With spring training kicking off, we’ll begin to look forward at what the 2018 season holds for the Braves. Though the Braves draw closer every day to completing their rebuild, the attention this season should fall heavily on the performance of minor league system and the players that will graduate to the major leagues in the next year or so. We’ve put together roster predictions for each of the four full season teams, based on their performance in 2017 and the Braves history. While spring training and the philosophies of the new front office will greatly impact the final assignments, we should be able to give a rough outline of the names going into this season
Kolby Allard, Wes Parsons, Mike Soroka, Touki Toussaint, Manny Barreda
Gwinnett will bring a large portion of their rotation from Mississippi, led by Kolby Allard and Mike Soroka. Call whichever you choose the number one on the staff, both should be on the team for most if not all of the season while also being 2 of the youngest players in the International League. will be an interesting test for Kolby Allard given his lack of professional experience in relation to the rest of the league, but given how well he has thrived in the past when challenged it should be one he can handle. He should face more bumps along the road than he’s been accustomed to, and we’ll get our first real feel for how well he can adjust to players that can come at him with more of an approach. Soroka should feel right at home with the veterans of the league given his savvy approach to pitching, and shouldn’t have much trouble adjusting to the league. Soroka will need to be able to be more consistent in featuring all of his pitches at the same time, as Triple-A hitters will be able to take advantage if he only has two. This placement for Touki Toussaint is very aggressive, and perhaps too much so, but the progress Toussaint made towards reaching his potential last season puts him very close to being ready for Gwinnett. Should he not make the team right out of camp, it may not be more than a handful of starts before he does especially if he performs the way he did at the end of 2017. Toussaint will struggle with the promotion for a bit as his problems with command will bite him against the more experienced hitters, but as he refines his approach and continues to improve on the progress he’s already made he’ll be able to show off his stuff more consistently. Wes Parsons will be an interesting watch for the season as one of the few players that’s been able to show consistent stuff and command over the past few seasons. Should Parsons stay healthy he has the talent to be a back end starting pitcher in the major leagues, but he’s struggled so much to stay on the field he hasn’t been able to progress as many had hoped. If he stays on the field this season he could see a huge breakout year and even throw himself in contention to earn a rotation spot in Atlanta late this season if some of the current crop falter.
Corbin Clouse, Bradley Roney, Devan Watts, David Peterson, Philip Pfeifer, Evan Phillips, Andres Santiago, Jesse Biddle, Caleb Dirks
The relief core for Gwinnett also features a handful of pitchers who could have a future in Atlanta. Corbin Clouse has been completely dominant in the year and a half he’s been in professional baseball, and has shown no signs that he isn’t ready to handle the International League. Clouse has the electric stuff from the left side that could made him a late-inning option for the Braves, and if he can limit his walks should be in Atlanta very soon. Devan Watts is another impressive reliever from the same draft class who has rocketed through the system behind his sinking fastball. Though his pure stuff is maybe a tick behind Clouse he has equaled his results throughout his career and could also be destined for a relief role in Atlanta by the end of the season. Jesse Biddle was probably ready for the Major Leagues last season and is certain to make it this season barring a collapse or injury. His stuff isn’t necessarily eye popping, but he has a great mix of pitches that he knows how to use and command. Biddle would be starting had he not undergone Tommy John surgery and might could if the Braves gave him the opportunity, but presently seems destined to be a very strong middle relief/swingman pitcher. If Biddle even ends up in Gwinnett at all, he should have no problem succeeding.
Kade Scivicque, Chris Stewart, Sal Giardina
Of the four full season teams this is by far the least impressive catching corp, though both Scivicque and Stewart could help out in Atlanta this season. Scivicque is likely to have a chance to stick around as a AAAA type player who will shuttle between levels and can be an effective backup, though he won’t likely ever get a chance to start on a good major league team.
Sean Kazmar, Luis Valenzuela, Carlos Franco, Travis Demeritte
It seemed Travis Demeritte needed another season in Double-A before monster turn around in August got him back to looking comfortable and successful at the plate. Demeritte’s stellar defense and raw power makes him one of the most intriguing prospects in the system, and if he can find a way to cut back on strikeouts he is certainly a starting caliber second baseman or third baseman. While last season statistically was disappointing for Demeritte, his overall numbers aren’t totally awful when taken in the context of the anemic run environment he played in that took away his best offensive skill. A huge drop in BABIP, a move out of the Southern League, and career best strikeout numbers might actually indicate that he made significant progress last season but didn’t have the best run of luck. Demeritte seems ready for Triple-A, and although he may struggle his talent is more than worth being patient with his development. Luis Valenzuela is in his own right impressive, as he has the defensive versatility and the natural line drive stroke to be a bench player. The natural power or speed isn’t there to really give him that tool to make him a better prospect, but he has a type of all around game and a nice looking swing that could develop into a solid ballplayer.
Jared James, Tyler Neslony, Keith Curcio, Ronald Acuna, Dustin Peterson
I could spare 10,000 words singing the praises of Ronald Acuna, but it’s not really worth it at this point because it would be shocking to see him on this team past mid April. Moving on to the players that will be in Gwinnett for awhile, the best prospect in the outfield is Dustin Peterson. An unfortunate hamate injury delayed Peterson’s 2017 season debut and robbed him of power for the entire season, but prior to his struggles in August he was hitting over .280 with good peripherals. With the assumption that his power returns, as it usually begins to in year two with this injury, 2018 should be a major turn around season for Peterson and he should be a solid contributor to the Stripers. There may even be a spot in Atlanta for him at some point, though a lot would have to go right for him to earn that. Tyler Neslony and Jared James are both underrated prospects that could see big 2018 seasons. Neslony struggled in his time in Mississippi, but given his age and the expectation of performance in spring training (more of a wild guess, oops) I went ahead and gave him the bump once Acuna gets promoted (so mid-April). Neslony can hit and do so quite well, but his lack of a defensive home and power production may limit his ceiling. Jared James also fits that same mold in terms of power production issues, though he does play better on the defensive end. James posted a 122 wRC+ in the Southern League last year with a barely above sustainable BABIP, so the profile is there for him to produce at the major league level. James has to avoid the long slumps that brought down his numbers last season, and an increase in power production would be nice though unlikely at this stage.