Over the last two weeks, Talking Chop's prospect team put our heads together to rank the twenty-five best prospects in the Braves minor league system going into the 2014 season. The list is a weighted compilation of the lists of five of our writers: Ben Duronio, Mark Smith, Ethan Purser, Andrew Sisson, and Daniel Simpson.
For the list, eligibility was determined based on the major league at-bats/innings pitched requirements for rookie eligibility. If a player has used up their MLB rookie eliability, they will not be on our list.
All statistics are from the player's full 2013 season for all levels. Level designations are from the level at which the player completed the 2013 season.
Carlos Salazar was the Braves third round pick in the 2013 draft out of Kerman High School in California. As a 19-year-old he only threw 13 innings in the Gulf Coast League last season, backing off his workload to finish out the season. While young, he has a relatively filled out physique. Salazar has unique delivery to the plate – a hoppy/jerky lower half paired with a smooth easy arm action results in a fastball that can sit mid-90’s.
As many young high schoolers who can trot out that type of fastball, the secondary pitches are going to be a work in progress. Salazar is very raw, but a full year in the system should benefit the development of his breaking ball and consistency around the zone.
Wren was one of the more polarizing figures on draft day last season, leading some industry experts to believe he was picked solely due to the fact that he was the general manager’s son. Wren did about everything possible to prove those people wrong in his 50+ games in the minors last season across three different levels.
Wren hit .335/.391/.472 with 35 stolen bases in 53 games played. His best attribute by far is his speed and it allows him to stretch singles into doubles and doubles into triples. Without a ton of pop in his bat, the left-handed outfielder will provide most of his value as a slap hitter who utilizes his speed in a Brett Gardner-esque way.
The Georgia Tech product will start the season at high-A as he played just one game at the level last season, but he has the potential to move up to Mississippi if he continues to provide solid results. He’s already 22 years old so if Wren is going to make an impact he is going to prove his worth in the minors soon. To me, he looks like the type of player who would be a very fine fourth outfielder but could potentially work his way into a platoon and eventually a starting role by backing into playing time as Gardner did with the Yankees.
Cunningham played almost exclusively at AAA Gwinnett last season aside from a few games in Atlanta covering up for injuries. The switch-hitting outfielder did not fare as hoped at Gwinnett last season, posting just a 94 wRC+ and essentially causing the faithful (like me) to abandon hope of him eventually being a major league regular.
Cunningham should find usefulness on a team eventually as a fourth or fifth outfielder, but it is difficult to see that being in Atlanta barring major injuries or serious improvements in his overall game. He has shown a solid ability to control the strike zone but does not hit for enough power or show enough speed to make up for the lack of pop in his bat. His defense is adequate across the outfield but he looks more and more like an exact replacement-level player.
Josh Elander is an interesting case. After being taken by Atlanta in the 6th round of the 2012 draft, Elander had a solid showing in Danville as the team's starting catcher. But after the 2012 season, Atlanta determined Elander would be better served as a left fielder. Needless to say, that placed extra onus on his bat to truly develop. After raking with Rome to start the 2013 campaign, Elander was promoted to Lynchburg for 61 games, and his offense took a step back.
Elander's bat is well-refined for a prospect of his age, but 2014 will be a key year for him. Was the dropoff after his promotion to Lynchburg just a struggle to adjust to superior competition? Or is it indicative of problems and holes within his offensive game? Being a left fielder, if Elander is to have any hope of making the majors, he'll have to prove he can handle more advanced stuff in 2014. I would expect he starts the year with Lynchburg, but early success could get him a ticket to AA Mississippi.
Our own Ethan Purser wrote a more detailed breakdown of Elander at the end of 2013. It's definitely worth a read.
Wes Parsons is a name that is starting to draw some deserved attention from the scouting community. Signed as an undrafted free agent in 2012, the now 21-year-old dominated in A-ball, posting a 101:21 strikeout-to-walk in 109.1 innings last season.
The 6-foot-5 right-hander still appears to have room to fill out at 190 lbs., currently possessing a lanky yet relatively smooth delivery. His above average slider is a nice complement to his sinking fastball that combined to generate a 1.38 GO/AO this past season. With the control part of the equation nailed down, if he can continue to miss bats as he moves up through the system, the pieces are in place for Parsons to excel as a big league starter.