Evan Gattis, Freddie Freeman, Andrelton Simmons, Jason Heyward, Julio Teheran, Mike Minor, Brandon Beachy, Kris Medlen, Alex Wood, Craig Kimbrel.
If the 2014 prospect outlook for the Atlanta Braves looks a bit slim, the Braves’ success in that department over the last 5 years is to blame. All of the guys listed above will be players of interest in 10-team and larger fantasy leagues in 2014 and all are products of the Braves farm system. Add to that players such as Randall Delgado, Brandon Drury, Nick Ahmed, Arodys Vizcaino, and Sean Gilmartin who were all traded in the last two years to improve the major league team. The result is both a relative lack of impact players in the upper minors and a lack of positions available for said players to make said impact. That doesn’t mean that fantasy owners or Braves fans can write off the system; it just means that it may take time to see results.
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Let’s get to the rankings. These are FANTASY BASEBALL rankings, meaning the ability of the player to contribute to a fantasy team trumps his ability to merely make it to the major leagues. I’ll note differences in the write-ups on specific players. Proximity to the majors is also taken into account.
1. LUCAS SIMS, RHP
The cream of the Braves crop, Sims was selected 21st overall by the Braves in 2012 out of high school in suburban Atlanta. As with many prized high school pitchers, the Braves have been careful with Sims through his first two seasons, limiting him to 34 innings in 2012 and 116 inings in 2013. Expect the kid gloves to come off in 2014 as Sims likely starts the season at High-A Lynchburg, with a chance to see AA Mississippi before season’s end. Amassing 134 strikeouts over 116 innings last season, Sims also managed to maintain strong control for such a young pitcher. A combination of a strong fastball, solid curve, and developing changeup give the 6’1 righty a solid repertoire to work from. High A and AA should provide a hefty challenge, but also give us a true idea of where Sims ranks among the elite pitching prospects. I’d expect a mid 2015 to early 2016 timeline if all goes according to plan, and the potential to be a solid #2 starter for the Braves and 2-3 starter for fantasy owners.
2. TOMMY LA STELLA, 2B
La Stella ranks second on this list based on his ability to make an impact in the near future and his relatively low floor as a prospect. The Braves’ second base situation is a bit unsettled after Dan Uggla struggled mightily in 2013 and was left off the postseason roster. La Stella did his part in campaigning for a shot at the job, posting a .356/.444/.492 season between High A and AA and topping it with an impressive .290 average while walking 16 times and striking out only 4 in the Arizona Fall League. The ceiling on La Stella is not huge, but as a fantasy 2B, you don’t need it to be. The Coastal Carolina product has good gap power, excellent plate discipline, and enough speed to add 10 swipes a year. La Stella is exactly what a K-heavy Braves lineup needs right now, which should give him a decent shot to win the 2B job out of spring training, pending a decision on Uggla. He’s yet to hit under .299 in 3 minor league seasons and is a dream in leagues that count BB or OBP. Take a chance in deeper leagues if he beats out Uggla in Spring Training.
3. CHRISTIAN BETHANCOURT, C
Bethancourt will make it to the majors based on his defense. He is ML-ready right now from a blocking and receiving standpoint. The questions come on the offensive side of the ball and will determine whether he becomes a fantasy asset or a career backup. Repeating AA in 2013 as a 21-year old, Bethancourt made his greatest offensive strides thus far. Scouts believe that there is power in his exceedingly athletic body, and it finally began to emerge in the second half. The biggest thing impeding progress for the 6’2″ catcher is his plate discipline as a hitter. If he wants to be a major league regular, Bethancourt will have to cut down on the strikeouts, take more walks, and quite simply swing at better pitches. The Braves have Evan Gattis, Gerald Laird, and Ryan Doumit on the roster for 2014, so Bethancourt can head to AAA and attempt to fine tune his catching and continue making strides on offense. Laird is a free agent after 2014, so if Bethancourt can improve plate discipline, a 2015 arrival seems likely. If your catching depth is lacking in a dynasty format, Bethancourt is worth a flier.
4. J.R. GRAHAM, RHP
Graham is tough to rank, as he made only 8 starts in 2013 before a shoulder injury shut him down. Shoulder injuries aren’t something to mess with, and Graham’s slight build creates further questions about his durability, and thus his long term position. He does not have the overpowering stuff to be a high strikeout guy, but good command and excellent ground ball tendencies should bring strong ratios. The question (other than health) then becomes whether he can stick in the rotation or whether he will be a bullpen piece. Those questions probably cannot be accurately answered until we see what the rebound year looks like. If the shoulder is strong and Graham totes a full workload, he may be able to stay in the rotation. If not, he may be a nice bullpen piece for the Braves and potential replacement for Craig Kimbrel should he price himself out of the Braves range in the next 2 years.
5. JOSE PERAZA, SS
Peraza is speed and hit tool. That’s it. Should he reach the big leagues, he’ll help you in steals and potentially average and runs, but do not expect much else. Everth Cabrera is probably the ceiling. Peraza is still several years away and blocked by Andrelton Simmons, but 64 steals in 2013 put him on the fantasy radar. He is probably capable of staying at shortstop, but Simmons might eventually push him to 2nd, which is fine with fantasy owners. There are lots of these speed and average guys in the minors, so Peraza is probably more of a wait-and-see than a must-have in dynasty formats.
6. MAURICIO CABRERA, SP
Cabrera has the highest upside on the list outside of Sims. He’s also has the longest way to go among the pitchers in order to make an MLB impact. The fastball explodes from his hand, but the secondary pitches are iffy and the command is poor. Cabrera has immense upside and may leap up the list next season…or he may completely disappear from it. Such is the volatility of young international-signing pitchers. We’ll know much more about Cabrera after this season, but keep an eye on the walk numbers in early starts as an indicator of how much progress he is making.
7. JASON HURSH, RHP
The Braves are hoping to repeat their success with Mike Minor in the form of Hursh. Selected at the end of the first round of the 2013 draft, Hursh has already had Tommy John surgery and thus possesses a significant injury risk. If he can prove healthy and able to carry a starter’s workload in 2014, he could move quickly through the Braves system in the same way minor did. Hursh shares similar floor concerns with Cabrera, due to the development of his secondary pitches. That being said, he is much more advanced on the whole, having pitched already in major college ball. With a somewhat low floor and not exceedingly high ceiling, I’m probably not jumping on Hursh this offseason in dynasty formats. If I’m making draft selections with question marks, I want them to have huge ceilings, which I am not ready to claim for Hursh right now.
8. VICTOR CARATINI 3B/C
Caratini may be the Braves most intriguing offensive player, though fantasy potential may ultimately be tied to his defense. There are questions about his abilities behind the plate, and he played third base in his professional debut. The Braves are reportedly working with the 2013 2nd rounder this offseason on his catching, so we will get a better idea in 2014 of what his defensive future holds. He is obviously more valuable if he can bring his strong hit and power tools to the catcher position, but may be able to carve out a career at third as well. The power has yet to translate to homers, but there is still time. A keen eye at the plate and good bat speed offer hope. Caratini is the type of prospect you can snag late in your 1st Year Player draft who offers nice potential upside.
9. JOSH ELANDER, LF
Like Caratini, a former catcher. Elander is now pretty much confined to left field, which means that his power will need to continue to develop. He probably returns to High A to start the year after struggling there at the end of 2013. A strong start could allow him to finish the season at AA. The defensive tools are relatively limited, so the bat will have to generate all the hype. Good plate discipline and could easily climb into the top 5 with a good year.
10. WES PARSONS, P
If you are looking for an interesting upside play without much fanfare, here’s your guy. Parsons was undrafted and came out of nowhere to post an excellent season at Rome. Because the background is small school ball and one year of professional action, I really have no idea what to expect. The results, however, were impressive, with solid command and good strikeout stuff. If you have a spot to spare in a dynasty league with huge farms, the Braves have known to do pretty well picking guys up off the scrap heap.
- David Hale: All about proximity to the majors and ability to contribute immediately. If Brandon Beachy’s rehab doesn’t go according to plan this spring, Hale has a pretty good chance to make the rotation out of Spring Training. If Beachy does rehab, however, we are probably looking at a bullpen piece, solid spot starter unlikely to make a fantasy impact.
- Cody Martin: Similar situation to Hale. Another almost ready pitching prospect with end of rotation potential and a bit of strikeout upside, but no room in the rotation.
-Victor Reyes: All upside. At 6’4, 180 lbs, Reyes played all of last season at age 18 and tore up two rookie leagues, showing solid plate discipline and good contact skills. As he grows into his large frame, the power should come. Reyes should head to his first season of full-season ball this year.
- Kyle Wren: Son of Braves GM Frank Wren, Kyle proved that his selection was more than just a family affair. Speed, plate discipline, and a solid hit tool are the calling cards of the Georgia Tech outfield product. Adam Eaton seems like a ceiling-comp.
- Edward Salcedo: One day Salcedo might reach his potential as a do-it-all third baseman. If not, this may be the last year he lingers at the bottom of this type of list.
- Joey Terdoslavich: Not technically a prospect anymore, but a guy with a nice floor and ceiling. Would be ideal as DH, but the Braves don’t have that luxury. Would gain some value if he was traded, as he doesn’t currently have a spot
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