Stock Up, Stock Down for Atlanta Braves' Top 10 Prospects for Week 19
The offense continues to no-show for games on end. However, during this recent stretch, the pitching has also failed the Braves, especially considering five of the 11 games were played at San Diego and Seattle, two pitcher-friendly parks housing teams with poor offenses.
The skid has dropped Atlanta well behind Washington for the NL East crown, caused the team's run differential to drop to essentially zero and seen the Braves drop below a cavalcade of NL wild card hopefuls heading into mid-August.
With September call-ups on the horizon and the big league club needing help in a number of areas, it is all the more important for Atlanta's prospects to be playing at the top of their game.
Not all prospects are playing for 2014 though. Many have a further scope to their careers and aren't ready even for a late-season trial run—or "cup of coffee," as it's known. Nevertheless, prospects at all ability levels and all career trajectories are trending one way or the other in Week 19.
No. 10 Juan Jaime
After seeing some time in the majors in June, Juan Jaime has been called back up for the last week or so. He's gotten into four games during that time. Although he has only thrown 3.1 innings, Jaime has looked pretty good.
The big Dominican reliever has given up a few hits and allowed one run to score. In such a small sample size, though, the more pressing figures are probably related to his control. Jaime struck out four while walking two in his second stint in the majors. For the season as a whole in the bigs, Jaime has a 4/1 strikeout-to-walk rate.
Whether because of necessity, confidence in him or a little of both, Atlanta has at least been turning to the young man every few games. This is a good sign and moves the needle more than his ERA or WHIP do.
No. 9 Wes Parsons
In High-A, Wes Parsons' season stats are not overly impressive. Since returning from an injury in late-July, Parsons hasn't been pitching long enough in games to be the pitcher of record. He also isn't throwing enough to get a great handle on how he would be adjusting to lineups. In fact, this has been going on for some time this year. Parsons hasn't pitched more than five innings in a contest since mid-June.
However, since he's probably being eased through workload concerns, getting results at all is the net positive, even if the results themselves aren't anything to celebrate.
His latest outing saw him throw 3.2 innings, allowing one run on two hits.
Stock slightly up
No. 8 Jason Hursh
The 2014 season at Double-A Mississippi has been one of ups and downs for Jason Hursh. A good stretch of starts in late May and early June was followed by a number of bad outings. That trend turned back around again as Hursh won four consecutive starts before his most recent game.
On August 6, Hursh was pretty good, giving up just one hit and no runs while striking out five. He only completed 5.1 innings, though, and didn't factor into the decision. Nevertheless, it was another quality outing for Hursh, even if it wasn't a "quality start" by the definition of the term.
No. 7 Kyle Kubitza
Kyle Kubitza, or Bitz as he should be known but probably isn't, had himself a steady if unspectacular recent series against the Jacksonville Suns.
Kubitza collected just four hits in the four-game series but reached base at least once in every contest. He also cut down on the strikeouts, although not substantially. Strikeouts have been one of Kubitza's biggest weaknesses this season. While the season slash line remains fantastic (.294/.407/.455), he has already cleared 100 Ks in just 367 at-bats. It's an astounding and, frankly, terrible number for a player who hits so few home runs.
Stock barely up
No. 6 J.R. Graham
For the first time all season, J.R. Graham pitched for the Mississippi Braves out of the bullpen. After starting 19 ballgames, Graham was used twice this past week as a reliever, throwing one inning each time.
The first instance, he entered and pitched the seventh inning; his next outing saw him throw the sixth. Both times, he retired his hitters without allowing a run, though the move has to be discouraging for Graham.
The common refrain when a pitching prospect is being considered for the majors is that he's either good enough to be a starter or he's not good enough to be a starter. Rarely does a prospect move through the ranks with the objective being to use him as a reliever.
With that in mind, this move is worrisome. Graham hadn't been able to throw more than two innings in any game since he returned from a long absence in late July. For four games, the organization was at least letting him start still. And his final two starts were pretty good, all things considered.
With the technical demotion immediately following two good outings, more than just Graham's stock is trending down. Hopefully some other explanation comes out for this.
No. 5 Braxton Davidson
We'll make this one quick, since Braxton Davidson is still playing rookie ball in the Gulf Coast League.
The season stats are rather interesting. Davidson is batting okay (.250), with a stellar OBP (.414) yet awful slugging percentage (.317). For a player who doesn't steal bases, it's a fascinating slash line.
Impressively, though, Davidson is scoring tons of runs. In fact, the last eight games where Davidson has collected a hit, he's also scored at least one run.
No. 4 Mauricio Cabrera
Unlike J.R. Graham, Mauricio Cabrera made the move to the bullpen a number of weeks ago. Unlike Graham, Cabrera also took some time in the Gulf Coast League after returning from an injury.
Of course, once it's known a player will be used as a reliever, the prospect ceiling may be altered, but it may also be a better fit. Cabrera seems to be getting the hang of it.
Since returning to High-A Lynchburg, Cabrera has thrown 13 innings and struck out 13 batters for a (barely any math needed for this one!) 9.0 K/9 rate. He's also only allowed two total baserunners in his last three outings combined.
No. 3 Jose Peraza
Jose Peraza was the darling of every fake trade heading into the non-waiver trade deadline on July 31. Braves fans fell into two camps: those who wanted to deal him because he's been playing amazingly and could fetch a large return and those who refused to deal him because he's been playing amazingly.
Even with a midseason promotion to Double-A, Peraza has continued to perform. Of course, as these things tend to go, since that trade deadline passed, Peraza has been scuffling just a bit at the plate.
In August, he's just 4-for-24. The good news is Peraza continues to run wild whenever he gets a chance to stand on first base. In the three August games in which he collected a hit, Peraza stole four total bags. Somehow, though, the young infielder has also grounded into as many double-plays this month as he did in all of July and all of June respectively.
No. 2 Christian Bethancourt
The only thing Christian Bethancourt needs to do at the plate to be a successful major league catcher is get on base. He is so good defensively that he doesn't need to hit for power and doesn't need to run a lick. He just needs to get on base at a relatively respectably clip.
At the moment, even at the minor league level, that is not happening. For the season, Bethancourt's OBP still sits below .300. It's incredibly disappointing. The young man finds it near impossible to draw a walk.
Of course, even while walks are more refreshing for a man struggling to get on base, grabbing actual hits works too. And in Bethancourt's last three ballgames, he's had five base hits. He still only has one walk since getting sent back down to Triple-A, but the base hits count as well.
Stock up for now
No. 1 Lucas Sims
The underwhelming season at High-A Lynchburg continues for Lucas Sims. The Braves' best pitching prospect and top prospect overall has not had the type of season the organization was hoping for.
He has struggled with walks and home runs, two of the linchpins of modern-day pitching. FIP says there are only three things a pitcher has complete control over: walks, home runs and strikeouts. Everything else falls into the fickle hands of BABIP and defense.
So having a pitcher allow far too may home runs and walk far too many opponents is alarming.
He also hasn't really gotten any better as the season's progressed. His last outing saw him allow another home run, walk multiple batters and give up three more earned runs. It fit the definition of a quality start, though it's not the type of quality Atlanta is hoping for.