It is that time of the year, again....the Talking Chop top 30 prospect list is here yet again for you all to yell at us about. It is a time-honored tradition. The list will be rolling out over the course of this week in installments of six players each. Yes, there will be an honorable mentions section after the list rolls out. Before we get to the first set of players, here are a few notes about this year’s list.
- This list is a composite of the personal rankings of myself (Eric), Garrett Spain, Matt Powers, Gaurav Vedak, and Aaron Huston aka Sparhawk. I would be shocked if you could find five other people that watch and follow the Braves’ minor leagues as much (outside of Braves’ employees) as that collection of folks. That said, all of our rankings were different, so we clearly don’t have this down to an exact science which is exactly the way we like it. Our goal with this list is to get word out on these guys in the minors and assess, to the best of our ability, the overall strength of the system. None of us get hung up on how specific players get ranked in the composite as all of the voting is very close. You shouldn’t either.
- We didn’t know what to do with Michael Reed - At least one person is going to get bent out of shape about this, so lets just get this out of the way. Reed was signed as a low profile minor league free agent with some major league experience and he is hit incredibly well since joining the Braves. He is a bit on the older side for a prospect, but is could be considered one based on MLB service time. However, given our lack of familiarity with his work before joining the Braves, we just decided to not include him on this list. There does appear to be some consensus amongst us that the guy can hit, so do with that information what you will
- We were more conservative this year in terms of taking guys off the list than we have been in previous years. Yes, Ronald Acuna Jr. has graduated from the list, but borderline cases that we would have normally removed in the past remain for a couple of reasons. One, we want to try to be more consistent with who is on the list and who isn’t and also because it isn’t clear what the Braves are planning to do with a lot of these guys. Several players have dealt with injuries and/or getting bounced back and forth in bullpen duty which has led to them accumulating innings in a somewhat atypical way. As a result, guys like Mike Soroka, Luiz Gohara, and Max Fried are still eligible for the list even though they do seem like they will contribute regularly in the majors this year. We don’t anticipate that they will be eligible for the next list, so consider this one last hurrah.
- This list is purely a mental exercise that is fun and not the end all, be all. If you were to rank a guy three spots above or below where we have them, it is highly unlikely we would argue with you. These are all purely subjective and five different people have their fingerprints on this list. Combine that with some very close votes (3 different ties had to be broken and there were entire chunks of players that were separated by just 1 point each), and you have a list that includes a lot of really good players but is far from being a consensus opinion. It is better to think of the list in terms of tiers and not getting hung up on why one guy is ranked two spots higher than another guy.
- We love discussion about where you would rank players and why, we hate incredibly rude people that just shout their anger at us without any substance. If you are in the former group and disagree with us, have fun and let us know what we did wrong. If you are in the latter, your stay in the TC comments section will be a short one. We don’t have a monopoly on good ideas or the truth, but I have no interest in getting shouted at for no reason whatsoever.
Without further delay, here are prospects 25-30 on our midseason top 30 Braves prospect list. Enjoy!
30.) Huascar Ynoa
Coming in at #30 on our midseason prospect list update is RHP Huascar Ynoa. Thank you, Jaime Garcia. More than half a season of mediocre baseball netted the Braves a very lively arm in Ynoa. The now 20 year old is a bit like Touki Toussaint in that you have to look past surface level stats. His strikeout and walk rates have improved year over year, and his batting average against is at his lowest point since he first came on the scene in the DSL. While Ynoa’s first full season has been largely a success, don’t expect him to move quickly.
Blessed with a strong arm, Ynoa typically lives in the 93-95 mph range (max 97) with movement on his fastball. While listed at 175 lbs, a recent scouting report says he’s closer to 220 lbs and maxed out physically. His change-up qualifies as his best secondary pitch, which is an above average pitch. He’s able to sell the change well too. Ynoa’s 3rd pitch is a slider, and while it shows promise, it’s more of an average offering. Even though Ynoa is racking up the strikeouts, looking deeper shows that he doesn’t get much swing and miss from any one of his pitches. Also, his control is well below average at this point, though improving. These two things together might limit his upside as he moves up the ladder. Having said that, there’s still a lot to like about Ynoa, and he has the stuff to be a #3 starter.
29.) Dustin Peterson
Feels like Dustin Peterson has been in the Braves farm system for a long time. After a promising 2016 campaign in which he had 52 extra base hits, injuries got in the way of his big coming out party in 2017. Since coming back from his injury, he’s pretty much stalled out. In his repeat campaign at AAA, his numbers vs last year are only slightly better. Just a couple of reasons he’s not playing with the Braves is his limited power output with a .708 OPS and a 25% strikeout rate (vs a 9% walk rate).
Peterson is pretty much average across the board for scouting grades. Without a real carrying tool, his upside is very limited. Even being a 4th OF type on an MLB club will be difficult unless the bat picks up in a major way since his raw power hasn’t come to fruition. Remember, this was a guy that was left unprotected in the Rule 5 draft and not a single team chose him. At 23, Peterson still has time to turn things around, especially if he can re-capture his 2016 version where he had a .774 OPS and a strikeout rate under 20%.
28.) CJ Alexander
There might not be a more intriguing pick than CJ Alexander - one of our very own Matt Powers’ favorite steals of the draft. The Braves were able to nab CJ in the 20th round even though Matt has him graded as a third rounder. CJ is the older brother of Arizona Diamondbacks prospect Blaze Alexander - the blazing fast shortstop heh heh. Unlike his brother, however, CJ has made his billing with prodigious power. He got off to a rocky start at Ball State and he eventually transferred to D2 powerhouse State College of Florida where he absolutely broke out and hit .405/.488/.785. CJ has the frame to be a power hitting third baseman should he stick at third, but should he become too big for the position he has the arm to stick in a corner outfield spot.
The main question regarding CJ is the hit tool but the Braves have had recent success with power hitting third basemen with an unknown hit tool so CJ becomes a very intriguing prospect. It was expected that he would lag behind a bit once facing higher quality opponents after being drafted but CJ is off to a fantastic start - hitting .333/.412/.433 through seven games in the GCL before being promoted to Danville where he has hit .412/.500/.618 through nine games. He’s definitely a wild card - and if everything turns out right he might end up being one of the biggest draft day steals in recent history.
27.) Tucker Davidson
At #27 on our midseason top 30 is LHP Tucker Davidson. The Braves’ 19th round pick in the 2016 draft, Tucker’s ascent through the minor leagues has been a fascinating one. He joined full season ball with Rome last year as a reliever, but his mid-90’s fastball and solid breaking ball combined with his maturity led the Braves to see how he would do as a starter in Rome’s rotation after couple months or so of the season. He responded by posting a 2.60 ERA and striking out nearly a batter an inning and was promoted to high-A to start the 2018 season.
You will notice that Tucker has dropped bit in our rankings from our pre-season rank of him and that is primarily due to his struggles to start the season. Tucker is walking guys a bit more than we would like, is striking out players at a lower rate, and he had a pretty horrendous April followed by a meh May. Combine that with some issues with effort in his delivery and it has given us a little bit of pause in terms of getting too excited. However, it is certainly worth mentioning that he has been awesome in June and July which has brought his season numbers to a very reasonable 3.92 ERA. If he can bring the strikeouts back up and rein in the walks a bit, we are going to be more than willing to move him back up our rankings especially given how glowing the reports on him were from within the organization coming into the season.
26.) Jefrey Ramos
Jefrey Ramos immediately impressed on our group trip to the Gulf Coast League, showing a consistent ability to barrel the ball and produce hard contact. Ramos hit over .300 at two stateside level in his first taste of baseball in America, with 21 extra base hits and an ISO of .190. Despite a decrease in his strikeout rate to a career best 18.5% he has seen a stark regression in numbers, but that is misleading for Ramos as he carries just a .272 BABIP. Ramos is going to be a left fielder and he moves well enough to field the position, but he won’t be better than an average defender and has already filled out his frame. His produces above average raw power and it could play up a bit more if he adds more loft although that isn’t a major concern as he is already tapping into it.
Ramos doesn’t draw a lot of walks and that is the main part of his game that may limit his overall offensive ceiling, but a guy who can hit will find a place on a major league roster. If the 19 year old Ramos continues to improve even as he has this season, he would be another major under the radar signing for the Braves. Over the last 50 games Ramos has produced a .223 ISO and 9 home runs, only being held back in that span by a .247 BABIP. When the balls start to fall you’ll see a guy who will create a buzz around the system as one of the better pure bats among Braves prospects.
25.) Trey Riley
The 6’2” athletic right hander was a 5th round draft pick in this year’s draft. He’s a JUCO player from John A Logan Community College located in Illinois so he’s a cold weather arm. This past season he averaged an eye popping 13.56 K/9 and 3.73 BB/9 to go along with a strong 1.01 WHIP.
Trey Riley projects to have 2 plus pitches with a fastball that’s in the mid 90’s and a nasty slider. He rarely had to throw his change, so it definitely lags well behind his other pitches. Also, he needs to work on his delivery, especially repeating the same motion for all his pitches, because he will tip his pitches in addition to him just being overly wild.
If he wants to stick as a starter, he’ll need to develop his change-up, clean up his delivery and improve his control. If he cannot develop a 3rd pitch, he’ll at least project as a high end reliever.