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.