33% Review: Atlanta Braves Top 30 Prospects, Part 2

LHP Luiz Gohara delivers for the Florida Fire Frogs. (Photo: Florida Fire Frogs via Facebook)

We’re one-third of the way through the minor league season, and this is the middle third of the OFR Top 30 Prospects list. Let’s check in with numbers 11-20.

Part 1: Prospects # 21-30

Part 3: Prospects # 1-10

Part 4: Outside the Top 30

20. Lucas Sims, RHP

Age: 23
Current Assignment: AAA Gwinnett

3.42 ERA
3.99 FIP
9 G, 9 GS
50 IP
2.52 BB/9, 9.18 K/9

The 2012 1st-round selection for the Braves, Sims has had a steady, methodical rise through the minors. He has shown a pattern of being promoted to a level, struggling initially, and then hitting it again the next season with greater success. This pattern has continued as he has pitched well at AAA Gwinnett this season after struggling in his first promotion to the level last season.

The reason for that improved success is improved control. Sims’s 2.52 BB/9 is a full two walks better than his career minor league average. He’s been able to do that with mechanical adjustments rather than by lowering velocity, which has helped him get away with so-so command. His change-up, a long-term project since the start of his Braves career, has also shown improved movement.

For those clamoring for Sims to be promoted to the majors however, some caution. Sims’s last two starts have been his two worst, allowing 9 earned runs in 8.1 IP. He’s also walked 5 in those two starts. It may just be a blip, but watching him this season I still think his command issues will get him into trouble in the major leagues. There may come a time in the season where the team promotes him anyway to and let him take his lumps.

19. A.J. Minter, LHP

Age: 23
Current Assignment: A+ Florida Fire Frogs

0.00 ERA
-0.58 FIP
1 G, 0 GS
1.0 IP
0.00 BB/9, 18.00 K/9

Minter has been shelved since suffering a groin strain during a rehab assignment with the Florida Fire Frogs in April. The rehab assignment was for tightness in his left elbow that all but wiped out his spring training. Needless to say, this is not how Minter or the Braves imagined how the early part of this season would go after Minter blew through the lower minors in 2016 and had team officials openly discussing not if but when Minter would be able to join the big league club.

According to Braves GM John Coppolella in his wide-ranging Twitter Q&A last week, Minter has begun throwing again, and if all goes well he will get back on the mound in a few weeks.

18. Cristian Pache, OF

OF Cristian Pache of the Rome Braves. (Photo: Patrick Cavey/MiLB.com)

Age: 18
Bats: R
Current Assignment: A Rome Braves

.299/.353/.376
110 wRC+
0 HR, 11 SB
7.6 BB%, 18.6 K%

Pache has hit the ground running in his first season of full-season ball, maintaining solid offensive performance while also providing sterling center field defense.

Offensively he’s been using his hands well to make consistent contact, and using his legs to do damage on the basepaths. Pache already has 5 triples on the season (and oddly, only 2 doubles), and has stolen 11 bases in 13 attempts. Pache does a nice job of adjusting at-bat to at-bat, and seldom seems to make the same mistake twice. His next pro home run will be his first, but he should generate more over-the-fence power as he fills out and more consistently turns on mistake pitches.

Defensively, it’s possible that only Ender Inciarte is a better outfielder in the organization. Pache already has 8 outfield assists this season, and I personally saw another 2 potential ones get dropped by catchers. In any case, it’s a fine start for Pache, a player that the Braves were already pretty high on.

17. Travis Demeritte, IF

Age: 22
Bats: R
Current Assignment: AA Mississippi

.257/.332/.455
128 wRC+
7 HR, 3 SB
10.2 BB%, 26.2 K%

I will admit to not being a big believer in Travis Demeritte. He’s certainly a very talented defensive player with good power, but I questioned how that power would translate outside the hitter-friendly California League where he had been playing as a member of the Texas Rangers organization. Mostly though I just didn’t see a way forward for anyone with a strikeout rate over 30%.

Well, so far so good then for Demeritte, who has lowered his strikeout rate by 9 points from last season and is on pace for 20 home runs despite playing half of his games in cavernous TrustMark Park; in fact, 5 of his 7 home runs have been hit at home. The Braves must like what they are seeing as well. Demeritte has played the last four games at third base, a positional switch that would likely move him up the organization faster.

16. Alex Jackson, C

C Alex Jackson of the Florida Fire Frogs. (Photo: Rick Nelson/MiLB.com)

Age: 21
Bats: R
Current Assignment: A+ Florida Fire Frogs

.301/.359/.575
165 wRC+
10 HR, 3 SB
5.4 BB%, 26.9 K%

A #6 overall draft pick by the Mariners in 2014, Jackson was immediately switched out of his preferred position to the outfield and told to swing the bat differently than he did before. Three frustrating seasons later, the Mariners gave up on Jackson, trading him and left-hander Tyler Pike to Atlanta for Max Povse and Robert Whalen, who higher-level but lower ceiling players.

The Braves reinstalled Jackson at catcher and had him go back to the swing he had in high school. Jackson has exploded at the plate as a result.

Reports on his defense are that he has a long way to go, but isn’t a disaster either, so all things considering I think the Braves will take it and be thankful. That mitt may be the only thing that keeps Jackson at the high-A level, but if he advances sufficiently at the position, he could advance on up to Mississippi before the end of the year. Right now he’s on the DL after having been hit with a pitch.

15. Patrick Weigel, RHP

Age: 23
Current Assignment: AAA Gwinnett

4.21 ERA

RHP Patrick Weigel of the Gwinnett Braves. (Photo: Chuck Pitts/Gwinnett Braves)

3.26 FIP
10 G, 10 GS
51.1 IP
2.63 BB/9, 8.59 K/9
(AA and AAA levels combined)

After 7 starts at AA Mississippi in which he never gave up more than 3 earned runs in a start (and that only once), Weigel made his AAA debut on May 13, becoming the first member of the Braves 2015 draft class to make that level.

Weigel has had two good starts with Gwinnett sandwiching a 1-inning, 8-run disaster start against Durham. Take that out of his stats, and he’s sitting pretty with a 2.86 ERA. Weigel still has some control problems and can get flustered on the mound if he feels he’s getting squeezed, but at his rate of progression it’s now not outside the realm of possibility that he reaches the majors ahead of Lucas Sims or Sean Newcomb.

14. Rio Ruiz, 3B

Age: 23
Bats: L
Current Assignment: Atlanta Braves

.271/.318/.452
115 wRC+
5 HR, 1 SB
6.1 BB%, 26.8 K%
(AAA and MLB levels combined)

After a pretty horrible month of April, Ruiz got hot at the right time and was called up to take the roster spot of Freddie Freeman after the Braves star went down with a wrist fracture. Getting most of the playing time at third base due to the injury to Adonis Garcia, Ruiz is hitting .320/.393/.480 for the big league club, and .309/.360/.506 combined for the month of May.

As with last season, the main concern with Ruiz has been his lack of production against left-handed pitching. Garcia is expected back next week, but the Braves seem to be leaning toward keeping Ruiz as the left-handed side of a third base platoon.

13. Dustin Peterson, OF

Age: 22
Bats: R
Current Assignment: AAA Gwinnett Braves

.250/.348/.350
102 wRC+
0 HR, 0 SB
13.0 BB%, 17.4 K%

Peterson caught a bad break when he was hit in the hand with a pitch in an early spring training game. Considered a serious contender for a big league bench position, Peterson instead had to endure rehab in extended spring training before finally making his AAA and season debut on May 19.

12. Luiz Gohara, LHP

Age: 20
Current Assignment: AA Mississippi

2.11 ERA
2.16 FIP
8 G, 8 GS
38.1 IP
2.58 BB/9, 9.39 K/9
(A+ and AA levels combined)

Gohara, like Alex Jackson, is a former highly ranked Mariners prospect that the organization soured on and traded to the Braves. Like Jackson, Gohara has started 2017 in eye-popping fashion, dominating the Florida State League for 7 starts before getting promoted on May 15 to AA Mississippi to take the rotation spot vacated by Patrick Weigel.

Unfortunately, Gohara suffered a setback when in the second inning of his first AA start, he started experiencing soreness in his left bicep. Fortunately all indications are that the injury isn’t serious and Gohara should resume pitching shortly.

11. Austin Riley, 3B

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

.265/.328/.425
116 wRC+
8 HR, 0 SB
7.0 BB%, 23.4 K%

On May 26 last season, Riley was hitting .233/.281/.374 with 3 home runs and striking out at a 34.3% clip. Not too long after that Riley would turn his season around and become the primary offensive catalyst in Rome’s race to the South Atlantic League championship.

For 2017, Riley was looking to carry over that success up a level and improve on his below average defense. From all indications, Riley has done both of those things. Riley has improved his line drive rate while reducing his strikeout rate, and the result has been Riley becoming a more consistent offensive threat. One thing that Riley can work on is getting better contact; his contact rate has gone up, but some of that is going onto the ground.

The bigger news is Riley’s steadier work at third base. Riley has only made 3 errors so far this season after posting 30 errors in 2016. All reports are that he has improved his hands and range. If he can be at least average in those areas and keep his plus arm he could stick at third base after many scouts and pundits figured him for an eventual move to a corner outfield spot or first base.

 

In Part 3 I will looks at the prospects counting down from 10 to 1. In Part 4 I will take a look at players outside the Top 30 that are showing promise.

 

About Andy Harris 100 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.

1 Comment

  1. 3B is starting to look like a future position of riches, potentially. Ruiz, Demeritte, Riley. Less optimistically, I just can’t buy into Sims ever being an effective MLB starter based on what I’ve seen in video (which isn’t a ton). Seems like either the stuff or the command need a real step forward still, and that’s a lot to hope for imo.

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