K26dp

Top Prospect 2016 Review - #1-29

66 posts in this topic

Go here for prospects #30-50.

Gutierrez.jpg

Abrahan Gutierrez, C
Age: 17
Bats: R
Rank: 29
2016 Level: Instructional League

Gutierrez was signed as an international amateur free agent out of Venezuela on July 2, 2016. Rated as the #15 prospect to come out of this year’s international signing class by Baseball America, Gutierrez signed for a $3,500,000 signing bonus, the largest signing bonus ever given to an international free agent by the Braves (a record broken less than an hour later when the Braves signed shortstop Kevin Maitan). Gutierrez had been on scout’s RADAR since 2011, when he played for Venezuela in the 12U World Championship team as an 11 year old. As a 14-year-old, Gutierrez played on the 15U World Cup team. He was widely regarded as one of the top two catchers in this international free agent class, and was an early target for the Braves.

Gutierrez is a large young man, big enough that some scouts question if he’ll be able to stick behind the dish as he continues to fill out. It would be a shame if he had to switch positions, because he’s reportedly got an advanced feel for game calling, pitch blocking, and footwork. He also has a strong and lively arm. At the plate he has potential plus power, though that is mostly gap power at the moment. Like most players his age, he will need to work on strike-zone awareness and pitch recognition.

The Braves have taken to skipping their top international signees past the Dominican Summer League and sending them straight to the Gulf Coast League, and Gutierrez will likely follow that path. He is already stateside, working out with other top prospects in the Instructional League.
 

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Cumberland.jpg

Brett Cumberland, C
Age: 21
Bats: S
Rank: 28
2016 Level: Rk Danville

.216/.317/.340
89 wRC+
3 HR, 0 SB
7.4 BB%, 25.9 K%

Cumberland was a 2nd-round pick by the Braves in the 2016 draft out of UC-Berkeley, the first college hitter drafted with a top 5 pick in 3 years. Cumberland was named the Pac-12 Player of the Year and a second team All-America Team selection after hitting .344 and 16 home runs for the Bears. While reports of his catching was mixed, the Braves jumped at getting an offense-first, switch-hitting power hitter in the organization, figuring that they could coach up the defense. Cumberland was assigned to the Rookie level Danville Braves, and while he had some moments, his pro debut was mostly forgettable. Cumberland was recently named as #20 on Baseball America’s top prospects of the Appalachian League. 

In college, Cumberland displayed quick hands and a quick batting stroke that allowed him to pull inside pitches with regularity. This also allowed him to shorten his stroke and go opposite field if the pitcher decided to stay away from his power. A switch-hitter, Cumberland has so far shown better power from the left side. Braves scouting director Brian Bridges, after Cumberland was drafted, had this to say: “The catch is probably going to be average and the arm is probably going to be average. You're betting on the bat. He's a hit-first catcher.” When the guy who just drafted a player calls defense “average”, you can bet it’s probably below average. By all accounts, Cumberland is a smart player and can call a good game, but needs to work on his footwork, blocking, and framing. Cumberland has a strong arm, but poor pop times. The Braves have had success with bringing along defensively deficient backstops, but if Cumberland doesn’t make it as a catcher, he is athletic enough move to first base or one of the corner outfield spots. That said, Cumberland is rated this high because of the possibility of making it as a catcher. Cumberland will likely begin the season in class A Rome, paired with the defensive wiz, but offensively challenged, Lucas Herbert. 
 

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Cruz.jpg

Derian Cruz, SS
Age: 18
Bats: S
Rank: 27
2016 Level: Rk Danville

.248/.272/.364
82 wRC+
2 HR, 7 SB
2.2 BB%, 19.6 K%
(stats include two rookie leagues)

Cruz was the top international amateur free agent signing for the Braves in 2015, getting a $2,000,000 signing bonus out of the Dominican Republic. He started his professional baseball career in June with the Gulf Coast League Braves, hitting .309/.336/.445 after a month before getting a quick promotion to Danville of the Appalachian League. The more advanced league proved a challenge, and Cruz was only able to muster a .183/.204/.279 batting line. Despite his numbers, Baseball America rated Cruz as the #12 prospect in the Appalachian League after the season.

Cruz is a switch-hitter, but is still is very raw from the left side. His right side swing is quick and shows good gap power. He needs to work on strike-zone judgement, a trait that hurt him in the Appy League as pitchers were more consistently able to around the plate without throwing strikes and so far at least Cruz has shown to be a dramatic free-swinger. Defensively, Cruz has shown a strong arm and good footwork and range at shortstop, but so far lacks a natural feel for the position, and needs to perfect the little things like exchanging the ball from glove to hand. These things should rapidly improve with experience, but if it doesn’t Cruz is certainly athletic enough to play second base or center field. Cruz is very fast and accelerates quickly running the bases, but still has to learn the finer points of baserunning.

Given his troubles in Danville and his young age, I suspect the Braves hold him back next year unless he demonstrates significant improvement in instructionals and spring training.  If he does, the Braves may elect to push him up to Rome.

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Yunior Severino, SS
Age: 17
Bats: S
Rank: 26
2016 Level: Instructional League

Severino signed with the Braves out of the Dominican Republic in the 2016 signing period for a $1.9 million bonus. Severino was rated as the #8 prospect of the 2016 international signing class by Baseball America. Severino cemented his rating by playing well in international tournaments, and was 2-for-6 for the D.R. junior national team in their championship match with Canada in May.

Severino’s calling card is power from both sides of the plate. While only 5’-10” and 160 pounds at signing, Severino generates power with very good bat speed. Severino had a high leg kick and and a lot of moving parts to his swing as an amateur, and the Braves will likely work to try to simplify his mechanics. Unlike so many shortstops brought into the Atlanta organization recently, Severino isn’t particularly fast and won’t be a stolen base threat. That lack of speed hinders his range in the field, and many scouts believe he will end up moving to second or third, especially as his body fills out. He does have a good feel for the game, as well as a good arm and should be able to handle second or third base.

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Wilson.jpeg

Bryse Wilson, RHP
Age: 19
Rank: 25
2016 Level: Gulf Coast League

0.68 ERA
2.05 FIP
9 G, 6 GS, 26.2 IP
2.70 BB/9, 9.79 K/9

Wilson was a 4th-round draft pick in 2016 out of Orange High School in Hillsborough, NC and was lured from a strong commitment to the Tar Heels with a $1.2M signing bonus, well above slot. Wilson was a football player as well and has the body to prove it, listed at 6’-1”, 215 pounds. In his senior year of high school Wilson threw three no-hitters, including a perfect game. Assigned to the Gulf Coast League, Wilson’s innings were kept low, but he was impressive.

Wilson is mostly a fastball/change-up pitcher. Wilson can run the fastball up to around 97 mph, but usually sits 92-94 with good movement. His change-up is a strong weapon against left-handed batters, and both pitches can be thrown with good control. Due to long arm action, he does not get good spin on breaking balls, but his other stuff was good enough that it wasn’t a problem in high school or in the Gulf Coast League. The Braves will prioritize getting Wilson to throw a reliable breaking pitch; without a third pitch, his ceiling is probably as a reliever.

Wilson will likely stay in extended spring training when camp breaks and will be assigned to Danville in 2017. The Braves will give him every opportunity to remain a starter.

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Yepez.jpg

Juan Yepez, 1B/3B
Age: 19
Bats: R
Rank: 24
2016 Level: A Rome

.261/.320/.348
95 wRC+
1 HR, 0 SB
7.0 BB%, 23 K%

Yepez was the Braves top international signee in 2014, garnering a bonus of about $1M. Yepez was signed to play third base, but his size and poor defense had scouts and evaluators speculating that a move to first base would occur. Yepez started his professional career in 2015 with the Gulf Coast Braves, hitting .306/.402/.449 in a month’s worth of games. Yepez was promoted to Danville, and was forced to first base because of the presence of 2015 first round pick Austin Riley. Yepez continued to hit well, with a .291/.324/.466 line against more advanced competition. For 2016, the Braves elected to hold Yepez back in extended spring training rather than move him on to Rome. The idea was to create some space between Riley and Yepez so that both could play games at third, but the plan was put on hold when Rome experienced a rash of injuries to their first basemen. Yepez was promoted to Rome in May and started out well in 11 games before he succumbed to injury himself, not returning until August. By that time Carlos Castro had established himself at first base and Riley was still manning third, so playing time was scarce for Yepez down the stretch.

Yepez is an advanced hitter for his age, with quick hands and wrists and a compact stroke that can turn on hard inside pitches. Yepez has shown a tendency to chase balls out of the zone, which has led to strikeout issues, but he was noticeably better in this aspect of his game in his short sample of games played this season. Defensively, Yepez is a work in progress at both third and first base. At third, his range is somewhat limited and his hands are not the best. At first he’s shown to be better, but is still learning the position. Yepez did some serious off-season conditioning between 2015 and 2016 and came to camp without a lot of the baby fat that seemed to be a problem in his first season. Unfortunately, because of the circumstances of his early call-up to Rome and subsequent injury, it can’t be determined if that would help with his third base defense. On the bases, Yepez is aggressive and surprisingly quick, always looking for the extra base or a pitcher that’s not paying attention to him, allowing him his fair share of stolen bases despite not having blazing speed.

Still very young, Yepez will likely return to Rome in 2017 and hopefully get his chance to either prove or play himself off third base. With his hitting skills, if he can stay at third base he could give the Braves yet another high-upside option at the position.

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Davidson.JPG

Braxton Davidson, OF
Age: 20
Bats: L
Rank: 23
2016 Level: A+ Carolina

.224/.344/.360
100 wRC+
10 HR, 4 SB
13.8 BB%, 35.7 K%

Davidson was the first round pick for Atlanta in the 2014 draft out of T.C. Roberson HS in Asheville, NC where he grew up a Braves fan. Atlanta projected Davidson as a potential power bat with elite on-base skills. While Davidson played first base in high school, the Braves felt like Davidson was athletic enough to play a corner outfield spot. In his first professional season with the Gulf Coast and Danville Braves, Davidson showcased the on-base skills, with a combined .387 OBP. Promoted to Rome in 2015, Davidson continued to get on base despite a low .242 batting average with a league-leading 84 walks. The expected accompanying power didn’t quite manifest itself as expected, with Davidson only putting 10 over the fence. Promoted to class high-A Carolina for 2016 with a mandate to be more aggressive at the plate, Davidson struggled the first half of the season, hitting only .233/.333/.352 and only 3 HR. Most alarming was that his strikeout rate, already fairly high in 2015, ballooned to 32%. The second half of the season saw Davidson try to go back to the more patient approach and his on-base average climbed slightly; waiting on his pitches also helped him in the power category as he hit 7 homers after the All-Star break to bring his 2016 total back up to 10. However, his strikeout rate was still dangerously high.

Davidson’s swing is big and violent, but with a bat plane that doesn’t generate a lot of loft. When he connects, the ball is smoked, and when he’s seeing the ball well he can pepper the field with line-drives. However, this approach does make it more difficult for him to translate his plus raw power into over-the-fence power. At his best, Davidson is a patient hitter, and if he can have a +.375 OBP in the higher levels, it will be tough to argue against his inclusion in any line-up. It can feel at times that Davidson can be too passive, especially when he strikes out looking, but efforts to make him more aggressive at the plate this year did not improve his game at all. His long swing can make him vulnerable to the inside breaking ball. Defensively, Davidson has adapted to right field extremely well; he has a good first step to the ball and runs surprisingly well for his size. He has a strong and accurate arm and should rate as an above average fielder at the higher levels.

All the elements are in place for Davidson to be successful, but he hasn’t put it together yet. True power hitters sometimes develop a little more slowly, and Davidson is still very young compared to his competition. I believe the Braves will keep Davidson at the high-A level to start 2017; it will be interesting to see how Davidson will do with a projected better line-up around him.

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3 hours ago, K26dp said:

Davidson.JPG

Braxton Davidson, OF
Age: 20
Bats: L
Rank: 23
2016 Level: A+ Carolina

.224/.344/.360
100 wRC+
10 HR, 4 SB
13.8 BB%, 35.7 K%

Davidson was the first round pick for Atlanta in the 2014 draft out of T.C. Roberson HS in Asheville, NC where he grew up a Braves fan. Atlanta projected Davidson as a potential power bat with elite on-base skills. While Davidson played first base in high school, the Braves felt like Davidson was athletic enough to play a corner outfield spot. In his first professional season with the Gulf Coast and Danville Braves, Davidson showcased the on-base skills, with a combined .387 OBP. Promoted to Rome in 2015, Davidson continued to get on base despite a low .242 batting average with a league-leading 84 walks. The expected accompanying power didn’t quite manifest itself as expected, with Davidson only putting 10 over the fence. Promoted to class high-A Carolina for 2016 with a mandate to be more aggressive at the plate, Davidson struggled the first half of the season, hitting only .233/.333/.352 and only 3 HR. Most alarming was that his strikeout rate, already fairly high in 2015, ballooned to 32%. The second half of the season saw Davidson try to go back to the more patient approach and his on-base average climbed slightly; waiting on his pitches also helped him in the power category as he hit 7 homers after the All-Star break to bring his 2016 total back up to 10. However, his strikeout rate was still dangerously high.

Davidson’s swing is big and violent, but with a bat plane that doesn’t generate a lot of loft. When he connects, the ball is smoked, and when he’s seeing the ball well he can pepper the field with line-drives. However, this approach does make it more difficult for him to translate his plus raw power into over-the-fence power. At his best, Davidson is a patient hitter, and if he can have a +.375 OBP in the higher levels, it will be tough to argue against his inclusion in any line-up. It can feel at times that Davidson can be too passive, especially when he strikes out looking, but efforts to make him more aggressive at the plate this year did not improve his game at all. His long swing can make him vulnerable to the inside breaking ball. Defensively, Davidson has adapted to right field extremely well; he has a good first step to the ball and runs surprisingly well for his size. He has a strong and accurate arm and should rate as an above average fielder at the higher levels.

All the elements are in place for Davidson to be successful, but he hasn’t put it together yet. True power hitters sometimes develop a little more slowly, and Davidson is still very young compared to his competition. I believe the Braves will keep Davidson at the high-A level to start 2017; it will be interesting to see how Davidson will do with a projected better line-up around him.

My take on Braxton Davidson just from reading your piece here, he gets negative grades for not being aggressive enough at the plate? That seems to be a bit of the Adam Dunn/Joey Votto syndrome, which I'm perfectly fine with.

As far as line drive swing and not elevating enough balls to hit more homeruns, that reads like something I would have read about Freddie Freeman 7 or 8 years ago. I remember I used to get into arguments with folks that used to say he would never hit more than 20 or so homeruns in the majors because he hit too many line drives. I tried to argue that once he learned the big league pitchers he would learn how to adjust his swing in certain situations that would allow him to hit more homeruns. I said all alone that Freddie was capable of hitting 30 bombs in a season and I was mocked for it. But I was eventually proven right.

I say all that to say that with Braxton only 20 years old there's still plenty of time for him to become the big time power hitter the Braves felt he could be when he was drafted. 

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43 minutes ago, Falconsfan567 said:

I say all that to say that with Braxton only 20 years old there's still plenty of time for him to become the big time power hitter the Braves felt he could be when he was drafted. 

Absolutely agree.

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Speaking of Davidson, he was a topic of conversation in this week's Bowman mailbag:

Quote

What do you think is Braxton Davidson's future with the organization?
-- M. Hall, Long Island, N.Y.


After Davidson batted .242/.381/.374 with 10 homers while playing his first full pro season for Class A Rome in 2015, the Braves were aggressive with their decision to promote him to Class A Advanced Carolina, with whom he batted .224/.344/.360 with 10 homers this season. Each of the 516 plate appearances the 20-year-old former first rounder tallied for Carolina were completed against older pitchers.

When the Braves' brass returned from last week's organizational meetings, there were multiple mentions about how impressive Davidson had been in instructional league games. This young outfielder is still growing into his body, which has left some uncertainty about his defensive potential. But even though he'll likely begin next year at the Class A Advanced level, it's still far too early to label him a bust.

 

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Max Povse, RHP
Age: 23
Rank: 22
2016 Level: AA Mississippi

3.32 ERA
3.11 FIP
27 G, 27 GS, 162.2 IP
1.72 BB/9, 7.97 K/9

Povse (pronounces like Posey) was the Braves’ 3rd-round pick in the 2014 draft out of UNC-Greensboro. Povse started the 2015 season in Rome and pitched well; when the Carolina Mudcats team bus flipped over in late May 2015, injuring nearly all of their starting rotation, Povse was promoted to Carolina and stayed until an undisclosed injury caused him to have to shut down after a July 20 one-inning start. An offseason of rehab seemed to cure what ailed him, because he was easily Carolina’s best starter in the first half, which lead to a midseason promotion to Class AA Mississippi. Despite the advanced level, Povse actually ended up lowering his ERA, walks, and hits despite striking out 3 fewer batters per 9 IP.

Even in a system full of tall pitchers, Povse stands out at 6’-8”, 185 pounds. Povse uses his size to keep his wind-up to a minimum, bringing his height to bear to shorten the time of the ball in the air. Povse has made strides (pun intended) this season to keep his delivery and landing spot consistent; when he gets out of line, his loses command in the zone, which can lead to hard hits. He has three pitches, with a heavy fastball that runs in the low ‘90s and a tight curve that he can spot anywhere in the zone. The change-up is still a work in progress, and when he doesn’t have a feel for it, it can be very hittable. This makes him somewhat more susceptible to left-handed batters.

Povse will likely start the 2017 season back in AA Mississippi, but he’s knocking on the door. If he can’t get the change-up working consistently, his other pitches will be good enough to be a major league reliever. If he can make further refinements, he should be a solid workhorse in a rotation.

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7 hours ago, K26dp said:

Povse.JPG

Max Povse, RHP
Age: 23
Rank: 22
2016 Level: AA Mississippi

3.32 ERA
3.11 FIP
27 G, 27 GS, 162.2 IP
1.72 BB/9, 7.97 K/9

Povse (pronounces like Posey) was the Braves’ 3rd-round pick in the 2014 draft out of UNC-Greensboro. Povse started the 2015 season in Rome and pitched well; when the Carolina Mudcats team bus flipped over in late May 2015, injuring nearly all of their starting rotation, Povse was promoted to Carolina and stayed until an undisclosed injury caused him to have to shut down after a July 20 one-inning start. An offseason of rehab seemed to cure what ailed him, because he was easily Carolina’s best starter in the first half, which lead to a midseason promotion to Class AA Mississippi. Despite the advanced level, Povse actually ended up lowering his ERA, walks, and hits despite striking out 3 fewer batters per 9 IP.

Even in a system full of tall pitchers, Povse stands out at 6’-8”, 185 pounds. Povse uses his size to keep his wind-up to a minimum, bringing his height to bear to shorten the time of the ball in the air. Povse has made strides (pun intended) this season to keep his delivery and landing spot consistent; when he gets out of line, his loses command in the zone, which can lead to hard hits. He has three pitches, with a heavy fastball that runs in the low ‘90s and a tight curve that he can spot anywhere in the zone. The change-up is still a work in progress, and when he doesn’t have a feel for it, it can be very hittable. This makes him somewhat more susceptible to left-handed batters.

Povse will likely start the 2017 season back in AA Mississippi, but he’s knocking on the door. If he can’t get the change-up working consistently, his other pitches will be good enough to be a major league reliever. If he can make further refinements, he should be a solid workhorse in a rotation.

That K/9 is an alarmingly bad number.

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20 minutes ago, Falconsfan567 said:

That K/9 is an alarmingly bad number.

The report does paint him as a two pitch pitcher at this point so it appears he doesn't have a true out pitch. If he can get that changeup going it should bump back up.

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7 hours ago, Ransack said:

The report does paint him as a two pitch pitcher at this point so it appears he doesn't have a true out pitch. If he can get that changeup going it should bump back up.

Even with the third pitch, I don't think he'll be a big strikeout guy. He compensates by not walking anyone, and he's got a good groundball rate. If his change-up comes around, he'll be a starter. If not, he'll probably be a bullpen guy. 

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1 hour ago, K26dp said:

Even with the third pitch, I don't think he'll be a big strikeout guy. He compensates by not walking anyone, and he's got a good groundball rate. If his change-up comes around, he'll be a starter. If not, he'll probably be a bullpen guy. 

He'll need to add a 4th pitch to stick as a starter. Adding a sinker would help him a lot if he's already a big groundball guy. Do you know what kind of arm slot he throws from? If he's a 3/4 quarter guy it would really benefit him.

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Kyle Muller, LHP
Age: 19
Rank: 21
2016 Level: Gulf Coast League

0.65 ERA
1.88 FIP
10 G, 9 GS, 27.2 IP
3.90 BB/9, 12.36 K/9

Muller was a 2nd-round pick for Atlanta in the 2016 draft out of Dallas Jesuit Prep, another over-slot signing to grab a consensus top-25 talent. Muller pitched to a 0.46 ERA his senior year at high school, striking out 133 batters in 76 innings, including a national high school record 24 consecutive batters over a two-game stretch. His professional debut was similarly successful, and he was named the #11 prospect in the Gulf Coast League by Baseball America.

Muller’s fastball is a heavy sinker that runs 89-91, but can reach 94. Muller is 6’-6”, 225 pounds, and his fastball has gained velocity as his body has filled out. He has a curveball and change-up in various stages of development. The curveball is a little farther ahead, showing good snap. His change-up is underdeveloped, and will be the major focus of Braves attention. Another focus may be his mechanics, as Muller tends to throw across his body, though he repeats the motion well.

Muller will likely start next season in extended spring training, followed by an assignment to Danville. However, there’s some chance he may go straight to Rome if he continues his quick progression.

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Joey Wentz, LHP
Age: 19
Rank: 20
2016 Level: Rk Danville

3.68 ERA
3.14 FIP
12 G, 12 GS, 44 IP
5.11 BB/9, 10.84 K/9
(stats for two rookie league levels)

Wentz was a 1st-round pick by Atlanta in the 2016 draft (40th pick overall) out of Shawnee Mission East HS in Prairie Village, KS. Considered a Top 25 talent by draft pundits, Wentz fell due to signability concerns, but the Braves were able to lure him away from his commitment to the University of Virginia with a $3.05 million signing bonus, nearly double the slot allowance. Wentz did not allow a run, struck out 104, and only allowed 19 baserunners in the 51.1 innings of his senior year of high school, leading his team to the Kansas class 6A championship. 

Wentz kept that scoreless streak going in the first stop of his professional journey, allowing no runs and 3 hits in 12 Gulf Coast League innings while striking out 18. The Braves pushed him to Danville to challenge him and he finally ran into some adversity, allowing 6 runs in his first Appalachian League start. Wentz settled in after that and pitched well down the stretch, twice having scoreless outings. Wentz was named the #10 prospect in the Appalachian League by Baseball America after the season.

Wentz is 6’-5”, 210 pounds and athletic, a two-way star in high school that could have been taken in the draft as a position player. Wentz has a short but repeatable delivery that he manages to get good extension with. Wentz has three quality pitches that already rate as average to above average. His fastball sits in the low-90s with good location and movement. He has a quality 12-6 curveball and a very good change-up, both of which are swing-and-miss pitches. Wentz will likely start 2017 in the Rome rotation.
 

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Rob Whalen, RHP
Age: 23
Rank: 19
2016 Level: MLB Atlanta

2.40 ERA
3.09 FIP
21 G, 21 GS, 120 IP
3.30 BB/9, 8.40 K/9
(stats from AA and AAA only)

Whalen was a 12th-round pick for the Mets in 2012 out of Haines City HS in Florida, and was traded to the Braves along with RHP John Gant in 2015 for 3B Juan Uribe and IF Kelly Johnson. Whalen started 3 games for the Carolina Mudcats before knee problems knocked him out of the rest of the 2015 season. Whalen ended up having surgery on both knees in the offseason, but had a strong spring and was aggressively assigned to class AA Mississippi. After knocking off the rust in April, Whalen was a machine from May through July, pitching to a 2.10 ERA in 14 starts before getting a promotion to class AAA Gwinnett. After three quality starts in Gwinnett, the Braves promoted him to Atlanta in the midst of mid-season rotation turmoil brought on by injuries and ineffectiveness. At the time of his promotion, Whalen had nearly set a career high in innings pitched, and was admittedly gassed when he got to the big leagues. In 5 starts with Atlanta he pitched to a 7.30 ERA. After allowing only 4 HR in the minors all season, he allowed 4 with Atlanta. While getting high marks for gutting out some tough starts, Whalen was put on the disabled list late in the season with shoulder fatigue.

Whalen is listed as 6’-2”, 200 pounds and shows athleticism on the mound. He has four advanced pitches: an 89-90 mph sinker that is his bread-and-butter pitch, a four-seam fastball that sits 91-94 with some sink to it, a decent tight slider that has swing-and-miss potential, and an above-average change-up that showed great improvement in 2016 and can be devastating against lefties . The knock on Whalen coming into the season was that his control could become erratic, but he’s done good work making his landing more consistent. While is walk rate remained a little higher than anyone would like, Whalen was able to get his stuff to play more in the zone and that ticked his strikeout rate up.

Despite the unsightly Atlanta ERA, Whalen left a good impression with the Braves and will enter 2017 with a shot to make the starting rotation. He will be competing with a lot of arms that the Braves have invested a lot of time and energy getting to the majors, and Whalen will more likely start the season in AAA Gwinnett. He has the mental toughness and stuff however to be a mid-rotation stalwart, and an off-season of normal training rather than rehab should help get over the stamina hump he hit in 2016.

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Lucas Sims, RHP
Age: 22
Rank: 18
2016 Level: AA Mississippi

4.38 ERA
4.54 FIP
28 G, 27 GS, 146 IP
5.79 BB/9, 10.17 SO/9

Sims was the Braves 1st-round pick in 2012 out of Brookwood HS in Snellville, GA. Sims has had a steady rise through the Braves organization since being drafted, with the notable speed bump of the Carolina Mudcats team bus accident in May of 2015. Sims suffered a hip contusion in the accident that kept him out of action for six weeks, but returned to Carolina in July to make three starts before getting promoted to class AA Mississippi. A solid campaign in Mississippi (including an 0.88 ERA and 33 Ks in 30.2 innings his last 5 starts), followed by a strong Arizona Fall League campaign, had many hoping that Sims was on the verge of a breakthrough in 2016.

Sims picked up in 2016 right where he left off, pitching in 3 starts for Mississippi in April to a 1.84 ERA and 26 strikeouts in 14.2 IP. He was promoted to class AAA Gwinnett, but after two good starts the wheels came off. In his 14 starts with Gwinnett, Sims had a 7.56 ERA with 37 walks in 50 IP. Sims was demoted back to AA Mississippi to work again with pitching coach Dennis Llewelyn. Sims reverted mostly back to his prior good performance, though his walk rate still remained uncomfortably high. Sims was named the #18 best prospect in the Southern League by Baseball America after the season.

Sims is a large-bodied pitcher at 6’-2”, 220 pounds. When he’s on his game, he uses that frame to generate velocity and movement on with his fastball, which is generally rated as one of the best in the organization. It sits in the 93-95 range and can touch 97. Sims also has a curveball that can be devastating at times. Sims’s third pitch is a change-up that the Braves have tried to develop with Sims since he started with the organization, but it’s still decidedly his weakest offering, though when it’s working Sims can wrack up serious strikeout numbers. Sims’s most pressing developmental need however is control; he historically has had a difficult time repeating his mechanics. In his ill-fated Gwinnett promotion, he has indicated that Marty Reed’s promotion to Atlanta to be Brian Snitker’s bullpen coach, and the promotion of a coach that he hadn’t worked with before, caused him not to be able to fix mechanical issues that had cropped up. While that may be true, and he did pitch better shortly after his return to AA Mississippi, his pitch counts and walks continued to be higher in the second half than in his prior stint with Mississippi.

This will be a big year for Sims. He has some of the best pure stuff of anyone in the minors. If he can refine his control and get this change-up to be a reliable third pitch, he can be an upper-half of the rotation guy. If not, he’s probably going to end up as a relief pitcher. I can see it go either way at this point, which is why he’s "only" rated at #18 for me right now.
 

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Minter.jpg

A.J. Minter, LHP
Age: 23
Rank: 17
2016 Level: AA Mississippi

1.18 ERA
1.57 FIP
31 G, 0 GS, 38 IP
2.61 BB/9, 12.08 SO/9
(stats from A, A+, and AA levels)

Minter was a 2nd-round pick in the 2015 draft out of Texas A&M. Minter was considered a potential top 30 pick until his UCL snapped that February, requiring Tommy John surgery. The Braves have not been shy about acquiring high-upside talent with TJS in their background, and were reportedly “thrilled” that Minter dropped to them with the #75 pick in 2015. At Texas A&M, Minter had pitched exclusively out of the bullpen his sophomore season and as a starter his junior season (prior to his injury), but it looks like the Braves will use him exclusively as a reliever. They heavily monitored his usage in his pro season, but he was electric in three stops, only five earned runs all season, and four of those in one appearance. Minter got the save in the post-season clincher and pitched three scoreless appearances for Mississippi in their playoff run.

Quite frankly, Minter is the most exciting pure relief prospect the Braves have had since Craig Kimbrel was making his way (quickly) up the organizational ladder. Like Kimbrel, Minter has an electric fastball that sits in the mid-90s that touches 99 with tremendous movement. Also like Kimbrel, Minter has a slider with a tight spin than he can throw at different velocities and get swing-and-misses against both lefties and righties. He has a change-up as a third pitch that is a vestige of his starting days at Texas A&M, but will occasionally break out to give another look. Minter is listed as 6’-0”, 205 pounds and he uses his legs to explode out of a deliberate motion. Minter worked exclusively out of the stretch in 2016.

Minter will likely start 2017 in AAA Gwinnett, but if he performs well and there’s an opportunity, Minter could be in the Braves bullpen as soon as Opening Day.

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