March 26, 2013; Lakeland, FL, USA; Atlanta Braves shortstop Elmer Reyes (75) slides safely into third base during the seventh inning against the Detroit Tigers at Joker Marchant Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

The Rundown: Braves Top Prospects / mid-season 2013 (#20-16)


Over the next few weeks, TomahawkTake.com will be looking at the next generation of Atlanta Braves – the best prospects, as we see them.  Right away, I will give you this disclaimer:  the rankings are fluid.  Our opinions are not set in concrete – not nearly so.   But they are a snapshot of the potential we see in these players at this point in time.  These opinions are formed from a review of a ton of sources:  “eyes on” observations, stats, the opinions of others that we respect, and the respect shown to these players by the organization itself.

While this is also a list of 20, we’ll also identify the names of those who didn’t quite make our top 20, but who we’ll keep an eye out for.  We’ll have some hits and plenty of misses (hey, did anybody have Evan Gattis on a prospect list 2+ years ago?), but in all of this, there are definitely some players on the farm that we want you to know about.  Let’s get started.

 

20.  Todd Cunningham

  • Birthdate:  March 20, 1989 (age 24)
  • 6’0″, 200 lbs.
  • Outfielder (primarily CF)
  • 4th year as a pro
  • 2nd round pick, 2010 (Jacksonville St., AL; born in Jacksonville, AL)
  • Throws Right; Switch hitter
  • ETA to Majors:  last week

Mandatory Credit: Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports

Todd is currently a member of the Atlanta Braves major league club, having been called up in the wake of injuries to both B.J. Upton and Jordan Schafer.  It is likely that he will be returned to AAA Gwinnett once Schafer is deemed ready to return.  As a Brave (since 7/30), he has filled that gap well, going 2 for 6 and scoring twice (as I write this, the Braves are undefeated with him on the club :D).

At Gwinnett this year, Todd has hit .279 in 99 games and 410 plate appearance, walking 8.8% of the time and striking out a respectable 13.2%.  He has a .357 OBP and .709 OPS.  Todd has never shown any power to speak of:  he has 10 professional homers total.   He’s a singles/doubles hitter and uses his speed reasonably well (typically around 20-24 steals per year, getting caught about 1/4th of the time).  At AA in 2012, he hit a robust .309.

Center field has been an interesting position for Atlanta since Andruw Jones was allowed to walk away in 2008.  In that year Josh Anderson, Mark Kotsay and Gregor Blanco filled the role.  Jordan Schafer was supposed to be the next big thing – he was the #1 prospect then – but a wrist injury messed him up and forced Frank Wren into getting Nate McLouthMichael Bourn was brought in at the 2011 trade deadline, and now B.J. Upton is the keeper of CF for the forseeable future.

That puts Cunningham at least 7th on the outfield depth chart, depending on how you view Jose Constanza.  He is “blocked,” and really has little chance of breaking through to his probable ceiling, which is ‘major league 4th outfielder’, due to lack of power.  He’s a young version of Reed Johnson, and his best position is the one that Jordan Schafer plays.  And then there’s Joey Terdoslavich, who’s better but more-or-less in the same boat Cunningham is in.

Thus Todd’s future with Atlanta – honestly – could be a short-lived one.  Being added to the 40-man roster could extend that stay for a little while, but it is equally likely that Wren will have to trade him to another team to recoup that slot for another prospect… as early as this fall, perhaps.  If he remains in the organization, he’d need to stay on the 40-man list, as he would be a candidate for the Rule 5 draft otherwise (and very likely taken in that draft).  There is another possibility, however:

Best case scenario with Atlanta:  the Braves use the reclaimed trade value (it’s still not a lot) of Jordan Schafer and move him and Joey Terdoslavich this off-season, then release Jose Constanza (see how far-fetched this is getting?).  That would put him in position to be outfielder #5 behind Reed Johnson.  The Braves could also choose to buy out Johnson’s contract for 2014 and keep Schafer.  Keeping Todd at AAA in 2014 would not be productive for him, but it also is a possibility… probably more likely.

 

19.  Kyle Kubitza

  • Birthdate:  July 15, 1990 (age 23)
  • 6’3″, 190 lbs.
  • Third baseman
  • 3rd year as a pro
  • 3rd round pick, 2011 (Texas State Univ.; born Arlington, TX)
  • Throws Right; bats Left
  • Currently assigned:  Lynchburg Hillcats, High-A Carolina League
  • ETA to Majors:  2015-6

(From: Texas State Athletics)

Kyle is progressing methodically through the organization.  His hitting coach, John Moses declared that he probably has the best eye for pitches in the league.  That’s easily shown in his walk rate (nearly 16%) and resulting on-base average (.379).  This is certainly a part of his overall game – that interview pointed out that he holds the Texas State record for walks in a season.  However, you could also argue that it is also leading to a high strikeout rate (25%).  We’ll call that part of the price of admission, given that the umpiring quality in the lower minors is probably not quite up to standard, but it’s worth keeping an eye on, nonetheless.  His batting average itself is not high – .260 this year, up from .239 in 2012, though posted a .321 in the 2011 rookie leagues.

Kyle has a bit of power in his swing – 9 homers last year, and 10 already this year.  That (and his .191 ISO) fits with the stereotypical mold of having a third baseman that can drive in runs when needed.  As part of that, Kyle seems to be on pace to roughly match last year’s 59 RBI at Rome.  He had been hitting in the 5th slot (3rd now), which put him in position to drive in those runs; though to be fair, the promotion of the Lynchburg’s best hitters to AA leaves them woefully short on offense, and having hit behind Robby Hefflinger often left the bases empty for him!  But in short, the power you would want to see from this position seems to be developing this year.

On defense, Kyle leads the team in errors (20 in 103 games, although that’s actually a much better rate than most 3B’s in the system), so we’ll withhold judgment about that.

Projection for the future:  Kyle is moving relatively quickly, and third base was thought to be a position of need for Atlanta.  However, there are a few things now standing in his way:  (1) the emergence of Chris Johnson; (2) the presence of Edward Salcedo at the AA level; (3) Alden Carrithers at AAA.  None of these is the perfect 3B guy, but Johnson has earned his spot for 2014 – the line forms behind him.

Best case scenario with Atlanta:  the Braves trade or release one of the players ahead of Kubitza, and he’s ready to take over the position around 2015-6.  He could probably do well hitting seventh or eighth in the Atlanta order – doubt he’d displace any of the current thumpers… if they’re still there!

 

18.  Aaron Northcraft

  • Birthdate:  May 28, 1990 (age 23)
  • 6’4″, 215 lbs.
  • Right-handed starting pitcher
  • 5th year as a pro
  • 10th round pick, 2009 (Mater Dei High School, Santa Ana, CA; born Tucson, AZ)
  • Throws Right; Bats Right
  • Currently assigned:  Mississippi Braves, Southern League
  • ETA to Majors:  2015-6

Mandatory Credit: Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports

Northcraft is a bit of an enigma to me.  He appears on a lot of prospect lists.  I have seen him listed as a ‘sleeper’ prospect in multiple reports.  The Braves organization seems to believe in him enough to place him on the 40-man roster.  Yet there’s nothing about his game that screams… or even yells… “hey, watch this guy!”  Let’s look at the results:

This year:  6-8 in 21 games/21 starts and 108 innings.  His control has been good, though the strikeout ratio is down this year (7.5/3.25 K/BB per 9 innings).  ERA is 3.67, which is solid, though unspectacular.  Additionally, his stuff isn’t extraordinary, either.  The stat that stands out to me for him is “LOB%” – percentage of runners stranded.  It’s 67.7%.  Honestly, anything under 70 to 75% means that you’re having some trouble getting out of trouble.  I can’t say that this is the result of pitching from the stretch ineffectively, or something else, but it likely is leading to a higher-than-normal ERA.

Best case scenario with Atlanta:  So despite words like “breakout season in 2012″ or “sleeper”, I have trouble believing that Northcraft will break into the Atlanta rotation… maybe ever.  I think his ceiling is 5th starter/emergency call-up, and thus this is maybe about as high on the prospect chart that he gets as others will likely surpass him.  That said, he still has a couple of years to break out.

 

17.  Shae Simmons

  • Birthdate:  September 3, 1990 (almost age 23)
  • 5’9″, 180 lbs.
  • Right-handed relief pitcher/closer
  • 2nd year as a pro
  • 22nd round pick, 2012 (Southeast Missouri State; born Scott City, MO)
  • Throws Right; Bats Right
  • Currently assigned:  Mississippi Braves, Southern League
  • ETA to Majors:  hard to predict yet

Is Shae is Tim Collins redux (a spark plug of a closer, now with the Royals; was briefly a Brave in the deal bringing Tyler Pastornicky and Alex Gonzalez from Toronto when Atlanta jettisoned Yunel Escobar)?  Simmons was a starter in college, but seems to have adjust to the life of a reliever well.  He throws mid-90′s, and …. well, his stuff is working.  At Rome, he was striking out 14 batters per 9 innings, walking only 3, with a 1.49 ERA and 24 saves over 39 games and 42 innings.  That got him promoted – all the way to AA.  Last night was his first outing with Mississippi, pitching an uneventful 7th inning that included a walk and two strikeouts.  That kind of work – and promotion – got our attention here, as he wasn’t going to crack the list before (his 2012 stints in rookie ball were okay, but ‘wild’).  It appears that would have been a mistake.

Best case scenario with Atlanta:  Yeah, where does he go from here?  That entirely depends on his work in handling AA hitting for the rest of the summer.  If his control stays at least this good, he’ll likely finish up with a chance for AAA in 2014.  Continuing with that might get him a call-up chance by mid-year.  The Braves do tend to rush some bullpen arms to the majors more so than starters.  I would be more comfortable projecting a 2015 appearance as an 8th/9th inning bullpen guy… or perhaps a ‘fire-eater’ – if not a closer, than the kind of pitcher called upon to throw cold water onto a growing rally fire.

 

16.  David Hale

  • Birthdate:  September 3, 1990 (almost age 26)
  • 6’2″, 205 lbs.
  • Right-handed starting pitcher
  • 5th year as a pro
  • 3rd round pick, 2009 (Princeton Univ., NJ; born Marietta, GA)
  • Throws Right; Bats Right
  • Currently assigned:  Gwinnett Braves, International League
  • ETA to Majors:  late 2013, then 2014 or bust

Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Slowly and steadily, David Hale has climbed the minor league ladder:  one level per year since 2009.  He has put up comparable numbers at every level… but now at Gwinnett, those numbers have improved:  a 2.99 ERA in 15 starts (84 innings).  He’s not an overpowering strikeout guy (6 per nine) and he has okay control (walks 3 per 9), but he is getting out of innings (78% stranded runners).  But of the starters that Gwinnett has rolled out this year (a bunch of them), Hale has the best ERA.

Best case scenario with Atlanta: BaseballAmerica’s take is that Hale has a a good slider and low-to-mid-90′s fastball with a changeup that’s not quite as good (would like to know if he’s sat down with Kris Medlen about that).  Overall, the impression I’m getting is of a solid pitcher who knows his limitations and gets the most out of his abilities.  That projects him as a possible ‘innings eater’ as a 4th slot guy in the rotation.  Now the trick is to find a hole in that Atlanta rotation in which to put him.  Injuries to Gilmartin and Graham have probably helped his odds, and his presence on the 40-man roster likely means that he will get a September call-up.

As the status of both Paul Maholm and Tim Hudson are as yet unknown for 2014, their absence would create holes – thus giving Hale a possible opportunity come Spring.  But at this point, there’s not a lot to project:  Hale is good, but the end of the rotation is his upside.

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Player bio information and stats from both fangraphs.com and baseball-reference.com, plus the minor league affiliate sites.  Draft information from baseballamerica.com.  Photos from various uncopyrighted internet sources, except as noted.

Next prospect report:  next Wednesday – see you then!

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Tags: 2013 Prospects Atlanta Braves Prospects Top Prospects