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Breaking Down The Braves Draft Needs: Part 2

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The MLB Draft approaches quickly, with Day 1 on June 1. How do the Braves stack up positionally, and who could they target in the first few rounds of the draft?

Most Valuable Prospects v Chicago White Sox
Corey Ray is a popular name in the Draft this season
Photo by Sara D. Davis/Getty Images

As the draft approaches and Talking Chop ramps up draft coverage, we will take a 2 part look breaking down the state of the Braves at each positions. This will be focused on the short and long term options in the system, as well as potentially draft targets at each position.

You can view part 1 here

Third Base

Major Leagues

Chipper Jones last suited up in 2012. The following year, Chris Johnson almost BABIPed his way to a batting title. Another unfortunate contract from the previous regime was made, and we now have a really bad situation at the hot corner. Johnson regressed back into his former bad offensively and worse defensively self, and since 2014 the Braves have produced 2.3 WAR out of their 3rd baseman. 6th worst in baseball. It seems I say this again and again and again and again, it's not going so well for the Braves right here. Adonis Garcia effectively acts as an infinitessimal speck on the infield, providing no range, defensive abilities, or really use at all. The bat has regressed back to what you would expect a 31 year old Cuban who had never previously played in the Major Leagues.

Best Prospect

Coming into 2016, the hands down answer here would have been Austin Riley. Flash forward 2 months, and questions about his bat speed have popped that helium balloon he was riding. Still, the power potential is the most tantalizing in the system right now (amongst infielders), so he's the choice for me. Austin Riley has and flashes a ton of talent, but gets beat a lot by fastballs and strikes out too much. He doesn't make up for it with his defense either. What he does have is time. He is a young, athletic player with all the tools to make it work and there is no reason to consider giving up on him yet unless you hate joy and hope. Please refrain from commenting if so.

Most MLB Ready Prospect

Easy answer here: Rio Ruiz is basically right on the edge of making the jump. If asked 1 month ago, many would answer that he was already ready, but adjustments, slumps, and bad luck have sanded down a previously shiny season. It's no doubt he has been bad, but there seems to be a lot of potential from improvement once he can get his strikeouts in line. He has a good bat, squares up most balls he hits, and has probably the best approach at the plate of any Braves Minor leaguer. his has average or maybe even above average raw power, but it plays down because he is more of a line drive hitter. Strides have been made with the glove as well, and he shows now some polish to go along with the athleticism he always has had. Importantly, he is now more in shape and dedicated to baseball, and that should pay off.

Rio Ruiz
Rio Ruiz makes a running throw
Garrett Spain

Grade D

I believe in the prospects here, but they have enough flaws to make me question the abilities. There is more talent here than catcher, but not by much.

Potential target at #3

The Braves have been linked to Nick Senzel, and if Rio Ruiz is not the guy that would be the best player to target. I see Senzel as an overly safe pick, as having a choice that high I would want to see the Braves draft a player with cornerstone potential. That is not Senzel. Still, he will likely be an above average major league player which is a huge step over what the Braves currently have. He can hit for both average and power, and has improved tremendously on the defensive side of the ball. This is a player that could be a more short term solution at third base, and bridge the gap to the More high ceiling plAyer that Is rumored To have A handshake agreement iN place.

Potential later target

If the Braves don't pick Senzel (which I hope is the case), Carter Keiboom and his 80 grade name would be a nice addition to the system. He is a good hitter with great bat to ball skills, has power and projectability, and plays a good third base. Add on that he is a Georgia native, and it seems almost certain that he could be targeted if he slides down boards a bit. The Braves aren't getting second round picks and the slot allocations for nothing, they want to go after guys who may slip for signability reasons.

Long Term Solution

The obvious solution here is Aus...KEVIN MAITAN. The absolutely most wondefully hyped international players in years is almost guaranteed to sign with the Braves. I like Riley, I like Ruiz, but this is the man right here. The kid is 16 years old and already has plus tools being thrown around for hitting. He is a generational talent and will be the number 1 prospect for the Braves on this evaluators list once he signs. The long term solution is just 1 month away.

Short Term Fix:

There is one little problem with Kevin Maitan. He is 16 years old, so the short term options have to be considered for the Braves to compete in the future. There will be some attractive free agents at the hot corner, so we may see the Braves take a chance there, but more than likely Rio Ruiz is probably the near future. While there are a lot of questions surrounding him, there is really no other option unless they use that 3rd pick on Senzel. Like Freeman, he is the guy by default.


Major Leagues

The Braves couldn't get any worse right now at shortstop. I mean they quite literally have the worst player in baseball (which happens to them a lot) and are a full 1.2 fWAR lower than the next worst team at shortstop. The point has been reached to where Daniel Castro would be an upgrade at shortstop, a horrifying fact that can't be ignored. That chicken bone has a higher fWAR than our shortstop this year. Oh Ozzie how I welcome thee.

Best Prospects

The best shortstop prospect (when considering Swanson 2B) is without a doubt Ozzie Albies. He has a preternatural feel for the barrel of the bat, and seems almost a lock to hit .300 at the major league level. A 19 year old reaching AAA is not small feat, and outside of a few clusters of games he has held his own at the level. Defensively scouts are mixed, but while inconsistencies with the arm ravage his fielding percentage (poor stat but not many options at the minor league level) the overwhelming feeling seems to be a superstar defensive ceiling.

But wait there's more.

Let's take a quick peek down the minor league system and talk about this guy named Derian Cruz. He was seen as possibly the most athletic player from the 2015 J2 class, and has as much speed as anyone in the system. He can hit, he can also field, and could potentially be the next in the long line of top shortstop prospects for the Braves.

Ozzie Albies
Ozzie Albies knocks a base hit to right field
Photo Credit: Garrett Spain

Grade B-

You have to be really, really bad to make me grade a system with Ozzie Albies and Derian Cruz at B- for the shortstop position. Unfortunately, there is no guarantees with prospects and the major league squad is absolutely devoid of useful pieces at the shortstop position

Potential target at #3

It is almost certain they don't go shortstop at 3, but if they do I sure would like to see Delvin Perez repping the A. A 6'3" projectable shortstop, with bat skills, defense and speed. Momma I think I'm in love. Seriously, Perez is a fantastic baseball player. If he fills out his frame he may have to switch to third base, but at the position would be an elite defender and would fit nicely in the Braves system. If he grows into his power potential, the team that drafts him could very well get the best player of the draft.

Long term solution

Ozzie Albies is the definite long term and short term solution up the middle for the Braves. He is a unique and spectacular talent that the Braves fortuitously scooped up in the IFA class in 2013. And further down the road, Derian Cruz could very well continue the tradition at shortstop for the Braves. Were the Braves satisfied with those two? You bet your pocket protectors they weren't, and are now favored to sign the aforementioned Yunio Severino and Livan Soto from this year's class at the shortstop position. I'm a big fan of the "all the shortstops" strategy the Braves have going.

Left Field

Major Leagues

Well, Hector Olivera was originally supposed to fill this role, but he didn't exactly play up to his billing and then the circumstance which I don't want to discuss here happened, and now the Braves don't really have a long term guy. Mallex Smith is currently playing some left field, and he could play there for a while, but realistically he is best suited for center field while Inciarte plays right.

Best Prospect

This is an easy choice, as the only real top prospect that plays left field is Dustin Peterson. Peterson has easy power in his frame, and when he goes on one of his hot streaks taps into it on a regular basis. Unfortunately, he is streaky and prone to very long periods of poor play. He has all the tools, including surprisingly good defense, but he is a work in progress for sure.

The other player of note is Leudys Baez, who has a lot of power and speed but is very raw at this stage. He's a lottery ticket type player who we will have to wait a while to see.

Dustin Peterson
Dustin Peterson
Garrett Spain

Grade D

The grade here would be an F, but I also recognize that Mallex provides a suitable option in left field. In a non ideal situation he can play there, but the lack of any non-fringe prospects at the position makes for poor depth.

Potential Draft Target

Most of the players considered for the Top 3 picks are regarded as center fielders or right fielders, so we'll skip those and go on to later in the draft. A Georgia native here, Akil Baddoo is out of Salem High school, and projects to potentially move to left field. He has the speed for center field, and so would make a good left fielder, and has a bat that should profile at a corner position. Baddoo has a super quick compact swing, and though I think some more extension would allow him to tap into his raw power, he still can pop the ball from the left side of the plate.

Long term Solution

While Kevin Maitan could move to left field in pro ball, it seems most likely that Dustin Peterson will be the guy for the future. The Braves will need to be patient, he is young and never played a full season without a decline, but the talent is superb. If they can manage to get the best of Peterson, they could have a 20 HR Left Fielder on their hands, if not they may have to move one of their group of center fielders to a corner.

Short Term Fix

While we hope on Dustin Peterson, it seems that Mallex Smith will be filling that role for the near future. Corey Ray from Louisville would be a very good option if they are looking to draft some one, as he will move quickly and be a very good player. Still, if the Braves get Ray it would be much preferable to see him take right field from an alignment standpoint.

Center Field

Major Leagues

Center field has been one of the strong points for the Braves this season, as they have a positive WAR and are only 8th worst in the league. I feel bad even typing those words but they are unfortunately true. Still, center field is manned by either Ender Inciarte or Mallex Smith, both average to above average players with years of team control. I feel pretty good about this position actually. The only question is whether Mallex will be able to figure out how to hit lefties, but there is a solution there.

MLB: Miami Marlins at Atlanta Braves Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

Best Prospects

The highest ceiling outfield prospects in the system play center field, and are all in A ball or lower, and we're gonna start from the bottom and work up.

The Braves added Christian Pache just last year, and though he has yet to play with the Braves the talent is undeniable. This is another potential 5 tool center fielder, with more polish but less ceiling than Isranel. He has been clocked at a 6.6 second 60 meter dash, so he definitely has the speed to stay in center field. There is a level of funkiness to his swing he will probably have to fix once he reaches pro ball, but he has good natural bat skills.

I considered Ronald Acuna for the top prospect in the system. I now consider him number 2, and he tools that scream at you. Starting with the bat, he puts a lot of balls in play, and puts them in play with authority. He also has a very patient approach. Unfortunately, his swing currently generates a lot of ground balls, which doesn't allow him to tap into that raw power he has. Oh does he have raw power as well. On One of his two home runs this season, he was leaned over the plate off balance and took an outside pitch and hit a screaming line drive well over the fence the opposite way. He has speed too, and has already stolen 12 bases in 30 games this season, and he uses that speed in the outfield. Sometimes he can be a bit adventurous in the outfield, but he can almost always take the right route and has closing speed to get to baseballs other players just cannot track down.

Ronald Acuna is Fast
Ronald Acuna scores from first, showing off his speed
Gif and Video Credit: Garrett Spain

Most MLB Ready Prospect

Connor Lien plays both center field and right field, and is the best outfielder in the system defensively. His strikeout rate is concerning, and he may yet be relegated to a 4th outfielder role because of his bat, but he has the ceiling of a very good starter. He has easy plus speed and get the best jumps and angles you can ask for, and when he gets the ball in his hands he can unleash some majestic throws. He had 21 outfield assists at Carolina last season. Lien also has raw power in his 6'3 frame, though his inconsistent hitting ability hasn't allowed him to tap into that fully at this stage. Interestingly, he destroyed left handed pitching last year. In his first season he struggled against lefties, his second he was even on LHP and RHP, and last season he was drastically better against LHP. If that trend continues, he would provide an interesting platoon option were Mallex to continue his struggles against lefties. He isn't much of a loss on the basepaths either, and stole 30 bases last season.

Grade A+

Between the two current options holding down the fort, a high potential player in Connor Lien, and two of the highest potential players in the system all in center field, it is definitely the strongest position they have. This doesn't even include Isranel Wilson, who I consider a right fielder because of the presences of Pache and Acuna.

Potential target at #3

(note: Corey Ray and Kyle Lewis will be slotted in RF)

If they want outfielders, there are some good options in center field. The name that Talking Chop commenters have long been clamoring for is Blake Rutherford, an older player for the high school at 19, but with a ton of talent and the ability to move through the system quickly. He grades at average or better potential in all 5 tools, with a pair of above average tools in hitting and power. You can't ask for much more from a high schooler.

Mickey Moniak is the other high school bat making a name for himself, and unlike Rutherford who has been around a while, has really put helium in his name lately. He has a quiet and quick swing that produces excellent contact, and he hits it solidly as well. He could project for even more power as he matures, and scouts rave about his defensive ability in center field.

Potential later target

Another Georgia native, the athletic Taylor Trammell could be selected with the Braves second pick. He has phenomenal speed and projects for good power, and could be a raw project that pays huge future dividends. He doesn't have the best arm, but the speed and natural defensive ability makes for a fine center fielder.

For a college option, Ryan Boldt from Nebraska would provide a potentially quick to the majors name up the middle. Boldt is a really solid hitter with a good approach, and has more raw power than he shows in games. He has all the tools to stick in center field as well.

Long term solution

Ronald Acuna seems to be the fix in center field for a very long time with his superstar level talent and potentially to move quickly. With Ender Inciarte and Mallex Smith ahead of him and Christian Pache behind, there is no real need for the Braves to look for a center fielder at this stage.

Right Field

Major Leagues

Coming into the season, Nick Markakis was seen as a solid option over there. Now, the aging bug has hit him and the BABIP has dropped, and it isn't looking good for Markakis. Notably, the power many assumed would magically return did not, and now we're stuck with an aging right fielder who doesn't really provide anything but a veteran presence. At $11 million he isn't outrageously overpaid, but I don't see him providing some sort of bargain either. In all likelihood his days of being an effective player were a flash in the pan.

San Francisco Giants v Atlanta Braves Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

The first player is Isranel Wilson, who may have the most raw power of any player in the system. Wilson struggled at the outset in the Gulf Coast League, striking out a lot and not doing much else. He then went on a tear, hit 10 home runs, and showed off the tantalizing power. He has the speed to stay in center field easily, though a move to right field would be very likely. He has 4 tools, he just has to develop the bat further to cut down on strikeouts and use his power.

Braxton Davidson came in with high hopes, but has just not produced at all. He was questionably assigned to Carolina at the beginning of this season, and has not responded with any sort of offensive production. The tools are there, I mean when he hits it he really hits it, but how long can we deal with tools just being hope and not quantifiable production? He's young, and he was put in over his head, so I'm not reading too much into his numbers, but often looks like he'd rather just watch pitches and take a walk than swing.

Most MLB Ready Prospect

Refer to Connor Lien in the previous post. He qualifies for both positions.

Grade D+

Isranel Wilson has just a high enough ceiling to not make this a total waste, but there isn't really a ton to like at the right field position.

Potential target at #3

This is where it gets fun. Do they go with the high ceiling arm or the high ceiling bat? If bat, Ray or Lewis? Which one, if not both, will get drafted before the Braves even have a chance to touch one? Corey Ray is a ballplayer, and there's not a person who can deny that. He could theoretically be ready to replace Markakis by next season and provides all 5 tools. He could also play all three outfield positions very well, something that the Braves would love to have. He can hit, he can drop bombs, and he can steal bases. What can you not like?

I like Ray, and if the Braves draft him I will be a huge fan of the pick. Buuuuut... I like Kyle Lewis a bit more. Call it the Georgia Bias, call it the 70 power grade I have seen from some, but I'd be more than happy to land Lewis at 3rd. The problem is, the Reds pick one spot ahead of the Braves, and are just as devoid of power as the Braves are, so who knows if Lewis will make it that far. The power is the standout tool, but he provides all 4 other tools, the hit tool being the best. I see Kyle Lewis as the power bat you can build a franchise around, and if the Braves draft him I may just buy everyone cupcakes.

Potential later target

I'll go high school here, with Conner Capel from Texas. He's athletic enough to play center field, but has enough bat for right field and would be a nice pick a couple of rounds in. Here's a guy who makes good contact and shows good power despite an awkward and out of sync swing. If fixed, his tools could take a step forward, something that may be worth the risk.

Long term solution

The long term solution could be Ender Inciarte, who has played the position frequently in the past, but I'd like to see that go to Corey Ray or Kyle Lewis. If you go with a position player in the top 3, those are the two that provide not only a great ceiling, but a legitimate floor that will allow them to move fast and produce early on. Maybe I have my hopes a little high, but I'd like to see the Braves settle on one of the two.