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, 2009.

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Atlanta Braves

No team in baseball, particularly one that has established themselves as perennial contenders, ever wants to use the "R" word. And while the Braves may not be in a complete rebuilding mode after posting their worst record since 1990 and failing to reach the playoffs for the third straight year, they're doing some serious retooling.

Major changes began in earnest at the conclusion of the 2007 season, when John Schuerholz became the club's president and passed the general manager reins to right-hand man Frank Wren. Since then, Edgar Renteria and Mark Teixeira have been traded, Andruw Jones has left as a free agent and Tom Glavine and John Smoltz have hit the free-agent market as well. Undaunted by giving up five prospects for Teixeira in a 2006 trade that will turn out to be one of Schuerolz's most regrettable moves, Atlanta sent four youngsters (most notably catcher Tyler Flowers) to the White Sox for Javier Vazquez and Boone Logan this winter.

For the most part, however, the Braves have been trying to get younger. Dealing Renteria and Teixeira yielding building blocks such as Jair Jurrjens, Casey Kotchman and outfield prospect Gorkys Hernandez. Atlanta put together its run of 14 consecutive playoff trips from 1991-2005 by constantly replenishing the big league roster with fresh, homegrown talent, and that blueprint for success remains intact.

Six of the Braves' eight lineup regulars in 2009 were drafted and developed by the club, and the farm system features as much depth as ever. Scouting director Roy Clark and his staff have filled the organization with several high-profile prospects with productive drafts throughout the current decade.

Outfielder Jason Heyward, the system's top position prospect, was selected with the 14th overall pick in 2007, but Atlanta has excelled in finding prospects outside of the first round. Righthander Tommy Hanson, the sensation of the Arizona Fall League was a 22nd-rounder in 2005 and part of the now-defunct draft-and-follow process that also netted the Braves lefthander Cole Rohrbough (22nd round in 2006), Flowers (33rd in 2005) and outfielder Brandon Jones (24th in 2003). They also grabbed outfielder Jordan Schaefer (third round in 2005) and righthander Kris Medlen (10th round in 2006) far lower in the draft than their talents would merit today.

Atlanta also has reasserted itself on the worldwide front, starting with the hiring of Johnny Almaraz as director of international scouting and operations in late 2006. He oversaw the construction of a state-of-the-art facility in the Dominican Republic that opened in 2007, and he and his scouting network are making inroads elsewhere in Latin America as well.

In the last two years, the Braves have signed such talents as righthander Julio Teheran out of Colombia, righthy Randall Delgado and catcher Christian Bethancourt out of the Panama and lefties Santos Rodriguez (part of the Vazquez deal) and Carlos Perez out of the Dominican. Teheran, who cost $850,000, was the top pitcher on the international market in 2007. They also have intensified their efforts in Taiwan, landing righty Wei Cheng Huang and catcher Meng Hsiu Tsai.

1.  Tommy Hanson, rhp   Born: Aug. 28, 1986B-T: R-RHt: 6-6Wt: 210
 Drafted: Riverside (Calif.) CC, D/F 2005 (22nd round)Signed by: Tom Battista
Tommy HansonBackground: One of the team's big finds in the now-extinct draft-and-follow process, Hanson signed with the Braves for $325,000 in 2006 while turning down an opportunity to pitch at Arizona State. He made tremendous strides transforming from a thrower to a pitcher in 2007 under the tutelage of the late Bruce Dal Canton, his pitching coach at high Class A Myrtle Beach. Hanson broke out as one of the baseball's top pitching prospects in 2008. He dominated in a return to Myrtle Beach to start the season and easily handled a promotion to Double-A Mississippi, where he tossed a no-hitter with a career-best 14 strikeouts on June 25. He concluded the regular season leading the minors in opponent batting average (.175) and ranking second in strikeouts per nine innings (10.6) and fourth in strikeouts (163). Hanson capped his year by winning the pitching triple crown in the Arizona Fall League, going 5-0, 0.63 with 49 strikeouts in 29 innings. He also limited hitters in the offensive-oriented loop to a .105 average.

Strengths: After displaying a tendency to rely on his fastball early in his minor league career, Hanson has developed four quality pitches that he throws for strikes. His moving fastball resides in the low to mid-90s and explodes in on the hands of righthanders. He added a hard slider in the upper 80s midway through last season, which brought about comparisons to John Smoltz's best offering while taking Hanson's considerable potential to a higher level. His overhand 12-to-6 curveball is a plus pitch that makes his slider even more difficult for hitters to diagnose. His changeup is at least major league average and has improved impressively over the past two years. Hanson mixes his pitches well, uses both sides of the plate and does an outstanding job of altering the eye level of hitters. He hides the ball well in his delivery, making him even tougher to hit. He displays impressive poise with a strong mound presence. He uses his height to his advantage by pitching on a steep downhill plane and challenges hitters throughout the lineup.

Weaknesses: The key to Hanson's success is working ahead in the count. While his slider has become his best pitch, he must establish his fastball command and use all of his pitches. The few difficult outings he had in Double-A came when he issued too many walks and became too fine in the strike zone, giving hitters a chance to make more hard contact than usual.

The Future: The Braves believe Hanson is a future ace, which GM Frank Wren made clear early in the offseason when he refused to include the righthander in any trade talks, even those involving Jake Peavy. Though not a finished product, Hanson is getting close to joining the big league rotation. The trade for Javier Vazquez increased the odds that Hanson will open 2009 at the club's new Triple-A Gwinnett County affiliate, but he should make his major league debut before season's end.
 
2008 Club (Class) W L ERA G GS CG SV IP H HR BB SO AVG
Myrtle Beach (HiA) 3 1 0.90 7 7 0 0 40 15 0 11 49 .116
Mississippi (AA) 8 4 3.03 18 18 0 0 98 70 9 41 114
.197
 
2.  Jason Heyward, of  Born: Aug. 9, 1989. B-T: L-L. Ht.: 6-4. Wt.: 220.
 Drafted: HS—McDonough, Ga., 2007 (1st round). Signed by: Brian Bridges.
Jason HeywardBackground: The 14th overall pick in the 2007 draft, Heyward continues to leave many observers wondering why 13 teams passed on the five-tool outfielder. Signed for $1.7 million, he ranked as the No. 1 prospect in the low Class A South Atlantic League in 2008. One of the SAL's youngest players at age 18, he ranked third in the league in hitting (.323) and fourth in on-base percentage (.388).

Strengths: Heyward is a prototypical right fielder with impressive size, athleticism and overall makeup. He swings a big bat from the left side, drawing comparisons to the likes of Willie McCovey, Dave Parker and Dave Winfield. Heyward has outstanding plate discipline and pitch recognition for a teenager. He has average speed and is an intelligent baserunner. Defensively, he covers a lot of ground in right field and has a plus arm with excellent carry on his throws.

Weaknesses: While there's no question Heyward has power in his bat, he went deep only 11 times in 2008. The Braves believe he'll hit more homers once he learns to use his hands more efficiently and gets more aggressive looking for pitches to pound. He's still working on getting better jumps on balls hit over his head and improving his routes on balls hit to his right.

The Future: Heyward will return to high Class A, where he ended 2008, but his mature approach and ability to make rapid adjustments soon will put him on the fast track. Atlanta's No. 3 hitter of the future, he could make his big league debut in 2010.
 
2008 Club (Class) AVG OBP SLG AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO SB
Rome (LoA)
.323
.388
.483
449
88
145
27
6
11
52
49
74
15
Myrtle Beach (HiA)
.182
.240
.273
22
3
4
2
0
0
4
2
4
0
 
3.  Jordan Schafer, ofBorn: Sept. 4, 1986. B-T: L-L. Ht.: 6-1. Wt.: 190. 
Drafted: HS—Winter Haven, Fla., 2005 (3rd round). Signed by: Greg Kilby.
Jordan SchaferBackground: The No. 1 prospect on this list a year ago, Schafer began 2008 with a 50-game suspension for using human-growth hormone. He tried too hard to make up for lost time when he returned in May but salvaged his season with a hot August.

Strengths: Schafer has good hand-eye coordination with quick wrists and plus bat speed. He uses the entire field and has surprising power for his wiry frame. A premier defender in center field, he has excellent range and plus arm strength. He possesses above-average speed and has a knack for taking the right angle on hard-hit balls in the gaps. He's a supremely confident player with a tireless work ethic.

Weaknesses: Schafer hit just .196/.306/.299 against lefthanders last season, struggling to center the ball on the barrel of the bat. He's prone to streakiness and strikes out excessively during slumps, which often come from his tendency to put extreme pressure on himself. While he runs well, Schafer isn't a standout basestealer.

The Future: The suspension should have no long-term affect on Schafer. He'll probably open 2009 in Triple-a but could take over as Atlanta's center fielder by the end of the season.
 
2008 Club (Class) AVG OBP SLG AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO SB
Mississippi (AA)
.269
.378
.471
297
46
80
18
6
10
51
49
88
12

4.  Gorkys Hernandez, of  Born: Sept. 7, 1987. B-T: R-R. Ht.: 6-0. Wt.: 175.
 Signed: Venezuela, 2005. Signed by: Ramon Pena (Tigers).
Gorkys HernandezBackground: Hernandez won the Rookie-level Gulf Coast League batting title and low Class A Midwest League award in his first two seasons in the United States, then was part of a one-sided trade with the Tigers that also delivered Jair Jurrens in exchange for Edgar Renteria. Hernandez missed a month in 2008 with a hamstring injury, but recovered to earn accolades from managers as the most exciting player in the high Class A Carolina League.

Strengths: Hernandez has all the tools to be a quintessential leadoff hitter and center fielder. He drives the ball from gap to gap with his line-drive swing and is a weapon on the bases with his above-average speed. He covers tremendous ground in center with his quickness and precise routes, and he also has a strong, accurate arm.

Weaknesses:  While he has made improvements by cutting down on his swing, particularly with two strikes, Hernandez still gives away too many at-bats. He doesn't have much home run power but still swings for the fences on occasion. A more refined approach and improved strike-zone judgment will boost his modest walk totals and on-base percentage.

The Future: With Jordan Schafer and Hernandez, the Braves have two of the premier center-field prospects in the game. Their skills are similar, and Schafer is only one rung higher on the organizational ladder. Hernandez will spend 2009 in Double-A.
 
2008 Club (Class) AVG OBP SLG AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO SB
Myrtle Beach (HiA)
.264
.348
.387
406
75
107
23
6
5
42
48
79
20
 
5.  Freddie Freeman, 1bBorn: Sept. 12, 1989. B-T: L-R. Ht.: 6-5. Wt.: 210. 
Drafted: HS—Orange, Calif., 2007 (2nd round). Signed by: Tom Battista.
Freddie FreemanBackground: Many scouts preferred Freeman as a power-pitching prospect, but he wanted to swing the bat and the Braves were glad to oblige when they drafted him in the second round in 2007. The youngest player to sign out of that draft, he was named Braves minor league player of the year in 2008 after ranking second in the South Atlantic League in slugging (.521) and fourth in RBIs (95).

Strengths: Freeman is an RBI machine who relishes the opportunity to hit with runners on base. He's an aggressive hitter with a swing-first approach, yet he has good pitch recognition and doesn't chase pitches out of the zone. He drives the ball with authority with his sweet, smooth swing and should be able to produce significant home run totals at higher levels. His defense is well above average at first base, with some scouts comparing Freeman to Mark Grace but with more power.

Weaknesses: Freeman's approach doesn't lend itself to drawing a lot of walks. He has below-average speed, though he's by no means a baseclogger.

The Future: The Braves could have moved Freeman to high Class A last season with relative ease, but they wanted to make certain he had a solid foundation of success as an 18-year-old. He'll move up to Myrtle Beach in 2009, and the team won't be able to hold him back if he continues to produce.
 
2008 Club (Class) AVG OBP SLG AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO SB
Rome (LoA)
.316
.378
.521
491
70
155
33
7
18
95
46
84
5
 
6.  Cole Rohrbough, lhp  Born: May 23, 1987. B-T: L-L. Ht.: 6-3. Wt.: 225.
 Drafted: Western Nevada CC, D/F 2006 (22nd round). Signed by: Tim Moore.
Cole RohrboughBackground: The final draft-and-follow signed by the Braves before MLB eliminated the process, Rohrbough received a $675,000 bonus and ranked as the top prospect in the Rookie-level Appalachian League in his pro debut. An ankle injury suffered during offseason workouts and a bout of rotator-cuff tendinitis hampered his development last season, though he did work his way to high Class A.

Strengths: Rohrbough has electrifying stuff with three above-average pitches at times, including the best fastball/curveball combination in the system. His fastball has good movement while residing at 92-94. When his power curve is sharp with nasty late break, it borders on being unhittable. He has a tremendous feel for pitching and mixes his offerings well.

Weaknesses: Rohrbough tends to drop his arm slot on occasion, which decreases the velocity of his fastball and makes his curve much flatter and hittable. He also needs to improve the consistency and fade of his changeup.

The Future: Atlanta believes Rohrbough is a special talent and projects him as a possible No. 2 starter. He should be completely healthy in spring training and should advance to Double-A at some point in 2009, with a big league ETA of late 2010.
 
2008 Club (Class) W L ERA G GS CG SV IP H HR BB SO AVG
Rome (LoA)
3
4
4.94
13
12
0
0
58.1
55
3
31
76
.248
Myrtle Beach (HiA)
2
2
3.41
5
5
1
0
31.2
27
0
8
28
.233
 
7.  Jeff Locke, lhp  Born: Nov. 20, 1987. B-T: L-L. Ht.: 6-2. Wt.: 180.
Drafted: HS—Conway, N.H., 2006 (2nd round). Signed by: Lonnie Goldberg.
Jeff LockeBackground:  Locke ended 2007 on a seven-game winning streak, but last season was not as kind. He lacked run support throughout most of the year and ranked third in the South Atlantic League with 12 losses. Nevertheless, he maintained his composure and showed three solid-average pitches.

Strengths: Locke's two best pitches are a 91-94 mph fastball with good movement and a hard curveball that borders on being a plus offering. He also throws a changeup that continues to show improvement with its depth. He does an excellent job of keeping the ball down in the zone, which helped limit opponents to six homers in 2008. His herky-jerky delivery creates deception and makes it difficult for hitters to pick up the ball. His mound presence and competitiveness are impressive for a young hurler.

Weaknesses: Locke tends to fall out of sync in his delivery and needs to repeat his mechanics with more consistency to achieve better command. He throws strikes but can locate his pitchers better in the zone. He needs to fine-tune some of the nuances of his craft, such as fielding his position, holding runners and covering and backing up bases.

The Future: The best pitching prospect from New Hampshire since Chris Carpenter, Locke has the ability to be a workhorse in the middle of a major league rotation. His next stop will be high Class A.
 
2008 Club (Class) W L ERA G GS CG SV IP H HR BB SO AVG
Rome (LoA)
5
12
4.06
25
24
1
0
139.2
150
6
38
113
.269
 
8.  Julio Teheran, rhpBorn: Jan. 27, 1991. B-T: R-R. Ht.: 6-2. Wt.: 165.
 Signed: Colombia, 2007. Signed by: Miguel Teheran/Carlos Garcia.
Julio TeheranBackground: The top amateur pitcher on the international market in 2007, Teheran signed for $850,000, thanks in part to his cousin Miguel, a Braves scout. Impressed by his maturity in spring training, Atlanta decided to send him to the Appalachian League, where he was the youngest pitcher at age 17. He developed a sore shoulder after two starts, and the Braves decided to err on the side of caution and used him only sparingly afterward.

Strengths: Teheran throws easy gas, displaying a 90-93 mph fastball with above-average life in instructional league. His changeup is also a plus pitch and he'll throw it at any time in the count. His poise is remarkable, and he has a strong idea of what he needs to accomplish by working both sides of the plate as well as the top and bottom of the zone.

Weaknesses: Teheran has a rolling curveball and needs to tighten the spin on the pitch. He also must do a better job of commanding his pitches in the zone. While doctors found nothinig wrong with his shoulder, he'll have to get stronger. He's still learning that he can't just overpower every hitter he faces.

The Future: The Braves feel no need to rush Teheran and may keep him in extended spring before sending him back to Danville. He has top-of-the-rotation ability and will get all the time he needs to develop.
 
2008 Club (Class) W L ERA G GS CG SV IP H HR BB SO AVG
Danville (R)
1
2
6.60
6
6
0
0
15
18
2
4
17
.305
 
9.  Kris Medlen, rhp  Born: Oct. 7, 1985. B-T: B-R. Ht.: 5-10. Wt.: 175.
 Drafted: Santa Ana (Calif.) JC, 2006 (10th round). Signed by: Tom Battista.
Kris MedlenBackground: After dominating as a reliever and posting a 1.17 ERA in his first two years as a pro, Medlen faced adversity for the first time in the minors at Mississppi in the opening two months of the 2008 season. He wound up moving into the rotation proceeded to pitch as well as any starter in the Southern League, going 6-5, 3.11 in 17 starts before excelling in the playoffs.

Strengths: Medlen features a 92-94 mph fastball and a plus curveball in the upper 90s. He also has a solid changeup and a slider he'll throw to give hitters another pitch to think about. The additional innings as a starter allowed him to improve his command. A converted shortstop, he's athletic and helps his cause as a hitter and fielder. He's aggressive and tough on the mound.

Weaknesses: Medlen is undersized and thus raises questions about his durability as a starter, though his stress-free delivery and ability to throw strikes works in his favor. His command isn't as sharp as his control, and the last step in his development will be to throw more quality strikes.

The Future: A promotion to Triple-A is the most likely scenario for Medlen in 2009, though he could get a long look in spring training. He has the versatility to fit in as a starter, swingman or reliever depending on Atlanta's needs.
 
2008 Club (Class) W L ERA G GS CG SV IP H HR BB SO AVG
Mississippi (AA)
7
8
3.52
36
17
0
1
120.1
121
8
27
120
.268
 
10.  Craig Kimbrel, rhpBorn: May 28, 1988. B-T: R-R. Ht.: 5-11. Wt.: 205. 
Drafted: Wallace State (Ala.) CC, 2008 (3rd round). Signed by: Brian Bridges.
Craig KimbrelBackground: The Braves drafted Kimbrel in the 33rd round in 2007, but he turned down a $125,000 bonus to return to Wallace State (Ala.) CC. After he averaged 13.7 strikeouts per nine innings and limited batters to a .140 average as a sophomore, they took him in third round and signed him for $391,000. He was just as dominant in pro ball, concluding his debut with four scoreless innings in high Class A.

Strengths: Though he's somewhat undersized, Kimbrel has a strong frame and a lightning-quick arm. Throwing from a low three-quarters delivery, he has a fastball that resides at 92-95 mph and touches 98 with heavy sink. His heater tends to run in on righthanders before exploding just prior to reaching the plate. He has a closer's mentality.

Weaknesses: Kimbrel needs more consistency with his secondary pitches, both of which project to become average, and his control. His slider still gets slurvy and his changeup isn't reliable yet.

The Future: Kimbrel made the best initial impression among members of Atlanta's 2008 draft class. He has the ingredients to become a closer in the major leagues. He'll stay on the fast track and could reach Double-A in his first full pro season.
 
2008 Club (Class) W L ERA G GS CG SV IP H HR BB SO AVG
Danville (R)
1
2
0.47
12
0
0
6
19
5
0
10
27
.076
Rome (LoA)
2
0
0.71
10
0
0
4
12.2
6
0
4
26
.140
Myrtle Beach (HiA)
0
0
0.00
2
0
0
0
3.2
5
0
1
3
.385

Complete Index of Top 10 Prospects
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Photo Credits: Carl Kline (Hanson)
Rodger Wood (Heyward, Kimbrel)
Tom Priddy (Freeman)