Braves 2016 Preview Series: Top 20 Prospects
The 2016 Braves Positional Preview Series examines who could comprise the 25-man roster on Opening Day as well as players who could make a difference this season and beyond. The series concludes with this, the Prospect Report. Follow the directory below to access all six parts of the series. Each article includes a podcast, featuring special guests to discuss each position group.
- Part 1 – Catchers
- Part 2 – Infield
- Part 3 – Outfield
- Part 4 – Starting Rotation
- Part 5 – Bullpen
- Part 6 – Top Prospects
The Atlanta Braves once again have one of the richest farm systems in baseball. That is thanks in large part to revamping its front office in hopes of taking a one-time perennial contender that was teetering into one that will be on solid ground as the club moves into a brand new ballpark. Atlanta went from an organization that had fallen toward the bottom of the prospect rankings just two seasons ago, to one that is now ranked among the top five in baseball. Within the Top 20 prospects ranked below are 10 first round picks, a number that few, if any other, clubs can currently boast. Of those 10 men, seven were acquired over the past two winters.
While there is certainly no shortage of prospect rankings and hot sheets available, I thought it would be fun to comprise a list of my own. Projecting minor leaguers is an inexact science to say the least, but player development has always been a passion of mine. For a first timer, I figured 20 would be a good place to start, with an extra group of 10 prospects who bring the total up to the requisite 30 that seems to be all the rage these days. Personally, any rankings after No. 20 begin to lose some of their relevance. It just feels even more speculative for a number of reasons. In any event, below are my Top 20 Braves Prospects. I hope you enjoy this list as much as I did putting it together.
1.) Dansby Swanson | SS | Age: 22 | Experience: 2nd Year | ETA: 2017
On December 9, 2015, the Braves made the deal that changed the face, pace and possibly the perception of their current rebuild. After a series of painful trades helped Atlanta restock the minor league system at great cost to the major club, the stars aligned for the Braves to make a deal that netted three big pieces from the Diamondbacks in exchange for Shelby Miller. Shortstop Dansby Swanson was the centerpiece of that trade. A Marietta native who starred for Vanderbilt, Swanson got $6.5 million after being taken with the first overall pick in the 2015 draft by Arizona Diamondbacks. He has both the instincts and the tools to remain at shortstop and be an impact player for Atlanta. Swanson exhibits an advanced approach at the plate, but got just 83 at-bats in his professional debut in Low-A last season, batting .289/.394/.482 in 22 games. Given his collegiate experience and all-around skills, Swanson could be on the fast track to the major leagues. He plays the position well, hits well and runs the bases well. He could develop more power, but his plate discipline, coverage and quick wrists are already evident. Moreover, Swanson’s impressive makeup, competitiveness and baseball smarts all profile as exactly the kind of player Atlanta desires. Competing for the starting shortstop job in 2017 should not be out of the question if he rises quickly through the ranks. Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez said recently that he would very much like to aggressively challenge Swanson this spring, though the club intends to put the young infielder through the paces according to general manager John Coppolella. With incumbent shortstop Erick Aybar only under contract for 2016, the position could well be Swanson’s by the time the team moves into SunTrust Park.
2.) Sean Newcomb | LHP | Age: 22 | Experience: 3rd Year | ETA: 2016
The centerpiece of the Andrelton Simmons trade, left-hander Sean Newcomb was the top pitching prospect in the Angels organization after showing considerable strikeout prowess in reaching Double-A by the end of his second professional season. Of course, much was expected from the 2014 first rounder. Newcomb, for better or worse, has drawn a Jon Lester comp from some talent evaluators, though I hesitate to attach those kinds of tags to any young player. That said, if you are a club looking to acquire a Lester-type pitcher, then you’d be foolish not to do it prior to his hitting the open market via free agency. Thus far in the minors, Newcomb has posted a 2.75 ERA in 150.1 IP with 82 BB (4.9 BB/9) and 182 K (11.1 K/9). The 6-5, 240-pound Newcomb works a fastball in the mid-90s and can run it up to home plate as high as 98 mph. He complements that with a curveball that peaks in the high-70s, a pitch that has seen improvement over the past two seasons, and a changeup in the low-80s. Newcomb will likely see some time at Double-A to open 2016, with an early or mid-season promotion to Gwinnett if he enjoys immediate success. With the number of starting pitchers Atlanta has stockpiled for the spring, it will be interesting to see what kind of opportunity Newcomb gets to showcase his stuff in big league camp
3.) Ozhaino Albies | SS | Age: 19| Experience: 3rd Year | ETA: 2018
This talented shortstop is likely to see a slightly more methodical ascent through the system. Having just turned 19, the Braves no doubt want to make sure Ozzie Albies gets valuable experience at each stop. Signed by Atlanta for $350,000 as an international free agent at 16 years old in 2013 out of Curacao, Albies hails from the same island country that produced both Andruw Jones and Andrelton Simmons. He made his pro debut the tender age of 17 in 2014 and immediately impressed. A switch-hitter who is skilled at making contact, Albies is blessed with excellent speed but very little in the power department. Thus, he profiles as a top of the order bat. Albies has been praised for his approach and characterized as being wise beyond his years in most facets of the game. A fractured thumb ended his 2015 season in early August, but Albies enjoyed a strong year with Low-A Rome, producing a .310/.368/.404 line with 29 stolen bases in 98 games. Though he could remain a level ahead of Swanson as the 2016 season opens, it will be interesting to see if the two become a double play combination sooner rather than later, with Albies shifting over to second base. This would very likely be the case if the duo opens the season together at High-A Carolina. Though we could see Albies reach Atlanta sometime in 2017, chances are he sticks for good in 2018.
4.) Aaron Blair | RHP | Age: 23| Experience: 4th Year | ETA: 2016
The closest to the majors of Atlanta’s top prospects, Aaron Blair has an outside shot at earning the fifth starter’s role with a strong showing in spring training. That said, it would have to be a very strong showing with such a crowded house in camp. Blair came over with Swanson in the blockbuster December trade with Arizona, where he had been rated the club’s No. 3 prospect and one of the Top 50 in the game entering the 2015 season according to Baseball America. A 6-5, 230-pound righty, Blair operates with a fastball that is typically in the low-mid-90s and can reach 97 mph. He works with a curveball in the high-70s and a solid changeup, giving Blair a three pitch mix with which he attacks the strikezone. He was 13-5 with a 2.92 ERA in 160.1 IP between Double-A and Triple-A for the Dbacks last season, though his strikeout numbers dipped from 10.0 K/9 in 2014 to 6.7 K/9 in 2015. A flyball pitcher by nature, Blair has done a good job of limiting home runs throughout his minor league career and has issued an acceptable 2.9 BB/9 in 363 IP. While he is most likely to begin the 2016 in Gwinnett, Blair is at the front of the next wave of Braves starters.
5.) Kolby Allard| LHP | Age: 18| Experience: 2nd Year | ETA: 2019
Were it not for a back injury, Kolby Allard might well be the No. 2 prospect in the Braves system. However, were it not for that back injury, he might not even be in the system. Touted as one of the premier prep pitchers available in the 2015 draft pool, Allard suffered a stress fracture in his back which cost him the majority of senior season. If healthy, he could have easily gone in the first half a dozen picks. Instead, he slipped to Atlanta at No. 14. The Braves paid him a slightly above slot $3 million bonus out of San Clemente High School (CA). Though he signed late, Allard did make it on the mound for Atlanta’s Gulf Coast League affiliate. All he did there was strikeout 12 men of the 20 men he faced and allow just one hit in six scoreless innings. Allard underwent back surgery following his time in the GCL, a procedure that is not expected to impact his readiness for spring training. There were some reports that this was Allard’s second surgery. He eventually took to Twitter to clear up speculation and confirm that he has only had one back surgery. Though slightly built at 6-1, 170-pounds, the young lefty has an excellent fastball-curveball combo. He has already reached the mid-90s and was touted as having perhaps the best breaking ball in his draft class. He should be able to hold onto that velocity as he puts on some weight over the next few years. While the back injury forced him to slide in the draft, the Braves may be rewarded with the best value of any pick in the first round. Allard profiles as a front of the rotation starter and it will be interesting to see where the Braves assign him to open the 2016 season.
6.) Austin Riley | 3B | Age: 18 | Experience: 2nd Year | ETA: 2018
A high school bat who shined in his professional debut, Austin Riley is one of only a handful of top shelf position player prospects. Atlanta selected Riley with the 41st pick in the 2015 draft and saw immediate results. A two-way player in high school, the Braves installed Riley at third base and he proceeded to turn in a .304/.389/.544 line with 12 home runs in 60 games between the GCL and Danville. With a clean, crisp swing and power potential, Riley is an exciting player in an organization that is light on such offensive talents. He will have to work diligently to improve in the field, where he committed 16 errors in just 53 starts last season. Riley has quite a few stops to make before he is knocking on the door in Atlanta, with his first likely in Low-A Rome in 2016. As a hit-first prospect, he will also have to demonstrate that the flash of power in his pro debut was no fluke. I have seen Riley up and down the prospect hot sheets, but his impressive debut vaults him considerably in the rankings in my book. The first full season of professional baseball is the first major adjustment for a young a player. Atlanta is eager to see what kind of numbers Riley can put up with 450 or more plate appearances.
7.) Lucas Sims | RHP | Age: 21 | Experience: 5th Year I ETA: 2017
After suffering through the struggles of 2014 and then an injury setback as a result of the Carolina Mudcats bus crash in 2015, Lucas Sims sent a clear message in the Arizona Fall League: He is ready to reclaim that top prospect mantle. After being selected 21st overall in the 2012 draft, Sims pitched well in his first season and a half of pro ball, including a 12-4 campaign with a 2.62 ERA in 117 IP with 34 BB and 134 K with Low-A Rome in 2013. Sims took a big step back the following year in High-A Lynchberg with an 8-11 record and 4.19 ERA in 28 starts. His strikeout rate fell from 10.3 K/9 in 2013 to just 6.1 K/9 in 2014. Last season, Sims lost roughly six weeks to an injured hip following the crash, but earned the promotion to Double-A Mississippi after putting together a handful of decent outings. Once there, Sims was 4-2 with a 3.40 ERA in nine starts, punching out 56 batters in 47.2 IP. The one issue for him throughout the season was command, evidenced by his 5.2 BB/9. That strong finish to the season carried over to the AFL, where Sims lit up the radar gun and demonstrated improved command – 2.65 ERA with 3 BB and 17 K in 17 IP. That performance gave hope that Sims is turning a corner and poised for bigger things as he returns to Double-A to open 2016. A hard-thrower who reaches the mid-90s with regularity when he’s on, Sims utilizes a curveball that can get a bit slurvy at times. His changeup is a definite work in progress, and a necessary tool for big league success. If he continues to shine, there is every reason to believe he could pitch is way into Atlanta’s big league plans at some point in 2017.
8.) Max Fried | LHP | Age: 22 | Experience: 5th Year | ETA: 2018
There’s no question that Max Fried is the most exciting prospect on this list who has yet to even throw a ball for Atlanta. Lost to Tommy John surgery for the entire 2015 season, the Braves took a calculated risk by acquiring Fried from the San Diego Padres last winter in the Justin Upton trade. Now they are poised to find out exactly what it is they have in the young left-hander. Fried was in the top half of most Top 100 prospect rankings entering 2014, when he was forced to go under the knife in August. Thus, Atlanta did not get to see one of its best pitching prospects at all last season. The Padres selected Fried seventh overall in the 2012 draft and were instantly impressed with his power curve and a fastball that sits in the low-90s and has reached 95 mph. He’ll be working on many things as he returns to the mound with an innings limit in 2016. One of those will be his changeup, though the main focus will be staying healthy throughout the season. Fried has logged just 147 innings in his pro career thus far, posting a 3.61 ERA to go with 4.1 BB/9 and 7.8 K/9. If he clears the hurdle of making it through 2016 injury-free, Fried should be free to resume his trek to the big leagues post haste. He is at least two full years away, however.
9.) Touki Toussaint | RHP | Age: 19 | Experience: 3rd Year | ETA: 2018
A hard-throwing right hander who may have been the best prep pitcher available in the 2014 draft, Touki Toussaint has the stuff to be an impact arm. What he needs now is the polish. Atlanta has been very aggressive in its pursuit of young talent over the past two seasons and at no time was it more evident than the trade with Arizona that landed Toussaint. The Braves essentially absorbed the money owed to an injured Bronson Arroyo in order to add a young, controllable former first round pick. Money and creativity aside, Toussaint is one of the most intriguing talents in the system. While Arizona surprising dealt the 16th overall pick in the previous year’s draft last summer, it is worth noting that Toussaint is still very much a work in progress. Incredibly raw, he possesses a fastball that lives in the mid-90s, a unique gift for a young man who did not begin playing baseball until the age of 11. Originally from Haiti, Toussaint moved to the United States prior to his seventh birthday. He pairs that great fastball with a sharp curveball in the mid-70s and a changeup that sits in the low-mid-80s. He was roughed up in his pro debut in 2014 – 8.58 ERA in 28.1 IP with 12.1 H/9, 5.7 BB/9 and 10.1 K/9. While his hit rate was much improved last season (7.3 H/9), Toussaint dealt with control issues and allowed 4.9 BB/9 while uncorking 10 wild pitches. He closed the year 5-7 with a 4.83 ERA in 17 starts, but will likely see another turn in the South Atlantic League as he seeks consistency in both command and mechanics. If he is able to harness his tremendous stuff, Toussaint could be a frontline starting pitcher.
10.) Mallex Smith | OF | Age: 22 | Experience: 5th Year | ETA: 2016
Speedy outfielder Mallex Smith has excited the Braves with what he can do at the plate and the basepaths. He may have slid to the edge to the Top 10 prospects because of the influx of talent in recent months, but Smith is knocking on the door. Originally a fifth round pick by the Padres in 2012, Smith was part of the package Atlanta received for Justin Upton. He led the minors with 88 stolen bases in 2014, and swiped 57 more between Double-A and Triple-A for the Braves last season. Smith also does his base stealing with a high rate of success – 79% (226 steals in 285 attempts). His speed is at the top of the scouts 20-80 scale and he finds his way on base at a solid rate (.380 career OBP) in order to make the most of his abilities. Smith hit .306/.373/.386 in 548 PA between Mississippi and Gwinnett last season, work that earned him Braves Minor League Player of the Year honors. He grinds out at-bats and is an excellent bunter, which comes in handy with his kind of speed. Smith’s progress in center field, particularly improving his routes to the ball, was a primary objective for 2015. By all accounts, my own included, he has made progress. Atlanta has frequently compared Smith with Michael Bourn, a man they are eager to pair the young outfielder with throughout spring training as a mentor. With Ender Inciarte now on board and given the keys to center field, it will be interesting to see what Atlanta’s plan for Smith may be.
11.) Tyrell Jenkins | RHP | Age: 23 | Experience: 7th Year | ETA: 2016
The other arm acquired in the Jason Heyward trade last winter, Tyrell Jenkins is coming off organizational pitcher of the year honors for his work between Mississippi and Gwinnett after going 8-9 with a 3.19 ERA in 25 starts. While his fastball can reach the mid-90s, he has not piled up the strikeouts at the same rate he did prior to lat surgery in 2013. Jenkins is an excellent athlete, passing up a football scholarship to play quarterback at Baylor in order to sign with the Cardinals as a 1st round pick (50th overall) in 2010. He complements his fastball with a power curveball and a changeup. For Jenkins, it is really more about compiling the requisite number of reps that come through innings in order to take that next step. He lost nearly half a season to injury in both 2013 and 2014, but completed 138 innings last year, crossing the century mark for the first time in his career. He has a big build at 6-4, 204-pounds and a competent and smooth delivery, which he repeats well. Jenkins is earmarked for Gwinnett to start the 2016 season, but if he pitches well then he should find himself among that first wave of young starters.
12.) Mike Soroka | RHP | Age: 18 | Experience: 2nd Year | ETA: 2019
Of the many exciting arms in the system, Mike Soroka is one of the youngest. Selected with the 28th overall pick in the 2015 draft, Soroka hails from Calgary, Alberta, Canada. He put on a fine display in his pro debut last summer, posting a 3.18 ERA and striking out 37 batters against just 5 walks in 34 innings while not allowing a home run. As one might have gathered from his strikeout to walk ratio, Soroka attacks the zone at will. He does so with a fastball in the low-90s, a sharp curveball and a changeup. He stands 6-4, 195-pounds and could add velocity as matures. Soroka will likely begin the 2016 season in Rome, with what could be one of the better pitching staffs in the entire system. While he will look to establish himself in his first full professional season, Soroka is already among the top arms in the entire organization.
13.) Rio Ruiz | 3B | Age: 21 | Experience: 5th Year | ETA: 2018
It was a disappointing 2015 for Rio Ruiz, who is one of the few highly-touted position players among Atlanta’s top prospects. His mega-slump over the first two months of the season put his status as the possible third baseman of the future in question. That remains the case entering 2016. Spending the entire season in Double-A, Ruiz batted just .179 with 10 RBI over his first 41 games, heating up in June only to falter in July. For the year, Ruiz hit .233/.333/.324 with five homers and 46 RBI, with his ability to draw walks (63 BB in 489 PA) serving as one of the few overall bright spots. He finally seemed to find himself at the plate in August and September, with 14 XBH in his final 34 games serving as a promising sign. This, however, comes off a year in which he batted .293/.387/.436 with 50 XBH in 2014. Ruiz has an excellent eye, which made his struggles in 2015 all the more puzzling. A lefty hitter with a smooth swing, he may or may not develop consistent home run power. That remains to be seen. At the very least, he should be able to get back to the norms of his first two full seasons. Defensively, Ruiz is nothing special, though he does have a decent arm. He could become a solid third baseman with more work and, of course, more reps. Ruiz is likely heading back to Mississippi, where he will aim for a better start in 2016 in order to earn a timely promotion to Gwinnett, perhaps around mid-season.
14.) John Gant | RHP | Age: 23 | Experience: 6th Year | ETA: 2017
Another arm in the seemingly endless supply for the New York Mets, the Braves picked up John Gant in a mid-season trade. He rewarded Atlanta with a strong showing down the stretch in Double-A, going 4-0 with a 1.99 ERA and 9.5 K/9 in 40.2 IP over 7 starts. A 6-5, 205-pound righty who succeeds with a low-90s sinking fastball, Gant possesses a good changeup and a decent curveball to complete his arsenal. He may not have the same electric stuff of some names on this list, but he makes the most with what he has. A 21st round pick by the Mets back in 2011, Gant has put together three consecutive strong campaigns. His excellent finish to last season put him on the map, but Gant will have to prove it was no fluke against higher level competition in order to establish himself as a viable middle-rotation starter. He could begin the season in Triple-A, giving him a chance to work his way into the big league plans in 2016.
15.) Braxton Davidson | OF | Age: 19 | Experience: 3rd Year | ETA: 2018
A young hitter with an excellent eye, Braxton Davidson was challenged in his first full season of professional baseball. After being drafted with the 32nd overall pick in 2014, Davidson did not put up very good numbers in 50 games at rookie ball that summer. Despite that, Atlanta sent him to Low-A Rome in 2015, where the results were mixed. A first baseman who spent limited time in center field in high school, the Braves transitioned Davidson to right field. He will need some work there to get comfortable, but he should be able to master the position with refined routes and a solid arm. At the plate, Davidson already has a good approach and it should continue to improve with more at-bats. He led the system with 84 walks, however he also struck out 135 times in 401 AB. His power hasn’t manifested itself, but that could happen sooner than later. Davidson belted 10 home runs while posting a .242/.381/.374 slash line last season. Though he is probably three years away from the majors, he could push the issue in 2018 if he is able to establish himself as a complete hitter.
16.) Chris Ellis | RHP | Age: 23 | Experience: 3rd Year | ETA: 2017
The other pitching prospect acquired in the Andrelton Simmons trade, Chris Ellis may not have the flash of Sean Newcomb, but he certainly has the tools to mature into a middle of the rotation starter. Ellis was a third round pick by the Angels in 2014 and shot all the way to Double-A by the close of last season. The University of Mississippi product was 11-9 with a 3.90 ERA in 26 starts in 2015, picking up 132 strikeouts in 140.2 IP. He issued 4.0 BB/9, however, a number which needs to come down in order for him to enjoy more success at the higher levels of the minor leagues. That walk rate skyrocketed in Double-A, where he issued 43 BB in just 78 IP. Ellis works consistently in the low-90s, but has peaked at 95 mph on occasion. He follows that up with a sharp, biting slider and a changeup that has gotten high marks. The Angels decided to skip Low-A ball with Ellis, pushing him in two stops last season with a full workload after an easy debut in 2014. The Braves will give him an extended run in Double-A, with the strong possibility of a second half promotion to Gwinnett if he pitches effectively this summer.
17.) Zack Bird | RHP | Age: 21 | Experience: 5th Year | ETA: 2017
His arrival may have flown under the radar, given his inclusion in the Hector Olivera trade, but Zack Bird is another of Atlanta’s seemingly endless supply of pitching prospects acquired over the last two seasons. A big, athletic right-hander who possesses a fastball that has gotten up to 99 mph, Bird has made steady improvements over the course of the last four seasons. Originally a ninth round pick by Los Angeles in 2012, Bird is a Mississippi native, which should make it fun to pitch there in 2016 after a brief cameo last season. With his high-octane stuff, Atlanta can continue to work him as a starter unless or until the bullpen becomes the better option. His walk rate (5.3 BB/9) trended back in the wrong direction in 2015, while his strikeout rate (9.1 K/9) was the best of any full season in his career. Bird has allowed just 25 home runs in 364.2 career innings, but the free passes continue to be cause for concern and have contributed to his 4.73 ERA. Without an effective changeup or reliable secondary pitches, Bird’s future in rotation is tenuous. That said, his electric stuff is an exciting possibility for Atlanta to ponder.
18.) Ricardo Sanchez | LHP | Age: 18 | Experience: 3rd Year | ETA: 2019
Here is another of Atlanta’s more aggressive and/or creative prospect acquisitions. The Los Angeles Angels signed Ricardo Sanchez out of Venezuela at the age of 16 for just under $600,000 in 2013. At the time, he was rated the No. 27 International prospect according to Baseball America. The Braves swung a trade with the Halos last January to bring the young lefty over, sending third baseman Kyle Kubitza and reliever Nate Hyatt to L.A. in return for Sanchez. Currently listed at 5-11, 170-pounds, Sanchez is already throwing in the low-mid-90s and most believe he could add velocity as he matures. His curveball flashes plus, but his changeup still needs refinement as does his command in general. Obviously, Sanchez has plenty of time to make the necessary adjustments. He has been competing as one of the youngest players in his league, first in the Arizona League for the Angels, then in Low-A Rome last season for the Braves. He was 2-2 with a 3.49 ERA and 10.0 K/9 in 38.2 IP as a 17-year-old in rookie ball, but did not have the same success in the South Atlantic League in 2015. Sanchez made just 10 starts last season, going 1-6 with a 5.45 ERA in 39.2 IP. His strikeout rate dropped to 7.0 K/9, otherwise most of his rates remained the same, underscoring the small sample size of his numbers to this point. At his young age and relative inexperience, learning how to pitch is the focus for Sanchez as he returns to Rome in 2016.
19.) Lucas Herbert | C | Age: 19 | Experience: 2nd Year | ETA: 2019
The high school batterymate of first rounder Kolby Allard at San Clemente, Lucas Herbert was nabbed by the Braves in the second round of last year’s draft. Unfortunately, Herbert played just three games in his professional debut before a knee injury shut him down. The Braves do not have much in the way of catching prospects ahead of him, so a healthy Herbert could quickly establish himself at the top of the pecking order by putting together a strong 2016. Drawing high marks defensively, the Braves put a premium on catchers who can field the position and handle the pitching staff. That said, Herbert does have some power and may be able to make regular contributions at the plate. He should get the chance to demonstrate all of the above in Low-A Rome this season.
20.) Dustin Peterson | OF | Age: 21 | Experience: 4th Year | ETA: 2018
One of countless former Padres farmhands added to the Atlanta system last winter, Dustin Peterson has probably gotten the least amount of talk thus far. A former second round pick by San Diego in 2012, Peterson switched from third base to the outfield full-time in 2015 and was off to a good start before the Carolina bus crash. He finished the year with a .251/.317/.348 line in 498 PA. On the year, he improved his walk rate, while lowering his strikeout rate, both positives to take away from 2015. Peterson has flashed some power at times over the past two seasons and the position switch seemed to agree with him. He’ll be heading to Double-A Mississippi, where Atlanta will hope to see his raw power start to translate consistently in game.
The Best of the Rest:
RHP Rob Whalen – Another arm acquired from the Mets, Whalen has an excellent curveball and could have a ceiling as mid-rotation starter… RHP Ryan Weber – Got a brief taste of the majors last season as Atlanta rifled through pitchers. Weber is fringy starter who fires strikes, but it’s unclear what kind of opportunity he’ll get with so many better prospects in the organization… SS Derian Cruz – Rated the No. 5 International Prospect last season by Baseball America, Cruz signed out of the Dominican Republic for $2 million and has yet to debut… OF Christian Pache – One of the top international prospects last year, Pache likewise signed for $1.4 million out of the Dominican Republic and has yet to debut… OF Ronald Acuna – Signed out of Venezuela in 2014, Acuna flashed an excellent power-speed combo (22 XBH with 16 SB) in his rookie ball debut in 2015… INF Juan Yepez – Signed in 2014 out of Venezuela as well and showed excellent on-base skills with some power (.299/.364/.458) as a 17-year-old last season… RHP Mauricio Cabrera – Perhaps the hardest thrower in the organization, Cabrera has yet to fully harness his stuff. Transition to the bullpen should allow him to do so… RHP Jason Hursh – After struggling as starter, the hard-throwing former first-rounder found himself in the bullpen. His stuff could translate to a late inning role… RHP Daniel Winkler – A Rule 5 pick who must stay on the big league roster or be offered back to the Rockies, Winkler could be a casualty of the numbers game. If not, he should be in line to resume his work as a starting pitcher after missing just over a year with elbow surgery… RHP Andrew Thurman – A fringy starter who may end up in the bullpen sooner than later, Thurman lost some time due to the bus crash as well. After a decent early showing in High-A Carolina, he was touched up in Double-A and the Arizona Fall League.
Grant McAuley covers the Braves for 92-9 The Game. You can follow Grant on Twitter. Subscribe to his podcast, “Around the Big Leagues” on (iTunes) or (Stitcher). All statistics courtesy of Baseball-Reference unless otherwise noted.