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Atlanta Braves: Top 10 Prospects

General Manager: Frank Wren
Farm Director: Kurt Kemp
Scouting Director: Tony DeMacio

FanGraphs’ Top 10 Prospects:
(2009 Draft Picks/International Signees Not Included)

The Braves organization is not churning out the pitching prospects like it once did, but there are some interesting power arms in the system. The club has had some problems with injuries amongst its young pitchers, especially recent draft picks, which is a little worrisome. The two bats at the top of the Top 10 list have a chance to be impact bats – especially Heyward. He could be an absolute monster at the plate. Many of the prospects on the Top 10 list are still a few years away.

1. Jason Heyward, OF, Triple-A
DOB: August 1989 Bats: L Throws: L
Signed: 2007 1st round – Georgia HS
MLB ETA: Early-2010 40-Man Roster: No Options: 3

I loved Heyward on draft day in ’07 and I like him even more now. Despite being drafted out of high school, he’s flown through the system and reached triple-A in ’09 at the age of 20. He began the year in high-A where he hit .296/.369/.519 in 189 at-bats. Heyward then moved up to double-A and produced a line of .352/.446/.611 in 162 at-bats. His season ended with three games in triple-A. The outfielder showed outstanding power with an ISO rate of .222 in high-A and .259 in double-A. He also displayed the potential to provide five to 10 steals and Heyward had a double-digit walk rate, which topped out at 14.7% in double-A. His BB/K rate of 1.47 at that same level was outstanding. There are few holes in his game. Heyward’s durability is currently surrounded by question marks after be was dogged by minor injuries during the season and in the Arizona Fall League.

2. Freddie Freeman, 1B, Double-A
DOB: September 1989 Bats: L Throws: R
Signed: 2007 2nd round – California HS
MLB ETA: Late-2010 40-Man Roster: No Options: 3

Freeman’s season began very well in high-A when he .302/.394/.447 in 255 at-bats. The first baseman found the going much tougher in double-A and he hit just .248/.308/.342 in 149 at-bats. His power also dropped with his ISO rate going from .145 to .094. Even at its peak last season, Freeman’s power output was below-average for an impact first baseman, but he projects as a 20-homer guy — not a true slugger. One reason for his poor numbers in double-A was the drop in BABIP, from .341 to .273; he was also playing with a hand injury. On the positive side, his strikeout rate actually dropped from 16.1 to 12.8%, so he wasn’t completely over-matched. He’ll head back to double-A in 2010.

3. Julio Teheran, RHP, Low-A
DOB: January 1991 Bats: R Throws: R
Signed: 2007 non-drafted international free agent (Colombia)
MLB ETA: Early-2013 40-Man Roster: No Options: 3
Repertoire: 89-94 mph fastball, curveball, change-up

There is no question that Teheran has the stuff to be a dominating starter in the Majors, but his durability is in question, as he’s been slowed by shoulder soreness. He made just 14 starts in ’09 and he split the year between rookie ball and low-A ball. At the senior level, Teheran posted a 3.68 FIP and allowed 42 hits in 37.2 innings. He showed good control with a walk rate of 2.63 BB/9 but his strikeout rate was just 6.69 K/9. The right-hander has a good change-up but his breaking ball still needs work, which is one of the reasons for the low strikeout rate. Teheran is loaded with potential but he’s just 18 years old and will likely develop slowly, especially with the organization being cautious with his health.

4. Arodys Vizcaino, RHP, Short-Season
DOB: November 1990 Bats: R Throws: R
Signed: 2007 non-drafted international free agent (Dominican Republic)
MLB ETA: Mid-2013 40-Man Roster: No Options: 3
Repertoire: 89-95 mph, plus curveball, change-up

Vizcaino had a very impressive season as a teenager in short-season ball. He missed a lot of bats with a strikeout rate of 11.06 K/9 and he kept the walks in check at 3.19 BB/9. In 42.1 innings, Vizcaino allowed just 34 hits and two homers (0.43 HR/9). His ground-ball rate improved 10% over his debut season in ’08 to 48%, which is a positive trend that will hopefully continue in 2010. If he reaches his potential, Vizcaino has the stuff to be a front-line starter… but he’s also a ways away from the Majors. He was the key player acquired recently in the Javier Vazquez deal with the Yankees.

5. Craig Kimbrel, RHP, Triple-A
DOB: May 1988 Bats: R Throws: R
Signed: 2008 3rd round – Wallace State CC
MLB ETA: Mid-2010 40-Man Roster: No Options: 3
Repertoire: 91-95 mph fastball, slider, change-up

Kimbrel has flown through the system since signing in ’08. The right-handed reliever has posted outstanding strikeout rates throughout the minors, including 17.10 K/9 in 20.0 low-A innings and 15.38 K/9 in 26.1 high-A innings, both in 2009. His control, though, has been more spotty. Kimbrel posted a walk rate of 2.70 BB/9 in low-A but it rose to 9.57 BB/9 in high-A. He also pitched 11.2 innings in double-A and walked seven batters with 17 Ks. Overall on the year, he allowed 30 hits, 45 walks and struck out 103 batters in 60.0 innings. Kimbrel needs to sharpen his control before reaching the Majors, but he has closer potential with a blazing fastball and good slider.

6. Randall Delgado, RHP, Low-A
DOB: February 1990 Bats: R Throws: R
Signed: 2006 non-drafted international free agent (Panama)
MLB ETA: Late-2012 40-Man Roster: No Options: 3
Repertoire: 91-95 mph fastball, plus curveball, change-up

Another good arm, Delgado proved his durability in ’09 by making 25 starts in low-A ball. He allowed 123 hits in 124.0 innings and posted a FIP of 3.20. He also showed a consistent ability to miss bats with his good fastball and he posted a strikeout rate of 10.23 K/9. His control was OK, especially given his experience level, and he had a walk rate of 3.56 BB/9. Delgado also did a nice job of keeping the ball in the park (0.65 HR/9). He was particularly effective against left-handed hitters, who managed to produce an average of just .225 against him. He also posted a strikeout rate of 10.92 K/9 against them, compared to 8.87 K/9 against right-handed batters.

7. Ezekiel Spruill, RHP, Low-A
DOB: September 1989 Bats: B Throws: R
Signed: 2008 2nd round – Georgia HS
MLB ETA: Late-2012 40-Man Roster: No Options: 3
Repertoire: 88-93 mph fastball, slider, change-up

Spruill had a nice first season out of rookie ball with a 3.37 FIP in low-A. He was a little too hittable, though, and he allowed 120 hits in 116.0 innings. Spruill is always around the strike zone, though, and the hitters in the low minors tend to be free swingers. He showed outstanding control with a walk rate of 1.86 BB/9. The right-hander backed that up with a strikeout rate of 7.37 K/9. He also posted an outstanding ground-ball rate just shy of 57% on the year. Spruill’s stuff is more solid than electric and he projects to be a No. 3 starter in the Majors.

8. Christian Bethancourt, C, Rookie
DOB: September 1991 Bats: R Throws: R
Signed: 2008 non-drafted international free agent (Panama)
MLB ETA: Mid-2013 40-Man Roster: No Options: 3

Bethancourt had a solid debut season in the low minors. In rookie ball, he hit .275/.340/.443 in 166 at-bats. The right-handed hitter did struggle against left-handed pitchers and he posted an OPS of just .577. For a teenager, Bethancourt showed a good eye at the plate and intriguing raw power. He’s known as a good leader behind the plate and he also has promising arm strength, as he threw out 30% of base stealers in ’09. He’ll likely move up to low-A in 2010, where he’ll be one of the youngest players in the league.

9. Cody Johnson, OF, High-A
DOB: August 1988 Bats: L Throws: R
Signed: 2006 1st round – Florida HS
MLB ETA: Mid-2012 40-Man Roster: No Options: 3

People seem to either love or hate Johnson as a prospect. Just 21, he slugged 32 homers last year, and has gone deep 58 times over the last two seasons. However, his strikeout rate actually rose from his 37.8% mark in ’08 to 40.6% in ’09 as he moved up from low-A to high-A. On the plus side, his walk rate also rose, from 7.9% to 13.2%. Johnson will need to tone down his swing if he’s going to succeed even in double-A, but he’d still have above-average power if he swung with one hand tied behind his back. With a .242 batting average in high-A, he’ll likely struggle to hit even .220 in 2010 if he doesn’t make some adjustments. At this point, he’s a long shot to be an impact player in the Majors but he’s fun to follow.

10. Adam Milligan, OF, High-A
DOB: March 1988 Bats: L Throws: R
Signed: 2008 6th round – Walters State CC
MLB ETA: Late-2011 40-Man Roster: No Options: 3

Milligan did not get into game action after signing in ’08 so ’09 represented his debut season. The outfielder had an outstanding season while spending the majority of the season in low-A where he hit .345/.393/.589 in 197 at-bats. He also posted an ISO of .244 but he was raw on the base paths and got caught five times in nine attempts. The left-handed hitter did OK against southpaws, but he still posted much better numbers against right-handers (.870 vs 1.013 OPS on the year). His walk rate was low at 5.7% but his strikeout rate was OK at 21.8% given his power output. Milligan received a taste of High-A ball and he should return there in 2010. With just 256 pro at-bats, we still don’t no exactly what this intriguing prospect has to offer.

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