Its that time of the year as we get to take a midseason look at team prospect rankings. A lot has changed over the course of the season with an abnormally high number of roster changes and promotions from the minors, several trades bringing in new prospects, and that doesn't include the normal surprises, underperformers, and overperformers. Before we get to the list, lets cover a few things.
1.) This list does not include players who have played significant amount of time in the majors (for the most part...we'll get to that later). As a result, players like Mike Foltynewicz, Matt Wisler, Eury Perez, Christian Bethancourt, Joey Terdoslavich, etc are not included. Its admittedly an arbitrary standard, but one we are using as many of those players are essentially a part of an extended bench for the Braves (if not already in the majors right now).
2.) The list is not a list of players in order of when they will be in the majors. It is a list of who we think will be the best players in the majors. Such rankings are not a perfect science, but we came up with a list we are comfortable with.
3.) Its 100% likely that we will be wrong about some of these players, both good and bad and in the present as well as the future. Feel free to let us know who you think we missed, underrated, overrated, or just missed the boat on. We want to hear from you. That being said, please wait until the ENTIRE list is posted before you ask us where Mallex Smith or Jose Peraza is ranked as we are posting 5 prospects at a time to keep the article from being unbearably long.
4.) Big thanks to the whole Talking Chop crew for helping out with this endeavour....you guys are the best.
Without further ado....here is the first installment or Talking Chop's Top 25 Prospect List
No. 25 - Kyle Kinman
At No. 25 we have left handed reliever Kyle Kinman. Since being drafted in the 25th round of last year's draft, the Omaha, Nebraska native has put up stellar numbers in the lower minor leagues. He has a three pitch mix, centered on his 3/4 arm slot fastball. The pitch can touch the mid 90's and has good movement arm side, and usually controls the ball well. He has two off speed pitches - the primary of which is a slider with a hard bite towards a right handed batter. He throws it from a slightly lower arm angle than his fastball, and if he loses his arm slot it tends to get a bit slurvy and easy to hit. His 3rd pitch is a hard breaking curveball that he throws with a more over the top delivery. He has been prone to short bouts of wildness when he can't find his release point, but typically he has good command of his pitches. He has a simple, clean delivery that allows him to throw with good velocity, though he is a max effort pitcher.
His career so far has been defined by his gaudy strikeout number, no doubt helped by being much older than his competition. He has struck out 81 batters in just 62 innings pitched all while maintaining a walk rate below 10 percent. He has been great so far in his career, posting a career 2.03 ERA and lowering it at each level he has progressed to. Due to his age and body he will likely be advanced through the system very quickly. His max effort delivery may lead to durability issues so the Braves will likely want to get use of him on the chance he breaks down. If he can maintain his peripherals as he advances he should he a solid bullpen arm in a couple of years, and he may even push for a bullpen spot next year. He is nothing more than a one to two inning guy, and he could be a solid piece at the back of a bullpen
No. 24 - Connor Lien
At No. 24 is a player who many scouts and fans alike are only recently becoming aware of, 21 year old OF Connor Lien. A 12th round pick in 2012, Lien has taken a while to begin to take advantage of his tools. After struggling in two seasons of rookie ball, Connor started to come on strong with Rome last year as he batted .275 with 5 home runs, 16 stolen bases, and 41 runs scored in 85 games. He's possesses the tools for a strong all-around game as he is fast on the basepaths, has a smooth powerful swing that lets him hit for at least average power if not a little more, and he typically focuses on hitting line drives. He also has the potential to be an excellent defensive outfielder with his speed and strong arm (12 outfield assists in 2015 alone, 28 in his minors career) and he has the ability to play any of the positions in the outfield, although his skill set may mean center field would be an ideal fit assuming he can tone down his tendency to try to make EVERY play which has led to errors in the field on occasion.
When a player comes on strong all of a sudden, it is certainly worth looking at how that came to be. Connor has batted .290 with 5 homers, 21 stolen bases, and striking out over a quarter of the time. Since his strikeout rate is within his career norms, its worth looking in to his BABIP this season which is at a career high of .394. Now, that isn't exactly promising at first glance. However, players with speed have been known to sustain higher than normal BABIPs and Lien's play this year seems to show that he is willing to lean on his speed rather than his power more than he has in the past. He is bunting more and hitting fly balls less while stealing bases at a high clip. Now, this is not an argument as to how a .394 BABIP is sustainable (it isn't), but it could be a sign that Connor is learning what kind of player he is and is playing to his strengths. That said, his strikeout rate is less than inspiring and his walk rates are downright abysmal (has walked a total of 15 times this year for a rate that's half of his 6.4 percent rate for his career which was already poor). It would certainly help if he could shore up those deficiencies, but as it stands he still has the tools necessary to make it to the majors, although it will probably be 2018 before that happens.
No. 23 - Tanner Murphy
Coming in at No. 23 is catcher Tanner Murphy. The 2013 4th round draft pick from Malden High School in Missouri has had a rough start to his minor league career. His has shown some glimpses of the tools that could make him a good player, but has been marred by bad luck and inconsistencies. He has a swing built to generate loft and often leads to a lot of strike outs. He isn't the most natural hitter and will likely be below average in that phase of the game, but should be good enough for a catcher. He has above average raw power despite average size, and his swing is built to tap into that. He will need to hit better to tap into his power, but he has shown the ability to go to all fields with authority. Murphy has plus arm strength, though he occasionally takes too long to get out of his crouch. If he can speed up his release he should be an above average defender. He has shown good receiving skills for a young catcher and enough athleticism to play the position well.
He has had major statistical struggles in his first full season, but that is a bit misleading as he has a .248 BABIP. There is an limit to his bad luck however and he has seen regression in strikeout rate, walk rate, and isolated power. He needs to make major steps forward before he can be considered a top prospect, but he has the tools to make it work at the major league level. He is facing a steep learning curve and has to perform well in the last part of this season or risk repeating a level. He is a long way from reaching Atlanta, an aggressive bet would be 2019, though it would be safer to guess it will be 2020 or 2021 before he's ready to take over full time.
No. 22 - Wes Parsons
Coming in at No. 22 is RHP Wes Parsons, who has had an interesting journey on his way being a professional baseball player. After going undrafted, the Braves discovered Parsons dominating a summer wood bat circuit league and signed him in 2012. Since then, Parsons has done nothing but improve in the minors (with the usual bumps along the way) and has a chance of developing in to a reliable, if somewhat unremarkable, MLB starter. Sporting a 6'5, 190 pound frame, he mostly utilizes his fastball that has strong downward action to consistently get ground ball outs while also throwing an average slider and changeup to keep hitters off balance and get strikeouts (although neither pitch is a consistent "swing and miss" pitch). While he certainly isn't a high ceiling pitcher, he gets the most out of the tools he has and generally keeps himself out of trouble.
Parsons was already a tough guy to figure because given his somewhat low ceiling as a 4th or 5th starter, those sorts of players don't always progress through the minors quickly. Compounding that is that he only recently started pitching this year due to an unknown injury that placed him on the disabled list before the season started. He has made a few rehab starts and has looked good, so it will be interesting to see if the Braves have him spend some more time in high-A (where he posted a 5.00 ERA last year) or they move him up to Mississippi. Don't expect to see him in the big leagues any time soon as he is not a fast tracked prospect by any stretch, but its not crazy to think that he could start getting some looks as early as midseason 2017 if he continues to develop his off speed offerings and continue to find success in the minors.
No. 21 - Mike Soroka
At No. 21 on our list is the 28th overall pick in the the 2015 Draft, Canadian RHP Mike Soroka. When Soroka was drafted by the Braves late in the first round, some considered it a slight reach while most of the general public was not familiar with him at all. However, he had become well-known in Canadian prep circles for his very projectable 6'5, 190 pound frame, live fastball, and an excellent curveball. His fastball is already in the lower to mid 90's, has a ton of movement, and is in contention for his best pitch, with the other being his curveball. His curve has lots of late break, but he does need to become a little more consistent with it before it becomes a reliable strikeout pitch. He also has a changeup that has a strong sinking action and he throws it in any count, but at times it hangs in the zone a little bit too long at this point in its development. He has a relatively smooth and simple delivery, although some scouts have worried about his across-the-body finish in his delivery that has led to arm troubles for some pitchers in the past. He will turn 18 in August and with his existing skill set and projectability, Soroka is among the more intriguing arms in the Braves' minor league system.
As we will see with Kolby Allard later, ranking and projecting guys right out of high school is extremely difficult. You never know how these young guys will react to having a lot of money and being under the spotlight, but here is what we know about Soroka thus far. All of the scouting information we have thus far on him has turned out to be true as are the reports about his competitiveness. A hockey player in his youth, he has a strong urge to compete and comes across as a very competitive as well as cerebral athlete. He has made two appearances with the GCL Braves thus far where he has given up a total of one hit, no runs, no walks, and 3 Ks in 3 innings of work. Not exactly a huge sample size, but its certainly a good start. Its possible by season's end that Soroka could climb this list if he shows the potential he has, but its also possible he could fall off of it completely. Only time will tell with Soroka, so he is certainly one to watch going forward.