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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The Braves' recent rebuilding effort advanced to the next stage in 2009. They won 86 games, their most since their 14th straight and most recent playoff appearance in 2005, and contended into the final week of the season.

The offseason acquisitions of veterans Kenshin Kawakami, Derek Lowe and Javier Vazquez solidified the rotation. Atlanta took heat for releasing Tom Glavine after he completed a rehab assignment, but his departure led to the arrival of rookie righthander Tommy Hanson, who lived up to his billing as the organization's top prospect. The pitching additions helped the Braves improve from 12th in the National League in runs allowed in 2008 to fourth last year.

Atlanta retooled its lineup as well, with less effect, ranking sixth in the NL in scoring for the second straight season. The Braves reacquired Adam LaRoche at midseason after Casey Kotchman didn't provide enough production at first base, and Martin Prado proved ready for prime time when given the opportunity to play regularly while shuffling around the infield.

Two past No. 1 prospects in the outfield proved less effective. The insertion of rookie Jordan Schafer in center field didn't last, as Schafer homered in his first big league at-bat but struggled afterward with a wrist injury that eventually required surgery following his demotion to Triple-A. Atlanta filled that hole by trading for Nate McLouth in June. A month later, the Braves pulled the plug on 2002 first-round pick Jeff Francoeur in his fifth season, dealing him to the Mets.

The Braves will continue to evolve in 2010, which is expected to be manager Bobby Cox's swan song. The fourth-winningest manager of all time, he has skippered the team since mid-1990, by far the longest current reign in the major leagues. Chipper Jones is also nearing the end of his Hall of Fame career, and he expressed frustration with his performance late last season.

While Jones has no obvious heir, more young talent is on the way. Jason Heyward, Baseball America's Minor League Player of the Year, will give the lineup a major jolt when he arrives in 2010. First baseman Freddie Freeman also should crack the lineup in the near future, and Atlanta still has high hopes for Schafer. Lefthander Mike Minor, the No. 7 overall pick in the 2009 draft, is expected to advance rapidly. However, trades for the likes of McLouth and Vazquez significantly thinned the farm system's depth.

In another major change, scouting director Roy Clark left in October to become an assistant general manager with the Nationals. Clark had worked for the Braves for 20 years and had run their drafts since 2000. Atlanta promoted special assistant/major league scout Tony DeMacio to replace him.

DeMacio had a mixed record as Orioles scouting director from 1999-2004, when he had 10 first-round choices (Brian Roberts and Nick Markakis among them) and five sandwich picks but had to contend with owner Peter Angelos' meddling and thriftiness. DeMacio began his scouting career with the Braves, for whom he signed Glavine and Jones.

The Braves increased their emphasis on the foreign front with the hiring of international scouting director Johnny Almaraz in late 2006, and those efforts are about to bear fruit. Righthanders Julio Teheran, Randall Delgado and Robinson Lopez, catcher Christian Bethancourt and lefty Dismather Delgado have proven to be as good as advertised. Atlanta opened a complex in the Canary Islands last February, in hopes of developing European talent.

1.  Jason Heyward, of   Born: Aug. 9, 1989B-T: L-LHt: 6-4Wt: 220
 Drafted: HS—McDonough, Ga., 2007 (1st round)Signed by: Brian Bridges
Jason HeywardBackground: The 14th overall pick in the 2007 draft, Heyward signed for $1.7 million and since has emerged as the top prospect in baseball. He earned Baseball America's Minor League Player of the Year award after hitting .323/.408/.555 at three minor league stops, including a dominating performance at Double-A Mississippi. An oblique injury slowed him in early May, and he missed the Carolina League-California League All-Star game with a hip injury. Heyward recovered in time to play in the Futures Game and raised the issue about whether the Braves should call him up for the stretch drive shortly after his 20th birthday. He ranked as the No. 1 prospect in the high Class A Carolina and Double-A Southern leagues.

Strengths:
The main reason Heyward remained on the draft board so long in 2007 centered on the limited number of times he swung the bat as a high school senior. Opponents rarely pitched to him and he refused to compromise his impressive command of the strike zone. He has continued to demonstrate uncanny patience as he has climbed the ladder in pro ball. That type of feel for the game is just one of the many intangibles Heyward brings to the field in addition to his classic five-tool ability. He has a plan every time he steps in the box and makes adjustments between at-bats.

He has outstanding bat speed, uses the entire field well and can drive the ball to the opposite field. His short swing is a bit unorthodox, but it works and he should hit for a high average with a lot of power. Despite standing 6-foot-4, Heyward has solid-average speed. He has outstanding instincts on the basepaths and plus range in right field. His impressive body control allows him to make diving catches with relative ease, and his plus arm is one of the strongest in the minors with velocity, carry and accuracy on his throws. He also takes good routes on fly balls.

Weaknesses:
Heyward briefly struggled with quality changeups when he reached Double-A but quickly adapted. Injuries are the other concern. They've limited him to just 886 pro at-bats, and he played in just 99 games in 2009 because of the oblique and hip injuries, plus a jammed heel in August. Then his Arizona Fall League stint was cut short after four games with a hamstring strain that was also causing back inflammation. He needs to prove he's not brittle.

The Future:
Scouts who follow the Braves say Heyward was the best player they saw in the minor leagues last season. With the trade of former golden boy Jeff Francoeur in July and the expected free-agent departure of Garret Anderson, there are openings for Heyward to make his major league debut sooner rather than later. Atlanta wants to be patient, but he has improved every time he has been challenged at a higher level, including a stint in big league camp last spring as a nonroster invitee. Even if he opens 2010 at Triple-A Gwinnett, Heyward will be starting in Atlanta at some point during the year, and he has all the ability to emerge as one of the game's premier players of the next decade.
 
2009 Club (Class) AVG OBP SLG AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO SB
Myrtle Beach (HiA)
.296
.369
.519
189
34
56
12
0
10
31
21
41
4
Mississippi (AA)
.352
.446
.611
162
32
57
13
4
7
30
28
19
5
Gwinnett (AAA)
.354
.462
.364
11
3
4
0
0
0
2
2
2
1
 
2.  Freddie Freeman, 1b  Born: Sept. 12, 1989. B-T: L-R. Ht.: 6-5. Wt.: 220.
 Drafted: HS—Orange, Calif., 2007 (2nd round). Signed by: Tom Battista.
Freddie FreemanBackground: The youngest player to sign out of the 2007 draft, Freeman continues to be Robin to Jason Heyward's Batman. He reached Double-A at age 19 last summer and hit .319/.354/.493 in his first month there before lingering soreness in his left wrist hampered his production. He missed the last two weeks, but didn't need surgery and headed to the Arizona Fall League.

Strengths: Freeman has been an RBI machine at every level,  thriving with runners in scoring position. He drives the ball with consistency with a sweet, fluid swing, and scouts believe his doubles will become homers as he gains experience and strength. Comparisons to Keith Hernandez and Mark Grace with more power have become commonplace because of his defense, which managers rated the best among first basemen in both the Carolina and Southern leagues last season.

Weaknesses: Freeman runs well enough for a big man but never will be noted for his speed. His attacking approach at the plate doesn't lend itself to walks, but Atlanta gladly will sacrifice some on-base percentage for RBIs.

The Future: The Braves will seek a stopgap solution at first base for 2010, with an eye on turning the position over to Freeman the next season. With him and Heyward, the Braves should be set at the right-side corners for the foreseeable future.
 
2009 Club (Class) AVG OBP SLG AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO SB
Myrtle Beach (HiA)
.302
.394
.447
255
43
77
19
0
6
34
26
41
1
Mississippi (AA)
.248
.308
.342
149
15
37
8
0
2
24
11
19
0
 
3.  Julio Teheran, rhp Born: Jan. 27, 1991. B-T: R-R. Ht.: 6-2. Wt.: 160. 
Signed: Columbia, 2007. Signed by: Miguel Teheran/Carlos Garcia.
Julio TeheranBackground: The Braves signed Teheran for $850,000, the largest bonus given to a pitcher on the international market in 2007. After pitching sparingly in 2008 because of shoulder tendinitis, Teheran returned to the Rookie-level Appalachian League last summer and ranked as the loop's top prospect.

Strengths: Teheran throws easy heat with plus command and mound presence beyond his years. His fastball resides at 92-96 mph and holds its velocity throughout the game. His sharp, mid-70s curveball has good depth and can be a plus pitch, particularly after he tightened its spin. His 79-82 mph changeup is also an above-average pitch at times, with depth, fade and screwball-like movement. He has impressive poise that some scouts believe borders on cockiness.

Weaknesses: Teheran is still learning how to pitch. His physical stamina needs some work, and scouts have some concerns about his mechanics, which aren't effortless. He has a long arm rotation in the back of his herky-jerky delivery that creates deception but attracts questions about his durability.

The Future: Teheran has all the ingredients to develop into a frontline starter. He's expected to return to low Class A Rome to open the 2010 slate. While the Braves will be cautious due to his youth and lack of physical maturity, Teheran could accelerate his timetable.

2009 Club (Class) W L ERA G GS CG SV IP H HR BB SO AVG
Danville (R)
2 1 2.68 7 7 0 0 44 36 2 7 39 .229
Rome (Lo A)
1 3 4.78 7 7 0 0 38 42 2 11 28
.288
 
4.  Mike Minor, lhp  Born: Dec. 26, 1987. B-T: R-L. Ht.: 6-3. Wt.: 200.
 Drafted: Vanderbilt, 2009 (1st round). Signed by: Brian Bridges.
Mike MinorBackground: Drafted in the 13th round out of high school, Minor was the Southeastern Conference freshman of the year in 2007 and Baseball America's Summer Player of the Year in 2008. After a 6-6, 3.90 junior season, Minor signed for $2.42 million, a club record and the most ever for a No. 7 overall pick.

Strengths: Minor's repertoire consists of four pitches, with his plus changeup rating as his best offering. His fastball has excellent movement and sits in the upper 80s, and he is capable of increasing and reducing the velocity of the pitch to keep hitters off balance. Both his command and control are outstanding, and he didn't walk a batter in 14 innings after signing. His pickoff move is also a significant weapon.

Weaknesses: Minor still is trying to determine which breaking ball to work with. He threw an above-average slider with good depth during his first two years at Vanderbilt, but he had trouble snapping the pitch and locating it after adding a curveball last spring. He's not overpowering and his repertoire is similar to that of former Vanderbilt ace Jeremy Sowers, who hasn't been able to finesse his way past big league hitters.

The Future: After pitching in the Arizona Fall League, Minor could open his first full season in Double-A. His greatest attribute is his overall pitching savvy, which should make him at least a middle-of-the-rotation starter in the big leagues.
 
2008 Club (Class) W L ERA G GS CG SV IP H HR BB SO AVG
Rome (Lo A)
0 1 0.64 4 4 0 0 14 10 0 0 17 .208
 
5.  Craig Kimbrel, rhp  Born: May 28, 1988. B-T: R-R. Ht.: 5-11. Wt.: 200.
 Drafted: Wallace State (Ala.) CC, 2008 (3rd round). Signed by: Brian Bridges.
Craig KimbrelBackground: Kimbrel turned down $125,000 as a Braves 33rd-round pick in 2007 before signing for $391,000 as a third-rounder a year later. He overcame a slow start at high Class A Myrtle Beach—he had 18 walks and a 10.97 ERA in 11 innings—to save 18 games and rank second among minor league relievers with 15.5 strikeouts per nine innings.

Strengths: Kimbrel has the stuff and mentality to be a big league closer. He aggressively challenges hitters with his plus-plus fastball, which sits at 93-95 mph, touches 98 and has nasty life. He also throws an above-average breaking ball that he calls a curveball but looks more like a slider. He flashes a deceptive changeup, though he rarely used it in 2009.

Weaknesses: Kimbrel needs to pitch inside more often with his fastball. Though he showed marked improvement after April, he needs better command of his stuff. He spent most of his time in the AFL trying to hone his changeup.

The Future: Kimbrel has moved quicker than expected and is Atlanta's closer of the future. More time in Triple-A wold benefit him, but he could make his major league debut in the second half of 2010.
 
2009 Club (Class) W L ERA G GS CG SV IP H HR BB SO AVG
Myrtle Beach (HiA) 0 2 5.47 19 0 0 2 26
18 2 28 45 .200
Rome (LoA) 0 0 0.90 16 0 0 10 20 9 0 6 38 .132
Mississippi (AA) 2 1 0.77 12 0 0 6
12 3 0 7
17 .083
Gwinnett (AAA) 0 0 0.00 2 0 0 0 2 0 0 4 3
.000
 
6.  Christian Bethancourt, c  Born: Sept. 2, 1991. B-T: R-R. Ht.: 6-2. Wt.: 175.
 Signed: Panama, 2008. Signed by: Roberto Aquino.
Christian BethancourtBackground: Bethancourt starred for Panama at the 2004 Little League World Series, and four years later he signed with the Braves for $600,000 as the top catching talent on the international market. In his U.S. debut last season, he ranked as the No. 1 prospect in the Rookie-level Gulf Coast League and helped Danville win the Appalachian League title.

Strengths: Bethancourt stands out with his skills and presence behind the plate. He has soft hands, plus-plus arm strength and a quick release. His pop times to second have registered as low at 1.78 seconds, and he threw out 30 percent of basestealers in 2009. He swings the bat well with a short stroke and is expected to hit for some power as his body matures and he gains experience.

Weaknesses: While the raw abilities are obvious, Bethancourt is somewhat rough on the finer aspects of catching. He can improve his lateral movement and ability to block balls in the dirt. He's a free swinger who needs to gain better command of the strike zone. He's athletic for a catcher but a below-average runner.

The Future: With his ideal frame and leadership abilities, Bethancourt could develop into a special player. At 18, he'll be one of the younger players in the low Class A South Atlantic League in 2010.
 
2009 Club (Class) AVG OBP SLG AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO SB
GCL Braves (R)
.284
.344
.431
116
22
33
9
1
2
19
11
22
7
Danville (R)
.260
.339
.480
50
10
13
5
0
2
8
6
16
1
 
7.  Randall Delgado, rhp  Born: Feb. 9, 1990. B-T: R-R. Ht.: 6-3. Wt.: 180.
 Signed: Panama, 2006. Signed by: Luis Ortiz.
Randall DelgadoBackground: Delgado was advanced enough for his age for the Braves to skip him to the Rookie-level Appalachian League (over the Gulf Coast League) in his first season in the U.S. He had a tale of two seasons in his introduction to full-season ball. He never hung his head while going 1-8, 5.45 in his first 16 starts at Rome. After improving his control, he dominated at times and finished second in the system with 141 strikeouts in 124 innings.

Strengths: Delgado throws on a sharp, downhill plane that helps produce electric stuff and allows him to overpower hitters with all three of his pitches at times. His explosive fastball sits in the low 90s and touches 96 mph, and his projectable frame could get stronger, giving him more velocity. His curveball and changeup improved once he made progress with his control.

Weaknesses: While Delgado threw more strikes in the second half of 2009, he still needs to upgrade his ability to command his pitches. He works up in the strike zone too often. His curve and changeup are potential plus pitches but still require more consistency.

The Future: One of the youngest pitchers on a prospect-laden roster last season, Delgado made the greatest strides of any of Rome's pitchers. He'll open the 2010 season as a 20-year-old starter in high Class A and could move quickly if he continues to refine his command.
 
2009 Club (Class) W L ERA G GS CG SV IP H HR BB SO AVG
Rome (LoA)
5
10
4.35
25
25
1
0
124
123
9
49
141
.256
 
8.  Zeke Spruill, rhp  Born: Sept. 11, 1989. B-T: B-R. Ht.: 6-4. Wt.: 185.
 Drafted: HS—Marietta, Ga., 2008 (3rd round). Signed by: Brian Bridges.
Zeke SpruillBackground: Spruill had to wonder what was so tough about pro ball after he went 7-0 in his pro debut and won his first six decisions in 2009. But he earned just three more wins the rest of the season, thanks mostly to poor run support. He also spent time on the disabled list and in Rookie ball with a non-physical issue the Braves have remained tight-lipped about.

Strengths: Spruill has an excellent feel for pitching and even at age 20, he's one of the more polished prospects in the system. He pounds the lower half of the strike zone with an 89-91 mph sinker that arrives on a steep downhill plane. He also does a good job of mixing his breaking ball and changeup. He's all business and tenacious on the mound.

Weaknesses: Spruill can't overpower opponents, so he'll have to mix and locate his pitches well to succeed. He has a mid-70s curveball with decent break and an upper-70s slider, and he probably needs to settle on one to have a reliable breaking ball. His changeup can be inconsistent.

The Future: Spruill has the potential to move quickly and become a mid-rotation starter once he gains feel for all of his pitches. He'll spend 2010 in high Class A.
 
2008 Club (Class) W L ERA G GS CG SV IP H HR BB SO AVG
Rome (Lo A)
6
3
3.03
20
19
0
1
116
120
9
24
95
.261
GCL Braves (R)
1
0
4.58
4
4
0
0
20
24
2
5
23
.289
 
9.  Cody Johnson, of  Born: Aug. 18, 1988. B-T: L-R. Ht.: 6-4. Wt.: 230.
 Drafted: HS—Lynn Haven, Fla., 2006 (1st round). Signed by: Al Goetz.
Cody JohnsonBackground: The 30th overall pick in 2006, Johnson signed for $1.375 million and then hit .184 with one homer in his pro debut. He since has led the Appalachian League with 17 homers in 2007, ranked second in the Sally League with 26 in 2008 and topped the Carolina League with 32 last season. No CL hitter had reached the 30-homer plateau since Danny Peoples in 1997.

Strengths: A pure power hitter, Johnson has as much raw strength as anyone in the minor leagues. Nearly half of his hits have gone for extra bases, and he's developing more patience when pitchers refuse to challenge him. A better athlete than he gets credit for, he's a slightly above-average baserunner.

Weaknesses: Johnson has ranked second in the minors in strikeouts in each of the past two seasons. When he struggles, he starts trying to pull everything, and more advanced pitchers could really exploit his all-or-nothing swing and approach. He's just adequate in left field, where he needs to take better routes and has below-average arm strength and accuracy.

The Future: Johnson a minor league version of Adam Dunn, albeit with significantly fewer walks. His ability to hit for enough average while maintaining his power will determine his future. A full season in Double-A awaits in 2010.
 
2009 Club (Class) AVG OBP SLG AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO SB
Myrtle Beach (Hi A)
.242
.345
.517
422
59
102
18
1
32
84
64
171
10
Mississippi (AA)
.182
.280
.182
22
2
4
0
0
0
3
3
9
1
 
10.  Adam Milligan, of  Born: March 14, 1988. B-T: L-R. Ht.: 6-3. Wt.: 210.
 Drafted: Walters State (Tenn.) CC, 2008 (6th round). Signed by: Brian Bridges.
Adam MilliganBackground: The Braves drafted Milligan three times before signing him for $600,000 in 2008. He originally committed to Austin Peay State to play football, then played two years of baseball at Walters State (Tenn.) CC. A knee injury delayed his pro debut until 2009, when he led the system with a .592 slugging percentage and slugged 13 homers in half a season.

Strengths: Milligan drives the ball to all fields and projects as a potential .280 hitter with 20-25 homers per season. He runs well for a big man, with solid-average speed, and he has a slightly above-average arm and good accuracy and carry on his throws.

Weaknesses: Though he shows some aptitude for working counts, Milligan doesn't exhibit much patience at the plate and will have to tighten his strike zone against better pitching. He has made strides in left field but still needs to make further improvements to his defense.

The Future: He has enough bat to profile as a regular left fielder in the major leagues, though Cody Johnson is one step ahead of him. Milligan will open 2010 in high Class A but could advance quickly if he continues to produce.
 
2009 Club (Class) AVG OBP SLG AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO SB
Danville (R)
.439
.500
.756
41
9
18
5
1
2
10
3
7
0
Rome (Lo A)
.345
.393
.589
197
28
68
14
2
10
33
12
43
4
Myrtle Beach (Hi A)
.167
.200
.333
24
2
4
1
0
1
6
0
8
0

Complete Index of Top 10 Prospects
Pre-Order the 2010 Prospect Handbook
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Photo Credits: Rodger Wood (Mike Minor)