With the graduation of three top ten prospects (Delgado, Pastornicky and Simmons) from last year’s list, the Braves list has thinned out a considerable amount. It is propped up by several raw, high ceiling players that are still proving themselves at the lowest levels of the system. A couple of players jumped forward this year and the draft provided a couple of high-powered arms that could bring the overall system back to life by next year.
1. JR Graham – RHP (Last Year’s Rank: NR)
Sometimes it can be hard to overlook the lack of a prototype in a prospect. Standing just six-feet tall, Graham lacks the prototypical size of a starting pitcher. He makes up for his size with outstanding athleticism, a lightning quick arm and quality stuff. His heavy, sinking fastball sits in the 93-94 mph range and he consistently reaches 95. His slider gives him a second pitch with at least an above-average grade and helps make him a ground ball machine. He needs to round things out with an improved change-up, but Graham has the ceiling of a high number three starter.
2. Julio Teheran – RHP (1)
In today’s Accountability Check, it may have sounded like I had really begun to sour on Teheran. That’s not the case at all. He is still a very interesting and very good prospect, but I believe it is time to begin resetting our expectations. He’s a smallish right-hander with an excellent fastball and change-up combination, but lacks a consistent breaking ball and a command profile. In most circumstances, that points to a relief role. I’m not ready to go quite that far yet, but without development in the breaker and the command, Teheran’s ceiling stop much closer to a number three.
3. Zeke Spruill – RHP (10)
Spruill continued to gain consistency in 2012 and he looks like a solid number four starter at the big league level. His sinking fastball that generates plenty of ground balls will sit at 92-93 mph and touch 95. He trusts his heater and attacks hitters with it early in at-bats. His breaking ball shows as an above-average pitch and his change-up is certainly useable. He could use some polishing at Triple-A in 2013 but his big-league debut may not be far off.
4. Christian Bethancourt – C (4)
A .243/.275/.291 line in Double-A is certainly an uninspiring performance, but I haven’t wavered in my belief in him as a top flight prospect. With a cannon arm, quick feet and improving receiving ability, Bethancourt could be a monster behind the dish. I have personally clocked him as low as 1.65 on his pop times. His bat has some thump in it when he connects but he is a raw hitter that needs considerable development. His potential is undeniable, but he still has some large developmental hurdles.
5. Luke Sims – RHP (NR)
The Braves top pick in last year’s draft, Sims could be a fast-riser in a thin system. He sits with a plus fastball and will reach 97 mph when he needs a little more. Both his slider and curveball show promise and if he can split his developmental time across both, he could have two above-average breakers. He shows a change-up as well, with some solid feel. He is a very intriguing prospect with an outstanding ceiling.
6. Edward Salcedo – 3B (8)
Salcedo may not have the sexiest performance history and sometimes he looks out of sync on the field, but he has big-league tools and tremendous makeup. Having moved off shortstop, he profiles solidly at third base. He has pop in his bat but his aggressive approach limits the utility of his power in game situations. While he has already reached High-A at age 20, he could still need 2-3 years before arriving on the big league radar.
7. Mauricio Cabrera – RHP (NR)
Cabrera could be the next monster pitching prospect developed by the Braves. Just 18-years old, he runs his fastball up to 95 mph and sits in the low-90s with minimal effort. His change-up is already a solid pitch that he sets up well and will throw in any count. He will also flash a quality slider, but isn’t as consistent with that pitch. His feel for pitching belies his age and he has a chance to move very quickly once the Braves take off the kid gloves. Ultimately, he has a chance to develop into a number two starter, though he comes with considerable risk at this time.
8. Alex Wood – LHP (NR)
Another 2012 draft choice (2nd round), Wood has mid-rotation potential. His fastball works from 89-92 mph and can get higher when he needs additional velocity, and it complements his change-up very well. Both pitches are solid-average offerings that he mixes well. He lacks a refined breaking ball and the lack of that type of pitch allows some left-handed hitters to hang in better against him.
9. Sean Gilmartin – LHP (7)
Gilmartin may lack a considerable ceiling but he also offers a pretty high floor. It is hard not to view him as a big league pitcher, albeit one with a number five ceiling. His fastball scrapes 89 mph and he commands it well to all four parts of the strike zone. His entire profile relies heavily on his ability to locate and mix pitches, keeping hitters off balance, but he does all of that well. Gilmartin is very polished and could be pushed into service at the big-league level at any time.
10. Nick Ahmed – SS (13)
A UConn product, Ahmed has a solid all-around game but lacks a carrying tool. His defense at shortstop is at least adequate and he should stick at the position as long as the Braves want him to. He also offers good speed and base running instincts, allowing him to steal 20+ bases annually. Offensively, Ahmed won’t hit much better than .260 but he offers doubles power and a good approach during his at-bats. It’s easy to see a scenario where Ahmed becomes a solid everyday shortstop, though possibly not for Atlanta with Andrelton Simmons in the way.
11. Tommy La Stella – 2B (NR)
This may be an unconventional rating, but I can’t help but be a huge believer in La Stella’s bat. The guy can flat out hit and I truly see him doing it all the way up the ladder. His gap power and ability to make contact makes him a threat in several lineup spots and his approach should succeed quickly at the upper levels. He has a small window for success because of his relatively advanced age, but the he has a very real chance to be an offensive-minded second baseman that can handle his defensive responsibilities at the keystone.
12. Jose Peraza – SS (NR)
The Braves haven’t had much trouble developing shortstop prospects in recent years and Peraza could be the next in that line. He has a natural feel for hitting and should be a plus hitter long term. His bat speed hints at some gap power and possibly 8-10 home runs a year as well. He is a good runner that can steal bases and that also translates to plus range in the field. His defense shows flashes of being at least an above-average asset, making him a well-rounded player with an everyday ceiling.
13. Evan Gattis – C (NR)
With a more typical developmental path, Gattis would be a big time prospect. His offensive potential is very strong, highlighted by plus-plus raw power. He makes very good contact, allowing his power to play in games and giving him the potential for 20+ home runs a year. His bat looks the part of a middle-of-the-order threat. Defensively, he has yet to find a consistent home. His defense behind the plate hasn’t developed as expected and an experiment in the outfield hasn’t been a success so far. Injury issues slowed his progress this year, and at this point, he just needs game experience to get him ready for a big league shot in some capacity.
14. Matt Lipka – OF (9)
A supplemental pick in 2010, Lipka has been pushed aggressively by the Braves, reaching High-A this year despite injury issues. On top of that he has been forced to deal with a position switch to the outfield, where he has settled in quickly and looks like a quality defender. His bat hasn’t come as quickly as expected, but he shows good hitting ability and some hints of fringy home run power with plenty of doubles as well. His speed can impact the game and his ceiling rests atop a big league lineup.
15. Joe Terdoslavich – 3B/1B (11)
One of the best pure hitters in the system, Terdoslavich has really good pitch recognition and barrel control, allowing him to hit for a very high average. His power is more gap-to-gap than classic corner-infield power, but he certainly can drive the ball. The Braves tried to push him back across the diamond to third base for part of last season but the results were not favorable with scouts. His defensive profile fits better at first base, where his bat isn’t ideal, but he likely has a big league future as a second division type.