On Thursday, John Sickles of SB Nation’s Minor League Ball blog posted some questions to get some discussion going ahead of his always popular Atlanta Braves prospect list. I’m going to share with you my responses to those questions, which I think get to the heart of what will need to happen for the Atlanta Braves to be successful.
Q: The Atlanta Braves finished at 68-93 as they move forward with the rebuilding project. How satisfied are you with the results so far? Is there any way they can get to .500 in 2017, or is something like 75 wins more realistic?
Andy: I don’t believe the Braves will be a .500 team in 2017 unless they get drastic improvement from their young starting pitchers. I currently have them in for 74 wins, which would be a significant improvement. I am mostly satisfied with the rebuilding process (trading for Hector Olivera, then trading for Matt Kemp aside), and I continue to believe the results will be a string of high quality baseball teams, likely starting in 2018.
Q: Can Mallex Smith show more with the bat than he did in 2016?
Andy: Almost certainly, though I believe he’s more of a super-4th outfielder than an everyday guy long-term.
Q: How much power do you think Dansby Swanson will eventually develop?
Andy: If his bat gets quicker I could see him with a 20-HR season or two. If not, he’ll settle in the 10-15 HR range with some 35+ double seasons.
Andy: Of the three, I feel most optimistic about Foltynewicz and believe he could be a foundation rotation guy. Last off-season he couldn’t throw at all coming off surgery and being on blood thinners, so having a normal off-season throwing program should be huge for him.
Blair I’m fairly neutral on. His last start of the season was certainly encouraging, but I have no idea if his new slider, which he picked up mid-season, and his new delivery will be enough to right the ship.
I am most pessimistic about Wisler. Think he’s got the spring and maybe a few months of starts before the discussion turns to putting him in the bullpen (where I do think he could be successful).
Andy: Yes, if the Atlanta Braves can settle on roles for them. I still like Gant as a starter, but I think the team sees him as a reliever. If another team sees him as a starter, he may be a candidate to be moved.
Jenkins could develop as a groundball bullpen specialist, but he may need a season in a AAA bullpen to get into that rhythm. I don’t see Jenkins as a starter long-term due to overall inefficiency in getting outs and lack of a strikeout pitch. However, like Gant if another team still sees him as a starter he may get moved.
Andy: Unless there’s lingering effects from his elbow, Albies should be in the starting line-up opening day. After 1000 PAs in the majors, I think we have seen what we’re going to see from Jace Peterson. Albies could provide 3+ WAR if he plays a full season.
I think Newcomb is in AAA all season, aside from a look in September.
Q: As always, share your Braves system sleepers.
- Max Fried, LHP – He’s not a “sleeper”, but I think he’ll start the season in AA, and being on the 40-man roster will give him a decent shot at making his ML debit in 2017.
- Juan Yepez, 1B/3B – I loved this guy last year, but I was hoping he’d play third base in Danville. Instead he was called up to play first base in Rome due to a rash of injuries to Rome first basemen Matt Tellor and Wiggy Nevarez. Then Yepez got hurt himself after a few weeks. It looked like he went on the Rio Ruiz diet and exercise regimen, and I’m hoping it will give him enough mobility to stick at third base, something that was not clear would happen after his first pro season. The hit tool is there, and is one of the best in the system.
- Jeremy Walker, RHP – He had very rough mechanics coming out of college, but showed a lot of progress in Danville. He could “pull a Patrick Weigel” and become a prospect out of nowhere. Certainly the pure “stuff” is there.
- Jared James, OF – He’s a deep sleeper. He was a college draftee playing in Rome, and he showed advanced strike zone judgement and pitch recognition. He played a good outfield as well, and he could make it as a 4th outfielder or platoon guy. He’s the son of former Atlanta Braves OF Dion James.