Five Atlanta Braves Prospects On the Rise

MLB: Spring Training-Houston Astros at Atlanta Braves

Full-season minor league teams now know what All-Stars they are sending to each league’s midsummer classic which means the second half is right around the corner. In fact, in leagues where they used a split-season schedule, first half winners have already clinched playoff berths.

With all that in mind, I’d like to look at five Braves prospects who have seen their value increase so far this season and five that, well, haven’t. Let’s start with one whose value is going down simply because he has been missing in action.

Down: Luiz Gohara

Remember 2017? Ronald Acuña Jr. was going crazy in the minors, we still had hope Game of Thrones would end on a high note, and covfefe was a thing. And in Florida, a Brazilian lefty was starting his Age-20 season. Luiz Gohara dominated the Florida State League. And the Southern League. He held his own in the International League before finishing the season in the majors. For all the hype surrounding Acuña, there was plenty of reasons to be nearly as high on Gohara.

And then the hard – and mostly forgettable – 2018 followed. As Mike Soroka emerged as a future star and other arms like Bryse Wilson, Touki Toussaint, and Kyle Wright flashed high-level potential, Gohara got lost in the shuffle. Now? He’s just lost in obscurity.

Sidelined with shoulder discomfort that has yet to go away, Gohara has yet to start a throwing program, let alone have a time table for a rehab assignment. While Gohara has plenty of potential, losing two years of development is going to make it difficult for a guy who still needs to develop a changeup to have any hope of being a major league starter. If 2019 turns into a lost season, it wouldn’t be surprising to see Gohara return next year, if his shoulder ever allows, as a reliever-only option.

Up: Trey Harris

There are a lot of players putting up some crazy offensive stats for the Braves, but no Braves farmhand has more total bases than Terone S. Harris – or, as he prefers, Trey. A 32nd-rounder last year out of the University of Missouri, the right-handed hitter crushed the South Atlantic League to open the year with a .366/.347/.594 clip in 56 games. He smacked 14 doubles, added four triples, and hit eight long balls in the process. Nearly two weeks ago, he was rewarded with a promotion to Florida, where he continues to hit – a .387 clip in his first nine games.

Harris was a four-year starter in the SEC, but went undrafted until his senior year and even then, 951 other players were picked ahead of him. Certainly, we can say that Harris was old for his competition with Rome and maybe we should lower our expectations because of that. But as long as he keeps hitting, I’ll keep being excited. Steals this deep in the draft are rare, but not unheard of. Considering the draft started with Carter Stewart, who ultimately didn’t sign, perhaps the Braves will still come out with a good draft after all.

Down: Greyson Jenista

The first player signed from that 2018 draft was Jenista out of Whichita State. Considered an advanced hitter, he only needed ten games with Danville before a promotion to Rome, where he raked with a .333 average. He finished last year’s campaign with Florida and there was hope that he could be a quick riser up the chain. The bigger debate was focused on whether he could stick in the outfield rather than whether he would hit.

Unfortunately, the act that followed hasn’t been all that thrilling. With Florida, he hit just .223 with a .673 OPS, smacking four homers and striking out 70 times in 231 plate appearances. Despite his struggles, Jenista recently joined Double-A Mississippi and has just two knocks in his first 28 trips to the plate, both singles.

On the bright side, the Braves seem happier with his outfield work, even starting him eight times in center field when he was still in Florida. But they desperately want to see the bat come alive. The promotion to Mississippi suggests the Braves aren’t down on him and believe he can handle the tougher competition. Just need to see the results, though.

Up: Jasseel De La Cruz

Unless you were really into Braves prospects, the fact that the first Braves prospect to throw a no-hitter in years was Jasseel De La Cruz might have surprised you. After all, this is a system built on talented arms and the De La Cruz wasn’t rubbing shoulders with Ian Anderson or Bryse Wilson among the top pitching ‘spects still in the minors. Regardless, on May 18, De La Cruz shut down the Jupitar Hammerheads over nine innings, allowing just two walks and throwing only 89 pitches on his way to a no-no.

For Braves prospects watchers, though, it was only a matter of time. De La Cruz has long been one of the top picks to make a breakthrough going back to 2016 when he made his stateside debut after pitching in the Dominican Summer League for most of the summer. In 2017, he flashed next-level potential but was highly inconsistent with Danville before spending last year with Rome in an injury-shortened 69 innings that didn’t include very many nice stats.

This season, he has already pitched for three squads after starting the year with four starts in Rome, four in Florida, and joining Mississippi after his no-hitter. He’s still fairly raw, but has progressed well with three good pitches and the potential to stay a starter. And he only turns 22 in twelve days.

Down: Joey Wentz

When the Braves started the 2016 draft with Ian Anderson, Joey Wentz, and Kyle Muller, all picked in the first 44 selections of the draft, it was considered a coup for Brian Bridges and company. Add fourth-rounder Bryse Wilson and the Braves had four prep arms who all signed and had high ceilings. One of the quartet has already made it to the majors while another is considered by many the Braves’ top pitching prospect. Kyle Muller’s value is trending up as well. That leaves Wentz and, well, woof.

Wentz was dominant with Rome back in 2017 and out-shined Anderson. But what’s happened since has lowered our expectations. First, an injury-marred 2018 season limited him to just 67 innings with Florida. While his ERA was a sparkling 2.28, what was a bit worrisome was a strikeout rate that fell from 10.4 K/9 to 7.1 with the Fire Frogs.

The strikeouts have been at about that level this year with Mississippi. Unfortunately, everything else has trended south and to a high degree. Not a groundball pitcher (though the rate spiked some last year), Wentz avoided homers – until this year. He lacked great command, but avoided walks – until this year. If you subscribe to the three true outcomes, everything that made Wentz so exciting in 2017 has eroded and along with it, his ERA has ballooned to 5.37.

This is where I mention that Wentz won’t turn 22 until after this season concludes. Wentz is still learning to command his fastball, curveball, and changeup and if he’s able to ever do that, the big lefty could once again be among the top arms in the system. And you really hope that he does because if the National League continues to push against adding the DH, having a guy like Wentz, who profiled as a 70-grade power bat in high school, could be a sight to see.

Up: Justin Dean

Trey Harris wasn’t the only college outfielder the Braves got deep in the 2018 draft. Selected in the 17th round out of Lenoir-Rhyne College, Dean doesn’t have a lot of power and is undersized. But what Dean does have is that something extra that makes him a potential find. He’s tenacious and, while he probably will never be a high prospect, it’s not hard to see him as a potential major leaguer.

Dean started last summer with Danville where I saw him play. He immediately reminded me of another outfielder without a lot of fanfare named Shean Michel, who played with Danville the previous year. Dean’s the better hitter of the two, but both were undersized outfielders who squared up balls and hit liners-after-liners. Dean posted a .873 OPS in 32 games before a promotion to Rome. He struggled more there and started this year back in the South Atlantic League, but was off to a .286/.391/.451 start in 46 games before hitting the IL.

Extremely fast, Dean has swiped 13 bases this season. That tool along, along with skills to play center field, could propel Dean into a reserve outfielder role down the line. But one thing that intrigued the Braves was the rawness in his game for a college bat. How much more ceiling he has is debatable, but walking at a 13% clip in the South Atlantic League isn’t nothing. Nor is a .166 ISO from a 5’8″ player. Dean could shock some people.

Down: Izzy Wilson

It seems like Isranel Wilson has been around for five-or-seven years, but he’s still just 21-years-old. That’s important to remember because from the get-go, Wilson was a toolshed of talent with a variety of potential outcomes – all quite possible. He could be a .280 hitter with 25 jacks, 15 steals, and 4 fWAR. He could also wash out and never play Triple-A ball. Toolsy players like Izzy excite you, but more often frustrate you because, even when they’re going good, you always think they can be so much more. Unfortunately, Izzy’s not going so good.

Wilson’s hitting just .190 on the season with two homers with Florida. It’s a continuation of 2018 when he struggled with both Rome and Florida. He strikes out a ton and though he does walk, his hit tool has yet to show much progression.

Yet, guys like me are still hopeful. We’re still hopeful because we remember the summer of 2015 when Izzy Wilson was battling Austin Riley for the team lead in homers before the latter was promoted to Danville to finish the season. We remember watching him flash potential in right field and a plus arm. And most of all, we still see a guy who is still growing into his frame and is only 21 years-old. Izzy Wilson still could start everyday in the majors.

At least…I want to believe he could.

Up: Tucker Davidson

Remember that 2016 draft with Anderson, Wentz, Muller, and Wilson? Well, Tucker Davidson wasn’t exactly a prep arm like those four, but he also wasn’t an old college player found in the 19th round. Instead, he was a junior college guy with a transfer to the formidable NC State program in his future before he decided to sign with the Braves.

Since then, Davidson has looked like a potential steal in his own right. Armed with a mid-to-high 90’s heater that jumps on hitters and a slider that he’s shown more consistency with this season, the true weapon to keep an eye on is a changeup that he’s only really become comfortable with over the last few seasons. Now armed with three good pitches, Davidson is tenacious on the mound and tough to hit as his 72 K’s this season in 67 innings show.

I’m not ready yet to put Davidson up with the better pitching prospects in the system and still see him as a fifth-starter/swingman/long reliever type, but you can’t ignore a 1.61 ERA in 13 starts in Double-A. Just yesterday, he struck out 10 batters over 5.1 innings. He still walks a few too many for my taste, but it’s hard to be impressed what what Davidson has done so far.

Down: Kyle Wright

What has happened with Kyle Wright? The Vanderbilt star who rocketed up the minors, making his debut late last year, has struggled tremendously in 2019. Some of it hasn’t been all his fault. He opened the year in the majors, starting during the team’s first series and getting demoted after three starts. Then started a yo-yo act where he was rarely on a set schedule. He was often promoted and not used when the Braves needed an “oh, crap!” arm for the pen in case a starter left early. As a result, he twice went 11 days between appearances in the month of May.

When he has pitched, though, the results haven’t been pretty. Of his nine starts for Gwinnett, only four have a Game Score of 50 or better. Just a reminder – you start with a Game Score of 50.

No one doubts when it comes to potential, Kyle Wright could be a top arm for the Braves. We’re talking about a guy with four quality pitches, great pitchability, and hopefully still room to grow. Nevertheless, it would be great to see the Wright who came into the season as one of the Top 30 or 40 prospects in the game again. That guy is a lot of fun to watch.

Up: Cristian Pache

It’s hard to really progress much when you’re already a top prospect, but this is more me coming around on Pache.

Nobody – not me, not anybody – doubted that Pache was a top prospect. His defensive skills alone were good enough to deserve a high ranking and his bat, at times, generated some good power. But where people like me differed from prospect experts (of which, I’m not) is where to rank Pache. Was he a better version of Izzy Wilson – a toolshed, but raw prospect who needed to be docked for his lack of progression at the plate? Or was the super-high ceiling of what Pache could be, mixed with what progression he was making at the plate, enough to catapult him up to potentially the top prospect in a great farm system?

I was slow to put him up there. Yes, he was super talented, but what about those issues? I ranked him lower as a result.

No longer, though. Pache is showing how right others were and how foolish I was to focus on the drawbacks rather than the potential. So far, the 20-year-old is hitting .289/.346/.502 for Mississippi, which is plenty impressive without mentioning where his game has progressed beyond the triple slash. Twenty-year-olds aren’t supposed to be that good in the Southern League. Pache is.

But what really excites me is that his walk rate, which tumbled last year, is at a career-high 7.8%. His ISO is a super-impressive .213. And he’s made the transition I look for from a guy who puts the ball on the ground half of the time – maybe more – to a guy who is putting the ball into the air more without sacrificing his line drive rate. I am big on progression in rate stats like that as a guy moves up the ladder. It’s one thing to retain offensive numbers like OBP and SLG as you get promoted. It’s next level to show how you are truly developing into a maturer, better hitter. Pache is doing the latter.

To compare, I had been just-as-high (maybe higher) on Drew Waters as I was on Pache. And let’s not ignore that Waters has had a great season. I’d put him on this list, but unlike Pache, Waters isn’t really progressing but sustaining his offensive output. His walk rate hasn’t improved. His strikeout rate has only worsened. His ISO is right where it was with Rome last year, maybe a tick lower. His groundball rate is lower, which is good to see because it means he’s driving the ball more, but the other marks I look for have either plateaued or even regressed slightly. Doesn’t change that I’m still high on Waters, but maybe his ceiling takes a small hit.

Meanwhile, Pache is exploding and that’s impossible to not appreciate at this point.

Any other prospects whose value is rising or falling that should get included? Let me know in the comments.

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