Atlanta Braves Top 10 Prospects With 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, 2011.

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Atlanta Braves

It may have seemed like forever to their fans, but it was just in 2005 that the Braves' run of National League East titles had ended.

Atlanta fell short of a division title in 2010 but did hold on for the wild card after four seasons out of the playoffs. The Braves succumbed to the Giants in the NL Division Series, but still provided a positive sendoff for Bobby Cox, who retired after spending the last 21 seasons as manager.

Cox built the foundation for the run of division titles that began in 1991, coming to Atlanta as general manager in October 1985 and moving into the dugout after the 1990 season, when John Schuerholz came on board as GM. Now Cox has stepped down, three years after Schuerholz moved up to team president, but current GM Frank Wren and the rest of the Braves front office believe they're positioned for another run of success.

Reaching the postseason in 2010 after the rash of injuries that hit the roster in the second half was an achievement in itself. The most notable came when franchise cornerstone Chipper Jones tore the ACL in his left knee on Aug. 10. In fact, the only position players who were in the lineup on Opening Day and Game One of the playoffs were Brian McCann and Jason Heyward.

Heyward came into the season as one of the top prospects in the game and lived up to his billing, batting .277/.393/.456 with 18 home runs, playing a solid right field and winning Baseball America's Rookie of the Year award. Atlanta got contributions from several other rookies as well, including bullpen stalwart Jonny Venters, who made 79 appearances with a 1.95 ERA. Brandon Beachy, Craig Kimbrel and Mike Minor plugged holes on the pitching staff, while Brooks Conrad was a useful utility player.

Youth will be served again in 2011, with first baseman Freddie Freeman and a handful of pitchers ready to contribute at the end of the rotation or in the bullpen. With those new arrivals and the hiring of manager Fredi Gonzalez, the Braves hope to continue contending while making over the organization from top to bottom.

Last year's Braves prospect list was heavy on pitching and light on position players, so Atlanta used the draft and international signings to bolster its stable of hitters. In his first draft as Braves scouting director, Tony DeMacio took hitters with his first four selections, starting with Texas high school shortstop Matt Lipka in the supplemental first round. Lipka notwithstanding, DeMacio also broke with the organization's recent tradition and focused on four-year college players in the first 10 rounds.

International scouting director Johnny Almaraz signed Dominican shortstop Edward Salcedo for $1.6 million, the largest bonus the organization has ever handed out to an international free agent. Almaraz and the Braves have put renewed focus on Latin America, as well as boosting their presence in Europe via a facility in the Canary Islands.

Atlanta even became aggressive in the signing of independent league players this past year. The Braves acquired outfielder Beau Torbert, Baseball America's 2010 Independent League Player of the Year, and righthander Wes Alsup and first baseman Christian Garcia, BA's second- and third-ranked indy prospects last season.

1.  Julio Teheran, rhp   Born: Jan. 27, 1991B-T: R-RHt: 6-2Wt: 170
 Signed: Columbia, 2007Signed by: Miguel Teheran/Carlos Garcia
Julio TeheranBackground: The Braves signed Teheran out of Colombia in 2007 for $850,000, the largest bonus given to a pitcher on the international market that year. His cousin Miguel was one of the scouts who signed him, and that relationship contributed to Julio's decision to turn down a higher offer from the Yankees. It took him a little time to start living up to his projections, as his 2008 pro debut lasted just 15 innings because he battled shoulder tendinitis. He returned to Rookie-level Danville in 2009 and ranked as the Appalachian League's top prospect before earning a late-season promotion to low Class A Rome. Atlanta turned Teheran loose last season, when he advanced three levels while ranking second in the system in ERA (2.59) and strikeouts (159 in 142 innings). He overpowered the low Class A South Atlantic League in seven starts in April and May before jumping to high Class A Myrtle Beach, where he rated as the No. 1 prospect in the Carolina League. Promoted to Double-A Mississippi in late July, he struggled in his first start but then responded with a pair of scoreless outings. Teheran also stood out at the Futures Game, where he didn't throw a fastball under 95 mph and froze Desmond Jennings (Rays) with a 96 mph heater for a called third strike.

Scouting Report: Teheran has an electric arm, the ability to throw all of his pitches for strikes and the knowledge of how to exploit batters' weaknesses. His fastball clocks consistently in the 94-96 mph range, and he maintains his velocity throughout the course of a game. He has a pair of above-average secondary pitches, with his changeup grading slightly better than his curveball. His changeup shows nice fade and he's willing to throw it in any count. His curve resides in the low 80s with hard downward movement, as well as good bite and depth. Teheran's command is impressive, though he struggled a little with his precision shortly after being promoted to Double-A. He works both sides of the plate, usually keeping all of his offerings at the knees and below. Perhaps the most impressive part of his game is his mound presence. He has great makeup and bountiful confidence, backing down from no hitter. Teheran needs to get stronger, but that will come naturally as his body matures. Some scouts say his delivery has a little bit of violence and worry about the long-term wear and tear on the elbow and shoulder, while others believe he throws easy gas and aren't worried about his mechanics. Comparisons to a young Pedro Martinez are commonplace, and Teheran's biggest backers think he's more advanced at the same stage of his career.

The Future: The Braves thought Teheran was capable of jumping on the fast track, and he exceeded their expectations in 2010, advancing to Double-A as a teenager with little difficulty. He may split this year between Mississippi and Triple-A Gwinnett, with a late-season cup of coffee in Atlanta a possibility. Chances are his first opportunity for a job in the big league rotation won't come until 2012. He has front-of-the-rotation talent and will challenge Tommy Hanson for the role as the Braves' No. 1 starter well by the middle of the decade.
2010 Club (Class) W L ERA G GS CG SV IP H HR BB SO AVG
Rome (Lo A) 2 2 1.14 7 7 0 0 39 23 1 10 45 .168
Myrtle Beach (Hi A) 4 4 2.98 10 10 0 0 63 56 6 13 76 .233
Mississippi (AA) 3 2 3.38 7 7 0 0 40 29 2 17 38 .204
2.  Freddie Freeman, 1b   Born: Sept. 12, 1989B-T: L-RHt: 6-5Wt: 220
 Drafted: HS—Orange, Calif., 2007 (2nd round)Signed by: Tom Battista
Freddie FreemanBackground: The 78th overall pick in the 2007 draft, Freeman has been among the youngest players in every league he has played. He was the second-youngest starter in the Triple-A International League in 2010, when he was tabbed the circuit's rookie of the year. He led the IL in hits (147) and total bases (240), and managers rated him the loop's best defensive first baseman.

Scouting Report: Freeman has a smooth, aggressive swing from the left side. He possesses raw power that should generate 20-plus homers annually in the major leagues. He has good plate coverage with a patient approach that leads to consistent contact. He thrives in RBI situations and wants the bat in his hand with the game on the line. Defensively, Freeman has quick feet and above-average range at first base. He does all the little things well around the bag and he even has a cannon for an arm. Though not a blazer, he runs well for his size and shows outstanding instincts on the basepaths.

The Future: Though his success was limited during his September callup, Freeman swatted his first big league homer against Roy Halladay. He's may have an up-and-down 2011 season at the plate, but that roller-coaster ride should come as Atlanta's starting first baseman at age 21.
2010 Club (Class) AVG OBP SLG AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO SB
Gwinnett (AAA) .319 .378 .521 461 73 147 35 2 18 87 43 84 6
Atlanta .167 .167 .333 24 3 4 1 0 1 1 0 8 0
3.  Randall Delgado, rhp   Born: Feb. 9, 1990B-T: R-RHt: 6-3Wt: 180
 Signed: Panama, 2006Signed by: Luis Ortiz
Randall DelgadoBackground: Signed as an unheralded 16-year-old from Panama, Delgado has moved rapidly due to his maturity and repertoire. He led the Carolina League in strikeouts (120) last year despite getting promoted in mid-July, and he topped the system with 162 whiffs overall. He's similar to Julio Teheran in that he's a slender fireballer who reached Double-A well ahead of schedule.

Scouting Report: Delgado pounds the strike zone and challenges hitters. His fastball resides at 92-96 mph, and he mixes it well with a plus curveball and solid changeup. His curve has good downward bite, and his changeup shows impressive deception. Delgado struggled with his control in 2009 until altering his mechanics and mindset in July, leading to an impressive second half. When he got to Mississippi last summer, he had some problems leaving pitches thigh-high. He again adapted, improving his ability to throw his fastball down in the zone and on both sides of the plate.

The Future: If not for Teheran's presence, Delgado would receive more hype. By making significant adjustments the past two seasons, he has shown he could pitch in the front half of a major league rotation. Added to the 40-man roster in November, he'll open 2011 in Double-A with the chance to advance quickly to Triple-A if he continues his rapid progress.
2010 Club (Class) W L ERA G GS CG SV IP H HR BB SO AVG
Myrtle Beach (Hi A) 4 7 2.76 20 20 0 0 117 89 7 32 120 .210
Mississippi (AA) 3 5 4.74 8 8 0 0 44 36 2 20 42 .222
4.  Mike Minor, lhp   Born: Dec. 26, 1987B-T: R-LHt: 6-3Wt: 200
 Drafted: Vanderbilt, 2009 (1st round)Signed by: Brian Bridges
Mike MinorBackground: Atlanta signed Minor to a $2.42 million bonus in 2009, the biggest in franchise history and the largest ever given to the seventh overall pick in the draft. His pure stuff was better than expected last year, when he reached the major leagues three days after his one-year anniversary of turning pro. He tied a Braves franchise rookie record with 12 strikeouts in a start against the Cubs but tired in September.

Scouting Report: Minor's mixes three pitches with impressive command and acumen. His best offering is his changeup, which could become a plus-plus pitch as he gains experience. After throwing his fastball in the upper 80s in late 2009, he added velocity and worked at 91-94 mph in the early innings of his starts last season. His heater has significant movement, as does his slurvy curveball, which dives with three-quarters tilt. Minor can add and subtract with his pitches to keep hitters off balance. He has a great pickoff move and fields his position well. In addition to needing more strength, he'll have to challenge hitters more often instead of being so fine in the strike zone.

The Future: Minor should open 2011 as Atlanta's fifth starter. He has a ceiling as a No. 2 starter, though he may not serve in that role with Tommy Hanson, Julio Teheran and Randall Delgado all part of the Braves' future.
2010 Club (Class) W L ERA G GS CG SV IP H HR BB SO AVG
Mississippi (AA) 2 6 4.03 15 15 0 0 87 74 8 34 109 .233
Gwinnett (AAA) 4 1 1.89 6 6 0 0 33 19 1 12 37 .171
Atlanta 3 2 5.98 9 8 0 0 41 53 6 11 43 .314
5.  Craig Kimbrel, rhp   Born: May 28, 1988B-T: R-RHt: 5-11Wt: 200
 Drafted: Wallace State (Ala.) CC, 2008 (3rd round)Signed by: Brian Bridges
Craig KimbrelBackground: The Braves selected 10 junior college players in the first 15 rounds of the 2008 draft, starting with Kimbrel in the third round. He signed for $391,000 after turning down $125,000 from Atlanta as a 33rd-round pick a year earlier. He ranked third in the International League with 23 saves and reached the big leagues in his second full pro season. He was dynamic during the pennant race, finishing the year with 12 scoreless big league outings while striking out 23 in 12 innings.

Scouting Report: Kimbrel has averaged 14.8 strikeouts per nine innings as a pro, thanks to his heavy fastball, which sits at 93-96 mph with excellent sink. His slurvy curveball gives him a second plus pitch to complement his heater. After rarely throwing a changeup in 2009, he worked on the pitch prior to last season and mixed it in on occasion. While moving faster than anticipated, Kimbrel has made significant strides with his command and his ability to pitch inside. Reminiscent of a righthanded Billy Wagner, he has the stuff and makeup to finish games.

The Future: The Braves tried to expose Kimbrel to the job of a major league closer and Wagner's expertise without rushing him in 2010. He responded well, putting himself in position to take over as Atlanta's closer in 2011 following Wagner's retirement.
2010 Club (Class) W L ERA G GS CG SV IP H HR BB SO AVG
Gwinnett (AAA) 3 2 1.62 48 0 0 23 56 28 3 35 83 .148
Atlanta 4 0 0.44 21 0 0 1 21 9 0 16 40 .125
6.  Matt Lipka, ss   Born: April 15, 1992B-T: R-RHt: 6-1Wt: 188
 Drafted: HS—McKinney, Texas, 2010 (1st round supplemental)Signed by: Gerald Turner
Matt LipkaBackground: Lipka was a two-time all-state 4-A wide receiver at McKinney (Texas) High, where his quarterback was Dodgers 2010 first-round choice Zach Lee. Lipka went seven picks after Lee, 35th overall as Atlanta's top selection last June, and turned down an Alabama baseball scholarship to sign for $800,000. He earned Rookie-level Gulf Coast League all-star honors in his pro debut.

Scouting Report: A quick-twitch athlete and high-energy performer, Lipka is a throwback player with plus-plus speed. His quickness puts pressure on infielders when he hits routine groundballs, and he's a basestealing threat who runs the bases as well as anyone in the system. He has a line-drive stroke and an advanced feel for hitting the ball where it's pitched. Stronger than most speedsters, he has a quick bat and the chance to have average power. The Braves envisioned Lipka as a center fielder upon drafting him, but they believe he has the arm, actions and instincts to remain at shortstop for the foreseeable future. His hands are his biggest question as an infielder. Atlanta's coaches rave about his approach and obvious love for the game.

The Future: Lipka has the potential to be an impact up-the-middle player who hits at the top of the lineup. He'll start his first full pro season as the everyday shortstop at Rome.
2010 Club (Class) AVG OBP SLG AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO SB
GCL Braves (R) .302 .357 .401 192 33 58 8 4 1 24 14 22 20
Danville (R) .125 .176 .125 16 1 2 0 0 0 1 1 2 1
7.  Arodys Vizcaino, rhp   Born: Nov. 13, 1990B-T: R-RHt: 6-0Wt: 189
 Signed: Dominican Republic, 2007Signed by: Alfredo Dominguez (Yankees)
Arodys VizcainoBackground: Vizcaino ranked with Julio Teheran and Martin Perez (Rangers) as the best international amateur pitching prospects in 2007, when he signed with the Yankees for $800,000. New York traded him along with Melky Cabrera and Mike Dunn to obtain Javier Vazquez and Boone Logan from the Braves in December 2009. Vizcaino dominated low Class A hitters in 2010 but missed two months with a partially torn ligament shortly after a promotion in June.

Scouting Report: Vizcaino's fastball has good life while residing at 92-94 mph and touching 96. His best pitch, however, is a hammer curveball that he commands with precision. He made improvements with his changeup last year and is on the verge of having three plus pitches. In addition to his stuff, Atlanta was impressed with how he learned to pitch and work hard in 2010, rather than just trying to throw the ball past hitters. While he avoided surgery and returned before the end of season, he still has to answer questions about his durability. He never has pitched more than 85 innings in a season, and he also missed time in 2009 with a strained back muscle.

The Future: Though Vizcaino must prove he can stay healthy, his high ceiling is undeniable. He'll open the year in high Class A at age 20, with a midseason promotion a possibility.
2010 Club (Class) W L ERA G GS CG SV IP H HR BB SO AVG
Rome (Lo A) 9 4 2.39 14 14 0 0 72 63 1 9 68 .229
Myrtle Beach (Hi A) 0 0 4.61 3 3 0 0 14 16 1 3 11 .296
8.  Brandon Beachy, rhp   Born: Sept. 3, 1986B-T: R-RHt: 6-3Wt: 215
 Drafted: Indiana Wesleyan, NDFA 2008Signed by: Gene Kearns
Brandon BeachyBackground: Beachy was a third baseman who moonlighted as a closer when he went undrafted following his junior season at Indiana Wesleyan in 2008. After starring as a pitcher in the collegiate Valley League that summer, he signed with the Braves for $20,000 as a free agent. He had a breakthrough season in 2010, leading the minors with a 1.73 ERA and making three solid starts for Atlanta in September.

Scouting Report: Beachy has a live, fresh arm with good overall command of three pitches. He gets ahead of hitters by establishing his 90-94 mph fastball with plus life, throwing it on a nice downhill plane and to both sides of the plate. His hard, sharp-breaking curveball has quality depth. After beginning last season in Mississippi's bullpen, he began using his effective changeup more often as a starter. Hitters rarely barreled Beachy's pitches last season, even when he reached the big leagues. His confidence has improved considerably, though he's still honing the mental aspects of pitching at the game's highest levels.

The Future: He may not have a long track record of success on the mound, but Beachy's repertoire and feel for pitching bode well for the long term. He succeeded as both a reliever and a starter in 2010, enhancing his chances of making the Atlanta pitching staff this spring. His ceiling is as a No. 3 starter.
2010 Club (Class) W L ERA G GS CG SV IP H HR BB SO AVG
Mississippi (AA) 3 1 1.47 27 6 0 1 74 53 3 22 100 .200
Gwinnett (AAA) 2 0 2.17 8 7 0 1 46 40 2 6 48 .229
Atlanta 0 2 3.00 3 3 0 0 15 16 0 7 15 .267
9.  Brett Oberholtzer, lhp   Born: July 1, 1989B-T: L-LHt: 6-2Wt: 220
 Drafted: Seminole (Fla.) CC, 2008 (8th round)Signed by: Gregg Kilby
Brett OberholtzerBackground: Part of the Braves' influx of junior college talent in the 2008 draft, Oberholtzer didn't reach full-season ball until his third pro season. He needed just four starts to earn a promotion from Rome to Myrtle Beach, where he pitched well despite battling blister problems that cost him three weeks in June. He struck out 12 in his final start of the year, then turned in a strong showing in instructional league.

Scouting Report: Oberholtzer has plus command of three pitches. His fastball sits at 88-92 mph and touches 94 with good, late tailing life. He uses his solid average changeup to his advantage by mixing it in at any time in the count. His curveball is also a fringy above-average pitch. His herky-jerky mechanics create deception, and his aggressiveness and ability to work both sides of the plate enhance his stuff. An excellent athlete, particularly for a big lefthander, Oberholtzer fields his position well. He needs to improve his ability to hold runners after giving up 18 steals in 22 attempts last year.

The Future: Oberholtzer has impressed Atlanta with the progress he has made in the last two seasons. A potential third or fourth starter in the big leagues, he's slated to spend 2011 in the Mississippi rotation.
2010 Club (Class) W L ERA G GS CG SV IP H HR BB SO AVG
Rome (Lo A) 0 2 1.96 4 4 0 0 23 22 1 5 19 .262
Myrtle Beach (Hi A) 6 6 4.15 22 18 0 2 113 123 7 18 107 .279
10.  J.J. Hoover, rhp   Born: Aug. 13, 1987B-T: R-RHt: 6-3Wt: 230
 Signed: Calhoun (Ala.) CC, 2008 (10th round)Signed by: Brian Bridges
J.J. HooverBackground: Hoover joins Brett Oberholtzer as a junior college starter who has outshined more-heralded high school arms Brett DeVall, Tyler Stovall and Zeke Spruill from Atlanta's 2008 draft class. Hoover built on a strong developmental year in 2009 by leading the system with 14 wins last season while reaching Double-A. After making a mechanical adjustment with how he held his hands in his delivery in May, he finished on a tear, going 10-2, 2.17 with 93 strikeouts in 75 innings over the final two months.

Scouting Report: Hoover is a classic workhorse, possessing a strong body with thick thighs and a resilient arm. He pitches on a good downhill plane, generating a low-90s fastball with decent movement. He also throws an average curveball, slider and changeup—his curve may be his best secondary pitch—and commands all of his offerings well. The key for Hoover is staying on top of his pitches, because they flatten out and become hittable when he doesn't.

The Future: Hoover projects as a potential No. 3 starter, but he has the mentality to work in relief if the Braves need bullpen help. He'll open 2011 back in the Mississippi rotation, with a promotion to Triple-A a strong possibility during the summer. His big league ETA is 2012.
2010 Club (Class) W L ERA G GS CG SV IP H HR BB SO AVG
Myrtle Beach (Hi A) 11 6 3.26 24 24 0 0 133 126 7 35 118 .245
Mississippi (AA) 3 1 3.48 4 4 0 0 21 15 1 15 34 .203

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