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Grading the Prospects - The Graduates

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MLB: Philadelphia Phillies at Atlanta Braves Jason Getz-USA TODAY Sports

I thought about doing a Top 25 Prospects list for my first story here at Talking Chop but they took care of that one back in July. They pretty much nailed it with that list so instead I’ve decided to break the Braves top prospects down in a series of articles separated by major league readiness : The Graduates, On the Cusp, Not So Close, Young Arms, Young Bats and Sleepers.

MLB: Washington Nationals at Atlanta Braves Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports

Dansby Swanson - Well, where else would I start? On December 9th, 1992 the Braves signed free agent Greg Maddux, 14 months before James Dansby Swanson was even born. Exactly 23 years later his hometown team acquired him in the blockbuster trade of the 2015 Winter Meetings just six months after he’d been drafted #1 overall.

He was assigned to the High A Carolina Mudcats and owned the Carolina League where he hit .333/.441/.526 with 12 doubles in just 21 games he was promoted to Double A Mississippi on April 30th. According to several reporters they had never seen someone in the minor leagues get as much media attention as he was in the Southern League.

Through all the pressure - hometown kid, number one overall pick, TV commercials - Dansby just kept on hitting, none of it seemed to faze the guy. Although he “only” hit .261/.342/.402 in 84 games in Mississippi, on August 16th he got the call to the big leagues.

Wouldn’t you know it right off I-75 just north of the city near Marietta, his hometown where he stayed with his parents during the season, was a huge billboard reading “WELCOME HOME DANSBY”.... no pressure kid. He went 2 for 4 in his debut and hit .302/.361/.442 in his 129 MLB at bats. His first big league home run was an inside the parker against the hated Nationals that rolled between Bryce Harper and Trea Turner. Whatever “it” is, Dansby has it.

My favorite stat of his in his time in the majors is how well he hit the ball to all fields - 29.6% pull, 37.8% to center and 32.7% opposite field. Not bad for a guy with only 127 minor league games to his name. He accrued 0.9 bWAR in 38 games played and hit 12 homers, 32 doubles and stole 16 bases in 143 total games across 3 levels. I don’t see anyone else manning shortstop at SunTrust Park for a long time.

MLB: Atlanta Braves at Pittsburgh Pirates Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

Mallex Smith - Mallex stole 56 bases and hit .303/.371/.378 in 125 games across AA and AAA in his first year in the Braves organization a year after stealing 88 bases in San Diego’s system. He won Braves Minor League Player of the Year and started the year back in Gwinnett, where he only played 3 games before getting called up. Ender Inciarte went on the DL with a hamstring on April 10th and Mallex had his shot.

His debut was a memorable one where he was bloodied by his own helmet trying to steal 2nd base in Washington after reaching on a fielder’s choice. Although he didn’t knock the cover off the ball in his time in the major leagues, hitting just .238/.316/.365. I am reluctant to label him as a fourth outfielder after less than 200 at bats. In 72 games he stole 16 bases which tied for the team lead with Ender Inciarte who played almost twice as many games.

At the worst he’s a fourth outfielder who can come off the bench as a defensive replacement and a pinch runner. At his best I think he could be Ender Inciarte 2.0, he hits the ball to all fields and looked a lot better in the outfield than he did in 2015 so he’s obviously working on his craft. On the basepaths he showed improvement as the season went on as well. In his first 31 games he was just 6 for 11 in steals, in his next 39 games he went 10 for 13.

I doubt Mallex goes back down to the minors and I think he’ll be competing for playing time in Spring Training but for now he’s clearly ready for the big leagues. He hit .419/.500/.613 in his 8 minor league games this year so there’s nothing left for him to prove down there.

MLB: Washington Nationals at Atlanta Braves Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports

Rio Ruiz - Rio didn’t have a bad season, I mean he made it to the majors but I don’t think I’m alone in saying he didn’t necessarily have a good season either. There’s nothing wrong with his AAA line of .261/.345/.386 but nothing pops out at you either. He was actually better in the first half hitting .276/.365/.385 before the All-Star Break and just .240/.316/.387 after it. I know at one point he was playing hurt so that could have something to do with it.

He did however mash righties all year, hitting .294/.375/.458 against RHP compared to .203/.293/.229 versus LHP. If the Braves opt to not spend money on a 3rd baseman via free agency as they’ve expressed they won’t, I think he could be a good platoon player with Adonis Garcia. Rio is a better fielder - .974 Fldg. % compared to .939 for Garcia and seemed to step his play up a notch in his short cup of coffee in September.

I could see Rio coming into Spring and outright outplaying the much older Garcia but that is yet to be determined, I’m sure the Braves will give him every opportunity to win the job and at the worst he’s a solid backup/platoon player on a major league team.

I’ll cover the rookie pitchers later this week.