Atlanta Braves

Original Published Date: November 6, 2015

The Braves have done a very good job in upgrading a farm system that was regressing under the Frank Wren regime.  They have added high upside pitchers in Touki Toussaint, Tyrell Jenkins, and Max Fried through trades as well as drafting one of the best arms in the 2015 draft in Kolby Allard.  That’s a definite upgrade from last year when Lucas Sims (still on our list), Mauricio Cabrera, and Jason Hursch were your top pitching prospects.

While the Braves have added pitching depth, there isn’t a ton of depth on the offensive side.  Yes, there’s Ozzie Albies who is a Top 50 prospect in all of baseball, but he’s blocked at shortstop by Simmons and doesn’t look as attractive in center fielder or at the keystone.  There’s also Braxton Davidson, the Braves 2014 first round pick, who has plus raw power but is likely a second division outfielder.

In analyzing their moves, including their major league talent acquisition, the Braves are following the Mets strategy of building a solid pitching staff and then will likely add positional players through free agency.  It makes sense as in general, it’s far easier as well as less risky to sign an overpriced 30-year-old outfielder on the free agent market than a pitcher.

1. Ozzie Albies (SS)

2016 Age: 19 Ceiling: 1st Div
Ht: 5-9 Weight: 150 Bats: Both Throws: Right ETA: 2018
2015 A 394 64 0 37 29 .310 .368 85.8 8.2 .358

With the much needed overhaul of the Braves farm system, one of the few holdouts from the Frank Wren regime is Ozzie Albies; who just happens to sit on the top of the Braves list.

Albies had his breakout in 2014, posting an impressive .429 on-base percentage with 15 stolen bases in 57 games in the GCL and Appy League.   In fact, he was our 2016 emerging prospect where we wrote the following:  If you’re looking for a kid that nobody has heard of for your Dynasty League, Ozhaino Albies fits the bill.  After making it on our Top 50 mid-season prospect list, Albies is starting to become a household name in prospect circles.

He continued to play very well in his full season assignment in Rome slashing .312/.370/.406 in 98 games before breaking his hand in early August.  He made excellent contact (86%) while showing a very good understanding of the strike zone that led to 36 walks in 439 plate appearances.  He did all of this at the ripe age of 18-years-old, making him the youngest player in the Sally League.

Scouting Report:  We quote the age of players relative to their level quite often in our capsules.  Why?  Two reasons:  First, younger players not only have a longer runway for development but also are usually more open to coaching than older players.  There are fewer habits to be broken as their mind-muscle repetition has not been established.  Secondly and more importantly, they get to play against older and more experienced competition.  Pitchers have better control of their arsenal and fielders get to more balls.  In order to be successful, the player has to accelerate his learning curve and that only helps him long-term.

As the youngest player in the Appy League, Albies has done more than hold his own; he has excelled.  He’s blessed with great hand-eye-coordination and barrel control with a chance for a plus hit tool at the highest level.  Currently there is no power and based on his size and swing mechanics, it’s difficult to put anything higher than a future 20-grade power assessment on him.

Albies does have double-plus speed and that showed up on the base paths where he stole 29 of 37 bases.  His instincts are good but will improve as he learns to read pitchers better.

Defensively, he has the athleticism and arm strength to stay at shortstop but assuming he stays in the Atlanta organization, is blocked at the major league level with arguably the best defensive shortstop in the game.  Fortunately, it’s a decision that is three years away.

Fantasy Impact:  Albies is a Top 50 prospect in the game but from a fantasy standpoint, there’s two red flags.  One is the lack of power; and therefore his fantasy value will come strictly from his ability to hit and steal bases.  While there is 40 stolen base upside with a .300 batting average, speed fades; and as fantasy owners have learned from Elvis Andrus, when it does, it’s not good.  Secondly, if the Braves move him to center field or second base, his value will take a hit.  While we love Albies, Dynasty League owners might want to consider selling high as many baseball publications will over value him, providing an interesting market for the 18-year-older in Dynasty Leagues.

2. Touki Toussaint (RHP)

2016 Age: 20 Ceiling: #2 starter
Ht: 6-3 Weight: 185 Bats: Right Throws: Right ETA: 2017-18
Year Class IP H ER HR BB/9 K/9 ERA WHIP
2015 A 87.2 71 47 10 4.93 6.88 4.82 1.36

In a head scratcher of a move, the Arizona Diamondbacks seemingly gave up on 19-year-old Touki Toussaint, their 2014 first round pick (number 16th overall) and traded him to the Braves for what amounted to six million dollars.  While every team evaluates players differently, how you can give up on an athletic teenager who is 6-foot-3 and can hit the upper 90’s with his fastball, is well…a head scratcher.

Toussaint’s season can be best characterized as inconsistent.  At times, he showed the stuff that led the Diamondbacks to hand him a $2.7 million dollar signing bonus.  However, overall, he’s had trouble controlling the arsenal.  In 17 starts, he walked 48, or nearly five per nine.  He also struck out nearly seven per nine while only giving up 71 hits in 87.2 innings pitched.

Scouting Report:  You never give up on young athletic pitchers who can throw hard, particularly one who really hasn’t pitched much.  Toussaint is currently an arm strength guy who really doesn’t know where the ball is going.  The delivery is still not yet fluid and he struggles with his release point, but all the ingredients are there for him to figure it out.

The arsenal is extremely promising with a fastball that sits 93 to 96 MPH and can touch higher and a curve ball with tremendous 12 to 6 breaking action.   If he can learn to command both pitches, he’s a front line starter, even without the feel for a change-up.  Even if he never commands the arsenal well enough to be a starting pitcher, the stuff will play up in short burst, making him an effective weapon out of the bullpen.

Fantasy Impact:  Let me repeat, you never give up on a young athletic pitcher who can hit the upper 90’s.  Sometimes they don’t make it, but if they do, the results can be very good.  Toussaint is a lottery ticket with enough upside that he should make our Top 100 list.

3. Hector Olivera (3B)

2016 Age: 31 Ceiling: Solid Reg
Ht: 6-2 Weight: 220 Bats: Right Throws: Right ETA: 2015
2015 R,A, AA,AAA 125 18 2 10 0 .272 .326 88.0 6.7 .296

I feel like I’m cheating.  How can a 30-year-old, actually he’ll be 31 in April, still be considered a prospect?  Well, when that player is signed out of Cuba for 6-years and $62 million dollars and still has under 130 big league at-bats, you make it.  So, welcome to the Top 10 list Hector Olivera.

Olivera was signed by the Dodgers for his age 30 through age 35 years for essentially $10 million a year.  It was an odd signing by the Dodgers as they already had plenty of depth in their infield.  But players are assets and the Dodgers moved Olivera to the Braves in a complicated three-way deadline deal with Miami.  Olivera finally made his big league debut on September 1st and assuming he stays healthy, should be the starting third baseman for the 2016 campaign.

Staying healthy has been the biggest obstacle for Olivera as he spent considerable time on the DL when working himself into shape after the defection.   His stat line in the minor leagues as well as his limited exposure in the majors did not produce any significant stat lines, but Olivera can do a little bit of everything on the ball field.

Scouting Report:  At 6-foot-2 and 220 pounds, Olivera is a big but very athletic player.  While I’ve never seen him live, he might be a little lighter than his listed weight, particularly after working himself into shape.  He has a solid hit tool that combines plus bat speed with great hand-eye coordination.  The swing is more level but he’s strong enough, and a good enough hitter to launch 12 to 18 home runs annually.  He’s no longer an above-average runner but still has enough speed with good instincts on the base paths to steal a handful of bases per year.

What Olivera should be able to do is hit.  In Cuba, he had a 93% contact rate and always walked more than he struck out.  If some of that can translate into the big leagues, he’ll be a solid number two hitter for the Braves with plenty of opportunities to score runs.

Fantasy Impact:  Olivera should be owned in all Dynasty Leagues.  The upside for the next couple of years is 15 to 18 home runs, 80 runs scored with a .280 to .300 batting average.  That’s an above-average fantasy player, particularly in a roto-format.  However, the production will come at third base and with the emergence of Bryant, Machado, Arenado, etc…, third base has become very deep.  If you’re looking for a comp, how about Brett Lawrie.

4. Max Fried (LHP)

2016 Age: 22 Ceiling: #2 starter
Ht: 6-4 Weight: 185 Bats: Left Throws: Left ETA: 2018
Year Class IP H ER HR BB/9 K/9 ERA WHIP
2015 DNP

Max Fried and Lucas Giolito have two things in common.  They both pitched and graduated from the famed Harvard-Westlake HS in Studio City California in 2012 and now both have had Tommy John Surgery.  Let’s hope in April, they add a third commonality – a successful return from Tommy John Surgery.

The Braves hope so as well as he was the key return in the Justin Upton trade.  Actually, given what happened with the Padres this year, anything they get from Fried will put the win on Braves side.

Scouting Report:  When healthy, Fried has all the tools to be a top-of-the-rotation starter.   His arsenal starts with a sinking fastball that sits 91 to 92 MPH.  Given how much movement he gets on the pitch, it’s a plus offering even though it only sits in the low 90’s.  His money pitch is his curve ball.  It’s a classic 12 to 6 pitch that has excellent velocity separation with his fastball; usually thrown in the mid 70’s.  It’s good enough to get swings and misses from both right-handed and left-handed batters.  His changeup is also a very good pitch with many people believing it will become a plus pitch the more he throws it.

Not only is his arsenal terrific, his pitching mechanics show a lot of promise.  As with most young pitchers, they are far from perfect, but his posture and balance project above-average.  The arm speed in general is good but you can definitely see it speed up on his fastball vs. his secondary pitches.  While this works with his nasty curve, he’ll need to disguise his changeup more in order for it to truly become a plus offering.

Fantasy Impact:  It’s been a tough blow for Fried owners as his time table to the majors has been pushed back by two-years.  Now you lose Petco Park and add the uncertainty of what the Braves new ballpark will bring.  At best, he’s three years away from contributing to your fantasy team, but it’s more likely four.  You just have to be patient and hope he comes back healthy and as good as we thought before the injury.

5. Kolby Allard (RHP)

2016 Age: 18 Ceiling: #2/#3 starter
Ht: 6-1 Weight: 175 Bats: Left Throws: Left ETA: 2018-19
Year Class IP H ER HR BB/9 K/9 ERA WHIP
2015 R 6.0 1 0 0 0.00 18.0 0.00 0.17

The Braves were pleased when high school left-hander Kolby Allard fell to them with the 14th overall pick in the 2015 first year player draft.  While Allard was one of the best prep arms in the entire draft, he missed his senior year with repetitive back problems that required extensive rest to heal.   The Braves believed he would fully recover and paid him a healthy $3.0 million dollar signing bonus.

In his first taste of professional ball, Allard did indeed look healthy and was lights out.  In three starts of only two innings a piece, he struck out 12, walked nobody while giving up one hit.  Granted, it was six innings, but the Braves had to be pleased.

Scouting Report:  Despite Allard being only 6-feet-1 and 175 pounds, he has a plus fastball that sits 91 to 93 MPH, touching higher when he needs something extra.  His signature pitch though will be his power curve that has excellent shape and depth and assuming he can throw it for strikes, could be a double-plus future offering.   He also shows a feel for a change-up, but threw it infrequently as an amateur.

Allard is also a gifted athletic and that shows up in his delivery.  While it’s far from picture-perfect as he doesn’t always get his trailing leg through the delivery, he has good extension and balance using a traditional three-quarter delivery.  The arm action is clean with the ability to repeat his delivery.  It’s a solid base and points to a plus future control of his arsenal.

Fantasy Impact:  Young pitchers like Allard are hard to draft on your fantasy team.  Despite his polish and potential plus arsenal, he’s at least three years away from even being considered for a promotion to the major leagues and another year or two from that to helping your fantasy team in a meaningful way.  However, if you have the room, you should roster him as the upside is very intriguing.  So much so, he might just sneak into our Top 100.

6. Mallex Smith (OF)

2016 Age: 23 Ceiling: Solid Reg
Ht: 5-9 Weight: 170 Bats: Left Throws: Right ETA: 2016
2015 AA,AAA 484 84 2 35 57 .306 .373 82.4 9.3 .365

Some people read our site to learn about players who could impact their home town team in the future while others read our site for their Fantasy Team.  Mallex Smith will be one of those players who will be a better fantasy player than a real-life player.

Smith was traded to the Braves as part of the Justin Upton haul during the off season.  He continued to do what he’s done since being drafted in the fifth round of the 2012 first year player draft – get on-base and then wreak havoc by stealing bases at a rapid rate.  In 126 games across Double and Triple-A, he had a .373 on-base percentage, stealing 57 bases in 70 attempts.

Scouting Report:  Smith has blazing speed…I’m mean really blazing speed.  I clocked him last year in the Arizona Fall League at 3.74 seconds to first and 3.58 on a bunt attempt.    The speed shows up when going to first, stealing bases and in the outfield.  It’s a weapon and he uses quite well.  The swing is made for beating out base hits as he slaps at the ball and is out of the box.  He doesn’t try to loft the ball but instead, uses his speed to get on-base.  I do worry about him handling inside velocity and whether he is strong enough to get his hands inside the ball to shoot the ball to the left side of the infield.  If he can, he’s going to be a very effective leadoff batter.  If he can’t, he’s a fifth outfielder.

Fantasy Impact:  Smith should see playing time in Atlanta next year and is a must own in all fantasy leagues.  His ultimate ceiling could be a 170 at-bat fifth outfielder, but even in that capacity, he could still steal 20 plus bases.  If he’s adds more strength and becomes the Braves full time center fielder, he could steal 50 bases annually.

7. Lucas Sims (RHP)

2016 Age: 22 Ceiling: #3 starter
Ht: 6-2 Weight: 225 Bats: Right Throws: Right ETA: 2017
Year Class IP H ER HR BB/9 K/9 ERA WHIP
2015 R,A+,AA 92.2 75 43 3 5.24 9.71 4.37 1.39

At one point, Lucas Sims was the top prospect in the Braves organization.  That is no longer the case, showing an improving Braves system but also the lack of development by Sims.  He’s got great stuff and can strikeout players with the best pitchers in the minor leagues, but his control has gone backwards and has really struggled to throw consistent strikes this year.  That said, he’s athletic and only 21-years-old, so there is still a ton of development time left.

Scouting Report:  At 6-foot-2 and 225 pounds, Sims is solidly built.  He has a power arsenal with his fastball sitting 91 to 94 MPH (T95), a low 80’s slurve that is more slider than curve and a feel for a change-up.  While I would like to see the Braves move him to more of a pure slider, his current breaking pitch does get plenty of swings and misses.  The change-up though has become a much better pitch and is part of the reason for the spike in strikeouts in 2015.

He’s a good athlete with a solid delivery although I would like to see better extension.  The balance is fine but he doesn’t always repeat his delivery and can get out of sort.  That’s part of the reason for his increase in walks this year.  However, I do like the athleticism and he’s got good stuff, so there’s a good chance he sorts out his problems going forward.

Fantasy Impact:  Sims has been owned in Dynasty Leagues since he was drafted three years ago.  Prospect fatigue has definitely set in as he’s still two years away from making an impact in Fantasy.  That said, he’s got size, a live arm, and the basis for good pitching mechanics.  He should be owned in all Dynasty Leagues with less than 150 minor league slots.

8. Tyrell Jenkins (RHP)

2016 Age: 23 Ceiling: #3 starter
Ht: 6-4 Weight: 180 Bats: Right Throws: Right ETA: 2016
Year Class IP H ER HR BB/9 K/9 ERA WHIP
2015 AA,AAA 138.1 127 49 7 3.97 5.73 3.19 1.36

At 6-foot-4 and 180 pounds, Tyrell Jenkins has the athletic projectable body that teams crave.  The Braves are no exception and when starting their makeover during the winter, they acquired Jenkins as part of the Jason Heyward trade to the St. Louis Cardinals.

Finally healthy, Jenkins pitched well while setting a high water mark of 138.1 innings across Double and Triple-A.  He kept the ball down in the zone and induced a ton of ground balls but just didn’t strikeout anyone.  Plus, he’s still struggling to control his arsenal and walked nearly four per nine.  While he’s 23 and in Triple-A, there’s still work left to complete before he can become an effective big league pitcher.

Scouting Report:  I saw Jenkins last year in the Arizona Fall League and came away impressed.  He looks the part on the mound with easy and clean mechanics.  There is a little bit of spine tilt in the delivery which can help with his plane but also makes controlling his arsenal a challenge.  His fastball was sitting 91 to 93 MPH while topping out at 94 with nice arm side run.  His primary secondary pitch was a nice change-up that had solid depth and deception.  His breaking pitch was all over the place.  He threw a couple of slow curve balls and then harder slurves that batters didn’t have trouble picking up.

While the athleticism is there with nice pitching mechanics, the arsenal needs work as does his control.  Plus, he could still add a tick to his velocity as he fills out.  The upside is a mid-rotation starter but he’s still a couple of years away from any significant time in Atlanta.

Fantasy Impact:  Dynasty owners have been dreaming on Jenkins for a while now but unfortunately, he’s still not ready.  He should be owned in all leagues with 300 minor leaguer rostered but owners need to remain patient.

9. Braxton Davidson (OF)

2016 Age: 20 Ceiling: 2nd Div
Ht: 6-2 Weight: 210 Bats: Left Throws: Left ETA: 2018
2015 A 401 51 10 45 1 .242 .381 66.3 17.0 .337

Taken in the first round (pick 32) of the 2014 first year player draft, Braxton Davidson had a solid year playing for Rome in the South Atlantic League.  In 124 games, he posted a slash line of .242/.381/.374 with 10 home runs.  While he showed a great understanding of the strike zone by walking 84 times, he also struck out 135 times for a 27% strikeout rate.

Scouting Report:  At 6-foot-2 and 210 pounds, Braxton is a strong kid with plus raw power.  The power has yet to show up in games but if you’re lucky enough to catch batting practice, it’s definitely there.  The power is generated primarily through leverage and just sheer power, but with that comes length in his swing and strikeouts.   However, with his batting eye, his on-base percentage should be 80 points higher than his batting average.

He’s a below average runner, which will not help him in right field, but with a plus arm, he could eventually grade out as an average defender.   The overall profile is a second division outfielder with plus power potential.

Fantasy Impact:  If you squint hard enough, you can see a Josh Willingham type of performer in Davidson.  In his prime, Willingham was good source of cheap power, but it came with a low batting average, batting sixth or seventh in a lineup.   It’s a classic second division starter but he has power potential and therefore should be owned in all leagues with 300 minor league slots.

10. Ricardo Sanchez (LHP)

2016 Age: 19 Ceiling: #3 starter
Ht: 5-11 Weight: 170 Bats: Left Throws: Left ETA: 2018-19
Year Class IP H ER HR BB/9 K/9 ERA WHIP
2015 A 39.2 37 24 3 4.76 7.03 5.45 1.46

In a little trade that went unnoticed by most observes, the Braves traded third baseman Kyle Kubitza to the Angels for hard throwing right-hander Ricardo Sanchez last winter.  Ricardo stuff is raw but he throws hard and is only 18-years-old with a ton of upside.  While his stat line of a 5.45 ERA with 31 strikeouts and 21 walks in 39.2 innings was pedestrian, he was also the youngest pitcher in the Sally League, before Red Sox Phenom , Anderson Espinoza arrived in late August.

Scouting Report:  At 5-foot-11 and 170 pounds, Sanchez does not have a power pitcher’s body but nonetheless throws very hard.   He can run his fastball up to 95 MPH when he goes all out but in general his fastball sits 90 to 91 MPH.  His secondary pitches consist of a solid 12 to 6 curve ball and a workable change-up.  Both show a lot of promise and once he learns to control his arsenal, should generate a lot of swings and misses.

Fantasy Impact:  While there is a ton of upside in Sanchez, he’s four years away from seeing the big leagues.  He should only be owned in the deepest of Dynasty Leagues.

2016 Emerging Prospect

Austin Riley (3B)

Taken in the supplemental first round of the 2015 draft, Austin Riley split time between the GCL and Appy League and showed why the Braves were smart to give him a $1.6 million dollar signing bonus.  In 60 games, he posted a .933 OPS with 12 home runs and a 10% walk rate.  His swing can get long and there will likely be a lot of strikeouts, but hopefully he can learn to work with that limitation like another similar Mississippian has done, Hunter Renfroe.


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