Photo taken by (Kyle Hess/Rome Braves)

The Rundown: Braves Top Prospects/Mid-Season 2013 (#5-1)

March 5, 2012; Kissimmee, FL, USA; Atlanta Braves catcher Christian Bethancourt (68) throws to second in the game against the Houston Astros at Osceola County Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Daniel Shirey-USA TODAY Sports

Christian Bethancourt‘s resurgence helps him maintain his top 5 status.

 

Last week, Benjamin Chase continued our mid-season prospect countdown, covering our opinions on the team’s #10-6 prospects.  As Alan Carpenter and Chris Headrick have already noted in our #20-16 and #15-11 countdowns, we hope you’ll keep in mind that these rankings are fluid, and our list is by no means set in concrete.  These are the players we see a great deal of potential in right now.  The list is always subject to change, and we may be able to provide data and information on some players more so than others.

What we hope to present though is a good snapshot of the potential we see in these players at this point in time.  We have used, as our sources, expert reviews from a variety of baseball analysts, statistics, as well as our own eye tests for this list.

This is the end of our 20-1 countdown, and so after this post we will be taking a look at another 5 to 10 prospects who didn’t make our top 20 list, but are still worthy of following their results down on the farm. With all that said, let’s proceed with our 4th and final feature in the countdown, as we take a look at the Braves’ Top Prospects from 5 through 1.

 

5.   Mauricio Cabrera

  • Birthdate:  September 22, 1993 (age 19)
  • 6’2″, 180 lbs.
  • Pitcher (RHP – Starter)
  • 3rd year minor league
  • International free agent signing, $400k, 2010 (San Juan, Puerto Rico)
  • Throws Right; Bats Right
  • ETA to Majors:  late 2016 or 2017

Photo taken by (Roger Peterson/MiLB.com)

Mauricio Cabrera is a right handed starting pitcher for the Rome (A) Braves, and to date has shown glimpses of the exceptional talent he has been predicted to achieve. However, he has also had some bad moments, and also struggles mightily with his command. He has held hitters to a low average for his career, but has consistently walked near or above 10% of the batters he faces. His K% is decent, near MLB average rates, but at this time has yet to be anything exceptional.

 

  • Best case scenario with Atlanta:  First, Cabrera will need to tighten up his command of the strike zone, by limiting his walks. In addition, he should fill up his frame a little bit to help his durability. His arm strength is already very good (averaging  near 5.2 IP per start, even with the walks), and should continue to improve as he progresses on the farm. His offspeed pitches need improvements, especially the control part of his slider.  He has the tools to further develop his good changeup into a plus pitch, and his 94-96 fastball is already a very good pitch, with good sink and cut action to right handed batters. If he can advance his secondary offerings (namely, the slider) and improve his overall control, he has the potential to become a #2-3 starter in the future. If he does not, then he would likely become a late inning reliever (which is still pretty valuable).

 

4. Christian Bethancourt

  • Birthdate:  September 2, 1991 (age 21)
  • 6’2″, 215 lbs.
  • Catcher
  • 6th year minor leaguer
  • International Free Agent signing (2008)
  • Throws Right; Bats Right
  • ETA to Majors:  mid 2014/Opening Day 2015

March 17, 2012; Lake Buena Vista, FL, USA; Atlanta Braves catcher Christian Bethancourt (68) bats in the third inning against the Toronto Blue Jays at Champion Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Daniel Shirey-USA TODAY Sports

Christian Bethancourt  was always highly rated by scouts and analysts across the sport. Signed out of Panama as a 16 yr old, he wowed many with his advanced defensive skills, as well as a bat that looked like it would become a very useful part of his game, especially power-wise. As he worked his way through the minors, Bethancourt continued to dazzle behind the plate with his defense, especially his arm; his gamecalling and blocking skills have both steadily improved to now be MLB ready.

His bat, however, had progressed slowly; too slowly. Had Bethancourt been showing some of his potential power in real live games the last 2-3 seasons, I doubt so many would be down on him this season. However, he hit just 14 HR in his 5 seasons before 2013. Combine that with a poor walk rate, and at times poor batting averages, well… you’ve got what appears to be a fading prospect.

Even into the 2013 season, Bethancourt struggled. On June 4, he was hitting .256/.269/.336/.605 (.316 babip). I have always been a big supporter of Christian Bethancourt, but even I was starting to lose hope. Then, something happened. Christian made some adjustments at the plate (exactly when, I don’t know, but the results have been better). His swing has much more loft, and looks smoother now. And the results, .320/.357/.557/.914 (.311 babip), show that Christian has made much better contact, especially flexing his over-the-wall power (11 HR in 48 games). While is walk rate still isn’t good, it is better than what it was. And while it looks like Bethancourt may finally be able to post a good average at the plate, albeit at AA, the fact that he’s been able to hit HR is much more gratifying. After hearing talk of his power for years, it is great to finally see him show it in real games.
  • Best case scenario with Atlanta: I believe that 1 of 2 things will happen with Bethancourt. Brian McCann likely has priced himself out the Braves price range, meaning that the Braves will need to fill a void at catcher next season. The Braves will likely give Bethancourt many chances in Spring Training next year to see if he can continue to hit, esp. against some MLB pitching. If he does really well, the job is his. If he struggles a little, no worries. He’d be 22, and play at AAA until he appears to be ready. The team has already rushed him once, at which he struggled, so the team may be a bit more hesitant to rush him again, especially to the MLB level. Simmons struggles at the plate may cause the team to be more careful with Bethancourt. If he can reach his potential with the bat, he will be a valuable hitter, and with his defense, be an overall All-Star type player (3-4 wins a season)

 

3.  Jason Hursh

  • Birthdate:  October 2,1991 (age 21)
  • 6’3″, 190 lbs.
  • Pitcher (RHP – Starter)
  • 1st year minor leaguer
  • 1st round pick, 2013 (Oklahoma State University, Stillwater, OK; born in Carrollton, TX)
  • Throws Right; Bats Right
  • ETA to Majors:  2015

The drafting of Jason Hursh was a surprise; he didn’t fit the mold that we’d become accustomed to from the Braves 1st round picks (local HS starters, or finesse “polished and signable” lefthanders. Rather, he is a power right handed pitcher that has the ability to become either a great starter, or a back end bullpen guy (setup/closer). He will likely advance through the minors quite well, but before we know what job he is likely to do at the MLB level, we will need to see some more improvements.

His fastball is his best pitch right now. He throws it hard, 93-95, hitting the upper 90s on occasion. It has good sinking action, and tails away from right hand batters, and inside to lefties. Rarely is his fastball thrown straight. He generates some strikeouts and weak contact (as evidenced by a LD% of 12.2 and a GB% of 56.1) with it. His “problem”, however, is his lack of a good off-speed pitch. If he had one, his K% would be even higher than it is currently (13.9%). He throws a changeup, curveball, and slider. Of these, his slider is his absolute worst pitch, as it usually stays flat. His curveball is relatively new to him, so he’s going to need some time to pick it up. His changeup has potential, but it is currently much too inconsistent. Without another breaking ball, and more control of his changeup velocity, Hursh appears to be headed towards a BP career.
While a power arm for the bullpen is still pretty valuable, that would be disappointing for a first round pick. However, he has just started his minor league career, so he has time to improve; it is too early to pigeonhole him into a certain prediction. Save Gilmartin, the Braves have done a good job of getting good results from their pitchers taken in the first few rounds in the last 3-4 years (Minor, Sims, Wood, Graham); Hursh may be the next one to follow this path. He certainly has the tools to do so. I’d expect him to repeat A next year, at least to start the season. He’s certainly a candidate for a mid-season call-up to Mississippi.
  • Best case scenario with Atlanta: Hursh develops an above average curveball, and a league average changeup, and combined with his plus fastball becomes a power arm for the Braves rotation, the first we’d have since Tommy Hanson. Unlike Tommy Hanson, though, he stays healthy and becomes a long-time ace for the Braves organization. 2014 will be a very important year for Hursh, as his career path will likely become more defined after the season is over.

2. J. R. Graham

  • Birthdate:  January 14, 1990 (age 23)
  • 5’10”, 195 lbs.
  • Pitcher (RHP – Starter)
  • 3rd year minor leaguer
  • 4th round pick, 2012 (Santa Clara University, Santa Clara, CA; born in Livermore, CA)
  • Throws Right; Bats Right
  • ETA to Majors:  mid 2014 or Opening Day 2015

Photo taken from http://mlbreports.com/2013/03/14/atldarkhorse/

JR Graham is TT’s #2 prospect overall, despite the shoulder injury that he suffered earlier this season, and has yet to return from. Though it is worrisome, the fact that he hasn’t had surgery is somewhat encouraging. Looking at his raw talent, he definitely has the potential to become a very valuable mid rotation starter, or heir to Kimbrel when the team moves on from him. A ground ball specialist, that is able to accumulate Ks as well, Graham uses his upper 90s fastball (4-seam) and his slower 2-seam to keep hitters off balance. The 4-seam is his strikeout pitch, and the 2-seam, his groundball pitch, as it is the pitch that sinks. His slider is already an above average pitcher, as it breaks away from RHB sharply. His changeup is his weakest pitch, and could be what keeps from becoming a starter.

His injury this year has set him back a bit, as it is now harder to imagine him making the team as a starter next year, especially after Wood’s emergence. The bullpen is pretty strong right now, so I think it’s reasonable to expect Graham, if healthy, to start the 2014 season at AA. If he is able to improve his changeup, then he may join the rotation for 2015. If he cannot, then assuming Kimbrel is traded before the 2015 season(which would be a financially smart move), then JR Graham may be our next closer.

  • Best case scenario with Atlanta: He figures out how to throw his changeup, at least as a league average pitch, and stays healthy in 2014. If so, he can be a #3-4 starter for this team, that like Alex Wood, uses ground balls and strikeouts to get the majority of his outs. However, the more likely scenario seems to be him becoming a back end setup man or closer, and this is still pretty valuable too.

1.  Lucas Sims

  • Birthdate:  May 10, 1994 (age 19)
  • 6’2″, 195 lbs.
  • Pitcher (RHP – Starter)
  • 2rd year minor leaguer
  • 1st round pick, 2012 (Brookwood High School, Snellville , GA; born in Lawrenceville, GA)
  • Throws Right; Bats Right
  • ETA to Majors:  2016

 

Photo taken from http://www.milb.com/index.jsp?sid=t432 (Rome Braves)

Lucas Sims has done nothing but impress since being drafted by the Braves last season. Some questioned the decision to pick him, especially at the point he was (#21 overall), but so far, it appears that the Braves were right. He has a 3.01 ERA over 140 minor league innings. His curveball looks to be the best in the system, generating many whiffs. His fastball is pretty good as well, he also gets some missed bats with it. And given that Lucas is just 19 years old, it could get even better, velocity-wise. His changeup has the workings to become a league average pitch, but he has time to harness it.  Currently, the only issue with Sims is his control; He’s walking 3.7 batters per 9 innings. Part of this may be the fact that his pitches (esp. the fastball) has such great movement that Sims even has trouble knowing where his pitch will end up. The fact that hitters don’t hit him well lends credence to this belief. Sims is in his first full year of pro-ball, so there are things he still needs to learn; a high walk rate is to be expected. A high K% is not, but yet Sims has one (10.2 K/9).

Sims repeats his mechanics very well, and uses the same arm slot and speed for each of his pitches. For a kid of his age to be so advanced is pretty remarkable. He certainly could shoot through the system, especially once he gets his control together and improves his changeup. He likely will start 2014 at A+ Lynchburg, but it wouldn’t surprise me to see him get called up to AA at some point in the season. And once you reach the MLB launching pad…..

  • Best case scenario with Atlanta: Sims gains excellent control of all his pitches, and improves his curveball and changeup even further. Sims has the potential to become a #2 starter at the MLB level, and could possibly reach the MLB quickly; however, the more conservative estimate is to expect a 2016 debut. He’s the most exciting prospect on the Braves farm.

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

Tags: Atlanta Braves FanSided

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