Atlanta Braves Top 10 Prospects
Index of Top 10 Prospects for all 30 Major League Teams
By Bill Ballew
1. Wilson Betemit, ss
Age: 19. B-T: B-R. Ht.: 6-2. Wt.: 170. Signed: Dominican Republic, 1996. Signed by: Rene Francisco/Felix Francisco.
Background: Early last spring it appeared Betemit might not live up to his potential in the Atlanta organization. In the offseason, Major League Baseball determined the Braves had signed Betemit before he was 16, in violation of baseball rules. While Atlanta was fined and prohibited from signing Dominican players for six months, Betemit staged a walkout at his agents direction during spring training. An agreement wasnt reached for several weeks, costing Betemit a shot at playing in a full-season league. After blossoming in 1999 as an all-star in the Rookie-level Appalachian League and ranking as the circuits No. 2 prospect, Betemit dominated the short-season New York-Penn League by placing second in hits and runs and fourth in average. He also was the loops best prospect.
Strengths: Whats not to like? Betemit is a 20-year-old switch-hitter who plays a premier position, has outstanding size and has produced every time he has taken the field. He has incredible range and soft, quick hands that make him an ideal candidate for shortstop or third base. His arm also rates above-average, capable of strong, accurate throws in the hole. His defense has improved considerably and attracted rave reviews from NY-P managers. Betemit has plus power that is expected to increase significantly as his body continues to mature. Hes reasonably disciplined at the plate and improved his ability to make contact in 2000.
Weaknesses: Not unlike other young players, Betemit makes careless mistakes, particularly in the field. He tries to make every play a spectacular one instead of recording the out, which has inflated his error total. Experience is a great teacher, and nowhere is that more evident with Betemit than in keeping up with the speed of the game at higher levels. He tends to rush throws and attack pitchers early in the count, so he needs to get more patient on defense and at the plate.
The Future: Had he not missed most of spring training, Betemit would have spent 2000 at Class A Macon. But he lost little from an overall development standpoint. That will be proven when Betemit bypasses Macon and opens 2001 at high Class A Myrtle Beach. It would surprise no one if he blazed a trial to Atlanta in less than two more years.
2. Matt McClendon, rhp
Age: 23. B-T: L-R. Ht.: 6-6. Wt.: 225. Drafted: Florida, 1999 (5th round). Signed by: Marco Paddy.
Background: A supplemental first-round pick by the Reds out of high school in 1996, McClendon was expected to go higher in 1999 before a minor shoulder injury robbed him of his velocity. After signing for a $950,000 bonus, McClendon pitched just 23 innings at short-season Jamestown before returning to a normal schedule in 2000. He emerged as hoped and reached Double-A Greenville in May.
Strengths: McClendon has all the ingredients to be a quality starter. His best pitches are his low-90s fastball with good movement and a sharp curveball he added during instructional league in 1999. He has good command and a solid idea of what it takes to get hitters out.
Weaknesses: An improved changeup would make McClendon much tougher to hit. He could also stand to fine-tune a breaking ball that tends to flatten out at times. Because of his size, refined mechanics are also a must.
The Future: McClendon could have handled Triple-A at the end of last season. Hell get that opportunity this year at Richmond, with a promotion to Atlanta just around the corner.
3. Marcus Giles, 2b
Age: 22. B-T: R-R. Ht.: 5-8. Wt.: 180. Drafted: Grossmont (Calif.) JC, D/F 1996 (53rd round). Signed by: John Ramey.
Background: The MVP in the Class A South Atlantic and Carolina leagues in 1998-99, Giles struggled early last season in Double-A before making adjustments to higher quality pitching. He found his groove in June and wound up with another productive season while playing in the Southern League all-star game, Double-A all-star game and the Futures Game.
Strengths: Giles is a pure offensive player. He has a short, compact stroke that packs a line-drive punch to all fields. While he continues to hear criticism about his defense, his glovework is consistent and better than advertised.
Weaknesses: Giles range is only average, though he makes plays on every ball he reaches. His speed is also average, but his knowledge of the basepaths enabled him to steal a career-high 25 bases last season. Once he makes adjustments at the plate, Giles tends to get bored with a league, a trait that should end in the near future.
The Future: Those who hit play in the major leagues. As long as Giles continues to produce and improve his defense, hell join his brother Brian, an all-star outfielder with Pittsburgh, at the games top level. Marcus trek continues this spring in Triple-A.
4. Matt Belisle, rhp
Age: 20. B-T: R-R. Ht.: 6-4. Wt.: 200. Drafted: HSAustin, 1998 (2nd round). Signed by: Charlie Smith.
Background: The Braves first pick in 1998, Belisle signed for $1.75 million, still a club record and the largest bonus given a high school pitcher that year. After limited success in the Appalachian League in 1999, he was tabbed as the best pitching prospect in the South Atlantic League last summer. He received a midseason promotion to the Carolina League and pitched well in August.
Strengths: Belisle has outstanding arm strength and the ability to be a top starter. After a rough start, he proved he can make adjustments against better hitters. He has impeccable makeup and a strong inner drive with a desire to learn everything possible about pitching.
Weaknesses: Belisle needs to improve the command of his curveball and changeup. His curve is on the verge of becoming a solid pitch, but his changeup needs work. He also must be a little more patient, setting hitters up instead of trying to strike out everyone.
The Future: Belisle could follow in McClendons footsteps by starting 2001 at Myrtle Beach before moving up to Double-A. If he picks up where he left off in instructional league, hell open in Greenville.
5. Jason Marquis, rhp
Age: 22. B-T: L-R. Ht.: 6-1. Wt.: 185. Drafted: HSStaten Island, N.Y., 1996 (1st round). Signed by: John Hagemann.
Background: Injuries to the Atlanta pitching staff accelerated Marquis progress to the major leagues last year. He threw well as a starter in Double-A and as a reliever with Atlanta, but showed the effects of bouncing around with six inconsistent starts at Triple-A.
Strengths: Marquis always has been an intense competitor. He showed more maturity last season by making the climb from Double-A to the big leagues. The jump made him more of a pitcher than a thrower, and may serve as the final ingredient for long-term success. Marquis maintains his outstanding arm strength with a mid-90s fastball, a plus curveball and a good changeup.
Weaknesses: Marquis greatest need is better overall command. He also discovered in Triple-A and the majors that he cant overpower hitters if he fails to keep his pitches low in the strike zone.
The Future: The Braves need help in the bullpen. With a successful test run, Marquis is a viable candidate to serve in a set-up role. He could join the rotation as a fifth starter should an opening occur.
6. Billy Sylvester, rhp
Age: 24. B-T: R-R. Ht.: 6-5. Wt.: 220. Drafted: Spartanburg Methodist (S.C.) JC, 1997 (NDFA). Signed by: Junior Vizcaino.
Background: Signed as a nondrafted free agent out of junior college in 1997, Sylvester blossomed in his fourth professional season. After ending the 1999 campaign with minor arm problems, he didnt allow an earned run until June and was the top relief prospect in the Carolina League.
Strengths: Sylvester is a strong-armed pitcher who came into his own last season thanks to increased confidence. A former starter, he thrived in the closers role by using his mid-90s fastball and a nasty, sharp-breaking curveball. Sylvester also has an average split-finger fastball.
Weaknesses: Confidence continues to be the key for Sylvester. He must realize that his stuff is good enough to succeed. He also needs to continue throwing strikes consistently by challenging hitters. Improving his splitter and throwing it more often should make his jump to higher levels smoother.
The Future: The Braves knew they were pushing Sylvester in the Arizona Fall League, where he got rocked after missing the last two months of the season with a minor ribcage injury. He did show the ability to make adjustments against better hitters, and will have to do that in Double-A in 2001.
7. Adam Wainwright, rhp
Age: 19. B-T: R-R. Ht.: 6-7. Wt.: 195. Drafted: HSSt. Simons, Ga., 2000 (1st round). Signed by: Rob English.
Background: The Braves targeted Wainwright throughout the spring as the 29th overall pick in the 2000 draft. He breezed through the Rookie-level Gulf Coast League before receiving a promotion to the Appalachian League after seven starts. He left no doubt why he was a first-rounder, ranking as the Appy Leagues top prospect and second-best in the GCL.
Strengths: For a teenager, Wainwrights overall command and ability to throw strikes with his changeup is uncanny. Hes mature and competitive. In addition to a plus changeup, Wainwright features a low-90s fastball and an average curveball.
Weaknesses: Wainwrights maturity can overshadow his inexperience against professional hitters. He wore down in late August and must improve his strength in order to pitch at a high level for a full season. Added strength should add velocity to his four-seam fastball.
The Future: The progress Wainwright made last season will enable him to open 2001 at Macon. The Braves say that finding the right place to challenge Wainwright at this point in his career could be the most difficult decision.
8. Wes Helms, 3b
Age: 24. B-T: R-R. Ht.: 6-4. Wt.: 230. Drafted: HSGastonia, N.C., 1994 (10th round). Signed by: Roy Clark.
Background: Helms had one of the best all-around seasons of any hitter in the organization last year. Two different shoulder injuries limited him to 39 games in 1999, yet he bounced back and made improvements while posting career-highs in home runs and RBIs at Triple-A.
Strengths: For the first time, Helms displayed his above-average power without hurting his average. He loves the challenge of hitting with the game on the line and has a knack for producing the big hit. His defense at third base also showed a little improvement, though the Braves had the athletic Helms playing first base and the two corner outfield positions in Venezuela during winter ball.
Weaknesses: Helms big swing continues to show holes. His hands are not soft on defense, and he tends to rush his throws despite possessing a plus arm. In short, he lacks overall consistency in his game.
The Future: Perseverance appears to have paid off for Helms. The Braves are considering moving Chipper Jones to the outfield and giving Helms a shot at the hot corner. This spring is shaping up to be Helms first real chance at making the 25-man roster.
9. Christian Parra, rhp
Age: 23. B-T: R-R. Ht.: 6-1. Wt.: 240. Drafted: Arizona Western JC, 1999 (NDFA). Signed by: Fernando Villaescusa.
Background: Getting the opportunity to pitch on a regular basis allowed Parra to blossom last season. Unknown before the 2000 campaign, Parra was the Carolina Leagues top pitcher after leading the circuit in wins and placing second in ERA.
Strengths: Parra is a fearless, barrel-chested pitcher who may be the most competitive in the organization. He believes in his ability to get hitters out and wants the ball with the game on the line. Parra challenges hitters even though his stuff is only slightly above-average. He throws four pitches for strikes and works off an average fastball with good movement. He has a clear understanding of what he wants to accomplish.
Weaknesses: Parra tends to rush through his delivery, which can affect his mechanics and cause his pitches to rise in the zone, where they become more hittable. He must continue to throw strikes consistently and mix his pitches. Parra is at a place in his career where he needs to improve upon what hes done against better competition.
The Future: A move one step higher to Double-A is in Parras immediate future. Proving himself in Greenville will place him firmly in Atlantas long-term plans.
10. Scott Sobkowiak, rhp
Age: 23. B-T: R-R. Ht.: 6-5. Wt.: 230. Drafted: Northern Iowa, 1998 (7th round). Signed by: Sherard Clinkscales.
Background: After ranking as the Braves No. 4 prospect last year, Sobkowiak made four Double-A starts before going on the disabled list on April 26. He had reconstructive surgery on his right elbow shortly thereafter, costing him the rest of the season.
Strengths: Based on Sobkowiaks rehabilitation efforts in Florida, the Braves believe hell have better stuff than before his injury. Hes a power pitcher with good size and the ability to be a workhorse. He challenges hitters with virtually every pitch. Both his fastball, which tops out at 95 mph, and his curveball are plus pitches. He showed an improved changeup prior to getting hurt.
Weaknesses: The Braves were concerned Sobkowiaks large frame and labored delivery could lead to injury. He needs to fine-tune his mechanics when hes healthy again. Continued improvement with his changeup can do nothing but help.
The Future: Several scouts thought Sobkowiak would have pitched in the major leagues last year had he not been injured. Hes expected to be at full strength in spring training and should open the season at Greenville.
Rest of the Best:
11. Horacio Ramirez, lhp
Copyright 1998-2001 Baseball America. All rights reserved.|
This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.