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|1. Dansby Swanson, SS|
|Born: 02/11/94||Age: 23||Bats: R||Top CALs: Yamaico Navarro, Luke Hughes, Danny Worth, Daniel Robertson, Domnit Bolivar|
|Height: 6-1||Weight: 190||Throws: R|
Background: Sure, in terms of trades, there have been some doozies over the past decade-plus. The San Francisco Giants dealt away Francisco Liriano, Joe Nathan, and Boof Bonser for one year of A.J. Pierzynski and cash. Then, of course, there’s the ill-gotten deal that sent Bartolo Colon and Tim Drew to the Montreal Expos for Cliff Lee, Grady Sizemore, Brandon Phillips, and Lee Stevens. And when the Diamondbacks and Braves got together last offseason for another veteran-for-prospect-package swap, it was immediately evident that the deal was going to be retold in the annals of bad trade history – just like the aforementioned two. But a year later the trade – which sent Shelby Miller and Gabe Speier to Arizona for Dansby Swanson, Aaron Blair, and Ender Inciarte – simply looks exponentially worse.
Miller imploded last season, throwing just 101.0 innings with a 6.15 ERA and matching peripherals. While Swanson made his much anticipated – and very successful – big league debut and Inciarte proved to be one of the most underrated players in the game as he tallied 3.6 wins above replacement.
Swanson, the number one overall pick out of Vanderbilt University two years ago, made the leap up to High Class A last season, hitting .333/.441/.526 with 12 doubles, one homerun, and seven stolen bases – in just 21 games.
Atlanta wisely pushed him up to Mississippi at the end of April. He promptly slugged .261/.342/.402 with 13 doubles, five triples, eight homeruns, and six stolen bases in 84 games while topping the league average production by 17%. But it was his work over his final 43 contests – he batted .287/.363/.425 – that got him a late-season promotion to the big leagues.
The club called him up to Atlanta in the middle of August where he tallied nearly a win above replacement in 38 games while slugging .302/.361/.442.
Projection: Per the usual, here’s what I wrote about the eventual top pick prior to the 2015 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 a 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.”
A year-and-a-half later and it seems as if my original analysis was a bit modest.
Swanson blitzed through the minor leagues, taking just 127 games to go from collegiate stud to impact big league player. Again, the 6-foot-1, 190-pound shortstop offers up a very well-rounded game: better-than-average patience at the plate, 20-homer power, a little bit of speed, and the ability to consistently hit .280 or better.
At his peak, Swanson looks like a .300/.350/.450-type hitter. Throw in some above-average defense and he should be worth about 5.5 wins above replacement during his best seasons. He’s going to have a very similar peak as Boston’s Xander Bogaerts.
Ceiling: 5.5-win player
Risk: Low to Moderate
MLB ETA: Debuted in 2016
|2. Ozzie Albies, 2B/SS|
|Born: 01/07/97||Age: 20||Bats: B||Top CALs: Francisco Lindor, Jurickson Profar, Manny Machado, J.P. Crawford, Tyler Pastornicky|
|Height: 5-9||Weight: 160||Throws: R|
Background: Well, I clearly got this one wrong – more on that in the “Projection” section below. Since entering pro ball as a 17-year-old in 2014 the 5-foot-9, 160-pound switch-hitting middle infielder has done nothing but produce. And produce at an incredibly successful level. He torched both rookie leagues during his debut, hitting .364/.446/.444 with seven doubles, three triples, one homerun, and 22 stolen bases (in 27 attempts). The next year, 2015, the club pushed him up to the South Atlantic League where he slugged a healthy .310/.368/.404 with 21 doubles, eight triples, and 29 stolen bases (in 37 attempts) while topping the league average production mark by 22%.
Again, he did all this at the ripe ol’ age of 18.
The front office aggressively challenged the teenage prospect by pushing him passed High Class A and directly into the Southern League to start last season. And after a torrid April – he slugged .369/.442/.512 with eight extra-base hits in 22 games – he found himself at the minors’ last stop: Class AAA. Unfortunately for Albies, he finally fell into a prolonged slump. In 56 games with the Gwinnet Braves he batted a lowly .248/.307/.351.
Atlanta eventually bounced the talented infielder back down to the Southern League in late June and he quickly regained his stroke. He batted .305/.373/.451 with 17 doubles, five triples, three homeruns, and 19 stolen bases over his final 60 games.
Overall, Albies hit a combined .292/.358/.420 with career highs in doubles (33), triples (10), homeruns (six), and stolen bases (30).
Projection: It’s important to admit your mistakes. I whole heartedly believe that. Not only for personal growth but, in terms of prospect analysis, it’s important to see what I missed – so I can avoid making those mistakes again. In last year’s book I named the tiny dynamite-sized middle infielder as one of the most overrated prospects in all of the minors, writing the following:
“Albies is sort of the “next Jose Peraza,” which is a nice thing to say – unless you’re the team that dealt away two years of cost controlled All-Star caliber production from the third base position (I’m looking at you, Reds).
Anyway, the Braves, more than any other organization, have a knack for unearthing pocket-sized middle infielders that light the world on fire in the low levels before getting the bat knocked out of their hand when they progress up the ladder: Jose Peraza, Johan Camargo, Daniel Castro (who once hit .286/.312/.398 as a 21-year-old between High Class A and Class AA), and Elmer Reyes (.285/.321/.406 as a 22-year-old in the Carolina League).
And while Albies is the best of the bunch – sort of a backhanded compliment – he’s another very limited player. He’s incredibly young, but hasn’t shown much in terms of power and his slight 5-foot-nothing frame doesn’t offer up a whole lot of hope down the line either.
Again, he’s going to be one of those guys that could carve out of a super-sub role unless his defense proves to be otherworldly.”
And I certainly didn’t mince words during his “Projection” section in last year’s book either:
“Welcome to one of the most overrated, overhyped prospects found anywhere, in any organization, on any planet. While it’s true that his Weighted Runs Created Plus totals are astounding – he topped the league mark by about 60% two years ago and then followed that up with a 22% showing in 2015 – Albies is an extremely limited prospect. His power is nonexistent – he’s slugged one homerun in his first 155 games – and his 5-foot-9, 150-pound frame doesn’t offer up a whole lot of projection. His average-ish eye is also likely to decline as more advanced pitchers challenge him as he moves up the ladder. He’s going to end up sliding into a super-sub role unless his defense proves to be spectacular.”
So after topping the Southern League average production by a whopping 48%, the fifth best mark among any player in Class AA with 350 plate appearances, it is crystal clear that I was wrong – very wrong.
Well, a couple reasons:
- I let the Braves’ track record of small middle infielders that never panned out cloud my judgment.
- I looked at his frame size as a sign of things he couldn’t do, instead of looking at things he did do – like run incredibly well and hit successfully against much older production.
- His power production was next till nil.
- I failed to fully appreciate his level of dominance in 2015. In fact, here’s a list of 18-year-old bats that made 400 plate appearances with a 120 or better wRC+ in Low Class A since 2006: Albies, Jake Bauers, Willy Adames, Carlos Correa, Domingo Santana, Jurickson Profar, Jon Singleton, Jason Heyward, Jesus Montero, Freddie Freeman, Giancarlo Stanton, and Angel Villalona.
With respect to the fourth point, what’s something all those players have in common? They were, at one point, all viewed as top prospects.
So let’s take each of those points and apply them back to Albies after his 2016 season:
- The Braves’ track record of failed middle infield prospects has nothing to do with Albies, who I already called the best of the bunch.
- While frame size certainly plays a role in projecting a player’s tools in the future, it isn’t the be-all, end-all. And Albies proved that with another dominant stop in the minor leagues.
- His power production ticked up – tremendously. He finished the year with a .145 ISO during his run in Class AA. He’s never going to be mistaken for a homerun threat, but a .145 ISO certainly keeps pitchers honest.
- Since 2006, here’s a list of 19-year-old prospects to post a wRC+ north of 140 in Class AA (minimum of 350 plate appearances): Albies and some guy who happens to be a once-in-a-generation talent by the name of Mike Trout.
Now, do I think Albies is the next Mike Trout? Hell no. But if Albies can continue to show decent power I think he has a shot at developing into a perennial All-Star. And Braves fans have to be salivating at the potential double-play duo of Dansby Swanson and Albies.
Oh, as for CAL, it links him to Francisco Lindor, Jurickson Profar, Manny Machado, J.P. Crawford, and Tyler Pastornicky. Seems CAL’s convinced.
Ceiling: 4.0-win player
MLB ETA: 2017
|3. Ian Anderson, RHP|
|Born: 05/02/98||Age: 19||Bats: R||Top CALs: N/A
|Height: 6-3||Weight: 170||Throws: R|
Background: Not since 1991 have the Braves owned a top 3 pick in the draft. Of course, making playoff appearance after playoff appearance certainly helps. Atlanta grabbed Anderson, a prep right-hander out of Shenendehowa High School, after Mickey Moniak and Nick Senzel came off the board. The 6-foot-3, 170-pound hurler spit his professional debut between the Gulf Coast and Appalachian Leagues last season, throwing a combined 39.2 innings with 36 punch outs and 12 walks to go along with a 2.04 ERA.
Projection: There’s obviously not a whole lot of data to go off of – clearly. But what is available is fairly impressive. It’s important for early picks to establish themselves during their debut, and Anderson did just that. He’s likely headed to the South Atlantic League in 2017 – where we’ll have a better idea on his exact ceiling as the sample size grows.
Ceiling: Too Soon to Tell
MLB ETA: N/A
|4. Luiz Gohara, LHP|
|Born: 07/31/96||Age: 20||Bats: L||Top CALs: Travis Ott, Jose Almonte, Doug Salinas, Richard Alvarez, Daniel McGrath|
|Height: 6-3||Weight: 210||Throws: L|
Background: “The talent and potential are in place to develop into a front line starting pitcher. The lone thing holding him back (other than his youth): some questionable control/command. This is a risky pick for a breakout prospect – only because he’s set to spend the year with Clinton in the Midwest League at 19-years-old – but remember the name.” – The Top 25 Breakout Prospects for 2016.
So how did the long shot breakout prospect do?
Well, he broke out. In a big way. After spending the majority of 2015 with the Everett AquaSox in the Northwest League, Gohara opened last back up with the Mariners’ short-season affiliate with three incredibly dominant starts:
- June 18 vs. the Tri-City Dust Devils: 4.1 IP, 4 H, 0 ER, 7 K, and 1 BB
- June 23 vs. the Boise Hawks: 6.0 IP, 2 H, 0 ER, 5 K, and 2 BB
- June 28 vs. the Spokane Indians: 5.0 IP, 7 H, 3 ER, 9 K, and 0 BB
After the nine-strikeout, five-inning performance Seattle’s front office move him back up to the Midwest League – where he continued to flash front-of-the-rotation potential in nine of his 10 remaining starts.
When the dust settled, Gohara tossed a career-high 69.2 IP with a downright impressive 81-to-23 strikeout-to-walk ratio with an aggregate 1.81 ERA. He continued that dominance in the Arizona Fall League as well, fanning 19 and walking just three in 11.2 innings of work.
The Braves wisely talked the Mariners into dealing the big Brazilian lefty this offseason when they agreed to send speedy center fielder Mallex Smith to Seattle. (The Mariners, by the way, flipped Smith to Tampa Bay for lefty Drew Smyly.)
Projection: Yeah, that’s a definite breakout by my account. So let’s breakdown the actual numbers and add some context as well. Consider the following:
- The former erratic hurler made 13 starts last season. Of those 13, he walked two or fewer hitters 10 times; walked three twice; and walked four hitters twice.
- He surrendered just two long balls the entire season, the first one coming in on June 28th and the second one nearly two months later (August 26th).
- Milwaukee’s Marcos Diplan was the only other teenager with 50+ innings in either Low Class A league to post a better strikeout percentage.
- Gohara’s strikeout-to-walk percentage, 18.4%, was the fourth best mark for a teenage arm in Low Class A (min. 50 IP).
Even after his breakout season last year, Gohara’s primed – yet again – to be another breakout candidate in 2017 as he looks to top the top 100-inning mark for the first time in his career.
If the control holds firm, he’s poised to move quickly.
Ceiling: 4.5-win player
Risk: Moderate to High
MLB ETA: 2019
|5. Kevin Maitan, SS|
|Born: 02/26/00||Age: 17||Bats: B||Top CALs: N/A
|Height: 6-2||Weight: 175||Throws: R|
Background: “I’m really grateful. I don’t have the words to describe how I am feeling inside, but I can say that I’m very happy.” – Kevin Maitan, according to MLB.com, upon his $4.25 million contract became official. At 16-years-old.
Projection: One of the requests I’ve received – from various people – is to include international players. So I’ve a done my best to include them throughout the book. But in all fairness, most of the players – especially teenage prospects – have little to no data available to analyze. With that being said, there has been tons of praise heaped towards Maitan as a potential face-of-the-franchise type prospect. And judging by his lofty bonus, the Braves would have to agree. That sum, by the way, was equivalent to a top four pick in the draft last June, so that’s how I have to base his ranking off of until the actual numbers start rolling in.
Ceiling: Too Soon to Tell
MLB ETA: N/A
|6. Kolby Allard, LHP|
|Born: 08/13/97||Age: 19||Bats: L||Top CALs: Greg Harris, Jamie Callahan, Daniel McGrath, Ian Clarkin, Jairo Heredia|
|Height: 6-1||Weight: 180||Throws: L|
Background: Fun Fact Part I: Before taking Allard with the 14th overall pick two years ago, the last time the Braves used a selection that early on a prep southpaw was all the way in 1988 when they grabbed some kid by the name of Steve Avery. Allard, who stands 6-foot-1 and 180 pounds, turned in one of the more impressive – albeit incredibly brief – debuts. He appeared in just three games in the Gulf Coast League, throwing just six innings but managed to fan 12 without issuing a walk. Atlanta pushed the teenage arm up to the Appalachian League where he once again sparkled – 27.1 IP, 33 K, and 5 BB – before setting him loose on the Sally. In 11 starts with Rome, Allard threw 60.1 innings with an impressive 62-to-20 strikeout-to-walk ratio to go along with a 3.52 FIP. Overall, the former first round pick tossed 87.2 innings while averaging 9.8 strikeouts and just 2.6 walks per nine innings en route to tallying a 2.98 ERA.
Projection: Thanks to a late birthday Allard spent last season twirling gems as an 18-year-old. And just to kind of put things into perspective, consider the following:
- There were only five 18-year-old arms, at any level, to throw at least 80 innings: Allard, teammate Mike Soroka, Anderson Espinoza, Roniel Raudes, and Triston McKenzie.
- Of those five, only McKenzie posted a better strikeout-to-walk percentage – 25.2% vs. 20.0%
The sample size is still quite limited, but it’s pretty damn impressive nonetheless. He’s shown a very promising ability to miss bats and limit base on balls. He’s still very risky, thanks to his age, but there’s an awful lot to like here.
Ceiling: 3.5- to 4.0-win player
Risk: Moderate to High
MLB ETA: 2017/2018
|7. Mike Soroka, RHP|
|Born: 08/04/97||Age: 19||Bats: R||Top CALs: Clayton Tanner, Victor Sanchez, Anderson Espinoza, Manny Banuelos, Roniel Raudes|
|Height: 6-4||Weight: 195||Throws: R|
Background: Pop Quiz #1: Among all qualified Low Class A arms, where did Soroka’s 2.79 FIP rank? The answer: fifth, but the four pitchers to top his mark were all at least two years his senior. Pop Quiz #2: Since 2006, how many qualified 18-year-old pitchers have posted a sub-2.80 FIP in Low Class A? The answer: four. Pop Quiz #3: Name them. The answer: Soroka, Jordan Lyles, Madison Bumgarner, and Brandon Erbe. Soroka, the 28th overall pick out of Bishop Carroll High School in 2015, was exceptionally dominant during his first taste of full season ball last year. In 25 games with Rome, 24 of which were starts, the 6-foot-4, 195-pound right-hander threw 143.0 innings with an impeccable 125-to-32 strikeout-to-walk ratio en route to tallying a 3.02 ERA.
Projection: The Canadian-born right-hander ticks off a lot of the important check boxes when it comes to arms: size and projectability, success against older competition, strong peripherals, and solid groundball rates. It’s also important to note that outside of an up-and-down month of July, he fanned just under a punch out per inning.
Soroka doesn’t have the production that belies a top-of-the-rotation caliber arm, but he could develop into a very reliable #3-type arm – assuming he moves through the injury nexus relatively unharmed.
Ceiling: 2.5- to 3.0-win player
MLB ETA: 2019
|8. Max Fried, LHP|
|Born: 01/18/94||Age: 23||Bats: L||Top CALs: Elvis Hernandez, Nick Lee, Chad Rose, Anthony Capra, Buddy Borden
|Height: 6-4||Weight: 185||Throws: L|
Background: Someone wise once said that Patience is a Virtue. Look no further than the Braves’ attitude towards the young left-hander. It took more than a year after Atlanta traded for Fried, who was acquired from the Padres along with Dustin Peterson, Jace Peterson, and Mallex Smith in exchange for Justin Upton and Aaron Northcraft, to make a healthy return from Tommy John surgery. And that patience paid off in a big way for the organization. Fried, the seventh overall pick in the 2012 draft, threw 103.0 innings with the Rome Braves in the South Atlantic League, averaging more than a punch out per inning with the expected control issues from a return from elbow surgery.
Projection: The 6-foot-4, 185-pound southpaw was absolutely unhittable during the second half of last season. Over his final 11 games, spanning 54.2 innings, Fried struck out a whopping 72 and walking just 19 while posting a 2.80 ERA – or an average of 11.9 strikeouts and just 3.1 walks per nine innings. Opponents, by the way, hit a lowly .220/.291/.350 against him during that stretch.
In my book three years ago I noted that Fried had a ceiling between a solid “#2/#3” arm. And I think the second half of 2016 is just the beginning for Fried. He’s definitely a name to watch in 2017.
Ceiling: 3.0-win player
Risk: Moderate to High
MLB ETA: 2019
|9. Austin Riley, 3B|
|Born: 04/02/97||Age: 20||Bats: R||Top CALs: Ryan Mcmahon, Matt Davidson, Drew Ward, Matthew Sweeney, Renato Nunez|
|Height: 6-3||Weight: 220||Throws: R|
Background: Taken with the club’s final first round pick in the 2015 – behind Allard and Soroka – Riley, nonetheless, refuses to live in his teammates’ shadows. After a stellar debut in both rookie leagues last season, Riley, who slugged .304/.389/.544 with 27 extra-base hits in the Gulf Coast and Appalachian Leagues, did not slow one iota as the club bumped him up to the Sally in 2016. In 129 games with the Rome Braves, the 6-foot-3, 220-pound third baseman slugged .271/.324/.479 with 39 doubles, a pair of triples, and 20 homeruns. His overall production, according to Weighted Runs Created Plus, topped the league average mark by 28% – the sixth best mark for a qualified teenager in Low Class A.
Projection: Pop Quiz #1: Beginning with 2006, name all the teenage players to slug at least 20 homeruns in either Low Class A league. The answer: Bobby Bradley, Travis Demeritte, Joey Gallo, Matt Olson, Miguel Sano, Nick Franklin, Giancarlo Stanton, Cody Johnson, Mike Moustakas, Logan Morrison, and Nick Weglarz.
While it’s not an incredibly exclusive group, there are quite a few players that turned out – or have a chance to turn out – to be solid or better impact big league bats. Riley showed a decent eye at the plate, but his swing-and-miss total is borderline red flag territory. The power is a legitimate above-average skill, so he’ll just need to consistently make contact to reach his ceiling.
Ceiling: 2.5- to 3.0-win player
Risk: Moderate to High
MLB ETA: 2019
|10. Sean Newcomb, LHP|
|Born: 06/12/93||Age: 24||Bats: L||Top CALs: Stephen Johnson, Barret Browning, Ethan Martin, Beau Jones, Chris Withrow|
|Height: 6-5||Weight: 255||Throws: L|
Background: The big southpaw generated a whole lot of interest during his final two years at the University of Hartford – not only for his massive potential as a front-of-the-rotation caliber arm but also for becoming the school’s most touted prospect since some guy named Jeff Bagwell, who was a fourth round pick of the Red Sox all the way back in 1989. The Angels made the left-hander the earliest pick in school history when they grabbed him with the 15th overall selection in the 2014 draft. But after just 150.0 innings in the organization, the Halos traded him along with Erick Aybar, and Chris Ellis in exchange for Andrelton Simmons and Jose Briceno. Atlanta sent Newcomb back to Class AA last season. And in 27 starts with Mississippi, the 6-foot-5, 255-pound hurler posted a solid, not great, 152-to-71 strikeout-to-walk ratio to go along with a 3.86 ERA and a 3.19 FIP.
Projection: Per the usual, here’s what I wrote about him before the 2014 draft:
“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.
The control is still quite problematic. He walked 11.9% of the total batters he faced in the Southern League last year. And he’s now entering his age-24 season showing little to no progress with limiting free passes. Twenty years ago he would have been a couple more years to figure it out. But now in an era of specialized bullpen weaponry, I’d expect Newcomb to remain in a minor league rotation for about another year-and-a-half before the Braves tire of the walks and start transitioning him into a relief role.
Ceiling: 3.0-win player
MLB ETA: 2017/2018
Author’s note: A special hat tip the following websites for the use of the their statistics – fangraphs, baseballreference, baseballprospectus, statcorner, and ClayDavenport.com