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February 8, 2011

Future Shock

Atlanta Braves Top 11 Prospects

by Kevin Goldstein

Previous Rankings: 2010 | 2009 | 2008

System In 20 Words Or Less: Six prospects in the Top 101 means that this is automatically one heck of a collection of talent.

Five-Star Prospects
1. Julio Teheran, RHP
2. Freddie Freeman, 1B

3. Mike Minor, LHP
Four-Star Prospects
4. Arodys Vizcaino, RHP
5. Craig Kimbrel, RHP
6. Randall Delgado, RHP
Three-Star Prospects
7. Matt Lipka, SS
8. Carlos Perez, LHP
9. Edward Salcedo, SS
10. Brandon Beachy, RHP
Two-Star Prospects
11. J.J. Hoover, RHP

Nine More:
12. Brett Oberholtzer, LHP: A physical left-hander, and one who pounds the strike zone with a plus fastball as well as two average secondary pitches.
13. Christian Bethancourt, C: His full-season debut disappointed on a statistical level, but the tools remain impressive, and scouts are still optimistic.
14. Mycal Jones, INF: A fantastic athlete who is still translating his very obvious tools into skills, but age is not on his side.
15. Tyler Pastornicky, SS: The former Blue Jay can play short, draws walks, and steals bases, but how much will he hit?
16. Andrelton Simmons, SS: A potential plus-plus defender at short, but many scouts preferred him on the mound because of their concerns about his bat.
17. Stephen Marek, RHP: He's all that's left from the Teixeira deal, but could arrive in the big-league bullpen as early as this year.
18. Todd Cunningham, OF: A polished college player with decent tools, of which his power is the most impressive.
19. Benino Pruneda, RHP: A tiny right-hander who misses bats with impressive heat, but he'll need to prove himself at every level.
20. Adam Milligan, OF: A big corner outfielder who can just flat-out hit, the problem is that he can't stay healthy.

1. Julio Teheran, RHP
DOB
: 1/27/91
Height/Weight: 6-2/150
Bats/Throws: R/R
Drafted/Signed: 2007, Colombia
2010 Stats: 1.14 ERA (39.1-23-10-45) at Low-A (7 G); 2.98 ERA (63.1-56-13-76) at High-A (10 G); 3.38 ERA (40.0-29-17-38) at Double-A (7 G)
Best/Worst Tool: Fastball/command

Year in Review: The Braves finally took the training wheels off of his high-ceiling arm, and Teheran responded by moving across three levels to establish himself as the best pitching prospect in the game.
The Good: Teheran has everything it takes to be a elite starting pitcher. His fastball sits at 93-95 mph while touching 98, and he already has a changeup that rates as plus with plenty of depth and fade. His curveball is a tick above-average, and all of his offerings play up due to his ability to throw all of them for strikes at any point in the count, with an ultra-smooth delivery no less.
The Bad: Nearly any ding against Teheran borders on mere nit-picking. But there has to be something, so how about this: when he gets tired late in starts he has a tendency to overthrow and lose his command, providing too many hittable strikes to opponents.
Ephemera: Only two players born in Colombia have pitched in the big leagues; with just two more wins, Padres reliever Ernesto Frieri will become the all-time leader with three.
Perfect World Projection: Few prospects have true ace-level, front-of-the-rotation starter potential, but Teheran is one of them.
Fantasy Impact: He could be among the first pitchers selected annually.
Path to the Big Leagues: Teheran will likely begin the year back at Double-A, but there's a possibility he could be pushed to Triple-A Gwinnett with a strong spring in order to get further acclimated to the Atlanta area. A 2011 big-league debut is not out of the realm of possibility.
ETA: 2012

2. Freddie Freeman, 1B
DOB
: 9/12/89
Height/Weight: 6-5/225
Bats/Throws: L/R
Drafted/Signed: Second round, 2007, El Modena HS (CA)
2010 Stats: .319/.378/.521 at Triple-A (124 G); .167/.167/.333 at MLB (20 G)
Best/Worst Tool: Bat/run

Year in Review: The top position player in the system had huge second-half at Triple-A, thereby lining himself up for the big-league job.
The Good: Some scouts believe that Freeman is a better pure hitter than Jason Heyward was at the same point in their careers. Freeman's swing is nearly picture-perfect, he has outstanding hand-eye coordination, and he already shows the ability to drive balls to all fields with average power. He's a well above-average defender at first base, as does a good job picking balls out of the dirt.
The Bad: Freeman's ability to hit encourages him to take an aggressive approach, as he's a bad-ball hitter who doesn't draw as many walks as he should. He certainly has power, but it's a touch below average for the position. While hardly slow, he is a below-average runner.
Ephemera: Freeman hit just .220 when leading off an inning for Triple-A Gwinnett in 2010, but mashed to the tune of .342 in all of his other at-bats.
Perfect World Projection: He becomes an above-average everyday first baseman, which is saying quite a bit considering the offensive expectations that get heaped on any prospect at the position.
Fantasy Impact: Plenty of batting average and 20-25 home runs annually.
Path to the Big Leagues: Freeman has been handed the 2011 first-base job, with no competition signed to compete with him this spring. He's an excellent Rookie of the Year candidate.
ETA: 2011

3. Mike Minor, LHP
DOB
: 12/26/87
Height/Weight: 6-3/210
Bats/Throws: R/L
Drafted/Signed: First round, 2009, Vanderbilt University
2010 Stats: 4.03 ERA (87.0-74-34-109) at Double-A (15 G); 1.89 ERA (33.1-19-12-37) at Triple-A (6 G); 5.98 ERA (40.2-53-11-43) at MLB (9 G)
Best/Worst Tool: Control/breaking ball

Year in Review: The team's previous-season first-round pick found more velocity, reached the big leagues in his first full-year campaign as a pro, and saw his prospect status gain significantly.
The Good: Minor attacks the strike zone with three average- to plus-grade pitches. After showing borderline-average velocity in college, as a pro he was sitting at 90-94 mph with his fastball, which made his outstanding changeup even more effective. He refined his breaking ball into more of a true hook, and it's a pitch that flashes above-average when he gets good snap on it.
The Bad: Despite his improvements, Minor still isn't exactly sexy, with two pitches that grade in the 50-55 range and a third at 60 on the 20-to-80 scouting scale. He ran out of gas towards the end of the season, and needs to prove that he can handle a 200-inning workload.
Ephemera: Despite its being one of the better college programs in the country, Vanderbilt has produced just six drafted pitchers who have reached the big leagues.
Perfect World Projection: A good third starter in a big-league rotation, but one short of star status.
Fantasy Impact: His ceiling is above average for a starter, but it is not world-changing.
Path to the Big Leagues: Minor will compete for the final slot in the Braves' rotation, and is the favorite to win the job to thus become the only lefty in the rotation.
ETA: 2011

4. Arodys Vizcaino, RHP
DOB
: 11/13/90
Height/Weight: 6-0/189
Bats/Throws: R/R
Drafted/Signed: 2007, Dominican Republic
2010 Stats: 2.39 ERA (71.2-63-9-68) at Low-A (14 G); 4.61 ERA (13.2-16-3-11) at High-A (3 G)
Best/Worst Tool: Fastball/changeup

Year in Review: The high-ceiling arm acquired in the Javier Vazquez deal was having an explosive first season with Atlanta, but that was before he was shut down with elbow problems.
The Good: Few prospects as young as Vizcaino can match his combination of velocity and command. His fastball sits in the low to mid-90s range, and touches 97 mph, and he seemingly never misses the strike zone with it, as evidenced by his last six six starts for Low-A Rome in which he didn't issue a walk over 38 1/3 innings. His curveball is a plus power breaker with deceptive late break that produces plenty of silly swings and misses.
The Bad: Vizcaino has improved his changeup, but it is still a below-average offering. He's a bit undersized, and he has yet to stay healthy for an entire year, leading to questions about his ability to make 30 or more starts per year.
Ephemera: Vizcaino faced 65 batters in 2010 with runners on and two outs, and responded by striking out 19 of them without issuing a single walk.
Perfect World Projection: He becomes an All-Star starter.
Fantasy Impact: It will be big, but he still needs to prove that he can handle the workload.
Path to the Big Leagues: Vizcaino was hitting 97 mph in post-season instructal sessions and is deemed to be healthy. He'll begin the year at Atlanta's new High-A Lynchburg affiliate, and could move up quickly if he can spend the year away from the trainer's room.
ETA: 2013

5. Craig Kimbrel, RHP
DOB
: 5/28/88
Height/Weight: 5-11/205
Bats/Throws: R/R
Drafted/Signed: Third round, 2008, Wallace State Community College (AL)
2010 Stats: 1.62 ERA (55.2-28-35-83) at Triple-A (48 G); 0.44 ERA (20.2-9-16-40) at MLB (21 G)
Best/Worst Tool: Fastball/control

Year in Review: A dominating reliever, Kimbrel started throwing strikes at the end of the season, becoming one of the hardest-to-hit relievers in the game.
The Good: Kimbrel has two plus-plus pitches that rate with those of any late-inning reliever around. His 95-98 mph fastball is as notable for its movement as its velocity, and his mid-80s slider has plenty of tilt and is a wipeout offering when he stays on top of it. He thrives under pressure, and soaked up advice from Billy Wagner during his big-league stints.
The Bad: Kimbrel would rank much higher on this list if his track record for consistently throwing strikes was made up of more than his six weeks at the end of last season. He doesn't make it look easy, and had a career minor-league rate of 5.7 walks per nine innings.
Ephemera: Big0league hitters facing Kimbrel with runners in scoring position went just 2-for-30 with 19 strikeouts against him.
Perfect World Projection: Kimbrel has all the tools to become an elite-level closer.
Fantasy Impact: You like saves, right?
Path to the Big Leagues: With Billy Wagner retired, the big-league closing job in Atlanta is Kimbrel's to lose.
ETA: 2011

6. Randall Delgado, RHP
DOB
: 2/9/90
Height/Weight: 6-3/165
Bats/Throws: R/R
Drafted/Signed: 2006, Panama
2010 Stats: 2.76 ERA (117.1-89-32-120) at High-A (20 G); 4.74 ERA (43.2-36-20-42) at Double-A (8 G)
Best/Worst Tool: Fastball/changeup

Year in Review: Often throwing in Teheran's shadow in the same rotation, this less-well-known Panamanian arm was nearly as impressive at both High- and Double-A.
The Good: Like many Braves pitches, Delgado has a unique combination of stuff and control, with the potential for three average to plus pitches and above-average command. He can touch the mid-90s with a fastball that parks at 92-94 mph, and his diving curveball is a true plus pitch that he can throw for strikes or bury in the dirt as a chase pitch. He has made progress with a changeup that projects as an average off-speed offering, and he has smooth, easy arm action.
The Bad: Delgado got out of whack mechanically at Double-A, which led to control problems and questions about his season-long stamina. He has a tendency to overthrow his changeup, causing it to straighten out.
Ephemera: Delgado was so good at keeping runners from even reaching base at High-A Myrtle Beach that he faced just two hitters with the bases loaded over 117 1/3 innings.
Perfect World Projection: He eases in as a third starter, with some shot at having second-fiddle ability in a big-league rotation.
Fantasy Impact: He'll be above-average in terms of ERA, WHIP, and Ks.
Path to the Big Leagues: After stumbling at times following a late-season promotion to Double-A in 2010, Delgado will return there to begin the year.
ETA: 2012

7. Matt Lipka, SS
DOB: 4/15/92
Height/Weight: 6-1/188
Bats/Throws: R/R
Drafted/Signed: Supplemental first round, 2010, McKinney HS (TX)
2010 Stats: .302/.357/.401 at Rookie Gulf Coast (48 G); .125/.176/.125 at Rookie Appalachian (4 G)
Best/Worst Tool: Run/glove

Year in Review: Atlanta's top pick in the 2010 draft made an impressive pro debut.
The Good: The Braves targeted Lipka in the draft from early on, and they were thrilled when he was still available by the time their pick rolled around, as he has first-round tools and explosive potential now that he's focused on baseball. He has good hands, plenty of bat speed, and should come into some power as he gains more experience. He's a 65-70 runner on the 20-to-80 scale, and his arm is a tick above-average. He's a tireless worker who impressed the Braves with the progress he made at instructional league.
The Bad: There are fair questions about where Lipka will ultimately end up defensively. He has all of the tools for shortstop, but his footwork, positions, and actions all need significant improvement for him to stick there. He's an impatient hitter who needs to do a better job with pitch recognition in order to avoid a steady diet of breaking balls.
Ephemera: Lipka was an All-State wide receiver at McKinney High, where he caught plenty of touchdown passes from Zach Lee, the Dodgers' top prospect.
Perfect World Projection: He stays at the position and turns into an above-average shortstop.
Fantasy Impact: He's easy to dream on as a shortstop, with the potential to provide plenty of stolen bases and double-digit home runs.
Path to the Big Leagues: Lipka will make his full-season debut at Low-A Rome.
ETA: 2014

8. Carlos Perez, LHP
DOB
: 11/20/91
Height/Weight: 6-2/195
Bats/Throws: L/L
Drafted/Signed: 2008, Dominican Republic
2010 Stats: 1.12 ERA (32.0-20-14-27) at Rookie (6 G); 3.86 ERA (7.0-8-3-4) at Low-A (2 G)
Best/Worst Tool: Fastball/changeup

Year in Review: This high-ceiling Dominican lefty blew scouts away during his second year as a pro.
The Good: Perez is the definition of a projectable pitcher, with a lean body, long levers, and a lightning-fast arm. His fastball sits at 88-94 mph, and scouts think the upper part of that range will become more commonplace as he advances. He gets big break on a power curveball, and is an aggressive, fearless competitor.
The Bad: Perez still needs to improve his changeup, which is no more than a show-me pitch right now. He doesn't miss the number of bats one would expect based on his stuff, and needs to improve the consistency of all of his pitches, as well as his command and control.
Ephemera: All of Perez's earned runs in the Appy League were surrendered in the first two innings of games, as he had a 0.00 ERA in 20 1/3 innings from the third inning on.
Perfect World Projection: His ultimate upside is right there with that of any pitching prospect in the system, other than Teheran.
Fantasy Impact: Can we get him in a full-season league first?
Path to the Big Leagues: Perez will anchor the Low-A Rome rotation, and he has the potential to move up this list several rungs a year from now.
ETA: 2014

9. Edward Salcedo, SS
DOB
: 7/30/91
Height/Weight: 6-3/195
Bats/Throws: R/R
Drafted/Signed: 2010, Dominican Republic
2010 Stats: .297/.453/.432 at Domican Summer League (23 G); .197/.239/.295 at Low-A (54 G)
Best/Worst Tool: Arm/run

Year in Review: An expensive signing out of Latin America, Salcedo initially drew raves in the Dominican Summer League, but a jump to Low-A stateside was too much for him to handle.
The Good: Salcedo is an already-impressive prospect on a scouting level. He has plenty of bat speed and at least average raw power, with the potential for even more down the road as his lanky frame fills out. He's a solid defender with a one of the better arms in the system.
The Bad: Salcedo could have problems sticking at shortstop, as he's a fringy runner whose range is below-average for an up-the-middle player, although his tools should work well at the hot corner. He swings at plenty of bad pitches and needs to hone his approach.
Ephemera: His 28 errors in 54 games brings new, unpleasant associations of what's meant by the phrase, "When in Rome..."
Perfect World Projection: Despite his statistical struggles in his US debut, Salcedo still has star potential.
Fantasy Impact: We are a long way from having to worry about it.
Path to the Big Leagues: Salcedo was overwhelmed by his first exposure to baseball in the United States after a whirlwind year that involved waiting for his contract to be approved. Braves officials feel that he could be poised for a breakout now that he can play without distractions. He'll begin 2011 by returning to Low-A Rome, where he will spend time at both shortstop and third base in deference to Lipka.
ETA: 2014

10. Brandon Beachy, RHP
DOB
: 9/3/86
Height/Weight: 6-3/215
Bats/Throws: R/R
Drafted/Signed: 2009, Undrafted free agent, Indiana Wesleyan University
2010 Stats: 1.47 ERA (73.2-53-22-100) at Double-A (27 G); 2.17 ERA (452.-40-6-48) at Triple-A (8 G); 3.00 ERA (15.0-9-3-15) at MLB (3 G)
Best/Worst Tool: Command/curveball

Year in Review: Unsigned out of college, where he was primarily a position player, Beachy started the year at Triple-A, but then more than held his own as an emergency starter in the bigs come September.
The Good: Beachy is a battler who pounds the strike zone with three average to slightly above-average offerings. His fastball sits at 89-92 mph, and he can touch 94 with it when he rears back for something extra. His average-to-plus changeup is his best secondary offering, and he gets solid spin on his curveball. He mixes his pitches well and uses all four quadrants of the strike zone. His makeup is special, as he went from the instructional league to the majors without missing a beat or showing any signs of nervousness at any point along the way.
The Bad: Beachy doesn't have that one go-to pitch needed to be an upper-echelon starter. He's an is-what-he-is talent who offers little in the way of projection.
Ephemera: Beachy walked three batters of the seven batters he faced in his first appearance of the 2010 season, but did not exceed two free passes in any one game for the remainder of the minor-league season.
Perfect World Projection: As easy as it is to like him, it's hard to see Beachy becoming more than a back-end rotation regular.
Fantasy Impact: Limited.
Path to the Big Leagues: Beachy will battle with Mike Minor for the fifth starter's slot this spring, but even if he loses out, he could move to the bullpen/swing role filled by Kris Medlen last year (before breaking down).
ETA: 2011

11. J.J. Hoover, RHP
DOB
: 8/13/87
Height/Weight: 6-3/215
Bats/Throws: R/R
Drafted/Signed: Tenth round, 2008, Calhoun Community College (AL)
2010 Stats: 3.26 ERA (132.2-126-35-118) at High-A (24 G); 3.48 ERA (20.2-15-15-34) at Double-A (4 G)
Best/Worst Tool: Fastball/command

Year in Review: A thickly-built right-hander, Hoover has consistently put up good numbers, and scouts are starting to come around in their evaluations of his ability.
The Good: Hoover's best pitch is a low-90s fastball that touches 94 and features plenty of natural movement. He mixes a wide arsenal of secondary pitches, notably a good curve, decent slider, and usable changeup. He works quickly and aggressively and tends to stay ahead of hitters. He has a big build and maintains his stuff deep into his games.
The Bad: Hoover throws a lot of strikes, but at times he's throwing too many of them, as he has a tendency to groove pitches down the middle, as opposed to working the corners. Like Beachy, he doesn't have a consistently plus offering to get outs when he really needs them.
Ephemera: Current Brave Kris Medlen is the only player selected with the 310th overall pick to earn a win in the big leagues.
Perfect World Projection: Hoover's ceiling is as a fourth starter.
Fantasy Impact: He'll be usable, but he will not be an early pick.
Path to the Big Leagues: Hoover was impressive after a late-season move to Double-A, and he'll return there in 2011 to contribute to one of the minors' most impressive rotations.
ETA: 2012

The Sleeper: Power right-hander Paul Clemens finally began to harness his power stuff in 2010, including a 92-94 mph fastball that touched 97.

Top 10 Talents 25 And Under (born 4/1/85 or later)

1. Jason Heyward, OF
2. Tommy Hanson, RHP
3. Julio Teheran, RHP
4. Freddie Freeman, 1B
5. Jair Jurrjens, RHP
6. Mike Minor, LHP
7. Arodys Vizcaino, RHP
8. Craig Kimbrel, RHP
9. Randall Delgado, RHP
10. Kris Medlen, RHP

Heyward hit .277/.393/.456 as a 20-year-old rookie, and has all the makings of a face-of-the-franchise, MVP-level talent. That said, he wasn't a total lock as a selection over Hanson, who will battle Teheran in upcoming years for the title of staff ace. I give Jurrjens a bit of a mulligan for an injury-plagued year; while he's already at his ceiling, his age-22 and -23 years in the big leagues were very impressive. Medlen is on pace for a July return from Tommy John surgery, and provides the flexibility of starting or serving as a potential set-up man.

Summary: The Braves are the rare team that has built a consistently good system without spending big money in the draft. Their international signings and trading acumen accumulated much of what you see above, but regardless of the source, this is easily one of baseball's more impressive collections of talent.

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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