Just ten prospects to go in this year’s Top 50. This week, I will cover the bottom half of the Top Ten. It’s difficult to not repeat yourself when talking about these ridiculously talented young pitchers the Braves have. Four of them make today’s list and none of them can go legally buy alcohol yet. All have off-the-charts stuff with a breaking pitch that can buckle the knees of opposing hitters. Once again, it’s a good time to a Braves fan.
As always, there are links to previous Top 50 capsules and a summary of the Top 50 players that have already been released, including today’s five.
10. Ian Anderson, RHP, 19 years-old, Grade: B
Did you know 2016’s third overall selection’s middle name is Theodore? I really wish he’d go by that instead of Ian. Theodore is a name Braves fans can chant as he strikes out Mookie Betts to end the 2019 World Series. I guess we can chant Ian, too, it just lacks a certain pizzazz. Oh, well, at least Atlanta will finally have another title, right?
The young righty was selected #3rd overall last year as much for his signability as his projectability, Anderson was a late signee only because he had to wait for his high school’s graduation. Such a late start left him with just ten overall starts, split between the GCL squad and Danville. He was dominant during the first stop, striking out a batter for each 18 innings he threw and only allowing two unearned runs. He wasn’t as good in Danville, but an 18-year-old holding his own there is plenty good in my book. In truth, he had one real stinker of a game on August 22, but was wonderful over his final two starts. A stinker can make your numbers look worse when you toss just 21.2 innings.
Anderson works off a mid-90’s fastball that has a good deal of late life on it. His change-of-pace has plus potential at the major league level. A mid-80’s pitch that he doesn’t telegraph, it looks like a fastball right up until it dies at the plate and sinks under the swing of hitters. He also shows a curveball that he throws in high-70’s to low-80’s depending on how much looping break he wants on it.
What has always been impressive about Anderson, beyond his repertoire of pitches, is his poise and competitive nature on the mound. He might draw some comparisons to another slender right-hander who was a bulldog on the mound – Tim Hudson – though Anderson has better strikeout potential.
Anderson won’t turn 19 until May 2. By that time, he’ll likely be a few weeks into his first full season of professional ball with Rome. The sky is super high for Anderson as he moves into 2017. In a system with amazing pitching prospects, Ian Theodore Anderson has a chance to possibly be the best of the group.
9. Ronald Acuna, OF, 19 years-old, Grade: B
Playing winter ball in Australia is often an oddity of a player’s career. You do it once, have a bunch of memories about vegemite and fighting kangaroos, and that’s about it. However, Ronald Acuna turned a month in Australia into a Evan Gattis-like explosive experience. In 20 games for Melbourne, the Venezuelan talent hit .375/.446/.556 with 2 homers and 13 steals. So amazing was his run with the Aces that the team dubbed him “The Answer to Everything.” At least they didn’t hype him up too much.
It was a great way to end what had been a disappointing 2016 for Acuna. To be clear, Acuna was not disappointing with the bat as he still raked. No, Acuna hit the shelf with a broken thumb or hand on May 9th and would miss more than three months before finally getting back into action in late-August. He finished the season on a tear and carries a seven-game hit streak in 2017. Overall, in just 42 games, Acuna slashed .312/.392/.429 with 4 homers and 14 steals. Give the kid roughly a .380 wOBA for his efforts.
Oh, and because it needs to be said, Acuna was one of the youngest players in the South Atlantic League. Despite his youth, he has shown advanced plate discipline (11.3% walk rate so far) and the potential to be a five-tool guy with his speed, defense, bat, and improving power. I can’t speak too much on his arm, but I will say this – to only be credited with six outfield assists to this point next to two errors suggests that there may be a line in the scouting report that reads something like “If you run on him, be ready to grab your glove and head to your position.” Just guessing, of course.
We only have 97 games – plus 20 games “down under” – to grade Acuna, but the ceiling is still being measured for the guy. Could he the best outfielder the Braves have developed since Andruw Jones? No pressure, but it’s possible. With any luck, Acuna will stay in the lineup this year and we can see what the kid can do.
8. Touki Toussaint, RHP, 20 years-old, Grade: B+
The Braves did the right thing in 2016 by holding Touki back a season after he struggled in his brief run with Rome the previous season. Like many Rome players, he struggled to open the season, but improved as the season continued. Over his last 17 games, which includes 16 starts, Toussaint struck out 104 in 89.1 innings with a 2.72 ERA and an 11% walk rate compared to the 15% rate before June. By the end of the season, the South Atlantic League had had just about enough of Touki. With any luck, the Florida State League will have a similar feeling by the time next summer is heating up.
By now, you probably know the story about Toussaint. Picked #16th overall in the 2014 draft, the Braves essentially bought Toussaint off the Diamondbacks in 2015 by taking on Bronson Arroyo‘s bloated salary. It was the kind of insane deal that got Dave Stewart fired from his general manager position. You could count on one hand the number of players with a higher ceiling that Toussaint entering the 2014 draft. Despite that knowledge, the Diamondbacks said, “yeah, but Arroyo’s contract is a bit too much.” It must have been hard to be a Diamondbacks fan during the Stewart years.
One word to sum up Toussaint is “raw.” Another word could be “projection.” As in, Toussaint’s projection is all over the map. He could become a dominant starter – the kind of starter with filthy stuff that leads a staff into the playoffs. He could also become a tremendous closer who racks up K’s and saves. Or…he could be a bust. There doesn’t appear to be a lot of leeway between, though logically, even as a bust, he could still have a good deal of value similar to Juan Cruz.
Nothing Toussaint throws at the hitter stays straight for long. His mid-90’s fastball gets a good deal of break away from lefties and cuts into righties. His change-up has a similar drop to Ian Anderson’s as it comes to the plate when Toussaint has a feel for it. Of course, Toussaint’s calling card is a curveball that is GIF-worthy.
If Toussaint cleans up his delivery as he did in the second half of 2016 and continues to pound the zone with strikes to set up his curve, he’s going to be pretty tough to stop. If you get a chance to watch him this season, do it. He’s got the stuff to throw a perfect game any given start.
7. Luiz Gohara, LHP, 20 years-old, Grade: B+
Do you realize how good of a system the Braves have to have in order for a player of Gohara’s stock to not only fail to rank as the top left-handed prospect in the system, but to also not even rank as the #2 southpaw prospect? Welcome to the Braves, Gohara. If you want to get to the front of the line, it’s going to be a bit tougher than it was out west.
A rarity in baseball, Gohara was born in Brazil at the trading deadline in 1996. If you’re curious, the Braves were quiet that day. Gohara is also a rarity in that he was still 16 years-old when he made his debut. Just to add to this because it shows how good the Mariners thought he could be, at 16 years-old, he made his debut in the Appalachian League for Pulaski. Sixteen years old. He didn’t head to the Dominican Summer League or play with some high school kids in the Gulf Coast League. No, he went straight to the Appy League. The first batter he faced in his second game was Kyle Wren, who was six years older than Gohara. Two things have to happen to receive an assignment like that. The Mariners had to really love Gohara and they were convinced he was mature enough to handle it.
Since then, Gohara has both been babied to limit innings and slow to adapt to the professional game. Just to re-iterate a point: he’s faced 914 batters during his four-year career. Roughly 70 came against guys younger than he was. Finally, in 2016, Gohara started to catch up. Still 2-to-3 years younger than the competition, Gohara decreased his walk rate from the previous year by about 7% (12.7% to 8.2%) and saw a similar increase in his strikeout rate. Already difficult to elevate the ball against, Gohara surrendered just two homeruns in 69.2 innings. He ended the year with 11.2 innings in the Arizona Fall League against far-more-advanced competition and struck out 19 compared to just three walks.
Why did Jerry Dipoto trade his talented left-hand prospect? There have been reports about work ethic issues and problems controlling his weight. He’s a big boy, that’s clear. But he’s got tremendous athletism, which helps him repeat his delivery and pound the zone with a mid-90’s fastball that can close in on triple digits.
Gohara’s slider has plus potential and if he develops his changeup, the ceiling the Mariners originally saw in him will be much easier to reach. The Braves could start him in Rome, but I wouldn’t be shocked to see him in Florida after his positive 2016 campaign. If there is ever a double header with Toussaint/Gohara going for the Florida Fire Frogs, I might have to drop everything and leave Virginia for that experience.
6. Mike Soroka, RHP, 19 years-old, Grade: B+
I’m getting tired of writing about all of these amazing pitching prospects.
Just kidding. I love it. Mike Soroka was just 18 when the South Atlantic League season began. He was less than a year removed from graduating from Bishop Carroll High School all the way up in Calgary. Despite that, the ever-aggressive Braves started him in Rome and he became one of Rome’s most consistent starters. Almost half of his 24 starts were classified as quality starts. Ten times, Soroka threw at least five innings while allowing a run or less (which would be zero, fyi). He finished sixth in the league in innings pitched. Of the top 21 leaders in innings pitched during the 2016 South Atlantic League season, Soroka is the only one who wasn’t in his age-20 season or older.
Just to make this clear, he was really good. Did I mention he’s still a teenager? Like every Braves pitching prospect, he has a good heater that moves. For Soroka, he can reach the mid-90’s, but stays a tick or two below that for the most part. He’s fearless on the mound and already willing and confident to pitch inside with his fastball to set up his plus curveball. When he’s got feel for his curve, he’ll buckle a lot of right-handed batters’ knees. His changeup needs work, but has good potential.
Soroka probably won’t mimic some of the strikeout numbers of the other top pitching prospects the Braves have, but despite being a high school selection, I believe his floor is very high. My belief in his high floor is why I place him sixth in my rankings. I have a great deal of confidence that Soroka will reach that floor with a chance to be even better. His ceiling isn’t as high as Toussaint’s or Gohara’s, but I love Soroka’s chances to lock into a middle-of-the-rotation cog at the very least. If he develops his changeup a bit more – or adds a different offspeed delivery – Soroka has a chance to be an ace.
2017 Walk-Off Walk Top 50 Prospects*
5 Looking In (Honorable Mentions)
The Walk-Off Walk Top 52 Prospects (to recap)
52. Jon Kennedy
51. Isranel Wilson
50. Yoeli Lopez
49. Carlos Castro
48. Dilmer Mejia
47. Anfernee Seymour
46. Bryse Wilson
45. Kade Scivicque
44. Yunior Severino
43. Abrahan Gutierrez
42. Jonathan Morales
41. Steve Janas
40. Chad Sobotka
39. William Contreras
38. Bradley Roney
37. Thomas Burrows
36. Connor Lien
35. Jesse Biddle
34. Caleb Dirks
33. Ricardo Sanchez
32. Lucas Herbert
31. Ray-Patrick Didder
30. Akeel Morris
29. Matt Withrow
28. Michael Mader
27. Juan Yepez
26. Christian Pache
25. Brett Cumberland
24. Luke Jackson
23. Derian Cruz
22. Braxton Davidson
21. Alex Jackson
20. Rio Ruiz
19. A.J. Minter
18. Lucas Sims
17. Patrick Weigel
16. Kyle Muller
15. Dustin Peterson
14. Joey Wentz
13. Travis Demerrite
12. Austin Riley
11. Max Fried
10. Ian Anderson
9. Ronald Acuna
8. Touki Toussaint
7. Luiz Gohara
6. Mike Soroka
*Top 50 was increased to Top 52 after a trade.