I've had the opportunity to attend three of Danville's games this season, and have gotten eyes on almost all of their players. The first game that I attended was back in June against the Johnson City Cardinals, and I also had the opportunity to attend the two final games of their series against the Greenville Astros in mid-July.
Danville is the Braves' rookie-level affiliate in the Appalachian League, which is just a step above complex-level ball. The players at this level are, for the most part, players who are quite unrefined and a long ways away from reaching the Major Leagues, or even the higher levels of the minors. So, just keep in mind that these players could never reach their potential and that their futures can be a long way away. Nonetheless, it's exciting to get a look at some of the youngest talent in the Braves' system.
Here are some notes I've compiled on a select list of Danville's players (some of these players are no longer with the current roster), mostly those who appear to be most likely to reach the Majors or become legitimate prospects.
Alec Grosser: RHSP, 19 years old, 40.1 IP, 2.45 ERA, 38:10 K:BB, Dates Seen: 6/24/14 v. JC, 7/21/14 v. GRN
I've already written a more complete Scouting the System post on Grosser (available here), but I wanted to give an update after watching Grosser pitch against the Greeneville Astros earlier this month (7 IP, 0 R, 3 H, 0 K, 0 BB). Grosser relied heavily on his fastball in this outing, with 71 of his 82 pitches (87%!) of his pitches being heaters. Greeneville's hitters were aggressive early in the count against Grosser, and he was content with using his sinking fastball, which sat in the 89-93 mph range in this outing, to induce oodles of ground balls against the Astros hitters. Grosser had solid command of the pitch, and worked mostly at the bottom of the zone, which is where he will be effective with his two-seamer in inducing ground ball outs. He barely threw his slider (7 pitches) and his changeup (4 pitches), but what I saw out of those secondary offerings was more of the same that I saw earlier this year in Johnson City. The slider was sharp and flashed a two-plane break that was more horizontal than vertical, sitting 80-81 mph. His changeup continued to be raw, as Grosser had problems locating the pitch. He threw a pair of changeups at 83-86 mph up, and buried a couple so short in the dirt that they didn't induce a swing. It wouldn't surprise me to see Grosser promoted to Rome before the season's end, as he isn't facing competition that's challenging him currently in the Appy League. He's definitely one of the system's more intriguing players, and has a very strong argument as being Danville's best prospect, along with Ozhaino Albies.
Andry Ubiera: RHSP, 21 years old, 33.2 IP, 2.14 ERA, 30:14 K:BB, Dates Seen: 7/20/14 v. GRN
Ubiera doesn't have a very big frame, as he's maybe six feet tall, and doesn't have much meat on his bones. His legs are larger and more defined than his upper body, which looks fairly underdeveloped and small. The good thing about this is that he could feasibly add some weight as he continues to develop physically, but he looks like a relief pitcher physically. Another quirk about Ubiera is that he is an exceptionally quick worker on the mound. He may have the quickest pace of any starter that I've seen live this season. Ubiera utilized a four-pitch mix in this start (5 IP, 0 R, H, 3 BB, 5 K), relying mainly on his 91-94 mph fastball. Ubiera actually touched 97 mph in this start, but the vast majority of his pitches sat in the low-to-mid 90s. His fastball has a little bit of run to it, but it wasn't anything drastic. He had problems early locating the pitch, but settled down after the first inning and did a decent job throwing strikes. Ubiera used both a curveball and a slider this outing, with the former coming in at 76-78 mph with unremarkable bite and movement, and the latter flashing more horizontal tilt at 78-82 mph. Neither pitch was very deceptive, and he threw quite a few "cement mixers" that just didn't do much. Ubiera also flashed a changeup at 77-81 mph, which is a nice velocity differential from his fastball. Much like Grosser, however, he didn't have much feel for the pitch. I can't foresee Ubiera as a starting pitching prospect going forward due to his lack of playable secondary offerings, but his fastball velocity makes him a candidate to become a reliever who could ramp up the pitch even harder in shorter stints.
Bradley Roney: RHRP, 21 years old, 13.1 IP, 3.38 ERA, 20:9 K:BB, Dates Seen: 6/24/14 v. JC, 7/21/14 v. GRN
Roney, an eighth-round pick out of the University of Southern Mississippi this year, where he served as the team's closer, flashed electric stuff in my two viewings of him, albeit with some control problems. Roney was a two-way player in college who also manned the hot corner in addition to serving as a reliever, and is making the full-time transition to pitching as a professional. Roney has a rather slight frame and is a reliever all the way with a max-effort delivery, and displayed a mid-90s fastball in his two outings. Roney only flashed one mid-80s changeup for me, and it had arm-side life but is a clear third pitch for him. His out pitch will be a sharp slider with dramatic two-plane break that could be a weapon at the highest level. It sat from 81-84 mph and showed the potential to both miss bats and freeze hitters, especially righties. As is the case with many relief prospects, Roney's command and control need work, as he showed a propensity to have difficulty repeating his mechanics and getting a little wild. It's clear why the Braves selected Roney, however, as he has a very legitimate chance to become a future reliever in the Majors on the strength of his pure stuff. He'll just have to clean up some of the inconsistencies in his delivery and in his command and control profile as he moves up the organizational ladder.
Caleb Dirks (Rome): RHRP, 21 years old, 15.1 IP, 1.76 ERA, 24:5 K:BB, Dates Seen: 6/24/14 v. JC
Dirks, who has since graduated from the Appy League to Rome's bullpen, was a 15th-round pick out of California Baptist University in this year's draft, where he too served as his school's closer. Dirks was ranked as the 447th-best prospect in the draft, so despite his small-school pedigree, he had some attention as an amateur. He'll be a reliever going forward, as he also has a delivery with plenty of effort. There probably isn't much projection for him either, as he's a big player with a filled-out frame. He uses his strong legs well in his delivery to generate momentum towards the plate. For me, Dirks' fastball sat in the low-90s, so part of me wonders if he'll be able to add much to it as he goes forward. His breaking pitch was a bit of a slurvy offering, sitting in the low-80s. Despite its "slurviness," which carries a certain stigma, it was a decent offering that had considerable break and decent depth. I didn't see Dirks throw a changeup in this outing. The stuff from Dirks wasn't quite as exciting as Roney's, but he could be a quick mover through the system, where his mettle will be tested against tougher competition.
Dustin Emmons: RHRP, 22 years old, 5 IP, 0.00 ERA, 4:0 K:BB, Dates Seen: 7/20/14 v. GRN
Emmons is a bit of an enigma, as he went undrafted following his college career, and was signed earlier this month by the Braves out of the Coastal Plain League, which is an independent league. Despite not being drafted, Emmons showed surprising stuff and made me wonder how teams avoided him for forty rounds in the draft last season. Emmons isn't a big guy and has a reliever's body and a delivery that was borderline violent. but also funky and deceptive for hitters. He showcased a fastball that sat from 93-95 mph, but was fairly flat. I was wowed by Emmons' changeup, a pitch that offers a dramatic 13-15 mph difference from his fastball, coming in at 80 mph and showing considerable fade and sink. He also threw a slider in his appearance at 85 mph, and it appears to be a work in progress. Despite Emmons' age and lack of pedigree, keep an eye on him. He could be yet another UDFA signee for the Braves who turns into a surprisingly good prospect.
Tanner Murphy: C, 19 years old, .222/.363/.420, 7 2B, 3 HR, 17:18 K:BB, Dates Seen: 6/24/14 v. JC, 7/21/14 v. GRN
Murphy, the Braves' 4th-round pick out of a Missouri high school in last year's draft, serves as Danville's primary catcher. Murphy is a big guy with a thick, strong frame and big, strong arms and wrists. I wouldn't describe him as "squatty," as he's fairly well-proportioned with a physically mature body. Murphy, a right-handed hitter, shows a patient approach at the plate, which was maybe even patient to a fault at times in my viewings. He has quiet swing mechanics, with almost still hands and a very small stride. Murphy displays solid bat speed and significant raw power, as his frame lends itself to the ability to have some pop in his bat. Murphy roped a long home run in my second viewing of him, as he got his hands around on a fastball and let his raw power do the rest of the work. Behind the plate, he doesn't seem to be the most agile catcher. I didn't get a pop time on him in-game, but he popped 2.05-2.15 seconds in warm-ups. He doesn't seem to have a great defensive skill set, but the obvious caveat applies that I didn't see him air it out in a game. It'll be interesting to see what he does in the future, as the bat is intriguing. I'd like to see some more athleticism to improve his profile as a defender behind the plate, but most catching skills are teachable, and Murphy has plenty of time to learn with players like Evan Gattis, Victor Caratini, and Christian Bethancourt well ahead of him on the organizational totem pole.
Ozhaino Albies: SS, 17 years old, .400/.471/.567, 3 2B, 1 3B, 4/4 SB, 2:4 K:BB, Dates Seen: 7/20/14 and 7/21/14 v. GRN
Albies is an exceptionally young player (he was born in 1997, which makes me feel old and decrepit), even for rookie ball, as he is the second-youngest player in the Appalachian League, older than only the Burlington Royals' Marten Gasparini. Despite his youth, Albies doesn't appear overmatched in the slightest at this level. Albies was signed out of Wilemstad, Curaçao last year, just like Andrelton Simmons, Jair Jurrjens, and Andruw Jones, and has flown up the ladder thus far. The first think that jumps out about Albies when you see him on the field is just how tiny he is. Albies may legitimately be the smallest player I've seen live on a professional field. I'd guess that he's approximately 5'6" or 5'7" and 145 or 150 pounds. So, not only is he exceptionally short, he's also quite lithe. I'm not sure how much more weight his frame could comfortably accommodate, but I could see him clocking in around 5'7" and 165 or 170 when it's all said and done. At the plate, Albies is a switch-hitter, but all of the at-bats I saw from him were as a lefty. His setup and swing are somewhat reminiscent of Jose Peraza's, as he has similar hand placement and a short, quick stroke. His bat speed was impressive, and helped him to shoot line drives and hard grounders around the field. He projects for virtually no power, so he'll have to make a living as a line drive hitter who uses all fields. He's fairly aggressive at the plate, as is par for the course for a player with his approach and offensive profile. Albies is a plus-plus runner presently (I got him at 7.85 on a play from home to first base, and a shade under 4 seconds to first), and he also has good baserunning instincts despite being so young. In the field, Albies is quick with a good first step, and has enough range and lateral quickness to play short. For me, the biggest question mark was Albies' arm, but he displayed an arm that is presently around average, or maybe a tick below, for the position, with the potential to maybe bump the grade up a bit as he gains strength. I'm not sure that he'll ultimately stick as a shortstop, as he may be better suited for the other side of the bag, but it wouldn't surprise me if he were able to do it. Albies is a unique and interesting prospect who will likely start to pop up on prospect lists this off-season. He's a bit of an enigma, but his skill set is undeniable. A player who projects to have the potential to be an above-average or plus defender at an up-the-middle infield position, along with a good hit tool and additional baserunning value, is a worthwhile player.
Jordan Edgerton: 3B, 20 years old (21 on 8/30), .281/.340/.438, 8 2B, 3 HR, 17:14 K:BB, Dates Seen: 7/21/14 v. GRN
I, along with the rest of our prospect team and many of our readers, was interested to see Edgerton after he got off to a torrid start for Danville. Edgerton was selected in the ninth round of the draft out of UNC-Pembroke, a D2 school, and got off to a hot start manning the hot corner. The prospect gods were against me the first two times that I saw Danville play, as Edgerton got both nights off, but I finally had an opportunity to see him in the series finale against Greeneville. Edgerton is a small guy for a corner infielder, with an average frame on a body that appears to be around 5'11" or 6 feet. I came to the park expecting to see a player who would impress me more with the bat than in the field, but I was actually more impressed with Edgerton's defensive play. Edgerton has the requisite arm for a third baseman, and showed good instincts, reaction, and range in the field, making a pair of impressive diving plays. Now, here comes the bad news. I came away unimpressed with Edgerton at the plate for a few reasons. First of all, his frame isn't conducive for power hitting, and he doesn't have enough bat speed or torque to project for much power. His bat speed was below-average, and his swing was a bit hands-y and slow, as he struggled a bit catching up with velocity. He starts off open with his feet from the right side and with his hands back behind his head, and the whole mechanical portion of his swing just takes a while to happen. His approach was patient and advanced for the level, but he simply just doesn't have an impressive swing and the overall package offensively is underwhelming, with a projection that is below-average for both average and power. I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but I just didn't see it with Edgerton. It's a swing that, for lack of a better term, is very college hitter-esque. I don't see Edgerton as more than an organizational player, and don't believe that he has the talent or projection to play at the highest level.
Joseph Daris: CF, 22 years old, .268/.333/.366, 2B, HR, 6/7 SB, 9:1 K:BB, Dates Seen: 7/20/14 v. GRN
Okay, I have to be honest. There isn't a whole lot unique about Daris, the Braves' fourteenth-round pick in this year's draft out of Azusa Pacific University in California. Nonetheless, my curiosity was piqued after hearing an interview with the Braves' farm director, Ronnie Richardson, in which he mentioned that Daris is a player in the system with true 80-grade speed. I was a bit skeptical, to be frank, as 80-speed guys are almost non-existent, but I was proven wrong. Daris is a lefty at the plate, although he throws right-handed. I only saw Daris in one game, but the first thing he did was lead off the game with a successful bunt try. Here's where it gets fun: I got Daris at 3.55 seconds from home plate to first base on the bunt try, which is pretty much 80-grade speed. That's rare. Daris is a small guy, at approximately 5'9" and 160 pounds, and clearly has the range to play center field. I wasn't able to see Daris throw a ball from the outfield, but everything else about his profile suggests that he should be able to stick there. Daris has a short stroke with quiet hands and a direct path to the ball that's conducive to line drives and grounders, which plays into his best asset, his speed. I'm not sure that Daris will ever hit enough to really become a prospect, but I just couldn't do this report without mentioning his incredible speed. It was fun to watch.
Justin Black: OF, 21 years old, .293/.385/.354, 3 2B, 1 3B, 8/11 SB, 36:11 K:BB, Dates Seen: 6/24/14 v. JC, 7/20/14 and 7/21/14 v. GRN
I was interested to see Black, as he was a project pick out of high school in the fourth round back in 2012. He hails from Billings, Montana, and was raw and unrefined, which is understandable considering where he grew up and the competition (or lack thereof) that he faced. Black is a quick-twitch athlete with a strong, compact frame. His listed 6'0" and 195 pound frame seems about accurate. Black has always been described as having raw power, but has yet to hit a professional home run. He's consistently posted poor numbers in complex-level and rookie ball (before this season), a reflection of the rawness of his approach. Despite this, he has remained somewhat interesting due to his physical tools. Black is a very good runner, with times from home to first that ranged from 4.1 to 4.2 seconds in my viewings. He clearly has significant athleticism and strength (he also displayed a strong outfield arm), but his approach and swing at the plate continue to look far behind where they should be. Black is frequently off-balance and off-stride, especially against breaking pitches and off-speed offerings, as he seems like he's jumping out of his stance in looking to hit a fastball. He has strength and good hands at the plate, but he can't seem to make use of these physical gifts, as he doesn't have much of an idea of what he's doing in terms of an approach at the plate. He ends up making lots of non-hard contact, and hasn't really been able to rack up much more than singles and walks this season. It's generally not a good thing when a player is 21 years old and still doesn't have much of a prayer against pitches that aren't fastballs at the plate, especially when they're still stuck in rookie ball, so I just don't think that Black will ever be able to hit enough to become a real prospect.
Fernelys Sánchez: OF, 20 years old, .262/.330/.405, 7 2B, 3B, HR, 5/6 SB, 31:9 K:BB, Dates Seen: 6/24/14 v. JC, 7/20/14 and 7/21/14 v. GRN
Sánchez is similar to Black in more than a few ways. The Dominican-born outfielder, who was drafted in the sixteenth round of the 2012 draft after attending high school in New York City, was another 2012 selection with clear physical gifts and plenty of tools, but tons of rawness offensively. Sánchez suffered a broken leg during his senior year of high school, which hurt his draft stock, but the Braves grabbed him in hopes of leveraging his physical gifts into production on the field, knowing that he would be a project. Sánchez is a switch hitter who throws with his right hand. Like Albies, I was only able to see Sánchez from the left side of the plate. When looking at him, it's bizarre how much Fernelys looks like a slightly smaller version of Jason Heyward. He's a tall, muscular guy with long legs who looks like a man amongst boys on the field. He isn't a burner on the basepaths, and it takes him a while to get accelerated, which makes him a better baserunning when taking multiple bags, which possibly has something to do with his prior leg injury. Sánchez displays a strong arm in the outfield. At the plate, Sánchez struggles due to his overly-aggressive approach and the length of his swing, which tends to get loopy. When he does make contact, however, the ball explodes off of his bat due to his above-average bat speed and strength. He seems to have problems recognizing pitches, and has a weakness against soft stuff. He's impressive when he squares up a fastball, but as pitchers get smarter and more advanced for him, he'll be less likely to be able to do this. Sánchez pretty much ends up in the same boat as Black for this reason, although I do like Sánchez's physical tools a bit more, and he's almost a calendar year younger. Keep an eye on Sánchez, because he could become quite intriguing if he improves his approach at the plate and shortens up and simplifies a bit.
I tried to include the most interesting players and the best prospects that I saw in this report, but feel free to ask me any questions you have about other players (or these players) in the comments.