A Look At the Atlanta Braves Waves Of Minor League Players
The Atlanta Braves have set up their minor league system in seeming waves of talent. How are those waves broken down?
When the Atlanta Braves went about starting a rebuild, their deals made it obvious that they weren’t looking for a quick fix nor a long-term one-off solution. The Braves’ goal has been all along to build up a system that produces “waves” (a phrase first heard in John Coppolella’s interview with Jonah Keri) of prospects.
In my recent monthly all questions answered, I had a Tomahawk Take reader bring forward something that I’ve been putting together in my brain for a while – what exactly do those waves look like right now? So I thought I’d sit down and put them all together in a (somewhat) organized fashion!
This wave is characterized by players who were expected to contribute in 2016-2018. They’re either just at the major league level now or will be getting there very soon.
Obviously, the leaders in the this wave are the up-the-middle pairing of Dansby Swanson and Ozzie Albies. The unlikely duo in personality and age match up extremely well on the field and in the lineup, and they should be a joy in Atlanta for years to come once Albies works his way into the Atlanta lineup sometime in 2017.
Other bats would include Rio Ruiz, the third baseman originally acquired in the trade with the Astros that sent away Evan Gattis, who should compete for at least a platoon role in Atlanta in the spring and will certainly work his way into the 2018 picture if not the 2017 lineup. Dustin Peterson caught the eye of a lot of people who were unaware of his 2015 play before the bus crash at Carolina with his tremendous play in Mississippi, and he could offer an outfield bat that shows up at least in a small way in 2017 with more of an eye to 2018.
Behind the plate, the Braves saw a breakthrough in Joseph Odom‘s bat in high-A in 2016, and he’ll likely see AAA in 2017 with an eye to contributing in 2018. The Braves have a number of other players who will likely be set for more of a bench role, like infielders Dylan Moore and Johan Camargo and outfielder Mel Rojas, Jr., if they can crack the big league roster at all.
The first wave of pitching is certainly deep and talented. At the major league level already, we’ve seen Mike Foltynewicz and Mauricio Cabrera have success in 2016. Both are expected to have significant roles in 2017. Matt Wisler and Aaron Blair are expected to be considered for a rotation spot if they aren’t used in a “blockbuster” style trade.
Currently on the 40-man roster are a number of young arms that have shown to be extremely high-end, like former first-round selection Jason Hursh, former Rule 5 selection Daniel Winkler, and big-armed Jose Ramirez and Luke Jackson. Akeel Morris was also acquired in trade and put on the 40-man, though he might need more work on his control to find his way to Atlanta, especially since a similar guy with his profile in rule 5 pick Armando Rivero is already in the fold. Finally, the Braves have a number of young relievers on the 40-man who are injury-recovery types that could produce big for the team, like Winkler, Jesse Biddle, and Jacob Lindgren.
Down on the farm, but still on the 40-man would be Lucas Sims and Max Fried. While Max Fried is certain to be a starter, he will likely be later on in 2018 to make an appearance in the big leagues. Sims will be an interesting case as he has a world of talent, but he simply struggles with repeating his mechanics, especially over the length of a start. He could be bound for the bullpen, and 2017 could be that determining year for him, so he could find his way to Atlanta as a fireballing reliever in 2018 if not as a starter.
Not on the 40-man yet are some still intriguing arms that should have a chance to impact by the end of 2018, headlined by lefty Sean Newcomb, the big piece acquired in the Andrelton Simmons trade. Joining him by the end of 2018 could be Patrick Weigel. Recent acquisitions Michael Mader and Tyler Pike are both control/command lefties that will straddle the line of this group and the next.
There are a number of big-armed relievers that could be forcing their way to Atlanta, led by A.J. Minter, the power-throwing lefty from the 2015 draft. Stephen Janas and Bradley Roney will open with Gwinnett and had good success there in 2016. Evan Phillips made a solid impression in the Arizona Fall League in 2017, showing excellent stuff, but abnormal struggles with control.
This next wave is the group that will likely get late season call ups in 2018, but most likely won’t be expected to make major contributions until 2019-2020, guys who will likely be playing in high-A and AA in 2017. In their rebuild efforts since taking over the front office in 2014, the Hart/Coppy combo and the scouting department under them has gone hard after young arms in the draft and young bats in the international market, which tends to mean that the bats you sign in a summer will be in a wave behind the arms you draft that same summer.
Probably the most exciting bat in that grouping will be Travis Demeritte, though right now it’s as much for his defense as his bat. Demeritte has plenty of questions about his contact ability, but his defense after moving full-time to 2B with the Braves was incredible, drawing some of the highest ratings I’ve ever seen to a guy at second.
There are some other intriguing bats that will be in this grouping, however, though right now they profile more as average starters/above-average bench player types.
Joey Meneses is a guy who showed up in tremendous physical shape this season and made a very solid transition to the outfield where his big arm (he pitches for Team Mexico in WBC games) played well in right field. He’s more of a doubles hitter than a guy who profiles to hit 20-25 home runs, but that sort of hitter can certainly have some value.
In the Mississippi outfield this year should be a pair of guys who have a definite future as 4th outfielders due to their defense, but could be more. Connor Lien has tremendous defensive ability and if he can get his plate discipline where it needs to be, there’s a lot of Ender Inciarte in his game, if even another level of power on top of that. Keith Curcio has shown the ability to handle 2B as well as all three outfield positions with solid defense as well as excellent base running and contact skills. He’s likely a prototype 4th outfielder, but that’s a needed role for any team.
Of the Rome team that was so special in 2016, most likely the only bat you’ll see make a move into this grouping is one that also fits a lot of what Lien and Curcio provide, but seemingly yet to an even higher level, Ray-Patrick Didder. There are already legends among national scouts about Didder’s defense the way people talk about Andrelton’s defense at short.
Tanner Murphy and Jonathan Morales are the two catchers that should work their way into this tier, and they’re both the guys in my eyes who should establish as the top catching prospect in the next season. Murphy finished strong offensively and has always had an elite defensive reputation. Morales made huge defensive strides in 2016 to add to a burgeoning offensive profile. Either or both could be part of this group and provide stability behind the plate for the team.
The pitching is once again where things are deep on the second wave, allowing for plenty of fall off, a typical issue in pitching. Already mentioned before, but guys like Weigel, Mader, and Pike straddle the line with the first and second waves.
Many missed his second half improvement on a bad Carolina squad, but Matt Withrow made big strides in his mechanics that allowed him to really do some big things. He may not have a lot of the elite upside of other starters, but he strikes me as a James Shields type that could lead a rotation and eat up a ton of quality innings if he maxes out.
The bullpen crew with the second wave should be deep as well. Acquired from the Dodgers last summer, both Caleb Dirks and Philip Pfeifer could be solid relief arms in Atlanta. Kyle Kinman has continually produced from his small frame, though he’s struggled to avoid the injury bug.
Chad Sobotka made the move to the bullpen, and his sinker/slider combo worked very well in that role in 2016. He could move even faster now that he’s more accustomed to the role.
The Braves brought in a number of college arms in 2015 that were considered questionable to relieve or start, and while Withrow/Weigel have stayed on the starter path, Ryan Lawlor and Josh Graham moved to the bullpen in 2016 with some levels of success and could move quickly in that role.
The Braves also saw Aussie import Jon Kennedy really show well in his first season with the team. I just put up a scouting report on him as well for more info.
The next grouping is likely 2020-2021 for arrival, playing in low-A and high-A in 2017. This will be a significant wave that really will have two parts.
Much of the first part of this wave is the group folks saw dominate with the Rome team in 2016, which should excite plenty!
On the hitting side, this wave will certainly be led by Ronald Acuna, who could certainly push himself beyond even this time line. Acuna’s swing generates a ridiculous amount of sound off the bat, and while his path isn’t that of a guy who will likely hit 40 homers, he should pound balls around the field and likely see 25-30 homers at peak.
Other Rome hitters like third baseman Austin Riley, first baseman Juan Yepez (maybe transitioning back to third?), middle infielder Anfernee Seymour, and outfielders Jared James, Leudys Baez, and Justin Ellison are all guys with solid upsides that will need to develop over the next few years, but they certainly are guys to keep an eye on.
Of course, there is the pairing of enigmas that are Alex Jackson and Braxton Davidson. I see a lot of similarities in their swings and issues at the plate currently, but while Braxton has worked hard to make himself a solid outfielder, Jackson is going to try things out behind the plate. That could be a very interesting proposition.
Speaking of behind the plate, Lucas Herbert will be in this grouping, if he can show he can hit. Brett Cumberland should be in this group as well. I personally believe both will be passed in this grouping by William Contreras, who should be in Danville in 2017. He’s shown plenty behind the plate and at it already as a teenager.
Of course, again you have the depth of arms that will make up this tier of guys. Mike Soroka, Touki Toussaint, Luiz Gohara, Kolby Allard, Ricardo Sanchez, and guys like Jeremy Walker, Jhon Martinez, and others that have started as well. The depth in starters that should come in the first half of this wave is currently incredible and should lead to a ton of minor league success for this group as they climb to the big leagues.
Their bullpen should be nothing to scoff at either, with arms like big lefty Chase Johnson-Mullins, 2016 draftees Corbin Clouse and Devan Watts, and big righty Matt Custred to finish out games for them. Lefty Drew Harrington will likely work as a long man, but should have some big value in that role. Jacob Webb is a guy who came back from TJS and blew folks away in Danville in 2016 that could move very quickly in a relief role.
The second half of this wave will be guys essentially filling in the gaps behind the Rome guys who do fall off as they climb the system.
You’ll see Cristian Pache definitely as the clubhouse leader of the offensive movement here, with a personal comparison to Johnny Damon when he was with the Royals, though with a cannon of an arm as well.
Working alongside him will be bats like infielder Derian Cruz, his 2015 IFA signing mate, outfielder Randy Ventura, outfielder Isranel Wilson, and some exciting hitters from the 2016 draft like Ramon Osuna, Alex Lee, Griffin Benson, and Ryan O’Malley, who showed they could really mash the ball at times.
Shean Michel could be an interesting guy to keep an eye on as a sort of Ray-Patrick Didder-lite sort of player with elite defense and base running. I’m also a big fan of the player Anthony Concepcion is, even if he may end up profiling as more of a bench player or platoon guy.
The pitching will be led by the trio of 2016 draft picks in Ian Anderson, Joey Wentz, and Kyle Muller, but there are plenty of other arms that should be working in this group as well, like Jaret Hellinger, Bryse Wilson, Alan Rangel, Dilmer Mejia, Luis Mora (unless he ends up in the bullpen), Luis Gamez, and hopefully healthy returns from Anthony Guardado, Zach Becherer, and Matt Rowland.
The bullpen has a number of options, two of them with the same name as Brandon S. White and Brandon T. White were drafted back-to-back by the Braves. There’s also Cameron Stanton, towering lefty Adam McCreery, Jasseel De La Cruz, Tucker Davidson, and a host of other arms that only scratched the surface so far (not to mention the conversions of starters to relievers.
The Braves put a start to their next wave with a big international signing period that started last July. Most of those players will be doing very well to see the major leagues within 5 seasons, so considering them the next wave is not uncommon, though right now, we don’t really know the pitchers who will be paired with them yet.
Of course, most know about the “super stud” that’s making the top prospect lists already in Kevin Maitan. While I certainly could see him moving quickly, I’m putting him in this group for realistic purposes.
Going down the list of BA’s top 50, the Braves also signed the #8 guy in shortstop Yunior Severino, who I believe will likely move to second and be a very solid hitter in the Robinson Cano mold.
Ranked #15 on the BA list was catcher Abrahan Gutierrez, who the Braves signed for a big bonus based on where he was at roughly age 14. Some scouts believed he “let himself go” a bit in the meantime, but with professional coaching, hopefully he can get back on the right track.
BA’s #16 guy was Livan Soto, who is a sure shortstop among the Braves IFA signings, and he has a ton of baseball maturity and IQ already that should allow him to advance quickly as a sort of quarterback on the field with very good contact skills but not a ton else offensively.
#32 was Yenci Pena. Pena was one of the youngest members of the signing class, and he elicited a wide variety of opinions, with some believing he could be the best non-Maitan hitter in the entire class. Pena went through a significant growth spurt between MLB clubs scouting him and signing, so he showed up to fall instructs notably bigger and stronger than the Braves were even prepared for, which led to a ton of power, but it does lead to an issue of where he plays on the diamond.
Off the BA board, one guy I received a lot of note on that wasn’t ranked was infielder Braulio Vazquez. While he is likely a second baseman long-term, he has tremendous contact ability and speed that scouts were incredibly impressed by, saying the Braves may have stolen him for the low signing bonus they paid relative to the “big money” guys they picked up.
While pitchers usually take more time to develop and end up really being in a “next wave” if they’re signed with a group of hitters, the Braves did sign two notable starters, #26 on BA’s list Yefri Del Rosario and #41 Juan Contreras. Both have big arms, with Contreras having more of the big fastball and needing to find other things, and Del Rosario having a solid three-pitch but size/health concerns due to his frame.
I hope you enjoyed this look into the system and are as excited about the building of the system as I am!