Atlanta Braves: Top 10 Prospects With Scouting Reports

Atlanta Braves: Scouting Reports

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, 2007.

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Atlanta Braves

Since winning the first of their record 14 consecutive division championships in 1991, the Braves never have endured as much change as they have the last two seasons. And though that streak came to an end with a 79-83 third-place finish in 2006, Atlanta still has plenty of young talent that will allow it to contend in the future.

The Braves began their makeover in 2005, en route to perhaps the most surprising of their playoff berths. Atlanta used 18 rookies--12 of whom made their major league debuts--while Jeff Francoeur and Brian McCann already have established themselves as cornerstones the franchise will build around.

The influx of young talent continued in 2006, if to a less dramatic extent, with Chuck James the most significant rookie. But the year was more notable for the changes in the front office.

Assistant general manager in charge of baseball operations Dayton Moore long had been considered one of the game's top GM prospects and a possible successor to Atlanta GM John Schuerholz. After pulling out of the running for the Red Sox job last winter, Moore accepted the Royals' offer to run their franchise. He left right after the June draft, and by the end of the season he brought Braves farm director J.J. Picollo, international scouting supervisor Rene Francisco and minor league pitching coordinator Bill Fischer with him to Kansas City.

To help replace Moore and Picollo, Atlanta expanded the role of legendary scout Paul Snyder. Originally signed by the Milwaukee Braves as a player in 1957, Snyder became scouting director in 1977 and helped build the franchise into a juggernaut. After overseeing both scouting and player development from 1996-1999, he took a step back and became a special assistant to Schuerholz in 2000. Now Snyder is supervising scouting and player development again, with protégé Roy Clark still in place as scouting director and former West Coast crosschecker Kurt Kemp the new farm director.

Though Time Warner is in the process of selling the club and has put some limitations on signing bonuses, Atlanta spent $6.8 million on the 2006 draft, the third-highest figure in baseball. The Braves snapped up four high school pitchers in the first three rounds and 11 hurlers in the first 10 rounds.

Atlanta also inked six draft-and-follows from 2005 in May--most notably righthander Tommy Hanson--and continued to make a splash on the international front. The Braves landed three Cubans in January, most significantly lefthander Francisley Bueno, and acquired Taiwanese righthander Chen-En Hung and Japanese catcher Ryohei Shimabukuro during the summer signing period.

The number of potential major league standouts doesn't compare with the Braves' recent past or the system's heyday in the early 1990s. Then again, very few organizations ever have been as productive.

1. Jarrod Saltalamacchia, c   Born: May 2, 1985B-T: B-RHt: 6-4Wt: 195
 Drafted: HS--West Palm Beach, Fla., 2003 (1st round supplemental)Signed by: Alex Morrales
Jarrod SaltalamacchiaBackground: The 36th overall pick in the 2003 draft, Saltalamacchia built a reputation during high school as a big league hitter and has done little to disappoint. He established himself as the best all-around catching prospect in the minors with a breakout 2005 campaign. He set career highs across the board, rated as the top prospect in the high Class A Carolina League and starred for Team USA in an Olympic pre-qualifying tournament after the season. However, he followed up with his most difficult season as a pro. A lingering wrist injury and his increased focus on improving his defense led to struggles at the plate during the first half of the year. Saltalamacchia batted just .197 with four homers in the first three months before going on the disabled list with an injury to his wrist. He returned with a vengeance by hitting .338 with five homers in his last 23 games of the regular season before leaving Double-A Mississippi to rejoin Team USA for an Olympic qualifying tournament. Saltalamacchia helped the United States qualify for the 2008 Beijing Games and capped the event with a homer off Cuban closer Pedro Luis Lazo. He continued to rake in a brief stint in the Arizona Fall League, going 13-for-23 (.535) with three homers before hamstring problems shut him down. Saltalmacchia's brother Justin spent a year in the Braves system as a utilityman in 2003.

Strengths: Saltalamacchia's calling card is his ability to hit and drive the ball from both sides of the plate. He has one of the sweetest swings in the game from the left side, displaying a natural loft that should produce solid home run numbers. Despite his troubles in 2006, the Braves have no concerns about his offensive ability, especially with the way he regrouped at midseason. His walk rate continues to increase as he climbs the minor league ladder. Considered somewhat suspect defensively coming out of high school, Saltamacchia has worked very hard to get better. He spent the spring picking veteran Todd Pratt's brain to upgrade his game-calling ability, and he continues to be more comfortable working with pitchers. He has a strong arm and a release that has quickened considerably, enabling him to throw out 36 percent of base stealers in 2006. Saltalamacchia has shown increased maturity, particularly after getting married midway through the 2005 season. Always upbeat, he has a desire to learn and improve.

Weaknesses: Consistency is the key to Saltalamacchia reaching the majors in the near future. He'll make more consistent contact once he displays more patience and waits for his pitch. In 2006, opponents noticed Saltalamacchia collapsing the backside of his swing from both sides of the plate. His righthanded swing is a little mechanical, though he was more productive from that side in 2006. He batted .262 against lefties, compared with .214 against righties. Defensively, he needs to continue to improve his footwork and to learn how to set up more advanced hitters.

The Future: Brian McCann is one of the best young catchers in baseball, and while Saltamacchia is similarly gifted, there's room for only one of them behind the plate in Atlanta. For now, Saltalamacchia will continue to hone his skills at catcher, where he has the most value. If he doesn't begin the year at Triple-A Richmond, he should get there at some point in 2007. His bat should be ready for Atlanta by mid-2008, where the Braves may have to move him to first base or left field.
Mississippi (AA)
2. Elvis Andrus, ss   Born: Aug. 26, 1988B-T: R-RHt: 6-0Wt: 180
 Signed: Venezuela, 2005Signed by: Rolando Petit/Julian Perez
Elvis AndrusBackground: The younger brother of Devil Rays minor league outfielder Erold Andrus, Elvis held his own in the low Class A South Atlantic League, showing no signs of being overwhelmed in a league with players who were on average four years older than him.

Strengths: Andrus has three plus tools and a chance to develop plus hitting ability and possibly power. His soft hands, impressive range and above-average arm strength make him a natural shortstop. Andrus employs a mature approach at the plate by using the entire field. His instincts and knowledge of the game far exceed his age. The Braves rave about his work ethic and enthusiasm, and he has become fluent in English in less than two years in the United States.

Weaknesses: Andrus is still raw in all phases of his offensive game. Plate discipline is his biggest weakness, and he also must improve his overall strength. Though he has plus speed, he's still learning to steal bases and was caught 15 times in 38 tries in 2006.

The Future: The Braves feel no need to push Andrus more than a level at a time, but he's still well ahead of almost every player his age. He's headed to high Class A Myrtle Beach as an 18-year-old and could accelerate his timetable once he improves at the plate.
Rome (Lo A)
3. Matt Harrison, lhp   Born: Aug. 16, 1985B-T: L-LHt: 6-5Wt: 220
 Drafted: : HS-Stem, N.C., 2003 (3rd round)Signed by: Billy Best
Matt HarrisonBackground: The Braves cited Harrison as their breakthrough pitcher of 2005, and he maintained his momentum in 2006. He led Atlanta farmhands in ERA, reached Double-A before he turned 21 and now ranks as the system's top mound prospect.

Strengths: It seems like every quality lefthanded pitching prospect must be likened to Tom Glavine, but that comparison seems more legitimate when applied to Harrison. He's adept at using both sides of the plate and altering the batter's eye level. He delivers a heavy fastball between 89-92 mph and does an excellent job of keeping it down in the zone. His above-average curveball breaks at times like a slider. Harrison also has a plus changeup that he uses at any time in the count.

Weaknesses: Harrison admits he gave Double-A hitters too much credit and wasn't aggressive enough following his midseason promotion. He needs to continue to learn how to mix his pitches in order to keep batters off balance.

The Future: Harrison, who has No. 3 starter potential, could open 2007 in Triple-A, where he'd be knocking on the door to the big leagues.
Myrtle Beach (Hi A)
Rome (Lo A)
4. Brandon Jones, of   Born: Dec. 10, 1983B-T: L-RHt: 6-2Wt: 195
 Drafted: Tallahassee (Fla.) CC, D/F 2003 (24th round)Signed by: Al Goetz
Brandon JonesBackground: A baseball/basketball/football star in high school, Jones turned down the Royals as a sixth-rounder in 2002. The Braves aggressively pursue draft-and-follows, and that's how they signed him after taking him in the 24th round in 2003. He's the best all-around athlete in the system but has been sidelined by injuries in each of his two full seasons.

Strengths: Though he had just 20 extra-base hits at Myrtle Beach, managers rated Jones the best power prospect in the Carolina League. He makes hard contact and drives the ball into the gaps with his quick, line-drive swing. Jones possesses above-average wheels and could become a solid power-speed threat at the major league level. His plus range and strong arm enable him to play anywhere in the outfield.

Weaknesses: A broken left hand cost Jones two months in 2005, and he missed the last three weeks of 2006 after having surgery to repair a labrum tear in his throwing shoulder. He needs game action to add some loft to his swing and improve his pitch recognition. He also can improve his routes on fly balls and his instincts as a basestealer.

The Future: While he still needs to polish many aspects of his game, he continues to attract comparisons with Matt Lawton and could emerge as Atlanta's long-term answer in left field. Jones should be healthy for spring training and likely will open 2007 in Double-A.
Myrtle Beach (Hi A).257.329.4202262758103735254911
Mississippi (AA).273.326..47717618489372515384
5. Van Pope, 3b   Born: Feb. 26, 1984B-T: R-RHt: 6-0Wt: 200
 Drafted: Meridian (Miss.) JC, 2004 (5th round)Signed by: Lonnie Goldberg
Van PopeBackground: Before the 2006 season the Braves thought Pope was on the verge of blossoming. They were right, as he more than doubled his previous career high in homers (seven) and earned Carolina League all-star recognition. He was two-way star who threw in the low 90s in junior college, but Atlanta hasn't regretted making him a full-time third baseman.

Strengths: An aggressive hitter, Pope possesses above-average raw power. He worked deeper counts in 2006, starting to wait for a pitch to attack rather than swinging at what pitchers wanted him to chase. He has slightly above-average speed and runs the bases very well. Managers rated him as the best defensive infielder and strongest infield arm in the CL. He has soft hands, plays balls to both sides with ease and is adept at making plays on slow rollers.

Weaknesses: Pope has the athleticism and skill to be a Gold Glove third baseman, but some scouts question whether he'll refine his raw power enough to provide the pop wanted at the position. He must continue to do a better job at recognizing pitches he can drive.

The Future: The Braves believe Pope will continue to make adjustments and accelerate his development at Double-A in 2007. He's the heir apparent to Chipper Jones at third base.
Myrtle Beach (Hi A)
6. Eric Campbell, 3b   Born: Aug. 6, 1985B-T: R-RHt: 6-0Wt: 195
 Drafted: HS-Owensville, Ind., 2004 (2nd round)Signed by: Sherard Clinkscales
Eric CampbellBackground: The co-MVP in the Rookie-level Appalachian League in 2005, Campbell led the South Atlantic League in homers for an encore. Atlanta's top pick in the 2004 draft, he overcame a midseason back injury to set single-season Rome records for homers and RBIs.

Strengths: Campbell is an aggressive hitter with above-average power from right-center to the left-field line. He's one of the most adept hitters at capitalizing on pitchers' mistakes in the system. He has soft hands and an accurate arm at third base. Though not particularly fleet afoot, he's an intelligent baserunner who can read pitchers. He succeeded on 18 of his 21 steal attempts in 2006.

Weaknesses: Campbell lacks ideal quickness and explosiveness. His power comes more from his natural strength than bat speed. His open stance can cause him to fly open on the front side of his swing, which limits his power to the right side. His plate discipline needs improvement. He also has to do a better job of controlling his emotions on the diamond.

The Future: Drafted as a shortstop, Campbell has played third base the last two seasons and saw time at second base in Hawaii Winter Baseball. With Chipper Jones and Van Pope ahead of him, Campbell may have a better opportunity at second in the long run, but he'll stay at third base as he advances to high Class A.
Rome (Lo A)
7. Scott Thorman, 1b/of   Born: Jan. 6, 1982B-T: L-RHt: 6-3Wt: 235
 Drafted: HS-Cambridge, Ont., 2000 (1st round)Signed by: John Stewart/Jim Kane
Scott ThormanBackground: After developing slowly but steadily since being drafted out of Canada in 2000, Thorman finally became the hitter the Braves have long expected. Managers rated him the top power prospect in the Triple-A International League, and he was leading the circuit in RBIs before he was promoted to Atlanta in mid-June.

Strengths: Thorman has had tremendous raw power since he signed, but didn't show it consistently in games until 2006. He can produce tape-measure shots to all fields. He has shortened his swing in recent years and consequently has hit for a higher average. Clocked as high as 95 mph off the mound in high school, Thorman has a strong and accurate arm. He runs and moves well for his size.

Weaknesses: Thorman needs to refine his knowledge of the strike zone to maximize his production. He becomes too pull-conscious on occasion. Though he has worked hard on his defense, he'll never be a Gold Glove candidate. Hard on himself in the past, Thorman has learned to keep his temper in check but needs to maintain a more even keel at the major league level.

The Future: Adam LaRoche is blocking Thorman at his natural position, but the Braves have an unsettled situation in left field. Thorman could win a regular job or platoon role if he performs well in spring training.
Richmond (AAA)
8. Jo-Jo Reyes, lhp   Born: Nov. 20, 1984B-T: L-LHt: 6-2Wt: 230
 Drafted: Riverside (Calif.) CC, 2003 (2nd round)Signed by: John Ramey
Jo-Jo ReyesBackground: The 43rd overall pick in the 2003 draft, Reyes had Tommy John surgery in 2004 and tore the anterior-cruciate ligament in his knee after returning in 2005. Finally healthy in 2006, Reyes earned the starting nod in the South Atlantic League all-star game.

Strengths: Reyes is a thick-bodied lefthander who does a good job of keeping hitters off balance. His four-seam fastball sits in the low 90s and appears harder due to his deceptive delivery. He also has an overhand curveball and a solid changeup with good movement. He has an abundance of confidence and relishes being atop a rotation.

Weaknesses: Injuries have been the biggest roadblock to Reyes' progress. Because he never had built up his endurance, he ran out of gas while pitching 141 innings in 2006-67 more than his previous career high. Reyes body offers nothing in the way of projection, and he'll have to watch his weight.

The Future: Reyes is back on track and will pitch in Double-A as a 22-year-old. He could become a No. 3 or 4 starter in the major leagues.
Rome (Lo A)
Myrtle Beach (Hi A)
9. Joey Devine, rhp   Born: Sept. 29, 1983B-T: R-RHt: 6-0Wt: 212
 Drafted: North Carolina State, 2005 (1st round). Signed by: Billy Best
Joey DevineBackground: Devine has endured a bumpy road since the Braves drafted him 27th overall in 2005. Pushed to Atlanta less than three months after signing, he became the first big leaguer to give up grand slams in his first two appearances, and he also served up an 18th-inning, Division Series-ending homer to Chris Burke. In 2006, a degenerative disc in his lower back sidelined him for most of the first half.

Strengths: Devine's main pitch is a sinker that sits at 92-94 mph and can touch 97. He also has a sidearm slider that starts out behind righthanders before cutting across the strike zone. He has excellent athleticism and the makeup to close games.

Weaknesses: Devine's ailing back caused his mechanics to become shaky, although Mississippi pitching coach Kent Willis helped correct some flaws in August. His inconsistent delivery has led to problems with his command, which must improve in order for him to succeed in the late innings. The addition of a consistent changeup would help him against lefthanders.

The Future: Devine broke camp with Atlanta in 2006 and will have the opportunity to do so again in 2007. He could emerge as a closer down the road, but Bob Wickman will open 2007 in that role.
Richmond (AAA)00--1000010101.000
Myrtle Beach (Hi A)
Mississippi (AA)
10. Yunel Escobar, inf   Born: Nov. 2, 1982B-T: R-RHt: 6-2Wt: 200
 Drafted: Miami (no school), 2005 (2nd round).Signed by: Gregg Kilby
Yunel EscobarBackground: A Cuban defector who was a childhood friend of Braves catcher Brayan Pena, Escobar went in the second round after becoming draft-eligible just a month before the 2005 draft. He spent his first full season in Double-A, shifting between second base, shortstop and third base as part of a three-man infield rotation with Luis Hernandez and Martin Prado. He represented Cuba in the Futures Game last summer.

Strengths: Escobar has solid tools across the board. His smooth swing produces line drives from gap to gap. Though aggressive at the plate, he has good plate discipline and pitch recognition. He has consistent hands and a strong arm that's a plus at any infield position.

Weaknesses: Escobar hasn't shown the ability to drive the ball that many scouts projected before the 2005 draft. His modest range could prevent him from playing shortstop in the majors. He has just average speed and is a tick below average for a middle infielder.

The Future: A year ago, Escobar figured to be in a tight battle with Elvis Andrus as the Braves' long-term answer at shortstop. Because second baseman Marcus Giles was non-tendered, Escobar's best shot will probably come at that position or as a utilityman. He's ready for Triple-A.
Mississippi (AA)

Photo Credits:

Saltalamacchia, Andrus, Reyes: Rich Abel

Harrison: Robert Gurganus

Pope, Escobar: Carl Kline