Atlanta Braves' Top 10 Prospects Heading into Spring Training
As the Atlanta Braves get closer to the start of spring training, it's time to get an idea of the prospects in the organization for 2014.
The Braves have managed one of the top minor league systems over the course of the last few years. Once again, the Braves appear to have some talent that should be able to help the MLB team in the near future.
Last year it was Alex Wood who emerged from a top prospect to a major contributor.
Most of the players on this list won't make it to the big leagues this season, but a handful have a legitimate shot.
Here's a look at the top 10 prospects in the Braves organization as we head into spring training.
10. Cody Martin
Cody Martin cracks the top 10 as a right-handed pitcher out of Gonzaga. The 24-year-old pitched at the Double and Triple-A levels in 2013 and combined for a 6-7 record and 3.16 ERA.
Martin struck out 137 batters in 136.2 innings, which was good enough for fourth in the organization, per MLB.com.
Martin spent some time as a closer at Gonzaga but has mainly worked as a starter with the Braves. He has the potential to be a back-end starter with his polish on the mound, a low-90s fastball and quiet delivery.
Martin will have the chance to impress during spring training as a non-roster invitee.
9. David Hale
David Hale took advantage of the opportunity to pitch in Atlanta in 2013. In limited action, Hale notched his first career MLB win along with 14 strikeouts and a 0.82 ERA in 11 innings.
The 26-year-old has good life on his fastball that can touch 96 mph on the radar gun. He mixes in a slider and changeup for his off-speed pitches and combines that with a quirky delivery.
Hale has an excellent chance to make the 25-man roster as a reliever and a small chance to be the No. 5 starter.
Hale was a pleasant surprise in 2013 who should continue to develop a role heading into this season.
8. Victor Caratini
The Braves selected Victor Caratini with the 65th overall pick in last year's draft based on his tremendous bat potential. The 20-year-old switch-hitter didn't disappoint during his time with Danville as he produced a .290/.415/.430 slash line.
While Caratini only managed to hit one home run, he added 25 extra-base hits and should continue to develop his power.
He was drafted as a catcher but spent most of his time in Danville working at third base, where he projects in the future. However, he will continue to get work in as a catcher.
Caratini's 2014 season will be one of further development as a hitter in hopes of becoming a third baseman for Atlanta in the future.
7. Mauricio Cabrera
Mauricio Cabrera offers outstanding potential as a starting pitcher. The reason for that is his 97 mph fastball, solid mound presence at 6'2" and being just 20 years old.
Cabrera needs to develop his secondary pitches (curveball and changeup) and work on his control, as evidenced by his 1.44 WHIP in 2013.
Still, there's reason to believe Cabrera can build on his season in Rome in which he posted a 4.18 ERA in 131.1 innings.
Similar to Caratini, Cabrera just needs to focus on developing in 2014 and not making it to Atlanta.
If Cabrera can improve his control while developing his secondary pitches, he will have a bright future at the MLB level with his electric heater.
6. Jason Hursh
Speaking of electric fastballs, Jason Hursh can also light up the radar gun. That fastball was part of the reason the Braves selected him No. 31 overall in this past draft.
While Hursh's velocity isn't as impressive as Cabrera's, it is certainly a plus pitch at 95 mph with much better movement than Cabrera's. This allows Hursh to record ground-ball outs with ease.
The 22-year-old right-hander offers a good mound presence as well as above-average control. In 27 innings in 2013, Hursh recorded 15 strikeouts and a 0.67 ERA at the Single-A level.
Hursh received an invite to spring training and has an outside chance to make the roster.
Realistically, 2015 or later in the 2014 season could be the time for Hursh to make the jump to the MLB level.
5. Jose Peraza
Speed, speed and more speed.
Jose Peraza swiped 64 bases in 2013 with Single-A Rome. This comes after stealing 28 bases in 66 games in 2011 and 25 bases in 53 games in 2012.
The 19-year-old shortstop also produced an above-average slash line of .288/.341/.371. That is right on average of his .288/.345/.363 line in his three minor league seasons.
Peraza looks to be a prototypical leadoff hitter with almost no power (three career home runs in the minors).
The Braves don't have to rush Peraza, as Andrelton Simmons isn't giving up the shortstop position any time soon.
However, the Braves could look to switch Peraza's position if they choose to keep him and he continues to progress.
4. Tommy La Stella
I don't think there's a player I'm more excited to see this spring training than Tommy La Stella.
The 25-year-old second baseman continues to be a hitting machine at every level he plays at.
You can check out his career minor league stats here, as he's proved he can handle professional pitching. Perhaps his most impressive stat from last season was his walk total (45) was higher than his strikeout total (35).
The problem for La Stella is the Braves were unable to move Dan Uggla this offseason, blocking the starting second baseman job for now.
It will be interesting to see what the Braves do if La Stella continues to hit and Uggla continues to stumble.
3. J.R. Graham
J.R. Graham endured a tough 2013 season after suffering a shoulder injury that basically sidelined him for the season.
The 2014 season offers a fresh start for Graham, who still has plenty of talent and potential to make it to Atlanta.
Graham has drawn Tim Hudson comparisons thanks to his sinking fastball (hits upper-90s), small frame and athletic prowess on the mound.
He has also shown to have great control and his secondary pitches (slider and changeup) both feature good movement with the potential to be plus pitches at the next level.
Some like Graham's future in the bullpen, but I like his value as a starter.
This will be a big spring training for Graham, as he will be out to prove that he is 100 percent healthy in 2014.
2. Christian Bethancourt
The Braves' talented catching prospect Christian Bethancourt comes in at No. 2 on the list.
The 22-year-old looked to be in contention with Evan Gattis for the starting catcher spot with the loss of Brian McCann this offseason. However, it appears more likely that Gattis will serve as the starting catcher in 2014, giving Bethancourt another year to develop as a hitter.
That's where Bethancourt needs to improve, as he's already an elite catcher behind the plate.
Bethancourt showed signs of development last year as he improved his 2012 slash line of .243/.275/.291 to .277/.305/.436 in 2013. His power numbers also greatly improved, as he went from five doubles and two home runs to 21 doubles and 12 home runs.
While Bethancourt is on the 40-man roster, I'd be surprised if he makes the 25-man roster to begin the season.
Look for him to begin in Triple-A and continue to monitor his plate development.
1. Lucas Sims
It likely comes as no surprise to many of you to see Lucas Sims as the top prospect in the organization. The 19-year-old did not disappoint in his first full season in the minors.
Sims posted a 12-4 record and 2.62 ERA while collecting 134 strikeouts in 116.2 innings of work for Single-A Rome in 2013.
The former first-round pick can hit the mid-90s with his fastball, but has an excellent curveball with a significant dip in velocity and good downward movement. In time, his changeup should develop into an effective pitch.
Sims has the stuff to be a top-end starter in the future.
The Braves will be patient with the young right-hander as he still has plenty of time to develop before being called to the big leagues.