We have touched on the top prospects in the Atlanta Braves system and now we turn our attention to a group that might be less heralded but are interesting and are otherwise easy to pull for.
11. Seth Webster
Seth Webster is not your classic prospect. In fact, calling him a prospect at all may even be a stretch. Webster went to a small college in Louisiana (Literally Louisiana College), and up until 2015 (his age 26 season) he had never even played in affiliated professional baseball. He was a staple in the Schaumburg Bombers rotation of the Frontier League, posting a 2.88 ERA over 3 seasons. Webster was signed May 18th of this year and was one of the most consistent pitchers in the minor league system from then on. What makes him more unique is being a sidearm pitcher. Oh and the fact that he walked 8 batters in 130.2IP with Carolina. 8. He had a 1.5% walk rate with the Mudcats. He wasn't just throwing it over the middle and getting hit either, he posted a 2.82 ERA and a fair enough 6.6 K/9IP. I'm not expecting Webster to be some great rotation piece for the Braves, but he is as quirky as any player in the system and has played plenty well enough to keep around.
10. Anthony Guardado
To say Guardado was a reach with the 89th overall pick is an understatement, as it was a pick that left a lot of fans scratching their heads and wondering if the Braves wrote the wrong name down. This is not an Anthony Guardado drag piece but unfortunately, he didn't get much of a chance to prove himself worthy of the selection. He faced 6 batters in his first game and never returned to action with the GCL Braves, an even more concerning fact due to the time he missed with a football related shoulder injury in his high school. Guardado is a raw player, and as stated before played football. He shows that two-sport athleticism on the field and began to pop up on radars late in the draft process. For Guardado, 2015 will be interesting just to see if he can make it through the whole season healthy. Performance aside, a guy that gets the "injury prone" label usually struggles to find a job. That should not be a concern for Guardado yet, but another injury could start to raise eyebrows that an already questionable guy probably shouldn't raise.
9. Lucas Sims
We at Talking Chop have gone on at length about Lucas Sims but, without a doubt, 2016 will be a very important season for him. He is coming off of a lackluster, inconsistency filled season that just happened to end in one of the hottest streaks of play for any Braves prospect this season. He still flashes all of the tools that made him a top draft pick, but at times inexplicably just does not carry that onto the field. We have gone to lengths about the potential effects of the bus crash on players, and while that certainly slowed down Sims progress it didn't seem to have the kind of obvious impact it did on guys like Dustin Peterson. The biggest thing for Sims will be getting his peripherals corrected. In 2 of his 3 seasons he has had an outstanding strikeout rate, and in 2 of his 3 seasons, he has had an outstanding walk rate. He just needs to put it together again like his breakout 2013 campaign. Is the Lucas Sims we saw in Carolina and the first few games with Mississippi the real Lucas Sims, or is late season Sims and AFL Sims the real him? The 2016 season may tell the tale on his future.
8. Max Povse
Povse is another player that suffered an unfortunate injury and for Max, it came at a time where many were beginning to see him as a top prospect in the system. The size is obvious (6'8"), and translates to a lot of power with reports of him easily working into the mid 90's with his fastball. He also has a good slider and improving change to go along with it, and a lot more projectability than you see out of most college arms. His peripherals aren't amazing especially for a guy with his age-relative, but he did enough to get outs and flash potential out pitches. He had surprisingly good control for a guy his size, though when you watch him it is pretty obvious that he could use some work in cleaning up the lower body of his delivery. Povse was fantastic with a 2.56 ERA at Rome but then had 4 bad games in 5 outings with Carolina before leaving early in his final game. He saw his velocity dip all the way down to 85 mph on his fastball in that game, and the Mudcats were quick to yank him. He was shut down and didn't pitch after July 20. For Povse, trying to reclaim some of his early magic is of the utmost importance, but he really just needs to show that his large frame can handle the rigors of a long season.
7. Connor Lien
Connor Lien was a name that circulated heavily during the 2015 season, and with good reason, For much of the season he sat around .300 with his batting average before falling off towards the end of the season, a pattern he took into a, to be kind, really bad Arizona Fall League stint. But, to keep on the positive side, he flashes 3 tools that are already plus-speed that helped him to steal 33 bases this season, arm strength that helped him throw out 21 runners this year, and easy plus defense at all 3 outfield positions. He has yet to show power, but his frame suggests good power. Unfortunately, he just hasn't shown the ability to be a consistent force at the plate. At times, he is the best player on the field, and at others, his approach and lack of natural bat skills make him a liability. He has a long swing that leads to a lot of strikeouts, and for him this year, it will be about fixing that rawness and improving on gaudy strikeout rates. If he can, he could be a future starter. If he can't show bat skills, he may be nothing more than a defensive replacement, something there isn't much place for in the outfield.
6. Ricardo Sanchez
Another injury case, Sanchez could not get healthy all year and that hurt his production in Low-A Rome. He was terrible to start the year, and when his usually low 90's fastball started to dip well into the 80's the Braves were quick to put him on the Disabled list with a calf strain. He was better upon his return with his fastball velocity, but just never seemed to get comfortable or settled on the mound and was again shut down in early July with the same injury. Because a muscle strain is such a difficult injury to recover from, and mostly because Sanchez was the youngest player in full-season baseball, his lackluster production in 2015 is not really a red flag. He made improvements in his mechanics and flashed 3 solid pitches, now he just needs to get on the field. 2016 isn't a make or break year due to Sanchez's age, but he is the type of player that could be a helium prospect. He needs to show that his small frame isn't going to lead to durability problems, something Sanchez will have to do this season.
5. AJ Minter
The ongoing joke continues, as the Braves decided to take a Tommy John Surgery recipient on the final pick of the first day of this year's draft. Minter was a potential first round pick pre-injury due to his quick rising potential and mid 90's fastball. He has a high ceiling and will likely be a contributor to the bullpen in the very near future. AJ is not the biggest guy in the world (5'11") and with him already having TJ, his health will be a major point of concern. He suffered his injury in March and is expected to be ready for spring training this year. He will need to show he can stay healthy this year but more importantly, will have to start to recover his pre-surgery stuff. The Braves hope Minter can be a really good reliever, a task that will be made tougher if he loses 2-3 mph off of his fastball.
4. Jonathan Morales
Morales was basically an afterthought at the catcher's position with the drafting of Lucas Herbert, but no one other than Austin Riley did more to help his stock after the draft last year. He hit .304/.377/.511 with 7 home runs in 46 games and had an over-40% caught stealing rate. He wasn't driven by a high BABIP either, no, he had a .298 BABIP and struck out just 9.2% of the time. Questions persist on his glove (11 passed balls in 34 games) and his age (0.6 years above average GCL age) but for many evaluators, he is more than just numbers. The scouting backs up that Jonathan Morales can be a legitimate hitting prospect. Morales will have to prove that he wasn't a fluke last year, and more importantly quickly improve his catching skills with the mass of catching prospects in the low minors to potentially take time away from him. Morales could be a heavy riser this year, potentially cracking some Top 25 lists by midseason.
3. Mallex Smith
Smith was the it-prospect last year for the Braves, winning the Hank Aaron Award for the best minor league hitter in the system and peaking at AAA. He won over a lot of fans with his play on the field and his approachability to fans, as well as some pretty awesome interviews with MLBPipeline. Evaluators have always and continue to overlook Mallex, but despite all of the "4th outfielder at best" hype, he just continues to perform at every level. As it stands, he is the next in line to inherit the center field and leadoff position in Atlanta. Normally a guy like Mallex would have no problems, and wouldn't be all that much to keep up with, but he still has a lot to prove. Some have questioned his size and swing, which keeps him from showing a lot of power and leads to higher strikeout rates than you would expect from a lead off hitter. Still, many of those K's are a result of a patient approach that has led to an 11% career walk rate. 2016 will be about proving he belongs at the major league level, as well as proving that his dip in walks at Gwinnett was just a fluke. Lastly, he will need to show improvements on the defensive side of the ball, where with his speed he could be a very good defender.
2. Max Fried
Tommy John Surgery. Another one. We all know Fried's story, and the former top draft pick will be looking to prove himself in 2016. Had he not suffered the evermore-increasing fate that many young pitchers do, he would be in the upper echelon of the prospects in the system along with Newcomb, Albies, and Swanson. Of course, he also probably wouldn't be an Atlanta Brave. Still, the prevailing belief is that the long road to recovery will pay dividends for Atlanta as he is expected to make a full recovery. He began a throwing program late in the 2015 season, and will be ready for the 2016 season to begin. He will, like Minter, have to prove that he can recover the stuff he had before surgery. The difference is, he will have to show that he can be healthy as a starter while also performing well enough to advance through the system at a reasonable pace. It will be a tough task for Fried, but there is likely no one who will be watched closer than him this year. All eyes will be on his recovery, one that could make the Justin Upton trade the biggest one of the previous offseason.
1. Isranel Wilson
Isranel Wilson has the highest ceiling of any player in the Braves system right now. Yet, he also is one of the farthest away from the major league level. He made waves last season with a home run streak in the GCL that was so impressive he has a hot spot on his spray chart in the right field bleachers. It's concerning to see any player with a 32% strikeout rate and .222 average but at the same time, he only had a .282 BABIP. He hit 10 home runs in 48 games, which brought him up near the system leaders in home runs, and yeah, he won't be 18 until spring training. He already shows tremendous raw power naturally from his swing, and at 6'3 185 lbs he has more than enough room to grow into even more power. He has the speed and defensive skills to play center field, the arm strength as well, and the power to profile at any position on the field. Isranel even showed some patience with a 15% walk rate. Isranel will be amongst the most watched and buzzed-about prospects in 2016, and a good performance will likely land him in some top prospect lists next year. If he can show that he can get past the strikeouts that haunted last year, oh will he be quite an intriguing storyline to watch.