Ranking the Top 10 Prospects in the Atlanta Braves' Farm System

Mike Rosenbaum@GoldenSombreroMLB Prospects Lead WriterNovember 26, 2012

Ranking the Top 10 Prospects in the Atlanta Braves' Farm System

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    Despite an ugly 2012 campaign, Julio Teheran remains the prize of the Atlanta Braves’ farm system, though there’s now a host of promising pitching prospects breathing down his neck.

    While there’s no other pitcher who has his upside, the Braves' depth on the mound is impressive and should yield a myriad of options—both in their starting rotation and bullpen—for years to come. In fact, seven of their top-10 prospects are pitchers, as well as their top two draft picks from 2012.

    Beyond that, their system features a dearth of projectable positional talent, highlighted by a pair of intriguing shortstops in Nick Ahmed and Jose Peraza, and defensively gifted backstop Christian Bethancourt.

    It’s also worth noting that the Braves have a solid crop of sleeper prospects such as second baseman Tommy La Stella, outfielder Connor Lien, catcher Fernelys Sanchez, and, my personal favorite, OF/1B/C Evan Gattis. Gattis may be 26 and has only reached Double-A, but his bat is real and may force the Braves’ hand at some point during the 2013 season.

    Anyway, here’s a look at the Atlanta Braves’ top-10 prospects headed into the offseason.

10. SS Jose Peraza

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    Position: RHP

    DOB: 4/30/1994 (Age: 18)

    Height/Weight: 5’11”, 167

    Bats/Throws: R/R

    Drafted/Signed: July, 2010 (Venezuela)

    ETA: 2016

    2012 Stats: .281/.351/.339, 21 R, 5 XBH, 15 SB, 18/9 K/BB (32 G, Rookie-level Danville); .318/.348/.424, 17 R, 10 SB, 6/4 K/BB (21 G, Rookie-level Braves)

    Scouting Notes: For what he lacks in physicality at 5’11”, 167 pounds, Peraza makes up for with speed and quickness in all facets of the game. He's a plus defensive shortstop with outstanding range who’s aided by his instincts and first step. He has the arm strength to remain at the position but will unnecessarily hurry his throw.

    He has the foundation of an above-average hitter, and there’s no doubt that he’ll add strength over the course of his development. He drives the ball from line-to-line and will amass his share of doubles and triples.

    He has impressive plate discipline given his age and lack of experience and is an advanced base-stealer who utilizes speed and is adept at reading pitchers and picking his spots.

    2013 Opening-Day Level: Low-A Rome

9. RHP Mauricio Cabrera

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    Position: RHP

    DOB: 9/22/1993 (Age: 19)

    Height/Weight: 6’2”, 180

    Bats/Throws: R/R

    Drafted/Signed: July, 2010 (Dominican Republic)

    ETA: 2016

    2012 Stats: 2-2, 57.2 IP, 2.97 ERA, 1.179 WHIP, 7.5 K/9, 3.6 BB/9 (12 GS, Rookie-level Danville)

    Scouting Notes: He made his U.S. debut as an 18-year-old this past season in rookie-level Appalachian League. He boasts a plus fastball in the mid-90s with an early feel for manipulating the pitch for movement. He's another Braves pitching prospect with tons of upside, but mechanical concerns and his ability to develop a third pitch will determine whether he remains a starter.

    His changeup is noticeably his best secondary offering. It has considerable fade and he throws it with convincing arm speed. His slider, which is thrown with velocity, is inconsistent but still generates swings and misses. His command of his entire arsenal was shaky, but that's not unusual for a pitching prospect his age.

    2013 Opening-Day Level: Low-A Rome

8. RHP Zeke Spruill

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    Position: RHP

    DOB: 9/11/1989 (Age: 23)

    Height/Weight: 6’5”, 190

    Bats/Throws: S/R

    Drafted/Signed: Second round, 2008 (Kell HS, Ga.)

    ETA: 2014

    2012 Stats: 9-11, 161.2 IP, 3.67 ERA, 1.262 WHIP, 5.9 K/9, 2.6 BB/9 (27 GS, Double-A Mississippi)

    Scouting Notes: He spent the entire season at Double-A Mississippi after a strong finish there in 2011. His fastball works in the low-90s with tons of sink. He has already proven to be a ground-ball machine. He demonstrates above-average command of the pitch and uses it to pound the strike zone.

    His changeup is another above-average pitch with nice fade. He throws the pitch with nearly identical arm speed as his fastball. His slider flashes plus potential when it’s thrown from a consistent arm slot.

    For success at higher levels, either his changeup or slider will need to emerge as a legitimate out pitch.

    2013 Opening-Day Level: Triple-A Gwinnett

7. LHP Sean Gilmartin

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    Position: LHP

    DOB: 5/8/1990 (Age: 22)

    Height/Weight: 6’2”, 190

    Bats/Throws: L/L

    Drafted/Signed: First round, 2011 (Florida State)

    ETA: 2013

    2012 Stats: 5-8, 119.1 IP, 3.54 ERA, 1.148 WHIP, 6.4 K/5, 2.0 BB/9 (20 GS, Double-A Mississippi); 1-2, 37.2 IP, 4.78 ERA, 1.434 WHIP, 1.4 HR/9, 6.0 K/9, 3.1 BB/9 (7 GS, Triple-A Gwinnett)

    Scouting Notes: He reached Triple-A in just more than a year after his professional debut. He has shown the polish that the Braves envisioned when drafting him in the first round in 2011. He's a command-oriented left-hander with a three-pitch mix. He profiles best as Nos. 4 or 5 starter, even though the Braves’ big-league rotation is already crowded.

    His fastball sits between 88-91 mph with an effortless delivery and he uses it to attack both right- and left-handed hitters. His fastball features deceptive arm-side action. His changeup is his only plus pitch. It is especially effective when thrown off the heater. He will work in a mediocre slider that’s more of a show-me pitch to keep hitters off-balance.

    2013 Opening-Day Level: Triple-A Gwinnett

6. LHP Alex Wood

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    Position: LHP

    DOB: 1/12/1991 (Age: 21)

    Height/Weight: 6’4”, 215

    Bats/Throws: L/L

    Drafted/Signed: Second round, 2012 (University of Georgia)

    ETA: 2015

    2012 Stats: 4-3, 52.2 IP, 2.22 ERA, 1.006 WHIP, 6.7 H/9, 8.9 K/9, 2.4 BB/9 (13 GS, Low-A Rome)

    Scouting Notes: His mechanics are unorthodox and inefficient, but they work for him. His arm is choppy and stabs on the backside, but it is powerful. His fastball features plus velocity up to 94-96 mph, and he can maintain it relatively late into starts. He has impressive command of the pitch and pounds the strike zone despite his mechanics. He can throw his fastball too much at times.

    His arm actions adds deception to his changeup, which plays up a grade when he’s locating the fastball. He needs to develop some variation of a breaking ball, whether it be a slider or curveball. He seems to be more likely to reach his ceiling as a reliever rather than a starter.

    It will be interesting to see how aggressive the Braves are with him in 2013.

    2013 Opening-Day Level: Low-A Rome

5. C Christian Bethancourt

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    Position: C

    DOB: 9/2/1991 (Age: 21)

    Height/Weight: 6’2”, 220

    Bats/Throws: R/R

    Drafted/Signed: March, 2008 (Panama)

    ETA: 2013

    2012 Stats: .243/.275/.291, 8 XBH, 8 SB, 45/11 K/BB (71 G, Double-A Mississippi)

    Scouting Notes: He's a physically strong and athletic catcher at 6’2”, 220 pounds. His rocket arm should give him a chance to be excellent defensive catcher. His catch-and-throw skills continue to improve. He generates consistent sub-1.8-second pop time and has thrown out 38 percent of base-stealers over five minor-league seasons. Both is blocking and receiving skills improved in 2012 but still need refinement. He doesn’t pick at balls as much as he did in previous years.

    He has advanced hand-eye coordination but is his own worst enemy at the plate. He flails at pitches outside the strike zone and fails to capitalize in hitter’s counts. He struggles to drive the ball with any consistency. His plate discipline is brutal as he’s almost unwilling to walk.

    He has been rushed through minor leagues on his defensive merits. He was overmatched last season as a 20-year-old at Double-A. At this point, I’m not confident that his bat will develop. He has an outside chance to be the Braves’ Opening-Day catcher due to the loss of David Ross and Brian McCann, who is  slated to begin season on the disabled list.

    2013 Opening-Day Level: Double-A or MLB

4. RHP Luke Sims

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    Position: RHP

    DOB: 5/10/1994 (Age: 18)

    Height/Weight: 6’2”, 195

    Bats/Throws: R/R

    Drafted/Signed: First round, 2012 (Brookwood HS, Ga.)

    ETA: 2016

    2012 Stats: 2-4, 34 IP, 3.71 ERA, 1.206 WHIP, 7.4 H/9, 10.3 K/9, 3.4 BB/9 (11 GS, Rookie-level Appalachian/Gulf Coast League)

    Scouting Notes: He is athletic with a live arm but an inconsistent arm slot. His mechanics will need to be ironed out as he develops, but he’s advanced enough at the moment to believe it will happen. His fastball registers in the 90-93 mph range, though reports had him scraping 95-97 mph in the spring.

    Beyond his impressive fastball, Sims flashes potential for a four-pitch mix of at least average offerings. Both his curveball and slider show plenty of potential but lack overall consistency. As expected, his curveball was the better of the two in high school. His slider was better in his professional debut.

    His changeup is a work-in-progress but should be serviceable pitch by the time he reaches major leagues.

    2013 Opening-Day Level: Low-A Rome

3. SS Nick Ahmed

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    Position: SS

    DOB: 3/15/1990 (Age: 22)

    Height/Weight: 6’3”, 205

    Bats/Throws: R/R

    Drafted/Signed: Second round, 2011 (UConn)

    ETA: 2014

    2012 Stats: .269/.337/.391, 84 R, 46 XBH (36 2B), 40 SB, 102/49 K/BB (130 G, High-A Lynchburg)

    Scouting Notes: Ahmed had an under-the-radar good season in his first year as a pro. He has a highly projectable, 6’3”, 205-pound frame with the ability to remain at shortstop. He's a good defender with above-average-to-plus speed and similar range. I love his actions and hands.

    His on-base skills and rate of contact need to improve. I like him as a top-of-the-order bat with plenty of gap power. He needs to be more patient at the plate and work toward hitter’s counts. He could develop 15-home run power as he adds strength to athletic frame and makes more hard contact.

    2013 Opening-Day Level: Double-A Mississippi

2. RHP J.R. Graham

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    Position: RHP

    DOB: 1/14/1990

    Height/Weight: 6’0'', 185

    Bats/Throws: R/R

    Drafted/Signed: Fourth round, 2011 (Santa Clara)

    ETA: 2014 (2013 as reliever)

    2012 Stats: 9-1, 102.2 IP, 2.63 ERA, 1.023 WHIP, 0.5 HR/9, 6.0 K/9, 1.5 BB/9 (17 GS, High-A Lynchburg); 3-1, 45.1 IP, 3.18 ERA, 1.147 WHIP, 6.9 H/9, 0.4 HR/9, 8.3 K/9, 3.4 BB/9 (9 GS, Double-A Mississippi)

    Scouting Notes: He was excellent in his first full pro season at both High and Double-A. Everything he throws has solid downward action that induces loads of whiffs and ground balls. He's not a strikeout artist but will register a fairly high strikeout total—quietly. He's undersized at 6’0", but gets tilt on his pitches.

    His best pitch is a heavy sinker in low-90s that’s no fun to face as a hitter. He mixes in a four-seamer that will register in the 95-97 mph range. A late-breaking, sharp slider is his second plus offering and will at least give him an opportunity as a big-league reliever. His ability to develop a serviceable changeup will determine how quickly he reaches Atlanta as a starter.

    2013 Opening-Day Level: Triple-A Gwinnett

1. RHP Julio Teheran

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    Position: RHP

    DOB: 1/27/1991 (Age: 21)

    Height/Weight: 6’2”, 175

    Bats/Throws: R/R

    Drafted/Signed: July, 2007 (Colombia)

    ETA: 2013

    2012 Stats: 7-9, 131 IP, 5.08 ERA, 1.443 WHIP, 10.0 H/9, 1.2 HR/9, 6.7 K/9, 3.0 BB/9 (26 GS, Triple-A Gwinnett)

    Scouting Notes: One of the game’s top prospects headed into 2012, he regressed this past season, enduring a frustrating campaign considering he repeated Triple-A after dominating the level in 2011. He has a high ceiling but will need to prove last season was a fluke. I still love his arm speed and aggressiveness.

    His fastball was flatter this past season but still in the 91-95 range to both sides of the plate. But the pitch was left up in the zone too often. His changeup is still a plus pitch given it speed differential and the deception of his arm speed. The of a third legitimate pitch continues to impede the final stages of development. Neither his curveball nor slider is currently passable as a show-me pitch.

    2013 Opening-Day Level: Triple-A Gwinnett

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