Atlanta Braves' Top 10 Prospects for 2015

Mike Rosenbaum@GoldenSombreroMLB Prospects Lead WriterJanuary 8, 2015

Atlanta Braves' Top 10 Prospects for 2015

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    Hannah Foslien/Getty Images

    The Atlanta Braves system may be weak, but the cupboard is far from bare.

    Twenty-year-old second baseman Jose Peraza's exciting tools and advanced feel for the game have him on the fast track to the major leagues, while the team's top prospect from 2014, right-hander Lucas Sims, seems poised for a bounce-back campaign.  

    Catcher Christian Bethancourt’s bat didn’t develop in the high minors as hoped, and questions remain about the 23-year-old’s hit-tool potential, but he’s an absolute monster defensively and ready for a near-everyday role in 2015. 

    2014 first-round pick Braxton Davidson (No. 32 overall) has big raw power and a short swing to make it play, but the left-handed hitter struggled to drive the ball this summer between two rookie levels. Meanwhile, 18-year-old shortstop Ozhaino Albies got everyone's attention last summer by batting .364 across a pair of rookie levels.

    Atlanta has added several notable prospects to its system this offseason through trades, as it acquired right-hander Tyrell Jenkins from St. Louis (Jason Heyward deal) and left-hander Manny Banuelos from the Yankees (David Carpenter deal). And last but not least, the Braves also received left-hander Max Fried, third baseman Dustin Peterson and center fielder Mallex Smith from the Padres in return for Justin Upton.

    Here are the Atlanta Braves' top 10 prospects for the 2015 season.

How They're Ranked

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    Todd Kirkland/Associated Press

    Position Players

    • Body type/athleticism
    • Speed
    • Hitting mechanics, bat speed
    • Injury history
    • Statistical trends
    • Age versus level: how well a player fared at a certain level relative to his age and that of the competition
    • Tools: number of projectable tools a player possesses in relation to his position, age and competition; present vs. future tool grades
    • Hit tool: In the evolution of the prospect landscape, the hit tool is the most importantbut also the hardest to project.
    • League and park factors
    • On-base skills: approach, strike-zone management, pitch recognition
    • Makeup/character
    • Defensive tools and skill sets; present versus projected position
    • Place on organization's depth chart
    • Positional scarcity, up-the-middle potential 

    Pitchers

    • Body type/athleticism/strength
    • Mechanics: delivery, arm speed, release point
    • Age versus highest level of experience
    • Injury history (durability)
    • Statistical trends
    • Arsenal quality and depth
    • Pitch projections: present versus future grades
    • Hitability: How tough is he to barrel? Does he keep the ball on the ground/in the park?
    • Control/command: Is he usually around the zone? Does he effectively command his stuff? How much development/refinement is needed?
    • Pitchability: feel (and confidence) for using and sequencing entire arsenal
    • Approach: Does he fearlessly attack and challenge opposing hitters?  
    • Projection: Does he project as a starter? If so, what type? Or is he likely to be relegated to the bullpen? If so, why?

    Resources

Close Calls

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    1. Manny Banuelos, LHP
    2. Mauricio Cabrera, RHP
    3. Alec Grosser, RHP
    4. Tanner Murphy, C
    5. Jason Hursh, RHP

10. Wes Parsons, RHP

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    Position: RHP

    DOB: 09/06/1992 (Age: 22)

    Height/Weight: 6’5”, 190 lbs

    Bats/Throws: R/R

    Drafted: Undrafted (Signed: 2012)

    Last Year’s Ranking: NR

    ETA: 2016

    2014 Stats (A+): 23 GS, 113.1 IP, 5.00 ERA, 1.35 WHIP, .271 BAA, 0.8 HR/9, 2.7 BB/9, 7.6 K/9

    Future Pitch Grades

    FastballSliderChangeupControl
    60554560

    Scouting Report

    Parsons was signed by the Braves on July 30, 2012, after going undrafted out of Jackson State Community College.

    At 6’5” and 190 pounds, the right-hander works in the low 90s with his fastball, and it’s possible he’ll add more velocity as he continues to add strength to his projectable frame. Meanwhile, his athleticism and easy delivery allow him to command the pitch throughout the strike zone and consistently pound its lower quadrants.

    As is the case with his fastball, Parsons’ advanced control and command profile allow his secondary offerings to play up, as he consistently generates swings and misses with an solid-average slider and keeps hitters off balance with a fringy changeup.

    Though he lacks a high ceiling, Parsons' combination of stuff and command gives him a realistic upside as a No. 4 or 5 starter at maturity, with a move to the bullpen representing a solid fallback option should he struggle at the higher levels.

    Ceiling (OFP): 50 (No. 4 starter/late-inning reliever) - Medium risk

9. Kyle Kubitza, 3B

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    Position: 3B

    DOB: 07/15/1990 (Age: 24)

    Height/Weight: 6’3”, 215 lbs

    Bats/Throws: L/R

    Drafted: Third round, 2011 (Texas State)

    Last Year’s Ranking: NR

    ETA: Late 2015

    2014 Stats (AA): 132 G, 529 PA, .295/.405/.470, 38.5 XBH%, 8 HR, 21 SB, 14.6 BB%, 25.1 K%

    Tools Breakdown (Future Grades)

    HitPowerRunArmField
    5055506050

    Scouting Report

    Kubitza quietly had a great year in Double-A, as the 24-year-old set new career highs in batting average, on-base percentage, extra-base hits and stolen bases. The left-handed hitter has a smooth, line-drive-oriented swing as well as a knack for barreling the ball and using the whole field. The Texas native employs a patient approach at the plate and draws his share of walks, though at times his selectivity seems to limit his power potential.

    Kubitza lacks a standout tool but still offers value with average tools across the board. His overall steady improvement over the last two seasons has him on track to reach the major leagues at some point during the 2015 season.

    Ceiling (OFP): 50 (average big leaguer) – Low risk

8. Garrett Fulenchek, RHP

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    Position: RHP

    DOB: 06/07/1996 (Age: 18)

    Height/Weight: 6’4”, 205 lbs

    Bats/Throws: R/R

    Drafted: Second round, 2014 (Howe HS, Texas)

    Last Year’s Ranking: NA

    ETA: 2019

    2014 Stats (Rk): 12 G/10 GS, 37.2 IP, 4.78 ERA, 1.49 WHIP, .238 BAA, 0.5 HR/9, 5.3 BB/9, 6.9 K/9

    Future Pitch Grades

    FastballSliderChangeupControl
    65605050

    Scouting Report

    Fulenchek features a heavy fastball in the low 90s that induces a ton of ground balls, and he also has a hard slider that flashes above-average potential. The 6’4”, 205-pound right-hander’s changeup is a seldom-used pitch that will require considerable development moving forward.

    Fulenchek spent his professional debut in the rookie-level Gulf Coast League, where he had no problem missing bats but struggled to consistently throw strikes. The 18-year-old had more success against right-handed batters compared to lefties, though that should change as he develops a more effective changeup.

    Ceiling (OFP): 55/60 (No. 3 or 4 starter/late-innings reliever) – High risk

7. Tyrell Jenkins, RHP

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    Position: RHP

    DOB: 07/20/1992 (Age: 22)

    Height/Weight: 6’4”, 204 lbs

    Bats/Throws: R/R

    Drafted: First round, 2010 by Cardinals (Henderson HS, Texas)

    Last Year’s Ranking: NR (Cardinals)

    ETA: 2016

    2014 Stats (A+): 13 GS, 74 IP, 3.28 ERA, 1.31 WHIP, .264 BAA, 0.7 HR/9, 2.8 BB/9, 5.0 K/9

    Future Pitch Grades

    FastballCurveballChangeupControl
    60554050

    Scouting Report

    Jenkins pitched 74 innings last season at High-A Palm Beach after logging only 141.2 innings between 2012 and 2013 due to shoulder injuries. The 22-year-old right-hander’s strikeout numbers fell dramatically, as he fanned only five batters for every nine innings pitched.

    The 6’4” right-hander’s fastball is still crisp with late life, registering at 92-95 mph, but his secondary pitches lag well behind. Specifically, Jenkins struggles to throw his breaking ball and changeup for strikes, and he doesn’t have the necessary feel for either pitch to consistently induce whiffs off the plate. Therefore, he has no choice but to primarily throw fastballs. Luckily, he spots it well enough to both sides of the plate to still generate weak contact.

    Ceiling (OFP): 55 (No. 3/4 starter) – Medium risk

6. Ozhaino Albies, SS

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    Position: SS

    DOB: 01/07/1997 (Age: 18)

    Height/Weight: 5’9”, 150 lbs

    Bats/Throws: S/R

    Signed: 2013 (Curacao)

    Last Year’s Ranking: NR

    ETA: 2019

    2014 Stats (Rk): 57 G, 239 PA, .364/.446/.444, 15.3 XBH%, 1 HR, 22 SB, 11.7 BB%, 9.6 K%

    Tools Breakdown (Future Grades)

    HitPowerRunArmField
    5540705555

    Scouting Report

    Signed by the Braves out of Curacao in 2013, Albies put on a hitting clinic this summer in his pro debut. The then-17-year-old batted a robust .381 over 19 games in the Gulf Coast League and then followed it with a .356 clip in 38 Appalachian League contests.

    The 18-year-old switch-hitter has a loose, fluid swing from both sides of the plate to go along with good bat speed and preternatural bat-to-ball skills. Unfortunately, Albies’ slight build (5’9”, 150 pounds) means he’s unlikely to hit for power.

    Albies is an impressive athlete with plus-plus speed and good range at shortstop, though his average arm strength is probably a cleaner fit at the keystone. However, given his age and remaining physical development, I expect his arm to improve by anywhere from a half to full grade.

    Ceiling (OFP): 60 (first-division player) – Extreme risk

5. Braxton Davidson, OF/1B

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    Position: OF/1B

    DOB: 06/18/1996 (Age: 18)

    Height/Weight: 6’2”, 210 lbs

    Bats/Throws: L/L

    Drafted: First round, 2014 (T.C. Roberson HS, N.C.)

    Last Year’s Ranking: NA

    ETA: 2019

    2014 Stats (Rk): 50 G, 186 PA, .224/.387/.299, 30.3 XBH%, 0 HR, 16.7 BB%, 22.6 K%

    Tools Breakdown (Future Grades)

    HitPowerRunArmField
    5560405050

    Scouting Report

    Davidson's best tool is his ability to hit and control the strike zone, as his pitch recognition and bat control make it easy to see him hitting for average in his future. His power should play just fine as he develops, but right now his swing and advanced approach are geared toward hitting line drives across the whole field as opposed to selling out for power.

    Davidson’s below-average speed and range mean he’ll likely spend a majority of his career at first base, although the Braves believe he can play left field given his above-average arm strength. Plus, the organization doesn’t want to relegate the 18-year-old to first at this stage in his career, as it would place even greater pressure on his bat to develop.

    Ceiling (OFP): 60 (First-division player) – High risk

4. Max Fried, LHP

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    Position: LHP

    DOB: 01/18/1994 (Age: 20)

    Height/Weight: 6’4”, 185 lbs

    Bats/Throws: L/L

    Drafted: First round, 2012 by Padres (Harvard-Westlake HS, Calif.)

    Last Year’s Ranking: 2 (Padres)

    ETA: 2017

    2014 Stats (Rk/A): 5 GS, 10.2 IP, 5.06 ERA, 5 BB, 10 K

    Future Pitch Grades

    FastballCurveballChangeupControl
    60655550

    Scouting Report

    Max Fried missed the first three months of the season due to forearm tightness before returning in early July. He wound up making five starts between the Arizona League and Low-A Fort Wayne before his ulnar collateral ligament gave out and required Tommy John surgery. The Padres dealt the former No. 7 overall pick to the Braves this offseason as part of the Justin Upton trade.

    Fried has one of the higher ceilings of all left-handed pitching prospects, with a durable build, repeatable mechanics and a potential front-of-the-rotation arsenal.

    When healthy, the 6’4” left-hander works in the low 90s with his fastball and touches 94-95 mph, but his projectable frame suggests there’s more velocity to come. Fried shows two curveball variations, both unique and impressive in their own right, and the overall pitch could grade as a plus-plus offering at maturity. His changeup is his least advanced offering, but he already demonstrates a feel for turning it over to create late fade.

    Ceiling (OFP): 65 (No. 2 starter) – High risk

3. Christian Bethancourt, C

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    Position: C

    DOB: 09/02/1991 (Age: 23)

    Height/Weight: 6’2”, 205 lbs

    Bats/Throws: R/R

    Signed: 2008 (Panama)

    Last Year’s Ranking: 2

    ETA: Debuted in 2013

    2014 Stats (AAA): 91 G, 365 PA, .283/.308/.408, 26.8 XBH%, 8 HR, 7 SB, 3.6 BB%, 16.7 K%

    2014 MLB Stats: 31 G, 117 PA, .248/.274/.274, 10.7 XBH%, 0 HR, 2.6 BB%, 22.2 K%

    Tools Breakdown (Future Grades)

    HitPowerRunArmField
    4550458065

    Scouting Report

    Bethancourt is one of the top defensive backstops in the game, as his combination of 80-grade arm strength, sound footwork and catch-and-throw skills generate consistent pop times around 1.8 seconds. Both his blocking and framing noticeably improved last season, although he still occasionally stabs at balls in the dirt.

    With a physically strong, 6’2”, 205-pound frame, Bethancourt looks like he should hit for regular power. However, he only shows it in games on inner-half offerings, when he’s able to clear his hips and turn on the ball. Meanwhile, the 23-year-old’s bat is easily his weakest tool, as he still employs an overaggressive approach and tends to swing at anything around the zone.

    And while his solid bat-to-ball skills aid his ability to make consistent contact, Bethancourt frequently gets himself out by either pulling off the ball or putting a weak swing on something away. Granted, he did tighten his zone a bit last season and drove the ball more consistently, but it’s still difficult to envision him becoming anything more than a fringe-average hitter at the highest level.

    Ceiling (OFP): 55 (solid-average regular) – Low risk

    Bethancourt’s approach and hit tool might always leave something to be desired, but he’s a game-changing defender behind the plate and ready for an everyday role.

2. Lucas Sims, RHP

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    Position: RHP

    DOB: 05/10/1994 (Age: 20)

    Height/Weight: 6’2”, 195 lbs

    Bats/Throws: R/R

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

    Last Year’s Ranking: 1

    ETA: 2016

    2014 Stats (A+): 28 GS, 156.2 IP, 4.19 ERA, 1.30 WHIP, .247 BAA, 0.7 HR/9, 3.3 BB/9, 6.1 K/9

    Future Pitch Grades

    FastballCurveballChangeupControl
    65605555

    Scouting Report

    An athletic right-hander with a live arm and little mileage, Sims made developmental strides in 2013 after moving into the Low-A starting rotation for the second half of the season, showcasing an impressive and underrated combination of stuff and polish.

    The 20-year-old right-hander seemed poised to further his success this past season at High-A Lynchburg, but he got off to a painfully slow start with a 5.00 ERA and 38-28 ratio of strikeouts to walks over his first 72 innings (14 starts) in the Carolina League. However, just as he did in 2013, Sims settled in during the second half and turned in a strong finish to his season, pitching to a 3.51 ERA and 69-32 strikeout-to-walk ratio over 84.2 innings (14 starts).

    Sims has the makings of an advanced three-pitch mix, with a low to mid-90s fastball, a swing-and-miss breaking ball that has a big shape and heavy downer action, and a changeup that flashes average.

    He struggled with some mechanical issues throughout the year, but late-season reports from the right-hander’s starts noted that his stuff was as crisp and promising as it was last year.

    Ceiling (OFP): 55/60 (No. 3 starter) - High risk

1. Jose Peraza, 2B

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    Hannah Foslien/Getty Images

    Position: 2B

    DOB: 04/30/1994 (Age: 20)

    Height/Weight: 6’0”, 165 lbs

    Bats/Throws: R/R

    Signed: 2010 (Venezuela)

    Last Year’s Ranking: 6

    ETA: Late 2015

    2014 Stats (A+/AA): 110 G, 499 PA, .339/.364/.441, 20.8 XBH%, 2 HR, 60 SB, 3.6 BB%, 9.4 K%

    Tools Breakdown (Future Grades)

    HitPowerRunArmField
    5530706060

    Scouting Report

    What he lacks in physicality at 6’0” and 165 pounds, Jose Peraza makes up for with speed and quickness in all facets of the game. The 20-year-old has the foundation of an above-average hitter but will need to add strength over the course of his development. A right-handed hitter, he drives the ball from line to line and should amass his share of doubles and triples.

    However, he also struggles to drive the ball at times, with a majority of his contact staying on the infield. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, though; Peraza is a plus-plus runner who can burn down the line, not to mention an advanced base stealer who’s already skilled at reading pitchers and picking his spots.

    Peraza is an above-average defender with outstanding range at both middle infield positions, and his glove will probably always play up thanks to his instincts and first-step quickness.

    Ceiling (OFP): 60 (First-division player) - Medium risk

    The Braves shifted Peraza from shortstop to second base last season in deference to Andrelton Simmons, which could give the team one of the best double-play combinations in baseball for years to come. As of now, the Braves seem prepared to begin next season with a combination of Philip Gosselin and the recently signed Alberto Callaspo at the keystone. However, they’ll only be keeping the seat warm for Peraza, who should arrive at some point during the second half.