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Talking Chop’s Top 25 Midseason Braves Prospect List: 11-15

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We continue our countdown of our 2016 midseason prospect rankings with numbers 11-15

Top Left: Rio Ruiz; Bottom Left: Austin Riley; Bottom Middle: Joey Wentz; Right: Dustin Peterson
Photo Credit: Bottom Middle-Jeff Morris @_Jeff_Morris; All Others-Garrett Spain

Welcome back to our latest installment of our 2016 midseason Braves prospect list. If you have missed our previous installments earlier this week, you can click HERE and HERE. We have had lots of insightful and spirited discussion about the list so far and we are loving it, so keep it up! Do be nice to one another in the process though...its easy to forget that this is a community of folks that all want the same things.

To that end, you all are probably already tired of reading an intro, so here are prospects 11-15....

15.) Max Povse

Max Povse Jen Mac Ramos/SB Nation Baseball

Coming in at number 15 of our list is the big righty Max Povse, who had fallen out of our rankings altogether for the preseason due to injury and a bit of oversight. A product of UNC-Greensboro, Povse is a hulking presence on the mound with his huge 6'8" fram. Despite his size, he controls his body very well and has a solid delivery although his injury in his relatively short career does give cause for a teensy bit of concern. His fastball is his best pitch and is best ticket to the majors as it tops out at 98 that runs down. It shows impressive movement and could gain more velocity as he matures. He generates tons of groundballs (more on that in a bit) and is still hasn’t reached his ceiling, although with each passing season and at his age its certainly something to be a bit mindful of. His breaking balls and changeup lag behind his fastball and his slider and curve are both ok but very inconsistent, but his changeup is arguably major league ready and is filthy when he is also locating his high-90s fastball. He as a repeatable, athletic delivery and throws an effortless fastball that says he should be able to stick in a rotation, but may have a career as a late-inning reliever if the breaking pitches don’t become more consistent or if he is simply blocked due to the sheer number of young pitchers in the Braves’ system. - Daren Wilman

Povse has been a bit of a pleasant surprise for us, but luckily smart folks like David Lee yelled at us enough about how well Povse had been pitching both before his injury as well as early on this season. He started this season as arguably playing the best of all of the pitching prospects in the system, which was no small task given the starts of some of this system’s pitchers. He has a 3:1 groundball to flyball which bodes well and he should be able to benefit from better defenders as he progresses. He is also a player whose FIP has historically been significantly lower than his ERA, so it worth a watch to see if they correct back as he progresss. His ceiling is still as a mid rotation starter, and he should be a good bet to reach that ceiling. Povse can still strikeout batters and miss bats and he was rewarded recently with a promotion to Mississippi, which was largely expected partially due to him repeating a level this year due to injury. The earliest we are likely to see Povse is 2017 unless the Braves were to switch to the bullpen right now. Since that does not appear to be in the cards (with good reason), Povse should progress at a normal rate and possibly see some time in Atlanta next season.

14.) Austin Riley

Drafted as a third basemen despite many teams desire to see him on the mound Austin Riley’s debut season couldn’t have gotten off to a worse start -through 7 games Austin accumulated a .045/.276/.045 line with 11 strikeouts in 22 at-bats. There were questions about his bat speed and if he could ever catch up to a legitimate fastball, or had the pitch recognition to hit to make an adjustment to offspeed stuff. The articles after 7 games were pretty hilarious. Over his next 24 games Austin hit .315/.351/.629 with 7 homers, and 46% of his hits were extra-base hits, and a much reduced k rate which led to a promotion to Danville. In 30 games at Danville, Austin smashed 5 homeruns en route to hitting .351/.443/.586 with 28 strikeouts in 30 games so after that horrific 7 game stretch to start his career Austin hit .333/.404/.600 in his final 53 games with averaging just over a strikeout a game. As a result of his dominant rookie season, 2016 was met with some big expectations. Austin was named the No. 6 third base prospect in the minors according to MLB Pipeline.

Austin Riley

It’s been an up-and-down year for Austin in 2016 who was off to a slow start hitting .246/.291/.372 through his first 47 games striking out 66 times and just 12 walks. He has missed some time with injury, and the non-elite bat speed hurts him at times but you can’t doubt his ability to make adjustments – hitting .289/.333/.479 over the last 32 games of the season. He has to start his swing a bit earlier than most to compensate for that average bat speed so he will swing at more balls than maybe expected from a #6 third base prospect should but as long as the game power stays he will remain an intriguing prospect.

That said there are some questions on if he can reduce the strikeouts (30%), raise his walk rate (6%), or stick at third. He has a 91% fielding percentage with 17 errors in 199 defensive chances. He has a tendency to try and backhand a lot of balls instead of getting his body in front of them despite having the arm to compensate for having to drop to a knee or square up a ball – though that is something that could be easily taught. The Braves will do everything they can to keep him at third but there is a chance he ends up at first or left.

13.) Dustin Peterson

Coming in at 13th, we have probably the most major league ready power prospect in the system in Left Fielder Dustin Peterson. A return from the now potential franchise-altering Justin Upton trade, Peterson made a huge splash at the beginning of last season in his first with the Braves. Despite having to adjust to a move to left field, Peterson made the Carolina League All Star Team with a dominant early performance hitting .314/.392/.457 through May 11. He then fell victim to the Mudcats bus crash, which probably contributed to his second consecutive poor second half showing. Now healthy, Peterson has shown off his pop in a major way with 7 home runs this season in the spacious Trustmark Park and earned himself another All Star bid. He has already tied last season’s home run total, and is on pace to set career bests in hits, batting average, OBP, slugging percentage, isolated power, walks, walk rate, strikeout rate, line drive rate, RBIs, doubles, home runs, and runs scored. All of this despite playing in the aforementioned Trustmark park, which has held in more than a few balls that would have been home runs in every other Southern League Stadium. He has truly had his breakout season this year, and has grown immensely since his time with the Padres. Peterson has doubled the walk rate he had with the Padres, cut his K rate from 24.3% to 16.3% all while growing his power numbers.

Dustin Peterson is the prototypical left fielder, a guy who can hit for power and has enough speed to not be a detriment in the outfield. His hit tool has taken major steps forward in the last 2 season, evidenced by consistent increases in line drive rate and batting average and a corresponding drop in his strike rate. There is some aggressiveness to his swing, and at times he can be fooled by offspeed stuff. He has had the fortune of getting consistently attacked with curveballs and other offspeed stuff in games, and shows the ability to fight it off and wait for a hanger or fastball that he can drive. Peterson doesn’t walk a ton, but has bumped his walk rate to 8.5% which will be serviceable given his projections. Raw power is not a problem for Peterson, as he really drives through the ball well and has strengthened his frame tremendously over the last 2 years.

Just how much of that translates to games will be a question of his hit tool. We see him as a potential consistent 20 home run guy, with the ability to hit in the .270 range or better. Given his age (21) versus his competition (league average 3.1 years older) and the numbers he has produced it’s quite outstanding what he has done so far. He has had exactly 2 of his 377 plate appearances this season come against a younger player. The biggest question posed for Peterson has been his durability especially given his anemic second half performances the last 2 seasons. Only the next few months will tell if the concern is legitimate, and he will shoot even further up lists if he proves he can play a full season. As for defense, he is a bit better than I think was expected of him and could be an average defender. He is a great athlete, and it will mostly depend on just how much mobility he loses to his aging curve. The biggest praises sung to Peterson revolve not around his game, but on his intangibles. I’ve heard nothing but extremely positive views on his competitiveness and his work ethic, and he is a very popular guy in the clubhouse with his outgoing personality and ability to really bring the clubhouse together. He shows up everyday and has fun, going about his business with a smile on his face and it seems to rub off well on the rest of the team. The Braves have made a point to target these high make up guys under the current Front Office, and have found a nice piece in left field in Peterson.

12.) Rio Ruiz

Rio Ruiz has been the subject of more debate than any other in the system, as opinions are extremely mixed on his potential. Statistically, Ruiz has had a solid season hitting .279/.366/.390, but has left a lot to be desired especially since a torrid start to the season. Coming off of a dreadful 2015 season in Mississippi, expectations were low for Ruiz and it was seen as a given that he would repeat AA. The offseason told the story for Ruiz however, as after being given a list of tasks to complete he was sent home for the winter to work. He came back to the Braves in much better shape than the previous season, fixed some issues with his swing, and improved his defense among other things. He checked off every box the Braves gave him to check, effectively ending the questions about his work ethic, and was rewarded with a promotion to AAA to start the season.

Ruiz rewarded the Braves right back by starting out with a bang, hitting .310/.389/.452 through the season’s first month. Unfortunately, Ruiz fell into the struggles one would expect from a 22 year old in AAA, and posted a .593 OPS in May. He has steadily improved since, and so far in July has hit .290/.368/.484. Digging deeper for Ruiz, much of what he has struggled with this season has been his strikeouts. While he has kept his walks at his typically high rate (12% in 2016), his K’s have jumped to a career high 23.1%, 3.5 percentage points higher than his worst season previously. In June and July he has shown some improvement in that category, getting his K rate around his career norm at 17.5%, and keeping his walk rate at a high 12.3%.

Rio Ruiz swing

For Ruiz, it seems more that consistency will be his key to success than anything. Ruiz has all of the athleticism he needs, but has a strong tendency to fall into funks at the plate in which he seems totally lost. At his best, he is a consistently above average hitter with a very advanced approach, incredible pitch recognition, and great strike zone awareness. He can barrel up any pitch at any velocity or with any movement, and uses all fields well. This season he has made a concerted effort to pull the ball more, and with that has seen a slight uptick in his power production. Unfortunately, Ruiz’s power is his biggest question mark at the plate. He hits a lot of line drives, and when he makes contact can hit the ball a long way. Despite his raw power and ability to make contact, he does not produce power at the plate. His swing is smooth and quiet most of the time, but on his slumps gets stiff and unassuming leading to a lot of weak fly balls and ground outs. Just why he has not produced power with the Braves remains a question, as there isn’t really one part of his game I can pinpoint for a reason he struggles. The biggest problem may just be percentages-many of his hits are ground balls instead of fly balls, and it’s hard to hit home runs on those.

Coming into the Braves system, it was a major question if Ruiz had the glove to play third base. Rio has a ton of arm strength and good hands, but lacked mobility due to his weight problems. Since slimming up he has flashed very good defense at the hot corner, and I would venture to call him above average. There is work to do to clean up his footwork, but with his reinvented attitude and body I see him ironing that out quickly. All in all, Ruiz’s chances to be an above average third baseman seem within reach. He may never be elite, but he can fill a hole that has existed since Chipper Jones retired in a more than serviceable manner.

Rio Ruiz Defense

11.) Joey Wentz

Joey Wentz may not have been the highest pick during the Braves 2016 draft, but he may be the most interesting player they drafted. Not only is he a big left hander with huge pure stuff, but he would have been a high draft choice as a hitter as well. Baseball Draft Report gave him a comparison as "a bigger Pavin Smith," with Smith being a first baseman from the University of Virginia in the mix to be drafted in the first round next year. That comp makes sense as he played first base during the summer travel circuit last year and actually won the National Junior Home Run Derby at the 2015 All Star Game, hitting a 543 foot homer at Cincinnati’s Great American Ballpark. That is longer than anything Giancarlo Stanton hit during his show during the 2016 MLB Home Run Derby. Yet despite all of his talent as a hitter, his future is on the mound.

So how did he fall to the 40th pick in the draft? That’s a two part question. The first reason is because he was a commit to play with Smith at Virginia, a school which is historically harder to sign kids away from. The other reason is that he’s got real medical questions already. The reason Wentz was at first base last summer is because he had dead arm, forcing him out as a pitcher. Then this spring he saw his velocity take a considerable drop after he started out strong. While neither issue seems too serious, it’s never a good thing for your prized young arm to be dealing with these issues twice in the past year.

Joey Wentz
Jeff Morris

Wentz is an imposing guy on the mound, as the former basketball player is a projectable 6’5", 210 pounds. He throws up to 95 from the left side with a big breaking curve, potentially developing into a true plus pitch. The change is still a work in progress, which is normal for a young arm, but he has shown a feel. He also has an easy, repeatable delivery which allows him to command his three pitches well.

He’s got major upside but he’s years away, with 2020 being an optimistic timeline for him getting to the big leagues. Wentz could become a #2/3 starter if he reaches his potential on the mound, but even if it doesn’t work out on the mound he could get a look as a hitter as a fallback option for him since he’s got some real power in his bat.