Wednesday, February 3, 2010

TEAM #4 – Atlanta Braves

Jason Heyward put together a season of historic proportions in the SOL

Our 2010 Prospect eGuide is less than a week away. If you have enjoyed this series, then check out the details here: .

Led by one of the Minor League’s Top Prospects, the Atlanta Brave check in at #4. Although the Top Two prospects are position players, thirteen of the next sixteen prospects are pitchers, as pitching is clearly the strength of this organization. But pitching isn’t the only strength, as the Braves have one of the deepest organizations in the Minors. This depth has not only been supplied by shrewd drafting, but by one of the longest running successful Latin American scouting programs. One more plus is the solid balance between high-ceiling and low-floor prospects. On the downside, while pitching may be a strength, it is highlighted by the fact that the Braves only have seven position players that grade out to a ‘B-‘ or better, the lowest number of any organization. Additionally, the Braves, outside of Jason Heyward, have few players that are near Major League ready, so it is likely still another couple of years before the Minor League system makes significant contribution.

Grade A

1) Jason Heyward, RF (2009 Performance Scores – Power 79; First Base Rate 71; Discipline 72; Speed 55)

Heyward spent most of the summer chasing Andruw Jones and a piece of history, as he was looking to become the first 19yo to post a 1.100 OPS in AA since Jones did it 1996. In the end he fell .043 points short, but in the process posted the highest Performance Score of the 2009 season. It’s hard to believe that thirteen teams passed on Heyward in the 2007, but there he was waiting for Atlanta at #14, and in three stops since then (2008 SAL, 2009 CAR and 2009 SOL) he has posted the Top Performance Score at each one. Heyward is a truly special, once in a decade type, offensive talent. He not only possesses a full set of tools, but he shows plus potential in power, contact and plate discipline. Speed is his least skilled area, and he still rates above average in that department. Defensively he plays right field with the quickness and instincts of a center fielder and the arm of a third baseman. His upside is that of one of the elite players at the Major League level. If there is a weakness, it is that the muscular Heyward may be too muscular. Over his three year career he has had a history of nagging injuries and muscle ailments. The path has been cleared for Heyward in Atlanta. While they may keep him in AAA for a month or so for player control/contract reasons, Heyward will be the Braves starting RF at some point during the 2010 season.

2) Freddie Freeman, 1B (2009 – Power 50; First Base Rate 53; Discipline 71; Speed 31)

Freeman was the Braves second round pick in the 2007 draft—the same draft they tabbed Jason Heyward. After struggling a bit in his 2007 GCL debut, he showed enough the following spring for the Braves to move him to full-season A-ball—despite being only 18yo, where he posted the League’s #3 Performance Score (behind only Heyward and Michael Stanton). In 2009, he began the year in the CAR, where he again posted the #3 Performance Score, before being promoted to the SOL, where the then 19yo posted a somewhat disappointing #16 Score—much due to a sore wrist. When healthy, Freeman possesses average power potential and contact skills, coupled with plus strike zone management skills. The downside is that he is defensively limited to first base—a position at which he excels, and doesn’t possess classic first base power. But Freeman is a doubles machine whose approach is very reminiscent of former Cubs first baseman, Mark Grace. Freeman has the upside an average, everyday, Major League first baseman with plus defense at the position. His floor is rather high, as a Sean Casey-like career looks to be his floor. While Freeman has matched Heyward’s assignments step-for-step up until now, we don’t expect Freeman to reach Atlanta before September at the earliest.

Grade A-

3) Julio Teheran, RHP (2009 – Dominance 45; Stamina 76; HRrate 60; Control 66)

Teheran was widely regarded as the top Latin American pitching talent in 2007, when the Braves signed him for $850,000. While the Braves brought him to the U.S. for the 2008 season, shoulder tenderness and a cautious approach kept him off the mound for all but 15 innings. Essentially 2009 was his debut, and the 18yo excelled, posting the Top Performance Score in the APY, and the #12 Score in the SAL. Teheran ‘s arsenal is keyed by a low- to mid-90s fastball, but it doesn’t end there, as both his curve and change show plus pitch potential. Despite his age, the precociousness with which he manages a game, and commands his offerings, is uncanny. If we haven’t provided enough positives, his 6’2”, 160lb frame has loads of potential left in it. On the downside, Teheran—despite his poise, is a raw talent that still is learning how to ‘pitch’. He has the pure ‘stuff’ to fan more batters than innings pitched, but only has whiffed 7.8 batters per 9IP thus far in his career. One final concern is that there are those that worry that his mechanics are off enough to potentially be an injury concern. Teheran has the upside of a front of the rotation Major League star. Currently he just needs to gain experience. The Braves will be cautious with him, as he will play the entire 2010 season as a 19yo—likely opening back in the SAL.

4) Arodys Vizcaino, RHP
(2009 – Dominance 77; Stamina 63; HRrate 49; Control 51)

As part of the Javier Vasquez deal, the Braves received the Yankees best pitching prospect in Vizcaino. He was originally signed for $800,000 out of the Dominican Republic in 2007, sent to the GCL for his professional debut in 2008, where he posted the League’s #11 Performance Score, and then was the top pitcher in the NYP in 2009. Amazingly advanced for a 19yo, Vizcaino features a low- to mid-90s fastball, a plus curve, and a promising change. He has a tremendous feel for pitching and possesses above average control. With a ceiling of a front of the rotation star, Vizcaino just needs experience with some of the finer nuances of pitching. He is likely to begin 2010 in the SAL, and at only 19yo could spend the entire season there.

Grade B+

5) Randall Delgado, RHP (2009 – Dominance 68; Stamina 67; HRrate 40; Control 40)

Regular readers of this space understand our belief that there is no such thing as a player being too young, or a League that is too low-level to provide any meaningful information. We just need enough data points to statistically determine its degree of relevance. Such is the case with the Dominican and Venezuelan Summer Leagues, which we have been using successfully for nearly a decade now. We were first introduced to Delgado when he posted the #9 Performance Score in the DSL in 2007. We began talking him up when he was in the midst of following that up with a #4 Performance Score in the APY in 2008. Now with a #9 Performance Score in the SAL in 2009, he is rocketing up prospect lists. More impressive, was the fact that if you divide Delgado’s season into two-halves, the first half with 15 starts through June and 62 innings pitched, the second from July on, where he went 62 innings over 12 starts, 2009 saw Delgado take his ERA from 5.66 to 3.05, his walk rate from 4.2 per 9IP to 2.9, and his strikeout rate increased from 9.8 batters per 9IP to 10.6. There is a lot to like about Delgado, and we will take them in order of impressiveness: 1) At 6’3”, 175lbs and 19yo, there is significant projection remaining; 2) With that projection, his current low-90s fastball should eventually become a mid-90s offering; 3) While both his Curve and Change are currently classified as ‘developing’, they both show plus potential. On the downside, Delgado’s command has been far closer to his first half performance than his second-half, over his professional career. If he is to succeed as he move up that will have to change. In many organizations, Delgado would be considered the highest ceiling pitching prospect, with Teheran and Vizcaino in the Braves system, he only comes in at #3, but, make no mistake, his ceiling is substantial. Look for Delgado to open 2010 as a 20yo in the Carolina (CAR) League.

6) Christian Bethancourt, C (2009 – Power 65; First Base Rate 42; Discipline 61; Speed 75)

Bethancourt was the Braves Top Latin American signing in 2008, and made his debut in the DSL that summer where he posted a Top 25 Performance Score. Sent to the GCL for his US debut, in 2009, Betancourt responded by posting the League’s #6 Performance Score. Bethancourt is one of the few players who, at 18yo, can be projected to stay at Catcher for the long haul. With good agility, solid ‘catch’ skills, a quick release, plus arm strength, and he has the potential to be a plus defender. While his bat was a little more questionable when he signed, Bethancourt has responded well, showing above average power and strike zone management skills, with average speed. If there is a knock offensively, it is that Bethancourt is an aggressive hitter, who doesn’t make as much contact as we would like. Still tremendously raw, the ceiling for Bethancourt is extremely high. He will make his full-season debut in 2010 in the SAL.

7) Mike Minor, LHP -

After profiling three relatively high-ceiling pitchers, in Teheran, Vizcaino and Delgado, who are quite a ways away, we come to Minor, who is a low-ceiling, high-floor type that could see Atlanta before the 2010 season is out. Minor was the Braves first round pick last June, whom they selected with the #7 overall pick. We had Minor #26 on our draft board, and, while we respect the Braves penchant for identifying and developing pitchers, his upside didn’t warrant being selected that high. Minor is a near finished product with a four-pitch repertoire that uses a 90MPH fastball to setup his plus change, a repertoire that he demonstrates plus command of. While he used it successfully to thoroughly dominate low-A hitters in four late season starts after signing, he struggled against the more advanced hitters that he faced in the AZFL. Don’t get us wrong, we find Minors’ pitchability and baseball IQ extremely high, and could easily imagine him as a #3/#4 Major League starter in a short period of time, but that is the best that he will ever be. Look for him to begin 2010 in the SOL.

Grade B

8) Craig Kimbrel, RP (2009 – Dominance 80; Stamina 25; HRrate 51; Control 20)

We remain consistent in our lack of ‘love’ for Minor League relief pitchers, but Kimbrel scores high enough on the ‘certainty’ side of the equation to merit a look. If nothing else, Kimbrel should be racking up the frequent flyer miles, as in two seasons, he has made seven different stops. Don’t expect 2010 to be any different, as Kimbrel should begin the year in 2010, and end the year in the Atlanta bullpen. Kimbrel has an attacking, closer, mentality. He uses a mid-90s fastball, that he compliments with an above average curve. Over the course of his short career, this has yielded one of the Minor League’s best strikeout rates—over 15 batters per 9IP. Like many young pitchers that throw as hard as Kimbrel does, lack of control is his biggest weaknesses. This was never more evident than this fall in the AZFL, where in 10-plus innings, he struck out 18, but walked 16. While the Braves see Kimbrel as their potential future closer, he is only 21yo, and is far from a finished product.

9) Adam Milligan, LF (2009 – Power 79; First Base Rate 57; Discipline 55; Speed 36)

Milligan was the Braves 6th round choice in 2008, but knee surgery didn’t allow him to debut until this summer. When he finally did, he ripped through three circuits, posting the #3 Performance Score in the SAL along the way. With above average power potential, and solid on-base skills, Milligan’s bat will be his calling card, as Milligan possesses little speed and is a defensive liability. Additionally, Milligan will need to cut down on his 21% strikeout rate if he is to experience success at higher levels. While Milligan has the ceiling of an average, everyday, Major League left fielder, his defensive concerns may limit him to first base, where he only profiles as a part-time/platoon player. He will likely begin 2010 in Hi-A, to keep him and Cody Johnson at different levels, but he should see AA sometime during the season.

10) Cody Johnson, LF (2009 – Power 80; First Base Rate 45; Discipline 30; Speed 52)

Johnson was the Braves first round pick in the 2006 draft, whose main talent is raw power. In 2007 Johnson posted the #2 Performance Score in the APY. He struggled a bit in the SAL in 2008, but still managed a Top 25 Score. Then, last season, he took another step forward by posting the #9 Performance Score in the CAR—as a 21yo. While Johnson has plus power skills, and average speed, the power comes at a cost—namely his contact skills are below average and his plate discipline is atrocious. Johnson’s power puts him in a high-ceiling category, but everything else makes his outlook extremely ‘uncertain’. Look for him to take his batting practice displays to AA in 2010.

11) Dimaster Delgado, LHP (2009 – Dominance 66; Stamina 74; HRrate 63; Control 61)

Delgado has posted some pretty impressive numbers (#2 Performance Score in the DSL in 2007; Top 25 Score in the GCL in 2008; #10 Performance Score in the SAL in 2009), but gets lost in a Braves system loaded with high-ceiling pitching talent at the lower levels. Delgado is a legitimate talent himself, possessing a low-90s fastball and a plus Change. While his Curve is currently a below average offering, it shows potential. He also is able to keep the ball down in the zone, and shows above average control. The downside to Delgado is that he needs the Curve to truly be considered a mid-rotation candidate, and without a knockout fastball, his options are limited in relief. Delgado will need to show improvements to his breaking ball in Hi-A in 2010.

12) Zeke Spruill, RHP (2009 – Dominance 55; Stamina 73; HRrate 33; Control 66)

Spruill was the Braves 3rd round choice in 2008, and was so impressive this spring that he spent the 2009 season as a 19yo in the SAL, where he posted a Top 20 Performance Score. At 6’4”, 185lb, he has plenty of projection left in a sinker that is already a 90MPH offering. His Curve, Slider and Change are advanced offerings, albeit with limited upside. Spruill shows advanced pitchability and commands all of his offerings well. On the downside, when Spruill makes a mistake, it tends to be up in the zone, and he did miss time this season to an undisclosed, non-injury related issue. With the upside of a mid-rotation starter, Spruill should begin 2010 in the CAR.

Grade B-

13) Brett Oberholtzer, LHP (2009 – Dominance 60; Stamina 70; HRrate74; Control 77)

Braves pitchers took the top three Performance Score spots in the APY in 2009, and that doesn’t even include the APY pitcher of the year, and it was Oberholtzer, the Braves 8th round pick in 2008, who nailed down the #2 slot. Plus command is his calling card, and it allows him to throw any of his three pitches, highlighted by a 90MPH fastball, on any count. Additionally, Oberholtzer keeps the ball down very well and thus far, in 104 professional innings, has only allowed two home runs. The only real negative is that at 6’2”, 230lbs, there may not be a lot of additional projection on his currently ‘fringy’ fastball. With no real punch out offering, he may be looking at an upside of a back of the rotation starter. Oberholtzer will get his first taste of full-season ball in 2010.

14) Andy Otero, LHP (2009 – Dominance 80; Stamina 55; HRrate 62; Control 52)

The diminutive Otero (5’9”, 160lbs) was the best pitcher in the DSL this summer, but has not generated the buzz that one might expect from his performance, due to his size. Over his last eight DSL starts, Otero posted a 0.46 ERA, with a 61:12 K:BB ratio in 39 innings. Despite his stature, Otero is an aggressive, attacking, pitcher that features a low-90s fastball and a potentially plus curve. Like many young pitchers, his change is an underdeveloped offering at this point. With an extremely precocious feel for pitching, Otero has success keeping the ball down in the zone and shows above average control. There isn’t a tremendous record of success for 5’9” pitchers at the Major League level, still Otero is only 17yo, and still hasn’t matured physically, so there is the possibility that he hasn’t finished growing. The Braves will bring him to the U.S. in 2010, and he will make his stateside debut in either the GCL or APY.

15) J.J. Hoover, RHP (2009 – Dominance 69; Stamina 71; HRrate 44; Control 70)

The Braves selected Hoover in the 10th round of the 2008 draft then signed him for third round money. His 2009 showing in the SAL was, for all practical purposes, his debut, as he posted a Top 25 Performance Score. With plus command, Hoover offers a low-90s fastball and, both, a curve and change that have plus potential. The downside is that Hoover is a 6’3”, 230lb, 22yo, who will likely open the season in the CAR. There isn’t a tremendous amount of projection left in him, and right now he appears to have the upside of a mid-rotation starter. He will have to make improvements to his secondary offerings to achieve that.

16) Robinson Lopez, RHP (2009 – Dominance 61; Stamina 64; HRrate 63; Control 61)

Perhaps, the pitcher with the highest remaining upside in the Braves system, Lopez posted the #7 Performance Score in the GCL in his debut after signing out of the Dominican Republic in 2008. With a low-90s fastball, a potentially plus curve, and a solid change, Lopez has the makings of a mid-rotation starter. All of his performance skills rate above average, and he couples that with an advanced approach. With only 49 professional innings, Lopez just needs experience. He could open the 2010 season in full-season A-ball, but is more likely to debut later this summer in the APY.

17) Brett DeVall, LHP (2009 – Dominance 39; Stamina 71; HRrate 52; Control 61)

DeVall, the Braves supplemental round choice in 2008, is a difficult prospect to rank, because his performance has earned him one ranking, and lingering elbow injuries, that may yet result in surgery, force another. Nonetheless, when he did appear in a limited number of games this past season, he earned a Top 20 Performance Score in the SAL. When healthy, DeVall features a low 90s fastball and a Curve and Change that are potential plus offerings. He does a good job of controlling all of his offerings, and induces a fair amount of groundouts. While reports from instructional this fall were positive, health is his biggest negative. Look for DeVall to debut in the CAR, at some point in 2010.

18) Jose Ortegano, LHP (2009 – Dominance 58; Stamina 62; HRrate 63; Control 63)

The ceiling of Braves pitching prospects begins to get lower by the time we get to Ortegano, who despite the #13 Performance in the Sal in 2008 and the #14 Performance Score in the CAR in 2009, profiles as having the upside of, no more than, a back of the rotation starter. Like many Braves pitchers, Ortegano’s top skill is his control, as he is able to throw at will any of his 90Mph fastball, plus curve, and above average change. He also does a solid job of keeping the ball down in the zone. But at only 6’1”, 155lbs, as a 22yo, there are questions regarding his durability in a starting role. Ortegano, will have to continue disproving the doubters in AA, in 2010.

19) Jesus Sucre, C (2009 – Power 52; First Base Rate 41; Discipline 74; Speed 37)

Rarely do you find a guy with a .639 career OBP over five professional seasons make a top prospect list, but Sucre showed marked improvement in 2009, posting Top 20 Performance scores in both the SAL and CAR. The biggest positive, in addition to his improvement, is that Sucre will open the 2010 campaign as a 21yo—likely in AA. Defensively, he has all of the tools of a first rate backstop, including a plus-arm. It has been the offensive side of the ball where he has struggled. This has primarily been due to two factors: 1) An unwillingness to work deeper into the count, and 2) a tendency to try to pull everything when things go bad. Sucre made significant improvements last season, but still has a ways to go. Remember, offensive skills are often slower developing in Catcher prospects. The improvements will need to continue, but there is potential here.

20) David Hale, RHP –

We expected Hale to go around the 4th round on draft day, so we have to admit to being a bit surprised that the Braves tabbed him in round #2. A heady, athletic player, Hale’s best offering is a low- to mid-90s fastball. While his slider shows signs of eventually becoming a Major League caliber pitch, his change is very much a work-in-process. More importantly, his fastball, while possessing good velocity, has a tendency to come in fairly straight, and is a much more hittable offering than it should be. Control is also a problem at times. While the Braves are likely to continue to develop Hale as a starter, we see a back of the bullpen role a more likely destination. Look for Hale to open 2010 in full-season A-ball.

21) Chris Masters, LHP (2009 – Dominance 79; Stamina 74; HRrate 74; Control 75)

The Braves selected Masters in the 11th round this June, and even they had to be surprised by his Performance, which netted him the League’s #3 Performance Score. Although he has a low-90s fastball, his secondary offerings are really his bread and butter. Masters showed unexpectedly solid control last season, and a solid ability to pitch down in the zone. The downside is that at 6’0”, 230lbs, 22yo, Masters isn’t very athletic, nor does he portend much additional projection. Look for Masters to begin 2010 in full-season, A-ball.

22) Mycal Jones, SS (2009 – Power 59; First Base Rate 44; Discipline 53; Speed 79)

Although we had Jones rated around the #150 mark on draft day, the Braves took the speedy, athletic, Jones in the 4th round. Plus-plus speed is his primary skill, and he used it to swipe 19 bases over 270 PAs in his debut. He also possesses solid range and hands, and an average arm. Offensively, he could post average power numbers from the shortstop position, but he doesn’t make the kind of contact, or get on base as frequently as we would like, in order to be a true top of the order threat. The biggest negative that we see, is that Jones will play the bulk of 2010 as a 23yo—likely opening the year in Low-A. His bat is not advanced enough to move as rapidly as would be required to be a Major League regular by his 25th birthday—this is not a good sign for long-term upside. Because of this we remain skeptical on Jones.

23) Scott Diamond, LHP (2009 – Dominance 51; Stamina 72; HRrate 67; Control 50)

Diamond continues to get ‘dinged’ by the scouting community, because he was a non-drafted free agent, who signed in the late summer of 2007. Yet in 2008, he still managed to post the #9 Performance Score in the CAR and followed that up with the #12 score in the SOL in 2009. While Diamond doesn’t possess a true-out pitch, he possesses good pitchability, keeping the ball down in the zone with a 90MPH fastball, and at least average Curve and Change. While his upside isn’t especially high, he has now had success at AA, and the 23yo will open up 2010 in AAA, with a chance to see Atlanta at some point later this season.

24) Cole Rohrbough, LHP (2009 – Dominance 47; Stamina 67; HRrate 37; Control 41)

Although his 2009 season didn’t merit it, Rohrobough holds down this spot, because he entered the season with significant expectations, and we have yet to understand why he failed to pitch up to them. His stuff is too good to pitch this badly, and he has a track record of past success. With a low- to mid-90s fastball and a plus curve, Rohrbough should be seeing better results than the .280 Average against him in 2009. While his change is still in need of considerable work, only 22yo, his ceiling remains that of a #2/#3 starter. Hopefully he will figure it out in AA in 2010.

Grade C+ Prospects –

25) Cory Gearrin, RHP; 26) Cory Harrilchak, CF; 27) Michael Dunn, RP; 28) Tyler Stovall, LHP; 29) Willie Cabrera, LF; 30) Riann Spanjer-Furstenburg, 1B; 31) Brandon Hicks, SS; 32) Caleb Brewer, RHP; 33) Luis Valdez, RP; 34) Danillo Alvarez, RP; 35) Luis Sumoza, RF; 36) Thomas Berryhill, RHP; 37) Richard Sullivan, LHP; 38) Benino Pruneda, RP; 39) Jeff Lyman, RP.

Grade C Prospects –

Juan Abreu; Eric Campbell; Yoel Campusano; Paul Clemens; Kyle Cofield; Erik Cordier; Matthew Crim; Rudy Darrow; David Francis; Ty’Relle Harris; Diory Hernandez; Travis Jones; Stephen Marek; Cole Miles; Aaron Norcraft; Angelo Paulino; Cory Rasmus; Todd Redmond; Concepcion Rodriguez; Gerardo Rodriguez; Edison Sanchez; Jacob Thompson; Jonny Venters; Ryan Weber; Matt Young.

Feel free to post any questions and or comments. We will try to answer them in our weekly Mailbag segment.

You can find an explanation of our grades here Diamond Futures Annual Prospect Rankings Series and an explanation of our 2009 Performance Scores here Do-It-Yourself - Understanding Performance Evaluation. The Performance scores represent the player’s performance relative to the leagues that they played in during the 2009 season. For additional information on our rankings methodology, see our recent Mailbag article here This Week's Mailbag - Prospect Rankings Questions.

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