The Atlanta Braves came into 2017 with two of the top second base prospects in baseball. One would struggle and fall a bit off the radar, but the other arrived in the majors over the last two months to become their everyday starter. Of course, that’s Ozzie Albies and he looks like he’ll be around for the long term. Nevertheless, there are a few really intriguing prospects at second left in the minors as we get closer and closer to the Hot Stove Season. Could they become trade bait? Possibly. At the very least, they’ll provide depth moving forward.
Here’s how we arrived at our list. – each of the three writers at Walk-Off Walk voted on their Top 5 prospects (plus one extra) and we took the composite rank. Ties are broken by the individual’s highest ranking among the voters. Positions are determined by which position a person played the most at (with a few exceptions).
Also receiving votes: Kevin Josephina, Nick Shumpert
1. Travis Demeritte
Tommy: It’s by default that Demeritte jumps into the top spot now that Ozzie Albies is in the majors because the power-hitting second baseman took a major step back while playing Double-A ball for the first time. In so many ways, 2017 was a miserable follow-up campaign. His walk rate fell a couple of points, his ISO went from close-to-.300 to .170, and he stole a dozen fewer bases. The good news, if there is any, is that he had this season before and bounced back. In 2014, Demeritte hit .211/.310/.450. More power, sure, but similar struggles. Both seasons have the two lowest BABIP’s of his career and it’s not even close. Raise this season BABIP of .293 thirty-to-fifty points and we’re talking about a different season – possibly the kind of season he had over his final 137 PA in which he slashed .280/.343/.464 with a .337 BABIP. There also is a possibility that Demeritte’s struggles came down to some batting approach/swing adjustments led to trouble as well because Demeritte cut off a half-dozen points off his strikeout percentage. If he figures it out, he could be a potential starter in the majors with his power and defense. That might actually be at third base, where he played 43 games at last year.
Ryan: As you pointed out Tommy, I think Demeritte is in a pivotal transition in his career that can either boom or bust. For me, lowering the K-rate by 8% from his career rate was a necessity this year, as is adding major power back to his daily game. When rebuilding a swing or an approach, it is necessary to create the change needing to be implemented, but it’s also necessary to be able to keep the aspects that made one successful. Demeritte will never be a big average guy, but power is going to have to be a part of his game in order to be a Major Leaguer. At worst, Demeritte could be a valuable bench guy that can be called on to be an elite glove in the field or provide a good at-bat against left-handed pitching, as he’s shown capable against them.
However, my hope lies much more than that. I think he has the talent to be an everyday guy and 2018, in my opinion, is the make or break year.
2. Yunior Severino
Tommy: Kevin Maitan was the big get of the 2016 J2 cycle, but don’t sleep on Severino. Unfortunately, he was already moved off shortstop, which limits his value a tick, but there’s a lot to like from a kid putting up a .373 wOBA as a 17-year-old in the Gulf Coast League. The 8th-best prospect of the 2016 international class according to baseball America, Severino is a switch-hitter who projects to develop very good pop for a middle infielder. As I kind of mentioned, when he was signed, the hope was that Severino might stay at shortstop, but second base likely is the best spot for him due to a little less athleticism than you might want to see form a shortstop. He’s a guy I hope to get a big look at when the 2018 season opens for Danville – provided he doesn’t skip the level.
Ryan: Just recently turned 18, Severino was a very close 2nd for me and it might have been unfair to him to rank him 2nd. He had a really good showing in Rookie ball and it might only be exposure as to why he’s ranked 2nd. Likely a big jumper once he gets to A-ball.
3. Derian Cruz
(Note: Cruz played more games at shortstop in 2017, but was shifted to second base for likely the foreseeable future so that’s what he was classified as.)
Tommy: When Derian Cruz opened 2017 in Rome, it seemed like a bit of a stretch after he finished the previous season with an OPS of .483 in 25 games with Danville. But the Braves are aggressive and at 18-years-old, Cruz was manning the shortstop position for Rome. It was…ugly. In 29 games, he absolutely looked lost both at the plate and in the field, earning a trip to extended spring training in preparation for the Danville slate of games. His defense continued to struggle and in a nine-game run, Cruz was charged with 10 errors. On July 16, he was shifted across the bag and immediately looked like a better fit. Unfortunately, though he had some hot streaks, his offensive numbers were still a disaster. Better than his Rome numbers, but that wasn’t saying much. This farm system doesn’t provide guys with a long time to start to put it together before they are pushed for playing time. Cruz will get another shot at Rome and hopefully, the bat comes with him this time.
Ryan: I was always high on Cruz as I saw video on him in 2015 and he wowed me with his plate approach. The problem with video from 2016 is that he was likely facing competition that was equal to elite high school competition as many raw early professional pitchers are. His line was downright ugly, especially on defense. I think Cruz might end up moving out of the infield and I’d bet good money that we see an uptick in offensive numbers when that happens.
4. Luis Valenzuela
Tommy: Once traded for Jonny Gomes at the 2015 deadline to add players for the playoffs, Valenzuela has struggled to stay healthy throughout his career. This season was the first time he played in over 60 games and he’s been in the mix since 2012. Known for some extended hot streaks with the bat, Valenzuela hit a respectable .259/.304/.384 in his first taste above A-ball with Mississippi before getting super hot in 13 games with Gwinnett to close the campaign. There’s a chance he develops into the Brewers’ version of Scooter Gennett (good average and a few extra base hits), which makes Valenzuela a bit of an interesting utility option. He’s Rule 5-eligible, but with a glut of utility types already on hand, I’m not sure the Braves will move to protect him.
Ryan: Whether or not he pans out, Valenzuela was a steal in the Gomes trade as anything would’ve been a steal in the Gomes trade (also goes to show how much of a change the trade market has went through since 2015 as guys like Gomes cannot even be given away anymore). For me, he’s a borderline Major Leaguer at his peak that could develop into a solid bench piece with positional flexibility.
5. Omar Obregon
Tommy: Slow and steady – that’s been Obregon’s style. He’s a pretty good defender who often flips to the other side of the bag when needed. The most interesting thing about Obregon is that the first name that could pop up in your head is Rafael Belliard. In 1,479 career plate appearances, Obregon has ZERO home runs. Obregon has only lucked his way into 37 career doubles and 13 triples along the way, giving him a career ISO of .049. He’s worked harder over the last couple of years to put the ball in the air more as his GB% has fell from 64% in 2015 to roughly 41% this year. Maybe all that hard work will pay off in a home run this year. I hope so. But short of him hitting several more, Obregon’s not much of a prospect.
Ryan: We now get to the part of our prospect list where it turns from interesting pieces to organizational filler. Obregon is a good guy to have around in the minors as he’s a bit of a plug and play guy. In his peak season, he’s played 85 games, but now he’s around 45-50. This coming year will be his 7th year in the Braves org and I’m not sure he’s here by then.
(Featured pic of Travis Demeritte provided by Jeff Morris. Follow Jeff on Twitter.)