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An interview with David Lee about the Braves' farm system

The Augusta Chronicle's and Baseball Prospectus' David Lee sat down with us for a quick chat about the Braves farm system

Ronald Acuna being awesome
Ronald Acuna being awesome

As a continuation of the interviews we here at Talking Chop have been doing, we are doing something a little different. Rather than talk to some of the players in the system (who are busy doing their jobs and whatnot), I thought I would reach out to someone smarter than I am in David Lee who covers baseball for the The Augusta Chronicle as well as writes for Baseball Prospectus.

I cannot endorse following David on Twitter (@David11Lee) enough as he not only has lots of first-hand scouting accounts of Braves prospects (as well as Augusta GreenJackets coverage if thats your thing), but he is also more than willing to engage with fans and talk baseball. In short, he is one of the guys on the ground doing the work on the Braves' farm system and he does it well.

Anyways, I reached out to David and he was more than happy to talk some minor league baseball with me. Interview is below, hope you enjoy it.

Interview with David Lee

Hey David, thanks for taking the time to talk to us today. Could you introduce yourself to our readers who may not know who you are?

Thanks for having me. I'm a baseball writer at The Augusta Chronicle in Augusta, Ga. and senior scout at Baseball Prospectus. My coverage includes the International, Southern and South Atlantic leagues for prospects, and I do daily coverage of the Braves system. I've been writing about baseball and mostly the Braves in some form since I was 14.

Alright, lets get right down to it. The farm system for the Braves has been the subject of much discussion and enthusiasm amongst the fanbase. What are your general impressions of the system as of now versus the past several years?

The difference in the system is night and day compared to the past few years. You can watch any Braves affiliate tonight and see at least two legitimate prospects on the field. For a team like Rome, it's half the lineup. Just two years ago, I was evaluating utility-type ceilings in the middle of nearly every lineup. Now, you have multiple everyday-potential players in several lineups, and the rotations are stacked at least one through three, sometimes more, like Rome. That's rare and shows how incredible the system turnaround has been, and in such a short amount of time. The enthusiasm is warranted. It's one of the best systems in baseball, if not the best.

Many of the acquisitions for the Braves' farm system over the past year have been pitchers at varying levels of development. Who are a couple of the pitchers in the system that you like to be the most be successful at the next level?

There are the obvious ones who have the chance to be impact guys like Sean Newcomb, Aaron Blair and Kolby Allard. Max Fried's stuff was solid in a recent look and should return to his impact prospect status soon. Two pitchers I especially like who might not be at the top of lists right now are Mike Soroka and Max Povse. Soroka is getting attention for his high draft spot and hot start this season, but there have been whispers of caution attached because of his delivery and inconsistent secondaries. He still needs to prove he can command the curve and changeup on the same day, but the delivery is smoother and the tempo better now. That will only help further develop his command. He has the chance to be an impact mid-rotation starter. Povse got little attention this offseason and it bugged me, because he showed good stuff and a good arm last year. I think he's a major league pitcher between the back end of a rotation or middle relief.

When you are scouting pitchers, what are things that you look for to help you gauge whether they are going to develop in to successful pitchers (starting or reliever). Are there specific mechanical things you look for or is more of a pitcher's stuff passing the eye test?

Command is everything. If a pitcher can't command within the zone or live around the zone, it doesn't matter what kind of stuff he has. He can throw 95, but if it's straight, up and on the fat of the plate consistently, it's going to get rocked in the upper levels. He can throw a knee-buckling curveball, but if it's constantly in the dirt or spinning loose and early more often than not, good hitters will spit on it and feed off the fastball. Mechanics feed command. A pitcher must be able to repeat his delivery on a consistent basis and throw from a similar release point each time. It won't happen every time because pitchers are human, but good major league pitchers repeat their deliveries well. There are differing factors that help a pitcher repeat, such as the amount of effort in the motion, the timing of the upper and lower halves, the upper-body rotation, and the drive to the plate.

While the pitching is a deep and important component to the system, there are some position prospects to be excited about to down there in the minors. Who are a couple of position prospects that you really like in the Braves system?

I put eyes on Ronald Acuna for the first time recently and he checks out. He's the best position player prospect on Rome's roster for me, and he's going to be a top-10 system guy soon. I wouldn't be surprised if he's the best position player prospect in the system when Dansby Swanson and Ozzie Albies graduate. Acuna has an explosive set of tools and a ridiculous amount of raw power for someone his age and size. It comes from plus bat speed and a tremendous amount of leverage. I think he'll stick in center field, too, and speed will be an advantage, giving him all five tools. I'll go along with everyone else and name Ozzie Albies, too. He's the real deal. His feel for the bat is incredible for a 19-year-old, and he should produce good averages in the majors.

Like a lot of us, you have been tasked with ranking prospects from time to time. In terms of position players, which tool or combination of tools tend to give a player an edge when you are looking to rank players against one another? (Example: Strong Hit tool, average power vs. Average hit tool, strong power)?

I'm a sucker for the toolsy, up-the-middle guys. If I'm choosing between the kid who flashes all five tools and plays center field or the corner infielder with power but a questionable hit tool, I'll go with the center fielder. Same goes for ceilings and floors. I tend to go with the higher ceiling versus the higher floor. Of course, that's a very general statement to make. There are many factors that go into choosing one or the other. Regarding competing tools, hit tool for a position player and command for a pitcher are the biggest for me. If you can hit, you'll play. If you can spot, you'll pitch.

Who are two prospects in the system that you think is currently undervalued in the Braves system by talent evaluators at large?

I probably should've saved my Povse rant for this. He's the first name that comes to mind. Chris Ellis isn't so much undervalued as he's sometimes forgotten within a deep list of pitching prospects. He shows feel for three pitches, technically five if you divide his three fastballs, and has enough command to make his average arsenal work. It's not a flashy profile, but Ellis should reach the majors as a back-end starter or reliever. Digging deeper down the system, Kyle Kinman and Brandon Barker have the stuff to reach the majors as relievers. Barker is rarely mentioned but has a serviceable two-pitch mix. The same goes for Rob Whalen.

Conversely, who are a couple of prospects that you think are overvalued right now or at least are a lot further away from the majors than people think they are?

The book is still out on Austin Riley for me. The raw power is real. I had one scout say it might be a present 70. His home runs are towering shots. But the question is how often he'll tap into the power. There will always be a significant amount of swing and miss in his game, and he was constantly beat by average velocity in a recent look. Of course, the day after my last look, he turned on a middle-in fastball for a home run. The same applies to his defense. He has the glove and arm for third, but his range is below average and won't get any better. A move to first would put even more pressure on the bat. I just can't go all in on him at this point. I haven't been able to go all in on Tyrell Jenkins, either. He has the two-pitch mix to be a late-innings reliever right now, but his stuff tends to play down from its potential and relies on command that's sometimes spotty, which limits him to relief for me rather than the potential starting role some see.

Lets do a little talking about the draft for a minute. We have heard everything from the Braves will always take the best player available to they are definitely taking a college bat with the 3rd pick. Whats your take on what they should do with the pick given the talent available?

The third-overall pick should always be the best player available. Limiting yourself to a college bat with only two players off the board is a bit crazy to me. If Nick Senzel is off the board, the only college-bat options I see are Corey Ray and Kyle Lewis, and Ray would seem more likely. If a pitcher like Riley Pint is still available, I don't see how you could possibly pass him up.

Based on the information we have available, who is are some players or types of players you would hope the Braves would avoid with their early picks?

The high-floor college pitchers serve a purpose and are draft targets for a reason, but it'd be nice to see the Braves add some position-player talent early if the draft works out that way. That's always tough to say, though, because the class and draft could play out to where that's not possible. The upside guys with tools should always be targets.

Thanks a lot for your time David, we really appreciate it. Is there anything else you want to share with us about the farm system or the draft before we let you go?

I like to remind fans to remain patient and realistic with prospects. Baseball development is a tough business and doesn't always go like you want. You'll see the Braves system ranked among the best in the game, but don't expect every prospect within the top 10 or 15 to pan out, and don't expect it overnight. They may throw 95 or hit a baseball 400 feet, but some of them are still kids. Just enjoy following their career paths and root for them to succeed.

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