With just a few weeks left in the minor league season, we’ll take a look at the minor league players who have really performed well for the Braves this year, starting with the hitters:
Ozhaino Albies, SS, Danville, 17 years old – .371/.452/.443, 23/19 bb/k, 20 SB in 200 plate appearances
Albeis is the young star of the Braves’ US rookie league teams this year, adding to the middle infield glut the Braves have in their system. I’ve not been able to personally lay eyes on Albeis yet, but he has received sparkling reviews on his defense, though he’s been noted for “typical teen errors” when he hurries himself or tries too hard to make the spectacular play. With his speed, eye, and youth, Albeis could leapfrog up not just the Braves internal prospect lists, but also national lists. We should be keeping a strong eye on this guy!
Elias Arias, CF, Dominican Rookie League, 20 years old – .297/.406/.366, 38/39 bb/k, 21 SB in 279 PA
Arias was signed last October at 19, one of those rare talents that slips through the cracks. He’s had some extremes in his season this year, including a hot streak that had his average well over .400 in late June and a cold streak that brought him below his current mark before a bounce back to stabilize around .300. He’s loaded with speed and has shown a lot of raw ability in center field in the Dominican. Of course, that raw ability came with poor routes and reads that led to 11 errors, an exceptional number for an outfielder. Arias will take a walk, but he was cited for possibly putting himself into a hole by watching early pitches, which did lead to walks, but also contributed to his fairly high strikeout rate as well. He should come stateside in 2015, and will likely be allowed to move as quickly as those adjustments are made.
Johan Camargo, SS, Rome/Lynchburg, 20 years old – .267/.319/.321
There are a lot of people wondering why Camargo is getting so much publicity within Braves prospect types. Watch him. Please take the time to spend a few dollars with milb.com and watch him now with Lynchburg. He doesn’t have 50 steals, but his speed on the basepaths is eye-catching. He doesn’t have a .300 average, but watching him, you see a whole lot of bat control. He has a similar knock as Arias in that he often lets the first 2-3 pitches in an at bat go by before attacking the at bat. I have noticed this with guys who have graduated from the Braves Dominican League club, which makes me wonder if it’s something taught there. Camargo has some terrible error numbers, but when you watch him in the field, he has very smooth movements. One thing I could see from watching him is that Camargo could be a very, very good defensive third baseman as one of things that has caught my attention is his arm strength. He’s very raw, but the skills are there, so watch this kid in Lynchburg next season to see if he is moved to 3B or turns some of those skills into numbers.
Cedric Hunter, LF, Mississippi, 26 years old – .292/.376/.489
I wrote about Hunter earlier this summer, but he’s continued to produce after being a minor league free agent with the Braves in the offseason. He stalled out due to injuries in the PCL in the Padres organization after being a top 100 prospect in 2007. He has good control of the strike zone, as evidenced by his 46/49 bb/k ratio this season in 429 plate appearances. The Gwinnett outfield was packed, leaving no room for Hunter to move up, otherwise, he would have been in AAA this season. I would love to see the Braves utilize the 60-day DL to bring up Hunter for a chance to show himself in September. He’s in a bit of a different situation, but look at what Josh Harrison has done for the Pirates after coming up at a similar age schedule. Hunter could give the Braves a ton of value, especially if they could move B.J. Upton in the winter. A combination of players including Hunter could take care of left field for the Braves in 2015 in this writer’s estimation, but that’s up to the team to determine how much of what we’ve seen from Hunter in 2014 is real and how much is mirage. We’ve seen case after case in the last decade of baseball of a former top prospect going elsewhere on the cheap and finding his stroke and becoming a productive major leaguer in his mid- to late-20s from Josh Hamilton to Jose Bautista to Josh Harrison this season.
Jose Peraza, 2B, Lynchburg/Mississippi, 20 years old – .341/.366/.445, 60 steals, 11 triples
Peraza is the obvious high riser in the Braves system this year, making a strong argument as the top prospect in the whole system and finding himself in top-50 prospect lists midseason, and with his continued high level of performance, he could find himself even higher in the offseason prospect lists. Peraza has handled the move to second base smooth, seemingly picking up his level of play defensively after his promotion. I’ve had a chance to see a number of games of Peraza’s this year, and he makes plays at 2B akin to the way Andrelton Simmons takes an incredibly difficult play look routine in his body language and handling of such a play. Peraza’s got a lot of solid range to either side, but his range to his left could mean nothing gets past he and Freddie Freeman if he makes his way to the majors at 2B. All the accolades he has received are certainly apt, but he’s not without some concerns. My biggest concern is Peraza’s walk rate. He does keep his strikeouts low, keeping his strikeout rate under 10%, even lower as he’s moved up to AA, but his walk rates are incredibly low – 3.25% of plate appearances in his combined time in 2014, and that rate is even lower (3.19%) after his promotion. Right now, Peraza has more times caught stealing in AA than he does walks, and that’s a scary trend. He obviously has solid pitch recognition as evidenced by his high contact rate (BABIP numbers in the minors, especially lower than AA, are inconsistent, but they’re right in line with a guy hitting .340, nothing outlandishly high), so he could take better walks, and that would make him an incredible weapon at the top of the order if he can walk enough to turn a .300+ average into a .375+ OBP. Next spring should be interesting. As well as Peraza has played at 2B, I’d hate to move him off that position because I believe he’d bring as much value with the glove as the bat at 2B, but the Braves could choose to give Peraza some work in the Arizona Fall League or winter ball at other positions.
Kyle Wren, CF, Lynchburg/Mississippi, 23 years old – .282/.344/.356
Wren was seen as a nepotism pick when he was drafted in the 8th round in 2013 out of Georgia Tech. He quickly put those concerns to rest by hitting .335/.391/.472 in 242 plate appearances between Danville and Rome last year. He was started with a promotion to Lynchburg this year, and while he’s not providing power at all (0 home runs in 526 PA this year, and only 27 total XBH), he’s yet another Braves prospect providing exceptional defense at an up-the-middle position. He’s had some struggles at AA Mississippi, so I see him starting 2015 returning to Mississippi, but with his speed and defense, he could push past other bench options like Todd Cunningham, Jose Constanza, and Joey Terdoslavich onto the Atlanta bench as soon as mid-season 2015, and if he continues his development, we could see Wren up as full-time player in 2016, or at least knocking on the door.