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.