And now we are down to five. Choosing the order for prospects 2 through 5 (all pitchers) was by far the most difficult part of this exercise. They are extremely close in my mind and could almost be put in any order, but this is the one I chose.
5. 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
Midseason 2017 OFR Ranking: 3
Superlatives: Southern League All-Star, Southern League Left-Handed Pitcher of the Year, Baseball America’s #10 Prospect of the Southern League
History: The first overall draft pick of the Braves rebuild, a stress fracture suffered in his lower back his senior year of high school caused Allard to drop from an expected top 5 draft position to the Braves at #14. A follow up clean-up procedure after his 5 inning pro debut season in 2015 put him in extended spring training to start 2016, but by the end he had joined the Rome Braves rotation in time for their championship run, and pitched 12 scoreless innings in the SAL playoffs.
An impressive spring convinced the Braves to skip Allard, along with Rome rotationmates Mike Soroka and Max Fried, directly to AA Mississippi. Allard and Soroka were two of only five teenagers in the Southern League in the last ten years (teammate Ronald Acuna would become the sixth by May). Allard handled the promotion well, and after a 5 inning scoreless start on July 7 he was sitting with 2.88 ERA. Allard seemed to hit a wall after that where his command took a step back. Five starts later Allard seemed to have hurdled the wall, and he ended the season with some of his best baseball of the year, pitching to a 1.65 ERA in his last five starts and striking out 37 in his final 32.2 innings.
Pitching: Allard is 6’-1” and 180 pounds, and that somewhat slight build has required him to bring more deception in his delivery. In the past couple of years he’s learned to hide the ball more effectively, and though his fastball sits in the low 90s it can still seems to get on the hitters quickly. Allard has worked diligently on fastball command in 2017, and has worked on being able to hit corners and how to pitch effectively up in the zone. His change-up, definitely somewhat of an afterthought most nights in Rome, became a more featured pitch to the the point that he was actually more effective in 2017 against right-handers than left-handers. His breaking ball is a tight, sharp curveball that has traditionally been a bread-and-butter pitch for him. The most concerning issue with Allard last season was that the curveball command seemed to have taken a step back, especially in the dog days of the summer. This led to the occasional long inning, as the curve went from being his primary swing-and-miss pitch to something that hitters could get a hold of. This will be the primary thing to watch for Allard in 2018.
What’s Up: Now that Allard has a complete minor league season under his belt and made every start, his back issues seem to be well in the rear-view mirror. Allard will likely get a AAA Gwinnett assignment at the ripe old age of 20. His floor is actually a little higher than the other four pitchers ahead of him on this list, but the ceiling has taken a slight hit without having command of what had been his main strikeout pitch. Allard was working on a lot of different things in 2017 and got good results while doing it; if he brings it all together, he could be a top of the rotation pitcher for Atlanta in the near future.
4. Kyle Wright, RHP
Age: 22 | 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
Midseason 2017 OFR Ranking: 5
History: A standout pitcher and Vanderbilt and rated by many as the top college pitcher in the 2017 draft, the Braves were reportedly delighted to be able to select Wright with the #6 pick. Wright struck out 121 batters in 103.1 innings his junior year with a 3.40 ERA, leading Vandy on a run to the Super Regionals. The heavy college workload however made the Braves treat Wright very conservatively. Wright didn’t make his pro debut with the GCL Braves until July 17, and didn’t pitch more than two innings a start all season. Despite the small sample size, Wright pitched well in his first taste of professional baseball.
Pitching: Wright is 6′-4″ and 220 pounds, a solid base that he uses to get good extension. What separated Wright from the other college pitchers in last year’s draft class is the advanced feel he has on all of his pitches. Wright’s fastball typically sits in the mid-90s with good movement, but he can also rear back and push it to the upper ’90s as needed. Wright has two breaking balls, a curve and a slider, both of which he can work down and on the edges for strikes. The curveball has a lot of late break and can be a swing-and-miss offering. His slider is a power slider with good velocity and bite. His fourth pitch his a developing change-up that he also controls well but can stay straight when it’s not locked in.
What’s Up: Barring injury, the only questions around Wright are where he will start in 2018 and if he will make it to Atlanta in the same year. My guess is that he’ll start in AA Mississippi despite his meager pro experience, but that he will not make his major league debut until 2019 in order to hold back his service-time clock. Wright is already the most polished pitcher of the Big Four on this list, and Braves fans won’t have to wait too long.