#5 | Rio Ruiz | Third Baseman | 20 years old
Rio Ruiz was the second of three prospects acquired from the Astros in the Evan Gattis swap. Tabbed as the Astros #9 prospect after the 2013 season, Ruiz was made expendable in the Astros' eyes after they acquired third baseman Colin Moran from the Marlins. Houston's loss is Atlanta's gain. Ruiz was acquired in the 4th round of the 2012 draft and signed for an overslot bonus after he fell from first-round consideration due to a blood clot. Since signing, he has raked his way through the Astros' lower minors, actually getting better at every stop. This culminated in a .293/.387/.436 line in High-A Lancaster of the California League.
What does Ruiz offer? The first thing you notice is that he has very quick hands in the batter's box. This leads to above-average bat speed, which allows him to keep his hands back, giving him more time to identify and barrel up pitches. His swing isn't without hiccups, but for the most part it is easy and repeatable, leading me to believe that he'll be at least an average big league hitter. He has solid raw power that he should continue to come into as his body fully matures. Some scouts see twenty homer pop in the bat. I see a guy who probably hits 10-15 homers a year while putting a bunch of balls in the gap with his line drive swing.
As for his defense, it is still being polished. He's not particularly quick, and he has heavy feet, but his athleticism should allow his range to play at the hot corner, even with below-average speed. His mechanics are still being refined, but the tools are there for an average defender. His arm also looks to be a 60-grade tool, which is more than enough to play at third. Look for Ruiz to start the year with Mississippi, ostensibly playing and batting third.
- Daniel Simpson
#4 | Max Fried | Left-Handed Starting Pitcher | 21 years old
Max Fried was the centerpiece that came over in the Justin Upton deal, reflected by his current ranking in the system. The 6’4" lefty was taken seventh overall in the 2012 draft, but was recently shutdown after undergoing Tommy John surgery this past August, so we likely won’t see much of him this season. That being said, there is a lot to love as he was widely regarded as a top-50 prospect coming into last season. Reports and video show a low-to-mid 90’s fastball with a plus curveball as his go-to secondary offering. Heading into 2016, he will only have around 150 professional innings under his belt, which can be a positive or negative depending on your point of view. There is the obvious risk for any player coming off of Tommy John, however, a ceiling of a #2 starter gets him the nod as a top 5 player in the system.
- Andrew Sisson
#3 | Jose Peraza | Second Baseman | 20 years old
Atlanta’s top position player prospect occupies the number three spot on our list. Peraza, the Venezuela native who will turn 21 at the end of April, had an outstanding 2014, finishing the year at double-A Missisippi after finding the Carolina League didn’t offer him much of a challenge, despite being quite young for both levels. Combined between his two stops, Peraza slashed .339/.364/.441, stole sixty bases in seventy-five attempts, and improved his prospect stock despite being moved off of shortstop to second base. Peraza transitioned just fine defensively, drawing praise for his soft hands and plus range at second.
It’s easy to see why Peraza excites people. He has 70-grade speed, which allows him to take the extra base and fly around the basepaths, a preternatural ability to make contact paired with a short, quick swing, and he projects as an asset defensively up the middle with strong range. At best, he has the ability to become a top-of-the-lineup stalwart for the Braves who does a good job setting the table and stealing his fair share of bases. That isn’t to say that there aren’t legitimate question marks when it comes to Peraza, however. His approach is, to put it mildly, aggressive, meaning that he’s prone to chasing bad pitches and that he’s pretty much allergic to taking a free pass. There also isn’t much power in his game, outside of the occasional gap shot, and he could easily become an "empty average" type at the highest level, especially if he isn’t able to noticeably improve his approach and patience at the plate, which would severely limit his walk totals.
Peraza should begin the 2015 season with Gwinnett, but could have a chance to get a taste of the big leagues this year if the organization deems that he’s ready. A 2015 debut in Atlanta is probably the expectation for Peraza at this point, be it sooner in the season or possibly in September. It’ll largely depend on how players such as Alberto Callaspo and Jace Peterson perform, but I’d imagine that the Braves are close to being comfortable with giving Peraza a shot in the Majors.
- Ian Morris
#2 | Lucas Sims | Right-Handed Starting Pitcher | 20 years old
Lucas Sims fell to the number two spot on the list this year in part due to the addition of Mike Foltynewicz and part due to his struggles during the 2014 season. Only in his age 20 season, Sims was a workhorse, throwing 156.2 innings while posting a 4.19 ERA/4.56 FIP. He worked through adjustments in his mechanics throughout the season, but inconsistencies in his delivery plagued him from dialing in the command with his fastball, thus allowing his plus curveball to be true swing and miss pitch. The righty did seem to find comfort with his changeup, throwing it with equal frequency to his curveball in my multiple viewings, showing the potential of it developing into a plus pitch. Sims positive attitude towards the season should leave 2014 as a bump in the road, rather than a step backwards. He still projects to land somewhere between a mid and back end rotation starter; 2015 will be a good test against Double-A competition.
- Andrew Sisson
#1 | Mike Foltynewicz | Right-Handed Starting Pitcher | 23 years old
Mike Foltynewicz (Folty, for short) was the crown jewel of the Evan Gattis trade. Foltynewicz was the #4 prospect in Houston's system last year, behind only #1 overall selection Carlos Correa, George Springer, and #1 overall selection Mark Appel. That he goes from 4th in that system to 1st in ours is a testament to both Houston's minor league depth and Atlanta's lack thereof.
Foltynewicz has some of the best pure velocity in the minor leagues, with a fastball that sits in the mid to upper 90s and can routinely touch triple digits. Depending on who you talk to, Folty's heater grades out to between 70 and 80 on the scouting scale. His heater is vulnerable to straightening out when he throws it up in the zone, but when he can locate it down in the zone, he generates some decent sink. The sink is especially noticeable when he takes a little bit off (93-95 mph).
Foltynewicz's primary offspeed pitch is a slurvy curveball that has generated a wide array of response. ESPN's Keith Law said the pitch could be an 80-grade offering, while others believe it will never be anything more than an average pitch. It's interesting to note that Folty refers to his pitch as a "spike curve", which is the same breaking ball that Craig Kimbrel throws and subsequently helped Alex Wood to throw. Maybe Atlanta's franchise closer will likewise be able to help Folty with his. His third offering is his changeup, and it is improving but still a work-in-progress. As with most young hurlers, the development of his changeup will be key to his development as a starter.
The biggest concern with Folty is his command, which is very much still being refined. He disclosed that he notices better results with his command when he dials down his velocity a little bit, so it will be interesting to see if he can improve his command in 2015, and whether or not it will come at the expense of his velocity. Should he refine his command, Folty could be a frontline starter for Atlanta for years to come. For this season, the Braves seem intent on giving him the opportunity to win the 5th starter's job, though it wouldn't surprise me if he starts in Gwinnett to stave off starting his arbitration clock.
- Daniel Simpson
(Authors' note: The top 3 on our lists were all very close. You can make a reasonable argument for them in any order, and we wouldn't quibble with it too much.)
Interested to see the breakdown of each author's top 25? Check it out below!