We’ve talked about this before, but third base has been a trouble spot for the Braves for a number of years. Outside of Chris Johnson‘s BABIP-infused campaign, there has been a revolving door at the hot corner. Two dozen players have started games there. More than half – fourteen – have logged at least ten starts. Only four, however, have given the Braves one win according to Fangraphs’ WAR. This select group includes Johnson, Juan Uribe, Adonis Garcia, and Johan Camargo. That’s it. Only the White Sox, Phillies, and Red Sox have had worse luck third base.
The 2017 season was a bit different as Camargo arrived on the scene. Along with Garcia and former prospect, Rio Ruiz, the Braves have a trio of options already in-house. That might not keep them from trying to bring in someone else to solidify the position, but the team is a little bit better for the following season at third than they were this time last season.
They also have a couple of prospects who could theoretically be in the picture at some point in 2017. We mentioned him at second base, but with a big bounce-back campaign, Travis Demeritte could be in the mix at third. Also, the top prospect at the position is tearing it up in the Arizona Fall League after a big summer in Double-A. Things are not only looking somewhat better in the majors but pretty intriguing for the future.
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: Kurt Hoekstra
1. Austin Riley
Tommy: I’ll admit I was a little skeptical when it came to Riley’s future, but the kid is continuing to prove himself over-and-over. In a league that’s not the most forgiving place for power hitters, Riley struggled. He still managed to put up a .332 wOBA with a lower strikeout rate and a decent 109 wRC+. His numbers are better when you consider he began 2017 just days after turning 20 and was already in the Florida State League. He received a somewhat surprising promotion to Mississippi to finish the final two months and excelled, slashing .315/.389/.511 with a .408 wOBA. Now, let’s condition this by saying the .393 BABIP is unsustainable, but let’s not overstate that line as well. After all, he should have had better numbers at Florida with a BABIP closer to his 2016’s .341.
Riley is out west now – part of the super talented group the Braves sent to the Arizona Fall League. Just yesterday, apparently just to ensure he took home the #1 ranking, he hit for the cycle. Austin, your position wasn’t in question, but I appreciate your need to overachieve. While the defense is still a question mark, I’m always going to reward a kid who shows progression and increases what might be his potential floor.
Stephen: Riley has been one of the hardest prospects for me to pin down. My general feelings on him have probably been lower than most but that’s mostly because I’ve felt he’s eventually going to have to move to 1B, which takes a chunk out of his value. But Riley can hit. Even with the high K rate, he puts up serious production. And reports are he’s dropped some weight so hopefully, that helps his range at 3B and he truly can be an elite prospect. Spending what I’m guessing will be a full year in AA in 2018 will tell us a lot about where is and ultimately where he’s going.
Ryan: Geez, Riley is coming ’round, eh? Losing weight, defense getting praise by multiple people in and outside org, and he’s raking in the AFL. I posted this on Twitter the other day:
After forgoing a stretch from 5/28-6/05 where he collected only 2 hits (both singles) in 25 ABs, Austin Riley finished the regular season out with an .848 OPS in his last 72 games. Now doing the same in the AFL. #Braves
— Ryan Cothran (@baldheaded1der) October 25, 2017
Since then, he’s improved even more and now has a 1.124 OPS after hitting for the cycle. He’s getting better and adding an all-around game to what was, at one point, just a big bat. I think it’s time to start getting a bit excited about what he could produce.
Tommy: There was little reason to follow Encarnacion heading into 2017. Signed for just $10K, he had hit just .264 with no power in the DSL as an 18-year-old the previous season. However, he exploded with a .350/.374/.563 clip in 107 PA in the GCL to open the year, earning a promotion where the power just as quickly disappeared in a 98 PA sample. I think the hit tool is there. I’m less sure about the power. Either way, he’s a decent athlete with some projection. Rome is up next for the lanky corner infielder.
Stephen: Encarnacion is a big kid at 6-3 and has started growing into his frame. With that has come expected power, as he put up an ISO over .200 last year though his overall numbers were BABIP inflated. He’ll be 20 years old next year so he needs to get out of Rookie ball and show he can maintain a high level of production against better competition. Time will tell.
Ryan: At 19 years of age and still in Rookie Ball, it’s hard to tell what Encarnacion has in his skill-belt. Add in the facts that he had a .430 BABIP in the Gulf League where he posted a .937 OPS, then a .361 BABIP where he posted a .671 OPS, and it’s really hard to pinpoint what the Braves have in him, if anything. He’s also struggled in the field compiling a lot of errors. I have a bit of a rule for myself and that is that I try to taper my excitement about a prospect until said prospect reaches AA and still produces. Right now, Encarnacion just feels like a guy.
Tommy: Vasquez was overshadowed tremendously by the group of super prospects that signed with the 2016 J2 class. The switch-hitting Vasquez quickly got into action in the DSL last summer and posted a .401 wOBA over 113 PA. This year, he moved up to the GCL and posted a .371 OBP. Unfortunately, he has shown little power to go with the good on-base skills. He beats the ball into the ground with regularly and often slaps it the other way. He’s a light-bulb guy. If it switches on, he could climb the prospect charts. As it is, he’s still an intriguing prospect.
Stephen: Braulio is one my favorite under-the-radar guys in the system. He came up a shortstop and has some defensive chops and then added some serious muscle to his frame and moved over to 3B. Had a double-digit BB rate in 2017 so he has an idea at the plate. The power is going to be the last thing to come for him so logically the thing to monitor but I’ll be watching his progress all year.
Ryan: I see Braulio as a guy that will likely get compared to Martin Prado over the course of his Braves minor league career as he’s seen by some as a guy of similar build and skillset. That makes sense to me, but Braves fans have to remember that most “Martin Prado” type players don’t turn into Martin Prado. If the power develops a bit and he can keep the OBP up in the upper ranks, I’ll start paying attention.
Tommy: A sixth-rounder last June, Rodgers did something fellow 2017 draftee Austin Bush couldn’t do. What is that, you might ask? Rodgers didn’t completely look overmatched in Rome. That said, he didn’t exactly excel either, slashing .257/.306/365. Drafted as a third baseman, he also played some second and short and generally looks pretty slick out there if not limited by sketchy range. Rodgers had a high pull rate and was hurt by pop-ups – something to watch for in the future. Drafted for cheap signability, Rodgers is not expected to become a high-value prospect.
Stephen: This is where we move from prospects to organizational guys for 3B. Jordan is 22 years old and put up a 95 wRC+ in A ball last year so he’s well behind the curve. Raw numbers show he’s got some fielding tools but a 4:1 strikeout to walk ratio isn’t going to work with his light power output. He needs a big adjustment.
Ryan: The Braves knew what they were getting when drafting Jordan Rodgers, and that was a sure glove. In my opinion, he’s a plug and play guy that can give guys a rest around the diamond but won’t provide much of a plus (or minus) with the bat. At best, he has a career like Paul Janish burning up the road between AAA and MLB when a player gets injured. At worst, he’s org-filler that turns mentor that could turn coach.
5. Luis Mejia
Tommy: Two things stand out about Mejia. He’s a team leader who is talkative and supportive on the diamond. The other thing that jumps out is that you could beat him in a home run derby. An extreme groundball machine (16% FB in a short sample size), Mejia serves the ball the other way often. His career ISO with three years at rookie ball completed is an abysmal .040. He has good bat control, but holes close up as infielders gain experience and scouting reports grow more accurate. Defensively, he’s a good gloveman who had slide over to second and short in a pinch. I liked him a lot for the intangibles and he serves a purpose on minor league teams. That said, the fact that he ranked fifth on this list shows how the quality drops off from Riley to Mejia.
Stephen: Mejia is another guy who has to change something to continue playing professional baseball. He’s 20 years old and just put up an .033 ISO in Rookie ball. That might be lowest ISO I’ve ever seen. Either hitting the weight room or jumping in on the fly ball revolution but either way his profile simply doesn’t work in its current form. Adapt or die.
Ryan: In my opinion, all of the guys above have a chance (albeit slim for some) of seeing Major League action. I cannot say the same for Mejia. At 5’10, 180 pounds with no real speed, power or OBP skills, all that’s left is the defense. That’s not going to make it in the MLB.
Previous Top Prospect Lists