Welcome to the Top 20 Braves prospects! Actually, we are now well into the Top 20 thanks to the sanctions levied upon the Braves organization. Those sanctions included the release into free agency of 13 Braves prospects, including the previously profiled #33 Abrahan Gutierrez, #27 Yefri Del Rosario, and #26 Yunior Severino. I will be making a “true-up” posting of prospects that will fill in to make the Fifty Prospects in Fifty Days series. But for now, here’s two guys that are still part of the Braves system.
19. Kyle Muller, LHP
Age: 20 | Throws: L
4.15 ERA | 4.40 FIP | 11 G, 11 GS | 47.2 IP | 3.40 BB/9 | 9.25 K/9
Current Assignment: Rookie League – Danville
Acquired: Draft, 2nd Round — 2016
Midseason 2017 OFR Ranking: 26
Superlatives: Baseball America #8 Prospect of the Appalachian League.
History: Muller was lured from a University of Texas commitment after the Braves selected the big lefty in the 2nd round of the 2016 draft. After breezing through the GCL in 2016, it was assumed by many that Muller would find a place in Rome alongside the other high-round pitchers of the 2016 draft. Instead, Muller was kept in extended spring training to work through mechanical issues and tightening up his pitches. Muller made his 2017 debut with Danville and showed off the better delivery, though sometimes the results didn’t show it. This was exacerbated by a bout of shoulder tendinitis that landed him on the DL in mid-August, but he returned and put three short but solid starts together before the end of the season.
Pitching: Muller is listed as 6″-6′ and 225 pounds, and he utilizes that height to shorten the distance between his hand and the plate very well. Muller sat in the mid-90s in high school, but has settled into the low 90s as a pro, rounding out his repertoire with a curveball that flashes as a plus pitch but can have inconsistent spin and a good change-up that can also flash plus when he stays on top of it. Muller has good control, but gets into trouble when he leaves pitches up in the zone, which lead to five home runs given up last season.
What’s Next: Muller gets good marks for his coach-ability, and seems like a good candidate for a strong breakout in 2018. He should start the season in Rome as their top starter, looking to further improve his off-speed pitches and his command.
18. Dustin Peterson, OF
Age: 23 | 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
Midseason 2017 OFR Ranking: 21
History: Peterson was drafted in the 2nd round of the 2013 draft by the Padres and sent to Atlanta as one of four players in the Justin Upton trade early in the rebuild. Drafted as a third baseman, Peterson was immediately installed in the outfield by the Braves. Peterson’s tenure with the organization has been marked with unfortunate setbacks. In 2015, Peterson was hitting .314/.392/.448 through mid-May when he was injured in the Carolina Mudcats team bus accident. He returned in early June, but was clearly still effected by his injuries and stumbled through the rest of the season. After a fine season in 2016 for AA Mississippi, after which the Braves named him the organization Player of the Year and played well in the Arizona Fall League, Peterson came to camp in 2017 with what appeared to be a decent shot at making the team. Instead, a broken hamate bone put him out of commission early in the season. As is typical with that particular injury, Peterson’s strength did not return immediately even after cleared for play and he suffered essentially a lost season.
Offense: When Peterson is at full strength, he has excellent bat speed and an advanced hitting approach that produces line drives, some of which he’s able to launch out of the park. The injury to his hand sapped his power, causing many more pitches to be sent into the infield, resulting in a career worse 52% ground ball rate. In an effort to start the bat early, Peterson also found himself out on his front foot a good bit on off-speed pitches, contributing to his ground ball issues and spiking his strikeout rate. Peterson has worked hard on simplifying his swing since his trade to the Atlanta system, and there’s no reason to think he won’t be able to put it back together once back to full strength. Peterson has average speed and will not be a significant basestealer, but he will pick his spots to take advantage of a pitcher who isn’t paying attention.
Defense: Peterson is an above average defender in left field, but is hard-pressed in any other outfield spot due to his lack of speed. Drafted as a third baseman, Peterson has a sneaky-good outfield arm, especially for left field.
What’s Next: Peterson will come into spring training looking to show that he’s now completely recovered from his hand injury. (Check out Adam Herbert’s excellent look at Peterson’s comeback chances at Call To the Bullpen.) If Peterson follows the pattern of most players recovering from this injury, he should be at full strength this spring and should once again challenge for a spot on the major league roster. Otherwise, he will man left field for Gwinnett and bide his time. His floor is as an offensive-first 4th outfielder, but could be a strong complimentary outfield starter if he hits his ceiling.