The Braves front office has long described the current prospect crop as coming in waves. The first such wave was when guys like Matt Wisler, Aaron Blair, Mike Foltynewicz, and, a bit later, Dansby Swanson joined the big leagues. However, if that were the only pieces that the Braves had....they would still be a long ways away from contention. Fortunately, the current composition of the farm system is one that should have more waves coming each year with more and more talent getting major league opportunities each year.
For this part of our season preview, we will highlight some of the prospects that could see time in the big leagues in 2017.
Ozzie Albies - 2B
If not for the presence of Dansby Swanson, Ozzie Albies would be the future at shortstop for the Braves. Ozzie features a contact oriented approach from both sides of the plate with more pop than you would think. He won’t ever be a middle of the order hitter, but he needn’t have that potential with his plus to plus-plus speed and one of the best hit tools in the minors to go along with strong defensive ability (whether that be at shortstop or 2B). He was on the verge of a September call-up in 2016 until a freak injury ended his season. After a good showing this spring, he is on the cusp of the majors right now. The presence of Brandon Phillips complicates things for this season a bit at second base, but if Ozzie is playing well and Phillips falters...one doubts that the Braves will hesitate to get him to the majors.
Dustin Peterson - OF
Peterson had a breakout performance for Double-A Mississippi in 2016, showing the hitting ability that the Braves hoped for when they acquired him from the Padres. After a full season of getting comfortable in LF after a switch from 3B, it was clear that he started getting more comfortable at the plate. Sadly, he will be out for the first month or so of the season recovering from surgery on his hand after being injured in Spring Training, but for a team that could use some versatility and power on the bench, Dustin could see time this season once he recovers and acclimates himself to AAA. He may have to wait for an opportunity to come up with the Braves heavily invested in their starting OF right now, but expect Peterson to at least be a September call-up.
Rio Ruiz - 3B
Rio Ruiz had a perfectly respectable 2016 that was highlighted by a torrid start to the season and some would argue that he outplayed Adonis Garcia this spring (especially when you consider that Adonis is hopefully in the Braves’ long term plans). He has some pop in his bat although the in-game power has yet to show much in games. As of now, it is more line drive and gap power but he has clearly committed himself to improvement as well as getting in better and better shape over the last couple of seasons so there could be some upside here. One thing that would help his stock immensely is if he could demonstrate the ability to hit lefties better, but assuming he doesn’t win a bench spot out of Spring (which appears unlikely as of now), he will have the opportunity to prove that he is more than a platoon guy.
Other Position Prospects the we could see in 2017:
Johan Camargo - looked good at times in Spring Training, not so good at other. Does provide positional versatility in the infield
Adam Walker - Recently acquired by the Braves, has shown real power and a real propensity for striking out in the minors. Could easily see time as a pinch-hitter/bench player.
Connor Lien - Much of a stretch that he could see time in the majors, but he has major league defensive ability in the outfield right now. If he can figure out how to hit at all, he could have value in a pinch.
Dylan Moore - I’m lower on him than some, but he is definitely a versatile player who doesn’t give away at-bats. Has to show he can hit AAA pitching as he produced against younger competition largely, but if he does he could carve out a utility role
Sean Newcomb - SP
The story of the offseason Braves’ prospect rankings included the pretty severe dropoff in the industry’s perception of Newcomb. Despite that, by all accounts he still has the pure stuff to be a frontline starter if he can make real improvements with his command and control where the problems seem to not be mechanical, but mental in nature. However, Sean possesses the workhorse frame, plus fastball, and plus curve to be a successful major leaguer and with a strong start to the season could easily find himself at the top of the list of potential call-ups should injury/suckitude pop up in the Braves’ rotation.
Max Fried - SP
After a strong Spring Training showing where he was showing off arguably the best breaking ball in the system along with fantastic fastball command, Fried finds himself on the 40 man roster (to be protected from the Rule V draft) and a likely spot at Double-A Mississippi. If Fried can continue to build on the second half he put together at Rome in 2016, he will not be at Mississippi long. As with any other guy, a shot at the majors depends on how the rotation performs during the season as well as the performance of his contemporaries in the minors, but given that he is already on the 40-man roster is certainly an edge for him.
Patrick Weigel - SP
I doubt many people thought at the beginning of the year that Patrick Weigel would be knocking on the door of the majors in 2017, but here we are. It is a testament to Weigel’s improvement and work ethic that he has reached the upper minors (the smart money is on a start at Double-A although he could end up at Gwinnett as well) with as much helium as any prospect in the system. The highlight of Weigel arsenal is a fastball that touches triple digits to go along with a curve, slider, and changeup. The knock on him going into his draft was a lack of control, but Weigel made big strides there and looks to build a strong track record to start 2017. A strong start to 2017 could easily mean a promotion to Gwinnett with a September call-up certainly in the cards.
Akeel Morris - RP
There were a couple of times last year where Akeel very nearly got called up to the majors, but roster considerations and circumstances kept him from making his debut for the Braves. As a reliever, Akeel features a live fastball that generally lives in the 93-95 MPH range, a good changeup, and a breaking ball that is slow but can keep guys off balance. He does walk his fair share of batters, but with such a live arm, he is likely to start in Gwinnett and could be among the first guys called him if the Braves need help in the bullpen.
AJ Minter - RP
This might be burying the lede a bit, but the buzz around AJ Minter is that he is very close to a shot at the majors after he eviscerated the minor leagues in 2016 while putting up video game numbers with his fastball/slider combo. That said, he was also recovering from Tommy John along the way and as a result, his workload was managed. Given that and the nerve issue that sidelined him in spring training, Minter will have to wait a bit before he gets his shot at the majors. If he can prove his arm is healthy and handle a normal workload, he will see time in Atlanta in 2017 as soon as that happens.
Other Pitching Prospects we could see in 2017:
Evan Phillips - A bit wild as a reliever, Phillips also features outstanding pure stuff. If he finds the strike zone more often, he could be an impact reliever
Philip Pfeifer - Has good stuff, needs to cut down the walks but could carve out a setup or lefty specialist role
Lucas Sims - 2017 is a key year for him, but he could debut in the majors as a starter or in the pen. The smart money is on the latter given his mechanical issues, but I would be thrilled to be wrong.
Brad Roney - Garrett would be mad at me if I didn’t include him. He is especially good at getting righties out and has a good track record in the minors despite lots of walks.