Hooray! It’s prospect list time! I will be honest...creating a list of the Braves’ top prospect every 6 months or so is a huge undertaking. Not only is the system crazy deep to the point where one could very feasibly make a a top 40-50 without breaking a sweat (spoilers: that ain’t happenin’), but a lot of work goes into getting the guys profiles written up and getting an order that we are proud of. That being said, all of the staff really gets excited when it is time to put the list together and have done a great job this time around.
Before we get to the first (last?) five prospects on our list, here are a few caveats that I am sure you are going to yell at us about.
- Guys with significant service time at the major league level are not getting a look here. This is partially because I (Eric) think its dumb to create an arbitrary AB or IP distinction where a guy stops becoming a prospect, partially because common sense should prevail, and partially because being fairly loose with the definition of a "prospect" creates a certain level of turnover on our list that creates healthy discussion. That said, no...we do not hate Dansby Swanson, Aaron Blair, or anyone of that ilk.
- As the minor league staff here at TC has grown, our list has become a composite of all of our lists. There are 5 voices now and rather than debate the list under our fingers bleed, we make our lists, create a composite from it, and then look at to make sure nothing crazy happened. So far, that system has worked for us and while the composite didn’t match any of our lists....I have yet to hear any complaints so that’s a good thing. Big thanks to Garrett, Gaurav, Matt, and Jeff for putting in the time to make this list happen and for everything they do here. There isn’t a better minor league team anywhere in my mind.
- Prospect list writing is not a perfect science. Some of you out there will prefer guys who are closer to the majors, others will prefer upside and tools, others with lower risk profiles, and others of you will inexplicably be in love with guys who will never make it to the majors. All of these things are okay....we want discussion to happen. But please, be respectful of one another in the comments. At the end of the day, we are all unabashed baseball fans talking about a sweet farm system. That is not worth ruining anyone’s day over.
- This list was incredibly tough this go around and many of the votes were extremely close with tiebreakers being employed. The depth of this system is insane and there are very reasonable arguments up and down the list for being higher or lower depending on your tastes. We can easily name 30 guys that we think have a very reasonable shot at making the big leagues...which is nuts. As a result, these rankings have been and will continue to be very fluid as time goes on. These are hardly set in stone, but simply a snapshot of our current thinking.
With all of that said, the first five of our Top 25 prospect list features 4 position players and a pitcher. I know the joke is that the Braves have all arms in the minors, but as this week goes on...you may find that that is not the case. On to the first (last?) five prospects.....
25.) Brett Cumberland
This year’s 76th overall pick in the draft is a switch hitting catcher who hit .344/.480/.678 for Cal last year, winning Pac-12 Player of the Year. He has very quick hands and swings really hard but also takes his walks, he has more power from the left side of the plate but hits pretty good from the right side as well. He hit 23 homers in 108 NCAA games and was obviously drafted for his bat but he has a decent enough arm to stick behind the plate, throwing out 43 percent of baserunners while in college.
One of the digs on Cumberland coming out of the draft was that he didn’t play with a lot of energy behind the plate or that he lacked the athleticism to stick there. I didn’t see that at all when I caught him at Instructional League this fall, he was catching Ian Anderson and stopped a couple of pitches in the dirt from rolling away with runners on and threw a runner out with relative ease. It’s not like the Braves are exactly stocked with major league ready catching so the 21 year old may be the closest to the big leagues of all the backstops. (Spoiler alert he’s the only catcher ON this list)
24.) Braxton Davidson
The former first round draft pick took a bit of a step back last year after being promoted to High A Carolina. After a decent 2015 year that saw him have a 17% BB%, and 122 wRC+ for the Rome Braves, Braxton was awarded with a promotion to Carolina where his walk rate shrank (13.8%), his strikeout rate sky rocketed (35.7%), and his contact issues continued. There were reports that the Braves wanted Braxton to be more aggressive at that plate, but that was quickly scraped after he struggled a lot at the start of the season – hitting .192/.261/.308 in April. As the weather got warmer so did Braxton – he hit .264/.398/.471 hitting 11 XBH in 28 games in June, unfortunately he finished the season hitting .212/.353/.348 the rest of the year. The game power, and hit tool that have future values of 50 and 60, respectively, still continue to lag behind the rest of his game.
That said, all is not lost – Braxton is still just 20 years old, has a great eye at the plate, and despite likely repeating High-A ball will still be nearly two years younger than his average competition. Progression with his hit tool, and power will be a happy addition to an already loaded farm system. His ranking here is tenuous, there is no question. That said, even voters wanted to at least give him one more shot as a prospect given his promise and age to see if he can improve his approach at the plate enough to tap into his very real raw power enough. The skepticism is understandable given his track record thus far, so this season is likely his last chance to prove his doubters wrong.
23.) Ray-Patrick Didder
Arguably the most overlooked player in the Braves system is Ray-Patrick Didder. It's likely due to a combination of the depth of the farm system and the fact Didder is still a couple of years away that sometimes has him forgotten about by Braves fans and rarely gets him mentioned by the rest of baseball. Still it's wise to take notice of a guy with such loud tools. While he may be the most overlooked guy in the system, Didder may have the best set of current tools in the system among hitters. That's because Didder has three tools which grade out as 70 or better on the traditional 20-80 scouting scale.
Didder has the best arm in the system according to Baseball America, an arm which very well may grade as an 80 tool. He's not only got a cannon for an arm, but he's mostly accurate and knows how to make a play by either throwing for a runner or hitting the cutoff man. That's what led to 20 outfield assists(19 from center) in 129 games in the outfield at Rome this year, following 9 assists in 59 games for Danville in 2015.
Didder's speed is a 70/80 tool as well as he's among the fastest guys in the system- which is a bigger compliment than it appears on the surface with elite level runners Anfernee Seymour, Mallex Smith, and Randy Ventura around. That speed allowed him to steal 37 bases in 49 attempts in Rome, a career high as he improved his success rate from just 10-17 a year ago.
The speed and arm are his two best tools, but his glove is also a 70 grade in center. Obviously that's in part due to his arm and speed, which allow for him to cover a lot of ground in the outfield as well as keep an opposing run game in check. This is especially impressive considering the fact he was an infielder in 2014 and only moved to the outfield for 2015. Those tools alone likely are good enough to help Didder reach the big leagues in a bench role similar to a Terrance Gore or a Jarrod Dyson, but if he can hit enough to play regularly he could be a real weapon for the Braves.
Didder isn't a total zero at the plate either. He managed to hit .274/.387/.381 in Rome, setting new career highs(outside of the DSL) in on base percentage and slugging while tying the average he posted for the GCL team in 2014. Didder shows great instincts at the plate as well as in the field(and improving on the bases as well), showing he knows how to get on base with his 50 walks and ridiculous 39 hit by pitch- a number that follows the 14 he had last year in about half as many games, to go with 131 base hits. That's reaching base 220 times in 132 games.
Didder has some power in his bat, though traditional power will never be his strength. He had 15 doubles, 9 triples, and 6 homers this year, and the speed definitely helped those numbers out. But all he needs to do is hit it into the gap and use his speed to be effective, so the power he provides will just have to be enough to keep pitchers honest- something I think he has in him as he keeps on developing. The 6 homers were a big sign of progress for him after he went from 2013-2015 without a homer, a 623 plate appearance stretch.
Didder should reach the big leagues, but ultimate role is very much up in the air and based on his development. He's shown an ability to make adjustments, has excellent instincts, and loud tools so he's certainly got a chance to exceed the expectations that most have for him- but it will all come down to his bat.
22.) Rio Ruiz
Rio Ruiz was one of the darlings of the system through the first month for Gwinnett, and had seemed to turn the corner in his career that would vault him into a starting role at third base for Atlanta. He opened with a better than 1.000 OPS through the first 17 games and was playing a noticeably improved third base. Realism soon set in, and his BABIP regressed to a level that displayed his youthful inconsistencies. He struggled at times throughout the season with injury, and finished the season with a fair .271/.354/.403 line. For a middle infielder, that would be more than acceptable, but his lack of power production as a third baseman has been a major sticking point for evaluators despite his age to competition and natural hitting ability. While he managed to keep his walk rate in line with his career average, his strikeout rate hopped to a career-high 21.7%.
While the main gripe towards Ruiz is his lack of home run power, perhaps even more disappointing is his .522 OPS against left handed pitching. The scouting backs this up as well-he simply looks lost against left handed pitching. Ruiz is still a talented athlete who is working hard on improving his conditioning, but it seems obvious at this point what his role stands to be. Ruiz projects as a likely platoon player-which given his left handed bat would still be a majority of the playing time-who can deliver solid though unspectacular production at the plate. Where his greatest improvement in projection has lied has been with the glove, where his renewed focus on keeping in shape has left him far more spry on the hot corner and left me impressed on more than a few occasions. When put in a proper position to succeed he could prove a valuable asset for a major league team, at worst as a late inning pinch hitter for an NL squad, but the glaring holes in his game prevent him from taking the leap on the list that he seemed destined for through the first few weeks.
21.) Ricardo Sanchez
What a year for Ricardo Sanchez. Playing a full season for the first time in his professional career he put up 119.1 innings – almost three times more than either of his two previous seasons and was rewarded with a Rome Braves championship. His walk rate was still on the high side (4.07 BB/9), but there were multiple games where he flashed why he was the Angels #1 prospects at the time of his trade - including one of the best pitched games I’ve seen from a minor leaguer when he dismantled the Lexington Legends to the tune of 7 innings of 1 hit baseball where he struck out 11 and walked just 1. He rode that start to a strong end of the season where he went 4-4 with a 3.48 ERA, and 1.376 WHIP over his final 12 games. He sits mid to low 90s, with a nice curve, and changeup that is rapidly improving. A full season, along with physically maturing may lead to a big 2017 campaign for the lefty.
The most important word in that last sentence is "may" though, as he has been maddeningly inconsistent especially when runners reach base. When things go wrong for Ricardo, they can really go wrong. However, if he can find his command, continue to progress with his offspeed offerings, and continue to make strides with his conditioning, he still has the potential to be a real prospect with the highest projection for him likely to be a middle of the rotation guy with 4/5 starter being a more realistic ceiling. The end of his season was definitely encouraging and swayed enough voters to keep him in the fray for now. However, with a whole bunch of younger guys threatening our top 25 already, Ricardo could easily see himself on the outside looking in if he struggles again in 2017.