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, 2008.

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One of the most successful general managerial runs in baseball history runs came to an end after the 2007 season, when John Schuerholz moved up to team president with the Braves. In 17 years at the helm of the baseball operation, Schuerholz presided over teams that won 14 division titles, five National League pennants and one World Series championship. Frank Wren, who had been Schuerholz' right-hand man and earlier served a one-year stint as Orioles GM, was promoted to replace him.

Change has become commonplace recently in Atlanta, beginning in May 2007 when assistant GM Dayton Moore left to become GM of the Royals. Liberty Media acquired the franchise from Time Warner in a corporate trade in February 2007. Longtime scouting and player development guru Paul Snyder, who was named director of baseball operations after Moore's departure, plans on retiring this winter. Bobby Cox, who has managed the club for the last 17 1/2 seasons, has hinted that he too may step down soon.

Moves under the new ownership suggest the Braves will continue their commitment to player development. In the last year when draft-and-follows were in play, Atlanta signed seven, most notably lefthander Cole Rohrbough for $675,000. They dropped another $4.9 million on the draft and made a significant splash on the international market in July by signing Colombian righthander Julio Tehran for $850,000.

Wren also acted quickly to keep continuity in the player development and scouting departments, giving two-year contract extensions to scouting director Roy Clark, farm director Kurt Kemp and director of Latin American operations Johnny Almaraz. Clark, the game's longest-tenured scouting director, enters his 10th season in that position and his 19th overall with Atlanta.

As with the front office, the farm system also has gone through upheaval. The Braves used 18 rookies when they won the NL East in 2005, and they've continued to incorporate young talent the last two seasons. They also shipped five prospects to the Rangers for Mark Teixeira at the trading deadline, including the top three prospects on this list a year ago—catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia, shortstop Elvis Andrus, lefthander Matt Harrison—and one of their most electric arms, righty Neftali Feliz.

Yet Atlanta hasn't gutted its system. They may not have as many big names, but the Braves still have plenty of promising lefthanded starters and sluggers with all-around games. The best of the young southpaws (Rohrbough, Jeff Locke, Steve Evarts and Chad Rodgers) were all products of the 2007 draft. The first three players the Braves signed out of the 2007 draft (outfielder Jason Heyward, third baseman Jon Gilmore and first baseman Freddie Freeman) added to their collection of athletes with power bats, which already included outfielders Jordan Schafer and Brandon Jones.

Wren added to the system with his first major move, which sent Edgar Renteria to the Tigers for two prospects the day after the World Series ended. Righthander Jair Jurrjens should provide much-needed help for the back of the rotation, while Gorkys Hernandez will compete with Schafer to be Andruw Jones' long-term replacement in center field.

1.  Jordan Schafer, of   Born: Sept. 4, 1986B-T: L-RHt: 6-1Wt: 190
 Drafted: HS—Winter Haven, Fla, 2005 (3rd round)Signed by: Greg Kilby
Jordan SchaferBackground: Schafer may have made more progress than anyone in the minor leagues in 2007. After struggling to hit his weight for much of the 2006 season at low Class A Rome, he made adjustments and improvements to lead the minors with 176 hits last year. He also ranked third in the minors with 49 doubles, tied for sixth with 74 extra-base hits and missed nary a beat following his early May promotion to high Class A Myrtle Beach. Schafer first attracted attention when Baseball America rated him the nation's top 13-year-old in 2000, when he started at first base for his high school team as a seventh-grader. He drew some interest as a pitcher, but the Braves wanted to put his solid tools across the board to use in the outfield when they drafted him 107th overall in 2005. After signing for $320,000, Schafer struggled with the bat in his first 1 1/2 pro seasons. He was hitting just .214 at the end of June 2007, but started to find his groove during the last two months, when he raised his batting average 26 points and hit six of his eight home runs. A baseball rat, he focused nearly every waking moment on his game in the offseason and reaped the rewards in 2007. He batted a combined .312/.374/.513 and was rated the top prospect in the high Class A Carolina League and the sixth-best prospect in the low Class A South Atlantic League.

Strengths: Schafer has a line-drive stroke from the left side of the plate and the ability to drive and loft the ball. He took off in 2007 after improving his pitch recognition as well as his understanding of what pitchers are trying to do against him. Though projected to be a leadoff hitter, he has the ability to hit anywhere in the top third in the batting order. Schafer's defensive wizardry has been evident since he signed with Atlanta. He has advanced instincts in center field with immediate recognition of the ball off the bat, a lightning-quick first step and impeccable routes. Schafer has a plus-plus arm as an outfielder. He has solid speed and should be at least a 20-20 man in his major league prime.

Weaknesses: Despite making solid adjustments at the plate, Schafer still swings and misses more often than a leadoff hitter should. If he can cut down on his strikeouts, he'll be even more dangerous at the plate. Though he ranked fifth in the system with 23 steals in 2007, he also was caught 15 times and must learn how to read pitchers better so he can improve his jumps.

The Future: Despite the arrival of Gorkys Hernandez in the Edgar Renteria trade, Schafer eventually should be Andruw Jones' long-term replacement in center field, and some club officials believe he could take over in 2008. But he has yet to play above high Class A and may struggle to make consistent contact against big league pitcherst. He's ready to make the jump from a defensive standpoint, but he'd benefit from another full season in the minors, starting at Double-A Mississippi.
2007 Club (Class) AVG OBP SLG AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO SB
Rome (LoA)
.372 .441 .636 129 16 48 15 2 5 20 16 31 4
Myrtle Beach (HiA)
.294 .354 .477 436 70 128 34 8 10 43 40 95 19
2.  Jason Heyward, of   Born: Aug. 9, 1989B-T: L-LHt: 6-4Wt: 220
 Drafted: HS—McDonough, Ga., 2007 (1st round)Signed by: Al Goetz
Jason HeywardBackground: Another high-profile Braves pick from the Atlanta area, Heyward led Henry County to its first state title as a junior and batted .520 with eight home runs in 52 at-bats as a senior. He slipped to Atlanta with the 14th pick, mostly because opponents pitched around him so much in the spring that clubs had difficulty getting a good look at him. Signed for $1.7 million, he homered in his first professional game.

Strengths: Heyward has the physical attributes and instincts to be a star. His raw power is off the charts and his bat speed is nearly as good. He shows impressive plate discipline and pitch recognition. He's a good baserunner and has a plus arm with good carry.

Weaknesses: Heyward just needs to fine-tune his game. His patience leads to Frank Thomas comparisons, though he could be more productive by turning up his aggressiveness. He's discovering how to use his hands to drive the ball and will improve his batting average by using the entire field. His routes and ability to move back on fly balls need work.

The Future: Heyward looks like a man among boys. He profiles well as a right fielder and should move quickly through the system and will open his first full season in low Class A.
2007 Club (Class) AVG OBP SLG AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO SB
GCL Braves (R) .296 .355 .556 27 1 8 4 0 1 5 2 4 1
Danville Braves (R) .313 .353 .375 16 3 5 1 0 0 1 1 5 0
3.  Jair Jurrjens, rhp   Born: Jan. 29, 1986B-T: R-RHt: 6-1Wt: 160
Signed: Curacao, 2003.Signed by: Greg Smith (Tigers)
Jair JurrjensBackground: Jurrjens first two weeks in the big leagues last August were more dramatic than some careers. He became the first Curacao native to pitch in the majors last August when he held the Indians to one hit in seven innings. to beat Fausto Carmona for his first big league victory and He left his third start with a shoulder scare that proved to be inflammation. In need of a shortstop, the Tigers swapped Jurrjens and Gorkys Hernandez for Edgar Renteria.

Strengths: Jurrjens goes after hitters with a two-seam fastball with plenty of a sink or a four-seamer than ranges from 92-95 mph with late life and armside run. He has good arm speed and sinking action on his changeup. His curveball can be inconsistent but has good downer action. Both his changeup and curve are plus pitches when they're on.

Weaknesses: Jurrjens' command isn't as fine as his control, and at times he leaves pitches up in the strike zone. Durability is his primary concern. He missed the end of 2007 with shoulder spasms, and was sidelined for two weeks in June (groin) and again in September (shoulder).

The Future: Jurrjens will get every opportunity to crack the big league rotation in spring training and profiles as No. 3 starter with a ceiling as a No. 2.
2007 Club (Class) W L ERA G GS CG SV IP H HR BB SO AVG
Erie (AA)
7 5 3.20 19 19 1 0 113 112 7 31 94 .257
Detroit (MLB) 3 1 4.70 7 7 0 0 31 24 4 11 13 .220
4.  Brandon Jones, of   Born: Dec. 10, 1983B-T: L-RHt: 6-1Wt: 210
 Drafted: Tallahassee (Fla.) CC, D/F 2003 (24th round)Signed by: Al Goetz
Brandon JonesBackground: A three-sport standout in high school who had offers to play college football, Jones took his game to the next level in 2007. After battling injuries the previous two seasons, he drove in 100 runs between the top two levels in the system and made his major league debut in September.

Strengths: His managers and coaches rave about Jones' presence and even-keel approach on the field. He carries himself with the confidence and works tirelessly. He has budding power with a quick line-drive swing and a feel for the strike zone. An all-around athlete, he has improved his ability to use the entire field He has plus speed and solid arm strength.

Weaknesses:  While Jones' bat is ready for the majors, he needs to upgrade his defense in left field. He's taking better routes on fly balls, but he has to improve his throwing accuracy. While he runs the bases well, he was caught seven times in 24 tries in 2004.

The Future: The Braves consider Jones their long-term answer in left field, where Matt Diaz and Willie Harris split time last season. Jones probably will get another few months at Triple-A Richmond.
2007 Club (Class) AVG OBP SLG AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO SB
Mississippi (AA)
.293 .368 .507 365 58 107 21 6 15 74 44 84
Richmond (AAA) .300 .363 .453 170 26 51
12 1 4 26 17 36 5
Atlanta (MAJ) .158 .190 .211 19 0 3
1 0 0 4 0 8
5.  Gorkys Hernandez, of   Born: Sept. 7, 1987B-T: R-RHt: 6-0Wt: 175
 Signed: Venezuela, 2005Signed by: Ramon Pena (Tigers)
Gorkys HernandezBackground: While in the Tigers organization, Hernandez had an impressive encoure after winning the Rookie-level Gulf Coast League batting crown in his 2007 U.S. debut. He played in the Futures Game and served as the catalyst for the low Class A Midwest League champions. He won the league's MVP award and stolen base title.

Strengths: Hernandez draws comparisons to a young Kenny Lofton as a speedster with gap power. He makes good contact and has shown the ability to make adjustments against experienced pitchers. His well-above-average speed makes him a threat on the basepaths and allows him to run down fly balls in the gaps. He even has a strong arm for a center fielder.

Weaknesses: Hernandez needs to add muscle for more power. He has tools to bat leadoff, but needs to use of his speed better on the bases and continue to improve his plate discipline.

The Future: The Tigers wanted to upgrade at shortstop and Hernandez became expendable with Curtis Granderson and Cameron Maybin ahead of him. Hernandez likely will open 2008 in high Class A, with a chance for a midseason promotion to Double-A. He has a lot of upside, but he also has a lot of young outfielders to contend with in the Braves system.
2007 Club (Class) AVG OBP SLG AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO SB
West Michigan (LoA)
.293 .344 .391 481 84 141 25 5 4
50 36 69 54
6.  Brent Lillibridge, ss   Born: Sept. 18, 1983B-T: R-RHt: 5-11Wt: 180
 Drafted: Washington, 2005 (4th round)Signed by: Greg Hopkins (Pirates)
Brent LillibridgeBackground: Acquired from Pittsburgh in the deal that sent Adam LaRoche to the Pirates last offseason, Lillibridge served as a catalyst on Richmond's International League championship club. He led the system with 42 steals and posted a hit in each of his nine playoff games. R-Braves manager Dave Brundage said Lillibridge improved more over the course of the season than any player on his club.

Strengths: Lillibridge has the tools to hit leadoff, plus the range and arm strength to play shortstop in the major leagues. His hands work well at the plate and he's adept at using the entire field. He also drives the ball well for a player his size. With above-average speed and savvy, he has succeeded in 79 percent of his pro steal attempts.

Weaknesses: Lillibridge thinks of himself as a middle-of-the-lineup hitter too often. He needs to reduce his strikeouts by shortening his swing and controlling the zone better. He also needs to upgrade his bunting ability and become more of a small-ball player. He doesn't always deal with failure well, though he's doing better as he matures.

The Future: Once Lillibridge plays to his strengths he'll be ready to contribute at the major league level. He'll open 2008 in Triple-A.
2007 Club (Class) AVG OBP SLG AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO SB
Mississippi (AA)
.275 .355 .387 204 31 56 8 3 3
17 20 60 14
Richmond (AAA)
.287 .331 .436 321 47 92 14 2 10
41 20 59
7.  Cole Rohrbough, lhp   Born: May 23, 1987B-T: L-LHt: 6-3Wt: 205
 Drafted: Western Nevada CC, D/F 2007 (22nd round)Signed by: Tim Moore
Cole RohrboughBackground: After earning all-tournament honors at the Junior College World Series, Rohrbough capped Atlanta's final class of draft-and-follows by signing for $675,000. Rohrbough ranked as the No. 1 prospect in the Rookie-level Appalachian League and was just as dominant in six starts in low Class A after getting promoted.

Strengths: Danville pitching coach Jim Czajkowski realized that Rohrbough became untouchable when his arm slot rose and was more hittable when he dropped down. When he maintained the higher angle, his fastball went from sitting in the high 80s to regularly touching 94. He also has a plus power curveball with sharp, late break. He studies hitters and already mixes his pitches like a veteran.

Weaknesses: Rohrbough needs to improve his changeup consistency and repeat his delivery. Experience should take care of both flaws.

The Future: Rohrbough has the best fastball-curveball combination in the system. He moved quickly in his debut and could continue at that same rapid rate.Though he may return to Rome to begin 2008, he should reach high Class A by midseason.
2007 Club (Class) W L ERA G GS CG SV IP H HR BB SO AVG
Danville (R)
3 2 1.08 8 7 0 0 33 20 1 8
58 .167
Rome (LoA)
2 0 1.29 6
6 0 0 28 13 1 12
38 .138
8.  Jeff Locke, lhp   Born: Nov. 20, 1987B-T: L-LHt: 6-2Wt: 180
 Drafted: HS—Conway, N.H., 2007 (2nd round)Signed by: Lonnie Goldberg
Jeff LockeBackground: The 51st overall pick in the 2007 draft, Locke looks like the best pitcher from New Hampshire since Chris Carpenter was drafted in 1993. He lost his first outing at Rookie-level Danville last summer before going 7-0 the rest of the way, allowing just 10 earned runs over his last 10 starts.

Strengths: Locke's command is as impressive as his fastball, which usually ranges from 90-94 mph with significant movement. He also pounds the strike zone with a hard-breaking curveball (which has the makings of a plus pitch) and an improved changeup. He has confidence in all three pitches. His herky-jerky delivery creates deception.

Weaknesses: As a high school pitcher from the Northeast, Locke was more raw than most pitchers when he signed. He still gets out of sync with his delivery and needs to repeat it more consistently. He must do a better job of handling the finer points of pitching, such as fielding his position and backing up bases.

The Future: Locke is a fearless competitor who shows every indication of developing into a premier lefthanded starter. He'll start 2008 in the low Class A rotation.
2007 Club (Class) W L ERA G GS CG SV IP H HR BB SO AVG
Danville (R)
7 1 2.66 13 11 0 1 61 48 2 8 74 .213
9.  Tommy Hanson, rhp   Born: Aug. 28, 1986B-T: R-RHt: 6-6Wt: 210
 Drafted: Riverside (Calif.) CC D/F 2005 (22nd round)Signed by: Mike Baker
Tommy HansonBackground: Hanson entered pro ball a year before Rohrbough, passing up the chance to attend Arizona State to sign for $325,000. Hanson won just five games in his first full pro season, but pitched well at two Class A stops.

Strengths: Hanson throws three pitches for strikes: an 89-92 fastball with above-average life, a nasty overhand curveball with tight spin and 12-to-6 break, and an average changeup that continues to improve. He has a strong mound presence, the frame to throw on a steep downhill angle and isn't afraid to challenge hitters. He changes planes well and uses both sides of the plate.

Weaknesses: Hanson tends to rely too much on one pitch, particularly his fastball, when his other offerings aren't working. He also tends to pitch up in the strike zone, leaving him vulnerable to home runs. He gave up 10 longballs in just 60 innings in high Class A.

The Future: A potential middle-of-the-rotation starter, Hanson has moved quickly while making adjustments against experienced competition. He will likely return to Myrtle Beach, but could earn a midseason promotion.
2007 Club (Class) W L ERA G GS CG SV IP H HR BB SO AVG
Rome (LoA)
2 6 2.59 15 14 0 0 73 51 6
26 90 .194
Myrtle Beach (HiA) 3
3 4.20 11 11 0 0 60 53
10 32 64 .243
10.  Julio Teheran, rhp   Born: Jan. 28, 1991B-T: R-RHt: 6-2Wt: 160
 Signed: Colombia, 2007Signed by: Miguel Teheran/Carlos Garcia
Julio TeheranBackground: The Braves believe they signed the top amateur pitcher in Latin America when they inked Teheran for $850,000. His cousin Miguel is one of the scouts who signed him for the Braves, and he reportedly turned down a higher offer from the Yankees. He showed every indication during instructional league that he'll be as good as advertised.

Strengths: Teheran is a mature teenager with a vast repertoire, great makeup and tremendous upside. Scouts love how easily the ball comes out of his hand and how loose his arm works. His fastball sat at 94-95 during instructional league. He throws an advanced changeup at 81-82 with good sinking action. His 78-79 mph curveball has late, hard bite.

Weaknesses: Teheran has a pump delivery and struggles at times with his command. His arm action is a little short in the backside and he needs to get stronger, which should occur naturally as he matures physically.

The Future: Teheran has a chance to move rapidly through the system and become a standout at the major league level. The Braves have no plans to rush him, and likely will send him to the Gulf Coast League in 2008 in order to help him adapt to pro ball and a new culture.
2007 Club (Class) AVG OBP SLG AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO SB
Did Not Play—Signed 2007 Contract

Complete Index of Top 10 Prospects
Pre-Order the 2008 Prospect Handbook
30 scouting reports on every team

Photo Credits:
Robert Gurganus (Schafer)
David Stoner (Heyward, Teheran)
Steve Moore (Jurrjens, Lillibridge)
Ed Wolfstein (Jones)
Bill Setliff (Rohrbough, Locke)
Paul Gierhart (Hernandez)
Tom Priddy (Hanson)