33% Review: Atlanta Braves Top 30 Prospects, Part 1

L to R: OF Braxton Davidson, OF Ray-Patrick Didder, and C Jonathan Morales warm up before a Florida Fire Frogs game. (Photo: Florida Fire Frogs)

It seems like the season just started, but this week marks the one-third mark through the minor league regular season. In this post, I will check in with the prospects ranked #21-30 on the OFR Prospects List.

Part 2: Prospects # 11-20

Part 3: Prospects # 1-10

Part 4: Outside the Top 30

 

30. Ray-Patrick Didder, OF

Age: 22
Bats: R
Current Assignment: Class A+ Florida Fire Frogs

.210/.328/.299
87 wRC+
2 HR, 10 SB
11.5 BB%, 25.1% K%

Coming off a promising campaign for Rome in 2016 and a little bit older than most of his fellow Fire Frogs, Didder could have been in line for a quick move up to AA Mississippi. Instead, Didder has struggled in the early going and younger teammate Ronald Acuna got the bump up.

I have not been able to lay eyes on Didder to see what he may be doing differently, but his strikeout and flyball rates are up compared to his prior seasons. I have noticed that throughout the minors, Braves hitters seem to be swinging at more pitches and swinging harder. This has produced higher strikeout rates across the board, but also improved line-drive rates and generally improved slugging percentages. In Didder’s case however, it’s just flyballs rather than line drives, and while his walk rate is slightly improved, as expected he he hasn’t been able to maintain last season’s crazy 30% hit by pitch per game rate that helped him to a .387 OBP for Rome.

Didder does currently have a modest 5-game hitting streak, with three extra-base hits. Not all hitters can adjust at the same pace, and it could be that Didder is just now starting to see some benefits of this new approach.

29. Jonathan Morales, C

Age: 22
Bats: R
Current Assignment: A+ Florida Fire Frogs

.242/.280/.282
59 wRC+
1 HR,  1 SB
5.1 BB%, 17.1 K%

Morales showed to be a streaky hitter with Rome, and that trend has continued through the first part of the 2017 season. Morales got off to a hot start and was hitting .295/.345/.372 through the end of April. Since the calendar flipped however, he has only gotten 13 hits, none for extra bases. Both his walk and strikeout rate have plummeted in May as well, showing he’s putting the ball in play, but he only has a .213 BABiP during the month.  As with Didder, I haven’t been able to see Morales play due to the lack of MiLB.TV streaming in the Florida State League, so I can’t say what is causing this issue.

28. Ricardo Sanchez, LHP

LHP Ricardo Sanchez of the Florida Fire Frogs. (Photo: Tim Holle/Florida Fire Frogs)

Age: 20
Current Assignment: A+ Florida Fire Frogs

3.80 ERA
4.69 FIP
9 G, 9 GS
45 IP
3.4 BB/9, 8.80 K/9

Sanchez is sometimes the forgotten man of the 2016 Rome Braves rotation because his year-end numbers didn’t quite match up with the likes of Mike Soroka or Max Fried. However, Sanchez quietly put together a strong second half and earned his promotion to high A.

So far that promotion has been justified. After a couple of clunkers to start the season, Sanchez reeled off 4 consecutive starts of allowing 2 or fewer earned runs. His walk rate is down and his strikeout rate is up, and he’s inducing more groundballs as well. In particular, reports are that his change-up has seen substantial improvements to the point that it now rates as above average, further complementing his mid-90s fastball and high-spin curveball. He’s still not getting very deep into games, but the Braves have to be pleased with the steady incremental improvements that Sanchez has made this season.

27. Brett Cumberland, C

Catcher Brett Cumberland of the Rome Braves (Photo: Brian McLeod/MiLB.com)

Age: 21
Bats: S
Current Assignment: A Rome Braves

.223/.432/.489
167 wRC+
6 HR, 0 SB
16.7 BB%, 27.3 K%

No Braves minor leaguer has been swinging a hotter bat the last two weeks than Rome catcher Cumberland, going .310/.476/.793  with 4 home runs and 2 doubles. Cumberland has been valuable at the plate all season despite maintaining a sub-.200 batting average by having a +12% walk rate, bolstered by 14 hit-by-pitches, allowing him to lead the South Atlantic League in on-base percentage. The Braves have to be happy that he’s starting now to get on base as much by swinging the bat as by getting hit while at bat however.

Cumberland’s work at catcher was limited in the first month of season as he split duties with Tanner Murphy and Lucas Herbert and battled a sore elbow. He has gotten steadier work behind the plate in May, but shows poor blocking and footwork.

26. Derian Cruz, SS

Age: 18
Bats: S
Current Assignment: Extended Spring Training

.167/.207/.237
28 wRC+
0 HR, 3 SB
2.4 BB%, 28.2 K%

Uh-oh. It’s been well publicized that the Braves have been very aggressive in their placement of top talent this year. That includes having the 18-year-old Cruz start the season at Rome despite a tough 25 games last season in Danville. While a lot of the assignments have turned out well, Cruz was completely over-matched at Rome, both offensively and defensively, and was sent back to extended spring training on May 14.

Offensively, Cruz just hit too many balls weakly in the infield and didn’t demonstrate any kind of selectiveness at the plate. However, that pales in comparison to the difficulties Cruz was experiencing in the field. Cruz was charged with 16 errors in 25 games with Rome, and based on observation I’d say that only being charge with 16 was generous. Cruz experienced some adversity early with fielding errors, and it seemed to snowball; watching him the last couple of weeks of his time with Rome, you could almost see him overthink every play. Cruz has good range and a good arm, but so far exhibits little feel for the shortstop position. It’s obviously way too early to give up on a talented young player, and hopefully going back to extended spring training will allow him to slow the game down a little.

25. Yunior Severino, SS

Age: 17
Bats: S
Current Assignment: Extended Spring Training

Like the rest of the mammoth haul of international players the Braves signed in the 2016 signing period, Severino has been working out in Orlando while awaiting a short-season assignment, likely to be to the Gulf Coast Braves. Baseball America’s Ben Badler reports that Severino has been working at third base and in the outfield in addition to shortstop.

24. Bryse Wilson, RHP

Rome Braves RHP Bryse Wilson. (Photo: MLB.com via Twitter)

Age: 19
Current Assignment: A Rome Braves

2.18 ERA
3.37 FIP
9 G, 9 GS
41.1 IP
2.83 BB/9, 8.93 K/9

Wilson was one of those aggressive assignments by the Braves organization, and so far it couldn’t have gone much better. The 4th-round pick from last year’s draft, Wilson has been Rome’s best starting pitcher results-wise so far this season despite only getting 27 innings in for the Gulf Coast Braves in 2016.

The biggest difference for Wilson has been an improved slider that complements his sinking fastball and change-up. Wilson gets both swing-and-miss and plenty of ground balls and infield pop-ups.

23. Braxton Davidson, OF

Age: 20
Bats: L
Current Assignment: A+ Florida Fire Frogs

.227/.358/.356
112 wRC+
4 HR, 2 SB
16.4 BB%, 38.4 K%

So far this season Braxton Davidson has been Braxton Davidson, perhaps even more so. Those of us hoping that a second stint in high-A would help his contact issues and temper his streakiness have so far been disappointed. Davidson’s strikeout rate would be a new career high if the season were to end now. Davidson was ice cold to start the season, then went on a two-week surge at the end of April and the beginning of May (going .359/.490/.615 during that stretch), and has since gone back to being a non-factor most nights.

What is different is that he’s hitting a few more fly balls and a few less groundballs, and he’s on pace to set a career high in home runs. The dream with Davidson has been that he could be a 20+ HR, .360+ OBP guy no matter what his batting average is, which would be a valuable player. For that to happen however, those hot streaks have to go longer and those cold streaks can’t get quite so cold.

22. Kyle Muller, LHP

Age: 19
Current Assignment: Extended Spring Training

Muller spent all of 2016 in the Gulf Coast League, so staying back in extended spring training for an eventual assignment to Danville to start the 2017 season should be seen as a normal progression. However this is the Braves, who have shredded “normal progression” for nearly all of their top pitching talent, so it stands out that Muller still hasn’t taken the mound in a competitive game this year.

There were rumors circulating that Muller had an injury of some sort in the spring that held him back, but getting solid medical information from the Braves on their minor leaguers is always a hit-or-miss proposition.

20. Joey Wentz, LHP

Age: 19
Current Assignment: A Rome Braves

3.68 ERA
2.11 FIP
8 G, 8 GS
35.2 IP
1.77 BB/9, 9.84 K/9

So far only a line drive taken in the shin in a start against the Lexington Legends on May 19 has been able to stop Joey Wentz’s progression in his first full pro season. That unfortunate injury has landed him on the disabled list, but before that Wentz had shown progress with all of his pitches. Wentz has the best command of anyone on the Rome staff, and has the stuff to exploit it.

Wentz doesn’t have the mid-90s fastballs like those possessed by Rome rotation-mates Bryse Wilson or Ian Anderson, but he spots that low-90s fastball typically down and on the corners. Combined with a very solid change-up that he can be put into those same places, he’s getting a remarkable 50% groundball rate on balls in play, which would be outstanding if the Rome infield defense had been playing better in the early going. His curveball is a good swing-and-miss pitch.

Come back in a few days for a check-in with the #11-20 prospects.

About Andy Harris 78 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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