Atlanta Braves' Top Prospects at Each Position
As the minor league season begins let’s take a look at the Braves prospect depth at each position. Atlanta uses its minor league system as much as any other major league team. The Braves didn't open the season with one or two rookies in the bullpen; they opened up with three rookies playing important roles in the bullpen—Gus Schlosser, Ian Thomas and Ryan Buchter.
On the following slides, I'll highlight the top prospects around the horn and on the mound. You can expect to see almost all of these players in Atlanta in the near future.
Braves' Catching Prospects
First up are the catchers in the Braves system. The Atlanta organization has always been good at developing catchers. Even though Brian McCann has moved on, and Evan Gattis is no longer a prospect, the system has terrific depth at the catching position.
Christian Bethancourt—Billed as Atlanta’s catcher of the future for the past few years, he’s now one step away from the majors at Triple-A. Bethancourt is often referred to by scouts as being the best catch-and-throw backstop in the minors. His defense could be Gold Glove caliber in the majors right now, but his bat is lagging far behind. If his bat can break through, then he could be a perennial All-Star.
Victor Caratini—After he signed last season the Braves put him at third base, but they moved him to the catching position this season. Caratini, a switch-hitter, is one of the best hitting prospects in the Braves system. While he has a line-drive stroke the team hopes that he will eventually develop more power in much the way Freddie Freeman grew into his power as he moved up the minor league ladder.
Yenier Bello—Signed during spring training, this 29-year-old Cuban defector is not a typical prospect, but older prospects have never scared away the Braves. The original thinking was that he might not be a prospect because of his age, but the team gave him a $400,000 signing bonus, so they must see something there. He is not yet playing in a full-season league, but he is supposed to be at about the Double-A level.
Braves' First Base Prospects
First base is possibly the weakest position in the organization, so I guess it’s a good thing that the guy manning first base in Atlanta is signed for the next eight years.
Ernesto Mejia—Ernesto is pretty much the only prospect worth mentioning here, and even he is much older for a prospect at 29 years old. He has big-time power but not much mobility in the field. For that reason he’s better suited to be a DH. He's an easy guy to root for, and he's good insurance to have in case there is an injury to Freeman, but hopefully some team will call the Braves and ask them for Ernesto. The Braves would probably let him go for one of those "cash consideration" trades.
Braves' Second Base Prospects
With a perennially struggling Dan Uggla at second base in Atlanta, fans will be looking eagerly to the farm system for any sort of replacement. Luckily there are several very good options coming up through the system.
Tommy La Stella—The best hitter in the Braves organization, La Stella’s bat seems ready for prime time, but his defense will always be a work in progress. He’s at Triple-A this season, just waiting for the call from Atlanta.
Jose Peraza—One of the fastest players in the Braves system, the Braves moved Peraza from shortstop this season, not because of any defensive liability, but because Andrelton Simmons is firmly established in Atlanta, and they want Peraza to be ready to possibly take over second when Uggla’s contract is up in two years. An infield defense with Simmons and Peraza up the middle would allow very few balls to escape.
Levi Hyams—A college hitter with good strike-zone judgement, Hyams could be a decent option at first or second, as well as a good utility infielder and pinch hitter.
Braves' Third Base Prospects
Before Chris Johnson emerged last season, Chipper Jones' successor at third base was a huge question mark. Johnson has the job for the next few years, but there are a few prospects who could move the organization in their direction.
Edward Salcedo—The Braves' international bonus baby several years ago has moved steadily through the system without much fanfare. While he finds himself at Triple-A this season, his talent has not materialized into consistent results on the field.
Kyle Kubitza—After La Stella, Kubitza is probably the best hitter in the system and has a bit more power bubbling under the surface. He’s an excellent defender at third base and will be facing his toughest test at Double-A this season.
Victor Caratini—While I listed him on the catcher depth chart, he’s also listed here. He played third last season, and while the organization moved him to catcher this season, there’s a chance he could move back to third. His bat will play wherever his defense takes him.
Braves' Shortstop Prospects
With Andrelton Simmons cemented at shortstop for the foreseeable future, any prospects developed here should just be icing on the cake…or trade bait.
Jose Peraza—He is also listed on the second base depth chart, but he’s got the footwork, quickness, range and arm to play short.
Johan Camargo—A switch-hitter, Camargo is the Braves' next big prospect find from Panama. He’s raw in all facets of the game, but oozing with talent.
Elmer Reyes—A small seemingly insignificant prospect, Reyes continues to work his way through the Atlanta system, with the Braves showing a lot of confidence in him. He’s probably better suited for a utility infield role, but as we’ve seen in recent years that’s an important role on any team.
Braves' Outfield Prospects
This is a surprisingly weak area for the team, as several highly drafted outfield prospects have not worked out as the Braves had hoped. Still, there are some talented players in this group.
Josh Elander—A stocky but athletic outfielder, Elander has some of the best power in the Braves system. The organization moved him from catcher to the outfield last year, and he has taken nicely to the position. He combines a power stroke with a good batting eye.
Victor Reyes—The next big international prospect that you’ll hear about in the Braves organization, Reyes is a five-tool outfield prospect and my pick to have a breakout season this year.
Kyle Wren—The general manager’s son, but don’t let that fool you. Kyle Wren is a legit major league prospect. As an advanced college hitter, he has perfected the art of small ball to get on base, and he has the wheels to steal a ton of bases.
Braves' Starting Pitching Prospects
Before injuries shut down Kris Medlen and Brandon Beachy for the season, the Braves were planning on going with a completely homegrown starting pitching staff of Medlen, Beachy, Julio Teheran, Mike Minor and Alex Wood. Starting pitching was what their 14 straight division championships were built on, and that legacy continues with today’s major league starters and minor league prospects.
Lucas Sims—The best pitcher in the system and one of the top 20 pitching prospects in baseball. It’s not a matter of if he’ll be a major league pitcher, but when (probably next year).
J.R. Graham—A hard-thrower in a small package. He missed most of last season with a shoulder injury. His stuff is almost major league ready, but will he be a starter or a reliever? That is the question.
Jason Hursh—Drafted just last year, he’s already at Double-A. He’s on the Mike Minor-style accelerated timetable and could be ready to contribute this season.
Mauricio Cabrera—The top international arm in the Braves organization. His fastball is the feature attraction, but he also has a very advanced feel for pitching.
Wes Parsons—“The next Brandon Beachy,” Parsons was a non-drafted free agent who dominated the Sally League last year. Scouts rave about his good fastball and plus control.
Braves' Relief Pitching Prospects
The Braves have been filling their bullpen with homegrown prospects for decades. Their player development system has focused on drafting and developing relievers in recent years, with Craig Kimbrel being their crown jewel. This season two young relievers, Ian Thomas and Gus Schlosser, are already playing important roles in the Atlanta bullpen. There are more relievers where they came from.
Shae Simmons—Like Atlanta closer Craig Kimbrel, Simmons is a hard thrower in a small package. Simmons is on a trajectory that should put him in the majors late this year or early next year, and like Kimbrel, Simmons should only get better as he gains more experience.
Juan Jaime—The hardest thrower in the Braves system, he can pump his fastball up to 100 mph. He still has to work on smoothing out the rough edges of his game and consistently harnessing his control, but once he does that he will be an asset to the Atlanta pen.
Ryan Buchter—He opened the season with the Braves because of the Cory Gearrin injury but was sent down without ever throwing a pitch when the team signed Pedro Beato. Buchter has a fastball and a slider that are both plus strikeout pitches, especially against lefties, but his control still needs work.
Luis Vasquez—Signed in the off-season, he was considered one of the best pitchers in the Dominican Winter League. He was slowed with an injury in spring training, but his mid-90s sidearm fastball should be able to help in Atlanta at some point this season.
John Cornely—A bulldog and a fighter on the mound, he attacks hitters with three average-to-plus pitches. Like Shae Simmons, Cornely should only get better as he gains more experience.
Some content for this article was sourced from CB Wilkins "2014 Atlanta Braves Prospect Book," and to a lesser extent the "2014 Baseball America Prospect Handbook."