When one thinks of the better position player prospects in the Atlanta Braves farm system, there are a lot of interesting names to choose from. Representing the cream of the crop is Drew Waters and Cristian Pache: two all-world athletes with tools all over the place at the plate and are strong defenders on top of that. Add guys like Trey Harris, William Contreras, Shea Langeliers, Braden Shewmake, Michael Harris, Vaughn Grissom, and Justin Dean and you have a really interesting crop of position prospects in the Braves’ system.
However, one position has been decidedly lacking in the Braves farm system for quite a while: first base. In fact, the last really decent first base prospect that Atlanta had was a prep bat out of California by the name of Frederick Charles Freeman who was drafted in the second round of the 2007 MLB Draft. Obviously, that worked out pretty well.
While first base in the major leagues for the Braves appears to be in great hands for the foreseeable future, they may have found another really good first base prospect in the 24th round of the 2019 draft in Bryce Ball.
Listed at 6’6 and 235 pounds, Ball certainly looks the part of a slugging first baseman. Drafted out Dallas Baptist University, Ball terrorized the Missouri Valley Conference to the tune of 18 home runs and a 1.057 OPS in 63 games. Being from a somewhat lesser conference likely led to him being drafted on day three of the draft, but the Braves pulled the trigger on him and one would likely wager that the Braves are pretty happy with that pick right now. Bryce started his pro career for the Braves in Danville where he posted a 1.086 OPS and his 13 home runs in the Appy League still rank second in the league despite the fact that he hasn’t played there since August 10th. After a long overdue promotion to Rome, he has continued to flat out rake with a .910 OPS in 15 games in low-A. Given how loud the numbers have been combined with some of the reports we were getting, I made the trip to Rome to get a better look at Ball and here is what I came away with.
As impressive as his listed measurements are, I may actually take the over on them. Bryce dwarfed everyone else on the field and I would not be shocked if he was actually a little taller and bigger than he is listed. It also isn’t one of those bodies that makes you worry — its a huge frame, but one where all of the proportions make sense which definitely lessens the worries one could have about a guy his size breaking down physically over time. Despite his size, he moves around well at first. We will inevitably get asked if he can play another position, so for now I will say that it is unlikely, but not impossible. He has some athleticism so left field is a remote possibility, but it seems like if he is going to stay in the field (more on that later), it will be at first base. It is also worth mentioning that Bryce had a lot of eyes on him when I saw him play, so word seems to be getting out about him.
At the plate, Bryce is an imposing figure batting from the left side. His stance is a fairly standard, upright one and his hands and wrist remain loose up until he swings. For a big guy, the swing was very fluid and his bat stays in the zone for a long time which really helps with any potential swing and miss issues. He has a patient approach at the plate as he works a lot of deep counts and he doesn’t sell out for power. Given how strong he is, he really doesn’t have to to hit the ball hard.
Speaking of the power, it is VERY substantial. His approach may limit how much it shows in games a little bit (he is more than happy to take what is given to him and just hammer a line drive single up the middle), but in terms of raw power there are few guys out there that can match it. We have heard from some in scouting circles that have put a 60-65 on the raw power and you could pretty easily convince me to take the over on that even if the in-game power may not ever get there.
Other than his positional limitations, Ball isn’t a perfect hitting prospect to be sure as exciting as he is. As one could probably guess, he isn’t exactly fleet of foot although he runs fairly well for a guy his size so don’t expect any 20 steal seasons from him. His approach is likely great for his long term viability as a hitting prospect, but I actually wish he would try to turn on some more pitches. He is getting a VERY steady diet of breaking balls and offspeed stuff in low-A and is still hitting very well, but one development we would love to see is him getting his lower body more involved and trying to turn on some of those pitches more to raise his ceiling a bit. Also, while he does have a patient approach in most counts, he is a guy that puts the ball in play a good bit. Again, we are talking about a small sample here, but him taking some more walks would not be the worst thing in the world.
Most of that is nitpicky stuff, though. Ball is already getting a lot of internal buzz given his performance this season and if he keeps this up, he will start getting some more widespread notice given the impressive hit tool and raw power he possesses. Just thinking about what he would do to the Triple-A/MLB baseball is enough to get one excited.
The question becomes his future in the Braves organization. I think it is pretty safe to assume that Freddie Freeman is going to be the Braves’ first baseman for a long time barring some unforeseen catastrophe. However, if Ball keeps hitting, the Braves can and will find a way to give him a shot. He is a college bat and should move quickly through the system, so a decision on what to do with him may come sooner rather than later.
One important thing to note with Bryce, though, is the possible addition of the designated hitter to the National League. Allowing the DH in the National League has seemingly gained momentum recently and if one is trying to project Ball into the Braves’ lineup in the coming years, that could be an easy solution. There is already going to be a lot of pressure on his bat to continue to play as a first baseman. If he keeps it up in the minors and the DH is added, the Braves may not have to look far for a guy that seems ready-made for that duty.