Braves Prospects 2-10
Age: 21. B-T: B-R. Ht.: 6-3. Wt.: 190. Signed: Dominican Republic, 1996. Signed by: Rene Francisco/Felix Francisco.
Background: Considered one of the top prospects in baseball, Betemit struggled mightily in 2002 at Triple-A Richmond. He hit just .198 during the first three months and made 21 errors in 93 games. A strained back, bruised foot and sprained ankle hurt his performance.
Strengths: Betemit remains a five-tool athlete whose skills are still blossoming. He hits to all fields from both sides of the plate and is adding power. He has a live body with easy actions toward the ball and good bat speed with excellent extension. Scouts believe hell hit 20 homers and steal 25 bases annually in the big leagues.
Weaknesses: Betemit can make the spectacular play but also can be lackadaisical on defense. He fields the ball too close to his body at times, and he lets the ball play him instead of being aggressive. The accuracy of his strong arm is unpredictable. His plate discipline has never been strong.
The Future: After having an outside shot at winning Atlantas shortstop job last spring, Betemit will return to Triple-A in 2003. He must prove that 2002 was a fluke and a move to third base isnt needed.
3. Andy Marte, 3b
Age: 19. B-T: R-R. Ht.: 6-1. Wt.: 185. Signed: Dominican Republic, 2000. Signed by: Rene Francisco/Julian Perez.
Background: Marte hit just .200 in the Appalachian League in 2001 after signing for $600,000 the previous September. But he proved to be a bargain last year by pacing the South Atlantic League in RBIs and ranking second in home runs and extra-base hits. Managers also rated him the SALs best defensive third baseman.
Strengths: Marte has quick wrists that allow him to turn on most fastballs. He has power to all fields, makes impressive adjustments to all types of pitches and refuses to concede any at-bat. Marte possesses quick reflexes, soft hands and a strong arm. He also has impressive maturity for a teenager. His speed is average.
Weaknesses: Despite being a plus defender, Marte can become careless in the field. He also tends to give up on pitches on the outer half of the plate, limiting his overall coverage of the dish. He could stand to draw a few more walks.
The Future: Because the Braves lack depth at the hot corner, Marte is in position to move rapidly through the system. He should start the 2003 season in high Class A and could move up to Double-A at midseason.
4. Bubba Nelson, rhp
Age: 21. B-T: R-R. Ht.: 6-2. Wt.: 200. Drafted: HSFort Washington, Md., 2000 (2nd round). Signed by: J.J. Piccolo.
Background: In 2001, his first full season, Nelson went 9-2 in the first half at Macon but lost six of his last nine decisions. He avoided such inconsistency last year, leading the minors with a 1.66 ERA and holding opponents to a .197 average.
Strengths: Nelson is a great competitor who allows the natural nasty movement of his pitches to work for him. His heavy fastball sits at 91-94 mph and induces plenty of grounders. His two-seamer has improved since he added the pitch in 2001. His strikeout pitch is a hard slider, and hes most consistent with a plus curveball he throws any time in the count.
Weaknesses: When he struggles, Nelson gets caught in between his curveball and slider, which causes the breaking pitches to flatten. He should avoid the problem when he gains more consistency with his arm slot. His changeup could use refinement.
The Future: The Braves believe Nelson is on the verge of being ready for the big leagues. While he could be the first pitcher from Atlantas heralded 2000 draft class to reach the majors, hell open 2003 in Double-A.
5. Macay McBride, lhp
Age: 20. B-T: L-L. Ht.: 5-11. Wt.: 180. Drafted: HSSylvania, Ga., 2001 (1st round). Signed by: Rob English.
Background: The Braves planned to start McBride at Rookie-level Danville last year before injuries hit Macon hard in early April. He proceeded to lead the South Atlantic League in ERA and earn most valuable pitcher honors. He won nine of his last 10 decisions and didnt allow an earned run in 11 of his 25 starts.
Strengths: The 24th overall pick in 2001, McBride has outstanding arm strength and impressive command. He throws a heavy, low-90s fastball along with a plus slider with excellent late break. His 12-to-6 curveball and changeup improved over the course of last season. McBride discovered how to set up hitters in 2002, and by the end of the season he was breaking bats with his changeup. Hes aggressive yet maintains his composure on the mound.
Weaknesses: McBride is polished and mainly requires more experience. Hell focus on improving the finer points of pitching, such as holding runners on base and getting to pitchers counts.
The Future: While McBride will begin 2003 in high Class A, theres no doubt hes on a fast track to the major leagues. Few lefthanders at any level can match his stuff.
6. Jeff Francoeur, of
Age: 19. B-T: R-R. Ht.: 6-4. Wt.: 205. Drafted: HSLilburn, Ga., 2002 (1st round). Signed by: Al Goetz.
Background: The 23rd overall pick last June, Francoeur made a seamless transition from high school to pro ball. He was the Appalachian Leagues No. 1 prospect. A prep All-America defensive back, he passed up a football scholarship from Clemson to sign for a Braves-record $2.2 million bonus.
Strengths: Francoeur impresses scouts as much with his character as he does with his tools. And hes loaded with tools, starting with 6.43-second speed in the 60-yard dash and solid baserunning instincts. He has a plus arm and the ability and instincts to play all three outfield positions. He drives the ball to all fields and makes rapid adjustments. His swing is smooth and features little wasted movement.
Weaknesses: Experience is the biggest thing lacking for Francoeur. As he focuses on baseball, hell understand how pitchers are trying to set him up at the plate and how to read them while getting leads.
The Future: Francoeur is a natural leader with a tremendous drive to reach the big leagues. Several Braves officials said he could top this list at the end of 2003, which hell begin at Rome, the organizations new low Class A affiliate.
7. Carlos Duran, of
Age: 20. B-T: L-L. Ht.: 6-1. Wt.: 165. Signed: Venezuela, 1999. Signed by: Rolando Petit.
Background: Macon featured one of the better outfields in low Class A last year, with Duran joined by Gregor Blanco, Angelo Burrows and Greg Miller. Duran combined his speed and hitting to lead the South Atlantic League in triples while ranking fourth in hits and fifth in runs.
Strengths: Duran has incredible instincts that enhance his natural tools. He has a smooth swing and the speed to allow him to create havoc on the basepaths. He continues to add power and could hit 20 home runs annually. Defensively, he owns a strong arm and gets good jumps on balls hit into the gaps. Opposing managers liked the way he carried himself last year.
Weaknesses: Duran must understand the importance of playing with intensity at all times. He gave away too many at-bats last season because he lacks patience. He has to work deeper counts to see more advantageous pitches. He also needs to learn the nuances of basestealing after being caught 17 times in 40 attempts.
The Future: The Braves are in no hurry to push Duran, who will move up to high Class A this year. He has the potential to be an all-star if he can refine all five of his tools.
8. Scott Thorman, 1b
Age: 21. B-T: L-R. Ht.: 6-3. Wt.: 205. Drafted: HSCambridge, Ontario, 2000 (1st round). Signed by: John Stewart, Jim Kane.
Background: Drafted with the 30th overall pick in 2000, Thorman missed all of 2001 after shoulder surgery. He made up for lost time last year, putting together a 21-game hitting streak while leading the South Atlantic League in doubles and tying for second in extra-base hits.
Strengths: No one in the organization has more raw power than Thorman. He struggled early last season while trying to crush every pitch before realizing the ball naturally jumps off his bat. He has a smooth, easy swing with a slight uppercut. A pitcher in high school with a mid-90s fastball, Thorman maintains a strong arm. After moving from third base to first in 2002, he showed quick feet and good hands. He also runs out every ball.
Weaknesses: Despite making a successful shift to first base, Thorman still is learning the position. While his passion for the game is obvious, channeling his emotions will enable him to get the most out of his abilities on a consistent basis.
The Future: Thormans offensive potential, not to mention his hustle and determination, could make him Atlantas long-term answer at first base. Hell climb a step to high Class A this season.
9. Brett Evert, rhp
Age: 22. B-T: L-R. Ht.: 6-6. Wt.: 200. Drafted: HSSalem, Ore., 1999 (7th round). Signed by: Kurt Kemp.
Background: His ailing shoulder led the Braves to shut Evert down in late July 2001, but he proved healthy and durable last season. He started well in Double-A to earn Futures Game recognition, then slumped and was sent to high Class A.
Strengths: Everts fastball gets into the low 90s and has natural movement. His curveball is also a plus pitch, featuring a tight spin and a hard, 12-to-6 drop. He continues to make progress with his changeup, which should be at least an average pitch. His command had been excellent before slipping in 2002.
Weaknesses: Everts struggles began when his mechanics got out of whack. With his gangly frame, he must maintain control of his body and repeat his delivery. He also needs to keep his pitches down in the strike zone more often.
The Future: The Braves admit that they may have overreacted last July when they sent Evert down to Myrtle Beach. But they wanted him to work with pitching coach Bruce Dal Canton, who got him back on track. Expected to begin 2003 in Double-A, Evert could be as close as a half-season away from Atlanta.
10. Gonzalo Lopez, rhp
Age: 19. B-T: R-R. Ht.: 6-2. Wt.: 175. Signed: Nicaragua, 2000. Signed by: Rene Francisco/Julian Perez.
Background: Lopez discovered the ups and downs of playing in a full-season league at 18. He posted his sixth win of the season on July 8 with a five-hit shutout at South Georgia, but had only one more win the rest of the season. He faded in August, though that couldnt erase the impression he made in 2002.
Strengths: One day Lopez could have three plus pitches. His lively fastball averages 93 mph, his curveball has its moments and his changeup is effective. Hes advanced for a teenager, both in the quality of his stuff and his command.
Weaknesses: While his curveball has potential, Lopez lost it during the second half of last season. As a result, he relied almost exclusively on his fastball and paid the price. He needs to improve the spin and depth of his curve, and he did make some progress with the pitch in instructional league. He also must use his changeup and the bottom half of the strike zone more often. Some people have misgivings about his makeup.
The Future: At 19, Lopez figures to be one of the Carolina Leagues youngest pitchers in 2003. If he can mature both on and off the mound, his ceiling is unlimited.
Best of the Rest
Though the Braves looked outside the organization for big league pitching help, that didnt indicate a lack of arms in the minors. Righthander Trey Hodges could fill a leak in the rotation after winning 15 games in each of the past two seasons and earning two big league victories in September. Lefthander Jung Bong and righthander John Ennis made emergency starts for Atlanta last April and could be on the verge of contributing after solid seasons in Double-A. Southpaw Horacio Ramirez, who bounced back from Tommy John surgery in 2001, is close as well.
The system could also help the right side of the Atlanta infield soon. First baseman Adam LaRoche, whose father Dave pitched in the majors, led the organization with a .317 average while reaching Double-A in 2002. He has some power and an excellent glove. Second baseman Richard Lewis is a solid all-around player.
The Braves added more talent in a solid draft last June. Beyond Jeff Francoeur, who made the top 10 list, lefthander Dan Meyer (supplemental first round) and catcher Brian McCann (second) also look promising. The emergence of shortstop Luis Hernandez, a defensive whiz, in the Rookie-level Gulf Coast League contributed to the decision to not sign second-rounder Tyler Greene. A gifted athlete, hes at Georgia Tech.
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The Top 10 Prospects lists are based on players' projected long-term worth and on 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 Opening Day 2003.
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