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Top Ten Prospects: Atlanta Braves
Complete Index of Top 10s

By Bill Ballew
November 7, 2005


Chat Wrap: Bill Ballew took your Braves questions
Baseball America's Top 10 Prospects lists are based on projections of a player's long-term worth after discussions with scouting and player-development personnel. All players who haven't exceeded the major league rookie standards of 130 at-bats or 50 innings pitched (without regard to service time) are eligible. Ages are as of April 1, 2006.

It's no secret that the Braves have relied on their farm system throughout their unprecedented current run of 14 consecutive division championships. In 2005, Atlanta took its dependence on homegrown players further by using 18 rookies, including 12 who made their major league debuts. The Braves fielded a lineup with at least seven position players signed and developed by the organization in more than half their games, and had a minimum of one rookie in the lineup in every game after May 28.

Atlanta didn't plan on relying on so much youth heading into 2005. At the start of the season, the likes of outfielder Jeff Francoeur, catcher Brian McCann and reliever Blaine Boyer were at Double-A Mississippi and appeared to be at least a year away from the big leagues. Others, including righthander Kyle Davies and outfielders Ryan Langerhans and Kelly Johnson, were looked upon as complementary parts. Injuries and poor performances, however, forced general manager John Schuerholz to consider a different route, beginning on Memorial Day weekend.

In addition to promoting from within, Schuerholz used the Braves system to acquire veterans. The most prominent deal took place right after the 2004 Winter Meetings, when Atlanta got Tim Hudson for prized lefthander Dan Meyer and big leaguers Juan Cruz and Charles Thomas. Schuerholz grabbed hard-throwing Jorge Sosa from the Devil Rays for utility infielder Nick Green during spring training.

Shipping righthanders Roman Colon and Zach Miner to Detroit for Kyle Farnsworth prior to the trading deadline bolstered the bullpen, and looked like a steal when Farnsworth posted a 1.98 ERA and 10 saves over the final two months.

While all the comings and goings forced the Braves to make more than 100 roster moves at Triple-A Richmond alone, additional talent continued to enter the system. The Braves had yet another promising draft under the guidance of scouting director Roy Clark despite signing only two players taken after the 13th round. First-round righthander Joey Devine reached the major leagues in a hurry and second-round shortstop Yunel Escobar attracted raves for his bat and glove. Lefty Beau Jones (supplemental first round), righty Jeff Lyman (second) and outfielder Jordan Schafer (third) all ranked among the top 20 prospects in the Rookie-level Gulf Coast League.

What's more, Atlanta signed six draft-and-follow selections from 2004. The team also came to terms with a couple of significant foreign standouts, Venezuelan shortstop Elvis Andrus and Australian lefthander Steve Kent. Kent paid his own way to Atlanta to try out before signing for $280,000.

Even with all the big league promotions, the Braves maintain depth at several positions. They're loaded at catcher, shortstop and third base after they deemed all three spots major weaknesses earlier in the decade. While positions players stand out the most in the system, Atlanta also has quality pitching, its calling card for years.


1. ANDY MARTE, 3b       Age: 22 Ht: 6-1 Wt: 185 B-T: R-R
Signed: Dominican Republic, 2000   Signed by: Rene Francisco/Julian Perez

Background: One of 12 Braves to make their big league debut in 2005, Marte didn’t take advantage of his opportunity when Chipper Jones strained a ligament in his left foot. Though he had to settle for shuttling between Triple-A Richmond and Atlanta, he continued to live up to his billing as one of the premier third-base prospects in the minors. He nearly led the system in homers despite getting just 389 minor league at-bats. Marte traditionally has been a slow starter, and he seemed to press upon his arrival in Triple-A. But he recovered and displayed an improved approach and his typical patience. Signed out of the Dominican for $600,000 in September 2000, he rose to No. 1 on this list barely three years later before Jeff Francoeur displaced him a year ago.

Strengths: Marte’s stroke has a natural slight uppercut that generates plenty of loft power. The ball jumps off his bat, and he drives the ball to all fields and is capable of hitting tape-measure shots. He’s an aggressive hitter who makes pitchers pay for their mistakes, though he also can hit for a solid average and has patience at the plate. His walk rate increased substantially in 2005. In addition to being the quintessential power hitter at the hot corner, Marte continues to improve upon his above-average skills with his glove. Managers rated him the best defensive third baseman in the International League—the fourth consecutive year he earned that honor in his league. He possesses excellent lateral movement and a strong, accurate arm. The Braves also love Marte’s maturity and even-keeled approach to the game, both of which should lead to a seamless move to the majors once an opening arises.

Weaknesses: Like most power hitters, Marte will pile up some strikeouts. When he was struggling early in 2005, he fished for low-and-away breaking balls far out of the zone. His swing tends to get long when he tires, which also contributes to the whiffs. With his lower body continuing to fill out as he advances through his early 20s, Marte’s speed continues to be his primary weakness. His speed is now a tick below average and he’ll get slower as he gains more weight. However, his intelligence and knowledge of the game mean he’s not close to a liability on the bases.

The Future: The Braves have little question that Marte will be an impact player in the major leagues. The problem comes in where to put him. Marte’s best position is third base, but Chipper Jones has returned to the hot corner after spending two years in left field and has no desire to move again. Marte has received a cursory look in the outfield, but that’s suddenly becoming crowded as well. While he remains Atlanta’s long-term answer at third base, the current roadblocks could mean another detour to Triple-A to open the 2006 season. He has more upside than outfield incumbents such as Kelly Johnson and Ryan Langerhans, so left field may be where Marte initially breaks into the big league lineup.

2005 Club (Class) AVG OBP SLG AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO SB CS
Richmond (AAA) .275 .372 .506 389 51 107 26 2 20 74 64 93 0 3
Atlanta .140 .227 .211 57 3 8 2 1 0 4 7 13 0 1


2. JARROD SALTALAMACCHIA, c        Age: 20 B-T: B-R Ht: 6-4 Wt.: 195
Drafted: HS—West Palm Beach, Fla., 2003 (1st round supplemental)   Signed by: Alex Morales

Background: While Brian McCann was establishing himself as a quality backstop in the majors, Saltalamacchia made a case for being the best catching prospect in the minors. After working on his strength and conditioning in the offseason, he established personal bests across the board and rated as the No. 1 prospect in the high Class A Carolina League.


Strengths:
A mature hitter with a professional approach beyond his years, Saltalamacchia has power from both sides of the plate. He has put questions about his ability to remain behind the plate to rest. His footwork, throwing mechanics and game-calling ability all made tremendous strides in 2005.

  

Weaknesses:
Saltalamacchia’s arm strength and throwing accuracy need improvement after he threw out just 26 percent of basestealers at Myrtle Beach. Though he’s more athletic than most catchers, he has below-average speed.

  

The Future:
Saltalamacchia will move up to Double-A Mississippi in 2006. With McCann and Johnny Estrada in Atlanta and Brayan Pena in Triple-A, Saltalamacchia will have plenty of time to refine his game. He should push for a big league promotion at some point in 2007.

2005 Club (Class) AVG OBP SLG AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO SB CS
Myrtle Beach (Hi A) .314 .394 .519 459 70 144 35 1 19 81 57 99 4 2


3. ELVIS ANDRUS, ss       Age: 17 B-T: R-R Ht: 6-0 Wt.: 185
Drafted: HS--Venezuela, 2005   Signed by: Rolando Petit

Background: Andrus, whose older brother Erold plays in the Yankees system, showed off his tools on a summer showcase tour in 2004 and signed as a 16-year-old in January 2005. The Braves challenged him by sending him to the Rookie-level Gulf Coast League and he had no trouble adapting to pro ball and the United States. He even hit .400 in the Rookie-level Appalachian League championship series.


Strengths:
Andrus’ maturity far exceeds his age, both on the field and off. At the plate, he uses the entire field and possesses plus power that should increase as his body matures. On defense, his arm, range, footwork and quickness are all exceptional tools.

  

Weaknesses:
After tiring in August, Andrus needs to add strength to his lithe frame. He tends to try to do too much at times, though experience should help him learn to play within himself.

  

The Future:
Andrus will compete for a job in the low Class A South Atlantic League in 2006, where he almost certainly would be the youngest player in the league at 17. He’s at least three or four years away from Atlanta, but his upside is huge.

2005 Club (Class) AVG OBP SLG AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO SB CS
GCL Braves (R) .295 .377 .398 166 26 49 6 1 3 20 19 28 7 4
Danville (R) .278 .409 .333 18 3 5 1 0 0 1 4 4 1 0


4. YUNEL ESCOBAR, ss       Age: 23 B-T: R-R Ht: 6-2 Wt.: 200
Drafted: Miami (no school), 2005 (2nd round)   Signed by: Gregg Kilby

Background: Escobar was the most coveted of five Cuban defectors who entered the 2005 draft, causing teams to scramble when he declared himself eligible in mid-May. Atlanta was able to gain additional insight on him because he was a childhood friend of Braves catcher Brayan Pena. After signing for $475,000 as a second-round pick, Escobar had no problems handling low Class A.


Strengths:
Escobar has solid all-around tools, featuring a steady glove, strong arm and a potent bat with budding power. He also has a large athletic frame that allows him to play a physical brand of baseball. He possesses strong hands and wrists as well as above-average arm strength. He made just six errors in 48 games at low Class A Rome.

  

Weaknesses:
Escobar’s range isn’t remarkable. He’s not as fast as most shortstops, though he has average speed and fluid actions. He’s still adjusting to living in the U.S. and away from his family.

  

The Future:
Escobar could quickly develop into the Braves long-term answer at shortstop, though Elvis Andrus will have something to say about that.

2005 Club (Class) AVG OBP SLG AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO SB CS
Danville (R) .400 .472 .733 30 9 12 2 1 2 8 5 4 0 0
Rome (Lo A) .313 .358 .470 198 30 62 13 3 4 19 14 30 0 2


5. ANTHONY LEREW, rhp       Age: 23 B-T: L-R Ht: 6-3 Wt.: 220
Drafted: HS—Wellsville, Pa., 2001 (11th round)   Signed by: J.J. Picollo

Background: Lerew is a poster boy for the Braves’ extensive scouting efforts, as they spotted him though he was more of a football standout in high school. He took off on the mound in 2004 when he added 4-5 mph to his fastball. He pitched in the Futures Game in 2005 and made his major league debut in September.


Strengths:
Scouts love Lerew’s loose, easy arm action, which produces an explosive plus fastball that sits at 91-94 mph. He’s aggressive and shows no fear in going after hitters. His command and the overall quality of his pitches improved in 2005. An outstanding athlete, he has the mindset and ability to start or relieve as needed.

  

Weaknesses:
On occasion, Lerew loses the feel for his otherwise solid changeup, which has good late action. He’s still fine-tuning a slider that’s a plus pitch at times.

  

The Future:
The Braves would like Lerew to get at least another half-season in Triple-A. They believe he could mirror Kyle Davies and step into the Atlanta rotation if needed in mid-2006.

2005 Club (Class) W L ERA G GS CG SV IP H HR BB SO AVG
Mississippi (AA) 6 2 3.93 14 14 1 0 76 70 6 32 64 .246
Richmond (AAA) 4 4 3.48 13 13 0 0 72 63 9 23 53 .232
Atlanta 0 0 5.63 7 0 0 0 8 9 1 5 5 .290


6. JOEY DEVINE, rhp       Age: 22 B-T: R-R Ht: 6-0 Wt.: 212
Drafted: North Carolina State, 2005 (1st round)   Signed by: Billy Best

Background: Devine set a North Carolina State career record for saves. After signing for $1.3 million as the 27th overall pick, he became the first member of the 2005 draft class to reach the majors. The first pitcher in big league history to surrender grand slams in each of his first two appearances, Devine also served up the 18th-inning homer to Chris Burke that ended the National League Division Series.


Strengths:
An excellent athlete, Devine has a 92-97 mph fastball and a mid-80s Frisbee slider. His pitches are difficult to pick up from his low three-quarters arm slot. The Braves love his makeup and the way he handled adversity in the majors.

  

Weaknesses:
His low arm slot can leave him susceptible to lefthanders (who hit .312 against him in the minors), so Devine may have to develop a changeup. His control wasn’t as sharp at higher levels.

  

The Future:
Devine probably needs a little more time in the minors. Before too long, he should figure into the back of Atlanta’s bullpen.

2005 Club (Class) W L ERA G GS CG SV IP H HR BB SO AVG
Myrtle Beach (Hi A) 0 0 0.00 4 0 0 1 5 0 0 3 7 .000
Mississippi (AA) 1 1 2.70 18 0 0 5 20 19 2 12 28 .250
Richmond (AAA) 0 0 18.00 1 0 0 0 1 3 0 1 1 .600
Atlanta 0 1 12.60 5 0 0 0 5 6 2 5 3 .286


7. CHUCK JAMES, lhp       Age: 24 B-T: L-L Ht: 6-0 Wt.: 170
Drafted: Chattahoochee Valley, Ala., CC, 2002 (20th round)   Signed by: Al Goetz

Background: The South Atlantic League’s most valuable pitcher in 2004, James blazed through three levels in 2005 before his September callup. Along the way, he ranked third in the minors in ERA (2.12) and fourth in strikeouts (193).


Strengths:
James’ changeup is the best in the system. He has plus command of his 89-91 mph fastball, and he does an excellent job of pitching to both sides of the plate. He keeps hitters off balance by upsetting their timing.

  

Weaknesses:
James isn’t overpowering and his stuff is unlikely to improve. His 0.3 groundball-flyball ratio was the lowest in the minor leagues, and could present problems if he doesn’t miss bats in the majors. His slider needs more consistency in order to give him a third pitch as a big league starter.

  

The Future:
James will compete for a job in Atlanta during spring training, though he most likely will open 2006 with a tuneup in Triple-A. He’s capable of developing into a mid-rotation starter.

2005 Club (Class) W L ERA G GS CG SV IP H HR BB SO AVG
Myrtle Beach (Hi A) 3 3 1.08 7 7 0 0 42 20 1 8 59 .139
Mississippi (AA) 9 1 2.09 16 16 0 0 86 62 4 18 104 .199
Richmond (AAA) 1 3 3.48 6 6 0 0 34 21 4 10 30 .176
Atlanta 0 0 1.59 2 0 0 0 6 4 0 3 5 .200


8. BRANDON JONES, of       Age: 22 B-T: L-R Ht: 6-2 Wt.: 195
Drafted: Tallahassee (Fla.) CC, D/F 2003 (24th round)   Signed by: Al Goetz

Background: The Royals failed to sign Jones as a 2002 sixth-round pick out of high school, but the Braves took him in the 24th round a year later and landed him in 2004 as a draft-and-follow. He broke his left hand on a slide in late April 2005, costing him two months, and made steady progress once he returned.


Strengths:
Jones has impressive tools and athleticism, with natural strength, raw power and a quick swing that should enable him to hit for average at higher levels. His above-average speed and strong arm allow him to play any outfield spot.

  

Weaknesses:
Some scouts wonder if Jones will develop enough power to be a corner outfielder. He moves well but he has yet to grasp the nuances of baserunning. He also needs to take better angles on balls hit to the outfield.

  

The Future:
Jones displayed more polish than expected at high Class A. With just 440 at-bats under his belt, he needs a complete season in 2006. He could reach Double-A at some point during the year.

2005 Club (Class) AVG OBP SLG AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO SB CS
Rome (Lo A) .308 .423 .577 156 37 48 12 3 8 27 29 29 4 1
GCL Braves (R) .125 .125 .125 8 0 1 0 0 0 2 0 2 0 1
Danville (R) .286 .275 .286 7 0 2 0 0 0 1 1 0 0 0
Myrtle Beach (Hi A) .350 .437 .417 60 7 21 4 0 0 5 9 9 0 1


9. ERIC CAMPBELL, 3b       Age: 20 B-T: R-R Ht: 6-0 Wt.: 190
Drafted: HS—Owensville, Ind., 2004 (2nd round)   Signed by: Sherard Clinkscales

Background: After a modest pro debut, Campbell showed why he was Atlanta’s top 2004 draft pick. He earned co-MVP honors with Danville teammate Max Ramirez in the Appy League, which Campbell led in runs, doubles, homers, RBIs, extra-base hits and slugging percentage.


Strengths:
Campbell has excellent vision that allows him to recognize pitches he can drive to all fields with his plus power. His defense is better than advertised and he made a seamless move from shortstop to third base, displaying above-average athleticism, range and arm strength. He has drawn comparisons to former NL home run champ and Gold Glover Matt Williams. Campbell’s speed and overall baserunning skills surprised many scouts.

  

Weaknesses:
Campbell’s swing can get a little long from his open upright stance, and he tends to chase breaking balls, which has led to high strikeout totals. While his aggressiveness at the plate is an advantage, he needs to improve his pitch selection and overall bat control.

  

The Future:
With Chipper Jones and Andy Marte at the hot corner, the Braves feel little need to rush Campbell. He’s slated to spend most of the 2006 campaign in low Class A.

2005 Club (Class) AVG OBP SLG AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO SB CS
Danville (R) .313 .383 .634 262 77 82 26 2 18 64 28 64 15 4


10. BEAU JONES , lhp       Age: 19 B-T: L-L Ht: 6-1 Wt.: 205
Drafted: HS—Destrehan, La., 2005 (1st round supplemental)   Signed by: Don Thomas

Background: Louisiana produced one of its best crops of pitchers ever in 2005, and Jones, who threw a no-hitter in the state playoffs, was the first to go in the draft at No. 41 overall. If Devine had been gone at No. 27, the Braves would have made Jones their first-round pick. He signed for $825,000 and had a solid debut.


Strengths:
Jones has a live arm that produces 88-95 mph fastballs with good movement. His curveball is an out pitch in the making, featuring hard downward movement and high-70s velocity. He has a clean delivery and arm action, and he creates excellent deception with all of his pitches. The Braves also love his gritty, determined approach that reminds them of Kyle Davies’.

  

Weaknesses:
Jones needs to become more consistent with his curve and his command. He also must add more depth and fade to his changeup. At 6-foot-1 and 205 pounds, he’s not very projectable, but he already has a good stuff and a high ceiling.

  

The Future:
The Braves will be patient in their development of Jones. He should pitch in the low Class A rotation in 2006.

2005 Club (Class) W L ERA G GS CG SV IP H HR BB SO AVG
GCL Braves (R) 3 2 3.86 8 7 0 0 35 25 0 16 41 .212


Photo Credits:
Campbell, James: Mike Janes
Andrus, Jones: Tom Priddy
Escobar: David Stoner
Jones: Cliff Welch
Saltalammachia: Rodger Wood

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