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Talking Chop 2021 Preseason Top 30 Braves Prospects: 1-6

All good things must come to an end as we wrap up our top 30 Braves prospects list.

League Championship - Atlanta Braves v Los Angeles Dodgers - Game Seven Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

We have finally made it to the summit, folks. Our top 30 list ends today with this installment which contains, in our opinion anyways, the top six prospects in the Braves’ farm system. I want to take a minute to thank the minor league crew of Garrett Spain, Wayne Cavadi, Gaurav Vedak, and Matt Powers for making this list happen. Every time we take on this project, I am in awe of how much care and thought these guys put into where they rank guys and more care to communicate our understanding of them in the writeups. I’ve done around a dozen of these lists now and I can say with certainty that there isn’t a more dedicated crew on the minor league of a specific team than these guys. Thanks for all you do, fellas.

If you are looking to get caught up on the list so far, here are some links to help you out.

Talking Chop 2021 Preseason Top 30 Braves Prospects: Honorable Mentions

Talking Chop 2021 Preseason Top 30 Braves Prospects: 25-30

Talking Chop 2021 Preseason Top 30 Braves Prospects: 19-24

Talking Chop 2021 Preseason Top 30 Braves Prospects: 7-12

You may have already been able to figure out the names in this bracket by process of elimination which means you will see at least one surprise compared to other lists. Thanks again to all of you for following along all this time and we will see you at midseason with what will, in all likelihood, be a very different list. Enjoy!

6.) Shea Langeliers - C

Things looked good for Langeliers to start his Braves career. The catcher was selected ninth overall in the 2019 MLB draft coming off a solid three years at Baylor. He homered in his second game in Rome and was off and running.

Langeliers solidified his spot as the 1B to William Contreras’ 1A of Atlanta Braves catching prospects when 2020 happened. While reports were good at the alternate site, the one thing all young catching prospects need is meaningful reps. That is something Langeliers was obviously deprived of in the odd year that 2020 was.

So, what do we know about Langeliers that makes us rank him so highly? His defense is superb. He won a Gold Glove in 2018, the same year he threw out 69.7 percent of baserunners and posted a .994 fielding percentage. He’s agile and athletic, making him a reliable receiver behind the plate and obviously has a cannon of an arm, both quick and accurate in sniping attempted base thieves.

While Langeliers made his way to the top of draft boards with his defense, he’s shown enough to give hope he will be a solid bat as well. He has a sound swing from the right-handed side. He averaged more than 10 doubles and 10 home runs in each of his three collegiate seasons and showed promising power in the wood bat Cape Cod Baseball League blasting six home runs in 34 games for Chatham in 2017.

There’s a lot of unknown with Langeliers, but even with a major injury in 2019, he proved to be a consistent and solid performer offensively and defensively. Hopefully, we see how he can put it together as a pro in 2021.

5.) Michael Harris - OF

Cracking the top five is 19-year old outfielder Michael Harris. Harris, born in Dekalb, was selected in the third round of the 2019 MLB draft by the Braves - a move that filled every member of the Talking Chop minor league crew with joy. Harris has the opportunity to be another legitimate five-tool player for the Braves and should hit for average, and power while having just enough speed to have fun on the basepaths. After a full high school season, Harris was sent to the GCL and proceeded to hit .349/.403/.514 in 31 games before he was promoted to Rome. Harris played in 22 games for Rome where he hit .183/.269/.232 which is to be expected for someone who went from facing high school pitching to playing in a league with college-aged pitchers.

Fast forward to 2020 and Michael was given a Spring Training invite and appeared in a few games and really gave us an opportunity to watch him with our own eyes and it’s part of the reason he’s rated number five already. Harris displayed an extremely advanced approach at the plate as changed his approach with a runner on base to move the runner on second over. Yes, it was a spring training at-bat, but what it did do is provide evidence of everything we’ve heard about him which is that he is very advanced as a hitter for his age. Harris was added to the alternate site at Gwinnett where there were several reports of him showing out including absolutely hammering a home run off of Ian Anderson. With an impressive 2021, you will see Harris’ name shoot up top 100 prospect list as the talent is clearly visible with him.

4.) William Contreras - C

Outside of the top three prospects that have dominated this list for a few years now there is no prospect that has created more buzz than William Contreras. That only intensified as he stroked an RBI double on the first pitch he saw in his major league debut. The astronomical rise of Contreras has been astonishing, and through his hard work and his immense talent he’s earned himself the right to consider himself among the elite catching prospects in all of baseball.

Contreras spent quite awhile in rookie ball, though not a particularly long time for an average international prospect. He made a stop for a full season at each of the three rookie levels (DSL, GCL, Appalachian League) and the whole time he just mashed baseballs. The power had yet to show up in games, but he displayed his ability to put the bat on the ball at a high rate with a strikeout rate of just 16% across his time stateside. He really came into his own and jumped on prospect lists with his performance at Danville when as a 19 year old he hit .290/.379/.432 with nearly as many walks (24) as strikeouts (30). This took him into the 2018 season with quite a bit of hype and he spent no time at all answering that with a strong performance in Rome.

Contreras blew by his career best in home runs with Rome, hitting eleven in his first taste of full season ball without sacrificing his ability to make contact. Contreras hit .293/.360/.463 in Rome with that .170 ISO being his career best as well. This earned him a late season call up to the Florida State League, and while he was decent there his short stint in the league was the first time he had been below league average in his entire career. In fact, his previous lowest wRC+ in his entire career was 120, which happened in the Gulf Coast League. Now considered one of the top prospects in the system, Contreras bounced back with the Fire Frogs in 2019, and although a .263/.324/.368 line doesn’t look sexy that’s still a 106 wRC+. His power numbers took a significant dip, and that was to be expected as the league is not in any way hitter friendly. Midway through the season he was promoted to Double-A, and at first this seemed like a huge mistake as he got off to an awful start at the level. Through Contreras’s first 26 games in Double-A he had just one extra base hit and a slash line of .154/.233/.167, and although he wasn’t striking out much his quality of contact was atrocious at times and combined with some poor batted ball luck he looked absolutely overmatched. The last 34 games was much more akin to the Contreras we had come to know. He hit .310/.358/.460 down the stretch with three home runs, all of which are absolutely insane numbers in the doldrums of the Southern League. He set himself up nicely for the future and really bounced back quickly, and his short major league debut this season showed he does have real potential with the bat.

The debate of William Contreras vs Shea Langeliers is going to be ongoing for the next few years, but the Talking Chop crew in general tends to favor high ceiling offensive ability over high floor defense, and thus we came to the conclusion of having Contreras higher up. That said, the gap is incredibly small, with three of the five people having them both back-to-back on their lists. Contreras is also favored because he’s closer to the major leagues. Effectively, the Braves have a good problem on their hands with two catching prospects that both project as major league starters. One thing I want to see is what Contreras’s power numbers are going to look like in a league that doesn’t suppress offense like the Florida State League and Southern League. Despite only being right around 6’0 Contreras does show above average power potential and as the Braves have worked with him to simplify his swing. He’s had a strikeout rate below league average at ever minor league level with really the main offensive weakness being his walk rates. They’re not atrocious by any means but he is aggressive at the plate and to maximize his on base potential he’ll need to learn just a bit more discipline. For young guys this doesn’t worry me much because he is still walking around 7%. Defense is the issue in his overall profile, and really that’s mostly in comparison to Langeliers because he’s far from a bad defensive player. He’s extremely athletic for a catcher and has a strong arm behind the plate, but his receiving hasn’t quite reached the level a major league catcher is expected to have. He’s young and the Braves have him working hard on his defense, so while he’ll probably never be the quality of defender Langeliers is he’s still expected to be overall a solid average or potentially even better backstop, and if and when he gets to that point he could be a real weapon for the Braves lineup.

3.) Drew Waters - OF

For the last few years there has been some debate as to whether Drew Waters or Cristian Pache was the Braves top outfield prospect. After Pache’s 2020 Postseason that debate is all but over, however that doesn’t mean anything negative on Waters’ side.

Waters is still the guy we thought he was last year- a potential five tool outfielder who will be most known for his contributions with the bat. The tough 2020 year likely effects a guy like him less than other guys, as he just turned 22 years old at the end of December, already has some Triple A playing time under his belt, and did get to spend all of the 2020 season at the alternate site.

We don’t know if Waters used that time to make strides in his areas for improvement- such as his high number of strikeouts, but that would be something we get a look at early in 2021’s minor league season.

Waters is ticketed for Triple-A to open 2021, with a very limited chance to see Atlanta in the first half of the year barring injuries. Ideally the plan would be for him to get a half to full season against Triple A pitching, and see if the hit tool has improved to the point he could be a piece for the 2022 Braves team.

Some may have wanted to see him before that, but it is important to remember he will play the entire 2021 season at the age of 22, and still has an All-Star ceiling in his bat if he’s able to make enough contact to let his power and speed play.

2.) Cristian Pache - OF

Coming in at number two and appearing likely for the last time on our prospect rankings is outfielder Cristian Pache. When the Braves signed Pache as an international free agent, he was a tall, skinny kid who some didn’t even regard as highly as his classmate Derian Cruz. Well unfortunately, Cruz’s career was derailed shortly afterwards, but Pache grew into one of the more dynamic players in the minor leagues in addition to one of the best prospects in all of baseball.

Pache’s defense in center is his calling card and it is easily a 70 on the scouting scale with some even putting an 80 on it. He takes great routes and his top line speed serves him well in getting to balls that he has no business getting to. His arm is also excellent which, combined with how quickly he gets to balls, makes taking extra bases off of him a poor business decision.

Offensively, it has taken Pache a while to develop, but he has shown improvement each and every season he has played. In Low-A, he was a groundball machine who had to use his impressive speed to leg out hits and get on base since patience was not his strong suit and he was not driving the ball much. In High-A, he went from hitting no homers to eight homers in the pitching friendly FSL and his 2019 season was even better from a power standpoint with 12 home runs overall. Some of that was just him growing into his body, but some of that is also due to his responsiveness to coaching and making changes to his swing and approach at the plate paying dividends. The Braves rewarded Pache with a promotion to the big leagues during the 2020 playoffs where he impressed observers on both sides of the ball.

As of this writing, it is abundantly clear that Pache is one of the Braves best three outfielders in the organization and we fully anticipate him to be manning center field on Opening Day. Along with Ian Anderson, Pache should be competitive in the NL Rookie of the Year race and while there could be growing pains, particularly with his baserunning which has been weirdly spotty given his speed, he should quickly establish himself at the very least as one of the best defensive outfielders in the majors.

1.) Ian Anderson - RHP

(Note: Wayne wrote this segment and the opinions are his, not the views of the entire Talking Chop MiLB team. When you see “I”, it refers to Wayne)

We can talk about the changeup. We can talk about the strikeout rate. We can talk about the ridiculous ERA. But what we’re going to talk about was how I was wrong.

Prospectors take great pride in those prospects they call at a young age and get right at the MLB level, but you don’t often hear them recollecting where they made mistakes. I did that with Ian Anderson.

It’s not that I didn’t think he was going to be a star. No, that I knew. He was special from the day the Braves drafted him third overall in the 2016 MLB draft. If you watched him in Rome as a 19-year-old, you knew that.

But there was no denying the fact that when Anderson reached his highest level of competitive baseball in 2019, he looked a bit lost. Perhaps it was the different ball, but the spin rates were not tight, his strikeout-per-nine rate a career low while his walks-per-nine were a career high. Basically, he was all over the place and looked overmatched.

Thus, when the Braves called up the 22-year-old having not thrown a competitive pitch in what seemed an eternity, I thought he didn’t stand a chance. And to be fair, based on the previous track record of Braves pitching prospects getting called up a little too early, the expectations of a flop were somewhat justified.

I was wrong. In fact, I was the wrongest I’ve ever been, and because he did what he did is the entire reason I ranked him No. 1.

Not only did he show poise, he was able to pitch arguably the best baseball of his young professional career under circumstances in which no one had written a script. Anderson was simply remarkable. His changeup already looked like a pitch other major league veterans would be envious of and his deceptive fastball makes for a devastating 1-2 punch. That equated to an 11.4 K/9 rate. He posted a 1.95 ERA in his first six MLB starts, and his 2.54 FIP shows it was no lucky occurrence. He held opposing hitters to a .172 average. And then, in his first three career postseason starts, he didn’t allow a run.

Sure, he walked a bunch in the postseason, but that’s the one downside to Anderson. He’s always had a tad bit of a high walk rate climbing the ladder, but when literally everything else was electric, you get by. Anderson is the top prospect on the Braves and should be considered one of the most feared right-handed prospects in the game.

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