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January 15, 2008

Future Shock

Braves Top 11 Prospects

by Kevin Goldstein

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Five-Star Prospects
1. Jordan Schafer, CF
2. Jason Heyward, RF
Four-Star Prospects
3. Brent Lillibridge, SS
4. Brandon Jones, LF
5. Gorkys Hernandez, CF
6. Jair Jurrjens, RHP
Three-Star Prospects
7. Julio Teheran, RHP
8. Tommy Hanson, RHP
9. Cole Rohrbaugh, LHP
10. Cody Johnson, OF
11. Jeff Locke, LHP

Just Missing: Joey Devine, RHP (now with Oakland); Steve Evarts, LHP; Kris Medlen, RHP

1. Jordan Schafer, CF
DOB: 9/4/86
Height/Weight: 6-1/190
Bats/Throws: L/L
Drafted: 3rd round, 2005, Winter Haven HS (FL)
2007 Stats: .372/.441/.636 at Low-A (30 G); .294/.354/.477 at High-A (106 G)

Year In Review: A top-flight athlete, Schafer had one of the biggest breakouts of 2007, converting all of his impressive tools into baseball skills.
The Good: Schafer's tools rate average to plus across the board. He has a quick bat and rapidly developing power, projecting to hit 20+ home runs annually in the majors while adding 20-30 stolen bases due to his above-average speed. Few players in the minors can match his defensive abilities, as his instincts, range, and arm in center field all rate as plus-plus.
The Bad: While hardly a hacker, Schafer does need to tighten his approach a bit, and he still at times lunges at pitches, leading to a high strikeout rate. He needs to improve his situational hitting, and know when to focus more on shortening his swing and making contact.
Fun Fact: While 12 players have been drafted out of Winter Haven High, none have made it to the big leagues.
Perfect World Projection: An All-Star caliber center fielder with Gold Glove possibilities defensively.
Timetable: The Braves made no big attempt to find a replacement for Andruw Jones because they assume Schafer will be ready for the big leagues in short order. He'll begin 2008 in Double-A, with the expectation that he'll be in the big leagues by next year.

2. Jason Heyward, RF
DOB: 8/9/89
Height/Weight: 6-4/220
Bats/Throws: L/L
Drafted: 1st round, 2007, Henry County HS (GA)
2007 Stats: .296/.355/.556 at Rookie-level GCL (8 G); .313/.353/.375 at Rookie-level Appy League (4 G)

Year In Review: The top pure-tools player in the draft gave scouts few looks in high school, as pitchers rarely threw him strikes, but the Braves were more than happy to take the top Georgia player once again.
The Good: Heyward is a massively strong right fielder who is already huge and getting bigger. He has the bat speed, hitting instincts, and plus-plus raw power to be a force in the middle of the order in the big leagues. He's a very good athlete for his size, and his best non-hitting tool is a well-above-average arm.
The Bad: There are questions as to just how much athleticism Heyward will maintain once his body is fully mature. He needs to trust his strength more, and realize that he doesn't need to pull a ball or over-swing at pitches in order to power them out of the yard. More than anything else, he simply needs playing time and repetition.
Fun Fact: Heyward's family has more of a hoops background, as his father played at Dartmouth and his uncle played for the legendary John Wooden at UCLA.
Perfect World Projection: A classic power-hitting corner outfielder.
Timetable: The Braves find it hard to temper their excitement over Heyward dropping to them in the middle of the first round. They'll challenge him with a full-season debut at Low-A Rome.

3. Brent Lillibridge, SS
DOB: 9/18/83
Height/Weight: 5-11/190
Bats/Throws: R/R
Drafted: 4th round, 2005, University of Washington
2007 Stats: .275/.355/.387 at Double-A (52 G); .287/.331/.436 at Triple-A (87 G)

Year In Review: A breakout player in 2006, Lillibridge got off to a rough start at Double-A, but came on strong in the second half following a move up to Richmond.
The Good: Lillibridge is a multi-faceted player who can help the team in many ways. He's a solid hitter with surprising pop for his size, already showing a knack for crushing mistakes. His plus speed works for him both on the basepaths and in the field, where he also has solid range and an above-average arm.
The Bad: Lillibridge's struggles caused him to change his approach and become a more aggressive hitter, which paid off with better batting averages and power, but far fewer walks than in the past. He does swing and miss a bit too much for some scouts, who question his ability to hit for a high average in the majors.
Fun Fact: In the 27 games for Richmond in which he hit second, Lillibridge hit .230/.273/.345. When anywhere else in the lineup, he hit .317/.356/.486.
Perfect World Projection: An above-average big-league shortstop capable of 15 home runs and 30 stolen bases annually.
Timetable: Yunel Escobar's second-half showing in the big leagues means that there's no open slot for Lillibridge at this time. While there was some talk of moving him to center field, a position he played well in college, that has been tempered, and Lillibridge will begin 2008 back at Triple-A.

4. Brandon Jones, LF
DOB: 12/10/83
Height/Weight: 6-1/210
Bats/Throws: L/R
Drafted: 24th round, 2003, Tallahassee CC (FL)
2007 Stats: .293/.368/.507 at Double-A (94 G); .300/.363/.453 at Triple-A (44 G); .158/.190/.211 at MLB (5 G)

Year In Review: A late bloomer who finally stayed healthy all year and began to blossom, Jones reached the big leagues by the end of the season.
The Good: Jones is an excellent athlete who does nearly everything well. He has a solid approach, good bat speed, average power, and above-average speed, projecting as a 20/20 player down the road. The team raves about his makeup; one example is that after his big league call-up, he requested to be sent back to Richmond for a few days to play with his teammates in the Triple-A World Series.
The Bad: While Jones has few weaknesses, he also lacks that one plus-plus skill to allow for star projection. Questionable outfield skills and a poor arm limit him to a corner.
Fun Fact: Only two position players drafted 727th overall have reached the majors, and both played for the 2007 Braves--Jones and Willie Harris.
Perfect World Projection: An average to slightly above-average corner outfielder, although Jones still has a somewhat higher ceiling than most of the type.
Timetable: Jones goes into spring training as the leading candidate to win the everyday left field job.

5. Gorkys Hernandez, CF
DOB: 9/7/87
Height/Weight: 6-0/175
Bats/Throws: R/R
Acquired: NDFA, 2005, Venezuela (Tigers)
2007 Stats: .293/.344/.391 at Low-A (124 G)

Year In Review: The top young Latin American player in the Tigers system won Midwest League MVP honors before coming over to the Braves in the Edgar Renteria deal.
The Good: Hernandez is an absolute burner who already knows how to leverage his speed into game-changing impact. In 174 minor league games he's already amassed 74 stolen bases at an 83 percent success rate, and he covers a ton of ground in center field to go with a plus arm. With the bat, he has excellent barrel control and an advanced feel for contact.
The Bad: Hernandez needs to add some secondary production to his game. He doesn't project to add power, so he'll need to develop a more patient approach to avoid being typecast as a player who simply can make contact and run like the wind.
Fun Fact: With runners in scoring position and two outs, Hernandez hit .190 (12-for-63) in 2007. With runners in scoring position and less than two outs, he hit .353 (18-for-51).
Perfect World Projection: A dynamic center fielder and leadoff man.
Timetable: Hernandez struggled over the winter against the more advanced players of the Venezuelan League, so there's still work to be done, and that work will begin at High-A Myrtle Beach.

6. Jair Jurrjens, RHP
DOB: 1/29/86
Height/Weight: 6-1/160
Bats/Throws: R/R
Acquired: NDFA, 2003, Curacao (Tigers)
2007 Stats: 3.20 ERA at Double-A (112.2-112-31-94); 4.70 ERA at MLB (30.2-24-11-13)

Year In Review: The young right-hander continued to succeed at Double-A and had moments of greatness in a brief big league debut, although he was highly inconsistent.
The Good: Jurrjens combines good stuff with good command. He's a ground-ball pitcher who works low in the strike zone with a low-90s fastball and late-breaking curve. His changeup rates as an average pitch, he throws strikes with his entire arsenal, and he mixes his pitches well.
The Bad: Like Jones, Jurrjens is seen more as a guy with few weaknesses as opposed to one with many strengths. Some question whether he has a truly dependable out pitch, as evidenced by his relatively low strikeout rates.
Fun Fact: During his big-league stint, Jurrjens did not allow a hit in the fourth or fifth innings, covering a span of eight frames.
Perfect World Projection: A solid mid-rotation starter.
Timetable: Lack of rotational depth killed the Braves in the second half of last year, but Jurrjens will nevertheless need to earn a job in spring training. He does go into camp as the leading candidate for the fifth starter's job.

7. Julio Teheran, RHP
DOB: 1/28/91
Height/Weight: 6-2/160
Bats/Throws: R/R
Acquired: NDFA, 2007, Colombia
2007 Stats: Did not pitch

Year In Review: One of the top international arms in 2007 inked with the Braves thanks to the hard work of scout Johnny Almaraz, who got the inside edge from Teheran's uncle, who is also a scout for the Braves.
The Good: Some Braves officials feel that Teheran's upside ranks with that of any pitcher in the minors. He has fluid mechanics and already pumps out mid-90s gas, with room for more once his body fills out. He already shows advanced feel for a curveball and has excellent arm action on his changeup.
The Bad: Like any 16-year-old, Teheran still has plenty of work to do. He needs to improve his control and get more consistent with his secondary offerings. The Braves hope he'll add some bulk to his skinny frame in order to guarantee greater durability.
Fun Fact: While Colombia has produced a pair of big-league starting shortstops, the country has produced few arms, as Emiliano Fruto is the only native son to pitch in the big leagues.
Perfect World Projection: The sky is the limit, but the sky is also very far away.
Timetable: The Braves will take it slow with Teheran, with nothing more expected from him in 2008 beyond his getting in some innings in the Gulf Coast League.

8. Tommy Hanson, RHP
DOB: 8/26/86
Height/Weight: 6-6/210
Bats/Throws: R/R
Drafted: 22nd round, 2005, Riverside CC (CA)
2007 Stats: 2.59 ERA at Low-A (73-51-26-90); 4.20 ERA at High-A (60-53-32-64)

Year In Review: The best of the Braves' many draft-and-follow pitchers, Hanson was lights-out at Low-A but struggled a bit following a promotion to Myrtle Beach.
The Good: Hanson has the size and stuff to easily project as a successful big-league starter. His fastball sits in the low 90s and touches 95, while his looping curveball can also serve as an out pitch at times. He'll flash a solid changeup now and again, and he maintains his velocity deep into games.
The Bad: Hanson needs to find greater consistency, as his secondary offerings and command can all but abandon him at times. He's a fly-ball pitcher who tends to work high in the zone, which can be a scary combination when all of his stuff isn't working.
Fun Fact: In Hanson's three starts that took place during the day, he allowed just four hits over 13 innings while striking out 21.
Perfect World Projection: A solid No. 3 starter with an outside shot of becoming a No. 2.
Timetable: Hanson still needs to make adjustments at High-A, but the goal is to get him to Double-A by the end of the season.

9. Cole Rohrbaugh, LHP
DOB: 5/23/87
Height/Weight: 6-3/205
Bats/Throws: L/L
Drafted: 22nd round, 2006, Western Nevada CC
2007 Stats: 1.08 ERA at Rookie-level (33.1-20-8-58); 1.29 ERA at Low-A (28-13-12-38)

Year In Review: The last of Atlanta's big draft-and-follows had an absolutely dominant pro debut, limiting hitters to a .154 batting average while striking out 96 in 61 1/3 innings.
The Good: Rohrbaugh is an intense, physical competitor who already has two plus pitches: a low-90s fastball that features plenty of movement, and an outstanding hard curve that rates as a true out pitch. He's smooth mechanically, throws both pitches for strikes, and is consistently ahead in the count.
The Bad: Few are surprised that Rohrbaugh, as a power southpaw with an outstanding breaking ball, has put up huge numbers at the lower levels. The feeling is he won't be able to maintain that level of success as he moves up, as his fastball is good but not overpowering, and his changeup lags behind his other offerings.
Fun Fact: During his brief debut, Rohrbaugh faced four batters with the bases loaded, and struck out each one.
Perfect World Projection: A solid mid-rotation starter.
Timetable: Rohrbaugh will likely begin 2008 back down at Low-A, but the Braves won't hesitate to move him up if he continues to dominate.

10. Cody Johnson, OF
DOB: 8/18/88
Height/Weight: 64/195
Bats/Throws: L/R
Drafted: 1st round, 2006, Crawford Mosley HS (FL)
2007 Stats: .305/.374/.630 at Rookie-level (63 G)

Year In Review: The first-round pick from the 2006 draft rebounded from miserable pro debut to lead the Appy League in home runs, slugging, and total bases.
The Good: Johnson's raw power is near the top of the scales, and he's capable of tape-measure shots when he fully squares up on a fastball. The Braves held him back in spring training in order to work on his pitch recognition and straighten out his swing, and he made great strides in both areas.
The Bad: Johnson remains an all-or-nothing type of hitter who has struck out 121 times in 357 pro at-bats. Athletically, he's a bit stiff and mechanical, and he's a poor defensive left fielder with a poor, inaccurate arm. He still has significant trouble against southpaws, against whom he hit just one home run in 53 at-bats.
Fun Fact: While primarily used as a left fielder for Danville, when used in a designated hitter or pinch-hitting role, Johnson went 20-for-45 with 10 home runs and a 1.200 slugging percentage.
Perfect World Projection: The next Adam Dunn?
Timetable: While Johnson has moved slowly for a first-rounder, the Braves are excited about the power he showed in the Appy League, and look forward to his full-season debut at Low-A.

11. Jeff Locke, LHP
DOB: 11/20/87
Height/Weight: 6-2/180
Bats/Throws: L/L
Drafted: 2nd round, 2006, Kennett HS (NH)
2007 Stats: 2.66 ERA at Rookie-level (61-48-8-74)

Year In Review: The second-round pick in 2006 wasn't deemed ready for full-season ball, but his strong Appy League campaign showed he may have been.
The Good: Locke spears the strike zone with a low-90s fastball that, as one scout put, "is almost impossible for him to throw straight." He also shows good break on his power curve and some feel for a changeup. The Braves have praised Locke's makeup, noting his fearless approach.
The Bad: Locke can be guilty of throwing too many strikes at times, and he needs to learn how to use his curveball as a chase pitch, as well. His mechanics have a number of parts to them, and need to be smoothed out.
Fun Fact: Locke is the only player drafted out of a New Hampshire high school in the last three years.
Perfect World Projection: It's too early to say. The low end would be No. 4 starter, the high end a No. 2.
Timetable: Locke will be in the rotation of what is lining up to be a very impressive team at Low-A Rome.

The Sleeper: Erik Cordier has yet to pitch in the Braves system because of Tommy John surgery, but Atlanta is excited about the right-hander it received from the Royals in return for shortstop Tony Pena Jr. Prior to the surgery, Cordier was a power right-hander with mid-90s heat and a developing curveball.

The Big Picture: Rankings Combined With Non-Rookies Under 25 (As Of Opening Day 2008)

1. Jeff Francoeur, RF
2. Brian McCann, C
3. Jordan Schafer, CF
4. Jason Heyward, RF
5. Brent Lillibridge, SS
6. Brandon Jones, LF
7. Gorkys Hernandez, CF
8. Jair Jurrjens, RHP
9. Julio Teheran, RHP
10. Jo-Jo Reyes, LHP

Joe Sheehan recently chose Francoeur as his breakout choice for 2008, and everything he said makes sense--it's a solid call. Brian McCann is one of the top young catchers in the game. Jo-Jo Reyes struggled in his big-league look last year, but he's better than that and should end up as a decent back-end starter when all is said and done.

While the Braves gave up a ton of talent to get a ton of talent in the Mark Teixeira deal, Atlanta's system is still strong thanks to some very good drafts by the amateur scouting department, and impressive prospect returns for Adam LaRoche and Edgar Renteria thanks to the pro scouting group. While the system is weak in positional prospects outside of the outfield, its collection of young arms is once again the envy of most teams.

Next: The Chicago Cubs.

Kevin Goldstein is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Kevin's other articles. You can contact Kevin by clicking here

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