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Talking Chop's 2016 Pre-season Braves Prospect Rankings: 1-5

We look at the cream of the crop in this installment of our prospect rankings as we reveal our top 5 Braves minor league prospects.

Here we are, at the end of our top 25 Braves prospect countdown for 2016. It goes without saying that our list (compared to our 2015 midseason list), as well as the Braves' farm system, have undergone a lot of changes just in the last 6 months or so. That being said, as we get to take longer and better looks at a lot of these new and/or younger players this season, we fully expect to have to make even more changes to our rankings as players break out, suffer setbacks in their developments, etc. It is the nature of the beast, but hopefully this list at least provides useful information about one of the better farm systems in baseball as well as to Garrett and I's thought process in regards to prospects. As always, we thoroughly appreciate all of the love and comments we have been getting on these articles and we thoroughly enjoy hearing everyone's opinions about what they would change or not change. No fun facts about the list for today as we have teased you long enough. Before we get to the list, this is what it looks like so far. You can look at the write-ups and lists from the last few days by going to the the story stream right here

6. Austin Riley

7. Aaron Blair

8. Max Fried

9. Mallex Smith

10. Touki Toussaint

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

Sadly, all good things must come to an end, so without delay here are our top 5 Braves minor league prospects for 2016.

5.) Lucas Sims

In the middle of the season in 2015, it was pretty controversial when we ranked Sims in this same 5th spot on the list. He responded by playing perhaps the best baseball of his career in the second half, with a 3.21 ERA as a 21 year old in AA including a string of 5 starts to end the season in which he posted a 0.88 ERA with 33K in 30.2 IP. He carried that performance over to the AFL, where he was pretty ridiculous. He posted a 2.12 ERA in 17 innings, struck out 17, walked just 3, and started the All Star Game despite being one of the youngest players in the league. After allowing 3 runs in his first game he allowed just 2 more in his next 15 innings pitched, with  a string of three consecutive shutout starts totalling 9 innings pitched, with 11 strikeouts, 1 walk, and 3 hits allowed. Reports had him up to 98 mph with his fastball and while he will likely lose velocity once he starts making longer appearances, that is quite impressive especially when combined with the great movement he usually gets on his pitches. He was victimized by the Carolina Mudcats bus crash, which really set his season out of whack after he had made a couple of good starts after a poor beginning to the season. He missed a month and a half of the season, and was promoted just 3 starts after his return. It has been hard to make heads or tails of Sims numbers, as he saw a huge drop off in strikeouts last season but was able to reclaim those numbers this year striking out more than a batter an inning. Unfortunately, this coincided with a 13.8% walk rate, well above his career rate of 9.8% (inflated even more due to this year's poor performance). He has had a uniquely up and down career, but is taking a hot streak into spring training this year and the beginning of 2016. He should start out in Mississippi, and the Braves will likely try to be patient with him but if he performs anything like he did towards the end of the season he may force their hand and get an early promotion.

Sims has been praised since the day he was drafted for his smooth and athletic delivery. It's simple and easy to repeat, but Sims still has a tendency to go through inconsistent stretches where he can't repeat it. There are times when he can't find his landing or release point and struggles to keep control. Typically this becomes an issue because he tends to miss towards the middle of the plate rather than out of the zone. Still, on many days he does a fantastic job of locating his fastball, and can really go anywhere in the zone with it. He works the fastball 92-94 and tops out at 96, and could add a tick or two in the future as he matures. His biggest skill with the fastball is the sink and arm side movement he gets with it, and it allows him to generate a lot of swings and misses. His curveball has the makings of an easy plus pitch, and while it may not quite be on the level of a Touki Toussaint curve, it doesn't lag far behind when he works it properly. He works the curve in the upper 70's and gets sharp downward break on it most of the time, though when it is off it tends to lose its plane and get a bit sweepy. Personally, I feel his curveball is his best pitch on most days, though a fastball with that kind of movement is a valuable weapon. Lastly, he works in a changeup that still lags a good bit behind the others. He struggles to get consistent control with the pitch, but has good arm action and shows good potential with the pitch. It's has the makings of a solid average pitch that is potentially even a 55, though I would be cautious grading it that highly due to the rawness of it. Sims is one of the best competitors in the system and really works hard on and off the mound to do his best. This competitiveness can get the best of him sometimes, as he still struggles to control his emotions when he struggles and that can lead to severe control problems. Still, every time I have watched him pitch he has been able to eventually channel that energy in a productive way, and when can learn to harness his mental game he will turn into a big game pitcher that can turn it on when his team needs him most. He has everything you look for in a young rotation piece, he has just not been able to find the consistency necessary to make him one of the best prospects in the game. He still has a long time to go, and has already begun to show the needed improvements in the game to be a solid #2 type starter.

Talking Chop's Scouting Report on Lucas Sims

4.) Kolby Allard

At number 4 on our list is the Braves' first selection in the 2015 draft in lefty Kolby Allard. Going in to the spring before the draft, Kolby had what many considered to be the best breaking pitch in the draft and was among the best prep pitchers available. However, a back injury (more on that later) forced him to miss spring ball and as a result many thought that he would not be drafted high enough to get him to not honor his UCLA commitment. The Braves took a chance on him and may have gotten the steal of the draft as a result. Kolby did sign with the Braves after being selected 14th overall, although he was a late signing which resulted in Braves fans having to wait a while to see him play in 2015. Kolby's best pitch is his curveball which ranked among the best of his draft class that is tight and he has advanced feel for. His fastball is also a plus pitch that routinely hits the mid-90s even as an 18 year old, although there may not be much projection velocity-wise given his smaller frame. He also has an average changeup which is not as advanced as the other two pitches (which is common among young pitchers), but could set up his other pitches nicely with some work. After the GCL season, Kolby underwent was has been called a minor back surgical procedure and stated that he would be ready for spring training.

Kolby is among the more exciting players in the system for his upside and pure stuff. Because he was a late signing, it took a long time for him to actually get in to games down in the GCL, but he did not disappoint in his short stint down there. In three games (6 IP), he gave up a total of one hit, no walks, a HBP, while striking out 12 batters. Obviously is a definition of a small sample size, but he was absolutely dominant in that sample which is certainly encouraging especially as a player right out of high school. There is a certain amount of risk in Allard, but a worthy one as the Braves need not rush Allard to the majors with all of pitching that currently populates their farm system. His stuff is good enough to be a frontline starter assuming he continues to improve his changeup, but he is a long ways away. Given his late start to the 2015 season, its somewhat unclear where Allard will start the season. Smart money may be on Rome where Allard would join a loaded Rome roster. However, if Allard needs more time to rehab his back or if the Braves don't want to rush him in to full season ball, he could spend time down in Danville first, but assuming he continues to pitch well he should end the season in Rome. An interesting storyline could be if Kolby and his high school batterymate Lucas Herbert progress through the system together at the same rate, which is still quite possible as Herbert also missed time in 2015 when he suffered a knee injury.

3.) Ozhaino Albies

The Braves had what we felt to be an extremely good and extremely tightly packed top 3 prospects, so unfortunately out mid season number 1 of Ozzie Albies had to drop down to number 3 (which is really more like 1b) with the acquisitions made this offseason. Albies career has been nothing short of phenomenal to this point, with a career .328/.395/.417 slash line with 51 stolen bases in 155 games. For much of the 2015 season he led the minor leagues in hits, though he saw a drop off in numbers and an eventually shut down due to a broken thumb. Before an extended slump to end the season (likely partially contributed to by the injury) he was hitting .334/.389/.435, and still managed to end the season hitting .310/.368/.404. He was the 5th youngest player to start the season in full season ball, and throughout the course of the year did not face a single pitcher that was younger than him. For most of the year he was the youngest player on MLB Pipeline's Top 100 prospects list, and will be one of the youngest players in the Carolina League next year. His spray chart is truly a thing of beauty, as he sprays the ball equally to all fields from both sides of the plate. He has an 8.2% walk rate this year and a 12.8% strikeout rate, both solid numbers that indicate his future as a potential lead off hitter. It's hard to find comparisons for Albies, because it's hard to find someone with his profile who has put up numbers as good as he has at his age. He does this despite being listed generously at 5'9, though he is likely close to 5'7. Not only did he steal a high number of bases this year, he was very efficient succeeding on 78.3% of his attempts. Going into 2016 he should start at High A Carolina alongside Dansby Swanson, and the Braves decision of who plays shortstop could be important for the future of the franchise. If he performs like he has so far in his career he will likely get called up to Mississippi mid season, and the Braves would give him an opportunity to win the starting second base job from (assumedly) Jace Peterson. If he struggles a bit, no one would bat an eye to see the teenager stay at Carolina for a full season.

Ozzie isn't much of a power threat, but that has not held him back to this point in his career. He is strong enough to hit good fastballs with authority, and has shown enough power to project for good gap power in maturity. He is definitely not going to be the type to hit 15 home runs, but a few seasons of 7 or 8 would not surprise me. Albies calling card is his innate contact skills. He is one of the top pure hitters in the minor leagues. He can barrel up almost any pitch and has quick wrists and fantastic hand eye coordination. Ozzie uses the entire field and has the patience at the plate to draw walks when he needs to. He has a smooth, athletic swing, and consistently shows the same swing from both sides of the plate. Given his age, his level of advancement with his offensive abilities is incredible and could allow him to move quickly through the system. He has all the skills to be a leadoff hitter in the major leagues, especially with his speed which is plus plus. He is improving with his baserunning skills and with further improvement should be a 50 base stealer at the major league level. That is just another area of his game where he shows tremendous polish for a 19 year old. Defensively, he is as natural at the shortstop position as any player I've seen except Andrelton Simmons. He moves well to both sides of his body, and has the first step quickness and top end speed to run down anything hit to his side of the field. He has a consistent gloves, and soft, quick hands that allow him to scoop any ball and quickly transfer it. Albies should be a lethal double play with those skills and his great footwork around the base and in the field. The only question mark has been his arm, which some expect to improve to being above average or plus, while others are wary of a guy his size. His main issue with errors has been errant throws, something that he should be able to fix with maturity but if not will lead to him being moved to second base. He has stated his willingness to move if called upon, and has the work ethic and intelligence to be able to easily make any transition the Braves ask him to. All in all, Ozhaino Albies is the most exciting homegrown position player the Braves have produced since Freddie Freeman, and he could be up in the major leagues at the opening of the new stadium.

Talking Chop's Scouting Report on Ozzie Albies

2.) Sean Newcomb

Coming in at number two on our countdown is the newly acquired Sean Newcomb, who ranked among the top 25 prospects in all of baseball at the time of his acquisition. Coming over in the Andrelton Simmons trade with the Angels, Newcomb was a first round pick out of Hartford after setting school records for strikeouts and presumably most other pitching metrics. After an adjustment period during his short stint in rookie ball, Newcomb took off in 2015 and has the look of a future frontline pitcher. Sporting a big 6'5 frame and easy delivery, Newcomb has most of the tools you want in a starting pitcher. His fastball is his best pitch, which he throws anywhere from 92 all the way up to 98 and has some bite to it. His curveball is probably his second best pitch, although his command over the pitch can get away from him at times. Finally, he also sports a changeup which is not as developed as his other pitches, but is already an average pitch despite only learning it late in his college career. An extra plus for Newcomb is that given he was a pitcher from a small college, he doesn't have a lot of the same miles on his arm or lack of projection as many college starters. Many scouts think that he could actually gain a little bit more velocity and continue to get even better as he gains experience and is coached at more advanced levels.

2015 was a break out campaign for Newcomb, no question. After dealing with some minor growing pains in rookie ball, Newcomb started the year in A-ball but was only down there for 7 starts in which he struck out 45 batters in 34.1 innings before quickly jumping to high-A. His new level proved to not provide much more resistance as he had a 2.47 ERA while striking out 84 in 65.2 IP over 13 games before being promoted AGAIN to AA. While not quite as dominant in his 7 starts AA, he still struck out more than a batter an inning and sported a 2.75 ERA. He did all of this damage, by the way, in the California League which is not known at all for being hospitable to pitchers. While there is a lot to like about Newcomb, one area that he does need to address his command as he walked 76 batters over 136 innings in 2015, which the problem getting worse as he progressed last year. Fortunately, his stuff has been so good that the free passes haven't hurt him too badly yet, its certainly an area of focus for Sean as he is already knocking on the door of the big league club. Newcomb is a non-roster invitee to spring training although due to service time considerations its extraordinarily unlikely he starts the year with the Braves unless they get bitten by the injury bug again. He will start the year in all likelihood in Gwinnett and if he performs well in AAA could be called up by the All-Star break, although it may serve him well to continue to hone his craft and wait a bit longer to make his debut.

1.) Dansby Swanson

Rounding out our top 25 is the first Number 1 overall pick in the Braves system since Chipper Jones. Dansby started out his 2015 with the Vanderbilt Commodores, where he was an accomplished collegiate player with a national championship and College World Series MVP to his name. 2015 saw him break out in a big way with a .335/.423/.623 slash line with 16 stolen bases and 15 home runs in 71 games. That versatility is what made the Diamondbacks believe in Dansby enough to make him to top pick in the 2015 Amateur Draft. He missed time with a concussion after getting hit in the face with a pitch in extended spring training, but returned to action with a new face shield and a thirst for vengeance. He got off to a nonchalant start in his first 7 games, but finished the season with a .289/.394/.482 slash line with the short season A ball Hillsboro Hops. Excluding those first 7 games he hit .352/.462/.519 in 15 games. He posted great rate stats, with a 14.1% walk rate and an equal 14.1% K rate. He was a heavy pull hitter (60% of hits went to the left side) but he also had a good share of extra base hits to the opposite field. The, in the trade to top all trades the Braves acquired him from the Diamondbacks on December 8, 2015, a day that will live on in the memories of Braves fans. Since then, he has been the center of many discussions for Braves fans who seem him as an immediate replacement for Erick Aybar. 2016 will be important for Swanson, and he should start in High A Carolina. Even if he has some struggles, I would expect him to be promoted to Mississippi some time in the middle of the season. There is even a possibility he will be called up for a short splash in Atlanta in September. He will be expected to compete for and win the starting shortstop job in 2017, and even if he doesn't he will likely be called up permanently at some point that year.

Swanson is an all around player, and should contribute to the team with every facet of his play. He is a heavy pull hitter, but has some of the quickest wrists I've seen and can turn on any fastball with some authority. He doesn't roll over pitches either, he does a good job of hitting them hard on the ground or on a line, and can get elevation on pitches left up in the zone. He covers every part of the plate and has a smooth simple swing that allows him generate a lot of line drives and keep his strikeout rates down. There are varying opinions on his power. His raw power is somewhere around major league average, but his swing isn't geared for home runs and that may limit his power output at the next level. Still, he should hit double digit home runs with a few 20 home run seasons sprinkled in during his prime. In game he shows great gap power, and can drive the ball the other way with authority. This should allow him to produce a lot of doubles. He is a very intelligent and calm player, and shows it on the field. On two occasions in the same game I saw him tag up from first base, and he's confident in his abilities in the field. He always seems to be in the right place and has the maturity and Baseball IQ to take his time when he needs to or to speed up and make a quicker play when he needs to. He is level-headed but hard nosed, and it surprises me that the Diamondbacks would part with a player that is as gritty as Swanson. He has the defensive skills to play a well above average shortstop, and unlike Albies there are no real questions about his arm. While he isn't the fastest runner in the world he is still above average to plus with his speed and that allows him to make most of his plays. Dansby is a consistent, cool-under-pressure performer who works and plays hard. He projects to fit perfectly in the two spot in the order, and should be a staple in Braves lineups for awhile.

Featured Article on Talking Chop Comparing Dansby Swanson to Ozzie Albies

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