Post-Season Minor League Top 30 Prospect Review

The top Braves prospects, OF Ronald Acuna (R) and 2B Ozzie Albies work out at Gwinnett’s CoolRay Field. (Photo: Will Fagen/Gwinnett Braves)

None of the Braves minor league affiliates are chasing a ring in the playoffs this season, but when it comes to prospect progression, the 2017 season probably couldn’t have gone much better. The Braves have matriculated five of the pre-season OFR Top 30 prospects to the majors and have aggressively pushed most of their other top prospects in the minors. For the most part, those prospects have risen up to the challenges.

This is a quick look at the final results for the Top 30, with comment updates since the Mid-Season Top 30 Braves Prospect List. Later in the offseason I will do more complete write-ups in conjunction with an updated pre-season Top 50 list. Yes, Top 50. I’m crazy and stupid.

(Note: all stats combined minor leagues only unless otherwise stated.)

(Photo: Karl L. Moore)

1. Ronald Acuna, OF
Age: 19 | Bats: R
.325/.374/.522 | 155 wRC+ | 21 HR | 44 SB | 7.0% BB | 23.5% K
Current Assignment: Class AAA – Gwinnett
Acquired: International Amateur Free Agent – 2014
Pre-season OFR Ranking: 10

Acuna has already been announced as Baseball America’s Player of the Year, USA Today’s Player of the Year, and MLB Pipeline’s Hitter of the Year. Acuna rocketed up three minor league levels as a teenager and got better at every level. Acuna has flashed all five tools plus advanced maturity. Quite frankly, even at his young age there’s not much more for him to prove in the minor leagues, and only a 40-man roster crunch has likely kept him from a September call-up.

What’s next? Acuna will be a featured player in the Arizona Fall League, and will come into spring training looking to break camp with the big league team.

(Photo: Reinhold Matay/USA TODAY Sports)

2. Ozzie Albies, 2B
Age: 20 | Bats: S
.285/.330/.440 | 112 wRC+ | 9 HR | 21 SB | 6.3% BB | 20.1% K
Current Assignment: MLB Atlanta Braves
Acquired: International Amateur Free Agent – 2013
Pre-Season OFR Ranking: 2

Albies finally put behind lingering rustiness caused by an elbow injury suffered last September and mechanical issues with his left-handed swing to erupt this mid-season, hitting .312/.353/.500 coming off a short DL stint on June 13 before his eventual call-up to Atlanta. Albies displaced veteran Brandon Phillips from second base and has so far hit .282/.346/.444, a 105 wRC+ for Atlanta as of the time of this writing, and cementing himself in the Braves infield plans for 2018.

What’s next? Barring trade or injury, Albies will be the starting second baseman for Atlanta in 2018, likely hitting near the top of the order. Albies has accumulated enough major league service time to drop off the prospect lists for the offseason.

(Photo: Ed Gardner/MiLB.com)

3. Kolby Allard, LHP
Age: 20 | Throws: L
3.18 ERA | 3.27 FIP | 27 G, 27 GS | 150.0 IP | 2.70 BB/9 | 7.74 K/9
Current Assignment: Class AA – Mississippi
Acquired: Drafted, 1st Round – 2015
Pre-Season OFR Ranking: 3

Allard just turned 20 last month and was named by the Southern League as the top left-handed pitcher in the league. Allard seemed to hit a wall in late July/early August. Allard uncharacteristically struggled with his command during this time, but he seemed to catch a second wind. His last two starts: 14 IP, 6 H, 0 R, 1 BB, 14 SO.

What’s next? Hopefully a restful off-season, followed by a likely major league invitation to spring training. There’s no reason not to think a AAA assignment and a potential 2018 call-up isn’t in the cards for Allard, who remains one of the highest upside arms in the system.

(Photo: Ed Gardner/MiLB.com)

4. Mike Soroka, RHP
Age: 20 | Throws: R
2.75 ERA | 3.19 FIP | 26 G, 26 GS | 153.2 IP | 1.99 BB/9 | 7.32 K/9
Current Assignment: Class AA – Mississippi
Acquired: Drafted, 1st Round – 2015
Pre-Season OFR Ranking: 4

Only 9 days older than Allard, Soroka had an even more impressive 2017 performance for AA Mississippi, and will be a strong candidate for organizational pitcher of the year. Soroka had 8 starts this season with a game score over 70, the highest number in the organization by 2. Like Allard, Soroka hit a little bit of a wall in early August, and like Allard he got a second wind and finished strong, going 18 IP, 15 H, 3 ER, 3 BB, 14 SO in his final 3 starts.

What’s next? Like Allard, a major league invitation to spring training and a AAA assignment seem likely for 2018, but it wouldn’t shock me in the slightest if the cerebral righty makes the major league squad out of spring training.

(Photo: Bill Setliff/MiLB.com)

5. Kyle Wright, RHP
Age: 21 | Throws: R
2.65 ERA | 2.47 FIP | 9 G, 9 GS | 17.0 IP | 3.18 BB/9 | 9.53 K/9
Current Assignment: Class A+ – Florida
Acquired: Drafted, 1st Round – 2017
Pre-Season OFR Ranking: NR

Atlanta’s top pick this year threw minimal innings as predicted after a long college season at Vanderbilt. Nevertheless, Wright gave fans a tantalizing look in his 17 innings, worked between the GCL Braves and the Fire Frogs. Wright never went more than 2 innings in a start, but only once gave up more than 1 earned run.

What’s next? A likely AA Mississippi assignment to start the season, but if all goes well he could be in Atlanta by this time next year.

(Photo: Chris Robertson/MiLB.com)

5. Kevin Maitan, SS
Age: 17 | Bats: S
.241/.290/.340 | 72 wRC+ | 2 HR | 2 SB | 6.3% BB | 27.8% K
Current Assignment: Rookie League – Danville
Acquired: International Amateur Free Agent – 2016
Pre-Season OFR Ranking: 6

Maitan’s season was interrupted twice by hamstring issues that limited him to only 42 games between the Braves GCL and Danville rookie league affiliates. When he did play, he displayed an acute lack of patience at the plate, resulting in strikeouts and groundballs. However, his defense at shortstop turned out to be better than advertised, and he should be able to stay at the position for now despite significant continued body growth.

What’s next? How Maitan looks in instructionals and spring training will likely determine his 2018 assignment, but my guess is that he’ll be ticketed for class A Rome unless he has a recurrence of his hamstring problems.

(Photo: John Amis/AP)

6. Sean Newcomb, LHP
Age: 24 | Throws: L
2.97 ERA | 3.22 FIP | 11 G, 11 GS | 57.2 IP | 5.15 BB/9 | 11.55 K/9
Current Assignment: MLB – Atlanta
Acquired: Trade w/Los Angeles Angels – 2015
Pre-Season OFR Ranking: 5

Newcomb has been a fixture in the Atlanta rotation since replacing Bartolo Colon in June, and his tenure in the majors so far has looked very similar to how he looked in the minor leagues. Newcomb tantalizes with flashes of dominance along with stretches of poor command that he pitches out of… some of the time. His 4.28 ERA/4.59 FIP major league rate stats won’t make fans do backflips, but he’s averaging over a strikeout per inning while inducing more groundballs than he did in his minor league career, trends that should bode well for him, especially if the Braves keep playing strong defensive infielders.

What’s next? Newcomb should enter the 2018 season as a favorite to maintain a spot in the rotation, though getting the spot may turn out to be easier than keeping it as high-talent pitchers like Soroka, Allard, and Wright start knocking on the door. Newcomb has accumulated enough major league service time to drop off the prospect lists for the offseason.

(Photo: Scott Cunningham/Getty Images)

8. Luiz Gohara, LHP
Age: 21 | Throws: L
2.47 ERA | 2.54 FIP | 26 G, 25 GS | 123.2 IP | 3.20 BB/9 | 10.70 K/9
Current Assignment: MLB – Atlanta
Acquired: Trade w/Seattle Mariners – 2017
Pre-Season OFR Ranking: 12

Since mid-season, Gohara has stormed up to the AAA level and then got a September call-up to Atlanta. That completed a rare three-promotion season for Gohara, and is likely Soroka’s main competition for organizational pitcher of the year. Gohara’s first major league start didn’t result in a favorable result, 6 earned runs in 4 innings, but he exhibited the stuff that has allowed him to gain the attention of prospect watchers. You can read a more in-depth look at Gohara in my recent Get To Know a Call-Up piece.

What’s next? Gohara will get a tough match-up this week against the Washington Nationals. With Gohara aleady having exceeded his career innings mark by 58, the Braves could elect to shut him down at anytime however, or move him to the bullpen. Gohara will go into spring training looking to break camp with Atlanta, in the starting rotation, but there’s plenty of rotation candidates even if the Braves opt not to bring in a pitcher from outside the organization in the offseason, as they have done the last four years.

(Photo: Baseball America)

9. Ian Anderson, RHP
Age: 19 | Throws: R
3.14 ERA | 3.04 FIP | 20 G, 20 GS | 83.0 IP | 4.66 BB/9 | 10.95 K/9
Current Assignment: Class A – Rome
Acquired: Drafted, 1st Round – 2016
Pre-Season OFR Ranking: 9

Anderson has been somewhat overshadowed by his Rome teammates Joey Wentz and Bryse Wilson this season, especially after being shut down in mid-August. This was done as a precaution not due to any injury, but as a cold-weather high school pitcher the Braves wanted to carefully monitor his innings this season. Nevertheless, Anderson had a good full-season debut and exhibited the repertoire and poise that made him Atlanta’s first round pick last season.

What’s next? While a double promotion to AA Mississippi wouldn’t be a complete shock since this is the Braves we’re talking about, the smart money would be for Anderson to continue his journey with the high-A Fire Frogs. That determination will likely be made in spring training.

(Photo: Ed Gardner/MiLB.com)

10. Touki Toussaint, RHP
Age: 21 | Throws: R
4.53 ERA | 3.47 FIP | 26 G, 26 GS | 145 IP | 3.97 BB/9 | 10.37 K/9
Current Assignment: Class A+ – Florida
Acquired: Trade w/Arizona Diamondbacks – 2015
Pre-Season OFR Ranking: 7

At mid-season, Toussaint showed a strange disconnect between his peripheral stats, which showed across-the-board improvement over previous numbers, and his results which had his ERA well above 5.00. Since then, Toussaint pitched to a 2.91 ERA in two starts in high-A followed by seven starts at AA Mississippi while continuing to improve his strikeout and walk rates.

What’s next? Toussaint has been more projection than performance since being drafted by Arizona in the first round of the 2014 draft, but the second half of this season showed that Toussiant could put a string of strong performances together. Depending on how his off-season progression goes, Toussaint could return to AA Mississippi for more polishing or climb up to AAA Gwinnett along with Soroka and Allard.

(Photo: Cliff Welch/MiLB.com)

11. Austin Riley, 3B
Age: 20 | Bats: R
.275/.339/.446 | 129 wRC+ | 20 HR | 2 SB | 7.9% BB | 22.9% K
Current Assignment: Class AA – Mississippi
Acquired: Drafted, 1st Round – 2015 (pick acquired from Padres)
Pre-Season OFR Ranking: 11

Some folks were critical of Riley’s midseason promotion to AA Mississippi after mediocre results at the high-A level, but I reported that Riley had demonstrated a much better approach and situational awareness than the stats would indicate. Riley justified the promotion by hitting out of his mind for the M-Braves, going .315/.389/.511 in 48 games while socking 8 homers. Riley has made strides in all areas of hitting this season, and only questions about his defense should really dampen any enthusiasm going into 2018, though that also showed marked improvement.

What’s next? It’s a broken record at this point, but off-season and spring training development will likely determine Riley’s 2018 assignment. My guess is that Riley will be assigned to AAA Gwinnett, and a strong season could have him pushing to Atlanta by the end of the season.

(Photo: Andy Harris/OFR)

12. Joey Wentz, LHP
Age: 19 | Throws: L
2.60 ERA | 2.68 FIP | 26 G, 26 GS | 131.2 IP | 3.14 BB/9 | 10.36 K/9
Current Assignment: Class A – Rome
Acquired: Drafted, 1st Round – 2016 (pick acquired from Dodgers)
Pre-Season OFR Ranking: 21

Wentz was named the South Atlantic League Pitcher of the Year after a season that saw him best the production of all of the members of the fabled 2016 Rome rotation. Wentz was especially strong down the stretch, pitching to a 2.37 ERA in his final 9 starts, striking out 60 in 49.1 innings, and has a strong mix of plus command, a good mix of above average pitches, and strong poise.

What’s next? Wentz seems to be the most likely of the Rome rotation to make the jump to AA Mississippi, which could put him in Atlanta’s plans by 2019.

(Photo: MLB.com via Twitter)

12. Bryse Wilson, RHP
Age: 19 | Throws: R
2.50 ERA | 3.20 FIP | 26 G, 26 GS | 137.0 IP | 2.43 BB/9 | 9.13 K/9
Current Assignment: Class A – Rome
Acquired: Drafted, 4th Round – 2016
Pre-Season OFR Ranking: 25

You could almost take what I wrote above for Wentz and paste it in for Wilson, who had essentially an equally outstanding 2017 season. Wilson’s control has actually progressed more quickly than Anderson and Wentz’s, and it allowed him to finish as the only teenager in the top 10 in innings pitched in the SAL. They can get overshadowed by the equally high-ceiling pitchers in the wave ahead of them, but the trio of Wilson, Wentz, and Anderson fit right in with the vaunted Rome rotation of last year.

What’s next? Wilson seems likely to join Wentz at AA Mississippi. Wilson has a good mixture of physicality and poise that could put him on the path of being a quality innings-eater in the major leagues.

(Photo: Rick Nelson/MiLB.com)

14. Alex Jackson, C
Age: 21 | Bats: R
.267/.328/.480 | 134 wRC+ | 19 HR | 0 SB | 5.7% BB | 26.4% K
Current Assignment: Class AA Mississippi
Acquired: Trade w/Seattle Mariners – 2016
Pre-Season OFR Ranking: 16

After a strong stint with high-A Florida, Jackson was promoted to AA Mississippi for the final two months of the season. While there he continued to demonstrate impressive power, but the results fell off as the season winded down, perhaps due to catching 337 innings for the first time as a pro. Peripherally his numbers in Mississippi were very similar to those at high-A, and he even improved his plate discipline, just some line-drives become fly balls. Jackson’s catching has been mostly workmanlike so far as he has readjusted to the position, but he established a good rapport with several pitchers, including the difficult-to-catch Touki Toussaint.

What’s next? The Braves have to be delighted that Jackson has become a viable catching option, giving them a high-ceiling hitter at their biggest position of need. He will likely start the season at AA Mississippi, but could rise quickly and make his debut in Atlanta at some point late in 2018.

(Photo: Scott Cunningham/Getty Images)

15. Max Fried, LHP
Age: 23 | Throws: L
5.54 ERA | 3.97 FIP | 21 G, 21 GS | 92.9 IP | 4.37 BB/9 | 8.84 K/9
Current Assignment: MLB – Atlanta
Acquired: Trade w/San Diego Padres – 2014
Pre-Season OFR Ranking: 8

Fried’s minor league stats went off the rails in the first half of the season when command issues and blister problems caused a steady stream of 3-5 ER outings for AA Mississippi. Fried finally went on the DL at then end of June. When he returned on July 21, Fried threw three short but successful outings, starts of no more than 4 innings apiece, but drastically cutting down on baserunners and not allowing any earned runs. That prompted Atlanta to give Fried his first big league promotion, four appearances out of the ‘pen to break him into the majors. After two more short and scoreless starts at AAA Gwinnett, Fried rejoined Atlanta, this time in the rotation. Fried held the Cubs to one run in 5 innings, but gave up 3 to the Rangers in his two starts so far.

What’s next? Fried’s stuff is undeniable, but there now has to be a question if he will be able to hold up to the rigors of a starting rotation. This is the second season in a row where Fried has missed significant time with blisters, and this doesn’t appear to be an issue he can pitch through with minimal difficulty. The team insists the plan is still to start him however, but 2018 could see him begin the season in a rotation or bullpen role, in the majors or in AAA.

(Photo: Curtis Compton/AJC)

16. Patrick Weigel, RHP
Age: 23 | Throws: R
4.14 ERA | 3.98 FIP | 15 G, 15 GS | 78.1 IP | 3.22 BB/9 | 7.81 K/9
Current Assignment: Class AAA – Gwinnett
Acquired: Drafted, 7th Round – 2015
Pre-Season OFR Ranking: 15

Other than two starts with Gwinnett this season, one of which he was pitching at least partially with a torn UCL, Weigel was very good again in his second full season in the Braves organization. No one knows when the ligament started to affect him, but one thing to watch is that the his strikeout rate started to dip while at the AAA level. It’s possible that it would have leveled off given normal health and experience.

What’s next? Weigel will be rehabbing his elbow after TJS, possibly starting to throw around the time of spring training. It’s possible that Weigel could see some rehab appearances toward the end of the 2018 season, with a full return to the mound in 2019.

(Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)

17. Rio Ruiz, 3B
Age: 23 | Bats: L
.247/.322/.446| 112 wRC+ | 16 HR | 1 SB | 9.7% BB | 25.5% K
Current Assignment: MLB – Atlanta
Acquired: Trade w/Houston Astros – 2015
Pre-Season OFR Ranking: 14

Ruiz hasn’t done himself any favors with a lackluster second season at the AAA level. After a solid first two months of the season, Ruiz got a call up to Atlanta in the wake of the Freddie Freeman injury. Initial results were positive, but after two weeks of getting most of the playing time at third base, his .244/.306/.356 batting line started looking too much like his minor league batting line. Ruiz stayed in the majors for another three weeks, playing mostly off the bench but battling a bad slump. When Ruiz finally was returned to Gwinnett, he took his slump with him. He did see a power surge in his final month however, hitting 7 of his 16 minor league home runs over the final 30 days of Gwinnett’s season.

What’s Next: The Braves seem to be test driving a platoon situation with Ruiz and Johan Camargo taking the lefty and righty portions of the platoon respectively. Ruiz did improve his production against left-handed hitters this year, but still exhibits a platoon split, while Camargo is definitely a better hitter against lefties. It’s likely that this platoon could better the third base production the team has gotten in recent years, but it seems equally likely the organization will address third base from outside the organization. If that happens, Ruiz will likely start his third season at AAA, or on Atlanta’s bench.

(Photo: Patrick Cavey/MiLB.com)

18. Cristian Pache, OF
Age: 18 | Bats: R
.281/.335/.343 | 98 wRC+ | 0 HR | 32 SB | 7.6% BB | 20.2% K
Current Assignment: Class A – Rome
Acquired: International Amateur Free Agent – 2015
Pre-Season OFR Ranking: 18

As the highest-profile position player prospect in Rome this season, some fans may feel some disappointment at reading Pache’s statline from 2017. Instead, Pache cemented his status as one of the Braves top position prospects by giving a nightly tutorial on the art of playing centerfield. With elite defensive tools, plus speed, and improving plate discipline, Pache is perhaps the closest “sure thing” in the field for the Braves system. Many scouts also insist that power is coming too, as Pache’s body still projects to gain mass and strength.

What’s next? Given his young age (he won’t turn 19 until this offseason) and continued developmental requirements, Pache will probably move up to high-A Florida for 2018. How fast he moves after that will depend on the development of his bat, but his defensive skills alone will keep him moving up.

(Photo: Brian McLeod/MiLB.com)

19. Brett Cumberland, C
Age: 22 | Bats: S
.266/.409/.445 | 152 wRC+ | 11 HR | 1 SB | 10.8% BB | 27.2% K
Current Assignment: Class A+ – Florida
Acquired: Drafted, 2nd Round – 2016 (pick acquired from Orioles)
Pre-Season OFR Ranking: 28

Cumberland was promoted to high-A after a May in Rome that ranks as one of the best months by any prospect in the system (.357/.520/.757, 7 HR). In Florida, Cumberland continued to display an advanced approach at the plate, getting on base at a high rate despite also being unable to elevate the ball on contact, which resulted in only 1 HR in his Fire Frog stint and a groundball rate that soared from 25.4% with Rome to 34.8% in Florida. If Cumberland has a future as a three-true-outcomes type of player, home runs will need to become a bigger piece of that triad. Behind the plate, Cumberland saw more action with Florida and progressed enough that it’s no longer an automatic assumption that he’ll have to change positions at some point.

What’s next? I think the Braves will want to keep space between their top three catching prospects (Jackson, Cumberland, and Lucas Herbert), so it may depend on where the team decides to place Jackson. My guess is that Jackson will start in Gwinnett and Cumberland in Mississippi.

(Photo: Jeff Morris via Twitter, @AtlBravesJeff)

20. Drew Waters, OF
Age: 18 | Bats: S
.278/.362/.429 | 120 wRC+ | 4 HR | 6 SB | 10.3% BB | 31.3% K
Current Assignment: Rookie League – Danville
Acquired: Drafted, 2nd Round – 2017
Pre-Season OFR Ranking: NR

Waters is a big bucket of tools, but is still super-raw. He dominated the 17-year-olds in the GCL, but struck out at a 35.5% rate facing mostly college-level pitching in the Appalachian League. Long-term though he still projects as a high-in-the-order hitter with good power and speed. Defensively he gets a good jump on balls but needs to work on his route running, but again projects as an above average defensive outfielder.

What’s next? When Pache moves up to Florida, a spot opens up in center field in Rome and Waters looks like the mostly likely guy to fill it. It will be interesting to see Waters some out of is first professional off-season of instruction. Waters will have to be mindful of distractions, growing in nearby Cherokee County.

Dustin Peterson
(Photo: Mark J. Rebilas/USA TODAY Sports)

21. Dustin Peterson, OF
Age: 22 | Bats: R
.248/.318/.318 | 80 wRC+ | 1 HR | 0 SB | 7.8% BB | 22.5% K
Current Assignment: Class AAA – Gwinnett
Acquired: Trade w/San Diego Padres – 2014
Pre-Season OFR Ranking: 13

It was a bust of a season for Peterson, mostly thanks to a broken hamate bone suffered early in spring training. The injury sapped his strength; if Freddie Freeman felt like he was swinging a wet newspaper after return from his broken wrist, Peterson no doubt felt like his bat was a soggy ramen noodle. Quite frankly, Peterson just couldn’t hit with enough authority to do much more than slap the ball, and that’s not his kind of game. In the field he showed no ill effects however.

What’s next? Peterson will spend the offseason working on rebuilding strength in his hands and wrists. He will have to be put on the 40-man roster or risk being exposed to the Rule V draft. If the roster is tight, the Braves may leave him exposed, hoping his poor season will scare other teams off from having to have him on their active roster all season.

(Photo: Ed Gardner/MiLB.com)

22. Travis Demeritte, IF
Age: 22 | Bats: R
.231/.306/.402 | 105 wRC+ | 15 HR | 5 SB | 9.6% BB | 26.2% K
Current Assignment: Class AA – Mississippi
Acquired: Trade w/Texas Rangers – 2016
Pre-Season OFR Ranking: 17

At midseason, Demeritte was in the midst of a gruesome slump that saw him hit a measly .166/.248/.304 from June 4 through August 7. His strikeout rate was back over 30%, a dangerously high rate that had been one of the biggest reasons for doubters of his major league bone fides. It’s possible that Demeritte was banged up some during this time, and on August 8 he went on the 7-day DL. The rest seemed to do him some good, and he salvaged his season by hitting .304/.360/.418 with a 19.8 K% the rest of the way. Through it all however, Demeritte showed out as a plus defender at both second and third base.

What’s next? If the Braves think the Demeritte they saw at the beginning and end of the season was the real Travis Demeritte, they’ll likely send him up to AAA Gwinnett. He’s a plus defender at both third and second base, and which position he plays may be determine by where the organization decides to place Austin Riley.

(Photo: Andy Harris/OFR)

23. Yunior Severino, 2B
Age: 17 | Bats: S
.270/.345/.420 | 121 wRC+ | 3 HR | 0 SB | 9.5% BB | 26.6% K
Current Assignment: Rookie League – GCL
Acquired: International Amateur Free Agent – 2016
Pre-Season OFR Ranking: 26

Severino spent his first pro season in the instructional-heavy DSL and GCL leagues. He had more multi-hit games than no-hit games, was third in the GCL in doubles, and paced the GCL Braves in slugging. Signed originally as a shortstop, Severino instead spent the entire season playing second base; defense is a work in progress but he has the physical tools to do well at the position. Like Waters and most of his other international signee class, he has more tools than skills, but nothing about his first pro season should scare anyone off Severino.

What’s next? Off-season instructionals and spring training will be an open audition of the plethora of infielders the Braves have accumulated to determine who will get the plum Rome assignment. For second base it looks like it will be down to Cruz and Severino. Cruz is older and likely has the inside track, so pencil Severino for extended spring training and a Danville assignment in 2018 unless a spot opens up due to trade or injury.

(Photo: Ed Gardner/MiLB.com)

24. A.J. Minter, LHP
Age: 24 | Throws: L
3.33 ERA | 3.39 FIP | 26 G, 0 GS | 24.1 IP | 4.44 BB/9 | 11.10 K/9
Current Assignment: MLB – Atlanta
Acquired: Drafted, 2nd Round – 2015 (pick acquired from Diamondbacks)
Pre-Season OFR Ranking: 19

Despite getting less than 25 innings in the minors in 2017 and having less than overwhelming results at the AAA level, the Braves elected to promote him to Atlanta in late August. His tenure so far has been successful, pitching 6 scoreless outings out of 8 and striking out over 10 batters per 9. The Braves have been employing Minter strategically lately, using him in tight ballgames to get out the toughest lefties in the opposing line-up. This would be optimal Minter usage. Minter still hasn’t pitched in back-to-back games, but the Braves have started using him in every other game since the beginning of September.

What’s next? Given good health, Minter should start 2018 in the Braves bullpen as a primary high-leverage reliever. No other pure relief prospect has his mixture of composure and stuff, and he’s a good bet to be a relief ace.

(Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)

25. Lucas Sims, RHP
Age: 23 | Throws: R
3.75 ERA | 4.28 FIP | 19 G, 18 GS | 115.1 IP | 2.81 BB/9 | 10.30 K/9
Current Assignment: MLB – Atlanta
Acquired: Drafted, 1st Round – 2012
Pre-Season OFR Ranking: 20

Since the midseason prospect list, Sims pitched four very impressive starts for Gwinnett, all but demanding a call-up. The Braves complied by trading Jaime Garcia near the non-waiver trade deadline and calling Sims up. As is usually the case for pitchers, Sims has had his struggles since then, pitching to a 5.49 ERA in 5 starts and two relief appearances. Sims’s main weakness so far is the home run, giving up 7 so far in the bigs. The Braves are trying him out in the bullpen now, and while it’s likely the Braves will continue to look at him as a starter going into next season, many feel like his fastball/curve combo and competitiveness could play well out of the bullpen.

What’s next? Sims could break camp with Atlanta in 2018, either as a starter or a reliever. If the Braves add starting pitchers this offseason and the Braves still see Sims as a starter, he could go back for a return engagement with AAA Gwinnett.

(Photo: Chris Robertson /KZone Images)

26. Kyle Muller, LHP
Age: 19 | Throws: L
4.15 ERA | 4.40 FIP | 11 G, 11 GS | 47.2 IP | 340 BB/9 | 9.25 K/9
Current Assignment: Rookie League – Danville
Acquired: Drafted, 2nd Round – 2016
Pre-Season OFR Ranking: 22

Shoulder tendinitis disrupted Muller’s season at Danville, causing him to miss a turn of the rotation in late July. Before that rest, he had been struggling to miss bats at his expected rate; after the rest, in August he struck out nearly 13 batters per 9 innings. There’s no reason to be down on Muller just because he hasn’t progressed as quick as his high school draftmates Anderson, Wentz, and Wilson. This is actually the normal development speed for high school draftees.

What’s next? Assuming that his health is back to normal after the off-season, Muller should get his long-awaited Rome assignment in 2018.

(Photo: Tom Holle/ Florida Fire Frogs)

27. Ricardo Sanchez, LHP
Age: 20 | Throws: L
4.95 ERA | 4.06 FIP | 22 G, 21 GS | 100.0 IP | 4.14 BB/9 | 9.09 K/9
Current Assignment: Class A+ – Florida
Acquired: Trade w/Los Angeles Angels – 2014
Pre-Season OFR Ranking: 28

Sanchez was shut down with two weeks left to go in the season after hitting exactly 100 innings. The results weren’t always there, and this season Sanchez showed an increased home run rate which contributed to some big innings that ruined several otherwise fine outings.  However, Sanchez also showed more dominance at times as well, and he struck out over a batter per inning for the first time.

What’s next? Sanchez did some of his best pitching down the stretch, and that may be enough for the Braves to move him up to AA Mississippi next season. Sanchez will be eligible for the Rule V draft unless protected on the Braves 40-man roster. It will be an interesting decision due to Sanchez demonstrated upside, but lack of performance. If not protected, I have to think a rebuilding program would take a shot at him, stashing him in the back of the major league bullpen for a year.

(Photo: Tom Holle/ Florida Fire Frogs)

28. Tyler Pike, LHP
Age: 23 | Throws: L
3.43 ERA | 3.22 FIP | 27 G, 27 GS | 144.1 IP |5.61 BB/9 | 9.60 K/9
Current Assignment: Class AA – Mississippi
Acquired: Trade w/Seattle Mariners – 2016
Pre-Season OFR Ranking: 32

Pike dominated at the high-A level in 12 starts to begin the season, but found the promotion to AA to be a tougher road. Pike remained difficult to square up for hitters, but Pike’s control deserted him in several of his starts, and he had a very concerning 7.59 BB/9 ratio in AA. Pike did pitch a career high innings and struck out an impressive 10.37 batters per 9 in AA, so Pike remains an interesting prospect.

What’s next? I expect him to remain at Mississippi to start next season, but if spots open up and he has a good spring they could challenge him with a AAA assignment. Pike also will be eligible for the Rule V draft; considering the other more high-ceiling players that will need protected, and the fact that Pike was exposed last season as well and not selected, I suspect the Braves will gamble that Pike’s walk rate will keep other teams from considering him for mandatory major league rostering.

(Photo: Chrissy Harris/OFR)

29. Lucas Herbert, C
Age: 20 | Bats: R
.243/.308/.368 | 98 wRC+ | 8 HR | 3 SB | 6.3% BB | 17.9% K
Current Assignment: Class A – Rome
Acquired: Drafted, 2nd Round – 2015
Pre-Season OFR Ranking: 38

Herbert faded down the stretch for Rome after hitting .318/.342/.442 in June and July in the wake of Brett Cumberland’s promotion to the Fire Frogs. Despite the late swoon, the Braves have to be happy with Herbert’s offensive development, because he really just needs to be a league average hitter to be valuable to a team because of his advanced catching skills.

What’s next? Herbert should debut in high-A Florida next season as the team’s primary catcher.

(Photo: Andy Harris/OFR)

30. William Contreras, C
Age: 19 | Bats: R
.290/.379/.432 | 121 wRC+ | 4 HR | 0 SB | 12.1% BB | 15.2% K
Current Assignment: Rookie League – Danville
Acquired: International Amateur Free Agent – 2015
Pre-Season OFR Ranking: 68

Contreras was the only Danville Brave who was selected for the Appalachian League post-season All-Star team and was easily the most valuable position player on the team. Hitting in the middle of the line-up, Contreras exhibited a good hitting approach that belied his age. He did fade some down the stretch as he caught a career high 301.2 innings. Contreras is already a solidly average to above average backstop that projects to being potentially a plus receiver.

What’s next? Look for him in Rome next season as the team’s primary catcher, though he may have to share time with high-profile international signee Abrahan Gutierrez if the organization decides to skip him directly up from the GCL.

 

Likely Opening Day 2018 Assignments:

Atlanta:
1. Ronald Acuna
2. Ozzie Albies
7. Sean Newcomb
17. Rio Ruiz
24. A.J. Minter
25. Lucas Sims

Gwinnett:
3. Kolby Allard
4. Mike Soroka
8. Luiz Gohara
11. Austin Riley
14. Alex Jackson
15. Max Fried
21. Dustin Peterson
22. Travis Demeritte

Mississippi:
5. Kyle Wright
10. Touki Toussaint
12. Joey Wentz
13. Bryse Wilson
19. Brett Cumberland
27. Ricardo Sanchez
28. Tyler Pike

Florida:
9. Ian Anderson
18. Cristian Pache
29. Lucas Herbert

Rome:
6. Kevin Maitan
20. Drew Waters
26. Kyle Muller
30. William Contreras

Extended Spring Training:
16. Patrick Weigel
23. Yunior Severino

 

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.

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