|Original Published Date: November 11, 2016|
It’s been a tough couple of years for the Atlanta Braves. The team has not been competitive, losing 190 games over the past two years. The biggest negative though is that the Minnesota Twins were worse, at least last season and the Braves will get the second pick in the 2017 MLB Draft instead of the first.
While the parent team has been poor, John Hart and Co. have been acquiring a collection of young talent that is one of the best in all of baseball. From shrewd trades that brought in Dansby Swanson, Max Fried, Sean Newcomb, and Touki Toussaint to the development of home grown players like Ozzie Albies and Michael Soroka, the future is bright. If you combine these players with young major leaguers like Freddie Freeman and Julio Tehran, you begin to feel better about things.
While this might be the same strategy that the Cubs and Astros employed, this is not the same level of talent. There is no Kris Bryant or Carlos Correa, players who have perennial all-star ceilings or even MVP ceilings. Instead, it’s a collection of very good players, some who are impact players but most that are simply pieces to the puzzle.
Most of the elite talent in the system is a few years away. The Rome Braves squad, who won the Sally League Championship, is a great example of their youth. The rotation had Max Fried, Mike Soroka, Touki Toussaint, and Kolby Allard who all contributed in a meaningful way. While Dansby Swanson spent some time there, the team also had Austin Riley and Ronald Acuna, both making our list. All in all, that’s seven of the 12 players on this list, played on the Rome team.
Are they building a championship team? I think they are building a good core but as the Cubs have done, they will have to dip into the free agent market to complete the rebuild. They need to be smart about it and avoid overpaying for Scott Boras number four starters, but I believe they could smell a playoff spot by 2019.
Dansby Swanson (SS)
Highest Level: Majors, ETA: 2016, Fantasy Ceiling: Top 10 SS
The trade that saw the Arizona Diamondbacks acquire Shelby Miller for Aaron Blair, Ender Inciarte and the 2015 number one overall draft pick, Dansby Swanson could go down as one of the best trades in Braves history. It was quite the haul for the Braves, led by a terrific baseball player in Swanson. While he is a grade down from several other young major league shortstops such as Carlos Correa, and Corey Seager, his solid skills set should make him a major leaguer for a long time.
Swanson had no trouble with the minor leagues. In 14 months, he ploughed through three levels, skipping Triple-A altogether to make his major league debut on August 17th. The stats were solid if not eye-popping. In 127 games, he posted an .802 OPS with 10 home runs and 13 stolen bases. He also posted an impressive 1.5-to-1 strikeout-to-walk ratio.
Scouting Report: The sum of the parts is what will make Swanson a very good major leaguer. What he lacks is a true plus tool. The exception might be his ability to hit and given that’s the most important, gives him a ceiling of a first division starter with the chance to see a few all-star games. He has an excellent approach and just a knack for making contact. He’ll give the kind of at-bats that will frustrate pitchers as he will take them deep into counts.
He does have good bat speed but his swing is more geared for doubles-power instead of over-the-fence power. As he matures and fills out, he could hit 20 home runs annually, but I would think 15 to 18 will be more in line with his skill set. He’s also a good runner with the ability to steal 20 bases annually. However, I would put a more realistic total at 12 to 15.
Defensively, he should be able to stay at shortstop. He makes all the plays and has enough athleticism and arm to make the exceptional play from time-to-time.
If you add it all up, a stat line could look like .290/.370/.420 with 15 to 18 home runs hitting in the Top third of an improving Braves lineup.
Fantasy Impact: From a fantasy standpoint, Ozzie Albies might have the more tantalizing skills. However, Swanson gets the nod for the top spot because I think he has a very good shot at meeting his ceiling. It might not be sexy because there isn’t a 25 home run ceiling or a 30 SB upside, but he’ll score a lot of runs as well as help you in batting average and OBP. That’s the kind of player that will win you leagues.
Ozzie Albies (2B)
Highest Level: Triple-A, ETA: 2017, Fantasy Ceiling: Top 10 2B
It was an eventful year for Ozzie Albies. He started the season playing shortstop for Pensacola in the Southern League and was promoted to Triple-A on April 30th after hitting .369 with 10 walks and only 13 strikeouts. The reason he was promoted to Triple-A though was not totally based on merit. Instead, the Braves wanted to promote Dansby Swanson and decided it was best to move Albies to Triple-A. Before the move, he played well, batting .248 with a reasonable 2-to-1 strikeout-to-walk ratio.
After six weeks, the Braves then came to the conclusion that Swanson was going to be their shortstop of the future and Albies needed to be moved to second; but they then determined it was better to move him back to Double-A so that he could partner with Swanson to form an elite double-play combo. That worked great until August 11th when the Braves promoted Swanson to the big leagues; leaving Albies alone in Double-A without his double-play partner.
The footnote to all of this was Albies fractured his elbow in the playoffs and will miss, at a minimum the AFL, but possibly part of next season. His fractured elbow shouldn’t cost him much development time as he’s still only a teenager. In fact, he was the youngest player in each league he played in this year, so if his promotion to the big leagues is delayed slightly, it shouldn’t matter much
Scouting Report: Albies has dynamic tools led by his plus speed and ability to steal bases in bunches. While he’s only 5-foot-9, he’s showed surprising pop this past season due primarily to his plus bat speed. While I doubt his power will ever be Altuvian, he could hit five to eight home runs once he fills out. He also has a solid approach with a knack for making contact. This should allow him to develop a plus hit-tool at the highest level.
Defensively, Albies is a strong defender with the ability to play short or second base. He has excellent lateral movement with very good arm strength.
Fantasy Impact: Albies fantasy value will primarily come from his legs. His upside is 40 stolen bases with the ability to get on base and score runs. While we wish he would have stayed at short, he should be an impact contributor at second base, particularly in a roto-format.
Kolby Allard (LHP)
Highest Level: Low-A, ETA: 2018-19, Fantasy Ceiling: Top 30 SP
Kolby Allard’s performance this past season showed the Braves that they were indeed smart to draft the lefty with the 14th overall pick in the 2015 MLB 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.
Pitching across Rookie and Low-A last season, Allard was dominate. He posted a 2.98 ERA while striking out over a batter an inning while walking 2.5 per nine. He really stepped it up during the playoffs where he pitched a couple of impressive performances including six shutout innings against the BlueClaws, where he struck out nine and walked only one.
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. The fastball has heavy sink that is tough to square and helps to make up for his lack of plane he gets on his pitches. 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.
Allard is also a gifted athlete 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: Allard should start 2017 in the Florida State League and could end the season in Double-A. That should put him on course to make his big league debut in the second half of 2018. The ceiling is a top 30 starting pitcher with a strikeout an inning and above-average ratios. Despite the sink he gets on his pitches, he could still be susceptible to home runs.
Sean Newcomb (LHP)
Highest Level: Double-A, ETA: 2017-18, Fantasy Ceiling: Top 30 SP
Sean Newcomb fell through the P361 cracks last year as we had finished our Braves Top 10 list before he got traded during the Winter Meetings. The problem was our Angels write-up had not yet been published so he didn’t appear anywhere. It was an unfortunate situation, but rest assure, we view Newcomb as an excellent pitching prospects, even though his 2016 stat line was less than brilliant.
In 27 starts in Double-A, the 6-foot-5 lefty struck out well over a batter an inning but also walked 4.6 per nine. It was his poor control that led to a less than stellar 3.92 ERA. However, he had few “blow-up” outings, averaging over five innings every time he was given the ball.
Scouting Report: Newcomb has the size and stuff to pitch at the top-of-the-rotation. His fastball sits 92 to 95 MPH but can bump higher when he needs something extra. He also has a second plus pitch in his curve ball. When he’s throwing strikes, the combination can miss plenty of bats. He also shows a feel for a change-up that improved as the season progressed.
The problem is his 30-grade control. For the most part, he repeats his delivery and throw strikes but seems to struggle more with his control with men on base. Many pitchers have this problem, which can cause pitch counts to rise very quickly as they try to throw the perfect pitch. Hopefully over time, Newcomb will learn to trust his stuff better.
Fantasy Impact: Newcomb should see the major leagues in 2017. He has the upside of Top 30 pitcher but needs to reduce the walks. The stuff and mechanics are there, he just needs to trust his stuff more. If that happens, he could develop into a high strikeout performer with average to solid ratios.
Max Fried (LHP)
Highest Level: Low-A, ETA: 2018-19, Fantasy Ceiling: Top 40 SP
A year after having Tommy John Surgery to repair his torn ulnar collateral ligament in his elbow, Max Fried had an excellent bounce back season. He threw 103 regular season innings, posting a 3.93 ERA while striking out over a batter an inning. While he walked too many, his control improved as the year progressed.
Fried really excelled in the playoffs. He pitched the Rome Braves to the Sally League championship by tossing seven innings of one run ball with 13 strikeouts and three walks in the deciding game. It was a nice way to close the season for the 6-foot-4 lefty.
Scouting Report: 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 downer 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 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 projects to be 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: We’ve ranked Fried as the number three pitcher in the Braves system but he could have easily been number one. We want to see better control from the lefty before we rank him higher. Assuming it all comes together; the ceiling is a number two fantasy starter with a lot of strikeouts and above-average ratios.
Ian Anderson (RHP)
Highest Level: Rookie, ETA: 2019-20, Fantasy Ceiling: Top 45 SP
The Braves pulled a “Carlos Correa” and selected Ian Anderson in a Draft Day surprise last June. While talented, the 6-foot-3 right-hander was not projected to go that high, enabling the Braves to sign him to a well below slot bonus of $4 million dollars. The savings allowed them to spend over $3 million dollars on 6-foot-5 high school lefty Joey Wentz 37 picks later.
Anderson had a solid debut to his professional career. In 10 starts across the GCL and Appy League, he posted a 2.04 ERA, striking out 8.1 per nine while showing surprising control, walking less than three per nine. He gave up one home run and posted a 2.3 ground-ball-to-fly-ball ratio.
Scouting Report: At 6-foot-3 and 170 pounds, Anderson has room to fill out and ultimately throw harder. His fastball currently sits 91 to 92 MPH and can bump higher. The Braves worked with him during Fall Instructs to be more over-the-top in his delivery in hopes to add another tick on his velocity. That combined with his projectable body bodes well for increased future velocity.
Anderson’s secondary pitches show promise. He has the ability to spin a curve as well as a feel for a change-up. Both pitches should improve over time as he gains experience and learns to consistently throw each pitch for a strike.
Fantasy Impact: I was not excited about the Braves selecting Anderson on Draft night. However, the reports I have received have made me rethink my ceiling. While he’s at least three years away from seeing the major leagues, the ceiling is a top 45 major league starter. A lot can happen in those three years, but he has the makings of an impact fantasy pitcher.
Mike Soroka (RHP)
Highest Level: Low-A, ETA: 2018-19, Fantasy Ceiling: Top 45 SP
Mike Soroka was the least known of the starters on the Rome Braves but arguably had the best season. The 6-foot-4 right-hander posted a 3.02 ERA across 24 starts, striking out nearly eight per nine while walking only 32 in 143.0 innings. He has the most polish of any pitcher in the organization and while his stuff might lag behind the others, he could move the fastest through the system.
Scouting Report: Soroka is not a hard thrower with his fastball sitting 90 to 92 MPH. However, the pitch plays up because of some late hop and his ability to throw strikes. His best pitch is his curve ball that can freeze batters. It also plays up because of his ability to throw it for strikes. He also throws a change-up that grades out as above-average. That’s three above-average, if not plus pitches that he’s able to throw for strikes.
As it stands, Soroka has the ceiling of a number three starter. However, he just turned 19 in August, so there could another grade in his fastball assuming he continues to fill out. If that happens, the ceiling will move higher.
Fantasy Impact: Soroka should be on the radar in all Dynasty Leagues. He’s being overshadowed by higher profile pitchers within the Braves organization but that could change soon. The ceiling is a Top 45 fantasy starter with good strikeout totals (seven to eight per nine) and better than league average ratios.
Touki Toussaint (RHP)
Highest Level: Low-A, ETA: 2019-20, Fantasy Ceiling: Closer
Drafted originally by the Diamondbacks in the first round of the 2014 MLB Draft, Touki Toussaint was yet another elite arm on the Rome pitching staff. While he was the least polished of the starting rotation staff that consisted of Max Fried, Mike Soroka, and Kolby Allard, he might have the best pure stuff of the group.
He did get off to a brutal start, posting a 9.19 ERA in April with more walks than strikeouts. However, from June through the end of the year, he pitched to a 2.72 ERA, striking out 104 in 89.1 innings. He still walked over four per nine, but the corrections he made throughout the year, clearly paid off.
Scouting Report: Toussaint throws hard and can run his fastball up into the mid 90’s. His best off speed pitch is a 12-to-6 curve ball that will freeze batters when he’s on. He also shows a feel for a change-up but did not throw it very often last year.
Toussaint’s mechanics are still very raw and he’s lowered his arm slot from last year. This combined with an inability to repeat his delivery might prompt the Braves to eventually move him to the bullpen. However, the athleticism is undeniable and my adage is that you never give up on athletic pitchers who throws hard. That is first as starter and then as a reliever.
Fantasy Impact: I’m still bullish on Toussaint but he’s currently behind the other elite arms in the organization. The stuff in combination with his athleticism still could project him as a top-of-the-rotation arm. However, a fallback position would be a high-leverage bullpen arm. Either way, it’s a win-win for fantasy owners.
Joey Wentz (LHP)
Highest Level: Rookie, ETA: 2019-20, Fantasy Ceiling: Top 45 SP
By saving money through the signing of Ian Anderson with the third overall pick, the Braves were able to sign Joey Wentz in the supplemental first round for a well over slot amount of three million dollars. He was a two-way player in high school, showing plus raw power, but the Braves signed him as a pitcher. In his first exposure to professional ball, he had little trouble with the GCL where he didn’t give up a run in 12 innings but found the sledding more difficult upon his promotion to the Appy League.
What was impressive was his strikeout rate. In 44 innings, he struck out 53. The problem is he walked 25 and that led to a high ERA. He’s still very raw with some mechanical issues that are leading to not only inconsistent control but inconsistent velocity.
Scouting Report: At 6-foot-5 and 210 pounds, Wentz is the definition of physical projection. While he can run his fastball up to the mid 90’s, he struggles to maintain his velocity throughout his outing. As he physically matures, that should improve but his lack of consistent pitching mechanics is also a factor.
He shows an ability to spin a curve as well as a feel for a change-up. Both pitches still need a lot of work but if it all comes together, he has the upside of a solid number three starting pitcher.
Fantasy Impact: Wentz is an intriguing prospect. He has the size and the big fastball but his mechanics and secondary pitches are still very raw. After the Braves work with him during the Fall Instructs and Spring Training next year, we should have a better feel for the type of pitcher he could become.
Austin Riley (3B)
Highest Level: Low-A, ETA: 2018-19, Fantasy Ceiling: Top 20 3B
Austin Riley, our 2016 emerging prospect, had a solid year in Rome. He posted a .799 OPS in 129 games where he slugged 20 home runs. While the power clearly emerged, he made poor contact (70%) and demonstrated a very aggressive approach, walking only 39 times in 543 plate appearances.
Scouting Report: Riley’s carrying tool is plus raw power but his swing can get long so strikeouts will likely always be part of his game. He also needs to improve his plate patience as his approach last season was below average. He’s a below average runner so stolen bases will not be part of the profile.
Defensively, he’s an average defender but does have cannon for an arm. In high school he was a pitcher and could throw his fastball in the mid 90’s. At 230 pounds, he could grow out of third and if that happens, he will be moved to first where his power will have to play up a grade.
Fantasy Impact: I’m waffling on Riley. While he has the power potential to hit 25 plus home runs at the highest level, I worry that his approach and swing and miss will make him a serious liability in leagues where batting average and OBP are categories. Plus, if you can’t hit, that usually relegates you to the bench. I would only roster Riley in leagues that roster 350 or more prospects.
2017 Emerging Prospects
Kevin Maitan (SS)
Born in 2000 (let that sink in for a moment), Kevin Maitan was the big J2 sign for 2016, receiving a $4.25 million dollar signing bonus. He has plus raw power with a feel for hitting. His name has been spoken in the same breathe as fellow Venezuelan Miguel Cabrera. Part of the reason for the comparison are people trying to equate him to another Latin player, but part of it shows the level of potential. Since I’ve never seen him, nor do I have any real reports on him, he makes our emerging prospect list. If the hype is indeed true, he could easily be the best prospect in a stacked Braves system.
Ronald Acuna (OF)
Given the depth of the Braves system, I decided to add another player to our emerging prospect list.
While he was hurt for most of the season, Ronald Acuna flashed some impressive tools in 40 games in Low-A. In 148 at-bats, he stole 14 bases, swatted four home runs with a 1-to-1.5 strikeout-to-walk ratio. The four home runs were a bit of a surprise, but the 14 stolen bases were not. He has double-plus speed and should be able to steal bases in bunches. He also has a great feel for hitting that should all translate into a top-of-the-lineup impact fantasy player. If he can hit a handful of home runs annually, that’s just gravy on the main course.
I was just watching the Braves announcers mention how great Lucas Sims is doing at AAA. What are your thoughts on this prospect?
Failed prospect who might be putting it together. I have added him to a number of leagues just in case it’s real. He should at least get a chance soon and then we will know. I haven’t seen him for a couple of years.
curious how your thoughts on Ronald Acuna have evolved since you wrote this up? He’s now in AA and crushing the ball. Do you see him as a Mookie/Lindor type now?
I see him as an exciting player with very loud tools. While young, he’s strikeout rate is a concern. That said, to be doing what he’s doing in Double-A is indeed impressive; particularly when he’s just 19-years-old and a young 19 at that.
Eventually, the K-rate will catch up to him but he’s a Top 50 prospect already and could be moving up.
I love your work but the emerging prospects can get annoying when it includes guys that are going to be in the top 10 of every other reputable site’s rankings. It makes researching guys for fantasy milb drafts more difficult. Again, love your work but it’s just my frustrations.
Thank you for your feedback but I’m not sure I understand it. I guess I understand that people want all sites to roughly rank their minor league players in a similar order to make for a nice tidy way of preparing for their drafts. But, candidly, that’s not my mission. I scout players live and talk to other baseball sources who have seen players to try and make sense of who has the chops to make it to the big leagues and be successful. I also use some statistical models that I’ve built to help in my evaluation process. What I don’t do is read other people’s stuff and simply figure out where I should rank players. Furthermore, I don’t read stat lines to evaluate.
On Acuna and Maitan, here are my thoughts on why they are not ranked 1-10. I lie Acuna a lot and even own him on one fantasy league. However, I liked 10 other players better. I will grant you that there is a debate he should be higher than Riley, but I can’t put him ahead of Wentz or Touki. I just can’t. In most other systems, he makes the primary list. Furthermore, I recognize he’s doing well in the Australian League but the competition is weak with equivalency of Low-A. While it’s good to see, it’s not material to his development.
Maitan. I’ve never seen him play and did not talk to anyone who has seen him play. I asked about 10 people who all said something to the effect. I hear good things and I’m anxious to see him live. He’s 16 without a stat line anywhere…not the VSL, DSL…anywhere.
Sure, I’ve read the hype, primarily from Ben Badler of BA but should I rank him on what another writer has heard? Is that genuine? In fact, isn’t that plagiarism? He might be really, really good…but I just don’t know. I don’t apologize for this as I try to be honest with my readers. I’m not going to rank players because one guy…and please share with me other people who have first-hand knowledge are saying. In my mind, it’s wrong. If it messes up your tidy spreadsheet, sorry…I can’t help you.
I do appreciate the feedback…
In the case of Maitan, I saw your Cabrera comp in the profile. But what I was referring to in my comment was the reference prior. I think, in other words, there may be a Bryant or a Correa on the Braves’ list — something that, literally, only a handful of organizations can boast this year.
And as for Weigel, I just think the online prospect community continues to underestimate how high his floor is and how comfortably he could fit into the big club’s rotation in the near future, maybe even later this season. I also think of all the things that make or break a pitching prospect, it’s often command that does them in. And I think Toussaint’s and Newcombe’s command have been beyond troubling, at least at this point of their respective careers.
But, don’t get me wrong, Rich, you do a great job — and did so on this writeup. I really don’t have an issue with your list. I was just trying to make a case for one of the Braves’ most underrated young arms and to make a point about Maitain’s massive upside and almost freakish skills set.
Keep ’em coming, huh?
Rich: Wonderful list and great insight. Thanks for all the legwork and the terrific analysis.
Just a couple of thoughts. One, I really think you (and just about every other prospect guru out there) should take a good hard look Patrick Weigel who, despite virtually no hoopla or hosannas, became the de facto leader of the Rome team this past summer, before eventually being promoted to Mississippi. And look at his numbers on every rung of the ladder. He’s a tall Texan with both gas and magnificent command. Yet for some reason the fantasy prospect grapevine in absolutely mum on the kid.
And as high the ceilings are for guys like Toussaint and Newcombe, their floors are just as low as their ceilings are high. Weigel on the other hand, because of his steely command, mental acuity, and downhill plane, has a much higher floor, with a ceiling that’s certainly nothing to sneeze at.
Also, while you may prove to be absolutely right about there not being “a Kris Bryant or a Carlos Correa” on the Braves’ list, I also think it’s possible you may end up with a little egg on your face. Yes, Kevin Maitan is only 16. And, yes, by your own admission you’ve not seen him yet. But so many scouts who have say he’s the single greatest Venezuelan hitting prospect since Miguel Cabrera, significantly better than this offseason’s hottest name, Gleyber Torres. Look at some video on him. Maitain is a switch hitting horse with light tower power and with agility and quickness to spare. And on top of that, he’s a shortstop who might just be able to stick at the position.
Like I said, he may eventually flame out and not deserve to be mentioned in the same breath as Bryant and Correa. But, to hear most of the scouts who’ve seen him tell it, the young man certainly seems to have every bit the possibility of superstardom as those two had when they were 16.
Keep up the great work. And thanks again.
I like the upside of the other Rome pitchers over Weigel. College kid without a curve ball. Steely command? I saw him pitch and didn’t see that, but I also don’t know what that means…I’m assuming it means good.
Maitain. He is on the list, right? I also said…If the hype is indeed true, he could easily be the best prospect in a stacked Braves system.
Should I have made him a Top 3 prospect? Perhaps, but I need to see or hear more before doing that. I don’t have the kind of access you have into the scouting community as I only found a few guys who had heard from a few guys who had laid eyes on him. They were all positive by the way and the $4.5 million dollar signing bonus backs that up. BTW, I also talked about Cabrera as a comp in my write-up. I’m not sure what you want me to do.
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