With a system possessing the depth of talent like the Braves it is inevitable that some deserving players often don’t get attention. While they may possess major red flags that prevent them from being top prospects, or in the case of relievers don’t have a ceiling that justifies high rankings, they still are valuable assets for a system to have within.
Highest Rank: 30th
Riley Delgado was met with little fanfare coming into the 2018 season, but has since been a consistent presence at the plate for Rome with a knack for putting the bat on the ball. Prior to his promotion to Florida, Delgado was second in the South Atlantic League batting race and over 340 plate appearances had struck out just 30 times. He is a contact-first, ground-ball-oriented player who is a difficult out but won’t provide much in the power department. Delgado is strong enough to rack up doubles and sneak a few over the fence and so won’t be a player that can be consistently beat by velocity, but he’s also going to have to continue to make contact at a very high rate if he is to continue to progress through the system. Delgado is a steady defender at shortstop who makes the plays and should provide an above average glove, but isn’t going to wow you and doesn’t have the speed to be a consistent threat on the basepaths. His projection has a very narrow path to success, but his hit tool is so impressive especially from a player that can stick at a premium position that he can’t be ignored.
Highest Rank: 25th
On the opposite end of the prospect spectrum you have Drew Lugbauer, who is all power production and projection. Any catcher who can provide plus power is going to draw attention, though for Lugbauer that’s been the only facet of his game he’s had much success in. His strikeout rate is over 30% and his 10% walk rate isn’t really that impressive for a college slugger in A Ball, and he’s simply going to have to hit more if he wants to sniff the major leagues. His receiving skills leave much to be desired, although if he is able to hit enough to tap into his power he could easily project into a corner outfield spot or to first base. Lugbauer is a longshot as a prospect, but one whose ceiling is amazingly tantalizing. He’s been a reasonably good hitter against right handed pitching this season and a platoon role may best suit his skillset, and having that sort of left handed power off of the bench would be a valued commodity for a National League team.
Highest Rank: 26th
Cruz represents the player on the list with the highest ceiling but also been the worst performer. Cruz burst onto the scene in 2016 after being a high profile international signing, and hit over .300 in his Gulf Coast League debut. After promotion to Danville his struggles to make contact began, and he has since struggled to keep his strikeouts in check enough to keep hope alive. Cruz has pure athleticism for days, with double plus speed and surprising raw power out of a skinny frame, but has never hit enough to tap into that power or speed. Fortunately for Cruz there are some signs that he can turn it around, mostly in his only being 19 years old. Although he hasn’t been fantastic, it’s been increasingly obvious that he’s much better as a right handed batter where he has some legitimate power potential (.131 ISO this season, .145 last season, .178 is 2016). Cruz is not going to stick on the infield, his actions are too unnatural and he makes far too many errors and mental mistakes, but his speed and arm strength give him a good chance to be an above average center fielder although I would expect them to keep him on the dirt until forced to do otherwise.
Highest Rank: 26th
Evan Phillips burst onto the scene for Atlanta this season with a fantastic run of success to start the season. Phillips has been unhittable this season posting a career best 37.4% strikeout rate with Gwinnett while also cutting his walks to career lows at 9.0%. This earned him a brief call up to Atlanta which did not go very well and he hasn’t seen time since. Still, he possesses a nice set of pitches, starting with his low-to-mid 90’s fastball that he has been much more effective in commanding this season. This has allowed him to get ahead in counts and get to his slider, his best strikeout pitch, and has been the reason for his impressive run this season. He’s also utilises a changeup to left handed batters.
Highest Rank: 23rd
Since being drafted in the 27th round of the draft in 2016 Clouse has separated himself as the most effective reliever in the Braves system, with a career 2.05 ERA and 32.% strikeout rate. He is considered with Phillips to be either the best or second best reliever in the system, and at the moment the closest to the major leagues of any pitcher that has not debuted. This season has seen Clouse make a cut to his walk rates, and while it’s still well above what would be desirable for him it’s reached acceptable levels that have really allowed him to take the next step this season. He has a low 90’s sinker that is difficult to square up, and with his arm angle and deception is often tricky to pick up out of the hand. Complement that with a wipeout slider and Clouse has a knack for getting swings and misses in any count.
Highest Rank: 26th
Ricardo Sanchez has been a mainstay on the Braves top prospect list since being traded for from the Angels in 2015, but his slow progression has dulled the outlook and his constant battle with injuries has kept him from being able to take advantage of the opportunities he’s been given with Atlanta. When Sanchez is on the field his made obvious progression both statistically and performance-wise, improving his command and the feel for his changeup to the point he now possesses 3 average or better pitches and should project as a starter on stuff alone. Still, he’s faced four separate DL stints since joining Atlanta and has not pitched 120 innings in a season. Sanchez is only 21, and has plenty of time to continue to develop into a successful starting pitcher, but the worst fears for those who saw his 5’11 frame as a problem have been realized. Sanchez also struggles to keep his weight in check, and that has cause him problems with his command. At this point 2018 is mostly a lost season, but should he recapture the successes he had in 2017 he may find himself rising back up prospect lists once he can prove he can stay healthy.
One of the most talented defenders in the lower minor leagues of the system, Braulio Vasquez has not garnered much attention for his play. Vasquez has moved slowly through the system and still finds himself in the Gulf Coast League at 19, but is starting to show off more power than he has in the past. For Vasquez, the question marks primarily surround his bat as he’s never been able to consistently hit the ball. As a speedy switch hitter he’ll inevitably be judged on his ability to get on base, which he has done fairly well with a .371 OBP last season. The problem is a strikeout rate over 20%, and it is unlikely his walk rate will stay around 10% as he advances levels if he doesn’t prove to be somewhat of a power threat. Still, he possesses the instincts and speed to be plus defender at shortstop, but currently is too error prone to take advantage of his skillset. If he can reach his defensive potential he doesn’t have to do much to be a successful major league player, and if he can sustain the power numbers he has shown in the early stages of this season he will be one step closer to getting a promotion to higher levels where we can really see if he’s a legitimate prospect.