We have reached day two of our 2018 Top 30 Braves prospect rankings. Just as a quick recap, here is who we have so far:
26. Ricardo Sanchez
27. AJ Minter
28. Huascar Ynoa
29. Jefrey Ramos
30. Drew Lugbauer
You can read the write-ups on all of these guys by clicking here, but we will not dwell on them for now. On this part of the list, we have a couple of players that are relative newcomers to our Braves’ rankings in addition to a few players that have been around for a bit. If you are wondering how we make the list, make sure you go to the link above to the first installment of the list as it is explained there. Enjoy!
25. Lucas Herbert
With a deep crop of catchers in the lower minor leagues in the Braves system it seemed Herbert was bound to be buried. As the season progressed, it became clear just how much progress Herbert had made on both sides of the ball and he pushed himself back into the top 25 prospects conversation. Coming into the system as a second rounder, Herbert didn’t have time to adjust to professional baseball after a meniscus injury forced him out of his second game, but he was still pushed to Low A ball the next season. All season it was clear he was overmatched offensively and by the time the playoffs rolled around, he had lost a chunk of his playing time. Coming into 2017 again the backup catcher, Herbert got off to a slow start with a .558 OPS through the first month. He then caught fire for a few months before cooling off at the end of the season, but even though his overall numbers weren’t fantastic the context gives hope that he can develop enough bat to play at major league level.
Herbert improved in every offensive category in 2017 and he appeared that way at the plate as he did a much better job of staying off of bad pitching and showing a solid approach. His swing is awkward and flat and clearly needs work, but he has made some improvements and seems more comfortable at the plate. He shows at least average power when he makes contact and with a 17.2% strikeout rate, he has shown that he can put the ball in play. No matter what improvements he does make with the bat, he will still always be known as a defense-first catcher and for good reason. Herbert’s receiving skills are off the charts and he’s shown a knack for stealing strikes for his pitchers with his framing ability. His stolen base numbers aren’t phenomenal, but he has a strong arm and a good release time and has at time seemed hurt more by his pitchers struggling to hold runners and get the ball out quickly. Altogether, Herbert shows the ability to be a plus defender behind the plate and if he can hit at a reasonable rate he stands to be able to carve out a role at the major league level.
24. Isranel Wilson
Coming in at 24 is Isranel Wilson who has been right on the cusp of making the list, or has been near the bottom but now firmly sits at 24 on the list. From the tiny little island of St. Martin comes one of the most toolsy players in the organization. Isranel is another legitimate 5-tool prospect in an organization that suddenly has quite a few of them. While raw, it takes one look at him during BP to see why he comes 24th on the list despite just a .697 OPS while playing for Rome last year.
Isranel comes in at a lanky 6’3” and plays a good defensive center field and appears to be capable of staying there for the duration of his career. He has super quick bat speed and is able to absolutely barrel up pitches when he’s in the zone but often struggles with his pitch recognition which is why despite 5 tools he comes in at 24. His plus plus speed makes him a threat on the field but he hasn’t attempted too many stolen bases in his career (11-for-14 last year). The most confusing thing about Isranel is that he possesses good plate awareness, as his walk rate hovers around 9%, but his struggles with making contact plagues him. If Isranel takes a step forward with contact you could see him absolutely sky rocket up this ranking as he has all the tools to be a top 10 prospect in baseball - a power hitting, base stealing threat that has the arm to play any spot in the outfield, and possesses plus defense in the field. 2018 is a huge year for Isranel as he likely starts off at Rome and plays a full year of baseball for the first time. Improvement in contact, and a reduction in strikeouts could see this Braves prospect take an Acuna like meteoric rise up top prospect lists.
23. Freddy Tarnok
One of the late risers in the draft, Freddy Tarnok seemed to come from nowhere late in the process. Tarnok was a former prep shortstop who converted to the mound a year before, but didn’t really pitch all that much until this season. His short stint as a pitcher meant that he was very raw, but it was known that he had a big arm. Tarnok’s rise was aided by a very strong outing at a Florida high school all star game where many significant prospects had played, and that was the point there started to be some late buzz around him in spite of him being raw.
After signing the Braves held him out a bit and worked with him before finally letting him debut in late July- and even then they significantly limited his workload due to him needing to slowly build up his arm considering he didn’t have many innings under his belt.
The Braves plan worked well and Tarnok exceeded expectations this year in the GCL. In 14 innings over his eight starts he pitched to a 2.57 ERA and 1.00 WHIP with 10 strikeouts against just three walks- an impressive number when you consider that he had some issues with his command during his conversion to the mound.
Tarnok has an impressive arsenal, which led to him even being compared to a young Jacob deGrom by Frankie Piliere - a former writer for D1Baseball and now a scout with the Mariners. That should go to show that while he’s far from a finished product, he is the type of prospect absolutely worth the investment in.
Tarnok is currently in the mid 90s with his fastball though he has produced some upper 90s readings on the gun. That could eventually increase as he’s a very projectable pitcher with room to fill out. He then uses a promising curve with some spin and a change that he already has some feel for despite how new he is to pitching.
Don’t expect Tarnok to move fast though. The combination of being raw and the Braves wanting to slowly build his arm up likely means he is a one year at a time type of prospect. That probably has him on track to open the year in extended spring training in 2018, and hopefully spend the season in Danville when they open their season.
Tarnok is a young (he only turned 19 in late November), projectable arm with big upside. He’s also a pitcher who hasn’t had much time to pick up some of the bad habits that other young pitchers may already have developed, giving the Braves coaches more room to teach him the way they feel is best.
22. Kyle Muller
Next on our list is the Braves’ 2nd round pick from the 2016 Draft, Kyle Muller. Drafted out of the Texas prep baseball ranks, there is a lot to like about Muller as a prospect. Lefties with a 6’6 frame and fastballs that live in the low 90’s with lots of downhill run do not grow on trees. Combine that with a curveball that shows promise as a potential plus offering when it is on and the fact that his changeup is already serviceable despite not throwing one much in high school and you have a guy that is still learning his craft but with loads of potential. It isn’t surprising, then, that the Braves decided to make a run at him with their infamous draft strategy from 2016 which saw them ultimately scooping up three of the better prep pitchers in the draft by signing 3rd overall pick Ian Anderson to an underslot deal that allowed them to sign both Muller and Joey Wentz.
So with all of these positive things going for him, why isn’t he ranked higher? In short, there is still some uncertainty surrounding Muller. After a strong start to his pro career in the GCL in 2016, he got a late start for unknown (to us) reasons to his preseason work and early reports from 2017 were that his velocity was down and was out of sorts. While we were not able to see him this year, it isn’t unusual for a young big guy like Muller to have some mechanical inconsistencies to sort out. Once he was pitching again, reports did improve during the course of the season as he was holding his velocity better and he ended up striking better than a batter an inning in 2017 for Danville. He has been moved slowly and may not be a guy that shooting through a system as he will need time to develop, but he has all of the makings a potential #3 starter in the majors if he continues to improve.
21. Jean Carlos Encarnacion
To be perfectly honest, heading into the year Jean Carlos Encarnacion was nearly a complete unknown. The young Dominican third baseman who spent last season in the DSL was more of a name on the long list of young Braves prospects than he was a player to know. That’s understandable considering he hit .264/.340/.329 with three doubles, three triples, and no homers in the DSL in 2016.
Then the GCL season got underway this summer, and while following the games to track the other bigger name prospects on the team it became clear that this 19 year old unknown prospect was putting up the best numbers on the team.
Prior to our Florida trip Encarnacion was hitting .361/.391/.557 with more extra base hits (8) in 15 games than he had in all 37 DSL games he played in 2016. We watched as this lanky, projectable kid not only hit the ball, but he hit the ball with authority. He ran well, though that will likely drop down to average as he fills out his frame. Then defensively he made some fluid plays and showed an arm that was well above average, even though his defensive work could gain a little more consistency.
In total he played 27 games in the GCL, getting promoted shortly after our Florida trip ended, and hit .350/.374/.563 with eight doubles, four triples, a pair of homers, and four steals. After his promotion to Danville he played in 23 more games and hit .290/.316/.355 with three doubles and a homer plus three more steals. The numbers went down in Danville, but reports did indicate that he was still making solid barrel contact with the ball in his short sample.
Encarnacion is a very intriguing prospect, but at the same time one who needs some work. I mentioned that his defensive work needs to gain consistency already, but he also has to improve his base running instincts after being caught in half of his total stolen base attempts, and he needs to fill out his body without getting too big as a move to first could be possible if he does. It is worth noting that he is going to turn 20 in a couple of weeks, so he may be closer to his adult body than other international prospects, so potential issues with him filling out are somewhat diminished with him.
Encarnacion is a higher upside prospect despite not being a guy talked about a ton by other sites, but he’s not close to the big leagues and will hope to start this year in Rome and spend all of 2018 there.