And we are getting down to the wire with our countdown of our top 25 Braves prospects as we enter the top ten prospects. Before we go any further, here are some more fun facts about our 2016 list of top prospects.
- 11 players who were on our midseason top 25 are no longer in our top 25
- The longest name in the top 25 is 15 letters (first and last combined). The shortest name has 7 letters.
- 11 players in the top 25 were drafted in the 1st Round of the MLB draft (including supplemental rounds)
As per the usual, here are the players that we have ranked up until now
11. Tyrell Jenkins
12. Mike Soroka
13. Braxton Davidson
14. Rio Ruiz
15. John Gant
16. Ricardo Sanchez
17. Zach Bird
18. Chris Ellis
19. Cristian Pache
20. Derian Cruz
21. Lucas Herbert
22. Dustin Peterson
23. Connor Lien
24. Juan Yepez
25. Ronald Acuna
Alright, enough of all of that, here are 6-10 of our top 25 Braves prospects where we see a fair bit of movement from the last list we posted in July.
10.) Touki Toussaint
Beginning our top ten is Touki Toussaint, a player that entered the Braves system as one its top prospects and could very easily be so again once he works out some issues in the lower minors. After being acquired from the Diamondbacks for Phil Gosselin and some money in the form of taking on Bronson Arroyo's contract (thanks again Dave Stewart!), Touki has some of the highest upside in the Braves' farm system, but began his career as a 1st Round pick of the Diamondbacks in 2014 right out of high school. Despite a late start to playing baseball, he was billed as one of the most athletic pitchers in his draft class and his raw stuff is tantalizing. His fastball ranges from 92 to being clocked at 98 mph last year with a lot of movement, but the pitch that garners the most attention is his knockout curve that is already a plus pitch, possibly plus-plus if he can get more control over it. He throws a changeup and at times its a good pitch, but in his zeal to improve it he overthrows it at times which has resulted in some rough outings when batters just sat on the pitch. His command leaves something to be desired, but he is still a very young pitcher and is often absolutely unhittable. If he can get more consistent with his control, he will jump back up our lists in a hurry.
2015 was a strange year for Toussaint. After being traded to the Braves for essentially cash and a marginal utility player, some wondered if the Diamondbacks had cause for souring on Toussaint so early (injury, etc). However, soon after his arrival, it became apparent that Toussaint was still loaded with potential, but had a lot of work to do. In five of his ten starts for the Braves in 2015, he gave up one run or less. However, he also had 3 starts where he gave up 5 or more earned runs. He also walked 33 batters in 48.2 IP for Rome which is certainly not where he wants to be. Reliably throwing strikes with his fastball, especially at the higher end of its range, would go a long way for Touki as it would set up his fledgling changeup and already advanced curve. He did spend the entire season in A ball last year (17 starts overall), but with a 4.83 ERA and an overall FIP north of 5, its hard to call the season promotion worthy. He might start the season in Carolina, although it may be more prudent to start him back in Rome and then line him up for a promotion to Carolina before the All-Star break and finish the season there.
9.) Mallex Smith
At 9 we have the true breakout star of 2015 in Mallex Smith. From the opening of the 2015 season he destroyed AA pitching to a .340/.418/.413 slash line with 23 stolen bases in 57 games. After sporting a .477 OBP in 17 games in June and earning a spot on the Southern League all star team he was promoted to AAA Gwinnett. He initially struggled mightily, but picked it up and ended the season hitting .336/.386/.426 in the final month. He has hit over .300 in his last 2 seasons and stolen a total of 145 bases. Smith was seen as possibly the least impactful of the quartet of young players acquired for Justin Upton, but did more to raise his stock than any of the others. He had some fluky power numbers in the hitter friendly California League last year, but outside of that and AAA this year he has been a very consistent hitter. He has carried a K rate of between 16.6% and 18.2% at each level he has played, a walk rate between 11.3% and 15.3%, and an ISO around .080. He has always carried a high BABIP, but with his speed that should not be at all a surprise. Mallex's strikeout rates are not ideal for a player of his profile, but in getting bumped to AAA he saw a slight decrease to a 14.3% rate. Unfortunately, and perhaps most concerningly, he saw his walk rate dip all the way to 7.8%. Still he managed to put up solid numbers with a .339 OBP and 34 stolen bases in 69 games. 2016 will be a huge season for Mallex, who barring injury will get at least a September call up. If there are any potential trades looming for the Braves he may well make the team out of spring training, but if not I would expect to see him sometime around the middle of the season.
Mallex has unfortunately never had the best of scouting reports. It doesn't take long to see why in person, as he is still a rough player. He shows a lot of stiffness in his swing and seems to hit an inordinate amount of pitches into left field and the left field bleachers. He is also a work in progress in the outfield, though his speed has and will continue to allow him to make up for some of his mistakes. His arm is average at best, and that's upgraded due to his ability to make accurate throws most of the time. Because of these reasons and his lack of power I'm of course hesitant to throw all of my eggs in this basket. There are, however, many examples of players that defy all of the odds and quirks of their game to still become great major league ballplayers (Hunter Pence being an extreme example). One thing that you absolutely cannot deny about Mallex is his speed. He is a true 80 grade runner and that plays up from the left side of the plate. It helps him close on balls in the outfield when he makes mistakes, and from my first viewing of him in Gwinnett to my last he had made obvious strides in his ability to play the outfield. For him to be producing despite being a very raw player is actually a positive sign in my eyes, as once he gets everything fixed he could be looking at drastic improvements. There are some holes to his swing, but he is a fighter at the plate who never takes at bats off. Of all the players I scouted this year he had by far the longest at bats, and often those ended in walks. He is a willing and intelligent bunter as well, and that helps him even more at the plate. There are some holes even to his running game, namely his large turns around bases, but he still has a lot of skill there. On the field, he is smart, hard-working baseball player who is willing to make an adjustment, and off the field he works just as hard and seems to be a great guy in the clubhouse. Count me as one of the bigger fans of the person, but he's a guy I will just have to see perform at the major league level to truly be convinced.
8.) Max Fried
At number 8 on our list is Max Fried, a player that has been pushed down our list (and others) mainly due to inactivity and the Braves continuing to acquire players rather than anything he has done wrong. Acquired in deal that sent Justin Upton to the Padres, Fried did not pitch in 2015 as he recovered from Tommy John surgery. However, before the surgery, he was regarded as one of the best left-handed pitching prospects in baseball due to his advanced feel for pitching and strong three pitch mix. He featured a fastball that routinely hit the low 90s but could go higher. He also had a hard curve, although the effectiveness of that particular pitch is an open question post-surgery. His changeup was average, but he was gaining feel for it pre-injury and will likely be a focus for him in 2016. For his minors career, he sported a 3.61 ERA in 147 IP while striking on 127 Ks and 67 walks.
Its hard to accurately gauge Fried as a prospect right now because we honestly don't know how he will look on the mound coming back. All the reports on his rehab were glowing and he has been very active and open with the Braves community, including doing an AMA over on Reddit that showed he was excited to get 2016 underway and stay healthy. At his best, he could/should average about a strikeout per inning pitched, although he best BB/9 he post in the Padres org was still north of 3. He never finished a full season of A-ball, so he will likely see some time there in 2016. However, given that he is 21 and is likely to be on some sort of innings limit, the Braves may promote him to Carolina quickly (if not start him there altogether) to give all the young arms time in Rome and get him back on track development-wise. As we have said with a several prospects on this list, 2016 will be a big year in terms of ranking Fried going forward. If he bounces right back from Tommy John, the Braves will have one of the best left-handed prospects in baseball that everyone keeps forgetting about a couple years away in the farm system. If not, then he will have to be re-evaluated in the short-term. In short, stay tuned.
7.) Aaron Blair
At number 7 we have the most recent addition to the Braves system in Aaron Blair. Blair had a great 2015, and looks to build on that in 2016 with the highest floor of any of the prospects and a good bit of ceiling still left to reach. He has been nothing but successful since being taken in the first round out of Marshall, and had his best performance of his career with a 2.92 ERA over 2 levels in 2015. In 6 starts in May he put up a stellar 0.89 ERA, and just 3 starts into June he was bumped up to AAA Reno. He made 13 starts in the very hitter friendly Pacific Coast League, and posted a 3.16 ERA. He got better as the year went on in AA, with a 4.86 ERA in June, a 4.19 ERA in July, a 2.40 ERA in August, and a 0.82 ERA in September. Excluding his first start at AAA in which he allowed 8 earned runs, he had a 2.34 ERA with Reno and a 2.53 ERA over 2 levels. He has seen his walk rate fall slightly each year since being drafted, and though he saw a major drop in strikeouts this year his father, Craig, stated in the comment section of a previous article on Aaron, "part of that was the new front office of the Diamondbacks stressing the use(overuse)of the 2-seam fastball." among the players in their system. This is apparent in his ground ball numbers, which jumped from 40.86% of batted ball in 2014 to 52.28% in 2015. In all but 3 of his 26 starts this year Blair went 6 or more innings, and went 5.2IP, 5IP, and 4IP in those other 3. Blair will likely start 2016 in AAA, but has shown that he is ready for the major leagues and should he have an outstanding spring or if another pitcher gets injured or struggles expect to see an early call up for Aaron. He will likely make his debut by the middle of the season, and will definitely see time in Atlanta in 2016 if he can stay healthy.
While none of Blair's pitches really jump out at first glance, he has an excellent feel for all of his pitches. His fastball runs in the low 90's and can touch 95, and he does that with easy velocity from his 6'5" 230lb frame. He attacks the strike zone with the pitch, and is able to generate a lot of ground balls and swings and misses with above average arm side movement and sink. When he needs to, he has shown an ability to really paint the corner on both sides of the plate, a skill that will really help ease his transition to the major leagues. He features a changeup as his main offspeed pitch. The pitch shows plus potential, and he already has great command over the pitch. The arm action on the pitch is great, and he gets solid movement as well. His third pitch is a sometimes inconsistent 12-6 curveball. The development of that pitch will likely tell the tale on whether Blair's future is as a back end starter or a solid #2 or very good #3. The pitch is one that he has already shown improvement on in his professional career, and if he continues to develop could make into an above average pitch. The downward movement on the pitch is very good, and much of the issues I noticed with his inconsistent break could be directly attributable to watching his games with Reno when he often played at higher elevations. Still, he does struggle to control his curveball at this phase in his career and will need to improve on it and feature more prominently to reach his potential. Blair's main skill is his advanced feel for pitching and his confidence in attacking hitters. He doesn't fall behind in counts very often and when he does he battles back and can usually force the hitter to work. He figures to be a pitcher who will be a workhorse of a staff that you can count on to pitch 200+ innings with no problem. He has been a reliable pitcher in the minor leagues and that figures to translate to a solid career in the major leagues.
6.) Austin Riley
At number 6 on our list is a player who was not even on our midseason prospect list in third baseman Austin Riley. Riley is a fascinating example of a player who, at least at first glance, validated the hopes of an organization that took a chance on a guy. Drafted 41st overall, Austin was a bit of an oddity given that many teams were honestly not sure if was going to be a position player or a pitcher (he threw in the 90s in high school). However, the Braves liked his power potential and ability to play third enough to spend a high draft pick on him. So far, that decision is playing dividends. Defensively, Riley is a bit raw (had a couple rough games in rookie ball in the field) but features a very strong arm and soft hands even if his range will never be the best. His lack of speed and range will probably keep the Gold Gloves off his mantle, but he should be an average fielder. At the plate, Austin features a smooth power stroke and he has quick hands, especially for a player his size. He has plus raw power as well as a the ability to draw walks. While he does have some swing and miss in his game, he improved over the course of his first season in that department and should get on-base at a good clip while hitting for respective average and having power to all fields.
Ranking Austin this highly is certainly aggressive, especially given where other publications have put him. However, given the dearth of power in the majors these days in particular at the already thin third base position, players like Austin are a rare commodity. In his first year at the tender age of 18 (60 games total), he hit 12 home runs while slashing .304/.389/.544 with an ISO of .240 over two levels of rookie ball. Whats better is that he actually got better at Danville where he made significant improvements in his K%, batting average, slugging percentage, and on-base percentage. While some of this was due to a jump in his BABIP in Danville, his BABIP in the GCL was bad and he still put up the same power numbers. This was also all from a player who openly admitted he was not used to the pitching velocity that he saw in pro ball. Again, he certainly had a couple rough games defensively, but even those cases the conditions were reportedly horrid and by all accounts he made real strides in the field over the course of those 60 games. Arguably the most exciting prospect in the system, we thoroughly expect Austin to spend the entire season at Rome and, if he performs well there, could be fast tracked to the majors after that.