Previous Rankings: 30-21
Last Monday, I started the post-2015 Top 30 Prospects by looking at the bottom tier. As the Braves have built for the future, naturally more talent has been added to the system. Case in point, of the ten players in my Middle Tier, nine of them joined the system after Frank Wren was fired. The system of Hart and Coppolella has taken shape over the last nearly 13 months. Remember that next week, I will publish my Top 10 prospects in the system. For those that follow the system, there should be little surprise by who makes up the Top 10 after reading this post, though the order may not line up with yours or others.
Previous ranking legend
#20, #25 …example ranking referring to pre-2015 rank and midseason update respectively.
– …not ranked
+1 …made the “And One More” list as a honorable mention
20. Randy Ventura, OF, Grade: C
Previous Rank: -, –
An aggressive ranking? You betcha. But Ventura came on the scene in a big way while playing in the Dominican Summer League. He hit a cool .329 with a superb .421 OBP with the assistance of a 35-to-27 BB/K line. What made Ventura so incredibly interesting was that in 58 games, he swiped an amazing 55 bases. He would have strolled to the organizational title without Mallex Smith in the system. Still, nobody could match his ability to steal bases at a stupid rate (55 SB in 58 G with 91 TB). One slight issue: 11 errors in less than 500 innings out in center field isn’t cool, but he may have been run on at will as he also had 14 assists. Ventura could climb or fall rapidly in these rankings depending on how things go next year.
19. Andrew Thurman, RHP, Grade: C
Previous Rank: 24, 18
I recently included Thurman in my Evan Gattis trade review so there is going to be a lot of repetition here. For awhile there, Thurman looked like he might have been a surprise pick-up. After being a 2013 second rounder, Thurman added velocity and showed some K ability. The Braves seemed to push him to pull back in an effort to increase his control. He started the year great in Carolina, but the mid-May bus accident put his season on hold. He was never quite as good after it. Thurman ended the season by spending most of August in Mississippi to mostly bad results. The book on Thurman wasn’t too dissimilar to John Gant – he’s a heady pitcher who utilizes all he has to get batters out. While I don’t like Thurman’s chances to get into the big league picture with so many ahead of him with much more impressive stuff, he could provide depth and make for a decent trade piece if he recaptures his early-2015 luck.
18. Mike Soroka, RHP, Grade: C
Previous Rank: -, –
One of the top Canadians in this year’s draft, there was buzz when Soroka was selected that the Braves were looking to save money on him to help sign Kolby Allard. That ultimately didn’t come to pass as Soroka was signed for slot (around $1.97M) after the draft. A tall righty who turned 18 on August 4, Soroka saw action in both the Gulf Coast League and with the Danville Braves after making his debut. Overall, he struck out 37 in 34 innings while walking just 5. Pretty impressive stuff for the Alberta product. He was sitting close to the mid-90’s with a very good change-of-pace. His future will depend on the development of a third pitch, a breaking ball, to keep hitters off-balance. I didn’t think much of this pick when it happened, but I have grown to love it. He could be an aggressive push to Rome next spring, though it wouldn’t surprise me to see him start the year next summer in Danville.
17. Jose Briceno, C, Grade: C
Previous Rank: 13, 14
I had high hopes for Briceno when the Braves picked him up from the Rockies in the David Hale trade. He had hit a robust .283/.336/.476 for Asheville in the South Atlantic League and if his glove caught up with his natural ability, he would be a nice catching prospect. Unfortunately, he fell on his face with Carolina this season, hitting .183 with 4 HR in 88 games. He showed a nice arm, but his hype was built on his bat and it simply didn’t come with him from the Rockies’ organization. The Braves system needs catching talent. Briceno is my highest ranked catcher and only two made it into my Top 30. Unless the Braves stumble onto a long-term option this winter, Briceno will have a chance to re-establish himself in 2016 in what will likely be a return to Carolina.
16. Robert Whalen, RHP, Grade: C+
Previous Rank: -, –
I like Whalen – probably more than I should. He’s my lowest ranked C+ grade guy. At his best, Whalen was a pitcher who could rack up K’s and groundballs. I have a strong affinity for pitchers who can do that, even though his K rate has seen a decline over his first full rookie-ball campaign. Whalen misses some strong sinking pitches with an off-speed pitch that he learned might be important after getting his head bashed in during the 2014 Arizona Fall League. He had made three starts after the trade before leaving hitting the DL with something I can’t find, but a look at his Twitter shows that both of his knees were operated on. Judging by his Twitter, his rehab is going well and he’ll look to stay healthy for a full season in 2016.
15. Max Povse, RHP, Grade: C+
Previous Rank: 30, 17
Standing 6’8″, Povse is an intimidating presence on the mound and the UNC-Greensboro had a mixed bag in 2015. He was limited to just three April starts because of a DL stint, but once healthy, he had a great run going. Of his first ten starts, he allowed one or fewer runs in eight of them. After an ugly June 16 start against Hickory, he rebounded in his next start with 7 scoreless innings, no walks, and 4 K’s. It was enough to get him a promotion to Carolina, but other than a quality start against the Salem Red Sox, it was pretty abysmal. His season ended after facing just five batters on July 20. He has middle-of-the-rotation ability with great sinking velocity, but his secondary options will ultimately decide if he can stick at starter.
14. Ricardo Sanchez, RHP, Grade: C+
Previous Rank: 16, 13
I recently profiled Sanchez as part of my look back at Hart’s and, by extension, Coppy’s Trades during their first year in power. Sanchez has stayed pretty consistent in the rankings because I didn’t put much value in his numbers this season, nor have I lost the faith. I love Sanchez’s high-end potential. Of course, reaching it is another thing, but if his secondary pitches develop to join his mid-90’s velocity and smooth delivery, Sanchez could be joining the fold in a couple of years as yet another exciting arm on the cusp of big things.
13. Dustin Peterson, OF, Grade: C+
Previous Rank: 19, 12
I didn’t think much of Peterson when he was picked up in the Justin Upton trade, but that may have been selling him short. While one could look at a .251 average and only 8 homers and think this season was a letdown, I look at his age (20 in the Carolina League), much improved pitch recognition, and a full season in left field as plus signs from this season. Certainly, a move to left hurt his value and he remains very toolsy, but if he can put it together, he’s got a great chance to rocket up these rankings and be a player to watch for the next couple of seasons.
12. Zachary Bird, RHP, Grade: C+
Previous Rank: -, –
Very little was written about Bird after the Braves acquired him in the massive trade deadline deal with the Dodgers and Marlins. A 9th rounder in 2012, the results weren’t there so much as the potential. This continues to be the case as he struck out over a batter an inning this year, but walked a small village. Bird is another scouts special by the new front office which values high-end potential. He had turned 21 about two weeks before this trade, but the Braves aggressively moved him to Mississippi to finish the season. With Bird, the Braves can take their time. He’s blessed with a tremendous amount of athleticism and like seemingly every Braves prospect, can flirt with 95 mph on the radar gun. The Braves will work with him to develop his off-speed stuff while aiming to help him gain control of his stuff. I like their chances to do those things.
11. Austin Riley, 3B, Grade: C+
Previous Rank: -, –
The 41st overall selection of this year’s draft, Austin Riley was looked at as a reach. He had a nice arm while playing for DeSoto Central High School in Southaven, Mississippi, but the Braves saw him more as a power bat at third. Some asked why the Braves had to pay $1.6M, or nearly 100K above slot, for a bit of a project. The results so far have only reaffirmed that the Braves know what they are doing. Riley belted seven homers for the GCL Braves in 30 games before getting a push up to Danville where the 18 year-old battered APPY pitching to the tune of .351/.443/.586 with 5 HR. Overall, he hit .304 on the year with 12 homers. He struck out a bit too much, but that’s nit-picking. 12 homers in 60 games with an ISO of about .240 is pretty exciting. It would be an aggressive assignment to send him to Rome to open 2016, but I fully expect Atlanta to do that. Keep an eye on Riley. He could crack the Top 10 to stay by the end of 2016.
Next Monday, I’ll have my Top 10. Did I over-rank anyone? Under-rank them? Let me know in the comments section.