Welcome yet again to the second to last installment of Talking Chop’s Midseason Braves Prospect List and now we are getting down to the cream of the crop, the best of the best. The response we have gotten to the previous three installments has been outstanding (thanks guys!) and if you have missed out on our 11-25 prospects, you can take a look at them by clicking HERE, HERE, and HERE.
Its worth noting that as we approached the top ten, among all of us it was almost as if that was where we had the most consensus among us, but also large amount of small variations in our rankings. That speaks to how good this system and these players truly are. Two of these players received top 5 votes, but none of them were ranked lower than 10th by any of us. With that being said, here are our 6th-10th Braves prospects for midseason 2016.
10.) Touki Toussaint
I’m still laughing at this trade. I will never understand why it was made from the Diamondbacks point of view. Growing up playing soccer, Touki Toussaint decided to play baseball around the age of 14 and was drafted out of high school as a very raw, extremely high ceiling pitcher. At 18, Touki was sitting 92-95 with the ability to touch 98, and flashed an extremely fantastic curveball. His curveball was so good at 18 a future value of 70 was slapped on it by many scouts. His arsenal was thought of so highly that leading up to the draft Touki, despite having played baseball for 4 years, was labeled as having the best fastball-breaking ball combination in the entire draft whether it be prep or college. Not only that, but many believed at worst even if his command didn’t improve he could have a career as a reliever because of that two pitch combo. With all of that said he was traded to Arizona on a magical June afternoon in 2015 for Phil Gosselin and a $10M salary dump (Arroyo) in a trade that was hilariously reacted to:
Here’s what we know about Touki: he possesses 3 plus pitches a fastball that can touch 98, a changeup that flashes brilliant at times, and one of the best curveballs in the minors. That said, he’s still learning the pitch and learning how to repeat his delivery which has resulted in some rocky starts. There are times when he has trouble with his delivery and command which results in outings like the one he had May 26th where he lasted just 1 OUT walking 5 and giving up 3 hits. And then there are times where he flashes the true ace capability like he did on the 7th of June when he allowed 2 hits and struck out 9 over 6 innings.
Touki was nothing short of bad the first three games of the season when he went 0-3 with a 12.66 ERA and allowed opponents to collect a 1.267 OPS by hitters. Adjustments were made and over his last 14 starts he’s 2-2 with a 3.11 ERA, limiting batters to a .187/.296/.278 slash line (.574 OPS), and 1.161 WHIP. Touki has made serious strides this year with his delivery and if he can find consistency in limiting his walks the sky is the limit for his ceiling and could easily find himself at the top of this list.
9.) Ian Anderson
When the Braves selected Ian Anderson with the #3 pick in the MLB Draft there was some confusion and some disappointment within the fan base. Some fans were upset that a bat, such as local product Kyle Lewis, wasn’t picked. Others because they believed the Braves reached for a guy just to save some money. Sure the Braves did save quite a bit of money, which allowed them to sign Joey Wentz, Kyle Muller and Brett Cumberland, but Anderson is a top prospect in his own right.
I had Anderson at #9 on my own pre-draft big board. He may have actually ranked higher, but due to missing a huge chunk of his senior year due to poor weather and a battle with illness, there was some difficulty in getting a look at him this spring. The Braves sent a large bunch of decision makers up to see his final start before the draft, and came away impressed after seeing him strike out 16 in a state playoff game. It would be fair to say that after this scouting trip the Braves actually considered Anderson to be the best player on the board when their pick came up, rather than just a good prospect who would save money.
Anderson is a tall, projectable right hander who drew some big praise on draft night. Hall of Famer and Braves legend John Smoltz had some good things to say, while Peter Gammons called Anderson a 10 year pro. Despite needing to fill out his body and get stronger, Anderson reportedly hit 97 MPH this spring with his fastball that has late sinking life down in the zone. He also has one of the better curveballs in the prep class, which can draw swings and misses. His change needs a little more development, but it has shown some ability to also get swings and misses. Anderson also has good mechanics, allowing him to repeat his delivery, and that is a part of the reason he already has sound command. He’s a smart kid with pitchability, projectability, and present stuff that could make him a very intriguing arm to watch.
Anderson may not have the upside of Riley Pint, the prep pitcher taken one pick after him, but he’s got a much higher floor to go with a considerable ceiling. Right now he looks like a future #3 starter, but definitely has the ability to develop into something more as he adds strength. Anderson may be a fairly slow moving pitcher considering he’s from a cold weather state and faced a lesser level of competition, so it could take him a good five years- but he will be a fun pitcher to watch move up the ladder.
8.) Max Fried
Braves fans waited more than a year to see the centerpiece of the Justin Upton deal in action, and Max Fried has not disappointed this season. Prior to a Tommy John surgery Fried was one of the most prized prospects in the game, drawing huge prospect rankings and comparisons to Clayton Kershaw at just 19. His long road back led him to being dumped off by the Padres, and the Braves added one of the highest ceiling pitchers in the system. Max Fried broke out with his performance as a 19 year old in the MIdwest League, posting a 3.49 ERA over 118 innings, but the Padres inexplicably asked him to repeat Low A ball as a 20 year old. Just 10.2 innings into the 2014 season, he was shut down with injury and didn’t pitch another game until 2016. Asked to again start at A ball, he started off the season with a strong month of April in posting a 3.50 ERA with 17 strikeouts in 18 innings pitched. A couple of bad starts ballooned Fried’s ERA to nearly 6 midway through May, but in 9 starts since allowing 5 runs on May 14 he has posted a 2.09 ERA with a .572 OPS against. In that time he has struck out 53 batters in 48 innings. He has also posted gaudy pickoff totals, with 18 in his 16 games this season. In the month of June (and 1 start in July), he pitched to a 1.13 ERA with 41K/11BB in 32 IP. Unfortunately, Fried was placed on the DL with a blister after his July 4th start and has not pitched since, though he seems primed to be promoted shortly.
While Fried may be old for his level at 22, his performance nonetheless has been intriguing and exciting. Even more impressive is just how quickly his stuff has bounced back post surgery, as he looks like a guy who never missed a game. His fastball has already been clocked at 96 miles per hour, and given his frame he could project to add more velocity as he matures. The pitch has really good movement to it, and he moves the pitch around the zone well. He is not afraid to attack hitters up and has the velocity and command to do that. His best pitch is a knee buckling curveball, that although not quite Touki level is still unhittable for A ball batters. Early in the season Fried struggled with leaving the pitch up, but as he’s shaken off the rust has brought the ball down more consistently. He is extremely consistent with the pitch, never seeming to throw one that loses its plane or sharpness, something rare for a pitcher at that level
Fried works a solid average third pitch in his changeup, which early in his recovery process he seemed to lack feel of. He struggled with his location and deception of the pitch in the beginning stages of the season, but as he has progressed has begun to flash plus potential on this his third pitch. Despite being the last thing to return for a pitcher after surgery, Fried has already shown the ability to command his fastball and curveball. He continues to improve in that area, and given his age and the ease of his delivery should improve greatly. The only question remaining for Fried will be his ability to stay healthy, something that has and will continue to be closely monitored.
7.) Kolby Allard
Kolby Allard may have been in the mix for the #1 pick in the 2015 MLB Draft, but he suffered a back injury which forced him to miss the bulk of his senior year and few teams got a chance to look at him before the draft. He fell to the Braves at #14 partly because according to some he wasn’t willing to work out with other teams prior to the draft, which meant that there were some unanswered questions about his health not to mention a fairly solid commitment to UCLA.
Allard made his debut in the Gulf Coast League last year, but after getting ready to pitch from the injury he was limited to six innings over three games. Then he had surgery on his back this offseason, which meant he wasn’t ready to start this year on time. He made his 2016 season debut in Rome on June 6th and was hit hard in two starts before a strong third start. Just as he appeared to be shaking off the rust he was surprisingly demoted to Danville as they opened their season. Since that demotion he has been lights out, pitching two scoreless outings and giving up two runs apiece in the other two outings. Overall on the season in seven starts he has a 4.05 ERA and 1.14 WHIP to go with 38 strikeouts against 8 walks in 33.1 innings- very strong numbers considering his two rough outings in Rome are included in those totals.
Allard is a bit undersized at just 6’1" 180 pounds, but he certainly has the stuff to make up for that. He has a fastball that sits 90-94 from the left side and a developing change. His best pitch however is his plus(or better) curve which may have been the best in the prep draft class last year. Put that together with solid command and a delivery that comes with a little deception and it’s easy to see how he is able to get strikeouts. He’s got a feel for how to pitch which is advanced for his age, so he’s not just a thrower out there on the mound.
Prior to last year’s draft Allard was most often compared with another talented prep pitcher, (a healthy) Brady Aiken. That comparison comes as top California prep arms with big velocity and curves as well as knowing how to pitch, but it’s a fair comparison. Allard has all the tools to become a true #2 starter with a little more development, provided he stays healthy. Missing a half year’s worth of innings may slow his development a little, but he has a reasonable chance to be in Atlanta around late 2018/early 2019.
6.) Ronald Acuna
Coming in at number 6 on our list is a player who had quite a bit of pre-season buzz and lived up to that hype before being injured, Ronald Acuna. Signed out of Venezuela, Acuna will spend the entirety of this season as an 18 year old who has some of the more exciting tools in the Braves minor league system. We mentioned that Acuna was likely to be the biggest riser in the Braves system when we did our pre-season rankings and he did not disappoint, showing very real potential at the plate as well as in center field. He displays elite bat speed, some of the best hands through the zone you will see, and an approach at the plate that is advanced for his age. The ball jumps off his bat and while he has not hit for a ton of power yet, multiple talent evaluators have said that as he learns his craft a bit more..he should be a power threat at the plate as well.
Its not just his bat that intrigues scouts, its also his legs (12 stolen bases in 30 games this season) and his defensive acumen. He possesses great instincts as well as his aforementioned speed which allows for him to have a relatively high defensive ceiling in addition to his potential at the plate. After a very successful rookie ball season last year, Acuna was off to a great start this season with a .300/.389/.391 line before injuring his thumb/wrist on a slide. That means we are talking about a potential five-tool player patrolling a premium defensive position. To be blunt, the only reason he is ranked this low is because a few of us just want to see him do his thing for a bit longer and see how he recovers from his injury...he was ranked as a high as second by at least one Talking Chop writer.
In short, in Acuna, you are looking at one of the best position prospects in the Braves system and if he comes back (presumably towards the end of July or beginning of August) and performs as well as he did pre-injury, he will be among the best prospects in baseball. Recently, Baseball America intimated that when they were making their midseason top 100 for this season, Acuna barely missed out on the top 100 and that was with him being out since the middle of May. Given that his ceiling is likely an Adam Jones type player with skills at the plate and in the field, its not hard to see why.