We have reached the fourth installment of our midseason top 30 Braves prospects list. To help you all get caught up with the list so far, here are some links for you to oogle at.
The first installment of our list has some answers to a lot of the questions we get asked about our list and who is/is not on it, so give that read if you haven’t already.
Also, we are now reaching a point on the list where the voting was extremely close, so it is important to mention again to not get hung up on individual rankings too much as you will have those of us who ranked guys higher and lower than where they are on this list and some entire groups of the list had differences in vote totals that were negligible. Anyways, on to the list! Also, the last installment will come out tomorrow along with some honorable mentions in a separate piece.
12.) Kolby Allard
Coming in at #12, we have pitcher Kolby Allard whose stock as a prospect has been fascinating to watch. Drafted 14th overall in the 2015 draft, Allard was a real candidate to go #1 overall before a back injury his senior year in high school cost him a bunch of time. The Braves still loved his arsenal and snatched him up in the middle of the first round. Allard features a fastball that he locates well and it has good run which helps it play up despite being a low 90s offering. He has a good curveball and changeup as well and commands all three pitches. While his fastball velocity does limit his ceiling some, his advanced feel for pitching gives him a real shot at being a productive member of a major league rotation.
Much has been made of Allard’s velocity not taking a step forward over the last couple of years (and those concerns are fair), but all the guy does is put up results. He has a career minor league ERA of 2.97 and despite being just 20 years old with stuff that some consider less than optimal, he is slaying on the mound for Triple-A Gwinnett with a 2.85 ERA in 17 starts. Where we have seen issues are in his strikeout rate which has gone down each year in the minors and currently resides at 6.99 K/9 which we would obviously prefer to be higher. However, he is good at limiting free passes on the basepaths and his command of the entire strike zone has given him the ability to induce easy ground balls and he doesn’t really have any splits that one has to be concerned about. While Allard’s overall projection has changed given his development path, he is still very young and could project out some more and he is still a really good prospect even if some of the initial expectations placed on him don’t appear as though they will be met.
11.) Joey Wentz
A favorite prospect heading into the 2016 draft was Joey Wentz. He likely could have been a 2 way player, but the Braves picked him as a starting pitcher. At the time he was drafted, he was throwing up to 96 mph and hitting massing home runs. However, he did have a bout of dead arm, but came back throwing just as strong and that was enough to convince the Braves to take him. In 2017, he was neck and neck with Bryse Wilson all season throwing one great game after another. Things were looking very good for Wentz heading into this season, but his mechanics got out of whack where he was walking over 4 per game. The Braves shut him down for about a month, but since coming back he’s walked just 3 batters in 24.2 innings. The only negative is that the strikeout rate remains down.
As we now know, Wentz hasn’t shown that promise of a big fastball. It’ll sit more in the 90-92 mph range (55FV). On the positive side, he hides the ball well and gets good extension from his 6’5” frame that can make his fastball appear faster. There is still hope that his fastball will gain some velocity (perhaps enter the same offseason program that Muller did this past offseason with Driveline). Rounding out his other pitches are a curveball and change-up which both project above average to plus. His control is quite good for a taller pitcher at this juncture in his career, but not sure he’ll ever be plus in this regard. The upside is still there, but currently not as high as when he was first drafted. If his fastball and one of his secondary pitches advance enough to become plus, he could be a TOR guy, but a future in the middle of a rotation seems more likely.
10.) Max Fried
Max Fried has never been particularly dominant over a full season in a Braves uniform, and has to be one of the most concerning prospects to follow. He’s struggle to stay on the field mainly due to recurrent blister issues, and every time he finally seems like he’s getting on a roll something pops up to sideline him just long enough to get him out of rhythm. Then when Fried is on the field, at his best, there isn’t a single pitcher in the system who has been more dominant than Fried. Back with that phenomenal Rome team Fried hit his stride in the playoffs, and in two starts finished 14 2⁄3 innings, allowed only 2 earned runs and 4 walks while striking 24 batter. In the Arizona Fall League he had a 1.73 ERA and 32 K/8 BB over 26 innings.
That is the type of talent the Braves are playing with, as Fried shows a fastball that sits in the mid 90’s that he commands well to the arm side and can run away from batters. His curveball is one of the most outstanding offerings in the system, and the best current breaking ball in the system due to his ability to mix up speed and command it more consistently than anyone else (although Touki’s curveball has more highlight reel potential). The changeup has grown leaps and bounds since joining the Braves system and is now an offering that is above average. If Fried could stay on the field he wouldn’t be on this list, he would be one of the brightest young pitchers in baseball. Unfortunately that is still Fried’s battle and until he can solve whatever is causing his blisters his value is going to take a hit.
9.) William Contreras
The biggest mover in the system is William Contreras. He moved from #17 preseason to #9 now, but more importantly than moving up eight slots is the fact he moved into that top grouping of prospects and past some of those other highly thought of prospects.
Contreras started the season in extended spring training, not getting the call to Low A Rome until late April(4/24 debut). Since getting moved up however, Contreras has done nothing but move himself up clear into the Top 10 catching prospects in all of baseball.
In his first 72 games he has played in Rome, Contreras has hit .286/.349/.432 with 10 doubles and 10 homers. He has 23 walks and 68 strikeouts in his 301 plate appearances. Defensively he has thrown out a third of all base stealers (17-51).
Contreras is a guy that doesn’t have any obvious weaknesses. Sure, he could cut down on the strikeouts and tap into his power in game a bit more, but he’s a 20 year old catcher who keeps improving. He will be an all around type of catcher, able to hit for some average and power while playing quality above average defense.
We see Contreras as slightly similar to his brother who is a bit of a late bloomer (and yes William was a bit of a late bloomer as he didn’t really start taking off until his age 19 season) with all around skills behind the dish. We expect him to spend all of 2018 in Rome then begin 2019 in Florida. He could get a chance to move to Mississippi at some point next year with normal progression, and has a chance to make it to Atlanta in the second half of 2020.
8.) Ian Anderson
Are people sleeping on Ian Anderson despite being the #3 overall pick in the 2016 draft? Quite possibly. Injuries last season limited him to just 20 starts is just one reason couple with brilliant seasons from Joey Wentz and Bryse Wilson. 2018 is a completely different story. Anderson has not only been healthy this entire season, but has only gotten strong as the year has progressed. He’s sporting a superb 11.13 K/9 and an ok 3.79 BB/9. Oh, you aren’t impressed? When he isn’t striking out a ton of batters, he gets a lot of groundballs to the tune of 48%. Also, Anderson has only given up 2 home runs all season in 76 innings (just 3 for his career!), and his FIP and xFIP are on par with his ERA.
Anderson has everything you look for in a pitcher. He’s 6’3”, athletic, projectionable and a cold weather arm. His fastball sits anywhere from 91-95 with good movement, and should tick up a little as he continues to get stronger. His curve and change-up are above average with potential to turn into plus pitches down the road. While his control is currently below average, there are no real concerns and should be at least average when all is said and done. Anderson’s upside is still that of a #2 or #3 starter.
7.) Austin Riley
Coming in at #7 on the list is third baseman Austin Riley, which is the ranking that is the most likely to get us yelled at. Drafted in the first competitive balance round in 2015, Austin was a bit of a project at the plate due to previously being a highly regarded pitching prospect. However, the Braves really coveted the power he had at the plate and, as it turns out, they were right to. After connecting for 12 home runs in 60 games in his first season in the pros (60 games), Austin has yet to have a season where he has hit less than 20 dingers. The best power bat in the system has had issues with swing and miss, but he has also improved significantly each season he has been in pro ball and is widely seen as a top 100 prospect in baseball now.
One of the biggest improvements in Riley’s game has been on the defensive side of the ball. After his first season of full season ball in Rome, Riley had plenty of doubters that he could stay at third base as he didn’t look to have great range and looked stiff at the position. However, the guy worked his butt off and that work combined with a strong arm has paid big dividends for him. He might not ever be Nolan Arenado at the hot corner, but you will struggle to find folks who think he won’t be able to stick at the position.
If you had asked us a couple of months ago as to where Riley would be ranked, it is likely we would have said that he was a lock for the top 5 and it is worth mentioning that two of us did, in fact, have him in there. However, a knee injury kept him out of action for a while this year and before the injury he seemed to be struggling to have his power play in games in Triple-A and the strikeouts were creeping up again. Austin was also a victim of a REALLY close grouping of players that were separated by a single point in the composite in some cases. If you were to say with absolute confidence in your voice that Austin Riley is a top 5 prospect in the Braves’ system, you wouldn’t get many arguments from us because he is supremely talented.