Get to Know a Prospect: Cruz, Cumberland, Sanchez, Morales, Didder

Danville’s Derian Cruz closes in on a bouncer. (Photo: Matt Bell/Register & Bee)

The Get to Know a Prospect series concludes with the last of the Top 30 prospects. Be sure to check back later this month as I will look at the overall organizational depth by position. For everyone who has followed along, thanks for reading!

Derian Cruz. (Photo: Jeff Morris)

26. Derian Cruz, SS

Age: 18
Bats: S
2016 Level: Rk Danville

.248/.272/.364
82 wRC+
2 HR, 7 SB
2.2 BB%
19.6 K%
(stats include two rookie leagues)

The History: Cruz was the top international amateur free agent signing for the Braves in 2015, getting a $2,000,000 signing bonus. The native of the Dominican Republic made his pro debut in June with the Gulf Coast League Braves, hitting .309/.336/.445 after a month before getting a quick promotion to Danville of the Appalachian League. The more advanced league proved a challenge, and Cruz was only able to muster a .183/.204/.279 batting line. Despite his numbers, Baseball America rated Cruz as the #12 prospect in the Appalachian League after the season.

The Report: While Cruz is a switch hitter, his right-handed swing is outpacing his left-handed swing. As a righty, his swing is quick and shows good gap power. He needs to work on strike-zone judgement, a trait that hurt him in the Appy League as pitchers were more consistently able to throw around the plate without throwing strikes and so far at least Cruz has shown to be a fairly dramatic free-swinger. Defensively, Cruz has shown a strong arm and good footwork and range at shortstop, but so far lacks a natural feel for the position, and needs to perfect the little things like exchanging the ball from glove to hand. These are the kinds of things should rapidly improve with experience. Cruz is very fast and accelerates quickly running the bases, but still has to learn the finer points of baserunning.

What’s Next: Cruz so far has proven to be a very intriguing but very raw bundle of tools. Given his troubles in Danville and his young age, I suspect the Braveswill hold him back in extended spring training to start 2017 unless he demonstrates significant improvement in instructionals and spring training. If he does, the Braves may elect to push him up to Rome.

Brett Cumberland (Photo: CB Wilkens)

27. Brett Cumberland, C

Age: 21
Bats: S
2016 Level: Rk Danville

.216/.317/.340
89 wRC+
3 HR, 0 SB
7.4 BB%
25.9 K%

The History: Cumberland was a 2nd-round pick by the Braves in the 2016 draft out of UC-Berkeley, the first college hitter drafted by the Braves with a top 5 pick in 3 years. Cumberland was named the Pac-12 Player of the Year and a second team All-America Team selection after hitting .344 and 16 home runs for the Bears. While reports of his catching were mixed, the Braves jumped at getting an offense-first, switch-hitting power hitter in the organization, figuring that they could coach up the defense. Cumberland was assigned to the rookie-level Danville Braves, and while he had some moments, his pro debut was mostly forgettable. Cumberland was named as #20 on Baseball America’s top prospects list of the Appalachian League.

The Report: In college, Cumberland displayed quick hands and a quick batting stroke that allowed him to pull inside pitches with regularity. This also allowed him to shorten his stroke and go opposite field if the pitcher decided to stay away from his power. A switch-hitter, Cumberland has so far shown better power from the left side. Braves scouting director Brian Bridges, after Cumberland was drafted, had this to say: “The catch is probably going to be average and the arm is probably going to be average. You’re betting on the bat. He’s a hit-first catcher.” When the guy who just drafted a player calls his defense “average”, you can bet it’s probably below average. By all accounts, Cumberland is a smart player and can call a good game, but needs to work on his footwork, blocking, and framing. Cumberland has a strong arm, but poor pop times.

What’s Next: The Braves have had success with bringing along defensively deficient backstops, but if Cumberland doesn’t make it as a catcher, he is athletic enough move to first base or one of the corner outfield spots. That said, Cumberland is rated this high because of the possibility of making it as a catcher. Cumberland will likely begin the season in class A Rome.

Ricardo Sanchez. (Photo: MiLB.com)

28. Ricardo Sanchez, LHP

Age: 20
2016 Level: A Rome

4.75 ERA
4.68 FIP
24 G, 23 GS
119.1 IP
4.07 BB/9
7.77 K/9

The History: Sanchez was a high-profile international amateur signing by the Angels in 2013 out of Venezuela. He debuted in the Arizona League, a fairly aggressive assignment for a prospect his age. He was rated the #2 prospect in the Angels poorly-regarded farm system when he was traded to the Braves before the 2015 season for minor leaguers third baseman Kyle Kubitza and reliever Nate Hyatt. The Braves started Sanchez in class A Rome in 2015 (making his Braves debut on his 18th birthday), but a myriad of minor injuries held Sanchez to 10 unremarkable starts. Sanchez repeated the level in 2016 and was hit hard to start the season. However, Sanchez avoided the injury bug and made a career high 23 starts. Like most of the Rome Braves, Sanchez kicked it into a higher gear in the second half of the season, pitching to a 3.21 ERA with 45 strikeouts in 47.2 IP.

The Report: Sanchez is the rare smallish pitcher in the Braves organization, at 5’-11” and 170 pounds. He can run the fastball up to around 94 and sits in the low-90s. His primary weapon is a big 1-to-7 curveball than can be a swing-and-miss pitch when he can command it. Command of the fastball and curveball are the limiting factors for Sanchez at this point; his stuff is good enough to be no-hitter good some nights, but at times he’ll lose focus and allow a poorly-timed free pass or leave a hanger in the zone to be smoked. His change-up is a third offering, but so far it doesn’t really move and Sanchez has some of the same command issues with it as with his other pitches.

What’s Next: That all said, Sanchez’s pure stuff is just as good as many of the other highly-regarded pitchers in the Braves low minors, and despite now having 3 pro seasons under his belt is still of an age with the likes of Kolby Allard, Mike Soroka, and Touki Toussaint. My ranking of him this low is not a reflection of lack belief in Sanchez’s ability, but of the high risk associated with his development right now. He will likely make the move up to class A+ Florida, but beginning the year again in Rome wouldn’t be a bad play either.

By the way, if Sanchez were in the Angels farm system, he’d still be a top 5 prospect.

Sanchez curveball.
Jonathan Morales. (Photo: Garrett Spain)

29. Jonathan Morales, C

Age: 22
Bats: R
2016 Level: A Rome

.269/.313/.356
93 wRC+
4 HR, 3 SB
5.4 BB%
11.9 K%

The History: Morales was drafted in the 25th-round of the 2015 draft out of Miami-Dade College. To say that Morales was unheralded out of college is an understatement. He had been a back-up shortstop and third baseman for Miami-Dade, but the team converted him to catcher late in the season. Braves scouts were among the only that noticed, and came away impressed after a private workout. Morales ended up having a tremendous debut in the Gulf Coast League in 2015 and was aggressively promoted straight to low-A Rome at the start of 2016. Morales started the season splitting catching duties with 2015 2nd-round pick Lucas Herbert, but was essentially the everyday catcher for Rome during their late-season playoff push and into the postseason.

The Report: While he is still learning some of the finer points of the position, Morales is an athletic and active receiver who improved quite a bit over the course of the season with his blocking, a key skill needed with a pitching staff that almost universally throws diving curveballs. His arm is a tremendous weapon and he threw out an outstanding 50% of baserunners that tested him. By the end of the season, it was clear that the Rome staff had a good rapport with Morales, and Morales is a good pitch framer. Morales still needs to work on his footwork.

Offensively, Morales has a short, smooth swing that can generate power and he has a good eye for the strike zone. Morales did get into a deep slump in the middle of the season which was mostly bad-ball luck driven, but it did appear that Morales was pressing at times. He eventually recovered and posted a .300/.326/.385 slash line from August 1 through the end of the postseason.

What’s Next: Morales will move up to class A+ Florida next season, and the Braves have to be delighted by the progress of a 25th-rounder in their position of least organizational depth.

Ray-Patrick Didder. (Photo: Garrett Spain)

30. Ray-Patrick Didder, OF

Age: 22
Bats: R
2016 Level: A Rome

.274/.384/.381
129 wRC+
6 HR, 37 SB
8.8 BB%, 17.5 K%

The History: Didder was an international amateur free agent signing out of Aruba in 2013. Didder was primarily a shortstop when signed, but the Braves moved him full-time to the outfield in 2015. In 2016, Didder moved up to Rome and improved in almost every aspect of his game, showing speed, on-base skills, more power, a strong arm, and very good outfield range. In short, Didder had the kind of season that firmly puts him on the prospect map for the Braves, and in some organizations he would easily be a top 20 prospect.

The Report: Didder batted lead-off for the R-Braves most of the season, and part of his game is to stand very close to the plate and take inside pitches off his body. Didder lead the South Atlantic League with 39 HBP (and added 5 more in the playoffs for good measure), adding 68 points to his OBP. When not taking one for the team, Didder has good strike-zone judgement and quick wrists, allowing him to line the ball to all fields. Didder has decent raw power that he is starting to get into games now; shortening his swing would go a long way to allowing him to turn on inside pitches quicker. Didder is one of the faster players in the organization and his 37 stolen bases tied him for first in the organization with Gwinnett’s Emilio Bonifacio. He is still learning about reading pitchers, and his 75% SB success rate can get higher with experience.

Didder played both center and right field for Rome and looked comfortable at both positions, showing good range though his route-running was a little suspect at times. Didder has a very strong throwing arm, and recorded 20 outfield assists. Overall, he is in consideration for best defensive outfielder in the farm system.

What’s Next: Didder will likely move up next season to Class A+ Florida, but with his age and his showing in Rome it’s possible that he will be advanced directly to AA Mississippi.

Outfield Fly Rule Prospect List:

  1. Dansby Swanson, SS
  2. Ozzie Albies, 2B/SS
  3. Kolby Allard, LHP
  4. Mike Soroka, RHP
  5. Sean Newcomb, LHP
  6. Kevin Maitan, SS
  7. Touki Toussaint, RHP
  8. Max Fried, LHP
  9. Ian Anderson, RHP
  10. Ronald Acuña, OF
  11. Austin Riley, 3B
  12. Dustin Peterson, OF
  13. Rio Ruiz, 3B
  14. Patrick Weigel, RHP
  15. Alex Jackson, OF
  16. Travis Demeritte, 2B
  17. Cristian Pache, OF
  18. A.J. Minter, LHP
  19. Lucas Sims, RHP
  20. Joey Wentz, LHP
  21. Kyle Muller, LHP
  22. Braxton Davidson, OF
  23. Juan Yepez, 1B/3B
  24. Bryse Wilson, RHP
  25. Yunior Severino, SS
  26. Derian Cruz, SS
  27. Brett Cumberland, C
  28. Ricardo Sanchez, LHP
  29. Jonathan Morales, C
  30. Ray-Patrick Didder, OF
About Andy Harris 120 Articles

Andy Harris has been a baseball fan since seeing the Big Red Machine in 1978 and hardcore baseball fan since reading Bill James’s Historical Baseball Abstract in 1990. Andy moved to the Atlanta area in 1991, which turned out to be a pretty good year for the local team.

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