Walk-Off Walk Midseason Top 50 Braves Prospects

Walk-Off Walk Midseason Top 50 Braves Prospects

Braves

Walk-Off Walk Midseason Top 50 Braves Prospects

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It’s once again time for the Midseason Top 50 prospects. This one is back on me as former Walk-Off Walk writers like Ryan Cothran (Braves Journal) and Stephen Tolbert (755 Battery Avenue) have found some great new spots for their content. Congrats to them and as for me, let’s crack some knuckles and get to work.

Making a Top 50 without Mike Soroka, Touki Toussaint, or Austin Riley is weird. All three, along with Jacob Webb, have graduated as prospects and are no longer considered. Neither will be the released trio of Izzy Wilson, Lucas Herbert, and Matt Rowland. A few others, like Braxton Davidson and Drew Lugbauer, are no longer on my Top 50. But this list is still big on elite talent with a number of guys who could break out over the last two months of the season and/or in 2020.

Just a reminder – I am not a scout. Or a prospect expert. This is something I do for fun and I will often be wrong. My approach is a bit conservative compared to other blogs so I may be slow with some players – as I was with my #1 in previous rankings. I just wanted to say that.

With that done, let’s get to the rankings.

1. Cristian Pache, OF
I’ve been slower to the party than most, choosing to wait on his hit tool and plate discipline to show up before ranking him higher. Well, they did. Not only is Pache hitting .293, but also has a 7.7% walk rate, which is over a 3% rise from 2018. He’s also flashed real, legit power in the Southern League, hitting a career-high eleven homers with a .225 Isolated Slugging. Just two years ago, he had a .062 ISO for Rome. All the while, he’s played plus-plus defense in center. Still only 20-years-old, Pache has proven that everyone smarter than me who ranked him higher in previous lists was, well, smarter than me.

2. Ian Anderson, RHP
Like Pache, Anderson is coming off an appearance in the Futures Game. In fact, he started for the NL. Armed with a mid-90’s heater, a plus curveball, and a tremendous changeup, Anderson also has the prototypical size of a durable force on the mound. Some will keep him a knock lower because his control is still not as good as you want it to be (4.47 BB/9, 11.8% BB% this year). But the results are what matters and Anderson is currently rocking a 2.91 ERA, 3.25 FIP, and 3.08 xFIP at the age of 21 in Double-A. He’s ready for his next challenge.

3. Drew Waters, OF
If you’re a regular watcher of the Mississippi Braves, you are getting spoiled nightly by the best prospects in the system. Drew Waters is another 20-year-old tremendously talented kid who could max out to be a better hitter than Pache, though not as good as a defender. For Waters, plate discipline is still questionable (zero improvement over last year’s BB% with a higher K%). That said, he has one of the best hit tools in the system and has plus power and speed to boot. When I saw him in Danville, the guy who I immediately comped him to was A.J. Pollock – without the injuries. That was an excellent, MVP-quality player. Maybe that ceiling is a bit too high for Waters, but he’s still plenty good.

4. Kyle Wright, RHP
It would be easy to be down on Wright, who has had a tough season, but the talent is very much still there and you have to feel for Wright. After starting three games in the majors to open the year, he was demoted. Since then, he has been called up three times for three-to-five day periods where he sat in the bullpen, collecting dust. It took him off a regular rhythm. But he’s still starting to turn the corner. After a 7.22 ERA in his first nine starts in Gwinnett, he has a 1.42 ERA in his last four starts with 32 K’s in 25.1 innings. Wright’s not a sexy prospect but he has four capable pitches and can be hard to elevate the ball against. Like I said, the talent is there. Now, the results are starting to arrive, too.

5. Bryse Wilson, RHP
Wilson is what you get when you take a chance on pitchability. When he was drafted back in 2016, the concern was that he’d be a fastball/slider reliever and the Braves reached too much for him. Then, his changeup showed new life and now a righty with great makeup and aggressiveness on the mound had something new to throw at hitters. According to pitch data, he’s flirted with either a sinker or cutter or both this year. Wilson’s major league results haven’t been great, but it’s not hard to see a middle-of-the-rotation workhorse who will get 180+ strikeouts a year and a FIP south of 4.00.

6. William Contreras, C
His brother may not be the biggest fan of the Braves’ organization right now, but William Contreras remains the organization’s top catcher despite the move to draft one with their top pick in June. Offensively, he’s still a bit of a work in progress, but he flashes good power potential, a plus hit tool, and a decent idea of the strike zone. Defensively, you hear questions about work ethic, but he’s smooth, athletic, has improved his footwork, and has a near 80-grade arm. Contreras, 21, might need a bit more time, but all the tools are there for a guy who could start behind the plate for a decade for the Braves.

Nov 3, 2018; Surprise, AZ, USA; Atlanta Braves pitcher Kyle Muller during the Arizona Fall League All Star Game at Surprise Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

7. Kyle Muller, LHP
Drafted with Bryse Wilson and Ian Anderson – plus Joey Wentz, Muller was given a slower timetable than the other three. Well, he’s caught up. While he’s struggled with his control this season, walking less than two just once in 2019, Muller’s strikeout rate has also exploded. The big Texan southpaw just looks like he’s going to throw 200 innings yearly with plus results. Just 21, Muller went to Driveline last winter and found extra velocity he seemingly lost in high school. Now routinely in the mid-90’s, Muller has a great changeup and a good slider. If the command comes, the ceiling is pretty high.

8. Huascar Ynoa, RHP
In the summer of 2017, rumors of a Zack Burdi/Jaime Garcia went public. The Braves balked on Burdi’s medical reports and the Twins pivoted to Ynoa. In the end, the Braves might be ecstatic by how it worked out. Ynoa was a raw righty with great velocity, a large collection of secondary offerings, and a low floor but fairly high ceiling. Two years later, the great velocity is still there with triple-digit ability. His slider has improved and settling on just a changeup as his other secondary option has been good. The command is still questionable, but he’s also still only 21. You can easily see a high-leverage arm in Ynoa, but the door is still open for him to remain a starter if he can improve his command and maximize his changeup.

9. Jasseel De La Cruz, RHP
He’s always been raw and the results have been a mixed bag, but we’re starting to see what patience in a talented arm can bring. De La Cruz started the year in Rome and is now in Mississippi. Combined, his FIP is around 3.00 while his ERA is closer to 2.50. The recently-turned 22-year-old threw a no-hitter back in May before his promotion up the ladder to Double-A and in his last five starts in Mississippi, he has a 2.03 ERA with 34 K’s in 31 innings. My gut says he’s going to likely move to the pen at some point where his plus slider and flyball nature might play up better, but he’s already exceeded expectations this year and if he shows a more consistent feel for his offspeed stuff, there is a chance he takes the next step as a starter.

10. Joey Wentz, LHP
Wentz hasn’t had quite the results anybody was hoping for this season after an injury-shortened 2018 campaign. But he could be turning the corner after allowing just two earned runs in his last 18.2 innings with 27 K’s. Like his Mississippi rotation mate, Muller, control has been a bit of an issue – he’s rocking a higher BB/9 than he did the last two years. Command will be a must because Wentz doesn’t have a great fastball. He needs to locate it to set up a plus curveball and keep hitters off his best offering, his changeup. If he can command his heater, Wentz is very difficult to hit as his last three starts show.

11. Tucker Davidson, LHP
A 19th-rounder in the same draft with Anderson, Wentz, Muller, and Wilson, Tucker Davidson has bounced back after a less-than-impressive 2018 in Florida with a 2.04 ERA, 2.90 FIP, and 3.02 xFIP in 83.2 innings in Mississippi. Davidson is a four-pitch guy with good stuff and better command than anyone seemed to predict. His command played up better when he was limited to shorter stints as a swing-guy, but he could blossom into a #4 starter on a good team.

12. Shea Langeliers, C
Atlanta’s top pick last month and the ninth overall, Langeliers is expected to be a quick mover in the system who possesses solid defensive skills right now with a plus arm. The question then becomes simple – will he hit? He has good power and flashed a decent grasp of the strike zone, but the truth is, where you rank him right now (in the Braves’ top 10 or outside of it) probably indicates how much faith you have in his bat.

13. Patrick Weigel, RHP
A seventh-rounder back in 2015 who just turned 25, Weigel was on his merry little way to the majors before Tommy John surgery stopped him last year. He’s been on an innings limit this year as the Braves give him the kid’s glove approach. While he has four pitches, his best offering is a mid-90’s heater. Some see a reliever, though I think he has a similar path as Davidson – potential fourth starter/swingman/multi-inning reliever. But Weigel’s heater does mean that any progress he makes with his secondary offerings could turn him into an even better prospect.

14. Kolby Allard, LHP
We forget about Allard because he has never been the guy many felt he would be – an elite pitcher who fortunately fell right into the Braves’ laps. That said, Allard shouldn’t be completely forgotten – especially if his newfound ability to induce grounders becomes the norm (averaging 51.5% this year). Plus, we’ve seen more velocity than the last couple of seasons (comfortably 92-93 mph often this year). He’s never going to be a strikeout artist, but he knows how to pitch and could spend the next 15 years as a decent option at the bottom of the rotation.

15. Greyson Jenista, OF
An advanced hitter playing his first full season of professional ball, Jenista is already in Double-A – a bit of a surprise considering he didn’t light up the Florida State League over the season’s first two months. The strikeout rate has been extreme, but he’s also showing the ability to walk and his power potential is legit. Of course, there is a huge difference between the Three True Outcome guys that pan out (Adam Dunn) and the ones that don’t (Braxton Davidson). If you’re looking for pluses in his numbers this year, outside of walk totals, you have to dig to find them. One, the worry was that Jenista might not be able to hack it in the outfield. It looks like he can and has even played the occasional center field. Further, we’re starting to see a potential turnaround. In his first seven July games, Jenista is slashing .364/.417/.636. He’ll be a guy to watch the next two months to see if he’s finally turned the corner.

16. Luiz Gohara, LHP
There’s not much to say about Gohara, who has been out all year with shoulder issues. While he still won’t turn 23 until the end of the month, he’s essentially lost two years of development when he needed badly to work on his offspeed stuff. With each lost month of action, it looks like Gohara’s value to the Braves comes in two ways – as a trade piece or a potential future reliever.

17. Victor Vodnik, RHP
A year ago, the Braves focused on college talent in the draft so much that with Carter Stewart not signing, Vodnik is the only prep talent the Braves signed from the 2018 draft. But the 14th-rounder is far more than a trivia answer. He’s got high-90’s heat and more polish on his secondary offerings than originally assumed. Vodnik’s innings are heavily-controlled, but he has a 1.94 ERA with Rome this year along with 51 K’s and 16 walks in 46.1 innings.

18. Freddy Tarnok, RHP
The 2017 third-rounder has spent much of the year hurt and hasn’t been particularly noteworthy when healthy, but you need to remember that he’s still very raw. He’s got a strong arm, high 90’s max velocity with a really good curve and developing changup. I see him in a similar position as De La Rosa last year. Hopefully, Tarnok rebounds for a big final couple of months now that he’s back in action, but regardless, he’s right near the top of the list for a potential breakout star in the system for 2020.

Jun 20, 2017; Omaha, NE, USA; Texas A&M Aggies second baseman Braden Shewmake (8) goes up for a line drive against the TCU Horned Frogs in the sixth inning at TD Ameritrade Park Omaha. TCU won 4-1. Mandatory Credit: Bruce Thorson-USA TODAY Sports

19. Braden Shewmake, SS
Last month’s 21st overall pick has gotten off to a tremendous start, jumping right to Rome and hitting .437 through his first 17 games with ten doubles. Shewmake was considered a bit of a reach with many publications ranking him closer to the lower end of the Top 40 or 50 draftable prospects. But he’s the kind of prospect I have an affinity for because he has all-around good grades. Maybe no 60+ grades, but also no 45 or worse grades. He can do a bit of everything and I think he can stick at shortstop.

20. Travis Demeritte, OF
At a certain point, somebody needs to give this guy a chance. He’s hitting .301/.403/.602 on the year with his best-ever strikeout rate (still 25%), his top walk percentage, and should breeze past his career-best total of 28 homers. Potentially, he can also play a little second or third if you need him, too. Probably could handle first base in a pinch. He might not be a starter – though not saying he couldn’t be. But he definitely deserves a long look.

21. C.J. Alexander, 1B
What Alexander did last year was amazing. He played nearly a full year – college season started in January and he played in fall instructionals through October. The former JuCo transfer from Ball State hit .352/.429/.495 in two rookie ball stops plus 21 games in Florida. He’s been injured for most of 2019 and has only recently returned. He will have one of the better arms at first base if that’s where he ultimately stays and could be a big bench bat/platoon option.

22. Tristan Beck, RHP
Beck’s another guy who has slowed by injuries – much like he was with Stanford. His ceiling, though, remains pretty high with higher sustained velocity since the draft, a dynamic curveball that is one of the better ones in a system full of great hammers, and a plus changeup. He’s never been able to put it all together, but like Tarnok, if you start a list of potential 2020 system breakout stars, Beck’s going to be on it.

23. Trey Harris, OF
Keep hitting and nobody will hold you back. That’s what Trey Harris is proving this year despite being a 32nd-rounder last year. A four-year starter at Missouri, Harris posted a .843 OPS between the Gulf Coast League and Rome last summer. This year, first with Rome and now with Florida, he’s upped his OPS to .959 with 11 jacks and 19 doubles. To be fair, most of the heavy lifting was done at Rome, but Harris flashes legit power, good plate discipline, and is a decent athlete. That’s far more than you expect out of the 32nd round.

Apr 7, 2019; Atlanta, GA, USA; Atlanta Braves catcher Alex Jackson lined out to center field during the seventh inning against the Miami Marlins at SunTrust Park. Mandatory Credit: Jason Getz-USA TODAY Sports

24. Alex Jackson, C
Here are the plusses with Jackson: his defense behind the plate has improved dramatically and his power is legit 60+ grade. But the real problem is that Jackson’s hit tool remains MIA. Jackson’s just 23 so there is still time, but it’s really difficult to see a starter here. On the bright side, the fact that he’s a legit catcher now gives him an easy path to the majors. He could spend the next decade hitting .230-.250 with 7-10 homers off the bench each year.

25. Nolan Kingham, RHP
It’s been an up-and-down season for the former Texas Longhorn, who has tossed a trio of shutouts since his promotion to Florida and yet has a 5.25 over 14 total starts since moving up from Rome. To put it in another way, when he’s good, he’s really good. When he’s bad, it can get ugly. Kingham isn’t a big strikeout guy, but flashes superb control and even though he’s given up a lot of runs, he keeps the ball in the park (of his six homers allowed, half came in one game). A potential bottom-of-the-staff workhorse with a ceiling for more.

26. Jefrey Ramos, OF
Few prospects in the system can match Ramos’ raw power now that Austin Riley has graduated to the majors. The hit tool isn’t great, but the Braves are believers in Ramos, who has progressed to Florida during his Age-20 season despite a lifetime .303 OBP. Now in his fourth year, if he is able to progress at the plate, the ceiling is pretty high for this kid.

27. Justin Dean, OF
Another late-round potential steal, Dean was slowed recently by a trip to the IL, but is back and looking to improve his already impressive .288/.405/.442 start over 63 games with Rome. That doesn’t include 26 steals in 32 attempts. We knew Dean had speed for days, but the solid contact he’s been making at the plate has been a bit surprising. He’s capable-enough in center and could be a fourth outfielder in the majors with the potential for more.

28. Jeremy Walker, RHP
The 2016 draft just keeps giving for the Braves. Picked 30 selections after Bryse Wilson, Walker was a decent, though overlooked starter, for the last two years. This year, moved to the pen in Mississippi, Walker has been dynamite. His strikeout rate climbed and his walk rate practically disappeared (5 BB in 58.2 ING). There are concerns he is still a bit too hittable, which makes him more of a mop-up reliever than a high-leverage one.

29. Riley Delgado, SS
The boy just hits. That’s the working title of Delgado’s story right now. Drafted to save on slot back in 2017 out of Middle Tennessee State, Delgado struggled in his brief run that summer. He’s hit over .300 since. He’s not a big walk totals guy, nor will he strikeout and his power is nill. But should Delgado add just a little power, he looks like a perfect utility option with the ability to play an excellent shortstop.

30. Chad Sobotka, RHP
When Sobotka is on, he’s nearly unhittable. When he’s not, it can get ugly fast. One of the few guys left from the Frank Wren era, Sobotka has always had amazing strikeout totals. Pretty big walk totals, too. If he can limit the latter, he can be a high-leverage arm.

#31-#35
31. Ray-Patrick Didder, UTIL
32. Trey Riley, RHP
33. Corbin Clouse, LHP
34. Thomas Burrows, LHP
35. A.J. Graffanino, SS

Didder is insanely easy to like, but having a tough go in Mississippi. Still could max out as a utility option. Ugly 2019 for Trey Riley so far with nearly as many walks as K’s. Still a lot of hope in his arm, though. Neither Clouse nor Burrows have put themselves in position for a call-up, but there is still time. Just one at-bat on the year for Graffanino, who has a good stick and a talented glove as he tries to follow in his dad’s footsteps.

#36-#40
36. Josh Graham, RHP
37. Beau Philip, SS
38. Odalvi Javier, RHP
39. Michael Harris, OF
40. Hayden Deal, LHP

Graham has logged 68 games with Mississippi over the last three seasons without a promotion to Gwinnett. Braves like his right-arm, but likely losing patience. Second-rounder Beau Phillip will be one to watch. Braves took a chance on him. Javier’s second season with Rome has been solid. Want to see him promoted, though. The guy is high on pitchability and guts, but may not have the stuff to progress too much. Harris has potential for days and could be the Braves the top outfield prospect once Pache and Waters graduate. Deal’s path to the bigs still remains tied into a lefty reliever, but he has a 2.81 ERA in 15 starts with Florida. Great control and tough to elevate against.

#41-#45
41. Daysbel Hernandez, RHP
42. Jacob Higginbotham, LHP
43. Logan Brown, C
44. Kurt Hoekstra, RHP
45. Braulio Vasquez, IF

A Cuban import, Hernandez has a 1.72 ERA in 36.2 innings with Florida. Control needs work, but stuff grades high. Former Clemson Tiger, Higginbotham, might be a reliever-only option after starting in the SEC. Strikeout-rate is solid, walk rate needs improvement. Brown is Brian McCann-slow, but flashes a good hit tool and an excellent arm. Hoekstra is a former utility infielder who moved to pitching this year and has looked dynamite with a super-high strikeout rate and shockingly decent walk rate considering he didn’t even pitch that often in college. Vasquez is a case of a crush that hasn’t completely died. I loved this kid in 2016 and still going to give him some love despite a .458 OPS in 81 PA with Rome this year.

#46-#50
46. Walter Borkovich, RHP
47. Dilmer Mejia, LHP
48. Troy Bacon, RHP
49. Greg Cullen, 2B
50. Bryce Ball, 1B

Long a personal favorite after he was undrafted out of Michigan State and put up big numbers his first year-and-a-half, Borkovich has run into a wall this year. Another personal favorite, Mejia, finally turned 22 today and is already in his sixth year. Hasn’t made it to Double-A, but control has improved this year. Bacon is another guy who has struggled this year despite a higher K-rate. Possible low-to-medium leverage reliever. Cullen’s path to the majors is limited as a second baseman without notable power, but he’s carrying a .384 OBP so don’t sleep on him. Bryce Ball hits dingers. He’s already smacked seven of them with Danville to go with his .373 average and a shocking 11-to-9 BB/SO rate. Granted, two of those walks were intentional. In rookie ball. Where almost nobody gets an intentional pass.

And that’s it for my Top 50. The system isn’t quite as deep as it once was, but there is a good deal of potential sleepers and young elite talent that rivals almost any other system in baseball. The worst of the international penalties are nearly over with the Braves shut out from the best international prospects this cycle and limited next cycle, but their approach in the draft the last two years was aimed at continuing to push waves of talent through the system. With any luck, they did exactly that.

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