In keeping with the theme of the week, Talking Chop brings you our list of the top relievers in the system. Ranking relievers may be one of the hardest positions to put a list together for because so many pitchers split time in different roles throughout the season. For the last couple of seasons however the Braves have been drafting a lot of players specifically as relievers so that only two players on the list actually started a game this season. Also remember that a lot of the best relievers in the majors were starters in the minors (Papelbon, Venters and the list goes on forever) but in the last two seasons the have had success in reverse converting Kris Medlen and Brandon Beachy into starters mid-season with resounding success.
6. Juan Abreu - B/T: R:R, Born: 04/08/1985, Ht: 6'0" Wt: 180 - The Braves signed Abreu at the end of the 2009 season when he became a minor league free agent out of the Royals organization. His biggest selling point is his fastball which he throws faster than just about about any other player in the system routinely getting it into the high 90s with some reports of him touching 100. He also throws a solid-to-plus curve and a changeup. In 2010 he threw 60 innings between Myrtle Beach and Mississippi giving up 50 hits and 30 walks while striking out 62. As you can see he can get his strikes outs (and he always has) but the walks are a problem. He stayed afloat in Mississippi but he won't be able to keep skimming by if he moves up to the next level. Abreu is going to need to take a big step forward to crack the Braves bullpen in the next couple of seasons, but his arm is intriguing enough that they will keep him around just in case he does that.
7. David Hale - B/T: R/R, Born: 09/27/1987, Ht: 6'2" Wt: 200 - David Hale was drafted in the third round out of Princeton in 2009. The Braves drafted him knowing he was a project with some nice tools but weak results against what should have been inferior competition in the Ivy League. His best tool is a fastball that can get up to 97 and routinely sits in the 94-95 range with good sink. he pairs his fastball with an inconsistent slider that rates as plus some days and doesn't rate on other days. Hale also has control issues, evidenced by the 44 walks he issued in 93 innings this season. The Braves have toyed with the idea of using him as a starter since they drafted him (and with his arm why would you not?) but 2010 showed that he much preferred coming out of the 'pen when he posted a 2.16 ERA as a reliever and a 9.00 ERA when starting. His K rate is low for a guy with his stuff (just 6.6 K/9) but he compensates by inducing lots of ground balls. The best case scenario for Hale is a future set-up man or closer, but he still has a lot of kinks to iron out and 2011 could see spend time in
Myrtle Beach Lynchburg and Mississippi if all goes well.
8. Lee Hyde - B/T: R/L, Born: 04/14/1985, Ht: 6'2" Wt: 205 - If it feels like Lee Hyde has been around a while, well that is because he has. He was drafted in 2006 alongside the likes of Cody Johnson, Cory Rasmus, Cole Rohrbough and Kris Medlen (save for Meds this might be the worst Braves draft in recent memory). He was drafted out of Georgia Tech and was converted to the bullpen due to his limited repertoire. He had Tommy John surgery late in the 2007 season and missed most of 2008 recovering and spent a lot of 2009 regaining his arm strength. Before the injury he was one of the Braves better relief prospects and he gained the favor of Bobby Cox with a strong 2009 showing leading some to believe he would get a long look coming into 2010. Unfortunately for Hyde other relievers - Jonny Venters, Mike Dunn and Craig Kimbrel - emerged on the scene pushing Lee Hyde to back of the bus. With Mike Dunn gone a door has been opened for Hyde. 2010 was not a bad season for Hyde, but it was nothing compared to what some others guys were doing alongside him. Even with the recent moves, Hyde remains on the Braves 40 man roster and therefore in their plans and simultaneously blocked but Jonny Venters and Eric O'Flaherty. Barring injuries expect him back in Gwinnett to start the season.
9. Benino Pruneda - B/T: R/R, Born: 08/18/1988, Ht: 5'9" Wt: 170 - At one time Pruneda was the future closer for Atlanta and while he has done very little to hurt his stock the Braves have spent 2 years bringing in all kinds of good relief pitchers. Pruneda brings the ball in the mid 90s and racks up tons of strike outs along the way, never posting a K rate lower than 11.3 K/9 at any level since he was drafted. In 2010 he split time between Myrtle Beach and Mississippi posting a combined 3.20 ERA in 64 innings. He allowed 55 hits and 37 walks (5.1 BB/9) while striking out 93 (12.9 K/9). As you can see Pruneda puts up some excellent K numbers, but he also has the requisite poor BB ratios. He gets by most of the time by inducing bunches of ground balls (around 55% for 2010) and according to his FIP (2.09 in MB/3.37 in Miss vs 2.70/3.63 ERA) his defenses didn't help him much. Pruneda has a lot going for him with his excellent fastball and youth (only one player on our top 10 is younger), but his small frame still worries a lot of people and the walks will always be an issue. Craig Kimbrel proved this year you can overcome a crazy walk rate in the majors with excellent stuff. Hopefully the Braves can get lightening to strike twice. Expect Pruneda to see time in Mississippi and eventually Gwinnett next season.
10. Matt Suschak - B/T: R/R, Born: 12/27/1988, Ht: 6'4" Wt: 204 - The Braves drafted Suschak in the seventh round of the 2010 draft and he debuted in Davnille with underwhelming results. (29.2 IP, 6.07 ERA, 19 walks, 30K). He wasn't much a prospect when he received a scholarship to Toledo coming out of high school but added velocity and an eventual move to the bullpen put him on the radar and Braves nabbed him. Suschak brings a mid-90s fastball that tops out at 96 paired with a plus breaking ball and a developing change. In college he flashed good command and control of his pitches but that deserted him in the Appalachian League. He will start 2011 at the back of Rome's bullpen and could move up to
Myrtle Beach lynchburg if he finds success.