Atlanta Braves 2013 Top 15 Prospects
The rest of Bullpen Banter’s 2013 Top 15 Prospects can be found on the 2013 Team Prospect Lists Bar on the right side of your screen. Thanks for reading! -BB
Bullpen Banter Atlanta Braves 2013 Top 15 Prospects
Chris Blessing: For the first time in two decades, the Braves prospect list is barren. It’s not a case of the system being terrible, just a case of graduating a whole bunch of quality players the past few seasons. Just look at the under twenty five age group they have on the big league roster right now. Names such as Jason Heyward, Freddie Freeman, Andrelton Simmons, Craig Kimbrel, Mike Minor and Randall Delgado are putting the Braves in position to contend for years to come. The fertile ground that produced these players has become quite barren. Julio Teheran, despite his struggles with fastball command and suddenly giving up an abundant number of long balls, is the only consensus top 100 prospect left in the organization. While Lucas Sims may sneak in on a list or two and someone may simply overvalue the likes of JR Graham, Teheran is the only rankable prospect for me in a top 100 prospect list. That’s a big departure for the Braves, who have consistently churned out multiple top 100 prospects year in, year out as long as I can remember. So, instead of calling this system weak, I’m calling it a transitional system.
It’s easy to second guess the Braves recent handling of position prospects on the farm. While challenging the likes of Heyward, Simmons and Freeman with aggressive assignments as they marched their way to Atlanta, it has pretty much backfired for the most recent group of position prospects. Case in point, Christian Bethancourt. If I made a list of prospects I’m most familiar with, Bethancourt would be tops on my list. I have scouted him more than any other player. First with Rome during the 2010 and 2011 season and then with Mississippi this past season. When I found out Bethancourt was promoted to the Carolina League midway through the 2011 season, I was upset. He wasn’t ready for the Carolina league. He was tasting some success with the bat and needed to spend the entire 2012 season in Rome. Since the promotion and then an even crazier promotion to Double A last season, his bat has all but disappeared. A kid with so many offensive tools is simply overmatched by advanced pitching. I edited a video of swings last night that is going to remain on my laptop. It was sad watching him lunge at every breaking ball or change up thrown by advanced pitching. I hope the Braves keep Bethancourt in Double A for the entire 2013 campaign, regardless of his performance and possible injuries to players in the big leagues.
The player I’m asked most about is Double A prospect Evan Gattis. It’s a fantastic story. Kid struggles with personal demons, is drafted as an older prospect in the 23rd round of the 2010 draft and is on the cusp of a big league career. Just getting to Double A is a terrific win for the scout that signed him. Being on the cusp of the big leagues is an even bigger win. Evan Gattis is likely a big league player. You can’t say that about half this list. I just don’t buy the story I’ve been sold by fans that Gattis still has time to develop into a significant player. It just doesn’t work that way. Missed development time doesn’t just find itself. He’ll be entering the big leagues at some point this season, already in his baseball prime. He has yet make it to the 100 games played mark in any season he’s played in. I scouted a player with plus power who absolutely destroys left handed pitching yet shows struggles against advanced right handed pitching. While the story is nice and he has a big league bat, I can’t see anymore than just a platoon bat in the big leagues projection.
There are some fun prospects I look forward to scouting this season. I’m be seeing guys like Lucas Sims, Mauricio Cabrera, Jose Peraza, Luis Merejo and Nick Ahmed for the first time. These players development will be key to transitioning the Braves farm system from weaker to stronger come this time next season.
Jeff Reese: The extraordinary thing about the Atlanta Braves is that they seem to have legitimate prospects emerge from unlikely sources more than any other team in baseball. Whether it’s a product of fantastic scouting or superiority in developing their minor leaguers, every year we seem to see a Brandon Beachy or Paul Clemens emerge. Beyond that, they often have their higher drafted players completely exceed expectations — Andrelton Simmons was not supposed to hit anywhere near this well; Kris Medlen!; Craig Kimbrel!; Mike Minor’s stuff took a drastic step forward after he entered their system. Whereas Evan Gattis or Aaron Northcraft fill the former mold, JR Graham fills the latter. This phenomenon has mitigated the fact that the Braves typically did not spend much money in the draft. They often opted for extremely signable college players rather than go overslot for a prep prospect with a higher perceived upside. It’s difficult to distinguish whether the new draft rules will cause them to alter this strategy or not. While they did opt for a high school player in the first round, he is a Georgian (another Brave tendency) and did not demand significantly overslot to sign. What may happen is that the asking price for some of the prep prospects will come down to a level where they can sign them out of high school — as was the case with Bryan de la Rosa (3rd), Justin Black (4th), and Fernelys Sanchez (16th).
As for the state of it at the beginning of 2013, it’s down from years past. This is a primarily a product of the number of graduates from a year ago: Randall Delgado, Andrelton Simmons, Tyler Pastornicky, . Julio Teheran is still eligible however and easily leads this crops of future Braves. After quickly ascending through the minors, his mediocre command has caused him to stall in AAA. The overall package is still that of a potentially elite starting pitcher and his stock remains mostly in tact for me. After Teheran, we see three pitching prospects that can be arranged in any order (and they were in the lists each of us submitted). Lucas Sims was the first round Georgian alluded to earlier. He showed a quality arsenal of pitches in high school, lead by a fastball that can reach the mid 90s and a sharp curve ball. JR Graham did not spend a lot of time on the mound at Santa Clara but steadily improved his stock by way of an impressive fastball. He was undersized however and the Braves managed to land in him in the 4th round. He has continued to improve his repertoire in pro ball and now looks like a good bet to stick in the rotation long term. Mauricio Cabrera meanwhile is the next in line of the impressive latin arms that have came through the system. Cabrera was advanced enough to skip the GCL and impressed in his state-side debut in the Appy with a quality fastball, slider, and change up. The jump to full season ball will be a big test next year, but I think we’re all collectively on board. Sean Gilmartin makes it five pitchers in a row. The athletic lefty shared many of the same pluses and minuses that Mike Minor had as a draft prospect, but he did not see a similar uptick in his stuff upon entering pro ball. Gilmartin’s stuff is average and is highlighted by a changeup as an out pitch; he thrives on pitchability and command.
Christian Bethancourt breaks up the run of pitchers. Despite an unimpressive statistical season in Mississippi, the tools keep him ranked among the best in the system. Bethancourt has standout defensive tools and the raw power that lets you dream on what would happen if everything clicks. Jose Peraza was signed during the same year as Cabrera and played alongside him at Danville. He has the tools to stick at short stop and shows feel with the bat. Evan Gattis provides power, and his future will be defined by his bat. He has already started to see time in left field; even if he can stick there long term, he does not project to be a positive defensive player. Edward Salcedo and Matt Lipka continue to underwhelm statistically but offer the upside that keeps them ranked.
And of course, there are still more pitchers. Alex Wood was drafted in the second round and gives the Braves a lefty with a very good fastball/changeup mix. The mechanics and breaking ball are both areas of concern (kind of similar to the Andy Oliver profile), but this is where I give Atlanta’s ability to develop pitchers the benefit of the doubt. Luis Merejo is the other young latin arm who could be moving up to the SAL next year. Merejo doesn’t have the same kind of raw stuff that Cabrera possesses, but he shows good control of his arsenal and was advanced enough to skip the DSL. Spruill continues to make steady progress up through the system but still profiles as more of a back of the rotation arm. We may be seeing that Braves magic work with Cody Martin. The Gonzaga draftee made an extremely successful transition to starting after finding more success out of the bullpen in college.
The system may be down a bit right now, but it’s hard to expect this to be a permanent condition. There is talent, and they know how to develop it.
Al Skorupa: For as good a job the Atlanta scouting and player development people do, this system is really down right now. The top four arms in this system stand out – though Sims is young and raw while the rest all have flaws. I would still take Julio Teheran over anyone else on the farm, but I’m not at all confident he’ll fix his command and control issues and become the front of the rotation type he was projected to be. Sims has flashed some front of the rotation potential and I would not at all be surprised to see him turn out the best of any of these prospects, but all the same I can’t ignore Teheran’s talent and how much sooner he can help. J.R. Graham continues to improve and looks like a solid mid rotation option or a quality pen arm if he regresses. Mauricio Cabrera rounds out my top 4 and he’s another young arm who flashes great stuff and good velo. In many ways you could make a case for any of these 4 as the top prospect in the system… but I’m still taking Teheran. Draftee Alex Wood is another nice arm who is only a step behind these guys, too, but there’s a bit more risk there given his throwing motion.
I was a little surprised that I was the high man (in our rankings) on Christian Bethancourt as I’m not confidently projecting him as a starter. Its easy to root for a guy like Evan Gattis and I’m increasingly confident he’ll be a useful major league piece. I’m not sure he can play any position enough to be a regular but if things break right he can help a big league club. Jose Peraza may just end up a shortstop version of Christian Bethancourt (Read: can’t hit enough) but he’s a guy I’d be excited about seeing in 2013. If you’ve been reading my stuff for awhile you’ll recall I was never a fan of Sean Gilmartin. He does a lot of things well but the raw stuff just isn’t quality enough and he’s a soft tosser. I see him as the kind of pitcher who major league hitters will punish even though he does everything right. Nick Ahmed probably won’t hit enough to start in the bigs, but he’s a guy coaches would like to have on their team. The difference between the 2013 Braves and a typical barren farm system is that the toolsy players and live arms are here for a quick bounceback to respectability. It shouldn’t be long before the Atlanta system is producing multiple top 100 prospects again.
RHP Julio Teheran (Steve Fiorindo)
RHP JR Graham (Chris Blessing)
RHP Lucas Sims (Steve Fiorindo)
LHP Alex Wood (Chris Blessing)
SS Nick Ahmed (Al Skorupa)
OF Fernelys Sanchez (Steve Fiorindo)