30. Devan Watts, RHP
Age: 22 | Throws: R
2.15 ERA | 2.71 FIP | 39 G, 0 GS | 58.2 IP | 3.07 BB/9 | 9.97 K/9
Current Assignment: Class AA Mississippi
Acquired: Draft, 17th Round – 2016
Midseason 2017 OFR Ranking: 43
Superlatives: OFR Mississippi Braves Relief Pitcher of the Year
History: Like teammate Corbin Clouse, Watts didn’t start pitching until his senior year of high school, mostly playing middle infield and trying to emulate Chipper Jones until the team needed some extra arms. After graduation, he spent a year at Milligan College as a middle infielder, but enrolled at Tusculum College for the 2015/16 season and went back to pitching. This turned out to be a good decision, as his fastball velocity shot up and he struck out 62 batters in 49.1 relief innings. This got the attention of Braves scouts, who drafted him in the 17th round of the 2016 draft.
After a 4 inning pit stop in Danville, Watts found himself in the middle of a pennant race with Rome. Watts was a key contributor down the stretch, giving Rome 16 appearances, a 0.92 ERA, and 8 saves. Watts then saved three more games in the SAL playoffs to help secure the championship.
Watts started the 2017 season off with the high-A Florida Fire Frogs and he continued to pitch well, starting the season off with four scoreless outings, and pitching to a 2.03 ERA/2.26 FIP in 26.2 innings before getting a mid-season bump up to AA Mississippi. Double-A hitters weren’t as prone to strike out against Watts, and his K/9 dropped from 11.48 down to 8.72. Nevertheless, he continued to be effective, pitching to a 2.25 ERA/3.08 FIP for the M-Braves in 32 innings.
Pitching: Listed as 6′-0″, 205 pounds, Watts gets surprising downward plane and velocity on his two-seam fastball, typically sitting in the mid-90s. He marries that pitch with a well-commanded slider that he can use to back-foot lefties, freeze righties inside, or just generate swing-and-miss. Watts does a nice job staying away from walks and has only allowed 2 career home runs. All the downward movement on his pitches causes hitters that make contact generally to either ground the ball weakly or pop it up in the air
What’s Next: The Braves keep challenging Watts, and Watts keeps rising to the challenge. He’s setting himself to potentially be in Atlanta before the end of the 2018 season, but he’ll first likely be assigned to AAA Gwinnett. though a numbers crunch could have him back to AA Mississippi.
(Ed. note: the following write-up on Abrahan Gutierrez was completed prior to MLB sanctioning the Braves for violating international signing rules. Part of those sanctions was making Gutierrez a free agent, and he is no longer part of the Braves organization. He originally was #33 on this list.)
Age: 18 | Bats: R
.264/.319/.357 | 94 wRC+ | 1 HR | 0 SB | 7.1% BB | 14.9% K
Final 2017 Assignment: Rookie League – GCL Braves
Acquired: International Amateur Free Agent – 2016
Midseason 2017 OFR Ranking: 34
History: Gutierrez has been on the international baseball radar since he was 11 years old and playing in the Venezuelan 12-Up tournament. In 2016, the Braves awarded him with a $3.53 million signing bonus, the highest ever for an international amateur catcher. In 2017 Gutierrez made his pro debut with the GCL Braves as a young 17 year old, holding is own offensively while concentrating on further refining his defensive game.
Offense: Although Gutierrez is an imposing 6′-2″ and 214 pounds already, he has a simple, up-the-middle oriented batting stroke in games, though he can put on a home run show in batting practice. It is likely that the Braves wanted him to work on pitch recognition and contact in his first run through the rookie leagues, and he will show more power with experience. On the bases, he runs about as well as you would expect a 17-year-old, 214 pound catcher would; slowly, but with enthusiasm.
Defense: The years of amateur experience show themselves as Gutierrez has advanced technique at catcher, showing good footwork and framing. His arm is not the cannon that some other catchers in the Braves system have, but is strong enough and Gutierrez’s pop time is excellent. Gutierrez is still getting used to his body, which gained around 20 pounds since his signing, and he’s sometimes slow in shifting, but that should improve in time. While there likely isn’t much more he could add to his body, Gutierrez will need to take his conditioning program seriously.
What’s Next: Gutierrez is an intriguing project; his ceiling is a plus-defense, power-hitting catcher, but he’s got so long to get there it’s difficult to place him properly in a list like this. Fortunately, the Braves have enough catching depth now that there is no reason to rush Gutierrez. Gutierrez could start the 2018 season with Danville, but another season in the more developmental-oriented GCL wouldn’t be a bad idea. Catchers tend to develop slower than other position players, and the Braves can afford to play the long game with Gutierrez.