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January 21, 2010

Future Shock

Braves Top 11 Prospects

by Kevin Goldstein

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top 11 prospects

Five-Star Prospects
1. Jason Heyward, OF
2. Julio Teheran, RHP
3. Arodys Vizcaino, RHP
Four-Star Prospects
4. Freddie Freeman, 1B
Three-Star Prospects
5. Randall Delgado, RHP
6. Christian Bethancourt, C
7. Mike Minor, LHP
8. Craig Kimbrel, RHP
9. Adam Milligan, OF
10. Robinson Lopez, RHP
Two-Star Prospects
11. Cody Johnson, OF

Four More:
12. J.J. Hoover, RHP: An over-slot 10th-round pick from 2008, Hoover showed excellent control and an impressive sinker/slider mix in his full-season debut.
13. Zeke Spruill, RHP: Spruill's a tall, angular righty who pounds the strike zone with a plus sinker, but his secondary offerings need work.
14. Tyler Stovall, LHP: The lefty showed two plus pitches in Appy League, but a messy delivery and no clue of the strike zone keep him down.
15. Mycal Jones, SS: Jones has impressive tools and upside, but he's quite raw for his age.

1. Jason Heyward, OF
DOB: 8/9/89
Height/Weight: 6-4/220
Bats/Throws: L/L
Drafted/Signed: 1st round, 2007, Henry County HS (GA)
2009 Stats: .296/.369/.519 at High-A (49 G); .352/.446/.611 at Double-A (47 G); .364 at Triple-A (3 G)
Last Year's Ranking: 1

Year in Review: Atlanta's top prospect flirted with .400 at Double-A as a teenager while establishing himself as the top position prospect in the game.
The Good: Heyward has the potential to be a "face of the franchise" talent. He's arguably the best pure hitter in the minors, combined with outstanding plate discipline and pitch recognition. He has the ability to contend for batting and on-base titles, all in a massive athletic package that's loaded with tools. His raw power is plus, his speed is average to a tick above, and he's a very good outfielder who can even play center in a pinch. His arm is a true plus-plus weapon.
The Bad: When asked what aspects of Heyward's game need improvement, one scout simply replied, "Nothing." The only real concern about Heyward is his health, as Heyward has played just 226 games over the past two years due to a variety of minor maladies.
Ephemera: Heyward's plate discipline may have actually dropped him in the draft, as he walked so much against lesser high school competition than many scouts complained about never getting to see him swing the bat, making him difficult to evaluate.
Perfect World Projection: He's a game-changing superstar.
Path to the Big Leagues: The Braves have a slot waiting for him in their outfield.
Timetable: Heyward spent significantly more time in big-league camp last year just because manager Bobby Cox liked watching him play so much. He'll be gunning for a big-league job this spring, with a 50/50 chance of breaking camp with the Braves and a nearly guaranteed major-league role by the All-Star break.

2. Julio Teheran, RHP
DOB: 1/27/91
Height/Weight: 6-2/150
Bats/Throws: R/R
Drafted/Signed: Colombia, 2007
2009 Stats: 2.68 ERA (43.2-36-7-39) at Rookie-level (7 G); 4.78 ERA (37.2-42-11-28) at Low-A (7 G)
Last Year's Ranking: 6

Year in Review: The top Latin American pitcher in the class of 2007 shined in the Appy League and delivered seven no-hit innings in one of his final starts of the year for Low-A Rome.
The Good: Few pitching prospects in the game offer as much projection as Teheran. Long, loose, and skinny, Teheran already throws 92-95 mph while touching 97, and he's just starting to grow into his body. His clean, effortless delivery allows him to fill up the strike zone with ease, and the pitch features considerable natural sink. His changeup is highly advanced for his age, and he'll flash a solid curveball. He's good, and he knows it, as he pitches with a chip on his shoulder.
The Bad: Teheran really just needs innings. His breaking ball is still a work in progress, as he'll overthrow it at times, flattening it out, and then make up for it by under-throwing and hanging the pitch. He needs to get more comfortable with throwing effectively out of the strike zone and setting up hitters.
Ephemera: No player born in Columbia has ever served as a starting pitcher in a major-league game.
Perfect World Projection: Teheran's a front-end starter.
Path to the Big Leagues: Teheran needs plenty of refinement, but he's also one of those prospects where things could just click and he could move quickly.
Timetable: Teheran will begin 2010 by leading one of the minor-league's most impressive rotations at Class-A Rome.

3. Arodys Vizcaino, RHP
DOB: 11/13/90
Height/Weight: 6-0/189
Bats/Throws: R/R
Drafted/Signed: Dominican Republic, 2007 (Yankees)
2009 Stats: 2.13 ERA (42.1-34-15-52) at Short-season (10 G)
Last Year's Ranking: 5 (Yankees)

Year in Review: The high-ceiling Dominican dominated the much older hitters of the New York-Penn League, and then was the key part (because it wasn't Melky Cabrera) in the Javier Vazquez deal.
The Good: Vizcaino's combination of stuff and refinement is rarely found in a teenager. His clean arm action leads to effortless 92-94 mph fastballs that get up to 97 when he reaches back for a bit more, while his smooth mechanics allow him to harness his pitches and pound the strike zone. His power curveball already grades out as big-league average with the projection of becoming a true wipeout offering.
The Bad: Vizcaino is a touch undersized, which limits his projection, although his leg drive helps convince most that he can remain a starter. He telegraphs his changeup, but it's a flaw often found in young power arms. More than anything, he just needs experience.
Ephemera: Playing for Staten Island, 18 of Vizcaino's 52 strikeouts came in the second inning, where he faced just 37 hitters.
Perfect World Projection: Vizcaino's ceiling tops that of any other pitcher in the system, other than Teheran. It will take time, but the skills are there for him to become an All-Star starter.
Path to the Big Leagues:The Braves are loaded with impressive young arms, so Vizcaino does have a bit of competition.
Timetable: Vizcaino will join Teheran in the Low-A Rome rotation to begin 2010.

4. Freddie Freeman, 1B
DOB: 9/12/89
Height/Weight: 6-5/220
Bats/Throws: L/R
Drafted/Signed: 2nd round, 2007, El Modena HS (CA)
2009 Stats: .302/.394/.447 at High-A (70 G); .248/.308/.342 at Double-A (41 G)
Last Year's Ranking: 5

Year in Review: Like Heyward, Freeman reached Double-A as a teenager, but he didn't have the same success. He also dealt with a hand contusion.
The Good: Freeman is a pure hitter with excellent bat speed and instincts. He consistently drives balls into both gaps and has as much plate coverage as anyone in the system, with many scouts projecting him as a consistent .300-hitter in the big leagues. He's also a plus-plus defender at first base with good lateral movement and great hands.
The Bad: While the hand certainly played a role in 2009's power outage, there is still debate over Freeman's home-run potential, as his line-drive swing offers little in terms of loft or backspin. He's an aggressive hitter who rarely works the count.
Ephemera: Often referred to as "ElMo" by locals, Freeman is one of four players drafted out of El Modena High, which also produced NASCAR driver Robby Gordon and "Heroes" star Milo Ventimiglia.
Perfect World Projection: He'll be a good everyday first baseman, but with secondary skills below average for the position. He's not an impact player.
Path to the Big Leagues: Troy Glaus is obviously not the long-term solution at first base.
Timetable: Freeman will return to Double-A in 2010 and, at 20, he'll still be among the youngest players in the league.

5. Randall Delgado, RHP
DOB: 2/9/90
Height/Weight: 6-3/165
Bats/Throws: R/R
Drafted/Signed: Panama, 2006
2009 Stats: 4.35 ERA (124.0-123-49-141) at Low-A (25 G)
Last Year's Ranking: 9

Year in Review: This Panamanian teenager made improvements throughout the year, compiling a 65-to-9 strikeout-to-walk ratio over 55 innings in his last ten starts.
The Good: Delgado's ceiling ranks just a bit below that of Teheran and Vizcaino. His 92-94 mph fastball features heavy sink and generates as many missed bats as it does ground balls. He can dial up a four-seamer to 95 to blow by hitters, and he made good progress with both his curve and changeup during the year. He's still growing into his long, skinny frame and could project for more.
The Bad: Delgado's secondary pitches still need refinement, as they need to gain more consistency. He also needs to become less reliant on his fastball. His control was excellent in the second half of last year, but his command still needs work, as he can become a bit predictable with pitch type and location.
Ephemera: Delgado's best start came on August 7, when he tossed seven no-hit innings against Savannah, striking out nine. Two weeks later, against essentially the same lineup, he had his worst start of the season, giving up seven hits and seven runs without getting out of the third.
Perfect World Projection: Delgado projects as a good third starter, and maybe even a bit more.
Path to the Big Leagues: Delgado is one step ahead of the other young stud arms in the system, but that could change in the next couple of years.
Timetable: Delgado will move up one level to High-A Myrtle Beach, a pitcher-friendly park where he could have a breakout year.

6. Christian Bethancourt, C
DOB: 9/2/91
Height/Weight: 6-2/175
Bats/Throws: R/R
Drafted/Signed: Panama, 2008
2009 Stats: .284/.344/.431 at Rookie-level (Golden Coast League) (32 G); .260/.339/.480 at Rookie-level (Appalachian League) (14 G); .277/.339/.446 at Rookie-level (Total) (46 G)
Last Year's Ranking: Not Ranked

Year in Review: A catcher who signed for $600,000 in 2008, Bethancourt had scouts raving in his pro debut.
The Good: Bethancourt has true all-star potential. He has a quiet swing that should produce high averages with above-average power potential for the position. He's a very good athlete for a catcher, a fringe-average runner, and he has Gold Glove possibilities defensively, as he has plus receiving skills and an arm that rates as a 70 on the 20-to-80 scouting scale.
The Bad: Bethancourt just needs playing time and experience. He needs to hone his aggressive approach at the plate, as he is prone to swinging at bad pitches. His English still needs to improve.
Ephemera: Bethancourt was born on the day that the United States recognized the independence of former Soviet republics Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania.
Perfect World Projection: He could be a stud catcher.
Path to the Big Leagues: Obviously, the Braves have Brian McCann, but Bethancourt is too young and too far away for it to matter.
Timetable: The Braves believe than Bethancourt could rocket up this list, and the organization will back up their confidence by assigning the 18-year-old to a full-season league in 2010, beginning at Low-A Rome.

7. Mike Minor, LHP
DOB: 12/26/87
Height/Weight: 6-3/200
Bats/Throws: R/L
Drafted/Signed: 1st round, 2009, Vanderbilt
2009 Stats: 0.64 ERA (14.0-10-0-17) at Low-A (4 G)
Last Year's Ranking: Did not qualify

Year in Review: A surprisingly safe pick at seventh overall last June, Minor allowed just one run in his first four pro starts before getting roughed up a bit in the Arizona Fall League.
The Good: Other than Stephen Strasburg, no player in the 2009 draft was closer to the big leagues than Minor. With command and control that top the charts, he fills the strike zone with an average-velocity fastball than can get up to 92-93 at times. His best pitch is a plus changeup, with late heavy break, and he mixes in both a curve and a slider, both of which are solid. His pitchability is major-league quality, as he's a heady, intelligent pitcher who knows how to set up hitters and work efficiently.
The Bad: Minor just doesn't have the ceiling of most single-digit picks. Scouts don't really see a big-league out pitch in his arsenal, and even those that give him credit for the change think he'll have to pitch backwards to get there. Both of his breaking balls can be inconsistent.
Ephemera: Minor had a 0.08 ERA in his senior year at Forrest High in Tennessee, winning 13 games-12 by shutout-and striking out 188 batters over just 86 innings.
Perfect World Projection: Minor will likely be a fourth starter and innings eater.
Path to the Big Leagues: The Braves have a deep, mostly young rotation, but Minor shouldn't need much time in the minors.
Timetable: Minor is advanced enough to begin his first full season at Double-A. A September audition in Atlanta wouldn't shock anyone.

8. Craig Kimbrel, RHP
DOB: 5/28/88
Height/Weight: 5-11/205
Bats/Throws: R/R
Drafted/Signed: 3rd round, 2008, Wallace State CC (AL)
2009 Stats: 0.90 ERA (20.0-9-6-28) at Low-A (16 G); 5.47 ERA (26.1-18-28-45) at High-A (19 G); 0.77 ERA (11.2-3-7-17) at Double-A (12 G); 0.00 ERA (2.0-0-4-3) at Triple-A (2 G)
Last Year's Ranking: Just missed

Year in Review: With 15.4 strikeouts per nine and just 4.5 hits allowed, nobody in the minors misses bats like Kimbrel, but control issues remain a major concern.
The Good: Kimbrel's stuff is just plain filthy. His 94-96 mph fastball touches 99, and he generates incredible sink with the pitch, while his 78-83 mph hammer curve gives hitters fits. He has true closer makeup with a bit of a nasty streak, and he relishes pitching with the game on the line.
The Bad: Kimbrel is just plain wild. He walked 6.8 batters per nine last year, and then 16 more in 10.1 Arizona Fall League innings. There's a lot of effort in his delivery and an inconsistent release point, and scouts are mixed as to whether he can be fixed without taking a big hit on his stuff.
Ephemera: Rangers lefty Derek Holland became the first player drafted out of Wallace State to reach the big leagues in 2009.
Perfect World Projection: The stuff is pure closer-worthy.
Path to the Big Leagues: Without more strikes, the path is muddled.
Timetable: Kimbrell will begin 2010 at Triple-A Gwinnett. If he's throwing strikes, he's in the big leagues in short order. If not, he could spend all year in the minors.

9. Adam Milligan, OF
DOB: 3/14/88
Height/Weight: 6-3/210
Bats/Throws: L/R
Drafted/Signed: 6th round, 2008, Walters State CC (TN)
2009 Stats: .439/.500/.756 at Rookie-level (9 G); .345/.393/.589 at Low-A (52 G); .167/.200/.333 at High-A (6 G)
Last Year's Ranking: Not ranked

Year in Review: The big, athletic outfielder missed the first half of the season recovering from a knee injury, but then put on a show during the last ten weeks of the season.
The Good: Milligan's size and athleticism offers considerable upside. He's shown a surprising feel for hitting as a pro, using all fields and showcasing above-average power potential. He's an average runner and his arm in the outfield is solid. A former football player, he brings a gridiron mentality to the game with an all-out style.
The Bad: Milligan's overall game is raw. He's a bit of a free-swinger who needs to hone his approach, and both his outfielder routes and base-running instincts need improvement.
Ephemera: The Braves have clearly wanted Milligan for years, as they selected him three times, including in the 28th round of the 2006 draft out of Hardin County High School in Tennessee, and then the 27th round in 2007 after his first year at Walters State.
Perfect World Projection: Milligan could be a good everyday corner outfielder.
Path to the Big Leagues: The Atlanta outfielder depth chart is a crowded one.
Timetable: Milligan's brief showing was a pleasant surprise for the Braves, and he'll try to prove it was for real in 2010 at High-A Myrtle Beach.

10. Robinson Lopez, RHP
DOB: 3/2/91
Height/Weight: 6-2/190
Bats/Throws: R/R
Drafted/Signed: Dominican Republic, 2008
2009 Stats: 1.29 ERA (48.2-41-12-42) at Rookie-level (11 G)
Last Year's Ranking: Not ranked

Year in Review: Yet another talented Latin arm, Lopez signed for just $110,000 in late 2008, but he looked to be worth far more than that in his pro debut.
The Good: Lopez has a plus arm right now, sitting at 92-94 mph while touching 96 with a smooth, effortless, easily repeatable delivery that provides advanced command and control, especially for such a young and inexperienced arm. Both his curve and changeup show potential.
The Bad: Lopez's fastball is his only plus pitch for now, as both his breaking ball and changeup need the refinement that only comes through repetition. He can overthrow at times and lose his location.
Ephemera: Despite walking just 2.2 per nine in his pro debut, Lopez uncorked a wild pitch in six of 11 outings.
Perfect World Projection: He has a power arm, but his role has yet to be determined.
Path to the Big Leagues: He's a teenager with less the 50 innings of experience, and he's behind the plethora of young talented arms in the system.
Timetable: Atlanta will use the spring to evaluate Lopez further, but there's a solid chance that he'll join Teheran and Vizcaino in Low-A Rome's outstanding rotation.

11. Cody Johnson, OF
DOB: 8/18/88
Height/Weight: 6-4/195
Bats/Throws: L/R
Drafted/Signed: 1st round, 2006, A. Crawford Mosley HS (FL)
2009 Stats: .242/.345/.517 at High-A (112 G); .182/.280/.182 at Double-A (6 G)
Last Year's Ranking: Not ranked

Year in Review: Masher was one of the first players ever not slowed down by Myrtle Beach, as he led the Carolina League with 32 home runs.
The Good: No player in the minors can match Johnson's raw power. When he gets his arms extended, he's capable of majestic, jaw-dropping blasts, with several of his 2009 home runs estimated at travelling 500+ feet. He works the count well, waiting for pitches he can drive, and he's athletic for a slugger, with at least average speed.
The Bad: Johnson doesn't have holes in his swing, he has canyons. In just 1269 career at-bats, he's struck out 478 times. Some feel his only chance for big-league success is to develop extreme plate discipline and turn into an Adam Dunn-type, but to learn that kind of strike zone recognition is a tall order. He's a sloppy left fielder, and his arm is poor.
Ephemera: Johnson never went more than two consecutive starts without a strikeout in 2009.
Perfect World Projection: Johnson will be a low-average hitter with a decent number of walks and 40+ home runs annually.
Path to the Big Leagues: If he doesn't make more contact, his path has the potential to stall out at the upper levels.
Timetable: Double-A will be a big test as to Johnson's ability to reach the big leagues, and he'll start there in 2010.

The Sleeper: A minuscule righty at just 5-foot-9, Benino Pruneda has struck out 11.6 per nine in his career thanks to a low-to-mid 90s fastball and plus curve.

Top 10 Talents 25 And Under (Born 4/1/84 or later)

1. Jason Heyward, OF
2. Tommy Hanson, RHP
3. Jair Jurrjens, RHP
4. Julio Teheran, RHP
5. Arodys Vizcaino, RHP
6. Kris Medlen, RHP
7. Jordan Schafer, CF
8. Melky Cabrera, OF
9. Freddie Freeman, 1B
10. Randall Delgado, RHP

Hanson was outstanding as a rookie; he will be even better this year and should be a perennial All-Star candidate. So, by ranking ahead of him, yes, Jason Heyward is that special. Jurrjens has probably already peaked at 23, but that peak is very good, and he should remain around it for some time. People easily forget that Medlen was actually outpitching Hanson at Triple-A early in 2009. He's a bullpen piece going into the year, but also the team's sixth starter who will take over a rotation slot when the need arrives. Don't be surprised if he pitches well enough in that role to create some tough decisions for Atlanta. Schafer was rushed to the big leagues last year, but the Braves have not given up on him, envisioning an outfield of the future with Schafer in center, flanked by Heyward and Nate McLouth... which leaves Cabrera as a nice fourth outfielder, or a trade chip for a team looking for a second-division starter.

Summary: With the best position prospect in the game and an impressive cadre of young arms, the Braves system remains an above-average one, but it's not without its faults, including precious little in terms of up-the-middle prospects.


Next up: 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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