As my favorite team, the Braves’ list was fun and hard to do. On one hand, I know more about it than any other system, but on the other hand, that might make me more critical (or forgiving) of the system. With special thanks to Peter Hjort of Capitol Avenue Club, here’s the Braves list.
Until a September swoon of epic proportions, the Braves were having quite the year, and their prospects were a significant reason why. Freddie Freeman overcame a slow start to have a solid rookie season, even for a first baseman. Craig Kimbrel may have won himself the Rookie of the Year Award with an absolutely dominating season closing out games. Brandon Beachy continued to make believers out of scouts and fans alike with his continued ability to miss bats. And Mike Minor added several solid starts as he pushed for a permanent rotation spot for 2012. While having good performances from rookies is way better than having good prospects, those promotions have left the Braves system a little lacking.
It still has some potential, though. Julio Teheran didn’t do much in his major-league stint, but he dominated AAA at 20 and certainly showed what makes scouts wet themselves. Arodys Vizcaino shoved his way through the minor-league system before getting a spot in the bullpen late in the year. And Randall Delgado looks like a solid middle-of-the-rotation starter as he continued his steady push up the ladder.
But as I said, the system is a bit lacking. There are some tools players like Edward Salcedo, Andrelton Simmons, and Christian Bethancourt, but they all retain significant weaknesses and questions that keep them from the highest reaches of prospectdom. There are also some high-probability guys like Sean Gilmartin, JJ Hoover, and Tyler Pastornicky, but they’re likely to be average big leaguers at best. The Braves do have some depth in decent prospects, but few really scream “break-out candidate”.
But if you had the choice between a top farm system and players already pretty good in the majors, you take the young players already in the majors. The Braves have a nice, young nucleus to build around, but the constant influx of talent has left the system a little barren outside of the top 4 or 5 prospects. The lower-level prospects have quite a bit of talent, but they come with a great deal of uncertainty. What does concern me a bit is the recent conservatism shown in the draft, especially as it might have been the last time to spend real money there, as it limits the influx of talent. If you can find cheap talent, that’s fine, but if you confine yourself to that, you’re in trouble.
Julio Teheran SP
Age/Level (as of 4/2012): 21/AAA or MLB
When you make your major-league debut, you tend to show your warts, and if you watched those appearances, you saw a pitcher who still needs to sharpen his breaking ball and improve his command. That, of course, is nitpicking, considering he was 20 years old last season. Teheran’s fastball sits in the low-90s and can hit 95-97 when he reaches back for more, and his change-up might be his best pitch and potential plus-plus one. Teheran’s third pitch is an average curve that flashes plus, but as I mentioned, it needs more consistency and is probably fringe-average or average at this point. In regard to his need to improve his command, I have more concern about this due to all the moving parts in his delivery, but because he’s just 20, I’ll hold off letting that getting in the way. There’s a lot to like about a young man who dominated AAA at age 20, though I’d like to see him repeat it for a few months in 2012.
Arodys Vizcaino SP
Age/Level: 21/AAA or MLB
Projection: 2/3, Relief Ace
I’ll go on record as stating that I would really like the Braves to put him back in the rotation, but even in the bullpen, he has significant value. Vizcaino’s fastball is in the mid-90s, and it hits the upper-90s in short stints. In addition to the fastball, he has a plus curve and a fringe-average change that still needs refinement. Unlike many his age, his control is an asset, and he has pretty good command. What holds him back is somewhat two-fold. He’s slightly undersized, and possibly as a result, he’s had arm problems every season (both elbow and shoulder), which is a serious concern. I’m not convinced throwing all-out is better than longer, more controlled stints, but it will be interesting to see how the Braves handle him moving forward. He’s a special arm, either way.
Randall Delgado SP
Age/Level: 22/AAA or MLB
Yet another talented young arm, Delgado has a little less upside than the other two, but he’s still plenty talented. Delgado’s fastball sits in the low-90s and hit 94 more than I thought he could during his time in the majors, and he adds an average curve and change, though both have the chance to be better than that. Looking at his command, his mechanics and results look quite a bit like Teheran’s, as Delgado could also use some time to sharpen his command and consistency of his breaking ball. What “limits” Delgado is the extra ability to reach back for more and the addition of a second plus pitch, but he still looks like a solid middle-of-the-rotation guy with a chance at more.
JJ Hoover SP
Projection: 3/4/5. Middle Reliever
I’m not entirely sure why Gilmartin gets more credit than Hoover when Hoover is essentially Gilmartin with pro experience, but I guess we’ll see. Hoover can throw four pitches (fastball, curve, change, and slider) that all hover around average, and he throws plenty of strikes. He’s shown himself to be quite durable, but the Braves decided to move him to the bullpen in the middle of 2011, to which he responded quite well. Whether or not that’s permanent is a good question, but I wouldn’t be surprised if he was traded before reaching the majors as the Braves need neither another right-handed bullpen arm or a decent starting pitcher.
Sean Gilmartin SP
Age/Level: 21/High-A or AA
I suppose the main difference between Gilmartin and Hoover (except which hand they throw with) is that Gilmartin does have a plus change. His fastball and slider are about average, and they’re likely to stay there as I doubt there will be any Mike Minor-like velocity magic (that just doesn’t happen every time). Drafted out of college, Gilmartin has an excellent feel for pitching, and his control is above-average, with a chance to be plus due to his athleticism and picture-perfect delivery. Gilmartin’s potential is pretty limited, but injury-risk aside, he’s a pretty sure bet to make the majors.
Edward Salcedo 3B
Projection: 2-4 WAR
Salcedo certainly looks the part of a professional athlete, and it’s those tools that have scouts drooling. That being said, Salcedo remains quite raw and will likely move a level at a time, though that could change if he puts things together. Salcedo has good hand-eye coordination and above-average power, but his approach needs work to eliminate strikeouts, increase his walks, and help those tools make an impact in the game. Defensively, Salcedo’s a mess, and put me down as a guy that thinks he’ll end up in an outfield corner, for which he has plenty of arm to play right. He still has ample time to develop, but there’s still plenty of risk with him, too.
Andrelton Simmons SS
Projection: 1-3 WAR
While there are concerns about the bat, there are no concerns about Simmons’ plus defense due to above-average range and a plus arm. He could essentially play defense in the majors right now and really well, though he still needs work on some little things to be the infield leader you’d like from your shortstop. Offensively, he’s an average hitter, but he’s not very patient and has less power than Pastornicky, meaning the average has to carry his offensive value. That being said, he still has room on that frame to add some bulk and some pop, but I want to see more offense before I consider him a real prospect.
Tyler Pastornicky SS
Age/Level: 22/AAA or MLB
Projection: 1-3 WAR
Pastornicky certainly took a solid step forward this past season. Considered to be lacking offensively, Pastornicky improved his hit tool to above-average, but he doesn’t demonstrate much power or draw a lot of walks, though he had in the past. That, of course, leaves his defense to supply the real value, and he can certainly pick it at short. With above-average range due to his plus speed, Pastornicky is an asset defensively. Still, one wonders if the hit tool will be enough to provide enough offense to be a solid regular. He’s maxed out physically, so he’ll need to make due with what he has.
Christian Bethancourt C
Age/Level: 20/High-A or AA
Projection: 1-3 WAR
Bethancourt is all tools right now. Receiving rave reviews defensively, Bethancourt certainly has a plus to plus-plus arm and good hands, but he’s really lackadaisical behind the plate, leading him to make more mistakes than he should. At the plate, he has excellent hand-eye coordination and average to above-average power, but his approach and pitch recognition mean that those tools don’t always move into the game. What bugs me the most about Bethancourt is his attitude. Usually I forego such nonsense, but it seems prevalent watching him in the bullpen and on the field, which makes me wonder how well he’ll make the adjustments and improvements he needs to make. He could be a star, but the defense probably means he’ll at least be a back-up in the majors.
Zeke Spruill SP
Making a seriously needed bounce-back, Spruill had an excellent 2011. With a sinking, low-90s fastball, Spruill keeps plenty of balls on the ground and in the park, but his change and slider are fringe-average, with his change showing more promise. Spruill has less room to maneuver as a sinker-baller as his control and command are imperative for his long-term success. He won’t miss many bats, so when the hitters do make contact, Spruill needs to make sure it’s on the ground. If he can do that, he’s a back-end starter. If not, he won’t make it.
Big Question – Joe Terdoslavich
Terdoslavich certainly made a name for himself with his club minor-league record 52 doubles and his solid performance in the AFL, but the new fame has also brought questions. So I figured this would be an excellent time to make a few points. One, he is a first baseman, and as a first baseman, we would expect you to hit better than .286/.341/.526 (what he hit in High-A) in the majors. First baseman just have to mash because first base is the last stop on the defensive spectrum, and teams usually just drop good hitters there if no other position works out. Two, 72 extra-base hit is a lot, but it was High-A and he was 22. We expect him to hit well. Three, the AFL is not enough time to make statements about players, and it is a hitting environment. While I’m not saying he’s a non-prospect, he still has much more to prove. What he did was good and makes him worth keeping an eye on, but it doesn’t make him a top prospect.