Welcome again to our most recent installment of our top 25 Braves midseason prospect rankings. As we saw yesterday, this system is loaded with talent as any system would happily take any of the players in the the Braves’ top 25. Make sure you go back and take a look at who has already been ranked and keep the guesses about the rest of the list coming (we seriously love seeing who you guys think we are going to rank where).
Without further delay, here are our 16th-20th ranked Braves prospects....hope you enjoy reading them. As usual, the next 15 will come out in groups of five over the next three days.
20.) Kyle Muller
Coming in at number 20 on our prospect rankings is 2016 draftee Kyle Muller. Ranking recent draftees, especially when they are right out of high school, is incredibly tricky. We are basing our assumptions almost solely on projection and that is certainly less than idea. However, with a limited bit of game action under his belt as well as being extensively scouted prior to the 2016 draft, we feel comfortable ranking him here. A bit of a late bloomer, the 6’5, 230 lefty has a fastball that can touch the mid-90s, a potential plus curve, and an average changeup that should improve as he gets more of a feel for pitching (it feels like very few high school pitchers have a good changeup coming out these days). His frame and track record of improvement suggests that he could even end up pitching with greater stuff and velocity which would certainly be a boon for his chances of making a major league rotation one day. He was a strong University of Texas commit and it was thought unless he received top 10 money, he was going to honor that commitment, so the Braves pulled the trigger on an overslot signing and grabbed him before he became a Longhorn. He also (along with fellow draftee Joey Wentz) has some value with his bat and if he and Wentz are successful joining the rotation with Julio Teheran could form one of the better hitting rotations in the entire league with some very real power.
The Braves executed a high risk, very high reward strategy in the 2016 by signing Ian Anderson to an underslot deal to get Joey Wentz and Kyle Muller. Whether or not they all make it as major leaguers is almost irrelevant, as you will rarely see this much pure talent enter a team’s minor league ranks from its first three picks and Muller is no exception. Thus far in his very young career, he has given up 2 earned runs while striking out 10 and walking 4 in his three appearances in 2016 for the GCL Braves since being drafted (8.2 IP so far). The only thing to watch with Muller, and a few pundits including Keith Law have mentioned this, is his workload. Like many talented high school kids, Muller was run out there on the field arguably too much due to his team’s championship aspirations and his talent level both on the mound and at the plate. We would expect the Braves to keep his workload down for this year (probably spending time with both the GCL Braves and Danville) before sending him to full season ball next year.
19.) Cristian Pache
Pache was one of the highlights of the 2015 period for the Braves, so much so that the Braves made frantic trades just to get enough international bonus pool money to sign him along with Derian Cruz. 2016 has been a good solid starting point for Pache and he should see time in Danville before the year’s end. Pache is currently plays center field, and with his 6.5 second 60 yard dash time as well as reportedly good instinct he should be able to stick there. If he can maintain that speed through maturity he could be a valuable defender up the middle, but he has the power potential to project well in a corner outfield spot should the need arise.
One of the big two international signings for the Braves last year, Pache has showcased some of the potential that the Braves saw in him when they gave him $1.4M. Through 14 games so far the 17 year old has hit .286/.322/.375 5SB with by all accounts a good defensive center-field. Without having much data or video to go on a simple heat map shows he has not hit tendencies (take a look at mlbfarm.com - sprays the ball around pquite well), but through 14 games he has hit a lot of grounders. This could be due to the slight mechanical issues spoken about in the pre-season rankings (http://www.talkingchop.com/2016/1/13/10708288/talking-chops-2016-atlanta-braves-prospect-rankings-16-20) but we are basing it off of 14 games. Overall, as a prospect, he has everything you could want and could potentially be a 5 tool prospect.
18.) Patrick Weigel
You could argue that there is no bigger steal in the 2015 MLB Draft to date than the Braves selection of University of Houston right hander Patrick Weigel in the seventh round. Weigel is a kid who had a tough college career to say the least. He was not good as a reliever in his freshman year at Pacific, then as a sophomore starter at the JUCO level he posted fairly average numbers despite walking a crazy 65 hitters in 61 innings, before having a decent year at Houston out of the bullpen as a junior. Considering his three schools in three years and major command issues, the prevailing thought among Braves fans was that they were getting a hard throwing reliever with a fastball that could hit 100 MPH.
Then after a mediocre debut in Danville last year last year, something really clicked for Weigel this season as he has dominated the Sally League. An All Star thanks to his 5-4 record, 3.05 ERA, 1.17 WHIP and 95 strikeouts in 91.1 innings, he has allowed just 7.19 hits per nine innings. Even more impressive is the fact that his walk rate of 3.35 per nine innings is lower than any he posted in college.
Weigel’s emergence this year is thanks in large part due to the major strides he has made with his command in a very short time. Though he can still tighten his command up a bit more, he has made immense progress with the Braves coaching staff. One thing that helps is that he isn’t trying to pump 100 MPH fastballs by hitters, and by taking a little off to throw a sinking 94 MPH fastball he has been able to locate it better and force a high rate of ground balls(122 ground balls versus 50 fly balls according to MLBFarm.com). He is still trying to improve his curve, which could ultimately end up becoming a slider- a pitch that may work better with his 6’6", 220 pound frame, but he could be above average with his breaking ball. His change however does need quite a bit of work and is the other key area for him to develop, though he has at least shown a feel for it.
Weigel is going to move slower than a typical college draftee, but with his big arm and the ability he has shown to make adjustments, he could keep progressing. It’s not out of the question that he could become a #3/4 starter, though with his swing and miss stuff he also has a chance to be a late inning reliever if starting doesn’t work out.
17.) Tyrell Jenkins
Coming in at #17 on our list is Tyrell Jenkins, who experienced a big drop in our rankings, but ranking that drop was due to no fault of his whatsoever. Jenkins was the first prospects to join the Braves during the Braves’ current rebuild as he was part of the return, along with Shelby Miller, in the Jason Heyward trade with the Cardinals. He instantly made waves in the Braves system and became a fan favorite not only with his play on the field but also his strong (and hilarious) social media presence with fans. After a severe shoulder injury stunted his career with the Cardinals, he put his injury woes behind him and pitched well and without cause for concern (short of a short bout of dead arm towards the end of the 2015 season that proved to be a minor issue with fatigue). Tyrell started in AAA in 2016 and was proving to be one of the more reliable pitching prospects in the system as he sported a 2.91 ERA, improving curveball command, and generating a lot of ground ball outs with his fastball. With his stuff, one of the main concerns with Tyrell has been his relatively low number of strikeouts, but given the swings he gets on his pitches, especially when he is staying low in the zone, the ground balls he generates might as well be a whiff because even below average defenders should be able to make a play on them. He is also a guy that will benefit from having major league-caliber defenders behind him, although with the current iteration of the Atlanta Braves that is certainly a bit problematic.
This will likely be the last prospect list that Tyrell will be on as he was very recently called up to the Atlanta Braves on June 16 and will essentially not be a prospect VERY soon. Of course, this is cause for celebration as there is no easier player to root for as a player as well as a human being as Tyrell. However, the downgrade he has received on our list has nothing to do with his play and has everything to do with how the Braves have used him. Despite succeeding as a starter at almost every level including being named the organizational pitcher of the year last season, the Braves moved him to the bullpen to get him to the big leagues faster (a move that several of us are on record as REALLY disliking). Being a bullpen arm greatly limits his value unfortunately and several of us felt that a downgrade of his ranking was warranted as a result. There is a silver lining, however, as need in the rotation forced Jenkins to start for the Braves without being stretched back out and he was excellent. If the Braves come to their senses and, at the very least, let Tyrell pitch in the rotation long enough to actually see if he can be a starter, then we would certainly jump him in our rankings as he has a ton of talent and potential. If he stays in the bullpen, the young righty has the potential to be a significant bullpen piece in the majors for a long time.
16.) Lucas Sims
At 16, we have placed former 1st round draft pick Lucas Sims. Sims has had an up and down road through the minors after a stellar first season, sometimes struggling to strike hitters out and other struggling to find the strike zone. After being injured in the Bus crash last season, he was placed in the Arizona Fall League where he was one of the most dominant pitchers in the league. He carried that momentum into a strong first few starts at AA Mississippi, leading the entire minor leagues with strikeouts well into the first month of the season and earning a promotion to AAA after just 3 starts. After making a couple of good starts (including a career high 11 strikeouts in 7 innings on April 28), he went on a streak in which he could not find the strike zone at all. Through the rest of his AAA stint, he allowed a 9.24 ERA in 9 starts, walked nearly a batter an inning, and allowed a slash line of .304/.422/.601. For reference, Hall of Famer Hank Greenberg had a career slash line of .313/.412/.605 good for the 6th highest career OPS in MLB history. Mickey Mantle slashed .298/.421/.557. Safe to say Lucas had his struggles. He was demoted to AA at the end of June, and in 3 starts since has posted a .4.70 ERA and not really improved his stats. These struggles, coupled with some frightening mechanical inconsistencies gave us as a group good reason to drop him in our rankings.
As previously mentioned Sims has made a huge drop in the rankings, 11 spots from the preseason to be exact, but not due to a lack of stuff. He has a great arsenal with a fastball that gets up to 95 (98 in short stints) with good arm side run. His best pitch is a wicked power curveball that grades as an easy plus pitch. When he loses the arm slot on the pitch it can be a bit sweepy and difficult to locate, but when he is at his best he really gets on top of the pitch and snaps them off nicely. He also works in a great, at times, changeup that if more consistent would give him 3 above average or better pitches. Right now, his issues are purely mechanical. His motion is a far cry from the explosive easy motion of his time in Rome, seeming labored and stiff with no consistency. He struggled in my view to find his release point or his landing point, and rarely finished the follow through on his pitches. Sims pitched significantly better from the stretch, with less of the consistency problems he previously showed. Much of Sims issues stemmed from the lack of a consistent pitching coach, as he really fell into the poor mechanical habits right before Brian Snitker, and along with him stellar pitching coach Marty Reed, was promoted to Atlanta following the dismissal of Fredi Gonzalez. He struggled immensely with his mechanics following that, and has said that he knew he was having a lot of issues but was unable to make tweaks due to not having a pitching coach he was familiar with. There seemed times that his own self awareness definitely got in his head, and his demotion to Mississippi was to get him an opportunity to work with Dennis Lewallyn again, who is very familiar with Sims and began coaching him just before he went on his best streak of pitching in his career. It is hard to assume he will fix all of his problems, but he has showed some signs of improvement and I have faith that he will be able to work through the kinks. The important thing to remember is that Sims is still young at 22, and has all the time in the world to figure it out.