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The 2015 Atlanta Braves Top 10 Prospects

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1.  Lucas Sims, RHP

Born: 05/10/94  Age: 21   Height: 6-2   Weight: 195   B/T: R/R                                                        
Top CALs: Clayton Cook, Mike Foltynewicz, Paul Denny, Omar Poveda, Colton Cain
YEAR Age Level IP ERA FIP K/9 K% BB/9 BB% HR/9 LOB%
2012 18 R 27.0 4.33 4.19 9.7 23.6% 4.0 9.8% 0.67 70.7%
2012 18 R 7.0 1.29 3.29 12.9 41.7% 1.3 4.2% 1.29 76.9%
2013 19 A 116.7 2.62 3.09 10.3 27.9% 3.6 9.6% 0.23 71.5%
2014 20 A+ 156.7 4.19 4.56 6.2 15.8% 3.3 8.4% 0.69 68.4%

Background: Taken 14 picks after new organizational teammate Max Fried, Sims spent the 2014 season as one of just four qualified hurlers under the age of 21 at any of the three High Class A levels – California, Carolina, or Florida State. The others: Tyler Glasnow, Miguel Sulbaran, and Zach Eflin. Unfortunately for Atlanta, Sims would rank dead last among the group in FIP (4.19), strikeout percentage (15.8%), strikeout-to-walk percentage (7.4%), homerun rate (.69), and ERA (4.19) – all of which were a far cry from his dominant showing in the Sally two years ago when he fanned 134, walked 46, and a tallied a 3.09 FIP, the fourth best mark in the league that year.

Projection: OK, will the real Lucas Sims please stand up? Is it the budding front-of-the-rotation starting pitcher from two years ago or the good, though far from elite prospect he resembled last season? The answer: he’s likely to land somewhere closer to former. Consider the following breakdown:

  • Over his first 16 games (84.0 IP), he posted a 46-to-31 strikeout-to-walk ratio with a 4.71 ERA
  • Over his final 12 games (72.2 IP), he posted a 61-to-26 strikeout-to-walk ratio with a 3.59 ERA

It appears that the learning curve for the then-20-year-old right-hander was a bit steeper than first imagined.

Ceiling:  3.0- to 3.5-win player

Risk:  Moderate

MLB ETA:  Late 2016/Early 2017

 

 

2.  Mike Foltynewicz, RHP

Born: 10/07/91  Age: 23   Height: 6-4   Weight: 220   B/T: R/R                                                        
Top CALs: Cody Scarpetta, Dan Cortes, Enny RomeroJeurys Familia, James Houser
Year Age Level IP ERA FIP K/9 K% BB/9 BB% HR/9 LOB%
2012 20 A 152.0 3.14 4.20 7.4 19.1% 3.7 9.5% 0.65 74.8%
2013 21 A+ 26.0 3.81 5.16 10.0 23.8% 4.9 11.5% 1.38 73.6%
2013 21 AA 103.3 2.87 3.88 8.3 22.4% 4.5 12.3% 0.70 77.0%
2014 22 AAA 102.7 5.08 4.79 8.9 22.8% 4.6 11.6% 0.88 66.4%

Background: A leftover gift from Ed Wade and the previous regime, the Jeff Luhnow-led front office shipped the 6-foot-4 right-hander to Atlanta as part of the Evan Gattis trade. Foltynewicz was one of the baby flame-throwers that graduated to the big leagues last season, uncorking his upper 90s/triple-digit heat for 18.2 innings in Houston. Overall, his AAA numbers remained remarkably similar to those he posted the previous year in the Texas League (8.94 K/9, 4.56 BB/9 vs. 8.27 K/9, 4.53 BB/9) despite the large differences his ERA and FIP.

Projection: Basically, the right-hander with the impossibly difficult name to pronounce is the older version of former org-mate Lance McCullers – great strikeout numbers against older competition with all the expected issues with control. Except Foltynewicz’s numbers/control have been regressing slightly at each stop. Atlanta will give him every opportunity to figure it out in the rotation, where he will team with Shelby Miller and Manny Banuelos, before pushing him into a late-inning role. At his best, he’s a mid-rotation arm; at his worst, he’s a good eighth-inning guy, both of which could be worth about the same in terms of Wins Above Replacement.

Ceiling: 2.5-win player

Risk:  Moderate

MLB ETA:  Debuted in 2014

 

 

3.  Rio Ruiz, 3B

Born: 05/22/94  Age: 21   Height: 6-2   Weight: 215   B/T: L/R                                                         
Top CALs: Edinson Rincon, Jeimer Candelario, Koby Clemens, Johnny Whittleman, Corban Joseph
YEAR Age LVL PA AVG OBP SLG OPS ISO BB% K% wRC+
2013 19 A 472 .260 .335 .430 .766 .171 10.6% 19.5% 115
2014 20 A+ 602 .293 .387 .436 .823 .143 13.6% 15.1% 119

Background: Drafted in the fourth round in 2012 and signed for top 25-pick money ($1.85 million), Atlanta also acquired Ruiz in the Evan Gattis deal with Houston. The lefty-swinging third baseman spent the year mashing in the bandbox known as Lancaster, where he began the year on an impressive streak; he hit .302/.396/.466 over his first 102 games, but struggled down the stretch as he batted a paltry .255/.352/.321 in the month of August. Overall, he slugged .293/.387/.436 with 37 doubles, a pair of triples, and 11 homeruns while topping the league average offensive production by 19%.

Projection: According to StatCorner.com, Ruiz’s park adjusted triple line declines to a more pedestrian .278/.373/.412. With that being said, there’s still plenty to like about the young third baseman – he showed promising pop for a 20-year-old in High Class A (even after adjusting for the park); he’s shown no major platoon splits, and he offers a promising mix of high walk rates and strong contact skills. His defense leaves a lot to be desired still, but he has the makings of an above-average player.

Ceiling: 2.5- to 3.0-win player

Risk:  Moderate

MLB ETA:  2017

 

 

4.  Max Fried, LHP

Born: 01/18/94  Age: 21   Height: 6-4   Weight: 185   B/T: L/L                                                        
Top CALs: Zachary Bird, Kyle Allen, Matt Walker, Josh Hader, Wilmer Font
YEAR Age Level IP ERA FIP K/9 K% BB/9 BB% HR/9 LOB%
2012 18 R 17.7 3.57 4.38 8.7 23.6% 3.1 8.3% 0.51 61.2%
2013 19 A 118.7 3.49 4.04 7.6 20.0% 4.3 11.2% 0.53 72.6%
2014 20 R 5.0 5.40 2.63 14.4 30.8% 5.4 11.5% 0.00 72.7%
2014 20 A 5.7 4.76 6.13 3.2 8.3% 3.2 8.3% 1.59 79.0%

Background: New Atlanta Braves General Manager John Hart pushed the organization’s chips to the center of the table and bet big on the injured young left arm of Fried. Hart acquired the former seventh overall pick as the centerpiece in the Justin Upton deal with San Diego. The 6-foot-4 southpaw, who was part the frontend-heavy 2012 draft, made five appearances last season, lasting all of 1.2 innings before getting shutdown and subsequently going under the knife for Tommy John surgery. Prior to the injury, Fried was coming off of a solid, yet unspectacular showing in the Midwest League as a 19-year-old. He finished the year with a 4.04 FIP and 100 strikeouts while battling some control issues in 118.2 innings. Fun fact about Fried and the Braves: there were four prep arms taken before the supplemental first round in 2012, two of which are now controlled by Atlanta (Fried and Sims).

Projection: Fried’s 2013 season needs to be looked at as two separate data sets: in his first 84.1 innings, he averaged nearly a punch out per inning; over his final 34.1 innings, he averaged just 4.99 K/9 with slightly improved control. The difference, one would assume, is he simply worn down. Assuming he fully recovers from Tommy John surgery and that he simply did wear down during the final month of the 2013 season, Fried looked like a potential mid rotation starting pitcher. But, again, those are two pretty big assumptions.

Ceiling:  3.0-win player

Risk:  High

MLB ETA:  2018

 

 

5.  Christian Bethancourt, C

Born: 09/02/91  Age: 23   Height: 6-2   Weight: 205   B/T: R/R                                                        
Top CALs: Manuel Pina, Jesus Sucre, A.J. JimenezAustin Romine, Wilson Ramos
YEAR Age LVL PA AVG OBP SLG OPS ISO BB% K% wRC+
2011 19 A+ 175 .271 .277 .325 .603 .054 1.7% 20.0% 67
2012 20 AA 288 .243 .275 .291 .566 .049 3.8% 15.6% 56
2013 21 AA 388 .277 .305 .436 .741 .159 4.1% 14.7% 112
2014 22 AAA 365 .283 .308 .408 .716 .125 3.6% 16.7% 94

Background: Widely known for his defensive artistry behind the dish, Bethancourt has seemingly turned the corner from hapless to hopeful at the plate. After his breakout offensive performance in the Southern League in 2013 – a term used in the loosest sense given that he topped the league by 12% – the Panamanian-born backstop hit .283/.308/.408 while essentially producing slightly below the International League average. His work with Atlanta at various points last season, however, left a lot to be desired: .248/.274/.274.

Projection: Defense, defense, defense. If Bethancourt could produce at the MLB league average he’d be a Top 6 catcher, but that’s definitely not a likely scenario. He barely walks, owns a career .270/.300/.379 minor league triple-slash line, and isn’t likely to run into more than a dozen fastballs to jack over the fence in a given season. A better version of Jose Molina.

Ceiling:  1.5- to 2.0-win player

Risk:  Low to Moderate

MLB ETA:  Debuted in 2013

 

 

6.  Arodys Vizcaino, RHP

Born: 11/13/90  Age: 24   Height: 6-0   Weight: 190   B/T: R/R                                                        
Top CALs: The Bionic Man
YEAR Age Level IP ERA FIP K/9 K% BB/9 BB% HR/9 LOB%
2011 20 A+ 40.3 2.45 3.10 8.3 23.0% 2.2 6.2% 0.67 73.4%
2011 20 AA 49.7 3.81 3.15 10.0 26.2% 3.3 8.6% 0.54 72.4%
2014 23 AA 13.7 2.63 2.67 10.5 31.4% 2.0 5.9% 0.66 72.9%
2014 23 AAA 18.3 5.40 4.79 7.9 17.6% 5.4 12.1% 0.49 73.8%

Background: Originally acquired from the Yankees in late 2009 for Javier Vazquez, Vizcaino is back in Atlanta’s system after a 3.5-year hiatus in Chicago. I’m not sure what’s more difficult to imagine: (A) that the injury-riddled right-hander is just entering his age-24 season or (B) that prior to 2014 he threw his last meaningful pitch all the way back in 2011. A Tommy John surgery and a subsequent second procedure to further clean up the elbow, the Dominican-born right-hander finally got back to pitching as he made stops in the Florida State, Southern, and Pacific Coast Leagues before getting recalled back up to the Majors. In total, Vizcaino tossed 41.0 minor league innings, striking out 42, walking 18, and posting a combined 3.51 ERA.

Projection: What. A. Journey. And what’s even more impressive is that it looks like he bounced back 100%. His fastball velocity during his 2011 big league debut vs. his 2014 appearance with the Cubs: 95.8 mph and 95.2 mph. Vizcaino pitched exclusively from the pen last year for the first time in his career and given his lengthy – potential understatement of the year – injury history it wouldn’t be surprising to see him stay there. He’s a potential dominant closer, though.

Ceiling:  2.0- to 2.5-win player

Risk:  Moderate to High

MLB ETA:  Debuted in 2011 (Yeah, it’s been that long)

 

 

7.  Jose Peraza, 2B/SS

Born: 04/30/94  Age: 21   Height: 6-0   Weight: 165   B/T: R/R                                                        
Top CALs: Alexi Casilla, Jose Ramirez, Ronald TorreyesKetel Marte, Tyler Pastornicky
YEAR Age LVL PA AVG OBP SLG OPS ISO BB% K% wRC+
2012 18 R 92 .318 .348 .424 .772 .106 4.3% 6.5% 130
2013 19 A 504 .288 .341 .371 .712 .083 6.7% 12.7% 106
2014 20 A+ 304 .342 .365 .454 .820 .113 3.3% 10.5% 129
2014 20 AA 195 .335 .363 .422 .784 .086 3.6% 7.7% 121

Background: The winner of the organization’s Minor League Player of the Year last season, Peraza had a massive breakout in 2014. Coming off of a campaign in the Sally where he batted .288/.341/.371, the young middle-infielder fire-bombed the Carolina League to the tune of .342/.365/.454 and didn’t stop the assault once he was promoted to Mississippi midseason (.335/.363/.422). He finished the year with an aggregate .339/.364/.441 while setting career highs in doubles (20), triples (11), homeruns (2), and overall production (125 wRC+).

Projection: The biggest development for Peraza was his (slight) improvement in the power department last season, which is only amplified by the fact that he moved up two levels. The speed and bat are standout tools, but he rarely walks and the power is still lacking. With Andrelton Simmons fully entrenched at shortstop, Peraza was pushed to the keystone. CAL’s not overly optimistic, linking him to a bunch of utility-type guys. He definitely needs to keep hitting for .300-plus batting averages if he hopes to develop into an everyday guy.

Ceiling:  1.5-win player

Risk:  Low to Moderate

MLB ETA:  2015

 

 

8.  Manny Banuelos, LHP

Born: 03/13/91  Age: 24   Height: 5-10   Weight: 205   B/T: L/L                                                        
Top CALs: Dan Cortes, Aaron Sanchez, Mike Foltynewicz, Will Inman, Chris Withrow
YEAR Age Level IP ERA FIP K/9 K% BB/9 BB% HR/9 LOB%
2012 21 AAA 24.0 4.50 3.79 8.3 20.0% 3.8 9.1% 0.75 72.6%
2014 23 A+ 12.7 2.84 1.89 10.0 28.0% 1.4 4.0% 0.00 69.2%
2014 23 AA 49.0 4.59 5.03 8.1 21.4% 3.5 9.2% 1.47 66.9%
2014 23 AAA 15.0 3.60 5.56 7.8 18.6% 6.0 14.3% 1.20 85.6%

Background: Back from the Tommy John scrap heap, the little lefty out of Mexico made 26 appearances (25 starts), but totaled just 76.2 innings. And ignoring the production with Tampa, Banuelos’ numbers were pretty strong: 56 punch outs and 29 walks in 64.0 innings. For his career, Banuelos has fanned 23.5% and walked 9.4% of the batters he faced. It’s no surprise that new GM John Hart, who has long been of fan of Banuelos’ on the MLB Network, would work out a deal with the Yankees to grab the once promising southpaw.

Projection: Prior to the injury, Banuelos looked like a budding #2-type arm, maybe even better. Now, though, the ceiling has to be tempered back towards the back of the rotation or maybe even a late-inning bullpen arm. A lot of that can change, but the list of 5-foot-10 starting pitchers who can toss 200+ innings at the big league level has been rather scant over the last decade-plus.

Ceiling:  1.5- to 2.0-win player

Risk:  Moderate to High

MLB ETA:  Late 2015

 

 

9.  Wesley Parsons, RHP

Born: 09/06/92  Age: 22   Height: 6-5   Weight: 190   B/T: R/R                                                        
Top CALs: Miguel Almonte, Scott Allen, Ryan WebbRuben Alaniz, Trevor Bell
YEAR Age Level IP ERA FIP K/9 K% BB/9 BB% HR/9 LOB%
2013 20 A 109.7 2.63 3.05 8.3 22.8% 1.7 4.7% 0.41 67.5%
2014 21 A+ 113.3 5.00 4.19 7.6 19.5% 2.7 6.9% 0.79 60.9%

Background: Another one of the prospects I pegged for a breakout season in last year’s book. Parsons, an undrafted free agent out of Jackson State Community College who signed for $200,000, manhandled the Sally competition in 2013 – his first foray into professional baseball. In19 starts with Rome the 6-foot-5 right-hander averaged 8.3 K/9, just 1.7 BB/9, and posted a neat 3.05 FIP.  The club pushed him up to the Carolina League last season and the results – while solid – weren’t the breakout I was expecting: 7.62 K/9, 2.70 BB/9, and a 4.19 FIP.

Projection: The basic skill set remained intact despite the downturn in production last season. Parsons still showed above-average control, a decent ability to miss bats, and generated a groundball more than 47% of the time. But his jump in ERA and FIP can’t be blamed on poor luck – his BABIP was a touch high (.321), as was the homerun rate (.79), but neither completely out of whack and his strand rate was a bit low as well (6.9%). He has a shot to develop into a backend starting pitcher, but Parsons definitely needs to take another step forward.

Ceiling:  1.5-win player

Risk:  Moderate

MLB ETA:  Late 2016/Early 2017

 

 

10.  Jason Hursh, RHP

Born: 10/02/91  Age: 23   Height: 6-3   Weight: 200   B/T: R/R                                                        
Top CALs: Zeke Spruill, Jeff Marquez, Brad Bergeson, Sonny Gray, Tim Dillard
YEAR Age Level IP ERA FIP K/9 K% BB/9 BB% HR/9 LOB%
2013 21 A 27.0 0.67 4.07 5.0 13.9% 3.3 9.3% 0.33 74.3%
2014 22 AA 148.3 3.58 3.52 5.0 13.5% 2.6 7.0% 0.30 67.5%

Background: Hursh has had an interesting career path since entering Oklahoma State University in 2011. The Texas-born right-hander tossed 29.2 innings as a true freshman, lost the entire 2012 season as he recovered from Tommy John surgery, came back to throw an incredible 106.1 innings for the Cowboys the next year, and then found himself in Class AA for the entire 2014 campaign. Making 26 starts the Mississippi Braves last season, Hursh posted a nice enough 3.52 FIP while pounding the strike zone with high regularity (2.61 BB/9), but he barely missed any bats (5.04 K/9).

Projection: Including his 136 college innings, Hursh has averaged just 5.61 strikeouts per nine innings. He succeeds by limiting free passes and generating a ton of action on the ground, more than 55% in his minor league career. There are not a whole lot of pitchers that can consistently win at the big league level with sub-6.0 strikeout rates – in fact there were only six MLB pitchers to strikeout fewer than 6.0 per nine innings and top two wins above replacement. He could very likely get pushed into the bullpen in the coming year or two.

Ceiling:  1.5-win player

Risk:  Moderate

MLB ETA:  Late 2015/Early 2016

 

 

**All statistics courtesy of FanGraphs**


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.


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