It's the All-Star Break, which means it's time for one of Talking Chop's oldest traditions: the Midseason Top 25 Prospects List! As most of you know, the Braves' farm system has weakened over the last few years, mostly due to the graduation of several top prospects, as well as the trading of several others. But, while the system is weaker, there is still no shortage of intriguing and exciting prospects - especially if you like pitching!
One of the greatest things about the merger of Talking Chop and Capitol Avenue Club was the influx of writers who are extremely well plugged into the Braves' minor league system. This year's list is an aggregate of 5 writers' rankings: Andrew, Ben, Ethan, Mark, and myself. All 4 of these guys are extremely knowledgeable about the system, and it has been a pleasure working with them to generate this year's list.
We'll work backwards in releasing the list over the course of the All-Star Break. Today features prospects 16-25. Tuesday, we will publish 11-15. Wednesday, we will publish 6-10. And Thursday will be the big reveal with our top 5 prospects. Hopefully that (and much more content we have coming your way) will make the next 4 days without Braves baseball a little more bearable.
Note: All statistics in bold represent the player's season-long stats to that point, and may have been accumulated across multiple levels. For pitchers, BB is a measure of unintentional walks, not total walks.
#25 | David Hale | Right-Handed Pitcher | Age: 25 | Gwinnett
60.1 IP, 19 BB, 43 K, 1.409 WHIP, 3.28 ERA
David Hale has bounced around from starter to reliever a bunch throughout his minor league career. The 25-year-old has had a solid first season at AAA and is providing the team with at least some depth in case a slew of injuries occur. He does not strike out a ton of batters and he has a history of struggling with his command, but he has thrown strikes at a much better rate this year as he currently has the lowest walk percentage at any level of his career. He does not have a high ceiling at all, but he could eventually be a fifth starter or long reliever if things do not go according to plan with the Braves rotation. If he continues to improve his command, we should see Hale in the majors pretty soon.
- Ben Duronio
#24 | Bryan De La Rosa | Catcher | Age: 19 | Danville
63 PA, 0 HR, 0 SB, 4 BB, 13 K, .286/.339/.321
De La Rosa was the Braves third round pick from last season. He is a very small (5’8") catcher who is still extremely young at just 19-years-old, so while he has not hit much at all in rookie ball last year or this year, he does have a lot of room to grow considering his age. The Boca Raton native is expected to grow into a nice contact-hitting catcher with solid defense. He has hit .286 so far in rookie ball so it is good to see that his bat is starting to come around a bit, despite the fact that he has not hit for any power so far. Be patient with De La Rosa, he will be on these lists for a number of years to come.
#23 | Juan Jaime | Right-Handed Pitcher | Age: 25 | Mississippi
26.0 IP, 17 BB, 45 K, 1.346 WHIP, 3.81 ERA
The story throughout Juan Jaime’s career has been injuries, this season being no different. Jaime missed the entire 2010 and 2011 seasons due to Tommy John surgery, did not start this year until May, and is now back on the disabled list with right shoulder tendinitis. When healthy, there are not many better strikeout artists in the league’s system, but his lack of command is a big concern. Over the past two seasons he has walked 5.8 and 5.9 batters per nine while striking out 12.8 and 15.6 per nine, respectively. He could eventually be a solid bullpen arm, but he needs to be able to stay on the mound and improve his command to do so.
#22 | Robby Hefflinger | Left Fielder | Age: 23 | Mississippi
367 PA, 24 HR, 3 SB, 27 BB, 88 K, .269/.324/.543
At age 23, Hefflinger is on track to being one of the Braves better hitting prospects. He is not a spring chicken, considering the Braves have a few players on their 25-man roster that age or younger, but he has progressed through the system and really hit well at high-A Lynchburg earlier this year. Hefflinger is a real big guy who fits the mold of the current Braves offense, power, patience, and strikeouts. While his 7.2% walk rate at Lynchburg wasn't incredibly impressive, he did hit 21 home runs in just 74 games before receiving his promotion to Mississippi.
#21 | Ian Thomas | Left-Handed Pitcher | Age: 26 | Mississippi
60.1 IP, 23 BB, 83 K, 1.077 WHIP, 2.69 ERA
Thomas has been quite the pleasant surprise this season, starting off the year as a set up man and ending the first half in Mississippi’s rotation. He has not disappointed in his new role either, as he has struck out at least one batter per inning in each of his five starts this year. He is just now getting used to facing lineups multiple times, as he had to stretch himself out over his first few starts but things are certainly looking good for the big lefty.
So where did he come from? He was pitching in the Independent League up until last year when the Braves signed him and sent him to Rome. He pitched last year at age 25, earning himself a 3.15 ERA in 26 games pitched – all out of the bullpen. Look at him as sort of a Gattis on the mound, in that he is a project and maybe he ends up panning out, but he is not necessarily a sure thing given his age and history.
#20 | Matt Lipka | Center Fielder | Age: 21 | Lynchburg
372 PA, 5 HR, 19 SB, 16 BB, 70 K, .281/.323/.403
In his second stop in the Carolina League, the 21-year-old Lipka is showing some improvements in his overall game, specifically in the power department. The center fielder has a career-high 28 extra base hits, including 19 doubles, four triples, and five home runs. These gains in extra base pop have helped bring his ISO to .124 and his weighted on-base average to a healthy .335. While he is hitting for more power, he’s still showing poor plate discipline, walking in only 4.4 percent of his plate appearances. This has also been accompanied by an uptick in his strikeout rate, rising from close to 14 percent the past two seasons to 18 percent this season (not a huge deal, especially considering the uptick in extra base hits). The speedster is still learning the nuances of stealing bases, as his success rate is still hovering around where it has been for the past two seasons (66-68 percent). Lipka has tools; we know that. Now it’s a matter of turning those tools into usable skills as he climbs the ladder. He’s 21 years old in High-A, and while he’s definitely not getting any younger, there’s not exactly a huge rush.
#19 | Aaron Northcraft | Right-Handed Pitcher | Age: 23 | Mississippi
90.2 IP, 35 BB, 76 K, 1.401 WHIP, 4.17 ERA
Statistically, Northcraft’s first go at Double-A has been uninspiring. The 6’4", 230-pound righty is worse than league average in many categories, including ERA (4.30), walk rate (9.4 percent), and hits per nine innings pitched (9.1). Additionally, his strikeout rate has taken quite the hit in his jump from Lynchburg to Mississippi, falling from 24.6 percent to 19 percent, or essentially two fewer batters per nine innings pitched. His splits are also troubling— against lefties, Northcraft is sporting a 0.89 strikeout-to-walk ratio. While his stuff has proven to be fairly hittable, Northcraft is using his effective sinker/slider mix to induce an enormous amount of groundballs, as evidenced by a 3.37 ground ball/fly ball ratio. Northcraft’s ceiling is still as a back-of-the-rotation starter, but the beautiful aspect of his profile is that he could also fit incredibly well in middle relief, given his repertoire and the results therefrom.
#18 | Victor Caratini | Third Baseman | Age: 19 | Danville
86 PA, 0 HR, 0 SB, 13 BB, 16 K, .329/.430/.486
This year’s second-round pick out of Miami-Dade Junior College is putting on a show in his professional debut for Danville. The sweet-swinging catcher/third baseman has shown why the Braves were so high on him in the draft (besides the bat flip), posting a .329/.430/.486 line, including nine doubles and a triple, in 86 plate appearances. In addition, Caratini is showing impressive plate discipline, compiling a 13:16 walk-to-strikeout ratio. The 6’1", 205-pound switch-hitter has legitimate tools at the plate and seeing these tools on display in game action at an early point in his professional career is extremely exciting. If he continues to perform at this level in the Appalachian League, Caratini could spend some time with Rome to finish the summer.
#17 | Josh Elander | Left Fielder | Age: 22 | Lynchburg
363 PA, 12 HR, 7 SB, 37 BB, 70 K, .310/.383/.514
No one in the system deserved a mid-season promotion more than Elander. The 2012 sixth-round pick out of TCU hit .318/.381/.536 in 74 games at Low-A Rome, pounding 22 doubles and 11 home runs along the way, all while moving from catcher to the outfield full-time. The 22-year-old is struggling thus far in Lynchburg, posting a .256/.396/.372 line with only three extra base hits in 53 plate appearances (it’s 13 games; don’t panic). While he is one of the best pure hitting prospects in the system, his status as a corner outfielder puts a ton of pressure on the development of his bat, specifically his over-the-fence power. Eleven home runs in a half of a season isn’t anything to sneeze at, but there are legitimate concerns about his ultimate power upside in the upper levels of the minors. Regardless, he has strength and bat speed to spare, so the power should come if the adjustments are made. Lynchburg should be a good test for the remainder of the season.
#16 | Kyle Kubitza | Third Baseman | Age: 23 | Lynchburg
332 PA, 8 HR, 5 SB, 54 BB, 85 K, .254/.378/.441
In the aggregate, Kubitza’s performance in Lynchburg thus far has been a rousing success. He’s above league average in every triple-slash category, and he’s showing plenty in the way of secondary skills, including a walk rate and isolated power that are 67 percent and 45 percent better than the Carolina League, respectively. In fact, Kubitza is leading the league in free passes with 54. On the other hand, he is still striking out at a very high rate compared to the league and is still making a good amount of miscues at the hot corner. Additionally, his work on the base paths this season has been subpar, swiping only five bags in 13 attempts. While the former third-round pick has borderline five-tool potential, he is still fairly raw in every aspect of the game. With that said, he still has the ceiling of a first-division third baseman with plenty of the tools and skills that teams covet.