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Atlanta Braves Sleeper Prospects

In continuing with our series on prospects in the Braves system, we highlight 6 sleeper prospects that may end up on the top 25 list in the next few years. There are mostly young, raw talents with an underrated college veteran in the mix

In the past, the Braves have prided themselves on finding guys in late rounds of drafts that could contribute at the major league level, and players who were underrated on the foreign market. From the 1995 Braves World Series teams 20 players on the 40 man roster were drafted in the 7th round, later, or not drafted at all. This year the Braves had multiple late round draft picks that instantly made impacts on their professional teams, and it was hard to pick just a few players.

From the Braves system, I chose 6 players to highlight among this year's sleeper crops. 1 of them was chosen in the midseason list, and 3 more were honorable mentions. To keep it even, we have 3 hitters and 3 pitchers. 3 players were drafted this year, 2 were drafted last year, and one was an international free agent.

So without further ado (in no order):

Luke Dykstra-2B

Predicted starting team in 2016: Low A Rome
Major League ETA: Late 2019, early 2020

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6'1" 195lbs 11/7/1995

Throws R Bats R

Starting off the list we have infielder Luke Dykstra, who is of course the son of former major leaguer Lenny Dykstra. Luke was a 7th round pick in 2014 out of West Lake High School in California, and was signed to an at-slot bonus of $163,900. While not the most highly acclaimed player out of high school, he has advanced quite well in his 2 and a half years of baseball and peaked with Low A Rome this year. He had ok numbers in the Gulf Coast League after the draft, hitting .262/.315/.376 with 2 home runs and 7 stolen bases in 44 games. He was unable to make a full season squad at the beginning of 2015, and so only got half a season of in-game development. He made the most of it, hitting .298/.336/.382 with the Advanced Rookie Ball league Danville Braves and was promoted near the end of the year to Rome. He exploded at Rome with a .348/.378/.478 slash line with 11 extra base hits in 26 games. He has been absolutely unstoppable against left handers in his career, hitting .336/.381/.473 with more walks than strikeouts. If those splits continue to hold up, he would be at the very least valuable as a platoon player/bench bat, and with some improvement against right handers it is not question he could be a starter at the major league level. He just recently turned 20 years old, and his 6'1 195 pound frame indicates that there could be some home run power to his game if he can tap into that as he matures and fills out. He has a short line drive oriented swing, with quick hands and good barrel skills that should allow him to hit for fair power. He has average or maybe slightly above average speed, so it may be a question if he's able to maintain that if he fills out to be able to play a middle infield position. He is a good defender up the middle who makes the plays he needs to and should be a solid average player on defense. I can see a future where Dykstra is a starting second baseman at the major league level, however I think his real value could be a dynamic bench player who is a solid fill in and a great bat off the bench. He has the tools to fill this role perfectly especially against lefties, and if a team were to be faced with a platoon situation I think he would be well suited for that. I'm hopeful for Dykstra's future as a player, and think he could be a valuable contributor to the future the Braves are attempting to build.

Jaret Hellinger-LHP

Predicted starting team in 2016: Advanced Rookie Ball Danville
Major League ETA: September 2019

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6'4" 170lbs 11/18/1996

Throws L Bats R

The first pitcher on the list is one of my personal favorites on the list, and up until trades knocked him down a few pegs I had Hellinger on a short list of players I was going to argue for the 25th spot on Talking Chop's top 25 list. It's easy to see the reason I like Hellinger, as the lefty is already pushing his fastball consistently in the low 90's and at 6'4" 170lbs there is plenty of projection left in his game. The Braves liked him enough to take him with their 20th round pick this year and went well over slot to sign him giving him a $300k signing bonus. Hellinger went to high school at Ola High School in McDonough, GA. His performance in the Gulf Coast League was solid, as he posted a 3.15 ERA in 10 games pitched. He split time between the bullpen and was good in both roles. In 4 games as a reliever he had a 2.61 ERA, and as a starter he had a 3.38 ERA with 25 strikeouts in 24 IP. Unfortunately, he also saw his walk rate jump as a starter to 4.5 per nine innings pitched. Almost 60% of the balls in play against him were ground balls. He didn't have significant splits, with a .250 BAA vs lefties and a .261 BAA against righties, though he did walk more left handed batters. He has a bit of effort to his delivery, though with his size he may add weight and be able to tone down a bit. He shows a bit of lanky awkwardness at some points in his delivery, but is raw and athletic and should have time to improve that. Hellinger works a 4 pitch mix with 2 fastballs, a changeup, and a curveball. His fastballs both have good movement, and as stated before already work in the 90's. Once he begins to add weight to his frame, it's very possible that he could begin sitting consistently in the low 90's, especially since he has already jumped a few mph from where he was before his senior year of high school. That's elite power from a left handed arm, and once he works out some of the kinks in his mechanics he should be able to maintain good command even at those velocities. His changeup has been and should continue to be an effective off speed, and has helped him retire right handed batters already. Hellinger's curveball is the most inconsistent of his offspeed pitches, but flashes good downward movement and could be an average to above average curve if he can learn to command it better. Hellinger has the pitch mix to be a starter at the major league level, and with further bulk to add to his durability should be fine as a starter. The only question will be whether he can gain more repeatability in his motion, a task that will be even harder to do as he adds weight. He has a lot of athleticism, and that will benefit him in learning to pitch. If he can;t get command over his pitches, he could still be a really good left handed reliever, something the Braves have been weak on since O'VentBrel fell to pieces.

Justin Ellison-OF

Predicted starting team in 2016: Low A Rome
Major League ETA: 2020

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6'2" 175lbs 2/6/1995

Throws L Bats L

Ellison is the second of 3 lower round draft picks made by the Braves this year that appear on this list. He was the highest drafted of the group in the 12th round, and was signed out of Andrelton Simmons' alma mater of Western Oklahoma State College. He was a stand out performer in the Junior College ranks, and the Braves took a chance on his athleticism. Ellison performed well in his first stint in professional baseball, and hit .255/.315/.388 in the Gulf Coast League before being promoted to Danville. He hit well there at the offset, though he slumped a bit at the end of the season, and hit 5 home runs in 50 games over the two levels. He was heavy pull this year with 27% of his hits going into right field, and he had a high fly ball rate (35%). He already shows good power, and at 6'2" 175lbs he could easily add some weight to his frame and have more. His walk rates are around 9%, and hopefully he can maintain that as he advances. He shows plus speed with 6 stolen bases this year, and can roam all three outfield spots easily. He played mostly left field this year with the presence of Ronald Acuna, and with his below average arm strength probably projects best for that position though if he can play center field that will add even further to his value. He shows good skills in the outfield, and with his speed he should be an above average to plus defender at the major league level. Ellison was able to maintain fair offensive numbers despite a run of bad luck that left him with a .254 BABIP in Danville. At the plate he shows a quick, simple, and athletic swing at the plate that allows him to turn on many pitches and drive them using his natural power. He is able to get a lot of leverage on his swing which is obvious in the previously mentioned fly ball rates, and with his future likely coming in left field it may be important to show the kind of power expected out of a corner outfielder. Ellison is an extreme example of a boom or bust prospect, and while his risk is very high the potential payout is very very high.

Dalton Geekie-RHP

Predicted starting team in 2016: Low A Rome
Major League ETA: 2018

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6'5" 200lbs 10/3/1994

Throws R Bats R

The Braves 2015 22nd rounder is another local talent, a right hander from Georgia Highlands College in Rome, Georgia. Geekie was one of many solid late round performers for the Braves, and jumps out for his size and projectability. Already, the JuCo player has performed well in his professional career. In the Gulf Coast League, he posted a 2.25 ERA in 13 relief appearances, struck out 22 batters and walked 9 in 20 innings. He was bumped up to the Appalachian League Danville Braves, and allowed just 1 base runner over 6 innings in 3 games, and finally was promoted to the Rome Braves for 1 game at the end of the season. He was a two way player at GHC, so he has good athleticism, and he shows that on the mound. He stands 6'5" and a slender 200lbs, and shows clear skills to improve his already good fastball. He runs that pitch up there in the low 90's, and has touched 95 at times. He didn't pitch much in high school, so he is very new to the mound,has a fresh arm and has been used as a reliever his entire JuCo career. His college and high school coaches rave about Geekie's mental toughness and work ethic, stating that he never lets his struggles get in his head. He is competitive, but is still loose and enjoys playing the game of baseball. Geekie works a three pitch mix that will allow him to be a starter if the Braves choose to stretch him out, but to this point he has been used solely as a reliever and it is rare to see a player move from the bullpen to the rotation. His fastball works between 91-93 and has topped out at 95, and he is another with projectability to dream on. He gets that velocity without very much effort. He doesn't use his lower body much in his very raw delivery, but he's already made noticeable strides in his mechanics from the little video I've seen of him at GHC to what I've seen of him in the Braves system. His mechanics otherwise are very simple and repeatable, and should lend to good command. He gets some arm side movement on his fastball, and has a good bit of sink on the pitch as well. He also works a change up in that is raw, and he has good arm motion but not much of a velocity difference (about 7 mph). When he does throw a good on it shows the making of an average to above average pitch, especially when he can drop it to about 82-84. Still, Geekie struggles to consistently command the change and has a long way to go for it to be truly effective. He throws a 12-6 curveball, but it's a bit sweepy and he has a lot of trouble controlling it. When he keeps it down he is able to get good movement. Again, it's a pitch that with further development on the mound will likely tighten up, and could be an average off speed offering with time. I would like to see the Braves give Geekie a shot as a starter, but at the very worst, it will give him more innings of development before he is moved back to the bullpen. His fastball is well ahead of his other pitches, but with the minimal experience he has that's not all that surprising. The Braves have had their share of pretty good 22nd rounders in the past, like Shae Simmons, Tommy Hanson, and, oh yeah, John Smoltz (who wasn't drafted by Atlanta but that's not the point).

Leudys Baez-OF

Predicted starting team in 2016: Low A Rome
Major League ETA: 2020

BBRef Page

6'0" 165lbs 6/26/1996

Throws R Bats S

Baez is a young switch-hitting outfielder from the Dominican Republic, who made his professional debut with Danville this year. He was originally signed 2 years ago as a shortstop by the Nationals, but was released in 2013 and ended up with the Braves in 2015 after he moved to the outfield. In 33 games with Danville, he hit .311/.331/.473 with 4 home runs and 5 stolen bases. He was promoted to Low A Rome at the beginning of August. He did struggle with Low A pitching, hitting .206/.232/.318. Obviously, the thing that jumps out immediately is his low walk total, 2.2% to be exact. Hopefully for Baez he can improve on that as he improves, as it will limit his ceiling if he cannot. He is an inexperienced player, and with time should be able to somewhat improve his approach. He also struck out more than 20% of the time, but the big thing for Baez is his projectability. He really struggles from the right side of the plate (.165/.193/.259, 3.4% BB, 38.6% K), but was hard to get out from the left side (.318/.329/.435, 1.7% BB, 15.6%). Those are frightening splits, but interestingly his swing actually looks better from the right side of the plate. He struggles to hang in on pitches on the inside of the plate, and gets fooled a lot by good fastball movement. From the left side of the plate, his swing can get awkward and lengthy, but he shows quick hands. From the right side of the plate he shows a very crisp, quick swing and can drive pitches with authority. That brings me to his power, which currently is below average but has a lot of room to improve. He's only 160 pounds and will almost certainly bulk up, and could have above average power at maturity. Baez shows plus speed in the field and while he will be a work in progress he has the tools to be a very good defender with his strong arm. He's a very raw player at this stage in his career, but has probably the highest ceiling of any player on this list.

Brandon Barker-RHP

Predicted starting team in 2016: AA Mississippi
Major League ETA: 2017

BBRef Page

6'3" 200lbs 8/20/1992

Throws R Bats R

Brandon Barker seems to be the next in line of the Williams Perez mold for the Braves, just better in my opinion. Barker was a 16th round pick out of Mercer last year, and after two games in Danville was quickly promoted to Rome. He was ok in his first round at Rome with a 3.93 ERA and 20.9% strikeout rate. 2015 was a breakout year of sorts, as he started down in Low A and was able to advance all the way to AAA Gwinnett for a few games. In Rome, Barker posted a 3.48 ERA in 8 starts, but really showed out after being promoted to Carolina. He had a dead even 3.00 ERA in 17 starts, and towards the end of the season became one of the most consistent performers in the system. He pitched in 2 games with Gwinnett and had a 4.82 ERA, which is fairly good considering he skipped over AA altogether. He has reverse splits, being far more effective against lefties to this point in his career, though he has shown the ability to get any player out. His fastball is just average, sitting in the low 90's, and he gets good but not great arm side movement on the pitch. He features some effort in his delivery, but it shouldn't be enough to prevent him from remaining in a rotation. His delivery isn't the most easily repeatable one, but he does a good job of maintaining command nonetheless. His best offspeed pitch is a slide that at times can get inconsistent and slurvy, but when it's working to its fullest could be a solid major league average or above average pitch. His biggest strides have been made with his changeup. He had previously struggle to throw the pitch for strikes, but has taken some steps forward to more consistently keep the pitch in the zone and have it as a weapon. That third pitch will allow him to stay as a starter if he can continue to get batters out. While his ceiling is limited to that of a back end starter, Barker has a fairly high floor and should be able to quickly advance through the system.

Just to finish off, there were a few guys that just missed this list:

Bradley Keller

Struggled with strikeouts this year, but showed solid power, speed, and defensive skills. Keller is young and has some projectability, and also showed a fairly patient approach. If he can solve his strikeout problems he could be a good prospect in a currently weak system for outfielders.

Luis Valenzuela

Valenzuela was really bad for a few years, and then all of the sudden he was really good with the Royals this year before being traded. He has a really nice looking swing, and has surprising power for a guy his size. Could be a valuable utility player.

Sean McLaughlin

Really solid numbers after being drafted out of Georgia. More than a strikeout per inning pitched and less than 3 walks per 9. A shoulder injury as a sophomore and subsequent surgery coupled with his lack of size (5'11") will limit him to the bullpen, but he could be a fast mover and help the Braves in a couple of years.

Matthew Custred

Custred was absolutely unhittable in his half season of ball. He had a split of 46K/9BB in 32.2IP, and that showed with a 1.38 ERA. He has a big body and a big fastball to go with it, along with a solid curve and repeatable mechanics. Truly a steal in the 31st round.

Jonathan Morales

With all the attention he's gotten it's hard to still call Morales a sleeper, but most prospect outlets are still unaware of him and that's good enough for me. He absolutely destroyed the ball with 7 home runs and an .889 OPS in the Gulf Coast League, and while he is a bit older that's still impressive. Also threw out 44% of base stealers. With no true stand out catchers he has a real opportunity to make a mark.

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