Hello again everyone and welcome to the Talking Chop 2021 Midseason Top 30 Braves Prospects List. It feels very good to be able to give this update again as it means that we have had lots of minor league baseball to watch again which has been an absolute joy for all of us. 2020 was gutting in a lot of ways and for us on the minor league side of things, having no minor league baseball was particularly brutal and we have been thrilled to have it back in our lives again.
For those that want to compare the list that we are rolling out this week (which will roll out in groups of six players per day), here is a link to our preseason rankings. You will notice a lot of changes between the two lists which shouldn’t be surprising since, again, we have actually been able to watch the guys play for the first time (in most cases) since 2019. Before we get to the rankings, lets go over a few things.
- Our top 30 rankings are derived from a composite ranking of all of the personal rankings from the Talking Chop minor league crew (this time, that includes Eric Cole, Garrett Spain, Matt Powers, Wayne Cavadi, and Gaurav Vedak). After we all get our personal rankings together, we make a composite of said list, and then we double check to make sure that nothing appears to be super wonky. An important note for our rankings: we dropped the highest and lowest rankings for each player before calculating their composite ranking to try and remove outlier rankings that have, at times, led to some less than desirable results in the past. With all of the turnover on the list between promotions, graduations, and trades, we want to make sure the resulting composite was as consistent as possible and lessen the influence of outlier rankings.
- We loosely use the MLB rookie eligibility requirements to see who is and who isn’t eligible for the list, although we are completely fine with removing a guy if he is relatively close to losing eligibility and has an established role in the major leagues (we did this with Dansby Swanson in the past and elsewhere). For example, you will notice that William Contreras does not appear on our list. That is not because we don’t like him...it’s because he has exhausted his rookie eligibility. The same is true of Ian Anderson...they just aren’t prospects anymore even if they are young.
- These are just our rankings and each one of us is different. Depending on who you are talking to, you will get differing opinions on what we like and don’t like in prospects and that is absolutely okay. If you are looking for an overriding philosophy present in our list, you are unlikely to find one other than we all talk to each other a lot and that all of our rankings are very fluid and can change fairly significantly as we get more information. There are those that will be bold and rank lottery ticket prep guys highly while others weigh proximity and sample size more, etc. That is just the nature of the game and having those variances in opinions is good and allows for players of all types to get discussed.
- Don’t get hung up on specific ranking spots. If one guy is ranked 13th and another is 11th for example, it is likely that there were some that had those guys flipped in their personal rankings and it is even more likely that we don’t see a huge difference between those two players. It is best to think of our list in terms of tiers... not hard and fast rankings and you will those on our staff that had guys higher and lower than their final rankings...in some cases significantly so. This is PARTICULARLY true this year as the difference between the #8 guy on our list and the #15 guy was a total of nine points. NINE. That tier in particular is one that is so close that it is almost better to consider them a tie, but for the sake of this exercise...this is the order that our vote came up with. The same is true with the bottom five guys on our list...we lost a few guys from that section as well as the honorable mentions section this past week due to trades and opinions varied widely enough that just because a guy didn’t make the final 30 doesn’t mean that he is definitively not a top 30 talent.
- Like all things with prospects, these rankings are subject to change and they do, in fact, change quite a bit. This is more of a snapshot of this moment in time than anything. Guys improve and regress and when they do, we alter our thinking. Prospect development is not a linear path... so prospect rankings shouldn’t be either. If you think a guy is turning a corner or over-ranked based on his recent performance, check back when we do the next list rather than try to set us on fire in the comments section. We don’t get hung up on where we have a guy ranked when they break out, start struggling, or whatever...you shouldn’t either.
- Be kind and understand that just because you hold a different opinion doesn’t mean you need to yell/cuss/place a voodoo curse on us. Prospect rankings seem to really get folks in their feelings at times when, in reality, they are just a fun thought exercise that mean very little in the grand scheme of things. We are proud of the work we do on these and we do put a lot of thought into where we place guys, but none of us think we have all of the answers and it is really interesting to see how our rankings change as well as seeing when we are right or wrong. I am also famously pretty intolerant of folks being jerks, particularly in the comments section or on Twitter... so be one at your own risk.
As is customary, Garrett went over a few of the names that just missed our list this go-around, so please take a look at our honorable mentions before you read our rankings and start yelling at us because we forgot someone. Below, you will find the 25-30 ranked prospects from our top 30 with four more such installments to come. Enjoy!
30.) Kadon Morton - OF
How he got to the Braves: 19th Round pick in 2019 MLB Draft
If we’re discussing pure athleticism there may not be another player in the Braves system that would rank higher than Morton. Morton was a two sport star on the Texas prep scene and the Braves scooped him up in the 19th round in 2019. There is a lot that has to go right for Morton, but the Braves believe they can tap into his massive raw potential. Morton’s professional resume does not yet match his raw talent and regardless of your views he is a major project. Morton has made some steps towards not striking out as much, but still has a strikeout rate over 30% this season and is only hitting .217. He’s drawing a lot of walks, but complex ball walk rates are not very predictive when it comes to projecting him up the ladder. The power has jumped up a little bit and he is stealing a ton more bases at a high efficiency. The progress is there, but he has a long, long way to go.
Guys with Morton’s profile do not work out very often. Baseball is a difficult sport and teaching this much to a guy is something many organizations are unable to do. However, when it does work out you can turn a late round pick into an absolute steal. That is the hope with Morton. The raw strength for Morton far exceeds his current power output, but even that has not been unimpressive as he ranks in the top third of the league in isolated power. He has easy plus speed and will stick in center field, although like the rest of his profile he is raw in his routes and relies often on his elite closing speed to get to balls.
This is something that is fairly easily taught and the Braves do a tremendous job teaching outfield defense in the minor leagues. The hit tool for Morton is just so raw right now it’s hard to keep a picture on just how high his ceiling can be. He may never get that hit tool above a 20, and right now even when he does make contact he often hits ground balls or fly balls and rarely hits many line drives. We can dream on Morton as an all star caliber center fielder, and at 20 he’s got plenty of time to figure it out, but the more the hit tool doesn’t come the louder the clock will start ticking.
29.) Hayden Deal - LHP
How he got to the Braves: Undrafted FA signee in 2017
Coming in at #29 on our 2021 midseason update is LHP Hayden Deal who went from an undrafted free agent signee from back in 2017 out Presbyterian College to a genuine starting pitching prospect with fourth or fifth starter upside. His fastball sits in the low 90’s with maybe a touch more on a good, and above average breaking ball that gets swings and misses primarily against lefties and is difficult for righties to square up, and a cutter that is his best pitch especially when it comes to neutralizing righthanded batters. After starting his pro career as a reliever, he put together a very decent 2019 season in high-A with the Florida Fire Frogs despite a dip in production during the second half. However, he did make the jump to Double-A this season, was named Mississippi’s opening day starter, and has put together a very respectable stat line with a 3.82 ERA with 61 strikeouts and 26 walks in 73 innings pitched so far.
Coming into this season, the biggest questions for Deal given his age was whether or not he was going to be a starter and whether or not the Braves were going to move up to Double-A. So far, so good on both fronts as he has been able to handle the workload ably as a starter and has done so against more advanced competition at Mississippi. The cutter is a real weapon and we have written about it previously when he first broke out during the first half of 2019. One thing that hasn’t been the greatest development this season is a fairly significantly jump in his walk rate from 2.41 BB/9 in 2019 to 3.21 BB/9 in 2021. Deal doesn’t miss enough bats to be giving too many free passes and we would like to see that number go back down. He is also 26 years old as of now, so he doesn’t have all the time in the world to prove he can produce at the highest level, but consider us cautiously optimistic that he could get there in the next year or so.
28.) Adam Shoemaker - LHP
How he got to the Braves: 11th Round pick in the 2021 MLB Draft
Beginning a run of 2021 Braves draft classmates on our Top 30 rankings is LHP Adam Shoemaker. Drafted as an overslot 11th round pick out of high school in Canada, ranking Shoemaker here is all about his projectability. He went from throwing in the high-80’s with his fastball before the spring of his draft year to sitting in the low-90’s and touching the mid-90’s at times in the weeks leading up to the draft. at 6’6 and 205 pounds, you will not struggle to find scouts that think there is significantly more in the tank in terms of velocity with Adam. He also throws a slider that needs some work to be a swing and miss pitch and a changeup that he has only recently started throwing with any amount of regularity.
For Shoemaker, it will all come down to how his secondary pitches develop as we believe that the big jumps in his velocity are real and are likely to continue. He has a frame that we see him adding more strength to and while he is raw mechanically, the adjustments he has made have paid huge dividends and should continue to do so as he settles into focusing primarily on baseball. Baseball has only been his main sport for a couple years and he is still figuring out what slider and changeup grips he wants to use. A hard slider or power breaking ball seems like a great option for him and with his arm speed, the circle changeup grip he employs seems like a great bet assuming he can get more feel for the pitch and confidence to throw it in any count. He may not shoot up the rankings right away, but this pick reminds some of us of the Freddy Tarnok selection a few years ago and that has turned out pretty well.
27.) Cal Conley - SS
How he got to the Braves: 4th Round pick in the 2021 MLB Draft
Another 2021 draft pick of the Braves that we have ranked at 27 is shortstop Cal Conley who was drafted out of Texas Tech. The Braves have a history of drafting college guys out of the state of Texas who turn into useful players and it seems like they are hoping that familiarity with the area will pay dividends for a minor league infield group that needs some bolstering. Conley is a switch-hitter that has at least an above average hit tool that plays up due to him being a very decent runner as well as a high baseball IQ. He has average raw power and at 5’10 and 185 as a college draftee, it seems likely that that is where he will be as a pro. We don’t necessarily see him as an everyday shortstop per se as his arm is okay and the range is in the same boat, but we could see him as a guy that could play all over the infield getting lots of at-bats or even as a regular second baseman.
The value here is getting an infield prospect who can hit from both sides of the plate and should transition to the pros pretty quickly and easily. His production is greater than the sum of his tools and while he doesn’t possess a carrying tool right now that we can point to and say “this is what makes him a big leaguer”, but he has consistently produced against good college competition and it will be very interesting to see what he looks like at the plate with a wood bat in his hands and under the tutelage of pro coaches.
26.) Tyler Collins - OF
How he got to the Braves: 8th Round pick in the 2021 MLB Draft
The Braves eighth round pick out of a Texas high school in this year’s draft isn’t an traditional eighth round talent. Instead, Tyler Collins probably belonged in the first 4-5 rounds based on talent alone (if not better than that) and his signing bonus reflected that.
It is important to keep in mind that Collins is simply a raw athlete with good ability to make contact at this point in his career, helping him profile as a future old school leadoff hitter (think the traditional leadoff hitters you saw in the 60’s-90’s). To get there he is going to need to put in a lot of work, both adding strength and refining his approach- but the skill set of speed and bat to ball contact ability is present to work with.
Collins is about four years away and will certainly need to be moved slowly starting with the Florida Coast League (formerly the Gulf Coast League). There are some limitations, as Collins isn’t a guy who projects to ever have significant power in his game necessarily, but in an organization that certainly values athleticism and defense in its outfielders, Collins is a guy who really fits what the Braves like.
25.) Dylan Dodd - LHP
How he got to the Braves: 3rd Round pick in the 2021 MLB Draft
Coming in at #25 is Braves third round draft pick Dylan Dodd out of Southeast Missouri. Dodd was a senior sign for the Braves, signing for around $120K in a slot that was valued at $604K. Despite the draft philosophy of using senior signs as means to go overslept for high school talent, Dylan possess a high floor with a legit shot at making the majors, especially as a reliever, or a backend starter thanks to his four pitch mix. It also sounds like he was a very hot commodity in this year’s draft class and was very likely to be gone within a few picks if the Braves had not snatched him up.
His best pitch is his changeup which flashes above average to plus and, should he find more consistency, would be a dangerous weapon to neutralize right handed hitters - especially should he stay a starter. Outside of the changeup, he’s got a good fastball clocking in around the mid-90s with some solid movement. Dodd also shows an average slider, and curveball - important, once again, should he stay a starter. Dodd has pretty solid command, as can be seen by his outstanding 120 K to 12 BB ratio from his senior season. Should the Braves decide to go the reliever route for Dodd, you can expect a quick ascent up the minors due to his age and experience.