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Atlanta Braves

I’m writing this article after the Braves season ended in a heartbreaking defeat at the hands of the Dodgers.  While it was a disappointing ending to their season, it was great to see the Braves excelling on the backs of a lot of young kids.  Two prospects, Ian Anderson and Cristian Pache played significant roles for the team in the deciding game. As a prospect writer, you can’t be any happier.  Fortunately, both make our list as they still have rookie eligibility.

While the Braves system is not what it used to be when Acuna and Swanson were leading the list, there is still talent.  In addition to Pache and Anderson, the power-speed combination that Drew Waters brings to the game could be huge for fantasy managers.  The Braves love both Braden Shewmake and William Contreras.  I’ve seen both play and they both have full-time regular upside.  Throw-in some big lefty arms and the Braves window appears to be just opening.

Prospect Quick Shot

  • Top Prospect: Cristian Pache
  • Biggest Mover: Kyle Muller
  • Emerging Prospect: Michael Harris

1. Cristian Pache (OF)

  • Highest Level:  Majors ETA: 2020 Fantasy Ceiling:  Top 30 OF
  • Tools Summary: 20-20 power-speed potential but currently does not control the strike zone well.  Double-plus defender in the mold of Jackie Bradley Jr. with more speed

Cristian Pache became the starting centerfielder in the Braves playoff run foretelling his future role in Atlanta.  The results were far from elite, but the defense was solid, and he had some good at-bats, even working two walks in one game.  The upside for me is still a 20-20 performer who might only hit .260 with a .300 to .320 OBP.   That prediction is still based on projection as his power is still developing and the approach still needs work.

2. Ian Anderson (RHP)

  • Highest Level:  Majors ETA: 2020 Fantasy Ceiling:  Top 40 SP
  • Tools Summary: All the ingredients to be a successful Major League pitcher. 

Ian Anderson joined the Braves in late August and made a great case for Rookie of the Year.  In six starts, he pitched to a 1.95 ERA striking out over eleven per nine winning three of his starts.  He didn’t always throw strikes as he walked nearly four per nine, but hitters had trouble picking up his stuff.  Speaking of his stuff, StatCast was not bullish.  His fastball velocity sat 94 MPH, which ranked in the upper third of the league, but the pitch had one of poorer spin rates in the league.  Plus, both his curveball and change-up had poor movement and ranked in the bottom 20% of the league.  But hitters did not pick up either pitch well as the Whiff rate was high on both pitches.  The arsenal and ability to throw strikes points more to a mid-rotation starter instead of where he will likely be drafted in 2021.

3. Drew Waters (OF)

  • Highest Level:  Alternate Site ETA: 2021 Fantasy Ceiling:  Top 40 OF
  • Tools Summary: Intriguing skills but his strikeout rate and reliance on a high BABIP will catch up to him.  There is more development work, but there is also upside

While I know fantasy managers love the potential of Drew Waters, and I will admit, there is a lot to like, his 2019 season was not what it appeared.  While he hit .309 with seven home runs and 16 stolen bases, he also struck out 29% of the time and posted a .435 BABIP.  While there are power and speed in the profile, the approach and his penchant to strikeout still need a lot of work.  The upside is a 20-20 performer but there will be pressure on his batting average and OBP.

4. Braden Shewmake (SS)

  • Highest Level:  Alternate Site ETA: 2021-22 Fantasy Ceiling:  Top 15 2B/3B
  • Tools Summary: Plus hit tool with a little bit of pop and speed.

The Braves selected Braden Shewmake with the 21st overall pick in the 2019 MLB Draft.  They were extremely aggressive with him in his draft year starting him off in Low-A and with a move Double-A to end of the season.  He performed well hitting .318 striking out only 13% of the time while walking 9% of the time.  Not only is he a quality hitter, but he’s also an above-average runner and once he fills out, should develop some power.  A projected slash line could be .280/.340/.430 with 15 home runs and 15 stolen bases.

5. William Contreras (C)

  • Highest Level:  Majors ETA: 2020 Fantasy Ceiling:  Top 10 C
  • Tools Summary: One of the better catching prospects in the game that isn’t talked about much.  Solid on both sides of the ball with at least average future power potential.

William Contreras got a taste of the Major Leagues when the Braves promoted him for a week in July.  He went 4 for 10 and didn’t seem intimidated by the experience. I think there is potential on both sides of the plate.  He’s a quality defender who I think will hit with some pop.  A projected stat line could be .260/.330/.425 with 15 to 20 home runs.  If he can do that, he’ll be a Top 10 offensive catcher in the league.

6. Kyle Muller (LHP)

  • Highest Level:  Alternate Site ETA: 2021 Fantasy Ceiling:  Top 50 SP
  • Tools Summary: Quality arsenal from the left side.  He’s still working on his control and if that comes together, the upside is at least a number three starter.  If it doesn’t, he moves to the bullpen.

Last year, we talked about Kyle Muller adding velocity to his arsenal.  Here’s a video of him working on his craft.  As you can see, he’s a big kid, but very athletic.  As with most tall pitchers, his control is the last piece missing.  If the Braves give him time to improve his control, I think he turns into at least a mid-rotation starter.  However, they might decide to just let him fly and move him to the bullpen in 2021. 

7. Tucker Davidson (LHP)

  • Highest Level:  Alternate Site ETA: 2020-21 Fantasy Ceiling:  Top 60 SP
  • Tools Summary: Fastball improved a grade after throwing with Kyle Muller during the off-season

As with Kyle Muller, Tucker Davidson fastball improved a grade and that has turned his ceiling from a back-of-the-rotation starter to a number four, or maybe more.  He’s always had good secondary pitches, but if his fastball can sit 93 to 94 MPH, that could be a game-changer for him.  He needs to improve his control but he’s athletic with good body control, so I think he improves a grade there as well.

8. Jasseel de la Cruz (RHP)

  • Highest Level:  Alternate Site ETA: 2020-21 Fantasy Ceiling:  Top 50 SP or Closer
  • Tools Summary: Under-the-radar prospect who can run his fastball into the upper 90s. 

As the cadre of Braves pitching prospect begin to matriculate, Jasseel de la Cruz is moving up the list.  He has a fastball that can touch the upper 90s in short burst and can now throw both his slider and change-up for strikes.  He’s never posted huge strikeout totals, but I think it’s coming. 

9. Jared Shuster (LHP)

  • Highest Level:  DNP ETA: 2022-23 Fantasy Ceiling:  Top 60 SP
  • Tools Summary: Intriguing lefty pitcher from the 2020 MLB Draft

I saw Jared Shuster in college in 2019 and thought he was a nice pitcher with a low 90s fastball and a nice changeup.  I didn’t think much of the slider.  On draft night, I was surprised he was a first-round pick but then heard that he had improved his fastball a grade and was hitting 96 MPH.  If that’s true, then that’s a different pitcher than I saw.  He’s athletic and can repeat his mechanics, therefore, he throws strikes, which also improves his ceiling. 

10. Shea Langeliers (C)

  • Highest Level:  Alternate Site ETA: 2021 Fantasy Ceiling:  Top 20 Catcher
  • Tools Summary: Currently, defense over offense but has a little bit of power and an idea at the plate.  He still needs time to develop offensively.

The Braves drafted Shea Langeliers with the ninth overall pick in the 2019 MLB Draft. In that draft slot, they could have gone in several directions but decided on a college catcher with a reputation of being one of the best defensive catchers in the college game.  While he showed solid offensive skills in college, he doesn’t have a carrying offensive tool.  For Dynasty League managers, I’m thinking of a Tucker Barnhardt type of player.   He usually fills a second catcher in a two-catcher deep format.

11. Michael Harris (OF)

  • Highest Level:  Alternate Site ETA: 2021 Fantasy Ceiling:  Top 50 OF with extreme risk
  • Tools Summary: Athletic outfielder with good bat speed and is a 60-runner

Michael Harris was drafted in the third round in 2019 and got off to a fast start in the GCL slashing .349/.409/.514 in 31 games.  The Braves thought enough of him that they assigned him to the Alternate Site for the 2020 season where he got a chance to work daily against pitchers much more advanced and older than he was.  I was told that he did great and the Braves were very encouraged by what they saw.  There could be something here.

12. Bryce Ball (1B)

  • Highest Level:  Alternate Site ETA: 2022-23 Fantasy Ceiling:  Top 15 1B
  • Tools Summary: Huge kid at 6-foot-6 with double-plus raw power

I should have included Bryce Ball in our Top 15 list last year, but I just didn’t have the courage.  Sure, I saw the 13 home runs in 41 games in the Appy League and the .676 SLG, but he was selected in the 24th round of the 2019 Draft.  I thought, if he were this good, wouldn’t he have been drafted earlier?  He’s a huge man at 6-foot-6 but oddly doesn’t strike out like a man of his size would suggest.  Look, I’m not saying he’s the next Aaron Judge, but he has double-plus raw power and can make contact.  Who cares where he was drafted?

13. Patrick Weigel (RHP)

  • Highest Level:  Majors ETA: 2020 Fantasy Ceiling:  Bullpen arm, maybe a closer
  • Tools Summary: Big, strong with a big fastball.  Control continues to elude him.

Patrick Weigel made his major league debut in 2020 and it wasn’t memorable.  His ending line was 0.2 IP, 2 hits, 3 BB, and 2 ER.  The stuff is plenty good to get guys out in the big leagues.  His fastball sits 94 to 95 MPH with a plus slider, but he’s never been able to throw consistent strikes.  He is 6-foot-6 and generally pitchers of that height struggle with their control early in their career.  If Weigel figures it out, the upside is a high-leverage bullpen arm.

14. Trey Harris (OF)

  • Highest Level:  DNP ETA: 2021 Fantasy Ceiling:  Extra Outfielder
  • Tools Summary: High energy player who gets the most out of his tool.

Trey Harris was drafted in the 32nd round in 2018 and has done nothing but hit since entering professional ball.  He’s only 5-foot-8 but has good bat speed with a compact swing.  While he has some speed, he needs to work on stealing bases as he was only successful in 8 of 15 attempts in 2019.  The ceiling is likely a fourth outfielder, but he can hit with a little bit of speed and pop and those types of players wind up playing a long time and providing value in spurts for fantasy owners.

15. Justin Dean (OF)

  • Highest Level:  DNP ETA: 2022 Fantasy Ceiling:  Extra Outfielder
  • Tools Summary: Double-plus speed and played well in Low-A.  But, was old for the league.

My deep sleeper in the Braves system continues to be Justin Dean. Yeah, Covid-19 hurt this kid as he was 22 and in Low-A in 2019.  But he’s an exciting player with double-plus speed and more pop than you would think.  I know, he’s 5-foot-6, but I’ve always been supportive of diminutive baseball players that can really play.  Let’s see if he can become something.

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