Our preseason Top 30 Prospects list continues with the middle of the pack guys which, oddly enough, has a healthy mix of new names and familiar faces. If you are looking to get caught up on the list so far, here are some links to help you out.
Crossing the halfway point with this installment, we still have the cream of the crop coming Thursday and Friday, so make sure you check those out as we close this thing out. Thanks for following along and enjoy prospects 13-18!
18.) Jesse Franklin - OF
Stop us if you heard this before: the Atlanta Braves have an exciting outfield prospect rising in the ranks. The Braves have had a wealth of fun-to-watch, multi-dimensional outfield prospects over the past five seasons and Jesse Franklin hopes to add his name to the list.
We don’t have much to go by with Franklin in the professional ranks. He was the Braves third-round pick out of Michigan in the ever-so weird, condensed MLB Draft of 2020. He also didn’t play a lick of college ball in 2020, breaking his collarbone days before Opening Day in a skiing accident.
So, what do we know about Franklin that ranks him so highly? He’s freshly 22, hits and throws lefty and is listed at 6’1 and 215 pounds. He’s athletic, and showed a nice power surge in 2019 for the Wolverines, hitting 15 doubles and 13 home runs in 68 games. Most impressive, perhaps, were his two stints in Brewster in the wood bat Cape Cod Baseball League. He hit .293 in his two summers on the Cape, but that same raw power was not on display.
He has the speed to stick as a center fielder, but his arm and decision making may see him move to the corner. Well, that paired with names like Ronald Acuna, Cristian Pache and even Justin Dean more suited for the position. It’s worth noting that among the elite prospects of the CCBL, Franklin hardly played center, splitting most of his time between first base and left field. We have a lot to learn about Franklin at the next level, but plenty to like and with the depth in the outfield on the farm, the Braves won’t have to rush Franklin to find out.
17.) Bryce Elder - RHP
At No. 17 we’re going to another member of the Braves 2020 draft class and that is right-handed pitcher Bryce Elder. The Braves took some underslot picks early to save up some money and this is the splash they made late in the draft to pick up a guy that had fallen. Elder is much better than his fifth round draft status, as evidenced by him ranking above both the third and fourth rounders. Elder was the Friday starter for the Texas Longhorns for two years in college, and he excelled in the role. His sophomore season he posted a 2.93 ERA with 86 strikeouts to 33 walks in 83 innings, and when he came out at the beginning of 2020 he had taken another step forward. Elder cut back on his walks - just seven in 26 innings, and had a 2.08 ERA through four starts before the season shut down.
Elder was a pick that all of us at Talking Chop loved at the time, a great value in the late fifth that talent wise was effectively another third round pick. His high floor and pitchability make him as reliable as a pitching prospect would be and confidence is high that he will find himself in a major league starting rotation in the next few years. He lacks the sexy fastball that tends to get guys to the top of drafts and prospect lists. It’s a low 90’s sinker that is fantastic for forcing ground balls and weak contact but isn’t so adept at being a swing-and-miss pitch. His slider was one of the best in the draft and profiles as a plus pitch, and he can mix in an above average curveball to complement the pitch on a different plane. Add in an average changeup and improving command and you’ve got a guy that can move quickly through a system and provide reliable innings. Scouts rave about his pitching IQ, his competitiveness and he’s going to be a guy whose name should pop up frequently over the next few years.
16.) Tyler Owens - RHP
The Braves’ 13th round pick during the 2019 MLB Draft was always a bit of a misleading way to think of Tyler Owens. That would be because there is no way a guy with Owens’ stuff drops that far other than the fact that he’s a 5’10, 185 pound prep right hander.
Regardless of his size, Owens brings a plus fastball that has touched as high as 98 MPH, and has a slider that has graded as average but has shown more room to develop with continued work as it has occasionally flashed more. His changeup lagged behind the other two pitches, considering he didn’t need it much in high school, however he does have a feel for it and it is something he has been trying to work on.
Owens signed and debuted in the GCL, pitching four strong innings over two outings, before a promotion to face older hitters in short season Danville. Owens made eight starts and logged 23.1 innings in Danville while more than holding his own despite being almost three years younger than the league average. He pitched to a 4.63 ERA and 1.20 WHIP with 28 strikeouts against 11 walks. Owens upside is the question and it will all be determined by how his pitches develop. If he can sharpen the slider into an above average pitch and work his change into an average third pitch, he has an opportunity to remain a starter. Should he not be able to handle that, his fastball will get him chances as a high leverage reliever, with the development of the slider giving him closer potential.
15.) Victor Vodnik - RHP
Coming in at No. 15 yet again on our rankings is right-hander Victor Vodnik who remains one of the higher ceiling pitchers the Braves have in their system outside of the absolute top tier guys. After being selected on the third day of the 2018 draft, Vodnik came into the organization as a relatively short prep arm that many thought would eventually throw hard and combined with a biting slider, could at least be a quality reliever as a pro. Instead of trying his hand at college ball to establish himself more, Vodnik took the gamble and signed with Atlanta. The Braves were surely glad that he did as he posted a 2.94 ERA in 67.1 innings with some encouraging peripherals. It doesn’t hurt that he touched 100 mph with his fastball although he generally was a bit lower than that.
This is another ranking that we are very iffy about and could change significantly based on how 2021 goes. Ranking Vodnik this high requires a certain amount of optimism that he could become a starter on the regular. He did make three starts for Rome in 2019, but those three are the only starts that he has made as a professional and there are things about his profile, particularly the lack of a third pitch that has much of a track record, that do make one think he could be destined for the bullpen. His usage this year is something we are going to be watching closely.
That said, even as a bullpen arm, Vodnik could be special. Pairing high 90’s heat with a slider with hard break is a good way to make a living as a reliever. He has to stay healthy which is always something to watch for with undersized arms, but even if he doesn’t pan out as a starter, he still could easily profile as a big leaguer.
14.) Terone “Trey” Harris - OF
The Atlanta Braves prospect formerly known as Trey had a 2019 to remember. While he didn’t have the opportunity in 2020 to build on his 2019 Braves Minor League Player of the Year campaign, he remains one of the more likeable and intriguing prospects in the system.
Harris, who grew up right outside of Atlanta, was drafted by his hometown squad in the 32nd round of the 2018 MLB draft. The Mizzou senior had a stellar collegiate career, one in which he hit the first home run at SunTrust Park against Georgia, and clearly had a chip on his shoulder on a mission to prove he was no 32nd-rounder. He absolutely exploded in 2019, jumping from Low-A Rome to Double A Mississippi, not really missing a beat at any level. He hit .323 with an .887 OPS and 159 wRC+ for the season, so whatever metric is your preference of choice, Harris met it. He extended his hot streak out to the desert where he hit .281 with two home runs for the Scottsdale Scorpions in the Arizona Fall League en route to Rising Star honors.
He’s compact and stocky, listed at 5’11 and 220 pounds, and has a smooth, quick swing. He clearly gets the barrel on the ball and can spread it to all fields. Some question how far his power will take him, and rightfully so, but he has proven to be a solid contact hitter no matter how the power develops. There were also plenty of question marks about his defensive abilities, but was impressive at all levels in both right and left field. Don’t expect Christian Pache, but he’s nowhere close to a liability.
Harris has a competitive fire second to none and a contagious smile that makes him one of the most likable players wherever he is. This summer he spent his time teaching his skills to others as a U17 coach. How will the year off affect the momentum he was carrying to end ‘19? That is what time will tell, but expect to see Harris continue to rise and get a chance to make his big league debut in 2021.
13.) Vaughn Grissom - SS
You may be surprised to see Vaughn Grissom come in as high as 13 on our top 30 list, but it’s a well-earned honor and his is a name you will hear very often in the coming years. Grissom was only an 11th round pick in 2019, but the talent was there for him to go much higher than that and the Braves showed that by inking him to a $350k signing bonus that would have fit in the fifth round slot. Grissom was one of the two premiere late-round prep signings and he wasted no time showing his tremendous ceiling in his first professional season.
Grissom crushed in the Gulf Coast League across his 44 games there, with a .288/.361/.400 slash line and a strikeout rate of 14.7%. Complex ball numbers are meaningless at best, but for a guy who does have a bit of a question mark to immediately come out and hit is a positive sign. Grissom was fortunate to be named to the alternate site for the Braves in 2020, and he turned a potential “lost year” into perhaps his biggest step forward by impressing everyone in Braves camp. According to reports, Grissom showed off a complete skill set and a maturity at the plate beyond his years further solidifying the confidence he had already given the organization. Grissom is a player quickly on the rise, though his overall potential will depend on a few factors.
At 6’3, 180 pounds, Grissom has a body built for baseball and he’s already showing above average raw power at age 19. With that his bat is seeming to take consistent steps forward, and his ultimate contact ability will be the huge determining factor in his profile. He has some swing and miss in his game at this point, but also shows advanced plate discipline that will help to improve his on base ability through walks. His biggest question mark is going to be on the defensive side, as his frame has led to questions about his ability to stick at the shortstop position. While the Braves will play him there as long as they can and there is internal optimism he may stick there long term, there is always the chance that he will outgrow the position and be moved to third base. This will put more pressure on his bat to perform, but even if moved to a corner he has the power profile to project there. Grissom has the highest ceiling out of the middle infield prospects in the Braves system, and if he can start to approach that he will be an intriguing piece for Atlanta.