Atlanta Braves Top 10 Prospects
Index of Top 10 Prospects for all 30 Major League Teams
By Bill Ballew
1. Wilson Betemit, ss
Age: 20. Ht.: 6-2. Wt.: 170. Bats: B. Throws: R. Signed: Dominican Republic 1996. Signed by: Rene Francisco/Felix Francisco.
Strengths: Betemit is a natural baseball player and a budding five-tool talent whos still maturing. His body will only get stronger, which should enable him to hit for power from both sides of the plate. He hits to all fields with his line-drive stroke. He has outstanding athleticism, as evidenced by the Ozzie Smith-style flip he sometimes makes when taking the field. Betemit also has slightly above-average speed that should allow him to steal 15 bases a year. Defensively, he has good range, a strong arm and soft hands. Betemit thrives on challenges and raises his game to the level of the competition.
Weaknesses: Betemit lost his focus on occasion at shortstop, leading to careless mistakes. Some scouts say he will outgrow the position, necessitating a move to third base. He might be better there because its a reaction position instead of one that requires concentration. His plate discipline is still rudimentary and may be exploited by pitchers at higher levels.
The Future: The Braves showed with Furcal in 2000 they arent afraid to let a middle infielder make a big jump to the major leagues. Should Betemit prove during spring training that hes ready to take over a starting job, Atlanta officials are willing to create room. If not, hes expected to go to Triple-A Richmond before moving up when the situation dictates. Putting Betemit at third would allow the Braves to shift Chipper Jones to left field, a position of weakness in 2001.
2 Adam Wainwright, rhp
Age: 19. B-T: R-R. Ht.: 6-6. Wt.: 190. Drafted: HS--St. Simons Island, Ga., 2000 (1st round). Signed by: Rob English.
Background: Wainwright learned valuable lessons in his first full season, getting off to a strong start before struggling for the first time in his career. He did break the Class A Macon single-season record for strikeouts, previously held by Bruce Chen.
Strengths: At 6-foot-6, Wainwright should develop into a strong pitcher with an intimidating presence on the mound. His low-90s fastball with good movement is his best pitch, and his curveball and changeup are close to being plus offerings. The Braves were encouraged about how he went from a thrower to a pitcher over the course of the year.
Weaknesses: The Braves altered Wainwrights delivery and mechanics in 2001. Because hes still growing into his tall frame, he can become inconsistent with his release point, though his command has been solid to this point. He also needs to add stamina. Wainwright could use more experience, too, so that he becomes savvier in certain aspects of the game.
The Future: Atlanta is in no hurry to push Wainwright. Hell open 2002 at Myrtle Beach and should spend most of the year making adjustments against Carolina League hitters.
3 Kelly Johnson, ss
Age: 18. B-T: L-R. Ht.: 6-1. Wt.: 180. Drafted: HS--Austin, 2000 (1st round supplemental). Signed by: Charlie Smith.
Background: Johnson made the Braves look brilliant in 2001. Little known as a supplemental first-round pick the year before, he blossomed into one of the most dangerous hitters in the South Atlantic League. After getting off to a 1-for-24 start, Johnson ended up second in the league with a .404 on-base percentage and fourth with a .513 slugging percentage.
Strengths: An excellent athlete with a potent stick, Johnson hits the ball hard and has as much raw power as anyone in the organization. He also has above-average speed that enabled him to steal 25 bases. SAL managers tabbed him as the leagues best prospect, best hitter, best power hitter and most exciting player.
Weaknesses: Johnson might not blossom until he finds a comfortable defensive position. He struggled at shortstop in the seasons first half, making numerous careless mistakes, before showing better concentration during the last two months. Johnson tends to ride the emotional roller coaster and can be hard on himself when he fails.
The Future: Scouting director Roy Clark and scout Charlie Smith simply outworked the competition in evaluating Johnson. Hell move up to Myrtle Beach in 2002.
4 Brett Evert, rhp
Age: 21. B-T: L-R. Ht.: 6-6. Wt.: 200. Drafted: HS--Salem, Ore., 1999 (7th round). Signed by: Kurt Kemp.
Background: Evert struggled in his first shot at the South Atlantic League in 2000, but overpowered low Class A hitters in 2001 before receiving a promotion to Myrtle Beach. He was shut down with a minor shoulder problem in late July but looked strong again during instructional league.
Strengths: Evert is the total package: a big, strong righthander whose body has matured a lot since he signed. Hes developing into a quintessential workhorse as well as a power pitcher with big-time stuff, featuring a 92-95 mph fastball, a plus curveball and workable changeup. Fearless on the mound, Evert also has a good feel for pitching and excellent command.
Weaknesses: As with any pitcher who has battled an injury, Evert needs to stay healthy and prove his shoulder is 100 percent. Otherwise, experience against better hitters should lead to natural improvements in his game.
The Future: Spring training will determine if Evert needs more seasoning at Myrtle Beach or if hes ready to pitch at Double-A Greenville. No one in the organization would be surprised if he moved quickly.
5 Carlos Duran, of
Age: 19. B-T: L-L. Ht.: 6-1. Wt.: 165. Signed: Venezuela, 1999. Signed by: Rolando Petit.
Background: Duran debuted in the United States in 2001, after leading the Venezuelan Summer League with six triples while hitting .306-8-41 the previous year. He wound up leading Atlantas Rookie-level Gulf Coast League club in batting, runs, hits, doubles and stolen bases as the leagues fifth-best prospect.
Strengths: A potential five-tool player, Duran is making rapid progress in all phases of the game. He has great instincts and makes everything look easy. Duran has above-average speed with excellent range in center field, a good arm and the ability to make contact at the plate. His GCL manager Rick Albert said Duran won five games with his glove alone.
Weaknesses: Nothing in Durans game needs the kind of improvement that experience wont solve. Hes still making adjustments to playing in a different country and against top-flight competition, and he must consistently get the most of his tools. He needs to get stronger, which should come naturally, and show more patience at the plate.
The Future: Durans first two professional seasons have the Braves excited about his future. The organization expects him to prove in spring training that hes ready to make the jump to low Class A.
6 Matt Belisle, rhp
Age: 21. B-T: R-R. Ht.: 6-3. Wt.: 195. Drafted: HS--Austin, 1998 (2nd round). Signed by: Charlie Smith.
Background: Belisle made impressive progress in 2000 but ruptured a disc in his back during spring training that required surgery and forced him to miss all of 2001. He went through a rigorous rehab program and looked strong during instructional league, which led to an unexpected stint in the Arizona Fall League.
Strengths: Belisle isnt unlike Evert in that he has a strong, athletic body that could allow him to eat a lot of innings at higher levels. Hes tenacious and wont give in to hitters in any situation. Belisle throws a low- to mid-90s fastball along with a changeup and breaking ball. He has excellent command of all three pitches.
Weaknesses: Anytime a player misses an entire season, there is reason for concern. The Braves believe Belisle made up for some lost time during the fall, but they will be looking for him to stay healthy for the entire 2002 season in order to get closer to the big leagues.
The Future: Belisle had his sights set on Greenville before hurting his back. Hell have the opportunity to reach that destination once again this spring and appears ready to get back on the fast track to the majors.
7 Zach Miner, rhp
Age: 19. B-T: R-R. Ht.: 6-3. Wt.: 190. Drafted: HS--Palm Beach Gardens, Fla., 2000 (4th round). Signed by: Marco Paddy.
Background: A potential 2000 first-round pick who lasted until the fourth round because of signability questions, Miner signed for $1.2 million just before reporting to class at Miami. Making his pro debut in 2001, he led the New York-Penn League in innings and placed fifth in ERA. The Braves were thrilled with how well he performed against older and more experienced hitters.
Strengths: Atlanta officials are most impressed with Miners knowledge of how to pitch despite his limited pro experience. A sinker-slider pitcher, hell have better overall stuff as his body matures. His hard sinker clocks in the 89-91 mph range and he has command of all of his pitches. Hes one of the fiercest competitors in the system.
Weaknesses: The Braves are looking for more consistency from Miner, particularly with his breaking ball. He tends to get lackadaisical at times and leave his pitches up in the strike zone. Otherwise, experience and fine-tuning should keep him on the right track.
The Future: Miner looked so impressive in the NY-P, he could skip Macon and open 2002 at Myrtle Beach. Wherever he goes, hell be looked upon as one of the leaders of the rotation.
8 Gonzalo Lopez, lhp
Age: 18. B-T: R-R. Ht.: 6-2. Wt.: 175. Signed: Nicaragua, 2000. Signed by: Rolando Petit.
Background: Few pitchers looked better in the Gulf Coast League than Lopez. The lefthander skipped the Latin American summer leagues and made his pro debut by placing second in the GCL in strikeouts and fifth in innings. Managers ranked him the leagues ninth-best prospect, one of three Braves tabbed among the leagues top 20.
Strengths: Lopez stuff is as good as that of any pitcher in the organization. Though still raw, hes a power pitcher with a developing 92-94 mph fastball that has outstanding movement. He also throws his curveball and changeup for strikes, and both have an excellent chance of becoming plus pitches. He shows good command for someone of his age and experience.
Weaknesses: Lopez is immature and has significant adjustments to make in all phases of his game. His stuff borders on major league quality right now, but he needs to learn how to put it together and have success every time he takes the mound.
The Future: After showing steady progress in the GCL, Lopez is ready to take the next step into the full-season leagues. Hes expected to open 2002 in the Macon rotation.
9 Bubba Nelson, rhp
Age: 20. B-T: R-R. Ht.: 6-2. Wt.: 200. Drafted: HS--Fort Washington, Md.. Signed by: J.J. Picollo.
Background: Along with Wainwright and Miner, Nelson is yet another top pitching prospect from Atlantas 2000 draft class. He led the GCL team with 54 strikeouts in 45 innings in 2000, so he already has 208 strikeouts in 195 professional innings. He showed more consistency as 2001 progressed and led the Macon staff in wins.
Strengths: Nelson impresses scouts with his heavy 93-95 mph fastball and competitive spirit. His changeup and curveball also should develop into plus pitches. Braves scouts thought he had the best breaking ball among the pitchers they scouted in 2000. No longer a raw thrower, Nelson has an excellent idea of how to pitch, and his progress appears to be on the verge of accelerating.
Weaknesses: A heavily scouted third baseman in high school, Nelson still is learning the nuances of pitching, particularly in working both sides of the plate. He tries to be too fine at times, often causing him to work from behind in the count.
The Future: Nelson is expected to continue his steady climb by beginning 2002 at Myrtle Beach.
10 Jung Bong, lhp
Age: 21. B-T: L-L. Ht.: 6-3. Wt.: 175. Drafted: Korea, 1997. Signed by: Duk Sung Lee, Seong Yeol Kwak, Bill Clark.
Background: After several years showing flashes of his talent, Bong finally became consistent and took the steps Atlanta officials had been hoping to see in 2001. After a difficult April and May at Myrtle Beach, he went 9-4, 1.97 during the seasons last three months.
Strengths: Bong succeeds by mixing his pitches and maintaining command of all his offerings. He uses both sides of the plate and throws strikes. His fastball registers in the high 80s and showed more movement in 2001. His changeup may be his best pitch, while his curveball developed a sharper break. Bong is an excellent athlete who fields his position well and swings the bat much better than the average hurler.
Weaknesses: The Braves want to see Bong become more confident with all of his pitches. As a starter, he needs to stay on top of his curveball in order to have an effective third pitch, which will make his fastball and changeup even better.
The Future: Bong may not be a top-of-the-rotation pitcher, but he has the stuff and the ability to have success similar to Kirk Rueters. Bong is expected to spend most of 2002 at Greenville.
Rest of the Best:
11. Tim Spooneybarger, rhp
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