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2019 Atlanta Braves Pre-season Top Prospects: Honorable Mentions

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As Talking Chop gets ready to roll out the pre season top 30 prospects for the 2019 season, here’s a primer of player who just missed the list but deserve recognition for their talents.

NCAA Baseball: College World Series-Arkansas vs Texas Bruce Thorson-USA TODAY Sports

When building a prospect list surrounding a team as deep as the Atlanta Braves are in their farm system, it’s inevitable that there will be deserving players left just on the the fringe of that list who may eventually rise to be contributors at the major league level. Here are seven players that were dangerously close to making the top 30 list but have flaws or inconsistencies in their game or performance to date that’s made them unable to crack the list.

Jacob Webb

Jacob Webb has been a classic case of a relief pitching prospect, showing dominance at times yet inconsistency at others than can give pause when attempting to project him through the future. After undergoing Tommy John surgery 3 years ago, the now 25 year old Webb has made a slow rise through the system but has flashed major league potential at every level. The immediate thing that jumps out is Webb’s high strikeout rates, as at every season of his career following surgery he has posted a strikeout rate above 10 per nine and his career minor league strikeout rate sits at 11 batters per nine innings. Walks were a huge part of his game as well during his progression, but he’s seen a decline in his walk rate in each of his seasons following surgery, and in 2018 it sat down at 3.8 batters per nine. With this came a sharp increase in his home run rate, the only major knock on him statistically at the moment. Limiting hard contact will be an enormous factor in determining his future role.

Webb’s scouting report doesn’t show the blazing fastball you might expect from someone who racks up so many strikeouts, with him sitting in the low 90’s and pushing it as high as 95 mph. He does not produce many ground balls with his fastball and has fly ball rates hovering between 35-40% throughout his last two seasons, and as he’s come up the ladder more hitters have been able to take him deep due to this. Due to his low ground ball rates, he’ll have to rely on his curveball to get strikeouts and so far through his career it has been a reliable weapon in his arsenal. Webb’s curveball projects as an above average and potentially plus pitch with good bite and shape, though his inconsistency does make it become slurvy at times.

Justin Dean

Justin Dean was an immediate success for the Braves out of the 17th round in the latest draft, crushing rookie ball pitching straight out of the gate before running into some troubles at Rome to end the season. Dean has showed plate discipline early in his career with a walk rate north of 10%, though with his lack of home run power it’s not certain and is in fact unlikely he will maintain walk rates that high throughout his career. His strikeout rate is higher than one would like it to be, sitting at 21%, and if he is to make a run to the major leagues he’ll need to hit to have a useful profile. Dean doesn’t have much home run pop and likely won’t develop it either, though he’s shown gap power and still racked up 20 extra base hits in 60 games last season.

Dean’s most impressive achievement statistically was on the basepaths as he stole 16 bases in 60 games, though with a success rate of only 64%. Dean profiles as a guy with an all around toolset that doesn’t really have the carrying tool to make him a starter at the major league level but who could provide value as a 4th or 5th outfielder. Dean’s ability to play all 3 outfield spots gives him a defensive versatility that is valuable for a bench player, and he is able to hit well enough to hold his own at the plate and use his speed to his advantage on the base.

Nolan Kingham

Kingham was a nice pick by the Braves in the 12th round of this season’s draft, and while his immediate results weren’t very rosy there is reason to believe Kingham will rebound in 2019. Kingham struggled to stay healthy in his final season at the University of Texas, but showed enough flashes of potential to warrant a late round pick. The Braves gave Kingham three spot starts throughout the season but primarily used him out of the bullpen, though it’s not entirely clear if he’ll remain there going forward as the Braves were clearly trying to limit his workload. In his 23 23 innings of work this season Kingham posted a 4.56 ERA at Danville, striking out only 18 batters but doing well with his control with 7 walks. Overall these aren’t numbers that inspire confidence, but the health factors listed above were key in limiting his ability as a professional last year.

There were reports of a dip in his velocity likely attributable to fatigue, and if he’s able to return and show the stuff he had on his best days at Texas he could prove to be a serious steal for Atlanta in the later rounds even if he does end up in the bullpen. Kingham’s fastball can sit in the lower 90’s and touch up to 94-95, though in shorter stints it plays up to as high as 97 and that’s likely where you could expect it to stay if he does move to relief. Kingham’s best pitch is a wipeout slider that has the potential to be a plus offering, though he needs to develop more consistency with the pitch for it to reach it’s full potential. Kingham also shows an average changeup that rounds out a three pitch arsenal that gives him major league rotation potential. It would be wise to keep a keen eye on Kingham to open 2019, and if he can regain his velocity and stay on the field you could see a large bump in production.

Drew Lugbauer

Lugbauer is perhaps the most tantalizing catching prospect the Braves have, because his raw power is a true carrying tool that could make him an elite hitting backstop at the major league level. The problem for Drew has been just that though, hitting, as he’s never been particularly good at putting the bat on the ball as a professional. In 2018 Lugbauer struck out 33% of the time in his second stint at Rome, which for a 22 year old player isn’t a good sign of things to come. This limited his power production and he only hit 12 home runs over 114 games, though when he did hit them he showed off his tremendous raw power. Lugbauer does well to draw walks at the plate and with his power he is likely to continue to do so as he climbs the ladder, but it won’t matter much if the bat doesn’t come around in a big way and soon. Lugbauer is not a good defender, though he would likely be serviceable given his potential at the major league level and there haven’t been reports from pitchers that he’s difficult to pitch to though in the end it seems likely he’ll have to move to first base. His contact abilities limit his power potential greatly, but if he can take that one step foward and begin to hit the ball at even a bit below average you’ll see a player with easy 30 home run potential who can get on base with a keen eye. His play so far has not inspired much confidence, but one round of batting practice and you’ll be a little more excited for the potential of Lugbauer’s bat.

Thomas Burrows

Burrows was inexplicably stuck in the slow lane for much of this and last season, but his time on the field was dominant even in his trek across three levels in 2018. After being acquired from the Mariners in the Luiz Gohara deal in the offseason of 2017, Burrows immediately made his presence known with a 2.16 ERA in 66 23 innings at Rome. Burrows struck out more than 12 batters per nine, and was effectively unhittable through most of the season. Despite this and being a college Burrows remained at Low-A for the entire season in 2017, and even played one game at Rome to start 2018 before getting bumped to the Fire Frogs. In Florida Burrows continued to put up good numbers, although he wasn’t as sharp as before and walked nearly 15% of the batters he faced. His strikeout numbers were great but still down from 2017 until a surge in the second half that earned him a promotion to Mississippi.

All of Burrows numbers improved dramatically despite this jump to Double-A, and over the last 15 games of the season he posted a 1.42 ERA with a 37% strikeout rate and an 8.2% walk rate. Burrows was brought in with the expectation he would be a fast moving reliever in the system, and although that seemed shaky at first he has proven that to be true and seems on the cusp of the major leagues. Burrows has a long line of pitchers ahead of him, but his breaking ball is a pitch that separates him from others, and his ability to use three pitches and get heavy sink on his fastball has proven to have success on both handed batters with him thus far showing reverse splits. With prior questions about his velocity going away he is consistently a low-90’s guy who should be able to force ground balls at a high rate as well as use his offspeed stuff for strikeouts and there’s plenty of reason to believe he can be a contributor in the major leagues in 2019.

Jefrey Ramos

A rough season at the plate has worn the shine off of Jefrey Ramos’s status as a top 30 prospect, but his bat still may be enough to carry him to a major league role in the future. Despite seeing a drop in his strikeout rate in the 2018 season, Ramos saw a significant decrease in production due to an abnormally low .270 BABIP in Rome, which further magnified Ramos’s biggest weakness. Ramos doesn’t draw many walks, and when he isn’t able to put the ball into gaps he becomes a major hole in the lineup. That said, ultimately 2018 seems to be mostly a step forward for Ramos as he saw a significant increase in his power production to match much of the raw power he possesses, Ramos hit 16 home runs in 2018 and had 46 extra base hits, leading to a career high ISO at the plate. Ramos’s walk rate actually went up a bit from the previous season, and as previously mentioned he saw a decrease in his strikeouts. If any player should be expected to make a resurgence it would be Ramos as you would expect his BABIP to equalize. Ramos has always had a knack for getting the barrel to the ball and he’ll need that to advance up the ladder, as his defensive abilities will limit him to left field where it will be imperative that his power continue to develop. Ramos has the potential show above average power and an average to above average bat, which is enough for teams to find a spot for him despite his shortcomings in defensive versatility and plate discipline. Ramos will turn 20 going into the season, and should earn a promotion to Florida so he’s still very much on track to make it to the major leagues assuming all goes well.

Jake Higginbotham

Higginbotham put up a strong performance in his professional debut, posting a 2.65 ERA across 34 innings at Danville. Higginbotham struck out more than a batter per inning and maintained a walk rate around three per nine, all while being able to produce above average ground ball rates. As an 11th round pick it’s clear the Braves like what they’ve seen from Higginbotham, and he could very well get an aggressive assignment in 2019 if the Braves have enough pitchers to fill out the teams. Higginbotham isn’t the biggest pitcher standing in at 5’10 and 170 lbs, so it’s not likely we’ll see much projection to his currently low 90s fastball. His main trouble has been holding velocity late into his starts at Clemson, and so far the Braves have not given him that test keeping his outings to around 3 innings long.

A deceptive delivery allows his fastball to play up from the left side, and he was hell on left handed batters holding them to a .136/.208/.136 line in 24 plate appearances last season. Higginbotham mixes in two breaking balls, a curveball which projects as the better of the two and a slider he can throw in on occasion to give the hitter a different look. His curveball has the potential to be a plus offering, giving him two pitches to fall back on if he ultimately ends up in the bullpen. Higginbotham also has a usable but below average change, and it will be paramount to his success as a starter to make some strides with the pitch and be more effective on right handed batters.