In the Internet era, there are now multiple sources that compile lists of top baseball prospects for each of the major league clubs. Most of them, such as tomahawktake, are from the perspective of fans who have a rooting interest in the team and in some of its players. There are few who invest the magnitude of time necessary to learn all the prospects for all of the teams. They do so from “afar” – from a perspective that attempts to gauge these players dispassionately, measuring one against another in an effort to provide an honest opinion of the merits of each.
Bed Badler of BaseballAmerica.com and John Sickels of minorleagueball.com are ones I hold in highest esteem. They have both been doing this arduous task for several years now. While each has a different style (Badler with the more comprehensive look on his subscription-based site), the end game is the same: evaluate each team’s talent and make an educated projection as to just how good a player might become at the major league level – no mean feat, that.
Today, Sickels has released his report of the Top 20 prospects in the Braves’ system for the up-coming season. I encourage readers to look at his work directly. My purpose here is not to regurgitate his efforts… we’ll simply look at our respective lists and compare/contrast each name on it.
Sickels has a nice feature that is helpful for the average fan: he assigns a letter grade to each prospect, which is very useful in comparing players across different organizations. So with that introduction, let us review his new list:
- Lucas Sims, RHP, Grade B+ (borderline A-). Called “Clearly the class of the system”, Sims is also our #1. When Frank Wren says that he wants a frontline starter for his current team to bridge the development of kids coming up the ladder, this is the guy he is mostly thinking about. He is to be the next Julio Teheran in the organization.
- Tommy La Stella, 2B, Grade B (borderline B-). Wow. Didn’t actually expect this… and Sickels addresses the high ranking (we have him at #6, but do note this was after a quick move upwards from mid-year). The key phrases here from Sickels are “can simply hit” and “fielding is underrated”. We’ve been hyping TLS here a lot (and I’m pretty much driving the bandwagon, I admit), but it is really nice to see that kind of confirmation and affirmation of those views.
- Christian Bethancourt, C, Grade B-… borderline B. Basically, this means a virtual ‘tie’ for the second ranking with TLS, and he admits that most everyone will rank Bethancourt higher (we have him 4th). He’s iffy on projection: clearly, CB has the defensive part of the game down, but the question remains: will he hit at the major league level. No way to know until he gets there. I anticipate that he’ll be there sometime late in 2014 at the worst.
- Jose Peraza, SS, Grade B-… borderline B. Another virtual ranking tie (TT ranks him 5th). Has speed (64 steals at Rome) and excellent glove. The questions will be whether he develops as a lead-off hitter with any power to speak of or will be become Billy Hamilton-light?
- Mauricio Cabrera, RHP, B-. He is 8th on our chart – higher on most others. I am personally concerned with command (1.44 WHIP, 71 walks in 131 innings at Rome), and that is keeping me from joining the hype of his 100 mph power arm. The potential is there – no doubt.
- J.R. Graham, RHP, B-. Another 100 mph power arm (Atlanta seems to be emphasizing this lately). We placed him 2nd, though it is always scary when a pitcher has a shoulder injury, and that is what sidelined J.R. in 2013. In fact, that seems to be the direct and sole reason for Sickels pulling him down from #2. Latest reports are that he is able to pitch again now – heard nothing to the contrary so far. We’ll see come Spring.
- David Hale, RHP, B-. We have him 7th on our chart… which represents a rocket-shot up the ladder from 16th at mid-year. He started late in the system (from Princeton), but performed stunningly well in spot duty for Atlanta in September. Sickels isn’t sure whether he’s a starter or reliever, ultimately. He’s been a starter in the minors with consistently good results at every level. Given the talent around him, I would have to think Hale could become the victim of a ‘numbers game’ – too many better guys to keep him in the majors with Atlanta. Thus he could be a very capable 6th starter, a AAAA guy, or trade bait. A better career likely awaits him with the latter of those options.
- Jason Hursh, RHP, Grade B-. We have him ranked 3rd, though there is projection written all over that position… and as you can see from the grades that Sickels has distributed, you can throw a blanket over one guy here and hit seven of them. Hursh is yet another 100 mph fastballer – the theory seems to be (with all of them, as Sickels points out) that if the fastball speed is there, we’ll teach these guys how to pitch and how to throw off-speed/breaking stuff. Hint for all of them: sit with Venters and Kimbrel for a while. Then see Medlen for the Bugs Bunny changeup.
- Joey Terdoslavich, OF/1B, Grace C+, borderline B-. Joey has graduated from our chart because he is not going to be eligible as a ‘rookie’ for 2014. We had him 7th at the mid-year post last Summer. Sickels admits this, but included him anyway. Joey can hit. Now whether he gets enough major league ABs to show that is a tough call (he’s probably 6th on the OF depth chart; 2nd or 3rd on the 1B list). He will nonetheless be useful off the bench, and that’s why he will be on the roster in April… unless we trade him somewhere.
- Victor Caratini, 3B/C, Grade C+, another borderline B-. At this point, you have to start thinking “wow – there’s a lot of unspectacular guys in the farm system, but the fact that there are a lot of Pretty Good Guys is a good thing.” That seems to be a reasonable thought. About Caratini (11th on the TT list): scouts graded him higher as a catcher, the Braves overdrafted him a bit, and then immediately placed him at third base, which represented an even stronger overdraft. He hit well at Danville (.321 in 18 games), but with limited power… so far. He will be interesting to watch develop.
- Cody Martin, RHP, C+, borderline B-. “Could rank as high as 9″ (good: that’s where we put him!). Sickels notes that he was a closer for Gonzaga, but the Braves made him a starter, and he’s virtually major league ready… right behind David Hale. Had a solid introduction to AAA this past Summer.
- Josh Elander, OF, Grade C+. About this point is where you can throw the rest of the names in a hat and start drawing them out. We’ve got Josh at 21, but Sickels calls him the “Most potent current bat in the farm system”. That’s high praise, indeed, though he will have to show it against stiffer competition in 2014 as he moves up. Beating up A-ball pitchers in 2013 is one thing… had more trouble in the Carolina League (many do), and that hampered our ranking for him.
- Kyle Wren, OF, Grade C+. Okay, I admit it: I was hesitant to ‘buy in’ on Kyle. I mean, come on – he’s the son of the GM, and I remember how well Jon Schuerholz turned out (drafted 8th in 2002; peaked at AAA in 2005-2007; now managing Danville). So Kyle was drafted in the … yep… 8th round this year. Well, he started 22nd on our chart. He’s now 18th. Sickels believes in him (obviously) by putting him 13th. If he’d had the full year, he would have had more steals than anybody else in the organization (32 in 47 games). He was promoted to Rome… quickly… and kept hitting. This could truly be interesting.
- Sean Gilmartin, LHP, Grade C+. Here’s a case in which I worried that we were being a little harsh… dropping Sean from a top ten (pre-season 2013) to #17 at this point. Unfortunately, he also had been battling some shoulder trouble… mostly pitching through it, mostly not very well at Gwinnett in 2013. He throws in the mold of Tom Glavine. Here’s hoping that he can reclaim that promise in 2014. If not, then he could be about done, I fear.
- Aaron Northcraft, RHP, Grade C+. I am not sold on him (#19/TT), and his Arizona Fall League stint didn’t do anything to change my mind. The good news is that Sickels sees him as a “ground ball machine” who can “throttle right-handed hitters”. That’s a very useful trait for a major league reliever, though he has not been groomed in that manner. Needs to establish better command regardless to make further progress.
- Jorge Camargo, SS, C+/borderline C. Not ranked by TomahawkTake. Is hitting, said to be a good fielder, but too far away (age 19 at Danville) to be able to say a lot more. Not much stands out at this point to establish a prospect ranking for us.
- Victor Reyes, OF, C/borderline C+. On the other hand, 18 year old Reyes hit a ton this year in the 2 rookie leagues (.342 between both stops). He did not crack our top twenty, but is a solid candidate to do so in 2014 if this keeps up. If this is getting confusing, then note that we have to ‘Victor’s of note and two ‘Reyes’s. This guy has both names going for him.
- Shae Simmons, RHP, Grade C. Sickels has found one of our guys… had an excellent Arizona Fall League and shot up 2 levels this summer to AA Mississippi. Sickels is thinking ‘middle relief role.’ I am thinking possible future closer.
- Ian Thomas, LHP, Grade C. Was on the radar, but did not make our list, mostly because of his age (26). Admittedly, he probably should have since he threw 104 AA innings with a 2.76 ERA, 1.04 WHIP and a K/BB ratio of 3.3:1… striking out over 1 per inning.
- Wes Parsons, RHP, Grade C. Not ranked by us, but the Braves have several nice pitching candidates like this. Parsons had a nearly 5:1 K/BB ratio, striking out about 1 per inning. 21 years old at the Danville rookie league. We’ll see how he fares as he gets bumped up.
Others we had, that Sickels did not rank:
- 12 Luis Merejo, LHP. Not on Sickels radar. Still very early in his Braves career, but has promise.
- 14 Carlos Salazar, RHP. Hasn’t shown much yet as a high 2014 draft pick; we have him at 14 mostly based on draft status. Started well, but got pounded in his last 2 starts stretching out to 3+ innings each.
- 15 Kyle Kubitza, 3B. Was on his 2012 list; now around 25th-ish. Did okay in AFL this Fall.
- 16 Gus Schlosser, RHP. Sickels mentions him as a Grade C. That’s likely about right… maybe a little higher. You could say he and Ian Thomas are almost interchangeable.
- 20 Todd Cunningham, OF. Sickels mentions him as a Grade C. I concur.
The Bad News
Sickels suggests that overall, the Braves have a “bottom tier system” when compared to the talent currently available in the minors for other clubs. He does acknowledge that this is due to the graduation of so many players in the past couple of years… with names we all are aware of. Notably, we have also traded away some talent from prior lists: guys like Randall Delgado, Nick Ahmed, and J.J. Hoover (just to name three). We are thus in a “reloading” cycle now, and that takes time to get new talent to surface. It will be interesting to see how the new faces in the Player Development office influence this next cycle – good or bad.
As I wrote at position #10 above, I tend to think this is currently more of an indication of the system’s breadth of quantity (but then I am an eternal optimist), while we hope that some stand up and blossom into B+/A- graded players. In 2012, Andrelton Simmons received a ‘B’ grade from Sickels, while David Hale was in the middle of the “Also Appearing” list. It clearly takes special talent to make the majors – and stick there. Cliches aside, the next generation needs to step up and perform to get there.
Hat tip for this article to frozen colleague Ben Chase.