Sunday, January 22, 2012
Our personal take on the Braves' current top prospects - all due respect to our other friends who rank them as well!!! (Players' ages listed reflect the age they will be during the 2012 campaign.)
1.) Julio Teheran (21) - RHSP - Gwinnett...If there wasn't a certain young lefty that just signed yet another team-friendly contract in Tampa Bay (Matt Moore), he'd be the best pitching prospect in the game. The Yankees offered him more money to sign back in 2007, but the Braves held the advantage of employing a certain scout named Miguel Teheran (his cousin). Much like the aforementioned Moore, the 21 year old has raced through the Braves' system, with the only "pause" coming when the organization was cautious with his shoulder back in 2008. Teheran has a plus fastball that sits in the 93-96 MPH range and touches 98. His second best offering is a devastating changeup with excellent depth and fade that he's willing to throw at any time, whether ahead or behind in the count. He also throws both a slider and a curve, and both project to be at least average if not a bit above.
OUTLOOK...Teheran has "ace" written all over him. He needs a little refinement - settling on which breaking ball he can rely on, holding runners a little more effectively, and a continued gradual increase in his workload before he's starting on Opening Day for the big club. He made a couple of emergency starts last season when injuries hit and held his own at age 20 in the bigs, so he's gotten a taste of what's to come soon. With the current logjam of arms looking for innings Teheran's likely to return to Gwinnett to begin 2012, but as soon as the Braves feel that Tim Hudson and Tommy Hanson are completely healthy and capable of handling their normal workloads he likely forces a trade of at least one of the guys ahead of him in the pecking order.
Other Views...Baseball America (1), John Sickels - Minor League Ball (1), Jonathon Mayo - MiLB.com (1), Mark Anderson - Baseball Prospect Nation (1)
2.) Randall Delgado (22) - RHSP - Gwinnett...Much like Julio Teheran, Delgado "got his feet wet" in Atlanta last season when he was called on because of injuries. What he showed while with the big club is what separates him from many others, and almost led me to rank he and Teheran as co-number 1s. While many evaluators feel his fastball isn't the plus-plus offering that Teheran's is (which I feel often clouds their judgement) he showed remarkable poise for a 21 year old in a penant race, only allowing 7 earned runs in 5 September starts while replacing the likes of Hanson and Jair Jurrjens. He has a plus curveball and solid changeup, and throws all three pitches with good arm speed and a consistent, easy delivery.
OUTLOOK...While Delgado's ultimate ceiling may be lower than Teheran's if all things work out for both, his imaginable floor is likely as a number 2 starter who may not light up radar guns but simply gets people out and chews up innings. He reminds me of Tim Hudson in that while he doesn't necessarily have the same sexy peripherals as another contender's "ace", you just don't feel that you're at much of a disadvantage running him out there against anybody at any time. He'll also likely start out in Gwinnett working to tighten up whatever tweaks Roger McDowell and Fredi Gonzalez say they'd like to see him "fix" but he could easily to step in now if needed, and is simply biding his time until an injury occurs or someone's traded.
Other Views...Baseball America (3), John Sickels - Minor League Ball (3), Jonathon Mayo - MiLB.com (3), Mark Anderson - Baseball Prospect Nation (3)
3.) Andrelton Simmons (22) - SS - Mississippi...This one will come as a bit of a shock when comparing this list to others, but won't be the only time they'll differ significantly. Simmons was passed on by several organizations who preferred that he take advantage of the arm that flashed 98 MPH heat during the one season he spent at Western Oklahoma JC because he wanted a shot at becoming an everyday player. Baaaaad mistake folks. Andrelton has rewarded the Braves for giving him that opportunity by becoming the best defensive SS in the minors according to most scouts, many of whom feel he could handle the position at the MLB level now. He can already make all the plays, and (obviously) has that cannon of an arm that enables him to make all the throws. Much like former Braves SS of the future Yunel Escobar, the errors he typically makes tend to come when he simply gets to balls most players can't get to. The only question that seemingly remains to be answered about Simmons is when (not if) his bat will be ready. He can use a bit of work on his approach since he's generally aggressive at the plate and the "stuff" he'll see moving forward will only get nastier, but figures to develop gap power as his frame fills out. He's shown that he has a good understanding of the strike zone by winning his league's batting title last season even with that aggressive approach.
OUTLOOK...Simmons is coming, and he's coming fast. He'll start out the season in AA, but if he shows he can have success against the more advanced pitching he'll see there and Tyler Pastornicky struggles while being given his shot to keep the position warm for Andrelton in 2013 don't be surprised to see him late this year. Frank Wren has been consistent in saying that the organization was comfortable enough with Pastornicky that the only "need" this winter was a glove guy with experience to help show him the ropes. My guess is that the team might not be much worse off if they chose to substitute Simmons for Pastornicky given its current roster, and you might not even lose Scrabble points if you flip-flopped the two players' names.
Other Views...Baseball America (4), John Sickels - Minor League Ball (4), Jonathon Mayo - MiLB.com (9), Mark Anderson - Baseball Prospect Nation (5)
4.) Arodys Vizcaino (22) - RHSP - Gwinnett...Vizcaino is that guy that keeps you up at night, salivating over what he "might be" if everything falls into place for him. When he's at his best he displays top of the rotation stuff. His fastball flashes plus-plus when he commands it, consistently sitting between 93-95 MPH and touching 99 on occasion when he really cuts it loose. He also possesses a nasty curveball that some evaluators feel he throws too often, and a changeup that is presently an average pitch that could become better if he remains a starter. Therein lies the rub - as he reached AAA last season, the organization transitioned him to the bullpen to both limit his innings and make him comfortable enough in that role that they could use him in Atlanta as the massive number of innings the "big three" (Craig Kimbrel, Jonny Venters, and Eric O'Flaherty) logged continued to climb. The nagging question that has followed Arodys since the day the Braves acquired him in the deal that sent Javier Vazquez back for a second stint in the Bronx is whether he'll ever be able to build up enough size and stamina to give you 200+ innings without breaking down.
OUTLOOK...My gut tells me that Vizcaino simply will never be able to handle the rigors of a full season (30+ starts) without injury. While I hardly ever feel comfortable hyping relief pitchers, this kid could be another Craig Kimbrel if the organization ultimately decides to move him to the pen and he only has to throw fastballs and curves for 60-ish innings every year. While there are likely only two other organizations in baseball (Tampa Bay and Kansas City) that have the depth in their system to turn a guy with Arodys' potential ceiling into a reliever, I can't help but feel that it winds up being the best thing for the big club if he isn't traded.
Other Views...Baseball America (2), John Sickels - Minor League Ball (2), Jonathon Mayo - MiLB.com (2), Mark Anderson - Baseball Prospect Nation (2)
5.) Edward Salcedo (21) - 3B - Lynchburg...Much like Vizcaino, Salcedo is one of those guys scouts love to dream on. Originally signed as a SS out of the Dominican Republic, the organization has already begun his transition away from the position in part because of his glove but also because of the consensus that he was going to outgrow it anyway. He spent most of last season at 3B in Rome, and while he struggled somewhat, most evaluators feel that he can eventually stick there if he puts in the work. Truth be told, the Braves didn't sign him for his defensive skills, and a future move to an OF corner can't be ruled out. The reason they spent big (a franchise record $1.6 million bonus for a foreign amateur signee) on Salcedo is his bat, which arguably has the highest upside in the system. His pitch recognition began to improve as he became more comfortable in his first full season in the US, and he began to cut down on his strikeouts.
OUTLOOK...Salcedo is still quite raw but has very good tools and a quick bat that should lead to the development of explosive power assuming his strike zone judgement continues to improve. With future Hall Of Fame 3B Chipper Jones hanging around for at least this season and Martin Prado under control through 2013, the organization can continue to be content with allowing Salcedo to progress at his own pace. If he proves he's capable of handling the hot corner defensively and his bat turns out to be as good as hoped, the Braves may very well already have Chipper's long-term successor.
Other Views...Baseball America (6), John Sickels - Minor League Ball (6), Jonathon Mayo - MiLB.com (6), Mark Anderson - Baseball Prospect Nation (8)
6.) Christian Bethancourt (21) - C - Mississippi...Bethancourt, like Salcedo, is still quite raw but has all the tools to become an All-Star. Evaluators have kept a close eye on the young Panamian since he starred for his home country during the 2004 Little League World Series. He struggled initially with his adjustment to full season baseball, but has since handled each challenge the organization has presented him with. Bethancourt has consistently flashed the defensive tools that everyone loves to see - good athleticism and a cannon for an arm that lead some scouts to believe that he can develop into a 70 grade defender (think Yadier Molina). Christian still has work to do as he seemingly gets somewhat bored at times, reaching for balls rather than moving his body to block them, but the organization feels he will make that adjustment as he continues to mature. His bat lagged behind his other tools until the organization really challenged him by promoting him to AA a portion of the way through last season, followed by a trip to the Arizona Fall League (where he impressed enough to be named a starter in the Rising Stars Game). The hope is that he'll adjust his free-swinging ways as he continues to mature, but even if he doesn't contact rate doesn't appear to be an issue and he projects to have at least solid power (if not a tick above average).
OUTLOOK...Bethancourt began to get a taste of success on the big stage the AFL provides this fall, and the organization hopes that was the push needed to help him mature a little more quickly - the realization that you can hold your own with that level of competition should help make it all the more clearer that you're not far away from being ready for the big time if you commit to improving your weaknesses. With franchise icon and hometown hero Brian McCann under control through the end of 2013, the Braves can afford to only challenge Bethancourt at the appropriate pace moving forward. If he continues to develop as hoped, the organization could conceivably have a tough choice to make - McCann's consistently been the best Catcher in the NL for several seasons, but he's not getting any younger and he's probably not capable of moving to any other position than 1B which looks to be covered for several years to come.
Other Views...Baseball America (9), John Sickels - Minor League Ball (10), Jonathon Mayo - MiLB.com (4), Mark Anderson - Baseball Prospect Nation (4)
7.) Sean Gilmartin (22) - LHSP - Mississippi...Gilmartin is one of those guys that every organization would love to have - a college Pitcher with a ceiling of a number 2 starter, a floor of a number 3 starter, and the kind of makeup that allows you to move him along as quickly as your circumstances dictate. He rightfully draws comparisons to Mike Minor, and those comparisons would be tough to find fault with. Gilmartin's best pitch is his plus changeup, but both his fastball and slider grade out as at least average to a tick above. One thing the organization really liked about Gilmarin (as well as Minor) whent they drafted him was that he had success pitching against elite level college competition while he was at Florida State - he was very rarely rattled, and always seemed to want the ball even more the bigger the stage got. This is one of the most important traits contending teams look for, particularly in starting Pitchers - guys who are almost oblivious to what's going on around them, who the opponent is, how big the crowd is, etc. focus strictly on success.
OUTLOOK...Gilmartin (along with Kris Medlen, Teheran, Delgado, and Vizcaino) gives the Braves the type of flexibility most organizations typically only dream of. When you add him to their list of starters, you're looking at a team with 10 guys with at least number 3 starter ceilings that they can plug into their rotation going into spring training. He won't be given a realistic shot of making the team out of camp, but he's someone Frank Wren, Fredi Gonzalez, and Roger McDowell (as well as scouts from 29 other teams) will be watching very closely. Gilmartin gives the team yet another option should one (or more) of the starters ahead of him in the pecking order be traded for an offensive upgrade, and could be packaged in that type of trade as a player to be named later as well.
Other Views...Baseball America (5), John Sickels - Minor League Ball (5), Jonathon Mayo - MiLB.com (unranked), Mark Anderson - Baseball Prospect Nation (7)
8.) Tyler Pastornicky (22) - SS - Atlanta...Pastornicky is one of those guys that everybody other than scouts loves. He's a high-energy player with solid across the board tools and great makeup. While he's not Andrelton Simmons (or even Alex Gonzalez) defensively, most evaluators believe that while there aren't likely Gold Gloves in his future, he's still capable enough to handle the position everyday. He has shown above-average range as well as an average arm, and competes as hard as anyone in the organization (which should allow his tools to further play up). His offense has improved with each step up the ladder. A bit of a free-swinger, he has excellent contact skills and a low strikeout rate, and isn't afraid to take a walk when the opportunity arises. He's never likely going to hit many HRs, but should provide solid gap power and plenty of 2Bs and 3Bs with his above-average speed and excellent baserunning skills (27 SBs last season). While his offensive skillset profiles like that of a leadoff hitter, the Braves already have that taken care of for the time being with Michael Bourn in the fold.
OUTLOOK...The Braves showed how much confidence they have in Pastornicky this offseason, choosing only to bring back a "glove-only" guy in Jack Wilson to provide competition for the position as camp opens. To be honest, he was brought back more to be a "guru" for Pastornicky to soak knowledge from more than to truly provide competition. Tyler will likely begin the season as the starting SS and bat 8th, but if he proves that he can do the same things at the MLB level that he did while sweeping through AA and AAA in 2011 he could very well be a great fit behind Bourn in the lineup, allowing Fredi Gonzalez to move the more powerful Martin Prado further down to help provide better overall balance hitting between McCann/Freeman/Heyward where more RBI opportunities arise. Pastornicky reminds me of a young David Eckstein sparkplug type of player.
Other Views...Baseball America (7), John Sickels - Minor League Ball (8), Jonathon Mayo - MiLB.com (8), Mark Anderson - Baseball Prospect Nation (6)
9.) Joey Terdoslavich (24) - 3B - Mississippi...One of the many recent Braves' draftees that signal a bit of a change in organizational philosophy, "Joey T" was a college position player seemingly picked to help provide system depth. Then a funny thing happened - he hit, and he hit, and he kept on hitting. He spent the 2011 regular season playing 1B at Lynchburg, and hit .286/.341/.526/.867 with 20 HRs and 52 2Bs. That earned him a trip to the Arizona Fall League where he stepped things up even further, delivering a .321/.424/.548/.972 line with 3 more bombs. He possesses better natural hitting skills than anyone in the organization. Assuming a normal progression, Terdoslavich profiles as a 25-30 HR threat at the MLB level. He was adequate at 1B this season at Rome, but he's probably not a long-term fit there defensively.
OUTLOOK...Joey T will face a big challenge as he likely starts the 2012 campaign at Mississippi, as the organization moves him across the diamond to 3B to see if he's somehow capable of handling the defensive challenge the hot corner provides adequately. If he does and continues to hit, he could provide the Braves a potential "replacement" for Chipper Jones should he decide to walk away following this season. The expectation is that it's ultimately a little too tough for him. While he may not be the answer there, the team still controls Martin Prado for 2013, giving others like Edward Salcedo, Brandon Drury, or Kyle Kubitza time to develop. Whether he remains a Brave over the long run likely hinges on yet another position change (likely to LF), but his bat should get him to The Show somewhere even if it isn't in Atlanta.
Other Views...Baseball America (unranked), John Sickels - Minor League Ball (15), Jonathon Mayo - MiLB.com (unranked), Mark Anderson - Baseball Prospect Nation (11)
10.) Matt Lipka (20) - OF - Lynchburg...Much like Terdoslavich, Lipka's a bit of a player without a position. A premium two-sport athlete in high school, the organization felt it got a steal when he slid to them in the 2010 draft. Matt was Dodgers' top prospect Zach Lee's favorite target as an All-State WR before both chose baseball over football scholarships, and has plus speed to go along with his excellent makeup that should ultimately allow him to become a productive major leaguer. Following a season spent between SS and 2B in Rome, the organization sent Lipka to instructs with the intent of transitioning him into a CF. This move wasn't because evaluators feel he doesn't possess the tools to succeed as a middle infielder, rather because the presence of Tyler Pastornicky, Andrelton Simmons, and 2011 draftee Nick Ahmed provide the Braves the luxury of moving him to a position with far fewer options for development. While his numbers were far from eye-popping at Rome he showed a very good approach at the plate, and Lipka projects as an above-average hitter that should develop gap power and plenty of extra-base hits as he matures.
OUTLOOK...His athleticism and makeup (often described as the proverbial baseball rat) bode well for the shift to CF. He's already shown that he's capable of utilizing his speed on the basepaths with 28 steals in his inaugural season. It will obviously take a little time to adjust to reading the ball off the bat and taking appropriate routes to flyballs, but evaluators feel Matt is up to the task. The shift was pushed a little quickly because the Braves don't really have any solid options to replace Michael Bourn in center should he not be retained following this season. In any event, Lipka's not likely to be ready to step in before 2014 at the earliest, meaning Frank Wren will have a decision to make next winter. If Matt starts to hit like many feel he can this year, the organization may very well decide to let Bourn walk and try to find a stopgap out there until he's ready.
Other Views...Baseball America (unranked), John Sickels - Minor League Ball (12), Jonathon Mayo - MiLB.com (7), Mark Anderson - Baseball Prospect Nation (9)
Brandon Drury (20) - 3B - Rome, Carlos Perez (20) - LHSP - Lynchburg, Zeke Spruill (22) - RHSP - Mississippi, J. J. Hoover (25) - RHSP - Gwinnett, Tommy La Stella (23) - 2B/OF - Lynchburg
Monday, January 16, 2012
Before all the naysayers scream it, I know...I know. The last time the Atlanta Braves dealt with Texas, the Rangers took John Schuerholz for the ride of his life, one that still leaves as sour a taste in your mouth as anything Braves' Nation has sunk its collective teeth into in a loooong time. The deal that brought Mark Teixeira "home" to Atlanta is a sore spot when talking with many Braves fans, and even I will admit it's been pretty tough watching the players involved in the deal go on to varying levels of success with their new teams (plural since Jarrod Saltalamacchia's now the Red Sox' starting Catcher), but that's a discussion left for another time. For now, we move on.
Here we are - 33 days before Braves' Pitchers and Catchers report to camp - and many Braves "faithful" are pulling their hair out, screaming on message boards and blogs that Frank Wren needs to "do something". While I'm one of the small minority that feels comfortable with the team as constructed following the re-signing of Jack Wilson as a mentor for Tyler Pastornicky and insurance in case of injuries to Chipper Jones and/or Dan Uggla, I'll sound like Wren to many of the restless when I say I would still make a trade ONLY IF the right trade comes along.
There have been plenty of rumors continuing to surround both Jair Jurrjens and Martin Prado, but recent signings and trades have helped clear the water somewhat. One that consistently came up was Prado to Colorado for Seth Smith and another OF (depending on your preference, Dexter Fowler, Tim Wheeler, or Charlie Blackmon). This one can finally be put to rest now that Smith has been dealt to Oakland for two Pitchers. Does this mean that the Rockies no longer have any interest in Prado? Probably. Even though they'd still like to upgrade at 2B, the Braves will likely need a replacement for Prado in LF in any deal they make involving him, particularly now that the option of signing a replacement like Josh Willingham or Michael Cuddyer no longer exists. We also have seen reports that the Braves were "after" Orioles' CF Adam Jones (as I mentioned as someone I'd target here earlier), but there doesn't seem to be any real evidence that the talks ever gained much traction. If some of the "talking heads" were right when they said that Baltimore was asking for Jurrjens, Prado, and TWO premium pitching prospects, it's understandable that the phone call came to an abrupt end.
Most teams that have been linked to the Braves during the Hot Stove season might have had something to offer that fit one of the "holes" Wren would have been looking to fill, but not multiple ones. Carroll Rogers of the AJC had a conversation with Chipper Jones when he returned from an offseason hunting expedition last week that leads me to believe that the organization should be more hesitant to deal Prado than before. In her Q & A with the future Hall Of Fame 3B, he sounded resigned to the fact that the 126 games he was able to play in last season may very well be his ceiling going forward. If that is truly the case (and I'll agree with most that believe it is), we're talking about needing another player to man the hot corner for roughly 23% of the 2012 campaign. This of course assumes that the replacement LF and 3B don't come in any Prado deal. Martin alone isn't going to be enough to net that kind of return, and Jack Wilson's bat will simply not be sufficient enough to cover 36 games at 3B.
So let's look in a direction no one else has to this point - Texas. The Rangers understandably cut bait on C. J. Wilson when the numbers didn't seem to make sense for them anymore, and instead chose to go after Yu Darvish. Most "experts" feel that Darvish potentially offers more upside than Wilson, and they've committed to transitioning Neftali Feliz back into a starter now that they've signed Joe Nathan to close. Assuming they get the numbers where they need to be with Darvish, their rotation looks like this...C. J. Wilson, Derek Holland, Darvish, Feliz, and either Matt Harrison or Alexi Ogando (40% coming to them courtesy of the Teixeira deal if it's Harrison).
Despite all the GM-speak we've heard for awhile now, rumblings have begun to surface that the Rangers spending big on Darvish doesn't necessarily mean that they actually are "out" on Prince Fielder. They've been bridesmaids two postseasons in a row now, and two of their biggest hurdles to getting another crack at it have gotten markedly better this winter. The Angels not only added Albert Pujols, they now have arguably the deepest rotation in MLB with their addition of C. J. Wilson. As always, the Yankees seem to find some way to make headlines even when no one's paying attention, and they improved their rotation from the big question mark to a very good one in about a 10 minute span the other night with the additions of Michael Pineda and Hiroki Kuroda.
So here's my question - would the addition of Darvish, Fielder, and Jair Jurrjens not trump all other 2011-2012 offseasons and make the Rangers hands-down favorites??? Just how good could they be with Jurrjens in the rotation and Harrison and Ogando in the pen? A healthy Jurrjens would go a long way towards allowing Texas to relieve some of the immense weight they're going to be placing squarely on the shoulders of two guys who've never started an MLB game in Darvish and Feliz. I'd also think it's safe to assume that Nolan Ryan would love to replace some of the minor league pitching depth they traded away for bullpen help down the stretch last season when they brought in Mike Adams, Mike Gonzalez, and Koji Uehara.
Now for my proposal. Jurrjens, SP prospect Sean Gilmartin, and SP prospect Zeke Spruill for 3B prospect Mike Olt and OF prospect Leonys Martin.
Why the Rangers would do it: Jurrjens solidifies the rotation as mentioned above, and Gilmartin and Spruill significantly add to their system's pitching depth. This depth could be terribly important to them moving forward as guys like Wilson, Holland, and Feliz creep closer to free-agency. They've already blocked Olt at 3B with Adrian Beltre, leading to recent mention that he's going to be taking some reps at 1B. Obviously, signing Fielder would block him there as well. Martin's a high-upside OF, but the Rangers already have Josh Hamilton and Juan Cruz manning the corners (assuming they do the smart thing and keep Hamilton in LF to protect his health as much as possible), and while Leonys profiles as a CF, the addition of Fielder's bat would certainly allow the Rangers to go with more of a glove guy in CF.
Why the Braves would do it: The pitching depth has never been in question, with Mike Minor, Julio Teheran, and Randall Delgado all arguably ready to join the big club's rotation, and Arodys Vizcaino and Kris Medlen offering other potential options. Martin can be worked in slowly, filling in in LF for Prado when he steps in at 3B for Chipper this year, and sliding into LF (or CF if Michael Bourn leaves) permanently in 2013. Olt becomes Chipper's "heir apparent" also ready to step in following this season. If Olt's "beating down the door" and Martin looks capable of handling LF alone before the trade deadline, Wren can always revisit trading Prado later this year.
Maybe, just maybe, BOTH teams could "win" this time around.