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Talking Chop's Best Tools in the Atlanta Braves' Minor Leagues: Position players

We argue about the minors daily. We thought it would be fun to share a glimpse of that as we discuss the best tools in the Atlanta Braves minor league system

Garrett Spain

Every year Baseball America releases their list of the best tools for each league of affiliated professional baseball. With that outline in mind, we have decided to build a list of the best tools in the Braves minor league system and then argue with each other about them. There are a few rules going into the list:

  1. All players on this list are considered prospects by Talking Chop's admittedly vague standards. Any player that spent significant time with a major league team prior to this year's September 1st call ups is ineligible for this list
  2. All tools are graded on a future value basis. There is a lot of projection between a guy at Rookie Ball and a guy in AAA
  3. There are times when there were disagreements. Both of our reasonings will be explained in as detailed a manner as possible
Tool Garrett Eric
Best Batting Prospect Ozhaino Albies Ozhaino Albies
Best Power Prospect Austin Riley Austin Riley
Best Strike Zone Judgement Mallex Smith Braxton Davidson
Best Baserunner Ozhaino Albies Connor Lien
Fastest Baserunner Mallex Smith Mallex Smith
Best Pitching Prospect Max Fried Kolby Allard
Best Fastball Mauricio Cabrera Lucas Sims
Best Breaking Pitch Touki Toussaint Touki Toussaint
Best Changeup John Gant Stephen Janas
Best Control Seth Webster Seth Webster
Best Reliever Jason Hursh Kyle Kinman
Best Defensive Catcher Lucas Herbert Lucas Herbert
Best Defensive 1B Matt Tellor Matt Tellor
Best Defensive 2B Reed Harper Reed Harper
Best Defensive 3B Rio Ruiz Rio Ruiz
Best Defensive SS Ozhaino Albies Daniel Castro
Best Infield Arm Johan Camargo Austin Riley
Best Defensive Outfielder Connor Lien Connor Lien
Best Outfield Arm Connor Lien Connor Lien
Most Exciting Player Austin Riley Austin Riley
Best Manager Brian Snitker Brian Snitker

We are going to go over our position players first and then go over the pitching tools in a separate article (with this table being a sneak peek as to what you can expect to see in that). With that out of the way, lets get to it.

Best Hitting Prospect

Both: Ozhaino Albies

Garrett Says

Not many 18 year olds have 60 grades thrown on their hit tools, but Albies is in rare air with his bat. He uses all field well from both sides of the plate and has a smooth athletic swing that he does a good job of repeating. He is extremely advanced for his age while having a patient approach that should allow him to be a prototypical leadoff hitter. He is a truly exciting prospect to watch for the next few years

Eric Says

Before last year, few people would have pegged a young, relatively cheap international signee to soar to the top of the organizational prospect rankings, but then again the same was said about Jose Peraza. Ozhaino has done nothing (with the exception of hurting his hand which we will give him a pass on) at the plate to give me even a moment's pause about giving him this title. He isn't a power hitter at all, but he had multiple lengthy hitting streaks in his first season in pro ball, is extremely fast, and already has an understanding of his skill set and the game that is way beyond his age. If Austin Riley replicates his success during a full season, he might be able to overtake Ozhaino....but my money is on Ozzie.

Best Power Prospect

Both: Austin Riley

Garrett Says

There are only a few players in the system that flash the same type of raw power that Riley possesses, but only Riley has flashed it on a consistent and impressive way. Isranel Wilson or Braxton Davidson both have cases for this position, but until Davidson shows his power in games and Isranel shows the ability to drive the ball better the opposite way, Riley will get the nod here.

Eric Says

This isn't a judgment on who would hit the ball the farthest, because I think Braxton Davidson would win that battle as the ball just sounds like its being brutalized when he hits it. However, until he can be more consistent at the plate, I give the nod to Austin Riley. He tore up both levels of rookie ball this year and is the guy I'm most interested in seeing going in to next year. Don't sleep on Isranel Wilson, but he strikes out a LOT and seems like a very streaky hitter at first glance.

Best Strike Zone Judgement

Garrett says Mallex Smith

Clearly Braxton Davidson takes a lot of walks, and has a nice approach at the plate. However, you have to realize that his numbers are inflated by playing at a lower level. The pitchers just aren't as good there. Mallex manages to draw walks despite frequently being attacked in the zone. He knows what to swing at and what not to. A prime example of this is in their strikeouts type. 40% of Braxton's strikeouts are called strike 3's, whereas Mallex only looks at strike 3 go by on 14% of his strikeouts.

Eric says Braxton Davidson

I'm not going to punish Braxton because he plays at a lower level, his slash line is too weird to ignore. With a line of .242/.381/.374, his on-base percentage was among the league leaders for most of the season despite batting below .250. His 84 walks despite struggling at times as a young hitter is eye-opening and the umpiring in the lowering minors is suspect at best, but that could go either way. I love Mallex, but his walk numbers were down in AAA despite having 70 or so more at-bats there this season, and he had 33 walks less than Braxton. Braxton's strikeouts are a concern, but a lot of them are him working deep counts that other hitters would not have been able to get to, so I'm giving him the nod here.

Best Baserunner

Garrett says Ozhaino Albies

Albies isn't the fastest player in the system (though it is close), but uses his speed really well on the bases. He improved his jumps and reads this year to become a more efficient base stealer. He cuts bases really well, and legs put a bunch of triples. He stole nearly 78.3% of his bases this year, more than Lien's 73.3%

Eric says Connor Lien

Mallex deserves love here and honestly he may be the best pick along with Ozhaino, and I have no problem with either of those picks. That said, I am going to go off the rails a bit and go with Connor Lien. Aside from getting 34 steals and his steal/caught stealing ratio being comparable to Ozhaino, he scored 74 runs this year. What got him to that number was his ability to go first to third, score from second, and pick his spots on the basepaths. Many people talk about his elevated BABIP, but that could easily be attributable to developing a quick step and hustling on the basepaths (looking at other speedy batters' lines shows this to at least be probable). Like said, no problem with folks giving love to Mallex or Ozzie in this spot either.

Fastest Baserunner

Both: Mallex Smith

Garrett Says

Not really a tough one here. Absolute burner. Moving on.

Eric Says

The Mallex speed is real. Every team knew that when Mallex was on base that he was looking to take an extra base or two, and he still had an 81.4% success rate at a high volume of attempts in the higher levels of the minors. Some of that is learning his craft on the bases, but a lot of that is that he runs like his hair is on fire.

Best Defensive Catcher

Both: Lucas Herbert

Garrett Says

Herbert was rated as the best defensive catcher in the recent draft and given the overall dearth of talent at catcher, he seems to be the reasonable choice. Tanner Murphy has impressed at times and both Bryan De La Rosa and Jose Briceno are very good at controlling the run game, but Herbert is the one that brings all of those things together with the youth that those 3 do not have

Eric Says

Lucas is basically the only choice in the system for this that we have reliable scouting info on. Herbert was in the top 5 on most teams boards at catcher primarily because of his defense and ability to call a game. I have heard good things about Yelich and Morales but I will reserve judgment. Tanner Murphy has the talent to be at the same level defensively, but so far has yet to display it consistently.

Best Defensive 1B

Both: Matt Tellor

Garrett Says

Tellor is a big bodied first baseman, but moves pretty well around the base. He does a good job of scooping balls in the dirt and is a solid defender on ground balls. He plays the position very well.

Eric Says

Another situation where he is the best by default given that if there is a position that is less deep than catcher, its first base (please keep Freddie Freeman healthy). Matt played a very competent first base for Rome and started to come in to his own at the plate as well towards the end of the year. Most of the other MiLB basically had platoons at first to not expose one guy out in the field too much and to change things up in the DH slot.

Best Defensive 2B

Both: Reed Harper

Garrett Says

There aren't a ton of good true second basemen in the system, but Reed Harper seemed to have the upper hand. He's not the rangiest guy in the world, but is sure handed and will make a play on almost every ball he gets to. Harper had a .988 fielding percentage this year as a second baseman and made some of the best plays of the year.

Eric Says

I almost put Omar Obregon in here, and then I realized that while he does have some physical gifts, he rarely uses them wisely (see: his caught stealing rate and throwing errors). Reed was really a good player who played all over the infield but played second primarily. He has great hands and has good (but not great) range and while he doesn't have the strongest arm, he isn't embarrassing himself out there either. While playing second base he made a total of 4 errors this year which is certainly commendable given the state of some of those minor league fields.

Best Defensive 3B

Both: Rio Ruiz

Garrett Says

Rio Ruiz may have underwhelmed with the bat, but he was a solid defender at the hot corner for Mississippi this year. He has a great arm and good reactions at third base and plays the ball really well. There are a few holes in his game that he is working to improve on, but he should project to be an above average defender in the future.

Eric Says

This is a nod both to Rio's improvement on defense as well as the lack of defensive expertise at third base in the system. Jordan Edgerton is very likely to not stick at third given his deficiencies at the hot corner, Carlos Franco makes the routine plays but can really make a mess of a higher degree of difficulty play, Austin Riley is still learning how to play third base (and had a couple of games that could described as adventurous), and most of the other options fill the position as needed and rotate with other utility types. Rio put in a lot of work to improve defensively and while he did certainly make his fair share of miscues, he has the tools and the skillset to stay at third.

Best Defensive Shortstop

Garrett says Ozhaino Albies

This single choice is enough to discredit the entirety of Eric's choices today. Albies is one of the best defenders in the SAL. He has good instincts, a quick first step, and the elite speed to give him incredible range at shortstop. He has sure hands and is quick to get the ball out of his Glove to make throws. He has the arm to make nearly any throw on the field, though it is a bit inaccurate at this stage. He will do nothing but improve and will soon be considered one of the premier defensive shortstops in baseball.

Eric says Daniel Castro

I'm going with a safe bet with Castro here with the understanding that Ozzie is a very gifted player who will likely blossom in to a great defensive player, but he is absolutely not there yet. He made 17 errors at shortstop and that was with missing significant time with a broken bone in his hand. Castro has been a very steady presence in the infield both at the minor and major league level while being surprisingly positive at the plate. Feel free to link to this when Ozzie starts making top 10 plays lists, because I certainly won't be surprised...but I'm not all the way convinced.

Best Infield Arm

Garrett says Johan Camargo

Riley is a fantastic pick actually, and it's very difficult to argue against a guy who hit 94 in high school. On the other hand, I've seen Camargo make some impressive throws, including an off balance jump throw deep in the hole. He managed to get that ball all the way to the shortstop in the air. He has a really good arm.

Eric says Austin Riley

This is not the same as best defensive infielder or anything, but Austin has a cannon over at third. Before he was drafted, many teams were interested in him because of his 94 mph heater and not in the field. Does he know exactly how to use it at a high level yet? Nope. But reports are that he has played very well for the most part at third (one particularly bad game in the field for both teams made his fielding stats much worse than they actually were) and has taken to coaching well. I'm hopeful he can stick at third and turn in to a solid defender, because right around the time Austin is scheduled to be ready there will likely be an opportunity.

Best Defensive Outfielder

Both: Connor Lien

Garrett Says

This was the easiest decision on the list for me. Most young outfielders have the "needs to work on routes" line in their scouting report, but that is just not the case with Lien. He has plus speed and gets great jumps no matter what position he plays. He takes efficient routes and controls the run game well with his good footwork and arm

Eric Says

Its weird giving a guy 3 of these best tools awards and him not be a top 10 prospect, so that may need to be remedied (although his bat is not a sure thing). Lien can flat out play in the outfield. He has the speed and instincts to get to just about any ball, he plays center and right with regularity, has the best outfield arm in the minors (more on that later), and he makes the plays he is supposed to make. He has a few errors when he was trying to be a hero and make a big play, but that comes with time and experience. At age 21, heading to the AFL, and a prime candidate to start at Mississippi with a change at an early promotion to Gwinnett, Connor has a chance to show whether he can contribute in the majors soon.

Best Outfield Arm

Both: Connor Lien

Garrett Says

This was another easy choice, because his arm is quite simply incredible. Not many players throw out 21 runners in a season, but Lien did just that this year. He does a good job of getting his momentum towards home plate and has a very strong, accurate arm. As long as players keep running on Lien, he will keep on racking up gaudy assist numbers.

Eric Says

21....outfield....assists. Thats more than Jason Heyward has in his last 3 seasons combined (okay, thats just a shameless attempt to poke the "Heyward debate" bear....go about your business). Connor is always looking for an out and more often than not he gets it. Its not just throws to home, no base is a safe haven with a memorable play being against Wilmington where he doubled off a runner at first.

Most Exciting Player

Both: Austin Riley

Garrett Says

Nobody else flashed as much power in as short a period of time as Riley did in his professional debut. He dominated rookie ball in a way not many Braves players have, and looks to take that success into full season ball next year. He brings a dimension to the game no one else in the system has shown, and that is enough to make him a must watch prospect in 2016

Eric Says

Exciting can mean any number of things. Any of Mallex Smith, Ozhaino Albies, Rio Ruiz, Max Fried, or Kolby Allard certainly qualify as exciting. I'm going with the kid who sorta came out of nowhere to get selected 41st overall (despite many teams wanting him later on as a pitcher), overcome a glacially slow start in the GCL, and terrorize both levels of rookie ball. Austin should start next season at Rome and Garrett and I are already trying to figure out how often we can scout up there next spring (Rome is going to be a fun place to be for prospect nuts).

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