The news the other day definitely hurt the prospect depth the Braves had built over the years, but not all is lost. For instance, this list, which we voted on and compiled before Black Tuesday, remained completely intact. Certainly, John Coppolella’s legacy took another hit as prospects left the team in droves due to illegal signings. Before that, though, one thing we associated with the now disgraced former general manager was how the Braves were building waves. These waves were full of talented young men who had potential to either directly aid the Braves’ resurgence in the NL East or indirectly aid the movement by becoming more desired assets to utilize in trades. The system took a big hit on Tuesday, but that part of the equation remains.
This group of players is especially noteworthy. No team can throw out this level of left-handed talent. This is despite graduating one of the best young left-handed prospects in the game from 2016 in Sean Newcomb. While he won’t be on this list, the depth that is should be damn impressive to everyone.
Interestingly, we landed on a tie so this list will actually be eleven pitchers large rather than ten. How did we choose our list? Each of the three writers at Walk-Off Walk voted on their Top 10 prospects (plus one extra) and we took the composite rank. Ties are broken by the individual’s highest ranking among the voters if possible. Positions are determined by which position a person played the most at (with a few exceptions). Special shoutout to Jeff Morris, who took many of the pictures used in this post. Follow him on Twitter – @JeffMorrisAB.
1. Luiz Gohara
Tommy: It’s all going to come down to the changeup with Little C.C. It’s an interesting changeup, by the way. The average changeup last year was 84.2 mph. Gohara bested that by four ticks and occasionally popped a 90+ mph changeup. He also hit triple digits with his fastball so even a changeup with velocity is still slow enough to be a difference. But the changeup was hit regularly and smacked hard (.909 SLG against). Throwing it enough will keep him as a starter, but how much he progresses in that role will depend on being able to spot his changeup and occasionally getting outs with it. The fastball/slider combination is legit, though. Of all of the young pitchers the Braves have, Gohara is the best bet to reach his potential.
Stephen: Atlanta has gone hard after fastball/curveball guys in building their army of pitching but Gohara is one of the few fastball/slider guys. And they’re both filthy pitches. While FIP certainly isn’t perfect, Gohara was a prime example last year of why you should never use just ERA to judge a pitchers season. Too much that happens while the pitcher is on the mound that isn’t his fault. In 2018, I look for Gohara establish himself as the best pitcher in Atlanta’s rotation. At least until some of these other studs show up.
Ryan: In my opinion, Gohara is our most legit of left-handed pitchers to become a full-blown ace. Two devastating pitches with the confidence and fearless mentality to pitch wherever he needs to pitch. The elephant in the room is the off the field issues that plagued him early on, but for now, those are in the rearview and I haven’t been this excited about a LHP…well, since Steve Avery.
2. Kolby Allard
Tommy: Much was made about Allard’s velocity last season and sometimes, I think we get way too focused on velocity over actual results. You tell me a 19-year-old is not only holding his own at Double-A after skipping a level but posting a 3.27 FIP and I’m pretty happy. Maybe he won’t post 200 K seasons like we expect out of Gohara, but his fastball command is tremendous and he has really learned how to pitch. One thing that I don’t believe gets talked about enough is the Braves’ penchant under the previous GM to find pitchers who aren’t just full of stuff and velocity, but pitchers who want to compete and have a chip on their shoulder. Allard is that type and if his offspeed stuff improves enough, he’s going to settle into a #3 role – possibly a #2 – in the majors.
Stephen: The somewhat negative reaction to Allard’s season is two-fold. One, Baseball America tweeted out that several scouts are worried about Allard’s long-term velocity and two, in an age where strikeouts are king, Allard pitched to a lot of contact in 2017. The 20% K rate is a league average number but a little lower than you two to see from an elite pitching prospect. But as Tommy mentioned, at some point results matter. Allard lit up AA as 19-year-old and will probably get try to do the same thing in AAA as a 20-year-old. He’s been in Atlanta’s system three years, always relatively young for his level, and never put up a FIP higher than 3.52. Kid can pitch.
Ryan: I like Allard, but I’ll admit that I’m not as high on him as our number 1 and number 3 prospects but that doesn’t mean he cannot become a force in a rotation. It’s hard to read ERAs coming out of the Southern League and the real test will come at AAA next year where the parks are much less friendly to pitchers. If he can duplicate 2017’s numbers as a 20 year-old in the last step to MLB, the prospect fatigue will wear away and he’ll be getting the love he rightfully deserves.
3. Max Fried
Tommy: Possibly the most surprising call-up last year went to Fried, who pitched both in the rotation and bullpen for the Braves after July. He flashed a four-pitch mix, but was very reliant on his fastball as many young pitchers are when they first get to the majors. His curveball, though, is the pitch you’ll pay to see. To me, despite his advanced age and major league experience, Fried is one of the guys with the lowest floors to go with a very high ceiling. I don’t love his mechanics and he lacks consistency on the mound. When he’s on, he’s most certainly on. He can dominate. But will he be able to avoid stinkers every other week? That’s what I want to see.
Stephen: When we did our Mid-Season Top 50 prospects, Fried was coming off a below average 1st half in results and his ranking reflected it. But the year before I called Fried the most talented pitcher in the system (Wright hadn’t been drafted yet and Gohara was still in Seattle) and at the end of that top 50 post, I pegged Fried as a guy who will be moving up the rankings quickly. The stuff can be electric flashing a mid to upper 90s fastball with a curveball that alone is worth the price of admission. He absolutely dominated the hitter-friendly AFL and in my opinion, has the inside track at being Atlanta’s 5th starter next year.
Ryan: I’ve spilled a lot of ink on Fried and I think he’s going to be a really good starting pitcher in the MLB. His latest stint in the AFL showed the dominance he possessed when pushing the 2016 Rome Braves to the trophy. However, we cannot pretend 2017 didn’t happen as Fried struggled at AA (and I wouldn’t be being honest with myself if I didn’t mention it while discussing Allard’s numbers in Mississippi needing to be duplicated), but I’m holding out hope that he was focusing on 1 pitch or cleaning up mechanics and that he figured something out by season’s end. With a fastball that sits mid-90s and a curveball that is dastardly to opponents, Fried could be a stud in the rotation for years to come. That’s my hope.
4. Joey Wentz
Tommy: Wentz dominated the South Atlantic League in 2017, posting a 2.68 FIP and 3.15 DRA. His success garnered a 5.1 KATOH rating from Fangraphs’ midseason rankings, good for 81st and better than Gohara and Sean Newcomb. I wouldn’t rank him that high, but I love his projection and early-career dominance. In most systems, Wentz is the unquestioned top southpaw prospect or maybe the second-best. In this system, he comes in fourth. But he’s got a real chance to be special.
Stephen: Wentz was one the breakout players for Atlanta in 2017, dominating A-ball. A 2.68 FIP and a 29% K rate will open plenty of eyes and Wentz probably moved his way onto several people’s top 100 list. He’s another fastball/curveball guy and both are already plus pitches. Last year, Atlanta was ultra-aggressive, having some of their elite pitchers skip A+ and go right to AA. That was obviously a different regime so we’ll see where Wentz gets to prove himself in 2018.
Ryan: Another guy I like a lot and was 1 of my 5 favorite prospects when I was still writing at Tomahawk Take. Likely one of the best overall athletes in the organization and that’s what really attracts me to his development as a pitcher. In his first full year with the team, Wentz pitched 131.2 innings of elite baseball but the fastball was reported to be in the 91-92 range, not the mid-90s which was thought to be. There could be many reasons for this (working on mechanics, focusing on innings not velo, hot gun in past), but it’s something to keep in the back pocket while Wentz moves up the ladder.
5. Kyle Muller
Tommy: It’s easy to forget about Muller. Ian Anderson was the premier arm from the 2016 draft, Bryse Wilson has been the breakthrough guy, and Wentz has flat-out dominated. Muller was drafted with the idea that he was more of a project than the other arms. He’s got time to grow into his 6’6″ frame and didn’t impress much at Danville last summer, posting a 5.64 DRA over 47.2 innings. I never got the chance to see him pitch, but he seemed to suffer from an affliction that gets many young arms in rookie ball – failure to adjust. He’d look pretty good early on, but waiver as he tried to get through the lineup a second time. He’s still a big-talent arm moving forward, though.
Stephen: Muller is projection over production at this point in his career as Atlanta sees a massive frame onto which an elite pitcher can be built. Fangraphs puts at least future 50 grades on all 3 of his pitches so at this point it’s fair to say he’s got mid-to-back-end rotation potential with more possible if the growth in that frame improves the stuff.
Ryan: John Calvagno confirms what Tommy and Stephen discuss with Muller and that he is a project that will take longer to develop than the above 4, and that is ok. He was essentially all fastball in high school and ramped it up to the mid-90s but keeps it low-90s in the pros. Like Wentz, it’s something to keep an eye on in the future as Muller, being a mountain of a man, has the body type to really run it up there but needs to build repeatabilty in his delivery before accelerating.
6. Tyler Pike
Stephen: Pike is a pitchability lefty who sits 89-91 with a plus change-up and some deception. He’s a bit older in prospect terms, drafted in 2012, but has slowly plotted his way along. Atlanta got him as the PTBNL in the Alex Jackson deal and sent him to AA. What you love about Pike is the 25% K rate and above average ground ball rate. What you hate is the atrocious command. Even after all this time in MILB, Pike posted an almost unfathomable 18% BB rate. A number like that will ruin his career full stop. Number one goal is to throw more strikes.
Tommy: The 2016 draft has already produced a ton of pitching prospects and in the 19th round, Coppy and Company grabbed Davidson out of Midland College. After some solid numbers in the Gulf Coast League in 2016, he opened this year as a reliever in Rome. Later, he started a dozen games, including his final eleven. Along the way, he finished with a 2.97 FIP and 3.35 DRA. In college, his fastball was usually around 93, but he’s improved that a few ticks to go along with a pretty solid breaking ball. When he gets on top of that slider, he can flash some really good movement. Davidson has a decent enough changeup to utilize as well. Right now, I think he’s got a chance to be a swingman/left-hand reliever. If he adds projection to his pitches, he could remain a developing starting candidate.
Stephen: Ricardo Sanchez, or I guess I should say “newly 40-man roster member Ricardo Sanchez” is your classic young arm without a lot of polish. Fastball can range anywhere from 90-95 and he misses his share of bats but he struggles to know where it’s going a lot of the time. It’s pretty simple for him. Learn to command it and he’s a big leaguer.
T9. Oriel Caicedo
Tommy: All Caicedo does is throw strikes. In a shade under 475 career innings, he has walked fewer than 100 batters. He’s been around for some time and appeared first in 2011 in the DSL. It’s been a slow climb that has been delayed by injuries and a continued need to prove himself as he lacks the kind of stuff that many will write about (…but I’m special). That said, he nearly tossed the organization’s first no-hitter since 2012 last year by working into the ninth inning against a good Jupiter squad last year before allowing a hit with two outs. It’s unlikely Caicedo makes many waves moving forward, though.
T9. Drew Harrington
Stephen: Harrington is a big kid at 6-2/225 and had a really good year for the Florida FireFrogs in 2017. A 3.13 FIP and almost a 60% ground ball rate is enough to get you on this list. With so many pitchers ahead of him in the system Harrington seems to me like a prime candidate to be included in a trade this offseason but we’ll see what Anthopoulos has planned. If he stays, I’m guessing he starts 2018 in AA Mississippi.
T9. Dilmer Mejia
Stephen: While most young pitchers are all stuff and no command, Mejia has made his name by showing elite control of the baseball. He struck out 5 batters for every 1 he walked in 2017 and probably needs more publicity and fanfare. Mejia could be the breakout candidate of 2018 if he’s given a full year in affiliated ball. I’m hoping he starts in Rome’s rotation so everyone can see how real he is.