Welcome back to our series where we introduce our top 25 Braves prospects. Before we go any further, here are some fun facts about the players on our list (if nothing else, these could be clues in terms of who is and isn't on our list)
- 6 of the players on our list were international signees
- 21 of the players were not members of the Braves organization at the end of the 2014 season
- The average age of prospects on our list is exactly 20 years old
More fun facts to come, but for now lets get back to what you came here for. Here's a quick recap of our list thus far
21) Lucas Herbert
22) Dustin Peterson
23) Connor Lien
24) Juan Yepez
25) Ronald Acuna
As for prospects 16-20, they are.....
20.) Derian Cruz
Coming in at number 20 on our list is new international signee Derian Cruz. Cruz was the highest paid amongst the Braves' international signees in 2015 with a contract around $2 million. That signing bonus, as it turns out, is a franchise record for the Braves (which will be shattered in 2016 almost assuredly) which tells you how much they covet the young shortstop. Derian features top of the scales speed and is a switch hitter, so his build and skill set remind us a bit of a slightly bigger Ozhaino Albies. He was 16 at the time of his signing, so there are still a lot of unknowns regarding Cruz...especially in regards to his defense and prowess at each side of the plate. However, considering that the Braves wanted him bad enough to trade prospects away for international pool money, its clear that the young man has a lot of potential, especially in the eyes of the organization.
2016 will be a big year for Cruz in terms of evaluating him as a prospect. There is very little information out there about him (and with good reason given his age and that he is an international signee) so, in many respects, his ranking is our best guess and admittedly a conservative one. As with most international signees, the Braves will start Cruz out in rookie league in the GCL. If he performs well there, he will quickly get moved up to Danville to see how he performs against the more advanced rookie leaguers. Something to watch out for in 2016 is that Cruz is likely to not be the only speedster in the GCL for the Braves as Randy Ventura seems poised to make his professional debut as well. A lineup with Ventura, Cruz, and Cristian Pache is going to be a lot of fun to watch.
19.) Cristian Pache
Pache was, along with Derian Cruz, the top international signee of the 2015 period for the Braves. Pache, due to his ceiling and power potential, is getting the edge at 19. The Braves thought enough of Pache to give him $1.4 million and trade away 3 players in order to gain slots to sign he and Cruz. 2016 should be a solid starting point for Pache, who will likely debut as a 17 year old in the Gulf Coast League, where he will be among the youngest and most talented players. There is a lot of development left for Pache's game, so it won't be any surprise to see him struggle at the offset of his career.
Pache is currently a center fielder, which is no surprise with his 6.5 second 60 yard dash time. If he can maintain that speed through maturity he could be a valuable defender up the middle, but he has the power potential to project well in a corner outfield spot should the need arise. He is a natural athlete that has gotten good marks on his abilities in the outfield and on the base paths. The question for Pache will be with his ability to fix a somewhat funky swing. He tends to lunge forward with his upper body and get too far out on his front foot, which will leave him susceptible to better breaking pitches as he moves up the level. To adjust for this he kicks his back foot out on plays, which removes his base and will rob him of power and leave him off balance when he tries to run. No doubt he will be the subject of a lot of hard work in the batting cages to hopefully smooth out the inconsistencies he has at the plate. He has smooth and quick hands and should have no problem turning on pitches or driving them. His power has already begun to show up in games, and he has a frame that should be able to add power and maybe a few inches were he to hit a late growth spurt. He has a high offensive ceiling with his power and it will be a major point of emphasis to improve his batting fundamentals.
18.) Chris Ellis
At #18 on our list is the recently acquired Chris Ellis. Before being traded to the Braves in the Andrelton Simmons trade this past offseason, the righty had been drafted in the 3rd round of the 2014 draft out of Ole Miss after a stellar career there. He only appeared in a handful of games in rookie ball (not unusual for college draftees), but 2015 represented his first full season in pro ball. He has a three-pitch mix with a fastball, curveball, and changeup. His delivery comes over the top, but he also doesn't use his legs much to drive towards the plate. He instead relies on slinging the ball in which has resulted in repeatability and control issues in the past.
Ellis seems like a reliable bet to be an innings-eater in the majors, although his ceiling is probably that of a 4th or 5th starter. Some scouts seem to think that he is destined for the bullpen, as he does have command issues and his curveball is an average offering at best. The bigger problem for Ellis is commanding his fastball, which should sit in the 92-94 mph range with a chance to touch 95 or so. His lack of command was his biggest problem in 2015, as he sported a 4.96 BB/9 once he was promoted to AA (15 game sample size). The upside for Ellis is that he was much more successful in high-A with his control as well as his strikeout numbers, so its possible that given some time to develop that he could reign his pitches in and be a decent major league starter. He will start the year at AA as a non-roster invitee to Spring Training and could be moved quickly to AAA if he does well there.
17.) Zack Bird
At 17, we have another boom or bust player in Zack Bird. Like many on this list, Bird started out 2015 with another team before the Dodgers traded him to the Braves in the Paco Rodriguez trade in late July. Bird's 2015 got off to a rough start, and by the middle of the season he was sitting with a 4.75 ERA in the High A California League. Once he got to the Braves, they promoted him to AA where he got to play in his home town of Jackson. He debuted with 5 ⅔ innings of scoreless pitching and pitched 3 games before being shut down with an injury late in the season. The injury doesn't appear to be serious, and going into 2016 he could be facing a make or break year. As we all know, there is some serious starting pitching talent in the Braves system and if Bird can't find more consistent results he may find himself relegated to the bullpen. There is a lot of potential in his arm, but he will have to prove there is more to him than just something to dream on. Bird should start with Mississippi next year, and it would not be surprising to see him spend the whole year there.
Bird is one of the hardest throwers in the Braves system, and reports from the Dodgers system had him pushing up near 100 mph. He never touched those numbers with the Braves, but throws a 2 seam fastball and a cutter that top out at 94-95 and a 4 Seam fastball he can go a bit higher with. His 2 seam fastball has a nasty arm side bite with sink, and his cutter is equally as effective. He has a big athletic body and can generate good velocity naturally, but seems to give a little bit of extra effort sometimes. His main issue is his consistency with his control. His body is often out of control, and he seems to struggle with his release point. This causes him to miss up in the zone and he gets hit hard. His mixes in 3 off speed pitches, though none are really very effective at this stage. He struggles to command all 3, sometimes leaving his change up in the upper part of the zone and burying his curveball in the dirt. My personal favorite offering is a hard slider that while inconsistent flashes a ton of potential with a sharp break. His curveball lags just behind that, a typical 12-6 bender with good shape and movement on it. His change up is still a work in progress and flashes average potential but is too inconsistent to be useful at This stage. Bird is one of the more raw talents in the system, but has a lot of potential in the rotation if he can rein in his control a bit. If not, he would be very suitable in a late inning bullpen role if he can manage to develop that slider to its fullest.
16.) Ricardo Sanchez
Coming in at #16 on our list is Ricardo Sanchez, who was acquired from the Angels (you may see a pattern of acquisitions from the Angels, Diamondbacks, and Padres on this list just as an FYI) in exchange for Kyle Kubitza. While Kubitza could not manage to hit .200 in 19 games with the Angels (while slashing .271/.357/.433 in AAA), Ricardo continued to try and harness the great promise that he showed in rookie ball as a potential rotation lefty powerhouse. While not a huge guy (and he never will be although he should grow in to his frame a bit), Ricardo's stuff plays bigger with a fastball that can touch 95, a curveball that has the potential to be a very plus pitch, and a changeup that has improved although is not as good as his first two offerings. General game management and control have lagged for Ricardo, but given that he is just 18 years old its not surprising that he has yet to figure everything out. If he can harness his gifts, he could easily begin ascending our (and everyone else's) rankings again and quickly.
2015 was not a great year for Ricardo. A calf strain early in the year robbed him of a month and a half's worth of starts and then he went back on the disabled list in July where he would stay until the end of the year. In 10 starts at Rome, he went 1-6 with a 5.45 ERA. In 39.2 IP, he struck out 31 and walked 21 with the strikeouts being down for him and his walk rate being right in line with his rookie ball numbers. Control is very clearly an issue for Ricardo, although its unclear how much of his struggles this year were due to his injuries. However, what was more alarming is that he had a tough year despite holding opposing batters to a reasonable .286 BABIP. HIs FIP was a half run lower than his ERA though, so perhaps with a larger sample size of games he will begin to show more signs of improvement. Assuming he can work on his control and hold runners better on the basepaths, he could get promoted to Carolina in the middle of next season as he will most assuredly start the season in Rome again.