.15 ERA in the Gulf Coast League last year, and has shown tantalizing potential with Danville in 2014. Grosser began the year in extended spring training and began his season last month with the Braves’ Appalachian League team, and has posted a 28.3% K-rate and a 4.64 ERA through five starts. Don’t be fooled by the high ERA, however, as Grosser’s peripherals suggest that he’s pitched much better than his ERA (his FIP is 2.37), and he’s been the victim of some BABIP and strand rate misfortune
Grosser has a 6’2" frame that is lanky and athletic, and he should add around 20 additional pounds as he matures physically. Grosser was a two-sport star in high school, as he quarterbacked his prep football team along with playing baseball. Grosser isn’t a player who was participating in baseball 12 months out of the year like many prep arms who are drafted, so his arm is relatively low-mileage compared to most of his peers. Grosser has a ways to go with consistency, command, and control of his pitches, but Grosser has the second-highest realistic ceiling of any pitcher currently in Atlanta’s organization, in my eyes. Grosser has a lively fastball that currently sits between 91-93 miles per hour out of a low three-quarters arm slot. Grosser’s fastball is zippy and features some arm-side run and a touch of sink. I’ve also seen Grosser cut the pitch on a pair of occasions, leaving a pitch that looks like something between a cutter and a hard slider. The most intriguing pitch in Grosser’s arsenal, in my eyes, is his low-80’s slider. Grosser isn’t consistently able to command the pitch, but it features sharp, late, two-plane break that made numerous hitters look silly in my viewing. If all goes right, this could be a true weapon and an out pitch at the highest level. Grosser’s third pitch is a changeup that needs work, but he’s shown an ability to throw it in the low-to-mid 80’s with some fade and acceptable arm action. Grosser is a long ways away from Atlanta, but if everything goes right, he could be a solid #3 starter or even a fringe #2. He may never even make the Majors, but Grosser’s raw stuff and projectability make him a name to watch. It wouldn’t surprise me to see Grosser have a cup of coffee in Rome this season, and he should start there to begin 2015.
- Ian Morris
12. Shae Simmons, Right-Handed Relief Pitcher, Atlanta Braves
Preseason ranking - #14
You won’t see Simmons back in the minors anytime soon, but his limited time at the major league level still qualifies him for our mid-season list. Simmons didn’t even make our list a year ago (although he was my sleeper), but has rocketed through the system with his mid-90’s fastball and ridiculous slider. Making the jump from double-A to the majors, Simmons has impressed posting an ERA under one, backed up by a 2.74 xFIP.
Ohh, and for those keeping track, he has yet to give up a home run in just under 130 innings as a professional. Expect him to be a staple in the Braves ‘pen for years to come, working his way into more and more high-leverage situations.
- Andrew Sisson
11. J.R. Graham, Right-Handed Starting Pitcher, Mississippi Braves
Preseason ranking - #2
There's not much we can say about J.R. Graham that hasn't already been said. Ian did some in-depth scouting on one of his starts back in April, and came away with mixed feelings. I, along with several others on the prospect team, have heretofor been a believer in Graham's ability to start at the highest level, which led to his aggressive ranking in the past. Unfortunately, this season has been nothing short of a disaster for the Santa Clara product. After starting the season in extended spring training, he was sent to Mississippi. With the M-Braves, he has posted a 5.18 ERA across 57 innings with a totally underwhelming 40/17 K/BB ratio. Furthermore, he's not generating ground balls at nearly the rate he did in seasons past. Before this year, he had never posted a groundout/flyout (GO/FO) ratio of under 2. This year, his GO/FO sits at 1.35. If you want to look for some positives, his 3.41 FIP indicates he hasn't been quite as bad as his ERA suggests.
Nevertheless, this season stands as ammunition for those who said Graham wouldn't be able to start long-term, and rightly so. Is there a chance he can still start? Most definitely. But the probability of that has decreased substantially thanks to his injury and subsequent struggles. Thus, he has dropped in the ranks accordingly.
- Daniel Simpson