Atlanta Braves Prospects Who Have the Highest Ceiling
At this time last year, Andrelton Simmons was a highly touted prospect in the Atlanta Braves' organization.
A year later he has established himself as the starting shortstop and coming off his first career multi-home run game on Monday night.
Simmons is just one example of the youth movement the Braves have used in recent years.
More often that not, general manager Frank Wren will opt to go with the young, cheap player over a pricey veteran.
Even though the Braves have a young roster in 2013, the cupboard is not bare in the minors.
Here's a look at some of the prospects who could blossom into stars in the future.
1. J.R. Graham
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J.R. Graham is small (5'10", 195 lbs.), athletic and a quick worker. Graham pitches to contact with his sinker and is at his best when he's producing ground-ball outs.
Graham compares favorably to a young Tim Hudson, but Graham throws harder.
His sinker can reach the upper 90s, and he mixes that with a tight slider and improving changeup.
His full arsenal of pitches was on display this spring training as he pitched nine scoreless innings in five appearances.
Graham is currently pitching for Double-A Mississippi where he has a 1-2 record and 3.45 ERA, but I wouldn't expect him to be in the minors for much longer.
Many people project Graham to be a future reliever, but his ceiling as a starter is much higher.
2. Alex Wood
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In Alex Wood's last four starts at Mississippi, he's allowed one run in 22 innings while striking out 25 batters to just five walks.
That has helped him post a 1-1 record and 0.58 ERA so far this season in the minors.
The left-hander is finding success through his great stuff. His fastball hits the mid-90s, and his changeup is his best off-speed pitch.
Injury concerns as well as an unusual delivery caused Wood to drop in the draft, and the Braves happily picked him up in the second round.
Like Graham, Wood impressed in spring training, allowing just one earned run in seven innings.
More importantly, he drew praise from manager Fredi Gonzalez as well as some of the veteran pitchers.
Wood possesses MLB stuff and appears to have a bright future.
3. Christian Bethancourt
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The 21-year-old catcher has the defensive skills to play in the MLB. Offensively, he still has some work to do, but the same things were said about Simmons in the minor last season.
Nevertheless, Christian Bethancourt could still be the catcher of the Braves' future with his strong arm, quick release and agility behind the plate.
He shows solid gap-to-gap potential as a hitter but needs to refine his approach—as many young hitters do.
He got off to a good start this season with a .341 average and .856 OPS but now finds himself on the disabled list with a hamstring injury.
Braves fans hope that does not linger and stunt the development of the young catcher.
He needs as many at-bats to refine himself as a hitter and become an outstanding all-around catcher.
4. Lucas Sims
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The Braves selected pitcher Lucas Sims with their first-round draft choice in the 2012 draft for good reason.
The 18-year-old throws in the mid-90s and already features a plus curveball with good movement.
He needs work on his changeup and command (12 walks, 10 strikeouts in 2013) before he becomes ready for the MLB level.
Those issues have led to a 0-1 record and 5.02 ERA so far at Single-A Rome.
However, Sims is years away from being ready to help the big league team. He has time to sort those things out and in doing so, looks to have the stuff and demeanor to be a top-end starter in the MLB.
5. Edward Salcedo
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Edward Salcedo is a similar player to Bethancourt in terms of his approach at the plate.
The Braves signed him out of the Dominican Republic as a skilled but raw player.
He shows promise at the plate with some power but chases pitches out of the zone. He has struck out 25 times in 27 games this season at Double-A Mississippi.
Still, the 21-year-old third baseman has managed to post a .351 on-base percentage and .739 OPS.
Like Bethancourt, he needs to continue to get at-bats to continue to refine his approach in order to get the most out of his skills.
If he can do that, he can be making a push to the big leagues within a year or two.