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Atlanta Braves Prospect Update: Ten Risers and Five Fallers

Austin Riley headlines the list of players who have made the biggest jump for themselves this year. Also featured is basically half of Rome’s team.

MLB: Spring Training-Atlanta Braves at Toronto Blue Jays Butch Dill-USA TODAY Sports

We are now about a month out from out mid season prospect update here at Talking Chop, but enough of the season has elapsed that we’ve started to be able to see some trends taking shape and really point out the players who will be making moves on the list. As a preview to that, I’m going to name 10 players who could see their name jump up the Top Prospects lists this year, and 5 players who just haven’t lived up to the expectations set for them this season.

Five Players Whose Stock is Soaring

Drew Waters- A somewhat slow start to the season for the Braves second rounder and a late April disabled list stint caused a bit of early concern, but ever since his return to the diamond Drew Waters has been the highlight of the Braves farm system. It seems like Waters is good for an extra base hit in every game he has played, and really, he has been nearly that good with 23 extra base hits in 32 games since coming back from the disabled list. Drew was always going to steal bases and the power is real, but the development of his hit tool this quickly has been extremely surprising and has rocketed him up the South Atlantic League batting race and up prospect lists. He’s not quite at the level of a Cristian Pache or a Ronald Acuna yet, but 2 and a half more months playing like he has thus far and he will get serious consideration for Top 50 overall lists and could make a run at number one in the system.

Austin Riley- Notoriously slow starter Austin Riley came out of the gates mashing at Mississippi, and it didn’t take long to realize that this was going to be a special year for the 21 year old third baseman. Riley had an OPS of 1.071 in 27 games with Mississippi, showing a development in his power, hit tool, and defensive ability that made him an attractive potential solution to the third base problem for the Braves. His season peaked with Gwinnett when he exploded for a three home run, 8 RBI game, but soon after his numbers came back down to earth and he then found himself on the disabled list. This doesn’t however dull the shine on what has been a breakout season for Riley, because he is much further along in his development curve than anyone could have expected when he was drafted, and his commitment to his conditioning routine has made him a threat on both sides of the ball.

Touki Toussaint- The Braves have been waiting very patiently for the supremely talented Toussaint to finally take off, and it seems like 2018 may be the year for Touki Toussaint to make his mark on the Braves system. Toussaint has been embarrassing Double-A hitters this season with a league leading 82 strikeouts in 67 innings of work. Toussaint is not only striking out batters at the highest rate of his career but also walking them at the lowest rate, a trend that has been steady over the last few seasons for him. Toussaint isn’t far off from earning his promotion to Triple-A, you should expect it after the all star break, and he could be a lot closer to the major leagues than you think. His arsenal of pitches may be the best in the Braves system, and if not it only trails one pitcher, and if he is truly refining his command as his approach as he seems to be he may end up better than anyone in the system at the moment.

William Contreras- The Braves have been in search of a top tier catching prospect for a long time, and Contreras may just be the man that fits that description. Contreras has a .782 career OPS but has never gotten much attention until this season, as he’s been phenomenal for Rome. Since his arrival the team is 32-18, and he’s been a large part of that success showing defensive ability and an approach that bodes well for his major league future. Contreras has kept his strikeouts down, draws walks at a fair rate, and has shown tremendous power from a strong frame that could make him a game changing bat behind the dish. Like any young catcher he needs to improve his receiving, but seems generally well liked by pitchers and has shown a tremendous amount of success handling a talented Rome staff. This is Contreras’s year and he could be on his way to an offseason that sees him garner a lot more national attention.

Jean Carlos Encarnacion- Encarnacion got off to a slow start at the plate, and on May 1st had just a .241/.277/.329 line at the dish, but has since morphed into a force in the middle of the lineup and is making a run at a batting title in the South Atlantic League. Encarnacion was one of our biggest names to watch going into this season after his showing in the Gulf Coast League, and once again he is displaying an ability to create consistent, hard contact. Encarnacion has also begun to grown into his frame and shown improvements in his power production, with 4 home runs and 19 extra base hits in his last 37 games. Encarnacion doesn’t draw many walks and that will be something that he should solve, and while he shows good actions at third he is too inconsistent and makes far too many errors. Athletically, Encarnacion has everything needed to be a fantastic third baseman, and he has put together a marvelous season already for a staggeringly good Rome Braves team.

Five Players Who Haven’t Lived Up to Expectations

Joey Wentz- Joey Wentz carried a lot of momentum into 2018 and started the season off quite well, but in the middle of April it became apparent very quickly that something was not right with him. Wentz began walking batters at a rate he never has in the past, and saw a drop in strike outs and a stint on the disabled list. After a one month absence Wentz returned recently but only pitched 2 13 innings before being pulled from a game in which he struggled to throw strikes. For a guy who has had issues with dead arm in the past there is definitely reason to be concerned, as a complete reversal of statistical trends usually doesn’t bode well for a pitcher’s health.

Kyle Wright- It’s tough to call what Kyle Wright has done this year a disappointment because his peripherals have been significantly better than his ERA has indicated, but he simply hasn’t been as good as he was expected to be this year. He’s not missing a ton of bats with his fastball and hasn’t seemed to have made much progress with his command, and is struggling in a pitcher’s league to go deep into games effectively. I don’t think Wright’s stock has necessarily taken a huge tumble, but he’s definitely not quite as ready for the major leagues as I think many had anticipated.

Alex Jackson- The most disappointing development of this season has to be the complete collapse of Alex Jackson at the plate. Jackson has seen a regression in every possible measure at the plate, and even if he isn’t as bad as his sub-600 OPS would suggest he still has simply not been good. Jackson has made progress behind the plate, but he’s going to have to hit to be a major league regular and this season will be a serious blow to the incredible amount of progress he made last season if he can’t turn it around in the second half.

Ricardo Sanchez- When Sanchez is on the field he shows flashes of promise from his left arm, but he once again found himself on the disabled list after just 5 innings this season. Sanchez has consistently stayed injured in his career and it’s at this point that you really have to wonder if his body is built to sustain a full season in a rotation. Sanchez is such a talented arm and it’s a shame to have to have that conversation, but it may be time to move Sanchez to the bullpen and hope his stuff can tick up and he can remain on the field.

Tucker Davidson- Tucker Davidson was the overwhelming selection for breakout prospect this season, and he has done just the opposite and saw some serious early season regression in all facets of his game. Now, this choice should come with a little bit of an asterisk, because lately Davidson has been steady on the mound and over his last 5 games has a 1.35 ERA. Still, the command isn’t where it was last season and the stuff seems to have backed up a bit according to reports, but if he can continue to pitch like he has lately he could be on the way back up into the risers list soon.

Five More Players Who Have Opened Eyes

Jasseel De La Cruz- An unfortunate stint on the disabled list slowed the ascent for Jasseel De La Cruz, but he is back in rotation and picking up right where he left off. DLC has been stellar this season, with an electric fastball and a curveball that shows plus. If the changeup can develop and the command continues to improve the Braves may have a solid 2/3 to add to the rotation, if not that two pitch combo could make him electric out of a bullpen.

Bruce Zimmermann- Bruce Zimmermann doesn’t have much pedigree, but when you spend much of the year leading all of minor league baseball in strikeouts (currently 3rd) you are bound to draw attention. Zimmermann is definitely beating up on lower level competition, and should see a promotion after the all star break at which point we can get a better feel for him, but there is reason to believe he is a legitimate prospect. Zimmermann features a mix of pitches he can command and a sinker that headlines the deal that has been difficult to square up this season.

Cristian Pache- Cristian Pache is hitting home runs and that is enough to land him on this list. Once Mike Soroka and Ronald Acuna graduate Pache should make a run at that top overall spot as he is raking at Low A this season. After an early season strikeout binge (by his standards, at least) he has been difficult to set down, all while improving his power production and remaining an elite defender. He’s done everything required of him so far with the walk rate the major point left to improve.

Evan Phillips- Evan Phillips went from ‘guy who strikes out a lot of batters’ to ‘guy who strikes out an obscene number of batters’ and is currently the overwhelming best reliever in the system. Phillips has dominated this season and has to be just a small step away from the major leagues. He has the stuff to be a lights out reliever as long as he doesn’t fall back into those long stretches where he can’t seem to throw strikes.

Freddy Tarnok- The only thing keeping Tarnok off of the top group on this list is his limitation on innings. Otherwise, Tarnok’s insane stuff and 43 strikeouts in 30 23 innings would have him drawing a lot of attention. The walk rate remains high and probably will for awhile due to his lack of experience, but the early returns on this third rounder have been extremely positive.

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