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February 25, 2014

Prospects Will Break Your Heart

Atlanta Braves Top 10 Prospects

by Jason Parks

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Prospect rankings primer
Last year's Braves list

The Top Ten

  1. RHP Lucas Sims
  2. C Christian Bethancourt
  3. RHP Mauricio Cabrera
  4. RHP J.R. Graham
  5. SS Jose Peraza
  6. 2B Tommy La Stella
  7. RHP Wes Parsons
  8. 3B Victor Caratini
  9. RHP Jason Hursh
  10. OF Victor Reyes

1. Lucas Sims
Position: RHP
DOB: 05/10/1994
Height/Weight: 6’2” 195 lbs
Bats/Throws: R/R
Drafted/Acquired: 1st round, 2012 draft, Brookwood HS (Snellville, GA)
Previous Ranking: #3 (Org)
2013 Stats: 2.62 ERA (116.2 IP, 83 H, 134 K, 46 BB) at Low-A Rome
The Tools: 6+ FB; 6 CB; 6 potential CH

What Happened in 2013: In his full-season debut, Sims established himself as one of the better young arms in the minors, missing plenty of bats and barrels, allowing 84 hits in 116 innings while striking out 134.

Strengths: Very athletic; smooth/easy mechanics; repeats well; fastball works 90-95; touches 96; pitch shows late wiggle; curveball plays above average at present; true hammer in the upper 70s; bat-missing pitch with big vertical depth; 82-86 mph changeup with late sink; pitchability and good command projection; competitor.

Weaknesses: Needs to add strength/stamina; fastball command needs refinement; curveball can get slurvy when he doesn’t stay over it; changeup can get a little firm in the 86 range and lose action.

Overall Future Potential: High 6; no. 2 starter

Realistic Role: High 5; no. 3 starter

Risk Factor/Injury History: Moderate risk; limited professional experience; yet to achieve Double-A level

Bret Sayre’s Fantasy Take: As the lone representative of the Braves on the Fantasy 101, Sims has impressive stuff across the board, which at peak could lead to strong numbers across the board—including 180-plus strikeouts. The questions with Sims from a fantasy standpoint are more about his ability to provide the quantity required of a frontline fantasy starter than the quality portion of the equation

The Year Ahead: Sims draws scouting comps to a young Matt Cain; an athletic strike-thrower who can take the ball every fifth day and beat you with his entire arsenal. He still has some rough edges, but this is a safer prospect than the resume suggests. Sims can work the fastball in the low-to-mid 90s, back it up with a very impressive upper-70s curve with depth, and show feel for a future above-average changeup. Add to the profile an athletic and clean delivery and good pitchability and you have the making of a very solid major-league starter, with a ceiling of a number two but a high floor in the middle of a rotation. He’s likely to shove it at the High-A level, and could emerge as a top 20 prospect in the game by the end of the season. Underrated prospect.

Major league ETA: 2016

2. Christian Bethancourt
Position: C
DOB: 09/02/1991
Height/Weight: 6’2” 215 lbs
Bats/Throws: R/R
Drafted/Acquired: International Free Agent, 2008, Panama
Previous Ranking: #5 (Org), #93 (Top 101)
2013 Stats: .277/.305/.436 at Double-A Mississippi (90 games)
The Tools: 8 arm; 6+ glove; 5 run; 5+ potential power

What Happened in 2013: The Panamanian catcher returned to the Double-A level, where his arm continued to show elite promise and his bat took a much needed step forward.

Strengths: Athletic, with good size and strength; elite arm strength; capable of unbelievable pop times in the sub 1.7 range; quick release and accurate; glovework has improved; more focus behind the plate; plus glove; well above-average defensive potential; has good raw power; runs well for the position; better bat-to-ball in 2013; shows bat speed.

Weaknesses: Can get too casual behind the plate with his footwork; blocking needs work; needs work with game management/game calling; aggressive approach; looks to swing and can get beat by stuff and sequence; hit tool likely to play below average; game power likely to play fringe-average at best; can play with low energy

Overall Future Potential: 6; first-division player

Realistic Role: High 4; backup catcher/below-average regular

Risk Factor/Injury History: Moderate risk; achieved Double-A level; big questions about bat.

Bret Sayre’s Fantasy Take: While his defense will likely keep Bethancourt in the lineup barring being an absolute zero at the plate, we can’t say the same about his fantasy value. Even if things break right for Bethancourt in his development at the plate, he’s still unlikely to be a good option as a starter in a one-catcher league.

The Year Ahead: If you like elite arm strength and true weapon in the catch/throw game, Bethancourt is worth the price of admission. The problem with the profile is the stick, as he isn’t a natural hitter and is highly unlikely to develop into a true dual-threat player at the highest level. Against better arms, the 22-year-old Panamanian struggles to stay on quality stuff inside, and when worked away with spin, is prone to off-balance cuts that produce weak contact. At the end of the day, I think Bethancourt’s bat will play below average but find a home at the back of a lineup, a .250 type with the power to hit 10-15 bombs coupled with plus defense and the potential for elite catch/throw impact. Even without much help from the bat, Bethancourt could carve out a very long career as a backup catcher, but he’s still young enough and offers enough projection with the stick that he could develop into more.

Major league ETA: 2014

3. Mauricio Cabrera
Position: RHP
DOB: 09/22/1993
Height/Weight: 6’2” 180 lbs
Bats/Throws: R/R
Drafted/Acquired: International free agent, 2010, Dominican Republic
Previous Ranking: #4 (Org)
2013 Stats: 4.18 ERA (131.1 IP, 118 H, 107 K, 71 BB) at Low-A Rome
The Tools: 8 potential FB; 6 potential CH; 5 potential CB

What Happened in 2013: in his full-season debut, the [then] 19-year-old Dominican made 24 starts and logged over 130 innings, although the scouting reports are still ahead of the on-the-field production.

Strengths: Elite arm strength; electric; fastball can work comfortably in the mid-upper 90s; touches over 100; potential to be 80-grade pitch; changeup will flash plus potential; works as average offering with some deception off the fastball and late action; curveball can flash average potential.

Weaknesses: Delivery can get messy; comes across his body and struggles with release point consistency; command is well below average at present; can get deliberate on secondaries; curveball plays below-average at present; lacks big upside; pitch can get soft and loose; not sure the pitch will play to major-league standards.

Overall Future Potential: High 6; no. 2 starter

Realistic Role: 5; late-innings reliever (setup)

Risk Factor/Injury History: High risk; yet to pitch in upper minors; possible bullpen profile; shaky command.

Bret Sayre’s Fantasy Take: It’s very easy to fall in love with the fastball, but without more refinement and command of his secondary stuff, Cabrera’s strikeout numbers will not be proportional with his velocity. In fact, he may be more valuable from a fantasy standpoint as an intimidating reliever in deeper leagues.

The Year Ahead: Based on the power of one singular pitch, Cabrera has one of the highest projections in the Braves org, but the pitchability and secondary stuff are still underdeveloped at present and could limit the ultimate upside. Cabrera has monster arm strength, and can routinely push his fastball near triple-digits, and when he can turn it over and maintain the arm speed, the changeup shows plus potential and plays effectively off the big heater. Once he refines his command and improves his overall feel, Cabrera could really explode as a prospect, but that below-average curveball worries some scouts and might point towards a bullpen future.

Major league ETA: 2016

4. J.R Graham
Position: RHP
DOB: 01/14/1990
Height/Weight: 5’10” 195 lbs
Bats/Throws: R/R
Drafted/Acquired: 4th round, 2011 draft, Santa Clara University (Santa Clara, CA)
Previous Ranking: #2 (Org), #63 (Top 101)
2013 Stats: 4.04 ERA (35.2 IP, 39 H, 28 K, 10 BB) at Double-A Mississippi
The Tools: 7 FB; 6 SL; 5 potential CH

What Happened in 2013: In his return trip to Double-A, Graham was looking the part before a shoulder injury shut him down and sent his prospect status into a tailspin.

Strengths: Short but incredibly strong; balanced on the mound; holds his stuff deep into games; clean arm action; multiple fastball looks; pushes four-seamer easy into mid-90s; two-seamer shows very heavy life in the 93-94 range; plus-plus offering; slider is plus offering; thrown in the upper-80s and touching 90; late-sharp dart to the glove side; changeup is solid-average in the 86-89 range; good late life; strong feel for command; highly competitive and aggressive approach.

Weaknesses: Lacks height and has to work down to create angle; struggles when he works up in the zone; loses movement and is hitable; slider can lack big depth; more cutter-like in the upper 80s without big tilt; changeup can get too firm in the 88-90 range; sinks but not as effective as two-seamer.

Overall Future Potential: 6; no. 3 starter

Realistic Role: 5; late-innings reliever (setup)

Risk Factor/Injury History: Moderate risk; Double-A experience; shoulder injury on resume (2013)

Bret Sayre’s Fantasy Take: There are a few philosophies that I stand behind in making decisions for fantasy purposes, and one of them is never put much faith in a pitcher with a shoulder injury. Of course, the long-term ramifications of Graham’s injury are to be determined, but tread carefully, as he’s a likely ‘pen candidate in the long run anyway.

The Year Ahead: Everybody is worried about the shoulder, and with good reason. But a healthy Graham (and reports suggest he is fully recovered from the shoulder injury of 2013) is an impact arm that several sources think can be an effective mid-rotation starter despite limited height. What the 24-year-old lacks in height he makes up for with strength and intensity, as Graham will batter you with heavy fastballs in the lower zone and then elevate his hard cut-slider and dare you to match the barrel to it. Assuming health, he’s a no doubt late-innings arm as a floor, as he can sit in the mid-90s and touch 97+ in bursts with the knockout slider that can be quite effective missing bats and barrels in the upper 80s. But he can hold his stuff deep into games and has the command and pitchability to start, so if he can stay on the mound, his prospect stock should return to previous levels. But the shoulder injury that spoiled his 2013 season will continue to be talked about until he proves [on the mound] that it is no longer worth talking about.

Major league ETA: 2014

5. Jose Peraza
Position: SS
DOB: 04/30/1994
Height/Weight: 6’0” 165 lbs
Bats/Throws: R/R
Drafted/Acquired: International free agent, 2010, Venezuela
Previous Ranking: #7 (Org)
2013 Stats: .288/.341/.371 at Low-A Rome (114 games)
The Tools: 6+ run; 6 arm; 6 glove; 5 + potential hit

What Happened in 2013: In his full-season debut, the slick Venezuelan shortstop continued to show good life at the plate, making a lot of contact and hitting for average while showing off his near plus-plus speed on base.

Strengths: Well above-average athlete; plus-to-plus plus run; quick feet; highly coordinated in the field; slick actions; excellent backhand pickup; plus arm; plus defensive profile at short; good bat-to-ball ability; can square up velocity; makeup for accelerated developmental path.

Weaknesses: Needs to add strength; swing for contact but it can play light; well below-average power potential; swings at pitches he shouldn’t; will expand and chase spin.

Overall Future Potential: 6; first-division player

Realistic Role: High 4; utility player/below-average regular

Risk Factor/Injury History: High risk; Low-A resume; questions about the offensive profile.

Bret Sayre’s Fantasy Take: There’s some fantasy upside here, as anyone (especially a middle infielder) who steals 64 bases in a minor-league season is worth taking note of. Unfortunately, there’s little else to his game that will add fantasy value and the presence of defensive wizard Andrelton Simmons will push Peraza to second base (at best) barring a trade.

The Year Ahead: Peraza is a very strong defender at a premium position with high-end speed and contact ability, but he plays in the wrong organization and won’t have a future on the left side of the Braves major-league infield. I bring up the major leagues because Peraza has the potential to move through the minors very quickly, despite his age and limited upside with the stick. This kid is very advanced and can bring a lot to the table, and if he can maintain his contact ability as he climbs, you can see the soon-to-be 20-year-old playing his way to the highest level by late 2015, which seems like an extreme developmental plan but one that his overall skill set suggests is very possible. The profile is probably more utility than first division, as the offensive tools are more contact and speed with limited pop or power, but the glove is legit and Peraza would bring a lot to a 25-man roster, even if the bat plays a bit light.

Major league ETA: Late 2015

6. Tommy La Stella
Position: 2B
DOB: 01/31/1989
Height/Weight: 5’11” 185 lbs
Bats/Throws: L/R
Drafted/Acquired: 8th round, 2011 draft, Coastal Carolina University (Conway, SC)
Previous Ranking: #9 (Org)
2013 Stats: .343/.422/.473 at Double-A Mississippi (81 games), .550/.690/.750 at High-A Lynchburg (7 games)
The Tools: 6+ potential hit; 5 glove

What Happened in 2013: The former eighth round pick showed a good bat in 2012, but he really exploded in 2013, hitting over .340 at the Double-A level and carrying that success over to the Arizona Fall League, where he had 18 hits in 18 games.

Strengths: Excellent bat-to-ball skills; strong/quick hands; knack for putting the barrel on the ball; knows his pitch; game doesn’t feature a lot of swing-and-miss; hit tool could play plus or better; fundamentally sound on defense; glove is average; high-energy player.

Weaknesses: Lacks big athleticism; run is below average; arm is fringe-average at best; lacks first-step quickness or range; relies on fundamentals and positioning in the field; power is well below average; works gaps but lacks over-the-fence pop; has to hit to have any value.

Overall Future Potential: High 5; above-average regular

Realistic Role: Low 5; second division player

Risk Factor/Injury History: Moderate risk; Double-A experience; mature hit tool

Bret Sayre’s Fantasy Take: The best player on this list in terms of “now” value, La Stella is in competition for the second base job out of spring training. He doesn’t have much to offer besides a strong hit tool, but at a weak position, someone who can hit .280-.290 with minimal (but non-zero) production all around doesn’t sound like such a bad proposition in deeper leagues.

The Year Ahead: La Stella is the type of player that evaluators will discount, and despite his strong Double-A performance in 2013, I’m still not sold in the profile. The 25-year-old can swing the bat and knows what he can drive and what he can’t, but he lacks power and speed, and his defensive profile is fringe-average at best, mostly on the strength of his fundamental glove and overall feel for the game. The hit tool has to really shine against even better arms for La Stella to emerge as a major-league regular, but as one source aptly stated, “ give me a guy with a plus hit tool and baseball instincts over a guy with elite tools and no clue how to use them.” La Stella is one of those players evaluators often miss on because the body doesn’t look the part, the tools are fringy at best, and the overall profile doesn’t exactly make you weak in the knees when writing the report. But La Stella can hit the baseball, and at the end of the day, that’s the one tool that can not only make you a major leaguer but keep you around at that level for a long time.

Major league ETA: 2014

7. Wes Parsons
Position: RHP
DOB: 09/06/1992
Height/Weight: 6’5” 190 lbs
Bats/Throws: R/R
Drafted/Acquired: Non-drafted free agent, 2012, Jackson State Community College (Jackson, Tennessee)
Previous Ranking: NR
2013 Stats: 2.63 ERA (109.2 IP, 91 H, 101 K, 21 BB) at Low-A Rome
The Tools: 6 potential FB; 6 potential SL; 5+ potential CH

What Happened in 2013: In his first professional season, the virtually unknown and undrafted prospect had a 5:1 strikeout rate at the full-season level.

Strengths: Excellent size and physical projection; easy arm action; fastball works 90-95; shows good sink; good command; slider shows plus potential; sharp tilt and effective to both LH/RH; changeup shows solid-average potential; plus pitchability; intelligent with strong makeup.

Weaknesses: Fastball can play more pedestrian in the lower 90s; pitch can flatten out when he elevates; slider can get slurvy and loose; emerging weapon but needs refinement; changeup can play a little soft; limited professional sample.

Overall Future Potential: 5; no. 4 starter

Realistic Role: Low 5; no. 5 starter/long relief

Risk Factor/Injury History: Moderate risk; limited professional experience; good overall feel for the pitching.

Bret Sayre’s Fantasy Take: There’s not a whole lot of ceiling here, but if you’re looking for a name that could be of use in deeper leagues and is (in all likelihood) unowned, Parsons is a good player to grab or keep an eye on. He won’t be a big strikeout guy, but the ratios could be strong.

The Year Ahead: Parsons is a pop-out prospect but a legit one nonetheless. He has size, mound smarts, and solid-average to plus stuff, and the bow on the package is above-average pitchability. It will be interesting to see if the stuff ticks up as the body continues to mature, but even without much additional projection, the present profile is very promising, with a low-90s fastball that can touch 95, a slider that can show a sharp two-plane break and a changeup he can turn over and play off his fastball. The 21-year-old righty is a strong bet to continue the trend at the High-A level, and if he does start to tick up a bit, we might have something even more substantial emerge on the prospect landscape.

Major league ETA: 2016

8. Victor Caratini
Position: 3B
DOB: 08/17/1993
Height/Weight: 6’0” 192 lbs
Bats/Throws: B/R
Drafted/Acquired: 2nd round, 2013 draft, Miami Dade South CC (Miami, FL)
Previous Ranking: NR
2013 Stats: .290/.415/.430 at rookie level Danville (58 games)
The Tools: 6 arm; 6 potential hit

What Happened in 2013: Drafted in the second round, Caratini showed off the strong bat in his short-season debut, and a possible move behind the plate has the trajectory of his prospect status on the way up.

Strengths: Very strong and physical at present; built like a square block; natural hitter; short/sweet swing that is line-drive oriented; good eye at the plate; works counts and knows his pitch; arm is plus.

Weaknesses: Body lacks projection; limited room for additional weight/muscle; well below-average power potential; swing isn’t built for the long ball; glove and range would play below average at third; touch profile in the infield.

Overall Future Potential: 6; first-division player (catcher)

Realistic Role: Low 5; second-division player

Risk Factor/Injury History: High risk; rookie level experience

Bret Sayre’s Fantasy Take: If Caratini stays on the dirt, he could be a very low level fantasy play in the long term, but his upside jumps if he does make the transition behind the plate. The potential is there for a .275 average and 15-18 homers if he can stick and develop, but like any transition project, this is going to take a long time.

The Year Ahead: This is a tale of two players, a possible first-division catcher with a very strong hit tool or a third baseman with a fringe-average (at best) defensive profile and little to no power in the offensive game. Caratini is maxed out physically, a compact and strong player that looks built for the backstop. With a short swing and an advanced approach, there is a good chance that he hits all the way up the ladder, but when it comes to prospect status, the 20-year-old needs to make a successful conversion behind the plate to really blossom on the national level. It’s not going to be an overnight event, but all sources seem to agree that the additional developmental patience required will be worth it at the end of the day.

Major league ETA: 2017

9. Jason Hursh
Position: RHP
DOB: 10/02/1991
Height/Weight: 6’3” 190 lbs
Bats/Throws: R/R
Drafted/Acquired: 1st round, 2013 draft, Oklahoma University (Stillwater, OK)
Previous Ranking: N/R
2013 Stats: 0.67 ERA (27 IP, 20 H, 15 K, 10 BB) at Low-A Rome
The Tools: 7 potential FB; 5 potential SL; 5 potential CH

What Happened in 2013: Hursh was drafted in the first round but several sources questioned his first-round bona fides, especially with a Tommy John surgery in his immediate rearview.

Strengths: Good size/strength; shows pitchability; works off of his heavy mid-90s fastball that shows excellent life; slider shows some promise off the fastball and projects to be solid-average; shows a playable changeup; arm is considered fresh with some remaining projection.

Weaknesses: Mechanics can get out of whack; command is fringe-average; fastball is strong pitch but secondary arsenal is fringe; slider lacks big intensity; changeup is below average at present.

Overall Future Potential: 6; no. 3 starter

Realistic Role: 5; late-innings reliver (setup)

Risk Factor/Injury History: Moderate risk; limited professional experience; Tommy John on resume (2012)

Bret Sayre’s Fantasy Take: A low-end pick in dynasty league drafts this offseason, Hursh brings a lot of the risk inherent in young pitchers, but without a huge amount of upside. The fastball is great, but if he’s a starter, major league hitters aren’t going to oblige and give him the punchouts that his fantasy owners desire.

The Year Ahead: Hursh gets some prospect love because of his draft status and easy plus fastball, but the overall profile is a bit lacking, with an average at best slider, a below-average changeup, and iffy command. The 22-year-old isn’t far removed from Tommy John surgery, so you can expect some rust on the overall profile. But the projections on the secondary stuff don’t offer much to dream on, and the command needs to be sharp to ride the back of the fastball to rotation glory. 2014 will tell us a lot about the direction Hursh will take, with some sources seeing a setup reliever at the end of the day, which is a respectable outcome but not ideal from a first round pick.

Major league ETA: Late 2015

10. Victor Reyes
Position: OF
DOB: 10/05/1994
Height/Weight: 6’3’’ 170 lbs.
Bats/Throws: L/R
Drafted/Acquired: International free agent, 2011, Venezuela
Previous Ranking: N/R
2013 Stats: .357/.414/.446 at Gulf Coast League (31 games); .321/.345/.358 at short-season Danville (18 games)
The Tools: 6+ potential hit; 6 potential power; 5+ arm; 5 potential glove

What Happened in 2013: In his stateside debut, the high-ceiling talent really impressed with the stick, showing a sweet left-handed stroke and excellent bat-to-ball ability.

Strengths: Highly projectable; frame to add strength/muscle; sweet stroke from the left side; shows plus bat speed and very good bat control; really jumps on fastballs and will look for his pitch; hit tool could play to plus; power could play to plus at maturity; shows impressive present pop to opposite field; arm for a corner; good athlete with good feel

Weaknesses: Needs to continue to add strength; lets the ball travel and goes to the opposite field, but has yet to learn how to really turn on the baseball; will struggle against quality arm-side stuff; still underdeveloped in the field; reads/routes aren’t crisp; long way to go.

Overall Future Potential: 6; first-division player

Realistic Role: High 4; below-average regular; platoon bat

Risk Factor/Injury History: High risk; yet to play at full-season level

Bret Sayre’s Fantasy Take: Reyes has strong bat-to-ball skills, which could lead to a batting average around .290 down the road. Of course, he’s going to have to develop some secondary fantasy skills to go with it, or else he’s both not that interesting to us and won’t warrant the playing time for it to matter. If the power comes, he’s one to watch.

The Year Ahead: Reyes has the highest tool-based ceiling of any position player on the Braves farm, which is impressive but he’s also 19-years-old without full-season experience, so the risk is very high. Every source gushed about Reyes’ swing, the bat speed in combination with control really stands out and gets you excited about the future, especially when the Venezuelan learns how to tap into his power. He has a highly projectable body and could add a great deal of additional muscle and strength, and once he starts to put it all together, look out. It might not look super pretty in the short-term, as he’s still unrefined and raw, but the natural bat-to-ball ability will keep his head above water against more advanced arms, and when the light goes on and the pop starts to play, Reyes could develop into a top 101 prospect.

Major league ETA: 2017


Prospects on the Rise:
1. SS Johan Camargo:
Panamanian shortstop with a strong stick, Camargo projects to hit for average and some power (10-plus bombs) , with a strong approach at the plate and a strong arm in the field. The 20-year-old lacks speed and is unlikely to stick at shortstop as he climbs, but the bat could play legit, and he has the chops to develop into a quality defender on the right-side of the infield.

2. RHP Alec Grosser: An 11th round pick in the 2013 draft, Grosser was strong in his professional debut, touching the mid-90s from a lower slot with good feel for a breaking ball. With a lean and athletic body, scouts see some additional projection, and the 19-year-old righty could be in for a step forward in 2014. Sleeper.

3. LHP Luis Barrios: The Braves are one of the best in the business when it comes to recognizing and acquiring Latin American talent, so when they popped the hyped Colombian lefty, my interest in the prospect soared. Barrios is a projectable southpaw with good feel for pitching, already working the fastball in the upper 80s and touching the 90s, and as he adds strength and takes to pro instruction, he should step forward as a prospect in the Braves org. The resume will likely feature a few seasons of complex league action, but the scouting reports could push his stock after his debut summer.


Factors on the Farm (Prospects likely to contribute at the ML level in 2014)
1. RHP Shae Simmons:
A 22nd round selection in the 2012 draft, diminutive right Shae Simmons will likely pitch his way to the major league level in 2014. On the back of an explosive 93-97 mph fastball, plus slider and playable splitter, the 23-year-old arm misses a disgusting number of bats and barrels, and despite his 5’9’’ size, projects to be an impact arm at the back of a major league bullpen.

2. RHP David Hale: It’s not the sexiest profile, but former third-round pick David Hale can pitch, with good athleticism (former two-way player at Princeton), strike-throwing ability and a solid-average arsenal. The 26-year-old’s ultimate role might come as a swingman or emergency starter, although he has the arsenal to stick around in a rotation if he command is sharp, with a low-90s fastball, quality slider, and good changeup.

3. RHP Gus Schlosser: A 17th-round pick in the 2011 draft, Schlosser has found some success as a starter in the minors, abut his major league profile is more of a situational reliever. From a sidearm slot, the 25-year-old righty brings a low-90s fastball to the table, a pitch he can manipulate for heavy sink or even cut it into the hands of lefties. He backs it up with an average secondary arsenal but he shows pitchability and average command, so he can keep hitters off balance and prove to be quite effective against right-handed bats.


Top 10 Talents 25 and Under (born 4/1/1988 or later)

  1. Andrelton Simmons.
  2. Jason Heyward
  3. Freddie Freeman
  4. Julio Teheran
  5. Craig Kimbrel
  6. Lucas Sims
  7. Christian Bethancourt
  8. Alex Wood
  9. Mauricio Cabrera
  10. J.R. Graham


While the current crop of prospects in the Braves system doesn’t garner the universal praise of years past, the under-25 list remains a force due to the graduation of several former top prospects into bona fide major-league talent. While the Braves have been largely inactive on the trade and free agent markets this offseason, a majority of their efforts have revolved around extending the young core, and with the exception of Jason Heyward’s two-year extension covering his final two arbitration-eligible seasons, four of the top five players on this list have been locked up for the foreseeable future. With a new stadium in the works for 2017, John Schuerholz, Frank Wren, and the rest of Atlanta's brain trust have made it a priority to keep this group of young talent in the Peach State, and the projected revenue streams from the new stadium allowed the organization to loosen their purse strings more than they normally could under the strict financial restrictions of Liberty Media.

Selecting the top spot on the list proved to be a difficult endeavor, as there are at least three players with deserving resumes. After a promising 2012 campaign in which he delivered on the five-tool potential he established in his rookie season and throughout his minor league career, Heyward—by no fault of his own—battled freak injuries throughout 2013. Freddie Freeman was selected to his first All-Star game and finished in the top five in MVP voting after a breakout season in which he posted a .332 TAv. One could argue that Heyward has the highest upside of the group and Freeman has already established himself as a legitimate middle-of-the-order threat, but ultimately, Andrelton Simmons received the edge due to his profile as an elite defender at shortstop with a burgeoning offensive game. In addition to the elite all-around skills at the position, Simmons displayed top-of-the-charts contact ability while popping 50 extra-base hits, including 17 home runs. His baseline value will be buoyed for many seasons by his top-shelf defensive ability, and the potential for added offensive value is merely icing on the cake.

Julio Teheran proved his supporters right after a horrendous 2012 Triple-A campaign, starting 30 games and showcasing bat-missing stuff and plus command/control en route to a top-five showing in Rookie of the Year balloting. The live-armed righty should settle in as a number two starter for years to come. Craig Kimbrel continued to put up impossible numbers out of the bullpen last season, striking out 98 in 67 innings of work thanks to his lethal fastball/curveball combination that continues to make opposing hitters look foolish.

The first prospect on the list — and number 40 on BP’s Top 101 — is 2012 first rounder Lucas Sims. Sims carved up the South Atlantic League in what was an overwhelmingly impressive full-season debut, showcasing three pitches that could ultimately play plus, highlighted by an absolute hammer of a curveball. The soon-to-be 20-year-old showcased the requisite stuff, feel, and poise to one day be a number two starter. Panamanian backstop Christian Bethancourt, whose presence on top prospect lists dates as far back as 2010, got his first taste of the major-league lifestyle in September. Bethancourt’s defensive chops behind the plate are wholly unquestioned, and while he improved offensively in a return appearance to the Southern League, questions still linger about the overall offensive package. The 22-year-old should start the season in Triple-A and could see time in Atlanta down the stretch in 2014.

Alex Wood was on the developmental roller coaster in 2013, starting the year in the Southern League and ending it as a vital member of the big-league roster. He split time between the starting rotation and the bullpen, boasting a much-improved breaking ball to go along with his plus changeup and fastball combination. The 23-year-old will get every chance to start this season, though some still question his ultimate role long term. The list is rounded out by two high-octane right-handed pitchers who also present concerns about their future roles. J.R. Graham endured a frustrating 2013 campaign that was dogged by a lingering shoulder injury. The arsenal is such that Graham could ultimately become a solid middle-of-the-rotation starter, but the health of the shoulder will obviously be key in reaching this ceiling. Otherwise, Graham’s repertoire would be electric in the back end of a bullpen. Mauricio Cabrera features an impressive build and an 80 fastball with developing secondaries, though command issues could hamper his development as a starting pitcher. Massive upside is present, however, and he will continue to be developed as a starter until he proves otherwise. –Ethan Purser


A Parting Thought: The system is deep with quality Latin American talent, but outside of a few arms, the stateside talent acquired in the amateur draft is thin and unremarkable.

***

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Jason Parks is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
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17 comments have been left for this article. (Click to hide comments)

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R.A.Wagman

Prospects have broken my heart - great work, Jason and friends - on the entire series. Phenomenal stuff all around.

Feb 25, 2014 06:36 AM
rating: 14
 
Probably Handsome

This really was a great series and I think that it’s a little sad that it’s ending.

I would bet that I learned more from Jason Parks in the past year than from any other person in baseball. Thanks, Jason, for keeping our minds busy through the off-season.

Feb 25, 2014 22:41 PM
rating: 1
 
gtgator

Nice summary of the system. One question I have is why Northcraft seems to get no attention. What is it about his profile that appears to make him a non-prospect?

Feb 25, 2014 07:06 AM
rating: 0
 
BP staff member Jason Parks
BP staff

He's not a non-prospect; he has a major league projection. But its not an overwhelming profile and his command isn't sharp enough to project higher.

Feb 25, 2014 07:32 AM
 
ttt

Thoughts on Luis Merejo? I know he got hurt, but I haven't really found much on him. Thanks!

Feb 25, 2014 07:28 AM
rating: 0
 
BP staff member Jason Parks
BP staff

Would have been On the Rise were it not for the injury. Smallish lefty with strong feel for both a curve and a change; fastball velocity fluctuates, but he can work in the upper-80s/low-90s and can touch 93+. The ceiling isn't extreme, but he can pitch and would have been in the mix without the injury.

Feb 25, 2014 07:35 AM
 
AndrewBall

Not really a true prospect, but did you gather any reports on LHP Ian Thomas? Does have a future major league role as a back end starter or a bullpen arm?

Feb 25, 2014 07:47 AM
rating: 0
 
jlewando

Really curious where Justin Upton would fit into the "25 and under" list were he still eligible.

I always love the prospect series, and this year's has been the best yet. And that is really saying something, given KG's/Prof. Parks' fine work in years past.

Great job, y'all.

Feb 25, 2014 08:44 AM
rating: 2
 
BP staff member Ethan Purser
BP staff

Man, that's a tough one. I'm taking Heyward over him (slightly), so he'd slot in #3 ahead of Freeman. Could definitely see other arguments, but I'm taking Heyward because he can impact the game in so many different ways. He's a healthy season away from competing for an MVP award and still has that tantalizing upside he's always flashed. Upton's awesome, but a decline in the non-offensive aspects of his game could pull his overall value down as he climbs into his upper 20s. There's a ton of value in that bat, though.

Feb 25, 2014 22:11 PM
 
Cortyrone

Where does the Braves' 25 and under talent rank? I'd think it would have to rate as one of the best.

Feb 25, 2014 09:36 AM
rating: 1
 
Patches

Is La Stella's patience/eye as good as the minor league numbers indicate, or is that more a function of his advanced hit tool? Brett, how much would you bump up his fantasy ranking in OBP leagues?

p.s. Loved the entire series. Fantastic work, all.

Feb 25, 2014 10:31 AM
rating: 0
 
Kyle Matte

Are there any plans to have some kind of "300 by the numbers" article? Not with the tools bubbles you had in the top 101 or anything like that, but I'd be curious about the position, age, and origin (i.e. draft versus international signing) breakdown.

Feb 25, 2014 12:01 PM
rating: 0
 
BP staff member Craig Goldstein
BP staff

Yes. We have something like this planned. The data is all ready, but organizing and presenting it could take a small while. We have a few infographics planned, and the rest could be done in a simple list. That said, if we can deliver the information in a visually stimulating way - that's our goal.

PS - don't give up hope on a tools molecule for all the top tens :)

Feb 25, 2014 14:46 PM
 
Kyle Matte

Awesome

Feb 25, 2014 15:51 PM
rating: 1
 
Duranimal

Really banking on Simmon's offensive game if he's the best player under 25.



Feb 25, 2014 18:23 PM
rating: 0
 
BP staff member Ethan Purser
BP staff

I have enough confidence in the bat — and others do, too — to rank him that high. Some believe he's an elite defender at shortstop with an above-average bat in the end. That type of player doesn't come around very often.

Feb 25, 2014 21:23 PM
 
MetsFaithful5

Who would you rather have long term? Tommy La Stella or Dilson Herrera?

Feb 26, 2014 13:21 PM
rating: 0
 
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