|Original Published Date: November 8, 2019|
The once-mighty Braves minor league system is not nearly what it used to be. One obvious reason is that many of those players have matriculated to the Majors and are contributing in a meaningful way. Thank you, Mr. Acuna. But secondly, the punishment handed down for the 2017 international scandal hurt the system’s player pipeline and that is starting to be felt now. Not only did they have to return 13 players back into the free-agent market but more importantly, they can only sign international free agents to a maximum of a $10,000 signing bonus through the 2020 period (or July 2nd of 2021). When you are drafting late in the draft and can’t sign international players, the system starts to slowly regress.
The regression can best be seen in the lower minors. There are few impact players in Low-A ball and below. However, at the top, it’s very good. Cristian Pache and Drew Waters are close to helping the Big-League club and could be impact performers. Pitching continues to be a strength with Ian Anderson having the highest upside. After that, there are a plethora of pitchers who could develop into number two or three starters in the big leagues.
In conclusion, the system is still very good but having researched 20 to 40 players to write about 15. It’s no longer the system it once was.
Prospect Quick Shot
- Top Prospect: Cristian Pache
- Biggest Mover: Braden Shewmake
- Emerging Prospect: Jasseel de la Cruz
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1. Cristian Pache (OF)
- Highest Level: Triple-A 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 had a quiet 2019 season. In fact, if you look at his strikeout and walk rates in Double-A vs. Low-A (2017), they were nearly identical. What was different is he showed a lot more power and didn’t steal as many bases. For fantasy owners, the lack of stolen bases is concerning and when you see that he got caught more times than he was successful, it raises even more flags.
He does have good speed, not a burner, but clearly needs to work on his base stealing. I think that will come and he should be able to produce 20 stolen bases at the highest level. The power is developing nicely and I think there could be 20 plus home run power to come. That leaves his hit tool and therein lies the challenge. He walked more this year than he ever has, but at 7.9%, he’s not going to challenge Freddie Freeman’s OBP. Plus, he strikes out a lot. In Double-A, it was 24%.
Net-net, we have a potential 20-20 performer who might only hit .260 with a .300 to .320 OBP. But, he’s still only 20 and still has a lot of time to improve the hit tool. I’m still putting his ceiling as a Top 30 fantasy outfielder who will always get at-bats because of his defense, which is stellar.
2. Drew Waters (OF)
- Highest Level: Triple-A ETA: 2020-21 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 big upside.
Drew Waters was one of the sexy names coming into the season and he has not disappointed. In 134 games across Double and Triple-A, he’s hit .309 with seven home runs and 16 stolen bases. With his speed-power combination, the upside continues to be a 20-20 performer, but unfortunately, there are issues lurking.
If you dig into his ability to control the strike zone, there are warning signs. He posted a 29% strikeout rate while walking only 7% of the time. The reason he’s been able to post a .300 batting average is an unsustainable .435 BABIP. His expected average is more in the .230s. Unfortunately, an adage continues to be true – you can’t steal first.
That said, I still like Waters. He’s only 20-years-old and was one of the younger players in both Double and Triple-A. He’s not Ronald Acuna and it might make sense for the Braves to slow his progression down a little. I know fans were calling for a promotion to Triple-A in mid-season and the Braves accommodated. I hope the same thing doesn’t happen in 2020 and we see him in the big leagues. A full season in the minors will go a long way in helping him cut down on his strikeouts and work counts better.
3. Ian Anderson (RHP)
- Highest Level: Double-A ETA: 2020 Fantasy Ceiling: Top 30 SP
- Tools Summary: All the ingredients to be a successful Major League pitcher.
Pitching is so hard to develop. The Braves are a testament to that. They had some of the best arms in the minor leagues in their system and while it’s still too soon to declare success or failure, so far, the jury is still out. Kyle Wright, Touki Toussaint, Sean Newcomb, Bryse Wilson, Luiz Gohara have all had their chance but have yet to establish themselves. Only Mike Soroka has stuck in the Major Leagues in their recent crop. Don’t get me wrong, they are all talented with Major League upside, it’s just very hard to pitch at the highest level. It’s why you need depth.
Ian Anderson is yet another pitcher that will be added to this depth by 2020 and for my money, after Soroka, he has the best chance to establish himself. He has the ideal pitcher’s body at 6-foot-3, is athletic with two current plus pitches in his fastball and curveball with a change-up that has improved greatly. The walks are still a problem, but once he can solve that, which I think he will, there’s a number two ceiling.
4. Kyle Wright (RHP)
- Highest Level: Majors ETA: 2019 Fantasy Ceiling: Top 40 SP with upside
- Tools Summary: Post Hype Sleeper. Plus arsenal with size and pitchability.
I typed in “Post Hype Sleeper” into google to see if I could get a proper definition. The first citation that was presented was from FanDuel of all sites:
The term “post–hype sleeper” usually refers to a player who was expected to have a breakout season, failed, and is now seemingly undervalued.
This says it perfectly and it describes my feeling about Kyle Wright to a “T”. In his brief but unspectacular taste of the Major Leagues in 2019, he posted a 9.16 ERA in 18.2 innings striking out 17 while walking 13. Yeah, it wasn’t pretty. Making matters worse, he was drafted fifth overall in 2017 from Vanderbilt and had pitched well in the minor leagues. He should have fared better but didn’t.
The stuff continues to very good with a fastball that sits 94 to 95 MPH with a high spin rate and a plus slider and workable change-up. It’s an arsenal that points to at least a mid-rotation starter if not more. Throw-in his size and polish on the mound, I think there is more to come. I feel so strongly that I am recommending that Dynasty League owners make aggressive bids for him in the trade market. I got him as a “final piece” to complete a deal. Plus, I would be taking him late in all re-draft leagues. I doubt you’ll have a lot of competition.
5. Bryse Wilson (RHP)
- Highest Level: Majors ETA: 2019 Fantasy Ceiling: Top 50 SP
- Tools Summary: Quality fastball but secondary pitches still need improvement. Strike thrower that will be better than what we’ve seen to-date in the Major Leagues.
As with Kyle Wright, Bryse Wilson was not successful in his brief stay in the Major Leagues last season. In 20 innings, he pitched to a 7.20 ERA striking out 16 while walking 10 and giving up five home runs. As with Wright, he’s better than what he’s shown to date. In 121 innings in Triple-A last season, he pitched well. He posted a 3.42 ERA striking out nearly a batter an inning while walking less than two per nine.
The arsenal is solid with a fastball that averaged 94.91 in the Majors with a high spin rate. His secondary pitches still need work, particularly his slider which is currently spotty at best. But we must remember, he only turns 22 in December and was one of the youngest pitchers in both Triple-A and the Majors last season. Perhaps the Braves in their quest to find starting pitcher simply rushed him and he needed more development time to hone his secondary pitches.
I’m still an owner of Wilson and believe there is more in the tank. Assuming the secondary pitches continue to improve, he has a chance to be a mid-rotation starter.
6. Kyle Muller (LHP)
- Highest Level: Double-A ETA: 2020-21 Fantasy Ceiling: Top 50 SP with some upside
- 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.
After adding velocity to his fastball, Kyle Muller experienced a nice step-up year in 2018. He continued to show better stuff last season in Double-A but had trouble controlling his improved velocity. In 22 starts he walked 5.5 batters per nine. The strikeouts were there (9.7 K/9) and he only gave up five home runs, but his lack of control was disappointing.
With his increased velocity, it’s now a premium arsenal from the left-side. He complements his plus fastball with a good slider while flashing a workable change-up. He’ll even throw a show-me curveball that holds promise. At 6-foot-6, it’s not surprising he’s struggling with his control. I think he just needs time. Remember, he just turned 22 in early October, so he’s still a very young pitcher.
Muller will likely start the year in Triple-A and depending on how he pitches, he could see Atlanta at some point during the 2020 season. The upside continues to be a mid-rotation starter.
7. Braden Shewmake (SS)
- Highest Level: Double-A ETA: 2021 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 the Texas A&M product starting him in Low-A and moving him to Double-A at the end of the season. He performed very well in Low-A hitting .318 striking out only 13% of the time while walking 9% of the time. This was like what he did in college and why he was drafted in the first round.
Not only is he a quality hitter, but he also has good speed stealing 13 bases between the two levels. He does project to have power as he fills out, so a profile of 15-15 is possible. He’s currently at short, but at 6-foot-4, he’ll likely be moved off the position as he moves through the system.
8. William Contreras (C)
- Highest Level: Double-A ETA: 2020-21 Fantasy Ceiling: Top 15 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.
After a nice breakout in 2018, the Braves pushed William Contreras hard in 2019 where they split his development time between High and Double-A. It makes sense as both Tyler Flowers and Brian McCann are in their mid-30s and the Braves need to look to the future for their backstop.
Like his brother, Contreras is athletic with good defensive chops and a chance to be an above-average offensive player. While he didn’t put up eye-popping offensive numbers in 2019, he nonetheless played well at both stops, hitting .255 with six home runs making solid contact at 20% K/9 and walking 7% of the time. I think there is more pop in the bat with a chance to hit .260 with a .330 to .340 OBP. That’s not the same upside as his brother but is good enough to give him a ceiling of a full-time regular at the highest level.
9. Jasseel de la Cruz (RHP)
- Highest Level: Double-A ETA: 2020-21 Fantasy Ceiling: Top 60 SP
- Tools Summary: Under-the-radar prospect who had a great year. Good stuff and improving control.
With so many highly drafted pitching prospects in the Braves Top 15, Jasseel de la Cruz represents the cheap international alternative. It just so happened; he had the best year of any pitching prospect in the system.
The Braves started him in Low-A and he finished the year in Double-A pitching 133 quality innings. He struck out 8.2 per nine while walking 3.3 per nine. All told, he pitched to a 3.25 ERA. The stuff is solid with a good fastball/slider combination and a change-up that will keep glove-side batters at bay.
The ceiling is a number three/four starter.
10. Shea Langeliers (C)
- Highest Level: Low-A 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 last June’s MLB Draft as compensation for failing to sign Carter Stewart, their 8th pick in the 2018 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.
That was demonstrated in his 54 games in Low-A. He hit .255 with two home runs while posting a 23% K/9 and a 7.1% BB/9 ratio. I think a reasonable slash line could be .250/.320/.400 with 10 to 12 home runs. With his defensive ability, that might be good enough to get full-time major league at-bats, particularly as the Braves are spending so heavily on developing a premium pitching staff.
11. Tucker Davidson (LHP)
- Highest Level: Triple-A ETA: 2020-21 Fantasy Ceiling: Top 60 SP
- Tools Summary: Lefty with solid stuff but poor control is reducing his overall ceiling.
Tucker Davidson took a nice step forward in 2019 pitching to a 2.03 ERA in 21 starts in Double-A striking out nearly 10 per nine and walking 3.7 per nine. The walks were a little high but were an improvement from what he did in 2018. Nonetheless, his performance earned him a one-game promotion to Triple-A and puts him on the doorstep for a Major League call-up.
Davidson has an average arsenal with a low 90’s fastball and a curveball that is his best swing and miss offering. If he can improve his control, the ceiling is a number four, perhaps a little more.
12. Patrick Weigel (RHP)
- Highest Level: Triple-A ETA: 2020 Fantasy Ceiling: Bullpen arm, maybe a closer
- Tools Summary: Big, strong with a big fastball. Control continues to elude him.
Patrick Weigel is yet another big, strong pitching prospect in the Braves organization. When I say big, at 6-foot-6 and a listed 240 pounds, Weigel is just that…big. The stuff is solid with a fastball that he can run-up to the mid-90s, higher in shorter burst. His best secondary pitch is his slider which gets plenty of swings and misses. His biggest issue is throwing consistent strikes.
The Braves decided to move Weigel to the bullpen and the stuff has ticked up but he’s still struggling to throw consistent strikes. Across Double and Triple-A, he walked nearly five per nine. But the move to the bullpen makes sense as the stuff will play up and at 25, he should be able to see time in the big leagues in 2020. Assuming he can improve his control, there is a chance he sees high-leveraged situations, including save opportunities down the road.
13. Alex Jackson (C)
- Highest Level: Majors ETA: 2019 Fantasy Ceiling: Backup catcher
- Tools Summary: Big power but does not control the strike zone.
Yes, Alex Jackson slugged .526 and hit 28 home runs in only 85 games in Triple-A this season, but he also struck out a third of the time and only walked 6.7% of the time. If you couple that with marginal catching ability, there are still several open questions surrounding the former first-round pick.
I’ve put his ceiling as a backup catcher.
14. Trey Harris (OF)
- Highest Level: Double-A 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 played across three levels in 2019 (Low-A, High-A, and Double-A) posting an .888 OPS with 15 home runs and eight stolen bases. 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. 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: Low-A ETA: 2022 Fantasy Ceiling: Extra Outfielder
- Tools Summary: Double-plus speed and played well in Low-A. But, was old for the league.
I had a chance to see Justin Dean this year and WOW was he exciting. In a nutshell, he’s small and fast with a swing that I think will work. So how small and how fast? He’s listed at 5-foot-6 and I think that’s fairly accurate. For speed, I timed him on a jailbreak at 3.89 from the right side. If you don’t know that means, how about this. He stole 47 bases. He did hit nine home runs, but the swing is more doubles-oriented than built for over-the-fence production.
Now for the negative. He turns 23 in December and the Braves don’t seem to be any hurry to move him through the system. For now, he’s a name to know, but the speed is real and while he’ll expand the strike zone, I think he might get on base enough to eventually see some time in the Major Leagues.