Keeping pace as we head through the rest of the offseason moving into Spring Training as pitchers and catchers reported just days ago. We are going to take a look at the Braves today and see where the farm systems current strengths are after graduating some serious talents over the past couple of seasons.
The team itself has used that talent to remain the class of the NL East despite a run by the Nationals. They finished 96-66 good for 1st in the NL East, but lost the NL Division Series to the Dodgers 3-1.
The 2014 team has a rotation full of still young and learning starters. All very talented. The rotation should be fronted by 2013 #1 prospect Julio Teheran, though Kris Medlen will probably get the Opening Day nod this year. That leaves Mike Minor who had a breakout 2013 season, Alex Wood who also had a breakout 2013 campaign once called up to Atlanta and Brandon Beachy who looks to be fully back from Tommy John surgery.
Obviously with such young talent there is a larger margin of downside, but this rotation is talented and combined with possibly the best closer in the game in Kimbrel, is the class of the organization.
The team inked Freeman and Heyward to deals and they will join the rest of the returning cast, The Upton’s, Uggla, Simmons and Evan Gattis replaces the departing Brian McCann behind the plate. Whether Gattis can hold the job down full time defensively remains to be seen. Especially with an elite backstop knocking on the door.
Let’s take a look at the prospects that rank near the top to see who’s close to helping and who’s a diamond still in the rough. We’re going to start with Lucas Sims, a 2012 draftee that has risen to the top of the system already.
1. Lucas Sims, RHP 5/10/1994 H:6’2″ W:200 – The consensus is already showing that Sims is being highly regarded as the top talent in the Braves system. So I’m going to be dispersing any glaring news. He was one of the top pitchers in the 2012 draft and ranked as a 1st rounder for us as well. With his stuff and already blossoming command he has high end #2 upside. Our major issue with him heading into 2013 was an inability to repeat his mechanics. It was something we hoped the Braves would focus on and with little tweak of simplification he now repeats with more more consistency which has led to a better ability to hit spots both in and out of the zone.
His fastball still ranges in the 93-96 range and should peak near that top range. The changeup has become a much more consistent pitch and could be a plus pitch as soon as 2014. If that happens his curveball which is inconsistent will play up much higher and allow him to reach his #2 ceiling. The curveball though inconsistent was still deemed the best breaking ball in the Sally League for 2013. So that tells you a lot about how good the pitch could some day be.
Our Instinct: Sims dominated the Sally League with 146 K’s in 116.2 IP and kept his bb% below 10%. He moves into the top spot on the Braves Prospect List with the best season of any of their prospects not named Teheran. Expect him to start the season in High-A next year and see approx 150 IP and be the name to watch for the organization in 2014.
2. Christian Bethancourt, C 9/2/1991 H:6’2″ W:215 – After a down 2012 season that had him slip out of the Top 10 in some high profile Lists we saw a silver lining:
There are some silver linings in the clouds of the 2012 season though. His K rate was just 15.6%. His walk rate, while dismal, was better than he showed in High-A. Another factor missed by many is that his .243 AVG wasn’t all about him not hitting the advanced pitchers. His BABIP was just .281. Given time, that should normalize near his career norms in the .320 range which would drive is AVG up to the .280 range.
As advertised, the AVG jumped almost to the .280 mark and he finished up at .277 with 12 HR and 11 SB. The BABIP was still just .294 which bodes well for him holding that .280 range next season in Triple-A. His K rate improved once again and is now a key trend while his walk rate remains an issue. His walk rate improved to 4.1%, but that number is still very low.
The biggest key is that he finally started to show his power in game as the IsoP jumped to .159. Expect his K rate to regress some unless he can draw more walks, but his power should increase even further as he continues to mature.
Our Instinct: With his defense capabilities, it looks more and more likely that Bethancourt is the a big part of the Braves future behind the plate. ETA: 2014
3. Tommy La Stella, 2B 1/31/1989 H:5’11″ W:190 – La Stella continues his rise up the Braves List from just outside the Top 10 in 2012, to 9 in 2013 and now just two spots from the top. As we mentioned last year, he’s not a noobie to Baseball Instinct and his 2012 production gave us no reasons to disregard him based on his age. La Stella hasn’t disappointed us yet.
In 2012, La Stella kept his walk rate at an elite level with an 11.5% in AA and while his K rate nearly doubled, it was still an elite level 10.5%. His approach and contact ability are superstar caliber.
But the question is, can he can hit at a .300+ clip? Last year I said probably not at the upper levels. Then he hit .343 in AA. There was a huge boost due to a .380 BABIP, but even if that reverts he still sitting in the .300 range. I still don’t believe he’s a .300 career hitter, but I do see him as a very productive doubles hitting .280 type.
Our Instinct: Again, La Stella hit .343 with just a 10.5% K rate and an elite level 11.5% walk rate. He’s going to be 25 heading into next season. So he’s probably going to see time in Atlanta if they need some MI depth. He’s hit at every level, so the bat is there if he can find a spot on a roster. The only person blocking him today is Uggla. He can’t match the power, but I think he’s both a better defender and could be a more productive hitter in that Braves lineup. The question is do the Braves see what I see. ETA: 2014
4. Jason Hursh, RHP 10/2/1991 H:6’1″ W:195 – Hursh was one of the top College arms in the 2013 draft. This was the pre draft take on Hursh:
Hursh has a devastating mid 90s fastball that gets into the upper 90s with late life. He’s still raw, especially for a college starter and he’ll need to refine both his slider and changeup. He’s a red shirt soph and could use another year of development. Refining those two pitches could make him a 1st round draft pick in 2014.
Our Instinct: Hursh might have to go inside the 2nd round to sign and there is a steep learning curve with his secondaries. His frame is solid enough to remain a SP and questions about his durability are probably unfounded. He’s recovered from TJ and refined his mechanics. Now its time to refine his secondaries.
Our Instinct: The Braves reached slightly to get Hursh, but he has 1st round upside. He’ll begin the year with High-A. If his secondaries were just slightly more refined I would have him at #3 on this list right now. I expect him to be there in 2015 if not higher. ETA: 2015
5. J.R. Graham, RHP 1/14/1990 H:6’0″ W:195 – Graham was #2 on this list heading into last season, but shoulder issues caused a setback in development. Here was the Instinct last season:
Our Instinct: Graham does have the start to be a successful big league starter near the middle of a rotation. If he can refine a changeup, he could be a solid 3-4 starter because of his above-average-to-plus fastball despite a smaller than SP average frame. 100+ innings in Double-A and then either a jump to the Braves pen or some AAA seasoning. ETA: 2014
Well the 100+ innings in AA never happened. He pitched 35.2. His stuff remains as long as he is healthy. A mid 90s four seam fastball with his bread and butter a two seamer with heavy sink in the 91-93 range. He throws both a slider and changeup, each with good arm action. That gives him a plus fastball with the sinker and three other potential above average offerings.
Our Instinct: Graham only got 35.2 IP this year before going down with a shoulder issue. The set back could be a big one and could see him relegated to the bullpen. If that happens I think the chances of long term success go up, albeit not the optimal success we were looking for. There is still the chance that the Braves give him as much time as he needs despite the age. So the back end of the rotation is still there with potential to be a solid #3 if the health is there. With that said, shoulder issues scare me to death. Proceed with caution, but the upside is there for a payday. ETA: 2015
6. Joey Terdoslavich, 3B 9/9/1988 H:6’0″ W:200 – I like to take a look back to see where we can build and where the hit and miss was. Here was the Instinct in 2013 for Joey T:
Our Instinct: Terdoslavich isn’t a star level talent, but he does have a major league bat and his upside could be a .280+ hitter with 20+ HR annually. He takes more than enough walks to keep his underlying stats at the next level. If the Braves reach out for Justin Upton, the Dbacks would be crazy not to try and slide this kid out from under the Braves umbrella. His stock is down for some, but it could rise quickly again in 2013. ETA: 2014
Well the Dbacks didn’t sneak Terdoslavich or La Stella. That leaves the Braves with 2 high contact bats that could help in 2014. Terdoslavich continued his “bounce back”, again ripping the next level. He scuffled some in his MLB debut and while he secured enough time to knock off the ROY eligibility he didn’t amass enough AB. That’s why I have him here.
Our Instinct: 44 XBH and a .318 AVG in 351 PA’s for AAA and Terdoslavich was all over the industry radars again and then made his debut with Atlanta. He looks to be a OF/1B platton player, but the bat will carry him to AB’s. The Dbacks were either foolish for not getting their hands on him or the Braves knew what they had in the under-rated prospect. ETA: 2014
7. Jose Peraza, SS 4/30/1994 H:6’0″ W:165 - Peraza kept hitting in 2013 and his speed popped as elite. Something I didn’t see coming to the extent it did: his speed should allow him to steal some infield hits and swipe 25+ bases a year.
Our Instinct: He’s not close yet and Low-A will be a test to see how legit the hit tool is. There’s very little power out of that frame and there may not be a ton of growth left either. Scouts project average power, but I don’t see it. Potential elite level SS, so the Braves will give him plenty of time to develop. ETA: 2016
While he stole 64 bags last year, I don’t see him as a 50+ SB guy in the show. But his BABIP says that the AVG was solid and his approach says that he can continue to sustain it.
Many consider him an elite level SS, but his arm is closer to average and what makes it playable is a quick release. That might not play up at the highest level. Defensively, he is going to be very good. But could end up a utility MI with a #2 type bat.
Our Instinct: Peraza hit .288 while keeping his K rate down and piling up 64 SB. There isn’t much power but the speed is becoming elite and the defense is there. Expect him to head to Advanced-A at age 19 and he’ll be 20 for most of the 2014 season. Becoming a solid Top 10 player for this system. ETA: 2016
8. Victor Reyes, OF 10/5/1994 H: 6’3″ W:170 – Reyes was the Braves top 2011 IFA sign. Not a Bonus Baby though. Reyes has brought an advanced approach across the DSL and into the States. His K rate was sub 15% with just 29 strikeouts over 193 AB.
He doesn’t expand the zone while game power isn’t evident yet he does use the whole field to drive gap to gap. With time he’ll add weight and as a lefty would have a premium bat if he matures as a hitter over time.
Our Instinct: I’m expanding this ranking on a mixture of how little I’m wowed past this point and by the upside that Reyes has. I would prefer to see him take more walks but that could come in time. He has the hit tool that can’t be taught. He’ll see full season ball in 2014 and as his frame matures I expect the power to come. He’s a long distance from here to maturity, both physically and as a hitter though. ETA: 2017
9. Mauricio Cabrera, RHP 9/22/1993 H:6’2″ W:180 – Cabrera actually upticked his plus fastball which was 94-97 and now touches 100 mph. But despite what should be electric stuff at the lower levels he gives up a lot of hits and his K rate is less than exciting.
His mechanics are less than optimal and his low 3/4 slot leaves his fastball flat at times.
Here is the Instinct from last season:
Our Instinct: This will be Cabrera’s first full season. He’s age appropriate for the level and has some of the best stuff in the system. At this point he has the upside of a #2 starter but his fastball and slider combination will work well in short stints as a power RP. His K rate should be much higher against lower level hitters, so he’s going to need to refine his changeup and uptick his DOM while refining his overall command. There’s a ton to work on and it could take 4 full seasons for him to remain a starter. He’s young enough to do that, though the odds of him reaching his ceiling aren’t as high as others on this list. ETA: 2016
Our Instinct:The command simply isn’t there for the power pitcher. Cabrera’s bb% increased to 12.4% and his K rate dropped. Lack of command led to significant struggles and his ERA bumped to 4.18. On the plus side, he went 131.1 innings. A significant increase over past seasons. His ERA was also higher than his FIP of 3.63 which was more in line with his previous season. The upside is still there with Cabrera and he’s only going to be 20 going into 2014. ETA: 2016
10. David Hale , RHP 9/27/1987 H: 6’2″ W:205 – Hale was one of the biggest surprises for me in 2013. His move to the rotation in 2012 stuck and he made it all the way to Atlanta for a dynamite debut. His MLB K rate was 30%+ but let’s not mistake his upside. His K rate in AAA over a much longer stint.
While he has the stuff to be a more dominant pitcher, he doesn’t hold a plus pitch despite having 4 solid offerings. His FIP of 3.89 is probably in line with what can be expected of him at the major league level.
There really isn’t any room for him in the Atlanta rotation in 2014 so he’ll see time in the bullpen where his fastball that sits 92-94 should uptick and his slider will play well in short stints. His K rate could rise in the role.
Our Instinct: Hale has helium because of his short stint and he is a worthy prospect. But there is doubtfully more than back of the rotation stuff here and even in the bullpen he might not be more than a situational RHP but even then, he’s more effective against left-handers. The ceiling isn’t skys the limit here though the floor is a valuable major leaguer. ETA: 2014
11. Shae Simmons, RHP 9/3/1990 H: 5’9″ W:180 – Simmons is a no doubt RP. So the SP upside is already there and past. But what Simmons does have that many of the Braves pitching prospects don’t have is the pure RP stuff to go with the profile.
Simmons fastball sits in the 95-97 range and touches triple digits with a power slider, that while inconsistent, is at times un-hittable.
He doesn’t have the frame that normally comes with such power, but if he can learn from Kimbrel he has serious RP upside.
Our Instinct: The downside here is a situational righty with the upside is closer stuff with elite level K rates. He’ll find a spot in the Braves bullpen this year. With closer obviously not an option. He won’t be a huge name without the spotlight, but could be a very valuable bullpen piece to a playoff contending Braves 2014 Team. ETA: 2014
12. Cody Martin, RHP 9/4/1989 H:6’2″ W:210 – Martin has made it to AAA with a two level 2013 season that saw him lead the system in strikeouts with 137. But he does it with a low 90s fastball and mid 80s slider as his strikeout pitch.
Overall he has 4 offering but none are more than average at this point and his 3.85 FIP says that he will probably struggle as a Starter at the Major League level if he doesn’t uptick a couple of offerings.
Our Instinct: Martin was a player that was too low on this list heading into the season. It’s still up in the air with where he ends up in the long run, but in 2013 he posted a 3.16 ERA with 137 K over 136.2 IP. A solid walk rate and supporting FIP. He looks like he’ll be in the Braves plans somewhere in 2014, possibly in the bullpen around midway through the season. ETA: 2014
13. Edward Salcedo, 3B 7/30/1991 H:6’3″ W:195 – Salcedo struggled again hitting for AVG in 2013. Posting a .239 with a .287 BABIP. My concerns are not with his tools or potential because those are there. His AVG continues to suffer and blaming the BABIP each season is growing tiresome. It is consistent and that consistency is low. 2010 – .265, 2011 – .289, 2012 – .295, 2013 – .287.
This is a kid who will handle 3B well. He has the power potential although his IsoP also dropped in 2013. He has the speed and stole 20 in 2013.
He spent the entire 2013 season in AA and mat need more time as we suggested last year:
Our Instinct: Salcedo is very talented. Though he’s already 21, he needs to be given a full season of success at Double-A and possibly more until he matures as a hitter. He could end up a plus defender with 20+ HR power and 10+ SB annual seasons or upper level pitchers could expose him to the point that he can’t utilize his power at the upper levels enough to carve out a career as a regular. ETA: 2015
Our Instinct: Some growth in both the walk rate and K rate, but the .239 AVG is still a looming red flag. Despite his power and speed combination, he strikes out too much and doesn’t make enough contact to take advantage of tools and turn them into skills. He was a Double-A last year and might repeat it 2014. Time is running short for growth as a hitter. If he can continue to bring the K rate down he may turn into a late bloomer and carve out a really solid career based on this set of tools. But still a lot of downside potential. I want to give him one more year to see if this is the one where he breaks out. ETA: 2015
14. Carlos Salazar, RHP 11/23/1994 H:6’0″ W:200 – The Braves got a good find in the 3rd round when Salazar was still around. Just $625k for a premium velocity arm. This was the take heading into the 2013 Draft:
Salazar has the premier RH fastball of the high school class with a 4 seam that reaches 97-98. A powerful frame, though just 6′ tall right now, his mechanics help him produce the plus arm speed that generates his plus fastball. His most used secondary is a changeup and it could be an above average pitch. He still needs to refine a breaking ball but throws both a curveball and a slider. With his mechanics a curveball would help change the batters eye level and I could see the team that selects him scrapping the slider. It would always be in the position to be reintroduced if he can’t refine the depth to the curveball.
Our Instinct: While he doesn’t have a premium frame, the premium velocity isn’t something that can be taught and he should be one of the first pitchers taken in the 2nd round. Though he will probably fall into the 2nd day where a team with saved funds can get a possible steal. He’s committed to Fresno State but should signable with first day money.
His first taste of pro ball was just 13 innings but he flashed a solid 22.6% K rate and 8.1% walk rate. The 6.92 ERA is a mirage as his FIP was just 2.43. Expect him to fare far better than a near 7.00 ERA in 2014. He has the stuff to move quickly as a RP, but will be brought along as a SP for at the least the next couple of seasons.
Our Instinct: Look for Salazar to start the 2014 Danville campaign in Low-A. He’ll be brought along slowly to build up his innings over time. The power stuff should play up really well and if his changeup continues to emerge the breaking ball will settle itself. He’s a high upside mid rotation innings eater with downside of a power RP. Bright future. ETA: 2017
15. Wes Parsons, RHP 9/9/1992 H: 6’5″ W: 190 - Parsons is young in his baseball age as a pitcher. He gave up baseball to play golf in High School before heading to Community College to re-establish himself as a baseball player. The tall, lean RHP has clean and easy mechanics and generates a mid 90s fastball with a solid downhill plane.
He uses a potential future plus slider along with a changeup that he understands how to use. It’s still developing but the 3rd pitch will allow him to remain a starter. He is still learning the art of pitching and the raw stuff is there for success.
Our Instinct: Despite his age I see the Braves moving Parsons slowly for as long as he remains successful starting games. High-A in 2014 and then Double-A in 2015. If he falters he still fares well as being a successful bullpen arm, but I see his value in remaining a starter long term. ETA: 2016
16. Victor Caratini, C 8/17/1993 H:6’0″ W:200 – The Braves reached on Caratini in the 2nd round when he was projected to go in the 5th round. He signed for $800k and did well in his debut.
Caratini attended the Puerto Rico Baseball Academy and the came stateside at Southern byt was declared ineligible. He transferred to Miami Dade CC where he spent most of his time at 3B but his brief stints at catcher that got him noticed by the Braves. The .377/.467/.549 line this season certainly didn’t hurt though.
Once drafted hit .290 with 23 doubles over 200 Rookie ball ABs. That comes with a sky high .375 BABIP.
Our Instinct: Caratini’s value could remain dependent upon his ability to develop as a catcher. He has the arm but lacks the athleticism to become a major league 3B long term. The arm will play up behind the plate but his lack of development there may hinder his bat long term. I like the potential but see some serious pitfalls with the transition. ETA: 2017
17. Kyle Wren, OF 4/23/1991 H: 5’10” W: 175 – Wren was an 8th round pick out of Georgia Tech. The son of the Braves GM, Wren was a friendly draft but proved that the ACC season he had was not a fluke. He stole 35 bases in just 52 games over two levels while hitting .335.
His AVG was boosted dramatically by a high BABIP of .474 in Rookie ball and then .360 in his extended look in Low-A. So there is some clear cause for regression there. Wren’s key tool is his speed and it comes with sub average power to make him a potential game changer. But he’s another Braves draftee who doesn’t strike out much, and is aggressive at the plate which holds his walk rate down. For a speed first OF, the walk rate needs to come up or he’ll eventually be outed for not getting on base enough despite a solid hit tool.
Our Instinct: He’ll return to High-A to start the season and possesses the tools to become a solid leadoff hitter. But looks to be more of a 4th OF with speed who can handle some CF and LF. If he can develop his power to league average it changes his profile. But as a college draftee it is unusual to see a power breakout at this age. ETA: 2016
18. Josh Elander, OF 3/19/1991 H: 6’1″ W: 215 – Elander is a solid framed OF with excellent raw power who put up a .293 / .365 / .463 line in 2013 over two levels. While he was older for the levels, it was only his second pro season. So he hasn’t languished at a level to this point and continues to evolve as a hitter and find success.
Much of his AVG success in 2013 was boosted in Low-A however and with a high .373 BABIP. Once he moved to High-A and his BABIP reverted to something more in the norm, his AVG dropped to .262.
He certainly a name to watch, with solid K rate and an excellent walk rate, but he doesn’t project as a .300 hitter and his power waned once he moved to High-A. If the Braves push him to Double-A to start the 2014 season, expect his struggles to become more regular. He could use some additional time in High-A to work through whatever approach issues he hit.
Our Instinct: Elander is getting some ink this winter and he does have upside as a solid regular based on the power he does possess. He has a solid swing and should remain a hitter with OBP potential. But the power isn’t game changing and he’s been relegated to LF. So the bat will need to carry him. I think his placement this season will determine his future. High-A and he’ll adjust. Double-A and he could struggle to make take the next step. ETA: 2015
19. Luis Merejo, LHP 10/8/1994 H: 6’0″ W: 170 - Merejo was signed as an IFA in 2011 as a short and lean LHP with velocity potential. His velocity has come along and now sits in the low 90s with 94 upside. His 2013 start looked to be a breakout in the making before he was shelved and eventually had TJ.
Anyone who follows our outlook knows that we don’t discount TJ surgery victims. But with such a young player, now we’re talking about time missed which is valuable to his development as a pitcher. He really hasn’t learned to pitch with his velocity in order to benefit from the comeback of the surgery where the velocity is slowly buildiing back up.
But Merejo has serious upside still. His curveball was developing and his changeup could be well above average.
Our Instinct: I wouldn’t expect him to open in full season ball and for him to be brought along slowly in 2014 until the gloves come off in 2015. Somewhere between 40-50 IP should be the limit. More than that and he’s been brought back too early. ETA: 2017
20. Alec Grosser, RHP 1/12/1995 H: 6’2″ W: 185 – Grosser was selected in the 11th round of the 2013 draft and signed for just $400k. Consider that he was a 5th round talent and the Braves could have steal on their hands here. Grosser is a solid framed RHP with a low 90s fastball. One of the keys to his draft profile in my opinion was that his fastball tended to get better as the game wore on and at time he would get to the 93-95 range.
It wasn’t always, but that also means that it is there to be unlocked. If that uptick happens, the HS Quarterback could be a gem that just needs polish. The Braves are a good organization for that instruction.
His 2013 debut numbers were solid with a 2.15 ERA, but it came with a 3.88 FIP. So the solid K rate and elevated walk rate cancel each other out at this point. Again, a very raw talent.
Our Instinct: Grosser is one of the more unknown prospects on this list and has a wide floor to ceiling level. He’s very athletic and there is some serious talent hidden in the profile.
21. Aaron Northcraft, RHP 5/28/1990 H: 6’4″ W: 225 - Northcraft, in his 5th pro season, went 8/8 over 137 IP. His 3.42 ERA is backed up by the 3.52 FIP and his K rate and walk rate remain solid as they have at every level. He uses a low 90s fastball which is his peak velocity with a solid changeup and curveball. The curveball, even at this point, could be the key to his future success. If he can pick up some tips in Spring Training and boost that to an average offering he’ll flash additional upside as a potential #4.
Our Instinct: Northcraft did well in Double-A with a 3.42 ERA with solid K rates and walk rates and a 3.52 FIP to support the success. He’s a possible back end of the rotation starter with a big frame for eating innings. He doesn’t have extreme upside and a #4 could be his ultimate ceiling. ETA: 2015
Players to watch
Tyler Brosius, RHP
Daniel Castro, SS
Matt Lipka, OF
Yeralf Torres, RHP
Andry Ubiera, RHP
Ian Thomas, LHP
Luis Barrios, LHP
Kyl Kubitza, 3B
Johan Camargo, SS
Ryan Buchter, LHP
Stick with Baseball Instinct and we’ll keep you a step ahead of the game. Check back soon as we release our top 21 prospects for each organization. While you’re here, check out our Baseball Instinct 360° – it’s our in-season top 360 prospects, and we will be updating it throughout the season. Also check out a friend of ours for all of your fantasy sports needs. Fantasy Rundown is updated religiously and is truly an awesome resource. Thanks for checking Baseball Instinct. We’re working hard to bring you the best of the minor leagues and make the site the best experience it can be, so don’t hesitate to tell us what you would like to read about. Email us now at firstname.lastname@example.org. And while you’re at it head over to Facebook and join the Instinct page. You can also follow us on twitter: @BaseballInstinc.