This week, we reach the half-way point in the Top 50 and then add a few more names. Today’s ten prospects include a pair of 2017 draftees and only one prospect originally signed by another organization. That’s a good sign because for the last couple of years, Atlanta’s best prospects were acquired in trades. However, without a pipeline of talent, acquiring talent from outside the organization will soon dry up as the team moves toward competing rather than rebuilding. Of course, being shut out of the international market won’t help the Braves, but they have proven that they have some of the best scouts in baseball.
Methodology – each member of Walk-Off Walk submitted a Top 50. We then averaged the rankings together to give us a composite ranking. If a player was unranked on any one member’s submission, he was assigned a ranking of #55 for averaging purposes. Ties were broken by the highest individual rank by a member of Walk-Off Walk. In one case, a second tiebreaker that used the second highest individual rank was utilized. All rankings are displayed along with the preseason and midseason ranks from 2017. It should be noted that the 2017 preseason Top 50 was done entirely by Tommy Poe.
30. Matt Withrow
Tommy: #33, Stephen: #35, Ryan: #25
2017 Preseason: #29, Midseason: #45
The younger brother of former Brave Chris Withrow, Matt is a big man, 6’5, 240ish and looks it. Fastball sits in the mid-90s while topping out at 97ish. The slider comes in as the premiere numero dos followed by some developing pieces. Arm troubles have really limited his innings (only 79.2 in 2017 and history prior). He’s another guy that could likely best serve himself if he could pull some sort of voodoo on Alex Anthopoulos and get into another organization. Or best yet, stay put, push that fastball to upper-90s, develop the slider, and be the guy we Braves fans thought his brother could be. 2018 is a big year for him and I think he could be one to keep an eye on should he stay healthy. My hope is back-end ‘pen. (Ryan Cothran)
29. Drew Lugbauer
Tommy: #30, Stephen: #30, Ryan: #32
2017 Preseason: UR, Midseason: #44
The first thing that stood out to me about Lugbauer is his presence. He seems bigger than even his 6’3″ frame suggests. The second thing? Man, he can live up to the whole Slugbauer name. He blasted 13 home runs last summer after he was selected in the 11th round out of Michigan. The ex-Wolverine split the season between Danville and Rome. Speaking of splitting time, he also was a frequent mover around the diamond as he caught, played first base and third base, and spent some time at DH to keep his dynamite bat in the lineup. Now, he’ll have to show he can do it again. It’s not too much of a question of his bat, though how he deals with better breaking balls and offspeed pitches will be something to keep an eye on.
The bigger question is does he have a position? He can catch but definitely can’t compete with William Contreras and #36 prospect Lucas Herbert. From the few times I saw him in 2017, I felt his reaction time was a bit underwhelming and if he’s going to stick behind the plate, he’ll have to get much more fluid. I didn’t see him play third base, though I didn’t hear any support for a full-time move there. Overall, when I look at Lugbauer, my low-end hopeful projection is of a hybrid player who can catch, but play elsewhere while providing a plus bat off the bench. On the higher-end side, he improves enough behind the plate to stick there and turn into a hit-first catcher with some framing skills. (Tommy Poe)
28. Derian Cruz
Tommy: #36, Stephen: #26, Ryan: #29
2017 Preseason: #23, Midseason: #27
Signed for more money than Cristian Pache – we think – Cruz was lauded for his combination of speed and hit potential. The switch-hitting 19-year-old has yet to show that outside of a 26-game run in the Gulf Coast League to open his career. Last season, he was moved to second base both to make room for Kevin Maitan and also because the Braves knew they needed to try something new with Cruz. He had looked horrendous at shortstop with Rome to open the year and continued his defensive struggles in Danville after being kicked down a level. The move to second hasn’t been without its bumps, but he looks much more comfortable there.
If the defense is solved, maybe the Braves can work on his offense. Cruz has yet to see a pitch he didn’t think was good enough to swing at. That’s let to a strikeout rate approaching 30% – way too high for a guy whose game is dependent on putting the ball in play. His swing looks funky at times, but he also strikes me as a guy who is still trying to figure out how to approach at-bats. 2018 will be his Age-19 season so it’s premature to call him a bust. That said, everyone in Atlanta would love to see him break out this season to provide some solace to the fact that his signing class will be the last big-money class of this decade. (Poe)
27. Tyler Pike
Tommy: #26, Stephen: #28, Ryan: #30
2017 Preseason: #UR, Midseason: #30
Pike is a lost in the shuffle type pitcher for the Braves because he’s good but doesn’t have any pitch that’s over the top. Fastball sits around 90, has a good change that has 8-10 MPH separation from his fastball, and also has a curve that is inconsistent. When he’s good, he’s mixing pitches, disguising his arsenal quite well, and the curve is on. When’s he’s not, his curve doesn’t find the zone and the entire system goes into shambles. Make no mistake, he can be a very good pitcher. In the early part of 2017, he had 10 games where he averaged over 6 innings an outing, had a 1.64 ERA and it was not in the least bit fluky. Control was his calling card coming up and for him to take the next leap, he’ll have to find it again. It wouldn’t hurt if that radar jumped a nick or 2 either. (Cothran)
26. Isranel Wilson
Tommy: #24, Stephen: #25, Ryan: #31
2017 Preseason: #51, Midseason: #41
Izzy had a wonderful bounce-back campaign after a disappointing 2016. He put the ball in play with more authority and continued to show good plate discipline while hammering a half-dozen home runs. He enters his Age-20 season as a potential big breakout star should he continued to build on his 2017 season. The year began with a .386 wOBA in Danville over 17 games. That earned a quick promotion to Rome where he posted a decent .322 wOBA.
Wilson possesses just about all the tools you are looking for with the possible exception of a hit tool. However, he supplements that with a good idea of the strike zone and has a career walk rate over 10%. As the left-hand hitter grows more into his 6’3″ frame, I think he’ll find a home as a right fielder with pop and pretty good range. The defense, by the way, is for real. It’s not Pache-level, but it’s not that far below it. When I see his body, I think Jason Heyward. Sure, he can play center, but he’ll be better in right field. If Wilson has the 2018 I believe he’s capable of, I expect him to land in the Top 15 of this list by midseason. (Poe)
25. Anyelo Gomez
Tommy: #27, Stephen: #27, Ryan: #20
2017 Preseason: UR, Midseason: #UR
The Braves had the seventh pick in this years Rule 5 draft and with it they selected RP Anyelo Gomez from the New York Yankees. The Yankees have some sort of factory going where they’re just producing electric-armed relief prospects and lost Gomez to a numbers game. The Braves will gladly take him. Gomez struck out 87 hitters in 70 innings across 4 different levels as he shot up through the Yankees farm last year. He has a mid-90s fastball that can touch 97-98 and a really good change-up he uses to rack up the strike-outs.
Gomez has everything I look for in a pitching prospect. He misses bats, he doesn’t walk people, he can get opposite handed hitters out (learn to throw a change-up everyone), and when he does allow contact, he keeps in on the ground. Because of how the Rule 5 draft works, Gomez is going to be in the majors full-time this year assuming he shows any kind of production in spring training. The Braves bullpen is going to be young and inexperienced in 2018, but man will it have some electric arms in it. And Gomez will fit right in. (Tolbert)
24. Freddy Tarnok
Tommy: #22, Stephen: #24, Ryan: #26
2017 Preseason: #UR, Midseason: #37</h6
If you’ve liked the theme where the Braves draft 2-way athletes and ask them to pitch, then you’ll be glad to know that Tarnok follows that mold. Tarnok committed to pitching his senior year in high school but there were reports that stated he’d still like to play the field. Seeing that he can top out at 98 MPH on the mound, I think those dreams have been burned from existence. The fastball’s the key here and he has a developing curve and changeup, but what’s likely most intriguing is the pitchability he’s shown at such a young age with a good feel of the strike zone. Coming in at the ripe old age of 19, he’ll likely not move as quickly as Soroka and Allard as he’s a relatively new pitcher, but there are many out there that believe his ceiling is every bit as high as the aforementioned duo and that’s a tall drink of water for a tall drink of water. Maybe he’s in Rome. Maybe he’s in Danville. Wherever he is, he’s worth keeping an eye on…2 if you can spare them. (Cothran)
23. Akeel Morris
Tommy: #28, Stephen: #22, Ryan: #22
2017 Preseason: #30, Midseason: #29
Akeel had a weird year in 2017. He had solid numbers in the minors last year and earned himself a call-up to pitch out of Atlanta’s pen. Once he got there, all he did was post a 1.23 ERA, a 2.34 FIP, a perfectly normal .316 BABIP against, and whopping 28% K rate. But for reason I’m still not sure I understand, the team had little interest in letting him pitch in the majors. Akeel only appeared in 8 games in 2017 as the team chose to give future stars Jim Johnson, Rex Brothers, and Matt Wisler bullpen innings in a 90 loss season.
Hopefully, Akeel actually gets a chance to pitch some real innings in 2018 and we can finally see what kind of piece he is. The change-up he throws is other worldly and one of the main reasons I’m excited about him. Guys with that kind of the change-up don’t have to worry about platoon splits the way other relievers do so Morris has a shot to be a full inning, high leverage reliever. He needs to command it better, like most young pitchers do, but there’s real talent there. (Tolbert)
22. Dustin Peterson
Tommy: #25, Stephen: #21, Ryan: #24
2017 Preseason: #15, Midseason: #20
Dustin Peterson was the up and coming prospect of the 2016 season after he put up an impressive 124 wRC+ in AA and came into 2017 with a legitimate chance to make the club. Unfortunately for Dustin, that dream ended pretty quickly as he was hit on the wrist during spring training and was basically knocked out for 8 weeks. Peterson eventually made it back to the field, playing his entire year in AAA, but he never really got full strength back in that wrist and was no where near the same player. After 12 HRs and 38 2Bs in 2016 in spacious Trustmark Field, Peterson only managed 1 HR and 18 2Bs in 2017.
This is a big deal for Peterson. Because he projects mostly as a LF, he has to hit and hit with power to maintain a big league projection. So 2018 will be a big year for him to show the organization he’s fully healthy and still has the same skills that had people so excited just a year ago. As of right now, he’s projected as an everyday OF in AAA for 2018 but if shows signs that his power has come back, being in Atlanta by the end of the year is certainly possible. (Tolbert)
Tommy: #21, Stephen: #23, Ryan: #23
2017 Preseason: UR, Midseason: UR
Like Izzy Wilson, JCE is a guy I can’t wait to see grow more into his frame. He just turned 20-years-old a week ago so I do expect more maturity. What’s exciting about JCE is the hit tool, potential pop, and range at third. While many believe – and with good reason – that Austin Riley could be a starter at third base for the next ten years in Atlanta, there is a growing subset of prospect experts who think JCE might have the better career ahead of him. He hits the ball hard all over the field and as he elevates the ball more, those screamers will turn into more extra-base hits. He will have to do a better job as far as plate discipline goes (0.15ish BB/K rate), but if that does happen, he’s another guy who could skyrocket on this list by midseason or the 2019 Preseason Top 50. (Poe)