March 14, 2013 at 11:45 am by Ethan Purser under Draft
One of our initiatives this season at Capitol Avenue Club is to prepare you, the reader, for the 2013 Rule 4 Draft in June. The Braves have the 31st or 32nd overall pick, depending on Kyle Lohse’s ultimate destination. While it’s clearly impossible to know who they are targeting with this particular pick this early in the process, we can throw some darts and highlight quality prospects who could be in consideration at this point and in later rounds as the college and high school seasons progress. You will see plenty of first-hand scouting reports of top draft talent along with collegiate performance recaps once the MiLB season begins and nightly stat roundups commence. Enough of this; let’s get down to business, shall we?
The state of Georgia is not lacking this year in terms of draft talent at both the collegiate and high school level. I recently caught a midweek game at Georgia Tech and came away very impressed with the team’s crop of 2013 draft-eligible prospects. On this particular night, the Yellow Jackets boasted an impressive outfield in terms of draft prospects, highlighted in center field by senior Brandon Thomas. Thomas was selected in the fourth round by the Pittsburgh Pirates in 2012 but decided to return to campus for his senior season. Thomas possesses a strong 6’3”, 210-pound frame, yet still covers plenty of ground in center field thanks to his plus speed and the length of his strides. At the plate, the switch-hitter leaves a good bit to be desired. He lacks top-shelf bat speed from both sides of the plate, and the swing itself can get lengthy — especially from the right side — leaving him vulnerable with respect to pitches on the inner half of the plate. Thomas’ big frame has always hinted at some untapped power potential, but he has yet to consistently show this tool at the collegiate level. As previously mentioned, he’s an above-average to plus runner, getting down the line in 3.9 seconds on a bunt attempt on this particular night. If everything breaks right, Thomas could be a solid fourth outfielder at the major league level, as his ability to play all three outfield positions competently and bat from both sides of the plate would certainly be positives in this role. I struggle to see even this, however, as his poor hitting tools mixed with his lack of power raise serious questions about his transition to the professional game.
Kyle Wren, a 30th round pick by the Cincinnati Reds in 2012 as a draft-eligible sophomore, manned left field for the Jackets. That name should sound familiar; Kyle is the son of Braves’ GM Frank Wren. Wren’s carrying tool is his plus-plus speed. On a jailbreak, Wren made it to first base in 3.65 seconds. At the plate, Wren is a pesky hitter with a short, line-drive oriented swing. His swing can become bottom-hand dominant, causing him to lose barrel control and forcing the majority of his best contact to the pull-side. Wren’s a small dude — he’s listed at 5’10”, 172 pounds — and lacks any sort of power projection. In the outfield, Wren uses his blinding speed to cover tons of ground. Besides power, Wren’s arm is his weakest tool. In fielding practice, Wren’s throws had visible arc and routinely two-hopped the catcher on weak bounces. Ultimately, he reminds me of Sam Fuld, not on a direct tools level, but in the ultimate role that he could occupy at the major league level. Guys like Wren are my ultimate scouting blind spot; he’s a personal favorite.
Rounding out Tech’s outfield on this cold, blustery night was Daniel Palka. Palka lit up the Cape Cod League this summer, wowing spectators and prognosticators alike with his plus-plus left-handed raw power. Palka is, to put it bluntly, a grown man; his muscular 6’2”, 220-pound frame aids in his ability to send balls well over the fence with regularity. He begins his swing from an open stance and with his bat in a fairly vertical position. From here, Palka loads his rear hip by cocking his front hip with a big leg raise and an inward knee turn. Palka does a great job of clearing his hips and separating his upper and lower half, creating impressive torque and leverage. He loads his hands in an ultra-aggressive manner, a trait that I love to see in power hitters. He drops his hands, tips the barrel toward the third-base dugout, and unloads with ferocious intent. With a swing like Palka’s, the intentions are evident — he wants to harm baseballs. This type of swing obviously has some holes, and mixed with a bit of loop on the backside as a result of a flatten-then-swing move, Palka will swing and miss with regularity at the professional level. Palka could have the most raw power in the class, though, and this could cause teams to be on him very early in this year’s draft. The bad news, however, is that he ultimately does not profile in right field. Palka can certainly hold his own at the collegiate level, though he should ultimately wind up at first base due to a lack of playable foot speed and the worry that he will get slower as his midsection and lower half continue to add bulk as he matures. This is a shame, as one could certainly argue that his second-best tool is his arm, which could be a true plus weapon in right.
Tech’s shortstop, Mott Hyde, became my focal point for a majority of the game. A 44th round pick out of high school in 2010, Hyde possesses a sturdy 5’11”, 190-pound frame with a muscular and well-defined upper body, which includes broad shoulders and very strong forearms and wrists. At short, he shows good footwork and instincts, properly identifying and reading hops off the bat. His lightning-quick transfer helps his above-average arm strength play up during game action and his above-average to plus speed helps him cover the position well. At the plate, Hyde has a fairly short and compact swing, displaying power potential that could be above-average for an up-the-middle position. His first move with his upper body is to drop his back shoulder, causing a bit of an uppercut that limits the amount of time his barrel stays in the zone and opens up some holes above his hands. The natural loft created by this move, however, aids in his current power output and future power potential. While Hyde will likely never hit for a ton of average at the professional level, he could make up for it with plenty of extra-base pop, a valuable trait at an up-the-middle position. One could make the argument that he will have to move off of shortstop as his lower body continues to fill in and he loses a couple of steps. While I could theoretically see this happening, I’m not completely sold; I think he can handle the position for at least his first few professional seasons. If everything works out, I could see him becoming a second-division regular at the position. It’s not going to work out, though. It never does.
*Note: Zane Evans, another player who is draft-eligible this season, was not catching in this game. I’ll save my thoughts on him for when I am able to see him behind the plate.
March 6, 2013 at 11:40 am by Ethan Purser under Prospects
At long last, here are the write-ups for CAC’s top 10 prospects. We begin with one of Coach Ben’s favorites.
10. Todd Cunningham: OF | S/R | 6’0”, 200 lbs. | Age: 23 | 2nd round, 2010
Performance: Cunningham had a breakout year at Double-A Mississippi after a 2011 campaign that was ultimately cut short due to injury. He posted averages of .309/.364/.403 with 23 doubles, six triples, three home runs, and a 38:51 walk-to-strikeout ratio in 519 plate appearances. He added 24 stolen bases in 32 attempts. His on-base percentage and strikeout rate were nine percent and 49 percent better than the Southern League, respectively. He had a fairly pronounced platoon split, posting a .791 OPS as a lefty and a .688 OPS as a righty, albeit in a limited sample. Cunningham manned center field for a majority of the season, posting a 1.84 range factor per game. He committed three errors and added four assists in 181 chances.
Tools: The biggest plus in Cunningham’s favor is his ability to put the bat on the baseball. He has a short, compact, and level stroke from both sides of the plate, keeping his barrel in the zone for a long period of time and shooting line drives all over the field. He’s an inside-out hitter who is adept at keeping his hands inside the baseball and going the other way (Joe Simpson is going to love this guy). He’ll never be a power threat due to his insistence on contact, but he should rack up a fair amount of doubles. He’s an above average runner (probably a 55-60 on the 20-80 scale) but has only been successful in 72 percent of his stolen-base attempts over his career (75 percent in 2012). This isn’t necessarily terrible — that would play well at the major league level, after all — but one would like to see a higher rate, especially in the minors. He is an average defender who will provide defensive versatility in the outfield.
Future: While he’s not incredibly toolsy, Cunningham has solid skills and tools that should play well in a reserve role in the not-so-distant future. He’ll likely begin the season in Gwinnett as a 24-year-old and will look to build upon his successful 2012 season. Stealing bases is the only area of his game that requires more development, but this a minor issue in the grand scheme of things. He could possibly become trade bait in the event that a team views him as more than a fourth outfielder.
9. Edward Salcedo: 3B | R/R | 6’3”, 210 lbs. | Age: 21 | Signed out of the DR, 2010
Performance: Another year, and another so-so performance from one of the most frustrating prospects in all of baseball. First, the positives: his 17 home runs placed him firmly in the top-10 in the Carolina League, he stole 23 bases, and his slugging average was five percent better than the league. Now, the negatives: his strikeout rate, walk rate, and on-base percentage were 27 percent, 20 percent, and 10 percent worse than the league, respectively. He was only successful in 62 percent of his stolen base attempts. There’s also that whole “fielding” thing; in 386 chances, Salcedo committed 42 errors. Errors aren’t the end-all, be-all, especially in the minors. Regardless, that is just an absurd amount. He was one of the youngest players in the Arizona Fall League this offseason, producing averages of .140/.187/.267.
Tools: You see, this is the reason Salcedo is so frustrating — he possesses some of the loudest tools in the organization. Offensively, his torque-driven swing is geared for monster raw power; he employs a toe-tap trigger and does a great job of generating separation between his two halves. His upper body actions were noticeably different at the end of last season; previously, his hands were held high above his shoulder, and while his load wasn’t extremely deep, he exhibited a bit of bat wrap and tended to drop his backside in an exaggerated manner in order to lift the ball, causing a pronounced loop and unnecessary length in the barrel’s path to the zone. At the end of the season, however, he set up in a more crouched position, holding his hands lower and closer to his right ear. There was still some loop on the backside, but the wrap was reduced and some of the holes on the inner half were closed. On the basepaths, Salcedo is a solid-average runner but still has trouble reading pitchers and getting good jumps. Defensively, Salcedo has above-average arm strength from the hot corner, and while he has good range and soft hands, he remains a well below-average defender. As is the case with most young third basemen, however, Salcedo needs more repetitions at the position. Third base is a dynamic place on the diamond, as not only does one have to worry about baseballs coming at his face in excess of 100 miles per hour, but he also has to worry about the subtleties: different positioning for different hitters, bunt plays, and consistently making the long throws across the diamond. You’ll notice in looking at several young third basemen that a majority have incredibly low fielding percentages — this is why.
Future: Salcedo will likely move to Mississippi in 2013 as a 21-year-old. At some point, his production is going to have to match the hype that is warranted by his tools. The thing to remember, however, is that he is still very young and has plenty of time to hone his skills in the upper minors. 2013 will be a huge test for him, however, as Double-A pitching can cause even the greatest prospects to falter.
8. Jose Peraza: SS | R/R | 5’11”, 167 lbs. | Age: 18 | Signed out of Venezuela, 2010
Performance: On the position prospect side, Peraza may have been the biggest riser in the Braves system in 2012. Between the GCL and Danville, he posted averages of .296/.350/.374 with seven doubles, three triples, one home run, and a 13:24 walk-to-strikeout ratio in 228 plate appearances. The 18-year-old showed off his speed on the bases, stealing 25 bags in 30 attempts. He played 34 games at shortstop, committing 15 errors in 176 chances and posting a 4.74 range factor per game.
Tools: Peraza has all of the desirable traits of a young shortstop prospect. While the finer points of his defense need work, there is nothing there that would hinder him from becoming a well above-average defender in the long-term, which is a great sign from a kid his age. He is a plus to plus-plus runner, which aids in the field and on the basepaths. At the plate, he has an incredibly smooth, short stroke that aids in making contact at an incredibly high rate. He will never be much of a power threat, but that’s perfectly okay; players with his profile do not have to hit home runs to ultimately be valuable at the highest level. He should hit his fair share of doubles and triples, however, and with the added strength that comes with physical maturity, he could develop some over-the-fence pop in the coming years.
Future: If Peraza develops as expected, he could have one of the brightest futures in the organization, as everyday shortstops certainly don’t grow on trees. With that said, he will be a 19-year-old in the South Atlantic League this year, so he is an incredibly long way away. If he performs well in Rome, look for his name to start popping onto the national prospect radar. Even if he struggles initially, time is on his side during the adjustment process.
7. Mauricio Cabrera: RHP | R/R | 6’2”, 180 lbs. | Age: 19 | Signed out of the DR, 2010
Performance: The prize of the 2010 international crop, Cabrera performed well in his stateside debut in Danville, posting a 2.97 ERA with a 48:23 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 57.2 innings pitched. He limited hits, but posted a walk rate and strikeout rate that were both slightly worse than the Appalachian League average.
Tools: Cabrera possesses an intriguing three-pitch mix: an explosive fastball, which he can sink and cut depending on the situation, that sits in the mid-90s and touches the high-90s on occasion, with a biting two-plane slider and a solid-average to plus changeup. The two secondaries, while flashing above-average to plus potential, are still inconsistent; this is to be expected out of a teenager who has yet to make the jump to full-season ball. He possesses a thick build with a well-developed lower half, which bodes well for his ability to eat innings as he climbs the ladder. There are some minor issues with his delivery — long-ish arm action, etc. — but again, he’s crazy young and has plenty of time to iron out these issues as he tightens up his delivery.
Future: Cabrera should begin the season in Low-A Rome as a 19-year-old, where he and Lucas Sims should form a daunting 1-2 punch. In a recent podcast, Mark claimed that Cabrera has the biggest star potential in terms of pitchers outside of Teheran. Upon hearing this statement, I was immediately kicking myself for not choosing him as well. If everything comes together, the ingredients are there for Cabrera to sit near the top of a rotation. He’s a long way away, however.
6. Alex Wood: LHP | L/L | 6’4”, 215 lbs. | Age: 22 | 2nd round, 2012
Performance: After being drafted by the Braves in the 2nd round in last year’s draft, the former Georgia Bulldog went straight to Rome and wowed spectators and prognosticators alike. In 52.2 innings pitched, Wood posted a 2.22 ERA with a 52:14 strikeout-to-walk ratio. He held opponents to 39 hits and only one home run during this span. He did an excellent job keeping the ball on the ground, producing a 2.09 groundout-to-airout ratio.
Tools: Wood’s repertoire and deception allowed for the success he saw in jumping from the SEC to the South Atlantic League. His above-average fastball, which can touch in the mid- to upper-90s, features heavy arm-side run and his plus changeup has plenty of sink and fade away from right-handed hitters. While the changeup keeps righties honest, he has yet to develop a breaking ball that will completely neutralize left-handed hitters. At present, his breaking ball is slurvy without sharp glove-side break; it does have two-plane break, but it’s more of the looping, 2-to-7 variety. He has pretty good control over all three of his pitches, but he struggles to command them from start-to-start. Wood has gained some notoriety for his funky delivery — his delivery is what announcers would describe as “arms and legs flying at you (the hitter)”. His tempo is quick throughout the entirety of his motion, but once he reaches his balance point, he allows his legs to drift toward the plate and dips his upper body over the pitching rubber, which is good for creating separation. He fully stabs his arm behind his body, showing it to a right-handed hitter, and he releases the ball from a three-quarters arm slot. Upon footplant, however, Wood hops back toward the rubber with his lead foot, cutting himself off from precious length out front. He has seemingly mastered this move, however, and is still able to retain some semblance of control despite the funkiness. One has to wonder, though, if the hop after footplant is related to the relative inefficacy of the breaking ball. If anything, he’s a fun pitcher to watch.
Future: The Braves could take two paths with the young lefty in 2013. They could send him to High-A, where his fastball/changeup combination would undoubtedly make some heads spin, or they could send him to Double-A out of the gate like they did with fellow college lefties Mike Minor and Sean Gilmartin. (This is where I have my money, for what it’s worth.) Wherever he is sent, the continued development of Wood’s breaking ball will be imperative if the team views him as a starter long-term. The positive with Wood’s profile is that if he ultimately doesn’t develop into a starter, for whatever reason, he could be placed in the bullpen as a guy who can induce swings-and-misses and groundballs from the left side. His ceiling resides near the middle of a rotation, possibly as high as a #2 if the breaking ball takes a giant leap forward.
5. Christian Bethancourt: C | R/R | 6’2”, 220 lbs. | Age: 21 | Signed out of Panama, 2008
Performance: In a way, Bethancourt’s story is as well-documented as Teheran’s and Gattis’. He has faced lofty expectations ever since making his stateside debut in 2009, and despite a fleeting taste of success in rookie ball and for half of 2011, Bethancourt’s production has yet to match the hype surrounding his tools. As a 20-year-old in Double-A, Bethancourt produced averages of .243/.275/.291 with five doubles, a triple, two home runs, and an 11:45 walk-to-strikeout ratio in 288 plate appearances. His season was cut short by a wrist injury. His .566 OPS was 20 percent worse than the league average, while his paltry .097 secondary average placed him 61 percent below the Southern League. The thing to remember, however, is that Bethancourt’s bat was rushed; the competition he faced was between three and four years his senior. While fans expect superstars to hold their own offensively in any type of minor league environment at any age, that’s just not the type of player Bethancourt is, as he will always be a defense-first catcher. He spent 69 games behind the dish, allowing five passed balls and committing eight errors in 536 chances, while compiling a 7.65 range factor per game. He caught 39 percent of would-be base stealers.
Tools: On the defensive side of the game, Bethancourt has all of the tools. Plus-plus to elite arm? Check. Incredibly quick feet? You betcha. Excellent receiving and blocking skills? You know it. He needs to hone the last two aspects of his defense, but he has flashed the ability to be a plus to plus-plus overall defender behind the dish, which is incredibly rare. (I was once told that the best catchers look like shortstops behind the plate. This description fits Bethancourt well.) His hitting skills lag behind in a severe manner. He has a fairly short and quick swing, but he opens up his front side much too early, causing him to lose balance and “step in the bucket” with his front foot. His hit tool is also downgraded due to a willingness to swing at anything and everything. His bat-to-ball skills are not at all terrible; he only struck out in 15.6 percent of his plate appearances in 2012. This, along with an inability to recognize spin, leads to his overzealousness at the dish. He still tantalizes in batting practice with monster raw power, but has yet to show this off consistently in game action. Due to the defensive rigors of catching on a day-to-day basis, Bethancourt has lost a step or two since coming into the system, but he’s still a solid-average runner.
Future: Due to his tremendous defensive prowess, Bethancourt will reach the majors in some capacity. Whether this will be as a backup or as a starter is still to be determined. In a recent Fangraphs article and in a recent podcast, Mark and I compared him to Jose Molina, in that he could be a well below-average hitter and still be a 2 win-ish player behind the plate. There is still hope, however, that he could learn how to tap into his raw physical tools at the plate, and as a 21-year-old playing in his second year at Double-A, it’s perfectly okay to continue hoping.
4. Sean Gilmartin: LHP | L/L | 6’2”, 190 lbs. | Age: 22 | 1st round, 2011
Performance: The slow and steady Gilmartin pitched well between Double-A and Triple-A in 2012, producing an aggregate ERA of 3.84 with a 111:39 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 157 innings pitched. He proved hittable in his time in the Southern League, posting a hit rate (hits divided by batters faced) that was four percent worse than the league average. His strikeout-to-walk ratio and (K-BB)/PA, on the other hand, were better than the Southern League. He made the move to Gwinnett at the end of July and was hit around in seven starts, allowing 41 hits and six home runs in 37.2 innings pitched.
Tools: Gilmartin is not an imposing presence on the mound in terms of physicality or stuff, but he makes up for it by mixing and locating his four-pitch arsenal well. His fastball sits in the fringe-average to average range, touching 92 on occasion, with a good amount of arm-side run. The upper-70s changeup is the difference-maker in his arsenal, profiling as a true plus pitch that will elicit its fair share of awkward swings-and-misses from right-handed hitters. He has two breaking balls: a looping low-70s curveball with 12-to-6 action and an upper-70s to low-80s slider with two-plane break. While the slider could be a true weapon against both left-handed and right-handed hitters, the curveball profiles as more of a show-me pitch currently. In discussing Gilmartin’s mechanics, the description that readily comes to mind is “aesthetically pleasing”. He has a stellar front side, which he extends over quite well, and a short arm stroke that aids in deception and perceived velocity (i.e., the ball “jumps” out of his hand). His compact, stress-free delivery, along with his natural athleticism, should allow him to eat plenty of innings at the major league level.
Future: The discussion revolving Gilmartin is not predicated on his floor; outside of Teheran, he is as sure of a bet as any Braves prospect to make it to the highest level. The ultimate question is his ceiling. If one believes in the two breaking balls, slapping a future mid-rotation starter tag on him is certainly reasonable. If one is skeptical about the utility of the two breaking balls, however, the back-end tag is warranted. The other concern is that his fastball will get hammered at the major league level, leaving him as a pitcher who will have to be sharp in every start, relying on location and guile as opposed to pure stuff in order to get hitters out. While pitchers with similar stuff have ultimately succeeded at the highest level, the margin for error is slim. With that said, it’s a major league arm in some capacity, and there’s significant value in that. He’ll begin the year in Gwinnett and will play the season as a 23-year-old. He looks to be one of the main contingency plans in the event that Teheran can’t handle the fifth-starter gig.
3. J.R. Graham: RHP | R/R | 6’0”, 185 lbs. | Age: 23 | 4th round, 2011
Performance: The Santa Clara University product burst onto the scene in his full-season debut between Lynchburg and Mississippi, compiling a 2.80 ERA/3.19 FIP with a 110:34 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 148 innings pitched. Statistically, he did everything that you want out of a starting pitching prospect: he limited walks, limited home runs, and kept the ball on the ground at a ridiculous rate, as evidenced by a 2.24 groundout-to-airout ratio. While he didn’t post high strikeout numbers in the aggregate, he increased them by 31 percent upon being promoted to Mississippi, though this was accompanied by a 111 percent increase in walks.
Tools: Graham attacks hitters with four offerings: a fastball that sits in the mid-90s, a sinker that sits in the low-90s with an abundance of arm-side sink and run, a biting two-plane slider that sits in the mid-80s, and a developing changeup in the low- to mid-80s. He primarily uses the fastball to elevate deep in counts, while he pounds the bottom of the zone with a sinker that induces plenty of ground balls. The slider is a swing-and-miss offering against righties and lefties alike, as its sharp, late break makes it hard to square up consistently. He shows a feel for a changeup and will throw the pitch fairly often, but it is still a below-average offering currently. It features nice arm-side fade and fastball separation, but the offering is downgraded due to a lack of depth and a slowing of the arm, which telegraphs the pitch to the batter. His athletic delivery has no glaring weakness, as his naturally quick arm combined with a quick tempo aid in delivering the ball to the plate with authority from a high three-quarters arm slot. He will occasionally rush his front side, however, causing him to miss high and to the glove-side with his fastball and leaving him off-balance upon footplant. While he is not the tallest guy in the world, Graham is built like a world-class athlete and should be able to eat plenty of innings at the major league level.
Future: Graham could be ready for a bullpen role as early as this year, as his excellent fastball/sinker/slider repertoire would be decidedly nasty in a one-inning stint. The Braves seem intent upon developing him as a starter, however, and I can’t say that I blame them in a prospect maximization sense. The continued development of the changeup is key to him reaching his ceiling of a mid-rotation starter, and he will need at least another year in the upper minors in order to fine-tune his changeup and his overall command profile. While I personally lean toward him ultimately becoming a high-leverage reliever, I can’t deny the fact that he still has a shot at the rotation. Regardless, there are a lot of things to like here.
2. Lucas Sims: RHP | R/R | 6’1”, 200 lbs. | Age: 18 | 1st round, 2012
Performance: Sims, last year’s first round pick out of Brookwood High School in Snellville, GA, posted a 3.71 ERA and a 39:13 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 34 innings pitched between the GCL and Danville. While his numbers weren’t quite as sharp after he was promoted to Danville, there was at least one positive, as he was still able to miss bats at a very high rate relative to the rest of the Appalachian League (10 percent better than the league). He allowed both hits and home runs at right around a league average rate, and despite showing impeccable control in the GCL, his walk rate was worse than league average in the Appalachian League. Keep in mind, however, that it is very hard to draw conclusions from a sample this small and from a kid who had already pitched in excess of 70 innings in high school baseball.
Tools: Sims possesses a classic three-pitch mix that could fit comfortably in the rotation at full maturity. Sims’ fastball sits comfortably in the solid-average range with good arm-side movement, and he has been able to shove it in the mid- to upper-90s on occasion. His downer curveball could be a true plus offering, featuring sharp 12-to-6 break with plenty of depth (it has the potential to be one of the best secondaries in the system, in my opinion). His repertoire is rounded out by a developing changeup, a pitch for which he has a good amount of feel, a great sign for a high school draftee. His mechanics leave a bit to be desired; upon reaching his balance point, Sims stops all of his momentum, whereupon he must explode into footplant to make up for the lost energy. The explosive second half is definitely a positive, but there is no need for him to “stop at the top”. His arm action is longer than one would like, as he shows the ball to left-handed hitters and exhibits a bit of wrist wrap at the bottom of the arm swing. He opens his front shoulder too soon in his sequence, leaving his arm to do most of the work in his delivery, and he exhibits a violent head jerk upon release. It’s an incredibly quick arm, though, and he can survive on pure arm speed at this point. Sooner or later, however, some of the rough kinks will need to be worked out. Sims is known for his athleticism, so he should respond well if the team decides to make a few mechanical changes to his delivery.
Future: Along with fellow top prospect Mauricio Cabrera, Sims should open the season in Rome’s rotation. When evaluating Sims, there tends to be some divergence concerning his ceiling. Some think his athleticism and well-rounded arsenal should play well at or near the top of a rotation; others, however, feel that the declining in-game fastball velocity is a reason for concern, noting that when all is said and done, his fastball may end up playing in the average range due to a lack of overall physical projection in the body. This would leave him as more of a middle-of-the-rotation arm, which is certainly nothing at which to sneeze. Regardless, Sims is an exciting arm to have in the lower levels of the minors.
1. Julio Teheran: RHP | R/R | 6’2”, 175 lbs. | Age: 22 | Signed out of Colombia, 2008
Performance: No matter how one chooses to slice it, Teheran’s 2012 performance was disappointing. The heralded prospect was supposed to dominate in his second season in the International League, but reality proved to be far crueler than expectations. He posted a 5.08 ERA (29 percent worse than the league) in 26 starts, compiling a 97:43 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 131 innings pitched. Teheran was far more hittable in 2012, as his hit rate increased 25 percent from 2011. The biggest peripheral that stands out was the sheer amount of home runs he allowed. In 2011, he allowed five in 144.2 innings pitched; in 2012, he allowed 18 in 13 fewer innings. Along with this, his strikeout rate was right at 13 percent worse than the International League in 2012. Teheran’s numbers were terrible when considering his career averages and when compared to the rest of the league in which he played. How is he still number one on this list, again?
Tools: Fortunately, the answer to the question posed above can be found here. Teheran still has the repertoire that we have been talking about for years, which includes a low- to mid-90s fastball with plenty of sink and run into the hands of right-handed hitters, a devastating changeup with gobs of arm-side fade, and an inconsistent curveball that will flash above-average thanks to its depth, but plays lower in game action due to an inability to locate and command the offering. He’s even added a slider to his repertoire, a pitch he plans to use quite often in 2013. He tinkered with what looked like a slider at the end of last season, and while the pitch featured tight two-plane break, he struggled to command the pitch with authority. As has been said around here plenty of times before, Teheran had a tendency to drop and drive in excess prior to September, whereupon the Braves sent their big guns to Gwinnett in order to work on his delivery. The result was a more balanced and less violent delivery that allowed him to keep a downhill plane on his pitches, a necessary component that was missing prior to the mechanical changes. In a vacuum, I prefer a pitcher who is willing to go after it with some intent rather than one who is focused on balance and a slower tempo*; in Teheran’s case, however, he was unable to get the same kind of movement on his offerings and could not command his repertoire in a manner that would consistently get upper level hitters out with the more intent-filled delivery. So, in sum, he’s staying taller on the backside of his delivery in an attempt to let his natural fastball movement play up and to allow his two breaking balls to find the bottom of the zone with more regularity.
Future: Despite his disappointing 2012 season, Teheran is the lead dog in the “race” for the fifth-starter job. If he does indeed win this job, the thing to keep in mind is that he will play next season as a 22-year-old; there is bound to be some form of disappointment along the way. Franklin outlined this point beautifully in an article earlier in January. While it would be easy to forget last year and claim that he still has “ace” stuff, one has to step back and evaluate objectively. Likewise, it would be easy to read too much into his performance last year and dismiss him as a legitimate prospect altogether. Is he the next Pedro Martinez? I think it’s safe to say he’s not at this point. This obviously means he’s the next Juan Cruz, right? Wrong again. He’s likely somewhere in the middle long-term, and if he ultimately becomes a #2 on a championship-caliber club, one has to consider that a huge win for the Braves organization.
*This is undoubtedly due to my adoration of Carlos Gomez, a former contributor to the Hardball Times and the current international scouting director for the Angels.
February 21, 2013 at 11:37 am by Ethan Purser under Prospects
We begin this week with a pitcher who has slowly but surely climbed the organizational ladder after being drafted in 2009. We end with a man who, well, needs no introduction.
20. David Hale: RHP | R/R | 6’2”, 210 lbs. | Age: 25 | 3rd round, 2009
Performance: In his first full season in the starting rotation for Double-A Mississippi, Hale gave reasons for both optimism and concern, producing a 3.77 ERA/4.06 FIP with a 124:67 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 145.2 innings pitched, the most innings he has pitched in professional baseball. His ERA and strikeout rate were both slightly better than the Southern League; his walk rate and strikeout-to-walk ratio were both worse than league average.
Tools: The athletic righty brings two quality offerings to the table, with his fastball sitting in the low- to mid-90s and his slider sitting in the mid-80s with biting two-plane break. Both pitches, in terms of raw grades, have the potential to be plus offerings; due to his command profile, however, the pitches play a bit lower in game action. He will occasionally flash a changeup, but it is nothing more than a show-me pitch at this point. Hale possesses prototypical tall-and-fall mechanics with a moderate tempo, a three-quarters release point, and very good front-side mechanics. He has an extremely quick arm, though his elbow gets higher than one would like in the back, forcing his arm to catch up with the rest of his body. This can negatively affect command/control.
Future: Hale will move up to Triple-A Gwinnett in 2013 after being added to the 40-man roster this offseason. His full-time move to the rotation in 2012 was understandable, given that a team should do everything in its power to maximize the potential of its prospects. His start-to-start inconsistency mixed with his lack of a playable third pitch ultimately point to a bullpen role long-term. If he can fix his inconsistency issues and somehow develop his changeup into a passable offering, he could slot at the back-end of a rotation. He’ll play next season as a 25-year-old, however, so at this point he is very much an is-what-he-is prospect. He could find himself in the bullpen at some point in 2013. Given his current repertoire and profile, I think he’s a candidate to become a high-leverage bullpen piece in the not-so-distant future.
19. Luis Avilan: LHP | L/L | 6’2”, 220 lbs. | Age: 23 | Signed out of Venezuela, 2008
Performance: After spending time in both the bullpen and the starting rotation for Mississippi in 2012, Avilan was promoted to the big club in July and did not disappoint, posting a 2.00 ERA/2.54 FIP (51 ERA-/66 FIP-) with a 33:10 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 36 innings pitched. In this sample, his strikeout-to-walk ratio was 35 percent above his minor league average. Depending upon one’s viewpoint, this could either be seen as an aberration or an increase in his overall skill-set, though the answer likely lies somewhere in-between. He limited home runs with respect to the amount of fly-balls he gave up, which which was seen in an xFIP that was nearly a run and a half higher than his ERA.
Tools: Avilan brings a nice four-pitch mix to the table: a fastball and sinker that both sit in the plus range, a curveball in the mid-70s with above-average lateral movement to the glove side, and a low-80s changeup that features plenty of sink and fade. He primarily attacks right-handed hitters with the sinker and the changeup, which play nicely off of one another. His primary off-speed weapon against arm-side hitters, however, is the curveball, which he throws 32 percent of the time in these situations, according to Brooks Baseball. His mechanics are not that impressive, as he does a poor job of firming up his front side and does not get extended well over his front leg, which could potentially lead to command/control issues. This is not a huge deal, however, as he has already shown the ability to get hitters out at the major league level despite these mechanical flaws; now, he must repeat it.
Future: Going into the spring, Avilan should begin the year in the big club’s loaded bullpen. He’ll be a valuable middle relief option due to his ability to keep both right-handed and left-handed hitters at bay.
18. Luis Merejo: LHP | L/L | 6’0”, 175 lbs. | Age: 18 | Signed out the Dominican Republic, 2011
Performance: When talking about Braves prospects who caught the attention of prospect junkies in 2012, Merejo is one of the first names to come to mind. While his 4.61 ERA was 34 percent worse than the Gulf Coast League average, his 1.81 FIP tells a different story, which can be told by way of incredible component statistics. His strikeout rate was 45 percent better than the league, his walk rate was 37 percent better than the league, and his 53:9 strikeout-to-walk ratio was an astounding 131 percent better than the league. For a 17-year-old in his first taste of professional baseball, those numbers are pretty ridiculous.
Tools: Merejo is a pitchability lefty who may not light up radar guns, but makes up for it due to an advanced idea of how to mix his pitches and locate. The young lefty possesses fringe-average to average fastball velocity, but can reach back for more on occasion. One can usually project young pitchers to add velocity once they begin to physically mature, but it is really hard for one to do that with a pitcher like Merejo due to his small frame. He pairs his fastball with a nice curveball that flashes plus and a developing changeup. His stuff plays up due to a deceptive delivery.
Future: We can gush over his numbers all we want, but this does not change the fact that he’s extremely far away from the highest level of competition. He is, in a way, the opposite of most exciting pitching prospects in the lower minors, in that he has superb control but does not project to add many ticks to his fastball velocity. Pitchers with a smoke-and-mirrors profile can usually exploit hitters in the lower minors, as the “see-ball, hit-ball” mentality does not lend itself to success against a pitcher with somewhat developed secondaries who can locate and change eye levels with ease. As he climbs the ladder, it will be interesting to monitor whether he can continue his success with this approach against more advanced hitters. The Braves were aggressive in placing him in the Gulf Coast League as a 17-year-old, and while the logical progression would be for him to move to Danville to begin the season, it would not be surprising to see him in Rome at some point in 2013 given his relative polish. If this happens, look for Merejo to start popping onto the national prospect scene.
17. Kyle Kubitza: 3B | L/R | 6’3”, 190 lbs. | Age: 22 | 3rd round, 2011
Performance: In the aggregate, Kubitza performed well in 2012, posting averages of .239/.349/.393 with 24 doubles, nine triples, nine home runs, and a 73:127 walk-to-strikeout ratio in 531 plate appearances. He showcased a plethora of skills in his full-season debut, evidenced by a .333 secondary average. His monthly splits were all over the place, compiling an OPS of .977 in April, .687 in May, .825 in June, .651 in July, and .814 in August. Ultimately, his walk rate and secondary average were 52 percent and 33 percent better than the league, respectively. His strikeout rate, on the other hand, was 21 percent worse than the South Atlantic League.
Tools: Possessing sound tools across the board, Kubitza stood out in many looks last season. His tall, lean frame offers plenty in the way of projection for future muscle development. While he did commit 20 errors last season, he improved as the year progressed. This is a normal trait with young third basemen, as the need for professional development at this dynamic position will sometimes cause players who are on the rawer end of the spectrum to struggle in the lower minors. He has all of the tools to make these improvements, however, and began to do so last season. He has a strong arm, though he can occasionally let it get away from him. At the plate, Kubitza’s swing projects well for both contact and power; he has a bit of a hitch in his load, which is considered to be a positive if done properly and not in excess (i.e., keeping the hands somewhat connected to the back shoulder). This allows the barrel to begin moving without getting long in the back of his swing, thus allowing him to wait until the last moment before committing to any pitch. He has some loft in his swing path, though it is more conducive to hard line drives currently. Kubitza’s power is of the bat-speed and wrist-strength variety, as opposed to a hulking slugger who uses sheer strength and excessive leverage to send balls into the seats. He’s not afraid to take balls out to left-center, as some of his most prodigious shots have come in this area. He’s an incredibly patient hitter with a developed plan in place at all times. On the basepaths, Kubitza is a solid-average to plus runner once underway.
Future: Lynchburg seems to be the next step for Kubitza in his climb up the organizational ladder. If everything comes together, Kubitza could develop into an everyday third baseman with a wide array of tools and skills. Month-to-month consistency will be key for the 22-year-old in 2013.
16. Aaron Northcraft: RHP | R/R | 6’4”, 225 lbs. | Age: 22 | 10th round, 2009
Performance: No Braves pitcher above Low-A raised his stock more than Northcraft in 2012. The big righty from Mater Dei High School was an integral part of a vaunted staff in Lynchburg, and while his 3.98 ERA was ever so slightly above the league average, his peripherals stood out in a huge way. He finished the season with a 2.64 FIP and a 160:53 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 151.2 innings pitched. His strikeout rate rose 36 percent from 2011 to 2012, registering a solid 23 percent above Carolina League average. His strikeout-to-walk ratio, which also markedly improved from 2011 to 2012, was a solid 22 percent above the league. One of Northcraft’s best attributes is his ability to keep the ball on the ground, as evidenced by a 2.48 groundball-to-flyball ratio, a figure that was 119 percent above Carolina League average. That’s, uh, pretty good.
Tools: Northcraft’s 6’4”, 225-pound frame is seemingly built to eat innings. He attacks hitters from a low-three quarters arm slot with a fastball that sits average, a plus sinker (which, coincidentally, garners Tim Hudson comparisons), and a developing slider and changeup. He has a long-ish arm action, though he maintains deception in his delivery by throwing across his body. He firms up his front side in an efficient manner and lands on a firm, yet flexed, front leg, allowing him to finish his pitches well out front. In the past, he utilized an El Duque-style leg kick, but he has since replaced this with a more normal leg raise. His repertoire plays up due to an advanced ability to mix his pitches, which aids in keeping hitters off-balance. The 22-year-old can occasionally struggle with command in the zone, a trait that is common among younger pitchers.
Future: Northcraft was added to the 40-man roster this offseason, which speaks to the organization’s faith in his ability to repeat his 2012 performance as he moves to Double-A in 2013. He will be 23 years old in Mississippi next season, an age that is certainly level-appropriate. The consensus prior to this season was that Northcraft was “just” a good organizational piece; this is definitely no longer the case, as one can realistically view his ceiling as an innings-eating, back-of-the-rotation arm. If this doesn’t work out, he would be an asset as a ground-ball specialist out of the bullpen.
15. Bryan De La Rosa: C | R/R | 5’8”, 193 lbs. | Age: 18 | 3rd round, 2012
Performance: Upon signing in June, De La Rosa struggled mightily in the Gulf Coast League, posting averages of .162/.194/.221 with one double, one home run, and a 2:30 walk-to-strikeout rate in 73 plate appearances. He spent all of his time on defense behind the plate, throwing out 30 percent of base stealers while allowing 13 passed balls and committing nine errors in 28 games. Everyone performs horribly in the GCL, but this was especially painful.
Tools: De La Rosa possesses all of the tools one should expect from a defense-first catching prospect drafted out of high school — big arm, big tools behind the plate, and the bat . . . well, we’ll see. The arm is a serious weapon, registering Christian Bethancourt-esque pop times in Perfect Game showcases prior to the draft. While he is quick and agile behind the plate, he’s understandably raw in the finer points of catching, though he has plenty of time to work on these issues and all of the potential in the world to make the necessary adjustments. The idea of the swing is there; for the most part, he’s fairly short and quick to the ball, displaying enviable bat speed. He utilizes a heel-plant trigger after an initial short stride, and while he does have some loft in his swing, one has to squint in order to see him developing anything more than average power as he continues to mature physically. Speed will never be a part of De La Rosa’s game.
Future: While it is fun to dream on De La Rosa’s potential, we (read: I) probably need to tap the brakes a bit. High school position players — especially catchers — are inherently risky entities. This isn’t to say he should be dinged as a prospect; rather, expectations must be tempered with the caveat that he has plenty of legitimate tools that could play at the major league level at the highest position on the defensive spectrum. De La Rosa will more than likely begin this year back in the Gulf Coast League, barring any major developments this spring.
14. Matt Lipka: OF | R/R | 6’1”, 195 lbs. | Age: 20 | 1st round, 2010
Performance: Like La Stella, Lipka missed a good portion of 2012 due to injury. Prior to the injury, however, Lipka was making subtle across-the-board improvements from his miserable 2011 campaign, posting averages of .271/.335/.337 with five doubles, one triple, and two home runs with a 20:32 walk-to-strikeout ratio in 229 plate appearances. He added 12 stolen bases in 18 attempts. Although there were improvements, Lipka was still a below-average hitter in the Carolina League, evidenced by a 89 wRC+.
Tools: Lipka will flash four above-average to plus tools. The problem, however, is that he has not yet developed the necessary skills at the plate in order to properly showcase his offensive tools, and that’s okay; he’ll play 2013 as a 21-year-old, so he still has time to continue the development of his plate discipline, among other things. On the plus side, Lipka has a fair amount of contact in his bat; he’s short to the ball, though his top hand’s lack of authority can sometimes lead to problems with barrel control. The plane of his swing is extremely flat through the zone, and combined with lower-half inefficiencies, his future power output seems to be fringe-average, at best. Lipka can run — the plus-plus label has been thrown around on this tool — which aided in his move to center field this season. Along with his solid-average to plus arm strength, he should be an asset in this new position.
Future: Due to his injury and lost development time in 2012, one should expect Lipka to return to Lynchburg to begin the season. As mentioned earlier, he will still be young for his league even if he does repeat this level. The lofty expectations surrounding a high draft pick have certainly followed Lipka, and while he has yet to live up to the deserved hype surrounding his tools, the potential for breakout remains if he continues to hone his skills alongside his raw tools. Inherent within this claim, however, is the potential for a bust, though it’s far too early to begin this discussion with respect to Lipka.
13. Tommy La Stella: 2B | L/R | 5’11”, 185 lbs. | Age: 24 | 8th round, 2011
Performance: Injuries sidelined La Stella for a good portion of last season, but this did not stop the second baseman from producing when in the lineup for Lynchburg. The Coastal Carolina product posted averages of .302/.386/.460 with 22 doubles, five triples, and five home runs with a 36:24 walk-to-strikeout ratio in 358 plate appearances. The lefty handled both right-handed and left-handed pitching with ease. His component statistics compared quite favorably with the Carolina League; his secondary average, walk rate, and strikeout rate were 26 percent, 23 percent, and 66 percent better than the league, respectively.
Tools: If La Stella makes it to the highest level of competition, it will be because of his bat. He possesses an incredibly sound swing that generates a high amount of hard contact. In his set position, his base is extremely spread (picture a smaller version of Adam Laroche), but he utilizes a leg-kick trigger to gather his weight over his back leg. From here, he allows his hips to lead his hands, aiding in the separation between the two halves. His swing is extremely short and quick to the ball, allowing him to spray line drives from foul pole to foul pole. His swing has some loft, which aids in his above-average gap power, though his future home run output will likely be below-average. Plate discipline is one of La Stella’s primary skills that has been on display since his college days, and this trait will continue to serve him well as he climbs the ladder. On the basepaths, La Stella is a smart runner who knows how to choose his spots wisely, but he will never be a huge stolen base threat due to a lack of above-average speed. He is the type of defender who will always maximize his tools; the unfortunate realization, however, is that he will never be above-average due to poor lateral agility, poor hands, and an arm that is certainly lacking.
Future: The next step for La Stella should be a promotion to Mississippi, with a promotion to Gwinnett probable at some point in 2013. We should see expect more of the same from La Stella, though if he can improve his defense at least marginally, his stock would take a huge jump. Second basemen have to hit a ton in the minors in order to be projected for future starting roles in the majors, and luckily for La Stella, he can really hit. The worry, however, is that his defense forces him to a corner position, where the offensive demands are commensurate with the lowered defensive responsibilities. Another concern is his age — he will play 2013 as a 24-year-old in the Southern League. While he is certainly not ancient, time isn’t necessarily on his side, either.
12. Joe Terdoslavich: 1B/OF | S/R | 6’0”, 200 lbs. | Age: 24 | 6th round, 2010
Performance: Braves fans had high hopes for Terdoslavich in 2012 after his impressive 2011 campaign in which he infamously rapped out 52 doubles in Lynchburg, setting a new Carolina League record along the way. Braves officials responded to his success by promoting him to Gwinnett to begin 2012, thereby skipping Double-A altogether, while moving him across the diamond to third base. Terdoslavich struggled mightily in Triple-A, posting averages of .180/.252/.263 with eight extra-base hits and a 19:50 walk-to-strikeout ratio in 215 plate appearances. His defense at third base was perhaps even worse, committing 22 errors in 130 defensive chances. The Braves stopped the bleeding in the beginning of June, demoting him to Mississippi where he would spend the rest of the summer at first base. He performed much better in the Southern League, hitting .315/.372/.480 with five home runs, 24 doubles, five triples, and a 27:62 walk-to-strikeout ratio in 333 plate appearances. When compared to the Southern League, Terdoslavich posted a favorable strikeout rate, secondary average, and OPS (four percent, seven percent, and 20 percent better than league average, respectively). Keep in mind, however, that this came from a 23-year-old in Double-A who was occupying the lowest position on the defensive spectrum.
Tools: As is the case with a majority of first base prospects, Terdoslavich is not particularly tool-laden beyond the bat. On defense, his lateral agility is poor, his hands are like bricks, and his arm is below-average. The move to third base, while an understandable decision from a player development/positional maximization standpoint, was not going to work without major improvements, which he failed to make. He is a slow runner on the basepaths who can pick his spots, but will likely never be a threat at the highest level. The bat, on the other hand, is a legitimate plus in Terdoslavich’s favor. He utilizes a leg-raise trigger and is a tip-and-rip hitter from both sides of the plate. This loading mechanism creates early bat speed and aids with the separation of his hips and hands without getting long in the back. His swing has a tight arc through the zone with plenty of loft through contact. Taken as a whole, Terdoslavich possesses a swing that could produce 20 home runs and a .270-.280 average at maturity, though the lack of plate discipline certainly diminishes the probability of this coming to fruition.
Future: Terdoslavich should resurface in the International League to begin 2013. This time around, however, he will likely be playing first base and/or left field. At this point, all signs point to Terdoslavich providing major league value as a first base/left field bench bat who can be utilized in numerous situations due to his ability to hit from both sides of the plate and do so with efficacy. He’s not Chipper’s heir apparent — we all knew he wouldn’t be. This doesn’t mean he’s a terrible prospect, though.
11. Evan Gattis: OF/C | R/R | 6’4”, 230 lbs. | Age: 26 | 23rd round, 2009
Performance: Spring is upon us, and Evan Gattis is still the talk of the town among Braves media members. His story is well-documented, his destruction in batting practice is enough to make Davis from Mr. Baseball blush, and he even has this as his twitter profile picture. According to Franklin, he may also be a time traveler whose objectives include the abduction of Paul Maholm and the perpetuation of narratives for our favorite bold-flavor beat writer. When looking solely at the numbers, Gattis certainly had an eyebrow-raising campaign in 2012. After posting ridiculous numbers in High-A during the month of April, Gattis was promoted to Double-A, where he hit his way to a 139 wRC+ in 207 plate appearances. Over the course of the season, he posted averages of .305/.389/.607 with 18 home runs, 20 doubles, four triples, and a 31:43 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 314 plate appearances between Lynchburg, Mississippi, and the Gulf Coast League, where he played a four-game rehab stint after injuring his wrist in May. The big Texan split his time between catching and left field, nailing 39 percent of runners from behind the plate and committing one error in 52 chances in the outfield. He tore up the Venezuelan Winter League this offseason.
Tools: Gattis possesses plus raw power that is achieved by way of good bat speed and brute physical strength. He begins his stance in a crouched position with his left leg open. He loads his hands well, allowing his top hand to be involved in order to minimize bat wrap behind the helmet, which aids in the efficacy with which he controls the bat within the zone. When he reaches the launch position, the biggest concern is his lead arm and the extent to which it is extended (this is called an arm bar, for what it’s worth). As a swing enthusiast, I normally shy away from dinging hitters too much for possessing this trait, as it usually foretells good things in the power department and is, after all, a static position within the swing (i.e., there are so many other crucial aspects within a swing). The problem comes in, however, when the arm becomes a hindrance in delivering the barrel to inside velocity. If a hitter fails to break down this arm extension and breaks the link between his back shoulder and his hands, the only way he can get to an inside pitch is to yank like the dickens with his front side, which opens up holes with respect to secondary offerings on the outer-portion of the plate. The lower one goes in the minors, the harder it is to find a pitcher who can locate his fastball well on the inner-portion of the plate, so this is an issue he has likely yet to face. This should not pose a problem with fastballs out and over the plate, however — in all actuality, he should be able to crush these pitches. All of that wrapped up and tied neatly with a bow: Gattis has some inefficiencies in his swing that may lead to exploitation on the inner half as he nears the majors. He could obviously still succeed — there are players with much uglier swings who have performed well at the highest level. Unless he makes some adjustments, however, the potential for a multitude of broken bats is present. Behind the plate, the worry is that he will get too big for the position, negatively affecting his lateral agility and ability to block balls. He does, however, possess a strong arm and the ability to frame and track pitches well. On the whole, he’s not someone you would want behind the plate for 130+ games, but he could handle the position in small doses as a second or third option. He is not a fast runner, which has obvious implications if/when he plays left field, but he’s athletic enough to be able to handle the position at an adequate level.
Future: This is the elephant in the room, so to speak. Franklin’s assessment of the situation surrounding Gattis sums up my overall thoughts on him. We don’t dislike Gattis around here — none of us want to see him fail, as we all have a rooting interest in the team and, for the most part, the players who are employed by them. What we try to do, however, is look at the game in an objective manner in order to find trends that can help us better understand the past as a means of predicting the future. What we know about the past is that older hitting prospects can artificially boost their stock by beating up on both physically and developmentally inferior pitching, and that we as prognosticators can get too overly excited about outcomes that don’t really mean much when looking at these types of players. Evan Gattis, any way you slice it, is old as a prospect. Not only did he play 2012 as an “old” 25-year-old (August birthday), he was old for every league in which he played. Gattis is also extremely physically developed. Can you imagine that man, as he stands currently, playing for the Rome Braves in 2011? It was truly awesome to witness a full-grown 24-year-old hit bombs off of young, fresh-out-of-high-school 20-somethings. However, we must take a step back in the evaluation process due to the aforementioned concerns. Now, does this mean that we don’t think Gattis can provide major league value in the not-so-distant future? Of course not! His positional flexibility combined with the pop in his bat will almost certainly provide value in a bench role, possibly as soon as this year. The key to understanding our side of the argument in the ongoing Gattis debate is simple: temper expectations, or there’s a good chance that the masses will be let down. This is not to say that it’s an absolute that he will not develop into an above-average regular; rather, the odds of this happening are not particularly high, all things considered. This is actually a good lesson concerning prospecting in general: manage expectations accordingly, or you will inevitably get burned.
*All statistics/measures courtesy of Baseball Reference, Fangraphs, The Baseball Cube, Minor League Central, and Perfect Game USA.
February 12, 2013 at 2:00 pm by Ethan Purser under Prospects
We begin this week with a third baseman who showed significant improvement in 2012 and has legitimate riser potential heading into 2013.
30. Carlos Franco: 3B | S/R | 6’2”, 170 lbs. | Age: 21 | Signed out of the DR, 2008
Performance: 2012 was a breakout year of sorts for the young third baseman, as he posted averages of .271/.408/.380 with 11 extra-base hits and a 37:36 walk-to-strikeout rate in 206 plate appearances for Danville. He led the team in walks and walked twice as frequently as his leaguemates while posting an OPS that was 10 percent better than Appalachian League average. He committed 12 errors in 135 chances.
Tools: Franco is everything one could hope for in a third base prospect. He has the ideal frame for the position and an above-average arm. His fielding skills will need work as he climbs the ladder, but he’s an ideal candidate to make the necessary improvements. Franco displayed the ability to put the bat on the ball this season against Appalachian League pitchers, striking out in only 17 percent of his plate appearances, well below the league average. He should grow into some power as his body continues to develop and he continues to add loft to his swing. He controls the strike zone extremely well, which should help the utility of his hit tool play up as he climbs the ladder.
Future: Franco will move to Low-A Rome in 2013. There’s a lot to like here, and while he is a long way away, Franco has the potential to shoot up this list by midseason. If he continues to improve at the rate at which he did last season, we could be looking at a legitimate breakout prospect for 2013.
29. Justin Black: OF | R/R | 6’0”, 195 lbs. | Age: 19 | 4th round, 2012
Performance: Like fellow 2012 draftee Fernelys Sanchez, Black struggled statistically in his 2012 debut for the GCL Braves, posting averages of .182/.292/.258 with two home runs and a 19:54 walk-to-strikeout ratio. His rawness extended to other areas of his game, as he was caught stealing in four of seven attempts. He spent time left field and center field, committing four errors in 66 chances between the two positions.
Tools: Black is a toolshed in terms of the physical skills desired to play the game; he’s a blazing-fast runner with the physicality and athleticism to stick in center field as he climbs the ladder, depending upon how his body matures. If his body eventually necessitates a move to a corner, he should grow into over-the-fence power, thereby making the move from center less painful in terms of shifting down the defensive spectrum. He has a lightning-quick bat that is short and direct to the ball. He has displayed a slight uppercut in his swing path in the past, a move that limits the amount of time the bat head stays in the hitting zone (good for adding loft, bad for making contact consistently). Again, plate discipline is not a tool, but Black did post a walk rate that was better than league average while also co-leading the team in this category.
Future: Black hails from Billings, Montana, an area that is not exactly known for its amateur baseball prowess due to the weather and the inability to play year-round. Thus, he is EXTREMELY raw and will require the utmost patience from fans and prognosticators alike. Black is one year older than your typical high-school draftee, putting him one year closer to his peak in terms of baseball’s aging curve. This is not a serious issue in the grand scheme, but it does place importance upon Black showing signs of progress during his age-20 season. He will likely get a do-over in the Gulf Coast League this summer.
28. Daniel Rodriguez: LHP | L/L | 6’0”, 185 lbs. | Age: 28 | Signed out of Mexico, 2012
Performance: After leading the Mexican League in strikeouts from 2011 to 2012, Rodriguez was signed by the Braves in August. He was immediately sent to Triple-A Gwinnett, allowing one earned run with a 4:7 strikeout-to-walk ratio in six innings pitched. He also pitched in the Liga Mexicana del Pacifico for the Tomateros de Culiacan this offseason, allowing 52 hits and 28 runs while posting a 29:17 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 38.2 innings pitched.
Tools: Rodriguez brings a solid three-pitch mix to the mound, including a solid-average fastball with the type of sink and arm-side run that keeps the ball on the ground, a solid-average changeup that keeps righties honest, and a plus 11-to-5 curveball with depth and swing-and-miss potential. While the arsenal is sound, his mechanical profile leaves a bit to be desired and contributes to his below-average command and control. The athletic lefty has a prototypical tall-and-fall delivery* with a slight hip-turn at his balance point, but his long arm action and big, extended arm circle offer little in the way of deception and cause significant timing issues in his delivery**. In a sense, his arm must catch up with the rest of his body; coupled with his high arm slot, this leads to poor posture at the release point, which he will intermittently struggle to find. He doesn’t firm up his front side well or in a manner that will inhibit his front shoulder from flying open on occasion. From time to time, he will drop down to a lower release point, perhaps to give hitters another look. All in all, the mechanics are very “meh” and further exacerbate the concerns about his ability to locate pitches.
Future: Depending upon how one views the situation, Rodriguez could either be the second, third, or fourth contingency plan for the position of fifth starter, assuming a veteran is not picked up prior to Spring Training***. Otherwise, he’ll be insurance at Gwinnett, where he will look to fine-tune and harness the command of his arsenal.
*I’m not a huge fan of this style of delivery. I’d rather see a pitcher drift through his balance point and get momentum going toward the plate quickly.
**This is what I was alluding to on the podcast when I stated that his arm becomes “detached” from his body during his delivery. Looking back, that was a rather poor way to describe what is actually happening in his sequence. I don’t do well with the whole “talking” thing sometimes.
***This is probably a poor assumption.
27. Fernelys Sanchez: OF | S/R | 6’3”, 210 lbs. | Age: 18 | 16th round, 2012
Performance: Sanchez scuffled in his debut after recovering from a fractured fibula sustained prior to the draft. He posted a .155/.269/.224 line with a home run and a 9:32 walk-to-strikeout ratio in 67 plate appearances. He swiped three bags in four attempts while splitting his time between the outfield and designated hitter.
Tools: Sanchez is a top-flight athlete with the potential to be an impact player at the highest level. If not for his injury, Sanchez would have been a much higher pick in this year’s draft. The injury also leaves questions about how his money tool — speed — will translate to professional ball. Sanchez has a large, athletic frame upon which one can wax poetic. There is potential for big power in the bat, as his pure bat speed from both sides of the plate mixed with his large frame lead to high grades on the future power. Big questions linger about the hit tool. His swing mechanics from both sides of the plate are very unrefined with length and lower-half inefficiencies present. His arm is solid-average.
Future: Sanchez is incredibly raw with wide discrepancies between his present and future grades in each area of his game. As a cold-weather kid, Sanchez will likely take some time to develop and will require patience. Due to his leg injury prior to the draft, it is reasonable to give him a mulligan for his performance upon entering the professional ranks in 2012. He’ll likely begin the 2013 season in the Gulf Coast League.
26. William Beckwith: 1B | L/R | 6’2”, 220 lbs. | Age: 22 | 21st round, 2010
Performance: Beckwith put together a solid 2012 campaign in Rome, posting a .291/.360/.478 line with 15 home runs and a 33:92 walk-to-strikeout ratio in 426 plate appearances. The massive first baseman also added 17 stolen bases in 26 attempts.
Tools: Beckwith does not offer much in the way of tools beyond the bat. He is decently athletic for his size, but that’s not saying much; his frame is bulky and does not offer a ton of projection for the future. He’s a poor defender at first, lacking lateral agility and skills around the bag. While he has had success in the stolen-base department thus far in his career, he seems to be more of an instinctual runner who relies on good jumps and savvy as opposed to pure foot speed, as the best home-to-first times I have clocked leave him as a well below-average runner presently. His power is legitimate, however, displaying good raw pop to all fields in both batting practice and game action. His ability to continue to hit for average as he climbs the ladder is a question mark, as his swing can get long and loopy, leading to struggles against fastballs on the inner-third and fastballs above his hands. While his strikeouts are certainly not atrocious for a power hitter, it’s worth noting that his strikeout rate was worse than South Atlantic League average. He will sometimes cheat at the plate, gearing up for fastballs in an attempt to yank them out of the park. While this is not a huge problem at his current level — a good majority of pitchers in Low-A have a hard enough time commanding their fastballs, much less their off-speed pitches — he will undoubtedly struggle against pitchers with quality secondaries as he climbs the ladder.
Future: As a first baseman, Beckwith will have to hit his way to the majors. He will move to Lynchburg in 2013 and will likely be below the median age of competition as a 22-year-old.
25. Josh Elander: C/OF | R/R | 6’1”, 215 lbs. | Age: 21 | 6th round, 2012
Performance: After hitting only seven home runs in his first two collegiate seasons, Elander pounded 11 home runs as a junior for the TCU Horned Frogs, producing a .314/.436/.525 line (.368/.484/.596 park/schedule adjusted) with a 44:42 walk-to-strikeout ratio in 223 at-bats. The Braves took him in the sixth round of the Rule 4 Draft and sent him directly to Danville, where he posted averages of .260/.366/.439 with four home runs and a 16:19 walk-to-strikeout ratio in 145 plate appearances. He spent a majority of his time behind the plate, throwing out 29 percent of base stealers while allowing four passed balls in 22 games.
Tools: While Elander was drafted as a catcher, there are signs that the team will be moving him to the outfield in 2013*. He has experience in the outfield, spending a majority of his time there as an underclassman at TCU. He has a good arm and is fairly athletic for his size. Don’t be confused, however: this is a move to expedite his bat, which is his most valuable asset. Elander begins his swing from an open stance and utilizes a big leg-kick trigger. His actions are a bit loud, which is an issue that may need to be addressed as he climbs the ladder. With that said, Elander is a smart hitter with plus raw power and a developing knack for the utilization of this power during game action. While not a tool, one of Elander’s best traits is his plate discipline, a skill that can be traced back to his days at TCU.
Future: Elander will likely move to Low-A Rome in 2013 and will look to build upon his fine debut. The bat has legitimate potential. If he is in fact moving to the outfield, however, he’ll have to hit a ton to prove that he isn’t just another dude.
*Big ups to @CygnusXS for the heads-up on this article.
24. Juan Jaime: RHP | R/R | 6’1”, 230 lbs. | Age: 25 | Signed, 2011
Performance: The Braves signed Jaime to a minor league deal after he had been released by the Diamondbacks in August of 2011. He spent all of the 2010 and 2011 seasons on the disabled list after having Tommy John Surgery. There was obviously inherent risk involved with the signing, but the potential was too hard for the Braves to pass up. In 2012, he showcased his power arsenal in Lynchburg, posting a 3.16 ERA/3.53 FIP with a 73:33 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 51.1 innings pitched, allowing only 31 hits over this span. His strikeout rate was 66 percent better than the Carolina League average; his walk rate, on the other hand, was 85 percent worse than the league. He was Lynchburg’s primary closer, finishing 37 of the 42 games in which he pitched.
Tools: For Jaime, it’s all about arm strength. He can pump his fastball into the upper-90s and touch triple digits on occasion with a slider that has a fairly decent shape. The only problem: he has absolutely no idea where the ball is going when it leaves his hand. There were multiple times this season when his slider would travel over the head of a right-handed hitter and sail straight to the backstop. This pitch was a work in progress all season; at times he showed good arm speed with the pitch, but at others he showed a deliberately slow arm action, which was used in order to locate the pitch more effectively. While this can certainly help with location, it will not work against upper-level hitters. He can locate his fastball marginally better, but his command of the pitch is still loose in the zone due to his inability to locate it on a consistent basis. His mechanics are violent, featuring a big arm recoil as he falls off the mound toward the first base side. The arm action is long, which is troublesome due to the fact that his front side will occasionally rush the rest of his body, leaving his arm to do most of the work and seriously affecting his control.
Future: Jaime was added to the 40-man roster this offseason. He obviously has a long way to go with his command and control issues, but this kind of arm strength doesn’t come around often, hence the need to protect him. The natural progression would be for him to begin the year in Mississippi, barring any massive improvements or setbacks in the spring. We could see him with the big club in September.
23. Cory Gearrin: RHP | R/R | 6’3”, 200 lbs. | Age: 26 | 4th round, 2007
Performance: 2012 was another up-and-down year for Gearrin in the literal meaning of the phrase, spending portions of the season with Gwinnett and with the big club. As expected, he dominated while in Triple-A and carried his success over to Atlanta, posting a 1.80 ERA/2.79 FIP with a 20:5 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 20 innings pitched. He once again showcased his propensity to keep the ball on the ground, posting a very strong 54.7 percent groundball rate. Left-handed hitters took advantage of the sidearming righty, posting a .423 wOBA in 32 total plate appearances. While this is an admittedly small sample, lefties constituted an astounding 40 percent of his matchups last season.
Tools: At this point, we all know Gearrin’s profile. He’s a lanky sidearmer who throws a plus sinker that sits in the high-80s to low-90s, a sweeping high-70s to low-80s slider, and the occasional low-80s changeup. His repertoire plays up against right-handed hitters due to the respective movement of each pitch and the deception in his delivery, as his quick arm, short arm action, and low release point all combine to make his offerings very hard to pick up for arm-side hitters. He’s also extremely quick to the plate upon reaching his balance point, a trait that seemingly makes his pitches “jump” on batters, which adds to the overall deceptive profile.
Future: Due to the massive platoon splits he’s displayed in his brief major league career, Gearrin may be best suited as a right-handed specialist. If the changeup makes significant strides, however, he could be a pitcher who faces both lefties and righties in a pinch, although the presence of dominant lefties in the bullpen should preclude this from happening in tight spots. He seems to have the inside track for the final spot in the bullpen, though he should find competition in David Carpenter and Anthony Varvaro as the spring progresses.
22. Navery Moore: RHP | R/R | 6’2”, 212 lbs. | Age: 22 | 14th round, 2011
Performance: Going into 2012, Moore was considered to be a pitcher with a solid future as a high-leverage bullpen piece in the not-so-distant future, not unlike fellow 2011 draftee Cody Martin. He was used as both a starter and reliever in Rome, however, compiling a 3.86 ERA/3.38 FIP with an 84/45 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 102.2 innings pitched, allowing only 83 hits during this span and posting a 1.33 groundout to airout ratio. His walk rate and strikeout rate were both worse than South Atlantic League average; conversely, his hit rate and home run rate were both better than league average.
Tools: Moore throws four pitches with future potential: a low- to mid-90s fastball with good arm-side run, a mid-80s slider with good lateral movement, an upper-70s curveball with above-average depth, and a changeup that plays well off of the fastball with arm-side sink and fade. While his raw stuff was not as sharp as advertised in his full-season debut, this could purely be a function of the team stretching him out throughout the season as opposed to placing him in the bullpen to pitch in short stints. The athletic righty gets downward plane on all of his pitches due to a high arm slot and does a decent job of getting extended out front, aiding with the perceived velocity of his fastball and with the efficacy with which he finishes his secondary offerings. While both of his breaking balls are still works in progress, both have flashed above-average potential, a description that can also be applied to his changeup. He will telegraph the pitch on occasion by slowing his arm action down, an issue that will need to be ironed out against upper-level hitters. When the pitch is thrown well, however, it flashes the ability to miss bats as he climbs the ladder. Moore is an athletic pitcher with the ability to consistently repeat his delivery, but his arm action is on the long side and he displays a wrist wrap in his arm stroke that is consistent with command issues.
Future: The biggest question concerning Moore’s development is whether he is a starter or a reliever long-term. He certainly has the chance to hone his deep repertoire in a starting role, but he could move up the ladder very quickly in the bullpen. If they develop him as a starter, he’s more of a level-per-year guy. The Braves seem intrigued with his ability to pitch in the rotation and with the utility of his four offerings, so we should see him begin the year in Lynchburg’s rotation.
21. Cody Martin: RHP | R/R | 6’2”, 210 lbs. | Age: 23 | 7th round, 2011
Performance: All signs pointed to Martin developing as a bullpen piece coming into 2012. He finished 20 of the 22 games in which he pitched during his professional debut in 2011, leading to the assumption that the Braves were putting him on the fast track to middle relief. This was not the case, however, as he stepped into a somewhat loaded rotation in Lynchburg and performed rather nicely. In 107.1 innings pitched, Martin compiled a 2.93 ERA with a 123:34 strikeout-to-walk ratio and a 0.86 groundout to airout ratio. All of his component statistics compared favorably to the Carolina League, including a strikeout rate that was 38 percent better than the league.
Tools: The big, durable righty possesses impeccable command of four average offerings. His fastball is nothing special in terms of velocity, usually sitting in the high-80s to low-90s, but plays up due to its plus glove-side movement. He throws two different breaking balls, a high-70s to low-80s slider that features tight spin and break along with a low-70s curveball with decent depth. The changeup, while not flashy, keeps left-handed hitters honest while giving Martin an extra weapon against them. Martin has a frame built for innings to accompany stress-free and fairly efficient mechanics.
Future: Martin is a bit tricky to evaluate. On one hand, his peripherals were excellent in his move to the rotation and he was right in line with the median age of competition in the Carolina League. On the other hand, his stuff does not project to miss a ton of bats in the upper levels and he posted a very high fly-ball rate relative to the league, a tendency that may haunt him as he climbs the ladder. Given what we have, Martin’s ceiling resides at the back-end of a rotation with the floor of a middle reliever. He’ll move up to Mississippi in 2013 and look to build upon the success he found in his first full season.
All statistics courtesy of Baseball Reference, Fangraphs, The Baseball Cube, Minor League Central, and College Splits.
February 4, 2013 at 10:24 am by Ethan Purser under Prospects
As Spring Training approaches, we will be releasing ten write-ups per week from our Top 40 prospects. Today, we begin with a pitcher who popped onto our radar late last season.
40. Patrick Scoggin: RHP | R/R | 6’4”, 230 lbs. | Age: 21 | Signed, 2012
Performance: After a mediocre junior season at Virginia Tech, Scoggin went undrafted in June’s Rule 4 draft. He began his summer pitching in the Coastal Plain League, a prestigious collegiate summer league, and was signed by the Braves in July. The big righty made the most of his professional debut out of the bullpen, surrendering zero earned runs on seven hits while posting a 16:2 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 14.1 innings across the Gulf Coast League, the Appalachian League, and the South Atlantic League.
Tools: Scoggin brings a blistering mid-90s fastball and developing power slider to the table. Primarily a starter at Virginia Tech, his fastball sat a bit lower and he incorporated more secondaries, but the potential of the fastball-slider combination in the bullpen may entice the decision-makers to scrap the other stuff in order to expedite his development. He’s a big dude, which, along with quirky mechanics, leads to repeatability issues. The delivery in itself is not terrible—he gets his hips moving quickly toward the plate and achieves some separation between his halves thanks to an upper-body dip over the rubber—but his high arm slot causes some head jerk, which can negatively affect command/control. He also tends to fly open with his front shoulder and exhibits some recoil upon delivering a pitch. All in all, mechanics for a reliever are usually not a big deal, and some (read: I) would argue that violence for a power reliever is somewhat necessary (see: Kimbrel, Craig). If a kid is definitely not a starter long-term and can a) throw a baseball 95+ MPH, b) somewhat reasonably control said fastball, and c) flash a plus slider, it’s probably best to leave the mechanics alone and just let him loose in the bullpen to figure everything out.
Future: Scoggin only pitched one inning above rookie-ball in his debut, so one can assume, barring an impressive showing in the spring, that he will start the year in Rome’s bullpen and look to move up the ladder from there. Keep a close eye on this kid in 2013, as he could be a fast-riser in the reliever ranks within the system.
39. David Peterson: RHP | R/R | 6’5”, 205 lbs. | Age: 23 | 8th round, 2012
Performance: Peterson, a 2012 senior sign out of College of Charleston, performed nicely in his debut in Low-A Rome, posting a 1.93/2.84 FIP with a 23:11 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 28 innings pitched. Like fellow 2012 draftee Nathan Hyatt, Peterson stepped in at the back-end of Rome’s bullpen down the stretch, finishing 15 of the 20 games in which he appeared.
Tools: The tall, lanky Peterson throws two pitches with good current utility and future potential: a low- to mid-90s fastball with an abundance of sink and run along with a low-80s curveball that features plenty of depth. The fastball does a great job of inducing ground balls, and the curveball’s late break within the zone can elicit swings and misses from both left-handed and right-handed hitters. His mechanics are fairly straightforward, if unimpressive; his arm action is fairly short with no glaring inefficiencies, but after he releases the ball from a three-quarters arm slot, he does not get extended well out front. His front leg is very stiff upon landing, which limits his ability to finish pitches and cuts off valuable length over his front side. As a starter in college prior to his senior season, the need for durability in the rotation as opposed to short bursts out of the bullpen more than likely necessitated the mechanical profile that deemphasizes intent in favor of a calm, easy motion. Due to this, if he can incorporate a little more intent in his delivery, one could hope for a little more hop on his fastball in terms of perceived and actual velocity.
Future: Peterson will play next season as a 23-year-old, so he will not be young for his level at High-A Lynchburg. One can easily see him as a good middle reliever down the road, but he could find himself in a higher-leverage role in the bullpen depending upon how his repertoire develops.
38. Chasen Shreve: LHP | L/L | 6’3”, 180 lbs. | Age: 22 | 11th round, 2010
Performance: Shreve saw across-the-board success in 2012 between High-A Lynchburg and Double-A Mississippi, posting a 2.66 ERA/3.48 FIP with a 57:33 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 64.1 innings pitched. Upon being promoted to Mississippi in July, his performance suffered, most notably in the walks department. Of note, his aggregate walk rate increased fairly substantially over his walk rate from 2011, although much of the bump in free passes occurred after being promoted to Double-A. He had just turned 22 years old upon his promotion to the Southern League, however, so he shouldn’t be dinged too much for his lack of dominance at the end of the season. He was sent back to Lynchburg at the end of August.
Tools: The lean, lanky lefty (five times fast, and go!) possesses a few weapons that make him a potential asset out of the bullpen. His tailing fastball sits in the high-80s, touching the low-90s, with excellent arm-side run. His changeup is an effective offering versus right-handed hitters, eliciting weak contact when located low in the zone. The slider keeps left-handed hitters honest and profiles as more of a true slider in terms of the lack of depth present, which is consistent with Shreve’s low arm slot. The aforementioned arm slot helps to keep him deceptive versus left-handed hitters, hiding the ball well throughout his motion and releasing at a point that is almost behind the back of a lefty.
Future: After his success in High-A in 2012, Shreve should begin the year in middle relief for Mississippi. His floor is a LOOGY (lefty-handed specialist); his ceiling is a solid middle reliever who can get both righties and lefties out due to the utilization of his changeup and slider, respectively.
37. Ernesto Mejia: 1B | R/R | 6’5”, 245 lbs. | Age: 27 | UDFA, 2005
Performance: Mejia crushed International League pitching in 2012, posting averages of .296/.347/.502 with 57 extra-base hits, including 24 home runs, in 559 plate appearances. While his .849 OPS was 18 percent higher than the International League average, Mejia’s walk and strikeout numbers were much less palatable, posting rates that were both below league average. He was up to his same old tricks in the Venezuelan Winter League this offseason, posting averages of .298/.340/.551 while co-leading the circuit in home runs (16) and leading the league in strikeouts (64) in 245 at-bats.
Tools: Mejia is a one-trick pony, but it’s one heck of a trick. He has massive pull power that could produce awe-inspiring shots at the highest level. One problem: he swings and misses fairly frequently. His swing is highly leveraged and features a fast leg-kick trigger and an explosive firing of the hips upon footplant. He has active hands (good), but the amount of length in his swing coupled with the natural uppercut in his swing plane leads to plenty of whiffs on velocity on/above the hands and on soft stuff darting low and away. He’s a mistake hitter who will hopefully crush enough extra-base hits to make up for the amount of outs he makes via the strikeout. Mejia is a first base-only type and his large frame does not lend itself to deftness around the bases.
Future: Mejia was added to the 40-man roster this offseason, though the recent acquisition of Chris Johnson likely keeps him off of the 25-man roster to begin the season. If he’s relegated to Triple-A, look for more of the same—strikeouts and homers—from the slugger.
36. Blake Brown: OF | R/R | 6’0”, 185 lbs. | Age: 21 | 5th round, 2012
Performance: After hitting .271/.383/.453 with six home runs and a 30:64 walk-to-strikeout ratio in 192 at-bats as a junior at the University of Missouri (.260/.374/.438 park/schedule adjusted), Brown hit .201/.313/.313 with four home runs and posted a 25:72 walk-to-strikeout ratio in 210 plate appearances for Danville. He added 10 stolen bases in 14 attempts.
Tools: On a pure tools level, Brown is legitimately exciting, flashing four potentially average to plus tools. He’s a plus runner (I’ve had him at 3.8 seconds to first on a jailbreak) with good instincts in the outfield and a solid-average arm. His carrying tool is his potential to hit for plus power. Brown possesses a very quick bat and a strong, capable lower half, creating impressive leverage and torque in his swing. Brown has tinkered with his lower-half actions in the past. At times, he has utilized a narrow base with a high leg-kick trigger; other times, his setup has been much wider, employing a small stride with a toe-tap trigger. The latter limits Brown’s head movement and theoretically allows a hitter to recognize spin much earlier out of the hand of a pitcher. This also allows a hitter—again, theoretically—to create better leverage by allowing their front leg to become planted much earlier in the sequence, an axis upon which the hips may fire open and create torque between the halves. When this is achieved correctly, this leads to—you guessed it—lightning-fast bat speed and monster raw power. Brown’s swing is quite long—his loading phase is deep and his barrel becomes wrapped behind his helmet in a way in which exploitation against major league caliber fastballs on the hands is probable. He is going to strike out in bunches, as evidenced by a strikeout rate that was 61 percent worse than the Appalachian League average. The trade-off to the huge swing-and-miss problem, however, is legitimate power potential to all fields.
Future: Brown will likely move up to Low-A Rome in 2013. He has the classic toolsy RF profile and has already displayed some of the necessary skills to go along with the tools (his walk rate was much higher than league average, for example). If he can learn to make contact at a higher rate and be more aggressive within the strike zone, look out. As for now, he projects to be a toolsy three-true-outcomes player.
35. Chris Jones: LHP | L/L | 6’2”, 200 lbs. | Age: 24 | 15th round, 2007; Acquired in exchange for Derek Lowe
Performance: Jones performed well in his first full season in the organization, posting a 3.90 ERA/2.38 FIP with a 61:19 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 60 innings pitched for Double-A Mississippi. He does most of his damage against lefties, as they mustered a measly .532 OPS against the former Indians farmhand. Jones was selected to play in the Arizona Fall League this offseason. You can read about his performance here.
Tools: For Jones, it’s all about deception. He throws across his body from a three-quarters arm slot, making his release point extremely hard for left-handed hitters to pick up. His fastball is nothing special in terms of velocity, sitting in the upper-80s and occasionally touching the low-90s, but it plays up against lefties due to the aforementioned deception in his delivery along with his ability to locate the pitch on either side of the plate with ease. His upper-70s curveball is slurvy, but can be effective when located low and to the glove side against lefties. He runs into trouble when the breaking ball stays in the middle of the plate, as the pitch does not have the amount of sharp break to accommodate mistakes. He will also occasionally flash a changeup, but it profiles as merely a show-me pitch at this point.
Future: Jones will likely move to Triple-A Gwinnett this season and continue to wreak havoc against left-handed hitters. One does not have to look hard to see that Jones could slot into a bullpen role at the highest level someday in the near future, profiling as a situational lefty.
34. Johan Camargo: IF | R/R | 6’0”, 160 lbs. | Age: 19 | IFA, 2010
Performance: Camargo smoked the competition in the Dominican Summer League, posting averages of .343/.433/.455 with two home runs, 14 doubles, and a 25:27 walk-to-strikeout ratio in 241 plate appearances. His .888 OPS was good enough for 14th in the league, firmly placing him 33 percent above league average in this category. He spent time at both third base and shortstop, committing 21 errors in 226 chances between the positions (Note: I wouldn’t read too much into this, as there are a multitude of conditions that lead to high error totals in the DSL.) He also added six stolen bases in nine attempts.
Tools: A speedy middle infielder, Camargo can, to put it bluntly, hit. He is a smaller-framed kid who could permanently move to a corner or stick up the middle, depending upon how his body develops. Though his stolen base totals were not extremely high, he has some wheels and will look to add more stolen bases as he makes his stateside debut. He possesses good present gap power and should develop more legitimate pop as his body matures.
Future: Camargo will make his debut in the states in 2013, more than likely beginning the season in the GCL. While it’s hard not to be excited about his production, Camargo was at the lowest level of professional baseball in 2012. This obviously should not be taken as a slight against him, but he is incredibly far away. With that said, he could be a riser in 2013.
33. Nathan Hyatt: RHP | R/R | 5’10”, 195 lbs. | Age: 22 | 13th round, 2012
Performance: After being drafted out of Appalachian State last June, Hyatt was dominant between Danville and Rome, posting a 1.46 ERA with a 37:8 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 24.2 innings pitched. During this span, he allowed only two extra-base hits. Hyatt immediately stepped into the back-end of the bullpen for both teams, finishing 16 of the 18 games in which he pitched between the two clubs.
Tools: Hyatt features two pitches that profile as plus to plus-plus down the road: a fastball that sits in the mid-90s with excellent arm-side run and a tight slider with nasty two-plane break. The fastball is a legitimate bat-breaker when located on the hands of righties and gets plenty of swing-throughs in the upper and lower quadrants of the zone. His slider is almost unhittable for righties and lefties alike, as the tight spin and late break cause many uncomfortable swings. His command in the zone can get a bit loose at times, but this is something that should get ironed out as he climbs the ladder, as there are no major mechanical red flags present within his delivery. He’s a small dude (Kris Medlen’s the natural body comp), but he gets to the plate quickly and possesses a lightning quick arm, two factors that allow him to pump his fastball in short stints. He drives hard off of his back leg, but thanks to a high three-quarters arm slot, he maintains plenty of plane on his pitches.
Future: Hyatt could be a quick mover in the system. There’s a chance that he could handle Double-A hitters right now without significant problems due to the efficacy of his offerings, but he more than likely needs to start the season in Lynchburg in order to iron out a few minor command issues. Either way, Hyatt has a bright future within the organization and could find himself in the back-end of the bullpen fairly soon.
32. Joe Leonard: 3B | R/R | 6’5”, 215 lbs. | Age: 24 | 3rd round, 2010
Performance: Leonard turned in another good-not-great campaign in 2012, posting averages of .263/.341/.392 with nine home runs and a 48:88 walk-to-strikeout ratio in 487 plate appearances for Double-A Mississippi. The big-bodied third baseman committed only 10 errors in 280 chances and added six stolen bases in eight attempts.
Tools: Leonard is a natural fielder, displaying solid athleticism, great hands, and major league quality instincts at third base. His arm is a true plus weapon and rates as his best tool. Already 24-years-old, Leonard is still looking for his power stroke, as his fairly level swing has not produced the amount of power that was once projected. His load is fairly deep, ending with his hands “hidden” behind his rear shoulder, a consequence of his rear elbow drawing back toward the third base dugout as his upper-body counter rotates. This type of loading action helps a hitter stay up the middle and to the opposite field, but a well-placed inside pitch can lead to lots of jam-shots due to the amount of loop maintained on the back side of the swing. One can easily see the potential for power in the swing and in his frame, however, and it’s a bit of a mystery as to why he has not fulfilled his initial pre-draft projections for more over-the-fence pop. Despite all of this, he does have an adept feel for contact for such a large human, striking out in only 18.1 percent of plate appearances in 2012, which was better than the Southern League average.
Future: Leonard will move up to Triple-A Gwinnett in 2013. He fits an interesting mold in the prospect world, in that he is a defensive asset at the hot corner but does not profile to have the bat to play the position on an everyday basis. Teams generally do not carry all-glove, no-bat corner guys, so Leonard will need to prove that he can hit for power in order to be taken into consideration at the highest level.
31. Connor Lien: OF | R/R | 6’3”, 205 lbs. | Age: 18 | 12th round, 2012
Performance: Of the raw high school hitters taken by the Braves in the 2012 draft, Lien put together the best performance upon signing, posting averages of .228/.352/.282 with six extra-base hits (four doubles, two triples) and a 19:49 walk-to-strikeout ratio in 180 plate appearances for the GCL Braves. The teammate of first-round picks Jesse Winker and Walker Weickel led the team with 15 stolen bases and was successful at an 83 percent clip. He spent time at all three outfield positions, committing only two errors in 88 chances.
Tools: Lien is an athletic outfielder who was given a bonus above the recommended amount in the 12th round to keep him away from the University of Central Florida. He’s a physical specimen with a body that resembles a Division-I wide receiver. He plays a little center field currently thanks to his plus speed, though he will likely be forced to a corner permanently as he climbs the ladder and adds bulk to his lean frame. He has plenty of arm strength from the outfield. An upright hitter with strong hands and wrists, Lien projects to add power as his massive frame continues to fill out, though his current swing mechanics are more conducive to middle-of-the-field line drives than over-the-fence power. There are lower-half inefficiencies present within his swing and he tends to muscle up in his upper body in an attempt to compensate for a lack of lower-body involvement. Once he learns to efficiently achieve separation, Lien should see an increase in the amount of authority with which he hits the ball with the added benefit of being able to adjust to offspeed pitches better. These issues are quite common in high school hitters, however, so there is no need for concern currently; the raw bat speed and solid knowledge of the strike zone are present and portend great things for both his future power output and future hitting ability.
Future: While right-right corner profiles are a tough category in which to be placed, Lien’s future remains very bright within the organization. The 18-year-old has plenty of time to make the necessary adjustments to the professional game. This is the type of kid one likes to see sign out high school, as his five-tool potential can be cultivated by professional coaching at an early age. Predicting where players below Low-A will be placed to begin the season is tough, as a multitude of factors behind the scenes play a role in their assignments. Due to this, Lien could begin the year back in the GCL or could impress enough in the spring to be placed in Danville out of the gate. I would place my money on the former, however, as there is certainly no need to rush the development of a kid who will play next season as a 19-year-old.
*All statistics courtesy of Baseball Reference, Fangraphs, The Baseball Cube, Minor League Central, and College Splits.
January 24, 2013 at 1:09 pm by Ethan Purser under Atlanta Braves
If you have not heard the news, where the heck have you been? The Atlanta Braves pulled off a blockbuster earlier this morning, trading Martin Prado, Randall Delgado, Zeke Spruill, Nick Ahmed, and Brandon Drury to the Arizona Diamondbacks for Justin Upton and Chris Johnson. While there is sure to be excellent analysis forthcoming concerning the deal in its entirety, here are a few thoughts on the three prospects traded by the Braves.
Brandon Drury was the last player to be confirmed in the deal. The former 10th-round pick spent 2012 in Low-A Rome as a 19-year-old after posting a breakout season at Danville in 2011 in which he hit .347/.367/.525 with eight home runs and a 6:35 walk-to-strikeout ratio in 278 plate appearances. The lack of plate discipline was slightly concerning, but Drury was an 18-year-old in the Appalachian League, so we were willing to give him a mulligan.
The first half of 2012 was incredibly rough for Drury, posting a .495 OPS with two home runs and a 10:44 walk-to-strikeout ratio. In seeing him play, Drury looked absolutely lost at the plate, as he was not able to find a consistent landing point for his front foot. This inconsistency in his swing mechanics, which decreases leverage and bat speed, led to lots of weakly hit balls and whiffs on fastballs up and out of the zone. It also contributed to a good deal of head movement throughout the swing, which, among other things, limits one’s ability to properly size up breaking balls. As a result, Drury was extremely vulnerable on breaking balls low and away. In short, Drury could be beaten at the plate in a multitude of ways.
Drury was a different player at the plate in the second half of last year. The issues with his front foot became much less pronounced, allowing him to catch up to more fastballs and gain better leverage in his swing, which resulted in more hard hit balls all over the field. Overall, he hit .279/.323/.407 in the second half, with four home runs and a 10:29 walk-to-strikeout ratio.
Drury possesses an incredibly sweet swing, a stroke that is compact and adept at spraying line drives all over the field. While there is a wealth of potential in the bat, his lack of plate discipline is troubling. In order to fully realize the potential of his bat in the upper levels, Drury must learn to be more selective at the plate. Beyond this, Drury is not incredibly toolsy. He is not fast down the line—he’s in the 4.3-4.4 range—and his midsection projects to thicken as his body matures with age. While he does possess a solid arm and decent hands at third, the lack of athleticism, along with the body profile, point toward a future home at first base, a position he occupied for a majority of the season in deference to Kyle Kubitza. If he ends up at first base, Drury will have to hit as he climbs the ladder. While he does have his deficiencies, Drury has some upside and is a good get for Arizona at the back-end of a deal of this magnitude.
Nick Ahmed and Zeke Spruill are perhaps the better-known entities among fans of the Braves, both being second-round picks by the team in 2011 and 2008, respectively. Both participated in the Arizona Fall League this offseason and experienced success in front of talent evaluators from all over. Ahmed spent 2012 in High-A Lynchburg and received good reviews for his play at shortstop and for his bat, hitting .269/.337/.391 with six home runs and a 49:102 walk-to-strikeout ratio, while adding 40 stolen bases in 50 attempts. Ahmed can put the bat on the ball and profiles to have good gap power down the road due to his large frame. He raised his hands and moved them further away from his body in his setup this season, which changed the angle of his barrel at launch. Due to the added length involved, Ahmed struck out more than expected, although the rate was certainly tolerable. He’s a plus runner and has a plus arm in the field. While his ultimate defensive position remains to be seen, Ahmed should be, at the very least, a utility player at the major league level. He has a very good overall collection of tools with no glaring weaknesses, and while he is presumably blocked at shortstop by Didi Gregorius, Ahmed should find a way to contribute to Arizona’s big club sometime within the next two to three seasons.
Zeke Spruill has been a slow-and-steady riser in the system over the past five seasons. He spent 2012 in Double-A Mississippi, posting a 3.67 ERA with 106:46 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 161.2 innings pitched. Spruill did a great job keeping the ball on the ground, posting a 1.44 GO/AO ratio. His repertoire includes a hard-biting sinker that sits in the low-90s, a good changeup with plenty of fade and depth, and a slider that flashes above-average and has made great strides over the past few seasons. He displays above-average control, a trait that helps his repertoire play up. Spruill lacks a big swing-and-miss offering, but he mixes his pitches well and keeps hitters on their toes in the box. While his ceiling may not be incredibly high, Spruill should fit well in the back-end of a rotation or in the bullpen as a swingman or middle reliever. Arizona currently has a nice stockpile of young pitching, so it remains to be seen if Spruill can fight his way into what will certainly be a crowded picture in the coming years.
While the loss of these three prospects certainly hurts the state of an already-weak farm system, the Braves were adamant in not trading away their highest-ceiling prospects, a move that should be lauded. Most of the talent in the Braves’ system is currently in the lower levels, and big years from Mauricio Cabrera, Jose Peraza, Lucas Sims, and other high-ceiling 2012 draftees should lessen the impact of this trade on the farm system. Bravo, Frank Wren and Co.
December 3, 2012 at 6:24 pm by Ethan Purser under Atlanta Braves
The Braves claimed right-handed pitcher David Carpenter off of waivers from the Boston Red Sox.
Last week was a big week for the Braves. The team inked free agent outfielder BJ Upton to a 5 year, $75.25 million deal on Thursday, filling the hole in center field left by Michael Bourn. On Friday, the Braves also made waves in the trade market by sending Tommy Hanson to the Los Angeles Angels for reliever Jordan Walden. Shortly after the trade, the Braves announced that David Carpenter had been claimed off waivers from the Red Sox. While this move definitely pales in comparison to the others, Carpenter has an interesting background and could play a role in the bullpen in 2013.
The St. Louis Cardinals drafted Carpenter in 2006 as a catcher out of West Virginia University. He spent portions of 2006 through 2008 behind the plate before he was moved to the bullpen during the 2008 season. Since being moved to the mound, he has produced solid numbers across all levels of the minors, posting a 3.02 ERA with 215 strikeouts and 78 walks in 202.1 innings of work, allowing only 181 hits and 12 home runs during this time.
After being traded for Pedro Feliz in 2010, Carpenter made his Major League debut in 2011 with the Houston Astros. He pitched 27.2 innings, posting a 2.93 ERA/4.18 FIP with 29 strikeouts and 13 walks, seven of which being of the intentional variety. He was traded to the Toronto Blue Jays in a ten-player deal last July. He pitched 32.1 innings between the two clubs, posting an 8.07 ERA/4.86 FIP with 31 strikeouts and 16 walks, allowing 51 hits and five home runs. Along with Mike Aviles, Carpenter was sent by the Blue Jays to the Red Sox as compensation for the hiring of John Farrell. The Red Sox designated him for assignment on November 20th.
The 6’2″, 215-pound righty brings two pitches to the table: a mid-90s fastball and a mid-80s slider. When all is well, the fastball features plus to plus-plus velocity with heavy arm-side run into the hands of right-handed hitters; other times, the fastball is straight with very little movement. Carpenter has trouble locating the fastball on a consistent basis, frequently missing high and to the arm side or low and to the glove side. Due to the speed of the pitch and the late movement it often generates, Carpenter can induce swings and misses within the strike zone with the offering. The slider features heavy tilt and sweep when located down and away to right-handed hitters/down and in to left-handed hitters, profiling as a swing-and-miss pitch. He runs into trouble when he misses his spots with the offering, as the pitch tends to hang and become slurvy with much softer break when thrown to the arm side. Manny Machado took advantage of this here.
Using Brooks Baseball’s Pitch F/X database, Carpenter’s fastball has generated 95 whiffs out of 433 swings over his 60 innings in the majors, good for whiff/swing of 119 (using PitchIQ Score, where 100 is average). His slider, which has generated 59 whiffs out of 145 swings, has a whiff/swing of 118. The data suggest that the two pitches profile as swing-and-miss offerings.
Mechanically, Carpenter has a quick and live arm with a deep, elbowy arm action. He tends to fly open in his delivery, which causes his arm to drag behind the rest of his body, limiting the accuracy and efficacy of his pitches—specifically his slider. Pitchers who fly open will frequently miss high and to the arm side, as their arm must rush in order to catch up to the rest of their body. He lands on a very stiff front leg, cutting off his pitches and losing valuable length on the front side. All-arm throwers not unlike Carpenter will also frequently exhibit severe head-jerks as they deliver the ball, which often has a negative effect on overall control.
Going into Spring Training, Carpenter will presumably compete with Cory Gearrin for the final right-handed spot in the bullpen. Given Gearrin’s performance in 2012, his track record with the club, and his effectiveness against right-handed hitters, I would put my money on Gearrin winning the spot, although a strong performance from Carpenter in the spring could turn heads*. All in all, having a superfluous power arm when constructing a bullpen is a good problem to have, as it opens up a bit of flexibility in the event that a reliever is traded in the coming weeks—a possibility Ben explored Friday.
*For the record, Gearrin and Carpenter both have one option year remaining.