Every few years a farm system develops to the point that it’s busting at the seams with talent. An organization builds  and before you know it they’ve cultivated more talent than they can possibly use, and therefore have reached what I call the “embarrassment of riches” phase. This time is now for the Atlanta Braves farm system, long thought to be propped up by the organizations pitching depth, that is no longer the case. So far early in the 2017 campaign the Braves have produced two of the breakout stars of the young season in Ronald Acuna, and newly (re)converted catcher Alex Jackson. To call Acuna a breakout star is probably a bit disingenuous, as he was well within my Top 100 in the pre-season, ranking 42nd overall. This is how I described him then, “Could be this season’s Victor Robles. Five tool player, that tore up Australia this winter, poised for a big jump in the mid-season list. Trade for him now.” I hope you listened to my advice and traded for him then, because after his entrance to AA on Tuesday he might be tough to wrangle from his owners. What exactly has the 19 year old outfielder done since his promotion on Tuesday? How about going 6/8 with 2 homers, 2 steals, 4 runs, and 4 RBIs. It’s funny how Acuna has exploded the last few weeks after initially struggling to start the season. After slashing .209/.261/.349 in the season’s first 11 games, Acuna is hitting .355/.398/.605 with 4 homers and 10 steals in the 18 matches since. As I said calling him a breakout is disingenuous, but he looks to be rising into another tier of prospects. As for his former and future teammate Alex Jackson the story is quite different. As the former 6th overall pick in the 2014 draft struggled for 2 1/2 years in the Mariners organization, before being traded to the Braves this offseason for a pair of fringe major league starters. Jackson at one point in time was one of the more decorated high school players in recent memory. Having been named a three time Baseball America All-American, a two time Under Armor All-American, and even winning Baseball Prospectus Prospect of the Year before even being drafted. A catcher in high school, the Mariners decided to move him to the outfield, where Jackson struggled. Slowly his body and skill set deteriorated, and many minor league experts, myself included had written him off. Bad move on our part. Since joining the Braves organization and being moved back to catcher, all Jackson has done is take siege of the notoriously pitching friendly Florida State League, hitting .296/.348/.592 with 10 homers and 27 RBIs in 31 contests. He seems to have abandoned some patience in lieu of power, but when the results are good I’d take it every time. It’s getting to the point with Jackson, that if this continues into the summer he could easily rank within the top 5 fantasy catchers in the minors. Here’s the other happenings in the MiLB over the last few days.

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At the quarterly Prospector meetings many topics are broached. Favorite sweatpants style, least favorite fellow Prospector, gold tooth picks, but far and away the most popular discussion amongst my peers, “Who’s your favorite Atlanta Braves Pitching Prospect?”. If you know anything about the Braves farm system, then you know there’s so many names to choose from. Think about it, there’s Anderson, there’s Soroka, there’s Fried, and Gohara, the list goes on and on. However, I Prospect Versace, find myself enamored with the best and brightest of them all, Kolby Allard. As a 19 year old in AA he’s setting the Southern League ablaze with a 1.36 ERA, a 0.97 WHIP, and a 7.64 K/9 to a 1.91 Bb/9. The lefty was taken by the Braves 14th overall way back in the 2015 draft, and has really taken off since early injury woes. He’s made quick work of the lower levels of the minors, never sporting an ERA higher than 4 during his 90+ pro innings leading up to 2017. The stuff has never been an issue for Allard as he throws a plus fastball in the low to mid 90’s, a plus curveball (seen below), and an improving change. His control and command are advanced for a 19 year old, and with AA looking like just another notch in his belt, it wouldn’t surprise me if we see Allard in Atlanta come next year. On the most recent episode of the prospect podcast, we discuss whether or not Allard is the highest upside starter in the minors, and it’s truly possible. The only thing holding the young lefty back is a checkered injury history, with a previous back surgery. While he’s more than likely owned even in the shallowest of dynasty formats, he’s a must add on the off change he’s not. A worthy trade target for rebuilding clubs too. Here’s your minor league update for May 7th.

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During the winter I made a somewhat bold statement, that I’m not sure many agreed with it at the time. I stated that, I’d rather have Rhys Hoskins long term than Tommy Joseph. There was a great deal of skepticism regarding Hoskins 2016, mostly because it took place in the comfy confines of FirstEnergy (not a typo) Stadium. And really, who can blame them? The ballpark is so bananas, it tricked people into thinking Darin Ruf, and Dylan Cozens were actually good. That said, there was a lot to like about Hoskins profile,  FirstEnergy (not a typo) Stadium not withstanding. Throughout his professional career he’s hit for power (.233 ISO), average (.291), gotten on base (.375), and walked at a high rate (10.4%). He’s also done all this while striking out at a sub-20% clip. Tell me that doesn’t scream MLB worthy? In the offseason I was by far the high man on Hoskins, ranking him 57th in my top 100. Fast forward two and half months, and Hoskins is the new danger, hitting a robust .350/.447/.675 with 8 homers, and 15 RBIs in just 24 games. Meanwhile Tommy J struggles in Philly, and the calls for Hoskins in Philly get louder. Sure he’s a righthanded throwing first baseman, but Paul Goldschmidt scoffs at you scoffs at your concerns. I put my money where my mouth is on Hoskins, and dealt Nick Gordon, and T.J. Friedl in the Basbeall Prospectus expert league, The Devil Rejects, back in November, and am quite happy with how my gamble looks to paying off. This prospector’s word of advice, go get Hoskins. Anyway, here’s what else I saw this week in the minors.

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Pitching prospects are funny. Sometimes the best major league starters seemingly come out of nowhere. A mechanical tweak, or improved grip on a breaking pitch can sky rocket a prospect’s status to new heights. Sometimes, a high floor prospect that wasn’t getting too many prospect hounds or dynasty managers excited, progresses to the point of at least real mid-rotation upside. The later seems to be the case of the Reds AA righthander Tyler Mahle. On the heels of a perfect game just about a week ago. One in which, he made quick work of the 27 batters, throwing just 88 pitches. He produced another strong showing Friday, going 6 scoreless innings, striking out 6, and allowing 5 to reach. Mahle’s displayed pinpoint control throughout his time in the minors, and the results have been good outside a blip during his first go-at AA last season. A four pitch arsenal includes an average low 90’s fastball, a plus changeup, and a slurvy breaking ball. He’s not someone I foresee breaking a K per inning rate, but so far the swing and miss has been there, with 34 K’s in 32.1 innings. If Injuries to Reds starters begin to pile up, we might see Mahle in the big leagues by mid-July. As always Great America Ballpark is a horrible landing spot for any young starter, but I’m more inclined to believe in one with control and tendencies to induce weak contact (14.8%) and ground balls (44.4% GB).

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With roughly two months worth of baseball activity behind us, it’s time to re-rank some stuff. Sure, that’s an awful reason to rank things, and what’s baseball activity anyway? But Keith Law gets to update his after a couple of months, so why can’t cha boy Ralphie L? Some things have changed, for sure, some top prospects have either graduated, or are on the cusp of graduating. Most notably Andrew Benintendi, Dansby Swanson, Hunter Renfroe, Manuel Margot, Aaron Judge, and Tyler Glasnow. I figure if you’re in the majors, I ain’t gonna rank ya no more. There’s been a few jumps, the most significant of which is Chicago Cubs prospect Ian Happ. For those of you who don’t follow minor league box scores, he’s pretty much the Eric Thames of the minors leagues. Only minus the beard or the Popeye muscles. My excitement over Lewis Brinson and Cody Bellinger should be easily identified, they slot second and third respectively. As for the rest of the list you’re going to have to see for yourself. No, I won’t be sliding Tyler Mahle into my Top 25, after the perfect game last night. I had to get it in somewhere, right?

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On Monday night, my top scout (aka my daughter) and I, loaded up our rented scouting station (mini-van), and headed out to LECOM Park in Bradenton, Florida to check out some Florida State League action. LECOM Park is actually the corporate name of McKechnie Field, often called the Fenway Park of Spring Training. Funny, I didn’t feel like my seat was designed for a garden gnome, but hey, everything is bigger in Florida right? Wait, that doesn’t sound right. Any the Arsenio Hall, my daughter and I headed out to go scout, and I use that term loosely, some of Bradenton and Clearwater’s top players. Bradenton is the Pirates Class Advanced A affiliate, and Clearwater is the Phillies. While my daughter and I munched on pretzels, hot dogs, and other assorted ballpark foods, I was reminded of why I love the minor leagues. Where else can you see potential future stars mere feet away, chat with coaches about breaking balls, and shoot some sweet scouting video without an usher booting you out of the stadium? Where am I going with all this? Be patient and I’ll tell you. Why are you so hasty bro? Well, I had an idea while shooting some scouting videos of Will Craig, and Cornelius Randolph. What if we had an army of amateur scouts throughout the country sharing their first hand video accounts?

Why not have my readers, and listeners, shoot scouting videos at the minor league games they attend throughout the year? From there, we’ll take your raw footage, edit it, and post it on Razzball’s YouTube channel. It’s crowdsourced scouting, and with smart phones more common than smart people what could be easier. So if you’re taking in a minor league game at anytime this season, whip out your phone and shoot some videos of top prospects you see. Once you do shoot them over to me via email at [email protected]

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Every year, after finishing my Top 100 post, I have a player or two I immediately regret not ranking higher. This year those prospects were Zack Collins, and Kyle Tucker. The funny thing is, Tucker wasn’t ranked that low at 32. Granted my prospecting brother from another mother Halp ranked him 21st, and based on last night it looks like Halp’s right. What happened last night? Welp, Tucker: Man and My Dreams, went 4 for 5 with a homer, 2 doubles, and 7 RBIs. He’s now hitting .343 in the Carolina League, can you imagine what he would have done with a full season in Lancaster? BTW Lancaster is one of the most homer and hitter friendly environments in minors, and was the class A advanced affiliate of the Astros up until this season. As for Tucker, he’s a 5×5 player’s dream, with hit tool, speed, developing power, and massive upside. Seems only appropriate that I would open this week’s Minor League Update with a native son of Tampa, while I’m on vacation here. How meta.

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Coming off a start in which he whiffed a career high 12 batters, Brent Honeywell continued his scorching hot start last night. The righty went 7 innings, allowing 1 run, 1 hit, and striking out 8 in the process. Now at AA Montgomery, Honeywell looks to ride his varied arsenal, including his infamous screwball, to the show by the end of the year. The only real question with Honeywell at the moment is, just how aggressive the Rays get moving him along? His control has always been elite, leading to walk rates in the 4-6% range. And while the ability to generate swings and misses has always been there, it’s noticeably ticked up this season. The time to buy Honeywell might be now as he continues his assault on the AA Southern League. I’m never one to invest much in a pitching prospect, particularly one in the AL East, but Honeywell is the rare exception.

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Growing up, some of the best players in baseball were legacies. Juniors, so to speak. Think Ken Griffey Jr., Barry Bonds, Cal Ripken Jr., so on and so forth. Well, the Toronto Blue Jays have taken it upon themselves to bring the Jr.’s back to the game. It started unsuccessfully with Dwight Smith Jr., but has taken a turn for the better with the latest crop of Juniors. On yesterday’s podcast we briefly discussed Vlad Guerrero Jr. and his Lansing Lugnuts debut. Mostly because it was going on while we were recording, and I for one, love a good distraction. What I’m getting at is, we might have done you a disservice not listing this team as one to watch. With an exciting combination of Vladimir Guerrero Jr. and Bo Bichette (son of Dante), they’re definitely the best set of juniors out there. In fact the pair showed their oodles of upside Friday night, as each homered in the game. On Saturday they continued their assault on A ball, combining to go 3 for 8 with a run and an RBI. Some solid start for the duo, huh? Scouts rank Vlad Jr. amongst the top power prospects in the minors, and Bichette is viewed as a high upside middle infield prospect with 20+ homer upside. For our first Minor League Update of the season, it’s only right we go back to the future. Here’s what else is going on during opening weekend of Minor League Baseball.

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On June 12th of this year, 400 people, myself included, will tune into the MLB Draft to witness where this year’s crop of fresh meat will land. Is it a bit insensitive to refer to these talented ballplayers as fresh meat? Sure, but I’m an inappropriate prospector, and I really enjoy upping the creep ante on my readers. After all, we’re talking about high school and college kids. Wait till I get to my 16 year old internationals! Any da hootie-hoo, over the last few seasons we’ve come to expect a few things from the draft. First at least 2-3 advanced college hitters ready for pro-ball nearly immediately, think Schwarber, Benintendi, Bregman, and Swanson. And secondly, super talented prep players with huge ceilings, but long ETA’s. This is not a ranking, I repeat this is not a ranking. Just in case you missed it I’m going to use all caps, THIS IS NOT A RANKING. I’m simply using this as an opportunity, to write about something besides the same 15 potential rookie of the year candidates, but also to introduce some of the players to follow over the coming college season.  On the latest episode of The Prospect Podcast Mr. Michael Halpern Esq. of Imaginarybrickwall.com, and I discuss many of the names covered below. So listen to that while reading this, it syncs up like Darkside of the Moon and The Wizard of Oz. Seriously check it out…. Over the next two months, players are bound to rise, and to fall, though let them never be subjected to the trade offers I’ve received from fellow Razzball writers in the Perts and Writer’s RCLs over the last 48 hours. Pssst I don’t want the pitchers you shouldn’t have drafted. Meh, let’s get into some exciting 2017 MLB Draft Prospects.

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