We approach the home stretch as this is the fourth installment of the Talking Chop 2020 Preseason Top 30 Braves Prospect List. As expected, there has been a fair amount of shouting at us as the rankings has progressed which is fine. For those that are wondering, the difference between the 11th ranked prospect and the 14th prospect in the composite was a grand total of 4 points which is basically no difference at all in a composite with seven people. Some folks clearly were not listening when we said it is best to look at the list in terms of tiers and not hard and fast rankings, but I guess reading is hard and it is easier to yell on the internets.
In case you want to get caught up on the rankings thus far, we have you covered as the links are below.
For the the next section, we have a pair of position players chosen in the 2019 MLB Draft as well as a slew of pitching prospects that longtime followers of Talking Chop are likely very to be familiar with at this point. Tomorrow is the top 6....bonus internet points (which can be redeemed with Ivan for gifts...probably.....maybe) to commenters who guess the correct six players and the order in which they will appear. Enjoy prospects 7-12!
12.) Michael Harris - OF
It should be clear at this point that Talking Chop doesn’t care much about draft positions, but if you didn’t think that, our choice to move Michael Harris this high on the list is all the proof you need. Harris is a native of Stockbridge, Georgia and was the first high school player taken by the Braves as he went in the third round and signed at $550K ($43K under slot). While many teams viewed Harris as a pitcher, the Braves saw what the wanted from him on the offensive end and put him into the outfield when he was drafted. Harris came in and raked in the Gulf Coast League with a .349 batting average and .917 OPS over 31 games. This, along with a real roster need at the time, prompted the Braves to make the rare decision to promote a high schooler directly to Low-A Rome in his very first season. Harris wasn’t great at this new level and hit only .183 over 22 games, but he showed promise and wasn’t too overwhelmed by such a high level of pitching as he still drew walks and had competitive at-bats.
Harris is probably the highest ceiling player of any Braves prospect outside of the top six, and the decision to go high on Harris was one that all of our minor league writers agreed with. While his numbers in Low-A weren’t inspiring on the surface, for a player that young and fresh out of high school to come to A ball and mostly hold his own was impressive. Harris’s strikeout rate in Rome was 23.7% and overall was 19.8% which was quite the shock for a player who was said to have a major question mark on his ability to make contact. He also walked a decent amount-9.7% in Low-A, and in our viewing showed that he had the plate discipline and the zone recognition to match those numbers. There were definitely some lost at bats where he got overpowered, but in most cases he was a tough out to get and would foul balls off late in counts until he got a pitch he wanted.
We’re going to have to see more of Harris to really get a feel for how his hitting is going to pan out, but early indications are much more positive than expected and that’s what’s pushed him significantly higher on this list. Harris has shown he can use all fields, has been able to work with offspeed stuff, and has the zone recognition to be an above average hitter. Low-A isn’t the best league and we’ll need to see more of him against changeups and tougher left handed pitching, but the early results are moving in the right direction much quicker than we had anticipated. The raw power is there for Harris, despite him not being the biggest guy in the world at 6’0 even, and he has some room to fill out and add more bulk. His swing creates leverage and he puts up fantastic exit velocities, but he’ll need to hit more consistently and lift more consistently to tap into that power fully. If he does he’s easily a guy with above average power and could have plus power in the tank at his peak. Defensively he shows good instincts and makes good reads in the outfields, though he is inexperienced and sometimes prone to mistakes in his routes and jumps. This doesn’t concern us and we would expect him to be an above average defender in the outfield, though if he does add bulk it would likely push him to a corner. He currently has plus speed, but again depending on how he matures physically will determine his ultimate role. He also clearly has the arm to stick out in right field, as with his background on the mound he shows an easy plus arm and is accurate with throws across the field to third base.
Overall Harris is one of the most exciting prospects in the system and potentially one of the more exciting we’ve seen over the past several years. The Talking Chop crew has been buzzing with excitement over what we’ve seen so far, and is one that is popular with his teammates and has gotten strong reviews for his intangibles. If last season can bleed into this coming one, he will begin to get national love in short notice and could easily be a top 5 guy in the system this time next season. Harris does have a huge bust potential, but he also could be a player you see donning an all star uniform in the future and could be a cornerstone piece if he progresses to his potential.
11.) Patrick Weigel - RHP
A healthy Patrick Weigel climbed his way back up in our rankings. Moving from #15 in the 2019 preseason to #13 midseason to #11 in our 2020 preseason list. You know the story by now, a breakthrough season in 2016 put a lot of eyes on Weigel, but unfortunately he ended up needing TJS in 2017. After 14 months of rehab, the Braves had him test the waters at the end of 2018 by appearing in four games. With another offseason under his belt, the Braves brought Weigel along slowly throughout the year, mostly piggybacking with Jeremy Walker.
Overall, it was a successful season for Weigel. Most importantly, he stayed healthy. The kid glove approach made it difficult to tell on a per game basis since he was only facing batters one time through the order. Later in the season, he started to get stretched out more over a six game stretch. While he did have his best game in that stretch where he struck out nine over 4.1 innings allowing just one hit, the results were pretty mixed and the Braves cut back on his pitch count. Control is one of the last things to come back and it certainly showed as he sported a career high 4.67 walk rate. His strikeout rate was a career low, but he got stronger as the year went along. His strikeout rate for the season was 8.09, but was at 10.08 from in the final thirteen appearances and that jumped to 12.86 in his final seven games.
Although Weigel was added to the 40 man and earned a call-up, he didn’t actually make his MLB debut. What can we expect from Weigel in 2020? Hopefully a return to his normal velo levels and walk rates. Barring something crazy he should start the season with the AAA squad, and should finally make his long awaited debut.
10.) Tucker Davidson - LHP
Alongside Kyle Muller, Tucker Davidson has taken social media by storm with his working with Driveline. Below is a tweet with Tucker showcasing increased velocity on video.
Velocity hasn’t been an issue for Tucker, who has come in in the mid-90s on his fastball, but the issue has been the relative lack of movement on the pitch, although sometimes it does have some rise to it which helps. He’s gotten away with it because of his dynamic curveball, and his solid but improving changeup has kept hitters off balanced seen by his .220 batting average against in 110 innings at Double-A Mississippi. His overall numbers for Mississippi were great as he compiled a 2.03 ERA and 9.92 K/9 rate before being promoted to Triple-A Gwinnett where he struggled a bit with his control (4.26 BB/9), and appeared to run a bit out of steam as he approached a new career high in innings (129.2).
2020 is a very intriguing year for Tucker. As a 19th round pick, the Braves have gotten tremendous value already for the Braves and the fact that he is on the cusp of a potential major league debut is incredible. Will his uptick in velocity help offset the relative flatness of his fastball? Only time will tell that, but seeing 97+ from the left hand side has to be of major interest to the Braves. Any progression from the changeup will only keep hitters more off balanced which could be a major story for the upcoming season.
9.) Jasseel de la Cruz - RHP
During our 2019 mid-season prospect updates, we described Jasseel de la Cruz as the Braves’ “the helium prospect of the year,” a title which still stands up today. In a system that has been stacked to the gills with high upside righties over the past few years, de la Cruz emerged as an unlikely hero and now finds himself planted in the Top 10 of one of baseball’s best farm systems. His 2019 was a rollercoaster beginning with four starts in Rome, then being promoted and making four starts in Florida (one of which was a no-hitter), then being shuttled to Mississippi where he finished the season. Through it all, his final line was 7-9, 3.25 ERA | 3.55 FIP, with 8.19 K/9 and 3.32 BB/9. The strikeout numbers aren’t as gaudy as you’d like to see from someone whose velocity hovers in the mid 90s, but these will likely come as he further refines his slider and changeup.
He kept the ball in the park last season - only eight home runs allowed over 133 innings - and kept the ball on the ground at a 48.5% rate. He has the ingredients to be a solid middle of the rotation guy or higher, but needs to distance himself from the inconsistencies and injuries that have stood in his way thus far. His 2019 culminated by being added to the Braves’ 40-man roster in advance of the Rule 5 Draft, so clearly the organization has plans for de la Cruz. He will be under the microscope in 2020 and if he plays his cards right, he could log some innings for the big league club next year.
8.) Bryse Wilson - RHP
There is so much to like about Wilson even if the numbers from last year may not suggest it. Sometimes we have to remind ourselves that Wilson is still just 22 and his quick rise may be part of why he struggled last year.
We know who Wilson is at this point, and as we said, for the most part that is a good thing, and why he continues to hang around our top 10. Listed at 6-1 (probably a bit generous) and 225 pounds, the righty has bulldog potential, able to throw innings because he hurls strikes. His strikeout rate dipped last year in Gwinnett, but he doesn’t walk a lot of people and strikes out right around nine-per-nine over the course of his career, with a much stronger ground ball rate than fly ball rate to worry about.
In the minors, that is.
Wilson’s biggest issue in this writer’s (Wayne’s) opinion is his lack of secondary offerings. They are there, but not as honed as they could be, and that comes partly at the fault of the Braves who bumped him from High-A Florida up the ladder to the big leagues in his age-20 season. To say Wilson has been fastball heavy in his MLB stints — albeit both very brief — is an understatement, throwing his mid-90s heater 71.7% of the time. That won’t work at the major league level, and it shows as Wilson’s fly ball and line drives — and overall ability to be hit — rises.
Now 22, there is plenty of promise in the righty, but the secondaries have to become more reliable option. One cannot survive on fastballs alone, but given Wilson’s age, he still has time to make progress with those secondary pitches and take yet another step forward.
7.) Shea Langeliers - C
For the final slot before the top six prospects on our list to start 2020, we have catcher Shea Langeliers who the Braves selected with the ninth overall pick in the 2019 Draft. Hailing originally from Keller, Texas, Langeliers attended Baylor University and was a stud from day one in college ball while accumulating numerous Big 12 and NCAA honors along the way. Hitting north of .300 and connecting for 10 home runs as a catcher in one’s draft year is a good way to get noticed, but Langeliers best tool at this moment is his defensive profile as he was arguably the best defensive catching prospect in the draft on top of being a sound hitter. At the plate, he hits mostly for contact with the ability to hit line drives the other way, but if he really turns on a pitch (which he should probably do more), he has some real pop in his bat as well. Defensively, he has really quick actions behind the plate and moves around well...in particular laterally. He also has a strong throwing arm and strong pop times which makes him really good at controlling the run game. He also has really good instincts in the field as he has a strong sense of when runners are cheating off of first to get free outs on pickoffs, etc.
The ultimate question with Langeliers comes down to whether or not he is an impact bat or not and the jury is out. Its hard to draw too many conclusions from a draft year pro debut and the results were inconsistent in a small sample anyways. He is built like a catcher in the traditional sense, so don’t expect any physical projectability as he is what he is physically. The bar for hitting when it comes to catchers is pretty low and he possesses the tools to be a good hitter, although if he continues to progress in the field as expected, his bat may not need to play up to be an everyday catcher. If he can cut down on the strikeouts and consistently spray line drives all over the place, he has the ceiling of an All-Star catcher even though that is asking a lot of anyone.
It is also worth mentioning that before his pro debut, Langeliers did not call his own games at Baylor (which is a very common thing at the amateur level), so that is a skill that he is learning as he develops in the minors. He did do a lot of work on that end with his pitching coach at Baylor and he has taken to instruction well, there, as well. However, a good chunk of us tend to think that catchers in general should and usually will progress more slowly than other positions given the time needed to develop the craft behind the plate. While he is a college bat and they often move quickly through systems, don’t expect to see Langeliers in 2020 (especially with the state of the 40 man roster at present) and 2021 is likely to be an optimistic estimate as well.