Alright folks, its that time of the year again as the Talking Chop minor league staff puts together our midseason update to our top prospects list for the Atlanta Braves. However, you will notice some changes both in terms of the format of the list itself in addition to who is (and isn’t) on the list this go around. Here is a quick run-down of what we did and our purpose is with the list.
- The list is largely a composite of the personal rankings of Eric Cole, Gaurav Vedak, Garrett Spain, and Matt Powers, with some adjustments made after the fact to try to account for outliers a bit, resolve ties (of which there were a few), and to reflect changes to our thinking after we locked in our personal rankings. There is no perfect way to rank prospects, but we like doing it this way to balance out different philosophies and biases that we all inevitably have. There was no “value upside vs. floor” or “value proximity to the majors highly” type proclamations or guidance from Eric or anyone else... those choices were in the hands of each individual writer.
- Along those same lines, many of our readers wanted to see our individual personal rankings after we posted our lists the last couple of times. The final post this week will include those lists. Feel free to direct your ire accordingly.
- As you can see, instead of a Top 25 prospect list like we have done for the past couple of years, we expanded to a Top 30 this go around. This is due to a number of factors including popular demand, the evolution of the industry standard, the sheer depth of the Braves’ farm system, and that the expansion seemed to help us have more flexibility at the bottom of the list which helped resolve ties and rank players appropriately as opposed to someone shoehorning a player in because it didn’t feel right to exclude him altogether.
- Most of these votes were incredibly close, so one should not assume that since a guy may be ranked five or even ten spots above or below another guy, it necessarily means we love or hate a player. All of these players, including the honorable mentions, are really good prospects. There are certainly some easy to identify tiers of prospects once you see the voting, but in many cases we are talking about differences of half a grade on the scouting scale between tiers and within tiers it comes down to matters of personal preference.
- We don’t necessarily conform to the usual rules for prospect eligibility when we make our list (omitting Dansby Swanson this past offseason despite him still needing a couple of at-bats to lose his eligibility was the biggest example here). This year, this isn’t as much of a high profile concern with that although you will notice that Johan Camargo is not on the list. This is not because we hate him, but rather that we feel like he has settled into his role on the Braves as a super utility player. Sean Newcomb is still considered a prospect despite his promotion because he has made just six starts in the majors.
- There is no right way to make these lists and we have no delusions at all that we are the authority on right and wrong here. We can and will be wrong about a lot of these rankings just like we can and will be wrong about players that we evaluate. It just comes with the territory when you are dealing with players still learning their craft. Some players will get hurt, some players will underperform because they don’t make the necessarily improvements and/or adjustments, and some guys will overperform because they work hard, fill out, get healthy, or just get a little luckier. We don’t view being wrong as a bad thing as it teaches us other things to look for and helps make the information we put out, hopefully, better and better. We are sure that some of you will tell us just how wrong we are... just please keep things civil in the comments.
With all that said, here are the first six players in our Top 30 Braves prospects list, which includes several players that have just gotten their professional careers started and one that many fans hope will be with the Atlanta Braves soon. Enjoy!
30. Yunior Severino - 2B/3B
One of the Braves’ big ticket July 2 signees from 2016, Yunior Severino has been one of the hottest hitters in the system of late. The 17-year-old Dominican infielder has been so hot that he was named as the Helium Watch prospect on the most recent Baseball America Prospect Hot Sheet. Severino began in the Dominican Summer League and played 10 games there before a promotion to the Gulf Coast League for its Opening Day. His DSL numbers weren’t anything great, but he was just starting to come on before his promotion.
Severino got off to a slow start in the GCL, but has been on fire ever since. Through July 9, Severino has a hitting streak and multiple times on-base streak of six games apiece, as well as at least two hits for five straight games. He’s played in 19 total games between the two levels, and is hitting a combined .284/.415/.463 with five doubles, two triples, a homer, and seven RBI. Even more importantly, he’s managed 14 walks against his 14 strikeouts in 67 at-bats. He’s having success at a young age against mostly older and more advanced competition in the GCL, which leads to promising takeaways from his first month of action.
Severino is currently listed as a 6’1”, 180-pound switch hitter, and has played only second base so far, but could handle shortstop as well. He is expected to potentially move to third base as his body fills out, but second base isn’t out of the question for him. As his body fills out, his already solid hit tool and very advanced approach for a player his age should see more power develop as well. Below is some video of Severino’s bat from Jason Woodell of prospects1500.com.
I’d say Severino is far away considering his age, and he’s certainly not a guy to rush, though an approach like his could help him move faster than many similar prospects. He’s got a chance to be a difference maker if he’s able to stay in the middle infield. If he moves to third base, it’s easy to see him becoming at least a solid every day starter if not something more.
29. Freddy Tarnok - RHP
Freddy Tarnok was a guy who got some really late helium in the draft process. The former prep shortstop is very raw and new to pitching, but a big showing at a state All-Star Game in the final two weeks before the Draft moved him up boards in a hurry. The Braves saw something in this kid and took him in the third round, and looking at video and reading scouting reports make it easy to see why. Despite being very raw and new to the mound, as well as still being skinny and very projectable, Tarnok has big raw stuff already.
Tampa recruit Freddy Tarnok is long as projectable. Worked mostly 91-94 w/FB that has some late life. pic.twitter.com/Iu3gfIWmHr— Doug Freeman (@DougFreemanPBR) May 29, 2017
As the above video of Tarnok shows, his stuff is electric. His fastball has been reported to touch as high as 98 mph in some reports, but also has life on it. That’s not all, as his curve has also shown signs of developing into a plus pitch and he’s got some feel for the change. It’s a package that has led D1Baseball’s Frankie Piliere to give him a comparison to a young Jacob deGrom. Of course, he only recently converted to pitching from being an everyday shortstop, and needs plenty of developmental time to really learn how to pitch. He’s also had some command issues at times. Still, he’s a high upside, low mileage arm for the Braves coaching staff to develop without as many bad habits as other more experienced pitchers may have, and thus need to break.
#Braves fan should love this - Freddy Tarnok (3rd round) draws comparisons to a young Jacob DeGrom from scouts. Huge upside— Frankie Piliere (@FPiliereD1) June 13, 2017
Tarnok isn’t particularly close, and has yet to make his professional debut (through July 9). Considering he’s a prep pitcher, and a raw one at that, it’s realistic that he’s a good five years away from the big leagues. If it all comes together, he’s got as much upside as almost any pitcher in the system, though that's a big if given his current status.
28. Randy Ventura - OF
Coming in at 28 is the man behind many tales here at Talking Chop, outfielder Randy Ventura. Ventura was a completely unknown quantity as a signing three years ago but took the Dominican Summer League by storm in his first professional season by hitting .329/.421/.394. Even more incredibly, he stole 55 bases in just 58 games, and thus the Legend of Randy Ventura was born.
Ventura was brought stateside last year to play in the Gulf Coast League, and as the starting centerfielder put up solid, though not gaudy numbers. His .358 OBP and 15 stolen bases were certainly good numbers for an 18-year-old in any league, and he begin to garner serious attention for prospect lists. The Braves made the bold move to skip the 19-year-old over Danville altogether, and he opened the 2017 season as a member of the Rome Braves. Ventura wasted no time in dominating the South Atlantic League, hitting .359/.419/.397 with a league-leading 13 stolen bases in just the first month. His previously remarkable strikeout (11.6%) and walk rates (11.6%) both regressed, but for a player of his age skipping a level, it was by no means a major red flag. Then, reality set in for the young speedster and his numbers plummeted as he hit .264/.303/.300 during subsequent games. He continued to steal bases, but not nearly as efficiently nor at the same rate, and his lack of power production presented itself in the ugliest of ways. His current numbers for the season are .289/.333/.325, which don’t bode incredibly well for him.
In defense of Randy Ventura, such a rapid rise through a system is rarely met with the successes of Ronald Acuna or Ozzie Albies. He has holes in his game and swing that are exploitable for players who are, frankly, more experienced and more physical than he is at this point; expectations should have been for him to struggle.
Ventura has something of a stockier build than you might expect from a guy with his speed and profile, but he doesn’t use that body style to create power and the swing path and body build don’t inspire confidence in his ability to do so. What Ventura can do is hit the ball, as he tends to spray line drives and ground balls around the field and use his speed to beat them out for singles. Certainly not a game-changing profile, but one that suits his style well. The magic happens once Ventura gets on base, when his willingness to run at any time and his ability to take the extra base wreaks havoc on opposing defenses. Pitchers put themselves out of their element to try to prevent Ventura from stealing, and defenders rush themselves knowing the type of speed they have to deal with on the bases. This allows Ventura to impact the game offensively without having power, and he is incredibly adept at taking extra bases and using his speed to his advantage. Ventura also uses that speed incredibly well in the outfield, and although he has been confined primarily to the corners due to the presence of Cristian Pache, he profiles easily as an above-average defender in center field.
The profile of a bench bat who can play all three outfield positions well and fill in as a pinch-runner seems the most likely role for Ventura, though with his defensive and baserunning ability he could create enough value to be an average player at the major league level. It’s not the most glamorous profile in the world, but Ventura knows his game well and has a good feel for the game that allows his tools to play up.
27. Lucas Herbert - C
The overall 54th pick in the 2015 draft, Lucas Herbert was teammates with Kolby Allard in high school and realized his dream after being drafted by the same team as his friend and teammate. There were some concerns with Herbert’s offensive profile coming into the draft, but the Braves saw enough out of him, with enough projectability, that they decided to take him in the second round. He got off to a blazing start, hitting .500/.600/1.250 in his first three professional games before succumbing to injury. He was pushed to Low-A Rome in 2016, teaming him up once again with his longtime friend Kolby.
It was here that he struggled. Herbert hit .185/.234/.278 over 96 games, to go along with a .523 OPS vs RHP, and .451 OPS vs LHP. Overall, his bat lagged behind considerably compared to the rest of his game. For the first time in quite a while he saw himself no longer playing with his friend at the start of 2017, as Allard was pushed to Mississippi and Lucas stayed behind in Rome. It looked like much of the same to start the 2017 season as he hit .122/.143/.195 in the season’s first 11 games, but coming into game action on July 10, he has hit .301/.363/.466 over his last 47 games and has helped his stock tremendously. Herbert doesn’t walk much (6% BB%), is a heavy pull hitter (50% pull), and has a high GB% (51%) to go along with catcher speed, however if the hit tool continues to play like it has this season he could be extremely valuable in the Braves’ long term plans.
Herbert’s profile isn’t one of an elite bat in the system, and it is defensively where he shines. From all accounts, he is an avid student of the game that works extremely well with pitchers. He calls a fantastic game and is a great pitch framer, often stealing strikes. He has a 31% CS% so far and has been recorded with a sub-1.7 pop time. Last year, we speculated that if his bat didn’t show any improvement it would be tough for him to stay in the Top 30, but with his incredible improvement his stock is once again rising and Herbert is now back in the discussion for top Braves catching prospect.
26. Abraham Gutierrez - C
The second biggest name from the Braves’ 2016 July 2 class is Venezuelan catcher Gutierrez. He’s been listed as both Abrahan and Abraham since signing, but is currently listed as Abraham. The 17-year-old right-handed hitting and throwing catcher is listed at 6’2” and 214 pounds. He was advanced enough to be one of three 17-year-olds from the 2016 July 2 class to completely skip over the DSL and head straight to the Gulf Coast League, along with Kevin Maitan and Livan Soto.
Gutierrez has played in a total of seven games through July 9, and is hitting .280/.308/.360 with two doubles. He’s also got one walk against three strikeouts in his 25 at-bats. He’s lost some at-bats because the GCL roster is just so loaded with guys that they can’t play everyone everyday, as well as the assumption they don’t want to overwhelm their young catcher in his pro debut.
Gutierrez is a promising bat and defender, and is arguably the highest-upside catching prospect in the system. He’s already shown some flashes with the bat, and out of his seven hits, five have been up the middle to center field, with the composition of the hits being four line drives, two ground balls, and a fly ball. He’s definitely got more power in his bat as well. The second of the two videos above gives you an idea of his solid catch and throw ability.
Gutierrez is a long ways away, and considering that and his position he is unlikely to be pushed too hard. Gutierrez can become a special catching prospect if everything comes together for him as he’s got all-around potential.
25. AJ Minter - LHP
Coming in at number 25 among Braves prospects is lefty relief prospect AJ Minter. Drafted out of Texas A&M in the Competitive Balance B round in 2015 by the Braves, Minter was likely headed for a 1st round selection before he underwent Tommy John surgery in college. The Braves, despite the risks, still saw a special arm and happily snatched him up. Their faith was rewarded with a 2016 season that saw him cruise through the minor leagues thanks to his mid-to-high 90’s fastball that features a lot of life and a hard slider that is demoralizing for hitters to try to even make contact with, let alone hit with any authority. Over 31 appearances in 2016, Minter posted a 1.30 ERA across three levels of the minors with 47 strikeouts and just 11 walks in 34 and 2⁄3 innings of work.
The risk with Minter is in his health, and those issues were on display in the first half of 2017 as he missed time this spring with a nerve issue in his surgically-repaired arm and then a groin injury that he is only just now recovered from. He is pitching well this season with a 1.64 ERA and 15 strikeouts in the 11 games he has played and the Braves currently have him at Triple-A. It seems likely he will debut with the Braves some time in the second half and he has a very real chance to be a dominant high leverage reliever for the Braves. His status as a reliever limits his overall ability to produce and that, combined with his injury history, is the only reason he is this far down on our list. He is the best relief prospect in the system and, given some of the struggles from the Braves bullpen of late, he could be an immediate and substantial upgrade there if he can stay healthy and show he can pitch more than once every 4-5 days.