June 4, 2009 at 9:53 pm by Capitol Avenue Club under Atlanta Braves, Farm System, Player Analysis, Prospects, Transactions
Most of the time when you hear about a trade you’ve already heard that it’s likely to happen. You’ll hear that “x player is being shopped” or “x team has had discussions with y team about z player”. You hear rumors anywhere from a month in advance to a day in advance, and most educated baseball fans are aware of a looming deal. Or, the deal is unexpected but it isn’t a sort of “impact” type move. A swap of a mid-level prospect for an out of options reliever or the like. But very rarely do you see a big-time deal involving an impact player for premium prospects get announced with virtually no public knowledge of an eminent deal. So that’s the first thing that makes the Pirates dealing Nate McLouth to Atlanta for three prospects: Class Single-A Advanced left-handed pitcher, Jeff Locke; Class Double-A center fielder, Gorkys Hernandez; and Class Triple-A right-handed pitcher, Charlie Morton, so bizarre. The first we heard of it occurred about an hour before the deal was officially announced. No exaggeration.
But the reason the deal is so bizarre doesn’t stop there. If you had polled 100 baseball experts and asked them, “would the Pirates consider dealing Nate McLouth?”, 90 of them would’ve responded, “no”. McLouth had just signed a 3 year, 15.75 million dollar deal buying out his arbitration years with an option for the first year he’s eligible for Free Agency for 10.65 million dollars. Number one, players, especially good players, that sign contracts well under market value, much like the one I just mentioned, are unlikely to be moved because the club likes having cheap, good, young talent around. At least not with 3 years left on their contract. Number two, clubs that hand out long-term deals like this usually do so because they’re confident this player is one they can build their franchise around. Turning around and trading them 4 months after they sign a contract like that one is very un-heard of.
If there was any indication that it was unlikely the Pirates would trade McLouth, other than the fact that they just signed him to that team-friendly contract, it was the fact that during their fire-sale of 2008, the one that saw them part with 2 of their 3 ever-day outfielders (the other being McLouth), McLouth not only wasn’t moved, but the idea of moving him was never even so much as rumored to have any validity. So the baseball world generally thought McLouth was there to stay for at least the next two years.
But upon further examination, it did make sense for the Pirates to deal McLouth for talented prospects that could help them win down the road. Number one, they’re not in contention to win their division or a wild-card berth, so results this season are irrelevant and any investment in their future that can be made at this season’s expense should be made. Number two, their second best prospect, Andrew McCutchen, was MLB-ready. And if their is any lesson we have learned in baseball it is that teams can not afford to let MLB-ready talent rot in the minor leagues, especially smaller market teams. Not that the Pirates are small market, and not that the player that was blocking him (McLouth) makes a ton of money (2 million dollars, only 5 times the league minimum, which is peanuts for a player of McLouth’s caliber), but it makes sense to go for the cheaper option and receive some prospects along the way, which is what they did.
And for the Braves the move makes a ton of sense. The Braves need production from their outfield and McLouth gives them that. McLouth will serve as the every day center fielder until the organization deems Jordan Schafer MLB-ready (again). After that, be it later this year or some time next year, McLouth will most likely shift to a corner. But considering the complete lack of production from the outfield across the board, McLouth could play any position and immediately contribute much more than what the Braves had on their roster. He instantly becomes the Braves best outfielder, and it’s not even close. Last season McLouth hit .276/.356/.497 with 26 home runs and a league-leading 46 doubles. Those 26 were more than anyone on the Braves roster hit last season and were also one shy of what the Braves outfield combined to hit last season. He also demonstrates great base-stealing ability. I eventually envision an outfield comprised of McLouth, Schafer, and Jason Heyward, which is downright scary.
McLouth is a very accomplished player. Last year was essentially his first full season starting every day. He was selected for the All Star Game and won a Gold Glove. Now, he did not deserve the gold glove, not at all, but he isn’t as bad in the field as the metrics suggest. Let’s just go straight to John Dewan, the founder of The Fielding Bible and creator of the +/- system, to clear up the issue:
Well, I thought he was the worst outfielder in baseball, but Nate McLouth won a National League Gold Glove in 2008. Nate McLouth had a -40 plus/minus in center field. That means this: —Take every ball hit in the air anywhere in the vicinity of Nate McLouth when he played center field —Replace McLouth with an average center fielder —The average center fielder would have caught 20 more of them than McLouth did, allowing a total of 40 fewer bases taken on those 20 caught balls McLouth’s -40 was the worst plus/minus figure for any center fielder in baseball last year. Not only that, it was the worst plus/minus figure for any outfielder in baseball. Not only that, it was the worst plus/minus figure for any player in baseball. Is he that bad? No, absolutely not. The fact that there are a significant number of managers and coaches that think he’s good definitely means something. There are aspects to being a good defensive outfielder that come into play other than catching balls hit in the air. They are lesser aspects, but important ones. I will get into more depth on these in The Fielding Bible—Volume II coming out in February of 2009. For example, we are planning a video review of all McLouth’s key fielding plays. But let me touch on a couple of things here. First, his throwing. While he only had two baserunner kills last year (direct throws to a base or home plate to nab a baserunner), he was the seventh best center fielder in preventing runners from taking an extra base on singles and doubles hit to centerfield. Second, his Good Plays and Defensive Misplays. The Video Scouts at Baseball Info Solutions have 27 categories of Good Plays and 55 categories of Defensive Misplays. They review every play and decide if a play fits one of those categories. It sounds somewhat subjective, but because of the strict definitions of the categories, it actually becomes quite objective. For example, here’s the definition of one of the 55 Defensive Misplays: “Defensive Misplay Number 38, Failing to Anticipate the Wall: Outfielder goes to the outfield wall, allowing a ball to bounce over his head back toward the infield, allowing a runner or runners to take bases which they might not have been able to take had the fielder turned and played the ball off the wall.” It turns out that this happened to McLouth six times last year, tied for the most in baseball with right fielder Bobby Abreu, and more often than any other center fielder (Aaron Rowand and B.J. Upton were second in CF with five). This is another weakness for McLouth. Overall, adding the six wall-difficulty plays to his other misplays, McLouth had a total of 24 defensive misplays and one error last season. That total of 25 is the ninth highest among all center fielders on the 30 teams last year. So, despite his low error total, McLouth is more prone to making poor plays in center field than the majority of other center fielders in baseball. However, his good plays more than make up for the 25 misplays and errors. He had 31 good plays, good for third place among center fielders behind Carlos Gomez of the Twins (33) and B.J. Upton of the Rays (32). This is clearly what managers and coaches who vote for the Gold Gloves were seeing. Net Plays are good plays minus defensive misplays and errors. McLouth had six more good plays than defensive misplays and errors, or six Net Plays. That was the seventh highest total in baseball among center fielders. Not bad. All in all, I no longer think of McLouth as the worst center fielder in baseball. It means something that at least some of the managers and coaches think highly of him. And we see that two areas of his defense are above average: his ability to prevent baserunners from advancing on hits and his ability to make a play above and beyond the ordinary. But we also see that, despite this low error total, he has more than his share of defensive misplays. And the most important aspect of playing outfield defense is covering ground, and McLouth struggles here big time.
So just acquiring a player with a bat like McLouth’s, despite his defensive struggles, is a great start for Frank Wren. But the fact that he dealt from positions of depth in the organization, the fact that he didn’t give up any blue-chip prospects, and the fact that the Braves probably won’t miss any of them too much makes this deal a perfect 10. Don’t get me wrong, the Braves gave up some good prospects, very good, but they really won’t be missed. Not that much, anyway. Gorkys Hernandez I have ranked 4th on my list of top 40 prospects. But, the future in CF most likely belongs to Jordan Schafer, and if he doesn’t pan out the contingency plan was acquired in the deal, Nate McLouth. Hernandez is a lightning-fast, defensively gifted prospect that is currently hitting for a high average, but he isn’t displaying much secondary offense and he doesn’t possess too much base-stealing ability, especially for his speed. He profiles as the prototypical lead-off hitting center fielder, but his game needs a lot of polish if he wants to make it to the big leagues. He’s only 21, so there’s at least a decent chance he will develop into a MLB player, but there’s very little chance he’ll be as much of an offensive force as either McLouth or Jordan Schafer, so the club really didn’t have much of a future for him. Jeff Locke, another 21-year old, is a high-upside left-handed pitcher. Locke was one of the most coveted pieces by rival GM’s this winter and would have been shipped off to San Diego in any Peavy deal if one happened. I have him ranked 7th on my list of top 40 prospects, but he’s bested by 3 right-handers, Tommy Hanson, Randall Delgado, and Julio Teheran, and the prospect behind him is a left-hander who is a year ahead of Locke developmentally, Cole Rohrbough. Locke has gotten progressively worse at every level, but he’s only 21 and the upside is still there, so I don’t think the Pirates are upset about acquiring him. Charlie Morton is probably the most well-known of the 3 due to his stint in the bigs last year during the “can anyone make a few starts for us?” injury bug of 2008. Morton wasn’t particularly good, but he’s been pitching very well at AAA and was a highly regarded prospect before his promotion to the bigs. I don’t have him ranked because he isn’t a prospect anymore, he has big league experience, but he’d be somewhere between 16 and 24. There’s little evidence that he won’t have some success at the big leagues, but there’s also little evidence that he will. He’s 25 years old, so if he doesn’t reach some of his potential soon he’ll be a bust quicker than not. With Medlen, Reyes, and Tommy Hanson all about his age, the Braves have some depth in their AAA starters, so there’s also no reason he isn’t expendable.
The fact that Jordan Schafer, Tommy Hanson, and Jason Heyward along with the super-high upside pitchers, Randall Delgado and Julio Teheran are still in the system and the Braves were able to swing a deal for an outfielder in his prime signed cheaply for the next 3 years is a huge win. I believe the Braves got the better end of the deal. Even if all 3 prospects pan out, this move won’t cripple the farm or organization for years to come like the Mark Teixeira deal and they got a guy who will be a mainstay in their line-up for years to come, as opposed to a rental. I declare the move a perfect 10.
Now, this doesn’t make our team perfect, or even close to it. Wren shouldn’t be done looking for productive outfielders. Unless Garret Anderson and Jeff Francoeur seriously turn it around, as Garret is appearing to do, we are still a bat or two away from being serious championship contenders. But we’re that much closer than we were a week ago. And there’s plenty of reason to be encouraged by that.
April 26, 2009 at 1:28 pm by Capitol Avenue Club under Atlanta Braves, Farm System, Minor Leagues
Building a successful organization starts with scouting and player development. The player development part takes place in the farm system. The evolution of farm systems is one of the most important developments in the history of MLB and having a strong farm system is crucial to the long-term success of any MLB club. The Braves have always had a strong foundation of scouting and player development and it could be argued that the farm system has never been stronger. Let’s take a look at the minor league affiliates of the Atlanta Braves.
The GCL Braves play in the Gulf Coast League. I bet you can guess what GCL stands for. The GCL teams are all named “GCL <Parent Club’s Mascot>” and they all operate out of their parent club’s spring training facility. The Braves’ facility is currently located in Lake Buena Vista, FL at Disney World’s Wide World of Sports. The GCL is classified as a Rookie league, meaning it a) operates for a shortened season (around late-June to September) and b) is generally a destination for 1st year players only, usually recent draftees or international signings. Like most of the Braves’ Minor League Affiliates, they own the GCL Braves. In fact, no GCL team operates independently of a MLB organization, they’re all directly owned by their parent club.
The Danville Braves play in the Appalachian League, also know as the “Appy League” for short. The league is based in the Appalacian Mountains in West Virginia, Virginia, Tennessee, and North Carolina. Again, like the GCL, the Appy League teams are all owned and operated by their parent club and they’re named “<Home City> <Parent Club’s Mascot>”. The Appy League is classified as a Rookie Advanced league. They also play a shortened season and Danville is generally the destination for college draftees, 2nd year players who had a lost rookie season, or more advanced rookies. It is a stiffer competition and a more prestigious league than the GCL, but the stadium is crappy compared to the beautiful stadium at the Braves’ Spring Training facility. Not that anyone really comes to either teams’ games.
The Rome Braves compete in the South Atlantaic League (Sally League for short), the least competitive full-season league the Braves have a stake in. The Sally League is a Class A league and players are generally sent here for their first full season, usually their 2nd or 3rd year in professional baseball, though it is not un-heard of for a more experienced rookie to begin his professional career at Class A. Unlike the Braves’ rookie ball leagues, in the Sally League, the Braves are the only team that directly owns the minor league affiliate. The rest of the teams are linked to their parent club through a Player Development Contract, but the actual minor league club is owned and operated by a separate party. After a full season at Class A, a players’ minor league numbers start to become statistically meaningful.
They Myrtle Beach Pelicans compete in the Carolina League, a Class A Advanced league. Class A Advanced represents the highest rung of the “lower minor leagues”. A promotion to Class A Advanced generally happens for a players’ second full season. Because the Carolina League is always loaded with pitching prospects and the Myrtle Beach stadium is such a pitchers’ park, Myrtle Beach is regarded as a very difficult place to hit and a very easy place to pitch, which should be taken into account when looking at numbers from Myrtle Beach. Most position player prospects have their statistically least impressive season at Class A Advanced Myrtle Beach. The Myrtle Beach Pelicans are the only minor league affiliate of the Atlanta Braves that the parent club does not directly own.
The Mississippi Braves play in the Southern League, a very competitive league loaded with nearly MLB-ready prospects. The Southern League is a Class AA league and the Braves use it as a bridge to the majors. It is the first rung of the “upper minor leagues” and players are assigned to Class AA Mississippi usually after they’ve completed at least a full season in the lower minor leagues (generally more). Having a productive season at Class AA Mississippi is key to earning a promotion to the big club. Like all of the affiliates apart from the Myrtle Beach Pelicans, the Mississippi Braves are directly owned and operated by the Atlanta Braves.
The Gwinnett Braves play in the International League, one of the three Class AAA leagues. The Braves treat their Class AAA team as sort of a “holding tank” for MLB-ready players. A lot of the players on the Gwinnett Braves’ roster will also be on the Atlanta Braves’ 40-man roster and will also have previous big-league experience. From 1966 to 2008 this team was located in Richmond, Virginia and was named the Richmond Braves. 2009 represents the inagural season of the Gwinnett Braves. Players are assigned to AAA if they don’t make the big-league club out of camp or they’ve played a complete season at AA but there’s no place for them on the big club. It is also used to season players before their mid-season call-ups.
April 24, 2009 at 1:31 am by Capitol Avenue Club under Atlanta Braves, Draft, Farm System, Prospects, Scouting
Number 10: Brett DeVall – LHP (19) 6′3″ 215 LB
Last year’s compensatory pick was taken out of high school. He’s a big, high-upside lefty that already has 3 good pitches. He’s crafty and controls his pitches really well. His fastball, though it rarely tops 91 MPH, has great movement on it and he can locate it to both sides of the plate. He’s only pitched 9 and 2/3 professional innings and we’ll know more after we get a more sufficient sample size. He still has plenty of time and could probably add a few miles per hour to it as he progresses through the minor leagues. His full season debut is much anticipated.
Number 9: Brandon Hicks – SS (23) 6′2″ 200 LB
Brandon Hicks caught a lot of attention this spring in Braves camp. After putting up good number at Class A Advanced Myrtle Beach and Class AA Mississippi last year, he stuck around until the end of spring training. Bobby Cox raved about his defense this spring stating something to the effect of “he’s a major league shortstop right now”. That being said, he still needs work with his bat. He’s never going to be a high average guy, but he’ll hit 20+ homers every year. Last year he hit .235 with a .335 OBP and a .467 SLG % with 20 home runs, 52 walks, and 139 strikeouts. Ah, yes, the strikeouts. As I mentioned, his swing is geared for power, not average, so he misses the ball a lot. He needs to cut down on the strikeouts and maybe work on making a little bit more solid contact. Regardless, he will make it to the big leagues as a utility player or back-up SS at some point with some club. Weather or not he makes it as a starter remains to be seen, but the potential is there and he’s not far away either.
Number 8: Cole Rohrbough – LHP (22) 6′3″ 205 LB
He’s another big lefty who projects to strike out a ton of batters. He has a low-90′s fastball and a plus curveball that he throws to both sides of the plate and he will throw as a get-me-over strike pitch or a chase pitch out of the zone. He’s struck out 200 batters and walked only 59 in 151 and 1/3 professional innings. He’s got a ceiling through the roof, but he’s still a few years away. Class AA Mississippi will be his next test.
Number 7: Jeff Locke – LHP (21) 6′2″ 180 LB
Locke’s much anticipated full season debut didn’t wow anyone with numbers, but the stuff was certainly there. He features a low-90′s sinking fastball, a tight curveball, and a change-up. All of his pitches he commands well. Scouts are concerned about his mechanics and he needs to straighten them out before he makes the jump to the high minor leagues. He’ll spend 2009 at Class A Advanced Myrtle Beach, the ideal place to work out mechanics. We’d like to see his K/9 get back over 9 as it was only at 7.3 last year. His minor league career K/9 is 8.7 (including nearly 140 innings of 7.3 K/9). There should be plenty of reason to believe in Locke after he has an impressive year at Myrtle Beach, but we’ll see.
Number 6: Randall Delgado – RHP (19) 6′3″ 175 LB
One of the livest arms in the system, Randall Delgado will transition from short season to full season this year as he’ll be one of the headliners of Class A Rome’s pitching staff. He’s got some of the highest upside of anyone in the system based on his frame, projectability, and stuff. His fastball sits in the mid 90′s with loads of sink on it and he already has a plus curveball. He has trouble commanding his secondary pitches at times, but he’ll spend his full season debut as one of the South Atlantic League’s youngest pitchers (i.e. he’s still very young and way ahead of his time). Last year he struck out 81 batters in 69 innings for the Danville Braves.
Number 5: Julio Teheran – RHP (18) 6′2″ 150 LB
Another young, high-upside guy. Teheran hits 95 on the radar gun seemingly without trying and has great life on those pitches. He’s also hit 97 when he dials it up. He has a sharply breaking curveball and a change-up as well. He battled shoulder soreness during his professional debut last year, but every scout that saw him throw was very impressed. He’ll repeat short-season rookie ball this year and we’ll have more than 15 professional innings to judge him by. His upside surpasses that of anyone in they system. Yes, including Tommy Hanson.
Number 4: Gorkys Hernandez – CF (21) 6′0″ 175 LB
Gorkys came along with Jair Jurrjens in the Edgar Renteria deal, a deal that will undoubtedly make Dave Dombrowski look like a fool for years to come. Gorkys Hernandez had an excellent season at Class A Advanced Myrtle Beach, batting .264 with a .348 OBP. He didn’t hit for much power and doesn’t project to, but he was excellent in the field and ran very well stealing 20 bases while being caught only 4 times. His ultimate projection is that of a 10-homer, 40 SB, high average, high OBP, defensively gifted player. He’s one of the fastest players in our system and he uses his speed to his advantage on both sides of the ball, frequently legging out infield hits, stealing bases, taking extra bases, and covering a ton of ground in center field. We’ll see how he responds to his promotion to Class AA Mississippi.
Number 3: Fredrick Freeman – 1B (19) 6′5″ 220 LB
This kid is huge. And he can hit. Really well. And he can hit it really far. Freeman is your prototypical clean-up hitting 1B on a championship level team. Last year at Class A Rome he hit .316 with a .378 OBP and a .521 SLG %. He hit 18 home runs, 33 doubles, and 7 triples as well. He has a surprisingly level swing for a guy who can hit so much power and projects to be a high-average hitter in addition to his tremendous power. He fields well with a good glove and good footwork despite well below-average range. I once saw him take a high and tight fastball from a left-handed pitcher and hit it as far as I’ve seen anyone hit a ball. Smoked. He is our future at 1B. He’ll team up with Jason Heyward at Class A Advanced Myrtle Beach in 2009 before he tackles the higher minor leagues in 2010. ETA to the majors is 2011.
Number 2: Thomas Hanson – RHP (22) 6′6″ 210 LB
In most systems he would rate as the number 1 prospect. In fact, I don’t think there’s but 10-12 guys in minor league baseball that you could even suggest are as good as Tommy Hanson. Hanson features a 4 pitch repertoire including a 94 MPH fastball with great life, a plus plus curveball, a plus plus slider, and an above-average changeup. He’s able to command all of his pitches and has ace stuff right now. Last year he struck out 114 batters in 98 innings at Class AA Mississippi with a 3.03 ERA and a 1.13 WHIP. He also tossed a 14-strikeout no-hitter, the first in Mississippi Braves history. And those numbers are puny compared to the showing he put on against baseball’s best prospects in the Arizona Fall League. Hanson struck out 49 batters in 28 and 2/3 innings. He walked 7, hit 3, allowed 10 to reach via base hit (1 HR), and allowed 2 to score, good for a 0.63 ERA and a 0.59 WHIP. He became the first pitcher to ever win the MVP of the AFL. The only complaints scouts have about him are that he uses too many pitches to retire hitters and he has a fairly violent delivery, but neither are huge long-term or really short-term concerns. He’s about ready to be an ace and he’ll get that opportunity sooner than later. Having proved everything he needs to against prospects, Hanson will begin 2009 at Class AAA Gwinnett where he’ll wait until the Braves deem he’s ready (aka he won’t accumulate enough playing time to gain “Super 2″ status so we can save money down the road, a good business decision).
Number 1: Jason Heyward – OF (19) 6′4″ 220 LB
Here’s Jason Heyward’s line from Class A Rome last year: .323/.388/.483 with 11 HR, 49 BB’s, 74 K’s, 15 SB’s, 3 CS. So basically, he did it all last year. He was a very, very good player. The 300+ average figures to stay around and the 380+ OBP figures to be a mainstay. He figures to steal 15-20 bags a year too. But he’s also projected to triple those home run numbers driving his slugging percentage through the roof. He’s going to be a super-star. We’re talking about a number 3 hitter for the best of the best. He’s one of the smartest players in our farm system as both his parents were teachers. He’s also one of the hardest workers in the farm system and every executive and coach raves about his work ethic. At 19 he came into spring training and not only played very well even against big-league quality pitching (and played excellent defense as he always had), but acted like he fit right in. He’s best friends with Freddie Freeman and they’re on the same time-table to the big leagues. The Braves will have something very special when Freeman and Heyward arrive and it will be a very exciting time in the organization.
View the entire top 40 list here.
April 23, 2009 at 11:42 pm by Capitol Avenue Club under Atlanta Braves, Draft, Farm System, Prospects, Scouting
Number 20: Scott Diamond – LHP (22) 6′3″ 190 LB
Another tall, lanky lefty in the system. Diamond may have the best chance of them all at a successful big-league career. He signed with the Braves after his junior year in college and wasted no time blowing through the lower minor leagues. He skipped rookie ball all-together (which isn’t uncommon for college pitchers) and earned a mid-season promotion from Class A Rome to Class A Advanced Myrtle Beach. In 26 games last year (24 starts), he tossed 152 and 2/3 innings giving up 142 hits, 39 walks, and 8 homers while striking out 123 and posting a 2.89 ERA. Once again, more of a 3rd-4th starter type based on his current stuff. We’ll have a more sufficient sample size after his 2009 season at Class AA Mississippi.
Number 19: Craig Kimbrel – RHP (21) 5′11″ 205 LB
He’s only pitched 35 and 1/3 professional innings, but he’s logged some of the most dominant innings the Minor Leagues have ever seen. He’s allowed 16 hits, 15 BB, and 2 ER. Oh yeah, he also struck out 56 batters. He’s a bit heavy for his frame and he’s not that athletic, which scouts seem to constantly be concerned with for good reasons. Sort of a Bobby Jenks type, I guess, more fit than Jenks but you get the idea. He’ll spend the 2009 season back at Class A Advanced Myrtle Beach, most probably as their closer, and he should be ready to take on the upper minor leagues in 2010 with a 2011 ETA to the majors. If he pans out, of course.
Number 18: Travis Jones – 2B (23) 5′9″ 190 LB
Ah, the illusive position players on the list. Travis Jones had a tough season in 2008 and I bet you can guess where he played. That’s right, he spent all of 2008 at Class A Advanced Myrtle Beach, the pitcher’s haven of our farm system. He wasn’t that bad, really. His average took a major hit dropping to .248, but he still found ways to produce getting on base at a .361 clip and slugging .428 (.180 ISOP, a healthy ratio), and hitting 16 HR (up from 12 the previous year). As always, he found plenty of ways to contribute with his glove as he’s one of the system’s best fielders. Getting out of Myrtle Beach will help his numbers and I’m predicting a breakout year for Travis at Class AA Mississippi.
Number 17: Eric Campbell- 3B (23) 6′0″ 195 LB
Well, based on raw tools he’s one of the best position players in the system. He’s got a nice contact-oriented swing that is still capable of hitting 20-30 HR in MLB and he’s patient at the plate. Defensively he’s excellent. He’s got great instincts, reflexes, range, footwork, glove, and a cannon for an arm. He’s one of the most talented players in our farm system. The problem is he can’t stop pissing off every executive and coach he ever meets in the organization. This has lead to many people questioning his make-up. He’s had a few team suspensions over the past two seasons and at one point almost got kicked out of the organization. I have a feeling he’ll either experience a Schafer-like attitude adjustment or be out of the organization next year so I’d say he’ll be either near the top of this list or off of it this time next year. Hopefully the former as he’s one of the two players in the organization that could possibly assume the hot corner when Chipper departs. Not that that’s currently an issue. We have an excellent back-up and signed Chipper to an extension, so we don’t need Chipper insurance. But it would be nice to see Campbell get it together and be a part of the club’s future.
Number 16: Stephen Marek- RHP (25) 6′2″ 200 LB
Marek came to the Braves along with Casey Kotchman from the Angels in the Mark Teixeira deal. As a result he had 2 minor league stints last year and both were at Class AA. His combined line was 60 and 2/3 innings pitched, 51 hits, 27 walks, 3 home runs (after serving up 17 in 134 innings the previous year with the Angels’ Class A Advanced team), 68 strikeouts, 3.56 ERA, 1.29 WHIP. He really could walk fewer than 1 batter every 2 innings, but other than that his numbers are pretty good. He had a mediocre spring with the big club and was assigned to Class AAA Gwinnett. I imagine he’ll be with the big club at some point this year even as a September call-up (he’s on the 40-man roster). He’s a future back-end of the bullpen guy. Whether that turns out to be a 7th inning guy, set-up, or closer remains to be seen.
Number 15: Luis Sumoza – OF (20) 6′0″ 170 LB
Like Marek, Sumoza came over in Braves mini-fire-sale 2k8, this time from the Red Sox for Mark Kotsay straight-up. I originally had Sumoza ranked around 25 based on previous scouting reports until I saw that he hit 11 HR in 237 PA’s last year. Sumoza is a raw, raw outfielder. He’s really toolsy. A very athletic player who plays great defense in the OF, runs well, and has great raw power. He’ll need more refinement before he gets to the higher minor-leagues, but there’s plenty of time as he’s only 20. The more I hear about him the more I like him. He’ll repeat Class A this year. I wouldn’t be surprised if he gets the call to come to Myrtle Beach mid-season.
Number 14: Edgar Osuna – LHP (21) 6′1″ 165 LB
He’s a starter in the Braves’ farm system and a LOOGY in the Mexican league during the off-season. The organization likes him as a starter but I’m sure they’re also glad he’s getting some experience as a reliever too. Osuna had a great 2008 at Class A Rome tossing 125 and 1/3 innings striking out 135, walking 31, allowing 121 hits and 9 homers on his way to a 3.38 ERA and a 1.22 WHIP. Expect big numbers from him in 2009 when he settles in to the pitcher-friendly Class A Advanced Myrtle Beach.
Number 13: Kristopher Medlen – RHP (23) 5′10″ 175 LB
A control specialist who has been used by the organization as both a starter and a reliever. He’d be a pretty good swingman right now and he’s pretty much MLB ready. He pitched well enough to break camp with the club this spring but he has options so the club will get him some innings down at Class AAA Gwinnett. He had a great 2008 tossing 120 and 1/3 innings with a 3.52 ERA while striking out 120 and walking only 27. His ceiling is that of a 3rd starter, but his basement is a long reliever. Barring a career-ending injury, Kris Medlen is going to pitch in the big leagues.
Number 12: Benino Pruneda – RHP (20) 5′9″ 170 LB
How on earth someone 5’9″ 170 LB’s and 20 years old can throw 100 MPH blows my mind, but Pruneda can hit 100 with his fastball. He is being groomed as a closer because his frame + delivery do not equal starting pitcher. He pitched at Class A Rome this past year tossing 57 and 1/3 innings, striking out 73, walking 23, posting an ERA of 2.83 and a WHIP of 1.33. He could stand to cut back on his walks, but he’s only 20. I can’t wait to see how he wrecks havoc on Carolina League hitters when he pitches for Class A Advanced Myrtle Beach in 2009.
Number 11: Ezekiel Spruill- RHP (19) 6′4″ 184 LB
A long, lanky righty ala Charlie Morton. Zeke, as he’s commonly called in the organization, has a low-to-mid 90′s fastball, an average slider, and a developing change-up. Like a lot of prospects everywhere, if he develops that change-up he’ll likely have a chance to make it as a starter. If not he’ll still have a chance at a big league career, but as a bullpen arm. He had a nice season for the Rookie level Gulf Coast League Braves pitching 40 innings, striking out 32, walking 8, posting an ERA of 2.92, and a WHIP of 1.25. Overall he’s still raw and lanky. He needs to fill out and get stronger, but he has a projectable arm and could be a big-time front of the rotation starter if he pans out.
View the entire top 40 list here.
April 23, 2009 at 6:35 pm by Capitol Avenue Club under Atlanta Braves, Draft, Farm System, Prospects, Scouting
Number 30: Jose Ortegano – LHP (21) 6′1″ 145 LB
This lanky lefty had a decent season for Rome last year striking out 83 in 85 and 2/3 innings while allowing only 25 walks on his way to a 4.62 ERA. Hits were a problem at Rome (90), but that’s probably due to the shoddy defense behind him as his BABIP was 0.357. You’ll frequently find that in the lower minor leagues defenses aren’t as good and BABIP’s are higher, so it’s more important to pay attention to the K/9 and K/BB. He’s been good in that department. As his frame fills out (if it does), he projects to add MPH on his fastball and as long as he can control his pitches, he’ll make it to the big leagues. He’s a control guy, and he won’t ever miss enough bats to bee a Scott Kazmir, but his future is brighter than Chuck James’.
Number 29: Cory Gearrin – RHP (23) 6′3″ 200 LB
The former Mercer University closer will head back to Class A Advanced Myrtle Beach in 2009 to work on his control. Myrtle Beach is a great place to work out issues, but he struggled there last year, walking 21 in 23 and 2/3 innings. The good news? He struck out 36 during that span. He actually had identical K and hit numbers at Class A Rome in 2008 as he did at Myrtle Beach, but allowed 6 more to reach via base on balls at Myrtle Beach. His 15 walks in 22 and 1/3 innings at Rome weren’t good, but better than 21 in 23 and 2/3. Overall, if Gearrin ever learns to quit walking so many people he could be a serviceable mid-relief/set-up type reliever. He’s got the experience. He throws from a side-arm delivery making it very difficult to pick up his pitches, especially for right-handed batters. When he challenges the hitters, he gets outs. When he nibbles, he racks up a ton of K’s and issues a ton of free passes that frequently come around to score. There’s not a great deal of upside here, but he could probably pitch in a big-league bullpen in 1 year.
Number 28: Steven Evarts – LHP (21) 6′3″ 180 LB
When scouts look at this kid they generally see a Cole Hamels or a Steve Avery type pitcher. He has a great change-up, a low-90′s fastball (there’s room to add a few MPH as his frame fills out), and a developing curve. He throws from a 3/4 delivery that makes his fastball move a ton. He projects as a number 2 or 3 starter on a first division team if he does pan out. He’s ranked 28 because there’s not a huge probability he will as a 21 year old that’s yet to see Class A Advanced. He’s got a career minor league ERA of 2.30 in 98.0 innings, though. He’s currently recovering from Tommy John so we’ll see what the Braves decide to do with him after he’s healthy.
Number 27: Chad Rogers – LHP (21) 6′3″ 185 LB
Rogers was cruising through the minor leagues before he struggled allowing too many hits at Class A Rome last year. He allowed 96 hits in 91 and 1/3 innings. Again, part of this was the crappy defense behind him as the balls put in play off of him fell for hits 33.5% of the time. He’s efficient and has good control posting a 77/28 strikeout to walk ratio last year. Projects to be a Randy Wolf type blue-collar starter and nothing more, but he’s got a high probability of eventually contributing at the big league level.
Number 26: Jose Cabrera – OF (22) 5′11″ 185 LB
Yes, we have position players in our farm system. 12 of them cracked the top 40, and Jose “Willie” Cabrera shot his stock up enough this year to be included in that group. Cabrera’s numbers weren’t impressive at all through 2007. His career minor league OBP hovered around .320 and his career minor league SLG % sat around .380. However, at Myrtle Beach in 2008 he took off and became one of the better hitters in the league, earning him a late-season promotion to Class AA Mississippi. His combined line for the year was .289/.344/.469. If he continues to get better at putting the ball in play he could become a starting OF, but his eventual role will probably be that of a 4th OF.
Number 25: John Johnson – OF (20) 6′4″ 195 LB
You probably know him better as Cody Johnson. Cody had a really weird season at Rome (well, not weird for him, but he’s a weird player). He hit .252, posted an OBP of .307, walked 40 times, and struck out…… wait for it…. 177 times. 34.4 % of his plate appearances ended in strikeouts. However, he did show off his power, blasting 26 HR and 26 2B with a .479 SLG % (ISOP of .227, excellent ISOP). Basically, a 3 true outcomes guy. Doesn’t walk nearly enough to be an Adam Dunn type, but more of a Dave Kingman or Marcus Thames type. Looking at Kingman’s 1972 season, he batted .225, posted an OBP of .303, slugged at a .462 clip (ISOP of .237), walked 51 times, and struck out 140 times. They’re remarkably similar seasons. Let’s hope Ross learns to be more patient or make solid contact more often, though that’s doubtful as scouts see him as a pure power-hitter who will never hit for a huge average. We’ll see how he does alongside Jason Heyward at Class A Advanced Myrtle Beach. I’d also like to see him bat in a line-up without Heyward.
Number 24: Richard Sullivan – LHP (22) 6′3″ 235 LB
Big Lefty who only has 54 and 2/3 professional innings. He has a sweeping cross-body delivery that will deceive hitters (and virtually guarantees he’ll make it to the bigs as a LOOGY at worst). He throws a fastball that sits in the low 90′s, a big sweeping curveball, and he’s developing a change-up. That change-up will determine how his career progresses. With it he’ll have a chance to become a starter, without it, he’ll be relegated to the bullpen and most likely as a LOOGY. In his 54 and 2/3 professional innings, he’s struck out 49 and walked only 4 while posting a 2.30 ERA (interestingly, that’s also Steven Evarts’ career minor-league ERA). He went to the Savannah College of Art and Design.
Number 23: Isaiah Ka`aihue- 1B (24) 6′2″ 230 LB
In 2007, Isaiah “Kala” Ka`aihue’s performance at Class A Advanced Myrtle Beach earned him a mid-season promotion to AA Mississippi where he struggled mightily. Last year however, a repeat of AA served him well as he went on to post a .274 average, a very impressive .417 OBP, and a .457 SLG %. His homers have declined every year from 28 in 2006 to 22 in 2007 to 14 in 2008. If he can get that part of his game figured out he’ll have a future in Major League Baseball. He won’t have much of a future in our organization, though, for reasons you’ll come to realize as I finish these rankings. He’s about a year away and he’ll play at Class AAA Gwinnett in 2009.
Number 22: Todd Redmond - RHP (24) 6′3″ 210 LB
Redmond complemented Tommy Hanson at the top of the Class AA Mississippi rotation after coming over from the Pirates in the Tyler Yates deal a year ago. Redmond is another one of those control pitchers. He doesn’t have overpowering stuff, doesn’t profile as a guy who will miss a ton of bats, and doesn’t project to be much more than a 4th starter. That being said, he’s close to being ready to contribute at the big league level after polishing off an excellent 2008 campaign. Redmond tossed 166 and 1/3 innings exclusively at Mississippi with a 3.52 ERA and a 1.18 WHIP while walking only 33 and striking out 133. He was very home-run prone allowing 17. He’s a candidate to be off this list next year because he’ll probably either be in the bigs, out of the organization, out of baseball, or will have lost most of his value by this time next year. He’ll work to build on his 2008 success at Class AAA Gwinnett in 2009.
Number 21: Ross Francis – RHP (21) 6′1″ 200 LB
Ross “David” Francis’ stock shot through the roof after hurling a 6 inning no-hitter for the Class Rookie Advanced Danville Braves in which he struck out 16 of the 18 batters he retired on July 22 of last year. He finished the season posting a 2.35 ERA in 53 and 2/3 innings striking out 69, walking 17, and posting a WHIP of 1.03. He’s got a good fastball in the low to mid 90′s, a good curveball, and a change-up with substantial movement. He’s a high-upside guy and we’ll see how the minor leagues treat him as he progresses through them. Class A Rome will be his next test.
View the complete top 40 list here.
April 22, 2009 at 8:39 pm by Capitol Avenue Club under Atlanta Braves, Draft, Farm System, Prospects, Scouting
Number 40: J. J. Hoover- RHP (21) 6′3″ 215 LB
After dominating for the entirety of his Junior College career (striking out 176 in 100 and 2/3 innings during his most recent season), Hoover was selected by the Braves in the 10th round of the 2008 MLB first-year player draft. Hoover has only pitched 7 and 1/3 professional innings thus far and is a candidate to shoot up this list next year. Hoover is a 21 year old 6’3″ 215 LB right-hander with good fastball velocity (some reports have him clocked at 97 MPH), a slider, and a curveball. Hoover will start the year at Class A Rome in 2009 and we’ll know more about what we can expect from him going forward after we get a full season from him.
Number 39: Michael Mehlich – RHP (21) 6′2″ 180 LB
One of the rawest pitchers in the system. Mehlich wasn’t even a pitcher until he made it to Danville (Rookie Advanced), but he’s a very gifted athlete and was a star quarterback in high school. Due to lack of experience, all of his pitches are works in progress. However, his fastball is routinely clocked at 90-94, he has a fairly good curveball, and is starting to show feel for a change-up. The change-up will be key for him to have a successful major league career, and even if that develops well, he’s a few years away, having not played above Class A. Myrtle Beach is his 2009 destination and that’s a very pitcher-friendly environment for him to develop. Like most of the raw, athletic types in the lower levels of our farm system, he has a ton of upside, but there’s far from any guarantees that he’ll make it to the majors. Hopefully he won’t let the football mentality take over ala Jeff Francoeur 2008.
Number 38: Thomas Palica – LHP (21) 6′3″ 215 LB
Taken by the Braves in the 10th round of the 2007 MLB first year player draft, Palica had a pretty crappy rookie season but came back to post fairly impressive numbers at Class A Rome the following year. He worked primarily in relief (35 relief appearances, 1 start) serving as one of the clubs’ closers. He posted a 3.68 ERA, 83 K’s, 24 BB’s, and a 1.14 WHIP in 66 innings. He’s got awhile to go, but left-handed pitchers make it to the big show faster than any other position. Just based on his swing and miss stuff, I’d say he has a future with a big league club, even if it’s just as a LOOGY.
Number 37: Brett Oberholtzer – LHP (19) 6′2″ 190 LB
Another Junior College product. Oberholzer already has three pitches, a low-90′s fastball with good tailing action, a good change-up, and a plus slider that scouts believe will be a true out pitch. He’s only played 1 season of professional baseball and that was for the Danville Braves (Rookie Advanced). He posted a 2.89 ERA, 32 K’s, 10 BB’s, and a WHIP of 1.18 in 37 and 1/3 innings. Like every left-handed pitcher, he has a better chance of making it to the major leagues than most players at his developmental stage. And like everyone at his developmental stage, he’s still a few years away.
Number 36: Van Pope -3B (25) 6’0″ 200 LB
Yes, Van Pope is still in the Braves’ organization. And he’s still good enough to crack the top 40 prospects list. Pope is a very slick-fielding third-baseman that could play above-average defense in MLB right now (though if everyone who couldn’t hit were allowed to play MLB he’d probably be below-average), but his bat hasn’t developed nearly enough to warrant a spot on a major league roster. He’s one year away from officially being a bust and as a 25 year old who will sniff AAA for the first time in 2009, there’s not a lot of people who see more than a utility guy when they look at him. It’s safe to say he won’t be replacing Chipper Jones any time soon.
Number 35: Diory Hernandez – 2B (25) 5’11″ 175 LB
He’s had a long minor league career with the Braves. The scouts must see something more than the numbers can show. He’s versatile, having played 2B, SS, and 3B in the minors, but the good pretty much stops there. He isn’t good defensively and routinely makes errors on easy plays while flashing below-average range. He only has 31 career homers, has a career average of .274, a career OBP of .326, and a career SLG % of .381. He’s stolen 57 bases in his career, but he’s been caught 47 times which means he’s hurt his teams with his base running more than he’s helped it. Like Pope, his future is that of a utility infielder at best. Don’t be excited it you see him with the big club.
Number 34: Jacob Thompson – RHP (22) 6′6″ 215 LB
He’s kind of in the Kris Medlen mold without as much control and about 8 inches taller. Despite Thompson’s huge frame, his fastball rarely tops 91 MPH. Scouts say when he’s on he’s able to command 4 pitches (fastball, changeup, slurve, and power curve) but when he’s not he doesn’t trust his changeup and gets hammered. If he continues to work on his pitches and mix them appropriately, he could become a starter in the Greg Maddux mold. He’s only tossed 9 and 2/3 innings of professional baseball so we’ll know more after this season in Class A Rome. He pitched at the University of Virginia so you’ve got to like his chances to develop into a Maddux type with his early exposure to competition and intelligence.
Number 33: Kyle Cofield – RHP (22) 6′5″ 190 LB
Another huge right-hander. Cofield is a year or two ahead of Thompson developmentally despite being the same age. Cofield’s minor league career got off to a really crappy start posting ERAs above 5 at the first few rungs, but he settled in nicely and has had back to sub-4 ERA seasons at Class A and Class A Advanced. He doesn’t project to strike out a ton of guys. His ceiling is that of a blue-collar strike-throwing machine ala Joe Blanton. He’ll spend most of 2009 at Mississippi. This is a make or break year for Cofield at Mississippi and if he preforms well he could find himself on a big-league roster within 2 years.
Number 32: Dimaster Delgado – RHP (20) 6′2″ 180 LB
Like much of the farm system, Delgado is a Panamanian import. He’s still very raw and hasn’t pitched above Rookie ball. He’ll be assigned to Danville (Rookie Advanced) this summer where he’ll attempt to refine his pitches and build up his arm strength in preparation for his first full season in 2010. He struck out 39 batters in 39 and 2/3 innings in 2008 in rookie ball, though he gave up 51 hits. We won’t know much more until after his first full season, so he’s not much of a candidate to shoot up through these rankings this year.
Number 31: Paul Clemens – RHP (21) 6′4″ 170 LB
Another right-handed junior college product. He’s long and lanky as you probably have deduced from his 6’4″ 170 LB frame. He projects to add velocity to his fastball and strike out more batters than he currently does (he already struck out 59 in 65 and 1/3 innings in his professional debut season). He’s headed to Class A Rome in 2009 and we’ll know a lot more about what to expect from him after his first full season.
View the complete top 40 list here.