We look back three years at the Atlanta Braves top 10 prospects of the 2017 season and where that wonderful prospect class is today?
Things were beginning to turn around for the Braves in 2017. The big-league club would suffer its fourth consecutive losing season, but with these shiny new toys on the way, it would be their last losing season.
We recently reviewed the top 10 prospects from 2015 according to Baseball Prospectus, and the results were not pretty.
Just two years later, we are still tasting the satiating crops from this outstanding farm system. Let’s take a look at the ingredients that make this current Braves recipe taste so good.
10. Travis Demeritte
Travis Demeritte was taken by the Texas Rangers in the first round of the 2013 draft. A Georgia-boy, Demeritte was drafted out of Winder-Barrow High School in Winder, Ga.
At just 19-years-old, Demeritte declared his presence with authority as he smashed 25 homers, drove in 66 runs, and touched home plate 77 times in 118 games for A-Hickory.
At the time of the trade, Demeritte had amassed 25 homers and 13 steals in just 88 games in High-A. His slash line at the time of the trade was a glowing .272/.352/.583.
The Braves selected Travis as a representative in the Arizona Fall League that season. He hit four homers and drove in 14 runs.
He played the 2017 and 2018 seasons in AA-Mississippi under the Braves banner. He found himself in AAA-Gwinnett last season, hitting 20 homers, 28 doubles, and two triples in just 96 games. He slashed .286/.387/.558 and drove in 73 runs.
Demeritte has a cool blend of power and on-base ability that the Detroit Tigers were very interested in. The Braves have a bit of a logjam in the outfield right now, so they found a home for the talented right fielder when they reinforced their bullpen last season by sending him to Detroit with Joey Wentz for their closer Shane Greene.
Demeritte made his debut with the Tigers just two days after the trade. He probably hadn’t finished unpacking his bags before he found himself on a major league field. Demeritte currently has four homers this spring and is making a case for the major league roster.
9. Max Fried
Max Fried is a former seventh overall draft pick out of Harvard-Westlake High School in Los Angeles, Calif. The Padres selected the California flame thrower with their first pick of the 2012 draft.
Max Fried was ranked as the 43rd ranked prospect heading into the 2014 season but suffered a setback in August of 2014 and went under the knife for Tommy John surgery.
The procedure didn’t deter the Braves from ensuring Fried was a part of the Upton trade. Their patience would pay off.
After missing the entirety of the 2015 season, Fried would go 8-7 with a 3.93 ERA in 20 starts for Rome the following year.
He received an invitation to spring training in 2017 and started the year in AA-Mississippi. Fried went 2-11 with a 5.92 ERA and walked 43 batters in 86.2 innings pitched for Mississippi.
No doubt, Max had a ton of talent but he was struggling with his command. The Braves believed in the talent despite the poor performance and called him up to make his Major League debut in August, skipping Triple-A altogether.
Fried again struggled with his command in 2018. In 66.1 Triple-A innings, he walked 4.1 hitters per nine. He was called up to pitch in 33.2 Major League innings and saw his walks per nine balloon to 5.3.
Last season he started 30 games for the Braves and appeared to have tamed his control issues. Fried struck out 173 hitters in 165.2 innings while walking 2.6 hitters per nine.
Fried is slated to open the season as one of the Braves’ top three pitchers and is a popular candidate to break out in 2020 as a top tier pitching talent.
He has a unique combination of striking out more than a batter per inning while inducing a ton of ground balls. Of pitchers who qualified for the ERA title last year (162 IP) Fried finished fifth in ground ball percentage with 53.6% of his batted balls hitting the ground.
8. Ronald Acuna Jr.
Ronald Acuna Jr. was signed by the Braves on July 2, 2014, as an amateur free agent at the age of 16. The process of finding the best players in the world involves traveling far and wide to work out teenage ballplayers in faraway countries in an attempt to evaluate how their skills would play out in “The Show.”
Acuna was only 5-10, 160 pounds when scouts began to take notice of him in Venezuela. He showed off his powerful yet strikeout-prone swing and scared off 29 other teams. That’s not the only reason every team passed on him, but for the sake of brevity, it was one.
The Braves offered him a $100k signing bonus, which was twice as much as the next biggest offer.
Jesse Sanchez wrote a really interesting article covering Acuna’s scouting, the international prospects from that year and where they are now, and loads of intriguing information. Check that story out for more on Acuna’s journey to the Braves.
Acuna broke into Rookie Ball at age 17 and played in 55 games, hitting .269/.380/.438 with 16 stolen bases and 14 doubles. He would only hit four homers in each of his first two seasons, but the power would grow along with his body.
In 2016, Acuna stole another 14 bases and posted an even better .392 on-base percentage.
Heading into the 2017 season he was finally on the national radar, Baseball America rated him as the #67 overall prospect and Baseball Prospectus had him #31 in the game. All of the teams that passed on Acuna were starting to second-guess themselves.
He headed into the 2018 season as the number one prospect in all of baseball.
Acuna would live up to the hype, although the hype was late to the party. He won the Rookie of the Year Award in 2018 and was fifth in MVP voting last season as he threatened to have a 40/40 season.
7. Ian Anderson
Ian Anderson has been a top 100 prospect by all major publications for the past four seasons. Anderson was taken with the third overall pick of the 2016 draft by the Braves. He has dominated at every level so far, with the exception of his brief stop in AAA-Gwinnett last season.
Over his four minor league seasons, he has posted a 2.91 ERA and struck out 451 batters in just 377.2 innings. While his strikeout rate sits at a phenomenal 10.7 batters per nine, he has had issues with walks at various levels. His career walks per nine stands at an even four.
Anderson saw his first Triple-A action last season after going 7-5 with a 2.68 ERA in AA-Mississippi with 147 strikeouts in 111.0 innings pitched. In his 24.2 innings at AAA-Gwinnett, he gave up five homers, 18 walks, and 18 earned runs. Anderson won’t turn 22 until May 2 and is nearing his Major League debut.
He needs to prove he can handle Triple-A hitting before the Braves give him a look in the big leagues. Anderson should open the 2020 season as one of the top pitchers in Gwinnett.
With Felix Hernandez, Sean Newcomb, and Kyle Wright vying for the last two rotation spots, it leaves question marks at the backend of the rotation. It's possible we see Anderson at some point in 2020.
That’s just to begin the season if the Braves suffer a Cole Hamels’ setback combined with ineffectiveness or injuries in the rotation, they may look to Gwinnett for help.
If Anderson has proven he can handle the final stop of the Minor League journey, he could find himself in Cobb County at some point this summer.
6. Sean Newcomb
Newcomb was just mentioned on the previous page. 'Newk' is having a great spring so far and making a case as a rotation candidate, while Cole Hamels licks his wounds.
Sean Newcomb is another first-rounder to grace this wonderful list of Braves prospects from 2017. He was drafted 15th overall by the Angels and acquired by the Braves in 2015 in the Andrelton Simmons trade.
He spent three consecutive seasons among baseball’s top 100 prospects. 'Newk' dominated the minors with a 3.17 ERA in 369.0 innings, racking up 432 strikeouts and allowing just 14 homers.
Like other strikeout artists on the list, Newcomb struggled with walks as his Minor League walks per nine sits at 4.7 batters.
Newcomb was promoted to AAA-Gwinnett in 2017 and strolled through 57.2 innings allowing just 2.97 earned runs per nine innings. Newcomb walked 33 batters and struck out 74.
He earned the callup to the majors where he held his own with a 4.32 ERA in 19 starts. He struck out 108 batters in 100 innings pitched. Again, he walked 57 batters and posted a 1.57 WHIP.
At age 25, Newcomb made 30 starts for the Braves and pitched in 164 innings. He finished with a 3.90 ERA and walked 81 batters. Control remained an issue for the talented lefty.
In 2019, the Braves opted to move Newcomb to the bullpen after struggling as a starter to begin the season and he thrived. Newcomb only started four games for Atlanta last season but appeared in 55 games. He posted a 3.16 ERA and a career-low 3.8 walks per nine.
Newcomb is a valuable part of the Braves’ pitching staff, whether he’s pitching late innings, long-relief, or if the Braves need a starter, Newcomb has proven himself in each role. He is currently making his case to open the season in the starting rotation.
5. Mike Soroka
Mike Soroka is yet another first-rounder to find himself inside of the Braves’ top 10 prospects heading into the 2017 season. Soroka was taken by the Braves with the 28th overall selection out of Bishop Carrol High School in Calgary, Alberta, Canada. The righty was inside the consensus top 100 prospects for three consecutive years between 2017-2019.
Over five Minor League seasons, Soroka posted a 2.84 ERA and has done even better in the Majors with a 2.79 ERA over two seasons. Soroka broke in with the Braves in 2018 and contributed a 3.51 ERA in 25.2 innings.
He’s not the strikeout machine that many of the other pitchers on this list are, but he is a control freak.
If Pete Alonso had not set the rookie home run record last season, Soroka would have had himself a Rookie of the Year Award. In 2019, Soroka posted a stellar 2.68 ERA in 174.2 innings while walking just 41. Soroka was worth a 5.6 rWAR last season with a 13-4 record.
Soroka may not have come away with the Rookie of the Year Award but he made the All-Star team in his rookie campaign and finished sixth in Cy Young voting.
Soroka’s lone appearance came in Game Three when he went seven innings and allowed only two hits and one run. Soroka issued zero free passes in the pressure cooker. If anyone questioned who the ace of this staff was prior to this game, he provided all of the necessary answers.
Soroka walked a stellar 2.1 batters per nine last season while allowing just 0.7 homers per nine. He is projected to open the 2020 season as the Braves’ undisputed Opening Day starter.
4. Kolby Allard
It’s so interesting to go back a couple of years and see Kolby Allard ranked ahead of names like Mike Soroka, Max Fried, Sean Newcomb, and even Ronald Acuna. Believe it or not, Allard was a first-round pick in the 2015 draft taken 14th overall by the Braves.
At one point, it looked like Allard could be the ace of the future. He was coming off of a 2016 in which he posted a 2.98 ERA and 95 strikeouts in 87.2 innings between Rookie and A-Ball.
He began 2017 in Double-A and continued his success with a 3.18 ERA in 150.0 innings. The next season he began in Triple-A and registered an even better 2.72 ERA in 19 starts. He walked 34 batters in 112.1 innings while striking out 89.
He got his first crack at the majors that season and pitched in 8.0 innings for the Braves. He gave up three homers, walked four, and allowed 12 total runs.
Allard began last season in AAA-Gwinnett and was traded at the deadline to the Texas Rangers in exchange for reliever Chris Martin. Allard didn’t have a lot of room with the pitching-rich system of the Atlanta Braves. It was a savvy move for the Braves' front office to move such a talented prospect to address a current need.
The Braves are still stocked with starting pitching talent and they were able to re-sign Chris Martin this offseason.
Allard pitched in 45.1 innings for the Rangers at the big-league level last season and projects to start the season in Triple-A for the Rangers after they acquired Corey Kluber, Kyle Gibson, and Jordan Lyles this offseason.
3. Kevin Maitan
Kevin Maitan was the top prospect in the 2016 international class. Maitan just turned 20 two days prior to Valentine’s Day this year.
His ascent through the Braves’ system skidded to a halt in November of 2017. Then-Braves GM John Coppolella was banned from Major League Baseball for life after he was found to have cheated the international free agent signing bonus rules.
Coppolella was funneling money to a player deemed a foreign professional player and had the money redistributed to the international prospects. In essence, he was paying these prospects more than the Braves were allowed, and doing it under the table, so to speak.
Maitan was one of 13 international players whose contracts were voided as a result of the investigation.
The young infielder was scooped up by the Angels and the Braves were left unable to sign an international free agent for more than $10k during the 2019-2020 signing period. The Braves’ bonus pool for the following signing period has also been slashed in half.
Meanwhile, Maitan made it to Class-A Burlington last season at age 19, hitting .214/.278/.323 with 12 homers and seven steals.
Maitan could very well live up to the expectations as one of the game’s top players, but his future success will forever serve as a reminder to the Braves of the consequences of cheating.
He was once compared to Chipper Jones for his ability at the hot corner. The Braves may have thought they had their next Chipper when they signed him to a $4.25 million signing bonus. Alas, if he ever reaches the heights of a Chipper Jones, he won’t be wearing a Braves uniform.
2. Ozzie Albies
Ozzie Albies was ranked as the Braves #2 prospect heading into the 2017 season and it wouldn’t be long before he made his debut. He played in 57 games for the Braves that season, slashing .286/384/.456 with six homers and eight steals.
Albies would make his first All-Star appearance in his age-21 season the following year. He finished up 2018 with 14 steals, 24 homers, 72 RBI, and 105 runs scored.
He raised some questions with his first and second half splits in 2018. Albies hit 20 of his 24 homers in the first half of the season. He hit only .226/.282/.342 after the 2018 All-Star break.
In 2019, he made those concerns look silly as he hit 24 homers for the second consecutive year. Ozzie finished last season with a 4.8 rWAR and slashed .295/.352/.500 while stealing 15 bags, scoring 102 times, blasting 43 doubles, and leading the league with 189 hits.
Albies is in the midst of a deal that could keep him with Atlanta through the 2027 season. He was an All-Star in 2018 and won the NL Silver Slugger at second base in 2019.
According to this list on FanGraphs, Albies is one of the most prolific doubles hitters ever through his first 375 games.
Between 1876-2019, of players with 375 games or less, Albies is tied for first place on this massive list of 3,438 players. Y
ou don't have to run a bunch of numbers through FanGraphs to know that his 83 doubles over the past two seasons are absolutely amazing.
1. Dansby Swanson
Swanson was selected by the Diamondbacks with the first pick of the 2015 draft. He’s originally from Georgia, attending Marietta High School before going to Vanderbilt. Swanson returned home when the Braves traded Shelby Miller and Gabe Speier for Aaron Blair, Ender Inciarte, and Dansby Swanson.
In Swanson’s final year at Vanderbilt, he hit 15 homers and stole 16 bases in just 71 games. He slashed .335/.423/.623.
The Braves worked him in 21 games in Class-A Carolina before promoting him to AA-Mississippi in late April. Swanson dominated in his 21 games for Carolina with a .967 OPS.
In Double-A he came down to earth a bit. Swanson played in 84 games and slashed .261/.342/.402 with eight homers, five triples, and 13 doubles.
That didn’t stop him from making his debut in Atlanta in 2016. Swanson played 38 games with the big club and posted a .302/.361/.442 slash while playing solid defense at shortstop.
Hopes were high for the young shortstop heading into 2017. He played in 144 games at age 23 and posted an OPS+ of 68.
Swanson struggled to a .232 average and a .312 on-base percentage. His power seemed to disappear as he hit only six homers in 551 plate appearances.
The following season, Swanson showed a little more life with 14 homers, but the overall numbers still left a lot to be desired of the former number one pick. Swanson slashed .238/.304/.395 in 2018, but he did improve his defense with 10 defensive runs saved (DRS).
Last season, things began to click for Swanson as he opened the season up with a first-half to remember. Swanson was on his way to an MVP-caliber season in the first half, clubbing 17 homers, 19 doubles, and slashing .270/.330/.493 prior to the All-Star break.
Just as it appeared Swanson was fulfilling his destiny as a blue-chip prospect, he suffered a heel injury. The injury occurred on July 23 against the Royals. He missed over a month and was never the same upon his return.
In the second half, he slashed just .204/.315/.254 with nary a homer. Swanson’s first half gave Braves’ fans a lot of hope for what is to come in 2020.
If he can sustain the production he put forth in the first half of last season, he could find himself among the top shortstops in the game.
And he did show up in the final week of the regular season and was one of the best Braves hitters in the postseason. Hopefully that continues into 2020.