Braves Prospects: A Review

Mandatory Credit: Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports

Review of the Farm – the Advantage of Hindsight

Over the past few weeks, our writers have collectively been reviewing our list of the twenty best prospects in the Braves’ organization as we see them.  You can review those prior works here (1-5), here (6-10), here (11-15), and here (16-20).  Thanks to Julien, Chris, and Ben for those fine efforts!  As with all such lists, your mileage may vary.  In fact, I would argue that with the group of talent Atlanta has in the minors, there is a lot of room for argument, as there are few definitive standouts for which one can say “Wow – he’s the next _________ (insert name of your favorite Mike Trout-like phenom here)!”  But as fans look through these lists, is the Braves’ system currently in a ‘down’ period?

John Sickels writes for minorleagueball.com, and I like reading his material about prospects for three reasons:  (1) he ranks every team’s farmhands; (2) he reviews them all on a scheduled basis; and (3) he follows their progress.  Because of that breadth of information and his consistency in general, he is in a unique position:  he assigns not just ranks, but letter grades to each prospect.  The reason I bring this up is because many have suggested that the Braves farm is not producing the same kind of premium talent that (a) other teams are producing; and (b) that the Braves themselves have typically produced.

So here’s the question:  Sickels currently has no one on his list of top Braves’ prospects that grades out higher than a B+. Should that concern us as fans?

Well, let’s look at some of those grades:

Now let me ask this question in response:  are these guys productive major league players?  Clearly, in the case of the pitchers, the answer has to be “yes” – absolutely.  Teheran had been a solid A grade from Sickels in 2012… but slipped to B+ for this year after a lackluster AAA campaign last year.  Alex Wood came into Spring Training wanting to fill the hole in his arsenal:  learning a breaking pitch.  He got with Craig Kimbrel and Jonny Venters and now he’s got one.  The results have been dramatic – and now he’s just finished August as a starting major league pitcher having an ERA for the month of under 1.00.

Mandatory Credit: Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

You can understand the grades given to Simmons and Gattis a bit because of their shortcomings – inconsistent offensive production and lack of defensive prowess, respectively.  No one argues about the opposite parts of their games (though Gattis’ hot hitting start has indeed cooled).  But the point remains:  were these four graded as ‘elite’ prospects?  No.  But would the Atlanta Braves be in first place without their contributions this year?  Not likely.

So while everyone wants to see ‘that elite guy’ on a prospect list, it certainly doesn’t mean that there aren’t useful future major leaguers in the organization.  Sometimes it’s the one missing element (such as Christian Bethancourt‘s new-found hitting or Alex Wood‘s breaking pitch) that puts a player over the top.  Those special elements are important to have… and it’s hard to say when/if the “it” factor will arrive, but do know there’s still a great deal of future talent out there – and it’s still getting ready for prime time.

 

It’s All in Flux

Change is all part of this game… including the “graduation” process.  The Braves in particular have been moving their prospects to the majors at a rapid pace.  Consider this list of ranked players (again from John Sickels) from just two years ago:

That’s eleven of the top thirteen who have played in the major leagues… for somebody.  It’s actually pretty remarkable.  Two of them are All-Stars.  One is now the de facto staff #1 pitcher (while Beachy might have been #1 except for his surgery).  Another is a mortal lock for a Gold Glove this year.  I don’t even think I need to say anything about how good Kimbrel has been… as a “B” graded prospect.

But as all of these players are no longer on the prospect list, others rise to fill those gaps.  You could argue that perhaps the rise from, say, 15th (as Bethancourt was in 2011) to #4 is too quick (I don’t), but when you see how well these players have traditionally been working out in the majors – at least as a group – the results should give one pause to think this:  the Braves’ farm system perhaps isn’t as devoid of future talent as the experts might want you to think.

For the record, Bethancourt himself has been the poster child of prospect movement.  Sickels put him 15th in 2011, 10th in 2012, 13th this year.  It is notable that TomahawkTake issued our rankings this month:  had that been done in April or May, there’s no way Bethancourt makes it into our top ten, either – much less 4th.  That’s a testament to the turn-around he’s performed on himself this year.  He was already the best defender in … well, most of all catchers on earth.  But now that he’s driving the baseball consistently?  That puts him on another level entirely.

 

Here’s Our Top 20 Again

1. Lucas Sims – a special note about Luke:  he finished up in the low-A Sally League this year with the 5th best ERA, 5th best strikeouts, 4th best WHIP – and was the only pitcher in the top 5 of all those categories.  Baseball America rated his curve ball best in his entire league.  The Braves voted it best in the entire minor league organization.  A solid year – and deserving of our #1 slot.

2. J.R. Graham
3. Jason Hursh
4. Christian Bethancourt
5. Mauricio Cabrera
6. Cody Martin
7. Joey Terdoslavich
8. Jose Peraza
9. Tommy La Stella
10. Edward Salcedo
11. Victor Caratini
12. Luis Merejo
13. Carlos Salazar
14. Sean Gilmartin
15. Gus Schlosser
16. David Hale
17. Shae Simmons
18. Aaron Northcraft
19. Kyle Kubitza
20. Todd Cunningham

 

Not Considered for the List

Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

These are players either no longer considered to be rookies, or who are on the cusp of losing that designation for next season (for example, Alex Wood was just below his 50-inning rookie threshold… though had been on the major league roster for long enough… when this series began; he now has 63 innings).  For position players, the standard is 130 ABs.  Also, any player on the active roster for 45 days during a previous year is no longer considered to be a rookie.  Thus we excluded the following players from our rankings:

Joey Terdoslavich was an interesting case for us.  At the time, it wasn’t at all certain that he would be in the majors long enough to lose the yellow stripe from his bumper next year (okay, I’m channeling NASCAR – Elliott Johnson does it, too).  But now we know:  so he’ll be excused from future prospect lists.

 

The Best of the Rest

I’m going to resist ranking these guys, just because those numbers are fairly meaningless .  Any of them could jump up to join the ‘Top 20′ within the next year or so.  As such, they are names you should get familiar with – and go out to your favorite minor league park to support.

  • Matt Lipka – still trying to gain traction:  .256 at Lynchburg.
  • Josh Elander – hit .318 at Rome w/11 HR, 61 RBI, .271 in 56 games at Lynchburg.
  • Emerson Landoni – Started at AA (hit .325 there); finished at Lynchburg w/.285 (was usurped by La Stella).  Just 8 errors.
  • Kyle Wren – Starting to get me to think “Frank Wren?  Yeah, I’ve heard of him: he’s Kyle’s dad.”  Hit .409 at Danville, then .323 at Rome (.438 OBP and 31 steals).
  • Juan Jaime – closer-type pitcher with 98-100 mph fastball.  Control has been an issue; injured part of the year.  64 strikeouts in just 38 innings, but 27 walks.
  • Gary Moran – A free-agent signee in 2011, he won pitcher-of-the-week honors last week at Mississippi.  An injury slowed him this year; had a very good 2012 season.
  • Bryan De La Rosa – Catcher for Danvile; .264; a wait-and-see guy.
  • Victor Reyes – tore up the GCL, was promoted to Danville and hit .312 in 17 games.
  • Elmer Reyes – .290 for Lynchburg (second on team) and just 17 errors at shortstop.  4 homers, 4 triples.
  • Ryne Harper – Definitely one to watch:  1.89 ERA in 52 relief innings.  Unorthodox delivery led to 53 strikeouts.  10 saves.
  • Eric Pfisterer – 15th round draft pick of Reds (2008); did not sign.  Signed as undrafted free agent in May 2013 by Atlanta.  23 years old.  20 relief appearances; 1.83 ERA and 52 strikeouts in just 39 innings… 8 walks.
  • Richie Tate – lowest ERA at Danville among those with at least 20 innings (he pitched 30).  Just moved up to Rome.
  • Robby Hefflinger – 21 homers and a .286 avg for Lynchburg (and won the Class A+ HR derby).  Six more homers for the AA team at Pearl, but just a .166 average.  Watch out for 2014.
  • Greg Ross – 19 innings, 18 hits, 18 K – 1 walk.  1.40 ERA.  7 relief appearances.
  • Carlos Perez – posted a 3-0 record for Rome with a 2.25 ERA over 32 innings – 37 K, 8 walks for a 0.88 WHIP.
  • Trenton Moses – Posted a ridiculous .364 average at Rome (.971 OPS, .447 OBP) in 33 games.  Respectable .261/.357 OBP at Lynchburg.

Note:  Former top prospect William Beckwith has been dropped from the list – he was arrested for a DUI incident in May.  He organization suspended him at the time and he has not played since.

Thanks for checking into these guys with us!

Topics: Atlanta Braves, Braves Prospects

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  • cheadrick

    You make some great points Alan. Just as we say our prospects are in flux, fluid, and subject to change, so is the play of each prospect. You can only grade them when you grade them, and those grades can change, just like a kid who’s a B student suddenly turning up the juice and becoming an A student. We see it periodically, and while I might not, like, Sickels, have given much more than he did when he graded them, those grades are subject to change. LIke you said in a recent comment, we have some “bright spots” in our prospect lineup. I don’t think the Braves’ need to worry. We rarely have the Trouts and Harper types, but we contend every year.

    • http://tomahawktake.com/ carpengui

      It’s also hard to draft a Chipper Jones or Jason Heyward when the first pick is near/at the end of the first round… but that’s also where we’d _prefer_ to have our draft position, right?

      • cheadrick

        Sometimes, but like Football, often those higher draft picks don’t work out like the lower one’s do. Wisdom says the higher you are, the better, but the Braves have managed quite well throughout the years not always getting that higher pick. I’d rather do well on the season and not the higher slots personally.

  • Benjamin Chase

    My piece earlier this year on success in the draft really showed how the Braves have tapped into their picks in the last 5 years, and that’s a quick return from drafting. The Braves don’t produce the elite guys like they did for a short time with Heyward/Freeman/et al, so they’re seen as a “down” system, but I think we have an entire future bullpen in some of the arms that have “popped” in the system (I’m a huge fan of Shae Simmons, and Carlos Perez has always been on my radar, so I’m not at all surprised by the way his stuff has played up from the pen). If a team can produce enough bullpen guys to where the entire 7- to 8-man bullpen is making less than $15M and still be dominating, that’s a lot of money that can be used on the rest of the team. The Braves have quickly learned this with their change in payroll, and it’s been fun to see the change in that move in the organization.