Its that time again boys and girls, our latest installment of the Talking Chop top prospect list is here. After doing a top 25 list the first couple of years I was here, we expanded to a top 30 list and will continue to do so as long as we are able and as long as it is warranted by the system’s depth. Before we get to the first five players we are revealing, a few notes about the formation of the list:
- This list is created almost entirely from a composite of the personal rankings of Eric Cole, Gaurav Vedak, Garrett Spain, and Matt Powers. We made a couple of adjustments here and there to resolve ties and other minor things, but that is the gist of the process. While this list does not match any of our personal lists, we are all happy with the overall product and not only understand how subjective such rankings are, but prefer that rankings even out to prevent too much bias in the rankings themselves.
- Given that this is largely from a composite of rankings, I (Eric) would highly recommend not reading too much into a player’s ranking as much of this voting was incredibly close. There were five pretty distinct tiers that players fell into as the composite developed, but within those tiers there were several that were separated by just 1-2 points and there was a tie as well. Just because one guy is ranked say 17th and another is 15th does not mean that the latter is WAY better than the former and its likely you could easily find arguments for both players. We are fine with that and welcome that discussion.
- We loosely use the requirements for “who is a prospect and not” that most prospect lists use which are the same as those that determine rookie eligibility. We have deviated from that in the past (such as not ranking Dansby Swanson because he was going to be on the big league roster in 2017 and was going to exhaust his rookie eligibility after the first game he played), but this year doesn’t have any borderline cases. That means this list will not have Ozzie Albies, Sean Newcomb, or Lucas Sims. I cannot tell you how weird it is to have a list that does not include these guys on it, but such is the way of things.
- These are fun exercises and nothing more. We pride ourselves in doing our absolute best to stay well-informed and fluid in our thinking about individual players and our overall philosophies about how to rank players. We have been fortunate to get some rankings right before others (still feeling good about getting the Ronald Acuna train early), but there have been misses as well. We all have watched countless MiLB games live and streamed and feel good that we have given all players the consideration they deserve. That said, we are going to end up wrong about a lot of these guys...writing about and covering prospects is an exercise in surprise and disappointment and we accept that (even as we cry into out pillows at night). As a result, please remain civil and kind when discussion these (or any) rankings. We don’t have personal grudges against players and thoroughly enjoy lively discussion even if we don’t agree with the conclusions reached. However, trolly and crappy behavior in the comments is uncalled and won’t be tolerated.
Without any further delay....here are prospects 26-30 on the Talking Chop Pre-season Top 30 Prospect list.
30. Drew Lugbauer - C/1B/3B
To begin our 2018 preseason top 30, we begin with 2017 draftee Drew Lugbauer. Drafted out of the University of Michigan, Lugbauer brought with him some very real power and defensive versatility for a system that could use more of both. While he wasn’t one of the super highly valued college hitters in the 2017 draft, he did post a .288/.401/.518 line in his last year in college and impressed Braves’ scouts enough to get him selected in the 11th round and he has largely vindicated the team’s faith in him during his first year of pro ball. Playing third base, catcher, and first base, Lugbauer took the Appalachian League by storm as he hit 10 homers in 29 games (103 at-bats) before getting called up to full-season ball and posting a .277/.338/.462 line in 119 at-bats with Rome in 2017. There are questions about the consistency of his hit tool coming out of college, but Lugbauer is not afraid to draw a walk and thus far has not seemed overmatched by professional pitching.
Lugbauer’s ceiling as a prospect depends on how often he can tap into his very real raw power as well as his ability to stay behind the plate defensively. He did not play poorly at any of the defensive positions he occupied in 2017, but it is unclear at this point what his ultimate position will be as he didn’t necessarily excel at any particular position either. While his offensive profile would be a big plus if he was able to stick at catcher, his other positions (third and first base) put a lot of pressure on the bat to produce. He showed big time power while at Danville, though, and if he able to showcase that power in games regularly in 2018, he could move through the system quickly given his age, experience, and versatility. In short, in addition to having very real talent and upside, Lugbauer is also among the most interesting prospects in the Braves’ system and it will be interesting to watch both how he performs at the plate as well as to see how the Braves’ player development staff decides to use him next season.
29. Jefrey Ramos
Our number 29 prospect came into the season receiving little attention, but quickly separated himself in the Gulf Coast League as one of the leaders of that offense. Ramos hit safely in 26 of his 30 games in the GCL, and his .930 OPS earned him a midseason call up to Danville. He had less success at the advanced rookie level, but it was more his late season struggles that dragged down his overall numbers. While Ramos doesn’t have elite strikeout numbers or walk numbers, he does well enough in both areas and makes hard contact when he does hit the ball. His 6 home runs tied him for 3rd in the Gulf Coast League in that category, and he also added another in Danville.
Ramos isn’t a particularly versatile player, but he covers enough ground in left field to be average and has the bat to play the position. He consistently makes line drive contact to all fields, and when he lifts the ball shows above average power. There doesn’t seem to be tremendous room for growth in his frame, but his current profile seems fit to be a starter as long as his bat continues to show out as he advances levels. Like most 18 year olds he lacks polish in his recognition and ability to hit offspeed pitching, and he feasts on any fastball in the zone. As a result, while he may not have as much physical projection as some younger prospects, we feel as though if his pitch recognition (and reads off the bat when he is on defense as well) improve, there is some projectability in terms of his overall value on the field and he turn into a sneaky good prospect.
28. Huascar Ynoa - RHP
The return from Minnesota in the Jaime Garcia deal, Huascar Ynoa is a young right handed pitcher from the Dominican Republic with upside. Ynoa, who turns 20 years old at the end of May, is the younger brother of Michael Ynoa - a reliever who set an international amateur bonus record nearly a decade ago now.
Huascar isn’t quite on the same level as his brother in terms of hype or signing bonus ($4.25M for Michael and $800k for Huascar), but he’s still got a chance to become the better pitcher of the brothers. The younger Ynoa features a fastball that he can get up into the high 90s and projects as a potential plus pitch. He also has a very slurvy breaking ball which, while currently a work in progress, has shown flashes of becoming a weapon for him. Ynoa completes his three pitch arsenal with a changeup that’s more advanced than what you may see from a young Latin American pitcher with a plus fastball and could end up as an average pitch.
Huascar is young and raw to the point he walked 15 in 25.2 innings after coming to Danville. This is in spite of him having the above arsenal along with pitchability. It caused him to a 5.26 ERA and 1.56 WHIP in 51.1 innings in the Appalachian League split between Danville and Elizabethton. Also the slurvy breaking ball could use a little more refinement to become more of a true slider, but the movement on it can be tough on hitters when it’s on which helped him strike out nearly a hitter per inning on the season (50 total).
Ynoa is going to be a level a year type of guy who needs time and innings to iron out some of his inconsistencies. He’s going to get every opportunity to continue starting for now in hopes that he’s able to develop into a #3/4 starter. If starting doesn’t work out Ynoa is the type of pitcher who could be a nice bullpen piece. Not a bad return for a two month rental of Jaime Garcia, and definitely the highest upside prospect involved in any of the three Jaime Garcia deals in the past year (Cardinals to Braves, Braves to Twins, and finally Twins to Yankees) even though his floor may not be as high as the guys the Twins received.
27. AJ Minter - LHP
AJ Minter was one of the more controversial choices that the Braves made in the 2015 draft when the team selected him in the second Competitive Balance pick round of that draft. While some questioned picking a player that highly given that he was recovering from Tommy John surgery and could potentially be only a bullpen arm, the Braves’ were steadfast in their assertions that Minter would have been a 1st round arm if he was healthy and seemed absolutely thrilled to have Minter even if he was destined to be a reliever. Drafted out of Texas A&M University, Minter took the minor leagues by storm in 2016 as the lefty reliever shot through the Braves’ system using a mid-90’s fastball and a plus cutter and slider that made minor league batters look foolish.
Many thought that Minter had a very real shot to make the big league roster to start the 2017, but a nerve issue in his elbow derailed those plans. However, after returning from his setback, he performed well enough to make his MLB debut in late 2017 where he struck out 26 batters in 15 innings of work.
There was a certain amount of dissension in how to rank Minter amongst the Talking Chop staff due to his status as a reliever and his injury history, but don’t mistake this ranking as TC “not liking him”....it is quite the contrary. While his overall impact on games is minimized somewhat by the fact that he will be pitching in 1-2 inning stints, if he is healthy he is among the more exciting and dynamic pitchers on the Braves’ roster. AJ could turn into a shutdown reliever at the back end of games for the Braves for a long time and while there is some risk with him, the upside is that the Billy Wagner-type comps he has been given by some prove out.
26. Ricardo Sanchez
It seems like Ricardo has been on this list forever, yet he is still just 20 years old and has shown strides and flashes of promise in between his bouts of inconsistency. Now a member of the Braves 40 man roster in order to avoid losing him to the Rule 5 draft, eyes will be on Sanchez for him to realize the potential he flashed as a 17 year old in the Angels system. While Sanchez’s 4.95 ERA is far from impressive, he carried a 4.06 FIP for the season and set career bests in strikeout percentage and and walk percentage. Sanchez showed improvement in the consistency of his curveball and his changeup, and now looks to improve his fastball command so he can take the next step as a prospect.
Sanchez isn’t a player who is going to overpower you, and at 5’11 has no room to project to more velocity, but has at times run the ball up to as high as 96 mph, typically sitting 91-93, and can get movement on the pitch. When his command is right he locates well to the glove side, but tends to vary wildly on a batter to batter basis and can go from a dominant outing to a 5 run inning at an alarming rate. His curveball is his go-to weapon as a sharp hammer pitch, and he is effective with the pitch in two strike situations. His changeup flashes plus potential, but he hasn’t often shown the ability to keep it in the strike zone. Despite his size Sanchez has never had a problem with effort in his delivery and it seems to point to him staying in the rotation long term, but he has also had some issues staying healthy in the past. At his best Sanchez shows the potential to be a solid left hander with 3 average or better pitches, but needs to show significant improvement in his command if he wants to make it to the major leagues.
One last note: the Braves had several options this offseason among prospects to protect from the Rule 5 draft and to the surprise of many (including us), the Braves only protected two players and they were reliever Adam McCreery and...Ricardo. If the Braves value Ricardo highly enough to protect him from the Rule 5 draft and thought he would be selected, we are willing to give Sanchez some benefit of the doubt despite his uneven performance in his career thus far.