We are getting to the cream of the crop here as we count down our Top 25 pre-season Braves prospects and it is at this point that it is worth mentioning a couple of things. First, given the depth and talent-level of this system, it would be perfectly reasonable to include many of these players in the top 5 of other lists. The differences between many of these players are very slight and really subjective. JJ Cooper of Baseball America said it best when they were rolling out their list of top Braves prospects.
Are there deserving Braves prospects we left off the top 10? Yes. No. 16 on Braves list isn't far behind No. 3. https://t.co/ETQN8JN4ti— JJ Cooper (@jjcoop36) December 9, 2016
JJ is absolutely correct, so before anyone gets too upset about someone being higher or lower on our list...lets just keep that in mind. Here is our list so far.
11) Travis Demeritte
12) Joey Wentz
13) Patrick Weigel
14) Alex Jackson
15) Dustin Peterson
16) Cristian Pache
17) Kyle Muller
18) AJ Minter
19) Lucas Sims
20) Derian Cruz
21) Ricardo Sanchez
22) Rio Ruiz
23) Ray-Patrick Didder
24) Braxton Davidson
25) Brett Cumberland
We now enter our top 10 with a nice mix of position players and pitchers with extremely high ceilings and none of which have yet to play a game above low-A. Enough of me going on and on, here are prospects 6-10.
10.) Austin Riley - 3B
Austin Riley opened his first full season with enormous expectations, and struggled to match those in the early part of the season. After being drafted in the 1st round in 2015, he came out strong with 12 home runs in half a season-igniting excitement amongst fans and landing him as high as 79th on Baseball Prospectus’s top 100 prospects. Through the first half of the season, as the player expected to anchor Rome’s talented lineup, Riley struggled tremendously to produce. He struck out 33% of the time, had only 3 home runs, and was receiving harsh scouting reports based around poor bat speed to the ball. Then in what seemed like the blink of an eye, it all turned around following the all star break. He opened with a home run in each of the first two games, and proceeded to hit 17 home runs in his last 66 games with a .929 OPS and 22% K rate. He was the near-single-handed driving force to the Rome offense at times in their terrific second half, and once again began to woo over some of the more impatient fans who had lost faith after his very early struggles.
Austin’s power is legitimate, and he sits as one of only a handful of Braves position prospects with a true carrying tool. Riley can put a ball out of the park to any part of the field, on any pitch, and does so regularly. Even when he was not hitting home runs this season, he produced a system-leading 39 doubles and posted a .208 ISO despite his pitcher-friendly stomping grounds. The questions about his bat speed are founded, as it was clear at times early this season he was struggling to catch up to simply average fastballs, but he also showed improvement through the season and finished the year in better standing. He also can recognize and capitalize on curveballs, a skill many younger players lack and one that helped him produce in moments where that bat speed may have lacked. Riley is going to have to hit to advance, given that he projects as an average at best defender at third base, but that doesn’t appear to be a problem given his ability to make solid contact with the ball. The high strike out rate can be confusing, as he is not really a guy who has a particularly nasty swing. There are times Riley just struggles to make contact, and given his lack of hitting experience coming from a small town in Mississippi-where he faced a lot of lesser talent and was primarily a pitcher-I think this can be forgiven. The ability he showed this season to adjust and improve, as well as his age relative to competition, leave a lot of hopeful undertones to a roller coaster season.
9.) Touki Toussaint - RHP
Touki Toussaint a 2014 first round pick who was basically purchased from the Diamondbacks on his 19th birthday has an incredibly high ceiling but like most pitchers with the high caliber stuff he possesses has some control issues. Toussaint started the 2016 season out rough, in his first 3 starts he gave up 15 runs on 19 hits in only 10.2 innings. After that Rome pitching coach Dan Meyer and then Minor League pitching coordinator Chuck Hernandez showed him video of his pitching in high school and asked him to go back to his more natural delivery and to be more aggressive on the mound. It worked, in his final 16 starts Toussaint struck out 110 batters over 97.1 innings with a 2.59 ERA.
He can hit 97 with his fastball but works better around 92-94, mixing in his ridiculous curveball that is one of the best in the minor leagues and sits in the upper 70s. He also has an improving changeup with movement sits in the mid 80s. He works quick and attacks hitters it’s just a matter of harnessing his command to limit walks. Touki will enter his age 20 season next year at High A Florida most likely after his strong finish at Rome. He has all the tools to be a starter in the big leagues with 2 plus pitches and a developing changeup, it’s just a matter of polish. In the most recent Ask Coppy session on the Braves twitter, Coppolella compared Toussaint to Chris Archer which speaks to not only how much the organization thinks of him, but how high his ceiling truly is.
8.) Ian Anderson - RHP
Coming in at number 8 on our list is the Braves’ highest pick in the 2016 draft in Ian Anderson. Up until the last couple of weeks of the draft, Ian was viewed as a guy likely to be drafted just outside the top 10, but the Braves saw something in him and it afforded them the opportunity to both get a pitcher that they loved AND save some draft pool dollars which allowed them to sign Joey Wentz, Kyle Muller, and Bryse Wilson among others. Anderson features a rare three-pitch mix all of which we think can be plus pitches. His fastball generally lives in the 92-94 range although he can go higher and the pitch has nice downward run. His changeup is advanced for a guy right out of high school and projects to be a strong offering as he develops. His breaking ball seems have good games and bad games (more good than bad), but if it continues to progress as it has this year then he profiles as a frontline starter who has drawn early comparisons to a young Mike Mussina.
2016 was Ian’s first professional season and he made rookie ball look relatively easy. After not giving up a sing earned run in the GCL, he was quickly promoted to Danville where he was largely successful although he did have one rough outing towards the end of what was a VERY long year (4 innings, 5 earned) that skewed his numbers a bit. Overall, in 39.2 innings (10 games) as a professional, Ian put up a 2.04 ERA with 36 Ks against 12 walks. He will have to improve his numbers against right-handed bats (they batted .341 against him in rookie ball in a small sample size), but his quick progression through rookie ball has made his promotion to Rome for 2017 a near certainty. With an entire offseason to recover from the rigors of a long year of playing and draft showcases as well as to condition himself for the grind of full-season ball, Ian could jump up a lot of lists very quickly.
7.) Mike Soroka - RHP
At #7 on our 2017 prospect list is a guy who has been a favorite of the TC crew for a while now in Mike Soroka. When he was drafted 28th overall in 2015 out of the Canadian prep ranks, he was regarded by many as a top 40-50 draft prospect so in the minds of some he was a bit of a reach there. However, it became clear that some of that was just due to lack of information and coverage and that the Braves had found themselves a real gem towards the bottom of the first round. He was excellent in rookie ball, made adjustments in the offseason, and turned into arguably the most consistently excellent pitcher in Rome’s rotation (which, as it turns out, was really really good). He features a strong pitch mix of fastball, curve, changeup, and sinker that all are above average. He generally throws his fastball in the 92 mph range to locate the pitch better, but is perfectly capable of hitting 95 if the occasion calls for it. His curve was among his most consistently good pitches this past season and he often leaned on it in outings where something wasn’t working. It features tight spin and get can use it to get ground balls or strike guys outs. If you ask Mike, he will readily tell you that his changeup has the potential to be his best pitch although the pitch had its ups and downs this past season.
Soroka is a fascinating pitching prospect in the sense that often when we talk about projection, it is in terms of raw physical ability or tools. With Mike though, there is a mental aspect of the game that he just gets at such a young age that begs the question as to whether that should be a part of his projection as well. He makes smart adjustments, not just from week to week such as when he switched sides of the rubber to improve against lefties, but within games that make it easy to forget that he spent the entire 2016 season as a teenager. From attacking hitters in different ways to recognizing quickly what pitches are working and which aren’t to understanding the umpire to getting a gameplan together with his catcher, he both has a strong grasp of that mental aspect of the game as well as the already plus-command and control to execute on the mound.
However, lets be clear here: when we focus on the mental aspects of the game that he is great at does not mean that he is lagging behind anyone in terms of stuff or physical ability. 6’4 righties with a fastball that they command well in the low 90’s and touch the mid 90’s in addition to three other above average to potential plus pitches before they are of legal drinking is not indicative of a limited ceiling at all. It is also worth noting that he threw 143 innings in his first full season after being a prep draftee which is remarkable and I have yet to find an instance in the recent past where someone has done it under those conditions. This ranking could very well be too low for Mike (and he has been ranked higher elsewhere), but if he continues to adjust and dominate high-A (which is where we presume he will start 2017) like he did at Rome, he won’t go underappreciated for long.
Before we move on, here are some fun Soroka facts: A) In 177 innings as a pro, he has given up a total of 3 home runs.....three, B) He has played in a total of 35 games as a pro...and he has given up a total of 37 walks during that same span, and C) he finished in the top 10 in his league in WHIP, ERA, and IP while just missing in strikeouts.
6.) Kevin Maitan - SS
The most intriguing player in the deep Braves system is a 16 year old Venezuelan who has never played a game that counts as a professional. Despite being the age of a high school sophomore at the time, this player has already set a record for the size of his signing bonus and been pursued by multiple other teams until the end.
Despite no one seeing him in a game situation, he's drawn praise which calls him the best Latin American prospect to sign in the past decade since Miguel Sano. Taking it even further he's been compared to another former switch hitting shortstop - future Hall of Famer Chipper Jones. That's a lot of hype for someone who won't turn 17 until around the time pitchers and catchers report to spring training. However the praise around Kevin Maitan is universal, as those within the Braves organization and those around the game are all quick to compliment him.
Maitan is a bigger shortstop who many people expect to outgrow the position as he really starts to fill in his body and cause a move to third base. However there are some who see him as being able to stick at shortstop like some of the other larger framed shortstops in today's game such as Carlos Correa and Corey Seager. While it's tough to predict his defense at the moment, he does have plenty of arm for either spot.
His biggest strength comes in the bat, where he possesses a very advanced feel for hitting at his age. Maitan projects to hit for both average and power, with at least plus tools in both categories expected and some thought that he could grow into plus plus power in time with homer totals over 30 a year.
The only thing that keeps Maitan ranked outside the top spot is the fact he's so young and far away from helping as well as him not being seen by many first hand yet. He'll likely start the year in short season ball in either the Gulf Coast League or in Danville as John Coppollella stated on Twitter yesterday during the Braves Ask Coppy session. He's likely not going to hit the radar for Atlanta until at least 2019 or 2020, but he has every chance to be the middle of the order run producing bat the Braves hope he can become. There is also a very real shot that he is the guy at the top of this list next year at this time as he has just that much talent.