Alright everybody, we have been hard at work to put together a new top 25 prospect list for you all to enjoy (and probably disagree with). Over the past 16 months or so, the Braves' farm system has undergone a drastic overhaul and even in the past few months we have seen a lot of high end prospects added to the system. While you are welcome to look back at our midseason prospect list from 2015 by clicking here, you will notice a lot of changes from that list. Before we get to our first five prospects, lets go over a few things.
- We have not included guys that have seen significant playing in the majors. This means that we didn't include guys like Manny Banuelos, Hector Olivera, Mike Foltynewicz, etc. There isn't a hard and fast rule for us in terms of the amount of MLB playing time makes you ineligible for the list, we just make a judgment call for better or worse
- This list is not a list of players in order of their readiness for the major leagues. Its a list of who we think will be the best players while trying our best to take in to account risk, reward, ceiling, floor, etc. While we do look at a lot of statistical metrics, ultimately prospect rankings are an imperfect science...but we are happy with the result nonetheless. If you want to see another awesome list, the Talking Chop community has been doing a fantastic job with a community prospect list in the Fanposts section. Please check their hard work out, too.
- Its is absolutely certain that will be wrong about multiple players on this list if not all of them. There will be players that outperform our expectations while others will fall short of them. Such is the life of a minor league writer. PLEASE let us know who you think we missed the boat on or who we are overrating, we want to hear from you. However, we are releasing our list as a series so please wait until the entire list is posted before asking where Mallex Smith, Dansby Swanson, or Kolby Allard are ranked.
- Last time around we had a lot of requests of who almost made the cut on our list (an honorable mentions section of sorts). While we haven't been extending our lists out further than 25, some players that were recently bumped off or warranted heavy consideration from us included Jason Hursh, Isranel Wilson, Randy Ventura, Andrew Thurman, Steve Janas, Rob Whalen, and Jonathan Morales. Thats not a complete list but at least it gives you an idea of who we were thinking about. We may put out an article about those honorable mentions and others, but thats for another day.
- Another big thanks to the entire Talking Chop crew for being a constant source of support for us. There are no finer people to work with then these guys.
So without further delay....here are the first 5 members of our 2016 Braves Prospect List
25.) Ronald Acuna
If any player on this list is going to make a huge jump in their rankings by midseason it is the first, Ronald Acuna. His 2015 season may have only been half a season, but is was quite a sight to behold. The Venezuelan outfielder didn't turn 18 until a week before this Christmas, but already made waves at both stateside rookie ball levels. In 37 games in the Gulf Coast League he hit a respectable .258, but really showed out with his patience. He posted an 11.5% walk rate to bring his OBP to .376, and hit 3 home runs. The Braves bumped Acuna up, and he responded by hitting .290/.388/.464 with a home run in 18 games. He stole 16 of 20 bases over the course of two levels and carried a .977 fielding percentage with 4 assists. His strikeout rate did take a major jump (14.6% to 23.8%) when he was promoted, but with such a small sample size and his age-relative (-3.5 years) it's not much to read into.
Ronald Acuna screams potential. Possibly more so than anybody on this list. There's not much scouting to speak on in terms of his arm strength, but all of his other tools look to range from potentially above average (power) to present plus (speed). The speed of course jumps off of the page early for Acuna, as with 16 stolen bases in 55 games and 4 triples he has plenty of speed to man the center field position. He already plays solid defense and should improve as he rides up the levels. His scouting reports have been mostly positive on his bat. His 17.7% K rate for a 17 year old is pretty impressive, and he has shown great plate discipline in the early going. All of that points to a potential top of the order type guy, and when you add in his power potential you could be looking at a potential middle of the order player in the future. His ceiling remains high, but he has a long way to go to reach it.
24.) Juan Yepez
Young Juan Yepez was an international signee for the Braves out of Venezuela for north of $1 million dollars and the early returns have been pretty good so far. Yepez possesses very real raw power, although it has yet to show itself on the field which isn't that surprising given that he will not turn 18 until this coming February. Yepez was a highly sought after signee in 2014 when he sold himself as a third basemen. Scouts and most observers, however, doubt that he will be able to stick at third and seems to be headed towards a career at first base or left field. His glove is not the selling point on Yepez though, but instead his bat. He has a very quick swing and great control of his body as he swings which lets him hit the ball hard to all fields. He is very young and isn't a finished product by any means, but he is certainly an exciting bat in the Braves system.
Yepez had a very productive first season of pro ball in 2015. He slashed a line of .299/.361/.458 between both levels of rookie ball and impressed scouts with his swing and, for the most part, his approach at the plate. He did struggle a bit more with strikeouts and plate discipline in general when he got promoted to Danville (he had a K% of 24.1% on the season). However, for his first season of pro ball, it was a very promising start for Yepez, especially considering he was 17 for the entire 2015 season. Third base does not appear to be in the cards for Yepez (he played a grand total of 6 games there in 2015 with the rest played at 1B) due to limitations with his range and the presence of Austin Riley at the same level. Yepez is likely to start the 2016 season at Rome on what is now looking like a loaded roster down at Single-A where, barring a catastrophic meltdown or meteoric breakout, the odds are that he will spend the entire season.
23.) Connor Lien
Our 23rd best prospect may be the most interesting case of a boom or bust prospect that we have seen in a few years. Lien had a breakout season hitting .285/.347/.415 with 9 home runs and 34 stolen bases, but struggled to do anything in the Arizona Fall League. In 21 games with Peoria he hit just .169 with 1 home run and carried the highest strikeout rate of any regular in the league. Strikeouts have always been his problem, as he has posted a K Rate over 24% at every level he has played at. He doesn't carry an outstanding walk rate either and could potentially break down at higher levels. The gaudiest stat of all for Lien this year was actually defensive, as he recorded a professional baseball leading 21 outfield assists. He played center field and right field for Carolina and had nearly as many double plays (7) as errors (9).
The one thing that is absolutely certain about Connor Lien is his outstanding defensive abilities. Even if his bat never pans out, his defense may carry him to at least a short stint in the major leagues. He is an elite defender that can play every single position in the outfield, and has the arm to throw out anyone. He gets great jumps on balls and has the closing speed to finish out plays. That speed also helps him on the basepaths, as he is a very good baserunner who can swipe a good share of bases. The questions for Lien will always be with his bat. He has the potential to be above average at all 5 tools, but has a long way to go before he can be a serviceable hitter in the major leagues. He has a long swing that leads to most of those strikeouts he has issues with, and he is so overly aggressive at times he can handicap himself at the plate. The above average power potential is there in his 6'3 frame, but until he can make more consistent contact it will never be more than potential. He is a smart player and high effort player that can hopefully work out his problems as he moves up the ladder. Lien is still young at 21 and extremely athletic so there is no reason he can't make major improvements if he can put in the work.
22.) Dustin Peterson
Dustin Peterson joined the Braves organization along with Max Fried, Mallex Smith, and Jace Peterson in the trade that sent Justin Upton and Aaron Northcraft to the Padres before the 2015 season. While the other players in the trade have gotten more attention in recent months, Dustin Peterson is quietly establishing himself as a player to watch for 2016. Another player the Braves had hoped would stick at third base but will likely not, Dustin's bat and potential power are what will carry him to the majors if he can work some issues out. While he will likely never hit for particularly high average, he has good power to the gaps and should hit his fair share of home runs as well, although its not fair to really expect more than 20-25 at the high end of projections.
2015 was a weird season for Dustin, but perhaps that was not completely unpredictable. His 2015 slash line of .251/.317/.348 is not exactly inspiring, but is the tale of two very different halves. In the first half of the season, Dustin earned an All-Star invite as he hit .283/.355/.422. In the midst of that half, Peterson was a victim of the Carolina Mudcats' bus crash that derailed several prospects' season last year. He did return from that crash and appeared to be in good health before the break. However, after the All-Star break, he hit .229/.292/.297 which was...less than good. The weird part about it is that the exact same thing happened to him in single-A before he joined the Braves (he had an even worse line of .199/.212/.291 in the second half of 2014). Its possible the splits are simply a young player who has yet to build up the endurance necessary to compete at a high level for a full season, but it is certainly worth keeping an eye on. There were some definitely areas of growth for Dustin with a career low K-rate and a relatively low BABIP which implies at least that he was a bit unlucky. He also had a career high walk rate of just below 9%. Expect Dustin to start the 2016 season at Mississippi and, if he can continue his progress with his plate discipline and put together a strong first AND second half, he will start moving back up the rankings. If not, he is certainly at risk of fall off of the list entirely given the depth in the Braves' system and what could be a pattern of inconsistent performance.
21.) Lucas Herbert
At 21 on the list we have the top catcher in the system. Herbert was the 4th player selected by the Braves this year, and was a high school teammate of first round pick Kolby Allard. He had a majorly successful high school career and was a member of Team USA's COPABE Pan American Games championship team in the 18U division. The Braves signed him to an at-slot $1.125 million bonus and were able to get him away from a commitment to UCLA. He went 2-4 with a home run with the GCL Braves, but suffered a premature ending to his season with a torn meniscus in just his 3rd game. Even with this setback there is good reason to believe Herbert will be a solid major league catcher.
Herbert was widely regarded as the best defensive catcher in the 2015 draft, and while names like Jonathan Morales, Tanner Murphy, and the recently acquire Ricardo Rodriguez may soon nip at his heels he is pretty firmly planted at the top of a weak group of catchers. If he recovers properly from what should be a fairly minor injury he looks to be an advanced defender who could fly through the minor leagues even though his bat may take a bit more time to catch up. This is not say that he is a poor hitter, as he has the tools to be a good hitting catcher, but his bat skills lag behind his defense so far. The reports say he could develop average power, but his highly regarded leadership and glove skills will be his ticket to the show.