Welcome to the third installment of the Talking Chop 2019 pre-season Top 30 Braves prospects list. For those of you who have been following along so far, Ivan promises to post a picture of his cat in the comments section (probably). For those of you who missed the first two installments, fear not...you can view part one here and then read the second installment right here.
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 13-18 in reverse order because we like making you count down the prospects and making skipping ahead harder because we are monsters. Enjoy!
18.) Kolby Allard - LHP
Ah, the life and times of one of the more perplexing prospects in the Braves system continued in 2018. Allard has always been one of the youngest at each level and that held true last season, when the young lefty made his big-league debut at the ripe age of 20.
Allard and Mike Soroka were first round picks in 2015 and have climbed the ladder together. While Soroka has gotten better at every level, Allard hasn’t necessarily regressed, but he has remained much of the same. Danville was too easy for him in 2016 and he handled the Rome rotation very well. His fastball, one many felt was going to be a big, powerful pitch, hasn’t developed that way. His curve, which looked like it would be one of the best in his teenage years, seemed very hittable as he climbed the ladder. The change moves, but, like the rest of his arsenal, gets hit.
That’s the biggest takeaway. The velocity has never caught up on any of his pitches, and without a ton of movement, they were seemingly hit harder and harder at each level. He’s had fly ball tendencies at each level, and they were very magnified in the small sample size on the big stage, where not only was there contact, but hard contact.
Here’s the bottom line with Allard. He has pitchability and he has talent. He’s also still plenty young. He made an aggressive climb to Atlanta that he may simply not have been ready for. Are there concerns about Allard? Sure, he may not be that southpaw ace some had once hoped for. But there is plenty of time to work him into a solid piece of the rotation before cashing it in on him.
17.) Greyson Jenista - OF
Outside of growing up idolizing David Ortiz and being a Red Sox fan, there is plenty to like about Greyson Jenista. The 6-4 lefty made a name for himself at Wichita State and two solid summers on the Cape, the second of which garnered him MVP honors. He finished his Shockers career with a .318 batting average and .446 on-base percentage. There were two big concerns: his lack of developing power for his size and questions on where he would play.
Jenista adjusted well in right field in his junior season and seems like he can stick as a corner outfielder as he climbs the ladder. The power, however, seems to be stagnant. After the Braves drafted him in the second round last year, he jumped three levels from Danville to Rome to Florida. He slugged three homers in Danville and then just one the rest of the season. He did show the same plate discipline and contact ability he was known for during his time in Rome, so it is certainly fair to think that fatigue set in. A ground ball rate over 50 percent, though, is very concerning. He is very aggressive, and sometimes gets under it, but the swing is smooth. Jenista told me prior to the 2018 season his least favorite pitch to hit was the changeup, but it also seemed like he struggled with the breaking ball at times at the highest level.
This is a big year for Jenista. It will be his first working with a pro training regimen which can hopefully help him make the adjustments to unleash that raw power. There is big-league potential here, he’s shown it before. Now it just needs to move forward.
16.) Tristan Beck - RHP
Did you know that the Braves originally wanted to draft Tristan Beck in 2015 with the 28th overall pick? Instead, Beck went to Stanford and the Braves went on to draft Mike Soroka. True story. Now the Braves have both.
As a freshman at Stanford he was inserted in the starting rotation immediately, which doesn’t normally happen. Beck rewarded that faith with an excellent season throwing 83 innings with 76 strikeouts and 26 walks (1.03 WHIP). Then a back injury wiped out his 2017 campaign. However, that didn’t stop the Yankees from trying to snatch him up in the 19th round, but Beck wanted to return for another season to improve his draft stock.
He was healthy, albeit rusty, for the 2018 season. Beck threw a career high 90.2 innings with 73 strikeouts and 31 walks (1.21 WHIP). That solid but not great performance, and the back injury cause him to slip in the draft. Once drafted, he pitched 4.2 innings in the GCL striking out 7 and walking 2.
Reports his junior year were that his fastball back up a bit, sitting around 90 mph, but with solid secondary pitches. Beck’s change-up is likely his best pitch, which is plus, and his curveball has flashed plus as well. He’ll also throw a slider and while effective, rates more average. Kiley McDaniel reported his fastball up to 96 mph when he pitched in the GCL. Standing at 6’4”, he added some 30 lbs on his frame since high school and could likely add even more strength. There’s potential to see at least a small bump in velo from his junior year despite being 22 years old. In addition to having a 4 pitch mix, Beck is known for his solid control. He’s not going to be a pitcher that walks a lot of guys.
The Braves 2018 draft consisted of drafting some buy low guys like Beck. Can Beck reward the Braves for having faith in him like he did with Stanford back in 2016? If he does then Braves will have one of the best steals of the draft on hand.
15.) Patrick Weigel - RHP
Patrick Weigel quickly earned fans respect becoming a prospect favorite almost overnight. Drafted in the 7th round in 2015, there were a lot of question marks centered on his control and secondary offerings. He looked the part of a big league pitcher standing 6’6” and blessed with a fastball that could hit high 90’s.
During the 2016 season, Weigel made his mark. He was on the star studded Rome team, but his stellar performance eventually got him a ticket past High-A straight to AA Mississippi. Across 2 levels he threw 149.2 innings with 152 strikeouts and 55 walks (1.04 WHIP). Weigel threw 6 or more innings in 15 of his 24 starts, which was quite impressive. Along with his blistering fastball, the slider improved to a future plus pitch and his change was effective due to the velocity difference between his fastball. His curve is average but does enough to keep batters from locking in on a single pitch. It came as no surprise that he was named the Braves’ Minor League Pitcher of the Year.
It was gut wrenching to learn that he needed Tommy John surgery just when he was on the cusp of getting called up to the bigs in 2017. It meant we would have to wait over a year to see him pitch again. After about 13 months of working his way back, Weigel pitched in 4 August games totaling 4 innings with 6 strikeouts and no walks. At instructs, it was reported that he was throwing 92-96.
Weigel was Talking Chop’s #15 prospect last year, so it was fitting to see him back as the 15th ranked prospect again. It also remains to be seen how the Braves will handle his workload this year, as it’ll be his first full season back from TJS. He’s likely to start in AAA, and could eventually earn a call-up as a reliever since he is on the 40 man roster to keep his innings down. Whether it’s starting or relieving, it’s good to have him back.
14.) Freddy Tarnok - RHP
Freddy Tarnok was a late conversion to the mound out of Riverview High School in Florida, but he immediately made his presence known with his raw arm talent and impressed Braves scouts enough to be taken in the 3rd round in 2017. The 6’4 righty has since impressed in his short professional career though he had a bit of a slow end to 2018 following his move to the rotation. Tarnok began his 2018 season in the bullpen for Rome as a way to limit his workload and was the best reliever on that team for the first three months of the season and posted a 1.26 ERA and 49 strikeouts in 35 2⁄3 innings. Walks were a struggle for Tarnok with 24 in that time frame but as a raw arm, he’s at the stage where those sort of command issues are expected. After moving to the starting rotation, Tarnok saw his walk rate tumble significantly, but so too did his strikeout rate and he was hit pretty hard with a 6.26 ERA over his final 11 games. Tarnok was one of the youngest pitchers in the league and his struggles aren’t entirely unexpected, though they were a bit disappointing after such a strong start to his season.
Tarnok has a big arm that sits around 92-94 as a starter, though in short outings he has shown the ability to run it up to 98 mph. His fastball is lively and able to produce swings and misses, though his control of the pitch is still in the early stages and he’ll need to be able to hold his velocity later in games as he often tired after 3 or 4 innings. Tarnok’s curveball is his best swing-and-miss pitch, showing above average and fringe plus potential. Key for Tarnok will be his changeup, which in his young career he has shown a feel for but still hasn’t developed the consistency and velocity separation for it to reach its above average potential. Tarnok is in a good position given his expected track to the major leagues with plenty of pitchers in front of him to give him time to develop the way he needs to. He won’t be a player who bolts up to the major leagues in two seasons, but with a bit of patience and development he has as much potential as any pitcher the Braves have in their lower minor leagues.
13.) CJ Alexander - 3B
There might not be a more tantalizing prospect than CJ Alexander in the system. Taken in the 20th round of the 2018 draft, CJ is already proving everyone that passed on him was wrong. The Braves took a bit of a shot at drafting him but signed him to an over slot cost of $150,000 and he immediately showed why he was worth it. CJ played three different levels last season, after a full season of college ball, that saw him amass a .924 OPS. CJ’s .386 OBP for Florida was the lowest of the season and he still had an .836 OPS in 21 games there. CJ has a good feel for the zone with his lowest walk rate of the season being 9.1%. He has a good hit tool, hits for good power, developed well defensively, and has a great arm.
One hopes that CJ is challenged a bit this year as he’s proven so far that he’s been up to the task for anything Atlanta has thrown at him. Another encouraging thing to watch from CJ is that despite pretty solid speed – he hits a lot of line drives and fly balls – putting together a 28% LD%, and 31% FB% in High-A ball for Florida. He also uses the field really well, going opposite field 44% of the time as well. At 22 years of age, we expect the Braves to be a little more aggressive with CJ with a start to 2019 at Double-A, but a successful season in Mississippi could see CJ rise to becoming a top 10 prospect in a rather loaded Braves farm system.