Ah, the top ten. The creme of the crop. This section would have looked a lot more depressing had the trades this offseason not brought an influx of top-end talent. Half of the top 10 were acquired this offseason. If you include the top 12, seven were picked up since the end of 2014’s season. That means that guys I graded at C+ would be in the second half of the Top 10 without these new guys. That’s pretty ugly and when people ask just how improved the minor league system is, that’s the kind of change I look at. Not that the system lacked any top-end talent before this offseason, but prospects are kind of like raffle tickets. Yeah, you may hit on the one you buy, but you’d like to improve your chances with more tickets.
A small note on grading…simple A-F grading scale with pluses and minuses added. To be a grade-A player, you have to be a top prospect in all of baseball and spoiler alert, there is not a grade-A guy in the system according to my grading. There is one A-, though, and a trio of B+ guys. Only 11 players received a grade of B- or better.
10. Braxton Davidson, OF, B-….In today’s era of power decline, raw power and the ability to show it often in games becomes a significantly valued asset. That’s why Davidson ranks so highly for the Braves. He also is very patient at the plate, a skill that the Braves should be actively pursuing. He had a .387 OBP last season, built in no small part by 31 walks in 50 games. The Braves want to use him as an outfielder rather than saddle him at first. Hopefully, he is successful in the transition.
9. Tyrell Jenkins, P, B-….Is Jenkins ever going to show he’s more than just an impressive collection of tools? Hopefully. He has never pitched more than 82.1 ING in a single season, though part of that appears to be based on pitch count concerns. Jenkins is the kind of guy scouts rave about and that’s why he’s ranked this high for the Braves despite mostly pedestrian numbers in the minors. The potential is there. Need some results, though.
|Jonathan Daniel | Getty Images|
8. Christian Bethancourt, C, B-….The time is now for C-Beth. He turned just 23 last September, but it seems like Bethancourt has been on the cusp of greatness for years. With just one option year remaining and a spot behind the plate opened up specifically for him, Bethancourt has come to camp and actually hit pretty well (.360 with 6 doubles). But he hasn’t walked and may never walk for that matter. His offensive value will be wrapped up in his batting average and his ability to show some pop that has developed over the last couple of seasons. The defense, while impressive, sometimes is prone to bad habits. There’s a lot here to love, but also enough to wonder if he’ll ever come close to the potential many believe he has.
7. Ozhaino Albies, SS, B-….No other team is able to scout and sign players out of Curacao like the Braves and Albies is the latest exciting player they have found from the small island. The most impressive thing about Albies was that he handled college-age pitching with Danville last year at the age of 17. A switch-hitter with the ability to find the gaps for extra bases, Albies has also showed a top-notch batting eye at the plate. He’s got a long road to travel, but he has the skill set to be a first-tier starter.
6. Manny Banuelos, P, B….Left-hand arms will always intrigue and Banuelos, who has been a prospect for some time now, is that kind of arm. ManBan’s biggest problem appears that while he has four major league quality pitches, he lacks an out pitch. His curveball and changeup are pretty solid, though. He’ll be limited this year by an innings limit after throwing 76.2 ING in his first year back from Tommy John last year. He’s really more a guy to look at in 2016.
|Christian Peterson | Getty|
5. Rio Ruiz, 3B, B….The second-best position prospect in these rankings, Ruiz has the right profile to finally bring stability and consistent performance to third base for the Braves in the post Chipper Jones world. He hit .293 with 50 extra base hits and an .387 OBP last season in the California League. The Southern League isn’t quite the hitter’s league, but it still wouldn’t surprise me to see him finish with even better numbers considering he could mature and hit for more power. He still needs to work on his defense, but he shows good athleticism at the hot corner.
4. Michael Foltynewicz, P, B+….It’s all about his secondary pitches. If he had three major league quality pitches, he’d be the top prospect on this list, but right now, he has a devastating fastball and questions about an inconsistent off-speed stuff. His fastball averaged 98 mph out of the pen last season with the Astros, but he brings it down a couple of ticks as a starter, but what he really needs to locate his curveball. It does have plus potential, but it’s so hit-or-miss that it becomes rather maddening. He has a better feel for his change-up, which looks even better compared to his fastball. Folty could be the best player from this list or the biggest bust. Or he could be a great reliever, which limits his value. The Braves don’t want that and neither does Folty. He seems ticketed for a season with Gwinnett and the results are less of a concern vs. him harnessing the arsenal of pitches he has. He could be due for a bad year at Gwinnett where everyone panics ala Julio Teheran before coming back to the majors with impressive results.
3. Max Fried, P, B+….Possibly a Top 50 prospect in baseball before Tommy John surgery, Fried remains an intriguing pitcher with room to be even better as he ages. He’ll miss most of 2015, which will set back his development some, but this was still only his age-21 year. One thing about him is that he already has a feel for three pitches, including a really good curveball. Fried has a great ceiling and I think his floor isn’t all that bad either. By 2020, he could be one of the Top 25 pitchers in baseball.
2. Lucas Sims, P, B+….It wasn’t the year anyone wanted out of Sims as his ERA went from 2.62 in 2013 to 4.20 in 2014, but he showed improvement in the second half, finishing the year with a sub-3 ERA in August. Oh, and did I mention he was the youngest player when the 2014 Carolina League season opened? I love his delivery and he’s not afraid to come at hitters. Don’t get too down by his 2014 numbers. He has the skills to be a star and might break through this season.
1. Jose Peraza, 2B, A-….I am still not sure he deserved an A- considering the questions that still exist about Peraza, but I am very comfortable giving him the #1 spot on this list. With a compact swing that allows him great bat control, Peraza has an exciting combination of a strong hit tool to go with great speed and baserunning aptitude. Ah, but there are questions as I said. Though not Dominican, he exemplifies the old saying about why Dominican players don’t take walks (“You can’t walk off the island”). He also lacks much power so his entire game is built on putting the ball in play and hitting for a high average. On the plus side, he’s a career .306 hitter. Peraza had the skills to stay at shortstop and should be a top defender at second when he arrives in the majors, which could be this summer.
Thanks for reading and next week, I’ll go the extra mile with one extra player at each position who might make the jump to the Top 30 by midseason.