Well here we are, boys and girls....we have reached the top 10 of our pre-season top 30 Braves’ prospect list. Before we get into the cream of the crop of the Braves’ farm system, lets take a quick look at the rest of the list that we have release thus far.
11) Touki Toussaint
12) Bryse Wilson
13) Drew Waters
14) Alex Jackson
15) Patrick Weigel
16) Brett Cumberland
17) William Contreras
18) Dustin Peterson
19) Travis Demeritte
20) Tucker Davidson
21) Jean Carlos Encarnacion
22) Kyle Muller
23) Freddy Tarnok
24) Isranel Wilson
25) Lucas Herbert
26) Ricardo Sanchez
27) AJ Minter
28) Huascar Ynoa
29) Jefrey Ramos
30) Drew Lugbauer
Here are links to the write-ups if you are looking to get caught up
There are names in the bottom 20 of this list that many clubs around the league would love to have in their top 10 prospects, so while it is obvious that the penalties imposed on the Braves did affect the depth of the farm system, that does not mean that the farm system is not deep. It would not surprise any of us if any of these names revealed thus far made steps forward and jumped up in ranking nor would it be surprising if some guys that did not make the cut this time vaulted on to the list by midseason. Such is the fluid nature of prospect evaluation.
Alright, enough stalling....here are prospects 6-10 which includes three players that could be destined for high-A this season (although that is far from a certainty) and one player that appears to be making his final appearance on our prospect rankings.
10. Ian Anderson
The third overall pick from the 2016 MLB Draft, Ian Anderson represents one of the higher upside arms in the whole system even though he isn’t close to realizing his full potential yet. The New York native right hander with a mix of stuff and pitchability doesn’t even turn 20 until May starts, so there is plenty of time for the cold weather arm to put his talent together.
Anderson has a the command and feel for pitching- along with the three pitch mix- to potentially become a true #3 starter when he’s done developing. His plus fastball sits in the mid-90s and would qualify as his best pitch, though his slider shows plus potential as well. Anderson also has a change that is a potentially above average third pitch to round out the arsenal.
Anderson missed some time in his senior year of high school with illness, and the former cold weather pitcher was brought along slow in terms of workload in his first full season. He threw a total of 83 innings while posting a 3.14 ERA, 1.35 WHIP, and 101 strikeouts to 43 walks in Rome.
Anderson should move to Florida for 2018 and is likely to receive a slight bump in his innings total as the Braves start to ramp up his workload. How he handles that increased workload both in terms of general fatigue as well as his overall health will be the biggest thing to watch with Ian in 2018 as that transition is far from easy and its clear that the Braves had at least SOME reason to limit his innings in 2017. After showing some in inconsistency at times in 2017, this year he is hoping to turn the corner.
9. Cristian Pache
Last year we had Acuna, this year we have Pache? There is no doubt that Pache is one of the Braves, if not one of the game’s, most talked about prospects coming into the 2018 season. The potential 5-tool player will be entering his second full season of professional baseball looking to build off of a strong August that saw him hit .304/.349/.353. There’s no doubting the hit tool he has, as he’s able to get on base on a pretty solid clip, the next step in his progression as a player will be to see his raw power being translated into in-game power. In 2017, Pache hit just 21 extra-base hits, and no homers despite his really good bat speed. If Pache becomes more consistent with driving the ball and utilizing his speed we could see a huge rise in his stock.
However, even if he doesn’t started generating more power, Pache utilizes his great hit tool to get on-base at a very solid clip and when you combine that with his incredible defensive prowess (he already profiles as a plus MLB defender in centerfield right now) - you’re looking at a very successful major league player. Pache also possesses one of the best arms in the organization which is highlighted by his absurd 17 outfield assists in 2017. While it is impossible to predict, and frankly irresponsible to put those kind of expectations on a 19 year old, Pache is someone to keep a close eye this upcoming season.
8. Joey Wentz
In the 2016 draft where Anderson was the Braves top draft choice, they also went overslot to sign a big 6’5, 210 pound lefty from Kansas in Joey Wentz at 40th overall. Wentz, who had some red flags due to injury as a prep player due to issues with dead arm, was a talent who never would have dropped that far otherwise. Those same “dead arm” issues did appear to rear their ugly head again during his debut in rookie ball, but that appears to be where the bad news about Wentz ends.
Wentz went out in 2017 and showed exactly why he was so highly regarded. Pitching the entire year for Rome he went 8-3 with a 2.60 ERA, 1.10 WHIP, and 152 strikeouts to 46 walks. Even more importantly is the fact that Wentz was able to remain healthy enough to log 131.2 innings.
Wentz had a fastball capable of reaching the upper 90s as a prep, but was working with one that sat in the low to mid-90s with life and plane last year. There is hope that he can get his fastball back into the upper 90s and become a potential top of the rotation arm, but even if he doesn’t he still has the stuff to be a very strong #3 starter. The rest of Wentz’s arsenal features a curve and a change that are potentially above average to plus offerings, and he knows how to throw strikes.
Wentz is going to move to at the very least to Florida in 2018 and we could get a chance to see if his 2017 level of success was real, or if it was influenced by his advanced pitchability against Low A hitters. Expect Wentz to be ready around 2020.
7. Max Fried
A strong end to 2016 had many coming into 2017 with the expectation that Max Fried would fly through the system. Early results for Fried were far from positive, and through the end of June he had posted a 6.63 ERA and had seen regression in all of his peripherals and in his stuff. Questions about whether he was injured lingered around until it was confirmed when he spent nearly a month on the DL following 2 consecutive shortened outings. Fried came back to the mound in late July on fire, and made 3 more starts with Mississippi and didn’t allow a run over 10 innings. More importantly, the sharpness of his curveball started to show signs of returning and he was rewarded with his first call up to the major leagues. Following his successful debut (3.81 ERA over 26 innings) Fried was place in the Arizona Fall League where he separated himself with a 1.73 ERA and a 32 to 8 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 26 innings.
Fried should get a shot to crack the starting rotation out of camp in 2018, and possesses one of the highest ceilings of any of the starters the Braves will bring to camp. Fried’s velocity has gotten up to consistently sitting in the low to mid 90’s, and he has gotten up to 97-98 at times with a strong late bite. Fried locates his fastball well when he’s totally healthy, and has shown that he can be aggressive with the pitch both up and in on hitters. Fried’s curveball struggled often last year, but following his time off returned to all its former glory with a sharp downward bite that has proven time and again to force swings and misses. Fried also backs that up with a slower curveball that he can use to mix up the timing of a hitter as well as sling across the strike zone for a strike even behind in counts. His changeup was a struggle as well last year and with it came struggled against right handed batters, but shows above average potential when has the right feel for it. The biggest question mark beyond the platoon splits is Fried’s health as he hasn’t pitched a full season healthy since his Tommy John surgery with blisters being the bane of his existence in 2017. He has no major issues with his delivery or his arm action, but he needs to find a way to stay on the field if he’s to develop into the top of the rotation arm he has the potential to be.
6. Austin Riley
Finally, coming in at #6 we have third base prospect Austin Riley who, arguably more than any other prospect in the Braves system, made huge strides in quieting those who doubted his status as a prospect. The Braves selected Austin with the 41st overall pick in the 2015 draft out of DeSoto Central High School in Mississippi as a third baseman despite the fact that many projected him to have a better future on the mound. Austin rewarded the Braves’ faith in his abilities as he showed out in rookie ball during his pro debut with 12 home runs in 60 games between the GCL and Appy leagues in 2015. After an uneven 2016 campaign with Rome where he struggled in the first half and then went wild in the second half (17 of his 20 homers came after the All-Star break in 2016), questions about his bat speed, ability to hit quality pitching, ability to stick at third base, and his overall hit tool dogged him despite the fact that he put together a really good season in his first look at full season ball.
Austin would not be denied, however, as he showed big improvements in his game that don’t necessarily show up in his stat line. While he struggled again in the first half in the Florida State League with a .718 OPS, he still managed to hit 12 home run and drive in 47 runs in 81 games in the notoriously pitcher-friendly league. Moreover, the defensive improvements were the biggest stride he made in the early goings of 2017 as he showed improved footwork, glove work, and range at the hot corner to go along with his already very strong arm. He isn’t a finished product in the field, but there are far fewer people who think that he will have to move across the diamond or to LF or DH. The Braves saw his improvement and gave him a promotion to Mississippi. Austin thrived in Double-A against the older, more advanced competition as he slashed .315/.389/.511 in 48 games there with another eight home runs, giving him his second straight 20 home run season. He continued his strong run of play in the Arizona Fall League this past fall as he was among the league leaders in several offensive categories as he hit .300/.364/.657 with 6 home runs and 18 RBIs in 17 games.
The tool that will determine his ceiling as a prospect is his plus game power and how often it plays up in games, but he will have to continue improving the other aspects of his game in order to continue to succeed. It is unlikely that he will be contending for batting titles given his issues with swings and misses, but he has continued to refine his approach at the plate which has seen his strikeout creep down and his walk rate creep up each season of pro ball. Those improvements combined with a work ethic that has been lauded by those both inside and outside the organization has us feeling optimistic about Austin’s ability to succeed at the highest level. Riley’s (re?)emergence as a potential power-hitting third base prospect could not have come at a better time for the Braves as there is definitely a need there on the big league roster. Assuming he has a strong start to 2018 (which could begin either at Mississippi again or with Gwinnett), a debut with the big league club in late 2018 isn’t out of the question.