Just ten prospects left in our yearly Top 50 and the elite of the elite get a bit more time to themselves. Instead of dropping all ten, we’ll milk this series and split the last ten into two final parts. What? It worked for Twilight.
While the punishment the Braves received from Major League Baseball was felt in each part of the Top 50, these final ten likely would have been the top ten regardless if the Braves still had a bounty of international talent – namely Kevin Maitan. They are among the Top 100 prospects in baseball depending on which service you read and all ten have sky-high expectations. When I did the Top 10 three years ago, guys like Braxton Davidson, Tyrell Jenkins, and Manny Banuelos were taking up spots as the best Braves’ prospects in the organization.
This group of players are especially talented and represent the reasons why hope is beginning to grow for Braves fans as they look forward to this season and beyond.
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.
10. Cristian Pache
Tommy: #9, Stephen: #6, Ryan: #14
2017 Preseason: #26, Midseason: #19
Pache ended up 10th on our final rankings but on my personal rankings, I had him #6. And the reason is simple. He just has very little he has to do to become a major-league 2 WAR player. Even if the bat doesn’t advance much at all, his elite defense and baserunning means his floor is basically Billy Hamilton. Except it’s Billy Hamilton with an absolute cannon. Look at these non-hitting grades FanGraphs just put on Pache:
- Run – Present 80/Future 80
- Fielding – Present 70/Future 80
- Arm – Present 70/Future 7
Those are Byron Buxton level skills. There are so many different paths he can take to become a solid major league player even if he never hits. There just aren’t many guys good enough to say that.
But where the excitement for Pache reaches another level is when you realize there are scouts who thinks he’s going to really hit. And maybe even for some above average power. That’s where we leave current production and go almost entirely to projection. In over 700 career PAs, Pache has never hit a home run. So projecting for above average big-league power is a bit of a dream right now but if he can start to generate a little more lift in his swing, who knows. He’s also working with a 6’2 frame so projecting more size and strength isn’t crazy talk.
I’ll be interested to see where they start him off in 2018. He didn’t set the world on fire with the bat in Rome last year so he could be back there to start the year. Given his young age and immense potential, there will be no rush. They’ll let him develop at his pace. And Braves’ fans should be excited. He’s basically the OF version of Andrelton Simmons. (Stephen Tolbert)
9. Joey Wentz
Tommy: #11, Stephen: #8, Ryan: #9
2017 Preseason: #14, Midseason: #10
The 2016 draft. Ah, you have to love when a plan comes together. After forty-four selections, the Braves had a trio of the best prep arms that year’s crop had to offer and Atlanta followed that up by signing all three. The middle child of this group of elite young arms was Joey Wentz, picked out of Shawnee Mission East High School in Kansas. And guess what? He might turn out to be the best pitcher selected from that draft.
A big lefty, Wentz has an effortless delivery that he repeats exceptionally well. He’s still growing a bit into his frame, but his mechanics are nearly flawless. He occasionally will have issues with release point, which can lead to uncontrollable or flat breaking balls, but no pitcher is perfect. His heater lives in the low 90’s and he gets movement off of it. His changeup is coming along, but his best pitch is a curveball that, when he controls it, is nearly impossible to hit and has hitters slowly walking back to the dugout perplexed.
Last season, Wentz was just 19 years-old. That should be repeated because it’s the kind of thing that too few people put enough value in. Wentz was facing 20, 21, and 22 year-olds. Holding his own would have been impressive in his own right. Wentz did so much more than that by striking out nearly 29% of opposing hitters while walking just 9%. That’s ridiculous! It was his first full season and he was facing guys who were battle tested in the SEC, Pac-12, and ACC – along with two or three seasons of rookie ball. And he was making them look not only bad but flat-out overmatched.
Wentz had a case of dead arm in high school. It affected his draft stock, but he threw 131.2 innings as a 19-year-old with little problem. If that dead arm scared off teams and allowed the Braves to grab Wentz where they did, it was the most advantageous dead arm in history. Wentz seems ready to follow Kolby Allard and Mike Soroka and make the jump to Mississippi next year, though opening the year in Florida wouldn’t be that bad either. (Tommy Poe)
8. Ian Anderson
Tommy: #12, Stephen: #9, Ryan: #5
2017 Preseason: #9, Midseason: #10
It’s odd to say that a player who was just drafted in 2016 with the 3rd overall pick and put up a 3.14 ERA in Low-A in 2017 with 11 K/9 is already experiencing prospect fatigue, but it’s happening. In fact, it seemed like every offseason trade proposal by a Braves Armchair GM had Ian as the centerpiece of the deal. Why? What happened? I’m glad you asked.
In 20 starts at Low-A, Anderson only pitched to the 6th inning 3 times. His fastball control came and went over the course of individual starts but when he was controlling it, he was the dominating force the Braves thought they drafted. When he wasn’t, the walks racked up and that’s where he’s got to improve. A 3-pitch mix, Anderson’s fastball is his torch sitting 93-96, the curve his numero dos, and his changeup is a work in progress. However, like Tommy discussed above on Wentz, Ian is 19 years old and only faced younger competition 8 times in 2017. When I was 19, I was making poor decisions and nearly failing out of college. The Ian, Wentz, Wilson trio kept each other in check and showed a maturity that dwarfed mine at 19.
My favorite prospect guru, John Sickels, said that Ian could easily be the best pitching prospect by this time next year with just a bit of refinement as his stuff outranks many ahead of him. I can agree with this statement. Look for Ian to start at High-A with his buddies Bryse Wilson and Joey Wentz, and if all goes well, they could be knocking at the door of MLB by mid-2019. (Cothran)
7. Austin Riley
Tommy: #5, Stephen: #11, Ryan: #8
2017 Preseason: #12, Midseason: #13
Aside from Ronald Acuna, Austin Riley has been the talk of Braves country. The current debate is to sign or not sign a 3B free agent. Johan Camargo is seemingly plugged into the spot in 2018, but really it sounds like he’s just holding it warm until Riley is ready. Riley is listed at 6’3 220, but reports were that he started pushing near 240 last year. Recent pictures show that maybe the 220 is now right as rain again as he’s trimmed down the fat and looks like a sculpture of muscle (especially in the gluteus maximus which has some of Braves Fam female twitterers all hot and bothered).
His 2018 tale is 1/3 disappointment and 2/3 elation. In High-A, Riley put up meager numbers but was rumored to be focusing more on defense (we will get back to that later) and the offense took a hit. However, in what would be his last 2 weeks in High-A, Riley looked to have turned a curve, the Ks lessened and the power came back in droves. I’ve already made it clear that I put more emphasis on the value of a small sample in growing players over established players, and that sample made me pay attention. From there, his season and post-season in the Winter Leagues couldn’t have gone better. He hit 14 home runs in 65 games between AA Mississippi and the Arizona Fall League and compiled a .932 OPS in that time.
As stated before, Riley had a goal of improving his mobility and defense. Adding muscle and subtracting fat resulted in a player that went from defense being criticized to defense even becoming part of the whole that made him jump up on everyone’s list. At Low-A in 2016, Riley was charged with 30 errors. Between High-A and AA in 2017, Riley cut that number down to 20 in more innings. Watching him quite a bit on MiLBTV, I can attest that his defense passed my eye test, but still felt like he had some work to do on backhanding balls hit down the line. Admittedly, this is a small sample and just an observation, not a scouting report.
Lastly, both Dale Murphy and Chipper Jones joined the complimentary train on Riley using terms “light-tower power” and “his (mental) makeup’s incredible”. With everyone boarding the Riley Express, including 2 of Braves finest, there’s a lot to watch for in 2018. (Cothran)
6. Kolby Allard
Tommy: #6, Stephen: #7, Ryan: #7
2017 Preseason: #5, Midseason: #5
How unreasonable are our expectations? Kolby Allard spent most of 2017 as a 19-year-old pitching in Double-A ball, put up a 3.18 ERA with a 3.27 FIP, improved his walk rate as it dropped to 7.3%, and Fangraphs Top 100 has no room for him? Wow.
To be fair, as much as it may hurt for me to say this, players are more than just numbers. For Allard, the big issue has been an inconsistent fastball. At times, he’s gunning it in at around 93-94 mph. Others, he’s stuck in the high-80’s and can’t seem to reach 90. There is no consensus from game-to-game, though more often, he was struggling with the latter last season. Now, that may mean nothing. Certainly, velocity isn’t everything. However, losing 2-4 mph off your fastball before you’re even 21 is worrisome.
If that’s corrected, Allard’s ceiling again starts to climb. That ceiling, this time last year, was very high. What makes Allard so good is that despite his age, he has the pitchability of a guy who has been around the game for 30 years. He gets “it” in a way that often cannot be taught so much as learned the hard way. And the Braves let him go in 2017 and he tossed 150 innings. That’s quite a lot of innings for a guy who didn’t turn 20 until last August 13.
Allard’s fastball has questions – we covered that – but his changeup is excellent. He throws it out of the same motion and arm speed of his fastball and hitters just hate it. He also has a curveball that, while not as good as many other curveballs in the system, is still a pretty dang good one. Allard can throw all three pitches at any moment with confidence and precision. That, my friends, is why people still remain high on Allard.
This will be a big year for the lefty. Either we are right to keep him in our Top 6 or we were slow to downgrade him appropriately. I think we’re closer to the former than the latter, though. (Poe)
Forty-five names down and just five more to go. I’m sure you think you know the top prospect in our rankings. But do you really know?
Yes. Yes, you do.