Ten down, fifteen prospects to go as we continue our countdown of out top 25 Braves prospects for 2016. Before we go any further in to the list. Here are a few more interesting tidbits about the players in the top 25:
- 12 of the 25 players have yet to see play above Single-A
- Of the 25 players on the list, 10 are from the southeastern US
- The only letters of the alphabet that fail to appear in a prospect on the list's name are Q and V
Enough of the random facts of interest, lets recap the list that we have so far.
16. Ricardo Sanchez
17. Zach Bird
18. Chris Ellis
19. Christian Pache
20. Derian Cruz
21. Lucas Herbert
22. Dustin Peterson
23. Connor Lien
24. Juan Yepez
25. Ronald Acuna
Its at this point where we start to get to the cream of the crop and ranking decisions are much more difficult. The Braves system as it stands is far deeper than it used to be, so by no means is it a knock on a player to be outside the top ten in this system as there are plenty of players that have a really strong chance at being good major league regulars in this range. Here are the next five players in our countdown....
15.) John Gant
For our number 15 prospect, 2015 was the biggest year of his career. In fact, 2015 may have been more than he could have ever hoped for. His numbers aren't jump off the page good, but he put up solid numbers and peripherals and improved drastically in his abilities. Gant has had good numbers, but was never truly received any fanfare after putting up a 2.89 ERA in 2013 and a 2.56 ERA in 2014. Early in the season ,Gant was pushed up to AAA by the Mets before a rough performance had him knocked down to High A St Lucie. After putting up a 1.79 ERA, he was bumped back up to Binghamton before coming over to the Braves in the trade that sent Kelly Johnson and Juan Uribe to New York. The Savannah native was phenomenal in his first stint with his childhood team, putting up a 1.99 ERA in 7 starts. Excluding his poor first few games with Binghamton, he struck out more than a batter an inning this season and walked under 3 batters per game. Looking forward to 2016, Gant (now a member of the Braves 40 man roster) should start at Mississippi and get bumped up to Gwinnett mid season. If all goes his way he may even push for a September call up to Atlanta.
2015 wasn't really much of a statistical improvement for Gant, and the trade didn't really seem to affect him much. The big change for Gant came in his scouting report. He worked in St Lucie with pitching coach Phil Regan, a move that shifted Gant's career in the right direction. Regan and Gant worked together on a mechanical tweak and soon a man who once pushed his fastball at around 88 mph was topping out at 94 and 95. He's got solid command and control on his fastball and gets good arm side movement with it. His 6'5" frame allows him to generate that velocity with low effort, and for a big guy he controls that body well. He works a solid curveball that can at times flash above average potential, but is inconsistent and tends to get spiked a bit. His money pitch, however, is his changeup. He throws the change in the high 70's and low 80s, and it is a ridiculous vulcan change with a nasty drop and some arm side bite. It is the most advanced changeup of any pitcher in the system, and the pitch is easy plus and potentially plus plus in the future. Gant has a solid all around arsenal and could sneak his way into the back end of the rotation some time in 2017.
14.) Rio Ruiz
At #14 on our list is Rio Ruiz, who needs a good 2016 or risks plunging down the ranks. Acquired in the trade that sent Evan Gattis to the Astros and also brought Mike Foltynewicz over, Ruiz was billed as a possible third baseman of the future for the Braves. Drafted in the 4th round by the Astros, Ruiz formed a very formidable left side of the infield with Carlos Correa in the minors before being traded. He has been projected to have plus power in the past, although that has translated more to the gaps than home runs in the minors. He is very disciplined at the plate, which has translated into a relatively high OBP given his struggles in the batting average department. He has made strides at third base defensively after struggling early on in his minors career. He doesn't have the greatest range, but does have a strong arm so he definitely has the potential to be an average defender at third.
Rio had a tough 2015, although he did show the potential at times that intrigued the Braves. He had one of the weirder slash lines you will see with a .233/.333/.324 with 5 home runs and 46 RBI in 2015, but there were positive signs. He definitely improved defensively at 3rd, maintained his high walk rate, and there was marked improvement in Rio's second half over the first half. His batting average was over 40 points higher in the second half and he hit all five of his homers in the second half as well. While the improvement wasn't so much as to justify moving him up a level, it was enough to not discount him as a prospect completely. In all likelihood, he will start the year at Mississippi again and will be a prime candidate to move up to Gwinnett if he does well as there is a definite lack of position player talent in AAA. Its hard to say how well he would do there as he has usually struggled when he first gets to a level, but I imagine that the earliest he could make it to Atlanta is 2017 unless he turns in to Manny Machado next year.
13.) Braxton Davidson
At 13, we have the top pick of the 2014 draft in Braxton Davidson. Out of high school, Davidson was known to have some of the best raw power of any amateur, but was a huge swing and miss guy. That has carried over into his professional career, as he has struck out over 20% of the time in both seasons and 27.3% of the time in 2015. He balances that with incredible walk rates, 17% for his career. That allowed him to maintain a .381 OBP in 2015 despite some seriously poor stretches of play in which he struggled to make contact. He hit 10 home runs this year, but that is a far cry from his expectations coming out of high school. Still, he was one of the better hitters in the Braves minor league system this year, and showed statistical improvement in every category except strikeouts between 2015 and his time in rookie ball in 2014. Ideally, Davidson should start 2016 in Carolina, and it wouldn't be a surprise for him to spend the entire year there. He will be one of the 5 or so youngest players in the league but should be exciting to watch develop.
Braxton is one of those players that flashes his outstanding talent but has yet to put it together on the stat lines. There are stretches at the plate where he is pretty much unstoppable (.295/.431/.455 in June) and others where he just isn't (.183/.341/.296 in July). The power is real for Davidson. When he makes contact with the ball you know it's him. There are no cheap swings and the ball comes off of his bat harder than anyone I saw in the system this year. He's also one of the most patient players in the minor leagues. It's not even a matter of playing against poor pitching either, he is just very good at working the count and has a very good sense of the strike zone. He doesn't have much speed and never will, and that really limits him defensively. Davidson's bat will have to carry him, as he is still a work in progress in right field and probably is looking at a below average defensive ceiling. He does occasionally struggle to make contact to hittable pitches, but that seems to be more related to a lack of consistency than anything else. Many of his problems will be more due to his approach than anything. He has the power to hit a ball out to any part of the field, but it is still not great to see a player with that profile spraying the ball around and hitting more to the opposite field than to pull.
12.) Mike Soroka
Number 12 on our list is a player that, on draft day, many observers believed to be a reach for the Braves to select 28th overall, Mike Soroka. As it turns out, the gamble is paying off so far for the Braves as Soroka is among the best young arms currently in the farm system. A known commodity in Canadian baseball circles, sports a great 6'5 frame and three potential plus pitches. His fastball and curveball were already advanced when he was drafted, with his fastball hitting the mid 90's and his curve having lots of late action, although he needs to be a bit more deceptive with it as batters are laying off of it when its out of the zone which hurts its strikeout potential. The pitch he has made his biggest strides with is his changeup, which he has stated in interviews has been a priority for him. He has gained command over the pitch and its strong sinking action gives it a chance to be a strong out pitch. He is advanced mentally in terms of his approach to the game and his coaches have raved about his work ethic and coachability.
After the draft, many observers were unsure as to what to think of Soroka given the relative lack of information and hype you generally see around a first round pick. Even the most optimistic of us still had our doubts, but Mike quickly put those doubts to rest in 2015. Between two levels of rookie ball, Soroka put up a 3.18 ERA in 10 games (34 innings of work)while striking out more than a batter an inning and walking a total of 5 batters all year. He wasn't as dominant at Danville as he was in the GCL, but even in that small sample size he still performed extremely well. He only gave up 12 earned runs total despite being fresh out of high school and just turned 18 this past August. He is only pushed out of the top ten by recent, somewhat more proven acquisitions but don't be surprised if Soroka ascends comfortably in to the top ten by year's end. He is likely to spend the year pitching for Rome for what is sure to be a very exciting, young team.
11.) Tyrell Jenkins
Perhaps the most popular player on this list, number 11 is fan favorite Tyrell Jenkins. Jenkins was the first prospect to return from the series of trades made by the front office between 2014 and 2015, and instantly made waves in the Braves system. He put his injury woes behind him and pitched over 100 innings in a season for the first time in his career. He battled arm fatigue late in the season, but that doesn't damper the incredible progress he made. Tyrell started in Mississippi, and after 16 games with a 3.00 ERA and Southern League All Star honors he was promoted to AAA Gwinnett. He immediately made an impact and had a 2.03 ERA through his first 5 starts. His best start came in his 4th with Gwinnett when he went 8 shutout innings and only allowed 2 hits. Still, despite all the positives not all was well for Jenkins. He struck out just 5.7 batters per 9 innings and walked 4 per nine on the season. Jenkins goes into 2016 with an outside shot of making the rotation out of camp, but likely will spend a few months with Gwinnett where he will hopefully earn a call up to Atlanta. If not, a September call up seems almost certain.
From the time he was drafted it has been all about the athleticism and potential for Tyrell. He was a two sport star in high school with a scholarship to play quarterback at Baylor, and that sort of incredible athletic talent shows up quickly on the field. He generates his mid 90's velocity with ease, and despite a difficult wind up with a hitch in his hips before his release he does a fairly good job of staying consistent and in control. Still, his command for all of his pitches is shaky at best. Every fastball he throws has hard arm side bite and sink, and when he is on he can command the pitch very well. His velocity and movement has not translated to many strikeouts yet, but it does lead to a lot of soft ground balls that are easy for his infield to scoop up. He has a below average curveball, but the pitch at times flashes above average potential with a deep, sharp downward break. Again, the issue for him is his control of the pitch and the inconsistent break does not help him. He also mixes in a changeup that can flash fringe average potential but is likely going to be a below average pitch at the major league levels. Even with all of his physical talent, where Tyrell gets the highest praise is with his make up. Obviously, his personable nature jumps off the page, but behind the scenes he is a hard working player who genuinely loves to come to the field and pitch every 5th day. For me, my favorite moment was watching him in a game he wasn't pitching, when he was on the top step supporting his team while they were on defense. He was doing this in the middle of a rainstorm. On the mound he maintains composure even when he struggles, and competes hard and attacks hitters. The biggest problem for Tyrell is still his lack of a true out pitch. He often works ahead of hitters but finds them battling back in counts or forcing high pitch counts because he struggles to put him away. Still, there is a lot of time for him develop and he does have a nice ceiling to look forward to.