Starting today, each Friday Down on the Farm will review the happenings in the Atlanta Braves minor league system. To kick things off, I thought I would examine the players who were ranked as the Braves top prospects to begin the 2009 season.
Of the top 10 prospects, two are currently in the majors, one has played in the majors and two have been traded to a different organization. This will be the first part of the breakdown of the Braves top 10 prospects coming into the season, reviewing the Braves top five prospects of 2009.
Tommy Hanson (SP): Just about everything had been said about Hanson after he dominated the Arizona Fall League while becoming the first pitcher ever to win its MVP award. After impressing in Spring Training, the club decided to give him a little more time to mature in AAA.
In Gwinnett, Hanson posted just a 3-3 record despite having a 1.49 ERA and 90 strikeouts in 66.1 innings of work.
On June 7 Hanson made his debut against the Brewers and was hit hard. Since his first start, Hanson has pitched much better and has a record of 4-0 with a 2.85 ERA. While Hanson has had some control issues at times in Atlanta, a 4-0 record with a sub-3.00 ERA are amazing numbers from a rookie.
Jason Heyward (RF): Rated as the top prospect in all of baseball in Baseball America’s mid-season rankings, Heyward showed some of his potential while playing with the Braves in Spring Training.
After a strong start to his 2009 season with the Myrtle Beach Pelicans, Heyward was recently promoted to AA Mississippi and has continued hitting the ball well.
In total Heyward has produced a .300/.378/.529 line this year to go along with 10 Homeruns and 37 RBI. Although he hasn’t run as much (just 4 attempts as compared to 18 all of last year) Heyward is continuing to show why Braves fans are eagerly awaiting his MLB debut.
ETA in Majors: 2010
Jordan Schafer (CF): After a strong showing in Spring Training prompted the Braves to send Josh Anderson to the Tigers, Schafer started the 2009 season off with a bang by hitting a Homerun in his first Major League at-bat.
The struggles soon started for Schafer as he went on to post a .204/.313/.287 line with an alarming 63 strikeouts in only 167 at-bats at the Major League Level.
Although his defense is still top notch, Schafer has struggled at the plate since being demoted to AAA Gwinnett, where he is hitting only .229. He did deal with an injury after going down to the minors, so hopefully he will regain his stroke in the second half of the season.
Projected as the future leadoff hitter for the Braves, Schafer might have to be moved to left field in 2010 now that the Braves have acquired Nate McLouth from the Pirates to play center. If Schafer turns things around, he should be back in Atlanta in 2010.
Gorkys Hernandez (CF): Blessed with amazing speed, Hernandez was seen as a potential future leadoff man for the Braves. However, he was traded to the Pirates in the deal that brought Nate McLouth to Atlanta.
On two different AA teams, Hernandez has posted a .296/.343/.378 line in 2009 with 12 stolen bases. However, despite his amazing speed, Hernandez has also been caught stealing 11 times, and might need better base-running coaching if he is to eventually become an elite speedster in the Majors.
Freddie Freeman (1B): Jason Heyward’s partner in crime, Freddie Freeman has continued to hit well in 2009. Like Heyward, he was recently promoted to AA Mississippi after starting the season in Myrtle Beach.
He has produced a solid .302/.393/.445 line so far this year. Although his power numbers are down a little from 2008, Freeman still is on track to become the Braves first baseman of the future.
Although the Braves have been bringing him and Heyward up together (the two were born only three days apart and have moved through the minors together) Freeman likely will need more time in the minors than Heyward.
Freeman will likely be ready before Casey Kotchman becomes a free agent (after 2011) and I can’t see the Braves making him wait an extra year in the minors as he should one day prove an excellent offensive upgrade to Kotchman.
ETA in Majors: 2011