The Atlanta Braves system has a few bigger names in the top half of the system, but the strength is in the depth. Things could look even better by the end of 2009 if a few of the sleepers wake up.
Tommy Hanson has already been written about a fair bit around here. He had a breakout 2008 season during both the regular season and in the Arizona Fall League. He pitched at both High-A and Double-A with 70 hits allowed in 98 innings at the senior level. He also posted rates of 3.77 BB/9 and 10.47 K/9. The only thing that is keeping him from breaking camp with Atlanta is the veteran depth in the starting rotation. It’ll be a miracle if Tom Glavine throws 180 innings, so Hanson will get his shot sooner or later in 2009.
Jordan Schafer is moving in the opposite direction of Hanson. After the recent trade of center fielder Josh Anderson to Detroit, it appears as though Schafer has won the starting-day outfield gig in Atlanta, although the club has yet to confirm it. Schafer had an off year in 2008 by hitting just .269/.378/.471 with 10 home runs and 12 stolen bases in 297 Double-A at-bats. He has had a nice spring with a .373 average and five stolen bases. The 16 strikeouts in 17 games is a bit disturbing, though.
Brandon Hicks is a shortstop in the mold of former Cub Jose Hernandez: A powerful bat that will likely produce a low-ish average and a ton of strikeouts. The former third round draft pick is a better defender, although his size may eventually force him to third base if he remains a regular at the MLB level. Last season in High-A, Hicks batted .234/.335/.480 with 19 homers and 14 stolen bases in 342 at-bats. He also hit .241 in 54 Double-A at-bats.
Cole Rohrbough played at two A-ball levels in 2008, but the southpaw still missed significant time due to injury. In 31.2 High-A innings, Rohrbough allowed just 27 hits and posted rates of 2.27 BB/9 and 7.96 K/9. His repertoire includes an 89-94 mph fastball, plus curve and change-up. He’s expected to be fully healthy this spring and should begin the year in High-A.
Another talented southpaw, Jeff Locke had a down year in A-ball in 2008. The 21-year-old hurler allowed 150 hits in 139.2 innings and posted rates of 2.45 BB/9 and 7.28 K/9, which was by far his lowest strikeout rate of his career. He has excellent control for his age and he has the potential to have three very good pitches, with a fastball that can touch 94 mph, a curveball and a change-up.
Outfielder Jason Heyward is a name you should remember in 2009. He had a solid first full season in the Majors after being a first-round pick out of high school in 2007, but he could blossom into a future superstar. The 19-year-old slugger hit .323/.388/.483 with 11 home runs and 15 stolen bases. He also earned 22 at-bats in High-A ball late in the year. Still in his teens, Heyward is an athletic 6’4” 220 lbs and his strong arm is well suited to right field.
Another talented outfielder, Gorkys Hernandez was obtained from Detroit in the Edgar Renteria trade, which also netted the club Jair Jurrjens. Hernandez does not have anywhere near the power that Heyward does, but he stole 20 bases in 2008 with his above-average speed. He struggled a bit in his first season in the organization and hit just .264/.348/.387 with five home runs. Hernandez, 21, also posted rates of 10.6 BB% and 19.5 K%. He needs to play small ball more consistently and he could be headed to a fourth-outfielder future in Atlanta because he’s not going to push Schafer out of center and he does not profile well in the corners.
Outside of Heyward, Freddie Freeman has the most impressive bat in the lower minors. The first base prospect had an exciting first full season in pro ball after being a second round draft pick out of high school in 2007. In A-ball, Freeman hit .316/.378/.521 with 18 homers and 95 RBI in 491 at-bats. He also posted rates of 8.6 BB% and 17.1 K%. Defensively, the left-handed hitter is above-average.
Julio Teheran, 18, generated a lot of buzz in 2008 even before he threw a pitch in North America. Unfortunately, his 2008 season did not play out as planned due to shoulder problems which were luckily not deemed serious. Teheran allowed 18 hits in 15 innings in rookie ball and posted rates of 2.40 BB/9 and 10.40 K/9. He has a good fastball that can touch 93 mph, a potentially plus change-up and a developing curveball.
Randall Delgado, 19, showed very well in his North American debut. In 69 rookie ball innings, the right-hander allowed 63 hits and posted rates of 3.91 BB/9 and 10.57 K/9. He can hit 93 mph with his fastball and also has a good curveball and change-up.
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