|Original Published Date: Oct. 25, 2012|
I wouldn’t characterize the Atlanta Braves minor league system as elite, but more intriguing. At the top of the list is the enigma known as Julio Teheran. Once considered one of the top pitching prospects in the entire minors, Teheran’s stock has dropped considerably as he struggled mightily in 2012 and again, pitched poorly in a spot start in the Majors. As much as Teheran has stumbled, 2011 fourth round draft pick, J.R. Graham has surged with a physical comp and pitchability that reminds me of Kris Medlen.
I was very aggressive with former University of Connecticut shortstop Nick Ahmed, as I ranked him third on the list. I really like the approach, speed and the possibility for future power for a guy who should be able to stick at short. While I have Christian Bethancourt at the number four spot, I could have easily had him seventh or eighth as the offensive side of his game is not progressing as many would have hoped.
At the end of the list is two young Dominican pitchers that are quite different in their stuff and physicality, but both are intriguing in their own right. Right-hand pitcher Mauricio Cabrera can pump up his fastball close to 100 MPH but is missing a breaking pitch to round out his arsenal. On the other end, is 6-foot lefty teenager Luis Merejo, who demonstrated great pitchability in his first year of professional baseball with good stuff despite his size. Merejo has all the makings of a “pop-up” guy if he starts the year in full season ball.
|2013 Age: 22||BP: Columbia|
|Ht: 6-2 Weight: 175||Bats: Right Throws: Right||ETA: 2011|
Shelby Miller and Julio Tehran were the top two right-handed pitching prospects entering 2012, and while Miller recovered from his first half implosion, Teheran never did and now everyone is trying to figure out what happened. Whether you want to look at Tehran’s Triple-A stat line of a 5.08 ERA and a 6.66 K/9 or his Major League line in his brief 6.1 innings, it was a bad year.
Let’s take a look at the positives for the 21 year-old right-hander. First, he will enter the 2013 season with 514.2 innings in professional ball after just turning 22 years old. The second positive is that he has not lost any velocity on his fastball and he’s still sitting 92-94 and hitting higher with the ability to command it to both sides of the plate. Finally, his change-up is a true out-pitch with a lot of deception and fade. In his brief 26 innings in the majors, he’s thrown 80 change-ups with a 28% WHIFF rate.
However, you don’t regress from a 2.55 ERA in 2011 to a 5.08 ERA unless something has gone terribly wrong. Let’s go back to Teheran’s fastball. While the velocity is plus, the pitch is not a plus offering. When Teheran moves his energy towards home plate, his back leg is collapsing and the downward plane that he gets from 6-foot-2 frame disappears. This causes all of his pitches, particularly his fastball to come in straight and be very hittable. This partially explains the 18 home runs that he gave up in 131.0 innings in Triple-A and the four home runs in his 26 innings in the majors.
While the fastball is the biggest problem with Teheran’s arsenal, it’s the lack of a breaking pitch that might ultimately limit his upside. The Braves have yet to give up on Teheran throwing a curve but the results just are not there. The pitch has a lot of horizontal movement but the vertical drop is very ordinary and therefore is easy for right-handed batters to get a read. It might be time for the Braves to encourage him to throw more sliders, which is tougher on the arm, but slightly easier to throw.
If Julio Teheran were 24 years-old, I’d be very worried, but he just turns 22 in January and there is a lot of time left to develop him as a major league pitcher. However, given the state of his arsenal, you can no longer project him as a top-of-the-rotation starter with a mid-rotation ceiling or dare I say, middle reliever, looking more realistic.
Fantasy Impact: I traded Julio Teheran in one of my Dynasty Leagues in May of 2012 when his value was still high. He still has a lot of cache and I am advising all fantasy owners to move Teheran if at all possible. For new leagues, I would wait until later in the draft to acquire him.
|2013 Age: 23||BP: California|
|Ht: 6-0 Weight: 185||Bats: Right Throws: Right||ETA: 2013-14|
How high am I on J.R. Graham? I almost put him ahead of Julio Teheran as the top prospect in the Atlanta Braves organization.
While Graham was well thought of going into the 2011 draft, teams shied away from him primarily based on his lack of physical projection. At 6-foot and 185 pounds, teams worry about the lack of downward plane that can lead to a pitcher being homer-prone. However, as Kris Medlen has taught us in 2012, with movement, a plus change-up, the ability to spot a fastball, and great pitchability, size is not everything. Did I just comp Graham to Medlen?
Graham’s stuff is really good with a four-seamer that sits 91-93 and can touch higher and a two-seamer that induces a ton of ground balls to the tune of 4.15 G/F (ground ball to fly ball ratio). He also throws an above average slider that really bores in on lefties and has right-handed batters chasing. Graham does not throw a lot of change-ups, which is concerning as he will need to develop that pitch in order to avoid negative platoon splits.
While he only pitched 45.1 innings in Double-A, I could easily see Graham starting the season in Triple-A with a taste of the major leagues in 2013. He has good stuff, great command, and is an elite ground ball pitcher backed up by a very good infield. There’s a lot to like here.
Fantasy Impact: If I’m in a draft-and-hold league in 2013, I’m drafting Graham as one of my last picks as he could contribute in Atlanta for the upcoming season. For Dynasty Leagues drafts, I’m targeting Graham for a latter round pick and if you pick him before Teheran, you might take some heat in the draft room, but let me know – I’ll be impressed and totally ok with the selection!
|2013 Age: 23||BP: Massachusetts|
|Ht:6-3 Weight: 205||Bats: Right Throws: Right||ETA: 2015|
Drafted in the second round of the 2011 draft, Nick Ahmed had a really nice year in the Carolina League showing not only good contact but a nice approach and the ability to take a walk.
You worry when you see a shortstop that is 6-foot-3 and over 200 pounds as to whether they will eventually need to move off the position. However, Ahmed is very athletic and shows very good lateral movement with a plus arm. The lateral movement comes from plus speed that he also demonstrated by leading the league with 40 stolen bases while being caught only 10 times.
The hit tool is also promising with the ability to work a count and then drive balls to the gap. From a scouting standpoint, he’s wrist are strong with a fairly compact swing, so you could see some of the 36 doubles he hit in 2012, turning into home runs down the road.
Fantasy Impact: There’s actually a lot to like with Ahmed from a fantasy standpoint and I would draft him in a Dynasty League as a top 150 prospect. He’s currently blocked at shortstop by Anderlton Simmons, but he could be an interesting trade option for the Braves down the road.
|2013 Age: 21||BP: Panama|
|Ht:6-2 Weight: 220||Bats: Right Throws: Right||ETA: 2014|
Defense has been Christian Bethancourt’s calling card and will be his ultimate path to the majors, but his bat will determine if he is a starter or backup. The way that he is progressing, a backup catcher seems more realistic.
Bethancourt has great footwork which enables him to have crazy pop times to second base which resulted in him throwing out nearly 40% of base runners in 2012. Both pitchers and coaches speak highly of his ability to call a good game and control the pace of a pitcher. Many times the defense is ahead of the offense for catchers and that is clearly the case with Bethancourt. While he makes plenty of contact (83.2%), his approach at the plate is extremely aggressive and as he moves to the higher levels of the minors, pitchers will take advantage. In 268 at-bats in Double-A, he walked 11 times, which was a slight improvement from 2011 where he walked three times in 166 at-bats in High-A.
While a broken hand limited his at-bats in Double-A, he will start 2013 back in Double-A at 21 years-old, still very young for the league. Even though his is young, people within the baseball industry are getting frustrated with Bethancourt as the results are not matching the potential. Many times, this points to immaturity and make-up issues that will either fade with age or limit his upside to a backup catcher.
Fantasy Impact: I was recommending Bethancourt last year but have put a hold status on him in all but the deepest of Dynasty Leagues. The ceiling is there but until he can modify his approach, he should be avoided.
|2013 Age: 22||BP: California|
|Ht: 6-2 Weight: 190||Bats: Left Throws: Left||ETA: 2013|
In the incredibly rich draft of 2011, particularly for pitching, the Atlanta Braves pulled a “Minnesota Twins pick” and went for safety over ceiling and drafted left-handed pitcher, Sean Gilmartin.
Gilmartin’s stuff is average with his fastball sitting in the upper 80’s with a good change and slider. His pitching mechanics are very sound with nice balance, posture, and a very easy delivery. While the mechanics should allow him to have a consistent release point and thus, good command and control, he doesn’t have swing-and-miss stuff and he will therefore be a pitch-to-contact pitcher.
If this brings up Tommy Milone images with an upside of Paul Maholm, you might not be far off, with some caveats. Maholm surprised a lot of people in 2012 with an excellent year, but it was really a progression over the past two years when he added a cutter to his arsenal. That new pitch, which he threw a lot in 2012, along with a better change-up is fueling his growth. Gilmartin could follow a similar path – add pitches to the arsenal, learn to change speed to keep batters off balance, and spot your pitches.
Fantasy Impact: Gilmartin will likely be an up and down pitcher early in his career but will settle in as a back of the rotation starter. He’ll be a classic pitcher that you’ll stream on your fantasy teams to take advantage of situational matchups.
|2013 Age: 18||BP: Georgia|
|Ht: 6-2 Weight: 195||Bats: Left Throws: Left||ETA: 2016|
After taking a safe college pitcher in 2011, the Braves switched gears and selected high school right-handed pitcher, Luke Sims with the 21st pick in the 2012 draft. While Sims fastball sits in the low 90’s and can touch higher, his fastball is pretty ordinary as it doesn’t have a lot of movement. He also likes to pitch up in the zone and this could lead to a lot of home runs down the road.
Sims best pitch is a power curve that can miss bats. It’s the pitch that got him drafted in the first round and if he can develop a feel for a change-up, he’ll have three above average pitches that will give him a ceiling of a mid-rotation starter.
Fantasy Impact: Sims can be ignored in all but the deepest of Dynasty Leagues. However, I have him ranked as the sixth prospect for a reason, so don’t completely ignore him, as there is talent.
Venezuelan shortstops typically get labeled as light hitting but slick fielding. While I would put Jose Peraza defensive ability as solid average, he does have a nice hitting profile that starts with a nice quick compact swing and great contactability. In 206 at-bats across two Rookie levels, Peraza struck out 25 times. He also grades out as a 70 runner on the 20-80 scouting scale. One scout I spoke with was convinced that Peraza’s bat would play in the majors and that power would eventually come.
I received a couple of good reports about 17 year-old Dominican left-handed pitcher, Luis Merejo. While I don’t like the size at 6-foot and 175 pounds, nor the fastball velocity that is sitting in the low 90’s, the arm action is really good and the fastball plays up due to good late arm-side run. While his curveball is inconsistent, scouts believe it could grow into a plus offering. Finally, 17 year-old lefties who have a 53K/9BB strikeout-to-walk ratio in 41 innings get my attention.
Salcedo has plus-plus raw power that he is starting to tap into as was evident by his 17 home runs in the Carolina League. The swing is long, so the 72% contact rate he showed in 2012 will probably get worse as he moves to Double-A next year. From a fantasy standpoint, Salcedo also has above average speed and was able to steal 23 bases, although he was caught 11 times.
Mauricio Cabrera was one of the big bonus babies signed out of the Dominican Republic in 2010. Cabrera has a big arm with clean action that can get his fastball to reach the upper 90’s with movement. His change-up has also flashed plus but his curve is poor and it will be interesting to see if the Braves have him switch to a slider in order to progress him as a starter. If not, he could profile as a late inning reliever in the future.