The Atlanta Braves boast a system loaded with young, extremely talented pitching that could form the foundation for their next extended run of contending play in the NL East. Even with a pitcher like Mike Minor already graduated from prospect status, the Braves offer a stable of young arms that rival any in the game today, and that cadre of hurlers is led by fire-balling right-hander Julio Teheran.
1. Julio Teheran (RHP)
Teheran is one of the elite pitching prospects in the game. His 2011 MLB debut may have left some wanting to see more from the young right-hander, but for scouts it cemented the fact that he has true front of the rotation stuff. His fastball will sit around 92-95 mph and he can touch as high 97 or 98. Teheran also throws a curveball, slider and change-up, with his change-up standing out the most, though all three project as average or better.
2. Arodys Vizcaino (RHP)
Some scouts I spoke with this summer were so bold as to put Vizcaino right there with Teheran in terms of overall projection. His fastball can match Teheran’s heater and he has touched as high as 98 mph in short stints. His curveball is a true plus pitch that can be a dominating out pitch when he uses it appropriately. Though Vizcaino could be a very good #2 starter, he may move to the bullpen to help Atlanta in the short term, where he profiles as an elite back of the game pitcher.
3. Randall Delgado (RHP)
Delgado’s stuff sits a full tick behind that of Teheran and Vizcaino and that step down leaves him profiles as more of a #3 starter for the Braves. However, he is the most polished of the three big guns in this system and he could step into the back of the Braves’ rotation on Opening Day 2012.
4. Christian Bethancourt (C)
Previously a polarizing prospect among scouts, Bethancourt received nearly universal praise throughout the 2011 season. He has tremendous catch and throw skills with some scouts projecting him as a 70-grade defender when all is said and done. His bat took a step forward this year though some still question just how much he will hit. He has pop in his bat and some scouts quietly mentioned that Bethancourt reminded them of former Braves backstop Javy Lopez for his power and defensive prowess.
5. Andrelton Simmons (SS)
Coming out of college, Simmons was surrounded by questions about his offensive potential and unanimous glowing praise for his defense and arm strength. The questions about his bat were so significant that some teams liked him better on the mound. Simmons glove and arm both earn 70s on the 20-80 scouting scale. His bat has surprised since signing as he has shown an ability to hit for solid average thanks to solid contact skills. He could be a first division player at shortstop and he could be ready before the end of the 2012 season.
6. Tyler Pastornicky (SS)
Pastornicky is the lone player standing in the way of Simmons debut in Atlanta. He could enter spring training with a chance at the starting job and while he lacks blow you away tools he should be a solid big league player. He is a high energy, excellent makeup player that has drawn comparisons to Willie Bloomquist form more than one scout. He should be a solid defender at shortstop and while he won’t hit a ton, there may be enough there to be a second division regular or very good utility player.
7. Sean Gilmartin (LHP)
The Braves top pick in June, Gilmartin could move through the system with lightning speed. The lefty features an average fastball with solid movement, a workable slider and a plus-plus change-up that can be a swing-and-miss offering thanks in part to his ability to set hitters up. He commands all three pitches exceptionally well and he could be a #3 starter in short order.
8. Edward Salcedo (3B)
Salcedo has exceptional makeup and a desire to improve that will help his impressive tools play up even more. His bat will carry him as he owns a short quick swing with explosive power potential. He has a knack for hitting that should eventually let his power be realized. Due to below-average speed, Salcedo moved to third base where he should be able to settle in and be successful as a defender. It won’t come quickly for such a raw talent, but Salcedo could be an impact big leaguer down the line.
9. Matt Lipka (OF)
Lipka was the Braves top pick in 2010 and despite middling results scouts still believe he can be a very good big league player. The Braves moved him to the outfield during Instructional League where many scouts believe he profiled better anyway. As he gains strength, Lipka projects for tons of doubles and average power to go along with above-average hitting ability. Lipka is a highly instinctual player and a proverbial baseball rat that should be able to get the most out of his tools.
10. Zeke Spruill (RHP)
After up and down performances over the last few years, Spruill settled in during the 2011 season as he began trusting the natural movement on his sinker that he can run up to 94 mph. Both his slider and change-up show potential. If he continues to trust his stuff Spruill could become a mid rotation starter in the Derek Lowe mold.
11. Joseph Terdoslavich (1B)
One of the Braves biggest prospect risers in 2011, Terdoslavich can flat out hit the baseball. His natural hitting skills rival those of anyone in the Atlanta system. Despite the results, Terdoslavich lacks the power projection many like from the position. He has a slim chance to be a second-division starter though that profile may not come with the Braves now that Freddie Freeman is entrenched at first base in Atlanta.
12. Carlos Perez (LHP)
Perez was one of the Braves most maddening prospects for evaluators this summer as he displayed so much inconsistency that it was hard to get a good read on him. His delivery has a lot of moving parts and plenty of effort and while he has some feel for a change-up and breaking ball, both are a significant step from being reliable offerings. His fastball can work consistently in the low-90s and if he brings it all together he could be a mid-rotation lefty.
13. Nick Ahmed (SS)
Ahmed had a rough spring at UConn after suffering a collapsed lung following a collision at first base. He has the defensive chops to stick at shortstop and he has enough potential with the bat that most scouts believe he could play there every day. He has the grinder mentality that organizations love and if the everyday skills don’t completely come together he should be a fine utility option.
14. Brandon Drury (3B)
A mid-round choice by the Braves in 2010, Drury transitioned some of his raw talent to the field in 2011; a little quicker than many scouts thought he would put things together. He has an uncanny knack for contact and could develop above-average home run power as he fills out his 6-foot-2 frame. Drury is a well below-average runner but he his reactions work at third base and he should stick there long term.
15. Todd Cunningham (OF)
Many scouts see Cunningham as a bit of a tweener. He is a solid-average runner with very good instincts, though he is stretched as an everyday center fielder. With a below-average arm he profiles best defensively in left field. Cunningham should hit for some average, possibly peaking as a .280-.285 hitter with modest power. His offensive profile lacks some of the juice required for an outfield corner but he should have an MLB career as at least a very good fourth outfielder.