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.
- As if the Yankees didn’t have enough young talent trending in the right direction, 2016 first round pick Blake Rutherford is making tons of noise as he’s starting to turn it on for the Charleston Riverdogs of the Sally League. He went 4 for 5 with 3 RBIs and 2 runs scored last night. Rutherford’s now reached base safely in 8 of his last 10 games, though he’s yet to connect for a homer.
- Rutherford’s teammate, and fellow Yankees outfield prospect Estevan Florial continues to rake. Last night he connected for his 4th homer of the season as he now slashes .284/.354/.466 with 5 steals, and 25 runs, to go along with his quintet of homers. The Haitian native is the definition of a prospect with helium, as he could be highly ranked in mid-season lists should he keep this up.
- In true frustrating fashion, Rays AAA starter Jacob Faria came out firing last night as he struck out 8 through his first three innings. However he was unbelievably inefficient with his pitches, running his count up to 108 in the 5th before being lifted upon conceding a three run homer. The strikeouts are great and all, but a starter who can’t get through 5 isn’t good. Faria’s K numbers have been eye-popping, but he’s only gotten out of the 6th twice in 7 starts to date. I’d gladly take a few less K’s and a few more innings.
- Another Braves prospect making noise is Carlos Castro of the Class High A Fire Frogs of the Florida State League. He went off yesterday going 5 for 5 with 3 homers, and 8 RBIs. Castro lacks approach, but he makes up for it with big raw power. He knocked 17 homers last season in Class A Rome of the Sally League, and seems to be pushing that total early in 2017.
- Read a few great reports, including Eric Longenhagen’s yesterday, on Giants righty Camilo Doval. His velocity has taken a huge jump in the offseason as he’s up to 97 on his fastball, after topping out in the low 90’s previously. He also throws a tight late breaking slider from a funky arm angle. He’s being labeled a relief arm, but the upside is tough to ignore.
- To far less fanfare fellow catcher Nationals prospect Taylor Gushue is tied with Alex Jackson for the lead in homers among A+ hitters. Gushue is 23 and old for the High A level, but he is a catcher and they’re expected to move slower. He’s not approaching true prospect status, but a catcher who can hit is worth keeping an eye on.
- Red Sox prospect Michael Chavis keeps on slugging, as he connected over the weekend for 2 more homers. He’s now raised his slugging % to .671, the second highest mark in Class A Advanced ball behind only the aforementioned Taylor Gushue. Contrary to what many want to believe, I don’t boost up Sox prospects due to my fandom. Feel like I need to remind people about that when speaking about Red Sox players. That said, Chavis is jumping back into the conversation of Top 100 level prospects. He was hovering around that edge entering 2016, and it looks like he might be back.
- The Pirates shortstop prospect Cole Tucker is an absolute machine on the bases, as he’s stolen 22 bags in 30 games. I saw a little of Tucker in Bradenton last month, and he’s got an excellent first step and base-stealing instincts. He’s never going to hit for power, but should walk enough to play as a basestealer as he progresses.
- I guess this is the minor league update only on the Braves. As young lefty Luiz Gohara, another player swindled from the Mariners, was promoted to AA Mississippi. This rotation now consists of Gohara, Kolby Allard, Max Fried, and Mike Soroka. One day we may look back on this collection of talent currently in Mississippi and marvel. Then again we haven’t even touched on some of the other Braves prospects like Ozzie Albies, Ian Anderson, or Austin Riley, who have all been very strong this year.
- Looks like the Reds have another pitching prospect with upside, and some justified skepticism in Luis Castillo. The righty went 7 strong last night striking out a career-high 10 in a 2-1 win over Birmingham. A strong showing for the main piece in the deal that brought Dan Straily to Miami, as he’s now 1-2 with a 3.00 ERA, and a K-Bb of 36 to 5.
- Former top picthing pospect Jose De Leon takes to the mound today for Class A Advanced Charlotte. As he makes his first start of the season for his new organization. A string of strong showings could see De Leon recover his once vaunted prospect status.
- Troubled draft prospect Seth Romero has been dismissed from the Houston baseball program. Not a great sign for his draft status, though maybe he comes at a discount in first year player drafts because of it.
- Can I talk about one more Brave? If you’re looking to buy into an up and coming prospect, say Ronald Acuna a year ago, check out Cristian Pache. The numbers so far aren’t eye-popping, but he is just 18, and has been on a tear the last handful of games, going 7 for 15, with 3 walks a .467/.556/.667 slashline and 2 steals. He has all the tools to make the jump to a Top 100 Prospect.
- Milwaukee Brewers righty Corbin Burnes is having a great season, and continued in that vein last night. The 2016 4th rounder went 6 scoreless innings for Carolina, striking out 3 and walking 1. He’s not a player I’d describe as a stud picthing prospect, but he has the makeup for mid-to-back-end rotation type. A mid-90’s fastball, average slider, and changeup offerings, as well as a fringe curve. Good add for deeper dynasty formats. Razz30 anyone?
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