As spring turns to summer, we now have a fair number of games under our belts, its time to look at how the new and improved farm system of the Braves is doing at this point in the year. Before we get started, lets cover a couple of things. First, these rankings are not the opinion of Talking Chop (around the All Star break we will come up with our version once we know how well some prospects recover from injury and get more data), but come directly from MLBpipeline.com's list of the Braves top 20 prospects. It would be easy to nitpick their rankings up and down and there are certainly some changes worth considering, but for our purposes the list will do for the time being. Hopefully this will give folks a sense of that the Braves are working with in terms of information in advance of the upcoming draft and international signing period. Without further adieu, here is our rundown of the Braves' Top 20 minor league prospects.
Interesting Facts About the List
1.) 13 of the Braves' top 20 prospects are pitchers, with only three of them being left-handed prospects
2.) 11 of the top 20 prospects are 21 years old or younger with 4 teenagers making the list
3.) 11 of the top 20 prospects in the Braves organization were acquired this past off-season, including 6 of the top 10
4.) There seems to be a lack of position player depth in the minors with no 1B prospects and only one C prospect in the top 20 to go along with just 2 OF prospects
The Braves Top 20 Prospects
1.) Jose Peraza - 2B, AAA Gwinnett
Photo Courtesy of USA Today
2015 Stats: .296 AVG, .337 OBP with 2 HRs, 15 RBIs, 14 SBs
Jose Peraza has long been on the thoughts of Braves fans as we watched Dan Uggla helm second base, giving hope that brighter days were ahead. Since really bursting on to the scene last year where he had a combined .339 average with 60 stolen bases between two levels of the minors, its really not been a question of if, but when Peraza will be taking over at 2B for Atlanta. However, with Jace Peterson's acquisition and emergence with the big club, the Braves seem content to letting Peraza continue to develop at Gwinnett to try and cut down on his errors (he just switched to 2B last year given that Andrelton Simmons isn't going anywhere....nor should he). Its possible that if Jace continues to produce and other internal options at 3B continue to struggle, moving Jace to 3B and calling up Peraza could be an option. However, that is not going to happen in the immediate future.
Jose is a contact hitter and while he did recently hit two home runs in back-to-back games after returning from missing time due to hamstring issues, power is never going to play much in his game. However, he has top of the scale speed and is getting better at learning how to use it. However, his low OBP during his career in the minors despite a high batting average points to a lack of discipline and the man needs to learn how to draw more walks if he is going to be a successful top of the lineup hitter. While many hoped that Peraza was the lead off man of the future, with Mallex Smith raking down at AA Mississippi and Peraza seemingly stuck in the 2 hole at Gwinnett, it seems more likely that the Braves will have Peraza bat second when he is in the line-up with Mallex and opposing pitchers and catchers will be terrorized by both of them back-to-back.
2.) Matt Wisler - RHP, AAA Gwinnett
2015 Stats: 2-3 record, 4.40 ERA, 38/9 K/BB ratio, 1.31 WHIP
Acquired in the Craig Kimbrel/BJ Upton trade, Wisler has struggled with consistency a bit since joining Gwinnett, although it seems as though he has settled in during his last few starts (would have had 4 straight great starts for Gwinnett if not for an opposing 3 run homer in one game after being perfect through 4 2/3). With the turnover in the Braves rotation, Wisler's name comes up most often in terms of being called up along with Manny Banuelos. Assuming he can continue to be consistent with his arm slot, it seems likely that we will see Wisler with Atlanta sometime this year to give him a taste of the majors.
Wisler is not a power pitcher, but throws 4 pitches for strikes including a plus sinker and change-up that he is turning pretty consistently his out pitches. That combined with a fastball that has good movement and a slider that keeps hitters off-balance, the future is bright for Wisler if he continues his progress in terms of learning how to pitch with good mechanics and not just throw. He already has a good bit of experience at AAA between his time with the Padres as well as the Braves, so its not a matter of getting enough reps for Wisler at this point so much as waiting for the right opportunity (and of course there is the service time consideration).
3.) Lucas Sims - RHP, High-A Carolina
2015 Stats: 2-3 record, 5.20 ERA, 25/15 K/BB ratio, 1.55 WHIP - injured in bus crash
Lucas has struggled for most of 2015 before getting dinged up in the bus crash that injured several members of the Carolina Mudcats and has been on the DL since (although all of the injuries were described as minor, its not unusual to let a prized prospect get extra time to heal while they are in the minors). However, his two starts before the crash were encouraging as he gave up just 2 ER total in 13 innings of work with 10 Ks. However, before then he was not missing many bats and walking a lot of hitters. He is still a young prospect though and assuming his injuries are indeed minor, he does appear to be getting on the right track although he isn't going to be ready for the majors until 2017 as he only in High A as of now.
Sims has a plus fastball that regular hits the mid-90's with a bunch of movement that he pairs with a very good curveball, although he has had to struggle with his command of the curve this year a bit. His other pitches are still works in progress and until he develops his change-up some more he will struggle to get outs with it. Still a very young player with a high ceiling and if he can develop his secondary pitches some more, he could become a very good starting MLB pitcher in a couple of years. A solid bullpen arm is probably his floor, but look to the Braves to see what he is made of in their rotation in 2017.
4.) Ozhaino Albies - SS, Single-A Rome
2015 Stats: .278 AVG, .340 OBP, 19 SBs, 30 R
Ozhaino Albies very quietly put together a great season last year despite being just 17 years old at the time. His combined line between two levels of the minors of a .364 AVG with 22 SBs, a .446 OBP, and striking less than he walked added another potential top of the order threat to the Braves system, although he future fit remains somewhat unclear. While Ozhaino has cooled off a LITTLE bit, he is still doing quite well down at Rome despite the fact that the team itself has had its struggles. Just 18 years old, he could very easily be ready for the big show in a year or two which does beg the question as to what the Braves plan to do with the young speedster. If they were feeling particularly frisky, they could give him some time at third base in the minors wonder what a line-up that had Albies, Peraza, and Mallex Smith could do to an opposing team's defense.
Ozhaino will never threaten the bleachers much, but he does hit a lot of line drives and has shown great discipline at the plate during his time in the minors has he has struck out a total of 48 times in his 100 games thus far in the minors (with 43 walks in the same period). Still needs to grow a bit and learn to work tougher and tougher pitchers in to deep counts, but Ozhaino could be the best of all the prospects at the rate he is currently developing.
5.) Max Fried - LHP, Single-A Rome
2015 Stats: Has not played - recovering from Tommy John surgery
Max is still recovering from Tommy John surgery after his ulnar went out early last season, but before the surgery he was considered among the top LHP prospects in the game period, let alone in the Padres system. Despite having to lose time for his recovery, he is just 21 years old and when healthy has a good, but not necessarily overpowering fastball, power curve, and change-up. Assuming his recovery goes well (and by all accounts it is), its possible he may be able to resume baseball activities late this season, although next season would be a safer and better bet. Fried's recovery will go a long way towards determining how well the Braves did in the Justin Upton deal (along with Mallex Smith who we will talk about in a bit) as it was the inclusion of Fried that ultimately sold the Braves on the trade.
Fun fact: Fried played together in high school with Nationals top prospect Lucas Giolito and both players underwent Tommy John surgery before reaching the majors.
6.) Rio Ruiz - 3B, AA Mississippi
2015 Stats: .169 AVG, .293 OBP, 0 HR, 10 RBI, .502 OPS
Rio Ruiz came over in the Evan Gattis trade and, to be blunt, Rio has had an extremely rough go of it down at AA Mississippi this year as he has struggled to produce at all including being held hitless in his last 3 games. He is walking a decent bit to help send his on-base percentage in the direction of respectability, but he seems to be lost at the plate and his swing mechanics need work. That's the bad news...the good news is that he does seem to be making SOME strides defensively (which was a concern coming in to the season) and ultimately he is a very young player who has plenty of time to develop and work through the issues he is currently having.
While he will probably never threaten the league lead in home runs, Ruiz has shown some power in the minors and could end up with better power numbers as his body develops a bit. Assuming he can get his swing back and continue to develop defensively, he could be in the Braves plans in the next few years...that is if he isn't passed by Dustin Peterson in the pecking order by then.
7.) Braxton Davidson - OF, Single-A Rome
2015 Stats: .242 AVG, .384 OBP, 4 HR, 10 RBI, 46 SO, .755 OPS
When the Braves drafted Braxton Davidson in the late first round last year, they were doing so based on his hitting instincts and raw power projection. Unfortunately, up until this point, he has yet to harness that ability. With just 4 home runs this year and 9 XBHs, Braxton is still getting a feel for batting against professional pitching. When he was drafted, one thing that scouts noticed was his discipline at the plate, but this year that has led to him striking out far more than one with think as he is forcing the issue late in the count, although he is also taking his fair share of walks as can be seen in his respectable .384 OBP given his batting average. In short, Braxton is quite a ways away from the show, but by no means is he a lost cause.
Davidson played first base in high school, but the Braves moved him to the outfield with one of the corner spots being the best fit for him. He will take time to get used to manning the position, but he is athletic enough to be a good fielder and is reputed to have a good arm. Some scouts believe he could stick in right field, but my hunch is that he will be destined for left field and will need at least two more seasons before he is ready.
8.) Ricardo Sanchez - LHP, Single-A Rome
2015 Stats: 0-3 record, 8.79 ERA, 14/5 K/BB ratio, injured and has played only 4 games...none since end of April
The Braves traded for the young Angels prospect Ricardo Sanchez by sending Kyle Kubitza to the Angels for their #2 prospect. For what its worth, Kubitza is having a strong start to his AAA career for the Angels and the Braves are struggling with the hot corner, but that's neither here nor there. Sanchez is the definition of a project, but one with loads of talent and potential. Just barely 18 years old, Ricardo was having a tough time of it at Single-A Rome with a 8.79 ERA in four starts before a strained calf put him on the disabled list. Ricardo is no where close to ready for the majors, but has a really good fastball that will only get better and harder as he grows in to his frame and a plus curveball that he continues to work on harnessing. He has been pounding the strike zone, although he curve and change-up have gotten away from him at times before he was hurt.
As a 17 year old in the Angels organization, Ricardo was impressive in rookie ball with an ERA of 3.49 and striking out better than a batter an inning despite the youngest player on the field in most situations. Don't expect him in the rotation when SunTrust Park opens, but starting in 2018 he could become a part of what appears to be a very bright Braves future.
9.) Tyrell Jenkins - RHP, AA Mississippi
Photo Courtesy of USA Today
2015 Stats: 3-2 record, 2.94 ERA, 33/22 K/BB ratio, 1.31 WHIP
For some, what is lost in the discussion of the Jason Heyward trade is that it wasn't a deal straight up for Shelby Miller, there were a couple other players involved as well and Tyrell Jenkins is showing that he may end up being a steal. His line by itself looks pretty good with a sub-3 ERA and a K/BB that is slowly improving. However, what these stats don't show is that they include a start where he was hammered for 9 runs in 5 2/3 innings which is more runs than he has given up TOTAL in the rest of his starts. He has benefited from a bit of good luck and he still walks too many batters, if he can start to miss some more bats he could push higher on this list and should be ready for a chance in the rotation in 2017 if he can prove he can stay healthy.
After undergoing shoulder surgery, Tyrell put on a strong showing in the Arizona Fall League and was dealt shortly after to the Braves in the Jason Heyward trade. He pitches off his fastball with a curve and a change-up, but generally speaking if his fastball isn't working his secondary offerings suffer. He doesn't get a lot of swings and misses, but if he can develop his curve and throw it for strikes more, that could change. If he can cut down on his walks a bit, he could definitely profile as a middle of the rotation or better pitcher in the majors. However, the first thing he must do is stay healthy for a full season.
10.) Manny Banuelos - LHP, AAA Gwinnett
2015 Stats: 3-0 record, 2.64 ERA, 43/21 K/BB ratio, 1.26 WHIP
If you are results oriented, then Manny Banuelos is your kind of prospect as he has being doing quite well for himself despite being on a Gwinnett squad that, at times, has struggled to score runs. With good (not necessarily great) peripheral stats, Banuelos has frequently been in the conversation as the next starter to be called up from AAA if and when the Braves are in need of another starter. While its somewhat unclear who would be called up between him and Matt Wisler, because of the innings limit currently on Banuelos due to his recovery from Tommy John surgery, Wisler would probably get the call if the need was a starter. However, its still possible that Banuelos could get the call to help out in the bullpen.
Once a top prospect in the Yankees' system before his Tommy John surgery, he has three good pitches (fastball, change, curve....probably in that order) and a cutter he has recently developed that is a work in progress. He throws strikes and if he can keep healthy, his stuff is good enough to get plenty of swings and misses. Still recovering, but expect the Braves to give him a shot at the rotation either late this season or next.
11.) Jason Hursh - RHP, AA Mississippi
2015 Stats: 1-3 record, 6.35 ERA, 25/21 K/BB ratio, 1.94 WHIP
Jason Hursh was drafted in the first round by the Braves two years ago and after an encouraging if not spectacular season at AA last year, he has scuffled a bit to begin this year repeating the same level. Opposing hitters are hitting .331 against him at AA this year and he often finds himself pitching in trouble. The results the last couple of starts have been better where he has given up a total of 2 ER in 12 1/3 innings despite giving up 13 hits. His WHIP and low strikeout totals are troubling, but given his success at AA last year its too early to tell there is a lot of cause for worry. That said, he isn't going to be promoted to AAA anytime soon unless he really takes a turn for the better and could be a couple years at least away from getting a shot in the majors.
As a ground ball pitcher, Hursh has three decent pitches (fastball, change, curve) that he can throw for strikes, although his off-speed pitches do still need development. As a college pitcher, one would think he would be doing a bit better during his second run through AA, but if he can get better command and get some better BABIP luck heading his way, he could make the move to AAA by the end of the season.
12.) Garrett Fulenchek - RHP, Rookie Ball
2015 Stats: Has not played yet this season
A very raw prospect out of high school, the Braves selected Garrett Fulenchek in the second round of last year's draft. With an 0-7 record and a 4.78 ERA, he didn't exactly tear up the rankings, but he was known to be a prospect that was going to take some time and at 18 years old, he has plenty of time to figure out how to use his raw ability before he moves up. He has yet to pitch this season and although its unclear as to why, rookie ball can be strange in terms of playing time and its possible he has a nagging injury (although his personal Twitter account seems to show he is suiting at least since the beginning of May). With raw talent and good velocity, he is a long term project (and probably shouldn't be this high as a result in terms of rankings) and could arrive in Atlanta in 2018 if all goes according to plan.
Fulenchek's best pitch is his fastball and while he can throw it harder, he typically keeps it in the low 90's but with a lot of downward, late action. He also has a serviceable slider and a change-up that isn't ready for prime-time yet. He has a lot to work on include repeatable mechanics and developing his change and slider (and possibly adding another off-speed option), but he is going to be given some time to figure out that sort of stuff before he progresses.
13.) Alec Grosser - RHP, Single-A Rome
2015 Stats: 2-2 record, 5.12 ERA, 21/23 K/BB ratio, 1.60 WHIP
Drafted in the 11th round in 2013, Alec Grosser is an intriguing prospect primarily based on his athleticism and potential and not necessarily anything he has mastered or executed on the baseball field. As his stat line shows, he hasn't exactly gotten a firm control on his pitches and it shows in the inconsistency he has shown this year. Thus far he has not built on the success he had in his last two seasons in rookie ball, walking a lot of opposing batters and failing to get many swings and misses despite his talent level. Based on what we are seeing this year, he isn't close to the majors yet.
Alec has a good to very good fastball with a lot of movement as well as an average slider. He has experimented with a change-up but seems to be focusing on getting control of his fastball and slider. Alec also does get a lot of ground balls and could benefit from higher levels of the minors where the fielding is less...suspect.
14.) Arodys Vizcaino - RHP, On Restricted List (Suspension)
2015 Stats: Has not played - serving 80 game suspension for PED use
Arodys throws very hard. At one point was one of the Braves top prospects before he underwent Tommy John surgery and was subsequently traded to the Cubs for pennies on the dollar. While with the Cubs minor league affiliate, a couple things happened. One is that after a full year of playing professionally again brought back is 98 mph fastball as well as his power curve which intrigued the Braves enough to bring him back to the Braves in the offseason by trading Tommy La Stella. However, the other thing that happened is that he decided to start taking PEDs and is currently serving an 80 game suspension as a result. The Braves really could have used him as an option for the bullpen, but as it stands with another long lay off in addition to a history of both health issues as well as PED usage, the question of whether you even want Vizcaino on the big league roster until he can prove he can stay on the field for a full season is hard to answer.
15.) Mallex Smith - OF, AA Mississippi
Photo Courtesy of USA Today
2015 Stats: .345 AVG, .395 OBP, 2 HR, 17 RBI, 23 R, 15 SB
I do want to be clear here, I know that the way that most ranking websites work is that the rankings generally stay pretty static during the season unless there is a big event (trade, injury, etc) that warrants moving someone up, down, or off. That said, Mallex Smith is much better than the 15th prospect in the Braves system right now (while I would have some trouble coming up with a list right now, I can say he would be in my top ten with certainty). All the guy has done in the minors is hit at every level in addition to setting the base paths ablaze along the way. I'm not sure who would win in a foot race between Mallex and Peraza, but I would love to watch. Its more likely than not that the two players will be in the same line-up so expect a lot of stolen bases to happen at SunTrust Park. That said, Mallex does have some areas to work on including taking more walks to improve his OBP (which he has been doing better about in the past week or so) and using his speed to get more XBHs...but these are minor complaints. He's having a great year, the Braves have a need at CF, and he should be competing for the starting job next spring (although its far from a lock) and there is an outside chance he is a September call-up this year depending on whether the Braves are in the hunt or not.
For those not in the know, Mallex Smith was a part of the trade that also brought Dustin Peterson (see below), Jace Peterson (see this video), and Max Fried (see #5) and he is a speedster contact hitter. Stealing 88 bags last year in the minors, he definitely has the wheels to patrol CF for the forseeable future and continues to improve in the routes he takes and his arm is adequate, although Andruw Jones he is not. He will never hit with much power (although he does have 2 HR already this year), but he is a prototypical leadoff hitter who should be able to set the table and put pressure on opposing defenses with his speed
16.) Dustin Peterson - 3B, High-A Carolina
2015 Stats: .314 AVG, .392 OBP, 3 HR, 14 RBI, 18 R, .839 OPS - injured in bus crash
The least heralded of the quartet that came over in the Justin Upton trade, Dustin Peterson was very quietly having a great year at Carolina before he, too, was put on the disabled list following the bus crash that also sidelined Lucas Sims and Andrew Thurman. Peterson had begun to live up to the scouting reports that it would be his bat more than anything else that would get him to the highest levels, although its possible he won't stick at 3B as he did make 38 errors at the hot corner last year (although only 1 this year so far). Whether he moves elsewhere to the infield or to the outfield, if Dustin can recover from his injuries (all of the injuries from the crash were considered minor so its possible there are issues like stitches, hurt fingers, or a concussion in play for these players on the DL), could very well be the top 3B prospect in the system if Rio Ruiz continues to struggle.
That said, Dustin is still just a high A player and this is the first year he has had extended success on the offensive side of the ball. Assuming that he comes back from injury well, don't expect the Braves to fast track him to the majors as getting him to stay at 3B is going to require a lot of work defensively as well as continue the progress he has made in cutting down on his strikeouts given that he struck out 137 times in 126 games at Single-A last year.
17.) Mauricio Cabrera - RHP, High-A Carolina
2015 Stats: 2-1 record, 5.79 ERA, 14/12 K/BB ratio, 1.86 WHIP
Mauricio Cabrera is a power relief pitching prospect burst on to the scene in the minors a couple seasons ago when he started throwing fastballs close to 100 mph and was a starting pitching prospect. However, after a forearm injury limited him last year, he seems to be settling in to a role as a reliever in which he could be elite if he gets a better handle on that cannon of an arm he has. However, this year he is walking a lot of guys and his slider hasn't been as reliable as a secondary pitch to keep people from trying to jump on the fastball.
Mauricio is still young at just 21 and has time to harness his other pitches and could very well see time with the Braves sooner than one thinks given his top end talent and the fact that the Braves did put him on the 40 man roster in November.
18.) Wes Parsons - RHP, High-A Carolina
2015 Stats: Has not pitched this year
Wes Parsons has in the past drawn comparisons to guys like Kris Medlen where the Braves find talent where no one else saw it and his story is pretty awesome. He was not drafted and instead was signed after a scout found him in a summer college league of all places. Despite his unlikely rise, his first two season in the minors have been decent successes with a combined 3.84 ERA and an almost 4/1 K/BB ratio. He doesn't have one pitch that stands out, but he is not afraid to throw strikes with his fastball, slider, or changeup. When his control is dialed in he gets a lot of groundballs and fair amount of swings and misses, too. He has not pitched this year and his personal Twitter seemed to indicate that he had a lingering injury but recently got good news about playing again, but no information has been made readily available.
Multiple places have described him as "reliable" and a low ceiling player. While he isn't another Clayton Kershaw and get could very well end up as a career minor leaguer, I'm not betting against the guy who got discovered essentially playing pick-up with other college players after not getting drafted.
19.) Andrew Thurman - RHP, High-A Carolina
2015 Stats: 4-2 record, 2.51 ERA, 23/7 K/BB ratio, 1.21 WHIP - injured in bus crash
This is another place where I take issue with the ranking, but less so given the circumstances. Andrew Thurman's year is very similar, in fact, to Tyrell Jenkins' in the sense that both line on the face of it look good enough as is. However, when you take in to account that he gave up 6 runs on 9 hits in one start and has given up a TOTAL of 3 runs in the rest of his starts gives you an idea of just how excellent he had been before he also sustained injuries in the Carolina Mudcats bus crash (did I mention that the Mudcats were doing quite well before the crash?....now, not so much). Its not openly known what Thurman sustained, but since there hasn't been a statement made or anything like that its safe to assume that many of these DL stints are precautionary to a certain extent. With that said, you never know so hopefully Thurman can regain the form that resulted in an over 3/1 K/BB ratio this year and a 2.51 ERA.
With a fastball that he changes speeds on that can hit 95 as well as a good changeup, if Andrew can continue the trajectory he was on then the Braves are going to have some tough choices to make in a couple years in terms of what to do with these arms.
20.) Jose Briceno - C, High-A Carolina
2015 Stats: .159 AVG, 1 HR, 9 RBI, .216 OBP, 6 errors, 48% caught stealing
While with the Rockies minor league system, Jose Briceno was hitting between .260 and .280 with some power and not walking much. This season thus far, the only thing that has stayed the same is that he still doesn't walk much. After 30 games, a .159 AVG just does not look good. This is particularly true given that while he is still technically a young player at 22, he has been player professionally for 6 seasons so one would hope he could progress a little easier given the seasoning he has. That said, he HAS thrown out 48% of the would-be base thieves that have crossed him, but he has also made 6 errors in 30 games. In short, while I'm glad that the Braves have attempted to create some depth at the catching position in the minors, Briceno is probably not going to the the answer any time soon if the Braves decide to give up on Christian Bethancourt assuming he is still struggling.
Normally I give the younger players the benefit of the doubt, but Briceno does seem out of his league out there and this would already be the second time where his swing would have to be reworked before he even made it to AA. He may prove me wrong, but he wouldn't be in my top 20 as of now.