One of my favorite things about minor league baseball is the accessibility to the average fan. You don’t need $200 to get close enough to the game to see anything, a bit of pocket change gets you to the same seats as the scouts. Every fan has his or her opinion, and there’s always plenty to argue about.
Sometimes, players just don’t work out for you (I’m still watching you Joey Devine), and others a player comes out of no where to contribute in a big way. The ability of a person to spot someone who is on either side of that fence can tell you a lot about their eye, but with the advancement and ease of access to statistics it has become easier to pick out players that may sneak up on you.
Pump The Brakes Prospects
The popularity of the Braves system is as strong as any team’s, but at times some players’ short term successes can lead to a runaway hype train. We’ve all been a victim, and it’s easy to hope that a week of work will somehow wipe out the previous struggles of a player. For some, that may not be true.
There has been a bit of disagreement as to the future role left out for Rio Ruiz. The first weeks of the season and the final few all showed off Ruiz’s best traits. His natural eye shined at the plate and he found holes in the defense on a consistent basis. The glove, never expected to be more than average, showed above average at times and it looked like Ruiz was shaping up to be the third baseman of the future in Atlanta.
Throughout the ups and downs for Ruiz, 2 things remained consistent from beginning to end. Rio’s strikeout rate, usually hovering just below 19%, jumped up to 22% without much improvement in his power production. With that came a frightening amount of plate appearances that Ruiz looked completely lost during. That brings up the second constant, his complete inability to hit left handed pitchers. For a guy who had in the past shown well enough against lefties, his first venture against the veterans of the International League was less than ideal. .522 OPS aside, it appeared towards the end of the season that not only could Ruiz not hit lefties, he didn’t even seem to be seeing the ball at all. On any curveballs, Ruiz bailed on the ball almost as soon as it was delivered and never made much effort to try to hit the pitch. As the season wore on, that became the only pitch he would see from left handers and it became increasingly frustrating to watch his struggles pile.
While his potential to be no more than a platoon player are the most damning of the numbers, for the 22 year old Ruiz there is time to improve. If he can recover the ability he showed at the lower levels he has a chance to be an average starter, but his play in AAA shows an alarming trend that needs to be nipped.
If judged just on my opinion of the player, Ellis wouldn’t make this list. Nothing about Ellis is truly impressive enough to warrant the prospect status he has received, but his play in AA this season opened up the possibility he could have a decent major league career. When he can locate his pitches, and when that curveball is tumbling, there is definitely back end starter potential, but for me those starts have been too few. While he got away with wildness in AA, and even at times in AAA (see playoff start number 2), he just can’t survive if he can’t locate a fastball that grades in at average at best.
Over the last 3 seasons, all those he has pitched a full year, Ellis’s control just hasn’t improved. In fact, he’s allowed more walks at every level as he has advanced (7.7%, 11.8%, and 16.3% at A+, AA, and AAA respectively). While his short stint in A+ in the Angels organization showed some success, he’s been somewhat old prospect wise at every level until reaching AAA. His strikeouts are going down, his walks are going up, and at some point that will catch up to him. Ellis still gives me a feel, like one of those random back end journeymen that somehow makes a 12 year career out of a 4.70 ERA, but the ceiling and really the floor don’t seem to be there. Next year, at some point, the story of Ellis will begin to be told and if his numbers at AAA are any indication the book may be short and bitter.
Dykstra has been one of those players that gets a sort of weird following, with some groups (*cough* Pipeline) seeing him as one of the better hitting prospects in the system. On that singular note, he is quite good. Dykstra can put his bat on a baseball, hitting over .300 in his career with a K rate well below 10%. He can hit left handers, he can hit right handers-if you can get the ball in the general vicinity of home plate he can hit it.
That may just be the problem for Dykstra. While he can hit anything, he’s not particularly choosy and carries a walk rate that has declined steadily from a career HIGH 5.4% in his first season to a current 1.8% in his first at A ball. He’s basically Jose Peraza at the plate, except he doesn’t steal bases(7 this season), play shortstop (or any position particularly well for that matter), and is only one year younger than Peraza (who was in AAA at 21). Dykstra hasn’t hit a home run since August 19 2014, and doesn’t really hit many doubles either. He is King Single, but beyond that you probably won’t be getting anything from Dykstra. If you like bench bat second basemen, Luke Dykstra is your guy.
Don’t Sleep Prospects
Ok so maybe starting out with a guy who has a .213 career batting average is a stretch. Maybe. Perhaps the most interesting thing for Murphy isn’t his struggles, but the way in which he has struggled. Tanner has struck out a solid amount in his carer, 21.3% of the time, but his 2016 season saw him post his best K rate of his career (16.4%). All the while, Murphy’s approach at the plate has been fantastic. He walks nearly 12% of the time, and consistently keeps and OBP/AVG difference of around 100 points. None of this is crazy, but his BABIP of .239 and .243 in his last 2 seasons is.
Murphy has a lot of loft to his swing, with more than 1⁄3 of his career balls in play being fly balls. With his average raw power, you would expect power to show up in games, but somehow it only seems to come in stretches. His line drive rate is going up(17.7%, 17.9%, 19.3%), he’s striking out less, and walking more. It seems like the numbers should show up on paper, and if everything regresses to mean there could be a huge bump in numbers for Murphy in 2017. For once, they did begin to show for Murphy, and over his final 59 games his slash line was a solid (especially for a catcher) .265/.390/.398 with a .299 BABIP. During this span he threw out a little short of 40% of his baserunners against, and at 21 he isn’t particularly old for the level either. There is a lot to like about Murphy, as long as you are willing to look past the short comings of his career slash line.
Much like Chris Ellis, the 19-year-old Alan Rangel’s stuff doesn’t really pop off the page. His 3 pitches grade in at around average, maybe potentially a tick above, which in a system as deep as the Braves isn’t really worth the excitement. He was sent over to the GCL Braves as a 17 year old, however unlike Ellis he has performed well for both of his seasons. Maybe calling a 6.31 ERA last season “performing well” isn’t the best choice, but he has solved the problem most of the Braves prospects have not. Alan Rangel throws strikes.
At 18 years old this season, Rangel posted a 5.3% BB rate and 24.9% K rate with a 3.28 ERA and 2.77 FIP. He somehow managed to make a name on a staff with Ian Anderson, Kyle Muller, Joey Wentz, and Bryse Wilson, despite not having the type of stuff those 4 do. Rangel is a ground ball pitcher (over 50%) and limits power (.092 ISO against). While he has a lot of the same draw backs as many younger pitchers-facing opposite handed hitters and pitching with runners on specifically-there is a lot he has shown advancement in so far. There could be projectability left in a 6’2 170 lbs frame, but as stands he has solid 3⁄4 potential. For a guy as unheralded as he, that sort of production would be huge excess value.
This is cheating a bit on my part, but if there is a single player in the system that is underrated by outside publications it would be Peterson. With Peterson winning the Organizational Hitter of the Year, the last 2 winners are results of that Justin Upton trade. 2016 for Peterson was a special experience, and save for May he was locked in for nearly the entire season. For the first time in his career he topped a .700 OPS, and he blew by that number at .774. Were it not for a bit of fatigue related struggles (which remains the only question mark for Peterson), those numbers would have seen him top .800 fairly easily.
Though it seemed to come in phases, another pattern he has consistently shown, Peterson’s power took a major step forward as he topped career highs in doubles (38), home runs (12), and isolated power(.150). His strikeouts decreased for the 3rd straight season (24.3%, 18.3%, 17.3%), his walks remained in a fair range (7.7%) although they could be higher, and basically every number he could improve on he did. His line drive rate went up for the 3rd straight season (16%, 16.1%, 24.3%), his fly ball rate went up, and he did all of this in one of the toughest hitters parks in the minor leagues, in AA at 21 (560 of his 578 PA this season came against older players). Even Peterson’s expected to be below average defense appeared at worst average, and for someone to be consistently improving in this manner while also advancing is quite incredible.