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2014 Top 10 Prospects: Atlanta Braves

Some weak draft results and limited international budgets have hindered Atlanta’s ability to build depth throughout the minor leagues. Some interesting names are beginning to bubble to the surface although most of the key names are still in the low minors.


#1 Lucas Sims | 60/A- (P)

19 28 18 116.2 83 3 10.34 3.55 2.62 2.81

The Year in Review: Atlanta limited Sims’ innings in 2013 by starting him off in the bullpen in April and May. He dominated Low-A as a teenager and struck out 134 batters in 116.2 innings. Sims held left-handed hitters to a .190 average and did not allow a home run to them.

The Scouting Report: A lot of prep draft picks struggle to maintain their stuff during their first full pro season but Sims was the exception, as he got stronger as the year progressed. The righty possesses a low-to-mid-90s fastball and backs it up with a potentially-plus curveball. His changeup gives him a third offering that could become above-average in time. Sims has good control but his command wavers at times when he battles his arm slot.

The Year Ahead: Sims could see his value skyrocket in 2014 and become one of the top ranked arms in the minors. He’ll open the season in High-A ball but, depending on how aggressive Atlanta wants to be with him, he could see Double-A in the second half of the year.

The Career Outlook: Sims has all the ingredients necessary to develop into a No. 2 starter but I’d like to see the Georgia native induce more ground balls.


#2 Christian Bethancourt | 55/MLB (PH/PR)

21 1 0.0 % 100.0 % .000 .000 .000 .000 -100 -0.2 0.0 0.0

The Year in Review: A return trip to Double-A in 2013 revitalized Bethancourt’s offensive game. His OPS jumped from .566 in 2012 to .741 in ’13 and he hit double-digit home runs (12) for the first time in his career. Despite the improvements, he continued to be a free swinger and walked just 16 times in 90 games.

The Scouting Report: What a difference a year makes. After a limp offensive performance in 2012, Bethancourt rebounded with a much better output that saw his OPS jump almost .200 points. With that said, he still produces a dismal on-base percentage but the increased pop helps compensate to a degree. Really, Bethancourt only has to produce fringe-average offense to be a starter in the Majors based on his plus defensive work that includes an excellent control over the running game, good blocking and otherworldly receiving.

The Year Ahead: The addition of veteran Ryan Doumit, who may or may not occasionally wear the tools or ignorance, and the presence of both Gerald Laird and Evan Gattis muddies the waters for Bethancourt in 2014 even though his defense alone could make him more valuable than any member of that big league trio.

The Career Outlook: Bethancourt could eventually become the second-best defense catcher in the National League (behind St. Louis’ Yadier Molina) and should earn a starting gig for years to come based on his glove.


#3 Jose Peraza | 60/A- (SS)

19 504 129 18 1 34 64 64 .288 .341 .371 .331

The Year in Review: Peraza’s first full season in pro ball included 64 steals in 79 attempts. He produced OK at the plate, given his age, but struggled in the first half before turning things on in the second half.

The Scouting Report: Peraza’s offense if built around above-average speed and excellent base running abilities. He has a solid line-drive swing and makes good contact but he could stand to be a little more patient. The young infielder might generate more power if he were to use his legs a little more in his swing. Defensively, he has a chance to stick at shortstop despite an average-ish arm because he has good range and solid actions.

The Year Ahead: The young middle infielder will move up to High-A ball in 2014 and will look to get stronger at the plate.

The Career Outlook: The chance that Peraza might play shortstop on an everyday basis in Atlanta is slim to none based on the presence of incumbent and plus-plus defender Andrelton Simmons. However, Peraza has a shot at developing into the Braves’ second baseman of the future.


#4 Mauricio Cabrera | 55/A- (P)

19 24 24 131.1 118 3 7.33 4.87 4.18 3.63

The Year in Review: Cabrera struggled to find the plate in 2013 — his first shot at full-season ball — and he walked 71 batters in 131.1 innings. On the plus side, his strong fastball induced a lot of ground balls and he allowed just three home runs on the year. He also handled left-handed hitters quite well (.236 average).

The Scouting Report: Cabrera flashes two potentially-plus offerings in a mid-to-high-90s fastball and a changeup with good movement. He also has a curveball that needs a fair bit of polish but should be an average offering in time. Lack of command and control are the two biggest worries with Cabrera’s development right now, and he may eventually settle into a high-leverage relief role. If he can polish his control, though, he has the frame and delivery to become a durable starter.

The Year Ahead: The right-hander from the Dominican Republic should move up to High-A ball in 2014 where he’ll look to find the plate on a more consistent basis.

The Career Outlook: As mentioned above, Cabrera’s future role is still up in the air but he’ll be given every opportunity to stick in the starting rotation.


#5 J.R. Graham | 55/AA (P)

23 8 8 35.2 39 0 7.07 2.52 4.04 2.47

The Year in Review: Graham was off to an inconsistent start to the 2013 season when a bum shoulder ended his year in mid-May. Before he went down, though, he showed excellent ground-ball numbers and didn’t allow a home run in 35.2 innings.

The Scouting Report: Graham is a wild card. He suffered a fairly serious shoulder injury in 2013 but decided on rehab over major surgery. It remains to be seen A) How his stuff bounces back, and B) How long his body holds up. He’s not a huge guy but he generates fastball velocity into the 95-96 mph rang. Graham also has a slider and a changeup but he heavily favors the ground-ball-inducing heater.

The Year Ahead: The key for Graham is to hold up over the course of a full season, and he may have to return to Double-A for a third go-around.

The Career Outlook: There were always concerns that his future role was as a reliever and the injury will only help further that belief.


#6 Jason Hursh | 55/R (P)

21 9 9 27.0 20 1 5.00 3.33 0.67 3.79

The Year in Review: The 31st overall selection out of Oklahoma State University in the 2013 draft, Hursh made nine appearances after turning pro and allowed 20 hits in 27.0 innings. He struggled a bit with his control and walked 10. He struck out 15 and induced ground-ball outs at a high rate.

The Scouting Report: Hursh is basically a move physical J.R. Graham. Both have heavy, mid-90s fastballs and both need to polish their secondary stuff, which for the recent draft pick includes a slider and changeup. He underwent Tommy John surgery in college so durability is a minor concern. Hursh’s delivery has some effort to it.

The Year Ahead: After just nine games in Low-A ball, Hursh could be ready for High-A ball, although the Braves minor league development staff is fairly conservative so he’ll likely have to earn the promotion in the spring.

The Career Outlook: There are questions surrounding Hursh’s future role, including: Is he a future mid-rotation starter or is he a high-leverage reliever? Time will tell…


#7 Victor Caratini | 55/R (3B)

19 246 58 23 1 39 49 0 .290 .415 .430 .397

The Year in Review: A bit of a surprise selection in the second round of the 2013 draft out of Miami Dade Junior College, Caratini had a strong pro debut. He produced a .415 on-base percentage and 25 of his 58 hits went for extra bases.

The Scouting Report: The key to Caratini’s value as a prospect is tied to his ability to continue developing at his new defensive home behind the plate. Converted to full-time catcher after his first pro season, the young prospect has picked up the basic skills quite quickly. He also has experience at third base but is considered below-average defensively and lacks the power profile to become an elite prospect there. Caratini shows a good swing at the plate as a switch-hitter and isn’t afraid the go the other way from either side of the plate. He also has a solid eye and some patience.

The Year Ahead: Caratini’s bat is probably ready for Low-A ball but he may be held back in extended spring training to continue working on his defensive conversion.

The Career Outlook: A switch-hitting catcher with average defensive skills, strong on-base abilities and gap power carries a ton of value so you can understand why Atlanta would attempt this experiment.


#8 Tommy La Stella | 50/MLB (2B)

24 430 126 28 6 61 39 9 .345 .443 .488 .428

The Year in Review: Injuries cost La Stella some development time in 2013 but he put up an excellent line in Double-A when he was healthy. He produced a .422 on-base percentage and hit more than .300. He also struck out just 34 times in 81 games. He didn’t have much home-run pop but slugged 21 doubles. The New Jersey native walked 16 times with just four strikeouts during an 18-games stint in the Arizona Fall League.

The Scouting Report: La Stella ranks a little lower than some fans might think because his value is tied entirely to his bat; his defensive skills are fringe-average at second base and he might eventually end up as a utility player and pinch hitter in the mold of former Athletics infielder Scott Spiezio who played first base, second base and third base. Offensively, La Stella has a strong left-handed swing with good bat speed and excellent hand-eye coordination. He has a good eye and a patient approach. He doesn’t have quite as much pop against southpaws but he hits them well.

The Year Ahead: La Stella could see some big league action in 2014 but he’s going to have to wait for an injury to incumbent second baseman Dan Uggla or for an opening on the bench. He’ll likely spend much of the year in Triple-A.

The Career Outlook: The young infielder could develop into an offensive-minded second baseman or a strong bat off the bench.


#9 Johan Camargo | 50/R (3B/SS)

19 256 67 7 0 18 31 3 .294 .359 .360 .342

The Year in Review: Camargo has done nothing but hit since turning pro two years ago. In his first season in North America in 2013, the shortstop batted .294 but failed to hit for much power. He didn’t run much and was successful in just 50% of his six attempts. He showed a solid, but unspectacular, glove.

The Scouting Report: Camargo isn’t flashy and doesn’t have great range but he’s the kind of player that’s going to make all the plays on the balls he can get to — especially as he matures as fielder and cuts out all of the youthful mistakes. However, he may eventually wind up at second base. At the plate, Camargo makes excellent contact and has a good eye but is still learning how to drive the ball.

The Year Ahead: The Panama native likely showed enough during the 2013 season to earn a roster spot on the Low-A ball squad. He’ll look to continue to get stronger.

The Career Outlook: The middle infielder probably won’t end up at shortstop but he has the skills to develop into a solid big league second baseman.


#10 Aaron Northcraft | 50/AA (P)

23 33 33 155.0 147 9 8.13 3.83 3.95 3.72

The Year in Review: Northcraft produced another solid minor league season — this time in Double-A. The right-hander threw 137 innings and struck out 121 batters. His control wavered a little more than it had in the past but he induced ground ball outs at a rate of 2-to-1 when compared to fly-ball outs. He allowed just seven home runs.

The Scouting Report: Northcraft looks imposing on the mound at 6-4, 220 pounds but he’s a command/control pitcher who relies on location and movement to succeed. What his frame does do, though, is allow him to chew up innings. He pitches in the upper 80s and into the low 90s while backing up the heater with a pair of good secondary offerings in a curveball and changeup.

The Year Ahead: Northcraft should move up to Triple-A and could be one of the first pitchers recalled in the event of an injury or demotion to one of the original five starters.

The Career Outlook: Northcraft projects to develop into a back-of-the-rotation, innings-eating starter for the Braves — perhaps as soon as 2014.

The Next Five:

11. Carlos Perez, LHP: The enigmatic Perez has had an up-and-down career to say the least. Luckily, though, he may have finally found the right role for himself. The starter-turned-reliever struggles with his command and control but has solid velocity for a lefty and flashes a promising changeup. He should return to High-A ball in 2014 but could see Double-A in the second half if he makes further adjustments.

12. Josh Elander, OF: Elander would be much higher on this list if he had stuck at catcher — the position he played when he was selected in the sixth round of the 2012 draft. The young athlete just missed hitting .300 after splitting the year between Low-A and High-A ball and enjoys beating up on left-handed pitching. He also slugged 52 extra base hits. Elander could move up to Double-A with a strong spring but he needs to continue to hit for power if he’s going to play regularly in a big league (corner) outfield.

13. Victor Reyes, OF: Reyes, 19, is a left-handed hitting outfielder who batted more than .340 split between two Rookie ball leagues in 2013. He also struck out just 29 times in 49 games and could eventually develop into a solid No. 2 hitter. Reyes, though, has yet to tap into his raw power and isn’t a prolific base stealer despite solid speed so his value right now is tied almost solely to his ability to hit for average.

14. Wes Parsons, RHP: It’s not often that you find a non-drafted free agent on a Top 10 or 15 list but Parsons is deserving of his rank. The 6-5 right-hander is a strike-throwing, ground-ball inducing machine with solid stuff. Parsons, 21, doesn’t have a huge ceiling but he could develop into a reliable back-of-the-rotation contributor.

15. Cody Martin, RHP: The right-handed Martin doesn’t have stellar stuff but he attacks the strike zone, is durable and took just two full seasons to reach Triple-A. In total, he struck out 137 batters in 136.2 innings during the 2013 season. Standing 6-2, Martin has decent height but he works up in the zone too often, which results in a fly-ball heavy approach. He has the ceiling of an innings-eating, back-of-the-rotation starter.