5 Prospects That Could Be the Next Impact Player on Atlanta Braves Roster
The baby faced Chipper Jones was a top draft pick that lived up to the hype - pictured on his 1991 Topps Baseball card.
With the first pick of the 1990 draft, the Atlanta Braves selected a skinny 18-year-old kid that switch hit and played shortstop. Twenty-two years later, that kid will finish his career as one of the greatest players in franchise history. Chipper Jones evolved from nothing more than a promising shortstop prospect into a guaranteed future Hall of Famer and Braves legend.
Chipper's retirement is the passing of an era. But as Chipper rides off into the sunset, the door opens for this young ballclub to establish their own identity.
The Braves have a very talented core of young players. Jason Heyward (22), Freddie Freeman (22), Craig Kimbrel (24), Tommy Hanson (25) and Brandon Beachy (25) have earned the right to be considered talented players at the major league level.
Mike Minor (24) and Randall Delgado (22) are currently putting in the time and taking their lumps as they evolve into future staples of the Braves' roster.
Which Braves of tomorrow are poised to contribute in a meaningful way sooner rather than later?
This fireballing righty is an up-and-coming pitcher for the Braves. Drafted by the Braves in the fourth round of the 2011 MLB June amateur draft, this 22-year-old has done nothing but succeed in the minors.
According to Perfectgame.org, Graham clearly projects as a back end of the bullpen type of pitcher. While he has a fastball that can hit 100 mph, I don't think he will be the Braves future closer.
Though his initial break into the big leagues may be a spot in the bullpen, I think the Braves may be grooming him to be a starter. Drafted only last year, he was promoted to Double-A Mississippi on July 17th.
After being drafted from Santa Clara University, Graham joined the Danville Braves. In the 13 games he appeared in, eight of which were starts, he went 5-2 with a 1.72 ERA. In 2012, he has appeared in 21 games thus far, all of which have been starts. Between Lynchburg and Mississippi, Graham has a combined 9-1 record, 2.74 ERA, 1.07 WHIP.
Brandon Beachy made a rapid ascent through the minors and is currently the best pitcher on the team—minus his injury of course. If Graham continues his success as a starter, look for the Braves to find room for him in the rotation sooner rather than later.
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The Atlanta Braves website has Todd Cunningham ranked as the 13th best prospect in the organization. A 23-year-old outfielder for the Mississippi Braves, the speedy Cunningham is able to play any of the three outfield positions.
Cunningham was taken in the second round of the 2010 amateur draft. Since his promotion from High-A ball in Lynchburg, all Todd has done is hit. In the 95 games in Double-A Mississippi, he is hitting .325. His .325 average is best among all hitters (that qualify) in the Braves' minor league system.
Michael Bourn's future is uncertain heading into the offseason. Being that Bourn is a Scott Boras client and has had career years over these past two season, he will be earning himself quite the pay check when he hits free agency, one the Braves may decide is too rich for their blood.
If the Braves decide to part ways with Bourn, Todd Cunningham could take that opportunity and run with it. He will have to continue to show that he can hit for the rest of this year and have a good spring—if invited—but the stars could align for this Jacksonville State product to become the Braves' next leadoff hitter.
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Representing the Braves in the 2012 futures game, Christian joined the Braves organization at just 16 years old out of Panama, Already in his fourth year of minor league ball, Christian Bethancourt seems to be the heir apparent catcher once Brian McCann moves on.
While he continues to learn how to call a game behind the plate, Bethancourt's dip in offensive production doesn't seem to be raising any red flags. The Braves brass seem to be more focused on him learning the position first. He is already ranked as the fourth best catching prospect in the minors and you can look for that to continue to improve as he matures.
The 2013 team option for Brian McCann will obviously be taken by the Braves, as McCann is one of the premier catchers in the league. However, Brian will be 30 when he hits free agency after next season, unless he signs an extension. Will the Braves be willing to offer a 30-year-old McCann a lengthy and expensive contract with Christian right behind him? If Bethancourt can continue his growth behind the plate, the Braves will have some interesting options to consider come 2014 and beyond.
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The lefty out of Florida State University, Gilmartin was the first pick for the Braves in the 2011 amateur draft. While his stuff might not be overpowering, Gilmartin is a crafty left-hander that is quickly working his way up in the Braves farm system.
Already the fourth highest prospect in the Braves organization, Sean can take solice in the fact that two of the Braves greatest pitchers in history, Greg Maddux and Tom Glavine, overpowered their opponents with skill, not stuff.
In just two years, Gilmartin has already made it to Triple-A Gwinnett. He could make a strong push for a spot in the rotation as soon as next year. If he doesn't break camp with the big club, look for Gilmartin to make his big league debut next year in a spot start, much the same way Brandon Beachy filled in against the Phillies in his rookie season.
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Completely dominant at Triple-A in 2011, the Braves' super prospect made his debut in the big leagues that same year. One scouting website projects him to win his first Cy Young award by 2014—he is that highly thought of.
With how successful he was in 2011, it was all but a foregone conclusion that Teheran would muscle his way into the five-man rotation after spring training. Mike Minor out pitched him by a long shot this spring and took the spot. The 2012 minor league season has been anything but dominant for Julio. In fact, he has been getting dominated.
In 21 starts, Julio is 6-6 with a 5.21 ERA and 1.49 Whip. That is a steep decline from his 2011 numbers, where he went 15-3 with a 2.55 ERA and 1.18 WHIP. This season he has given up more hits, walks, and home runs per nine innings. Compounding the issue is his decrease in his strikeout rate, down from 7.6 per nine innings to 6.0 per nine innings.
The logical reason for his precipitous statistical decline would have to some type decline in his "stuff"—right?
That doesn't seem to be the case. As seen by his start this season against Toronto, he can still bring the heat. Hopefully his recent struggles at Gwinnett are nothing more than him trying to further develop his third or a fourth pitch. Once he rights the ship, look for Julio to rightfully claim what some scouts say is his—a spot at the top of the Atlanta Braves rotation.
Bonus: Andrelton Simmons
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Andrelton Simmons went from stuck behind Tyler Pastornicky and in the minors to the Braves' future at shortstop in the blink of an eye. The fact he has been able to hit is just a icing on the cake, as it is his stellar glove that makes Andrelton so much of an impact player.
The Braves can only wait and see if Andrelton can return from the DL and produce as he was when he broke onto the scene. Being that he only has 33 games in the majors to his name, Andrelton is still very much a prospect. However, it is obvious that he is already a prospect that is making an impact.
A phenomenal fielder, Simmons makes good contact at the plate. In his 125 plate appearances, he has only struck out 14 times or once every 8.9 plate appearances. To put that in perspective, Simmons strikes out about as often as Chipper does (once every 9.2 plate appearances). Dan Uggla is striking out once every 3.5 plate appearances.
Simmons hit .296 in his short sting before his injury and is sorely missed by the club. The fans and the organization look forward to his return.
Just 22 years old, if Simmons can hit .275 - .300 while playing amazing defense, the Braves will have one of the games premier shortstops in the game for years to come.