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The 2016 Atlanta Braves Top 10 Prospects

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And for those wondering what CALs are, here’s an article on the Comparison And Likeness program I designed.

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1. Dansby Swanson, SS                                                  
Born: 02/11/94 Age: 22 Bats: R Top CALs: Cole Figueroa, Alex Blandino,

Dean Anna, Joaquin Rodriguez, Addison Maruszak

Height: 6-0 Weight: 175 Throws: R
 

Season Age LVL PA 2B 3B HR AVG OBP SLG ISO BB% K% wRC+
2015 21 A- 99 7 3 1 0.289 0.394 0.482 0.193 14.1% 14.1% 145

Background: It was assumed that one-sided deals involving multiple top prospects were a thing of the past – especially with the added emphasis placed on minor leaguers over the past handful of years. The days of Bartolo Colon and Tim Drew for Cliff Lee, Grady Sizemore, Brandon Phillips, and Lee Stevens had supposedly died away like bellbottom jeans. That is, of course, until Atlanta General Manager was able to finagle Swanson, the first pick in the draft last June, former Marshall ace right-hander Aaron Blair, and above-average big league outfielder Ender Inciarte from the Diamondbacks in exchange for a resurgent Shelby Miller and low level lefty reliever Gabe Speier. And just to sort of put this into some perspective – while beating the horse to death – Inciarte was worth about the same number of wins above replacement as Miller according to FanGraphs (3.3 vs. 3.4) and was far better according to Baseball Reference (5.3 vs. 3.6). As long as Inciarte can come close to matching his production from either 2014 or 2015 anything else the Braves get out of the deal is purely icing on the cake.

As for Swanson, well, he was simply one of the most dynamic, well-rounded collegiate bats in the entire draft class.

After being limited to barely a dozen at bats at Pitcher U., Swanson had a coming out party for the Commodores in two years. The 6-foot, 175-pound shortstop hit a robust .333/.411/.475 while leading the team in doubles (27), on base percentage (.411), and stolen bases (22). He would also finish tied fourth on the club in homeruns (3) and second in walks (37) and slugging percentage as well. Swanson, of course, followed that up with an even better showing during his junior campaign, hitting .335/.423/.623 with 24 doubles and career highs in triples (6), homeruns (15), and walks (43).

Following his selection as the top pick in the draft, his former organization pushed him down to Hillsboro in the Northwest League for his debut; he batted .289/.390/.482 with seven doubles, a trio of three-baggers, and one homerun.

Projection: Here’s what I wrote about the quick-twitch middle infielder prior to the draft:

“Arguably the top collegiate bat in the entire class, Swanson offers up a well-rounded offensive approach – solid plate discipline, hit tool, double-digit homerun power, and speed. He profiles as solid top-of-the-order-type hitter who could border on an All-Star caliber season if everything breaks just the right way, though he’ll likely slide into a solid league-average status.”   

Ceiling: 3.5-win player

Risk: Moderate

MLB ETA: 2017

 

2. Sean Newcomb, LHP                                                  
Born: 06/12/93 Age: 23 Bats: L Top CALs: Shawn Armstrong, Corey Young,

Christian Meza, Charlis Burdie, Stephen Johnson

Height: 6-5 Weight: 245 Throws: L
 

YEAR Age Level IP W L ERA FIP K/9 BB/9 K% BB% HR/9 LOB%
2014 21 R 3.0 0 0 3.00 7.36 9.00 3.00 25.0% 8.3% 3.00 100.0%
2014 21 A 11.7 0 1 6.94 3.31 11.57 3.86 28.9% 9.6% 0.77 54.2%
2015 22 A 34.3 1 0 1.83 2.90 11.80 4.98 31.3% 13.2% 0.26 82.6%
2015 22 A+ 65.7 6 1 2.47 3.17 11.51 4.52 30.0% 11.8% 0.27 76.4%
2015 22 AA 36.0 2 2 2.75 3.94 9.75 6.00 25.8% 15.9% 0.50 79.2%

Background: Taking a page out of Jeff Luhnow’s mantra of selling everything that isn’t nailed down, Braves General Manager John Hart dealt away shortstop incumbent Andrelton Simmons, as well as recently acquired Jose Briceno, to the Angels in exchange for Newcomb, the 15th overall pick in the 2014 draft, Erick Aybar, another new incumbent, right-hander Chris Ellis. Hailing from the University of Hartford, home to should-be-Hall-of-Famer Jeff Bagwell, Newcomb blew through three different levels last season, making stops with Burlington in the Midwest League, Inland Empire in High Class A, and the Arkansas Travelers in the Texas League. And at each stop Newcomb proved to be a dominant force to be reckoned with – even though he battled some extreme control issues at various times. In 27 combined starts, the 6-foot-5, 245-pound southpaw tallied 136.0 innings with a whopping 168 punch outs, 76 walks, and a barely-there 2.38 ERA.

Projection: Here’s what I wrote about Newcomb prior to the draft two years ago:

“The good news: big bodied lefties with the rare ability to miss an above-average amount of bats are worth their weight in gold – literally. All of that by itself pushed Newcomb well up the draft charts but there are certainly more than a few red flags.

First: The forearm injury in 2012. Was that really just an aberration or something more? And one of the key ‘signs’ – or terms – thrown around right before Tommy John surgery is a forearm injury. Obviously, it’s not nearly that serious for Newcomb – he’s thrown about 150 innings since – but it still has to be on teams’ radars.

Second: Level of competition. The Hartford player chosen highest in the draft prior to Newcomb’s impending first round status: Jeff Bagwell, fourth round. How is he going to handle competing against vastly superior players than he was [the previous three years]?

Third: Control. The control, even in his breakout season [last] year, is still below-average.

Fourth: Decline in strikeout rate. After averaging 11.5 K/9 [in 2013], Newcomb averaged 10.26 in 2014.

A bit of a first round wild card. The ceiling is certainly high, but so is the risk. A solid #2/#3-type arm, but, again, there’s risk. Think of a left-handed version of Allen Webster.

Most importantly, he’s continued to distance himself from his previous forearm injury as he threw a solid amount of innings last season. And just like I mentioned previously, the control is going to be the ultimate determining factor between a mid- to upper-rotation caliber arm and a spot in the pen.

But, man, Newcomb was so dominant last season. Of his 27 starts, consider the following:

  • He recorded eight games with at least eight punch outs and another ten games with at least six whiffs.
  • He allowed more than two runs on just four occasions and more than three runs just twice.
  • He surrendered four or fewer hits 17 times.

Finally, one final tidbit to chew on: Only one other southpaw, Tampa Bay’s Blake Snell, fanned a higher percentage of hitters than Newcomb (31.3% vs. 29.2%) last season.

Ceiling: 3.0- to 3.5-win player

Risk: Moderate to High

MLB ETA: 2016/2017

 

3. Kolby Allard, RHP                                                       
Born: 08/13/97 Age: 18 Bats: L Top CALs:  N/A

 

Height: 6-1 Weight: 175 Throws: L
 

YEAR Age Level IP W L ERA FIP K/9 BB/9 K% BB% HR/9 LOB%
2015 17 R 6.0 0 0 0.00 -0.19 18.00 0.00 60.0% 0.0% 0.00 100.0%

Background: For the first time since the organization grabbed Steve Avery with the third overall selection in 1988, Atlanta went with a prep southpaw among the draft’s top 15 picks, taking Allard with the 14th overall pick. Allard, who underwent back surgery during the offseason, is expected to be ready for Spring Training. He tossed just six innings in rookie ball, fanning 12 without a walk.

Projection: There’s nothing to go off of – literally. But here are the three games he tossed during his debut:

  • 0 IP, 1 H, 3 K, 0BB
  • 0 IP, 1H, 5 K, 0 BB
  • 0 IP 1, H, 4 K, 0 BB

Ceiling: Too Soon to Tell

Risk: N/A

MLB ETA: N/A

 

4. Aaron Blair, RHP                                                       
Born: 05/26/92 Age: 24 Bats: R Top CALs: Tanner Roark, Eduardo Morlan,

John Gast, Brett Oberholtzer, Rob Rasmussen

Height: 6-5 Weight: 230 Throws: R
 

YEAR Age Level IP W L ERA FIP K/9 BB/9 K% BB% HR/9 LOB%
2013 21 A- 31.0 1 1 2.90 3.80 8.13 3.77 22.1% 10.2% 0.58 80.7%
2013 21 A 17.7 0 2 3.57 2.72 6.62 2.04 17.1% 5.3% 0.00 58.3%
2014 22 A 35.7 1 2 4.04 3.01 11.10 3.53 29.3% 9.3% 0.50 56.5%
2014 22 A+ 72.3 4 2 4.35 3.87 10.08 2.61 25.9% 6.7% 0.75 69.1%
2014 22 AA 46.3 4 1 1.94 3.49 8.94 3.11 25.3% 8.8% 0.78 87.3%
2015 23 AA 83.3 6 3 2.70 3.95 6.91 2.48 19.3% 6.9% 0.86 80.2%
2015 23 AAA 77.0 7 2 3.16 4.08 6.55 3.16 17.7% 8.5% 0.58 72.7%

Background: Also part of the franchise’s bloated package it received in the Shelby Miller deal with Arizona. Blair, the 36th overall pick out of Marshall University in 2013, spent last season fine-tuning his approach on the mound, as well as biding his time until forcing his way onto a big league roster. Making 26 appearances, 25 of which were starts, the 6-foot-5, 230-pound hurler fanned 120, walked 50, and posted an aggregate 2.92 ERA. For his three-year professional career, Blair has struck out 22.2% and walked 7.9% of the batters he’s faced throughout his career.

Projection: I’ve always been a particularly big fan since the right-hander’s collegiate days. Here’s what I wrote prior to the 2013 draft:

“There is some concern that while Blair’s ability to miss bats has improved during the past two seasons, his control has failed to do the same, basically remaining average-ish. He profiles as a decent option in a big league rotation with a ceiling as a #3 [starting pitcher] and a floor as a #5 [arm].”

After blowing away the Midwest, California, and Southern Leagues in his fast-tracked 2014 season, Blair’s strikeout percentage dropped from a dominant 26.5% to a more average-ish 18.5% between Class AA and Class AAA in 2015. The decline is a bit worrisome, but not enough where he still doesn’t profile as a solid backend arm. The control has continued to hover around the 3.0 BB/9-mark.

Ceiling: 2.0-win player

Risk: Moderate

MLB ETA: 2016

 

5. Mallex Smith, CF                                                          
Born: 05/06/93 Age: 23 Bats: L Top CALs: L.J Hoes, Brett Gardner,

John Andreoli, Jacoby Ellsbury, Dalton Pompey

Height: 5-9 Weight: 170 Throws: R
 

Season Age LVL PA 2B 3B HR AVG OBP SLG ISO BB% K% wRC+
2013 20 A 507 17 2 4 0.262 0.367 0.340 0.078 11.6% 16.6% 108
2014 21 A 303 13 6 0 0.295 0.393 0.394 0.098 12.5% 18.2% 131
2014 21 A+ 261 16 1 5 0.327 0.414 0.475 0.148 11.9% 18.4% 138
2015 22 AA 240 5 2 2 0.340 0.418 0.413 0.073 11.3% 17.1% 140
2015 22 AAA 307 12 6 0 0.281 0.339 0.367 0.086 7.8% 14.3% 106

Background: After speedster Billy Hamilton made it to the big leagues a couple seasons ago it was Smith, a fifth rounder out of Santa Fe Community College, who quickly ascended atop the list of fastest minor leaguers. Smith, a 5-foot-9, 170-pound center fielder, was acquired last offseason as part of the Justin Upton mega-deal with San Diego. The speedy outfielder strung together his best showing at level in his professional career in the first half of 2015, hitting .340/.418/.413 with five doubles, a pair of triples, two homeruns, and 23 stolen bases en route to topping the league average production line by 40%. His numbers took a bit of a dip once he got promoted up to the International League as he posted a league average-ish .281/.339/.367 with 12 doubles, six triples, and 34 stolen bases. Overall, he batted .306/.373/.386 with 17 doubles, eight triples, two homeruns, and 57 stolen bases (in 70 attempts).

Projection: Per the typical for a speedy center fielder, just like Billy Hamilton, Smith has nonexistent power; his career ISO is .092 and he’s never slugged more than five homeruns in a single season. And it’s no surprise that his walk rate tumbled from double-digit territory all the way down to 7.8% in Class AAA last season. CAL, however, seems to be a big fan, comparing him to Brett Gardner, Jacoby Ellsbury, and Dalton Pompey. If Smith’s defense proves to be as valuable as it seems, he should have no trouble topping the two-win mark.

Ceiling: 2.5-win player

Risk: Moderate to High

MLB ETA: 2016

 

6. Touki Toussaint, RHP                                              
Born: 06/20/96 Age: 20 Bats: R Top CALs: Felix Sterling, Clevelan Santeliz,

Alberto Cabrera, Tyler Vail, Luis Heredia

Height: 6-3 Weight: 185 Throws: R
 

YEAR Age Level IP W L ERA FIP K/9 BB/9 K% BB% HR/9 LOB%
2014 18 R 13.7 1 3 12.51 8.35 9.88 3.95 20.6% 8.2% 3.29 40.0%
2014 18 R 15.0 1 1 4.80 4.56 10.20 7.20 23.0% 16.2% 0.00 57.1%
2015 19 A 48.7 3 5 5.73 5.74 7.03 6.10 17.7% 15.4% 1.11 63.6%
2015 19 A 39.0 2 2 3.69 4.55 6.69 3.46 18.0% 9.3% 0.92 68.4%

Background: Packaged along with aging – and injured – veteran Bronson Arroyo as part of salary dump that sent career minor league infielder Philip Gosselin to Arizona in late June. Diamondbacks General Manager Dave Stewart (in)famously said, according to an AZCentral report following the trade, that Toussaint “hasn’t thrown 96 mph since he’s been here.” Esteemed reporter Ken Rosenthal followed that up a week later by writing that the 16th overall selection in 2014 touched 98 mph in a start for the Rome Braves. Oops. Between the organizations, as well as two different Low Class A leagues, the 6-foot-3, 185-pound right-hander posted a mediocre 67-to-48 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 87.2 innings of work.

Projection: Now to be completely fair to the former Oakland-A’s-ace-turned-GM, Toussaint has hardly lived up to the expectations that follow a high first round selection. So far he’s walked 12.6% of the total batters he’s faced in his brief career, including issuing free passes to more than 15% of the guys he faced in the Atlanta organization. And perhaps as equally troublesome, the wiry right-hander’s swing-and-miss total plummeted after a strong debut showing.  He’s still clearly young enough – he’s only entering his age-20 season – to figure it out. Plus, there aren’t too many hurlers his age that can nearly dial it up to triple digits. One final thought: he might be another Chris Archer dark horse type arm.

Ceiling: 2.0- to 2.5-win player

Risk: Moderate to High

MLB ETA: 2019

 

6. Lucas Sims, RHP                                               
Born: 05/10/94 Age: 22 Bats: R Top CALs: Ryan Searle, Dan Cortes,

Phillippe Aumont, Mauricio Cabrera, Richard Castillo

Height: 6-2 Weight: 225 Throws: R
 

YEAR Age Level IP W L ERA FIP K/9 BB/9 K% BB% HR/9 LOB%
2013 19 A 116.7 12 4 2.62 3.09 10.34 3.55 27.9% 9.6% 0.23 71.5%
2014 20 A+ 156.7 8 11 4.19 4.56 6.15 3.27 15.8% 8.4% 0.69 68.4%
2015 21 R 5.0 0 0 9.00 2.91 12.60 3.60 26.9% 7.7% 0.00 36.4%
2015 21 A+ 40.0 3 4 5.18 4.01 8.33 5.18 20.7% 12.9% 0.45 61.1%
2015 21 AA 47.7 4 2 3.21 3.30 10.57 5.48 28.1% 14.6% 0.19 72.6%

Background: The former 21st overall pick in the 2012 draft continued his Jekyll-and-Hyde development curve last season. After a dominant debut between the Appalachian and Gulf Coast Leagues last season, he upped the ante during his follow-up campaign with Rome in 2013. As a 19-year-old Sims posted a 134-to-46 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 116.2 innings in the Sally. The organization continued to challenge the young hurler, promoting him up to Lynchburg in 2014, and Sims saw a noticeable decline in his punch out rate; it dropped from 10.3 K/9 to a worrisome 6.2 K/9. Then just like that…he started missing a ton of bats in 2015. Sims fanned 37 in 40.0 innings back in High Class A and another 56 in 47.2 innings of work with Mississippi in the second half. Of course, this time his control abandoned him as he walked a career worst 5.2 every nine innings.

Projection: In last year’s book I highlighted how Sims’ production suffered during his first 16 starts but rebounded nicely over his remaining 12 games two years ago, giving hope that 2015 would be much more successful. And it was – sort of. Sims’ strikeout rate spiked back to above-average levels, but it was his control giving him all kinds of fits. But, again, he had glimpses of pure dominance at various points: He fanned 10 and walked a pair in six innings against Pensacola in late August or his mid-July contest against the Winston-Salem Dash where he fanned eight and walked one in six innings or his seven-inning game against Jacksonville where he posted a seven-to-one strikeout-to-walk ratio. Then on the other end of the spectrum he had seven games where he walked at least four.

And just like the previous season things seemed to click for Sims down the stretch; he walked 12 and fanned 33 over his final 30.2 innings.

Sims is still plenty young enough to put it all together. And if that ever happens, watch out.

Ceiling: 2.0- to 2.5-win player

Risk: Moderate to High

MLB ETA: 2017

 

8. Austin Riley, 3B                                                        
Born: 04/02/97 Age: 19 Bats: R Top CALs: Amaurys Minier, Oswaldo Morales,

Miguel Sano, Jharmidy De Jesus, Zachary Green

Height: 6-2 Weight: 230 Throws: R
 

Season Age LVL PA 2B 3B HR AVG OBP SLG ISO BB% K% wRC+
2015 18 R 131 9 1 5 0.351 0.443 0.586 0.234 10.7% 21.4% 182
2015 18 R 121 5 0 7 0.255 0.331 0.500 0.245 9.9% 30.6% 146

Background: The third first round selection of the John Hart Era, Riley’s professional career got off to a torrid start last season. He batted .255/.331/.500 in 30 games in the Gulf Coast League. Then he caught fire and torched the Appalachian league for another 30 contests. Overall, he hit an aggregate .304/.389/.544 with 14 doubles and a mind-boggling 12 long-balls in just 60 games.

Projection: Granted it’s a rather limited sample size, just 60 games, but Riley was on pace to slug 32 homeruns over a 162-game season. The power, needless to say, looks like an above-average, perhaps even better, skill. He walked a solid amount of the time and his red flag-territory K-rate in the GCL declined all the way down to 21.4% in the Appalachian League. Let’s see how he handles the Sally.

Ceiling: Too Soon to Tell

Risk: N/A

MLB ETA: N/A

 

9. Max Fried, LHP                                                                 
Born: 01/18/94 Age: 21 Bats: L Top CALs: N/A

 

Height: 6-4 Weight: 170 Throws: L
 

YEAR Age Level IP W L ERA FIP K/9 BB/9 K% BB% HR/9 LOB%
2013 19 A 118.7 6 7 3.49 4.04 7.58 4.25 20.0% 11.2% 0.53 72.6%
2014 20 R 5.0 0 0 5.40 2.63 14.40 5.40 30.8% 11.5% 0.00 72.7%
2014 20 A 5.7 0 1 4.76 6.13 3.18 3.18 8.3% 8.3% 1.59 79.0%

Background: Teaming with arguably the most dominant right-hander in the minor leagues, Lucas Giolito, during their tenure at Harvard-Westlake High School, Fried missed the entire 2015 recovering from Tommy John surgery, though that didn’t stop John Hart from acquiring him from San Diego as part of the package for Justin Upton on December 19th, 2014.

Projection: First things first: After going down on July 21st, 2014, Fried should – barring any massive setbacks – be ready to resume his professional career in Spring Training. The last extended time we saw of the 6-foot-4, 170-pound southpaw he was handling himself well enough as a 19-year-old in the Midwest League. Hopefully, he comes back all the way.

Ceiling: Too Soon to Tell

Risk: N/A

MLB ETA: N/A

 

10. Rio Ruiz, 3B                                                                
Born: 05/22/94 Age: 22 Bats: L Top CALs: Dante Bichette, Jefry Marte,

Daniel Mateo, Matthew Cerda, Jonathan Meyer

Height: 6-2 Weight: 215 Throws: R
 

Season Age LVL PA 2B 3B HR AVG OBP SLG ISO BB% K% wRC+
2013 19 A 472 33 1 12 0.260 0.335 0.430 0.171 10.6% 19.5% 115
2014 20 A+ 602 37 2 11 0.293 0.387 0.436 0.143 13.6% 15.1% 119
2015 21 AA 489 21 1 5 0.233 0.333 0.324 0.090 12.9% 19.2% 91

Background: Keeping with the general theme of the franchise’s write-up thus far, the Braves – you’ve guessed it – acquired the former fourth round Bonus Baby along with fire-balling right-hander Mike Foltynewicz, and Andrew Thurman in exchange for Evan Gattis and James Hoyt in a deal with Houston last January. The lefty-swinging third baseman, however, had a rough go of it as he moved in Class AA for the first – and not only – time in his professional career. Coming off of two back-to-back solid seasons against much older competition, Ruiz looked ill-equipped in the Southern League, hitting a paltry .233/.333/.324 with just 21 doubles, one triple, and five homeruns in 489 plate appearances. For his career, Ruiz is sporting a .263/.353/.399 triple-slash line.

Projection: A lot of Ruiz’s basic skill set translated well into the minors’ most challenging level: he walked in nearly 13% of his plate appearances; his K-rate was nearly identical to his 2013 season (19.2% vs. 19.5%), and his BABIP dipped a little bit but nothing to severe (.288). The main culprit appears to be his nosedive in the power department; after posted Isolated Power totals of .143 and .171 in High Class A and Low Class A the past two seasons, Ruiz cobbled together a slap-hitting .090 last season. He still looks like a capable #5/#6-type bat.

Ceiling: 1.5- to 2.0-win player

Risk: Moderate

MLB ETA: 2017

 

 

Author’s Note: All statistics courtesy of FanGraphs.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.


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