Atlanta Braves Top Ten Prospects for 2017

Reinhold Matay-USA TODAY Sports

The Atlanta Braves have universally been considered one of the top 3-5 minor league systems in baseball. Who would be their top prospects?

An Introduction

Our minor league top 10 series is coordinated by Benjamin Chase, one of our contributors at Call to the Pen.

He has pored over thousands of minor league games over the course of the year via along with speaking with a number of team and independent scouts. These lists are based out of those conversations.

Each system will have prospects from 10 to 1, and then finish with one newcomer to the system that is worth keeping an eye on that is not in the top 10 at this time.

Conversations are certainly encouraged in the comments section on each system as we go along!

the Braves could legitimately have more than 10 guys on industry top 100 lists

Braves System Review

The Atlanta Braves started a rebuilding project after the 2014 season, beginning with the firing with GM Frank Wren and hiring GM John Coppolella. Since then, the Braves have suffered through two rough seasons at the major league level, but they’ve leveraged their major league assets into many trades that have completely rebuilt their minor league system, a system that had drifted into the bottom 10 in the game after being the fuel behind the 15-year run the Braves had between 1991 and 2005.

Right now, as we look ahead to a December top 100, the Braves could legitimately have more than 10 guys on industry top 100 lists as they begin to filter out this offseason. I’ve started to hammer mine down, and right now there are 13 players from the Braves organization that are being considered. It’s rare that a team places more than 5-6 players on such a list, so for many in the industry to say that their respective sites are each considering double-digit prospects from the Braves organization gives an idea of just the level of talent in the system.

The talent isn’t just in elite-level guys, though. What has been impressive is that the Braves have acquired top-end players while also picking up the sort of guys who will fill out the bullpen, back of the rotation, and bench to help keep costs low at the major league level as the team begins to attempt to compete.

So while you may be tired of hearing about many of these names by the end of the offseason, I do think you will find at least one on this list that won’t be covered heavily elsewhere!

Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports

10. Rob Whalen, RHP

Birthdate: 1/31/94 (22 years old)
Level(s) Played in 2016: AA, AAA, MLB
Stats in 2016: 120 IP, 2.40 ERA, 1.19 WHIP, 8.87 BB%, 22.58 K%

We’ll start right off with the guy you likely won’t find on another top 10 list for the Braves this offseason. While guys like Austin Riley, Touki Toussaint, Patrick Weigel, and others could have an argument for this spot, I went with Whalen.

Whalen was acquired by the Braves in the summer of 2015 from the Mets along with John Gant for Juan Uribe and Kelly Johnson. Whalen only made a few appearances for the Braves’ high-A team before shutting down for the season in 2015 to have knee surgery.

Whalen is a guy who has a four-pitch mix, but the way he manipulates his pitches, it can appear as more like a 6-, 7-, or 8-pitch mix

After a rigorous recovery over the offseason, Whalen started his season at AA in 2016. His performance was excellent, earning a promotion to AAA, and even a promotion to the major leagues before his long offseason of rehab left his legs “feeling like Jell-O”. He was put on the DL to finish the year, but it was due to the fatigue of the continuous offseason of rehab and the most innings he’d ever thrown in a season, not an injury.

Whalen is a guy who has a four-pitch mix, but the way he manipulates his pitches, it can appear as more like a six-, seven-, or eight-pitch mix to the opposition in the course of a game. He is a very heady pitcher, often setting up a hitter for the next at bat with his approach in a previous one.

While he doesn’t have an upper-90s fastball or ankle-snapping curve, Whalen does throw his sinking fastball in the lower-90s consistently with tremendous sink that generates plenty of swings and weak contact.

He’s able to manipulate his curve in multiple ways to have a hard-breaking curve that mimics his slider, but with more front-side loop, and also a more traditional multiple-plane curve. Add in a hard slider with some slurve action to it and a change that he can manipulate to pair with his four-seam fastball when thrown up in the zone and with his two-seamer when down in the zone, and you can understand why hitters had a tough time with Whalen this season.

In talking with Whalen last offseason, he reported that he’d never been healthy as a pro due to these knee issues. Now that he’s fully healthy and able to use his tremendous mental makeup on the mound along with his wide blend of pitches, he could have a solid career in the middle/back-end of a rotation.

9. Mike Soroka, RHP

Birthdate: 8/4/97 (19 years old)
Level(s) Played in 2016: low-A
Stats in 2016: 143 IP, 3.02 ERA, 1.13 WHIP, 5.47 BB%, 21.37 K%

While Whalen won’t get much attention in national ranks, Soroka has already done so in the rankings that have been published, though interestingly, they have very similar profiles as pitchers.

Soroka is less a velocity and big-breaker pitcher as he is a location and pitch mix pitcher, attacking hitters low in the zone, keeping the ball in the ballpark to an astounding rate of only three home runs in his 177 minor league innings.

Soroka is less a velocity and big-breaker pitcher as he is a location and pitch mix pitcher

One thing that sticks out to me is the mental make up of Soroka, who turned 19 in the last month of his 2016 minor league season. A great example was in the playoffs with Rome. In his first start of the playoffs, he allowed 5 runs, but 4 of those runs were unearned as his defense let him down.

Many young pitchers in that same situation would turn to their “stuff” and attempt to strike out every hitter that came to the plate. Instead, Soroka stuck to his plan, coaxing weak contact out of hitters to allow his defense to get the outs needed for Soroka to get into the seventh inning in that start.

Soroka will likely not be a guy who is an “ace”, but he could be a very good #2/#3 pitcher with a very mature approach on the mound.

8. Ian Anderson, RHP

Birthdate: 5/2/98 (18 years old)
Level(s) Played in 2016: Rookie
Stats in 2016: 39 2/3 IP, 2.04 ERA, 1.13 WHIP, 7.64 BB%, 22.93 K%

Many of those who cover the draft closely (including myself) were surprised to hear Anderson’s name called at #3. I had been hearing about the Braves’ heavy interest in Anderson, but was certain it was at their pick at #40 or #44, not at #3!

Anderson was not able to get on the mound when much of the industry was out doing scouting and when many of the teams were doing their heaviest of scouting due to an oblique injury and an illness.

Once he got on the mound in May, he was incredibly impressive, and many times, it was only the Braves who were at his starts, and they were incredibly impressed by his three plus-level pitches.

(the Braves) were incredibly impressed by his three plus-level pitches

Anderson can touch upper 90s with his fastball with excellent movement, and he pairs that with a tremendous change up. The big difference from the summer of 2015 to what was seen in 2016 was that his curve went from an average offering to what many scouts considered his best pitch.

He’ll start the season at 18 years old, and there’s a good chance he starts the season at full-season Rome as an 18-year-old, which is a big sign of the Braves’ faith in his mental and physical make up.

7. Max Fried, LHP

Birthdate: 1/18/94 (22 years old)
Level(s) Played in 2016: low-A
Stats in 2016: 103 IP, 3.93 ERA, 1.30 WHIP, 11.06 BB%, 26.35 K%

Fried has been a guy on the national prospect radar for many years now, and it seems as if there’s a new awakening to just how good this guy truly is.

Acquired as part of the trade that sent Justin Upton to San Diego, the former #7 overall selection of the 2012 draft (the same draft that brought you Carlos Correa, Addison Russell, Corey Seager, and more!) was in the midst of recovering from Tommy John surgery with the Braves in 2015.

The Braves used Fried as the 5th starter in Rome’s rotation in 2016 to allow for extra time off as needed. He did start slowly for sure, but from June 1st on, Fried was dominant, with a 2.80 ERA, 1.15 WHIP, and a 19/72 BB/K ratio over 54 2/3 innings. That was before he made two dominant playoff starts, throwing 14 2/3 innings with a 4/24 BB/K ratio.

Fried features a fastball that can climb into the upper mid-90s, topping at 97 and sitting in the 91-94 range consistently with a curve that people write stories about.

Adam Wainwright once stated in an interview that coming back from Tommy John is a two-year process. In the first year, you get your velocity back. In the second year, you get your command back. With Fried, you began to see that in August and September as Fried was able to control the ball much better.

Fried features a fastball that can climb into the upper mid-90s, topping at 97 and sitting in the 91-94 range consistently with a curve that people write stories about. He also features a great slider for swing and miss affect.

He’ll likely be pushed over high-A to AA next year due to his age and the lost time from TJS. However, the way he was performing by the end of the season had many feeling he was more than ready, and he could be a guy who makes even this ranking look extremely weak next offseason.

6. Kevin Maitan, SS

Birthdate: 2/12/2000 (16 years old)
Level(s) Played in 2016: None
Stats in 2016: Did not play in 2016

One of the hardest prospects to place, Maitan may have the most talent of a player that has come through the international market since Miguel Sano. Some say since Miguel Cabrera.

He’s not played a moment of organized baseball yet, but he’ll be on most every top 10 you see this offseason, and his placement will be very difficult for most everyone that is putting those lists together, let alone the placement on the top 100, as he will make nearly every top 100 list without ever playing along.

Maitan is a switch-hitter with big time power and very good contact skills. He was already considered a long shot to stick at shortstop before folks really saw him at fall instructs in Florida, where he was roughly 6’4″ and about 200 pounds… at 16.

Maitan does have all the requisite skills to profile as an above-average third baseman

Maitan does have all the requisite skills to profile as an above-average third baseman with an above-average arm, very good instincts off the bat, and the sort of power-profile bat that you prefer from a corner position.

It will be interesting to see how long the Braves leave Maitan at shortstop or if they move him to third base quickly to help expedite his path to the big leagues. Currently, the Braves system, as deep as it is, doesn’t really have anyone blocking him at third base as Austin Riley really does not profile as a third baseman in the major leagues.

Maitan’s placement within the system will be interesting as well as the Braves are a team with only one GCL team and DSL team and no short-season A-ball team, so their huge influx of talent from the international market this season will need to be placed. Maitan will likely end up in either Danville or in GCL.

5. Ronald Acuna, OF

Birthdate: 12/18/97 (18 years old)
Level(s) Played in 2016: rookie, low-A
Stats in 2016: .312/.392/.429, 4 HR, 14 SB

As much attention as fellow teenager Victor Robles gets, many that saw both have been very outspoken that if Acuna had remained healthy for the entire season, he’d have surpassed Robles.

The Venezuela native was supposed to be in his first full season with Rome in 2016, but he injured his wrist in early May that kept him out until August.

While many see the power/speed splits of Acuna in his stat line and assume he’s a very speedy young player, in fact Acuna’s trademark is his incredible raw power. He puts on a show in batting practice, and his swings on balls that he drives are often not in the best position, yet he gets incredible drive on the ball.

Acuna’s trademark is his incredible raw power

Acuna has the instincts to play center field very well. I’ve heard comparisons on his instincts to a former Brave center fielder, Andruw Jones, and that’s about as high praise as you can get on outfield instincts as exists. His arm is above-average, though not on the level of “elite”, but certainly enough for center.

Acuna will turn 19 in December and play all of 2017 as a teenager, likely starting at the Braves’ new high-A affiliate in Florida. His exceptional skills will be on display in 2017, and he could be the guy on top of this list in 2017.

4. Kolby Allard, LHP

Birthdate: 8/13/97 (19 years old)
Level(s) Played in 2016: rookie, low-A
Stats in 2016: 87 2/3 IP, 3.18 ERA, 1.11 WHIP, 7.14 BB%, 27.14 K%

After back issues caused Allard to miss some time in his high school senior year before being drafted 14th overall in last June’s draft. After his back issues were resolved, the Braves were very careful with his pro workload, only allowing him to throw six innings in rookie ball.

Allard was going to be allowed to show if he could handle Rome by his performance in spring training and extended spring training. He did show he was healthy and ready to go, so he was sent up to Rome in early June, but the results weren’t pretty whatsoever, as he made three starts, totaling 12 innings, with a 8.25 ERA and 1.67 WHIP and a 4/12 BB/K ratio.

He was sent back to extended spring and then started the season with Danville when their season started. His time with Danville was impressive to say the least, as he put up a 1.32 ERA and 0.84 WHIP over 27 1/3 innings with a 5/33 BB/K ratio.

He was promoted to Rome, and it was a much different story. His command was better, and more importantly, he was working with his coaches and following their sequencing. He made eight regular season starts, allowing a 2.61 ERA and 1.12 WHIP while posting a 16/50 BB/K over 48 1/3 innings.

In the playoffs, Allard really showed his excellence, making two starts with 12 innings and not a single run allowed and a 1.00 WHIP, posting a 3/10 BB/K ratio.

Allard has a fastball that can touch mid-90s, an excellent change, and his best breaking pitch is a curve that gets plenty of swing and miss. He showed much, much better command and control of his pitches as the season wore on, and I’m sold on his ability to be a top-end guy.

Reinhold Matay-USA TODAY Sports

3. Sean Newcomb, LHP

Birthdate: 6/12/93 (23 years old)
Level(s) Played in 2016: AA
Stats in 2016: 140 IP, 3.86 ERA, 1.31 WHIP, 11.93 BB%, 25.55 K%

Newcomb was the prime prize from the Andrelton Simmons trade last offseason. He was a cold weather starter from Massachusetts that attended the University of Hartford in Connecticut. His arm was very lightly taxed when he was drafted in the first round of the 2014 draft.

The Angels handled Newcomb cautiously in 2014 and 2015, easing him to 136 innings in 2015. He finished in AA. Many were looking for Newcomb to make a move to AAA in 2016 or to at least make a big improvement in his control in 2016.

Those folks would see the results that Newcomb had in 2016 as a disappointment, but a closer look at what he was doing would show some impressive growth. Newcomb was making adjustments on the fly in his delivery in order to make it more repeatable. He was also working to attack the zone low with his fastball and change early, using his excellent breaking pitches to put away hitters.

Newcomb shifted his stance on the rubber in July, and it was obvious that he took time to adjust to this. He looked much different on the last start of the month, July 30th. His previous five starts in the month had 21 2/3 innings with a 7.48 ERA, 1.75 WHIP, and 18/21 BB/K. If you take out those five starts from the season line, Newcomb’s season stat line would be a 3.19 ERA and 1.23 WHIP with just barely short of a 10 K/9 rate. That sort of season would have people drooling.

Newcomb has a fastball that can reach mid-90s with ease. He throws a curve that makes hitters completely buckle. His pitch mix is such that he has absolute “ace” upside.

Newcomb will likely be seeing AAA Gwinnett to open 2017. His progress he made in 2016 in working over hitters will hopefully push him to the major leagues within the 2017 season.

Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

2. Ozzie Albies, IF

Birthdate: 1/7/97 (19 years old)
Level(s) Played in 2016: AA/AAA
Stats in 2016: .292/.358/.420, 6 HR, 30 SB

He played the entire season at 19 years old (and doesn’t turn 20 until January). Combined between AA and AAA, he hit .292/.358/.420 with 10 triples, six home runs, and 30 stolen bases, posting a 52/96 BB/K over 618 plate appearances, giving him a legit argument as the #1 prospect in the entire system before an unfortunate fractured elbow in the AA playoffs ended his season and cast just a hair of doubt on his future.

Albies showed this season the power that many have said was in his compact swing. He is only 5’9″ (if even that!) and built fairly slender, but he has an explosive swing that leads to plenty of power, but he just hadn’t produced a ton of balls over the fence before this season.

Albies did struggle upon his promotion in late-April to AAA Gwinnett, but once he moved to 2B with Gwinnett, his bat started to pick up there, as he finished out hitting .267/.350/.347 with 3 triples and 6 stolen bases in his last 25 games at AAA before moving back down to AA to play alongside Swanson.

Albies has an elite contact ability, tremendous running ability, and an incredible defensive range. The biggest concern for Albies would have been his size and how real his power he displayed in 2016 was… until his injury.

Now, we should see Albies sometime in spring training back on the field. Hopefully, he is able to get onto the field in time to compete for an opening day job with the big league club, but even if not, he shouldn’t take long to work his way up to the big leagues.

Brad Mills-USA TODAY Sports

1. Dansby Swanson, SS

Birthdate: 2/11/94 (22 years old)
Level(s) Played in 2016: high-A, AA, MLB
Stats in 2016: .275/.362/.424, 9 HR, 13 SB

Swanson’s hair is truly the #1 prospect here. Dansby’s on-field game is simply along for the ride!

Swanson has more than just the hair tool. He also is tremendous on the field leading the team. I heard about his leadership from many who compared him to Jeter for that reason, and I honestly passed it off as one of those flowery things that someone says. Then I watched Swanson take the ball from the pitcher and calm a struggling guy down so he could get out of an inning. I watched him yell out instructions as a ball came in from the outfield so everyone was in the position they should be in. He was the quintessential quarterback on the field.

Swanson isn’t just immeasurables, though. He has excellent patience at the plate, the ability to make solid contact, above-average power and speed, and an excellent defensive profile. Frankly, take the profile of Whalen on the mound and translate it to Swanson. He doesn’t have a single tool that is elite really, but his mental makeup makes all those above-average tools play up into an elite player.

Oh, and the hair. That lovely, glorious hair. I mean, just look at that picture!

Newcomer to Keep an Eye On: Yunior Severino, SS

Birthdate: 10/3/99 (17 years old)
Level(s) Played in 2016: None
Stats in 2016: Did not play in 2016

This spot had a lot of angles I could take. Do I choose one of the young arms taken in the draft in Joey Wentz, Kyle Muller, or Bryse Wilson? Perhaps one of the later round picks that turned in brilliant first seasons in Corbin Clouse or Devan Watts? Instead, I chose to highlight one of the large group of international signings of the Braves this year.

The Braves went over the spending limit for international prospects for the first time in their history, and they did it in a big way. Severino was the #2 rated player in that class and the #8 rated player in the entire international class by Baseball America.

Severino is 6’0″ and 170 pounds now, but he is noted for his big time power potential as he has very quick wrists and generates excellent leg power for such a young hitter. He does struggle at times to keep his wrists and hips in sync, but when they both snap at the same time, the ball explodes off of his bat.

Severino has the soft hands and good movements to stay in the infield, but his arm is on the average end, and he’s an average runner, which is reflected in his range at short. He does have very good instincts off the bat, which allows that limited range to play up, so second base would likely be a position he could still play with very good defense.

Overall, the offensive profile for Severino and video on him remind me a ton of Robinson Cano. That would be one heck of a signing for the Braves to have in the system.

Agree? Disagree? Someone you have a question about from the system? Leave a comment down below!

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