This is the first piece of a weekly look, by position, at how the Atlanta Braves prospects fared during the 2016 minor league season. We will start out with catcher and every week over the next couple months, a different position will be looked at.
Please note that this isn't so much a scouting report on these prospects as much as it is a recap of their season that will point out some areas where they excelled and others where they struggled. All prospects will be covered, but this is only a review of guys who are prospects rather than organizational depth.
The guy the Braves got from the Tigers in exchange for Erick Aybar in August had a busy year overall, playing for three different minor league teams. The former LSU Tiger started off in High-A Lakeland of the Florida State League before being traded to the Braves, where he hit .282/.324/.379 with 6 homers and 41 RBI over 106 games, while throwing out 25.2% of the 103 runners who tried to steal on him. Following the trade to the Braves he was assigned to Carolina, where he hit .179/.258/179 with an RBI in just games, but he did throw out half of the 6 guys who tried to steal on him.
The Braves promoted him to AA Mississippi to finish the year, and he hit .182/.182/.182 with an RBI in the three games he played. The reason for the late promotion was to give him a chance to play in the Southern League playoffs, where he had some success at the plate.
Overall he hit .273/.317/.362 with 6 homers and 43 RBI in 117 games and threw out 29 of the 111 base runners he faced for a 26.1% caught stealing rate. He was fairly even against both sides, posting a .687 OPS against lefties and a .661 OPS against right handers, and had a very consistent year overall- impressive since this was his first full season as a professional after being drafted in 2015.
Joseph Odom started the year in Carolina, and after hitting .292/.349/.500 with 8 homers and 29 RBI in 52 games he was promoted to Mississippi. He got in 39 games in AA, hitting .259/.294/.333 with a homer and 9 RBI to make his season line .278/.327/.431 with 9 homers and 38 RBI over 91 games.
Odom looked strong with the bat in Carolina, but saw more advanced pitchers neutralize him in his first taste of AA. He also wasn't very successful at stopping the running game, throwing out 26.3% of runners in Carolina and just 15.2% in Mississippi.
While Odom isn't a big prospect, he's got the ability to become a big leaguer if it all comes together and this was a mixed year. Obviously the hope here is that he can make some adjustments this winter and perform better in what will likely be an opening assignment to Mississippi in 2017.
Willians Astudillo is one of the most interesting hitters in professional baseball, and his 2016 season was a perfect example of why. In 89 games he hit .267/.293/.332 with 4 homers and 30 RBI. However he had a total of 322 at bats on the year and only managed to walk 5 times and even more impressively he only struck out 11 times all season. That's an insanely low 1.5% walk rate and 3.3% strikeout rate.
Astudillo doesn't hit for much power, nor does he walk much, but he's got a g for putting the ball in play and not striking out- his 3.3% strikeout rate is actually a jump up from last year’s 2.4% rate.
His success in controlling the run game was decent as he threw out 36.3% of opposing base runners in their 77 attempts to steal.
Astudillo is more of a fringe prospect and not likely an every day big leaguer, but in his first taste of AA he showed why he's a potential pinch hitter candidate in the bigs.
Tanner Murphy was a significant prospect in the system heading into last year before his awful 2015 season. His 2016 season looked like it was headed in that direction as well. Playing in Carolina he had a .120/.176/.150 slash line on June 2nd, but then something happened. After June 2nd Murphy hit .265/.390/.398 with more walks(36) than strikeouts(35). Overall that was good for a .214/.320/.310 line with 6 homers and 28 RBI in 90 games, but the signs of life in his bat after a rough year and a half stretch have to at least give some hope for his future.
Of course not everything was great as Murphy hit .222/.317/.378 against lefties and just .209/.322/.277 against right handers. He also struggled at times defensively as he had 10 passed balls and threw out only 23.2% of the 112 runners who attempted to steal against him. Still he did manage to put a little life back into his prospect status with his second half.
After last season’s professional debut was shortened by injury, the Braves decided to aggressively challenge Lucas Herbert with an assignment in full season ball to open 2016 in Rome. Unfortunately Herbert really struggled at the plate- not completely unexpected for a guy whose glove is ahead of his bat at this stage who is two and a half years younger than the league average. Herbert played in 96 games and hit .185/.234/.278 with 6 homers and 30 RBI.
Herbert’s best month was a .601 OPS in May, showing that there wasn't any real hot streak for him in his rough year. He was quite a bit better against right handers with a .523 OPS, versus his .451 mark against lefties. Another concerning stat is his 96 strikeouts to 18 walks in his 335 at bats, a high strikeout rate of 26.2%.
The one positive for Herbert is that he did show why he was so highly regarded defensively. He threw out 33.7% of attempted base stealers while handling arguably the most prospect laden rotation in the minors. He should get a chance to repeat Rome next year, where he will still be young for the league.
The Braves stole Jonathan Morales late in the 2015 draft, and he had a very successful season at the plate. Overall he hit .269/.313/.356 with 4 homers and 55 RBI in 113 games in Rome. While there wasn't a lot of home run power, he did have 25 doubles and only struck out 55 times in 424 at bats.
Morales was consistent all year, though he did slump in June with a .455 OPS. He also fared much better against lefties in a small sample- posting a .359/.388/.423 line versus .249/.296/.341 against right handers.
Morales really did an excellent job of shutting down the opposing running game, throwing out exactly half of the 106 guys who attempted to steal against him.
The Braves second round pick had a very rough year after signing and being assigned to Danville. The power hitting catcher played in 45 games and posted a .216/.317/.340 slash line with 3 homers and 30 RBI, though he did have 11 doubles. He also struck out 49 times in 162 at bats, while walking just 14 times.
The splits help to show what happened, as Cumberland was much better against right handers at .233/.338/.392, against a .167/.255/.190 line against lefties. He was also much better on the road, with a .727 OPS there against just .604 at home. He also struggled badly in August with a .535 OPS after a .731 mark in July- showing that he may have worn down after a long year.
It is very important not to read too much into a guy’s stats in his debut after signing following the draft. College kids not only have to adjust to different bats and tougher competition, but they are coming off long seasons at their schools. Cumberland’s situation is reminiscent of David Thompson’s last year. Thompson, a power hitting third baseman taken by the Mets out of Miami in the fourth round last year hit just .218/.268/.320 with 3 homers in 59 games after being drafted. Thompson came back this year and tore up the Sally League before being promoted to High A, and posting an overall .280/.333/.444 line with 11 homers and 95 RBI. Then there’s the case of Chipper Jones, who managed just a .592 OPS in 44 games after being drafted- but he ended up turning out okay.
Cumberland’s numbers are definitely not what anyone would expect from such a talented player taken high in the draft, but it’s way too early to have any real concerns about Cumberland following a long season at Cal before he suited up for the Braves this year.
One of the other young catchers in the low minors, William Contreras hit .264/.346/.375 with 1 homer and 8 RBI in 30 games. He only had 82 plate appearances as the GCL Braves rotated their catchers, but Contreras had some eye opening splits despite the small sample. He posted a .800 OPS on the road versus .644 OPS at home. He was also much better against right handers, with a .811 OPS, while just managing a .461 OPS against lefties. He also got better in each month of the season, putting up a .400 OPS in June, .642 OPS in July, and .898 OPS in August. He also threw out 33.3% of opposing base runners.
The prospect the Braves received from the Padres in return for Christian Bethancourt, Rodriguez was a very young catcher making his debut on US soil. He only played in 29 games for the GCL Braves, and hit .225/.284/.275 with no homers and 7 RBI. It was a very limited showing, and he's likely to repeat the level in 2017.