By this point, most fans have heard about the Atlanta Braves’ starting pitching talent down on the farm. Outside of Ronald Acuna and Ozzie Albies, however, asking about the position prospects often resulted in nothing more than the chirping of some crickets. While not nearly as deep as the pitching prospects, the list of position prospects has some exciting players itself. Last week, I gave my career projections and comparable players on the starting pitcher prospects. Today, I tackle the top position player prospects in the system.
12. Anfernee Seymour – OF/SS
Current Level: Advanced A (A+) Florida Fire Frogs
Current Line: .272/.336/.340, 1 HR, 14 RBI, 26 BB, 81 K, 17 SB
Comp: Emilio Bonifacio
Projection: Super Utility
Acquired from the Miami Marlins in the Hunter Cervenka trade, Seymour may be the fastest player in the entire minor leagues. A true 80 speed on the 20-80 grading scale is Seymour’s carrying tool. To this point, finding a position to call home has been a bit of a struggle. A high school shortstop, he worked in CF during his debut, only to be moved back to the infield by Miami. Slow progress dampened his outlook, and Miami didn’t hesitate to deal their fastest prospect for, quite frankly, a disposable reliever. Atlanta has since moved Seymour back to the OF, giving him time at all three positions as they look to keep his special speed on the field. If Seymour ever hopes to become a big-league regular, he will have to seriously cut down on the strikeouts (career 22.3% K rate) and find ways to put the ball on the ground, where his elite speed will make him a headache for opposing pitchers.
11. Derian Cruz – SS/2B
Current Level: Advanced Rookie-level Danville Braves
Current Line: .222/.267/.315, 2 HR, 16 RBI, 10 BB, 41 K, 9 SB
Comp: Pedro Florimon
Projection: Utility, below average regular at peak
Ranked #27 on the International Prospect list in 2015, Cruz received $2 Million to sign as a 17-year old out of the Dominican Republic. Blessed with plus speed and a very projectable frame, Cruz earned a promotion to Rome to begin the 2017 season. As is often the case, Rome proved to be too much for the young 18-year old. The Braves returned him to Danville, where his struggles, unfortunately, have continued. Home run power will never be a huge part of his game, but Cruz makes hard contact consistently, showing a knack for peppering the gaps with line drives. While his defense has finally started to improve, Cruz still makes far too many errors to be trusted as a starting SS. His defensive struggles, coupled with a fringe-y arm, have led the Braves to begin transitioning Cruz to 2B, where the shorter throws should help alleviate some of the errors. Still only 18, Cruz has plenty of time to improve his game and increase his stock.
Current Level: A+ Florida
Current Line: .267/.377/.363, 1 HR, 15 RBI, 11 BB 47 K
Comp: Jarrod Saltalamacchia
Projection: Platoon vs. RHP
Atlanta’s 4th pick in 2016, Cumberland is somewhat of a rarity: a switch-hitting college catcher. With good bat speed, a solid swing, and excellent raw power, there’s no doubt Cumberland profiles as a bat first backstop. The question for Cumberland is whether he can ever become competent enough defensively to become a full-time starter at the big league level. If he’s going to become a big-league starter, he will have to improve his footwork, his game calling, and his release. Even if he never becomes a full-time starter, there is value in his bat.
9. Alex Jackson – C/LF
Current Level: AA Mississippi Braves
Current Line: (10 Games) .194/.310/.278 0HR 4RBI 6 BB 11K
Comp: Devin Mesoraco
Projection: Platoon vs. LHP, every day starter at peak
Acquired from Seattle for Rob Whalen and Max Povse, Atlanta wasted no time moving Alex Jackson back to the position which made him a 6th overall selection. While he will most certainly always be bat first, Jackson has embraced the move wholeheartedly, showing improvements in his release, his receiving skills, his footwork, and his pitch calling. Equipped with good raw power and a strong ability to barrel the ball, Jackson should flirt with 20+ HRs regularly if given a full season of ABs. There’s some swing and miss to worry about in his game, but with his bat speed, the problems seem to be recognition based and should be somewhat correctable. While he won’t hit .300, a .260 average with 20+ HRs is a distinct possibility here.
8. Travis Demeritte – 2B/3B
Current Level: AA Mississippi
Current Line: .216/.295/.398, 15 HR, 40 RBI, 42 BB, 117 K
Comp: Rougned Odor
Projection: Platoon vs. LHP, Power bat off bench.
Yet another former 1st round pick acquired for a pittance, Atlanta received Demeritte for Dario Alvarez and Lucas Harrell after the Rangers began to sour on the young power hitter. If you only look at the positive tools, Demeritte looks like a #1 prospect kind of guy: huge power, above average speed, strong arm, plus athleticism, versatility, and a strong glove. Unfortunately, we don’t only look at the positive traits. Swing and miss is to be expected in power bats, but Demeritte takes that to a Mark Reynolds-esque extreme. If he manages to avoid 170 Ks this season, he will establish a new personal best. If Demeritte wants any hope at becoming a big-league regular he either needs to cut down the strikeouts or find a way to get on base more often. I believe he can manage both. If Demeritte can get himself on base more often, the Braves may net themselves the rare power hitting 3B who also plays an above average defense. And before you balk at the Odor comparison, go take a look at his career numbers.
7. Rio Ruiz – 3B
Current Level: AAA Gwinnett Braves
Current Line: .242/.340/.428, 11 HR, 42 RBI, 36 BB, 92 K
Comp: Luis Valbuena
Projection: Platoon vs. RHP, everyday 3B if traded
One of the “other pieces” in the Evan Gattis/ Mike Foltynewicz trade, Ruiz has long been lauded as possessing the smoothest swing in the system. He’s had a couple of cups of coffee with Atlanta, but still wasn’t quite ready to face big league pitching consistently. Originally faced with questions about his ability to stay at the hot corner, Ruiz has worked diligently to improve his technique at 3B, tightening his game and becoming a stout defender on the corner. The power still isn’t where you expect from a 230-pound guy, but power is often the last thing to emerge. If he can make the necessary adjustments at the big-league level, Ruiz could develop into an everyday type of 3B with 17-20 HR power at his peak.
6. Dustin Peterson – LF
Current Level: AAA Gwinnett
Current Line: .265/.333/.342, 1 HR, 29 RB,I 25 BB, 62 K
ETA: 2018 with possibility of September Call Up
Comp: Eddie Rosario
Projection: 4th OF/Platoon vs. LHP, Everyday LF at peak
While he wasn’t viewed in the same light as Max Fried, or even Matt Wisler or Mallex Smith, Dustin Peterson was a strong prospect in his own right before being shipped to Atlanta as part of the deal for Justin Upton. Coming up as a 3B, the Braves decided to move Dustin to LF in an attempt to progress him through the system quicker, and Peterson has responded extremely well. While he doesn’t have any single tool that I would categorize as a “carrying tool”, Peterson is an extremely high floor prospect. Were it not for a couple of tough luck injuries the past two seasons (bus crash in 2016, hamate injury earlier this season), Peterson may have already made his début in Atlanta. A below average arm limits him to LF as a pro, but Peterson’s all around game should offset any power deficiencies in his game. The Braves may play it safe this year and leave him in Gwinnett, but it wouldn’t surprise me at all to see Peterson get called up when rosters expand in September.
5. Austin Riley – 3B
Current Level: AA Mississippi
Current Line: .255/.298/.358, 3 HR, 12 RBI, 6 BB, 31 K
Comp: Jake Lamb
Projection: Everyday 3B
Before Ronald Acuna exploded on the scene, before Albies stole our hearts, before Dansby’s hair had its own fan club, Austin Riley was the position prospect Atlanta fans were hanging their hat on. Equipped with big-time raw power, a huge frame that may not be done growing, and a howitzer for an arm, Riley has a lot of tools to play with. He shows a willingness to see pitches and take walks, which leads me to believe his OBP will rise as he progresses through the minors and the umpiring improves. While Riley has worked diligently at third, he still has a way to go if he hopes to stay at the hot corner long-term. To this point, he has been far too error prone to entrust him with an everyday job at 3B. He won’t be Chipper Jones, but if he’s able to continue making improvements and adjustments, the future for Riley is bright. Finding a seamless comparison for Riley has been nearly impossible, so take the Lamb comparison as a “best case” comp.
4. Drew Waters – OF
Current Level: Advanced Rookie Danville
Current Line: .247/.333/.329, 0 HR, 5 RBI, 11 BB, 37 K, 2 SB
Comp: Dexter Fowler
Projection: Above Average OF, All Star at peak
Taken in the 2nd round tin 2017 out of Etowah High School, there is a ton to love about Drew Waters. With multiple plus tools, strong mechanics, and an extremely smooth swing, Waters has a lot of people in the Atlanta organization extremely excited. A switch-hitter, Waters boasts above average raw power from the left side, showing an innate ability to barrel up quality fastballs. While not as powerful from the right side, Waters still sprays the gaps with strong line drives. More power can be expected as he continues to grow into his 6’2″ frame and adds more muscle. A gifted defender, Waters can easily handle CF, though he’ll be vying for RF with Ronald Acuna when it’s his time to join The Show. There are no concerns there,, as his plus arm and plus speed profile very well in RF, and his power potential profiles well enough in LF. It isn’t all about the power with Waters though, as he appears to be the rare type of prospect that hits for both average and power as he physically matures. It’s extremely early (some would say TOO EARLY), but Waters appears to be yet another potential all-star OF in the Braves farm system.
3. Cristian Pache – CF
Current Level: A Rome Braves
Current Line: .267/.324/.326, 0 HR, 36 RBI, 35 BB, 93 K, 28 SB
Comp: Denard Span
Projection: Everyday CF, All-Star at peak
He doesn’t get the fanfare of Ronald Acuna, but Cristian Pache is an outstanding prospect in his own right. The fun debate in the Atlanta front office over the past two seasons must have been who between Pache and Acuna would stay in CF, and it seems that Pache has won that little battle. While he has no over-the-fence power now (he has yet to hit his first homer) Pache fills the gaps with hard line drives, using his plus-plus speed en route to seven triples this season. He’s struck out far more often than he should, but I believe this is an exception, and not the rule. Already 6’2″ and 185 pounds, one could safely assume more power is on the way, which gives me confidence in projecting him to hit 10-12 long balls at his peak. However, where Pache really separates himself as a prospect is his defense. Pache has outstanding instincts in CF, easily tracking balls off the bat and rarely making mistakes. His arm is stronger than advertised, now bordering on plus, and not a previously reported solid-average. His defensive ability, coupled with his approach at the plate and plus speed, gives him a very exciting future in the organization.
2. Kevin Maitan – SS
Current Level: Advanced Rookie Danville
Current Line: .188/.233/.246, 1 HR, 6 RBI, 3 BB, 22K
Comp: Miguel Sano
Projection: Perennial All-Star
The most talked about prospect in Atlanta since Jason Heyward, Maitan has the potential to be truly special. An enormous kid, already 6’2″ and listed at 190 pounds (he’s added muscle and now is at least 220), Maitan had international scouts drooling from the time he stepped on a field. He’s garnered comparisons to Miguel Cabrera and Chipper Jones at just 17-years old, and as soon as he made his début earlier this season, he found himself in multiple top 50 prospects list. It’s not hard to see why. A switch-hitter, Maitan shows a plate awareness far beyond his years. The numbers in Danville aren’t great, but I wouldn’t worry about numbers this season. Maitan has prodigious raw power, a hit tool that’s already rated a 60 on the 20 to 80 scale, and an outstanding arm. Most believe he’ll need to move to 3B as he grows into his frame, but the Braves have no plans on shifting Maitan yet. While most evaluators expect him to be a generational talent, I went with the Sano comparison for one simple reason: Miguel Sano is expected to be his floor.
1. Ronald Acuna – RF/CF
Current Level: AAA Gwinnett
Current Line: .328/.400/.560, 5 HR, 15 RBI, 14 BB, 28 K, 4 SB
Comp: Andruw Jones
Projection: Perennial All-Star
To absolutely no one’s surprise, Acuna comes in at #1. What is there to say that hasn’t been said already? At just 19-years old, Acuna has taken baseball by storm. He has big power. He has plus speed. He has outstanding instincts. He has a plus arm. He can flat-out rake. When breaking down Acuna, it’s much easier to find things he CAN’T do, rather than list the things he CAN do. Andruw Jones comparisons don’t come easily, but when someone like Chipper tells you straight-faced that watching Acuna is like watching young Andruw, there really isn’t any other comparison to make. If you just can’t bring yourself to say Andruw, Carlos Gomez looks to be his floor.. The real question is when will fans get to see him in Atlanta. Going purely by stats, Acuna should be a September call up. If he doesn’t get called up in September, fully expect Ronald Acuna to receive a legitimate shot at breaking camp with the big boys next season. I wouldn’t put it past him to take that opportunity and crush it out of the park either.