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Talking Chop's Top 25 Braves Prospects, No. 1-5

We get down to the cream of the crop in this final installment of our prospect rankings including one newcomer to the organization and we finally decide who we think is the Braves' top prospect.

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Alright, here it is...the final five prospects in our prospect rankings. As per the usual, here is who we have covered thus far...

6.) Mallex Smith

7.) Braxton Davidson

8.) Kolby Allard

9.) Tyrell Jenkins

10.) Rio Ruiz

11.) Manny Banuelos

12.) Ricardo Sanchez

13.) Dustin Peterson

14.) Jason Hursh

15.) Andrew Thurman

16.) Max Povse

17.) Steve Janas

18.) Sean Godfrey

19.) Johan Camargo

20.) Daniel Castro

21.) Mike Soroka

22.) Wes Parsons

23.) Tanner Murphy

24.) Connor Lien

25.) Kyle Kinman

Without further adieu, lets get to the top 5....

No. 5 - Lucas Sims

Coming in at No. 5 on the list is local boy Lucas Sims. Selected with the 21st pick in the 2012 draft, Lucas quickly became one of the Braves' top prospects after a very strong campaign in Rome in 2013 where he had a 2.62 ERA and averaged more than 10 strikeouts per 9 innings. Lucas is a very aggressive pitcher which, at times, has gotten unfavorable results but speaks to his ability to not shy away from the strike zone. His best pitch is his fastball that he easily throws in the mid-90's and has a lot of movement. His curveball is also quite good, although he has struggled to throw it for strikes of late. His changeup needs work, but is still a strong pitch especially when his fastball is on. Lucas was one of the players injured in the bus crash in May where several Carolina Mudcats players were hurt and missed significant amounts out time, although it's unclear as to what injuries he suffered. He recently finished a short rehab stint and returned to the Mudcats rotation.

Its hard to say where Lucas is developmentally right now, as the bus crash really threw everything up in the air. His first start back was a rough one, but that could easily be anything from rust to lingering effects of the injuries he suffered. Here is what we do know though: first is that in order for him to be effective, he is going to have to get back to getting swings and misses. One of the reasons he had to repeat the level at Carolina (other than his age) this year is that his strikeout rate dropped way down to 6.2 K/9 from around 10 K/9 during the earlier parts of this minor league career. His control this year has been off as well, although sample size is a bit of an issue there. There is virtually no chance that Lucas will be ready by next year for the majors even as a reliever, but if he regains his form it isn't crazy to think that he could get some time at AA this year and be in line for a promotion to AAA early next year. Its also unlikely that he would see time in the big leagues in 2017 given the setbacks this year beyond his control. That said, the Braves have moved slowly with Lucas and since he just turned 21 this year, it seems reasonable that they would just give him time at AA and AAA and big ready to go in 2018.

No. 4 - Touki Toussaint

Our No. 4 prospect is possibly the most naturally talented player on this list - RHP Touki Toussaint. The Braves acquired the 2014 1st rounder in the highly acclaimed June trade with the Arizona Diamondbacks. His combination of raw stuff is tantalizing as he has one of the best three pitch mixes in the system. His plus to plus plus fastball has touched 98 on occasion, and has a wicked arm side jump to it. His curveball is the best off speed pitch in the Braves system, as it is a mid 70's 12-6 curve with an absolutely devastating drop. His changeup is very raw, but shows great deception and velocity difference as well as good downward movement. Like most young flamethrowers he has command problems, but his progress to this point has been nothing short of incredible. He gets high marks for his makeup by coaches and fans alike, showing a strong work ethic and tough mentality that should allow him to handle the ups and downs of a professional career.

The Braves and Diamondbacks limited the use of his great curveball this year in an effort to get him to work on his fastball and changeup command. Despite this he has put of very good numbers as a 19 year old in A ball, posting a 3.38 ERA and walking just 4.05 batters per 9 innings (5.65 in 2014). His strikeout numbers have taken a dip from 10 K/9 in 2014 to 6.9 K/9 in 2015, but once he is allowed to throw his curveball those numbers should improve. His combination of three potential plus to plus plus pitches is unmatched in the Braves system. His ceiling is clearly that of a number 1 starter, although he has some improving to do to get there and a fair bit of risk. His projectable 6'3" frame and elite athleticism should allow him to adjust well to the Braves teachings and maintain durability throughout his career. His raw talent is elite, but he has a lot of improving to do before he can be a top tier starter. A lot can go wrong for a young player, but if he can maintain the improvements he has shown in his young career and avoid injuries he should be well on his way to a solid major league career. Realistically the earliest Touki could become a fixture in Atlanta's rotation is 2018, though it will likely be closer to 2020 before he takes his permanent place with the Braves.

To see Talking Chop's scouting report on Touki, click here.

No. 3 - Max Fried

At No. 3 on our list is a pitcher that has not pitched at all in 2015 in LHP Max Fried. This is a fairly aggressive ranking given that Max could very well drop way down on the list depending on how he recovers from Tommy John surgery, but it's also possible he could take over the top spot if he lives up to the promise he showed coming out of high school. Drafted 7th overall in 2012 by the Padres before being acquired in the Justin Upton deal, Max was considered by many outlets to be one of the best left-handed pitching prospects in all of baseball before his injury. He has three strong pitches in his fastball, curve, and changeup although his changeup has lagged behind his other two pitches. The fastball is in the low 90s although he can reach back and hit 95-96 with it but typically just takes a little bit off so he has more control over it. His curveball is a power curve that he throws hard and it has a lot of bite to it. As stated, the changeup is "good enough" but definitely could improve. Overall, he has had a 6-9 record in the minors with a 3.61 ERA in 38 games.

Going forward for Fried, everything is going to come down to how he recovers from injury, both physically and mentally. With a hard curveball being one of his best pitches, will he be able to throw it at all coming off of surgery? Will he be able to throw it without hesitation or reservation in game? Only time will tell the answers to those questions. While it's possible that he won't be the pitcher he was when he returns, there are some positives to not throwing a ton of innings in the minors including lowering the wear and tear on his body other than the elbow. It will be interesting to see if he has added any muscle to his frame when he returns as he was a pretty slender guy early on in his career and it appeared as though he could put on some mass without altering his mechanics too terribly. Other than the injury, Max will need to gain more control over his pitches as he has a 4.1 BB/9 average during his minor league career up until this point, although averaging nearly 8 strikeouts per nine has limited the damage those walks have done. Max has a long way to go given his injury, but if he recovers from his injury and continues to develop, its very possible he could challenge for the top spot in the organization.

No. 2 - Jose Peraza

At No. 2 on our list is Jose Peraza, a player who many folks who place at the top of their prospect lists and it is really hard to fault them. Signing with the Braves in 2010, the young Venezuelan shortstop has turned heads with his top of the scale speed, stellar defense at shortstop (and second base as well), and promising bat. While he was excellent in his first full season in the minors, he truly broke on to the scene in 2014 where he hit .339 with 60 stolen bases, 79 runs scored, an .806 OPS, and all the while only striking out 47 times all season (in 469 ABs). While he is not by any stretch of the imagination a power hitter as he has hit a total of 8 home runs in his minor league career, he does have a strong 6'0, 180 pound frame that allows for good gap-to-gap power and he does run in to one every once in a while. He has a strong enough arm to remain at shortstop, but has been playing extensively at second base the past two seasons as well as some games in center field with defensive wizard Andrelton Simmons manning shortstop in Atlanta for the foreseeable future.

While he isn't the top prospect on this list, he certainly has a strong case for the position and it's not necessarily wrong to consider him as such, but others would argue he needs to be lower due to some holes in his offensive game. While some of his numbers have dropped off a bit this year (.665 OPS is the lowest of his minor league career), some of that can be chalked up to bad luck. A lot of players with a great speed tool generally have a strong BABIP because they can beat grounders, etc and Peraza was no exception with his BABIPs for 2013 and 2014 being .328 and .370 respectively. However, despite having a career high line drive rate and striking out and popping out at a low rate, his BABIP is at a career low .299. Now that being said, it's possible he has lost a step which could account for that, but none of the information available indicates that that is the case and he certainly passes the "eye test" there. His newfound defensive versatility would certainly be a welcome addition to any club in addition to his strong, top of the order skill set. That being said, one thing that has lagged throughout his minor league career is his ability to take a walk. Throughout his career he has relied on his high batting average to prop up his on-base percentage and this year is no different (.281 batting average and .307 OBP). In an ideal world, you would like your leadoff hitter to be on base at a higher clip than that which does limit him a little bit and could even be destined for the No. 2 spot in a lineup where he has played most of the year at Gwinnett. His steals numbers are projecting a little bit down as well (23 in 80 games thus far), but that could easily be a function of the aforementioned bad BABIP luck. Look for Peraza to see time in the big leagues this year, almost definitely as a September call-up and possibly sooner if an injury or severe slump hits the Atlanta middle infield or even the outfield. He will be competing for a job with Atlanta in Spring Training in 2016 and will likely at the very least be on the bench.

No. 1 - Ozhaino Albies

The top prospect in this list is the Braves only Futures Game representative - Ozhaino Albies. Albies has been dominant since signing out of Curacao in 2013 and handling older competition in the lower levels of the minors. He has an incredible feel for the barrel for such a young player and is one of the best pure hitters in the minor leagues, period. He has a line drive approach from both sides of the plate, is willing to bunt for hits, and beats out ground balls. While he will never be a home run hitter due to his lack of size, he has shown good gap power and the ability to produce a high number of triple and doubles. He is one of the fastest players in the Braves system and uses that speed in the field as well as on the bases. His defense is above average to plus, and most scouts feel he has the necessary tools to remain at shortstop permanently. The reports about his arm vary greatly, but many scouts believe he will grow into enough arm strength to remain at shortstop, though he is a bit wild at this point in time.

His minor league numbers have been astonishing at this point in his career. His career stats in 137 career games are .343/.410/.433 with 57 BB to 67 Ks; 47 SB; 22 2B; 11 3B; 1 HR; 96 R, and 57 RBI. This year he leads the South Atlantic in Hits (109) and Batting average (.331). He leads all of full season A ball in hits with an 11 hit margin and places second in average; all of this despite the fact that he has yet to face a single pitcher younger than he is. He is one of the most prodigious talents in the game and could be a fast riser if the Braves choose to put him on the fast track. He hasn't been given an opportunity to prove himself against tough competition, but the numbers speak for themselves and he could be pushing for a promotion soon. His combination of hitting, speed, and defense make him a picturesque mold of a middle infielder. While questions will always persist about his size and durability, most scouts don't believe that will be a problem. Coaches and players praise him for his makeup and work ethic and say he is a rare talent. He could be ready to contribute as soon as 2018, though the middle infield depth in the system may delay his arrival in Atlanta by a few years. The Braves won't be able to hold him down long though, so expect him to be a regular by 2020. If all goes as expected he may be the only player in the system good enough to unseat Andrelton Simmons as the starting shortstop, although a more conservative mind would project him as the future at second base.

To see Talking Chop's scouting report on Ozhaino, click here

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