Atlanta Braves Midseason Top 10 Prospects
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When Alex Anthopoulos took over as the Braves’ general manager in the offseason, it gave the organization the chance to be patient.
If John Coppolella had remained as GM he would have felt pressure last offseason to upgrade the roster to contend in 2018. But with Anthopoulos coming on board, he was granted time to assess his new roster and farm system.
So the Braves went through an offseason where their biggest move was one that jettisoned salary in 2019 (Matt Kemp) by taking on additional payroll in 2018 (Adrian Gonzalez, Scott Kazmir and Brandon McCarthy).
The Braves entered the all-star break in much better shape than they could have imagined in April. Even with a recent swoon, Atlanta was in the thick of the National League East race and would qualify for the playoffs as a wild card team.
That means it’s time for the Braves to flip from rebuilding to contending at the trade deadline, though they still can keep an eye on the future.
The Braves aren’t looking for that one final piece to put them over the top this year, like the 2016 Cubs were when they traded Gleyber Torres for Aroldis Chapman. That’s because Atlanta should be better next year—and the year after—and thus a more modest move makes sense.
Armed with plenty of pitching depth in the minors, not to mention a couple of high-upside center fielders in Class A, the Braves have plenty of talent to help fix a struggling bullpen and potentially to add one more starting pitcher as well—if the ownership will allow the team to bump up payroll.
The Braves’ lineup doesn’t have as many clear options for upgrades. Third base looked to be the weakness of this team coming into the season, but Johan Camargo has proven to be both a solid bat and an excellent defender. Plus, with Ronald Acuna now entrenched in the outfield, there is not a clear spot where a trade piece would step in and provide a significant upgrade.
The Braves should also get a boost from their deep farm system in the second half. Righthander Touki Toussaint, one of the most improved pitchers in the system, could bring his fastball/curveball combo to the bullpen, while third baseman Austin Riley could be a useful power bat off the bench.
1. Mike Soroka, RHP
Major league DL
A recurring shoulder injury is going to wipe away much of his 2018 season and is a concern going forward, but before his injury, Soroka gave Braves fans a taste of what could be. He combines solid stuff (92-94 mph fastball that has monster sink at times) with a potentially above-average slider and changeup. Soroka has not only the makings of a solid mid-rotation starter, he was showing he could fill that role before he headed to the disabled list.
2. Austin Riley, 3B
Riley hit his first speed bump this year when he didn’t take Triple-A by storm in his first month in Gwinnett. But more importantly, he missed a month with a bruised knee he suffered diving to try to make a catch. Riley’s disabled list stint (and Johan Camargo’s solid play) may slow down his Atlanta arrival, but he’s still a surprisingly good defender with plus power.
3. Ian Anderson, RHP
High Class A Florida
After an excellent 2017 season, Anderson has been even better in 2018. His steadily-improving changeup gives him the potential for three plus pitches, and he has made minor strides with his control. However, control and command are Anderson’s biggest items on the to-do list. He sits 92-94 mph and can touch higher, and pairs it with a plus curveball. Anderson is one of several Braves prospects with No. 2 or 3 starter potential.
4. Kyle Wright, RHP
Pitching every fifth day as a pro, Wright’s stuff hasn’t always been as firm as it was at Vanderbilt, but he still has the attributes of a potential No. 2 or 3 starter. His control wasn’t as sharp early in the season, but he adjusted to the smaller Double-A strike zone and has shown signs of dominance including 13 strikeouts in one recent start. Wright flashes three plus pitches, including a 94-95 mph fastball.
5. Luiz Gohara, LHP
The first half of the season was somewhat of a lost one for the big lefthander. An offseason that was marred by the passing of his father got him off to a slow start. He then sprained his ankle which cost him further time. The setbacks have meant that Gohara’s stuff is not as firm as it was last year. His feel and control aren’t as good as his stuff, so the loss of 3-4 mph is a significant concern, even if he is still throwing with a plus 93-95 mph fastball. If he can find his lost velocity, he could make an impact in the second half.
6. Cristian Pache, OF
High Class A Florida
Pache came out of last season as an outstanding defensive center fielder who needed to figure out how to hit the ball in the air. This year the ball has started to leave the park because he has made the anticipated step from defensive asset to well-rounded prospect. Pache is brilliant in center field and is doing a better job of laying off breaking balls out of the zone, which has helped him to get more hittable pitches.
7. Drew Waters, OF
Low Class A Rome
Rome has seen its fair share of center field prospects. Two years ago, Ronald Acuna roamed the middle of the field as he turned himself into a top prospect. Last year, Cristian Pache played Gold Glove-caliber defense while also showing hitting potential. This year, Waters is making highlight catches in center field while showing above-average power potential.
8. Kolby Allard, LHP
Allard is always one of the youngest and most successful pitchers in his league. But scouts are concerned that he doesn’t have the stuff to do more than survive in the majors. Allard pitches with a fringe-average fastball (88-91 mph), while neither of his secondary pitches generates consistent plus grades. The optimistic forecast sees Allard becoming a front-of-the-rotation mainstay, but most soft-tossers don’t reach those lofty heights.
9. Bryse Wilson, RHP
After cruising through Class A, Wilson had to adjust to Double-A hitters. He found that what worked for him in the Florida State League (fastballs in the zone, offspeed out of it) was not as effective against more advanced hitters. But Wilson has commanded his fastball better of late and was showing he can throw his breaking ball for strikes when needed.
10. Touki Toussaint, RHP
The graduations of Ronald Acuna and Ozzie Albies have thinned the Braves’ system. Yet they still have a plethora of pitchers who feel right at home at the back of the Top 10 Prospects. Toussaint has come the farthest the fastest, and he could help the big league bullpen in the second half. He has long had a potent mid-90s fastball and a hammer curveball, but he has refined his changeup to get better late tumble. Toussaint reached double digits in strikeouts four times in 16 Double-A starts, but more importantly he made modest improvements to his fringe-average control.
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- LHP Joey Wentz is following the Kolby Allard path of dominating hitters without piling up strikeouts. Wentz’s 91-92 mph fastball touches 95 so it’s a firmer than Allard’s.
- The Braves felt like LHP Kyle Muller wasn’t ready for low Class A last year because his fastball tailed off and lacked deception. He has recovered some of that velocity (91-93 mph), which has helped him jump to high Class A Florida after just a few starts at low Class A Rome.
- Low Class A C William Contreras continues to impress at the plate and continues to make strides defensively.
- C Alex Jackson continues to show improvement behind the plate, but offensively he has looked more like the player the Mariners were willing to jettison—a high-power, low-average hitter. The problem is Jackson has not been able to get to his significant raw power in games this year. Atlanta promoted him to Triple-A to see if he’s worth protecting in what is his 40-man roster year.
- LHP Max Fried has shown flashes of dominance and flashes of inconsistency in his second stint with the big league club. He may be passed in the rotation by other young pitchers if he doesn’t establish himself in the second half.
- OF Ronald Acuna Jr. missed a month with a knee injury but returned to action before the all-star break.
- 3B Austin Riley missed time with a knee injury he suffered diving to try to make a catch but has returned to action.
- RHP Patrick Weigel is back on the mound as he rehabs from Tommy John surgery he had last June, but he probably won’t be back at full strength until 2019.
- OF Ronald Acuna Jr. was kept back in Triple-A for a month, but he’s been a fixture in the outfield since coming up.
- RHP Daniel Winkler has become a valued member of the Braves’ bullpen and has remained healthy for the first time since 2013.