1. Jarrod Saltalamacchia, C
Early struggles because of injuries caused many to doubt the top prospect label of Salty. But when he returned to the lineup in the second half fully healthy, he recovered his form enough to finish the year by showing us his power was still there. His numbers in every way were a departure from his 2005 campaign, with the exception of his increased walk rate.
Salty may find himself back at double-A to start the season. He needs to prove himself there before he can earn a promotion to triple-A or the Majors. Look for him to once again put on a show in spring training, but know that the Braves will take their time with Saltalamacchia. A switch-hitting catcher is a very valuable commodity, and they don't want to mess him up.
2. Matt Harrison, LHP
The first of many left-handed pitching prospects listed on this prospect list. Harrison tired towards the end of the year at double-A, but his strong start at hi-A, and how easily he handled the transition to double-A has many believing that he is the real deal. He's a control pitcher who gets results and knows how to pitch - probably a bit more of a front-line starter than Chuck James.
Like Saltalamacchia, he may start the season back at double-A, but he'll be in Richmond before the end of the year. He may be able to crack the Atlanta rotation out of Spring Training in 2008, but may be called on earlier if there are injuries in Atlanta.
3. Eric Campbell, 3B
He is one of the golden boys of the Braves organization, and he had another stellar year on his climb towards the Majors. He's slated for hi-A Myrtle Beach next year, but he's playing second base in the Hawaiian Winter League, and if the organization wants to bring him along a little faster he may find himself at Mississippi next year.
All indications are that he could handle a jump to double-A, but he will probably start the year at Myrtle and with a good first half will get bumped up to Mississippi. I think the Braves view him the same way they viewed Brian McCann and Jeff Francoeur - guys who can make the big jump from the low Minors to the Majors. If he can prove his ability to play second base this winter and next year, he'll be given a spot on the Atlanta roster to start 2008. Think of him as Marcus Giles with consistent power.
4. Jo-Jo Reyes, LHP
If Harrison is the touch and feel pitcher, then Reyes is the power pitcher of the Braves elite pitching prospects. But that's not to say that Reyes is only a power pitcher, he can mix in his other pitches enough that he's been described as the smartest pitcher in the Braves organization. He was all-everything at Rome this year, dominating the league for the first half of the season. He wasn't lights out after his promotion to Myrtle Beach, but he held his own and finished strong.
Reyes needs to find consistency with his pitches, but he has the stuff to dominate for a long time. Along with Harrison they may be the cornerstones of a strong lefty dominated Atlanta rotation for years. Look for his arrival in the Majors sometime in 2008.
5. Kala Ka'aihue, 1B
When you have a name like Kala Ka'aihue, you're just going to be a star. Kala is the best power-hitting prospect in the Braves organization with 27 homeruns combined between Rome and Myrtle Beach. He struggled at first after the promotion, but got things turned around towards the end of his campaign. He may have added even more homeruns if a broken wrist from being hit by a pitch had not ended his season. His manager likens him to a little Andres Galarraga with a lot of power potential.
He may start the season back in hi-A, but he'll earn a promotion to double-A around the midpoint. Look for him to follow a similar path to what Scott Thorman followed during his rise through the Minor Leagues. We could see Kala in Atlanta as early as 2008.
Photo of Kala Ka'aihue courtesy of Chip Jett
Check out the rest of the Braves top 25 prospects by clicking Read More.
6. Elvis Andrus, SS
He is still really young, and I think it would be a mistake to rank him higher on this list as others have done in years past. I wouldn't want to label him as the next Wilson Betemit. At just 18, Elvis has plenty of time to grow into his body and become a more polished hand at shortstop. 32 errors are not what the Braves are looking for, but they know he's still learning.
He'll move up one level to hi-A next year, and continue up the ladder year after year. When Edgar Renteria's contract is up at the end of '08, Elvis could be ready to take the reins in '09.
7. Joey Devine, RHP
We all know his story real well - first rounder a year ago who made it to the Majors the same season, lots of grand slams, made the post-season roster, took the loss in the final game against Houston. Devine seems to have struggled through just about everything imaginable the last two years, and came up at the end of this year with something to prove. His performance after his September call-up most likely restored a lot of the Braves coaching staff's confidence in him.
Unless he falls apart in Spring Training, he will break camp as a member of the Braves bullpen next year.
8. Kevin Gunderson, LHP
He is the newest Talking Chop fave, so I probably rank him higher than others would, but I'm a big fan of guys that have success verses guys that just have tools. Like Chuck James who is undersized and underrated, Gunderson is a pitcher who could be the left-handed version of Joey Devine; a successful college closer who is able to make the quick transition to the big league. He lacks an overpowering fastball, but uses a deceptive delivery to work in the heater with his slider and changeup.
The Braves learned from the Devine implosion last year and have brought Gunderson along slower, and will most likely not rush him to the Majors in '07, but an impressive spring may keep him in mind for a mid-year call-up.
9. Brandon Jones, OF
With a last name like Jones, it's hard not to succeed in the Atlanta organization. Jones is a five-tool player, but his power has at times been inconsistent. From where I sit it seems that he is being rushed a bit more than he should be, but he actually performed better after his promotion to double-A. The problem with him is that he's never put up any eye-popping numbers, so his real value is hard to project.
He will most likely start 2007 at Mississippi, but should see himself in Richmond before the year is out.
10. Yunel Escobar, SS
My opinion of Escobar is that he was over-hyped, and is probably going to continue to be over-hyped - much like Wilson Betemit was as a Braves prospect. He is a friend and fellow Cuban defector of catcher Brayan Pena; and Escobar is a decent average, no-power shortstop version of Pena.
I see him being used as trade bait either this off-season or next year before the trade deadline. Andrus is the future shortstop of this organization, and Renteria will be here until then (barring injury of course).
11. Matt Wright, RHP
Another year at triple-A might be needed to build up arm strength and continue to grow as a pitcher, but he has the fastball and the demeanor to be a Major League pitcher, and all signs point to that becoming a reality - it's just a matter of when. He'll be one of the first starters called if there is an injury or ineffectiveness in the Atlanta rotation. There's a lot to like about this power pitcher from Texas, and Braves fans may find him similar to another Wright who pitched for the Braves - Jaret Wright.
Barring any other injuries or any major setbacks he'll be pushing someone from the Atlanta rotation by 2008 at the latest.
12. Jamie Richmond, RHP
After a solid debut in the GCL in 2005, Richmond made the Braves and their draft-and-follow strategy look like the work of genius. He had one of the most impressive seasons of any Minor League pitcher, and was named the Appalachian League Pitcher of the Year. His stats are simply ridiculous, with the most impressive numbers being zero and four - in 67 innings pitched he allowed only four walks and zero homeruns.
I should probably rank him a bit higher, and because of his stellar season I'm sure others may be tempted to do so, but I don't like to over-hype players who are still at Rookie level ball. Richmond will most likely move up this list in the years to come, but for now this is where he belongs. If he continues to pitch like he did this year, then he may find himself being rapidly promoted through the Minors in 2007 similar to the way Chuck James was in 2005.
13. Anthony Lerew, RHP
Lerew was one of the bigger early season disappointments in the Braves system. After failing to make the team after a terrible Spring Training, Lerew continued to struggle at triple-A, but then recovered after a mid-year demotion to double-A. He finally worked out his mechanics and made it back to the Majors for a brief and unimpressive two-inning stint in September.
He is not a lost cause, as he showed in the second half of his Minor League season, but he will now have to prove and reprove that he is past his struggles from the first part of the year. Lerew may be one of those pitchers who can't seem to find success out of the pen, and is only comfortable in a starting role. Right now, he may be three or four down on the depth chart, so he will need to solve his problems in the pen or risk not making it back to the Majors.
14. Van Pope, 3B
A huge late season surge, especially in the homerun department, has him moving up the radar. He is still a batter that needs a lot more consistency, as he feasts on left-handed pitching (.323/.401/.516), but struggles against right-handers (.234/.330/.388). Still, Myrtle Beach is a tough place to hit for power and Pope performed admirably. With Andy Marte out of the system, and Eric Campbell apparently making a shift to second base, Van Pope finds himself number one on the third base depth chart in the organization with no one else really pushing for his job.
15. Kristopher Medlen, RHP
The Braves thought enough of the young right-hander to put him on the Rome playoff roster. Still a young player, he has already displayed a knack for being a power closer. His 36 strikeouts verses just two walks in 22 relief innings are the types of numbers that will cause him to rise quickly through the system. He was a solid player on both sides of the ball, and the Braves seemed to have chosen correctly in turning him into a pitcher.
16. Beau Jones, LHP
A first-rounder a year ago whose stock dropped a lot in my book this year. He couldn't seem to find any consistent control, walking 83 and surrendering 125 hits in only 110.2 innings pitched. His 18 wild pitches were also indicative of his lack of control. On the positive side he managed to strike out 101 and only give up eight homeruns (out of 125 hits, that's a low HR total). He still has a good arm and a project-able body, and should improve in the years to come.
17. Jairo Cuevas, RHP
He's a big right-handed power starting pitcher, but he doesn't have full control of his pitches yet. Other rankings may place him higher on the prospect chart, but I want to see a little more before he moves up mine.
18. Will Startup, LHP
He made a huge impact in double-A this year after putting up solid numbers in the Sally league last year. Startup is someone who has actually gotten better since being drafted from the University of Georgia in the fifth round last year. He has reduced the walks he allows and increased his strikeouts since college. When promoted to triple-A in the middle of this year he hit a bit of a roadblock while struggling with his control, but he finished strong once he adjusted to the competition. It doesn't hurt that he's a lefty, but after holding lefties to a .094 batting average at Mississippi, he allowed them to hit .313 off him in Richmond.
He will probably receive another year of seasoning at triple-A, but along with Devine and Gunderson could be a mainstay in the Atlanta pen for years to come.
19. Manny Acosta, RHP
He split the season between double-A and triple-A much like Sartup, and while he posted decent ERA's, his WHIP numbers were not that impressive. While walking almost a batter an inning at Mississippi, he cut that only slightly in his move to triple-A. He can strike people out, but he will have to improve on his control to truly be effective. He was a Yankee Minor League castoff whom the Braves have been able to turn around.
He may figure into any potential bullpen scramble in Spring Training, but he most likely needs another year of seasoning in the Minors.
20. Martin Prado, 2B
The Braves system seems to be full of scrappy second basemen, and Prado is the head of the class. He will be in the second base mix if Marcus Giles is traded in the off-season. He will also be given a shot at winning a spot as a backup infielder and has a good chance to unseat Pete Orr.
21. Bryan Pena, C
He still doesn't display a lot of power, but he's a solid contact hitter who has medium power in the gaps. He's also an above average defensive catcher with a good arm.
Unless the Braves sign another Todd Pratt type catcher, or even Todd Pratt himself, then Pena will be the backup to Brian McCann next year. I really like BP as a player, and while I am realistic that he's not that hot of a prospect, I think he can be a solid Major League catcher for many years.
22. Carl Loadenthal, OF
Carl is a scrappy underrated player out of the Marcus Giles mold. He posted all around great numbers at hi-A - combining walks and a hint of power; .323/.425/.427. With 25 steals and almost an equal number of walks to strikeouts, he could become a lead-off hitter out of the Brady Clark mold. He is still a guy that will have to continue to prove himself, and he will also have to improve his defense.
23. Matt Young, OF/2B
A lot like Loadenthal, Young is a gutsy speedster with a good idea of the strike zone as evidenced by 71 walks verses 55 strikeouts.
24. J.C. Holt, 2B
Lots of speed at second base...sounds like a combination the Braves could use.
25. Thomas Hanson, RHP
Another young pitcher, like Jamie Richmond, who kept his WHIP under 1.00 (at 0.99). At 6'6'' he is a tall kid who was a draft and follow from a year ago.