Welcome all to the first installment of a series of monthly article I will post during the season detailing the best and worst prospect performances from the previous month and who has done the most to change their prospect stock. The format on this first one will be very different from the future ones given that the minor leagues don’t open until May 4th, so for this first one I’m going to go over each prospect at the major league level for the Braves. The term prospect here is a bit loose as I will include guys that don’t have prospect eligibility but that are for all intents and purposes still very young players that have not yet established a permanent major league role. I’ll discuss how my evaluation of these players have changed since we viewed them last season and what I think that does for my view of their overall future.
We’re leading off strong with the guy Talking Chop ranked as the top prospect coming into the season, and the early results for him have supported that decision on our end. He hasn’t been as consistently dominant as his first taste of the big leagues and we never would have expected he would, but he’s still completely exceeded my expectations early. Even with an offseason for the league to adjust to him, Anderson has still pitched lights out this season and it’s clear he is going to be in this rotation for a long time. Overall, what we’ve seen from Ian is much of what we got last season. He hasn’t replicated the elite numbers on contact from last season with more barrels against him and more hard hit balls but he’s been able to maintain his strikeout rate for the most part and be an effective pitcher. His whiff rates have increased against him, contact has gone down, and he’s throwing more first pitch strikes so there are trends in the right direction and I believe once his batted ball numbers start to regress back to his true talent he’s going to maintain a very good pace. He won’t be as good as last season and honestly may never perform like that again in his career, but he will live up to his prospect status and be one of the Braves most reliable pitchers going forward.
I had extremely low expectations for Alex Jackson offensively. He can’t hit, I knew he couldn’t hit, and I don’t have any reason to believe he ever will, but wow I really didn’t expect him to be this bad at the plate. As a backup catcher all he really has to do is be better than a pitcher and run into a home run every now and then and so far there’s no real indication he’s going to do that. I think eventually he will start to run into a handful of home runs and we’ll see then how he looks, but my belief that he can actually be an MLB backup is starting to wane. In positive light his work with Huascar Ynoa is remarkable and he’s much better at handling the position defensively and calling a game than he gets credit for. Even as good as he’s been in that regard, I don’t see how any team can play a guy that can’t even get his wRC+ above zero. He’s still only 25 so it wouldn’t be fair to give up on him entirely and much should be said for the amount of work he’s done to turn himself into an MLB catcher, I’m becoming less and less sure with each passing day that he is even worth being called a prospect.
You might think I’m going to say my opinion on Pache has dropped a bit, I’m going to go out on a limb and say the first two weeks of a player’s MLB career is not nearly enough to draw any sort of conclusion from. Pache was significantly worse offensively than I thought he would be, and my expectations there were low, so him losing his starting job to the third string center fielder is unsurprising. Pache is an elite defender and I do believe with time he will hit in some capacity at the major league level but I also don’t think it’s unwise to give him a little more time. With the trip to the IL for Guillermo Heredia he’s going to be forced into getting a second chance, but if he has a bad couple of weeks I wouldn’t surprised if he’s given time to mature and make adjustments in Gwinnett and then reevaluated around mid June. My view of Pache in the short term has soured a bit and I think he has a lot of work to do to get to the average MLB center fielder I expected him to be in 2020, but I also believe he’s probably only one adjustment away from that level given how incredibly high his floor is due to his defense.
I didn’t have faith that Bryse Wilson was an MLB starter coming into the season and I think his three starts this season have gone a long way to proving that point. I was immensely impressed with Wilson in the NLCS and hoped some of that would carry over to this season, but the inconsistency of his slider has left him in a tough position as a player whose only pitch right now is a fastball. His changeup seems a touch improved in a very small sample of pitches and that does give a little bit of hope that it might develop but overall I just haven’t seen Wilson be able to consistently show three MLB pitches and that’s going to be a problem. His slider isn’t as explosive as the one he showed early in his career, and if he isn’t able to reverse the regression on that pitch he may struggle to even make it in the bullpen. His whiff rates are up this season, and he’s still tremendously young, but you have to wonder at what point you start asking for actual improvement in his pitch quality before young is no longer an excuse. We’ve seen that he has the talent and I do believe that he can succeed at the major league level, but unfortunately he hasn’t done much in terms of moving closer to that level in the four seasons we’ve seen him get major league action.
Yikes. Wright isn’t a prospect so I don’t technically have to talk about him, but I consider him a Prospect-in-Spirit (PIS) guy so here we go. How do you hit four guys in a baseball game. That’s 21% of his entire career total across 335 1⁄3 professional innings in one single game. I like Kyle Wright as a talent, but it’s hard to not get frustrated with a player who consistently gets more opportunities than his peers and consistently fails to perform to those expectations. Wright can do it. He’s done it in the minor leagues and yes it’s a different environment but it also seems like an entirely different pitcher. For whatever reason, there has never been any confidence from Wright in his own pitches and until there is and until he can keep the ball out of the batter’s box I don’t know how you can give him another opportunity to start at this level. I can’t really say my opinion on him went down because of that game. Whatever consistency he found moving on the rubber has seemed to vanish. It’s hard to figure out who Kyle Wright is because I genuinely can’t figure out what goes through the kid’s head sometimes. He has the talent to succeed. Maybe Atlanta isn’t the place he’ll unlock it and maybe he never will, but he has the ability to be a major league pitcher but until he shows it you have to get different guys in there.
Hey now this is something really fun to talk about. I’ll say on the record that I’ve doubted Ynoa at times in the past, but what we’re seeing right now from him is absurd development. Look, he is not nearly this good and has had his fair share of batted ball luck to help out his numbers, but visually he is a different player than the one from the minor leagues. His fastball is electric and he’s spotting it better than he ever has in the past, and his slider has developed into all we hoped it would be with a 41.7% whiff rate on the season. The incomparable David Lee put his development best.
Ynoa’s higher slot and vertical approach has made all the difference in the world. FB pops at 97-100 up in the zone. SL from similar slot with late downward tilt. He’s more on line and spotting better. Tremendous development from a year ago.— David Lee (@David11Lee) April 13, 2021
The shape of both pitches is complementary, and he’s able to spot them much more effectively to produce swings and misses. My view on his ability to stick in a rotation has shifted significantly, somewhere around 40% that he will. He has flashed the changeup a few times for him and he now has the chance to use that pitch more often and if it continues to develop he will likely stay as a starter, but I’m not yet convinced it will develop to that point. He’s shown that his other two pitches are good enough that he will be at worst a late inning bullpen piece and he has the stuff to be a first class closer. He’s finding the zone more often this season and putting players away when they chase pitches leading to a significant increase in whiffs. It’s not entirely clear he’ll continue to keep the ball in the zone as often as he has, but he’s given plenty of reason to be confident he won’t be a liability with walks. Overall, no player has done more to improve himself than Ynoa, and with the talent he possesses the sky is the limit if he continues to develop.