This is the third installment of our six part series (including the honorable mentions) where we reveal our Top 30 Braves prospect list. Here at the links to the parts you may have missed:
In this section of the list (19-24), we have a good mix of familiar faces (or at least familiar to those who have been following the farm system over the last couple of years) as well as some new faces on the rise.
24. Yefri del Rosario - RHP
One of the two higher-profile pitchers in the Braves’ impressive 2016 July 2 class along with Juan Contreras (who just missed making the list), Yefri Del Rosario has been very impressive early on. Del Rosario is a 17-year-old Dominican righthander listed at 6’2” and 180 pounds who signed for $1 million, and made just two appearances with the Dominican Summer League team, totaling five innings, before receiving a quick promotion stateside for the Gulf Coast League Braves’ Opening Day game. Through games completed as of July 9, Del Rosario has a pair of appearances, totaling six GCL innings.
In his four total game, Del Rosario has pitched a total of 11 innings, though considering his age and the fact that he’s so young for the league, it makes sense that the Braves are limiting the innings that their prized right arm will throw this year In those 11 innings, Del Rosario has no win/loss record with a 2.45 ERA and 1.00 WHIP, as he has given up seven hits and four walks while striking out 15. He’s also done an excellent job of keeping the ball on the ground and getting weak contact, as in his two GCL appearances he has five ground outs, three pop outs, and just two fly outs in addition to his eight strikeouts.
Yefri Del Rosario K's Jays 2017 2nd round pick Hagen Danner pic.twitter.com/V3lqWL0ZJc— Jason Woodell (@JasonAtTheGame) July 5, 2017
Del Rosario may only be 17 years old, or the age of a high schooler who would have just completed their junior year, but he’s competing against much older talented prospects and more than holding his own. That’s due in part to the fact he doesn’t throw like a kid, as he can already get it up into the mid-to-upper 90s. His fastball is in the 92-96 miles per hour range already, and he’s shown a plus hammer curve as well. That’s the kind of pure stuff possessed by some of the top names on the 2018 MLB draft board — the draft class Del Rosario would be in if he were an American kid.
Del Rosario is an interesting case because he’s got the stuff to move fast, but the Braves likely aren’t going to want his young arm to log too many innings. Still, it’s easy to project his stuff getting better as he physically matures and spends more time around pro coaching, and the urge to move him faster could arise. I think he’s probably four to five years away, but he has the upside of a top of the rotation starter, especially if he can improve his changeup — something nearly pitcher his age with above average stuff needs to do.
23. Lucas Sims - RHP
Lucas Sims has been somewhat of a conundrum for Talking Chop over the past few years. Of course “somewhat” actually means a constant source of argument and confusion as Sims has made it nearly impossible to figure out just what is going on with him. When Sims was a first round pick out of Brookwood High School, not far outside Atlanta, there was a lot of hype surrounding him. He went on to dominate for Rome the next season, posting a 2.62 ERA and striking out more than 10 batters per nine innings. He moved to High-A Lynchburg the next season and saw his strikeout rate nearly halved while he struggled and posted a 4.20 ERA. He stayed in High-A to open 2015 and struggled at the outset again. But, then, just as it seemed that he was beginning to turn it around, he had to endure a lengthy DL stint as a result of the Mudcats’ bus crash. Not wanting him to stick around too long at High-A and stagnate, the Braves promoted Sims to AA-Mississippi after just three starts following his return.
Sims again struggled in his first taste of AA, before going on a rampage over his last five starts and posting a 0.88 ERA. To make up for lost time he was assigned to the Arizona Fall League, where he made some impressive outings, was named to the All-Star Team, and was reportedly clocking in at 98 mph on the radar gun. Hopes were high running into 2016, and he answered by posting a 1.84 ERA with 26 strikeouts in 14 2⁄3 innings in his first three starts in Mississippi, earning him a call up to AAA-Gwinnett. That is when things again started to unravel: Sims maintained his elite strikeout rates, but his mechanics began to fail him and his tendency to walk batters resulted in him eventually being demoted back to Mississippi. When 2017 opened, many questioned Sims’ future, as he was put on the 40-man roster to protect him from the Rule 5 draft. Sims has responded by striking out nearly 10 batters per nine inning pitched while posting the lowest walk rate of his career.
Based on hearing only that last number, it would seem that our friend Lucas has all of his previous problems figured out. Unfortunately, that is not necessarily the case. In order to combat his walk numbers, Sims has had to throw the ball more over the plate, and AAA hitters have not missed his mistakes. He has allowed 1.7 HR/9 this season, and therein lies his main problem. Just as it seems he has fixed his one main concern, something else pops up to cast doubt on his future. The scouting report is well known at this point, starting with a fastball that runs 91-93 in starts but has been clocked as high as 98 in short outings. The problem for Sims isn’t velocity, it’s that the fastball is flat and lacks the command to make the flatness work. That results in an ultimately hittable fastball, and means that he must rely on good offspeed stuff to get outs. His curveball is just that offspeed pitch, a plus 11-5 bender that makes good hitters look consistently foolish, but flattens out when his mechanics get out of whack and becomes a batting practice-type pitch.
Sims’ main improvement in 2017 has been the consistency of his mechanics, and in turn, the consistency of his fastball. His changeup is rarely used but effective when kept low in the zone. When he leaves it up, the only spot he really misses with it... well, see the above note about batting practice. Sims has been elite at times but has never found the consistency to show long-term potential as a starter; then again he is just 23. It seems like he has been in the system for ages, but in reality he is yet another young gun that may need a bit more patience to fully realize his potential. If he cannot, a 98 mph fastball and hammer curve would be exceptional in a bullpen role, especially if that means pitching out of the stretch where he has been far more consistent due to more repeatable mechanics.
22. Patrick Weigel - RHP
Coming in at #22 on our list is the Braves seventh round pick from the 2015 draft, Patrick Weigel. The 23-year-old righty had a breakout season in 2016 which saw him start the year in Rome and dominate the Sally League to the tune of a 2.51 ERA with 135 strikeouts in 129 innings before a late season call-up to Mississippi. His performance on the season earned him the Minor League Pitcher of the Year honors from the Braves, and deservedly so.
Weigel features a fastball that can touch the upper 90s and threaten triple digits when he really reaches back. He changes speeds well with the fastball, and also has a plus slider that he has really good feel for: he can get different action on the slider, depending on the situation. Weigel also throws a slower curve, albeit one that he has used less and less over time, and a changeup that keeps hitters from sitting on his fastball. He has also shown the ability to throw the change for strikes, which has helped it play off his fastball even more, even if, by itself, it may be just a league-average offering.
With that kind of track record and stuff, why the hell is Weigel this far down the list? Well, because sometimes bad luck happens to even the coolest of people. Weigel’s 2017 started out great with a strong start to the season in Mississippi before a quick promotion to Gwinnett. However, after a tough start in the middle of May in which he just pitched a single inning and gave up eight earned runs, Weigel’s velocity had noticeably dipped. He got good results over the next five starts, but then after another bad game which saw his fastball struggling to hit 90... something was clearly wrong. Not long after that, it was announced that Weigel had undergone Tommy John Surgery, which puts the next time we could see him in game action at late 2018 at the earliest.
The uncertainty of what Weigel will look like post-Tommy John, combined with just how loaded the Braves system is, are the only things keeping Weigel ranked this low. Without the injury, it seems likely he would have been a top 10 prospect in the system. Assuming his recovery goes well and he can regain that elite velocity and maintain his command, he will be again.
21. Ricardo Sanchez - LHP
Ricardo Sanchez has been the subject of an impossible (and cruel) trick, improving his scouting report and peripherals every single year as a professional and still getting worse in terms of results. He was a phenom for the Angels as a 17-year-old, dominating the Arizona League with more than 10 strikeouts per nine innings, though with hefty walk rates. The Braves decided he was worth Kyle Kubitza, and it seems they were right, given that Kubitza has since been released and subsequently returned to the Braves on a minor league contract. Year 2 for Ricardo Sanchez was a disappointment, as his walk rates didn’t drop and his stuff took a step backwards as he battled various leg injuries throughout the season. He didn’t even manage 40 innings, and when he did pitch, he posted a 5.45 ERA. His stuff came back strong in 2016, as he shed some baby fat and repeated Rome, but he never really got going all that well with a marginal improvement in walk rate and strikeout rates. Still only 20 years old, the Braves made the determined step to move him to the Florida Fire Frogs in High-A this season, and he has responded. Sanchez is striking out significantly more batters this season, more than a batter per inning, and has seen a slight decrease in walk rate. His home run rate has dropped, he’s going deeper in games, and he’s forcing ground balls, but somehow his ERA has jumped to 5.38. By most accounts he’s a significantly improved player over 2017, yet the results still don’t match the scouting.
Sanchez is definitely undersized for a starter at 5’11”, but he has incredibly easy mechanics from the left side and generates a fastball that has run as high as 95 mph. He’s able to get movement and sink on the pitch to generate ground balls, and generally has some idea where it’s going, though he falls into phases in which he completely loses his control. With the ease of his delivery and the athleticism he has, he should be able to repeat his mechanics, even if he doesn’t yet have the experience to do so. Sanchez is also a competitive player who will show some emotion on the field, and at times that hurts him when he can’t rein it in. When he gets into trouble with walks is after someone hits the ball hard, as he will nibble afterwards and start working deep into counts and walking more batters than necessary. When he stays aggressive, he can get to his curveball, and that is where Sanchez shines.
Sanchez’s curveball may not be on the level of the top two or three in the system, but it falls just behind as a plus or perhaps a touch better than plus pitch. It’s got sharp, downward action that fools hitters at this stage, but he has trouble, at times, keeping the ball out of the dirt or the left-handed batters’ box. His starts typically hinge on his ability to finish with the curveball, and that is not a bad place to be at this point in his development, assuming he’s going to keep growing and developing from this point forward. He shows the feel for a changeup that flashes above average potential, though like most young players, he needs to gain the consistency and command of the pitch to make it effective. The clock is ticking for Sanchez, and given his Rule 5 eligibility next season he may not be a Brave much longer. The stuff is there for a back end or perhaps #4 starter, but Sanchez is far from a finished product and will require a good deal of coaching to realize his potential.
20. Brett Cumberland - C
The Braves used their second round pick in the 2016 MLB Draft to select a switch-hitting bat-first catcher from Cal named Brett Cumberland. Cumberland, listed at 5’11” and 205 pounds, had a great scouting report for his bat and some real defensive questions about his ability to stick at catcher. He signed and went to Danville, where in his 45 games there, he hit just .216/.317/.340 with 11 doubles, three homers and 14 walks against 49 strikeouts.
It’s fair to say many were down on him, as his bat was supposed to be his carrying tool. However Cumberland became yet another example of why you can’t read too much into the stats of a draftee in their pro debuts in the year they sign, similar to the way Chipper Jones struggled in his own pro debut almost 30 years ago. Cumberland had just completed a long college season, and in addition to being asked to play more in a year than he ever had to, had to adjust to wooden bats, more advanced competition, and catching a totally new group of arms.
Despite his struggles last year, Cumberland was promoted to Rome to start this year and it appeared that he may have been a bust early on. After April 25, in the middle of a 1-16 slump, Cumberland was hitting just .133/.316/.267 and offensively doing nothing but getting on base without getting hits. As of that day, he had six walks, six hit by pitches, and just six base hits (three doubles, a homer, and a pair of singles) in 45 at-bats.
Then, the switch flipped, and Cumberland became arguably the hottest hitter in all of minor league baseball. He went on a 41-game tear, hitting .308/.469/.623 with 12 doubles, a triple, and nine homers, with 25 walks, 19 hit-by-pitches, and 41 strikeouts. There was one 24-game stretch in there where he ran up a 1.299 OPS, a .365/.542/.757 slash line, and seven homers. That hot streak brought his season totals in Rome to .263/.432/.539 with 15 doubles, 10 homers, and 31 walks to 61 strikeouts, in addition to a ridiculous 25 times that he was hit by a pitch.
After that point Cumberland was promoted to Florida, as the Sally League proved to not be a challenge for him anymore. He’s struggled a bit so far, but it’s only been 15 games and he has proven that he’s capable of making adjustments after a slow start. His .191/.296/.319 slash line with three doubles, a homer, and five walks looks similar to how he started in Rome- however his 24 strikeouts in 47 at-bats are concerning. His July numbers are a positive sign though, as he’s hitting .261/.370/.435 with a homer, but the strikeouts have continued with 12 whiffs in 23 at-bats.
His defense has been better this year, though it’s never going to be his strength, as shown by his stolen base numbers. He’s given up 29 steals in 38 attempts, or a 76% stolen base rate. Still Cumberland’s bat should be his carrying tool, as he’s a switch hitter with considerable power and a great approach which gets him on base a lot. He’s going to need to cut down on the strikeouts that he’s seen spike in Florida, and also improve against lefties (.208/.394/.302 this year versus .257/.410/.527 against right-handers), but he could be ready sometime in 2019. His ultimate role is up for debate, especially when you factor in defensive questions, struggles against lefties, and big strikeout numbers in Florida — but it looks like there’s a good chance he’s a future big leaguer, whether he’s a starter, backup/platoon guy, or bench bat.
19. Dustin Peterson - OF
Dustin Peterson is the younger brother of former Mariners first rounder DJ Peterson, and teams were not going to miss twice on a Peterson brother, so the Padres selected Dustin with a second round pick in 2013. Assigned to the Arizona League, Peterson put up a good average, but was a project defensively at third base and didn’t show the on-base skills or power to stick there long term. Much the same was said of him in 2014 in A-ball, only this time he had added the problem of striking out at a high clip. The Braves swung him as part of the Justin Upton deal, and when they assigned him to the Carolina Mudcats to start 2015, it seemed they just might have seen him turn a corner. Peterson was moved off of third base to a more natural outfield position, and his early season featured a batting average over .300, improved walk and strikeout rates, and power production that hadn’t been seen from his bat before. He seemed quickly on the rise, but the bus crash claimed another victim and those problems lingered with Peterson for the rest of the season. He finished with a .665 OPS despite his strong start, and the Braves pushed him to Double-A to start 2016.
Peterson immediately took off for Mississippi, lowering his strikeout rate and pushing his average up to .282. He was by no means a home run king, but he bashed 8 home runs at Trustmark Park alone and showed enough power to project as a starting left fielder. 2017 seemed to be the year that Peterson would have a chance to make it to Atlanta... at least until he broke his hamate bone and required surgery to start the season. The delay caused a rough start to his season, but ultimately, his strikeout rate and walk rate are currently comparable to their levels from last season. He has not shown the power output, but that goes with the territory of having surgery to remove the hamate hook, and it is unlikely that he will produce much power for the remainder of 2017. That leaves his timeline unfortunately delayed until the start of the 2018 season at the earliest.
Dustin Peterson is a solid all-around player who looks very good on the field, but unfortunately that has yet to manifest itself into much of a starter’s profile. As a left fielder he will need to provide either power or speed, and he isn’t elite in either category. He runs fast enough to man the position but he certainly won’t ever be a Gold Glover. As for power, he exhibits average pop in batting practice, but has yet to carry into games. Peterson has a highly athletic swing at the plate and good enough bat speed and bat control to hit for a reasonably high average. It would be unwise to expect better than average from him, but he walks enough and strikes out at a low enough rate that there is foreseeable future role for him in Atlanta.
The question is how major his role will be. Peterson will either need to jumpstart his power or his hit tool to project as an average or better starter. Meanwhile, the presence of Ender Inciarte and Ronald Acuna give him just one remaining spot within the starting lineup. No one behind him is all that close to taking his spot away, but he will still need to beat out Nick Markakis and perhaps a player like Johan Camargo for the spot, while also showing that he is good enough to fight off the talent that comes behind him. There is an easy path for Peterson to carve out a role in Atlanta, and not every position is going to be filled with above-average starters, but if he wants to be considered more than just a fourth outfielder who has been pressed into action by organizational need at the position, he will have to take a step forward. He has the athleticism, the talent, and the bloodline to give cause for belief in his abilities.