After major roster turnover and numerous trades, 15 different players made their MLB debuts with the Atlanta Braves in 2015. All signs point to that number taking a dive next season as the 2015 rookies look to establish themselves as mainstays with the big-league club.
There are still questions marks on the Braves roster that could be answered with prospects in the farm system, though. While a majority of the top prospects in the organization are still in minor leagues’ lower levels and have a few years until they’re ready for the majors, there are a couple lower-tier players that could make the jump, along with a few premier prospects that could make their highly anticipated debuts in Atlanta.
Here are five prospects who have a good opportunity to make their first appearance with the Braves in 2016:
Just a couple months ago, Sims making the parent club in 2016 would’ve looked like a long shot.
The former first-round pick injured his hip in the Carolina Mudcats’ bus crash in early May 2015 and was placed on the disabled list until late June. Sims came back and struggled in his first few starts, but he ended the season on an absolute tear with Double-A Mississippi.
Over his final five starts, Sims allowed just three earned runs over 30 1/3 innings pitched while striking out 33 batters and walking just 12. That hot stretch has now extended into the Arizona Fall League where Sims has allowed just one run and five hits over his past nine innings thrown with eight strikeouts and two walks. Sims’ fastball has been clocked as high as 98 miles per hour in Arizona while consistently sitting in the mid-90s.
Once considered the top prospect in the Braves organization and a top-100 prospect in all of baseball, Sims is starting to show flashes of the talent that made him a popular choice as a future top-of-the-rotation arm. If the Braves are in need of a starter to fill a rotation spot at some point during 2016 due to injury or production, Sims could be the name called if he keeps building on his recent success.
He may not be a high-profile option or someone who is on many prospect radars, but Hunter has quietly put together a few highly productive seasons in the minors.
With Triple-A Gwinnett last season, Hunter posted a .283/.331/.420 slash line and an impressive 117 weighted runs created plus (wRC+). His 12 home runs topped Gwinnett’s leaderboard and his 77 RBIs led the organization across all minor league affiliates.
Hunter was once the Padres top prospect in his early minor-league years due to a bat that projected really well among scouts. That bat seems to have found its groove in the Braves’ system, and though he’s now 27 years old, Hunter could be a nice option as a bench bat and fourth outfielder at some point in 2016.
As the Braves’ first-round draft pick in 2013, it’s not ideal that Hursh’s potential might already be capped as a reliever, but the 24-year old hard-throwing righty struggled throughout the 2015 season as a starter. The Braves made the decision to move Hursh to Triple-A later in the year despite his underwhelming performance in Double-A, and he was used exclusively out of the bullpen in Gwinnett. Based off that move, the front office may be looking at him as a potential middle relief option down the road.
Hursh does have the makeup to be a successful relief pitcher: He throws hard and is seen as a ground ball pitcher while not displaying the topline control that you want out of a starter.
While he could get the opportunity to be a Triple-A starter in the early stretches of 2016, Hursh will likely be an option as a midseason call up if the Braves need relief help at any point.
Smith possesses everything the Braves could possibly want in an everyday leadoff hitter. His speed is elite, he hits for contact and he gets on base at a high rate. All of those tools were showcased in 2015 and he subsequently catapulted up through the franchise’s prospect rankings.
After he tore up Double-A pitching in the first half of the year, Smith was called up to Triple-A to see if he could handle better pitching. Despite a slow start for Gwinnett, he finished the season strong and provided evidence that he could even jump to the MLB club as soon as 2016.
Combining his stints with Mississippi and Gwinnett, the 22-year-old center fielder posted a .306/.373/.386 slash line with 57 stolen bases, 17 doubles and eight triples. He stole 34 bags in just 69 games in Triple-A.
With his speed, Smith’s range is viewed as elite, which projects him as a good defensive center fielder at the next level.
Smith may be given a chance as early as spring training to compete for an outfield spot in 2016.
Though Jenkins isn’t looked at as the highest-upside starting pitcher in the Braves’ farm system, the 23-year old right-hander acquired in the Jason Heyward trade appears to be the furthest along among pitching prospects that have yet to make their debut for the Braves.
Jenkins started the 2015 season with Double-A Mississippi and, after a very successful stint, finished the campaign in Triple-A.
Combining his numbers at both levels, Jenkins compiled a 3.19 ERA and 1.36 WHIP over 138 1/3 innings pitched. That performance was strong enough to earn him Minor League Pitcher of the Year honors in the Braves’ system.
His stuff isn’t electric, but Jenkins has relied on weak contact in his career to get batters out, and it hasn’t failed him to this point. At 6-foot-4, Jenkins uses a high leg kick and overhead release to get a heavy, sinking action on his pitches.
With the back end of the Braves’ rotation being a question mark and completely open to competition at this point, Jenkins is the safest bet to be the starter that debuts for Atlanta in 2016. While he has a great opportunity to win the job outright in spring training, he should at least be in line as one of the first guys the Braves would look at for a spot start next season.