13. Alex Jackson, C
Age: 22 | 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
Midseason 2017 OFR Ranking: 14
Superlatives: Florida State League All-Star, Arizona Fall League All-Star, Braves High-A Florida Position Player of the Year
History: Jackson was a high school standout in Southern California and one of the top prep prospects in the country when Seattle drafted him with the 6th-overall pick in the 2014 draft. They immediately switched him to the outfield, believing that he could rise more quickly through their system at a less demanding position. Jackson never really got on track with the Mariners, fighting injuries and mechanical problems with his swing. He didn’t have any sustained measure of offensive success until late in the 2016 season, buy which time a new GM had taken the reins and decided to go in a different direction. He traded Jackson (along with #40 prospect Tyler Pike) to Atlanta for right-handers Rob Whalen and Max Povse.
The Braves moved Jackson back to catcher where they had an organizational need and is also Jackson’s preferred position. Jackson indicates the move back the catcher helps him stay engaged in the game and allows him to see more pitches, which helps his offensive game. In any case, Jackson ended up swatting 14 homers and 17 doubles in the Florida State League despite missing a month after getting hit with a pitch and then being promoted to AA Mississippi on July 30. Jackson initially struggled upon promotion, but he hit well down the stretch and talied 5 homers for the M-Braves in 30 games. After the season, Jackson was tapped to participate in the Arizona Fall League, where he hit .263/.314/.513 with 5 home runs in 20 games.
Offense: Jackson uses his powerful 6′-2″, 215 pound frame to put a lot behind his swings, and he may have the highest raw power tool in the Braves system. There were concerns when he was in the Mariners organization that his bat plane was too grooved, but that may have been due to his injuries, which included a hand issue. Whatever the case, it doesn’t appear to be a concern now as he shows excellent control of the bat and demonstrates the ability to make adjustments. Jackson isn’t particularly selective, and that can lead to him making weaker contact than preferred for a man as strong as he; a little more plate discipline could go a long way.
Defense: The number one question fans have about Jackson is what does his defense look like behind the plate. After three seasons of not playing catcher, Jackson had a lot of rustiness to knock off. At this point his defense is below average, but he has shown good tools and a willingness to accept coaching, and he could develop into an average major league catcher. His main issues right now are his blocking and a lack of quality footwork; he possesses a very strong arm but the cannon often shoots wide due to the footwork issue. Pitchers indicate he is doing well at calling games, and he looks to be at least an average pitch framer.
What’s Next? Jackson looked great over the first several weeks of the Arizona Fall League but seemed to tire by the end, which is certainly understandable. Jackson will go into spring training looking to make enough of an impression that he could be a late season call-up. For the start of the season however, look for Jackson to return to AA Mississippi.
12. Joey Wentz, LHP
Age: 20 | 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 Marlins)
Midseason 2017 OFR Ranking: 12
Superlatives: South Atlantic League Pitcher of the Year; OFR Rome Starting Pitcher of the Year
History: Wentz was a 1st-round comp pick by the Braves in 2016, who went against a strong commitment to Virginia to sign with Atlanta at well over slot. After a strong short-season pro debut, Wentz started and ended 2017 with Rome. Wentz started out fairly well, then continued to get strong as the season progressed; Wentz pitched to a 1.90 ERA in the second half, striking out 81 batters in 66.1 innings.
Pitching: Wentz has advanced command and feel for pitching for his age, with a three-pitch repertoire that all are average or above. Wentz is listed at 6′-5″ and 210 pounds, and he leverages that height well to make the fastball sneak up on batters, even though it mostly sits in the 90-92 mph range. Wentz spots it well and it has good movement. He has an above-average curveball with good late bite that is his primary swing-and-miss pitch. Wentz’s change-up developed very well through the course of the season, gaining more movement as the season progressed to the point that it’s now an above-average pitch as well. For a tall man, Wentz has a controlled delivery that he repeats well.
What’s Next: The only real knock on Wentz is that his fastball has dropped velocity since he was drafted. That is more of a concern from a medical point than for effectiveness, though he will need to tighten his command up even further to make the fastball play at higher levels. Wentz could follow in the footsteps of Mike Soroka and Kolby Allard and skip straight to AA Mississippi, but with the glut of starting pitchers already at the AAA and AA levels, I suspect Wentz will at least begin the season at high-A Florida.