#CoppyGate

The biggest scandal to befall the Atlanta Braves broke mid-day on Monday, and the potential fallout could be huge. I will update this post with the relevant articles and threads of investigation and rule breaking so that we can keep track of all the different alleged violations — because there are quite a few.

Articles:
Original Jeff Passan Yahoo! Sports article.
Ken Rosenthal TheAthletic article.
Nubyjas Wilborn Marietta Daily Journal article.
Jon Heyman FanRag article.
Bill Shanks article of October 14.

Different Violations:
Here is the list of possible violations of MLB rules, as reported by the articles linked above. I’ve also included the possible sanctions that could be levied against the Braves by MLB, but these are only speculation at this point.

1. International bonus bundling.
According to both Passan and Rosenthal, this is the main thing that MLB is investigating. The specifics are not yet known, and there may be two avenues of investigation. The first may relate to the 2015-16 international signing period. The second may relate to future signing periods, in which the Braves may be paying now for a player they planned to sign in the 2017-18 (or beyond) signing period.

Some amateur internet sleuthing also seems to indicate that the Braves may have used the agents (buscons) of international players to pad the bonus numbers for certain players who were exempt from international bonus pools. This additional money may have stayed with the agent as a bribe for signing other international amateurs who were subject to the bonus pool, or it may have been transferred to other players to pad their bonus numbers, similar to what the Red Sox got busted for.

Possible sanctions: Loss of previously signed players from the 2015-16 signing period could be one prong of the sanctions here, as well as future restrictions on signing international players. Also reference this MLBTR article on sanctions levied against the Red Sox this year for similar offenses. Rosenthal’s article mentions that it is believed the Braves’ actions were more egregious than the Red Sox actions, and that the penalties may be harsher.

2. Exclusive agreements with international players before signing age.
This has at least two parts as well — past infractions related to players Braves have already signed, and future infractions relating to verbal agreements to sign players in future signing periods. The former could be focused on Kevin Maitan, and possible benefits he and his family received before he signed. The latter seems focused on 14-year-old Robert Puason, whom Rosenthal says the Braves have a verbal agreement with to sign in 2019.

Possible sanctions: MLB could void agreements with already signed players if they find the Braves violated rules by providing under-the-table benefits or benefits ahead of the official signing date (July 2). The biggest damage to the Braves here could be the loss of Kevin Maitan, as his name has come up in every article about this scandal.

3. Improper pre-draft agreements with amateurs.
The name of Drew Waters, a second-round pick this year, was brought up by Passan as a player who may have had a pre-draft deal with Atlanta to sign below slot, while the team offered under-the-table benefits outside of the official deal.

Possible sanctions: While this may have been the genesis of this series of scandals, it may be hard for MLB to convince players and agents to cooperate, as they may share some culpability in the under-the-table dealings. But if MLB finds evidence to support improper deals, then they could void the contracts of players who have signed as well as take away future draft picks as punishment.

4. Free agent tampering.
From the Passan article, Coppolella was apparently contacting the agents of future free agents before the season was over — a direct violation of MLB rules.

Possible sanctions: Like No. 3 above, this will be hard to prove without the cooperation of agents, who may be hesitant to snitch. Sanctions could include restrictions on the Braves signing future free agents, or monetary fines on the organization (which would take away money used to sign free agents).

5. Extent of involvement by others in the front office.
While GM John Coppolella and international scout Gordon Blakeley are the only two who have resigned or been let go so far, with this much impropriety and rule breaking the rot may extend further. Another case should also be made for replacing much of the upper brass of the Braves organization for allowing the cheating to be so brazen and to touch so many areas. If guys like John Hart, John Schuerholtz and Terry McGuirk were not aware of any of these allegations, then they were asleep at the wheel and are guilty of negligence in not overseeing a runaway train that seems to have gone off the tracks long ago.

10/5 Update: Per the Jon Heyman article linked above, the remaining Johns–Hart and Schuerholz–are “at odds over things related to the team and currently having a tough time getting along.” Heyman speculates this could lead to more upheaval in the Atlanta front office, which is mostly what I expected with the extent of the alleged violations. I’d like to see both Hart and Schuerholtz step aside from any positions of actual authority or responsibility.

10/14 Update: Per the Bill Shanks article linked above, multiple sources indicate that John Hart knew the full extent of what was going on, and that he is possibly being shielded to protect his legacy.

Possible sanctions: With two major resignations already behind them the Braves may have headed off some MLB sanctions. Though firing Coppy and Blakeley would have sent a stronger message than allowing them to resign. If knowledge of misdeeds extends to others in the front office, then MLB may demand their resignations as well. Monetary fines could also be used as a penalty by MLB for this offense.

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Braves 2017 Mid-Season Top 30 Prospects

Mid-season Atlanta Braves prospect list time! The pre-season list can be found here, along with explanations of how I rank and grade.

I am getting a bit more cautious by dropping some ranks lower, but overall the system is still loaded with premium talent. With these writeups I’m not focusing on giving you scouting reports, for that please refer to the pre-season list, but instead these writeups are like a status report where I also explain why I’m moving a player up or down the list.

Graduating from the list were Dansby Swanson (1) and Luke Jackson (26).

Grade A+: This grade of a prospect is, and should be a rare grade. It represents a prospect who could one day be a superstar and a franchise cornerstone.

1. Ronald Acuna, OF — Previous rank: 14
I’ve warmed up nicely to the prospect pedigree of Acuna, as I jump on the Acuna-mania bandwagon. His five tools have finally been on the field for a significant portion of a season, and he has hardly slumped, even for a week — showing some amazing consistency, as well as power and speed and ability to hit for average and outfield arm… a full complement of tools that should produce a player who is a major force in the lineup every day. He’s zoomed through the system this year from low-A to double-A and now triple-A. The majors are not far off.

2. Ozzie Albies, 2B — Previous rank: 2
Albies has definitely rewarded the pre-season ranking of him as an A+ prospect. While he started off slow at triple-A, likely a remnant of returning from offseason elbow surgery, it only took a month for him to get back to his old self, then another month to kick it into high gear. He has enough upper level success under his belt to play in the majors now, so it should only be a matter of time (or trade deadline) before a spot opens up in Atlanta for him.

3. Mike Soroka, RHP — Previous rank: 7
He’s the Canadian reincarnation of Greg Maddux. Soroka vaults up here above Allard because of his consistently low walk rate, low HR rate, modestly low hit rate and high-enough strikeout rate. I feel like he’s kind of a throwback player too, in the way he goes deep into games. Half of his starts are quality starts, and he’s completed five innings in all but two starts.

4. Kolby Allard, LHP — Previous rank: 5
Much like Soroka, Allard is a premium pitching prospect and future top of the rotation stalwart. He’s just about even with Soroka, and most will probably rank Allard higher since he’s a lefty and was drafted higher. My inclination is that Soroka has separated himself slightly, but that takes nothing away from the bright future that Allard should have ahead of him.

Grade A: These are prospects who I believe will be first division players, and occasional All-Stars, while filling valuable roles on the team.

5. Kyle Wright, RHP — Recently drafted
This year’s top draft pick, and recipient of the largest bonus in club history, the Vanderbilt product enters the Braves system with high expectations. He has the potential for four plus pitches, and can already keep his fastball in the mid-90s late into games. With smooth mechanics and good control he is exactly what teams look for in top-of-the-rotation college arms.

6. Kevin Maitan, SS — Previous rank: 3
The team’s top international signing in 2016 out of Venezuela. Maitan was the wunderkind of last year’s international class, and has been dubbed by most scouts as a can’t-miss impact player. It likely won’t be long before he’s the organization’s top overall prospect.

7. Sean Newcomb, LHP — Previous rank: 4
In Newcomb’s handful of first-half MLB starts, we’ve seen the good and bad of young pitching. His fastball and curve have been on display, and unhittable when located well. But his penchant for issuing free passes has also surfaced. The good is still outweighing the bad, and it should be fun to watch as Newcomb tries to adjust as the league figures him out. This is the process with any young pitcher. During the last two years of the rebuild we’ve seen young guys like Matt Wisler and Aaron Blair fail to make the necessary adjustments, and have to return to the minors to figure things out. Newcomb may be no different, but the extra giddy-up on his fastball should help him adjust more effectively.

8. Luiz Gohara, LHP — Previous rank: 15
The bonus-sized Brazilian dominated high-A, then kept on dominating after his promotion to double-A. Like Newcomb, Gohara has that high-octane fastball that should help him overpower hitters as he moves up the ladder. Because he’s newer to the system, coming over from the Mariners in an offseason trade, he’s not as well knows as some of these other pitchers, but he’s yet another arm with top-of-the-rotation talent.

9. Ian Anderson, RHP — Previous rank: 6
Last year’s first pick is putting together a nice first full-season campaign. His 11.4 K/9 rate is splendid, though his 4.7 BB/9 rate is less so. He has yet to surrender a HR this year, and he only gave up one last year, though he’s not a ground-ball pitcher. That squares with reports about the weak contact that hitters get on his pitches.

10. Joey Wentz, LHP — Previous rank: 16
Pretty much everything I said about Anderson, but a lower walk rate and 1 home run allowed. As the season has gone on, Wentz has been near-unhittable at times. While the organization probably wants to get him a full season at one stop, he could handle high-A now.

11. Bryse Wilson, RHP — Previous rank: 19
Wilson was sort of the forgotten high school pitcher from last year’s draft, but brings nearly as impressive a repertoire as Anderson, Wentz and Muller. He’s been the most consistent throughout the season, and could be the Soroka to their Allard. There’s a lot of young pitching to keep up with, but don’t sleep on Wilson.

Grade A-: The next group of prospects I grade as possible first division players who will all play important starting roles in the majors.

12. Alex Jackson, C — Previous rank: 10
The warm weather of the FSL has been good for A-Jax. His .883 OPS is the best he’s posted in any of his previous three professional seasons, due in large part to the highest slugging percentage he’s ever had. He’s put together his best offensive season while playing catcher for the first time since 2014 in high school. Behind the plate he’s done pretty well, with a 21% caught stealing rate and a low number of passed balls. He does have 9 errors, but overall the conversion back to catcher has been smooth.

13. Austin Riley, 3B — Previous rank: 9
Riley has been streaky this year, and seemed to slump when A-Jax was out for nearly a month with an injury. He’s also OPS’ed nearly 150 points lower on the road, which is dragging down his overall numbers. That split wasn’t present last year, so there may not be much more than coincidence behind it. Overall Riley is on track for a solid campaign this year. He’ll have a challenge ahead of him as the Braves moved him up to double-A mid-season.

14. Lucas Sims, RHP — Previous rank: 20
Sims has solved his biggest problem this year, posting the lowest walk rate of his career. His 2.8 BB/9 rate is better than half the 5.9 rate his posted last year. He’s still striking out more than a batter per inning and keeping his hit rate low. His home runs allowed are up, especially on the road. He’s still just 23-years-old, and has already shown a terrific ability to make adjustments (by correcting his walk rate). It should only be a matter of time (or trades) before he sees Atlanta.

15. Abraham Gutierrez, C — Previous rank: 17
Considered the top catching prospect in last year’s international class, he debuted state-side in the GCL. This was what most expected out of the young Venezuelan teenager. He’s still only 17 years old, so there’s a lot of development time ahead.

16. Kyle Muller, LHP — Previous rank: 18
Muller was the only one of the big-four prep arms from last year’s draft that got held back from full-season ball. He started at short-season Danville, and the organization seems to be watching his innings very carefully. His prospect stock hasn’t changed since pre-season, but he’s been leapfrogged by Wilson, who spent the first part of the year succeeding at Rome. Muller is still just 19 years old with plenty of development time ahead of him.

17. A.J. Minter, LHP — Previous rank: 22
Moving into the A-grade prospect group, the closer of the future for Atlanta has been pretty filthy this year… when he’s been healthy. The Braves are still taking it slow with Minter as he comes back from TJ, and he missed a couple of months early in the year with elbow tightness. He seems to pitch well at whatever level they assign him to, reaching triple-A earlier this month, so I say put him in Atlanta and see how he does. That day should be fast approaching (especially with Jim “Blowey” Johnson closing games).

Grade B+: These players grade as solid above average players with the potential to be much more.

18. Max Fried, LHP — Previous rank: 13
After a very successful comeback last season from TJ surgery in 2014, Fried has been erratic so far this year. He’s given up a run or more per inning in a third of his starts, but a third of his starts are also quality starts. The other third have been average to poor. The Braves have eased off his innings in the past month, after some signs of dead arm. These struggles lead me to move him down a grade, but he’s still only 23 years old, so still plenty of time.

19. Patrick Weigel, RHP — Previous rank: 11
Piggly-Wiggly had TJ surgery in late June. Before that everything was on track this season. He had solved double-A, and had one bad start at triple-A before his final game that make his stats look bad. He was on the fast track to Atlanta, now it will likely be 2019 before he’s ready. I’m moving him down a grade until we see what he’s like when he returns to the mound.

20. Rio Ruiz, 3B — Previous rank: 21
Big River is showing some improvement in his second tour at triple-A, specifically increasing his power output. His month of games in Atlanta haven’t been spectacular, but he’s shown flashes of a dynamic player who can impact the game on both sides of the ball. He’s nonetheless a notch below being an impact player right now, but at just 23 years old he’s got time to work on his game while he’s still a prospect. Though the Braves timetable to fill the third base hole with someone other than a converted All-Star first baseman could come due faster than Rio is ready to take over.

21. Dustin Peterson, OF — Previous rank: 8
Slowed by a hand injury in early March, he didn’t get on the field at triple-A until late May. The injury really zapped his power, and he’s finally getting it into gear in July. I’ve dropped him down a grade for now, as I’m not sure he’s on the same level as A-Jax or Riley. That said, he’s still just 22 years old, and with the injury he shouldn’t feel pressure to push to the majors this year, instead targeting next season to break into the majors. With Acuna now ahead of him, Peterson will have a hard time cracking the outfield, unless the team moves Kemp.

22. Touki Toussaint, RHP — Previous rank: 12
I’ve lost some confidence in Touki’s ability to make adjustments quick enough to be considered in the elite A-grade group. He still has good stuff–fastball and curve–but his consistency of command is suspect. What I want to see is a sustained period with a low walk and hit rate. Some of that has started, as he’s beginning to limit the extra base hits that were plaguing him early in the season.

23. Derian Cruz, SS — Previous rank: 24
The top international signing from 2015 scuffled while opening the season at low-A Rome, and was demoted to Danville mid-May. He’s turned things around in D-town while displaying his power/speed combo. His defense seems to be a long-term project, as so far in his career he’s making an error every two games.

24. Cristian Pache, OF — Previous rank: 25
The other top international signing from 2015, Pache has remained at Rome this year, and put together a decent but not elite first full season. His play in the field and at the plate has drawn some raves from scouts, but he has yet to hit a home run as a pro. A less than stellar comp may be former Braves prospect Victor Reyes, who has never seen his power blossom. Like Reyes, Pache’s power comes from his speed and the ability to turn singles into doubles, and doubles into triples.

Grade B: With these prospects, the potential is there for a higher grade, all they need are experience and reps, but there is less certainty that they will emerge as impact players.

25. Yunior Severino, SS — Previous rank: 29
The switch-hitting five tool shortstop got some early playing time in the DSL before joining the GCL team when their season opened. Still not enough playing time to judge the results so the grade remains the same, but I expect him to move up this list at year’s end, especially if he gets promoted to Danville this season.

26. Drew Waters, OF — Recently drafted
With the 41st overall pick in this year’s draft, the Braves snagged Georgia’s top prep hitter. The last two times that happened–Jason Heyward and Jeff Francoeur–it turned out pretty well. Waters is a switch-hitter with line drive power from both sides, and speed in the field and on the base paths. The five tool outfielder could move up the prospect list quickly, especially if he gets promoted to Danville, after starting his pro career in the GCL.

27. Freddy Tarnok, RHP — Recently drafted
The team’s third round pick this year (80th overall) was a two-way player in high school, but the Braves will develop him on the mound as a starting pitcher. It’s hard to say how high school arms like this will progress, as previous picks in this range (Carlos Salazar in 2013 and Garrett Fulenchek in 2014) did not work out. Based on draft pedigree and bonus, this is where I start his ranking off at, we’ll see where he goes from here.

28. Travis Demeritte, 2B — Previous rank: 23
The former first round pick from Winder has struggled mightily in his first try at Double-A. He’s struggling to make contact and adjust as the league adjusts to him, leading to an ongoing slump that started over a month ago. His K-rate is down slightly, so his struggles don’t seem to be creating bad habits, but he’s making less hard contact. He’s still young, and still has time, but I moved him down a grade until he makes those corrections.

29. Brett Cumberland, C — Previous rank: 33
A second round pick last year (76th overall), the switch-hitting backstop was billed as a bat-first catcher. So far about half of that bat has shown up in the professional ranks. He has been much better from the left side than from the right side, with most of his power and all of his home runs coming as a left-handed hitter. The Braves saw that and promoted him from low-A to high-A mid-June. How that right-handed stroke progresses will pace his success as a prospect.

30. Lucas Herbert, C — Previously unranked
The Braves gave him an overly-aggressive assignment last year when they started him at Rome. He did not do well, and the team sent him back there this year. It took him a couple of months, but he’s starting to put up some good numbers. Even though he’s repeating a level, he’s young enough at just 20 years old that we can expect him to adjust a bit slower. The scouting report on him when drafted two years ago was that his bat would come on slowly.

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Braves 2017 Top 30 Prospects

The Atlanta Braves minor league system is ABSOLUTELY LOADED right now. There are perhaps more premium prospects on this list than have ever existed at one time in the Braves system. The majority of those premium prospects are below double-A, so while there will be good prospects debuting in the majors the next two years, some absolute tidal waves of premium prospects should be approaching Atlanta in 2019 and 2020.

I base my prospect rankings on a mixture of many elements, including my own personal observations of these prospects, conversations I have with scouts and evaluators, and scouting reports I read online. I also consider draft position, bonus numbers, proximity to the majors and age.

As they always do, these rankings will differ from other rankings, as my interpretation of the elements listed above and my opinion or bias comes into play. My goal in the writeups of each player is to not only educate you about the prospect, but to also tell you why he is ranked where he’s ranked.

In addition to ranking the prospects I also assign a letter grade from A+ to C. This is so that the talent level of prospects can be compared. Hopefully this will give you a better idea of what I think of a prospect even though they may be ranked higher or lower than you would expect.

The previous (mid-year) prospect list can be found here.

Grade A+: This grade of a prospect is, and should be a rare grade. It represents a prospect who could one day be a superstar and a franchise cornerstone.

1. Dansby Swanson, SS (MLB, AA, High-A) — Previous rank: 1
Still one at-bat shy of removing rookie status, the Braves top prospect is one of the top-10 prospects in baseball. The former No. 1 overall pick from 2015 showed how good of an all-around player he can be during his late-season call-up last year. He slashed .302/.361/.442 in 38 games for Atlanta, while displaying an intangible leadership quality on the field. If he continues his development, we should see his defense improve at shortstop, while he maintains a .300 or better batting average with good on-base ability and power. He’s the complete package, and should be a huge part of the middle of Atlanta’s order for years to come. We are now in the Era of Dansby. Enjoy the show.

2. Ozzie Albies, 2B (AAA, AA) — Previous rank: 4
I’ve warmed up a lot to Albies’ potential stardom, after being keen, but not overly gushing about him in previous years. I was waffling about whether he was an A+ or merely an A grade prospect, but I finally settled on an A+ grade. He handled double-A without any problem, and did well at triple-A, while being the youngest batter in either league. Albies will be 20 years old next season, and if he comes back from a fractured elbow injury he suffered late in the year, could get a strong look to open the season as Atlanta’s starting second baseman. He seems to play better when he’s with Dansby, and he had a good spring campaign last year (hitting .371 in 16 spring games). He should combine top-of-the-order on-base ability with speed to be a dynamic leadoff hitter at the major league level… it’s just a matter of when.

Grade A: These are prospects who I believe will be first division players, and occasional All-Stars, while filling valuable roles on the team.

3. Kevin Maitan, SS (Has not debuted yet) — Previous rank: 3
The Braves handed the 16-year-old Venezuelan Maitan the highest signing bonus the team has ever given an international free agent, a reported $4.25 million. He is a five-tool prospect who has been called a once-a-decade talent along the lines of Miguel Cabrera. He should debut this year at either one of the short-season clubs, or perhaps at Rome, if the Braves feel he’s up for it. He’ll likely be on this prospect list for several years as he works his way through the Braves system, but he could be ready for the majors as a teenager in 2019.

4. Sean Newcomb, LHP (AA) — Previous rank: 2
The Braves top pitching prospect took a big step towards the big leagues last year. He spent the entire year at double-A, as the Braves didn’t rush him as they did some of their other pitchers. He has a legit three-pitch mix of a plus mid-90s fastball, plus curve and a solid average changeup. His big durable frame (often compared to Jon Lester) allows him to hold his velocity deep into games. With the flurry of veteran starting pitching additions this offseason for Atlanta, the Braves are sending a clear signal that they are not rushing any of these top pitching prospects. Newcomb will start the year at triple-A, and could see Atlanta at some point if his development continues. Even though he finished strong at double-A last year, his walks remain a bit of a red flag, and the organization would like to see fewer of those before they try him in the major league rotation.

5. Kolby Allard, LHP (Low-A, R+) — Previous rank: 10
The No. 14 overall pick in 2015, Allard came into the draft with some concerns about his back, then had back surgery shortly after being drafted. He returned to the mound last year without many ill effects aside from some rust. He was part of the great second-half run by the Rome Braves, posting a 2.61 ERA after his return there in mid-July. Like Newcomb, Allard has a three-pitch mix that should all play as near-plus pitches. He’ll start the year at the high-A Florida Fire Frogs, and we’ll see just how fast the Braves want to push him. With most of their top prospects the Braves like to give them a full year at one stop to build a strong foundation. Because of his injury recovery last year, Allard didn’t get that full year at Rome. If he has a really strong first half, the Braves will probably push him to double-A, but the safer bet is for a full year in Florida. MLB ETA is likely 2018 at the earliest, with 2019 more likely.

6. Ian Anderson, RHP (R+, R-) — Previous rank: 13
The No. 3 overall pick last year, Atlanta focused on him for months as part of their “all high school pitching” 2016 draft strategy. He signed a below-slot $4 million deal, and projects at a top-of-the-rotation starter. He has a big mid-90s fastball and a plus slurve with a developing changeup. Anderson should anchor another amazing starting rotation at Rome this year, and if his development continues as planned, he could see Atlanta as early as 2019, with 2020 more likely.

Grade A-: The next group of prospects I grade as possible first division players who will all play important starting roles in the majors.

7. Mike Soroka, RHP (Low-A) — Previous rank: 11
The tall Canadian pitcher personifies a work-horse starter. He’s an interesting prospect in that he seems to have a high floor for such a young pitcher, though he also possesses a pretty high ceiling. He has two low-90s fastball–a two-seam sinker and a four-seam runner–that play up with his plus command and increasing movement, a tight curve and solid average changeup. He works all of his pitches down in the zone and keeps the ball on the ground. Soroka only allowed three home runs all year in 143 innings, one of which was an inside the park homer. Of his 25 starts, 12 were quality starts, highlighting his ability go deep into a game and to be consistent from start to start — all of this is really rare for a pitcher his age in this era of specialization. While he will begin 2017 at high-A, Soroka is a prime candidate for a mid-year promotion to double-A. His MLB ETA could be as early as late 2018, with 2019 a safer bet.

8. Dustin Peterson, OF (AA) — Previous rank: 6
I like Peterson a lot more than other folks, and what I see is a young power bat who has a chance to hit for a good average in the middle of the order. He’s improved each year as he’s moved up from level to level in the minors. He’s added more power at each stop, hits both lefties and righties, and has ironed out some of the inconsistencies that caused slumps in the past. While everyone seemed to be ooing and ahing over the Arizona Fall League season of Demeritte, Peterson posted an OPS nearly as good with a higher batting average and fewer strikeouts. He’ll start the year at triple-A and might see Atlanta this year, but should definitely be MLB ready by 2018 (when he’ll only be 23 years old).

9. Austin Riley, 3B (Low-A) — Previous rank: 7
Another young power bat that I’m really high on is Riley. He started off slowly at Rome last year, but turned a corner in June. His strikeouts dropped, his batting average showed a big improvement, and most notably his power emerged from hibernation. He hit 17 of his 20 home runs in the season’s final 66 games — one dinger every 14.9 at-bats. Riley shows good strike zone judgement, which should lead to his strikeout rate decreasing as he gains more experience. He had a high error total at third base, but his fundamentals are sound so that too should get reduced with time. He could see Atlanta as early as 2018 if things go really well, but more than likely his arrival date will be sometime in 2019.

10. Alex Jackson, OF (Low-A) — Recently acquired
Acquired in a late November trade with the Mariners, Jackson was the No. 6 overall pick in the 2014 draft. At that time he was considered one of the top two or three prep bats in the country, and certainly the one with the most power. Having played against advanced high school talent it was thought that Jackson would arrive polished and move quickly through a system. Things did not go as planned. Jackson struggled to hit at just about every stop, and has never really “gotten things going” in pro ball. The M’s essentially gave up on him and shipped him off to Atlanta, where the Braves gladly welcomed him into their organization. Jackson will be 21 next season, and will likely start at the high-A Fire Frogs in the Florida State League. A year in the warm-weather FSL might be just what the doctor ordered for Jackson to get his career back on track. It’s hard to put an ETA on a player trying to figure things out, so we’ll just focus on this year and seeing if he can be the prospect everyone thought he would be after the draft. The Braves are also considering moving him back to catcher, which could be an interesting development.

11. Patrick Weigel, RHP (AA, Low-A) — Previous rank: 24
The highest riser on this prospect list, everyone will be watching to see if Weigel is for real this year. A 7th-round pick in 2015 out of the University of Houston, Weigel was know for premium velocity with spotty control. He found better control in the Braves organization, and kept much of that high-90s velocity. The Braves thought enough of Weigel as a prospect to promote him from low-A to double-A late last year, skipping a level. He finished the season at the advanced level strong, pitching into the 9th inning of his final regular season start. With Weigel’s premium velocity and developing slider and curve, he’s a late bloomer who has a chance as a top of the rotation guy. And that chance could come in 2017, but more likely the following year.

12. Touki Toussaint, RHP (Low-A) — Previous rank: 8
The 16th overall selection in the 2014 draft out of high school, Touki was the first major prospect the Braves plundered from Arizona — essentially purchasing him along with a bad-money contract in 2015. He scuffled after the trade, but was able to reset to begin 2016, and put together a stellar campaign for Rome. He began controlling his mid-90s fastball and plus-plus curve with greater success. As I’ve said since Touki was acquired, it is likely just a matter of collecting reps and innings before he unlocks his full potential. He’s the kind of talent that could shoot up this list and quickly become Atlanta’s best pitching prospect. He’ll move up to high-A this year with his fellow top-of-the-rotation mates, and could start sniffing the majors in 2018, with 2019 being a more likely arrival year.

13. Max Fried, LHP (Low-A) — Previous rank: 9
The 7th overall pick in the 2012 draft out of high school, he had Tommy John surgery in 2014 and missed most of that year and all of 2015. Last year the Braves let him establish a solid foundation of success at Rome, though he needed some rest throughout the year as the innings caught up to him, and he was sidelined some with blister problems. Building up his arm the right way will dictate how fast Fried moves towards the majors. There has been a lot of buzz about him possibly contributing this year, as he was added to the 40-man roster because of service time requirements. If he does, it will be a late season contribution in Atlanta, and more likely he’ll compete for a rotation spot in 2018. His low-to-mid-90s fastball is paired with a plus curve, but it will likely be his changeup, and how that develops, that will determine his ceiling. The Braves will likely skip Fried over high-A this year and see how he fares at double-A, that should accelerate his timetable.

14. Ronald Acuna, OF (Low-A) — Previous rank: 26
Acuna-mania has afflicted many Braves prospect watchers, and while I’m not drinking the Kool-Aid yet, I’m getting close. He has the full compliment of five tools that talent evaluators love to see, and he seems to be able to put the bat on the ball with above average regularity. I’m not quite ga-ga about him yet due to his lack of playing time — he missed a significant amount of the 2016 season with a thumb injury. That said, he is still an A- prospect in my book, and at just 19-years-old next year he has plenty of time to get on the field and demonstrate his talent. If everything clicks and he stays healthy, he could see Atlanta as early as 2018, with 2019 being a more likely arrival year.

15. Luiz Gohara, LHP (A, Low-A) — Recently acquired
Acquired in early 2017 from Seattle in the Mallex Smith trade. He signed with the Mariners in 2012 for $880K, a record for a Brazilian player. The knock on him since then has been his lack of conditioning, something he started to get serious about last offseason, leading to much better results in 2016. He sits mid-90s with a three-quarters delivery and can tickle 100 mph. He pairs his plus fastball with a plus slurve, and both pitches could be future plus-plus, especially if his changeup continues to improve. Gohara should join the army of top-of-the-rotation starting pitching prospects assembling for the Fire Frogs first season, and at just 20-years-old, he has plenty of time to develop at his own pace. His ETA is probably 2019.

16. Joey Wentz, LHP (R+, R-) — Previous rank: 14
The No. 40 overall pick last year, he had a successful debut between both rookie ball leagues. He struggled some in his first month in Danville, but finished strong. He has solid-to-plus low-to-mid-90s velocity, a plus curve and future-plus change. Wentz also features advanced control for his age, and profiles as a mid-to-top of the rotation workhorse. He’ll be ticketed for Rome this year, with an MLB ETA around 2020.

17. Abrahan Gutierrez, C (Has not debuted yet) — Previous rank: 16
Considered by many to be the top catching prospect of the 2016 international class, his $3.5 million bonus would have been the largest bonus ever given by Atlanta to an international player, but for Maitan getting a larger bonus last year. He’s only 16, and will likely debut in the GCL this year with Maitan, but as a catching prospect he will move slower through the system. He has displayed good catch-and-throw skills, a strong arm and good contact at the plate, but all of his tools are raw.

18. Kyle Muller, LHP (R-) — Previous rank: 15
The No. 44 overall pick last year, the Braves left him in the GCL in his debut season, and kept a close eye on his pitch count per game, never extending him more than three innings. He had some eye-poppingly good numbers, but he rarely faced batters more than once, and didn’t have to extend his stuff deep into a game. The Braves want to build up his velocity, which currently sits low-90s, and they will work with Muller on a successful third pitch after his fastball and future-plus slurve. This season should give us a better idea of what kind of prospect Muller could be, as he’ll either start the year in Rome, or get held back for Danville.

19. Bryse Wilson, RHP (R-) — Previous rank: 28
The No. 109 overall pick last year, he had a nearly identical first pro year to the one that Muller did. His velocity is reportedly a tick higher, but his control isn’t quite as advanced. He was still pitching well in the instructional league late last year, with reports of a mid-90s fastball and possible future-plus pitches with his slider and changeup. As with Muller, we’ll have to wait and see if the Braves start him at Rome or hold him back for Danville.

Grade B+: These players grade as solid above average players with the potential to be much more.

20. Lucas Sims, RHP (AAA, AA) — Previous rank: 5
The biggest drop of any prospect on this list, Sims hit a big wall after an early season promotion to triple-A. He was sent back down to double-A, and showed some signs of sorting things out, but 2016 nonetheless leaves some black marks on his prospect pedigree. While he has worked to iron out his mechanical issues, his inconsistencies there lead to a really high walk rate, which is the biggest thing going against him at this point. Since 2015 he has posted BB/9 rates higher than 5.2 at every stop — that is impossible to pitch around, and as he moved up the ladder it caught up to him. That will be the thing to watch this year, as he will once again spend it between AAA and AA. If he can lower that walk rate and iron out the mechanical issues that may be behind it, then he could still be a solid mid-rotation starter. If not, then he’s still likely a late-innings reliever, as his fastball can reach the high-90s in short stints — in that scenario he could follow a similar path to the one Luke Jackson has (see his writeup further down this list).

21. Rio Ruiz, 3B (MLB, AAA) — Previous rank: 17
I’d love to rank Rio higher, and he may be a better prospect than I’m giving him credit for, but right now he’s simply behind the folks in front of him because of his lower ceiling. He’s catching up though, moving in the right direction, and could be on the cusp of becoming an A-grade prospect. I just can’t shake my initial comp of him as a Chris Johnson-type player with a better walk rate. He had a cup of coffee with Atlanta last year, and it will be fun to watch how he pushes Adonis Garcia at third base this season. Ruiz likely offers more long term than Garcia does, but it might be hard for Ruiz to crack the love affair that the Braves seem to have for Garcia.

22. A.J. Minter, LHP (AA, High-A, Low-A) — Previous rank: 20
The No. 75 overall pick in 2015 out of Texas A&M, Minter served as the school’s closer before going under the knife for Tommy John surgery prior to the draft. The Braves were undeterred by that, and saw in Minter the best closer prospect in the 2015 draft. He made his pro debut in May of last year at Rome, then got promoted to Carolina two weeks later, then got promoted again to Mississippi about five weeks after that. He didn’t give up his first pro run until his 15th game, and he didn’t give up his second pro run until his 28th game. The Braves closely monitored his workload and gave him lots of rest between appearances — he had at least two days of rest between every appearance. His fastball was up to 98 mph even late last year, and he compliments that pitch with a developing cutter and a hard slider. A 12.2 K/9 rate last year, along with a low 2.9 BB/9 walk rate, and minuscule 4.7 H/9 rate make Minter a future closer prospect. He should see Atlanta at some point in 2017, but when might depend on how much the Braves want to use him this year, or whether they will continue to give him multiple days between appearances.

23. Travis Demeritte, 2B (High-A) — Recently acquired
The No. 30 overall pick in 2013 by the Rangers out of Winder, Georgia, the Braves acquired him last year for some spare pitchers in what amounted to a potential steal of a trade. Don’t be fooled by his rank down here, as he could easily be thought of as a top-10 prospect in the Braves system by some folks. He’s a five tool second baseman who will only be 22 years old next year. He has Uggla-esque power as well as the high strikeout rate that goes with it. A PED suspension in 2015 caused him to miss 80 games, and his position is still not settled, with a possible move to third base in store for 2017, when he will also get his first crack at double-A. His MLB ETA is probably 2018, though how he performs this year at double-A will show us if he’s on schedule or not.

24. Derian Cruz, SS (R+, R-) — Previous rank: 12
The Braves top international signing in 2015 had a successful pro debut state-side in 2016. He hit well for a month in the GCL, then scuffled a bit for a month after a promotion to Danville. His premium athleticism were on display at both stops, but like most young international players he has a lot of refinement to do. He swings at everything, and as a switch-hitter he has more work to do to refine his swing mechanics. Both speed and power showed up in his game, and his arm remains strong enough to stay at shortstop, though more work on his fielding is needed. He’s a long-term project for the Braves, so he’ll probably yo-yo up and down this prospect list for years to come. Still too far away to put an ETA on him.

25. Cristian Pache, OF (R+, R-) — Previous rank: 25
Like Cruz, Pache was another top international signing in 2015, and followed Cruz to the GCL and Danville this year. Unlike Cruz, Pache did not suffer a drop-off once promoted. He’s a five-tool center fielder, and he’s also a long-term project, and it may take some time before all of those tools show up on the field.

Grade B: With these prospects, the potential is there for a higher grade, all they need are experience and reps, but there is less certainty that they will emerge as impact players.

26. Luke Jackson, RHP (MLB, AAA, AA) — Recently acquired
The No. 45 overall pick in the 2010 draft, Jackson got MLB experience each of the last two years with the Rangers. He was dealt to Atlanta this offseason for Brady Feigl and Tyrell Jenkins. It’s been a long development path for Jackson, and he’s essentially been stalled in the high minors since he reached triple-A in 2014. He switched to the bullpen the next year and better results followed. Walks are still a major concern (similar to Sims), but he’s got a good fastball-curve combo that gives him closer potential should he sort out his control. He’s a bullpen option for Atlanta to start the season, but the Braves will likely want him to work on his control in the minors and get a good foundation of success before thrusting him in late-inning situations.

27. Ricardo Sanchez, LHP (Low-A) — Previous rank: 37
One of the big gainers on this list, Sanchez had a problematic 2015 season in which poor conditioning and a youthful attitude led to poor results on the mound. Better conditioning and a more mature approach in 2016 resulted in continued improvement as the season went on. He’s still in the low-90s with his fastball, and showed improvement in his secondary pitches. His ceiling is that of an undersized lefty starter with good stuff and good pitchability. He’ll be a part of the Fire Frogs rotation this season in High-A. I’d rather take a wait and see approach before putting an MLB ETA on him.

28. Drew Harrington, LHP (R+) — Previous rank: 31
The No. 80 overall pick last year as a Junior out of Louisville, he is a classic pitchability lefty. His fastball has good life and sits in the low-90s, and he has a solid slider. His changeup is a work in progress. The Braves didn’t throw him much after he signed, and that leads some to believe he might be ticketed for the bullpen. This year will tell us what the Braves’ plan for Harrington is. His ceiling is that of a mid-to-back of the rotation starter, or high leverage lefty reliever.

29. Yunior Severino, SS (Has not debuted yet) — Previous rank: 34
With all the international buzz last year about Maitan, Severino and his $1.9 million bonus slipped under most folks’ radar, but no prospect list should miss this guy. The Braves are really excited about him, giving him young Hanley Ramirez comps. Severino is a switch-hitting shorstop, and only a year behind fellow switch-hitting Dominican shortstop Derian Cruz. Both are a bit undersized, but athletic and talented, flashing five possible tools. Severino should debut stateside in the GCL, and we’ll see where he goes from there.

30. Matt Withrow, RHP (High-A) — Previously unranked
I’m intrigued by Withrow, who didn’t pitch that much in college, but was built up to 120 innings last year by the Braves. The organization seems determined to make him a starter, and the early results are good. While everyone was raving about Max Povse at High-A Carolina, Withrow was also there, and posted a nearly identical ERA and K/9 rate (though a much higher BB/9 rate). He may have a similar ceiling to Povse (another reason Povse was expendable in a trade) so long as he can lower his walk rate. His floor is likely that of a middle reliever. Double-A this year will be a nice test for him.

Grade B-: With these prospects, the potential is there for a higher grade, all they need are experience and reps, but there is even less certainty that they will emerge as impact players, and they are more likely role players.

The next 10 are presented without comment, and are all B- prospects.

31. Braxton Davidson, OF
32. Connor Lien, OF
33. Brett Cumberland, C
34. Michael Mader, LHP
35. Juan Yepez, 3B/OF
36. Ray-Patrick Didder, OF
37. Caleb Dirks, LHP
38. Yenci Pena, 3B
39. Juan Contrereas, RHP
40. Thomas Burrows, LHP

Other Braves top prospect lists:
Baseball America Top 10
Minor League Ball Top 20
Baseball Prospectus Top 10
Talking Chop Top 25
Grant McAuley Top 30

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Braves trade prospects! Oh my!

The Atlanta Braves spent the last two years stockpiling prospects, and now they’ve decided to start trading some of them away. The team swung two deals this week, each with a different purpose in mind.

jgarciaOn Thursday Atlanta acquired left-handed starting pitcher Jaime Garcia from the Cardinals for pitchers John Gant and Chris Ellis, and infielder Luke Dykstra. Garcia is an eight-year veteran coming off a career worst year while entering a contract year. He gives the Braves something they stated was one of their offseason goals: a left-handed starting pitcher. While he is only signed through the end of this year at a reasonable $12 million, if he returns to his pre-2016 form, he could not only help the Braves this season, but he could increase his trade value before the trade deadline.

As with the Dickey and Colon signings, this trade is designed to make 2017’s team more competitive, while also leaving open the possibility of trading these guys away should the team not be competitive. One of these veteran starting pitchers might also become tradeable should one of the prospects on the farm appear ready for the majors.

The Braves didn’t give up much to get Garcia. Gant would have been No. 25 and Ellis No. 27 on my yet to be released 2017 prospect list, and there is a noticeable drop in quality of the prospects on the list right around Gant, with the guys above him representing the real talent of the Atlanta system. Both Gant and Ellis had a fourth-starter ceiling with more of a swing-man reality. Ellis started off well last year at double-A after coming to Atlanta from the Angels in the Andrelton trade, but hit a wall at triple-A where he suffered from too many bases on balls.

Gant came out of nowhere last year to break camp with Atlanta, after coming over in 2015 in that year’s Kelly Johnson trade. He spent the rest of the season shuttling between there and Gwinnett, as well as between the bullpen and rotation. For that, some of the inconsistencies in his performance can be forgiven, and he might turn into a quality starter given the time, but he’s more likely to end up in the bullpen where his fastball and deception play up.

I didn’t consider Luke Dykstra a prospect. He’s got a decent baseball pedigree, but has no power, doesn’t take walks, doesn’t have much speed, and is limited to second base.

Initially I wasn’t terribly thrilled with this trade, but upon further assessment I really like it. I had probably hoped for more of a prospect ceiling from Gant and Ellis than they actually have. Garcia appears at first like a shortsighted acquisition with just one year remaining on his contract, but if he’s healthy he might be as good as Teheran, and that kind of quality can be shopped mid-season or used in a playoff chase. While this is a trade with some degree of risk for the Braves, these types of gambles will be something Braves fans need to reorient themselves to, as they are trades that are made by a team trying to be competitive for a postseason spot — something the Braves haven’t done for at least two years.

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On Tuesday the Braves made their first trade of the week, an all-prospect trade. Atlanta sent pitchers Robert Whalen and Max Povse to the Seattle Mariners in exchange for outfielder Alex Jackson and a player to be named later.

Whalen got some time late in the season last year in Atlanta, but was clearly gassed. That should not overshadow the terrific year he had between double-A and triple-A. There he looked more like a mid-rotation guy than the back-of-the-rotation guy most scouts think he is. He was also part of the 2015 Kelly Johnson trade (that Gant was a part of).

Povse had an injury-riddled season in 2015, but followed that up with a breakout season last year. He pitched well at high-A Carolina, and then even better once promoted to double-A. Scouts were mixed on him because of his variations in velocity; he was anywhere from 88 to 95 mph on his fastball. He has a back-of-the-rotation ceiling, but he could turn into a poor-man’s Foltynewicz should he discover more consistent velocity.

Both Whalen and Povse are control pitchers with some back-end velocity, who should each at least have long careers as middle relievers. In the Braves system they were behind 11 other pitching prospects on my 2017 top prospect list, with Povse No. 21 and Whalen No. 24. Both guys have a big league future, but don’t project to have high ceilings…

ajacksonAlex Jackson however, projects to have a high ceiling. He was drafted No. 6 overall in the 2014 draft, and immediately ranked among the top-30 prospects in all of baseball. It began going downhill from there. He struggled to start his first full season and was demoted mid-year. In 2016, he started the year back at extended spring training, which was apparently quite unprecedented for a prospect of his draft stature. Once he did join a team he struggled intermittently, had a good stretch in the middle of the season, then faded at the end.

His prospect standing in the Mariners organization had fallen so far that they decided to move him for what they could get — which was two pretty decent organizational arms that can help their big league team soon.

The Braves are placing a bet that Alex Jackson, only two years removed from being THE prep power bat in the 2014 draft, will be able to correct the apparent flaws in his swing that have led to his diminished prospect standing. It’s a move that comes with some risk, since Povse and Whalen have plenty of talent, and there’s no certainty that Jackson will figure things out. But if he does. Oh, if he does.

Before the draft as an amateur, Jackson played against the nation’s top high school talent year round. His draft scouting report gushed of plus-plus power to all fields and plus-plus bat speed and throwing arm. He was being considered as the top overall pick, and there was consensus among scouts that he would make a quick impact in the pros and move quickly through a system.

Now Jackson will have an opportunity to reset his career in the Braves organization. There was some discussion about possibly moving Jackson back to catcher, but I bet the Braves will keep things simple for him and leave him in the outfield.

This move of buying low on a prospect who encountered adversity early in his career is something the Braves have done throughout the rebuild the past two years. They acquired the 2012 No. 7 overall pick Max Fried from the Padres while he was sidelined with Tommy John surgery. Touki Toussaint, the No. 16 overall pick in the 2014 draft, was hijacked from the Diamonbacks after his early-career struggles. These players all represent a good deal of risk, but their projected ceilings are so high they’re the kind of premium players worth taking gambles on. Both Fried and Toussaint seem to be headed in the right direction now, and that is the hope with Jackson.

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These were both good trades. Each used mid-level B or C-grade prospects to acquire premium talent. With the high price of starting pitching, the fact that Atlanta upgraded their rotation with a veteran lefty without giving up anything close to top prospects or major league assets is astounding. Atlanta also turned some of their good second-tier pitching prospects into one of the highest-ceiling power prospect bats in the minors (and they still get a player to be named later).

These are both riskier trades than we’re used to seeing, but each has a decent chance of working out in the Braves favor.

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Braves Need for Starting Pitching Gets A Big Old Check Mark

As has been the modus operandi of Atlanta Braves General Manager John Coppolella the past two offseasons, the team once again struck quickly this offseason to address their stated goals. At the top of their offseason shopping list was the ambitious goal of adding two starting pitchers.

Yesterday the team signed 41-year-old knuckleballer R.A. Dickey to a one-year $8 million deal, with a team option year at the same price (or a $500,000 buyout). Today the Braves signed 43-year-old Bartolo Colon to a one-year $12.5 million deal. Earlier this week Atlanta also re-signed starting pitcher Josh Collmenter, whom they had acquired late last season and who made three starts for the team in September, to a $1.2 million deal (with another $1.2 million in incentives).

colon-logoSo in the span of the past week, since the end of the World Series, the Braves have spent a guaranteed $22.2 million on three starting pitchers. Accounting for projected salaries, the Braves payroll total for 2017 should now be around $95 million. This is far lower than the estimated $110 to $125 million that the club could possibly spend, based on reports in the press. And if some club executives are to be believed, the team could afford an even higher payroll in the coming years.

So how will these starting pitching additions affect next year’s team? These signings do several things, and they allow the Braves to go in several different beneficial directions.

Firstly, Dickey and Colon should be reliable innings eaters who take away innings from the bullpen, and take pressure off some of the other starters. That’s important for remaining competitive deep into a season when a team needs to rely on their bullpen for the stretch run. So these moves are designed to make the Braves competitive now, and are not just a bridge to being competitive in the future.

Adding two relatively-soft tossers to the rotation could also enhance the effectiveness of Atlanta’s other, younger, hard-throwing starting pitchers. A rotation of Teheran, Colon, Foltynewicz, Dickey, Collmenter, would give opposing teams a lot of different looks, from five starting pitchers with five vastly different styles, arm angles and appetites.

Singing two veteran starting pitchers to short term deals allows the Braves to potentially move one of their other starting pitchers. In the near term of this offseason it allows them to “trade up” for a more established ace-type pitcher should a trade materialize, but they don’t have to make a trade just to fill a hole. In just about any trade for an ace-type pitcher, the other team will likely want an established, or nearly established player in return. Atlanta can now dangle Mike Foltynewicz or Matt Wisler in a trade for a better starting pitcher while not depleting their rotation.

The long term trade outlook for this coming season includes the option mentioned above of trading up, as well as the opportunity to move one of these veteran starting pitchers that were signed. They could be moved in a trade for prospects if the team is under-performing, or if the team is competitive for a postseason spot, they could be moved for other areas of need, assuming one of Atlanta’s young starting pitching prospects shows himself ready to take a Major League rotation spot.

I really, really like these moves. Since the end of the season, and team’s stated offseason goal of adding two starting pitchers, I’ve been wondering how they were going to do it, how much they would need to spend, or how many other players or prospects they would need to trade away. The manner in which they have now gone about it, and how fast they have moved, was brilliant. They may have gotten end-of-career guys, but with so many starting pitching prospects on the farm, they didn’t need to over-pay (in money or length of contract) for players in their prime. If none of these old pitchers work out, then the team hasn’t made any long-term monetary commitments, just one year cut-and-run deals.

By striking so early Coppolella doesn’t really need to make any more major moves this offseason. If he can stand it, all he has to do is tinker around the edges of the team, sit back, and answer the phone if it rings. And when it does ring he’s the one in the driver’s seat, whereas the opposing team has to be willing to overpay, and the free agent has to be willing to lower his asking price.

Or maybe the team will continue to be aggressive this offseason instead of waiting for the market to come to them…

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Braves acquire Kemp from Padres for Olivera

The Atlanta Braves pulled off another unusual and possibly unbalanced trade in their favor on Saturday when they acquired outfielder Matt Kemp from the San Diego Padres in exchange for disgraced outfielder Hector Olivera. The genesis of the trade is a bad-contract swap for both teams. The Padres were apparently eager to clear an outfield spot for some of their talented prospects, and they wanted to move Kemp to create that spot for whatever savings they get.

The Braves were extremely eager to cut Olivera loose before his suspension for domestic violence expired next week. They didn’t want the distraction of that possible conviction hanging over him, or the bad press that it would bring as they open their new park next year. Understanding that the Braves never wanted Olivera to play another game for them, gives us a starting place to begin to understand this trade from the Braves perspective.

mkempThe money component is big in this trade, as San Diego is sending $10.5 million to Atlanta to help offset some of Kemp’s salary. In addition to that, the Padres will end up owing Olivera approximately $28.5 million over the next four years, while Atlanta will pay $54 million to Kemp through 2019.

If the Braves had already resigned themselves to cutting Olivera loose no matter what, then the $28.5 million they owed him is essentially a sunk cost. So if we subtract that sunk cost from the portion of Kemp’s salary the Braves are responsible for paying ($54 million), then we arrive at a cost of $25.5 million for three-plus years of Matt Kemp, or about $8.5 million per year.

The Braves consider that a cheap price for a power-hitter they will control for the next three years, as left field will now be one less position they have to use inflated free agent contracts or inflated prospect packages to acquire. While Kemp hasn’t been the MVP-caliber All-Star player he was that led to the big contract he’s currently in the middle of, he is still a solid and consistent performer who can hit for power in the middle of a major league lineup — which is a pretty rare thing.

Consider that the Braves made a play last offseason for free agent Justin Upton, who ended up signing a $22.125 million a year contract through 2021 with the Tigers. Instead the Braves will be getting Kemp at a real cost of $18 million per year through 2019 (or the Olivera-sunk-cost of $8.5 million per year). Consider that Upton has a .688 OPS and -0.4 fWAR this year, while Kemp has a .774 OPS and 0.4 fWAR.

So the Braves were already going to spend big either last offseason or this offseason to acquire a power-hitting left fielder. They had already planned to add a big salary to their payroll for this position. They had decided Olivera’s salary was a sunk cost they were going to have to eat. While Kemp may not be the ideal middle of the order bat — he strikes out a lot and doesn’t walk that much — he gives the Braves a power threat, and is the same age as Olivera was (31) with an actual track record as a proven major league hitter.

From the beginning Olivera seemed to be a bad lottery ticket, as the Braves kept waiting for him to show anything at the plate. Kemp is much more of a known quantity with a higher floor of production as well as a higher ceiling. His .774 OPS would be second on the 2016 Braves behind Freddie Freeman.

This is a good trade for Atlanta, and one in which I again believe they made out better than the other team. Time will tell if Kemp can be any better than average, or if he regresses to some type of BUptonian depth. For now though, the Braves not only made the best of a bad situation, they acquired a good player who should be worth way more than Olivera was ever going to be worth. Another great job by the Coppolella front office.

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Braves trade for power-hitting prospect Demeritte

The Atlanta Braves made another seemingly unbalanced trade in their favor last week when they acquired power-hitting outfield prospect Travis Demeritte from the Texas Rangers in exchange for starting pitcher Lucas Harrell and lefty reliever Dario Alvarez. These two pitchers are notable for having been let go by other teams just two months ago. Harrell was released by the Tigers on May 16, then signed by Atlanta on May 20. On May 25, Alverez was claimed off of waivers from the Mets.

tdemeritteBoth Harrell and Alvarez have pitched well since returning to the majors. Alvarez returned in mid-June, while Harrell returned at the beginning of July, and made just five starts before he was traded. The fact that any team thought these two pitchers had enough value to improve their chances of competing for a postseason berth is fascinating, but what’s even more amazing is that those two pitchers were traded for a really good prospect.

Travis Demeritte is a young, raw, athletic projection prospect who is having a very good season in the best hitters league in the minors. He was drafted in the first round in 2013 as the No. 30 overall selection out of high school in Winder, Georgia. So far as a pro he’s had mixed results, with the low-light coming last year when he received an 80-game suspension for PEDs. That PED was apparently furosemide, which is banned because it’s used to flush another “drug” from your system — the subtext being that the drug was not necessarily a performance enhancer, but a recreational drug.

While Demeritte missed a year of development, reports say that he’s turned that missed time and suspension into a deepened personal effort to excel, and that is starting to show up on the field. In the high-A Texas League this season Demeritte hit .272/.352/.583 with 25 home runs, while facing older pitchers in 345 of his 378 plate appearances this season. While his strikeout rate is massively high — the biggest knock on his prospect star — his walk totals and raw power have remained steady as his hit tool improves.

He’s by no means close to a sure thing as a prospect, but he has a good pedigree as a highly thought of raw power prospect. He’s still only 21-years-old and has already proven he can handle high-A. If he continues to hit for average and power, and his walk rate stays high, then the strikeout rate is not that much of a concern.

In taking the glass half full approach with Demeritte I would have ranked him as the No. 24 overall prospect in a very deep Braves system on my mid-season prospect list. MLB.com ranked him as the No. 9 prospect for Atlanta, so they certainly like the tools and the results.

As far as the trade goes, I am absolutely floored that the Braves got this good of a prospect for two pitchers that two teams didn’t want two months ago. Atlanta got lucky that they rehabilitated their careers, and then got really lucky that Texas was willing to give them such a good lottery ticket in return. We should speak of this trade in the same vein as the Dansby trade and Touki trade, in which Atlanta got a seemingly lopsided return.

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Braves 2016 Mid-Season Top-35 Prospects

The Atlanta Braves minor league system is more loaded with prospects right now that at any other time since the early 1990s. While there have been times since then when the system had a better top echelon of prospects close to the majors, the current crop of young high-ceiling prospects runs deeper than I can remember.

dwanson1So much of this high-ceiling depth is in the low minors, or just signed or drafted. And because of that, I’d like to take a moment to explain how I construct my rankings, so you will hopefully better understand why a 16-year-old who hasn’t played a professional baseball game is ahead of someone who has been in the system for years.

I base my rankings on a mixture of many elements, including my own personal observations of these prospects, conversations I have with scouts and evaluators, and scouting reports I read online. I also consider bonus numbers, proximity to the majors and age.

As they always do, these rankings will differ from other rankings, as my interpretation of the elements listed above and my opinion or bias come into play. My goal in the writeups of each player is to not only educate you about the prospect, but to also tell you why he is ranked where he’s ranked.

Another way I hope to help you understand my opinion of these prospects and the potential impact they may have in the majors is to put them in groups based on similar expectations and assign that group a letter grade.

I tell you all this not only to help you understand my process, but to also prepare you for the fact that this list includes a lot of prospects who have not played above Rookie-ball, or who haven’t stepped foot on a professional field yet. So this list is heavy on the projection side of the prospect equation, and not as much on the performance side. I do this in part to set an expectation for these new prospects — one which may take a couple of years to emerge.

In parenthesis is the level they played at so far this year. Graduating from the pre-season list are Aaron Blair and Mallex Smith.

Grade A+: This grade of a prospect is, and should be a rare grade. It represents a prospect who could one day be a superstar and a franchise cornerstone.

1. Dansby Swanson, SS (AA, A+) — Previous rank: 1
The No. 1 overall pick in 2015 by Arizona, and then plundered by the Dread Pirate Coppy in exchange for the carcass of Shelby Miller, in what could go down as the most influential trade for Atlanta since they acquired Fred McGriff (after which then Dread Pirate Schuerholtz decided to set fire to the Atlanta Fulton County Stadium press box). Swanson’s debut in a tomahawk has been stellar, conquering high-A in a month, and showing great plate discipline and power through the ups and downs at double-A. He won the shortstop showdown with Albies, committing only two-thirds the number of errors in 50% more games, while displaying a strong and accurate arm. In addition to what he can do in the field and at the plate, Dansby is a natural leader who players rally around. We could see Dansby in Atlanta this September, if not sooner, and he should be the starting shortstop when the team opens its inaugural season at White Flight Field next year.

Grade A: These are prospects who I believe will be first division players, and occasional All-Stars, while filling valuable roles on the team.

2. Sean Newcomb, LHP (AA) — Previous rank: 2
The 15th overall pick in the 2014 draft, Atlanta acquired him in the Andrelton Simmons trade. Newcomb is a prospect where we must trust the scouts and evaluators. He is also a prospect whose stats don’t always look pretty, but he’s still learning to use all of his pitches, repeat his delivery and maintain his velocity. His fastball is plus in the mid-90s, his curve is plus and his change is solid to above average. He has the potential for three plus pitches as a top of the rotation workhorse in the mold of a Jon Lester. He could be ready as early as next year, just as soon as he can put all the parts of his game together.

3. Kevin Maitan, SS (Has not debuted yet) — Recently signed
The Braves handed Maitan a $4.25 million bonus earlier this month, the largest bonus the team has ever given an amateur player. He’s been on scouts’ radar for years as the jewel of this year’s international class, being called a once-a-decade talent. He’s been compared to a young Miguel Cabrera, a true 5-tool prospect who will eventually slide over to third base as the 16-year-old grows and adds muscle. He won’t step on a professional field until next year, but his debut will be eagerly anticipated and watched. If he is as advertised, then he will be a fixture at the top of prospect lists for years to come. For Braves fans he could be this generation’s Andruw Jones — a top prospect for several years before debuting as a teenager.

4. Ozzie Albies, 2B/SS (AAA, AA) — Previous rank: 4oalbies2
Since so much of Albies’ value as a player is tied up in his speed and ability to get on base, and because his high batting averages are a product of a high BABIP, he ranks a bit lower for me than most. This was a large part of my argument for not being as high on Jose Peraza when he was a Braves prospect. In the Albies-Peraza mold of a prospect, I nonetheless like the tools that Albies brings to the plate — better batting eye and patience. That gives him a greater chance to realize his top-of-the-order on-base-and-speed-guy potential.

Grade A-: The next group of prospects I grade as possible first division players who will all play important starting roles in the majors.

5. Lucas Sims, RHP (AAA, AA) — Previous rank: 6
The No. 21 overall selection by the Braves in the 2012 draft, Sims generates more debate about how good he can be than just about any other Atlanta pitching prospect. I have long taken the side of Sims having mid-to-top of the rotation stuff, and I’m sticking to it. He’s still only 22-years old, and has had a taste of triple-A. Sims has struggled to find consistency in his mechanics at times, and the Carolina bus crash last year was a huge setback just when he was sorting himself out. The inconsistency of his mechanics can be seen in his elevated walk rates, but the dominance of his raw stuff is apparent in the high strikeout rates and low batting average against he posts year after year. That’s one of the big reasons he stays high on my prospect list. Once he learns how to consistently find the right mechanics start after start and inning after inning to limit the free passes, that raw stuff will take over and help him fulfill his high ceiling.

6. Dustin Peterson, OF (AA) — Previous rank: 20
A 2nd round pick in 2013 out of high school, and acquired by Atlanta as part of the Justin Upton trade. Peterson had a good debut last year in the Braves system, despite not really standing out in the pack. Part of that was due to the bus crash he and his Carolina team were involved in. Peterson was hitting .314/.392/.448 at the time of the crash en route to a breakout year, but hit only .232/.294/.317 after spending three weeks on the DL post-crash. In my pre-season rankings I slid him down the list too far, and perhaps this mid-season ranking is an over correction too high, but my initial take on him was that of a middle-of-the-order power bat, and he’s well on his way to becoming that. He’s only 21-years-old and already mashing at double-A (.276/.340/.421), while facing older pitchers in 366 of his 368 plate appearances.

7. Austin Riley, 3B (Low-A) — Previous rank: 3ariley
The 41st overall pick in last year’s draft, Riley represents the best power-hitting prospect the Braves have drafted in a decade. His breakout inaugural season last year saw him hit .304/.389/.544. He got off to a slow start this year, which is why he’s come down this list just a bit, but in the last month-plus he’s slashed .304/.342/.471. His strikeout rate has also dropped, though he’s a slugger who will strike out a lot. All of this as a 19-year-old hitting against older pitchers in 324 of 331 plate appearances.

8. Touki Toussaint, RHP (Low-A) — Previous rank: 8
The 16th overall selection in the 2014 draft out of high school, Touki was the first major prospect the Braves plundered from Arizona — essentially purchasing him along with a bad-money contract last year. The word raw is used a lot when describing him, and as such the early results on the mound have not always looked pretty. Nonetheless he has premium velocity and a legit curveball, both out-pitches. The transition from raw pitching prospect to refined prospect is slowly occurring as he learns to repeat his delivery, which leads to better control and an ability to maintain velocity deeper into his starts.

9. Max Fried, LHP (Low-A) — Previous rank: 9
The 7th overall pick in the 2012 draft out of high school, he had Tommy John surgery in 2014 and missed most of that year and 2015. His re-debut this year at Rome has been very successful with a strikeout per inning and a low .236 batting average against. According to reports his fastball has come back strong in the mid-90s, and his once-dominating curveball is still there. Because of the lost time he gets knocked down a bit on this list, but his raw stuff and ability still profile him as a potential top-of-the-rotation starter.

10. Kolby Allard, LHP (A-, R+) — Previous rank: 7
I find no prospect on this list harder to rank than Allard. He was the 14th overall pick last year, and by most accounts should have been drafted much higher but for injury concerns. Those concerns were borne out when he had back surgery late last year after signing. The Braves held him back in extended spring training this year for a couple of months before trying him in Rome. They lowered him to Danville when their season started, which by the early results seems more appropriate, though it’s probably too soon in his career to rely on stats as a barometer of his talent. I expect he’ll be back in Rome before the end of the season.

11. Mike Soroka, RHP (Low-A) — Previous rank: 12
msorokaThis is the second-hardest prospect to rank. I keep wanting to put a comp on him as a poor-man’s Greg Maddux. Soroka was the 28th overall pick last year, and has already shown an uncanny ability to limit walks for such a young (18 year old) pitcher. He commands the strike zone with three above-average pitches and does a good job of staying low in the zone. He’s a smart pitcher that gets the most out of his stuff, but none of his pitches grade out as plus. Because of that lack of wow factor, and the wow factor that many of the recently drafted guys below him have, Soroka will probably fall lower on prospect lists as an almost forgotten prospect. As a command/control guy it will also take longer to get an accurate read on what his ultimate ceiling might be.

12. Derian Cruz, SS (R-) — Previous rank: 13
Last year’s top international signing (for $2 million), the switch-hitting Dominican debuted state-side in the GCL this year as a 17-year-old. So far the early returns are good, as he got off to a blistering start, hitting safely in his first seven games. He’s shown much more power than I expected out of him at this point, but it’s way too early to read too much into his stats. If the Braves follow their recent pattern for their top performing young talent in the GCL, we should see Cruz get a promotion to Danville at some point this season. He would then be setup to start 2017 at Rome.

13. Ian Anderson, RHP (R-) — Recently drafted
Starting here the next four prospects are all projection based on scouting reports and draft position. The No. 3 overall pick this year, Anderson is a northern pitcher with mid-90s velocity on his fastball, a curveball with late action and a changeup that already grades as plus. He has a good chance to turn all of those into plus or even plus-plus pitches. With a big strong frame he profiles as a top-of-the-rotation workhorse with ace potential. In most years he would debut among the team’s top-10 prospects, but winds up in this position simply because there are so many talented prospects in the system.

14. Joey Wentz, LHP (R-) — Recently drafted
Ranked here between Anderson and Muller, in the order of which they were drafted. The No. 40 overall pick this year, Wentz has been a tall prospect that scouts have been been dreaming on for years. He has solid-to-plus low-to-mid-90s velocity, a plus curve and future-plus change. Wentz also features advanced control for his age, and profiles as a mid-to-top of the rotation workhorse.

15. Kyle Muller, LHP (R-) — Recently drafted
As if Anderson and Wentz weren’t enough, the Braves used the No. 44 overall pick this year on the talented two-way Muller. He’s shown less on the mound than the two guys ahead of him, but his raw talent is likely equal to them. He’s the tallest of the three at 6-foot-6, and now that his focus will exclusively be on pitching, he has a chance to rise to the top of the class.

16. Abrahan Gutierrez, C (Has not debuted yet) — Recently signed
Considered by many to be the top catching prospect of the 2016 international class, his $3.5 million bonus would have been the largest bonus ever given by Atlanta to an international player, but for Maitan getting a larger bonus this year. He’s only 16, and will likely debut in the GCL next year with Maitan, but as a catching prospect he will move slower through the system. He has displayed good catch-and-throw skills, a strong arm and good contact at the plate, but all of his tools are raw.

Grade B+: These players grade as solid above average players with the potential to be much more.

17. Rio Ruiz, 3B (AAA) — Previous rank: 19
One of the two main prospects acquired in the Evan Gattis trade, Ruiz is a 22-year-old playing at triple-A, and slashing .276/.365/.385. He should probably be higher, though he falls to this rank due to all the other talent in the system that I deem better than him. I rank him a bit lower because I’m bearish on his star potential. I do think he will make the majors soon, this year or next, but right now I don’t see too much more than a Chris Johnson-type player. Light power, a good walk rate, but extremely streaky.

18. Brett Cumberland, C (R+) — Recently drafted
A young now-21-year-old draft-eligible college sophomore, the switch-hitting catcher was drafted for his bat speed and power. His profile reminds me of a catcher the Braves drafted in 2013, Victor Caratini, and later traded to the Cubs at the trade deadline in 2014. Caratini came in as a bat-first catcher, and his development has been slow both at the plate and behind the plate. I expect Cumberland to follow a slow development path overall, however, if his bat starts to show up big, then the Braves may put him at another position to speed him up. They want him at catcher for now, though, and that will take some time.

19. John Gant, RHP (MLB, AAA) — Previous rank: 18
A 21st-round pick by the Mets in 2011, and part of the 2015 Kelly Johnson trade. Just before he was acquired he made a mechanical change, which ended up turning him from a back-of-the-rotation fringe prospect into a mid-rotation prospect. He surprised many people by winning a spot in the Atlanta bullpen coming out of spring training, and has yo-yo’ed between the majors and triple-A, as well as yo-yo’ing between the rotation and bullpen. Gant is the perfect type of prospect to have in a year like the Braves are having, as he can audition for a number of different roles without any pressure. At some point he’ll show us if he can fulfill that mid-rotation projection.

20. A.J. Minter, LHP (AA, A+, A-) — Previous rank: 36
A 2nd-round pick last year out of Texas A&M, Minter served as the school’s closer before going under the knife for Tommy John surgery prior to the draft. The Braves were undeterred by that, and saw in Minter the best closer prospect in the 2015 draft. Once he got on the field this year he set out to prove that, and prove it he has, putting up video game numbers as a pro. In 19.2 innings he’s given up only 6 hits, 1 run, issued just 5 walks, while striking out 24. All of that while zooming from Rome, through Carolina and on to Mississippi. He could reach Atlanta this year, but the Braves may want to keep him in the minors with regular work as he continues his return from TJ. If he keeps putting up these kinds of numbers, then he’ll zoom up prospect lists, and should find his way into an important late innings role in Atlanta next year. His success this year makes Arodys Vizcaino more tradeable.

21. Tyrell Jenkins, RHP (MLB, AAA) — Previous rank: 14
tjenkins3The 50th overall pick in the 2010 draft, and part of the Jason Heyward trade that began the rebuild, Tyrell is, in a way, Prospect Zero. He made the big club mid-year, beginning in the bullpen, then making an excellent spot-start prior to the All-Star break. Tyrell has above average projection right now, as a back of the rotation starter or late innings reliever. There’s no one tool that stands out, as Tyrell is more of a pitchability guy who can occasionally run his fastball into the mid-90s. That seems to paint the picture of a bullpen guy, but then Tyrell goes out and pitches like a mid-rotation workhorse last year and won the organization’s minor league pitcher of the year award. Never underestimate #ProspectZero.

22. Chris Ellis, RHP (AAA, AA) — Previous rank: 16
The other pitching prospect in the Andrelton Simmons trade, Ellis got off to a better start this year at Mississippi than Sean Newcomb, and earned an early June call-up to Gwinnett. Ellis has a solid three-pitch mix without having a real out-pitch. That puts him in back-of-the-rotation contention with a chance to find an out-pitch and ascend to mid-rotation projection. He could also need to break in as a reliever in the majors (a la Jenkins) in order to find what works.

23. Rob Whalen, RHP (AA) — Previous rank: 31
A 12th round pick by the Mets in 2012, Whalen was part of last year’s Kelly Johnson trade. He came over as more of a pitchability guy with an average three-pitch mix, but this year at Mississippi, he’s put up terrific numbers, specifically a low batting average against and low walk rate. Oh, and he’s leading the Southern League with 94 strikeouts in a workhorse-like 101.1 innings. His good control and deception have been effective against both lefties and righties, and he’s been metronomically consistent from start to start. His previous back-of-the-rotation ceiling is being reconsidered, and he could move further up this list with a good second half.

24. Patrick Weigel, RHP (Low-A) — Previously unranked 
A prospect like Weigel represents the performance side of this list, as he has already massively exceeded his draft position or pedigree. Weigel was an arm-strength draft prospect when Atlanta took him in the 7th round last year, with tons of questions about his control and whether he could throw his slider and curve for effect. The Braves worked with him on repeating his delivery which has helped him control his fastball and command his off-speed pitches, seemingly erasing all of those pre-draft questions. It’s really tempting to rank Weigel much higher, especially since his fastball sits mid-90s and he can reach back for 99mph. His ceiling is that of a Mike Foltynewicz-like pitcher. If his second half performance matches his first half performance, he’ll be moving way up this list.

25. Cristian Pache, OF (R-) — Previous rank: 21
Pache was the other big international signing (after Derian Cruz) by the Braves last year when he got $1.4 million. He also got off to a hot start this year while debuting state-side as a 17-year-old. While it’s early to judge anything from stats, he has nonetheless shown good speed and doubles-power, as well as a low strikeout rate — just 2 Ks in his first 63 plate appearances. Like Cruz, we should expect to see Pache promoted to Danville before the end of the season.

26. Ronald Acuna, OF (Low-A) — Previous rank: 24
An international signing out of Venezuela in 2014 for $100,000, he debuted in the GCL last year, finishing the season at Danville. I’ll probably get more grief for ranking Acuna this low than I will for any other ranking on this list. Some evaluators would put Acuna in the system’s top-10, and some might even put him among the top-150 prospects in the game. His near-five-tool skill set is scintillating, and he will no doubt move up my list if those tools show up on the field, but I just haven’t seen enough to feel confident ranking him ahead of those above him.

Grade B: With these prospects, the potential is there for a higher grade, all they need are experience and reps, but there is less certainty that they will emerge as impact players.

27. Max Povse, RHP (AA, A+) — Previous rank: 39
Povse is one of those guys that’s shown great improvement this year. The 2014 3rd-rounder has a heavy low-90s fastball, and he uses that to get a lot of ground balls. That leads to a lot of hits, but he counterbalances that by hardly walking anyone. So far this year he has a 1.7 BB/9 rate, when 3.1 is the current major league rate. He recently earned a promotion to Mississippi’s talented rotation. If he can match the first half stats he put up in Carolina in the second half in Mississippi, then he will shoot up this list. I probably keep him a bit lower because he’s a pitch-to-contact guy, but he’s just about to jump to a B+ grade with continued good work.

28. Bryse Wilson, RHP (R-) — Recently drafted
This year’s 4th-round selection, he became the 4th high school pitcher this draft to get a million-plus bonus from Atlanta. He received over twice the recommended slot value, but due to his lower draft position than the big three, Wilson could become the forgotten fourth. Reports of his stuff say it is somewhat behind the big three, but he’s still a high-dollar bonus guy, and as such the expectation is that he will be a top prospect. That leads me to rank him here, though he could land anywhere within the Grade B category.

29. Lucas Herbert, C (Low-A) — Previous rank: 33
A 2nd-round pick last year, Herbert tore his meniscus shortly after getting on the field after signing. The Braves started him at Rome this year, and he’s slogged along there without much success at the plate. Behind the plate he’s impressed, throwing out 38% of would-be base-stealers. The long development approach is important with Herbert, but the Braves may have been too eager to get him back on the field, and he probably could have benefited from being held back this spring and starting at Danville. Until he shows something with the stick he’ll stay lower down in these rankings.

30. Manny Banuelos, LHP (AAA) — Previous rank: 15
Remember this guy? He’s still technically a prospect. At 25-years-old he’s about to fall off the list, and unfortunately it’s not really his fault. The injury bug continues to bite ManBan as he can’t quite get his elbow back to full health. Atlanta seems content to take it slow with him, though the clock is ticking. This rank takes into account the injuries and his age, and reflects that at this point he’s probably just a back-of-the-rotation prospect or reliever.

31. Drew Harrington, LHP (Has not debuted yet) — Recently drafted
The team’s 3rd-round pick this year out of Louisville, the junior southpaw is a classic low-90s pitchability lefty. The Braves love guys like this, but I’m glad they at least waited until the 3rd round this year as opposed to making him a first rounder as they have in the past with the likes of Sean Gilmartin and Brett DeVall. Harrington has a chance for three above average pitches, complimenting his fastball with a slider and change. If everything comes together, he has a chance to be a mid-to-back of the rotation regular.

32. Braxton Davidson, OF (High-A) — Previous rank: 11
The No. 32 overall pick in 2013, he may be one of the most disappointing prospects on this list. He came into the organization with a lot of fanfare, but he can’t seem to find any magic at the plate. I’ve seen a lot of his at-bats the past couple of years, and they can be very frustrating to watch. From one at-bat to another he’ll look completely lost at the plate to overly-aggressive to overly-patient. His strikeouts are increasing at an alarming rate, and the power one expects to see with that many strikeouts has not followed. However, patience should be shown here, as he just turned 20 years old, and hasn’t faced a pitcher older than him the last two years. Still, an improved approach (and attitude) are in order.

Grade B-: With these prospects, the potential is there for a higher grade, all they need are experience and reps, but there is even less certainty that they will emerge as impact players.

33. Mauricio Cabrera, RHP (MLB, AA) — Previous rank: 30
The 101 MPH heat of Cabrera was felt in… I’m about to say… prepare yourself… Hot-lanta. Despite a legit fastball, he wasn’t really a big strikeout guy in the minors, and that keeps him down here on the list.

34. Yunio Severino, SS (Has not debuted yet) — Recently signed
Part of the international bonanza this year, Severino signed for $1.9 million. The switch-hitting Dominican would be big news in any other year that didn’t include Kevin Maitan. Severino still has some growing to do, but he should follow Maitan and Abrahan Gutierrez to the GCL next year.

35. Juan Yepez, OF (Low-A) — Previous rank: 17
The Braves top international signing in 2014 out of Venezuela. He debuted state-side last year, putting up good numbers in the GCL and then Danville, but without the hype that accompanied Ronald Acuna. Yepez went on the DL with an injury at the end of May, after starting late at Rome.

The next five:
Isranel Wilson, OF
Ricardo Sanchez, LHP
Ricardo Rodriguez, C
Juan Contrereas, RHP
Yenci Pena, SS

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Atlanta Braves 2016 Draft, Rounds 11-20

Day three of the 2016 MLB Draft sees the Atlanta Braves selecting several players that they will sign to over-slot bonuses. While the team’s primary strategy on day one was to spread the money for the top three selections of the draft nearly evenly across those three players, a second strategy seems to be to select several high school and Junior College picks on day three and see which ones will take over-slot deals.

Click here for rounds 3-10 from day two of the draft. 

11th Round (319): Matt Rowland, RHP — Day 3 of the draft usually starts out with a player or two who will sign for more than the $100,000 slot limit for all picks from the eleventh round onward. The prep pitcher Rowland fits this bill, with Atlanta inking him to an over-slot deal of around $400,000. The local product from Pope High School has good size at 6-foot-3, and already sports plus velocity with a fastball touching 95 mph, while sitting in the low-90s. He draws a comparison to Derek Lowe for the sinking action on his fastball, which he pairs with a slider that flashes future-plus. He’s far less refined than the other high school pitchers taken ahead of him, but he nonetheless represents good value at this pick in the draft. The Braves also continue to double down on the strength of this draft, high school pitching. He was ranked No. 496 by Baseball America.

12th Round (349): Brandon White, RHP @brandonwhite01 — A dominant closer at Lander University in Greenwood, South Carolina, he features a plus slider, average fastball and a developing curve. Click here for a great article on him, and how he was forced to improve on his secondary pitches. This could be a great under-the-radar pick, especially since everyone will focus on his name, which is the same as…

13th Round (379): Brandon White, RHP — A fifth-year senior, this Brandon White has the honor of being the first ever player selected from Davenport University in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Three more of his teammates also got drafted after him, including Corbin Clouse, who went in the 27th round to the Braves. This Brandon White was a starter in college, with a low-90s fastball, as well as good size and athleticism.

14th Round (409): Ramon Osuna, 1B — Completing a nearly annual tradition, the Braves select Osuna out of Walters State Community College… after all, the school’s head coach is an associate scout for the Braves. At 6-foot-3, 240 pounds, Osuna has a big, strong frame which results in good in-game power. He has also hit for a high average, though power and/or hitting prowess don’t always translate well from the JuCo ranks to the pros. The Braves have drafted plenty of players with his pedigree who didn’t go anywhere.

15th Round (439): Zach Becherer, RHP — A JuCo sophomore out of Rend Lake College in Illinois, Becherer had Tommy John surgery in mid-April. At 6-foot-4 he has a good pitcher’s frame, and was apparently moving towards being a possible helium pick before the injury. The Braves have reportedly signed him to an over-slot bonus of $275,000. So he must be very highly thought of, despite being just a sophomore and recently undergoing TJ surgery.

16th Round (469): Josh Anthony, 3B @mlbjaye — A JuCo standout from Western Oklahoma State College (the same school that produced Andrelton Simmons and Braves’ 2015 15th-rounder Justin Ellison), Anthony is also a local product from Columbus, Georgia. He grew up a Braves fan, with Chipper Jones as his favorite player. He put up some video game numbers the past two years, combining to hit .444 with 25 home runs and 49 stolen bases, and really came on this year, hitting 20 home runs. He’s committed to Auburn, and also plays catcher. The Braves will likely have to go over-slot to sign him.

17th Round (499): Devan Watts, RHP @d_watts7 — A junior reliever from a small private college in Tennessee, there’s not much scouting info out there about him. He may be a bit undersized at 6-foot, but Atlanta has a good track record of plucking relievers out of these middle round picks.

18th Round (529): Zachary Rice, LHP @zrice45 — A junior from UNC Chapel Hill, Rice is an interesting selection. A reliever throughout his college career, he only threw 3.2 innings this year, allowing half of the 22 batters to reach base. At some point during the spring he was dropped from the UNC roster. While he has significant control issues to overcome, he throws a low-90s fastball and a plus slider with a deceptive delivery.

19th Round (559): Tucker Davidson, LHP @tucktuck6 — A JuCo lefty from Midland College in Texas, Davidson is committed to play at NC State next year, but the Braves have other plans. He worked mainly as a starter, and has good control with a plus slider.

20th Round (589): Gabe Howell, 2B @howellgabe — A high school player from Trion, Georgia, north of Rome, the well-built two-sport athlete was thought to have the potential to get drafted in the first ten rounds. He’s athletic enough and quick enough that some scouts see a good-hitting middle infielder in him. His defense apparently needs work, but the Braves will move him from shortstop to second where that will be less of a liability. This quote from his mom might just be the highlight of the draft:

“It was like a movie at Mount Paran when he took batting practice in front of all 30 teams,” Lori Howell said, pausing for a second to relish the moment one more time. “He almost hit Chipper Jones’ truck with his homer.”

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Atlanta Braves 2016 Draft, Rounds 3-10

The main action for the Atlanta Braves was on day one of the 2016 MLB Draft, but day two offered a few interesting picks early, but eventually devolved into a money-saving affair halfway through. This wasn’t money savings for the sake of saving money. The organization drafted five college seniors with picks No. 6 through 10 who will likely sign for under $50,000. From that the Braves should realize a cumulative savings of about $1 million. This is money that the team will use to ink their top selections from day one.

The seniors drafted from pick 6 to 10 would normally be taken after the 15th round, if “best player available” were how Atlanta was drafting, but the need to move slot money from one place to another necessitates lowering the talent level for certain picks.

I like this approach the Braves are taking in this draft. They are focusing on draft picks who have the greatest potential to be elite-level players, and those players are only at the top of the draft. So the team is moving money up the draft board. One of the more likely consequences of this strategy will be a lack of quality depth that usually comes from the following rounds.

Click here for the top-4 picks in the first two rounds from day one of the draft. 

3rd Round (80): Drew Harrington, LHP — This pick is the embodiment of the Braves love for #pitchability lefties. Voted the ACC Player of the Year as a Junior from Louisville, Harrington moved to the rotation this season with great success, and ends up getting taken a whole round before his much more heralded teammate Kyle Funkhouser. The Braves may have overdrafted here, with MLB.com ranking Harrington No. 148 and Baseball America ranking him at No. 124. (We’ll have to wait and see if the team is trying to save money with this pick too.) He works his sinking fastball in the high-80s to low-90s and compliments that with a solid slider. His changeup is below average, and how that pitch develops should tell us whether Harrington remains in the rotation or moves to a relief role. If he can add some velocity and continue to refine his slider and changeup, then he could have a mid-rotation ceiling, but more than likely he’s a back-of-the-rotation work horse or durable middle reliever. Though he was apparently mid-90s when working as a reliever as a sophomore, so that may bode well for a floor of a high-leverage reliever. He has the pitching acumen to be better, but scouts think he is limited by the ceiling of his stuff right now.

4th Round (109): Bryse Wilson, RHP @brysewilson — A common refrain from day 1 of the draft, Atlanta reprises that role by dipping back into the high school pitching ranks to take their only prep player of day 2. The team also fulfills their pre-draft statement of taking athletes who play multiple sports. Wilson was a football player in high school as well as a pitcher, and there is a lot of football parlance from scouts when describing his stocky but strong build. On the mound Wilson has plus velocity for an 18-year-old, with a fastball that consistently sits 92-94, and can flash 96 mph. His offspeed stuff is inconsistent and raw, but the Braves are drafting him based on his velocity, and will try to develop a second and third pitch. MLB.com ranked him No. 144 overall, while Baseball America had him ranked No. 93. This is a typical high-risk, high-upside pick that this front office regime has focused on since last year.

5th Round (139): Jeremy Walker, RHP @prince_walker12 — The Braves take a guy Baseball America ranked No. 320 a couple of hundred spots earlier at No. 139. As a college junior this is probably not an attempt to save money on this slot, but instead as we saw last with last year’s draft, the team really likes players with #helium. These are players who moved up the draft board late in the spring, so their rank on pre-draft prospect lists may not accurately reflect how evaluators view them now. Already working his fastball in the low-90s, Walker tickled 96 mph towards the end of the season, with some scouts believing he can add even more velocity once they clean up some kinks in his mechanics. At 6-foot-5, 205-pounds, this could be a similar pick to the selection of Max Povse in 2014 or Ryan Clark in 2015. Another solid high-risk, high-upside pick, but like the two guys mentioned above, he could take some time to develop, despite being selected as a junior out of college.

6th Round (169): Matthew Gonzalez, 2B @mattgonzo14 — For the remainder of day 2, starting with this pick, the Braves took all college seniors. That usually means they plan to sign these players to deals significantly below slot value, and as I mentioned in the intro above, this could result in significant savings. Ranked No. 359 by Baseball America, Gonzalez profiles as a utility player in the majors. He added some more power this year, so it will be interesting to see if that sticks. I keep wanting to put a Todd Cunningham comp on him, but that may be a reach.

7th Round (199): J.B. Moss, LF @J_Moss11 — This is the typical “save the slot money” pick, as Moss was an unranked senior out of Texas A&M. He posted good numbers last summer in a collegiate wood-bat league. No scouting report that I can find on him describes any carrying tool.

8th Round (229): Taylor Hyssong, LHP @taylorhyss — Another unranked player, the 6-foot-3 Hyssong is out of UNC Wilmington. Keith Law of ESPN writes that Hyssong is a “funky lefty who could end up as a specialist reliever.” Some scouting reports clock his fastball as high as 94 mph.

9th Round (259): Tyler Neslony, RF @Tyler_Neslony7 — A good college player in a tough conference, he faced a lot of good competition and held his own throughout his four year career.

10th Round (289): Marcus Mooney, SS @marcusmooney8 — A short 5-foot-7 player and a defensive whiz at shortstop, he reminds me of Mickey Reynolds, whom the Braves drafted in 2013. Mooney is the shortest player Atlanta has drafted since 2012 (Ross Heffley).

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