This is the fourth piece of a weekly look, by position, at how the Atlanta Braves prospects fared during the 2016 minor league season. Catcher, first base, and second base have already been covered as we move to third base this week.
Please note that this isn't so much a scouting report on these prospects as much as it is a recap of their season that will point out some areas where they excelled and others where they struggled. All prospects will be covered, but this is only a review of guys who are prospects rather than organizational depth. There will be more detailed scouting reports on certain players during the offseason.
Rio Ruiz came into the year off a very disappointing 2015 season in AA following his trade from the Astros. Despite the front office promoted him to AAA to start the season, and Ruiz responded with a rebound season. Ruiz saw 133 games in Gwinnett, hitting .271/.355/.400 with 10 homers and 62 RBI along with 24 doubles. That's a big improvement upon those 2015 AA numbers of .229/.331/.318 with 5 homers.
Ruiz did have some splits which will catch your attention, as his power really only showed up at home where he hit .278/.354/.456 with 8 homers as compared to .263/.354/.344 with 2 homers on the road- though he only struck out 44 times on the road as compared to 77 times at home.
That wasn't as concerning as his splits against pitchers from both sides as he hit a strong .294/.373/.460 with 10 homers against right handers. Lefties held Ruiz to just .203/.293/.229 with no homers and increased his strikeout rate from 80 in 407 at bats, or one in every five, against right handers to 38 in 118 at bats, or nearly one in every three at bats. He also had just two extra base hits against lefties, a double and a triple. Those are concerning numbers but he's young and he's already shown he's capable of making adjustments and improvements.
Ruiz was fairly consistent all year with a .730 OPS minimum in every month except a .593 mark in May, and he did close out the season strong by finishing at .286/.375/.505 with 4 homers and 23 RBI in 28 August games. That earned him a promotion to Atlanta where he went two for seven with a triple and two RBI in five games.
Ruiz will likely have a chance to earn playing time in Atlanta in 2017, though with Adonis Garcia’s solid play in the second half and Ruiz still having a few areas to improve on it wouldn't be a surprise to anyone if he started the season in the minors.
Luis Valenzuela missed the first half of the year with an injury and didn't start until a rehab assignment with the GCL team at the beginning of July. In two games in the GCL he went one for seven before he moved up to Carolina. In 44 High-A games Valenzuela hit .270/.289/.376 with 11 doubles, 3 triples, 1 homer and 19 RBI.
Valenzuela had some splits which get your attention as he hit just .244/.267/.302 with 2 RBI in 20 home games, but in 26 road games he hit .282/.304/.418 with 17 RBI. He was also much better against lefties at .309/.333/.418, as compared to just .248/.270/.348 against right handers.
He actually played more shortstop this year, but did spend a good portion of time at third base and has played second in the past, but Valenzuela was counted as a third baseman here since the position was fairly light in terms of numbers compared to shortstop. He’ll start either back in High-A or move up to AA to start next year.
Austin Riley had arguably the most up and down year in the system. He came in with a ton of hype after a huge debut following the 2015 draft, but Riley struggled early on both with power and contact. At the end of May he was hitting just .246/.291/.372 with 14 doubles, 3 homers and 20 RBI to go with 66 strikeouts in 183 at bats and just 12 walks.
He was trying to adjust to older competition in Low-A and not 100% healthy, and the numbers reflected that. Then the real Riley came back in the second half as he posted OPS marks of .812, .842, and .970 in the final three months on his way to a final line of .271/.324/.479 with 39 doubles, 20 homers, 80 RBI in 495 at bats. He did finish with 147 strikeouts- only 81 in 312 at bats with 27 walks in the second half.
Riley was better against lefties, hitting .315/.386/.521 against them and .263/.313/.472 against right handers. He also had better numbers on the road, .274/.335/.519, than at home, .267/.314/.442.
Riley’s huge second half definitely helped prove that he is for real as a prospect, especially since he did this as one of the youngest players in the league- he had just 13 at bats against younger pitchers all season. He’s likely to start the 2017 season in High-A, but a promotion to AA is possible- especially if he produces anywhere near the numbers he put up in the second half.
Aquino posted fairly mediocre numbers in the Dominican Summer League last year before moving to the GCL this year and hitting .274/.349/.378 with 11 doubles and a homer to go with 19 RBI and 5 steals in 43 games. He doesn't walk or strikeout all that much either, recording 9 walks and 25 strikeouts in 135 at bats.
Aquino was hitting just .242/.301/.364 on August 1st, but finished the year hitting .304/.355/.391 to finish strong. He mostly played third base, but spent time at short and has played second in the past. Considering he's already 19 years old he has a chance to see the full season leagues in 2017.
Gabe Howell was the 20th round pick out of a local high school this summer, and though most thought of him as a second baseman he played exclusively at third in the GCL. Howell was limited to just seven games before going down with an injury and his stat line saw him only get 20 at bats, so nothing can be read into with it due to the sample size- though he did struggle.
Howell does have some potential with the bat, but he's years away and a near lock to spend next year in short season ball again.