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Atlanta Braves

Original Published Date: November 7, 2014

After a difficult summer, Atlanta Braves President John Scherholtz terminated General Manager Frank Wren on September 22nd. During his press conference, Scherholtz kept reiterating that he wanted to go back “to the Braves way of doing things”. I’m assuming that meant back to player development, smart free agent signings, and ultimately winning. But I guess that’s every organizations mission.

Over the past several years, the Braves have developed players and in fact, they have one of the youngest teams in the major leagues. What they haven’t done well is sign good free agents; see B.J. Upton, Dan Uggla and the loss of Brian McCann. These decisions have left the Braves without a defensive catcher and a poor overall on-base percentage. In fact, their .306 on-base percentage ranked 23rd in the majors.

The good news is that their problems are solvable and their minor league system could play a major role.

With nearly 200 at-bats in the upper minors, Jose Peraza could see Atlanta sometime in 2015. With speed and very good on-base skills, he could be the leadoff hitter that the Braves have needed since Michael Bourn left for free agency in 2012. Christian Betancourt is another player who could see plenty of time in Atlanta in 2015 and will present a significant upgrade at catching. Kyle Wren, son of former GM Frank Wren is also moving through the system quickly and could provide an interesting option if the Braves decide to cut ties with B.J. Upton.

Not only do the Braves have players in the upper minors who are ready to contribute, there is significant talent in the lower minors. Lucas Sims has great stuff and despite a statistical down year, still has the upside of a solid mid rotation starter. 2014 first round draft pick Braxton Davidson has above-average future power and while he’s currently playing in the outfield, his lack of athleticism might push him to first.

It’s a solid system and more importantly, it’s a system that should help the big league club very soon.

1. Jose Peraza (2B)

2015 Age: 21 Ceiling: 1st Div
Ht:6-0 Weight: 165 Bats: Right Throws: Right ETA: 2015
Year Class AB R HR RBI SB AVG OBP CT% BB% BABIP
2014 A+,AA 469 79 2 44 60 .339 .364 90.0 3.4 .370

Mercifully, the Atlanta Braves cut ties with Dan Uggla in mid-July and turned the second base duties over to Tommy La Stella full-time. La Stella is a nice player who has the hit tool to eventually bat .300 in the big leagues and play an adequate second base. However, waiting in the wings is an even better option at the keystone in 20-year-old Jose Peraza.

Peraza is a plus defender who could play shortstop at the big league level for most team. However, with Andrelton Simmons locked in a short, that’s not going to happen in Atlanta. But together, they could be a formidable combination up the middle. As with La Stella, Peraza can also really hit; making excellent contact at every level he has played. He also has a very good approach, having great plate awareness with the ability to work counts.

Peraza has a slight frame with small wrist and is not a power threat. However, with 64 stolen bases in 2013 and 60 in 2014, speed is definitely part of his game; and that is the separator. While the Braves faithful have gotten an upgrade with La Stella, Peraza could not only improve the team defensively at second, but he has the upside to be a premium lead-off hitter, with the ability to steal 40 plus bases while posting a mid-300’s on-base percentage. That’s a really nice package, similar to what Houston Astros dynamo Jose Altuve produces.

Fantasy Impact: I used the Altuve comp and that makes Peraza a potential $30 player. While Altuve’s 2014 season could be out of reach for Peraza, several seasons of a .300 average with 100 runs and 50 stolen bases are clearly possible. If you’re buying the upside, this makes Peraza an underrated asset in Dynasty Leagues and presents a significant buying opportunity for the savvy owner.

2. Lucas Sims (RHP)

2015 Age: 21 Ceiling: #3 starter
Ht: 6-2 Weight: 195 Bats: Right Throws: Right ETA: 2016
Year Class IP H ER HR BB/9 K/9 ERA WHIP
2014 A+ 156.2 146 73 12 3.27 6.15 4.19 1.30

Selected as the 21st overall pick in the 2012 draft, Lucas Sims has been passed by Jose Peraza in the organization but still is a premium prospect with a strong number three starter upside. That said, the performance was down in 2014 as he only struck out 6.15 per nine while posting a 4.19 ERA in 156.2 innings.

Sims does have a quality arsenal with a fastball that sits 91-93 MPH touching 94 and 95. While the pitch can flatten on his delivery, his command improved throughout the season as Sims was better able to spot the pitch. His secondary pitches are above-average with a curve ball that sits 77-79 MPH with nice downward action and break. He does throw it harder and when he does, it starts to have a tighter, almost slider-like action. The change-up is behind the curve ball but has nice depth and keeps gloves-side batters honest.

The pitching mechanics are solid despite some effort. In his windup, he has a classic high leg kick where he is able to hide the ball well with very good momentum to the plate.  That extra momentum is allowing his fastball to have extra life and some late movement producing cutting action to the pitch.  He has great balance and posture to complete the picture.

Fantasy Impact: Despite a statistical down year, there’s still a lot to like with Sims. The fact that the Braves had him focus on fastball command and reduce the number of secondary pitches should make Dynasty League owners sleep better at night. On the negative, he is fly ball pitcher but so is Julio Teheran and the current Braves park supports the profile fine. What the new ballpark holds is unknown. The ceiling is a solid number three starter with 7.0 to 8.0 strikeouts per nine but with pressure on his ratios, particularly his ERA.

3. Christian Bethancourt (C)

2015 Age: 23 Ceiling: Solid-Reg
Ht:6-2 Weight: 205 Bats: Right Throws: Right ETA: 2013
Year Class AB R HR RBI SB AVG OBP CT% BB% BABIP
2014 AAA 343 33 8 48 7 .283 .308 82.2 3.6 .318

Evan Gattis has been a tremendous story over the past two years. From being out of baseball to hitting 43 home runs over the past two years, its been easy to root for the Texas native. The reality is he’s a below-average backstop and the Braves have a tremendous young defensive catcher in Christian Bethancourt waiting in the wings. What happens to Gattis? I’m not sure, but Bethancourt is nearly ready.

The defense is all-star worthy. Bethancourt has a great combination of athleticism and agility that enable him to position his body for both framing as well as blocking all errant pitches. He has a plus-plus arm and excellent footwork that has led to a career 38% caught stealing percentage. That number will likely increase in the majors; where pitchers can actually hold runners on base.

Offensively, the package is improving. Bethancourt makes great contact but is an extremely aggressive hitter with a walk rate typically in the low to mid-single digits. He has a little bit of pop and could eventually hit 12 to 15 home runs annually. With his athleticism, he’s not a clogger and can even steal a handful of bases.

Fantasy Impact: When you’re signed as a high profile Latin player at 16, fantasy players can get weary of the wait to the majors. That has happened with Bethancourt as he’s finishing his seventh year of professional baseball despite only turning 23 in September. Bethancourt should get at least 300 at-bats in 2015 with a .250 to .270 batting average, up to 10 home runs, and even five to eight stolen bases possible. That’s not a fantasy stud, but that production makes for a nice second catcher in a two-catcher league.

4. Kyle Wren (OF)

2015 Age: 24 Ceiling: Solid-Reg
Ht:5-10 Weight: 175 Bats: Left Throws: Left ETA: 2015
Year Class AB R HR RBI SB AVG OBP CT% BB% BABIP
2014 A+,AA 496 74 0 43 46 .290 .350 84.1 8.2 .340

When you’re drafted as the son a big league general manager, many people just assume it was a nepotism pick, smile, and move on. I’m sure there was some of that sentiment when the Braves made Kyle Wren their eighth round pick in the 2013 draft. However, after 714 at-bats in the minor leagues, it’s time to realize that Kyle Wren is not only a major league prospect, but arguably should be in the discussion as a Top 100 prospect.

Wren’s carrying tool is plus-plus foot speed that has translated into 81 stolen bases in his brief 185 game professional career. However, what has so many people excited is that Wren can also really hit. In 496 at-bats across High and Double-A, he had a contact rate of 84% while walking 8.2% of the time. His 79K/46BB was indeed impressive.

The swing is solely contact oriented and Wren has well below average power. In fact, he only has two home runs in his minor league career with a .395 slugging percentage. While there will always be concerned about him having enough power to handle inside velocity without “getting the bat knocked out of his”, I believe he’ll be ok.

Fantasy Impact: The upside of Kyle Wren is Ben Revere. He’ll not have any power but could be an electric leadoff hitter with the ability to steal 40 plus stolen bases, score 100 runs and bat .280 to .320 depending on his BABIP. Defensively, he also profiles similarly to Revere; an above-average fielder with a below-average arm. The opportunity in Atlanta could come as early as 2015, particularly if the Braves part ways with B.J. Upton.

5. Braxton Davidson (OF)

2015 Age: 18 Ceiling:Solid-Reg
Ht:6-2 Weight: 210 Bats: Left Throws: Left ETA: 2018
Year Class AB R HR RBI SB AVG OBP CT% BB% BABIP
2014 R 147 24 0 11 0 .224 .387 71.4 16.7 .314

The Braves had not taken a positional player in the first round since 2007 when they drafted some kid out of Henry County High School in McDonough Georgia named Jason Heyward. In 2014, the Braves selected 6-foot-2 high-schooler Braxton Davidson with the 32nd overall pick.

Davidson was one of the younger players in the draft and will not turn 19-years-old until June of 2015. He has a classic lefty swings that should produce plus future power, but the swing is also compact enough that he could have an above-average hit tool. While he didn’t clear the fences in 147 at-bats across the GCL and the Appy League in 2014, he made solid contact (72%) while showing excellent plate discipline with a 42K/31BB strikeout-to-walk ratio.

The Braves drafted Davidson as a corner outfielder, but his lack of foot speed could ultimately move him to first base. The bat should play well enough to make him a viable future major leaguer but fans and fantasy owners will have to dream a little on the profile.

Fantasy Impact: If Davidson can stay in the outfield, I would like him much better as a Dynasty League investment. However, if he has to move to first base, he’ll need to hit 25 home runs to be relevant in a fantasy league and that could be a stretch. A more realistic ceiling is 15 to 20 with a .270 batting average. Davidson is a risky pick in a Dynasty League re-draft and one that I would not make until round six or seven.

6. Kyle Kubitza (3B)

2015 Age: 24 Ceiling: Solid-Reg
Ht:6-3 Weight: 215 Bats: Left Throws: Right ETA: 2015
Year Class AB R HR RBI SB AVG OBP CT% BB% BABIP
2014 AA 440 76 8 55 21 .295 .405 69.8 14.6 .404

There’s a lot to like with Kyle Kubitza. The 2011 third round draft pick is an on-base machine with a .380 career on-base percentage with an annual walk rate of 15%. With a 70% contact rate, there is swing and miss in his game but the walks help to compensate.

The high walk rate is a combination of excellent plate awareness and patience. However, whenever you see a rate that high, you do worry that he might be too passive a hitter. He complements the above-average hit tool with above average foot speed. The speed resulted in 22 stolen bases in 28 attempts. That’s quite an improvement from eight stolen bases and 16 caught stealing in 2013.

The power is the issue. While he has size at 6-foot-3 and 215 pounds and enough bat speed for future power, his swing path is more built for contact. Some evaluators believe he’ll have average power but if he doesn’t, he’s a fringy option at third base. Now, if he played second base, the offensive profile would work extremely well.

Fantasy Impact: While there’s a lot to like with Kubitza, it’s a tough profile for a third baseman in a fantasy league. If he moves to second base, a .270 hitter with 15 stolen bases and 10 home runs will play quite well. However, until that move is made or Kubitza starts to show in-game power, he’s currently a marginal Dynasty League asset.

7. Mauricio Cabrera (RHP)

2015 Age: 22 Ceiling: Closer
Ht: 6-2 Weight: 180 Bats: Right Throws: Right ETA: 2015-16
Year Class IP H ER HR BB/9 K/9 ERA WHIP
2014 R,A+ 33 27 21 1 5.73 8.45 5.73 1.45

Mauricio Cabrera battled through a forearm strain in the spring and lost nearly two months of the season. When he returned, the Braves used him exclusively in relief where his plus velocity played up a grade.

Did the forearm strain scare the Braves so much that Cabrera will now move to the pen? If so, he has the arsenal to dominate as a late inning reliever. His fastball sits 93-95 MPH but in shorter burst should regularly hit the upper nineties. He also throws a nasty slider that is already a swing and miss pitch. He complements that fastball/slider with a change-up that also shows promise.

Cabrera struggles to repeat his delivery and therefore he suffers with control problems.  The delivery is a low three-quarter offering, with some effort, and is currently not repeatable.  He also looks like he’s aiming the ball instead of letting his mechanics guide his slot which then guides the ball.  This is another reason for a potential move to the bullpen.

Fantasy Impact: If you are in a new Dynasty League draft, it’s best to draft Cabrera with the ceiling of a closer. The Braves could move him back to the starting rotation, but the fastball/slider combination in small burst could be such a weapon that the Braves could call it a day and keep him in the bullpen. If that happens, he could see the majors as early as next season.

8. Jason Hursch (RHP)

2015 Age: 23 Ceiling: #4 starter
Ht: 6-3 Weight: 220 Bats: Right Throws: Right ETA: 2015-16
Year Class IP H ER HR BB/9 K/9 ERA WHIP
2014 AA 148.1 151 58 5 2.61 5.04 3.52 1.31

Despite his first round pedigree, I think the ceiling of Jason Hursch is a number four starter. That could change if his secondary pitches take a step up, but so far in his first two seasons in professional ball, he has a strikeout rate of just five per nine. What he does is throw strikes; and he does it with a heavy sinker that he can run up into the mid-90’s. In fact the profile is very similar to Miami Marlins Henderson Alvavez, who has taken a huge step-up in 2014. Could the same thing happen with Hursch? Absolutely!

Fantasy Impact: Jason Hursch should be rostered in Dynasty Leagues with 200 to 250 prospects. While the ground ball nature of his arsenal should help him to control his ERA, he’ll need to push the strikeout rate to the seven plus per nine in order to be a significant fantasy asset.

9. Garrett Fulenchek (RHP)

2015 Age: 18 Ceiling: #3 starter
Ht: 6-4 Weight: 205 Bats: Right Throws: Right ETA: 2018
Year Class IP H ER HR BB/9 K/9 ERA WHIP
2014 R 37.2 34 20 2 5.26 6.93 4.78 1.49

The Braves went back-to-back with high school players in the 2014 first year player draft, following up the selection of Braxton Davidson with 6-foot-4, 205 pound right-handed pitcher, Garret Fulenchek. While the stat line of his first 37.2 innings in the GCL was less than stellar, the stuff is very promising. His primary weapon is a heavy 91-93 MPH sinker that gets a ton of ground balls (3.44 G/F ratio). His slider and change-up are underdeveloped but hold promise of being at least average offerings down the road. While there’s a long way to go for the Texan, he is athletic and that combined with his plus sinking fastball gives him a ceiling of a mid-rotation starter or more if the secondary pitches show significant development.

Fantasy Impact: If it all comes together for Fulenchek, he has a chance to be a number four starter on a fantasy team with upside. There’s more upside but less certainty than with fellow Braves hurler Jason Hursch. If you have to roster one of the two and want to go with upside, then it’s Fulenchek.

10. Victor Reyes (OF)

2015 Age: 20 Ceiling: 2nd Div
Ht:6-3 Weight: 170 Bats: Both Throws: Right ETA: 2017
Year Class AB R HR RBI SB AVG OBP CT% BB% BABIP
2014 A- 332 32 0 34 12 .259 .309 82.5 6.6 .312

I was getting a lot of questions early in the season about Victor Reyes, so I ventured down to Lakewood New Jersey to see him in a weekend series against the Blue Claws. First, he looks the part at an athletic 6-foot-2 and 175 pounds. While he has some bat speed and showed some decent pop in batting practice, the swing is more contact oriented. This is supported by his 83% contact rate and his zero home runs. In fact, in 687 professional at-bats, he has yet to clear the fences. He has average speed and plays an ok center field. While the hit tool could be above-average, the secondary skills give him a fourth outfielder profile.

Fantasy Impact: There’s been a lot of love for Reyes in Dynasty Leagues, but unless you are in a league that rosters 300 plus minor league players, I would hunt somewhere else.

2015 Emerging Prospect

Ozhaino Albies (SS)

If you’re looking for a kid that nobody has heard of for your Dynasty League, Ozhaino Albies fits the bill. In 198 at-bats in 2014, the 17-year-old Albies had a .429 OBP with 15 stolen bases while walking more than he struck out.   The combination of plus foot speed and natural bat-to-ball skills has everyone in the Braves organization excited about his ceiling. Given what he showed in 2014, there’s a good chance he’ll start the 2015 season with a full season assignment in Rome Georgia.

 

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