We continue our look at each of the major league systems with the Atlanta Braves Top 21. With Spring Training just passing the mid point these rankings are obviously a fluid and living beast, so keep checking in for updates and our jaunts through the Leagues themselves where we’ll highlight the top performers.
1. Julio Teheran, RHP 1/27/1991 H: 6’2” W: 175 – After the Braves shipped Derek Lowe off to Cleveland, a 2012 rotation spot opens up. Mike Minor deserves the spot for now, but Teheran should unquestionably deserve a midseason call up. Once promoted, Teheran could be here to stay. He already got his feet wet in 2011, so hopefully the nerves are gone. He might get hit a bit hard if he can’t gain a complete feel for his curveball, but I believe he’s ready to be tested by MLB bats. I would, however, like to see more strike outs next year as his K-rate dropped to 7.59 this year. With a few tweaks, especially for his curveball, Teheran could be the Braves’ bonafide ace in the next few years.
2. Randall Delgado, RHP 2/9/1990, H: 6’3” W: 200 – Delgado is only 21 and only has 21+ innings in AAA, so it is no surprise that he isn’t ready yet. It’s our belief they moved him up too fast. While he’s still looking like a #2 to us, he needs some time at Double-A, but may not get it. If he’s going to be rushed to the Major’s again, his upside may drop from a #2 to a back of the rotation guy. The Braves need to be careful here and not damage one of their prized righties.
3. Arodys Vizcaino, RHP 9/13/1990 H: 6’0” W: 190 – This trade was a huge gamble, but the move is paying off its dividends now. There are ongoing talks that the Braves will continue to use him out of the bullpen in 2012 and I have no real problems given his injury and durability concerns. Vizcaino is an elite arm in the Braves’ farm system and if he remains in the pen, his upper 90’s fastball and hammer curve give the Braves a third potential bonafide closer behind Johnny Venters and 2011 NL Rookie of the Year, Craig Kimbrel.
4. Christian Bethancourt, C 9/2/1991 H: 6’2” W: 190 - The Braves are strong in pitching, but they also have a few lower level prospects that could have some star power headlined by Bethancourt. Hes always been a free swinger and an aggressive hitter, but he has fairly decent contact skills. Recently, he acknowledged that he needs to develop more patience and take more walks (a weakness). Power might be an issue, but if he can consistently drive the ball and walk a bit more, anything more will be icing for the Braves. He might not be a Brian McCann, but he has the tools to be an above average, all-around everyday catcher in the near future.
5. Joe Terdoslavich, 1B 9/9/1988 H: 6’1” W: 200 - Terdoslavich was the Braves’ 2011 Minor League Player of the Year after destroying the Carolina League doubles record. Many pessimists/nonbelievers argue that Terdoslavich was simply too old for the league. However, he followed his 2011 season in HiA Lynchburg with another amazing performance in the AFL. Terdoslavich was named to the 2011 AFL Top Prospect team and proved himself well against more advanced competition in the AFL. During the AFL Rising Stars game, he went 3-3 with another double and a home run off #1 draft pick in 2011, Gerritt Cole. I think it’s obvious that he’s definitely ready for heavier competition.
Update Instinct – It looks like the Braves are going to try and give Terdoslavich a shot at transitioning over to 3B. If he can make the move it will move his prospect status up across the board and put him as a Top 100 overall prospect.
6. Andrelton Simmons, SS 9/4/1989 H: 6’2” W 170 - There is no question that Simmons is the Braves’ best defensive infielder and best infield arm. The question is his bat. With a good year in Mississippi next year, Andrelton Simmons could move past Pastornicky as the Braves’ shortstop of the future. Simmons could still add some bulk on his 6’2”, 170lbs frame and hit for more power potentially. As a native of Curaçao, Simmons might not be the next Andruw Jones, but he is a strong candidate to overtake Pastornicky. Of Course, if his bat can’t carry him, he can always fall back to the 98mph heater.
Update Instinct – Simmons has made a nice showing for himself in Spring Training, impressing the Braves brass. But the fact is that his bat is not ready, regardless of good he looks in the field. A 5.1% walk rate will not allow him to hold his .311 AVG when his .338 BABIP falls and his 7.6% K rate climbs to a normal level.
7. Sean Gilmartin, LHP 5/8/1990 H: 6’2” W: 195 - It’s way too soon to compare Sean Gilmartin to Tom Glavine or even Mike Minor, who added velocity to his fastball in 2010 after being drafted. So far, Gilmartin has shown good command in the minors walking 10 in 52.1 innings and a plus changeup holding lefties to a .154 average in the AFL. He’s polished and may have mid-rotation potential, but I have my reservations. The Braves will probably start him in HiA or even AA in 2012, but if all goes well, he should follow a similar path that Mike Minor did and move through the system quickly.
8. Edward Salcedo, 3B 7/30/1991 H: 6’3”, W 195 - So far, I’d say Salcedo is justifying the Braves’ investment in him when they signed him out of the Dominican Republic in 2010. Salcedo is still very raw, but he has one of the highest ceilings in the Braves system. He has quick enough wrists and worked on shortening his swing last year. If he can continue making strides and develop, he can tap into his offensive, power ceiling. Whether Salcedo takes over for Chipper or a move to 1st or OF is necessary, his bat should play well almost anywhere.
9. Tyler Pastornicky, SS 9/13/1989 H: 5’11” W: 170 - Pastornicky is an option for the Braves right out of camp in 2012 and Manager Fredi Gonzalez indicated today that Pastornicky is his guy. Will they bring in a veteran? Possibly, but they’ve been known to start rookies right out of the gate. Pastornicky is a baseball rat. His skill set doesn’t suggest he will be an above average SS, but his make up may allow him to be a starter, or at minimum a super-utility type capable of playing multiple positions.
10. Brandon Drury, 3B 8/21/1992 H: 6’2″ W: 190 – Drury has the glove and arm to hold his 3B position all the way to majors. His power is going to be more than enough for the corner spot. But he has some serious development to complete in order to take his power and contact ability to the Braves 25 man roster. His 2.2% walk rate is almost impossibly low and his .378 BABIP is clearly not sustainable. So he needs to make an adjustment in approach this season. If he makes that adjustment, his name is everywhere they talk about prospects.
11. Zeke Spruill, RHP 11/11/1989 H: 6’4″ W: 185 - Spruill has the frame and fastball of a starter, working 92-94 right now with some more velocity there over the next few years. The pitch forces groundballs when he works at the bottom of the zone with solid sink. His changeup has fade and sink as well. His development is just starting, but he’ll see Double-A this year. If he can bring his slider up to an average pitch he could develop into a solid #3 starter in a few years.
12. Carlos Perez, LHP 11/20/1991 H: 6’2” and W:195 - Two issues probably contributed to Carlos Perez’s troubles this past season: pitching delivery and command. His delivery has often been characterized as “herky-jerky” and difficult to repeat, which probably leads to his command issues (rather, the lack of) as his walk rate (BB/9) increased by 0.83. As a result, Perez might have a hard time harnessing his stuff and true potential. Ups and downs are common for young prospects, but the good tools and positive signs are there. He’s not ready to replace Mike Minor in the “Four Horsemen” yet, but the tremendous potential is there. Going into 2012, the Braves need Perez to focus on filling out his frame, refining his mechanics and building up his arm strength.
13. Dimasther Delgado, LHP 3/9/1989 H: 6’2″ W: 180 - Delgado had quite the comeback season after possibly being lost as a player. He survived a deadly car crash in 2010 which broke his leg, tore ligaments in his knee and broke his throwing hand. But he came back with a low 90s fastball, above average change and a curveball. He should be a prospect that moves up the charts in 2012.
14. Matt Lipka, OF 4/15/1992 H: 6’1″ W: 200 - Lipka was drafted as a high end elite talent and showed right away that his speed was a plus plus tool. He struggled in 2011 and his stock dropped across the board. But a move to CF could allow him to concentrate on his bat and becoming a table setter. He could be a 40+ SB threat if he can settle into his skill set. Could be much higher or much lower on this list next year.
15. Cody Martin, RHP 9/4/1989 H: 6’2″ W: 210 - Martin could move up this list in short order. Depending on his assignment in 2012, he could move quickly as a RP. But his 4 pitch mix with a low to mid-90s fastball says to me that a slower approach could make him at least a mid rotation starter. I only hope his talent isn’t wasted in the bullpen before he’s given a true shot as a SP.
16. Tommy La Stella, 2B 1/31/1989 H: 5’11″ W: 185 - La Stella is another borderline MI though his bat is pretty advanced and should give him a shot at sticking at 2B. He has an advanced approach at the plate and above average power. He’s athletic enough where if he can’t stick full time at 2B he could handle LF as a 4th.
17. J.R. Graham, RHP 1/14/1990 H: 6’0″ W: 190 - He’s an undersized righty with a power fastball. He works the pitch in the mid 90s touching 98and it has late fade. His secondaries lag but he’ll only need to develop one average breaking pitch to be able to work in pressure situations. Back end of the bullpen type stuff.
18. J.J. Hoover, RHP 8/13/1987 H: 6’3″ W: 215 - In another system, Hoover, is already at the back end of the rotation. But he has no room to advance in Atlanta and was shifted to the bullpen, where success lies ahead. But not to the extent that he could have seen as a starter. A trade would be best for him, but chances are he succeeds as a MR in Atlanta instead.
19. Nick Ahmed, SS 3/15/1990 H: 6’3″ W: 205 - Ahmed is a solid framed MI. He has a plus arm, but lacks elite range to play SS full time. If he had an elite offensive tool he would be a better bet to stick at SS. His average offensive tools and all out approach should play well though and if he can carve out a career as a high end utility player the Braves will consider this draft pick a win.
20. Kyle Kubitza, 3B 7/15/1990 H: 6’3″ W: 190 - Known for his approach at the plate at Texas State, Kubitza should continue his transition into pro style hitting in 2012. His advanced approach bodes well for him getting the most out of his average power. He doesn’t project as an above average player but has the ceiling to reach the majors as a 3B.
21. Evan Gattis, C 8/18/1986 H: 6’4″ W: 230 – Gattis has quite the story, never making it to college, being a traveler for 3 years before finally coming back to baseball. He’s a solid defender with a good arm. He’s well behind on his development, but has plus power and solid hitting ability. He’s going to strikeout at a pretty high clip as he advances but the power is there. If he makes it to the majors its quite the story.
That’s the Braves Top 21. Very top heavy with pitching and then some of the better prospects they have are raw with high ceilings. Gattis is the best story here with Terdoslavich my personal favorite to outperform what everyone thinks he’s capable of. Long term, Brandon Drury could be the stud of this offensive group.
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