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Talking Chop’s Top 25 Midseason Braves Prospect List: 1-5

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All good things must come to an end as we put out our top 5 2016 midseason Braves prospects

Bottom Right: #1 Prospect Ozhaino Albies; Top Left: #2 Prospect Dansby Swanson; Bottom Right: #3 Prospect Mike Soroka ; Top Right: #4 Prospect Sean Newcomb. Not Pictured: #5 Prospect Kevin Maitan. Also not pictured: Randy Ventura-a prospect we felt transcends ranking and has such an elite collection of tools he could not be properly placed, thus his absence from this Top 25
Photo Credit: All Photos Credited to Garrett Spain @BravesMILB

Well here we are, the best of the best....our top 5 Braves prospects at the midseason point in 2016. There was a lot of differing opinions on the top 5, although we all had the players in the same tiers which was helpful. Realistically, you won’t find any of us upset so long as these players are ranked in the general area the top of the list. We also want to extend a big thank you to Jeff Morris, who was incredibly cool about supplying us with pictures of prospects and allowing us to use them. You are the real MVP, sir.

If you want to ask questions about the list, your favorite/least favorite prospects, or anything about the Braves farm system, head over to the Talking Chop Facebook page at 3:30 PM today as I will be doing a Live Q&A. We will be collecting questions later today. Anyways, enough of all that, lets get to what you came here for.

5.) Kevin Maitan

The answer to the question "Who is the most talented prospect in the Braves system?" can’t go without including the name of Kevin Maitan in the conversation. Despite the fact Maitan is 16 years old and close to a full year away from playing in his first real game in the Braves system, he may already be the biggest upside prospect in the entire system.

Kevin Maitan
Maitan’s Twitter

Maitan had been considered to be the best prospect in the international market in at least the last seven years, if not longer. Starting well before turning 16, he has already been compared to guys like Chipper Jones, Miguel Cabrera, and Miguel Sano- a soon to be Hall of Famer, future Hall of Famer, and one of the best young hitters in the game today.

As a switch hitting shortstop, or potentially third baseman if he grows too much for short, he’s got the ability to hit for both average and power, grading conservatively with future 60 grades for both tools according to MLB.com’s profile. That could potentially mean the Braves recently signed a future #3/4 hitter for the middle of their lineup. He’s years away considering he won’t get to begin playing real games until the summer of 2017 when short season ball gets under way, but he’s arguably the most exciting prospect in the system and is going to be fun to watch develop.

For a closer look at Maitan, here is a full report from his signing.

4.) Sean Newcomb

The most scrutinized trade of the offseason sent centerpiece pitcher Sean Newcomb from the Angels to the Braves in exchange for Andrelton Simmons. Newcomb was the nearly consensus number 1 prospect in the system before the arrival of Dansby Swanson, and was seen as the first elite player the Braves had acquired that was close to the major leagues. Newcomb dominated over 3 levels last season, jumping from Low A to AA in one season with huge strikeout numbers all the time. In 136 innings he struck out 168 batters, but never did reign in his control with 76 walks. Still, his 2.38 ERA was among the best in the minor leagues and led him to being named in the Top 30 of every major prospect ranking going into the season. The shine Newcomb had last season has since worn down, as he has made it clear he is not as close to the major leagues as previously thought. While he still has a great strikeout rate (92 in 88.1 IP), he has been hittable all season and has walked 13% of his batters this year. He has seen a regression in nearly every major statistical category, although for Newcomb that likely does not tell the whole story. Coming into the organization, it seemed clear early on the Braves wished to make some changes to Newcomb to help with his control, and has seen plenty of up and downs. The inconsistency seems to be the biggest plague, and his lack of control has led him to being pulled early for high pitch counts. Newcomb has pitched into the 7th just once this season, and has completed 5 or fewer innings 4 times. He averages less than 5 innings pitched per start, the worst on the MBraves staff, but still is 3rd in the Southern League with 92 strikeouts.

Sean Newcomb

Coming into the season Newcomb’s calling card was his easy mid to upper 90s fastball, something the Braves haven’t seen much of. He is dialing it back to the low 90’s this season in an effort to improve his control and the movement of his pitches, and has seen mixed results with that. The adjustment to pitching vs throwing is a difficult thing to do, and Newcomb’s lack of experience coming from a small college and a cold weather state makes that all the more difficult. What Newcomb does have is the capability to dial up with ease, and the type of delivery that makes scouts drool. There is a strong belief that it will eventually click for Newcomb, which power pitchers are known for. Some guys take a long time to adjust, and there is plenty of arm talent to believe Newcomb will. Newcomb does not have the curveball of some of the other players in the system (which isn’t really a knock, more a testament to the great curveballs in the system), but his usage of the pitch is amongst the best in the system. He actually can throw the pitch for strikes at the same rate as his fastball, and rarely spikes them into the dirt or hangs one. It’s a pitch that grades still at above average, and can flash better at times. His changeup impressed me more than the reports that have it as average, and it clearly can get right handed hitters out. Newcomb tends to go on streaks in games in which he purely dominates the other team, and it will be about consistently getting that for him to be a top of the rotation pitcher.

3.) Mike Soroka

Coming in at number 3 on our list is righty pitcher from the vaunted Rome rotation, Mike Soroka. Its hard to overstate how well Soroka has done this season despite the fact that he will be 18 until the beginning of August. The young Canadian features a true three pitch mix and when everything is on, he could be a guy who has three plus pitches with his fastball, breaking ball (which is very slurvy at this point in his career), and changeup. His fastball sits in the low to mid 90s and could gain velocity given his projectable 6’4 frame and he pounds the strike zone with it while his breaking ball has arguably been his best "out pitch" this season. When his changeup is working, it is arguably his best pitch and basically makes him unhittable, although for a month or two earlier this season he struggled to find consistency with it. He has outstanding command of his pitches (he rarely walks batters) and he doesn’t give up the long ball as he has given up a total of 2 homers as a professional baseball player.

Mike Soroka Delivers a pitch
Mike Soroka
Photo Credit: Jeff Morris

More importantly though has been his mental approach to the game which is WAY beyond his years. We would argue that there isn’t a pitcher in the Braves minor league system that makes adjustments better than Mike Soroka. No pitcher has their best stuff every night, but Mike can very quickly identify the types of swings he gets and how his pitches are behaving to alter his gameplan to get outs. That he is already doing that as an 18-year old who is still learning how to be a baseball player is a bit crazy and if he ends up developing his three pitches in to consistent plus offerings, he could be special given his command and mental approach to the game.

We have been in on Soroka since he terrorized rookie ball last year, but his performance this year as started to get the attention of pundits all around baseball. His 3.35 ERA and 2.88 FIP as a teenager this season as well as his projectability, Baseball America put him in their midseason top 100 and I would expect him to get more and more national media love as we get in to the offseason lists as well. In short, he has upside, coachability, great makeup, and has posted outstanding results. Basically everything you would want in a prospect and in many farm systems around baseball, he would be their top prospect.

2.) Dansby Swanson

The preseason #1, Dansby Swanson is sitting now at 2, but not because of his own performance. Swanson is without a doubt the biggest name in the system, as the 2015 First Overall draft pick came over to the Braves to much fanfare. The Georgia native was dealt to the Braves along with Ender Inciarte and Aaron Blair in the blockbuster move of the decade that sent out Shelby Miller, who just recently was optioned to AAA by the Diamondbacks. Swanson has moved through the Southern League in what seems like a personal publicity tour, receiving attention, praise, and media clamor the likes of which may have never been seen by a minor league player and especially not a Braves prospect. He is the center of attention in every city and for every game and with good reason. While a hit by pitch delayed the start of his 2015 season while still a DBacks prospect, he quickly showed why he was such a high draft pick with an .876 OPS in short season A ball.

His first 21 games as a Brave were played with High A Carolina, and he dominated the league to a .967 OPS and an at-the-time Minor League leading 12 doubles. As part of the dual call up of he and Ozzie Albies, Swanson made a quick impression with Mississippi with a home run in his first game. He started his AA career on a 5 game hitting streak, and it seemed as if the Braves may not be able to keep in the minor leagues more than a few more weeks. The dog days of summer hit Swanson hard though, and he went on an 8 game slump that saw him go 3-28. He busted off a 12 game hit streak right after, but fell back into a slump this time with a major strikeout trend that directly contributed to his struggles. Over his next month, he hit just .207/.284/.337 with 27 K in 102 plate appearances. Then, following the demotion of his partner-in-crime Ozzie Albies, Dansby has hit .342/.422/.447 over his last 10 games. His AA numbers have been less than incredible, as he has hit .268/.350/.409, but he was named to the Future’s Game roster and started the game.

Dansby Swanson’s bat has been raved about by evaluators, as his approach and bat skills make him a potent on base threat at the plate. Dansby has some of the quickest wrists in baseball and can turn on any fastball he is thrown, leading to some concerns about his being too pull happy. A concerted effort to use the opposite field has been made at AA, to some mixed but encouraging results. Swanson can easily hit outside pitches and float them over second base, but there is at times some awkwardness and unbalance to the swing. He tends to lean a bit too far over the plate, necessitating him to just flick the ball into the outfield and take away a lot of his power. When he can stay back on outside pitching, he shows again a super clean stroke that allows him to spray line drives into gaps, though it is unlikely he’ll have opposite field home run power. Dansby draws a ton of walks at the plate right now, though at this point it is uncertain whether that is due to being pitched around or to his approach.

Swanson has an intelligent approach at the plate, showing a willingness to jump if he is challenged by a fastball early in the at bat but also is not overly aggressive to cause himself to fall behind. He hangs in well on curveballs, and while he can be fooled at times by a good changeup (who isn’t) he has a great ability to put the bat on the ball when off balance and can foul off a lot of pitches. Swanson’s one hole is his propensity to chase up in the zone, a spot he cannot make good contact to. I’m split on Swanson’s power potential, as the raw power is there for 20 home runs in a season. Due to his heavy line drive approach, it seems unlikely he ever tops 15 in a season, but will have huge doubles numbers. He drives the ball quite well, and can ambush a fastball and hit it a long way. Swanson projects well in the 2 spot at the next level, though just how much of his on base and power skills translates to the next level remains to be seen. Swanson will likely never be a huge stolen base threat, but is an extremely intelligent base runner who will likely swipe 15-20 a year and accrues value by taking extra bases in situations others would not. He doesn’t run into outs either, making him one of the most valuable baserunners in the system despite a lack of elite stolen base productions (a la Jason Heyward).

The Braves have made it ever so clear that Swanson will be the shortstop of the future over Ozzie Albies, though there is a split amongst scouts as to whether that is the right decision. Dansby is certainly the safe pick, a high IQ and energy guy with enough range and arm to make it work, but not necessarily the ceiling of Albies. Swanson doesn’t necessarily have elite range, instincts, arm strength, or footwork, but does everything so well it all kind of sums together to make him something just a bit better than the ingredients. He is a patient and cool character in the field, never trying to do to much and causing bad mistakes. Heady is the name of the game for Swanson, as he exhibits incredible knowledge and poise on the field, and has received high praise for his leadership. He is the guy that is always on the top step of the dugout, always the first out when someone does well, and always the last to stay to sign autographs at the end of the game. These kinds of things don’t show up in the box score, and don’t contribute to the outcome of the game, but are the kinds of traits that have endeared him to fans, media, teammates, and members of the front office.

I had an opportunity to talk to and meet Swanson on a trip earlier this season, and from doing so you would never think for a minute that he was the first overall pick. While he carries himself with a necessary confidence on and off the field, there is an incredible tinge of humility and reality to him. He doesn’t brag on himself to media and other players, and is quick to pass of credit and praise to teammates and coaches. I’ve yet to have met or even heard of a person with any sort of ill will towards Swanson, and any teammates, coach, or media member you talk to will rave about him. He’s the exact sort of down-to-earth, hard working player that the Braves target, and without a doubt enjoys every second of his time with the team. These intangibles coupled with his natural level of talent has made him the most popular name in Braves Country. While a few questions may remain on the field, there is no doubting the person and the teammate that Swanson is.

More audio from that can be heard here

1.) Ozhaino Albies

Albies Garrett Spain

It’s always remarkable when you watch Albies on the field and then realize he is just 19 years old. An incredible value during the 2013 J2 period, Albies wasn’t even on the top 30 list for Baseball America when he signed with the Braves. At the time he was considered to be playing above his "raw skills" and featured just plus speed but really good baseball instinct. In just three years he’s propelled himself up the rankings, both club and nationally, and according to Keith Law sits currently as the number 15 prospect in all of baseball.

How does someone of his stature excel so much with the bat? He makes up for his lack of size with outstanding hand eye coordination which helps him barrel up balls at a great rate. When he’s not barreling up pitches he also has a great feel of the strike zone which has leads to a walk rate that hovers between 8-11%. This has led to him having some really solid OBPs (SSS in AAA notwithstanding)  throughout his career – and when he gets on base he utilizes his 65 speed quite well by being able to get around the bases quite well. Though his stolen bases are down, 14 through 92 games, it is still another tool in his arsenal. Albies possesses a skill set you dream of a leadoff hitter having: hitting for average, walking at a near 10% clip, and can run the bases very well. He also does well from both sides of the plate hitting .289/.366/.382 from the right, and .345/.381/.543 from the left.

Defensively Albies took an uncharacteristic step back this year committing 15 errors between two levels so far this year but it looks to be a flash in the pan. Albies has a great defensive instinct and a fantastic first step that allows him to get to a lot of balls in the deep hole. Along with his quick first step, impressive range, and a great glove to hand transition, Albies also possesses a good arm that will play really well at second – it’s tough to envision a play where Albies will struggle with a throw from second.

All of that said none of this matters if he can’t put it together on the field. Well, that he has done. Coming in to July 14th Albies has hit .399/.466/.559 in 36 games in Rome. He struggled a bit in Gwinnett hitting .248/.307/.351 through 56 games but began to turn it around hitting .282/.367/.376 in his final 21 games before being sent to Mississippi to start his pairing with Dansby Swanson (along with his move to second). Again – it’s important to remember he’s still just 19 years age, an age at which many players are just beginning their careers.