At second base, the Braves lost their top prospect to graduation. The story is the same at shortstop, where Dansby Swanson struggled through an up-and-mostly-down year while losing his prospect status in the process. The Braves still have a good deal of talent at shortstop with four possible Top 50 organizational prospects classified as a shortstop as of right now, but three of those very good prospects were in rookie ball leaving this position a bit empty in the upper levels of the minor leagues.
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: Marcus Mooney
1. Kevin Maitan
Tommy: Let’s ignore, for the time being, that Maitan’s name has been wrapped up in this John Coppolella mess. For the moment, he’s a Braves prospect and that’s a pretty good thing. Maitan made his professional debut this season, hitting .314 over nine games in the Gulf Coast League before a hyper-aggressive promotion to Danville. Maitan is just 17-years-old. To put it another way, he was born in 2000. Yeah. We now have players who were born after the Y2K scare. With Danville, Maitan’s lack of experience was on full display. He hit just .220 and struck out 39 times in 139 PA. To be fair, he figured it out a bit more over the final 70 PA. He slashed .258/.314/.419 with seven extra-base hits, including one of his two homers. Having watched him, I don’t buy the idea he’ll stick at shortstop. He’s just too big and as he ages, some of his athleticism will be lost. That’s okay because he’ll make a fine third baseman. I do want to caution Braves’ fans to be patient with Maitan. He could put up some unimpressive offensive numbers as we wait for his overall game to catch up with how quickly he is pushed up the chain. Don’t get discouraged, though. He’s still an excellent prospect. I feel we too often think teenage prospects are a lot more of a finished product than they actually are. Give him time to learn how to be a professional ballplayer before souring on him.
Ryan: We are really having to step out on a limb of faith that every prospect guru on the face of the planet knows more than the current results show (also was reported that his swing looks a mess and he’s gained quite a bit of “unwanted weight”). Maitan was deemed a once in a generation prospect and will likely start at Rome in 2018 where hopefully the Miguel Cabera comps start showing up.
Stephen: Maitan came in with as much hype as any Braves prospect in recent memory so it’s not terribly shocking the shine has worn off a bit. Once scouts were able to see him live against other pros some red flags were going to appear. I’m not going to overreact to an SSS (short sample size) but the weight issue has to at least monitored. Even it doesn’t affect his hitting it will affect whether he can stay at SS. I’m in the “he’s a 3B” camp but we’ll see. Still has loads of talent and still is only 17 years old. It’s going to be a marathon with him.
2. Yenci Pena
Tommy: Pena didn’t have a great 2017 campaign, slashing .230/.328/.327 while playing the year in the Dominican Summer League, but I have a lot of high hopes for the right-hand hitter. I don’t know if he’ll stick at shortstop, but I’ve always been a fan of a guy who might lack one big-time tool but also lacks a real weakness. I don’t like to overdo it with comps for players, but when I read reports on Pena, I think of a guy like Martin Prado when he was at his best with the Braves. If Pena reaches his potential, he’s going to be a stat sheet filler. By that, I mean, he’ll hit 30 doubles, 12-to-15 home runs, add steals, and slash somewhere in the neighborhood of .285/.340/.450. It’ll depend on where he lands defensively – and how well he plays there – as to whether or not that offense will be enough. I like the possibilities, though.
Ryan: Ringing in at 6’2 175 pounds and just turned 17 in July, it’s hard to see Pena staying at shortstop in the future if he fills out to the 200-210 pound range and grows a few inches, but he’s there for now. Pena is tooled out with 50 grades across the board but not much to show yet. As of right now, we have a 45 game sample and scouts’ words that he’ll be a Major Leaguer. Like Maitan, 2018 will be more telling.
Stephen: o show how lite the SS position is in ATL’s system, the first two guys on our list are probably not staying at SS. Pena is already a big kid and kids don’t normally stop growing at 17. Pena is more potential & projection than production at this point but the skills are there. If he does have to move to 3B the bat projects well enough to play there. But like Maitan, this is going to be 4-6 year journey.
3. Jihwan Bae
Tommy: A surprise signing toward the end of John Coppolella’s reign, it’s hard to get a real picture as to the player Bae actually is. A lot of pretty exciting comps were thrown out and the previous regime absolutely raved about the kid. His placement here is also a sign of how shallow the shortstop position actually is, as Stephen pointed out above. Whether or not Bae does start to reach that high-level potential, I do think if everything was on the up-and-up about this signing, the Coppy Crew do deserve a pat on the back for trying to uncover talent that no one else was trying to outbid them for considering their signing limitations.
Ryan: Out of nowhere, the Braves signed Bae back in September right before the draft for the KBO. Bae was projected to go in the 1st round and I’m not sure what that equates to in MLB’s draft, but I’d wager it’s at least equivalent to the first 4-5 rounds. Bae’s signing was very abnormal for the Braves and it wasn’t long after that Coppy resigned which made me immediately question the legitimacy of the signing. However, nothing indicates that there was misconduct. Bae’s been a high average guy with plus-plus speed but is expected to grow into his body. With comps to Trea Turner, Bae’s one to keep eyes on next year, of which I think he’ll be receiving time at Rome.
Stephen: I’m not going to say the Bae signing was a bombshell but it certainly came out of nowhere. Atlanta hasn’t been that active in the Asian markets and I hadn’t heard one whisper about Bae before the team announced him. Bae is the first guy on the list that will actually be a shortstop and the question for him will be how the bat develops. We’ve all seen the Trea Turner comps but it’s probably best to view that as a best-case scenario rather than a likelihood. Let’s see how handles the new level of competition.
4. Dylan Moore
Tommy: I was a big fan of Moore’s heading into 2017 and he labored through one of the most disappointing seasons a Braves prospect put up. Big picture, I don’t know if there is much starter-level potential in his bat, but I like his flexibility, speed, and ability to be a plus for a team coming off the bench. While we classify him here as a shortstop and he seems up to the challenge at the position, I hope we see him in the outfield at times next spring and summer as the Braves should be thinking super utility with him. While a bounce-back campaign with the bat would help, it won’t change the facts. He’s a C-grade prospect at this point.
Ryan: Moore’s season completely fascinates me. How can a player that’s had such a competent bat for the duration of his career have a sub-.600 OPS for a full season’s worth of baseball? I don’t know the answer to that but my only educated guess is that he was rebuilding a swing (for whatever reason) and the benefits didn’t start showing up until the last 2 months of the season where he started finding his form. It’s also worth noting that his BABIP dropped to .248 while he’d consistently carried high BABIPs in previous years. Also worthy of note is the fact that he played at Mississippi and that’s where offensive numbers go to die. Hope Moore can rebound and find himself regain some of his prospect status. Brandon Drury, who seemed like a decent comp to Moore before 2017, had a very similar season early in his Minor League career and still became a successful MLB player. While I don’t hold out much hope in this anymore as Drury’s came when he was much younger, there’s still a fool’s hope that Moore can make it to the bigs as a useful bench piece that can play multiple positions.
Stephen: Moore is 25 and in AA so he’s not really a prospect anymore. More of organizational guy who’s kind of interesting if you squint and ignore the terrible year he had last year. He has a decent bat and because he can play SS, he’s always got a chance to make it to Atlanta. But he needs to hit. Hopefully, 2018 brings better results.
5. Livan Soto
Tommy: Soto can play a good shortstop and I do like his approach at the plate, but I’m just not sure he’ll have the bat to be much more than an organizational guy in the Daniel Castro mold. To be fair, I’m a bit forgiving of players who are younger than every single pitcher that they face. That was the case for Soto in the GCL during 2017. One of the lesser known positional stars of the 2016 J2 Class, Soto is a lottery ticket. If he is able to improve his bat control and hit the ball harder, he might max out as a good defender with a decent on-base game.
Ryan: Not known for power, Soto proved that with a 47-game homerless stint in the Gulf Coast League. However, his K-rate was low, his BB-rate was high and he swiped a few bases while playing shortstop. He’s another 17-year old that has little out there about him so hopefully, we will get more info next year, but don’t look for him to be a huge power threat as that is not his game.
Stephen: Soto is Juan Pierre of this list as he has just about no power to speak of but does put the ball in play. He seems like a guy who’s offensive year will widely depend on the kind of BABIP luck he’s running so he’s going to need to add value with his glove. We don’t know a ton about him yet so 2018 will give us a better opportunity to understand what kind of player he is.