Welcome the 2019 pre-season edition of the Talking Chop Top 30 Braves prospects list. We do two editions of this prospect list each year and it is always a huge undertaking, but a rewarding one.
The way the rankings are determined is that each member of the Talking Chop minor league staff (in this case, that means Eric Cole, Garrett Spain, Gaurav Vedak, Matt Powers, Aaron Huston, and Wayne Cavadi) submitted their own personal prospect rankings. From that, we make a composite and see how that looks. More often than not, we all agree that the final composite is good to go and ends up being the final list once ties are resolved and the math is double-checked. We have made adjustments in the past to account for weird outlier cases, but that is the gist.
A few notes about the list before we get to the part that most of you likely skipped to already:
- It is best to think of these rankings in terms of tiers rather than hard and fast rules. If you see a player one spot ahead of another, there is likely not to be a big jump in our grades of each of those players. This was particularly pronounced this season as the players even at the top were ranked very closely together in the final composite.
- These rankings are purely subjective. We try to get a good consensus opinion by making these rankings a composite so that all voices are heard, but we are going to have our own staff biases simply because we talk all the time about who/what we like and don’t like. We aren’t aiming for perfection here, merely adding to the conversation.
- We loosely use rookie eligibility to determine who is or is not eligible for the list. This was famously relevant when we did not rank Dansby because he had already locked up a starting spot on the roster and was just a couple at-bats away from no longer being a rookie. This wasn’t as relevant this year, but it is worth keeping in mind
- We don’t hate your favorite pet prospect....in fact, we probably love them. There are guys that did not make the list that we like a lot both as players and as people. Please keep the comments section bearable...comments like “these rankings are a disgrace because you ranked X player this high/low” don’t add anything to the discourse and will likely get you put in timeout as I (Eric) don’t have much patience for such things.
- Spoiler alert: we are going to be wrong at times and that is okay with us. Prospect evaluation is an exercise in disappointment because professional baseball is really hard and sometimes guys don’t work out for a variety of reasons and sometimes guys come out of nowhere to be amazing. We always hope for the latter and pray for the former to not. Each list gets better and better as we learn more and more about what players are and are not capable of and what attributes make successful major leaguers.
- Yes, we did make a honorable mentions list. You can look at it right here.
Without further delay, here are prospects 25-30. We will be rolling out six players a day until Friday with the top 6 prospects in the system. We hope you enjoy it.
30.) AJ Graffanino - SS
The first time I saw Graffanino, I remember thinking he was what Luke Dykstra would have been if Dykstra was good. Graffanino shares the death-by-singles approach (I believe this was coined by our own Eric Cole) early on in his professional career, but his speed and defense are far superior.
Graffanino is tall (listed at 6’2) and a lot of legs with a lankier approach. Still the just 21 years old, the left-handed hitting shortstop is an experienced college bat, a member of the historic Washington team that made their Omaha debut in 2018. An early season injury that sidelined him more than 30 games is what likely kept him fresh as the MiLB season continued into September. His Rome debut was a good one, slashing .301/.333/.378, striking out just 15.7 percent of the time.
Right now, Graffanino is not an elite prospect, but he certainly has value. There is no denying his contact skills, though primarily on the ground, as the lefty has a pretty easy swing that he repeats without issue. His ability to make contact has always kept his strikeout rates low, but he also never been one to take a walk regularly (another trait seemingly shared with the aforementioned Dykstra). While Graffanino isn’t the next Anfernee Seymour on the base paths, he’s certainly quick and when he can find the gaps, he’ll leg out some doubles and is smart enough to be successful on the base paths. He is solid at shortstop showing good range and hands enough of the time to think that he can stick. Right now, he is depth that looks on track to provide value as a possible utility infielder, and there’s nothing wrong with that.
29.) Victor Vodnik - RHP
The 2018 draft had 33 signings. Victor Vodnik was the only high school player that signed, and he did for over slot in the 14th round. He’s undersized at 5’11, but he comes with plenty of arm strength. He doesn’t have the stocky frame of Bryse Wilson, but he still has some projection left.
Hailing from Rialto (CA) HS, he threw 49 innings while striking out 85 and walking 33. After being drafted he pitched in the GCL throwing just 4.1 innings while striking out 9. Vodnik is pretty raw, so he could follow the same path as Freddy Tarnok.
Vodnik comes with a plus fastball. It’s been reported from sitting anywhere from 90-95, touching 98. His self-taught slider and change have flashed above average. If Vodnik can harness his fastball and improve on his slider, he could see significant movement up the Braves prospects ranks. There is considerable risk for someone undersized who throws that hard, so it’ll be interesting to see how he develops. If he stays a starter, he could be an absolute steal.
28.) Riley Delgado - SS
Dylan Short and our own Doc Herbert shared former Braves scouting director Brian Bridges’ tale of how Delgado came about being an Atlanta Brave, which is a cool story worth rooting for in its own right. Delgado was found at an open showcase by Bridges and Chipper Jones. He hit that day, likely better than he ever has before. Chipper took notice and told Bridges that he was going hit, that Delgado was a player. Bridges went against his policy and went in on a guy based on the way he hit at that one tryout. And so far, he — and the Braves Hall of Fame third basemen — were right.
Delgado was a relative unknown before the Braves made him a ninth-rounder in 2017. He hit well at Middle Tennessee, posting a career .369 average. He showed an ability to make contact and walked more than he struck out, leading to a pleasant .459 on base percentage. More importantly, he was slick with the glove, with great range to both sides and an arm that can stick at short.
All of that translated in his first real full season in 2018 (he appeared in four games for Rome at the end of 2017). Delgado put up a SAL all-star campaign before heading to Florida, where he continued to hit. He slashed a combined .315/.367/.377 while striking out less than 10 percent of the time. The defense was sharp as well, and while the power is likely what it is at this point — almost non-existent — he has enough wheels to leg out some doubles in the gap.
Delgado is a grinder, and his work ethic, contact ability, and defensive versatility are all promising aspects. He was 23 last season, amongst the oldest at both spots, so seeing how the bat handles the next levels will be something to watch in 2019.
27.) Ray-Patrick Didder - INF/UTIL
Didder has long had his praises sung around Talking Chop for his athleticism and 2018 saw him take a step forward to realizing his potential on the field. After a breakout of sorts in Rome in 2016, Didder struggled throughout the 2017 season with making contact at the plate, striking out well above his career high. 2018 was much the same despite remaining at High-A for much of the season (his offensive numbers did improve in Double-A by a significant amount with a nearly 140 point jump in his OPS), but Didder’s talents at the plate aren’t his calling card. Didder draws walks at a high rate and also take a bit of value by getting hit by a lot of pitches, so even though he may not always hit he is able to reach base.
Didder’s power is definitely the weak point in his game and he’s seen a decrease in his ISO over the past two seasons, and although playing in two pitcher friendly parks doesn’t help much he’ll definitely carry below average power throughout his career. Where Didder can make up for that is with his legs, as he possesses 80 grade speed and can do damage on the basepaths both stealing bases and stretching singles into doubles and doubles into triples. Didder had a phenomenal success rate on the bases in his past season stealing 27 in 32 attempts.
Didder’s calling card is and always will be his defensive ability and versatility and a move back to shortstop this past season is a key point to his overall future value. Didder had previously been moved off the position both due to his own inconsistencies and a deep shortstop cast in the lower minor leagues, but after moving back this year both statistics, our eye tests and reports from others in the industry show tremendous improvement with his glove up the middle. With his speed, quickness, and plus arm, Didder has the potential to be a plus or better defender at all 3 positions in the infield and in the outfield, a rare commodity that alone is enough to earn him some time in the major leagues. Didder has huge potential in a utility role, and his ability to find ways on to the bases and wreak havoc once he can reach will give him a solid chance to carve out a long career in the major leagues even if it’s not as a starter.
26.) Tucker Davidson - LHP
A former J2 player from the small school of Midland College, Tucker Davidson really made a name for himself after a breakout 2017 when he was moved from the bullpen to full time starter. That year he throw 103.2 innings while striking out 101 and walking 30 (1.22 WHIP). He showed better command than he had shown previously and all the while he was just 21 in his first full season at Rome.
However, 2018 was not as kind to Davidson as he struggled with command in High-A Florida. He finished the season with 118.1 innings with 99 strikeouts and 58 walks. Also, he gave up more hits than innings pitched and ended the season with an ugly 1.50 WHIP. None of these were ideal. Davidson did end the year on a high note as his final 2 starts: 13.1 innings, 7 hits, 0 runs, 1 walk, 13 strikeouts.
Out of the pen, Davidson can sit mid 90’s, touching 97. As a starter, he’s low to mid 90’s. The pitch is pretty straight so it can get hit hard. The curve has potential to be upwards to a plus pitch, but it’s still more just average. His change-up has been below average to fringe for 2 seasons now.
Tucker Davidson still has time as he’ll only be 23 for all of 2019. One thing for sure is that he isn’t sitting idle. Like Kyle Muller last season, Davidson has partnered with 5 Tool Sports Training and throwing 103.1 mph pull downs. What this could mean is that he could see a bump in his fastball velocity. It still doesn’t answer every question though. It’s not like his fastball will all the sudden have movement, improve his command/control or improve his secondary offerings. This season should hopefully see those questions answered and more.
25.) Alex Jackson
Finally, the last prospect in this installment of the 2019 pre-season prospect list is catcher Alex Jackson. Drafted by the Mariners 6th overall in the 2014 draft, when he is right, he has plus raw power which is a rarity amongst catching prospects and has a decent chance of being able to stick back there. An outfielder before he was traded to the Braves for Max Povse and Rob Whalen, Jackson has been developed strictly as a catcher by the Braves since he joined the organization. He possesses has a strong arm and has shown growth as a receiver that can control the run game and deal with the defensive and game-calling challenges behind the plate. He is far from a finished product in that regard, but there is enough promise there to make one think it is possible he gets there.
To say that Jackson’s stock has taken a hit is a bit of an understatement. After a debut performance in the organization that saw him put up an .808 OPS across two levels in 2017, Jackson’s offensive game went downhill in a hurry in 2018 with a .647 OPS combined in Double-A and Triple-A. His performance at the plate was so troublesome that many openly wondered why he got bumped up to Triple-A at all and some even openly questioned if he was even a real prospect anymore. We are not quite to that extreme and the combination of the promotion to Gwinnett and the Braves adding Jackson to the 40-man roster to protect him from the Rule 5 draft are positive indicators. It is also a reminder that catcher is a position of exceptional scarcity around the league and while Jackson’s offensive profile is worrisome to be sure, one needn’t be able to absolutely mash to be a valuable player behind the plate.