The Top Ten
- SS Dansby Swanson
- CF Ronald Acuna
- SS Ozhaino Albies
- LHP Sean Newcomb
- RHP Mike Soroka
- LHP Kolby Allard
- RHP Ian Anderson
- SS Kevin Maitan
- RHP Touki Toussaint
- LHP Max Fried
The State of the System: The Braves system had a strong case as the best in baseball, and that was before Dansby Swanson retained his prospect eligibility by one at-bat. This organization is flooded with potential above-average arms up-and-down the system, and has a ready-to-contribute up-the-middle combo near the top. It’s almost an embarrassment of riches.
The Big Question: Shouldn’t you be introducing these lists?
Probably. Although they won’t look all that different from last year’s with the exception of a short essay in front. Like this one…
This is the first of 30 prospect lists that that the Baseball Prospectus prospect team will roll out over the next three months. All told, that will mean reports on 450ish baseball players. A lot of them will play in the majors in the coming years. The eighth-best prospect on one team’s list might have a better career than the fourth-best one. Heck, the eighth-best prospect might be the fourth-best prospect next year and might have been the third-best prospect last year. As one of my predecessors once opined, this is just a snapshot in time. And it’s one that exists primarily for you, the reader, to yell at me in a couple years on Peach about how I was too low on that eighth-best prospect in 2017. But introductions, right:
Hello, I’m Jeffrey Paternostro, senior prospect writer at Baseball Prospectus, and I hate prospect lists. Inconveniently, I am also in charge of 30 of them to be rolled out in the next three months. Literally the only things I have to do to discharge my professional duties is complete these lists, a national Top 101, 2017 org rankings, and a 2017 midseason list. I should have just asked the Monkey’s Paw for a turkey sandwich.
There’s a false precision implied when you throw an ordinal ranking on a player. And the whole process hews too closely to lines of thinking that lead to referring to minor leaguers as “assets” or “property of.” Maybe use “farmhands” (although agricultural workers can at least be assured of minimum wage). But this time of year our job is to make a call in bold print, so here you go.
The Braves are are a good place to start, as they have one of the deepest, best systems in baseball, one worthy of agog adulation (and if you prefer Myötähäpeä, don’t worry, the Marlins will be along shortly). They are also useful for illustrating another important point about prospect lists.
As imprecise as a simple ordinal rankings can be, they are a judgment on what we as evaluators value. They are not meant to be a comprehensive accounting of who might eventually play in the majors.
The earliest my name will pop up in the Baseball Prospectus archives is an appearance on Effectively Wild to talk about Jacob deGrom. As we chatted, Sam mentioned that Jacob deGrom had never appeared in a single BP Annual, even as a lineout. He never made a Mets Top 10 list on this site (or any of mine for the record). He’s now an all-star, an elite top-of-the-rotation starter. This was unusual, a 99th percentile outcome, but it wasn’t a surprise that he pitched in the majors at some point.
The circumstances of his debut aren’t all that unusual either. He was an older prospect who had some success in the upper minors, was capable of starting, though it was probable that he would be best-suited to the bullpen. The 2014 Mets were not a good baseball team, and had two starters hit the DL at the same time. deGrom was a logical choice for one of the spots.
The 2016 Braves were a significantly worse team than the 2014 Mets. If you will pardon a bit of tautology, a second-division team employs second-division starters. And the Braves were on the bottom rung of even that designation. Whether by design or misfortune, the 2016 Braves used many players you wouldn’t have found on recent prospect lists.
John Gant was on Atlanta’s Opening Day roster. He made 20 appearances, seven of which were starts. He essentially skipped Triple-A a season after being skipped over Advanced-A. I saw a fair amount of Gant in the minors, and I always liked him as a prospect. As it turns out, I wasn’t his number one fan or anything, but I thought he had a good shot to pitch in the majors in a role not unlike the one he found himself in 2016, an up-and-down swingman/spot starter type. Gant was optioned on five separate occasions over the course of the season. In between he pitched 50 innings within a shout either way or replacement level depending on your metric of choice.
Adonis Garcia was signed as a 27-year-old out of Cuba. He wasn’t bonus-pool-eligible, but no one would have had to blow out their budget to find the 400k he signed for. He hit a bit in the minors, but didn’t show enough power to profile in a corner infield spot. He was eventually released by the Yankees and found his way to Gwinnett in 2015, where he hit a bit more before finding himself pressed into service after the Braves dealt Juan Uribe and Kelly Johnson at the deadline. He hit enough to get himself an everyday job on a team in 2016 actively not looking for upgrades. Like Gant, he was generally in the vicinity of replacement level.
Rob Whalen and Ryan Weber are the guys you call up when John Gant gets hurt or you just need a few September starts. They both got six figures once upon a time, the cost of doing business. They have 90ish mph fastballs and pitched well enough in the upper minors to be an option on a 60-win team. It didn’t go well for either in the majors.
The above may feel almost casually cruel, but Gant and Garcia, Whalen and Weber, they are all player development wins. The signing scout brags about them behind the backstop, lists them as a bold-type accomplishment on their C.V. when they get promoted to crosschecker. They are not “easy scouts,” but they are also not really what we are looking for when we write prospect lists.
And for the players themselves, and this is not an original observation, even the worst major leaguers are among the 1000 or so best at their craft in the world. And they are major leaguers, unlike our 17-year-old prospects du jour, but they are also not really what we are looking for when we write prospect lists.
As a group, prospect writers often get accused of obsessing too much over “upside,” of composing Keatsian odes to as-of-yet-unrealized tools. Our model is based loosely on normal distribution, but baseball talent is not normally distributed. The gap between the best prospect in baseball and the fiftieth is usually larger than the chasm between 50 and 200. By the time you get down to 500 or so, you may find some major leaguers, but they aren’t that much better than the Adonis Garcias you find as minor league free agents. Major league value is not linear, and the possibility of elite talent is what gets us to the stadium three hours early.
Finally, these lists are a collaborative effort by the entire prospect team. I am one person with ten or so minor league stadiums across four leagues within driving distance. Although I am responsible for the final rankings and roles, whenever possible the reports on players are authored by the writers that have had eyes on them and know them the best.
As I said at the outset, the format is very similar to last year. We’ve split out the individual reports a bit more, although the lines between good, bad, and risk will be a bit fuzzy at times.
“Others of note” are not the 11th to 15th best prospects in the system unless noted. It’s an opportunity to write about players in the system we find interesting for whatever reason, like they were traded recently or their name allows us to make labored references to early 1990s noise rock band The Jesus Lizard (this applies to two different prospects!).
And now, “here they come, the young thousands.”
“But I’ve inched my way down the Eastern seaboard, I am coming to Atlanta again.”
1. Dansby Swanson, SS
Height/Weight: 6’1” 190 lbs.
Drafted/Acquired: Drafted first overall by Arizona in the 2015 MLB Draft, Vanderbilt University, signed for $6.5 million; acquired by Atlanta from Arizona in deal for Shelby Miller
Previous Ranking(s): #27 (Top 101), #1 (Org) 2016
2016 Stats: 302/.361/.442, 3 HR, 3 SB in 38 games at the major league level, .261/.342/.402, 8 HR, 6 SB in 84 games at Double-A Mississippi, .333/.441/.526, 1 HR, 7 SB in 21 games at High-A Carolina
The Good: Dansby Swanson is eligible for this list by one-at-bat, in what was totally not part of a plan to make him the presumptive favorite for the 2017 Rookie of the Year award. In those 129 at-bats he posted an .800 OPS despite only a half season of experience in the high minors. And it sure looked sustainable. The swing is simple, and he uses the big part of the park. He can go the other way naturally with a bit of inside-out. Overall, it’s a plus hit tool, and he could have some full seasons where he hits .300. The approach is already solid considering his dearth of experience against upper level arms. He’s a polished shortstop who will stick at the position.
The Bad: We’re mostly nitpicking here. He’s quick enough inside to yank a few bombs, but power won’t be a significant part of his offensive game. He’s just average at shortstop, with good instincts and actions, but not enough athletic tools to make plays on all the balls he gets to. His plus speed plays better on the bases than in the infield. He tracks pitches east/west well, but major-league arms could generate swings and misses working him north/south out of the zone.
The Irrelevant: Fourteen other players took exactly 129 at-bats in their first major league season. None of them won the Rookie of the Year, although Bob Elliott, who posted the best OPS of the group, eventually bagged an MVP.
OFP 70—All-star shortstop
Likely 60—First division shortstop
The Risks: Swanson’s done it for 129 major league at-bats, and while there is the possibility of growing pains second time through the league in 2017, his initial success and overall broad base of skills make him the lowest-risk prospect in the minors.
Major league ETA: Debuted in 2016
Ben Carsley’s Fantasy Take: Thanks to the wave of young shortstop talent in the majors, it’s easy to forget that this is still a relatively shallow fantasy position, even if it’s much better than it used to be. Thankfully, Swanson will make it deeper still. He’s a cut below the Lindor/Seager/Correa/Bogaerts class for our purposes, but Swanson’s high floor, impact AVG/SB combo and MLB readiness make him mighty attractive, as does his hair. A .300-plus average with 20-plus steals (and 100-plus runs in time) should be in play on the reg. We’ve learned many times over that calling any fantasy prospect “safe” is a fool’s errand, and yet…
2. Ronald Acuna, CF
Height/Weight: 6’0” 180 lbs.
Drafted/Acquired: Signed out of Venezuela in 2014 for $100,000
Previous Ranking(s): N/A
2016 Stats: .311/.387/.432, 4 HR, 14 SB in 40 games at Low-A Rome
The Good: Flashes all five tools with quick-twitch ability at an up-the-middle position. Despite average size, there’s plus power and even more raw because of explosive hands and lower half. Also shows advanced tracking and pitch recognition for age and above-average to plus speed.
The Bad: Center field defense remains more projection than results, and his future in center isn’t guaranteed. Swing can get slightly long from high hands and long stride that affects his bat plane at times and leaves the future hit tool around a low 50. Could be a moment-of-truth period with his swing in the upper levels that requires an adjustment.
The Irrelevant: Acuna Matata, roughly translated, means “no worries, I’m going to hit 10 straight bombs in batting practice.”
OFP 70—All-star center fielder
Likely 55—Above-average outfielder
The Risks: Acuna suffered a torn thumb ligament but recovered well late in the season, so the injury appears to be past him. The main question is his future defensive home. His value could take a slight hit with a move off center, but many believe he’ll be able to stick up the middle. His swing could also be exposed a little against advanced pitching, but his tracking skills should serve him well. —David Lee
Major league ETA: 2019
Ben Carsley’s Fantasy Take: We’re two players in and I’m already pouring cold water all over your prospect flames. Look, I get it. Acuna’s power/speed/athleticism combo gives him an OF1 ceiling, and OF1s win leagues. Plus, you have to get in early on players like Acuna or you’re not going to get in on them at all. Just be mindful of how long it’s going to take Acuna to get to the majors, how little playing time he has under his belt, and how far his hit tool has to go. The ceiling here makes Acuna a very good fantasy prospect, but his value is capped by a long lead time and a low floor.
3. Ozzie Albies, SS
Height/Weight: 5’9” 160 lbs.
Drafted/Acquired: Signed out of the Curacao July 2013 for $350,000
Previous Ranking(s): #37 (Top 101), #3 (Org)
2016 Stats: .248/.307/.351, 2 HR, 9 SB at in 56 games at Triple-A Gwinnett, .321/.391/.467, 4 HR, 21 SB in 82 games at Double-A Mississippi
The Good: The 19-year-old Albies was jumped over Advanced-A, and then pushed further to Triple-A after a month in the Southern League. He held his own at both stops before settling back in as Dansby Swanson’s double-play partner in Mississippi. He’s a solid defender with good hands and actions that can handle shortstop, although his arm is stretched there. His swing is unorthodox. It’s a very open stance and he remains upright throughout, but he controls the barrel well. He’s a plus-plus runner with 30-plus SB potential in the majors.
The Bad: Albies’ slash-and-dash approach will severely limit his over-the-fence power, although he will be able to run into some extra bases. The swing is funky enough to make me question the ultimate hit tool projection in the majors, and he already has issues pulling off pitches down or away. He lacks a standout tool aside from his speed. He’s a better fit at second base even on a team not currently employing Dansby Swanson.
The Irrelevant: You’d be forgiven for thinking the primary Curaçaoan export was Atlanta Braves baseball players, but they also are responsible for the liqueur, made from the laraha, a type of valencia orange. I recommend the Pierre Ferrand Dry as the best expression of the style.
OFP 60—First-division second baseman, assuming the Braves ever qualify there
Likely 55—Solid-average second baseman
The Risks: Albies is only 19 and already has a half-season at Triple-A under his belt. There is still some risk in the hit tool until we see it succeed against major-league pitching, but his present polish, overall athleticism, and up-the-middle defensive profile gives him a pretty high floor for a teenager.
Major league ETA: 2017, post super-two
Ben Carsley’s Fantasy Take: Josh Harrison hit .283 with four homers and 19 steals this season and was still a top-20 option at the keystone, per ESPN’s Player Rater. That’s not to say Albies has a Harrison-like future in store, but be mindful of just how useful a second baseman who can nab 30-plus bags with a decent average can be. Albies may enjoy relatively few top-10 2B finishes, but he’s in line for plenty of top-15 and top-20 placements. You can target him for your MI slot as soon as 2018. I still like Jose Peraza better.
4. Sean Newcomb, LHP
Height/Weight: 6’5” 240 lbs.
Drafted/Acquired: Drafted 15th overall in the 2014 MLB Draft, University of Hartford; signed for $2.5184 million; acquired by Atlanta in deal for Andrelton Simmons
Previous Ranking(s): #41 (Midseason Top 50), #32 (Top 101), #2 (Org)
2016 Stats: 3.86 ERA, 4.33 DRA, 140 IP, 113 H, 71 BB, 152K at Double-A Mississippi
The Good: He’s a lefty that touches the upper 90s, sits near 95, and the velocity comes easy from his simple mechanics. The fastball is heavy down in the zone, and pops when he elevates it. He pairs the heater with a big curve that flashes plus with sharp 1-7 break at its best. Newcomb’s got a frame built to log innings and elicit equine homologies from prospect writers. There still may be some room for development despite his frame and time in Double-A as there were very few miles put on his arm as an amateur.
The Bad: The mechanics are simple, but he doesn’t repeat them well. His upper and lower halves end up out of sync and he loses his release point, especially on the fastball. The overall command profile is below-average even when he is throwing strikes, which isn’t as often as you’d like for a guy already in Double-A. He can get on the side of the curve at times and it will lose some depth. The change is okay, but a clear third pitch and doesn’t project as more than average.
The Irrelevant: Newcomb would be the fourth University of Hartford graduate to play in the majors and the first since Jeff Bagwell retired in 2005. It is also one of two schools the author can claim as an alma mater (since they both hit him up for money). Unfortunately it is unlikely we will see a Hampshire College major leaguer any time soon (although Bill Lee was known to show up there on occasion to toe the rubber)
OFP 60—No. 3 starter
Likely 55—There isn’t really a lefty reliever with this profile other than Andrew Miller…so less good Andrew Miller.
The Risks: Newcomb is a good test case for what we mean by “risk.” Does risk speak to the range of outcomes, or is it the risk of “actualization of the likely?” Ninety-five percent of the prospects we’ll write about over the coming months don’t have a major-league “floor,” or at least not one of “meaningful contributor.” I also might underestimate Newcomb’s OFP. Lefties especially tend to put it together late, and Newcomb still has the cold-weather amateur profile as a reason for why he hasn’t progressed as much as you might like since he was drafted. Still, once you get to Double-A, you are only a phone call away, and the continuing command/change issues make it hard for me to throw a top-of-the-rotation OFP on Newcomb. Conversely, the half-grade spread makes him seem less risky than he is, but there just aren’t that many lefties with that fastball/breaking ball combo, and some of them do turn into Andrew Miller…or at least Brad Hand. Sometimes the 20/80 scale can feel overly prescriptive rather than descriptive. This is one of those times. Of course a lot of this could be mitigated if I was willing to use 65. I’m not, so instead you get another short(er) essay.
Also, he’s a pitcher.
Major league ETA: September 2017
Ben Carsley’s Fantasy Take: Enjoy this incredibly topical reference: If you start Newcomb, will you want to watch your team’s WHIP? Nay, nay. Newcomb is attractive to us chiefly for his ability to miss bats, but he’s as capable of murdering your ratios as he is grabbing you some cheap Ks. His best path to fantasy value might be as a high-strikeout closer, though that sells short his The Good Matt Moore upside if it does click for Newcomb in the rotation. Don’t sell low on him if you’ve already got him, but I wouldn’t be gunning to acquire him right now, either.
5. Mike Soroka, RHP
Height/Weight: 6’4” 195 lbs.
Drafted/Acquired: Drafted 28th overall in the 2015 MLB Draft, Bishop Carroll HS (Calgary, AB); signed for $1.9747 million
Previous Ranking(s): #7 (Org)
2016 Stats: 3.02 ERA, 3.25 DRA, 143 IP, 130 H, 32 BB, 125 K at Low-A Rome
The Good: Soroka shows the potential for two plus pitches and a third average offering along with average command for the makings of a mid-rotation starter. His fastball has plus potential in the low-90s with above-average run and sink, and his curveball has silly late movement with two-plane ability. He has a strong, durable body with the makings of an innings-eating arm, and he’s a very smart kid.
The Bad: He struggled getting a feel for his curve and changeup on the same day, but that improved as the season progressed. He’s still adjusting to his developing body and learning to repeat his mechanics.
The Irrelevant: Soroka is from Canada. He chose baseball over hockey pretty early in life. We’re all better for it.
OFP 60—High No. 3 starter
Likely 55—Mid-rotation starter
The Risks: The risk is pretty minimal with Soroka, relative to teenagers who throw baseballs for a living. He has the aptitude to adjust, he has the body to log innings, and he has the stuff to turn over a lineup multiple times. But it is worth keeping in mind that he is a pitcher. —David Lee
Major league ETA: Late 2018
Ben Carsley’s Fantasy Take: Soroka is slightly more interesting than most SP5/6 prospects in the low minors, but that’s like being the flashiest pre-owned Hyundai Elantra on the lot. He’s worth monitoring as he ascends through the ranks, but the ETA and relatively modest ceiling should conspire to relegate him to the deepest of dynasty leagues only.
6. Kolby Allard, LHP
Height/Weight: 6’1” 180 lbs.
Drafted/Acquired: Drafted 14th overall in the 2015 MLB Draft, San Clemente HS (San Clemente, CA); signed for $3.0424 million
Previous Ranking(s): #82 (Top 101), #5 (Org)
2016 Stats: 3.73 ERA, 3.23 DRA, 60.1 IP, 54 H, 20 BB, 62 K at Low-A Rome, 1.32 ERA, 1.59 DRA, 27.1 IP, 18 H, 5 BB, 33 K at short-season Danville
The Good: Flashes a plus curveball, potential for plus control and command. Added physicality should push a fastball that already sinks to plus. The delivery and arm action are easy. More than held his own as one of the youngest players in the South Atlantic League despite a late start due to offseason back surgery.
The Bad: Back concerns impacted his draft stock and required offseason surgery, though the severity was later downplayed. Promising pitchers physically breaking down is nothing new to anyone reading this, so Allard starting his professional career with a physical question mark will be a red flag to some.
The Irrelevant: Like many of his baseball colleagues, Allard sees dollar signs in a potential Head & Shoulders endorsement deal.
OFP 60—Mid-Rotation Starter
Likely 50—Back-end rotation starter
The Risks: Single-A is a long way from las grandes ligas for any pitcher. Allard possesses an advanced feel that certainly softens some of that risk. That said, the curveball has some consistency issues to be ironed out, the fastball is unlikely to add much more velocity, and the changeup might not progress beyond average. All in all, there is a future in a big-league rotation for Allard; it’s more a question of the extent of his impact. Also, he’s a pitcher. —Adam Hayes
Major league ETA: 2020
Ben Carsley’s Fantasy Take: If you want to gamble on a Braves starter from their last two drafts, Allard is your guy. The risk is higher for sure, but when you’re dealing with arms this far away from the Majors, you’re forfeiting safety from the start. Allard may lack true top-of-the-rotation upside, but he has the stuff to miss bats, and as a left-hander he’ll be given 400 chances to make it as a starter. A future as an SP3/4 with 200 strikeouts is within the realm of possibility here.
7. Ian Anderson, RHP
Height/Weight: 6’3” 170 lbs
Drafted/Acquired: Drafted 3rd overall in the 2016 MLB Draft, Shenendehowa HS (Clifton Park, New York); signed for $4 million.
Previous Ranking(s): N/A
2016 Stats: 3.74 ERA, 4.40 DRA, 21.2 IP, 19 H, 8 BB, 18 SO at Advanced Rookie level Danville, 0.00 ERA, 2.60 DRA, 18 IP, 14 H, 4 BB. 18 K at the Gulf Coast League Braves
The Good: Anderson has the prototypical starter’s frame, an easy delivery and a fastball that can bump 95 with arm-side run. His curve is inconsistent at present but flashes plus, and I’d expect it to sit more in the upper-70s once as he both tightens the pitch up and fills out his frame. He’s projectable generally, and there may be additional added growth given his background.
The Bad: With added growth potential comes the need for more growth than even your average prep pitcher. The stuff doesn’t project as more than plus and it’s got a ways to go to get there. The curve can tend to have a bit of a hump out of the hand. The changeup is crude at present.
The Irrelevant: I will not make a Jethro Tull reference… I will not make a Jethro Tull reference… I will not make a Jethro Tull reference…
Ian Anderson shares a name with the lead singer of British progressive rock band Jethro Tull, although he will need to fill out a bit more to be Thick as a Brick.
OFP 60—No. 3 Starter
Likely 50—You know the drill by now
The Risks: In addition to the usual risks posed by any prep pitcher with just a summer of rookie ball experience, Anderson didn’t pitch much this spring between an injury and bad weather. The arm strength isn’t in question, but the rest of the profile is quite raw, and he may move more slowly than his 2016 prep class peers. Also, he’s a pitcher.
Major league ETA: 2021
Ben Carsley’s Fantasy Take: Like Mike Soroka, for our purposes, but the used Elantra has 10,000 more miles on it and is a model year older.
The Good and the Bad are mostly Irrelevant: Even in a system as deep as the Braves, you could throw a dart at a board and have a good chance at landing on a reasonable ranking for Maitan, as long as you avoided the double and triple rings. He has only made a cameo in American instructs and was born a day after The Beach was released, which was the first movie date I went on with my high school girlfriend. The possibilities for Maitan now are a little more open-ended than they were for me at the time.
He maybe won’t go on to be as big a star as DiCaprio in his chosen field, but the switch-hitting shortstop was the consensus best prospect in this year’s J2 class, and has a huge offensive ceiling. He has above-average bat speed with some natural whip and could be a plus hit/plus power bat that plays on the left side of the infield, somewhere. Even the people scouting him can’t agree on what the shape of that ceiling is, or where his ultimate defensive home will be, so I find it difficult to put an OFP and a Likely grade on him. We’ll stick with one for now, rather than try to hedge with three.
The Role: OFP 60—Above-average regular.
The Risks: Maitan has yet to take a swing in an official game. This could go an awful lot of different ways even in just the next three years. But at least he’s not a pitcher.
Major league ETA: 2022
Ben Carsley’s Fantasy Take: If you met someone tomorrow, you could begin to date them, get engaged, get married and have children in a traditional, linear fashion before Maitan makes his MLB debut. The timeline adds tremendous risk to his fantasy profile—you’re probably punting a roster spot for at least a half-decade if you acquire him—but the ceiling justifies the probable wait. I cannot in good faith give you any stat estimates at this point in the game, but be patient with Maitan, because potential plus-average/plus-power infielders don’t come along very often.
9. Touki Toussaint, RHP
Bats/Throws: 6’3” 185 lbs.
Drafted/Acquired: Drafted 16th overall by Arizona in the 2014 MLB Draft, Coral Springs Christian Academy (Coral Springs, FL); signed for $2.7 million; acquired by Atlanta in deal for Phil Gosselin
Previous Ranking(s): #6 (Org)
2016 Stats: 3.88 ERA, 5.15 DRA, 132.1 IP, 105 H, 71 BB, 128 K at Low-A Rome.
The Good: Toussaint’s combination of stuff and athleticism makes you want to cry tears of joy. He has a plus fastball and double-plus-potential curveball and enough feel to project an above-average changeup. His fastball sits low-90s but can bump 97 and hit 95 when he wants, while his curveball is a 12-6 hammer that can make a heart race. Toussaint is an elite athlete, with plus arm speed, and a great teammate.
The Bad: Command remains well behind the stuff, so much so that it’s uncertain whether he sticks in a rotation despite the three-pitch mix. He made strides to improve his delivery’s timing and sync his halves better, but he needs to maintain it over a full season.
The Irrelevant: Toussaint has quite the humor, from playfully jabbing at teammates on Twitter to asking for teammate Austin Riley’s autograph during an interview.
OFP 60—No. 3 starter or quality major league closer
Likely 50—No. 4 starter/high-leverage reliever
The Risks: Toussaint’s gap between present and ceiling remains large because of feel and command. He worked to close it slightly this season and did so, but he needs to prove it further over a full season. He remains a prospect with one of the highest ceilings in the system but lacks a guaranteed floor. Also, he’s a pitcher. —David Lee
Major league ETA: Late 2018
Ben Carsley’s Fantasy Take: You’ll get a sense for this as these top-10 lists roll out, but I’m a firm believer that fantasy starting pitcher prospects are only worth investing in if they come with upside. That’s why I’d prefer to gamble on Toussaint than Soroka, Allard or Anderson—he’s got better fantasy impact potential than the rest, even if his floor is lower. I get the sense there’s some prospect fatigue here, but if Toussaint is available in a league that rosters 150-plus prospects, he’s worth a look as someone who could fan more than a batter per inning, and who could possibly collect some saves as a fallback option.
10. Max Fried, LHP
Height/Weight: 6’4” 185 lbs
Drafted/Acquired: Drafted seventh-overall by San Diego in the 2012 MLB Draft Harvard-Westlake School (Los Angeles, CA); signed for $3 million; Acquired in deal for Justin Upton
Previous Ranking(s): #9 (Org)
2016 Stats: 3.93 ERA, 3.92 DRA, 103 IP, 87 H, 47 BB, 112 K at Low-A Rome
The Good: Knee-buckling curveball that could get big leaguers chasing now. The fastball sits plus and can touch the mid- to upper-90s. Struck out 10-plus in each of his last four starts. Most importantly, he put in a full healthy season returning from Tommy John.
The Bad: He spent the season repeating Low-A, albeit recovering from surgery, and the results were simply okay until the late season push. His changeup features a noticeable mechanical issue that should be exploited by more advanced hitters if left uncorrected. There’s enough effort to the delivery and shortness to the arm action that long-term viability in the rotation could be called into question.
The Irrelevant: Max Fried is one of the few pitchers on these list that wasn’t even the best arm on his high school team. Lucas Giolito was his rotation mate at Harvard-Westlake.
OFP 55—No. 4 starter
Likely 45—Fifth starter/back-end reliever
The Risks: There’s more volatility to Fried’s profile than his fellow lefty in the Rome Braves rotation, Kolby Allard. There are clear advancements to be made with the changeup and the fastball needs to gain more than just velocity to thrive at higher levels. With the potential for two plus, even plus-plus pitches, there will always be a bullpen cushion to land on. But do keep in mind that he is a pitcher. —Adam Hayes
Major league ETA: 2019
Ben Carsley’s Fantasy Take: Fried has even more risk than Toussaint or Allard but without quite the same ceiling. He’s worth monitoring because of his pedigree and how good he looked late last season, but it’s safe to play wait-and-see with Fried in all but the deepest of leagues. Actually, even in those leagues, too.
Others of note
Patrick Weigel, RHP
Weigel came out of nowhere as a seventh-round pick in 2015 and immediately started throwing gas with a lively arsenal. He has plus arm speed and comes from a tough angle to throw low-90s while touching 97 with above-average run and sink, and he can reach back for 95 when he wants. He adds a hard-biting slider with three-quarters tilt in the low-80s that projects average or better, while he occasionally tosses a slower curveball and changeup to change the pace. The arsenal’s depth varies by day, but it’s enough to start in the upper levels on a good day. The fastball and slider tick up in short bursts to offer high-leverage relief potential, but the ceiling is closer to a back-end type. —David Lee
And because there haven’t been enough pitchers on this list
Joey Wentz, LHP
The Braves paid Wentz like a top-15 pick in this year’s draft, and it isn’t hard to find people to sign off on him as possessing that level of talent. To wit, the projectable prep lefty out of Kansas would be a top ten prospect in most systems in baseball. He touched 95 this spring and should grow into more consistent mid-90s velocity as he fills out. Wentz also showed feel and command for his curveball and change. The stuff did tick down later in the high school season, so he is a riskier proposition than the group of pitchers that made Atlanta’s top ten. Still, there’s three potential plus pitches here, and I wouldn’t be surprised if he has a breakout season in 2017 that rockets him up the Atlanta list and into our 2018 Top 101. And if I had to bet on a ranking I will look back on next year and regret, it’s not putting Wentz in the top ten this year.
Lucas Sims, RHP
Sims approached the 2016 season with some helium following a promising showing in the Arizona Fall League. After a brief stint in Double-A Mississippi, he was called up to Gwinnett where he struggled mightily, seeing his walk and home run rates reach alarmingly high levels. The walk rate remained high after returning to Mississippi, but the results smoothed out otherwise. He features a straight fastball that sits plus and a curveball that is above-average, arguably plus. His changeup is fringy and his arm action short, pushing the needle on this former first-round pick towards a future in a relief role. —Adam Hayes
Who’s that guy? (who’s that guy) It’s Travis
Travis Demeritte, 2B
A solid upside play as the return for two pitchers the rebuilding Braves are unlikely to miss, Demeritte boasts an impressive pile of tools suffocating under one of the bigger question marks in his hometown team’s system. How much will he actually hit? A 34-percent career strikeout rate in the low minors tends to suggest an unplesant answer. His production in the high-octane Mojave environs of his season’s first half proved cause for cautious optimism, and it held reasonably after his journey to the less-enticing Carolina League. But at the higher levels? Unclear. He has the bat speed and loft to damage mistakes regardless of where he plays, but he struggles to track breaking balls and stay in the zone, and he frequently loses his mechanics to over-swings. Outside the box, there are notable instincts to help average speed play with utility on the bases. And he’s an athletic, rangy defender at second, with enough arm strength to test the left-side waters in a utility role if the ultimate answer to that central query comes back “not enough.” —Wilson Karaman
The guy we like less than others
Austin Riley, 3B
There’s quite a bit of division over Riley’s future. Some aren’t able to fully pull the trigger and project a major leaguer, while others see the tantalizing plus power and want a corner power hitter. There will always be miss in his game and that’s the main concern regarding his future. He made tweaks to his hands to shorten his path to the zone, but his swing remains stiff and muscled, and upper-level pitchers will force him to get the barrel to inside fastballs. If he can surpass a 40 hit tool, the 60 power will carry him to that valuable corner power profile. But below-average is the safe bet on his hitting ability. We haven’t even mentioned the division regarding his defense. He lacks the lateral range and quickness to profile well at third base despite a plus arm, and that could ultimately push him to first base, which will put even more pressure on his bat. There’s plenty intrigue as a potential 30-homer corner guy, but there are major questions that will need to be answered as he progresses. —David Lee
Top 10 Talents 25 And Under (born 4/1/91 or later)
- Dansby Swanson
- Ronald Acuna
- Ozzie Albies
- Sean Newcomb
- Mike Foltynewicz
- Matt Wisler
- Aaron Blair
- Mike Soroka
- Kolby Allard
- Ian Anderson
It’s telling that the overwhelming majority of Atlanta’s top 25-under talent comes from the farm system. Sure, a lot of the 25-under talent in organizations is still prospect-eligible, but the Braves are different. This is done on purpose, for a reason.
In case you haven’t heard, the Braves are rebuilding. They restocked their dwindling farm system at a lightning-quick pace, so much so that they’ve flipped their system from one of the most depleted to one of the strongest in the span of a couple years. They sacrificed winning during that span and that’s still felt, which means the major-league 25-and-under talent is tough to find here, but it’s all part of a plan.
See all those prospects on this list? The Braves are really good at developing talent. They’re banking on that ability and expect these names to soon fill the 25-man roster. As that happens, the roster is expected to be complemented with acquired talent. It’s all meant to come together and mold into a perennial winner.
Not all prospects pan out. That’s okay. You could add an additional five spots to this list and the talent level wouldn’t decrease by the end of it. In addition to their development knowledge, they’re pretty smart at scouting. The Braves are deep.
Swanson at No. 1 signifies more than just holding the top spot on this list. He’s seen as the future face of the franchise alongside Freddie Freeman. He might not have eye-popping tools, but he’ll do everything well at the major-league level while giving the Braves a strong clubhouse presence.
After the first four prospects, you have the three major leaguers stuck together. Foltynewicz has the highest ceiling and the most major-league success, but none of the three have done enough so far to lock down a long-term spot. All three have the potential to log innings in a mid-rotation role, and the Braves are in a position to patiently let them work on things in the majors. If one works out as a back-end starter, one is a decent reliever, and one flames out, that's a net win.
As mentioned earlier, you could expand this list to 15 or so and the talent wouldn’t decrease much. When you’re leaving out players like Kevin Maitan (inexperience keeps him off), Mauricio Cabrera, Tyrell Jenkins, Max Fried, Touki Toussaint, Patrick Weigel and their plethora of recent high-upside draft picks, you’re doing something right in your organization. The Braves are on the right track. —David Lee