While the games in the upper minor leagues have been raging for 2 and a half months now, the two lowest stateside teams for the Braves have yet to suit up in official game action. Once the all star break ends, the rookie GCL Braves and Danville Braves start their seasons on teams filled with recent draftees, international players, and some of last year’s holdovers. Danville opens play on June 23, and the next day the GCL Braves will play their first game.
When drafted, Cumberland added some much needed power to the system and does so as an advanced college bat. I think there is some expectation that he will start at or very quickly advance to Danville this season, perhaps taking on some time in Rome as well. While the bat and power production will be important to note for Cumberland, the greatest importance should be placed on his defensive development. If Cumberland can remain at catcher, his bat in that round is a huge coup. If not, he still provides an above average ability with the bat albeit at a less notable position, likely left field.
The third of the first trio of pitchers the Braves took off the board, Muller provides some real upside and athleticism. The most raw between he, Wentz, and Anderson, he needs to take advantage of his large frame and continue to strengthen an arm that has added velocity over the past year already. It will be interesting to see how Muller adjusts to pitching full time, as he was also the star hitter in high school. His offspeed stuff currently lags behind, and it would not be a surprise to see some struggles at the outset, but patience is needed for such a raw talent.
Pache was universally seen as one of the top 20 international players last season, and the Braves jumped on signing him for $1.4m. Pache will be the youngest stateside Brave, and will not turn 18 until 3 months after the end of the season. Pache brings some right handed pop to the plate, and has a good all around game in the outfield. He is seen as a good hitter with a nice approach at the plate, and has the defense to stay in center field. Also considered a high makeup guy, he has the potential to be a major future piece in the outfield and it all starts this season.
The Braves took a local player with their 20th round pick in Trion’s Gabe Howell, and were able to quickly sign the middle infielder. Howell put up ridiculous numbers as a senior, slashing .650/.750/1.377, but did so against Class A competition, the lowest level in the state. Just how his play translates to the pro game will be intriguing and he will have to hit because he is likely going to move to third base. Howell has a big frame that projects for power, so there is a good chance he has the bat to remain at 3rd.
Cruz was rated with Pache as one of the best prospects in last year’s international crop, and by many he was considered better. He is a premium athlete with easy double plus speed, and a good hit tool from both sides of the plate. Questions remain about his ability to remain at shortstop, but with his speed he would easily project to a center field role as well. With good reason he signed for a higher price than did Pache, and the Braves feel he projects to a leadoff type role in the future.
Brandon White... and Brandon White..umm
The day that the Brandon White’s both pitch in the same game will confuse scorers and fans alike, and I want a copy of that scorecard frames in my living room. To be quite honest I have no idea how they will solve the jersey situation, and there may be some strange looks by bouncers if they attempt to enter a club together. In the end, I think Brandon White will be a fantastic pitcher but I’m not gonna tell you which one.
Izzy caught a lot of helium towards the end of last season, showing to be perhaps the best athlete in the system. He showed huge power potential hitting 10 home runs in his last 34 games, and has the speed and arm to play center field. He also spent a lot of time in right field due to the presence of Ronald Acuna, a position he also projects well at. He is patient in drawing a lot of walks at the plate, though in rookie ball that may be a case of young pitchers not wanting to throw to a 6’3” 185lb 18 year old who can hit the ball a country mile. The biggest problem Wilson must solve is his strikeout problems, especially his struggles with outside pitching. All of his home runs were pulled, even though he has the power to hit the ball out to all fields. At now 18 years old there is plenty of time to improve in that regard, and he has already done so in dropping his strikeout rate as the GCL season progressed.
No player will have more eyes following him than Anderson this summer, as scouts and fans want to see the payoff from the highest Braves draft pick since Mike Kelly in 1991. Not helping matters, he is considered a reach at that spot and many are inclined to wish for power hitters such as Corey Ray or Kyle Lewis. Still, Anderson blew up this spring despite a lack of playing time, and was reaching into the upper 90’s at times with his fastball. A projectable guy, he could add to that and really be one of the few true power pitchers the Braves have. No one will have more eyes on him this summer than Anderson, and no one deserves that more.
Taken as a 20th rounder in the 2015 draft, Hellinger was viewed as a project pitcher that may take time to develop. He payed off the pick with a strong showing in the Gulf Coast League, with a 3.15 ERA and a matching 3.16 FIP. Now still 19, Hellinger will be playing in Danville and could break out in a major way. Hellinger is a 6’4” lefty, and listed at 170lbs at draft time last year was already getting in the 90’s with his fastball. That kind of projectability gives him an opportunity and we could see a major jump in that velocity this season. He pitched well as both a reliever and a starter last season, but should hopefully get the opportunity to start for the entire season.
There were questions about signability going into the draft for Wilson, and the Braves answered matching his $1.2 million dollar command that was more than twice his bonus. That wrenched him away from a scholarship to North Carolina, and put him in the hands of Atlanta. There is a lot for Wilson to prove this season, as going that far over slot means the Braves must see something that most evaluators did not. He is an arm strength guy for the time being, but hopes to develop him offspeed stuff to be more effective.
The small but amazing Randy Ventura but on a show in the Dominican Summer league with a .329 batting average and .421 OBP. He played half a season, but still led the Braves system with 55 stolen bases (9 caught stealing)-a number 20 higher than anyone else in the Dominican Summer League. DSL stats don’t usually translate to stateside, but there is some belief that they will for Ventura. Clearly the speed is indubitable, but whether the bat and the walk rates will carry over is a question. He lacks power and will have to rely on average and speed to make a name for himself.
The Braves went $300k overslot to sign Rowland in the 11th round, a sign that should point to just how much they like him. This is another hometown guy, extremely projectable at 6’3 and already sitting in the low 90’s. His slider is a formidable wipeout pitch even now, and is probably already the best in the system at this stage though not many claim competition. He will fill out a ridiculously strong GCL pitching staff, and while the least hyped of the group has plenty of stuff to hang with them.
Felix Falcon may not be a player to watch from a performance standpoint, as he repeated GCL last season with mixed results. He struck out more than a batter an inning, but also walked 6.7 batters per 9 innings. Felix may not be the best player that rolls into the short season league, but does it really matter? His last name is Falcon, which immediately makes him a top prospect in my book. Maybe one day he’ll make it to the bullpen on a Braves World Series team, and an Atlanta Falcon will finally win a championship.
Wentz may have the best raw power of any current Braves prospect, but is good enough they wanted him as a pitcher. Wentz has a fastball that has improved tremendously this spring, now 92-94 and up to 96 with a lot of life. He is a super athletic player, already shows ability to repeat his delivery, and has an easy arm action. Did I mention he had a 0.00 ERA this spring? Zero. He struck out 2 batters per inning pitched and walked 2 per 9 innings. Both his curveball and changeup are potential plus offerings, making him a potential frontline starter in the future.