Apr 4, 2016; Atlanta, GA, USA; The teams lineup and the flag is pulled across the outfield prior to the game between the Washington Nationals and the Atlanta Braves at Turner Field. Mandatory Credit: Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports
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The Atlanta Braves have an incredible farm system, and Benjamin Chase has taken up Tomahawk Take’s minor league coverage of that system. This is his top 100 prospects in the Atlanta Braves system!
This is my second undertaking of an Atlanta Braves Top 100 Prospects list.
I will be honest – it was much tougher this season. Last year, I did consider just under 150 names that I considered as worthy of being on the top 100 list, but the qualifications were basically “did not look bad statistically” or “heard at least one positive thing”.
This year I knew was going to be much deeper, so I upped my personal requirements even for consideration, and I had 173 names on the initial list that I made to start sorting out from.
First, the methodology. This list is not a list of the guys who have the most talent from 1-100 as that wouldn’t tell us what we really want to know. This is an evaluation of who has the talent, the mental makeup, and the work ethic to turn their talent into a major league baseball player.
The reality is that of these 100 players, the Braves would be doing exceptionally well if 25 of them played more than a brief stint with the major league club. That part does need to be kept in mind as we continue through this list.
That does not mean that someone who is a #98 on this list can’t have a major league career. What I look at is the level of impact a player will have IF he does make the major leagues. A guy who will be an impact hitter or not make it at all will likely get rated higher than a guy who won’t make it as a starter or a late-inning reliever, but he has a good shot to be a major league middle reliever.
All players who have not exceeded rookie requirements are eligible for this list, even if they’ve played in the major leagues already.
I will have a post on Friday after the entire list is revealed that presents the list in a pure list format with no evaluation on each player for reference in the future. These posts will have more in-depth evaluation of each player in the list.
I also intend to update this list sometime before spring training begins with any off season acquisitions that the Braves make, so I won’t be updating the list as each trade/rule V pick/waiver claim is made, it will all be at that time.
With that said, let’s take a look at this post’s focus, #41-50 on the list!
Seymour came to the Braves from the Marlins in the trade for Hunter Cervenka this summer. The Bahamas native was originally drafted by the Marlins in the 7th round of the 2014 draft.
He has incredible speed, and he flashed that immediately, stealing 11 bases in just 112 plate appearances in his time with GCL in 2014. In 2015, the Marlins pushed Seymour to short-season New York-Penn League, where he hit .273/.338/.349 with 29 stolen bases.
In 2016, Seymour spent the entire season in the South Atlantic League between the Marlins’ affiliate in Greensboro and Braves’ affiliate in Rome. He totaled a line of .257/.296/.303 with 43 stolen bases and a 26/118 BB/K over 537 plate appearances.
Seymour was an outfielder that was moved to the infield, and while he has the range on the infield and the arm strength, he struggles frequently with his glove work and his accuracy of his throws.
At the plate, the most kind review of Seymour I heard was from a scout who compared him to a young Jose Reyes – very raw, little view of the strike zone, completely relying on his speed on offense and defense.
The difference to me is that Reyes was up in the majors at 19, and at 22, Reyes had the power in his swing to hit 7 major league home runs and 17 triples. Seymour will be 22 next year, and needless to say, that sort of power is not there at all right now.
Seymour played second base next to Alejandro Salazar once the latter was healthy with Rome this year, and the two made a very solid defensive pairing, so that could be a future spot for Seymour on the defensive spectrum if he doesn’t end up moving back out to the outfield to take advantage of his speed.
His speed will absolutely be his carrying tool, and it’s such a loud tool that it’s hard to put him any lower than this on the list, but he will need to start getting a more consistent bat path soon as he is 22 next year. The Braves will likely assign him to high-A in 2017.
49. Abrahan Gutierrez, C
The first of many catchers in this particular post, so get ready for a lot of talk about backstops!
Gutierrez was the top-rated catcher by many in the international free agent class for the 2016 July 2nd class for multiple years. He ended up being supplanted on that list by David Garcia around the point of the actual signing period, but was still considered a top-20 player in the entire class.
Gutierrez is not going to be a guy who will likely end up being a defensive stalwart as he is more of a thicker body frame, but he’s also 16 and could do a lot of growing yet.
One of the biggest red flags for me and why Gutierrez is ranked below others in the class in spite of receiving the second-highest bonus of the Braves’ extensively loaded IFA class is that his scouting reports were so mixed as the process came to a close before signing.
Gutierrez played extremely well in first exposure at 13-14 years old, but many reports felt that he had stalled in his development, not building power to his swing with the added body strength and not seeing added arm strength as he grew, either.
He will certainly be given every chance to show doubters wrong by the Braves, but with a deep group of excellent defensive catchers ahead of him, it’s likely the Braves take their time with Gutierrez, placing him in GCL in 2017 and keeping him there unless he incredibly produces.
I had a very fun conversation with a guy who works a lot in the Appalachian League, and we discussed the Danville team. When I brought up Wilson, his response was immediate:
“Best tools I’ve seen in the last few years come through the league. Likely the worst execution of those tools.”
He also didn’t say it directly, but many talked about a poor work ethic displayed by Wilson this year. Eventually, Wilson’s year was ended due to suspension, though the reasoning for the suspension wasn’t announced; just that it was an organizational suspension, not a league one, so it wasn’t for drugs or PEDs.
While the Braves are known for doing good by the players by keeping organizational suspension reasons in house, it does paint a rough picture for a very, very talented player. Wilson won’t be 19 until March, so he’s still young, but he’s got an excellent opportunity to be an elite player if he can just get his head into it.
On the season, Wilson was having plenty of struggles before the suspension. He hit .192/.276/.315 with 2 home runs and 6 stolen bases in 38 games after winning the GCL home run crown in 2015.
Wilson has elite power/speed combination with plus tools in both aspects. His swing is such that he won’t ever make excellent contact as he’s very leveraged, but he does take a walk fairly well.
Defensively, he can use his speed well to play in center field, but his plus arm plays best in right field due to average instincts in center.
It would not surprise anyone to see Wilson repeat Danville in 2017. Regardless of where he starts, hopefully he can keep his head in the game and focused so we can see that talent play itself out.
In 2015, I was even one who was amazed at how frequently I was writing that Ventura was stealing yet another base for the DSL squad. That created nearly a mythology about Ventura that led many to overrate him as a prospect coming into the season.
Ventura was signed out of the Dominican Republic in the winter before 2015 as a guy who was under-scouted by many. He then broke out with a .329/.421/.394 line with 55 stolen bases and a 35/27 BB/K ratio over 27 plate appearances. Those numbers got a lot of people excited.
The 5’9, 165-pound switch-hitter came state-side this summer to play for GCL, and his contact skills and pitch recognition were still excellent, but there was more exposed in his offensive game, as he hit .284/.358/.351 with 15 steals and 25/31 BB/K over 227 plate appearances.
Ventura’s biggest offensive concern will always be his build. He’s not just short, he’s built short and narrow, and his current swing certainly doesn’t lend itself to power. He’ll get triples when a ball happens into the gap, but he’ll live on slap singles and beating out the ball in the dirt.
Ventura was noted for picking up 14 assists in the outfield last season in DSL. It was assumed his arm was so excellent that he would carry forward. It’s not that his arm is powerful, but he is very accurate with an above-average arm, so it can play up. His reads on balls, however, are rough, which led to him playing right field for GCL rather than center, in spite of his natural speed.
Ventura is a true 80 runner, but what was seen this year was that he certainly took advantage of young DSL catchers in 2015. Against better defensive catchers in 2016, his success rate on the base paths went from 86% in 2015 to 71% in 2016.
One positive from the season for sure was that in spite of exposing some other offensive work that needs to be done, Ventura has shown an excellent pitch recognition. His walk rate was 12.8% in 2015 and was still 11% in 2016. He also struck out just 9.9% in 2015 and kept that to a reasonable 13.7%.
While he may have taken a bit of a step back, Ventura is still a guy who will be 19 on opening day of 2017, so moving up to Danville will still be a natural progression for him, and he will have plenty of time to keep growing as a player.
Odom is an Alabama native that the Braves drafted in the 13th round in 2013 out of Huntingdon College in Montgomery, Alabama. He played for both rookie league teams in 2013 as the Braves were trying to push Odom to fill a need at catcher within the system.
Odom was aggressively moved to high-A in 2014, and he showed that his bat was simply not ready for that level of a jump. Repeating the level in 2015, he did add 30 points to his OPS, but still did not have a passable bat.
His defense, on the other hand, started to really impress, and the Braves finished the season by sending Odom to the Arizona Fall League.
While his time in the AFL wasn’t pretty, Odom did some altering to his swing in his time there, and the results paid off once he returned for a third turn at high-A with Carolina. He hit .292/.349/.500 with 8 home runs in just 52 games before being promoted to AA Mississippi.
With Mississippi, he was put into a three-way time share, and he seemed to struggle to keep a consistent swing with Mississippi in my view. One day, he’d have that same swing from early season, the next day, it’d look as if he was back to previous years with a much more looped swing.
Odom’s success at the plate will determine his future role, but he should have a career as a catcher moving forward. He does not possess a rocket arm, but he does very well framing and blocking pitches and works well with his pitchers from all accounts.
Odom may end up spending 2017 at AA/AAA or could be bumped up to AAA from the get-go if the team is looking to get more playing time for Kade Scivicque and Tanner Murphy. He is also eligible for rule 5, and I doubt the team protects him for the MLB portion, but they could advance him to AAA as part of protecting him from the AAA portion of the rule 5.
Castro is a guy who actually started as a catcher, so he fits in this group of predominantly catchers (though that isn’t why I ranked him here!).
Castro was signed out of the Dominican Republic as a catcher, and he outgrew that position quickly. He moved full-time to first base in 2015, and he’s done well to lean down his body and get in excellent shape.
Castro was a guy who had an excellent arm defensively at catcher, and he has shown much more athleticism recently, so there is an outside shot that the team could try him at an outfield corner if his bat is so good they want to get him into the lineup.
Coming into 2016, one of the biggest concerns with Castro was whether his excellent contact bat could ever leverage the power that certainly was in his strong body. Castro made a swing adjustment, and the result was immediate.
Castro started the season late as he lingered at extended spring, still working on his swing with no place to play at Rome until an injury to Juan Yepez opened up 1B for him. He made his debut on May 23rd, and by July 1st, he had 10 home runs already!
Castro was swinging at an all-or-nothing rate coming into August, but to his credit, he mixed his power with average in August/September as he hit .330/.354/.571/.925 with 5 home runs in 31 games. He took the season to learn how to combine contact with power in his new swing, but once he did, he was as good or better than any hitter in Rome (and, yes, that does include Austin Riley).
The biggest knock on Castro still is that while he can make excellent contact, he is not patient whatsoever. He finds the best pitch early and attacks that pitch. His walk rate of 4% was right on his career average, however with his new swing, he did experience an increase in his strikeout rate, though it was still a respectable 23.6%, lower than most “power hitter” types.
He will need to improve his patience at the plate as he continues moving forward, but his raw hitting skills may be as strong as anyone in the system.
Castro will be slated for high-A in 2017, but he may end up on a roster higher than that over the off-season due to being eligible for the rule 5 draft. He won’t be a guy to worry about for the MLB portion, but the Braves will definitely want to protect him from the AA portion, and perhaps even the AAA portion.
Cumberland was the Braves’ pick with the competitive balance pick that they acquired from the Orioles this season. He was a switch-hitting catcher from Cal-Berkeley with power to dream on.
The Braves assigned Cumberland to Danville, and he got off to a very rough start. He did right the ship, but his early struggles brought his numbers down to .216/.317/.340 with 3 home runs and a 14/49 BB/K over 189 plate appearances.
The more important thing for the Braves was how Cumberland did behind the plate than at it, as they knew there’d be some adjustment from college to pros at the plate. Cumberland was known as a bat-first guy in college, however, and the Braves wanted to see if he could handle catcher long-term.
The results were mixed, to say the least. His arm received grades as high as “fringe-plus” to “fringe-average” from guys I talked to. His blocking skills were universally rated as very raw. His framing skills were reviewed well nearly across the board.
The biggest thing with arm ratings are that they often involve both his actual arm strength and his footwork behind the plate in getting to throw to bases. Those who rated his arm lower on the scale all cited his footwork as the reasoning. Cumberland does possess a strong arm that could eventually move out to the outfield or third base if he isn’t able to be a catcher.
Leaving the backstop, however, would drastically reduce Cumberland’s value, however, and the Braves are likely going to be slow to make that decision. It is likely Cumberland moves to Rome, and the team would love him to force the issue for promotion to high-A.
The Marlins drafted Mader in the 3rd round in 2014 out of Chipola College in Florida. He was part of the trade for Hunter Cervenka this summer with the Braves, and the Braves moved him directly to AA Mississippi.
Though he’d never pitched above high-A, Mader did very well with the Mississippi team, making 5 regular season starts, posting a 2.40 ERA, 1.10 WHIP, and a 6/26 BB/K ratio over 30 innings.
Mader has a three-pitch mix that he uses well. He adds a second look to his curve that really lets him have the look of a four-pitch mix. He tops out at 96 that stays low in the zone.
He’s not necessarily a sinker ball pitcher, but he uses location well in the low part of the zone in order to create weak pop-ups and getting batters to hit the top or bottom of the ball rather than square the middle of it.
Mader has a bit of a hard follow-through that he puts his follow-through leg into the ground hard, which does put him in good fielding position, but when he lands that leg early, he can short-change his follow-through, leading to some control issues and hanging balls up in the zone.
Mader was a very smart find by the scouting team. He may be a guy that starts at AA again in 2017, but he should move quickly as a back-end starter that can absorb quite a few innings without hurting the team.
Mejia was part of the 2013 international signing class, not quite 16 on the signing date. He was not a “big money” signing when the Braves signed him out of Nicaragua, but he was well-known by the team.
He came out and showed very well his first season, starting still as a 16 year-old. In 2014, he made 14 starts across DSL and GCL, throwing 74 innings with a 2.07 ERA, 0.95 WHIP, and a 15/60 BB/K ratio.
Mejia struggled in 2015 with injuries, but when he was healthy, he didn’t show anywhere near as well as he had in 2014, and the Braves had him repeat GCL in 2016.
While he did not blow anyone away, he did post a 3.06 ERA and 1.39 WHIP over 35 1/3 innings with a 10/29 BB/K ratio.
Mejia features a fastball that peaks in the mid-90s, but he mixes a number of pitches well, featuring excellent control. Mejia was placed in the bullpen, and that seemed to make things worse for him. He pushed for better velocity and limited his pitch selection, and that actually made him worse.
Mejia is still just 19 years old on opening day 2017. He may be sent to Danville to start or Rome to relieve, though I do believe his pitch mix is much better as a starter. He was once a pitcher who drew heavy Julio Teheran comparisons, and that mix will be best utilized in the rotation to allow him to develop.
Mar 15, 2015; Lake Buena Vista, FL, USA; Atlanta Braves catcher Tanner Murphy (80) throws a pitch during a spring training baseball game at Champion Stadium. The Toronto Blue Jays beat the Atlanta Braves 10-5. Mandatory Credit: Reinhold Matay-USA TODAY Sports
My bias may be showing here, but Murphy is one of my personal cheese ball prospects in the Atlanta Braves’ system. I have been a fan of his since he was drafted from Malden High School (Missouri) in 2013.
All along, the question with Murphy has been what can Murphy be offensively. The defensive skills are absolutely there with a strong arm, excellent framing skills, and good movement behind the plate.
He ended up with a number of passed balls in 2016, but in viewing a few of those games, Murphy may have been the victim of a fairly wild Carolina staff in 2016. He had multiple passed balls assigned to him that I thought could have been attributed as wild pitches just as easily.
The questions with the bat were certainly strong at the midway point of the season as the 21 year-old Murphy was hitting .133/.208/.222 in mid-June before he started hitting. From that point on in the season, he hit .288/.412/.390 to close out the year.
Murphy does swing a powerful bat, but he can be a touch too selective in the pitches he was attacking, and it seemed the shift in his approach was predicated in driving pitches for singles and doubles rather than just trying to knock out every pitch that he liked. That allowed Murphy to stay within his swing and also to handle more pitches.
His eye is truly a solid above-average tool, even though his swing is long, so he’ll never have a good contact grade. On the season, he walked 12.6% of the time he came to the plate and struck out just 16.5% of the time. Those are excellent numbers for a guy with a swing lauded for its power.
Murphy is still under the radar with many Braves fans, but truly he may be one of the few guys that could end up a long-term starter for the team at the position that exists in the system currently. He will likely start 2017 with AA Mississippi, probably paired with Kade Scivicque, who he worked well with after his acquisition before Scivicque joined Mississippi for their playoff run.