Jonny Venters is a perfect example of an under the radar prospect that has become a key contributor.
The Atlanta Braves are known for having one of the best farm systems in the game year in and year out. They are also known for cranking out top-tier talent, especially pitchers. This year that's no different, as their farm system, led by elite arms such as Julio Teheran, Randall Delgado and Arodys Vizcaino, ranks among the best in the game.
The Braves are also known for producing some under-the-radar prospects that have made important contributions, players like current Braves Jonny Venters, Martin Prado and Brandon Beachy. This article takes a look at three under-the-radar Braves prospects that could potentially help the club out over the next few years.
JJ Hoover isn't as unknown as some of the other prospects, but the fact is that he has never received as much attention as he should have as a prospect. A recent move from the starting rotation into the bullpen gives prospect-gazers a reason to give him even less hype.
After being a 10th-round pick in the 2008 MLB Draft, Hoover has had success at pretty much every stop in the minors. He went 7-6 with a 3.35 ERA in 2009 with Low-A Rome before breaking out in 2010, splitting the year in High-A Myrtle Beach and Double-A Mississippi.
He went 14-7 with a 3.26 ERA between the two stops in 2010 and continued his success into 2011, reaching Triple-A in the spring after starting the year back in Mississippi. He was sent back to Mississippi soon after, at which point he was moved into the bullpen. Overall on the year he went 3-6 with a 2.64 ERA over the course of 14 starts and 29 relief appearances.
If Hoover played in pretty much any other organization in baseball, it's a safe assumption that he would be a starting-pitching prospect profiling as a back-end-of-the-rotation innings eater. Instead he is a Braves prospect and is in the bullpen, where he could potentially end up as a setup man.
Hoover will likely begin the year in Triple-A to gain a little more experience in the bullpen, but he will have a shot to earn a big league job out of spring training. He has the potential to be a good high-leverage role reliever, especially after he impressed Triple-A while striking out 31 batters over 18.2 innings, showing how much his stuff played up in shorter stints.
The Braves selected Todd Cunningham in the second round of the 2010 MLB Draft, hoping that he would move quickly through the minors as an advanced college hitter. Cunningham hasn't moved as quickly as the Braves had hoped, but injuries have slowed his progress.
Cunningham spent 2011 in High-A Lynchburg where he hit .257/.348/.353 with four homers and 14 steals over 87 games. He didn't really impress, but the 22-year-old outfielder missed a huge chunk of the year with an injury. One area where he did impress was his plate discipline, as he walked 33 times to his 47 strikeouts.
Cunningham's solid defense—he only made two errors in 81 games, including 71 in center field—as well as his ability to steal a base give him some nice skills in addition to his bat.
The former Cape Cod League batting champion did show some potential in the Arizona Fall League, but he dropped off and brought his final line to a very average .250/.319/.344.
If Cunningham takes that next step in 2012, the Braves will be getting a potential high-average hitter who could potentially fit in as a left or center fielder, or even a fourth outfielder.
The last spot on this list could have gone to a number of different players, but Dimaster Delgado is a player that really deserves it. Delgado is a great example of a potential major contributor who is overshadowed by some of the high-profile prospects within the organization.
Missing the entire 2010 season due to injuries sustained in a car accident seems to have taken away the little hype there was that was surrounding him prior to that.
Delgado made his full season debut in 2009 with Low-A Rome as a 20-year-old, and went 5-7 with a 3.61 ERA while striking out 104 batters in 99.2 innings. He actually outpitched Julio Teheran and Randall Delgado that season, and there were some high hopes for him coming into 2010. That was until the car accident.
Delgado spent all of his comeback season in High-A Lynchburg, where he made 23 appearances including 17 starts. Overall he went 9-6 with a 3.94 ERA with 77 strikeouts in 96 innings. Those are solid numbers considering the circumstances, but a closer look into the numbers shows what a great year it really was for the Panama native.
After starting slowly with a 4-4 record with a 4.80 ERA due to shaking off the rust from his long layoff, Delgado picked it up in the second half of the year. Over his last 11 games, seven of which were starts, he went 5-2 with a 2.98 ERA while cutting his walk rate, batting average-against and home runs allowed, among other numbers.
Delgado has the ceiling of a No. 3 starter, but even if he can't reach that potential he has a good chance to at least be a fifth starter. It's a big year for him as he's scheduled to move to Double-A, something that's always a big test for a prospect. He's one of the biggest candidates within the organization to break out this year and start receiving some well-earned attention for his potential.