For as much as they get knocked for not being able to consistently draft and develop position players, the Braves have an excellent history at identifying and cultivating shortstop talent within the past decade or so. The Braves drafted Yunel Escobar and Andrelton Simmons, as well as signing Rafael Furcal and Elvis Andrus as international free agents. All four were developed in Atlanta's minor league system and have many successful seasons playing shortstop in the bigs.
There's another shortstop in Atlanta's system climbing catching scouts' eyes and climbing up prospect lists, and he may be the next big thing for the Braves' middle infield.
Jose Peraza was signed by the Braves as an international free agent back in 2010, as a 16-year-old kid from Barinas, Venezuela. He played in the Dominican Summer League the following year, then split time in 2012 between the Gulf Coast League and Rookie-level Danville. Last year, he spent the entire season at low-A Rome as a nineteen-year-old.
So what's got everyone so excited about Peraza? Well, the first thing that jumps out when you see him play is his speed. Peraza has arguably the best speed in the Braves system (only Kyle Wren comes close) and uses it to his advantage both on the basepaths and in the field. On the bases, Peraza shows decent instincts and a quick first step; he used them to swipe 64 bags last year with Rome. His SB% was 81% (15 CS) but that could tick up a few notches as he matures and learns to pick his spots better.
In the field, that quick first step and plus speed gives him great range at the shortstop position. His glovework is decent at the moment, but projectable given his young age and raw makeup. His arm is another plus tool, and while he's no Simmons, he can rifle the ball seemingly with ease. His accuracy still needs work, especially on plays where he has to range to field the ball, but that should improve with repetition. His glovework is another improving tool, but with his soft hands, Peraza projects to have an above average glove.
Taking all this as a whole, Peraza projects to be an above-average defender at shortstop. Baring a catastrophe, he should stick and thrive at the position long-term, which does wonders for his prospect value. Above-average defensive shortstops will always find a home on big-league rosters, at worst as a backup infielder. Whether or not he starts will depend on his bat.
In the batter's box, Peraza shows a quick, compact stroke with no wasted motion. He gets his bat through the zone quickly, leading to excellent contact rates. His mechanics are sound overall; I've been impressed with Peraza every time I've seen him. He has a wiry frame (6'0" 165 lbs) but could potentially add some muscle down the line. As it stands now, Peraza has little to no power, but he could develop a little gap power down the line if he puts on weight.
He has a decent and improving eye; he walked in 6.7% of his plate appearances last year after a 5.9% mark at Danville. At the same time, he cut his strikeout rates from 14% in Danville to 12.7% last year with Rome. He will need to continue to refine those numbers going forward.
The worry with Peraza's bat is that he could be an "empty" average guy, but it's too early to tell. The bat is still very raw. It will be very interesting to see how Peraza's bat plays next year, when he gets a presumed promotion to High-A Lynchburg.
The past year: Peraza played 114 games at Low-A Rome, amassing 504 plate appearances. He hit .288/.341/.371 with one ome run, 64 stolen bases, and 15 caught stealings. He walked in 6.7% of his plate appearances and struck out in 12.7%. He posted a wOBA of .331 and a wRC+ of 106.
The year ahead: Peraza should begin the year at High-A Lynchburg where he will continue to refine his glove work and his bat.
In a perfect world: Peraza becomes an everyday starter in the big leagues, playing above-average defense at shortstop while batting at the top of the order.