The Atlanta Braves system is a huge compilation of talent, so much so that often legitimate prospects have to fight to get playing time. Talking Chop did a top 30 prospects list, and an honorable mentions list, but even that wasn’t enough as there are countless other guys that deserve attention. Here is a list of guys who may not draw the headline, but have a chance to carve out a role at the major league level.
Jesse Biddle- Left Handed Relief Pitcher
Biddle had a high profile within the Phillies system as recently two years ago, as he made it through their ranks to Triple-A and was rated the 53rd best prospect in baseball by MLB Pipeline back in 2013. Tommy John Surgery took down Biddle for the 2016 season and he was traded to the Pirates after being designated for assignment. The Braves out in a waiver claim for Biddle soon after, and sat on him for the 2016 season waiting for his recovery. He hasn’t received much attention this season, but as a member of the Mississippi Braves he has been a high quality reliever who many think may already be major league ready. Biddle has posted a 2.90 ERA this season with 53 strikeouts in 49 2⁄3 innings, with only 16 walks allowed and a 2.80 FIP to match.
While Biddle’s numbers are good they aren’t necessarily world shaking for a guy who is 25 years old and playing in Double-A. The most important thing for Biddle has been the recovery of his pre-Tommy John surgery stuff, which featured well in a starter’s role and has been fantastic as a reliever. He won’t blow you away with his fastball, as it sits in the low 90’s, but he can run it up to 94 with good movement and location. He backs that up with a slow curveball that has huge movement and grades out as his best pitch. It is the true swing and miss secondary offering you like to see out of a reliever. Biddle also features his changeup prominently, giving him a three-pitch mix uncommon to relief pitchers. The change has a late fade and a deception that makes it difficult for hitters to lock in on, and serves as a great option to make him effective against right handed batters. Biddle actually has severe reverse splits this season, with a .553 OPS against right handed hitters and a .963 against left handed hitters.
Jean Carlos Encarnacion- Third Baseman
You may already know the name of Encarnacion (and the names of 3 others on this list) if you read the article posted by out own Matt Powers about the GCL Braves. Encarnacion had reasonably solid numbers in his professional debut with the DSL last season, but as an 18 year old didn’t show much power or really provide much indication of what was to come. This year, Encarnacion has exploded on the prospect scene with a .337/.363/.561 slash line and a league-leading 33 hits. 13 of those have gone for extra bases, all while maintaining a reasonable strikeout rate. There are caveats, including a high BABIP and a low walk rate, but the scouting on the 19 year old corner infielder matches the numbers at this stage in his career.
Encarnacion’s athleticism jumps off the page immediately, as although he is a lanky 6’3 195 he manages to control his body well and has mobility at third base. Though he may lose some of that as he adds weight to his frame, his instincts, glove work, and above average arm strength give him all the makings of a plus defender over at third base. His bat to ball skills don’t quite show up when you look at his strikeout numbers, but he has a good feel for the barrel and hits everything hard to all fields. He’s not going to burn you with stolen bases, but he is a competent baserunner that isn’t going to make mistakes or slow down anyone on the bases. The big development for Encarnacion will be his power potential. He already shows good power numbers now although they primarily show as gap power now, and there is a load of projectability with his frame that could lead to above average power at maturity. If he can reach that he would be a solid third base prospect, though if he doesn’t mature to that level it may be a tough profile for a corner infield/corner outfield spot.
Justin Ellison- Outfielder
The Braves picked up Justin Ellison with their 12th round pick in 2015, hailing from the same Junior College that produced Andrelton Simmons. Ellison produced stellar numbers at the JuCo level and showed off intriguing athleticism that made him an interesting pickup for the Braves to watch develop. Ellison paid dividends in rookie ball, as although he only hit .247 he showed off his power potential (5 HR in 50 games) and speed (6/6 on SB). Ellison struggled in 2016, only hitting .247 with a significant drop in his ISO that made his profile far less rosy as a corner outfielder. When he started this season he made adjustments to shorten his path to the ball and it paid off early as he came screaming out of the gates this season. While he has slowed recently and seen a jump in strikeouts he has also hit for more power and more consistently shown flashes an all around tool set.
It all comes down to raw tools when evaluating Ellison. He has 4 tools that have the potential to be average or better (his arm being the worst of the 5), but hasn’t been able to put all of them together at the same time. In his first two seasons he did a good job limiting his strikeouts, but it didn’t pay off with hard contact and he hit a lot of ground balls that turned into outs. Coming into 2017 he has started to show off average power, but it has come at the expense of his hit tool. Ellison is a premium athlete, and his speed allows him to be a good defender in the outfield, but he doesn’t project as a great center fielder which also limits his versatility. It’s a big “if” but if Ellison ever turns his athleticism into production the Braves would have a major steal on their hands.
Tucker Davidson- Left Handed Pitcher
When the Braves took Davidson with their 19th round pick in 2016, they immediately turned him into a reliever. Davidson dominated in the Gulf Coast League, striking out 32 batters to only 4 walks in 29 2⁄3 innings. The Braves skipped Davidson over Danville and let him open the season with Rome, where he again showed a dominant mix that made him one of the top relievers in the South Atlantic League. Davidson frequently went 2 or 3 innings, and through 19 appearances had thrown 41 2⁄3 innings with 47 strikeouts to just 10 walks and two home runs. The Braves decided that Tucker had earned an opportunity to start, and has moved him to the rotation in Rome for his last 5 starts. He has responded with a 2.28 ERA, though he has seen a regression of both his strikeout and walk rates.
Davidson has a low 90’s fastball with average movement and sink, but uses an attacking mentality and has good command which helps the pitch play up. He doesn’t walk many batters and gets plenty of ground balls, which helps him limit power numbers against him (he has only allowed 3 home runs in 95 career innings). Davidson’s best pitch is a plus slider which draws rave reviews, and is a swing and miss pitch that he has used to dominate left handed batters. Davidson primarily uses his curveball against right handed batters, and it has sharp downward action but can be inconsistent with both its shape and location. For a guy who only had experience at a small college, he is remarkably polished and has much better stuff than one would expect from a guy taken in such a late round.
Yoeli Lopez- Outfielder
Yoeli Lopez is a guy who is a pure athleticism pick, with numbers that have been frankly terrible as a professional. Lopez had a .739 OPS in his professional debut in the Dominican Summer League, but struggled with strikeouts and had to rely on the unsustainably high walk rates that DSL pitchers will produce. Yoeli has just a .564 OPS in the GCL this season and a .590 OPS overall, but there are a handful of good points. Yoeli has gone 9-9 on stolen bases this season, and despite his small frame has produced some power as a professional. Yoeli is a primarily ground ball hitter at this stage, but when he can get lift has shown some pop, including an opposite field home run as one of his 3 last season.
Yoeli’s major problem has been his inability to make contact. He has above average bat speed through the zone, but his swing is long and he take too much time to get ready to swing. That combined with zone and pitch recognition issues that often exist with young players just makes for a bad combination. Lopez watches to many strikes go by, but when he does swing he makes average amounts of contact. He is currently too ground ball heavy, which is disappointing because his bat speed produces more power than is expected from a player with his frame, and it wouldn’t be a surprise to see him grow into above average power at maturity. The calling card for Yoeli is his speed, as I had him clocked at a 3.96 down the line from the right side. He shows that 80 grade speed on the bases and in the field, where he has primarily played right field but could play center field and project well there. Lopez also mixes in one of the best outfield arms in the system, and it is easily double plus. He makes throws that draws ooh, ahhs, and expletives from fans, teammates, and opponents. He already has somewhat of a reputation as well, as on more than one occasion a player was held up on a ball that with most outfielders they would have been able to run on. Think of it this way, Yoeli has many similarities to what Ray-Patrick Didder can do, but with more power potential.
Livan Soto- Shortstop
Soto was actually a high profile signing out of last year’s international class, but with the sheer number of names the Braves signed last season Soto simply got buried. Soto’s line this season has been bad, as he has only hit .230/.348/.257, but there is more to the story than those numbers. Soto has only struck out 12% of the time while walking 14.1% of the time, but has been victimized by a .264 BABIP. He doesn’t help himself with a 54% ground ball rate, but many of those are hard hit and just don’t find holes. When he is on the bases he has seen success with 5 stolen bases in 6 attempts.
Soto’s numbers this seasons have been bad, but there is nothing in his swing that doesn’t give the idea that he will hit. He is quiet with his hands and quick through the zone with no wasted motion, as does a great job of getting his hands to the ball. He isn’t producing power, but he has room to add weight and still maintain his mobility and thus should be able to grow into gap power. He is patient, has good strike zone recognition, and is just an on base machine, though it will be interesting to see if he can maintain that once pitchers at higher levels start attacking him as is typical with guys who lack power. Soto has the one ability that typically will derail a young player’s career path, in that he has the clear ability to play the shortstop position. He uses his plus plus speed and fantastic instincts to his advantage, and his good hands give him the range and ability to be a plus defender up the middle. He has the arm strength to stick at shortstop, and should he have to move to second base can play there as well.
Corbin Clouse- Left handed Relief Pitcher
Corbin Clouse has been another important late round find for the Braves, and while AJ Minter has drawn all the headlines for his dominant stuff Clouse has matched him stride for stride with his performance. In his first season last year Clouse was utterly dominant, allowing a 1.19 ERA in 30 1⁄3 innings of work, while striking out 53 batters to just 15 walks. He became the closer down the stretch for the championship Rome Braves team, and he and Devan Watts made for a dominant late inning combo. Clouse came into 2017 with high expectations, but struggled mightily early with a 15.19 ERA and 7 BB/6 K in his first 5 1⁄3 innings of work. On April 22 he pitched 2 scoreless innings, and from then until allowing a run on July 28 (after being promoted to Mississippi) Clouse didn’t allow a single earned run. 34 2⁄3 innings, 46 strikeouts, 16 walks, and no earned runs over a 3 month period.
It’s not all numbers for Clouse, the scouting backs up what he can do. He throws a heavy sinker from the left side that usually sits in the low 90’s, and though he does have some issues with his control it doesn’t matter in the minor league as no one has been able to hit him anyway. In addition to his elite strikeout rate, he uses that sinker to produce a 47% ground ball rate. Clouse’s second pitch is a slider, but it has more depth than a classic slider. It still works with slider velocity and the sharpness you would see from a slider, but it has a slurvier path to the plate and has a unique look out of the hand from Clouse’s 3⁄4 arm slot. Clouse is consistent in getting the movement he needs on the pitch, and keeps it out of the middle of the plate.
Leudys Baez- Outfielder
Now 21, Baez has bounced around in the lower minor leagues of the Braves system for three years. He has loud tools and huge promise, but his inconsistency at the plate in his first two seasons led to huge strikeout rates. Midway through the 2016 season Baez suffered a significant injury to his knee, which ended his season and delayed the start to his 2017 season. Baez was moved down to Danville, and has responded with a career best season. Leudys is no older than the average college junior that would get put in Danville, and he has outperformed them all with a .352/.427/.604 line that represents career bests in all 3 categories and in isolated power. He has walked 10% of the time and for the first time in his career has a strikeout rate below 20%.
Baez is a reasonably mobile player, but isn’t a huge threat on the basepaths and has been limited to left field as a professional. Because of this, he’ll need to prove he can hit, but the tools are all there for him to be a solid offensive threat. The switch hitter has an athletic swing at the plate, though struggles with pitch recognition and swing path have caused problems for him in terms of his ability to make solid contact. Coming into 2017, he added a leg kick to his swing and closed off his front side slightly more in his stance, which has allowed him to keep his body closed during his pre swing. He is quicker to the ball with his hands than in previous seasons, when he would run into swing and miss issues when his front side bailed out and his swing got loopy and long. This often happened when he would overswing at a pitch rather than rely on his natural power. He has added more depth and loft to his swing and his plus bat speed and plus or better raw power play up when he can make contact. The 2017 season seen a drastic switch from a ground ball to a fly ball hitter which has resulted in a .252 ISO. If he can hit enough to tap into that power he could be an average or above average offensive threat in left field, and he is finally giving reason this season to believe we may be seeing the beginning of a transformation in his game from potential to performance.
Luis Mora- Right Handed Relief Pitcher
Luis Mora has been bad in his professional career. He carries a 6.79 career ERA, has walked 83 batters in 118 innings, and doesn’t have rosy strikeout rates with just 111 in those 118 innings. He has been hurt most of the season and only pitched 2 games at Rome at the age of 22. Why then would a player with his lack of track record be on this list? Luis Mora is in a select group of players that can throw 100 mph. Mora is a big guy with big stuff that just hasn’t figured it out yet. There is a good chance he never will, but that kind of velocity begs for attention and it’s worth giving.
Isranel Wilson- Outfielder
Isranel Wilson is probably a cheat here, as he has had a pretty significant profile, but after excluding him from both the top 30 prospect list and the honorable mentions list it would have been a massive oversight not to give Izzy some love. If you want a guy with a huge ceiling you should look no further than Wilson, and he has shown on many occasions just what he could be. Wilson struggled to make contact in his professional debut, but went on a tear towards the end of the GCL season and ended up with 10 home runs, a .257 ISO, and an .828 OPS. Things did not keep going up however, and his 2016 season was a struggle as he hit just .192/.276/.315 in Danville. At 19 years old, Wilson was asked to repeat Danville, and he responded with the best strikeout rate of his career, best walk rate of his career, 4 home runs in 17 games, and a .250/.338/.544 line. His promotion to Rome has seen him struggle to catch up, but the flashes of talent he has shown have been glorious.
Isranel stands at 6’3, but despite his tall stature has some serious mobility in the outfield. He is a good defender overall in center field, with plus plus speed that may go down to plus as he matures. and enough arm strength to play all three outfield positions. At the plate Wilson has athleticism and tremendous bat speed, but has poor pitch recognition and an inconsistent bat plane, leading to his struggles to get his barrel on the ball. He is patient and will draw walks, which helps mitigate his problems with his batting average and will lead to average on base skills if he hits to his potential. Izzy has the one carrying tool that every team desires, and that is his double plus raw power. He is a guy one could easily envision hitting 30 home runs per season, and if he can get his contact issues squared away he would be one of the better hitting prospects in the system. He doesn’t necessarily have to hit .280, but if he can cut a chunk of those strikeouts down and strike out at even a 25% clip could have a profile similar to Justin Upton. That’s going to be a tall task, but at 19 he has time to figure things out.
Jeffrey Ramos- Outfielder
Jeffrey Ramos has been another low profile signing who has had a good season at the plate. His started his career in 2016 in the Dominican Summer League, and struggled with only a .616 line. He showed only average contact abilities and didn’t produce much elsewhere, but was brought stateside to open the 2017 season and has exploded onto the scene. Ramos has had his problems with strikeouts, but when he has made contact he has hit line drives around the field and made solid contact. His power has jumped up and he has 4 home runs in 23 games, and he has hit .283 with the GCL Braves. At just 18 it seems Ramos is making a splash as part of a talented group of outfielders for the GCL Braves, and the log jam in front of him may be the only reason he is still in the GCL.
Ramos does a solid job of barreling up fastballs, and has really feasted on them this season. His bat speed isn’t necessarily explosive, but he has a short swing that gets the barrel to the bat and allows him to get around on any pitch. Typical of any young player, he needs to improve hitting offspeed stuff, but he has the talent to be an average hitter at the major league level. Ramos has strength at the plate and should have average power, though he has maxed out his body and won’t grow into anymore power in the future. He’s likely going to be limited to left field, so he will need both his power and hitting ability to play up for him to be a successful major leaguer.