A week after writing up one of the worst farm system in baseball in the Diamondbacks, I’ve been blessed with the task of covering arguably the best farm system in the Atlanta Braves. Over the last few seasons the Braves have done an excellent job of acquiring top prospects in trades, and via the draft. This approach that has left them with an embarrassment of riches. It’s not often you can trade an obvious over-performing pitcher for the top pick in a deep draft, and a handful of other good, young, and controllable assets. Fortunately for Braves fans, GM John Coppolella has very incriminating photos of Dave Stewart. Otherwise such outlandish trades like the Swanson and Toussiant deals wouldn’t have been possible. Since then, the Braves have added one of the top International signings in recent memory in Kevin Maitan, and took in quite a haul in last June’s draft. In other words, there is much to discuss in the Braves system. Instead of rambling for another 100 words about Disney magic, and how dumb Dave Stewart is, let’s just dig into one of the more exciting farms.
Tier 1: Specs On The Beach
Potential stars. Consensus T100 prospects with premium fantasy ceilings.
Dansby Swanson, SS | Age: 22 | ETA: 2017 | 2016 Level: MLB/AA/A+
At this point we should all be well aware of the trade that brought Dansby Swanson and other top Diamondback prospects to Atlanta for the curse of Shelby Miller. Swanson is one of those classic better in real life than fantasy types. That’s not to say he won’t have value, and won’t be a universally owned for most of his career. The comps thrown around most frequently are Erick Aybar on the low end, and Derek Jeter on the high end. Which is like saying he’s going to be a grapefruit or a tank. The Jeter comp is about as high end as you can get, and highly unlikely. On the other hand the Aybar comp makes you want to forget you ever read this. My guess is the finished product will be somewhere in the middle. After all, he is blessed with a very good hit tool, middle of the road power, and speed. So you’re asking yourself “why was this schmuck the first overall pick in a stacked draft?” Well, he’s chock full of that fantasy difference maker, INTANGIBLES. In 2017 I would expect a borderline MI type, that you’ll probably stream during his hot stretches. Ultimately he projects out as a .280-.300 hitter, with 15 homer pop, and 15-20 steal speed. Probably a prototypical two hole hitter. For more on Swanson check out Grey’s Dansby Swanson fantasy.
Kevin Maitan, SS | Age: 16 | ETA 2021 | 2016 Level: Pre-School
The fresh-faced Venezuelan is the best teenaged international product in at least a decade. The two comps most fequently thrown around are Chipper Jones and Miguel Cabrera. Yeah, he’s that good. For those of you unfamiliar, he’s a switch-hitting sixteen year old savant, with 60 grade power, and hit tool from both sides of the plate. I know he’s high on here for a player at least 4 years away from the majors, but it’s tough to ignore anyone with “best player in the game” type upside.
Ozzie Albies, 2B/SS | Age: 19 | ETA 2017 | 2016 Level: AAA/AA
The switch-hitting teenager with ceiling for days. No, not the aforementioned Kevin Maitan. It’s the slightly older Ozzie Albies! Blessed with plus-plus speed and an excellent hit tool, Albies has moved quickly through the minors. So much so, that he finds himself on the cusp of a much anticipated big league debut. Prior to 2016, Albies was considered a non-factor in the power department, but made some excellent gains this season. In his peak years expect a .280 to .300+ average with 30+ steals, and maybe enough pop to crack double digits homer totals.
Austin Riley, 3B | Age: 20 | ETA: 2018 | 2016 Level: A
After fueling a serious hype machine coming into 2016, Riley burned through a lot of good will with a disastrous first half. As soon as the calendar hit July, the powerful beast we know and love made an appearance, slamming 17 homers from July 5th on and dropping an absurd .297 ISO. The long and the short, Riley is one of the top 10 corner infield prospects in the game. Though he’s only 20, there’s a solid chance he’s patrolling the hot corner in Atlanta by mid-2018.
Kolby Allard, LHP | Age: 19 | ETA: 2020 | 2016 Level: A/Rk
This is one sure to cause some debate, particularly in a system chock full of tasty spec arms, but for my money Allard has the highest upside in the system. A lefty with a deceptive delivery and plus plus offerings, in his mid-90’s fastball and sharp curveball. Many evaluators draw comparisons to Cliff Lee. A stress fracture in his back caused him to drop to Atlanta in the middle of last year’s first round. Durability remains the one question mark with Allard, but a solid 87.2 innings this year should quiet some of those critics.
Luiz Gohara, LHP | Age: 20 | ETA: 2019 | 2016 Level: A/A-
Acquired from the mariners in the Mallex Smith trade, the first one. Another elite pitching prospect to add to the mix in the A-T-L, Gohara draws comps to C.C. Sabathia, and not just for the bad body but the stuff as well. He works upper 90’s with the fastball (hit 99 in the AFL), with good sink and downhill plane, though he may lose a few ticks with longer outings and a larger innings load. His best secondary pitch is his mid-80’s slider with late bite, he typically works low in the zone, and can throw it in the dirt when needed, generating some bad swings. He also throws a changeup, that needs some work, and will more than likely be the focus of his development this season. Oh yeah, and he’s from Brazil, signing the highest bonus of any Brazilian player in history at $800,000.
Tier 2: Floorboreds
Lacking the “star” upside. They might have some warts, but their ETAs are on the horizon.
Travis Demeritte, 2B | Age: 22 | ETA: 2018 | 2016 Level: A+
After being acquired by the Braves at the deadline, the powerful second baseman immediately became one of the top hitting prospects in the Atlanta system. The power is real, but will it translate to the upper reaches of the minors and eventually the bigs is the question. Between a previous PED suspension in 2015, and a very productive stint in homer happy High Desert, some of the eye popping numbers of 2016 must be called into question. 2017 will be a true testament of what type of prospect Demeritte is, a high ceiling power hitter, or simply a flash in the pan with some pop.
Max Fried, LHP | Age: 22 | ETA: 2017 | 2016 Level: A
After coming to the Braves in the Justin Upton deal, Fried was on the shelf until 2016 as he recovered from Tommy John surgery. So this year was a major step in his recovery, particulary after not pitching for nearly 20 months. Fried’s upside probably makes him questionable for this section, and he could easily jump into the “Beach” should he start the year off with a bang. Looks like he has the upside of a number 2 starter.
Sean Newcomb, LHP | Age: 23 | ETA: 2017 | 2016 Level: AA
The powerful lefty acquired in the Andrelton Simmons trade looks almost perfect on paper. First off, he throws his fastball in the high 90’s, secondly he offers another plus pitch in his curveball, and even mixes in an average change. The major wart in Newcomb’s game is the major lack of control. If he could cut down by even one walk per 9, we’d be looking at a must own fantasy starter. Unfortunately, that’s not that case, and until he does, his major league exposure will be limited, and ugly.
Lucas Sims, RHP | Age: 22 | ETA: 2017 | 2016 Level: AAA/AA
After making adjustments to his delivery in 2015, Sims made major strides in 2016. Throwing his pitches with far more control and much crisper bite. Not sure he has the same upside as some of the arms in the Atlanta system, but he should be in the big league rotation in short order. Was very good in his 17 starts in AA, but struggled in his AAA appearances.
Mike Soroka, RHP | Age: 19 | ETA: 2018 | 2016 Level: A
A strike throwing teenager who’s wise beyond his years. That pretty much sums up every scouting report you’ll read on Soroka. He’s not the most exciting prospect for fantasy, but in deeper leagues he offers a very high floor. Looks like a no doubt major leaguer with the upside of Rick Porcello. Not my favorite prospect, but someone who should not be ignored.
Tier 3: Long Shot Lolitas
Sexy ceilings, but these youngsters also come with risks and distant ETAs
Ronald Acuna, OF | Age: 18 | ETA: 2019 | 2016 Level: A/Rk
One of the breakout prospects of 2016, as he burst onto the scene early in the year before a thumb injury slowed down his ascent. Much like Albies, Acuna is advanced beyond his years showing elite hit tool and approach for an 18 year old prospect. His speed isn’t off the charts, but he has the ability to steal 20+ bases now, and more power could develop as he matures. He’s straddling the line of “Spec on The Beach”, and I would expect he reaches that status a year from now.
Joey Wentz, LHP | Age: 19 | ETA: 2020 | 2016 Level: Rk
I’ve gone on record before that I prefer Wentz to Anderson for fantasy purposes. While Anderson shows a very safe profile for a prep arm, Wentz’s stuff is better, and he’s a lefty with a bigger frame. One of the more talented two way high school players in the draft, Wentz’s stock dropped a little due to a dead arm period during the showcase circuit season. This forced Wentz to play almost exclusively as a first baseman. After implementing a throwing program, Wentz’s velocity jumped to the mid-90’s on his fastball. His secondary offerings are what separate him from Anderson in my opinion as he pairs a plus curveball with a plus change. Shows as high of an upside as any arm in the system.
Ian Anderson, RHP | Age: 18 | ETA: 2020 | 2016 Level: RK
The “Aqualung” was the third overall pick in last year’s draft, and was a bit of a shock selection that early. The pick makes sense because the Braves were able to sign him under slot at $4 million, saving $2.5 Million to spend on other picks (like Wentz). Scouting reports are split on just how much projection Anderson has, his floor is higher than most prep arms, placing him somewhere on the scale of number 3 starter. His arsenal is comprised of mid 90’s fastball that touches 97 on occasion, a breaking pitch with slurve action, and an average change. He possesses excellent control and solid command for an 18 year old, and shows little bullpen risk.
Touki Toussaint, RHP | Age: 20 | ETA: 2019 | 2016 Level: A+
Acquired from the diamondbacks for a bag of cash described as “Bronson Arroyo’s contract”, Touusaint was one of the top prep arms in the 2014 draft. He possesses an excellent curveball and plus fastball, but struggles with command. He made major strides toward refining his ability to take the next step this season with Rome. There’s huge upside here, but also some significant risk.
Alex Jackson, OF | Age: 20 | ETA: 2019 | 2016 Level: A
After being label by many the best prep prospect, and hitter in the 2014 Draft, Jackson has struggled to find his footing in the professional ranks. After dealing with a nasty combo of hand and shoulder injuries in 2015, the Mariners took a cautious approach with him in 2016. Leaving him in extended spring training to work on maturity on and off the field. It paid off with his best season as a pro even if the .243/.332/.408 slashline is underwhelming. Jackson showed improved plate approach, and began to tap into his massive raw power. All in all he’s still young at 20, with as much upside as any prospect in the lower minors. It’s not surprising the Braves targeted him this offseason, they’ve done a great job of acquiring talented hitters with some warts. Former Fangraphs writer/current Braves front office member Kiley McDaniel’s glowing reports of Jackson leading up to and following the 2014 draft should have tipped us off that there’s advocates of Jackson in his new organization.