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Talking Chop 2022 Preseason Top 30 Braves Prospects: Honorable Mentions

We kick off our preseason Braves prospect rankings with the players who just missed the cut for our Top 30.

MLB: Tampa Bay Rays at Atlanta Braves Nathan Ray Seebeck-USA TODAY Sports

The holidays have just passed so it’s once again the most wonderful time of the year. It’s prospect season. After a turbulent couple of seasons of baseball, it finally feels like the minor leagues have settled into some level of normalcy as we have a large draft class and an updated season of information to make some major shake ups in this year’s top 30 Braves list. Like all years past we’re going to kick it off at the bottom of the pack with a handful of players who just missed our Top 30 Braves Prospects list, presented in no particular order.

Andrew Hoffman - RHP

Andrew Hoffman is likely the player from this part of the list that we’ll be watching most closely next year as there’s a general feeling among the Talking Chop staff that he could make some major leaps. There are usually a couple of late round guys from every draft that catch our eyes and Hoffman is one of those. Hoffman played his college ball in 2021 at the University of Illinois and had a strong stint in the MLB Draft league before being selected by the Braves in the 12th round of the draft. He had a successful debut with the Low-A level Augusta GreenJackets with 37 strikeouts in 29 ⅔ innings and only eight walks allowed. Hoffman performed consistently well at every stop he made this season between college and the professional level.

Hoffman has all the look of an MLB pitcher with his 6’5 frame and he has the stuff to get him there. His fastball sits at 93-94 mph with above average spin rates and is at this moment his best pitch. His lower arm slot gives the pitch more of a horizontal shape and he should command the pitch at an average level. There is some projection in his frame and the Braves have had success getting more velocity out of pitchers in recent years so it will be interesting to see how that develops. His best offspeed pitch is his mid-80’s changeup. The pitch has a bit more spin and velocity than what most would like in a good changeup, but the shape of the pitch pairs well with his fastball and provides the right late fade to make it effective to both right and left handed pitchers. His slider is more inconsistent and the development of the pitch will go a long way in determining his ultimate role. There is starter potential there and he has flashed it at the professional level, but right now he seems more likely destined to relief if the slider can’t come around. He’s an intriguing arm and he could be just a couple of half steps away from being one of the more notable pitching prospects in the system.

William Woods - RHP

William Woods is the arm talent play from this list and the Braves were aggressive in his assignments this season. His professional career has been unfortunately impacted by the lost season and then an injury that kept him out of action until mid-August but there is still a lot of hope the 23 year old will develop into a major league player. Statistically his season this year was not all that impressive as he had a low strikeout rate at High-A and mediocre numbers both there and in one game during Mississippi’s championship series but it’s hard to judge too much right off of an injury in a small sample. There was more to like about his time in the Arizona Fall League, as although he was inconsistent and his overall numbers pedestrian he had some really strong performances down the stretch that showcased his talent.

Woods has hit 99 mph in games on a regular basis, though as a starter he does not sit nearly that high. His fastball is lively and with more consistency would give him one of the more electrifying pitches in the system. He pairs a hard slider with a late bite that sits a tick below 90 in relief and that is what makes him so exciting as a relief prospect. Even with his lack of performance at higher levels his pure stuff makes him one of the top relief prospects in the system though it is clear his overall rawness as a player, lack of time to adjust to his velocity, and his missed time from action has impacted his consistency. It’s not clear how long Woods will stay as a starter, but as long as he does he will mix in a hard changeup that could be effective as a show pitch to pair with his fastball but has not yet developed into a real weapon. Woods is talented, and although he has a lot of work to do to reach his potential he is a guy that the organization likes and has hopes for with his development.

Jared Johnson - RHP

It was a bit hard to see at times this season, but Jared Johnson is a genuinely talented young player that has the ability to make major strides up this list in his development journey. Johnson was a 14th round pick in 2019 and was one of the more adversely affected by the layoff last season. Raw players are the ones that can least afford lost development time and losing that critical first professional season did set Johnson back a bit. He started the season at extended spring training before being promoted to Augusta in June. That promotion didn’t last long as batters teed off on Johnson for eight home runs in 30 ⅔ innings and a 7.04 ERA. He was demoted in early August back to the Florida Complex League. He was an overwhelming force in his time in rookie ball and is a player that definitely loses out on having that intermediate advanced rookie level. He struck out 19 batters while walking only 4 in 13 ⅓ innings in Florida which earned him a quick pull back to Low-A. He came in with a wild but effective four innings in his first outing, but then struggled in the season finale with six runs allowed.

Johnson is an incredibly raw pitcher and the likelihood he makes it to the major leagues is low and these are the things that keeps him out of the top 30. He has a mid-to-upper 90’s fastball that is tough for lower level hitters to get the bat to, but it lacks the command to keep himself out of trouble and despite his velocity, the fastball doesn’t have the spin to make it difficult to hit when it is left over the plate. Few pitchers do have that. His upper 80’s slider is a nasty pitch that is a huge strikeout producer, but again lacks consistent command. With a two pitch mix and a lack of any real command of his pitches it’s hard to envision a career as a starter for Johnson, but when you catch him during the days he is on his best game, it is clear how overwhelmingly talented he is.

Kadon Morton - OF

Kadon Morton has the athleticism to match anyone in the Atlanta Braves system, but like Johnson, is a raw talent that likely suffered tremendously from a lost 2020 season. Morton was a 19th round pick out of that 2019 draft and thus far has not really done much to show his talent in games. 2021 got off to a roaring start for Morton as he put up an .860 OPS and was 8/8 on stolen bases through 17 games, but his .405 BABIP was unsustainable and the strikeouts piled up as he ended with a .514 OPS down the stretch. His 14/17 on stolen bases indicated the kind of havoc he can cause when he gets on base, but a strikeout rate north of 35% highlights the flaw that has held him back. Now going into his age-21 season he will need to show development and an ability to hit rookie level pitching or his career likely will not progress.

Morton has the potential to be an elite baserunner and defensive center fielder at the major league level, but he doesn’t have the hit tool to get on base enough to use his speed. He has the strength to hit for power, but doesn’t make contact enough to use it. With most minor league players, it all boils down to “hit better” and for Morton that is really the piece of his game missing. There is talent in all other aspects of his performance, he has just done nothing yet to show he can or will hit. He just turned 21, so there is still time for development, but he was already above league average age last season so you have to think 2022 will be close to his final chance to stay on this list. Morton has all of the ability to be a major league star, he just has to hit.

Brooks Wilson - RHP

This part of the list is usually filled with relievers that are a small leap from cracking a major league bullpen, but this year Brooks Wilson represents our only candidate from that category. Wilson was the best relief pitcher in the Double-A South League this season with a tremendous 2.45 ERA and 2.26 FIP. After a couple of professional seasons pitching to contact his strikeout rate exploded as he struck out more than 40% of his batters, or 15.1 K/9 between Double-A and Triple-A. He was somehow more absurd in his small stint in Gwinnett with 11 strikeouts and only one run allowed in six innings. While teammate Indigo Diaz got all of the attention for his ridiculous season, Wilson was quietly matching him pitch-for-pitch in Double-A and setting himself up as a guy who has an outside shot of cracking the major league roster out of spring training.

Wilson doesn’t have eye-popping stuff, but that’s not to say it isn’t good. He has a 93-95 mph fastball with a flurry of movement that makes it tough to square up. He seemed to trade off some command this season for a bit more juice on that pitch and it paid off in a major way as his strikeouts ticked up without a major loss in command. His go-to secondary offering is his curveball which he can plant down and away from right handed batters and at the back foot of left handed batters with regularity. He is probably not a closer, but he’s got the stuff to make him a strong middle relief or seventh inning guy at the major league level. He’s right on the doorstep of making that transition as well, and if he can even come close to the pitcher we saw in 2021 he will be in the major leagues at some point this season.

Roddery Munoz - RHP

Roddery Munoz made the second-best full season debut I’ve ever seen from a pitcher, but unfortunately for the 21-year old, the season was all downhill from that point. That debut was as strong as an outing can get as he was consistently pumping 98-99 with ease while striking out seven over four scoreless innings. That was also the only game this season he had any real command and following this outing, he got hit hard in a way that did not show in his peripherals. He struck out a lot of guys and the walk rate of 3.3 per nine was not egregious, but the command fell short of what that would show. He was injured in early June and when he came back for two starts in July he was clearly not completely right and only made two starts before being shut down for the season. That was disappointing and leaves a lot more questions than answers for who he is as a player.

The one thing we do know is that when Munoz commands the fastball at the top of the zone, Low-A hitters have no chance. An upper 90’s fastball with his spin rates is a weapon, but unfortunately his command never again came close to that point. Those spin rates can be at times detrimental low in the zone, and for Munoz that was true as his fastball flattened out and became easier for hitters to square up. His hard slider is a solid pitch that can be average but he struggled to command it with any regularity even in his opening start. The changeup is a show pitch at this stage which is all it would even have to be if he commands his fastball, but there were occasional flashes of a pitch with real major league potential. Munoz is young and extremely talented, so if he can come back healthy, he will likely find himself pressing for a Top 30 spot next season. His fastball is one of the best in the system, and the offspeed stuff is enough for him to get by. His likely role is relief if he even gets to the major league level, but with his pitch mix he could find himself starting games if he can command his fastball like he did in his debut.

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