First off, let me clarify what I consider a prospect. A prospect is someone who will be able to contribute to the Major League club. The more positive contribution a player is expected to make, the better the prospect. The reason I am stating my definition is because I don't want to get too caught up in the numbers of minor league players. There are plenty of guys who hit .300 in the minor leagues, only to fall flat on their face at the major league level. A combination of talent (read ability and tools) and performance should be assessed when deciding which players are prospects.
Second, there are far greater experts than me on the Atlanta Braves and their minor league system. Guys like Bill Shanks and the Baseball America beat reporters are still light years ahead of me.
But, I do have my own feelings about the Braves prospects so I'll try to translate my feelings into rankings here (1-10 first for today):
1. Jarrod Saltalamacchia - C - Superb talent. Spent the early part of 2006 working on his defense and all reports indicated he made great strides. Offense may have suffered as a result. Really turned it on the second half of the season and showed how well he can rake. Has star potential if he can avoid some nagging injuries.
2. Elvis Andrus - SS - Braves scouts and management downplay expectations if only to prevent putting pressure on the kid. But you can't devalue his ability. He has all the skills. Is a natural born baseball player. He's so young that we can't possibly know what to really expect. I can't help but think of how people ripped apart Hanley Ramirez though before he went on to the majors and tore the cover off the ball.
3. Matt Harrison - P - Boy do things drop off after the 1-2 spots. I like Harrison, and he does have good stuff. He's more of a pitcher than a thrower as he won't overpower anyone. Kevin Goldstein (KG) talked about how his fastball may touch 95. That's not the norm though. I'm not exactly sold on him yet, but then again, I wasn't sold on Chuck James last year, and he turned out pretty well.
4. Brandon Jones - OF - I'm a sucker for good athletes. Jones hasn't exactly rocketed through the system, but it's more because of injuries than talent or achievements. Showed a glimpse of his power potential this year...finally. Still needs to improve and will need to make strides sooner than later.
5. Eric Campbell - 2B/3B - Ok, kill me for not loving the guy like others. Generally, if a player is that good, you don't make him move to another position, even if Chipper Jones is ahead of you. Does have more of a second baseman's body though so if he continues to show power, his value is better as a second baseman. People have been critical of Brandon Jones moving slowly through the system. Well Campbell is just 2 years younger, and just completed the 2006 season at Low-A. He'll be tested the next two years, and we should get to see if Eric Campbell is up to the challenge.
6. Joey Devine - P - Rushed to the Show like another 2005 1st round draftee (Boston's Craig Hansen), and suffered nearly the same results. Has a great respect for the game and the opposition. Maybe too much. Needs to learn how to pitch and show the confidence he displayed in college. Could be special, but I'd like to see him overcome the jitters first.
7. Jo-Jo Reyes - P- A real good story. Has seemingly come all the way back from Tommy John surgery and an ACL injury to top the 100 inning mark (140) in a season for the first time in his professional career. That's a good sign for a guy who has had arm trouble in the past.
8. Neftali Feliz - P - I'm not quite as high on him as KG, but I have heard some incredible things about his arm. Then again, we heard incredible things about Brien Taylor's arm and wasn't Mitch Williams' arm pretty remarkable? Still need to see more before moving him up my humble list.
9. Chase Fontaine - SS- Ok, so I'm picking one guy on the basis of statistics...at least in part. Chase is an on-base machine. Knows how to handle the bat. Has good size at 6'2" and 185 lbs which means many of those singles and doubles can turn into home runs as he matures. Reminds me a little of Stephen Drew at the plate. Similar build, left-handed bat.
10. Anthony Lerew - P - I'm not ready to give up on Lerew just yet. Does he need to regain his status among the top tier Braves pitching prospects? Sure. Is he capable of doing just that? Absolutely. Finding his role may be Anthony's toughest obstacle.