I have to be honest – I am surprised we’re about to release the next ten prospects in our yearly Preseason Top 50 and have yet to change things up because of a trade. It is kind of a tradition to start one of these and bam, a trade either adds or takes away players while we’re in the middle of it. Of course, Braves fans everywhere are anxiously awaiting a move or three to help the team prepare to defend the NL East crown from three other contenders. And the Marlins. They still have a team, I hear.
Today’s ten players are those just outside the Top 20. The collection of prospects today include the ones with prospect fatigue attached and others climbing up the ladder. We got relievers, potential utility players, and a few guys with raw potential off the charts.
30. Travis Demeritte
Poe: #32, Francis: #35, Cothran: #27
2018 Preseason: #20, Midseason: #24
Travis Demeritte has long been a favorite of many Braves fans since he was acquired for Dario Alvarez and Lucas Harrell, two guys that were essentially picked up off the scrap heap. Demeritte possesses excellent athleticism and plus raw power that have been intriguing his entire minor league career. However, swing and miss issues have hampered his profile to this point. Demeritte carried a 34% strikeout rate through the low minors which put his major league viability into question, but he was still able to put together above average batting lines despite the strikeouts. In fact, Demeritte had a very successful run at high A in 2016 despite a 33% strikeout rate. However, Demeritte has seemingly stalled out at AA in the two seasons since then.
In two seasons at AA Demeritte has hit .227/.311/.409 in over a thousand plate appearances. This line seems paltry but is actually an above average hitting line for a Southern League player playing half of his games in the cavernous Trustmark park. He did this while having poor batted ball luck and learning to play a new position. Possibly most encouraging of all of this is that he lowered his strikeout rate at AA to 27% while maintaining an above average Isolated Power. While this is still a below average strikeout rate, it’s much more manageable. Demeritte likely doesn’t profile as a big league regular unless he makes some dramatic improvements, but he does look like a candidate to be a solid bench piece at the major league level. A player that can play quality defense at multiple positions on the diamond while providing solid pop off the bench is a good player that most championship caliber teams are eager to have. (Francis)
29. Ray-Patrick Didder
Poe: #34, Francis: #25, Cothran: #29
2018 Preseason: #41, Midseason: UR
Ray-Patrick Didder is a Swiss army knife of a prospect. He can play at least above average defense at every position on the field outside of pitcher and catcher, and I am willing to bet he could pitch and not embarrass himself. Didder possesses plus-plus speed, a plus-plus arm and plays plus defense at the most difficult defensive positions. These tools give him a floor of a pinch runner/defensive replacement type bench piece. Unfortunately, his bat limits his upside.
Didder has hit .250/.357/.341 across 2195 plate appearances in his minor league career. He will play the 2019 season at the age of 24 and has only had a taste of the AA level. His saving grace to this point has been his ability to get on base, however that skill rarely translates to the big-league level without power to go with it and Didder has very little in the way of power. Despite the offensive struggles, Didder should be able to carve out a major league role like the one that Emilio Bonifacio did where he is a below average hitter that can fill in all over the field and impact the game with his speed and defense. It’s quite possible even without much improvement offensively that we could see Didder up in the majors this September in a bench role. (Francis)
28. Jasseel De La Cruz
Poe: #26, Francis: #23, Cothran: #36
2018 Preseason: UR, Midseason: #33
A lanky right-hander who was signed at 18 – later than most premier prospects out of the Dominican Republic – De La Cruz possesses an intriguing collection of talent and potential. Injuries limited him to just 15 games, including 13 starts, during the 2018 campaign, which was his first above rookie ball. And while the results weren’t exactly reach the preseason hype, we saw glimpses here-and-there of the young hurler with plus 90’s stuff and a tremendous slider. De La Cruz grades highly in arm strength and though a bit too quick, he has a repeatable delivery. For De La Cruz to remain a starting prospect, though, it’ll come down to whether or not he can develop a usable off-speed pitch – especially against lefties. The 1-2 combo of his fastball/slider can give you visions of a possible high-leverage arm, but the changeup lags significantly behind and De La Cruz doesn’t like to use it often.
If the Braves see him as a potential starter, it’s my hope they take the Touki Toussaint route and force him to use his changeup more in 2019. Turn him into a fastball/changeup pitcher the first two times through the order before unleashing the slider. Make him develop the change or quick-track him on a reliever path. Either way, De La Cruz has one of the most intriguing arms in the lower levels of the system. (Poe)
27. Tucker Davidson
Poe: #21, Francis: #22, Cothran: #41
2018 Preseason: #34, Midseason: #30
Tucker Davidson was drafted in the 19th round of the 2016 draft which is turning out to be a whale of a draft for the Braves. There are already six players from that draft currently in our top 30 and another, Brett Cumberland, was used in a trade last season to acquire Kevin Gausman. Davidson is a left-handed starting pitching prospect who projects to have four average or better pitches when all is said and done with his curveball being his best pitch right now. After a fantastic first full season in A ball in which Davidson split time as a starter and a reliever, Davidson struggled some in high A as a full time starting pitcher. However, there is still reason to be optimistic about Davidson’s future.
While Davidson wasn’t as spectacular in 2018, it was his first full season as a starting pitcher while pitching at a higher level and he still was roughly a league average pitcher. With his stuff, he still profiles as a back end starting pitcher but there’s reason to believe there could be even more in the tank. Davidson spent some time at Driveline this offseason where there was a video taken of him hitting 103 mph on a pull-down throw. Driveline has a knack for bringing the most out of pitchers. If Davidson can see an uptick in stuff this season while also improving on his below average command, he will shoot up this list next offseason. While this can obviously be said for any pitching prospect, there is some evidence that this could actually happen. Until it does he should still be viewed as a potential back of the rotation starter or a middle reliever but there is some upside here. (Francis)
26. Thomas Burrows
Poe: #27, Francis: #29, Cothran: #25
2018 Preseason: #37, Midseason: #34
Whatever frozen lake Thomas Burrows was in throughout the 2017 season has now thawed and he’s able to move onward and upward through the Braves system with ease. Despite dominating (as a 22 year old) in Low-A, Burrows was left there for a full year and it was one of the most head scratching occurrences across the system. What’s more, when 2018 kicked off, Burrows was back in Rome. Well, thank the light for him, that only lasted for 2 innings and he was finally off to High-A where he was equally filthy. He wasn’t done as he was promoted to AA ⅔ into the season where he continued to be a force out of the bullpen.
Burrows likely starts at AAA this year and Gwinnett will be featuring quite a bit of good arms so there’ll be competition to feed from. Burrows, with his heater that can hit 95 (though new reports have him in the lower 90’s) accompanied by great sliders, can rack up the Ks but sometimes becomes walk prone. He’s got real big league potential due to his ability to keep the ball ground bound combined with a high-K rate that doesn’t show favoritism to a batter’s handedness. There’s definitely a large chance he gets the call at some point in 2019. It’s also worth noting that of his 45 appearances in 2018, 27 of those were multi-inning appearances and that is very valuable in today’s game. It’s a toss up between him and Corbin Clouse on who gets the call first but it’s nice to have a farm stacked with both starting and relieving pitchers and Burrows is at the top of the latter’s ladder. (Cothran)
25. Corbin Clouse
Poe: #28, Francis: #30, Cothran: #22
2018 Preseason: #33, Midseason: #26
The Braves have had a ridiculous amount of luck with late-round, small college arms and Clouse, out of Davenport University, could be another example. Outside of a nine-game run in the Arizona Fall League during 2017, he’s never struggled. Over three seasons in the minors, he has a 2.01 ERA, 208 K’s in 152.1 innings, and already has pitched in Triple-A. Surprisingly, he finished the year with three starts for Gwinnett, but he was an opener during a few bullpen games. Clouse flashed better control in 2018 than the two seasons before and didn’t allow a homer in 65 innings against Double-A and Triple-A hitters, which is super impressive. He could push his way into a spot on the opening day roster, though the left-hand side of the bullpen is pretty full right now with A.J. Minter, Jonny Venters, Jesse Biddle, Sam Freeman, and potentially Max Fried. Oh, and there’s that Thomas Burrows guy. But in the end, talent wins and if Clouse keeps showing that the minors are not much of a match for his fastball/slider combo especially with his changeup improving to give him an option against right-handed hitters. (Poe)
24. Trey Riley
Poe: #29, Francis: #21, Cothran: #28
2018 Preseason: UR, Midseason: UR
Not often that a guy with a career ERA of 8.00 makes the Top 30, but Riley could turn into Atlanta’s best selection of the 2018 draft. Picked in the fifth round, Riley came into the draft the #76th-best prospect according to MLB.com and the 80th-best according to Baseball America. He flashes mid-90’s heat with the ability to light up the high 90’s. His hard slider was one of the better sliders in the draft. With those two pitches, the junior college righty has a comfortable floor as a reliever. He’s still very raw and will need to develop his changeup and curveball to even have a chance at a starting gig in the future so don’t expect him anytime soon. But to get a pitcher with his high-end potential in the fifth round was truly a masterstroke by the team headed up by Brian Bridges and company. It could turn into one of his best picks period considering it was in the fifth round. That’ll look good on his resume. (Poe)
23. Jacob Webb
Poe: #22, Francis: #28, Cothran: #23
2018 Preseason: #49, Midseason: #37
Another late-round, small college reliever the Braves got out of Taylor College in Hillsboro, Kansas back in 2014, Webb was slowed by injuries, missing all of 2015 and only pitched 14 times in 2016. The last two seasons, however, have rocketed Webb up the charts in the Braves’ eyes. He was downright unhittable in 2017 and while he gave up a tad too many homers last year – especially with Mississippi – he also lowered his walk rate while improving his strikeout rate. That’s something you always love to see. He finished 2018 with an ERA of 3.15, even saving 18 games including 11 with Gwinnett. The Braves liked what they saw so much they gave Webb a spot on the 40-man roster. And why not after his velocity found a new gear toward the upper 90’s. His slider is good and if he finds another gear with that, he’s a high-leverage arm. As it stands, he’s more of a middle reliever, but as close to ready as you will find in the minors. (Poe)
22. Isranel “Izzy” Wilson
Poe: #19, Francis: #26, Cothran: #21
2018 Preseason: #26, Midseason: #21
I’m a little obsessed with Izzy Wilson. Maybe, like Ozzie Albies, it’s because he’s a guy that I’ve followed since day 1 of his signing. Athletically gifted, but lacking polish, Izzy puts together that month of production every year that gives all the feels, and this year it was a span of 26 games between May and June of which he filled up the boxscore with his 5-tool potential, slashing .311/.380/.500/.880 showing on-base and slugging ability. It’s no wonder that after this span, he was promoted to High-A where it all fell apart as he carried a feeble .598 OPS in 153 PAs with the Fire Frogs. Still, Izzy is a prospect that could break out at any moment. He’s got real power but still hasn’t grown into his body although he’s most definitely larger than when he was drafted (listed at 6’3, 185 and that seems about right). In a small sample, he showed his promise in the Arizona Fall League as he carried an .808 OPS against some of the most promising talent in the game. What will be his 5th year in the organization, look for Izzy to break out or darned near fall off this list come next year…I’m hoping for 20 pounds of added muscle, less strikeouts, and lasers over walls in 2019. (Cothran)
21. C.J. Alexander
Poe: #24, Francis: #19, Cothran: #17
2018 Preseason: UR, Midseason: #42
When a player is drafted in the 20th round, you wouldn’t think it possible that said player would play for 3 levels in ½ year of pro ball, but that is what CJ did in 2018:
Level 1, Gulf Coast League: ANNIHILATED! 40 PAs, 1.118 OPS
Level 2, Danville: DESTROYED! 90 PAs, .924 OPS
Level 3, Rome: Bypassed via Warp Zone
Level 4, High-A Florida: In Progress…
One look at Fangraphs and it’s easy to see the appeal of Alexander as he’s a left-handed hitter that uses all parts of the field with power, shows above average ability to draw a walk, and keeps the K% below 20%. A red flag that might encourage us as fans to pump the brakes a bit is the unsustainable BABIP he carried in 2018 which was .432 across the 3 levels, but don’t let my hesitancy taper your dreams on him too much as there’s a whole lot to like here and the high BABIP could be a sustainable part of CJ’s game (obviously not .432 high). He’s 22 so he’s mostly faced competition younger than him. I expect him to start out in Florida, but wouldn’t surprise me to see him sent to Double-A with hopes of moving up the org ladder quickly but not quietly. He’s been called the steal of the draft by many that know more than I, and that point I can’t argue. (Cothran)
What do you guys think? Think we made a mistake by placing one of these guys outside the Top 20 instead of inside it? Or do you think a prospect or two from today’s list should be outside the Top 30? Let us know below or on Twitter and if you liked this, remember to share. We’ll be back next week with our the ten players just missing this year’s Top 10.