We are at the half way point in our 2017 Pre-season Braves prospect rankings and as we go on, you will continue to see that the Braves have a wealth of talent in the farm system. Just to recap, this is who we have so far...
16) Cristian Pache
17) Kyle Muller
18) AJ Minter
19) Lucas Sims
20) Derian Cruz
21) Ricardo Sanchez
22) Rio Ruiz
23) Ray-Patrick Didder
24) Braxton Davidson
25) Brett Cumberland
There are systems out there (looking at you, Angels and Marlins), that would love to have these sorts of players in their top 10 and we are just getting to the top 15 in the Braves’ system. So without further delay, here are prospects 11-15 on our 2017 pre-season rankings.
15.) Dustin Peterson - OF
No one player saw his name gain household notoriety amongst Braves fans in the way Peterson did this season as he took a career-best season and turned that into a Organizational Hitter of the Year Award. As he has customarily done in his career, Peterson got off to a blazing start to the season and anchored himself in the middle of the Mississippi lineup. He led the minor league system in RBIs (88) and was a Southern League All Star. Dustin struggled through May, but set off the best 2 months of his career with an .827 and .898 OPS respectively in the months of June and July. Not all ended well however, and Peterson ended with another of his late season fall offs with a .621 OPS in August and his highest K rate of any month in the season. Still, he ended the seasons with career bests in nearly every single major statistical category despite playing in Mississippi’s graveyard, and earned a spot in the Arizona Fall League. He excelled there as well hitting .333/.368/.481.
Peterson is another prospect on whom opinions vary greatly from source to source. Some point to his hitting ability and power potential and project him as a starter, whilst the argument from the other side is based around his lack of power production and poor performance against right-handed pitching. Neither opinion is false, nor exclusive of the other. It’s true that Peterson has solid raw power, but he hasn’t produced a ton of home runs at any level. Instead he’s been more of a doubles hitter and seems to lack the loft necessary to hit many home runs. He also is nothing more than an average defender at a non-premium position in left field and that subjects him to greater criticism of his offensive prowess. As a natural contact hitter, he provides some huge value at the plate. He has a smooth, albeit sometimes lengthy, swing and manages to keep his strikeouts down and drive the ball to all fields with authority. He doesn’t draw many walks at the plate, but does so enough to force pitchers to attack him in the zone with fastballs. Still, he will chase off speed stuff and that leaves him susceptible when he is behind in the count. Like many on this list, Peterson is still incredibly young and in his 2 seasons in the organization has had exactly 26 plate appearances against pitchers younger than he. That, combined with a solid performance in a hitter’s nightmare of Trustmark Park, puts a lot of validity in the opinion of those who believe he has the potential to take over in left field for Atlanta.
14.) Alex Jackson - C/OF
What more needs to be said about Alex Jackson than this detailed profile at the time of the trade which brought him to Atlanta? Jackson has had quite the rollercoaster ride since being selected with the 6th pick in the 2014 MLB Draft, going from being ranked right there with big leaguers like Kyle Schwarber, Carlos Rodon, and Aaron Nola to a guy dealt for a pair of second tier pitching prospects. The former catcher turned outfielder started well against Arizona League competition in 2014, hitting .280/.344/.476 in 24 games.
His stock only got higher in spring training of 2015, when he homered off Rangers reliever Shawn Tolleson in an exhibition game. But somewhere along the way he was hurt, and instead of resting to recover, he tried to play through it. He struggled mightily with Clinton of the Midwest League before being shut down with the shoulder injury and demoted to the Northwest League. His play there wasn't bad, hitting .239/.365/.466 with 8 homers in 48 games- but it also wasn't worthy of the pre-draft hype.
The Mariners decided to bench him to start 2016, making him the first healthy first round bat not to open his second full pro season in full season ball along with failed former Rays prospect Josh Sale. Jackson eventually opened in May back in the Midwest League, and this time had a bit more success hitting .243/.332/.408 with 11 homers in 92 games, but still it didn't match the hype around him and the Mariners questioned his maturity at times. Thanks to a change in the Seattle front office since the 2014 draft and Jackson's struggles, the Braves were able to land a once elite and still young prospect for pennies on the dollar with Max Povse and Robert Whalen this winter.
Sure Jackson has struggled since the start of 2015, but it is also possible that his shoulder injury factored in. He was once the best prep hitter in the 2014 draft class, showing an advanced feel for hitting and real power that grades out as at least plus to go with a strong arm in the outfield. Jackson will need to make some adjustments with his approach, but it's entirely possible that a change in scenery and/or being another year past the shoulder injury will get him to revert back to the prospect he once was. It's important to remember that he's still young and still has the tools that got him drafted so high, so it's not out of the question that he does become worthy of his draft selection.
I expect Jackson to start the year in High-A, but a start in Low-A Rome to build his confidence isn't out of the question either. He's got as much pure power as anyone in the system and will immediately be one of the must watch guys in the system with the upside of any bat in the system if he can rebound. His future could be anywhere from middle of the order big league bat to a guy who doesn't make it out of AA.
13.) Patrick Weigel - RHP
It was an odd journey to the Braves organization for Patrick Weigel with three stops and three different universities in his college career with a varying level of success. It was not until his Junior year of college where he got to work with the highly regarded Frank Anderson, father of MLB pitcher Brett Anderson, when things really began to take off for the righty. The problem has always been control for Weigel (7.22 BB/9, 9.59 BB/9 his first two years of college) but it’s clear the hard work he put in with Frank Anderson really began to take fruition in terms of production on the field. He went from a 22nd round pick to a 7th round pick in just one year thanks to increased control, but more importantly impressive arsenal.
What does that impressive arsenal consist of? Well I’m glad you asked! Weigel has four potential plus pitches: a FB with arm side run that sits between 94-99 MPH, an extremely hard biting slider, a traditional curveball, and a still developing change up. He holds his velocity extremely well, being clocked in the high 90s/low 100s as late as the 6th inning. After a rocky debut in 2015 over 14 games at Danville (4.53 ERA, 1.529 WHIP, 4.5 BB/9, 8.5 K/9), Weigel came into 2016 with a lot to prove – and he sure did that exact thing. On an extremely loaded Rome pitching staff, Weigel went 10-4 with a 1.078 WHIP, 2.51 ERA, and most importantly limited his walks rate to 3.3 BB/9, while striking out around 9 batters a game over the course of 22 games. This great run eventually lead to a promotion to AA Mississippi where he made 3 starts and compiled a 2.61 ERA and 0.823 WHIP. His overall numbers for 2016: 11-6 2.47 ERA, 1.042 WHIP, 9.1 K/9, and 3.3 BB/9 – so his last two years of baseball (including his Junior year of college) – he has lowered his BB/9 from around 8 down to 3.
With his willingness to make substantial adjustments to his throwing motion, most significantly including how he finishes his delivery facing the hitter instead of falling off the first base side, it is clear that Weigel is all in in terms of doing what it takes to succeed and us Braves fans can sit back and enjoy it.
12.) Joey Wentz - LHP
With the 40th pick of June’s Rule 4 Draft the Braves selected prep lefty Joey Wentz out of Shawnee Mission East HS in Prairie Village, Kansas. Wentz has a traditional three pitch mix with a fastball that has been clocked as high as 96 but usually sits 89-92, a good curveball in the mid 70s while his changeup sits in the low 80s with has some fade to it. He has no problem throwing strikes and has a very easy repeatable delivery. In high school Wentz put up decent numbers with a 0.00 ERA in 51 innings striking out 104 batters with 7 hits and 12 walks the only damage. Although he was drafted for his arm he’s no slouch with a bat in his hands either, he was considered as a mid round pick his junior year as a hitter after traveling the showcase circuit as a first baseman due to dead arm issues.
After the draft, Wentz headed to the Gulf Coast League but apparently Joey doesn’t like Florida very much. He struck out 18 batters in 12 scoreless innings (4 GS, 12 IP, 3 H, 5 BB, 18K) and was promptly promoted to Danville on July 21st. His numbers weren’t as good there (8 GS, 32 IP, 31 H, 20 BB, 35 K) most of the damage was done in 2 starts including his Appy League debut where he gave up 6 runs on 7 hits but still struck out 5 while only walking 1 over 2.2 innings. He righted the ship towards the end giving up 3 runs in his final 3 starts with 16 strikeouts. I expect to see Wentz in Rome to start the year and with a full professional offseason under his belt we could see his fastball tick up and his prospect stock skyrocket. Maybe one day we will forget all about Hector Olivera and remember July 30th, 2015 as the day the Joey Wentz trade went down.
11.) Travis Demeritte - 2B
The Braves acquired this hard hitting second baseman in what is now a largely laughed at deal for Lucas Harrell and Dario Alvarez. This deal was the definition of selling high as the Braves turned short term rentals in to who we believe is the #11 prospect in the Braves organization. At the time of the trade, Demeritte had recently moved over to second base to third base mainly because the Rangers had some guy named Adrian Beltre at the position, with Joey Gallo waiting in the wings. Okay, back to Demeritte. It’s not difficult to see why he was a first round draft pick. Demeritte possess elite bat speed, legit plus power, and is fantastic defensively.
It didn’t take long for me to fall in love with Demeritte as a prospect. He produces incredible back spin on the ball, and it just launches off of his bat. While it is true that he put up 25 homers in a league known for its homers, the power definitely plays out. If you check his stats he had 3 homers for Carolina, but I know of at least 3 more hits that hit the either the top of the wall, or towards the largest part of the park. His one knock has always been his lagging hit tool that is rated as a 20, which has lead him to have a strike out rate of roughly 33%. However, even with a strikeout rate that high – he’s never had a year where his walk rate was not at least 10%, including a very impressive 17% BB% through 35 games at High-A+ Carolina where he hit .250/.384/.476. Demeritte’s stock is trending up, and if he continues to improve – look out for an absolutely monstrous 2017 season.