RHP David Hale set a franchise record with nine strikeouts in his major league debut last September.
The Atlanta Braves had a remarkable 2013 season, pacing the Major Leagues with a 3.18 ERA and leading all National League offenses with 181 home runs. More importantly, the Braves won their first NL East title since 2005.
However, the team’s regular-season success didn’t carry over into the postseason, as the Braves ultimately succumbed to the red-hot Los Angeles Dodgers in the NL Division Series.
On a more positive note, the Braves received significant contributions from several rookies this past season.
Right-hander Julio Teheran finally realized his potential and emerged as the team’s most consistent starting pitcher, posting a 3.20 ERA with 170 strikeouts in 185.2 innings. Meanwhile, left-hander Alex Wood, a second-round draft pick in 2012 out of Georgia, reached the major leagues in May and went on to post a 3.13 ERA with 77 strikeouts in 77.2 innings while bouncing between the bullpen and starting rotation.
Then, of course, there’s Evan Gattis, everyone’s favorite professional hitter and one of the more feel-good stories of the 2013 season. After making the Opening Day roster, Gattis captured back-to-back NL Rookie of the Month honors by posting an .875 OPS with six home runs in April followed by a 1.045 OPS with another six bombs in May.
The now-27-year-old’s playing time diminished after the All-Star break with Brian McCann's return from injury, but he still finished the season with a .243/.291/.480 batting line, 21 doubles, 21 home runs and 65 RBI.
Despite graduating Teheran and Wood to the major leagues last season, the Braves’ prospect pool is rich with projectable arms.
2012 first-rounder and Georgia native Lucas Sims emerged as the organization’s consensus top prospect thanks to an impressive full-season debut at Low-A Rome. The Braves’ first-round pick from 2013, right-hander Jason Hursh, also opened eyes with his lights-out, late-season pro debut alongside Sims in Rome’s starting rotation.
Perhaps the most intriguing arm in Atlanta’s system is flame-throwing right-hander Mauricio Cabrera, who possesses elite arm strength but employs a complicated delivery that limits his control.
After setting a franchise record with nine strikeouts in his scoreless major league debut last September, it’s a safe bet that right-hander David Hale will carve out a more significant role with the Braves next season. Like so many other pitchers in their system, Hale has little mileage on his arm and reached his high floor at an accelerated pace.
In terms of positional talent, the Braves lack an impact prospect but have an interesting blend of high-floor and young players.
Catcher Christian Bethancourt’s defense is ready for the major leagues; however, the 22-year-old’s offensive potential is an ongoing concern. Second baseman Tommy La Stella has raked at every minor league stop, demonstrating outstanding plate discipline and a knack for getting on base, and he conceivably could replace Dan Uggla—the team’s highest-paid player—at the keystone next season.
The Braves also house two promising young shortstops worth keeping an eye on next season.
Nineteen-year-old Jose Peraza enjoyed a breakout full-season debut at Rome last year, hitting .288/.341/.371 and ranking second in the South Atlantic League with 64 stolen bases (in 79 attempts). Meanwhile, 20-year-old Johan Camargo impressed during his stateside debut in the rookie-level Appalachian League, demonstrating an advanced approach and feel for hitting.
Here’s a look at the Atlanta Braves’ top 10 prospects for the 2014 season.
DOB: 12/13/1993 (Age: 20)
Height/Weight: 6’0”, 160 lbs
Signed: July 2, 2010 (Panama)
Johan Camargo opened eyes during his 2013 stateside debut; switch-hitting shortstop showcases a mature bat from both sides of the plate; feel for the strike zone is especially impressive given age and lack of professional experience; advanced approach with present pitch recognition; combination of hand-eye coordination and bat-to-ball skills should prevent high strikeout rates; he’ll feature consistent gap power at maturity but don’t expect many balls to clear fences.
Camargo is an advanced defender at shortstop who makes up for a lack of speed and range with an instinctual first step; always seems to be in the right spot to make the plays; physical shortcomings could ultimately force him off the position; stronger long-term projection at second base.
Ceiling: Second-division regular
DOB: 08/17/1993 (Age: 20)
Height/Weight: 6’0”, 192 lbs
Drafted: Second round, 2013 (Miami Dade JC)
Victor Caratini is a mature switch-hitter who pounds the gaps from both sides of the plate; doubles machine thanks to a line-drive swing and bat path through the zone; he’s physically strong at 6’0”, 192 pounds, but his swing plane could ultimately hurt his development of over-the-fence power; employs a patient approach from both sides and consistently utilizes entire field.
Has seen time both at catcher and third base during amateur and professional careers; doesn’t project favorably long term at latter position; has slow feet with a delayed first step and lacks natural instincts; below-average runner and will likely lose another step or two in the coming years; Caratini’s future is behind the plate, where his bat (and potential lack of in-game power) will carry greater value; decent mobility; blocking and receiving skills obviously are raw given lack of experience and will need considerable refinement; plus arm strength should help him compensate for shortcomings at lower levels.
Ceiling: Second-division catcher
DOB: 01/31/1989 (Age: 24)
Height/Weight: 5’11”, 185 lbs
Drafted: Eighth round, 2011 (Coastal Carolina)
Tommy La Stella has raked at every level since signing in 2011; injuries have limited the 24-year-old to only 241 games over the last three seasons; has spent time on disabled list each year; left-handed hitter has an outstanding approach and controls the strike zone better than some major leaguers; above-average bat speed plays up thanks to his mature pitch recognition and bat-to-ball skills; should always be an on-base machine and post favorable strikeout-to-walk rates.
La Stella doesn’t offer much in terms of over-the-fence pop, with 20 combined home runs in the last three seasons; consistent source of extra-base hits, with 70 doubles and triples during span; he’s also amassed more walks (111) than strikeouts (88).
He lacks true up-the-middle speed but profiles as an average defender; makes the plays he should; average arm strength suitable for position; gets the most of his natural ability; instinctual ballplayer with high baseball IQ.
Ceiling: Second-division regular
DOB: 09/27/1987 (Age: 26)
Height/Weight: 6’2”, 205 lbs
Drafted: Third round, 2009 (Princeton)
ETA: 2014 (Debuted in 2013)
David Hale is an impressive athlete at 6’2”, 205 pounds; former two-way player during amateur career at Princeton University; little mileage on his arm; didn’t emerge as a full-time pitcher until signing with the Braves in 2009; advanced feel for pitching and getting outs with entire arsenal.
Right-hander has a quick arm that creates movement and late life on each offering; fastball consistently sits in the 92-94 mph range with late sinking action; tends to play up due to arm speed and jumps on opposing hitters; strong control and command of pitch; aggressively attacks both sides of the plate against right- and left-handed hitters.
Hale’s slider is an above-average offering with tight spin and consistent shape; pitch is thrown effectively off fastball plane with same arm slot; changeup gives him another solid secondary offering, thrown with late fading action and depth; mature feel for sequencing.
Ceiling: No. 4/No. 5 starter; middle relief
DOB: 4/30/1994 (Age: 19)
Height/Weight: 6’0”, 165 lbs
Signed: July, 2010 (Venezuela)
What he lacks in physicality at 6’0” and 165 pounds, Jose Peraza makes up for with speed and quickness in all facets of the game; plus defensive shortstop with outstanding range; plays up due to his instincts and first step; possesses the arm strength to remain at the position; needs experience and repetition.
Has the foundation of a plus hitter; will add strength over the course of his development; presently drives the ball from line to line and should amass his share of doubles and triples; struggles to consistently drive the ball at times; majority of contact stays on the infield; impressive plate discipline given his age and lack of experience; plus-plus runner who shows it off on both sides of the ball; advanced base stealer who’s already skilled at reading pitchers and picking his spots.
Projection: Second-division regular
DOB: 09/22/1993 (Age: 20)
Height/Weight: 6’2”, 180 lbs
Signed: 2010 (Dominican Republic)
Mauricio Cabrera has a projectable 6’2”, 180-pound frame and should continue to add strength as he develops physically; employs a funky, unconventional arm action and mechanics; wide arm swing away from body is used to set consistent release point; crossfire delivery; high-maintenance mechanics complicate his pre-existing control issues, especially when working from the stretch.
Right-hander boasts ridiculous arm strength; fastball works in the mid- to upper 90s with surprising late life to the arm side; arm action/release point hinders his ability to locate throughout the zone; can be effectively wild; best secondary offering is a curveball that flashes above-average potential; pitch can be nasty, but he struggles to generate consistent shape and pace; changeup is a more consistent offering for which he exhibits a surprising feel; development of secondaries will be crucial toward future as a starter; bright future in the bullpen if control problems don’t improve.
Ceiling: No. 2/No. 3 starter; setup man/closer
DOB: 10/02/1991 (Age: 22)
Height/Weight: 6’3”, 190 lbs
Drafted: First round, 2013 (Oklahoma State)
Jason Hursh is another high-upside, low-mileage arm; missed entire 2012 season due to Tommy John surgery; projectable 6’3”, 190-pound frame; made noticeable improvements in repeating delivery and release point during professional debut last summer.
Right-hander has plenty of arm strength, throwing a mid-90s fastball on a heavy downhill plane; easy velocity; arm action and finish help generate late arm-side run; pitch is difficult for opposing hitters to lift; should always induce favorable amount of ground-ball outs.
Hursh demonstrates present feel for both a changeup and slider; neither offering is as advanced as fastball; ability to work within strike zone enables him to keep hitters off balance; development of both secondary offerings will determine whether he remains a starter or ultimately shifts to the bullpen.
Projection: No. 3/No. 4 starter; setup man
DOB: 1/14/1990 (Age: 23)
Height/Weight: 6’0”, 185 lbs
Drafted: Fourth round, 2011 (Santa Clara)
J.R. Graham is undersized at 6’0” but works to get consistent downhill plane on all his pitches; best offering is a heavy sinker in low to mid-90s that’s difficult for opposing hitters to lift; pounds lower half of zone; consistently generates a high number of ground-ball outs; mixes in a four-seamer that registers in the 95-97 mph range; late-breaking, sharp slider presents a second plus offering; fastball-slider combo should give him high floor as late-inning reliever; ability to develop a serviceable changeup will determine how quickly he reaches Atlanta as a starter.
Ceiling: No. 3/No. 4 starter; setup man
DOB: 09/02/1991 (Age: 22)
Height/Weight: 6’2”, 215 lbs
Signed: March 12, 2008 (Panama)
ETA: 2014 (Debuted in 2013)
Christian Bethancourt’s bat is easily his weakest tool; right-handed hitter employs an overaggressive approach and tends to swing at anything around the zone; solid bat-to-ball skills aid ability to make consistent contact; frequently gets himself out by either pulling off the ball or putting a weak swing on something away; tightened his zone a bit this season and drove the ball more consistently; still difficult to envision him as anything more than a fringe-average hitter at the highest level.
With a physically strong, 6’2”, 215-pound frame, Bethancourt looks like he should hit for power; showcases consistent over-the-fence pop during batting practice; only manifests during games on inner-half offerings when he clears his hips and turns on the ball.
Bethancourt is an impressive athlete; regarded as one of the premier defensive backstops in the minor leagues; combination of elite, 80-grade arm strength, sound footwork and a quick release generates consistent pop times around 1.8 seconds; both his blocking and framing noticeably improved this season; still occasionally stabs at balls in the dirt; ability to control the game is still understandably raw and leaves something to be desired; potential game-changing defender behind the plate.
Ceiling: Second-division/reserve catcher
DOB: 5/10/1994 (Age: 19)
Height/Weight: 6’2”, 195 lbs
Drafted: First round, 2012 (Brookwood HS, Ga.)
6’2” right-hander is athletic with a live arm and little mileage; consistent arm slot and release point; made huge strides in overall development this past season after moving into starting rotation for second half; showcases impressive and underrated blend of stuff and polish; already knows how to pitch at a young age; flashes potential for a four-pitch mix of at least average offerings; pounds the strike zone.
Lucas Sims’ fastball registers in the low- to mid-90s range; velocity increased a few ticks along with the weather; good arm-side life to the pitch; curveball is a hammer and swing-and-miss pitch; features big shape and heavy downer action in the upper 70s; showcased a quality slider during professional debut in 2012 but relied on it less this past year; changeup improved significantly this past season; flashes average potential in the low to mid-80s with late sink and fade to the arm side.
Ceiling: No. 3 starter