It's the moment you've all been waiting for...*pauses for drumroll*...Talking Chop's Top Prospect List! As in years past, the list is an amalgamation of our minor league team's individual rankings. In order to qualify for inclusion on the list, the player must meet MLB's requirements for rookie eligibility. That means that players like Todd Cunningham are still eligible, while guys like Arodys Vizcaino are not. As in the past, we will release 5 guys each day, culminating on Friday with our top 5. So, without further ado...
#25 | Johan Camargo | Shortstop | 21 years old
Johan Camargo got a taste of High-A ball in 2014, an impressive feat for the 20-year-old. He played most of the season in Rome where he hit .267/.320/.324, playing 116 games at the shortstop position. Camargo’s stand out tool is his arm, which has a bit of a "wow" factor when you see it in person. However, his slow and heavy feet lead to a lack of range, which could very likely move him off the position as he climbs the ladder. His current offensive profile lacks power, but he controls the bat and the zone well. The lack of speed certainly won’t play in his favor, but there is hope that he can add strength to his young frame.
- Andrew Sisson
#24 | Williams Pérez | Right-Handed Starting Pitcher | 23 years old
Going into last season, if you would’ve told me that Pérez, an unheralded, relatively unknown prospect heading into the season, would’ve turned in the best performance of any pitcher in the upper minors in the Braves’ system, I probably would’ve called you crazy. You would’ve also been right. The soon-to-be 24-year-old Venezuelan anchored Mississippi’s rotation, posting an impressive 2.91 ERA in 25 starts. He didn’t strike out many hitters (94 in 133 innings), but also didn’t walk many batters (39), posted strong ground ball numbers, and kept the ball in the park, which is typically a recipe for success.
Heavy doses of sinkers aren’t the only thing that reminds one of Bartolo Colón while watching Pérez. The righty isn’t quite Adonis, as he isn’t particularly tall and carries plenty of mid-section mass. He gives hitters a unique look, coming from a low three-quarters arm slot, which is especially unexpected considering his heavy usage of the sinker. Pérez added velocity to his sinker last season, working consistently between 90-92 and featuring generous arm-side run with a touch of downward action. His command of the sinker is impressive, as he works in the lowest quadrant of the zone and is able to spot the pitch with ease. Pérez’s next-best pitch is an inconsistent but promising changeup, which hovers around 80 mph and has impressive arm-side fade. Pérez’s slider lags behind the other two offerings, as it generally is a bit loopy and doesn’t feature sharp break or offer much deception to hitters.
Pérez isn’t a flashy prospect or one that garners much buzz, but nonetheless, I wouldn’t be surprised if you were to see him on a big league roster in the coming years. There’s always going to be a place for pitchers who can rack up ground balls and locate their sinkers consistently. His changeup needs a bit of refinement and his slider needs major work, but the tools for a potential back-end starter are certainly there. It appears that Pérez will be a member of Gwinnett’s rotation in the upcoming season, and his focus should be on the improvement of his secondaries.
- Ian Morris
#23 | Todd Cunningham | Center Fielder | 25 years old
It’s hard to believe, but the 2015 season will be Todd Cunningham’s sixth as a member of the Braves’ system. Drafted in the second round back in 2010 out of Jacksonville State, the switch-hitter has steadily improved throughout his time in Atlanta’s system, and even got a cup of coffee in 2013 with the big league team. He spent all of 2014, however, as Gwinnett’s primary center fielder for the second consecutive season, compiling a solid .287/.347/.406 line (109 wRC+), playing respectable defense, and stealing 19 bases in 27 attempts. He also toiled during the winter as an outfielder for Tigres del Licey in the Dominican Winter League. His season was a microcosm of him as a player—it wasn’t flashy, but it was useful.
As you’d probably expect for a player who’ll be 26 in March, Cunningham is what he is physically. He comes in at 6’2" and 200 pounds and has sufficient strength to give him a touch of power, which mainly lends itself to gappers. Cunningham has a knack for making solid contact, utilizing a short, linear swing from both sides of the dish that avails itself to line drives. He doesn’t walk very often, but also posts below-average strikeout numbers. He saw a bit of an uptick in power production in 2014, but he’s more of a gap- to-gap hitter in the long run. Cunningham is an instinctive player, which is why he steals quite a few bases despite having only above-average speed. Defensively, he’s probably best suited as a left fielder due to his below-average arm and not having elite range, but his range is good enough to play a passable center field.
Cunningham’s ultimate Major League role is almost certainly as a bench outfielder, provided that he gets the chance. He’s a bit of a tweener, as he doesn’t fit perfectly as a center fielder defensively, and he doesn’t hit enough to man a corner. This isn’t to say that he couldn’t be a valuable piece off of a Major League bench, however, as there’s always value in switch hitters who have an idea of what they’re doing with the bat. Cunnningham should have every opportunity to fight for a job on the Major League roster in 2015, but there will be lots of competition as far as fourth outfielders go.
- Ian Morris
#22 | Victor Reyes | Left Fielder | 20 years old
Before the infusion of talent this offseason, Victor Reyes was one of Atlanta's premier minor league guys to dream on. Reyes, a rather unheralded international signing, set the Dominican Summer League on fire in 2012, posting a .296 batting average to go along with a .418 on-base percentage. The Braves aggressively pushed Reyes after his 2012 splash, sending him first to the Gulf Coast League and then to Danville during the 2013 season. Though his walks dropped off noticeably (15 in 213 PAs) in 2013, he still hit .342 across the two levels, which was more than enough to earn him a promotion to Rome as a 19 year old.
Playing at Low-A ball as a 19 year old is an accomplishment in and of itself; Reyes was almost 3 years younger than the average Sally League player. But Reyes numbers dipped substantially in his first taste of full season ball; he hit only .259/.309/.298 during the 2014 season. A closer look reveals, however, that Reyes was hitting .308/.358/.357 through his first 50 games, before hitting a paltry .197/.247/.224 over his last 39. Few splits exhibit the rigors of full-season ball so succinctly.
Such a dropoff was predictable though, given Reyes's slight build. My first impression upon seeing Reyes play last year was being blown away by just how skinny he was. Reyes is a beanpole, which no doubt contributed to his late-season swoon. Put simply, his body didn't hold up to the rigors of full-season ball. But with conditioning and training, Reyes should be able to overcome that.
His frame isn't a total negative, however. His excellent bat speed is due in part to frame, and it's what enables Reyes to be such a good line drive hitter. He'll never hit many home runs, though, and his defense is nothing to write home about, which will put even more pressure on his bat to continue playing well as he climbs the ladder. Look for Reyes to rebound this year with the High-A Mudcats.
- Daniel Simpson
#21 | Andrew Thurman | Right-Handed Starting Pitcher | 23 years old
Andrew Thurman was the third name to come over from Houston in the Evan Gattis deal last month. The 23-year-old only pitched in A-Ball last year, but was good for a 3.74 FIP over 115.1 inning pitched. Thurman was selected fortieth overall out of the University of California at Irvine in the 2013 draft. The righty comes through with a three-quarters arm slot, staying closed during his windup down through landing closed with a slight crossfire action. Reports have Thurman touching the mid-90’s with his fastball, with a changeup that is currently ahead of his slider. Thurman should begin the season in the Carolina rotation.
- Andrew Sisson