The Braves system is not as deep as it once was and the majority of the talent is found in the lower levels of the system. With that said, there are some intriguing pitching and up-the-middle infield prospects. The outfield depth is very thin.
It was an off year for Teheran but it’s important to remember that the Colombia native was just 21 years old and pitching in both triple-A and the majors. He posted a 5.08 ERA with 146 hits allowed in 131 innings for Gwinnet. His strikeout rate of 6.66 K/9 was a career low, and the result of poor fastball command. Teheran fell behind in counts too often and wasn’t able to set up his curveball.
Teheran headed to the Dominican Winter League and righted the ship, according to a contact I spoke with recently. “He threw very well at the end of the season and in winter ball… there were some adjustments that he needed to make… and he did.” The talent evaluator added that Teheran’s struggles were partly mechanical and partly mental. “We just needed him to get back to where he was… When you’re struggling you try and do a little more than you’re capable of.”
The young hurler’s stuff was off for much of 2012 but he his heater was back up in the 95-96 mph range, according to my contact. He also features a potentially-above-average changeup and a potentially-average-or-better curveball. With Brandon Beachy not due back from Tommy John surgery until June or July, there is an opening for Teheran to seize with a strong spring. When asked if the Braves’ view of the top pitching prospect has altered at all since his struggles in 2012 I was told, “He has dominating stuff and nothing has changed.”
Graham, 23, has quickly become one of the best pitchers in the system since being taken in the fourth round of the 2011 draft out of Santa Clara University. He’s not tall but he has a sturdy frame. His 92-96 mph fastball explodes out of his compact delivery.
When I saw Graham pitch, his shoulder was flying open at times, causing his pitches to elevate and opposing batters were taking some very good swings on his four-seam fastball. He utilized a very fastball-heavy approach. He threw some solid sliders, including a back-door breaking ball to a left-handed hitter. Graham’s changeup looked better than advertised. The right-hander reached double-A in his first full pro season and, after making just nine starts there, should briefly return to the level before moving up to triple-A in 2013. He has the ceiling of a No. 2 or 3 starter.
Bethancourt may be the best all-around defensive catcher in the minor leagues. The young prospect has a cannon for an arm and is extremely athletic behind the dish, which helps his receiving and blocking. His game calling lags behind his other attributes but he’s made strides in that area.
Bethancourt’s offense is a very different story. He’s an overly-aggressive hitter (11 walks in 71 games) who constantly gets himself into pitchers’ counts or makes contact with poor pitches. To his credit, he puts the bat on the ball with consistency and doesn’t strike out a ton. The Panama native doesn’t hit for much power but a better approach could help him tap into it.
Bethancourt, 21, would probably be best served by a return trip to double-A but the injury to big league veteran Brian McCann could put some pressure on the youngster. Even if his offense doesn’t improve, Bethancourt will be a big leaguer solely on his defense — even if it’s just in a back-up role.
The Braves’ first round pick from the 2012 amateur draft, Sims is a Georgia native. The right-hander shows above-average athleticism, a solid pitcher’s frame and three promising pitches: a low-90s fastball that touches 96-97 mph, a curveball and a changeup.
In his debut, Sims held his own but struggled with both his command and control — which is not unusual for a young pitcher, and especially one that was a two-way player in high school. Sims, 18, has the potential to develop into a No. 2 or 3 starter although he has a long way to go to reach his potential. He should open 2013 in full-season ball but will likely spend the entire season in Rome.
Gilmartin was the Braves’ first pick (28th overall) during the 2011 amateur draft, which also saw the club add fellow Top 15 arms J.R. Graham (4th round) and Navery Moore (14th). The lefty out of Florida State University doesn’t have a huge ceiling but he could develop into a solid No. 3 or 4 starter and reached triple-A in his first full pro season. A talent evaluator I spoke with about the California native had this to say, “He has a great feel for pitching… He prepares well and studies hitters. He knows what he needs to do.”
When I saw Gilmartin, 22, pitch, he showed a smooth, easy delivery with some deception. The ball looked quicker coming out of his hand, even though he throws his heater in the 87-91 mph range. I was not overly impressed with his breaking ball but I’m told his slider has the potential to be an above-average offering in time. His changeup definitely has a chance to become a plus pitch and he was getting hitter to swing over top of the offering. He did an outstanding job of disrupting hitters’ timings by changing speeds and locations.
The contact I spoke with said the southpaw struggled late in 2012 and he likely wore down under the workload of a long season. “He’s a very hard worker and made every start and pitched deep into games,” he stated. Gilmartin will likely return to triple-A to open the 2013 season — although I’m told he’ll get a long look in spring training. He could be the first pitcher called upon, though, if injuries or inconsistencies strike the starting staff.
The Braves opened 2012 with some impressive minor league middle infield depth with the likes of Andrelton Simmons, Tyler Pastornicky, and Nick Ahmed. The organization added another name to the list with the emergence of Peraza. The 18-year-old Venezuelan hit .318 in 21 Gulf Coast League games before moving up to the more advanced Appalachian League where he continued to show potential.
Peraza doesn’t have much power but he has a chance to hit for a high average because he makes good contact and has plus speed. He stole 25 bases in 30 attempts in 2012. A talent evaluator I spoke with called the infielder “an exciting player. He’s a lead-off type of hitter who can really bunt… He’s just starting to put things together.”
Defensively, the young prospect has plus range, a strong arm and good actions. With that said, he still makes youthful mistakes in the field but there is no doubt that he’ll be able to stick at the position. I’m told Peraza suffered form tendinitis in his arm after his promotion to Danville in 2012 and wasn’t 100%. He underwent a strength program during the fall instructional league and the injury was not considered serious. With a strong spring, Peraza could open 2013 in full-season ball and is probably about four years away from challenging Simmons for playing time.
Wood, 22, was a 2012 second round draft pick out of the University of Georgia. He was given an above-average bonus to sign and had an outstanding debut despite being challenged with an assignment to A-ball. The southpaw has the ability to miss bats while also inducing an above-average number of ground-ball outs. A contact I spoke with said Wood has the potential for two plus pitches — his low-to-mid-90s fastball and changeup — and his breaking ball should be at least average.
On the mound, Wood hides the ball behind his back, which adds deception to his delivery, but it could also give a view of his grip to a runner on second base. His delivery is not smooth and I’m not a big fan of his arm action. Wood slowed his arm a bit when he threw his breaking ball.
When I saw him play, he fielded his position well and showed some athleticism but didn’t hold base runners well. With that said, he has a hop at the end of his delivery and is turned looking over his left should, which could hurt his ability to field the ball to his left .
Wood ended the season with an abdominal injury and he missed the fall instructional league, costing him a little development time. Despite that fact, he should open 2013 in high-A ball and the organization is excited for his future. My contact stated, “With a young kid like this… there is a lot to like.” However, you don’t see many starting pitchers with deliveries like Wood. For me, his mechanics scream “Reliever.”
Cabrera, 19, opened some eyes during his first taste of North American baseball in 2012. The right-hander has a mid-90s fastball, as well as two other pitches that could develop into above-average offerings: a slider and changeup. Cabrera struggles with both his command and control.
A talent evaluator I spoke with was impressed with the young pitcher. “He’s got good size, strength… with a good arm… He improved as the season wore on. We think there is a lot of ability and potential there.” The native of the Dominican Republic should open 2013 in full-season ball and should spend most of, if not all, his year in Rome of the South Atlantic League. He has a solid shot at sticking in the starting rotation but has a lot of development ahead of him before reaching the majors.
A 2008 second round draft pick, Spruill’s development has taken some patience as he enters his sixth pro season. That patience is about to pay off. The right-hander spent all of 2012 in double-A, making 27 starts and pitching more than 160 innings. In a bit of a surprising decision, he then made another seven starts and pushed his innings total for the year to more than 180.
Spruill’s approach on the mound has evolved over time and he’s become more of a pitch-to-contact pitcher. His strikeout rates are a little low, as a result, but he produces above-average ground-ball rates. He has a tall, lanky frame with good balance and an easy delivery. When I watched him pitch Spruill was struggling to establish his fastball and command was an issue. He used his off-speed pitch for strikeouts but he telegraphed it by lowering his high-three-quarter arm slot when delivering the pitch. The Georgia native also features a low-90s fastball and a slider.
Spruill should move up to triple-A to begin 2013 and could be one of the first starting pitchers recalled in the event of an injury. He could be a solid innings-eater at the back-end of the starting rotation. With some improvements to his secondary stuff I could see him pitching at the level of a No. 3 starter for at least a few seasons.
Gattis is an unusual story as a player that gave up baseball for a number of years and didn’t turn pro until he was 23 years old. Now 26, he’s been making up for lost time and split 2012 between high-A and double-A. Combined, he hit 18 home runs in an injury-shortened 74-game season before adding another 16 home runs in 56 Venezuelan Winter League contests. His impressive power comes from strong forearms and above-average bat speed.
Originally signed as a catcher, Gattis has also played some first base and left field. He’s a below-average fielder behind the plate and keeping him back there on a full-time basis would only slow his development. He’s competent enough back there, though, to serve as a big league club’s third-string catcher and has a strong arm. When speaking with a contact about Gattis, I mentioned Mike Napoli as a possible comp but Josh Willingham was suggested to me as slightly more appropriate.
The contact I spoke with feels that Gattis could develop enough offense at the big league level to be an everyday player, even in left field. “He’s been productive at every level he’s played… His versatility is a huge asset,” he said. “When guys hit like that you find a place to play him.” Gattis should open 2013 in triple-A but a strong spring could force the Braves to find a spot for him on the 25-man roster.
Ahmed, 22, is a tall shortstop who was the Braves’ second round draft pick in 2011. He spent all of 2012 at the high-A ball level with mixed results. He finished the year in the Arizona Fall League and looked good in a small-sample size. He swung and missed too much, leading to a high strikeout rate and low batting average. He has gap power but does not hit as many home runs as one might expect given his frame. However, his swing is geared to hitting the ball into the gaps. Ahmed stole 40 bases in 50 tries last season and has above-average speed.
Ahmed has improved his range at shortstop and he also possesses a strong arm. He definitely has a chance to stick at the position but could also see time at either third base or second base, depending on the big league club’s needs. Ahmed should move up to double-A in 2013 and will hopefully look to adjust his approach at the plate, either to adopt an all-fields, line-drive approach or to create more leverage in his swing and hit for more power. He currently appears to be caught somewhere in the middle.
Moore, 22, had an inconsistent career at Vanderbilt University but had decent results in his first full pro season. He spent the year in low A-ball and split his time between the starting rotation and the bullpen. Moore’s repertoire includes a low-90s fastball that can hit 95-96 mph. He also has a breaking ball that appear to be more of a curveball than a slider and I didn’t see much of a changeup when I watched him pitch.
Moore has a smooth, compact delivery but he telegraphed his breaking ball by slowing down his arm. He looks more comfortable from the stretch rather than the full wind-up, possibly due to having fewer moving parts. The Tennessee native appears to be better suited to a relief role going forward but he could be a swing man in a big league rotation. He’ll move up to high-A ball to begin 2013 but could see double-A by the end of the season.
Martin had an impressive 2012 campaign when he struck out 123 batters in 107 high-A ball innings. It was his first full pro season after being selected in the eighth round of the 2011 amateur draft out of Gonzaga University. A scout I spoke with about Martin said he has a big league feel to pitching. “He has great command of all of his pitches,” he said. “Not just good but very advanced for someone his age. Give his dad credit for that who was an ex-Braves minor leaguer.”
Martin has a four-pitch mix including a fastball that has hit 93-94 mph coming out of the bullpen, a role he fulfilled in college during his senior year. He also has a promising slider, good curveball and a developing changeup. “His changeup grades out as major-league average,” the scout said. “He’ll throw it in any count. Best case he ends up being a [Kris] Medlen-type guy but most likely will be an end-of-the-rotation starter. Worst case he is a long relief bullpen arm.”
Martin, 23, will move up to double-A in 2013 and continue to stretch himself out to see if he can stick in the starting rotation; a strong second half of ’12 provides hope. He could be ready for a shot at the big leagues in 2014.
A sixth round draft pick from 2012 out of Texas Christian University, Elander could turn out to be a real steal as an offensive-minded catcher. His drop in the draft, though, was related to the concerns that other teams had about his ability to stick behind the dish. Elander, who did not catch regularly until his junior year of college, is athletic with a strong arm but he’s a raw receiver and is just learning how to call a game.
At the plate, the Texas native has raw power that he’s slowly beginning to tap into during game situations and he makes above-average contact (19 Ks in 36 games). He could eventually provide a well-rounded offensive game. Elander could open 2013 in high-A ball and reach the majors at some point in 2014, depending on his defensive development. He could eventually move to another position such as first base or a corner outfielder. Elander could also become the eventual replacement for Brian McCann if Christian Bethancourt’s bat fails to develop.
Merejo, 18, was another young Latin player that made an impressive North American debut in 2012. The southpaw showed above-average control with just nine walks in 41 rookie ball innings. He has an 88-92 mph fastball as a well as a solid curveball and developing changeup.
He was an extreme-fly-ball pitcher but a contact I spoke with said the organization wasn’t concerned about his approach at this stage in his development and just wants him to go out and pitch and get experience. “He’s a young guy with a good arm. He’s just a baby.” Merejo’s 2013 minor league assignment is still up in the air but I’m told the organization will be cautious with him and feels no need to rush him.