October 16, 2009 at 11:33 am by Capitol Avenue Club under Atlanta Braves, Minor Leagues, Prospects
For the second straight year, Cole Rohrbough failed to impress, regressing in almost every important category. He finished the season with a 5.77 ERA, a 1.513 WHIP, and a 100-to-48 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 117 innings for the Class A Advanced Myrtle Beach Pelicans. Off-field issues surrounded Rohrbough’s on-field struggles. He’s a new father and rarely gets to see his child. It was reported that he suffered from some depression in 2009 and contemplated quitting baseball at one point. Because of the high ceiling he possesses and the fact that scouts still seem impressed, I’m more than willing to give Rohrbough the benefit of the doubt, but his clock is ticking. He’ll be 23 next season and can’t afford another lost season. Rohrbough throws a low-90′s fastball and a plus curveball with sharply breaking movement that he’ll throw in any count to both sides of the plate as either a chase pitch or a get-me-over type.
Milligan was drafted by the Braves three times. The third and final time was in the 6th round of the 2008 draft. Despite his strong commitment to Vanderbilt, the Braves were able to sign him. He missed all of the 2008 season with an injury, but came back in 2009 with an impressive campaign that caught a lot of attention. He’s a very athletic guy who was an equally apt football player. He’s got plus plus raw power and he’s an average runner, though he profiles best as a left fielder. He finished the 2009 season hitting .344/.393/.592 with 13 HR, 3 3B, 20 2B, 15 BB’s, and 58 K’s in 285 PA’s between Danville, Rome, and Myrtle Beach. He’s a rather raw hitter who needs to refine his approach at the plate to succeed in the upper minors, but the tools are certainly there. He’ll most likely begin 2010 at Class-A Advanced Myrtle Beach.
The 2008 draft may turn out being one of the better ones in Braves’ history. Hoover, who was taken in the 10th round of said draft, showed a lot of very good things in his first full season. He finished the year with a 3.47 ERA, a 1.223 WHIP, and a 150-to-30 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 137 and 1/3 innings between Class-A Rome and Class-A Advanced Myrtle Beach. He throws a mid-90′s fastball, curveball, slider, and change-up. All of his pitches have a chance to be above-average. There’s a great deal of upside here and if he keeps improving, he could be at the top of this list very soon. He’ll begin 2010 at Class-A Advanced Myrtle Beach.
Zeke Spruill was taken in the 2nd round of the 2008 draft and has put together back to back impressive campaigns. In 2009, he pitched 135 and 2/3 innings with a 3.25 ERA, a 1.275 WHIP, and a 118-to-29 strikeout-to-walk ratio. He did most of his damage at Class-A Rome, but was sent to the GCL for disciplinary reasons and made 4 starts for the rookie-level team. It was reported that he was repeatedly late to meetings and practices, causing the demotion. He throws a low-90′s fastball, and three secondary pitches–curveball, slider, and change-up–that have a chance to be average pitches. Spruill is still very young and has shown a lot of promise. I am expecting good things from this kid.
Randall Delgado, who signed with the Braves out of Panama before the 2007 season, possesses one of the highest ceilings in the system. He’s got a live arm and effortlessly throws in the mid-90′s. His secondary stuff is a work in progress, but he’s still been met with excellent results. In 2009 he posted a 4.35 ERA, a 1.387 WHIP, and a 141-to-49 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 124 innings for the Class-A Rome Braves. His strikeout rate is particularly encouraging, especially for his age. He’ll most likely begin the year at Class-A Advanced Myrtle Beach and will be regarded as one of the farm’s crown jewels before too long.
Kimbrel throws serious heat. His fastball has touched triple digits at times, but mostly sits in the high-90′s. He also throws a slider that scouts call “a true out pitch right now”. Hopping around the minors like Kenny Lofton did the majors, Kimbrel made 5 different stops in 2009. He started at Class-A Advanced Myrtle Beach, was demoted to Class-A Rome, was promoted to Myrtle Beach, was promoted to Class-AA Mississippi, and was again promoted to Class-AAA Gwinnett to finish the season. Kimbrel posted a 2.85 ERA, a 1.250 WHIP, and a 103-to-45 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 60 innings between the four levels. The walks were a problem for him and he’ll have to learn to minimize them if he wants to be a successful major-league pitcher. Due to his frame and delivery, he’s strictly a reliever. He’s not an athletic guy so the control problems do raise a significant question mark, but if he can overcome them, we’re looking at a dominant reliever. He may see major-league action in 2010, especially if he puts together a good AFL campaign.
Christian Bethancourt signed with the Braves out of Panama at the age of 16. He was considered the top catching prospect on the international market at the time. Since then, he’s done nothing but impress. In 2009, between the GCL and Appy league, he hit .277/.342/.446 with 4 HR, 1 3B, 14 2B, 17 BB’s, and 38 K’s in 187 PA’s. He also stole 8 bases in 9 attempts. The numbers themselves don’t impress, but the fact that he’s a catcher make them more significant. Oh yeah, he was also seventeen years old when he compiled these numbers. For his efforts, he was named the top prospect in the GCL by Baseball America. He does some things very well defensively, including his plus arm and ball blocking abilities. He’s a young, exciting, high-upside guy that Braves fans will certainly enjoy watching develop.
Freeman is a big, tall, powerful hitter with an advanced approach at the plate. He played through a wrist injury for most of the 2nd half, leading to a rather pedestrian line of .282/.363/.408 with 8 HR, 27 2B, 37 BB’s, and 60 K’s in 466 PA’s between Class-A Advanced Myrtle Beach and Class-AA Mississippi, but he still possess a great deal of upside. He figures to hit ~.300, post a good OBP, belt 20-25 homers, and contribute with the glove, as he’s a good fielder even though he’s rather slow and has below-average range. Don’t let the down year fool you, Freeman is still the real deal. He’ll probably begin the 2010 season at Class-AA Mississippi and has a decent shot at making it to the big leagues by May, 2011.
Julio Teheran has more upside than any pitcher in the system. The same was true last year when I put together these rankings and Tommy Hanson was still a prospect. He was signed out of Colombia (he makes his permanent home in Cartagena, Colombia. I’ve dubbed him “The Cartagena Kid”) and immediately began to impress scouts. He throws a mid-90′s fastball that he can dial up to 97 when he wants to. Additionally, he generates a great deal of life on the pitch with his 3/4 delivery. He also throws a plus change-up with great life and a developing curveball. The lack of consistency with the curveball and a mechanical hitch in his delivery are the only knocks on Teheran. Most experts don’t believe Teheran’s mechanics will be problematic because he repeats them so well. Teheran will begin his first full season at Class-A Rome and I am very excited to see what 2010 has in store for him. He has a chance to be very special.
In 2006 the Braves finished 79-83. 18 games behind the first place New York Mets in the NL East. They not only had their first losing season since 1990, they were out of the playoffs for the first time since 1990. The 14-year run had come to an end and things were looking rather grim. However, this may have been one of the most important seasons in Braves history. Not because of anything directly related to what went on in the field. Brian McCann, Chipper Jones, Matt Diaz, Martin Prado, Adam LaRoche, Tim Hudson, and Peter Moylan were the only players on that 2006 team that were also on 2009′s squad in any capacity. Certainly the development of Moylan, Prado, Diaz, and McCann were important, but that’s not what I’m talking about here.
No, the fact that the Braves finished 79-83 is what is important here. Finishing 79-83 gave the Braves the 16th best record in MLB, giving them the 14th overall pick in the 2007 draft. And with that pick the Braves selected Jason Heyward, who will most likely have more impact on the future of the organization than anything that went on in those 162 miserable games.
Jason Heyward is the complete package. He not only possesses all of the tools you’re looking for in your top prospect (ability to hit for average, ability to hit for power, ability to run, ability to throw, ability to field, general athleticism, etc.. By the way, I named the 5 tools of a 5-tool player there, and Heyward is a 5-tool player), but he couples it with an extremely advanced approach, vast knowledge of the game, intelligence, poise beyond his years, and an outstanding attitude. There really aren’t enough good things to say about Jason Heyward.
In 2009, between Class-A Advanced Myrtle Beach, Class-AA Mississippi, and Class-AAA Gwinnett, Heyward hit .323/.408/.555 with 17 HR, 4 3B, 25 2B, 51 BB’s and 51 K’s in 422 PA’s. He also stole 10 bases in 11 attempts. Scouts believe he’ll do all of that in the majors in addition to hitting 20 more home runs. He’s going to be a super-star for a very long time.
For his efforts, Heyward was named the number 1 prospect in the Carolina League by Baseball America, the number 1 prospect in the Southern League by Baseball America, USA Today’s Minor League Player of the Year, and Baseball America’s Minor League Player of the Year. When the various top-100 prospect lists come out, he’ll most likely sit atop each one of them.
I am generally opposed to over-hyping prospects. However, I don’t think that’s possible with Jason Heyward. He’s just too good. He’ll be a staple in the middle of the Braves’ batting order for years to come. He could get that chance starting in April of 2010 or he could get that chance in June of 2010, but he won’t be in the minors much longer.
He’s currently playing in the AFL, furthering his resume as baseball’s top prospect and the crown jewel of Atlanta’s farm.