As we continue our countdown to the top prospect in the Braves’ minor league system, here is what we have revealed thus far.
21. Jean Carlos Encarnacion
22. Kyle Muller
23. Freddy Tarnok
24. Isranel Wilson
25. Lucas Herbert
26. Ricardo Sanchez
27. AJ Minter
28. Huascar Ynoa
29. Jefrey Ramos
30. Drew Lugbauer
While the penalties had a significant effect on the depth of the Braves’ farm system, it is obvious given just by the talent on this list so far, the minor leagues are still thriving for the Braves with the lower minors in particular littered with intriguing prospects.
With the next group of prospects, we have even more intriguing players that could be a couple years away in addition to some players that are closer to major league ready and have their own questions to answer in 2018. Enjoy!
20. Tucker Davidson
When he was drafted out of tiny Midland College in the 19th round last year, Tucker Davidson was a bit of an afterthought to most fans. The lefty went on to have a solid debut in the GCL after being drafted in a relief role, but was more solid than spectacular.
Coming into this year, Davidson was set for Rome and would be a power armed lefty reliever. That looked to be the case as he was cruising along to a fine year out of the pen before finally getting his chance to start right at the end of June.
Davidson didn’t waste his opportunity. He posted a 5-4 record with a 2.60 ERA, 1.22 WHIP, and 101 K to 30 BB in 103.2 innings over 31 appearances including his 12 starts. He pitched very well all year long, and didn’t have an ERA over 2.77 for any given month (minus one four inning September start). His success as a starter came both fast and by surprise, as he posted a 2.76 ERA and 1.24 WHIP over the 12 starts he made.
Davidson didn’t just post good numbers, he did so while throwing an intriguing arsenal - a combination that started to raise his profile both in and out of the organization. Davidson has a potentially plus fastball that he can hit 97 MPH from the left side with, though it’s more of a mid-90s offering as a starter. Then there’s a curve that gives him a chance for a second plus pitch, and if not that it should be at least an above average offering. Davidson also has some feel for the change, but it’s further behind than the other pitches due to him not needing to sharpen it as much in a relief role.
Davidson checks a lot of boxes. He’s a lefty with a plus fastball, potentially plus breaking ball, a potential third legitimate offering, the ability to throw strikes, and the versatility to both start or come out of the bullpen. It’s easy to see what makes him so interesting, especially for a guy who doesn’t turn 22 until the end of March.
Davidson’s role and timeline are up in the air. He’s going to get to start for now, and has a chance to become a middle of the rotation #3/4 starter, but if that doesn’t work out the option of returning to the bullpen is always there for him. The timeline is tough to predict because if he did move to the bullpen it would really speed his path up, but as a starter he is likely to spend the year in High A and could reach the big leagues in 2019/2020.
19. Travis Demeritte
To say that 2017 was a disappointing one for Travis would be an understatement. Coming off a strong second half with the Braves that saw him accumulate a 138 wRC+, and .860 OPS there was a ton of hope for Travis for 2017. Unfortunately for him - 2017 was a major struggle for Travis which saw him post a career low in wRC+ (105), OBP (.306), and SLG (.402). Travis also posted one of the worst seasons he’s had on the basepaths - posting a terrible 42% stolen base percentage. His 9.6% BB%, while still extremely high, was also one of the worst of his career. So why does Travis still wind up in the top 20? It’s those darn pesky tools! Despite the strikeout rate that hovers over 25%, and a seemingly spotty contact rate Travis still has a rare skill set which makes it extremely difficult to move him down.
A third baseman with the Rangers, Travis was moved to second and proved he could provide plus defense with strong range and a strong arm. The Braves toyed with the idea of moving him back to third last year for a few games but ultimately he finished out the season at second. He provides plus defense at both, great reactions at both, and elite power. Travis creates tremendous backspin and the ball jumps off of his bat which allowed him to hit 15 home runs despite playing half of his game in the cavern that is Trustmark Park. 2018 is a huge year for Travis as he will likely stay in Mississippi for a full year again. If he’s able to take a step forward with his contact rate you could see Travis battling with Austin Riley as the third baseman of the future for the Braves, but if he puts together another season like the 2017 campaign...let’s just say let’s all really hope Austin Riley works out or that the Braves spend big on a third baseman.
18. Dustin Peterson
Following his breakout campaign for Mississippi in 2016, hopes were high for Peterson coming into spring training. Unfortunately, the reigning Organization Player of the Year winner broke his hamate bone early in March and had to undergo surgery on his hand. Peterson returned to baseball and made his first appearance with Gwinnett in mid May, but was not the same Dustin Peterson as his power had evaporated following the injury. As is typical with that injury, Peterson struggled all season in that facet of his game, but still had a relatively successful season batting around .280 until a poor August brought his numbers down to a less rosy level. Peterson saw an uptick in strikeouts, but much of that was also due to the bad August and given his injury and his late start, he made a fairly successful transition to AAA.
Peterson is an interesting prospect in that no part of his game appears to show a glaring weakness, but he’s never really put up elite performances at any level. Two of his 3 seasons have been marred by fluke injuries, and in his one healthy season he put up a .774 OPS in a pitcher friendly league as one of the youngest players. Peterson has filled in at center and right field, but is realistically going to be confined to left field going forward and will need to hit to stick around in the major leagues. Peterson puts the ball in play at around an average rate and his ability to draw walks is average as well, leading to his being an average on base guy. It’s expected for his power to start to return next season and he has always flashed above average power in batting practice, but his tendency to hit too many ground balls has limited his power production to this point. If he can’t tap into that power he will struggle to earn playing time as an average-ish defender who doesn’t make a name for himself on the basepaths or as a contact hitter at a position that is expected to produce offense. It’s certainly notable that he was left off of the 40 man and was still not drafted in the Rule 5 draft, but given his bloodlines and natural athleticism there is certainly reason to believe the talented outfielder could be in for a resurgent 2018.
17. William Contreras
Coming into this year, most knew William Contreras just for being the younger brother of Cubs young catcher Willson Contreras. That changed quickly as William had a big year at the plate, hitting .290/.379/.432 with 10 doubles, a triple, and four homers in 45 games with Danville. William, who turned 20 years old on Christmas Eve, quietly put up solid numbers in the DSL and GCL in the previous two seasons, but he was far from quiet this year, really making an impact with his bat.
Contreras projects as an all around catcher. He should hit, and hit for both average and power even if it’s not at a star level. He’s also a guy that should be an asset behind the plate. That adds up to a potentially very good catcher. He may not be what his brother is, but he’s also a bit of a late bloomer like his older brother so a bigger breakout isn’t out of the question.
Contreras will likely go to Rome in 2018 and spend the whole year there- which would be the first time he’s played more than 49 games in a season, so the possibility of wearing down is there. As with all players who have yet to reach full season ball, his profile, while exciting, is not without risk and how he is handled in 2018 will be telling. He’s a guy that isn’t quite a fast track guy, but he could move at a steady pace and reach Atlanta in 2020 or 2021.
16. Brett Cumberland
Few prospects had a more fascinating 2017 season than catching prospect Brett Cumberland. Drafted in the 2nd supplemental round of the 2016 draft out of Cal, Cumberland has long been considered an offensive-minded catching prospect with power from both halves of the plate. The long grind of the college season seemed to be the cause of what was a lackluster pro debut in 2016, but he had himself a very interesting 2017 campaign. He posted a .964 OPS in 55 games for Rome buoyed by a prodigious power streak that saw him hitting home runs seemingly every other day and a very healthy .432 on-base percentage. The power numbers did drop off after his promotion to the Florida Fire Frogs, but he still had a respectable .269/.384/.363 line in 56 games in the notoriously pitcher-friendly Florida State League.
So why is he such an intriguing prospect? Well, his on-base percentage is boosted not just by his approach that does yield its fair share of walks (and strikeouts to be fair), but also for his near superhuman ability to get hit by pitches as he had 41(!) plunks on the season. The scouting report on Cumberland has been to try and beat him inside and he has a knack for being able to know when pitchers are going to try, so there is reason to believe that he could maintain a good OBP even though better pitchers won’t miss as much inside against him. Cumberland also hits a ton of fly balls which will definitely result in streakiness, but also lead to very real power production in bunches. As a result, we feel pretty confident that he could be at least an above average player at the plate with a chance for more as a guy may benefit from the mythic “new baseball” that is rumored to be in use in the majors. However, he will have to improve his numbers against lefties as nearly all of his power production came against righties and Brett struck out at a high rate against southpaws.
The biggest question mark is whether or not Cumberland can stick behind the plate. He does not have a bad arm or glovework necessarily, but his footwork, mechanics, and ability to call games consistently well has been mentioned as areas in need of improvement by more than a couple of scouts. That said, he caught just over 19% of would-be basestealers in 2017 and he had 6 passed balls in 50 games behind the plate last season. If he is destined to move to an outfield spot, that will put more pressure on the bat to produce, but as of now we are cautiously optimistic that he will be good enough as a backstop to make it to the majors as a bat-first catcher with real upside.