2013 Atlanta Braves Top Prospects

 

System Overview: After graduating the likes of Jason Heyward, Andrelton Simmons, Freddie Freeman, Mike Minor and Craig Kimbrel over the previous couple of seasons, the Atlanta farm system has taken a step back, lacking high-end impact talent.

Top prospect Julio Teheran stumbled badly during a repeat in Triple-A, and several of the other more interesting arms in the system have more than a few obstacles to overcome. Offensively, catcher/left field Evan Gattis turned in an impressive season, though he’s already 26. Otherwise, the rest look like solid big league backups at this point.

 

 

#1. Julio Teheran, Age: 22, Position: RHP

Teheran, who was once considered among the top handful of prospects in the game, took a noticeable step backwards during a repeat stint in Triple-A last season. After showing solid underlying numbers in 2011 (144.2 IP, 7.6 K/9, 3.0 BB/9) as a 20-year-old, the young right-hander’s K-rate declined (6.7 K/9), he allowed 13 more homeruns, and hit 10 more batters. His Skill Independent ERA, or SIERA (available on MinorLeagueCentral.com), was a below-average 4.36.

Projection: Teheran has never been a groundball pitcher — his GB-rate in 2011 was only 39% — so it is a bit troubling that his homerun rate spiked so dramatically, perhaps indicative of an underlying problem or two. And while his developmental step backward isn’t along the lines of Texas’ Martin Perez, it is still troubling to say the least. Teheran doesn’t profile like a frontline starter anymore, but he could settle in a good number two or three.

Ceiling: 3.5-win player

Likelihood of Reaching His Ceiling: Moderate

Update: Teheran’s been a revelation for the Braves this season, averaging 8.04 K/9 and 1.92 BB/9 through his first 131 innings. The right-hander’s showing a low 90s, a newly added low 80s slider, 73-ish mph curveball, and a rare low 80s changeup. 

  

#2. Alex Wood, Age: 22, Position: LHP

Nabbed out of the University of Georgia in the second round last June, Wood showed a lot promise with Bulldogs during his final season, mixing in a strong feel for pounding the zone (1.85 BB/9) with a good ability to miss bats (8.79 K/9). And despite throwing 102.1 innings in college, the 6-foot-4 left hander tossed an additional 52.2 in the South Atlantic League, where he showed very similar numbers (8.9 K/9, 2.4 BB/9, 58.6% GB-rate).

Projection: Clearly, it’s still too early to know what type of prospect Wood will develop into, but the early returns look quite favorable. His ceiling could be a decent mid-rotation guy.

Ceiling: Too soon to tell

Likelihood of Reaching His Ceiling: N/A

Update: After making 4 appearances out of Atlanta’s bullpen, injuries have forced Wood into action as a starting pitcher. Thus far, he’s showing a low 90s fastball, an 80 mph curve, and mid 80s changeup. 

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#3. J.R. Graham, Age: 23, Position: RHP

Graham, the 146th pick in the 2011 draft, split time between High-A and Double-A last season, displaying a dramatic difference in peripherals along the way. With the Hillcats, he hurled 102.2 innings with 68 punch outs (6.0 K/9) and just 17 free passes (1.5 BB/9). Then, once promoted to Mississippi his K-rate jumped to 8.3, as did his walk rate, 3.4.

Projection: Graham, who made 23 appearances only five of which were starts during his final season with Santa Clara University, seamlessly transitioned to a fulltime starter last season. It will be interesting to see if he can keep his K-rate above the league average, something could potentially thrust him towards becoming a potential #2. Otherwise, he could me a useful mid-rotation guy.

Ceiling: 3.5- to 4.0-win player

Likelihood of Reaching His Ceiling: Moderate

 

#4. Aaron Northcraft, Age: 23, Position: RHP

A nice find in the tenth round out of Mater Dei High School in 2010, Northcraft had a breakout season in the Carolina League last year, setting career highs in innings (151.2) and strikeout (9.5 K/9) and walk rates (3.1 BB/9). His groundball rate, which was 45.3% in 2011, an above-average number, also spiked to 57.5%.

Projection: There are really two additional factors that need to be examined. Northcraft was in an age-appropriate level last season, putting a slight damper on his overall production. And Lynchburg’s home ballpark, Calvin Falwell Field, is one of the more hitter-friendly stadiums in the Carolina League. He won’t be a star, but could develop into a solid mid- to backend-guy.

Ceiling: 2.5-win player

Likelihood of Reaching His Ceiling: Moderate

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#5. Lucas Sims, Age: 19, Position: RHP

The 21st overall pick in the last June’s draft, Sims tossed 34 innings between the Appalachian and Gulf Coast Leagues, striking out 39 (10.3 K/9), walking 13 (3.4 BB/9) and posting a solid 3.35 SIERA.

Projection: Per the usual, any long term projections for recent draft picks will be withheld until following the 2013 season. Sims is built solidly (6-foot-2 and 195 pounds), and flashed some solid ability during his brief rookie stint. He could be headed to A-ball to begin the year.

Ceiling: Too soon to tell

Likelihood of Reaching His Ceiling: N/A

 

 #6. Evan Gattis, Age: 26, Position: C/OF

A book will eventually be written about Gattis’ plight through life. After dealing with drugs and alcohol in high school, spending a little bit of time in Seminole State College in 2006, quitting and working in a pizza joint and several ski resorts, Gattis returned to the game that he loved in 2010 and was later selected in later rounds of the draft by the Braves.

Since then, well, he’s done nothing but mash minor league pitching. After dominating A-ball in 2011 (.322/.386/.601), Gattis began the season by hitting .385/.468/.821 with seven doubles and nine homeruns in just 21 High-A games. The organization wisely promoted him to Double-A, and he continued to slug (.285/.343/.522).

Overall, Gattis hit .305/.389/.607 with 20 doubles, four triples, 18 homeruns, and a pair of stolen bases. His total offensive production for the year was 72% better than the average.

Projection: Tough, tough call to make. He’s already 26, but spent several years away from the game. He shows an above-average eye at the plate, really strong contact skills, and plus in-game power. Defensively, he nabbed 39% of would-be base stealer from behind the plate, though left field is most likely his ultimate landing spot. If he was three years younger, Gattis would be among the top 50 prospects in the game. Now, he looks like a bat that’s likely to spend some time in the big leagues, maybe as soon as next season. He could be a league average guy, maybe a touch better.

Ceiling: 2.5-win player

Likelihood of Reaching His Ceiling: Moderate

  

#7. Sean Gilmartin, Age: 23, Position: LHP

Gilmartin dominated the ACC during his junior season with Florida State, throwing 113.1 innings with 122 punch outs and just 20 free passes. The Braves chose the 6-foot-2 left-hander with the 28th overall pick in the draft two years ago.

After throwing 21.1 innings in the Southern League in 2011, Gilmartin jumped straight to Double-A last season. And in 20 starts with Mississippi he struck out 86 (6.5 K/9), walked 20 (2.0 BB/9) and generated a decent amount of groundballs (45%). He spent his final seven starts in the International League, showing a similar K-rate (6.0) and a slight uptick in walks (3.1).

Projection: Gilmartin will spend some significant time in the Braves’ rotation within two years. He doesn’t profile as anything more than a mid- to backend guy, but he’s nearly big league ready now.

Ceiling: 2.0-win player

Likelihood of Reaching His Ceiling: Moderate to Above-Average

#8. Cody Martin, Age: 23, Position: RHP

After establishing himself as Gonzaga’s closer during his first two seasons, Martin flashed some potential as a starting pitcher during his junior season (9.10 K/9 and 3.78 BB/9), though his value was masked by a 6.55 ERA. The university then moved him back to the pen for his final season, where he posted the highest K-rate (10.93) and second best walk rate of his collegiate career (3.27). Atlanta nabbed him in the seventh round in 2010, and he remained a fulltime reliever until last season.

In 22 games with Lynchburg, 19 of which were starts, Martin struck out 123 (10.3 K/9), walked just 34 (2.9 BB/9), and posted a dazzling 2.90 SIERA.

Projection: Martin’s 2012 season was certainly impressive; he paced the Carolina League in punch outs per nine innings. But, again, it was at an age-appropriate level of competition. Add in the fact that he’s a four-year college player, and all of a sudden Martin’s ceiling looks a lot less promising. He could be a useful #4 in the rotation; worst case scenario is he heads back to the pen as a solid seventh- or eighth-inning guy.

Ceiling: 2.0-win (starter); 0.5- to 1.0-win (reliever)

Likelihood of Reaching His Ceiling: Low to Moderate (starter); Above-Average (reliever)

 

 #9 William Beckwith, Age: 22, Position: 1B

Winner of the most uppity sounding name, Beckwith spent the year in A-ball, hitting .291/.360/.478 with 26 doubles, 15 homeruns and 17 stolen bases (in 26 attempts). His total offensive production was 28% better than the South Atlantic League average.

Projection: A bit of a find in the 21st round three years ago, Beckwith flashed above-average in-game power, a decent eye at the plate, and wheels for a relatively big guy. He’s a bit of ‘tweener, having a ceiling somewhere between a Quad-A player and semi-useful bat off the bench.

Ceiling: 1.0-win player

Likelihood o f Reaching His Ceiling: Low to Moderate

 

 #10. Todd Cunningham, Age: 24, Position: CF

A second round pick in 2010, Cunningham demonstrated some ability with the bat in Double-A last season, hitting .309/.364/.403 with a little bit of power (23 doubles, six triples, and three homeruns) and some speed. His total production was 16% was better than the average.

Projection: The typical fourth outfielder, Cunningham lacks the power or on-base skills to compensate to become a fulltime regular. But there’s major league value here, just not a tremendous amount.

Ceiling: 1.0-win player

Likelihood of Reaching His Ceiling: Above-Average to Inevitable

 

 #11. Luis Merejo, Age: 18, Position: LHP

Merejo made his professional debut in the Gulf Coast League last season, throwing 41 innings with 53 punch outs and just nine walks.

Projection: Very little data to go on, but Merejo, who signed for just $65,000, was young for the league and showed some decent ability. He could be one to watch in the coming years.

Ceiling: Too soon to tell

Likelihood of Reaching His Ceiling: N/A

  

#12. Christian Bethancourt, Age: 21, Position: C

The Braves have aggressively pushed Bethancourt through the system, solely on his defensive ability and not because of his stick. In 71 games in the Southern League, the then 21-year-old hit .243/.275/.291 with just eight extra base hits. His production was a whopping 46% below the league average.

Defensively, however, he could play in the big league right now. Plus, he’s nailed 38% of would-be base stealers in his career.

Projection: Bethancourt could have the longest career of any player currently in the system, even if it as a backup player. He could be the game’s elite defender at the position.

Ceiling: 2.0-win player

Likelihood of Reaching His Ceiling: Above-Average

  

#13. Edward Salcedo, Age: 21, Position: 3B/SS

After spending the previous two years as a fulltime shortstop, Atlanta shifted the 6-foot-3, 195 pound Salcedo to the hot corner last season with Lynchburg. And in 130 games, the then 20-year-old hit .240/.295/.412, showing solid-average power (45 extra base hits and .172 ISO) with the potential to grade out as above-average, and good speed (23 stolen bases), though his instincts on the base paths are certainly lacking at this point.

Projection: Very, very raw. But the tools are certainly there for Salcedo. The problem, however, is his general abhorrence to getting on base. In 339 professional games, the young third baseman is sporting a career .306 OBP. There are two saving graces at this point in his career: his age (21), and his plate discipline hasn’t been dreadful (7.5% BB-rate). He’s got the potential to be a 20/20 guy at the big league level, but that seems very far away at this point.

Ceiling: 1.5-win player

Likelihood of Reaching His Ceiling: Low

  

#14. Tommy La Stella, Age: 24, Position: 2B

A mid round pick two years ago, La Stella spent the majority of the year in High-A, hitting .302/.386/.460 with 22 doubles, five triples, five homeruns, and 13 stolen bases in 15 attempts. His total offensive production was 33% better than the league average.

Projection: Well-rounded offensive approach without a true standout tool, La Stella’s willing to take a walk (10.1% last season), packs a little bit of pop (.158 ISO), can scoot a little bit, and rarely strikes out (6.7%). He’s not going to be an everyday player, but he could carve out a career as a backup infielder if he learns another position (maybe third?), or at least a long career as an organizational guy.

Ceiling: 1.0-win player

Likelihood of Reaching His Ceiling: Moderate to Above-Average

 

 #15. Jose Peraza, Age: 19, Position: SS

Peraza split time between both of Atlanta’s domestic rookie leagues last season, hitting a combined .296/.350/.374 with 25 stolen bases, and just 11 extra-base hits.

Projection: It’s still far too early to get an accurate read on Peraza’s ceiling, but he showed some offensive promise, though it’s largely built around his speed at this point. He’s not overly big — 5-foot-11 — so there’s probably not a lot of hope for anything more than gap power.

Ceiling: Too soon to tell

Likelihood of Reaching His Ceiling: N/A

 

 #16. Johan Camargo, Age: 19, Position: 3B/SS

Camargo spent the entirety of his debut in the Dominican Summer League, where his total offensive production (.343/.433/.455) was a staggering 60% better than the league average.

Projection: More of a wild card than anything, Camargo showed a strong-eye at the plate and good contact skills. Otherwise, his power was below-average and he didn’t show enough speed. He could be anything at this point.

Ceiling: Too soon to tell

Likelihood of Reaching His Ceiling: N/A

 

 

Photo of Julio Teheran Courtesy of  Evan Vucci/AP Courtesy of OnlineAthens.com

 



About

After serving as a video scout/analyst for Baseball Info Solutions, Joe Werner began writing at his original site, ReleasePoints.com. He’s since transitioned into his current niche, prospect analysis, at ProspectDigest.com. He has been fortunate — and incredibly blessed — to have some of his work published and mentioned by several major media outlets, including: ESPN, Cleveland.com and the Baseball Research Journal. He can be reached at: JosephMWerner@yahoo.com.