Atlanta Braves

Original Published Date: Nov. 1, 2013

The Atlanta Braves have one of the youngest teams in all of major league baseball with many of their core positional player’s 26-years-old or under including: Justin Upton, Jason Heyward, Andrelton Simmons, and Freddie Freeman.

With so much young talent on the major league club, you would immediately think that the Braves minor league system would be void of talent.  Not so.  Lucas Sims is one of the better young pitchers in the entire minor leagues and can flat out pitch.  One of my personal “fav” prospects is J.R. Graham.  While he missed significant time due to a shoulder injury, he has a plus arsenal combined with excellent pitchability.  Finishing off their elite pitching prospects is right-hander Mauricio Cabrera, who might have the best stuff in the entire system.  While he lacks the ability to repeat his delivery, the arm could be special.

Shortstop Jose Peraza and catcher Christian Bethancourt lead a solid if not spectacular list of positional players.  That said, Bethancourt could play a significant role in Atlanta in 2014, particularly if the Braves do not re-sign Brian McCann.

The Braves have a good team and a fine minor league system, but in my opinion it’s not a championship quality squad.  There’s too much swing and miss in their lineup and that has a tendency to get exposed in the playoffs.  I do not see anything on the horizon to resolve that and therefore I believe the Braves need to enter the trading market in the off-season to acquire one or two high on-base percentage players.

1. Lucas Sims (RHP)

2013 Age: 20 Ceiling: #2 starter
Ht: 6-2 Weight: 195 Bats: Right Throws: Right ETA: 2015-16
Year Class IP H ER HR BB/9 K/9 ERA WHIP
2013 Low-A 116.2 83 34 3 3.55 10.34 2.62 1.11

Lucas Sims was one of the 2013 breakout prospects as he dominated the SALLY League with a 2.62 ERA with nearly a 3:1 strikeout to walk ratio.  It didn’t look like he was going to dominate after his initial outing of the year, where he lasted less than two innings while giving up four runs and four walks.  However, he improved in nearly every start and finished off the year striking out 46 in the last 34.1 innings with a 1.31 ERA.

Selected in the first round of the 2012 draft, Lucas Sims has an impressive arsenal that consists of a 92-93 MPH fastball, a plus curve ball that was one of the best pitches I saw the entire year and a change-up that kept glove-side batters at bay with a .199 batting average against.  Getting back to the curve – it’s truly impressive and sits 73-74 MPH with great deception.  Batters were constantly out in front on it; producing a lot of swing and miss.

The pitching mechanics are also very good.  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.

While the mechanics are good, he doesn’t always finish his pitches and this is leading to some control issues.  You can really see this on his curve ball.  When he finishes his delivery, the pitch is unhittable.  When he doesn’t finish, he leaves the ball outside.  It’s a classic problem and one that should be remediated as he matures.

There’s a lot to like about Sims and I can easily see him finishing the year in Double-A.  Even more exciting is that he’ll start the year as a 19-year-old.  Granted, he’ll turn 20 in May, but this is a very young pitcher with a huge upside.

Fantasy Impact:  I missed on Sims last year, but he’s really turned me into a believer.  He’s one of the better young pitchers, and at the moment, not really well known in Fantasy circles.  It’s time to invest and quickly!

2. J.R. Graham (RHP)

2013 Age: 24 Ceiling: #3 starter
Ht: 5-10 Weight: 190 Bats: Right Throws: Right ETA: 2014-15
Year Class IP H ER HR BB/9 K/9 ERA WHIP
2013 AA 35.2 29 16 0 2.52 7.07 4.04 1.37

2013 started off very well for J.R. Graham as he posted a 3.09 ERA with a 19K/5BB strikeout-to-walk-ratio in 23.1 innings in April, but a shoulder strain in May led to the DL with his last game pitched on May 13th.

Out most of the year with a shoulder issue is never something you want to hear and in fact, there hasn’t been a lot of news since the initial diagnosis was made.  I do know that he was back throwing in September, but since he hasn’t seen any game action, how effective he’s pitching is unknown.

Graham’s arsenal consists of a four pitch mix.  First, he throws two fastballs: a four-seamer that sits 92-95 MPH and can touch higher and a two-seamer that induces a ton of ground balls.   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.

One of the big concerns about Graham is his physicality.  However, even at 6-foot and 195, he doesn’t pitch small as he’s able to really get on top of his pitches and keep the ball down in the zone.  It’s the ability to pitch down in the zone and the movement on his pitches that are allowing Graham to post his impressive ground ball rate.  While some will call for him to move to the pen, I see a starter; unless of course his shoulder issues continue to linger.

2014 is a big year for Graham as he’ll be 24-years-old and returning from an arm issue.  The Braves will probably start him off in Double-A but he could quickly move to Triple-A with a chance for a promotion to Atlanta sometime during the 2014 season.

Fantasy Impact: The future is a little unclear but that makes Graham a buy-low candidate in a Dynasty League.  I’m banking on him returning healthy in 2014 with a chance to be solid number three starter with a ceiling of a two.

3. Mauricio Cabrera (RHP)

2013 Age: 20 Ceiling: #3 starter
Ht: 6-2 Weight: 180 Bats: Right Throws: Right ETA: 2016
Year Class IP H ER HR BB/9 K/9 ERA WHIP
2013 Low-A 131.1 118 61 3 4.87 7.33 4.18 1.44

I went to Rome over the summer (unfortunately, Rome Georgia) to catch a couple of SALLY League games and timed my trip in order to see teenager Mauricio Cabrera pitch.  While I was impressed with the talented Dominican, during that same trip, I had a chance to catch Lucas Sims and as you can see, he got ranked as the top talent in the system.

Cabrera has a really good arsenal with his fastball sitting 93-95 MPH through the fifth inning.  He even managed a couple of 97’s early in the outing with the pitch playing up a grade based on it’s movement.  Batters were constantly beating the pitch into the ground on weak contact.  His swing and miss pitch is a nasty slider that he throws 82-85 MPH with a lot of tilt and movement.  It’s also a plus pitch.  He didn’t throw a lot of change-ups but when he did, they showed promise of being at least an average offering.

Currently holding back Cabrera is his inability to repeat his delivery and therefore he suffers from control problems.  He comes in at a low three-quarter slot and then slings the ball to the plate.  It’s a delivery with some effort and is just not repeatable.  He also looks like he’s aiming the ball instead of letting his mechanics guide his slot which then guides the ball.  The result: a 4.87 BB/9 in 131.1 innings and an inflated 4.18 ERA.

While the overall arsenal is superior to Sims, the mechanics and pitchability are way behind.  The Braves have an excellent track record of developing pitchers and the same could happen with Cabrera.   However, there are some fundamental issues with his delivery that need to be sorted and ultimately he could find himself in the bullpen where his plus-plus fastball and slider might prove to be Kimbrel-esque.

Fantasy Impact: Cabrera has the upside of a number two starter.  He can miss bats but is currently struggling with control issues and flawed pitching mechanics.  If they can be sorted, he could be a real asset to a fantasy team.  If not, he could still be valuable as a late-inning closer.

4. Jose Peraza (SS)

2014 Age: 20 Ceiling: Role 5
Ht: 6-0 Weight: 165 Bats: Right Throws: Right ETA: 2016
2013 Low-A 448 72 1 47 64 .288 .341 85.7 7.6 .328

Jose Peraza had an excellent year in Rome as a teenager and really started to turn some heads.  He has a plus defensive profile but also has the ability to make contact and cause havoc once he gets to first.

The stat that jumps out at you is the stolen bases – 64 swipes while only being thrown out 15 times for an 85% success rate.  With this stolen base profile you would expect Peraza to have 80-grade speed.  While he’s fast and gets out of the box very quickly, I clocked him down to first in 4.18, 4.22, and 4.21.  That’s a solid 60, maybe 65 runner, but not the speed you associate with 64 stolen bases.

Peraza is a contact hitter that is void of power as his one home run and .371 slugging suggest.  Oddly, he had seven sacrifice flies which I don’t think means anything, but I found it interesting nonetheless.  The body is also slight with small wrist to go along with his 6-foot, 180 pound frame.  While he might always have a 30 power profile, the question is…will he have enough strength in his swing to reach base.  Remember, the speed is not that of Billy Hamilton, so while BABIP will be his friend, I doubt he’ll profile as .330+ BABIP player.

Defensively, Peraza has a plus glove with great footwork and lateral movements at short.  The arm is sufficient and he should be able to stay at the position long-term.

Fantasy Impact: Given his speed, Peraza should be owned in deeper Dynasty Leagues.  However, I’m not buying the 64 steals and believe 20-30 is a more realistic total as he moves through the system.  Long-term he profiles as a utility player or a possible second division starter.  If the latter happens, he’ll definitely have fantasy value.

5. Christian Bethancourt (C)

2014 Age: 22 Ceiling: Role 5
Ht: 6-2 Weight: 215 Bats: Right Throws: Right ETA: 2013
2013 AA 358 42 12 45 11 .277 .305 84.1 4.5 .294

I probably have Christian Bethancourt too low on this list as he just turned 22 and has already had a cup-of-coffee in the major leagues.

Betancourt’s primary calling card is his defensive ability, particularly his 80-grade arm.   In fact, many observers believe that his defensive game is nearly major league ready.  I’m not sure I’m completely there, but he’s not more than a half-season or so away.

Offensively, Bethancourt took a step up in 2013 showing more power than in previous years; hitting 12 home runs, which was seven more than his previous high in 2011.  He continues to make excellent contact at 84% but also continues to be very aggressive at the plate with only 16 walks in 358 at-bats or a 4.5 BB/9.

The opportunity might be out there for Bethancourt to become the future backstop for the Braves if Brian McCann decides to leave via free agency in 2014.  He clearly has the defensive chops for the job and if he continues to make offensive improvements, he could develop into a first division starter.

Fantasy Impact: While 2013 showed offensive promise for Bethancourt, he did repeat Double-A and it was his first professional year in which he posted a .400+ slugging percentage.  Given the opportunity in Atlanta and position scarcity, I’m slotting Bethancourt in as a top 150 prospect.

6. Cody Martin (RHP)

2013 Age: 24 Ceiling: #4 starter
Ht: 6-2 Weight: 225 Bats: Right Throws: Right ETA: 2014-15
Year Class IP H ER HR BB/9 K/9 ERA WHIP
2013 AA-AAA 136.2 122 48 9 3.82 9.02 3.16 1.32

Selected as a senior collegian in the seventh round of the 2011 draft, many observers assumed Martin would become an organizational guy or have a chance to make it to the majors as a bullpen arm.  However, the Braves began to groom him as a starter in 2012 and the results were excellent and that has continued in 2013.

The arsenal is good with a fastball that sits 90-93 MPH, a plus slider that has nice tilt and can get both right and left-handed batters to swing and miss, and a decent curve and change-up.  It’s not an arsenal that screams top-of-the-rotation, but with the ability to throw strikes, he could be a solid #4 pitcher in the big leagues.

Martin has a nice and easy clean delivery.  The mechanics are ok, although he cuts off his momentum to the plate slightly which will not only put more stress on his arm but also cause him to lose some kinetic energy on his release.  The balance is average, although there is some falloff to the first base side.

Fantasy Impact: Martin will begin the year at 24-years-old and should get an opportunity to play in the big leagues.  He could be used as a spot starter, or if injuries hit the Braves starting rotation, he could get the opportunity for more innings.  He’s a back-of-the-rotation starter and only rosterable in deep fantasy leagues.

7. Jason Hursh (RHP)

2013 Age: 22 Ceiling: #5 starter
Ht: 6-3 Weight: 190 Bats: Right Throws: Right ETA: 2014-15
Year Class IP H ER HR BB/9 K/9 ERA WHIP
2013 Low-A 27 20 2 1 3.33 5.00 0.67 1.11

Selected in the first round of the 2013 draft, Jason Hursh brings a live arm with the ability to light up with the radar gun with a fastball that can touch the upper 90’s.  Drafted as a college junior, Hursh did not have the typical career of a collegian as he missed his sophomore year with Tommy John surgery.  The Braves clearly saw enough and decided to spend the 31st overall selection on him.

While his fastball is a plus pitch, his slider and change-up are both under-developed and grade out as fringe pitches currently.  The mechanics are also not great as his delivery is a little low and he winds-up slinging the ball to home.  The shoulder does not over-pronate which is good but the arm action is so violent that there has to be worry that his health will hold-up long-term, despite already having Tommy John Surgery.

In his first exposure to professional batters, Hursh’s surface stats were excellent with a 0.67 ERA and a 1.11 WHIP in 27 innings in Low-A.  However, he only struck out five batters per nine and managed to pitch only five innings once during his brief debut.  While the Braves used him as a starter, I think he ultimately winds up in the bullpen as the mechanics and arsenal are limited.

Fantasy Impact: At this juncture, Hursh is not draftable in a Dynasty league.

8. Edward Salcedo (3B)

2014 Age: 22 Ceiling: Role 4-5
Ht: 6-3 Weight: 210 Bats: Right Throws: Right ETA: 2014-15
2013 AA 468 52 12 55 20 .239 .304 76.3 9.4 .287

The Braves signed Dominican Edward Salcedo in 2010 to a then record signing bonus of $1.6 million dollars.  He’s made steady progress through the system posting a .239/.304/.372 slash line in 468 at-bats in Double-A in 2013.

Salcedo has good all-around tools that are highlighted by premium bat speed that should eventually yield plus future power.  He also is an above average runner as he posted 20 stolen bases but did get caught stealing 10 times.  It was his third consecutive year of stealing 20 or more bags.

From a hitting mechanics standpoint, Salcedo is a little stiff at the plate.  While the bat speed is evident, he really doesn’t use his lower half very well.  I believe this is limiting his power potential as I would like to see more leverage in the swing.  It also could be hurting his overall BABIP as he is not making as much hard contact as his bat speed would indicate.

Fantasy Impact: While Chirs Johnson had a nice year for the Braves, Salcedo could be a guy that the Braves turn to as soon as 2014.  He profiles as a second division or bench guy long-term but with some upside.  Keep an eye on his throughout the season.

9. Victor Reyes (OF)
Still only a teenager and at 6-foot-3 and 190 pounds, Victor Reyes is still very much a project.  However, he has nice bat speed and the chance for plus power potential.  That plus power potential has yet to show up as he has zero home runs in 355 at-bats so far in his professional career.  In fact, his .376 slugging suggest that you are really dreaming on the power, but as he matures, it should come.  He’s already making nice contact and has an idea of what to do at the plate.  Reyes should start the season in Rome in 2014 and is definitely somebody to monitor.

10. Robby Hefflinger (OF)
Selected in the seventh round of the 2009 draft out of Junior College, Hefflinger took a step-up in 2013 by slugging .474 and hitting 27 home runs between High-A and Double-A.  Yes, there are clearly red flags as he was fairly old for High-A and he struggled to make contact once he was promoted to Double-A.  However, he’s athletic and has the size at 6-foot-5 and 235 pounds to be at least an extra bat at the highest level.

2014 Emerging Prospect:

Victor Caratini (3B/C)
Signed in the second round of the 2013 draft, Victor Caratini had a really nice professional debut where he slugged .430 in 200 at-bats.  He actually did it the hard way as he hit 23 doubles and only one home run.   He showed a mature approach with 39 walks and the ability to make decent contact (76%).  He played third base during 2013 but the Braves are exploring moving him to catcher.  If that happens, he could start to move up prospect lists.

9 comments on “Atlanta Braves

  1. The Braves have a somewhat unique team structure in that the parent club is so loaded with young talent with many on the very cusp of greatness. The strength of the team is as usual is the young pitching and my hope is that it won’t all be ruined by “financial considerations.”

  2. What do you think of a trade of Colome for Lucas Sims in a dynasty league?

  3. What keeps La Stella off the list?

    • He was in the 10-15 range. The tools aren’t very loud although the hit tool should make him a second division starter or an extra bat at the highest level. In the end, I like the upside of some of the other players in the system better. That said, he could see Atlanta in 2014 as he could be a better option than Dan Uggla.

  4. Great work on this blog Rich. As a Braves fan, however, I did not like the Braves 1st round selection of Jason Hursh. Our minors pitching is already stacked, and now it’s overcrowded. The Braves need a 2B and some good OF specs badly. Flip Hursh and a name like Cabrera to another team, or even a deal with Gilmartin for a good 2B or OF spec. The Braves OF as of now is good when healthy, but BJ Upton is not the long term solution in CF.
    Caratini, I like the pick and think he will stay behind the plate and has good upside. The key question going forward is whther or not the Braves will re-sign McCann. Personally, I think they will, but they cannot be afraid to shed the dough. If they don’t, then the deal to free up cap space from last season (the Prado-Upton deal) makes no sense, as you don’t free up cap and then not re-sign one of your biggest assets. Uggla is FINISHED, and should be a part-timer.
    The Braves rotation is nasty and getting nastier, they just need the batting to be a World Series contender again (Please fire Fredi!).

  5. Hey Rich, I am in a 16 team dynasty league with a 15 man minor league roster. I was wondering if you would trade Freddie Freeman for Wil Myers and J.R. Graham. I am not sure Myers out produces Freeman next year, but is the long term potential too much to pass up? Is Myers ceiling that much higher then Freeman’s to make it worth it?

    • I think I do that trade Myers for Freeman, straight-up. Freeman’s a nice player but the .319 BA will not hold. He’s more of a .270 BA guy with a 25 home run upside. Myers is a .270 guy with 30 home run upside. Plus, he’ll get you a few SB’s. Graham is a wild card in the trade, but again, I would do it straight-up.

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