#10 | Braxton Davidson | Left Fielder | 18 years old
Braxton Davidson was Atlanta's first round selection in the 2014 draft, and a marked departure from previous years' drafting strategy. Instead of grabbing a southern prep arm, Atlanta took Davidson, a high school bat out of Asheville, North Carolina. The pre-draft accolades for Davidson were impressive. Many, including ESPN's Keith Law, said that Davidson had the best in-game power of any bat in the entire draft.
Davidson's first year in the minor leagues was a baptism by fire as he put together a .224/.387/.299 line across 186 PAs. Though his batting average and slugging percentage looks troubling, it is somewhat mitigated by a low BABIP and small sample size. It is very encouraging to see that although Davidson struggled to get hits, his batting eye did not falter, as evidenced by his 31 walks.
Despite the subpar starts, there's no need for concern over Davidson. Law recently proclaimed that he still had the bat of a top 10 first baseman. His defensive shortcomings may eventually necessitate a move back to first base, but for now, the focus should be on Davidson's bat. Davidson still has the highest ceiling of any bat in Atlanta's system, but as a teenager, there's obviously a substantial amount of risk. Look for Davidson to start the year in Danville.
- Daniel Simpson
#9 | Manny Banuelos | Left-Handed Starting Pitcher | 23 years old
Coming over from the Yankees in a trade for David Carpenter and Chasen Shreve, Banuelos is probably the most scrutinized name on our list. ManBan (as he is nicknamed) was once considered a top starting pitching prospect in baseball, but injuries and struggle have taken some of the luster from his star.
Banuelos was once called the best Yankees lefty prospect since Andy Pettitte, and looking at his arsenal, it's easy to see why. His primary offering is a fastball that sits in the low-to-mid 90s, but can touch as high as 96. The fastball also shows impressive tailing actions. His two offspeed pitches are a sharp curveball and a changeup that - when he's on - drops through the zone like a bowling ball.
As is the case with young pitchers with dyanmic stuff, control is the primary concern. But if Banuelos can return from Tommy John surgery and further harness his impressive arsenal, he has all the makings of a #2 starter.
- Daniel Simpson
#8 | Christian Bethancourt | Catcher | 23 years old
Christian Bethancourt is arguably the most enigmatic and frustrating player in Atlanta's farm system. Blessed with incredible tools, he showcases light-tower power in batting practice along with an 80-grade arm behind the dish. But in game, Bethancourt fails to show the technical refinement that will allow him to get the most out of his tools.
At the dish, Bethancourt shortens his swing noticeably, and is prone to flattening it out. That takes away his ability to truly drive the ball and turns him into more of a slap hitter. When he actually does manage to get some loft in his swing, the results can be awe-inspiring (Just check the video below).
Behind the plate, Bethancourt is known far and wide for his incredible arm. And while his arm is a true 80-grade tool, he still remains raw in other aspects of the game. His mechanics are a work in progress, which leads to sloppy receiving skills. He often will stab at balls instead of trying and block them. The best word I can think of to describe Bethancourt behind the dish is gangly; he sometimes looks like a newborn foal taking its first steps. How much of that he is able to overcome with coaching and repetition will determine if he can ever fulfill his ceiling as a Gold Glover behind the plate.
- Daniel Simpson
#7 | Ozhaino Albies | Shortstop | 18 years old
Albies, an 18-year-old native of the island of Curaçao, which has produced a few notable players in the past for the Braves, is one of the youngest players on the list, and for my money, one of the most exciting. The young shorstop made his professional debut in 2014 and absolutely dominated both the Gulf Coast League (19 games, .381/.481/.429) and the Appalachian League (.356/.429/.452). He also stole twenty-two bases while only being caught five times. Did I mention that he was the second-youngest player in the Appalachian League? Yeah, I’d say that 2014 was quite outstanding for Albies.
He’s an intriguing prospect for quite a few reasons, including his diminutive size. Albies is probably the smallest player that I’ve seen live on a baseball field. He’s listed at a lithe 5’9" and 150 pounds, but I’d estimate his true height to be a couple of inches shorter. He’s a plus-plus runner presently with good instincts, and should be another candidate to rack up gaudy steals totals in the minors. Albies, a switch-hitter, has a short, quick stroke with strong plate coverage from the left side, but the swing is a bit longer and more involved from the right side. Another thing that Albies has going for him is his advanced approach at the plate. He’s selective, but not to a fault, and could be a promising top-of- the-order candidate in the future considering his patience and ability to draw free passes. Despite his size, I think that Albies has a very good chance of sticking at shortstop defensively. He has impressive lateral quickness and a stronger-than-anticipated arm, which could end up being sufficient at the highest level for the position, although it isn’t quite there yet.
I anticipate that Albies will begin the 2015 season with his first taste of full-season baseball at Rome, which should present a good challenge for him and give us more ability to judge his ability against more advanced competition. His small size, lack of punch at the plate, and youth are reasons for slight pause, but I think Albies could see his stock surge even further this season if he hits, which is no sure thing. I’m intrigued to see how Albies stands up to the rigors of full-season baseball.
- Ian Morris
#6 | Tyrell Jenkins | Right-Handed Starting Pitcher | 22 years old
Acquired from the St. Louis Cardinals as part of the Jason Heyward trade, Tyrell Jenkins is a big, athletic right-handed pitcher who flashes drool-inducing stuff. Jenkins, a 22-year who was committed to play quarterback for the Baylor Bears coming out of high school, hasn’t seen much of the field lately, pitching only 98.1 innings combined in the past two seasons. Jenkins came back from shoulder surgery in mid-June and produced mixed results in the high-A Florida State League, turning in a solid 3.28 ERA, but posting well below-average strikeout numbers. However, he came on strong pitching in the Arizona Fall League, where he saw his stock rise after flashing stuff and velocity that was consistent with his pre-injury baseline.
If you were to create a starting pitching prospect from scratch, he’d probably look something like Jenkins. He has a big, tall, athletic body and a loose, whippy arm that allows him to generate and maintain plus, mid-90s velocity on his fastball along with excellent plane. While his curveball is inconsistent, reports on his command indicated improving consistency with the pitch as the season progressed, and the pitch does flash tantalizing depth and break with late, deceptive action. His third pitch, a changeup, lags behind his fastball-curve combination, and will need to be improved significantly if he is to stick as a starter at the big league level.
In 2015, the biggest key for Jenkins will simply be staying healthy. Jenkins isn’t as experienced and polished as many pitching prospects around his age simply because he hasn’t been healthy enough to gain in-game experience and work on the development of his command and his secondary pitches. He will, in all likelihood, be a part of an intriguing Mississippi rotation this year that should also feature Lucas Sims and Wes Parsons. He could take a huge step forward this season if his arm holds up and he’s finally able to work on sanding down the rough edges that are still present in his game.