We have finaly reached the summit, everyone...the top six prospects in the Atlanta Braves’ farm system at least according to us. If you haven’t read our previous installments of the list his week, fear not. Here are some links that will get you all caught up (make sure you read the first one as it will answer a lot of questions about the list and how we come up with it.
We appreciate everyone reading these each time we do them. A lot of love and thought goes into them and you guys reward that every time with your attention and support and for that we are eternally grateful. Also, big thanks to Matt Powers, Garrett Spain, Gaurav Vedak, and Aaron Huston for all of their hard work. What I (Eric) ask them to do on a regularly basis borders on madness and not only do they do it, but they do it without hesitation and with an amount of care and pride that blows me away. I couldn’t ask for a better staff...they are the best.
Anyways, enough of all of that...here are the top six prospects in the Braves’ farm system. Honorable mentions will post later today just to give you one more fix. Enjoy!
6.) Drew Waters
Another one of our large adult sons, Drew Waters, has seen his stock rocket upwards as well after an absolutely phenomenal first half of play for Rome. At least one write here actually had Drew Waters as their highest rated position player over the likes of Austin Riley and Cristian Pache. Drew is a favorite member in that draft having 50’s across the board on his prospect grades. He’s only seen it improve as his hit tool has played up a lot sooner than we ever imagined and has answered a ton of questions we once had for him. Garrett had a great piece on Drew just last week that could be found here and we highly suggest you read it because it is very informational, but the gist of it is his production at this young of an age is comparable to some very elite company. Drew couples some very good power (.509 SLG, .220 ISO) with an extremely respectable K-rate (18.6%). While his walk rate is something you would like to see improve (5.8%), a lot of it could be due to the fact that if you watch him in a game - he makes an absurd amount of contact. There’s a certain player in Atlanta that has above average power while exhibiting a lower walk rate because of his ability to make contact and is aggressive at the plate and I think you know who I’m talking about. I am in no means comparing Ozzie with Drew, at all, but it’s just a reason to not get frustrated about the walk rate.
Drew’s 137 wRC+ is 10th among all center-fielders in all of minor league baseball. His .509 slugging percentage is 8th among all center-fielders as well. It’s clear the Braves as an organization as really harping on launch angle as there is a huge uptick in his FB% - up from 18.9% to 29.2% which we can’t conclusively say is the reason behind his ISO, but fair to say plays a role in it. Drew is even more interesting as a prospect because he is an absolute threat on the basepads - his 15 steals (18 attempts) is 11th in the South Atlantic League. With the improvement of his hit tool this year the Braves have a legitimate power/speed threat in a player that plays a premium defensive position. How does he do in the field you ask? He is extremely good. Drew reads the ball off the bat extremely well, takes fantastic route, and has a fantastic arm in the field. He is fully capable of staying in center but should they move him because of the likes of Pache, who is one of the best defensive prospects I’ve ever seen, you would get an absolute elite defender in a corner position.
Drew came into the season not on MLB Pipeline’s Top 100 list, but it’s fair to imagine that will change sooner than later. With the development of his hit tool, far sooner than expected, he has taken a massive step forward and is a prospect you should closely keep an eye on.
5.) Luiz Gohara
Coming into the 2018 season there weren’t many who felt that Luiz Gohara would be eligible for top prospect list by the middle of the season, but an emotional season off the field has slowed his progress and perhaps contributed to a great deal of inconsistency. The death of his father in the offseason was they key factor in a difficult offseason for the young pitcher, and then his mother needing to undergo heart surgery in the middle of the season has taken a huge emotional toll on Gohara. It’s understandable given this that he has struggled this season, and at this point there is a very good chance it could be a lost season for Gohara. Prior to this season Gohara had never really struggled in his career, dominating through the lower minor leagues and across 3 levels in 2017. Gohara’s season peaked when he reached the major leagues, providing useful innings out of the bullpen with a 1.0 WAR. Gohara was expected to be a key contender for a rotation spot this spring, but things haven’t panned out the way they were planned and he’s been bounced back and forth between Gwinnett and Atlanta. This combination of factors has left Gohara unable to generate any momentum, and his stuff seems to have taken a slight step backward.
Gohara was consistently pushing the upper 90’s and touched 100 on occasion, but this season that number has dropped about 2-3 miles per hour. This may be intentional as the Braves have him focused more on commanding his fastball rather than blowing it by batters, but it does have an effect on his overall profile. Gohara’s fastball is the best in the system when he runs it up there, with explosive sink and movement in the high 90’s that first drew the attention of talent evaluators. He back that up with an easy plus slider, the best slider in the system and one of the best three breaking balls (if not the best). Gohara hasn’t had huge issues with walks in the past but is more control than command, relying on his ability to blow the ball by batters. This has led to him getting hit when he can’t find corners, but when does command the pitch he is unhittable.
Gohara’s changeup is not an effective pitch at this stage in his career, and if he is going to reach his ace potential he is going to have to develop it far beyond what it is now. Two pitch guys rarely succeed as starting pitchers, but if any can do it Gohara would be your guy because his top two are just so elite. For Gohara, the change doesn’t even need to be fantastic, just enough of a show pitch to get right handed batters off of the fastball. The command feels like it is coming along, and though I don’t expect Gohara to regain his previous form during the season, a hopefully quiet offseason should have him back in form by the beginning of 2019. By then, he’ll have spent enough time to be a prospect, and hopefully he can find enough form to be an effective bullpen piece during a playoff run in Atlanta.
4.) Cristian Pache
There isn’t much holding Pache back from being a top 20 or even top 10 prospect in all of baseball. He grades double plus in speed, arm and defense. It’ll come down to the bat and plate discipline that that determines how bright his star shines, although his defensive acumen in center field (which is among the best in the minors) gives him a better than average chance of being a productive major leaguer even if the bat doesn’t continue to take steps forward.
Over the course of Pache’s first two seasons, he never hit a home run. In the offseason, Pache worked on a new swing path in order to display more in game power. Now he’s hit 8 home runs, including a time where he hit home runs in back to back games. Pache has improved his OPS from .679 to .753 year over year. In addition to improving his power numbers, he’s reduced his strikeout rate 2 percentage points. Getting back to the plate discipline, it’s never been good, but it’s actually gotten worse this season where he’s sporting t a 4% BB-rate. That’ll make Jeff Francoeur happy. If Pache continues to show off the power and improve his walk rate closer to 10%, he’ll be a surefire top 10 prospect.
3.) Kyle Wright
If you were to do some statline scouting, Kyle Wright doesn’t look to be doing anything special this year. In 18 starts at the Double A level, Wright has gone 5-3 with a 4.10 ERA, 1.45 WHIP, and 96 strikeouts to 40 walks over 94.1 innings. The numbers aren’t bad, but they aren’t what you might expect from last year’s fifth overall selection.
However you can’t just scout the statline. The fact Wright has been aggressively assigned to Double A to begin his first full year as a pro factors into that as other college pitchers from the 2017 draft weren’t capable of handing that kind of assignment back in April.
You also can’t help but notice that Wright appears to be working on things on the mound, rather than just looking to dominate minor league hitters to rack up a great statline. Things like certain pitches, pitch sequencing, along with the fact he is still getting used to throwing every fifth day. This work is good for Kyle Wright future player, but does hold back Kyle Wright 2018 statline.
There is no reason to worry about Wright. The stuff that had him drafted fifth overall last year remains fully intact. His plus fastball with some remaining projection, pair of breaking balls that are both borderline plus, and his solid change. His command has been up and down at times, but some of that may very well be minor league strike zones as well as the fact he’s working on his pitches. I’m not overly concerned about his future command, and still see it grading as at least average because he does throw strikes.
Wright’s upside is still high. The potential to be a frontline starter remains, especially if he is able to add some projection. If he doesn’t add anything more to his stuff and doesn’t see much further improvement, he would still be a guy capable of being a #3 starter with a #4 floor. I think he could be ready as soon as early 2019.
2.) Touki Toussaint
Our largest adult son has had a breakout 2018 and has seen his stock rocket higher than it already was and you can trace it all to one thing: his changeup. We’ve talked a lot about Touki’s fastball/curveball combo and how it is one of the deadliest combos in minor league baseball well now that he’s consistently thrown his changeup for strikes - we have ourselves a pitcher whose stock is uncapped. Through 16 starts in AA, Touki’s strikeout rate increased to a career high 11.2 per nine innings while his walk rate sat right around 3.8 per nine. Touki’s GB% (45.6) is the highest of his career outside of a brief 15 inning stint his rookie year. Touki also had an elite 16.2% LD% in his 16 starts in Mississippi and his 9% HR/FB rate you can expect to normalize a bit and go down some.
A lot has changed for Touki dating back to a couple years of ago that was highlighted by Garrett in his piece about him earlier this year - including completely revamping his mechanics and it has worked spectacularly. The success he has seen, and the development that has occurred over the years is the exact reason you go BPA in drafts and to remain patient with prospects. He’s taken steps every year and has turned a corner this year both on the mound and in the batters box. A true athlete in every sense of the word - Touki has returned to the box and hasn’t missed a beat. His senior year Touki hit .340/.407/.525 with 12 XBH among his 33 hits. He then didn’t hit again in a game until last year when he went 0-for-6 with three strikeouts and two walks. This year? This year he has hit .333/.357/.44 with three doubles and six RBI in 27 at bats.
To sum everything up - it’s clear Touki has turned a corner and don’t expect him to slow down anytime soon. Based on my conversations with some people, Touki has the work ethic that you absolutely love to see in a player of his ability so who knows what he has in store for us next. Despite all the success he’s had this season, as Grant McAuley states here, Touki would describe his year as “alright” - so we can’t wait to see what he can do to make himself say he was good.
1.) Mike Soroka
At #1 on our prospect list, we have one Mike Soroka (or as Matt calls him, “Maple Maddux” which is a nickname that makes us laugh at a number of levels). When the Braves used their second 1st round pick in 2015 on a young, Canadian prep pitcher that wasn’t necessarily ranked that highly by those that cover the draft, it did raise a few eyebrows. However, history has now shown that the Braves were absolutely correct to snatch him up. Soroka has among the best command amongst all prospects in baseball right now and features a two-seam fastball that functions as a sinkers, a more true four-seam fastball that can run up to the mid-90’s, a breaking ball that he varies in shape and changes speeds with, and a changeup that is above average to plus depending on when you see it. He can throw all of his pitches for strikes and has a mental aspect to his game that is well beyond his years.
We have all loved Soroka for a long time and it isn’t particularly surprising to see him atop this list with the graduation of Ronald Acuna Jr., but it is worth mentioning his shoulder injury. A shoulder injury that involved severe damage to his shoulder would affect is stock as a prospect greatly, but we are operating under the assumption that the Braves are just being super cautious with a very talented young arm. By all accounts, his exams haven’t shown anything other than inflammation and the Braves are just making sure it gets plenty of rest and gets stretched back out in a deliberate way once he returns. We applaud the Braves for that decision and given that, we decided to not really knock Soroka for the injury. Its possible we have to revisit that, but its more likely that he will return from his DL stint and graduate from this list altogether and we can just watch him slaying hitters in the majors for a long time.