Atlanta Braves

Original Published Date: November 10, 2017

The Atlanta Braves minor league system is stacked.  I mean really stacked.  There are impact players at the top of the list and depth that extends beyond the list.  It starts with arguably the best player left in the minor leagues, Ronald Acuna.  He pulled a 2011 Mike Trout, flashing all five-tools including good power and speed.  While the Braves are pushing him, he’s responded and should see time in Atlanta next season.  Kevin Maitan, last year’s super-hyped player struggled in his first exposure to US pro ball but still has a huge upside.

The pitching depth though might be even better.  It’s led by Kyle Wright, Luiz Gohara, and Kolby Allard.  All three have number two starter profiles with Wright and Gohara having a chance to be even better than that.  The pitching depth continues with Mike Soroka, Ian Anderson and Max Fried and candidly continues after that.

I’ve been formally writing about prospects for the past five years and have never seen a system like this.  It so stacked that they should be able to withstand the natural failure of some of their players and still succeed.

Ronald Acuna (OF)

Highest Level: Triple-A, ETA: 2018, Fantasy Ceiling: Top 10 Fantasy Player

Ronald Acuna entered 2017 as a teenager with less than 100 games of professional experience (only 40 in full-season ball).  Six months later, he might be the number one prospect in the game.  In fact, I’m not sure we’ve seen a player completely dominate the minor leaguers since…gulp…Mike Trout did in 2011, the year he was promoted to the major leagues.

To begin the season, the Braves challenged Acuna with a very aggressive assignment to the Florida State League and he posted a .814 OPS in 28 games.  The Braves had seen enough and said…let’s see what he can do in Double-A.  Well, he did better.  In 57 games he posted a .894 OPS with nine home runs and 19 stolen bases.  In July, they promoted him to Triple-A and he posted a .941 OPS.   Sure, he was helped by a .400 BABIP throughout the year, but he improved his strikeout rate as he moved up each level finishing in Triple-A at 19%.

Is he really this good?  Is he the next Mike Trout?  Are the Braves rushing him?  First, he’s not Mike Trout.  That’s an unfair comparison to put on any player.  Second, yes I believe the Braves are rushing him but he’s responding, so why not.  Finally, I don’t believe he’s as good as what he’s shown.  While the strikeout rate has improved, he will chase pitches and that’s something he needs to work through.  However, the way it’s been going, that will be next year in the major leagues.

Scouting Report:  Acuna is that rare five-tool player.  He has plus bat speed that should translate into 20 home runs at the highest level.  He’s a plus runner and he’s an above-average fielder that should be able to stay in center field at least early in his career.  Finally, he can hit.

And…he doesn’t turn 20 until December.

What has been the most surprising is the emergence of his power.  The bat speed is truly impressive and there could be more in the tank than 20 annually, particularly as he gets to the big leagues and starts playing with the “enhanced” ball.

Acuna will be in the major leagues next season.  The question is will it be on April 1st, April 20th or June 20th.  I’m guessing April 20th as the Braves will surely want seven years of team control before unleashing him to the big leagues.

Fantasy Impact:  Acuna has the skillset to be a first-round draft pick for the first 8 to 10 years of his career.  If you have him on your dynasty league team, congratulations.  I had him on one but traded him before the season started.  And no…I will not look at who I received in exchange.  It would be too painful.

Kyle Wright (RHP)

Highest Level: High-A, ETA: 2018-19, Fantasy Ceiling: Top 20 SP

While I have a huge man-crush on Hunter Greene and believed he was the best talent in June’s MLB Draft, the kid I thought would impact their major league franchise first was Vanderbilt alum, Kyle Wright.  He was impressive in his 16 starts for the Commodores, striking out 10.5 batters per nine while walking 2.7 per nine.  He only gave up 83 hits in 103.1 innings, but somehow managed to post a 3.40 ERA.

The Braves took it easy with Wright after his long college season but did have him pitch a few times in High-A to get his feet week.  I would guess that he returns briefly to the Fire Frogs to begin the 2018 season before making his way to Jackson Mississippi in the Southern League.  Given his advanced arsenal and feel for pitching, I would not be surprised if he races through the minors and sees Atlanta at some point next season.

Scouting Report: Wright has the size and stuff to be a near ace at the highest level. He stands 6-foot-4 and 220 pounds with a four-pitch mix.  His fastball sits 93 to 94 and will bump higher.  His best secondary pitch is his slider but in an interview, I heard him (don’t remember where), say he thought his curveball was his best pitch.  He also throws a change-up which can effectively keep glove side batters at bay.  His delivery is solid with good extension and balance on his landing.

The only thing I have heard as a negative is that he will catch too much of the plate at times, batters seem to pick up his pitches well.  Those negatives should be addressed as he goes through his abbreviated journey through the minor leagues.

Fantasy Impact:  Wright should be an early pick in all Dynasty League re-drafts next spring.  He has a solid number two ceiling and the experience to move quickly through the system.

Luiz Gohara (LHP)

Highest Level: Majors, ETA: 2017, Fantasy Ceiling: Top 30 SP

Luiz Gohara is the biggest wildcard in the stacked Braves farm system.  After Acuna, he arguably has the highest upside of any player.  Since being signed out of Brazil in 2013, last season was the first time in his career that he has avoided missing time due to injury.

Last season, he showed the kind of results that have the Braves excited.  Across High-A, Double-A, and Triple-A, he posted a 2.62 ERA with an impressive 10.7 K/9 rate.  On the negative, he also walked 3.2 per nine.  However, it was a marked improvement from years prior and the 28 walks he gave up in 78.1 innings across High-A and Double-A were the best of his career.  His progress led to a September call-up to the big leagues.

Scouting Report:  Gohara is starting to transform from a thrower to a pitcher.  This can be seen most in his walk rate.  The stuff continues to improve.  He’s now throwing in the mid-90’s with some triple-digits thrown-in for good measure.  Coming from the left side, he could be real trouble for hitters.  His secondary pitchers are also improving with his slider now be a plus offering.  He’s starting to show a feel for his change-up but it’s clearly his third pitch.

The Braves are pushing their young players hard and Gohara is no exception.  He could easily see the major leagues at some next season and while he’ll likely be inconsistent, he has the stuff to be a number two starter, if not more.

Fantasy Impact:  Gohara is an elite pitching prospect and one of the top left-handed pitchers in the minor leagues.  He should be owned in all Dynasty formats regardless of size.  The upside is a high strikeout but high WHIP pitcher who will get better as he matures in the major leagues.  Remember, he just turned 21 in August.

Kevin Maitan (SS)

Highest Level: Short Season, ETA: 2020-21, Fantasy Ceiling: Top 40 Fantasy Player

With all the hoopla surrounding Ronald Acuna, people seem to be forgetting about last years can’t miss prospect, Kevin Maitan.  It was a quiet season for the 17-year-old playing for the first time in the United States.  He started the season in the GCL and after nine games was moved to the Appy League where he struggled.  In 33 games, he hit just .220 while striking out nearly 30% of the time.

But remember, he’s 17-years-old and already playing in short-season ball; one step higher than rookie ball.  Plus, he started the season on the bench with a nagging hamstring injury.  While Ronald Acuna might have surpassed him on the Braves depth chart, Maitan’s future is very, very bright.

Scouting Report:  At 6-foot-2 and 190 pounds (he is already much heavier), Maitan is going to fill out and eventually he’ll have to move off shortstop, most likely to third.  He has the size, bat speed and hand-eye coordination to be a special player.  2017 production aside, the upside is an above-average hitter with 30 home runs hitting in the middle of a lineup.

While it’s so hard to evaluate 17-year-old kids, the one concern I have with Maitan is the length of his swing.  The load is long and he definitely is swinging with all his might.  I think he needs to cut down the swing and get shorter to the ball and do it now.  His premium bat speed combined with his sheer size and strength will carry the ball a long way.

Fantasy Impact:  While fantasy owners will have to wait for three, maybe four years, the payoff should be worth it.  You’ll see or hear comparisons to Miguel Cabrera for Maitan and while I see the similarities, it’s so hard to put that hype on a 17-year-old kid.  Cabrera is having a hall of fame career with a lifetime .314 batting average and closing in on 500 home runs.  Those are crazy numbers, particularly the .314 average.  I just don’t see Maitan being that level of player.  I see his ceiling as a .260/.350 with 30 home runs hitting in the middle of a really good Braves lineup.  That’s a really good player, maybe a Top 40 fantasy player, but not the number one overall player, who Miggy Cabrera was for several years.

Kolby Allard (LHP)

Highest Level: Double-A, ETA: 2018, Fantasy Ceiling: Top 30 SP

Kolby Allard doesn’t have the best stuff in the system, but his pitchability in combination with his age and performance in the upper minors makes him a special prospect.

As the youngest pitcher in the Southern League, just edging out his teammate Mike Soroka, he pitched extremely well.  In 27 starts, he posted a 3.18 ERA while striking out 7.7 per nine and walking 2.7 per nine.  He did tire towards the end of the season as he saw his ERA rise from a low of 1.83 on June first to end at 3.18.  Lefties did hit him better than right-handed hitters.  With a plus, if not double-plus curveball, this is definitely a curious development.  Perhaps the Braves had him work on other pitches against left-handed batters.

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 could easily see Atlanta next season and with his polish, he could be a league average, if better pitcher from the start.  Long-term, 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.

Ian Anderson (RHP)

Highest Level: Low-A, ETA: 2020-21, Fantasy Ceiling: Top 45 SP

The Braves took things very slow with their 2016 first round pick last season.  They limited his innings to 83 and he didn’t throw more than four innings in any one outing after July 1st.  In fact, he only pitched six innings once – an impressive one hit, 11 strikeout performance in late May.

Overall it was a nice season for the 19-year-old right-hander.  In 20 starts in Low-A, he posted a 3.14 ERA, striking out nearly 11 per nine but also walking 4.7b per nine.  Most impressive, he did not give up a home run the entire year.

Scouting Report: At 6-foot-3 and 170 pounds, Anderson has room to fill out and ultimately throw harder.  The Braves have worked with his delivery to get him more over-the-top to add more velocity. While he still sits in the low 90’s, I have reports of him bumping 95.  With mechanical changes combined with his projectable body, the Braves hope that he can improve another grade on his fastball as he matures.

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: Double-A, ETA: 2018, Fantasy Ceiling: Top 45 SP

Mike Soroka joined Kolby Allard in going directly from Low-A to Double-A in 2017.  While Allard might be slightly higher ranked, Soroka continues to outperform him.  In 26 starts, he posted a 2.75 ERA while striking out nearly eight per nine and walking just over three per nine.  He is only 6-foot-1 and therefore he doesn’t get a ton of plane on his pitches.  This showed up in his GO/AO ratio of 1.3 and the 10 home runs he gave up.

As with Allard, Soroka is flying through the minor leagues.  Assuming health, you should see him sometime in the second half of 2018.

Scouting Report: Soroka is not a hard thrower with his fastball sitting 91 to 93 MPH.  However, the pitch plays up because of some late hop and his ability to throw strikes.   His best pitch is his curveball 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.

He has the classic profile of a solid number three starting pitcher in the major leagues.  His size and lack of a true plus fastball keeps his ceiling down.  That’s not to say he won’t have a season or two where he pitches to a sub 3.00 ERA, I just don’t think it’s likely.

Fantasy Impact:  Soroka should be owned in all Dynasty League formats.  He’s no longer being overshadowed by higher profile pitchers within the Braves organization.  The ceiling is a Top 45 fantasy starter with good strikeout totals (seven to eight per nine) and better than league average ratios.

Cristian Pache (OF)

Highest Level: Low-A, ETA: 2020-21, Fantasy Ceiling: Top 45 OF

If you are not familiar with the Braves organization, you might skip over the name Cristian Pache when pursuing the Rome Braves box score.  Ok, maybe you got excited about the 32 stolen bases, but he showed no over-the-fence power and only batted .273.

But there’s more to this player than a box score…read on…

Scouting Report:  Pache was signed by the Braves in 2015 out of the Dominican Republic for $1.4 million dollars.  He’s a plus defender, a plus runner who controls the strike zone well.  While he doesn’t have any power, he has good bat speed and the size and strength to develop.  Today, he’s more of a slappy hitter, but once he starts to use his lower half, I think some power will emerge – not plus, but more in the 5 to 10 range.

Defensively, he’s a plus defender with not only plus speed to run everything down, but he runs great routes with a good arm.  While I hate giving comps, he did remind me a little of Byron Buxton out there when I saw him during the season.

What is the most encouraging is he was the fifth youngest player in the Sally league, playing the entire season as an 18-year-old.

Fantasy Impact:  I think Pache could be a sneaky fantasy player.  While he’s a hit over power guy, his speed will make him valuable.  I also think he’ll develop some over-the-fence power.  So a profile of a .280 hitter with 25 stolen bases and five home runs doesn’t equal a star, but he can help in a 15-team fantasy league.

Max Fried (LHP)

Highest Level: Majors, ETA: 2017, Fantasy Ceiling: Top 50 SP

Max Fried has lost his luster as a prospect and despite seeing time in the major leagues last season, didn’t have a great year in Double-A.  The Braves used him out of the bullpen as a long man, but I still think he has the stuff to start and believe the Braves will continue to develop him that way.

He spent most of the season in the Southern League and struggled mightily with his control.  In 19 starts, he walked 4.5 per nine which combined with a hit an inning led to an ugly 5.92 ERA.  The good news is that his secondary stuff, particularly his curveball can still miss bats.

Scouting Report:  Fried has all the tools to be a quality major league 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 curveball.  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.

The problem, of course, is he can’t throw strikes.  Candidly, it’s perplexing as there are so many things to like about his delivery.

While he no longer has the upside of a number two starter, I still think he figures it out and reaches a ceiling of a number three pitcher.

Fantasy Impact:  Dynasty League owners should be able to acquire Fried on the cheap.  I would be making that pitch today and offering up a young Low-A pitcher with some upside for him.  While there’s risk that he doesn’t hit his ceiling and winds up as a long man in the bullpen, I think the reward of acquisition is worth it.

Austin Riley (3B)

Highest Level: Double-A, ETA: 2018, Fantasy Ceiling: Top 15 3B

In 2016, Austin Riley popped 20 home runs as a teenager in the Sally League but also struck out 27% of the time.  Last season, it was more of the same as he slugged 20 home runs across High and Double-A but did improve his strikeout rate to 23%.  His swing mechanics point to a high strikeout rate that could also come with a .230 batting average, but he has enough pull-side power to also hit 30 home runs at the big league level.

Scouting Report: Riley’s carrying tool is double-plus raw power that is starting to translate.  While he’s hit 20 home runs in back-to-back season, there’s definitely more in the tank.  Remember, he just turned 20 and as he fills out and adds more strength, 30 home run power should follow.

The problem, of course, is his penchant to strikeout.  While he did improve last season, the swing mechanics point to a lot of swing and miss.  He did improve his walk rate and if that continues, he could post a .230/.330 batting average/on-base percentage, which should be enough to get him full-time at-bats in the majors.

Fantasy Impact:  Riley will not be a stud fantasy performer but could be the source of cheap power in the later rounds of a draft.  If he can post an above-average BABIP, like he did last season in Double-A, he could have seasons of a .260 to .270 batting average.

2018 Emerging Prospect

Bryse Wilson (RHP)

Drafted in the 2016 MLB Draft in the fourth round, Wilson had a terrific year for the Rome Braves in the Sally League.  In 26 starts, he posted a 2.50 ERA, striking out a batter an inning while walking 2.4 per nine.  While he pitched alongside more famous prospects, he outpitched them all.  He throws hard with pretty good secondary pitches.  He’s definitely somebody to watch.

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