Before you ask questions about how we made this list and/or who is still eligible for the list, make sure you go to that first link as many of those questions are answered in the opening paragraphs there. Or just ignore this and shout at us in the comments section...the world is your oyster.
Below you will find write-ups on our 19th-24th ranked prospects in the Braves’ farm system including some new faces as well as some that you have seen on our lists for a while now. Enjoy!
24.) Bruce Zimmermann
Please raise your hand if you predicted that Bruce Zimmermann would have the season he’s having. Good, now that all the liars are out of the way let’s talk about this guy. A fifth round draft pick out of Mount Olive College in North Carolina, Bruce Zimmermann has morphed himself into legitimate prospect thanks to his very polished control. Bruce has been absolutely fantastic in 2018 - highlighted by his sheer domination of A-ball (something you should expect given his age, but it’s not guaranteed). Through 14 starts with Rome, Bruce had a 2.76 ERA, 2.67 FIP, 10.5 K/9, and 1.9 BB/9 rate - that’s complete and utter domination. As a result Bruce skipped A+ ball and was promoted to AA Mississippi where he has held his ground more than well - to the tune of a 1.46 ERA, 10.22 K/9, but 5.11 BB/9 (12.1 innings). For the season so far these are Bruce’s numbers: 8-3, 2.60 ERA, 1.12 WHIP, 10.48 K/9, 2.32 BB/9 - extremely impressive for someone that was playing D2 baseball just two years ago.
So how is he doing it? It’s the mustache. It has to be the mustache. But really, the best way to describe it is that he’s a pitcher in every sense of the word. Zimmermann throws a fastball that sits in the low 90s, an average curve, and an average change. His fastball has solid sink to it which shows in his high GB% (~48%), but the other offerings are average. What he does excel in is his command. He works well to both sides of the plate and can locate all three of his pitches pretty well. He has decent splits versus left and right handed batters but he’s been very effective versus lefties (.197/.256/.254).
23.) Alex Jackson
Coming in at #23 on our list is catcher Alex Jackson who has struggled this year at the plate but has oodles of potential. Drafted by Seattle as the 6th overall pick in the 2014 draft, Alex has loads of potential at the plate with plus raw power while making improvements behind the plate. Seattle had actually moved him to the outfield before the Braves sent Max Povse and Rob Whalen to the Mariners in order to retain his services. The Braves moved him back to catcher and while there was certainly a fair bit of rust, he has a strong throwing arm and this year has been pretty adept at throwing out would-be basestealers and is improving his footwork and game calling at a very respectable rate.
The problem as of now for Jackson is his hit tool. Already in question before he joined the Braves, Jackson does strike out a good bit (he has a strikeout rate of 31% this year which is a career high). After a strong year at the plate in 2017 that saw him play his way from high-A to Double-A, Jackson slashed .200/.282/.329 in 64 games with Mississippi. Curiously, despite those struggles at the plate, the Braves promoted Jackson to Triple-A recently. We still feel like the drop in our rankings was warranted, but we are curious to see how that decision pans out for the Braves as he was not an obvious candidate for a promotion.
22.) Jasseel de la Cruz
One prospect who has suddenly popped up without much notice in the system is Jasseel De La Cruz, or JDLC. He started to flash significant stuff last season in the GCL and Danville, but he never fully put it together.
Fast forward to this year and prior to dealing with an injury that has cost him some time, JDLC has seen his consistency take that large step forward. In his first four starts he had a 2.04 ERA with more strikeouts than innings pitched and a WHIP of 0.96. He missed a month and a half and his stuff hasn’t been quite the same since his return, posting a 6.54 ERA in the seven games since.
When he’s on JDLC can hit 95 MPH with a hard slider and promising curve and you can see a report from Wayne Cavadi at Minor League Ball.
I don’t think we see the JDLC we saw early this year again in 2018. He needs rest to get back to where he was at. His numbers will likely suffer a bit, but he will gain experience and remain a true breakout candidate going into 2019 provided he stays healthy. He has #2-3 starter upside if he maxes out his upside, and assuming health he could reach the big leagues in 2021.
21.) Brett Cumberland
At #21, we have the delightfully weird catcher Brett Cumberland. Drafted in Comp round B out of Cal, Cumberland is another catcher in the Braves system with some real pop but with some holes in his game. Cumberland features a really strong ability to get on-base and he hits a lot of fly balls. He has struggled to put those out of the park in Florida at times (the Florida State League is notoriously pitcher friendly although he has a very respectable 10 homers in 77 games this year), but when half of your batted balls are fly balls...that comes with it some times that it feels like he isn’t producing much at the plate.
This ranking is lower than others, including Fangraphs who we respect the hell out of, have Cumberland currently ranked. Reports on Cumberland’s defense behind the plate improving have driven his stock up, but we remain a bit skeptical as to whether his hit tool will continue to play as he ascends the minor league ranks. The power and on-base skills are legitimately good, but we just are not sure he will be able to maintain a 15% walk-rate above A-ball which is what is driving a lot of his offensive value right now. It is worth mentioning that he is currently striking out at the lowest rate of his minor league career right now (24.4%) and he is more than capable of going on a tear that will make this ranking look way too low. We are willing to accept that outcome, but for now his .229 batting average and weird skill set is giving us a bit of pause. Happy to be wrong here.
20.) Patrick Weigel
In 2017, Patrick Weigel was well on his way to beating everybody from that stellar 2016 Rome Braves staff to the major leagues, dominating as Mississippi in the early part of the season before being promoted to Gwinnett. Then Wiegel’s production fell off as did his velocity, and with that came a Tommy John surgery. Weigel’s performance and mechanics in his college days were a major concern for many, and even though he consistently got into the upper 90’s few saw him as a legitimate prospect. That is, except for the Braves who took him in the 7th round and immediately tweaked his mechanics. Weigel blossomed, easily separating himself as the most dominant member of that Rome team with a 2.51 ERA and 135 Ks in 129 innings. His horrendous control problems had been brought under control and he had more helium than any prospect in the system, and he didn’t slow down when promoted to Mississippi and produced a 2.18 ERA.
The injury problems were likely do to years of poor mechanics and given the lack of effort in his delivery and his clean mechanics now, I wouldn’t expect this to be a recurring theme. Weigel has a mid-to-upper 90’s fastball with a steep plane from his 6’6 frame, and he’s able to vary his velocity and use lower velocities with more movement and command. Weigel has a solid average curveball and an average slider, and his changeup is developing but clearly behind the other pitches. He is control over command but had shown definite improvements in his command, the only question mark surrounding Weigel now being just how much of his previous form he can recover. The Braves chose a long schedule for rehabilitation and historically that pays dividends in both player performance and longevity, but there is always the risk he doesn’t return to his previous level. Weigel could be a major wild card for the Braves and if he falls right could be a major player for a rotation spot in coming years.
19.) Tristan Beck
Coming into the 2017 MLB Draft Tristan Beck was a likely first round pick as a draft eligible sophomore before a back injury that cost him that entire season. Still even with the missed season there was some talk of him going in the first round or two, but with a high price tag associated with him he ended up returning to Stanford as a junior.
Beck had a solid year this year, especially in the early part of the year. His production/stuff did trail off a little towards the end of the season, but it isn’t unexpected for a guy who didn’t pitch last year and saw his inning total reach a career high 90.2.
This pick isn’t a surprise as the Braves preferred Beck over Mike Soroka in 2015, but when Beck didn’t take the money offered the Braves zeroed in on Soroka. The team was again linked to Beck last year, but again he wasn’t going to sign and the Braves passed him up. This year they finally got their guy in the fourth round.
Beck has middle of the rotation potential and a high floor as a kid who really knows how to pitch. His fastball sits in the low 90s, but he locates it well and he has an average to above curve plus his change.
Beck may or may not pitch this year for the Braves, but after seeing his innings total jump from zero to 90, that isn’t a surprise. Assuming he doesn’t see action this year I expect him to start in Low A next year and have a chance to move quickly to High A, but wouldn’t be shocked if he started in High A. He could be up in the bigs by the end of 2020, and probably 2021 as a more moderate timeline. Beck is a guy who just knows how to pitch, and even if he doesn’t reach his mid-rotation upside I can see him as a backend starter provided he stays healthy.