The Mississippi Braves will be carrying the most exciting roster of the Braves minor league system into the 2019 season, opening up the season 9 of Talking Chop’s Top 30 Prospects on the roster (7 withing the Top 15). If you want more information on those prospects, you can click here to check out all of the Braves top 30 prospects. Alex Anthopoulos was not shy about pushing top prospects through the rankings and this M-Braves lineup features a strong trio of hitters that should solidify the top of the lineup as one of the best in the Southern League.
Ian Anderson, Jonathan Aro, Jason Creasy, Tucker Davidson, Josh Graham, Jordan Harrison, Jason Hursh, Mike Mader, Kyle Muller, Phil Pfeifer, Ben Rowen, Jeremy Walker, Patrick Weigel, Joey Wentz
Ian Anderson, Kyle Muller, Joey Wentz, Patrick Weigel, Tucker Davidson
The Braves pitching staff is going to be young and potentially dominant, opening with each of the top 3 Braves selections in the 2016 MLB Draft in Ian Anderson, Kyle Muller, and Joey Wentz. Anderson is coming off of a dominant 2018 season that saw him rise to the ranks of one of the top pitching prospects in all of baseball, tossing 100 innings in High-A with a 2.52 ERA and 28.5% strikeout rate before earning a late season Promotion to Mississippi. In 19 ⅓ innings in Mississippi he lowered his ERA to 2.33 and bumped his strikeout rate to 30%. Anderson has the potential to find himself in Atlanta by season’s end if he can manage a similar season in 2019, and if he can take another step forward in walk prevention has a chance to be a Top 10 prospect in all of baseball. All expectations should be for him to be the top pitcher in the system by season’s end.
Kyle Muller’s campaign in 2018 saw him break out in a big way, taking huge leaps in fastball velocity and offspeed stuff to return him to the level of prospect hype he had going into the draft. Muller is now on the fringes of Top 100 lists, and has a chance to put himself in the conversation for a spot in Atlanta in 2020. Muller spent two seasons with questions surrounding the velocity on his fastball following being drafted by the Braves, but he answered his doubters with a 3.03 ERA across three levels and then a solid run in the Arizona Fall League. Muller’s strikeout rates weren’t at the level of dominance as his rotation counterpart, but he’s been effective at using his tall frame for leverage to force ground balls. Muller, like Anderson and Wentz, doesn’t allow as many walks as most prospects his age and another progression in this category will have him in good position by the end of the season
Wentz is in the opposite position of the other 2 parts of this trio, trying to return himself to the prospect heights he had a couple of seasons ago and prove he can spend a full season healthy. Wentz has been nothing short of spectacular when he has been on the mound, but a series of injuries and setbacks in 2018 limited him 67 innings pitched and renewed the concerns about his arm that were surrounding him during the draft. None of the injuries seem to be a lingering concern, and Wentz will start this season in Double-A despite limited time in Florida. The strikeout numbers for Wentz dropped last season due to his inconsistent playing time, but I would fully expect him to be able to get back to striking out batters at an above average rate. He’s not a fireballer, but he has three good pitches that can all gets swings and misses and he has advanced command of those three that should see him limit walks. This is a far cry from a make-or-break season for the 21 year old, but if he once again suffers injuries (which weren’t a problem in his first season and a half) then you may start to see serious doubt creep in.
Patrick Weigel comes in as a surprising pick for Double-A, given the time he’s spent in Triple-A and his position as the only player on the roster with a 40-man spot, but I would not see that as a knock on him or what the Braves think of his potential. Weigel is still going to be on the road back from Tommy John Surgery, and the most important thing for him will be his early season show of stuff and health more so than his numbers or competition level. With the stacked rotation in Gwinnett someone was bound to be held back and Weigel was the choice. I have doubts about Weigel’s ability to crack the rotation in Atlanta due to the sheer number of pitching prospects that are ahead of him, but he has an opportunity to show himself as either a trade piece or a relief option this season. In either role I think Weigel would succeed, and my personal opinion of his potential has not wavered despite the injury. If the velocity and secondary stuff are back to where they were pre-injury, Weigel is very much on the doorstep of his first call to Atlanta.
Tucker Davidson is trying to recover from a 2018 season that saw his statistics take a nosedive in every major category, but the signs of life he showed at the end of the season gave the Braves enough reason to promote him to Double-A. The full expectation surrounding Tucker was for him to have a major breakout last season after proving himself worthy in Rome, but that success never came and we’re left with a puzzling picture of a guy who suddenly couldn’t seem to do anything right. Davidson ended the season with 2 consecutive dominant starts, combining for 13 ⅓ IP, 0 R, 1 BB, 13 K, finally showing us what he had been expected to do all season. Projection for Davidson is difficult here. I can hardly feel confident saying he’ll return to his previous form, but I also don’t expect he’ll be as bad as he was in 2018. It’s an interesting year for a guy who just two years ago wasn’t even in a rotation at all.
Jeremy Walker could also take the 5th spot in the rotation and also could take that if and when someone is promoted. Walker has had a bit of hype every season with an above average fastball as a key piece, but has never really put that into use on the field all that well. His offspeed stuff lags behind and he struggles to force swings-and-misses which will likely push him to the bullpen very soon. The Braves bullpen is underwhelming, full of prospect who just never worked out and who will probably have success this season but never make any impact on the major league team. Josh Graham is the only one here I would give any significant chance of ever getting significant innings in the major leagues. Unfortunately, none of these pitchers are Aaron Judge.
Jonathan Morales, Carlos Martinez
CJ Alexander, Ryan Casteel, Ray-Patrick Didder, Daniel Lockhart, Alejandro Salazar, Luis Valenzuela, Andy Wilkins
Connor Lien, Cristian Pache, Garrison Schwartz, Drew Waters
The Braves have three key prospects starting the year in Double-A in 2019, all of whom could be in Atlanta next season and one of which has a legitimate shot at the team this season. Cristian Pache is your headliner here, and after a stellar spring his stock has never been higher. The best defensive prospect in baseball, and it’s not particularly close, Pache could be an upgrade to the Braves roster now but is being held back to continue to develop at the plate and not sacrifice his future offensive potential. Pache has slowly made strides to see his offense catch up to his defense, and while he is still raw in most areas of his game his athleticism and knack for the barrel has allowed him to succeed at a young age. Pache’s power has been growing, figuratively and literally, and if he can take the next step this season his prospect status going to rocket up. The bat isn’t a huge question mark, but his plate discipline and pitch selection is and will be a key talking point this season. Pache should be a solid starter on the strength of his defense, but if he’s going to take the step into being a cornerstone piece he has to show better plate discipline than his 4% walk rate last season. A strong step forward, and come late season Pache could really be pushing the Braves to give him a chance in the major leagues.
Drew Waters showed he belonged with a historically good season in Rome last season and the Braves are aggressively moving him up despite a short and underwhelming stint in Florida last season. This is not a huge surprise, as he has shown the talent to compete at this level and will be receiving his first real test in his career. Last season Waters was the unstoppable force in the South Atlantic League, hitting .303/.353/.513 and showing surprisingly developed hitting skills and powers. No player outplayed expectations more than Waters, and he was immediately shown prospect love nationally. The debate is gonna rage all season of Waters vs Pache, and the Braves have given us a front row seat to see them both compete. The outfield should be dominant offensively and defensively, and we’ll likely see Waters in an RBI role for the first time in his career as opposed to hitting leadoff as he did in rookie ball and A ball.
If you asked me which hitting prospect I was most excited to watch play this season, those who don’t follow Talking Chop closely would be surprised to hear me say CJ Alexander. CJ was the steal for the Braves in the last draft going in the 20th round, and now 10 months later has rocketed himself all the way to Double-A. He’s not just an advanced bat that feasted on younger competition, the 22 year old Alexander is a legitimate hitting prospect in every way who immediately outplayed his expectations and showed major league potential in every aspect of his game. Alexander’s power wasn’t on full display last season but he still racked up 17 extra base hits across 3 levels in pitcher friendly leagues, and he was the best pure hitter in the system last season. Alexander hit .352, with a low strikeout rate and high walk rate and despite being jumped all the way to High-A continued to dominate. If he taps into even more of his plus raw power, the Braves will have a huge decision to make in the future, with both he and Austin Riley having legitimate cases to be the starter at third base and many saying that Alexander is good enough to push Riley off the position. The Braves have a good dilemma here and Alexander has pushed the envelope more than anyone has expected and should continue to do so in 2019.
Ray-Patrick Didder is the other notable name on the team, a defensive specialist who can play all of the infield and outfield positions at a plus level and should have have a role in the major leagues if he can hit just a little bit. Didder has some bat to ball skills and gap power, and will be a valuable bench piece with true 80 speed and defensive versatility. Jonathan Morales has never repeated his dominance from rookie ball, but he has the potential to be a solid backup catcher at the major league level. Alejandro Salazar and Luis Valenzuela also have the potential to be bench players at the major league level and should share time at second base this season, with Didder manning shortstop and Alexander at third base.