2018 Atlanta Braves Top 10 Prospects Chat
J.J. Cooper: Hey everyone. Thanks for coming out as we started off a busy offseason of Top 10 Scouting Reports with the Braves. We'll be rolling out new Top 10s every few days for much of the next three months to cover all 30 teams. As a reminder, your best way to be caught up on everything going on prospect-wise is to subscribe to Baseball America. You can read 300 scouting reports plus a ton more by going to http://www.baseballamerica.com/today/subscribe/ Dan (Augusta, ME): Does BA become "married" to certain prospects despite the player's struggles? Case in point: Max Fried. This is the 6th time he has appeared in a team top 10, yet he had an ERA near 6.00 in AA this year. Meanwhile, a fresher face with less medical red flags and plenty of stuff like Bryse Wilson doesn't crack the top 10. What gives?
J.J. Cooper: Well this is a good one to start on. Let me flip the question on you. Do prospect readers get "tired" of certain prospects because of the player's struggles? Case in point: Max Fried. After an awful start to 2017 (due in part to blisters), he made it to the majors for the first time, showed off one of the better fastball/curveball combos among rookie lefthanders and showed signs of making the strides he needs to make to be a useful big leaguer. We ranked Gary Sanchez 7 times in the Top 10 for the Yankees before he finally graduated from the prospect lists. He's a catcher who has hit 53 home runs in 177 MLB games since then. I'm glad we listened to the scouts who said not to bail on him, as the talent was still there. Fried has been around a while, but he's also going to be 24 when he heads to spring training next year with a shot at a big league job, and that's despite the fact he missed nearly two full seasons for Tommy John surgery. The stuff is still tantalizing and he has made some strides. At this time last year, he had zero experience above low Class A. Now he's made the majors.
Noah Broderick (United States): What direction do you see Atlanta going in this offseason? Trades? Buying or selling? Free agents?
J.J. Cooper: Well, if not for the shocking developments of the past month, I'd think I had a pretty good handle on what the Braves offseason would look like. Atlanta is in the get the prospects to the big league stage of its rebuilding plan. Realistically, the team knows who its going have at catcher (Flowers/Suzuki), first (Freeman), second (Albies), shortstop (Swanson) center field (Inciarte) and right field for much of 2018 (I'm pencilling Acuna into right field). Add Camargo as a utility infielder and that's seven pretty clear position players for the 2018 roster and that's before decisions are made on Kemp, Markakis, Matt Adams, etc. The rotation is less settled, but there are also more options. So if Atlanta had a GM in place, I'd expect to see them make a trade or two and sign a free agent or two to fit around the young core. That said, while the Braves wait to hear what's going to happen from MLB's investigation, all of this becomes harder to project. Yes, John Hart is running the team right now, but it's much less clear who will be running it in Jan. 2018, so it doesn't make a lot of sense for Atlanta to make any long term plans until it announces the makeup of its front office.
Larry (Savannah): You guys are definitely the high ones on Austin Riley, and I had some questions about that. Are the K rates correctable? Also, what kind of line do you see him having in the big leagues? Is he a huge that hits .250 with 25-30 homers, or that average maybe too high?
J.J. Cooper: I think you've misread his strikeout rate. In 2017, a strikeout rate in the low 20's percent range for a 20 year old who has made it to Double-A is not bad at all if he hits for power. Riley checks that box as he has consistently hit for power. I think .250 with 30 home runs would make him a very valuable big league third baseman, and it seems within the range of possibility. I will ask, when you say we're the high ones on Riley, I will note that I'm pretty sure this is the first Braves prospect ranking of the offseason from any of the national sources. If you're comparing where Riley was ranked before the 2017 season to now, a lot has happened since then.
Greg (AL): Gohara's writeup was interesting to me. The changeup being fringy has me a little down on him. Can we really expect him to be a frontline pitcher with only two pitches?
J.J. Cooper: I've had a scout say this to me (as have a few other guys in the office). "When you throw 98, your changeup doesn't have to be all that good to be effective. If Gohara consistently throws strikes, his fastball/breaking ball combo will carry him a very long way. Gohara's changeup will have to be effective enough that he throws it enough to keep it in the back of hitters' minds, especially righthanded hitters. It's pretty hard to find a true analog to compare Gohara to because he's so unique, but Luis Severino, while a righty, is a fastball/breaking ball pitcher with a great fastball and a change he mixes in sporadically, and it's worked for him.
Acuna (NYC): Acuna's power was never thought to be this high, so the 70 grade is surprising. How realistic is it that he reaches that power?
J.J. Cooper: He posted a near-.200 isolated power number in the high Class A FSL (very tough place for power), AA and AAA as a 19-year-old while hitting 21 home runs overall. With his bat speed and ability to drive the ball to all fields, there's legit power potential there and he's yet to get a chance to hit with the major league balls, which seem to fly like no baseballs players hit with in the minors.
Shrek (ATL): how long will Braves keep Acuna in minors? or will he start season on opening day roster?
J.J. Cooper: Again, I hate to be annoying with this answer, but I do think in part this depends on who is running the team. The Coppy/Hart regime and the regimes before them made a point of not delaying a player's promotion for service time reasons. That's why Jason Heyward was in the lineup on Opening Day for example, even though that ended up getting Heyward to free agency a year earlier than he would have with a minor stopover in the minors. A new front office might see an advantage in sending Acuna to the minors for 10 days or six weeks as it can easily be explained away by getting him a little more Triple-A time, and the team does have three regulars still on the roster right now (Kemp, Inciarte, Markakis). Doing just that will ensure the Cubs keep Kris Bryant for an extra full season. But in reality, Acuna is largely seen as being very close to big league ready and it would not surprise me at all if he made it clear in spring training that he would be an immediate upgrade over Kemp/Markakis, especially when you factor in defensive ability. So he should be ready, but I can't promise that will lead to a spot on the Opening Day roster.
BillS (Denver): Is there too much emphasis on velocity for prospects? Allard was successful as 19yr old in AA with great pitchability and secondary pitches (CB, change). Yet he is tagged as mainly #4 SP due to so-so FB. Keuchel, Hill, etc success without hitting 95. But seems from prospect write-ups if you do not project to great FB you do not project to #1 oe #2 (or maybe even #3!).
J.J. Cooper: This is a topic I love to mull over. I feel like a lot of fans pine for the day when velocity doesn't mean as much as it does. But the reality is that while it's easy to find the exceptions, if you tell me about two prospects, one of whom has a ton of minor league success and a below-average fastball and the other who has less minor league success and a plus fastball, give me the plus fastball guy every time as their margin for error is so much greater. I know the game is shifting with increased reliance on secondary pitches (witness McCuller's all-curveball finish to Game 7), but with Allard, it's his inability to pitch in the zone with the fastball that causes scouts to have concerns. He has to nibble. To go deeper into this, there were only 8 pitchers with 100 IP or more in the majors last year who didn't average 90 mph or better with their fastball. One (R.A. Dickey) was a knuckleballer, so let's throw him out. Of the other 7, Dallas Keuchel and Kyle Hendricks are awesome. You cited Hill, who is another good guy to cite, but he had an average fastball (89-93) for a lefty when he was coming up and he struck out 12 per nine throughout his minor league career thanks to one of the best curveballs in baseball. Bartolo Colon used to throw hard and was released during the season. Josh Tomlin had a very successful minor league career thanks to impeccable control but has been the embodiment of a No. 4/5 starter as a big leaguer. The same can be said for Jason Vargas (long-time No. 4 starter). Matt Cain used to throw hard, now that he's sitting at 89 mph he retired. Adam Conley's disappearing fastball has been the difference between him being a useful starter and a pitcher who can't stick in a rotation. This is not a knock on Allard. He's one of the better pitching prospects in the game and there's a ton of value in being a No. 3/4 or even fifth starter, but unless his fastball improves, it's going to be hard for him to be a front of the rotation starter.
Jacob (Dallas, TX): How much concern is there on Maitan after his first year in pro ball? Is it just bad acclimation of the weight he gained? Wouldn't Braves nutritional oversight be the simple solve there like they did with Austin Riley?
J.J. Cooper: There's definite concern. His status in the Top 10 is somewhat a function of the glowing reports everyone game him when he was an amateur. There's some reason to think that this first year was just a rough adjustment, but it was easy this year to find scouts who expect to see him unable to stick at third and think he'll end up at first base, even if he's currently playing shortstop. The lefthanded swing has to get better and he has to stay on top of his conditioning and weight.
Cody (South Carolina): Is Drew Lugbauer a legit 11th round steal, or is his season the product of being a college pick playing against younger pitching?
J.J. Cooper: He can be both. If he can stick at catcher, the Braves got a very useful 11th round pick. But he has work to do (understandably) to stick back there and he also can expect to find hitting tougher as he moves up the ladder. Great pick, but he's also not knocking on the door of the top 10 yet.
Blaine (Indiana): Who is your favorite outside of the top 10 to make a leap onto the top 10 next season?
J.J. Cooper: Tucker Davidson, Yefri Del Rosario and William Contreras come to mind.
Greg (Xavier): Do you think the Braves will lose Maitan?
J.J. Cooper: My guess is no, but I don't have any great behind-the-scenes insight. If MLB followed its previous precedents in the Red Sox's case (http://www.baseballamerica.com/international/mlb-takes-away-prospects-red-sox-hammers-boston-international-penalties/#DI06XmW2jtXgQt8f.97), a free agent Maitan would be able to sign for another $4.5 million and have only $250,000 of that count against a team's international signing bonus, so Maitan, even with a disappointing 2017 season, could land a massive contract, which is something MLB usually tries to avoid. There are other ways of punishing the Braves such as international signing restrictions that would have equally lasting effects. Do remember that many years ago the Braves were punished for signing Wilson Betemit before he was eligible to sign, but even though Betemit was one of the best prospects on the international market, they were hit with cash penalties and signing restrictions–Betemit didn't become a free agent.
Cody (South Carolina): Braves reporters have mentioned the possibility of Mike Soroka making the MLB rotation out of Spring Training. Do you believe he could skip AAA and be productive in the majors in 2018?
J.J. Cooper: I think he's more likely to arrive sometime in 2018, as his lack of a current 40-man roster spot means the team would have incentive to try out Sean Newcomb (on the 40-man), Max Fried (on the 40-man), Luiz Gohara (on the 40-man) and Lucas Sims (on the 40-man) to go with Julio Teheran and Mike Foltyniewicz any vet the team signs this offseason. But I do expect to see Soroka in the big leagues in 2018.
Cody (South Carolina): Does Touki Toussaint still have the highest ceiling of Braves pitchers?
J.J. Cooper: I love Touki's stuff, but Gohara's stuff is similar/better and he does it as a lefthander.
Austin Riley (Arizona): Who am I?! Am I the Florida version (.252/.310/.408, 12 HR in 81 G) or the Mississippi version (.315/.389/.511, 8 HR in 48 G)? Also, could I end up in Atlanta as more than a September call up in 2018?
J.J. Cooper: Riley is both. I think it's sometimes lost is just how sapping the Florida State League is on offensive numbers. Yes, Riley was better in Double-A, but the FSL is the inverse of the PCL. The average FSL hitter slugged .360.The league as a whole average one home run every 60 at-bats. Riley averaged a home run every 25.5 at-bats in the FSL. Riley was an above-average hitter in the FSL as one of the younger hitters in the league in the first half. He continued to get better after his promotion to Double-A.
Brandon M. (Morgantown): Is the uncertainty of whether Kevin Maitan will reach his high ceiling that evaluators placed on him what has him so low on the top 10 list? Or is it just that the others have performed so well that you consider them better prospects as of right now?
J.J. Cooper: Keeping him in the Top 10 in a very loaded system is a sign of the respect he's earned over the past few years in scouting circles. He was very young for the Appy League, but I had multiple scouts bring Maitan up unprompted this summer as a prospect who was among the most disappointing as far as expectations vs. reality. Maitan still can be an impact big leaguer, but what we learned in 2017 is that he was not nearly as advanced as everyone expected. Vladimir Guerrero Jr. was one of the youngest players in the Appy League in 2016 and he wowed everyone. Maitan showed in 2017 that he's not on Guerrero's level. There's no shame in that, as Guerrero is a truly special prospect, but Maitan has a long ways to go.
Will (Greenville, SC): Touki seemed to have taken a big jump this year. What do you see in Pache that ranks him ahead of Touki, a future elite bullpen piece or high ceiling starter?
J.J. Cooper: Pache can be really, really good. Let's say that Pache plays Kevin Kiermaier-level defense eventually in center field, while being an average hitter, fringe-average power and steals some bases. Actually that would be a pretty good description of Keirmaier himself (a .262/.319/.431 hitter) and Keirmaier has been a very valuable big leaguer for the past four seasons. There is a lot of projecting to do with Pache's bat, but his glove is already special, he's a great athlete and he shows intelligence at the plate. There's a lot to like for a potential impact up-the-middle regular.
Jason (NYC): Saw a question on twitter: Who says no, Acuna for Senzel. Senzel was born in Atlanta, Braves have a need at 3B. Senzel is blocked at 3B by a surprising Suarez in Cincinnati. Acuna obviously exploded on the scene this year and would give the Reds an alternative to Hamilton in CF.
J.J. Cooper: Both teams say no in my mind. When you develop an elite prospect, unless you are aware of some misgivings that other teams don't know, you generally don't want to trade them for another prospect because you know more about your own players than you do about other teams. If I'm the Braves and the Reds offer Senzel for Acuna, I'd be wondering "what do they know about Senzel that we don't know?" I'd have the same question if I was the Reds and the Braves approached with an Acuna for Senzel swap. It's hard to find an example of a prospect for prospect challenge trade–it's introducing too much volatility for too little payoff for a front office. No one likely gets fired in Atlanta if Acuna doesn't live up to expectations in the big leagues. The same can be said for the Reds with Senzel. But if you trade your best prospect for another team's best prospect and the prospect you acquire flames out? Well there will likely be ramifications. Senzel can play 2B or 3B, so the Reds will find a spot for him, while Acuna can play anywhere in the outfield so the Braves will find a spot for him.
Adam (Atlanta): Tucker Davidson...is he for real? Would he be in your Braves Top 30?
J.J. Cooper: He's absolutely for real. He's much closer to No. 10 than he is to No. 30.
Roger (Greenville, SC): Did the rumors of pending punishments factor at all into the makeup or timing of the list? Do you have any feel for what the punishment will be?
J.J. Cooper: No. We are doing the NL East Top 10s first this year, so that's just normal timing for us. As far as potential punishments, there's nothing we can do with those yet, but we'll adjust things with our updated Top 10s eventually if there is eventually a need.
Erik (Indy): Touki makes rotation out of camp next year. Chances of that?
J.J. Cooper: I'd put it at 0.1% at best if you're talking about 2018 spring training. As I laid out before, this team currently has Julio Teheran, Mike Foltyniewicz, Sean Newcomb, Max Fried, Lucas Sims and Luiz Gohara on the current 40-man with big league starting experience. And that's before we get into Mike Soroka and Kolby Allard (both of whom have much more upper-level minor league experience) as well as any offseason moves the Braves make. Toussaint is still a very interesting prospect, but he needs more seasoning.
CD (Durham): Hear all the time about Acuna's huge upside on offense. But different stories on how good Acuna is on defense? Can he be a great CF or is he an average to be above average RF? Same questions on baserunning. He stole a bunch of bases last year but was thrown out often. Is his baserunning/speed elite?
J.J. Cooper: Plus to plus-plus in center and long-term he should be even better in right because right fielders aren't expected to cover as much ground as center fielders. Acuna is a very legit CF, he just happens to play on a team that already has Ender Inciarte in the big leagues. As far as his speed, his speed is also excellent, but he does need to add some refinement as far as jumps.
Fonz (Milwaukee): Patrick Weigel's season was off to a very promising start before the injury. Does the injury change his forecast (other than delaying arrival time)? And what is that forecast? Thanks.
J.J. Cooper: It delays his arrival and adds to the risk factor of him reaching his ceiling because Tommy John surgery does not have a 100-percent success rate. But if he returns to form in 2019, he's still a special arm who shouldn't be all that far away from the majors at that point.
Dave (Grayson, ga): The league write up for Joey Wentz didn't inspire much confidence. Can he and Allard avoid gettting buried behind starters with better stuff??
J.J. Cooper: If you are the Braves, you are logically hoping that there's more in the tank with Wentz. He's still young. He has a developing frame and he's still adjusting to pro ball.
Dave (Grayson, ga): Any under the radar guys to watch in the GCL or DSL?
J.J. Cooper: A large number. You'll be seeing a lot of their names in the Prospect Handbook and at Baseball America.com for subscribers in the next couple of months (sorry to be coy).
Kevin (Chicago): Would Austin Riley's bat profile well in LF if he were to change positions?
J.J. Cooper: Why would he change positions? The Braves have no third baseman standing in his way. Why move him to a position where he'll be weaker defensively?
Neal (Las Vegas): How close did Drew Waters come to breaking the top-10? Do you see him as a sleeper for this upcoming season?
J.J. Cooper: Not very close. This is a very deep system. You've got to wade through the Davidson, Toussaint, Wentz, Jackson, Minter, Weigel grouping first before you get to Waters in my mind. Btw, those are not listed in any particular order.
Roger (Greenville, SC): Could all 10 of these make the top 100?
J.J. Cooper: I don't think Pache is a Top 100 guy just yet (although he very well could be next year), but the other 9 all have cases.
Travis (Atlanta): Is Cristian Pache's ranking based primarily off future potential/ceiling? We know about the defense, but has he actually demonstrated enough at the plate to think he could be at least an average hitter?
J.J. Cooper: If Pache is an average hitter with 10 HR power, he's a long-term everyday regular. Billy Hamilton has been a zero offensively in the big leagues (sub-.300 OBP with no power), but his center field defense has made him a playable regular. Even when Byron Buxton wasn't hitting, he was playable because of his defense. Pache's caliber of center field defense makes the bar he has to clear offensively significantly lower than what you might expect.
Adam (Knoxville, TN): I know it's tough with any of these prospects to say you are "low" on them, but I'm curious what put Allard behind Wright, Soroka, and Anderson?
J.J. Cooper: Their ceilings are higher. But you are correct to note that ranking Allard where he is ranked in this system means he's a very solid prospect. There are a good number of valuable prospects who rank behind him.
JB (Raleigh): Of the Braves pitchers not on the BA top ten - Wentz, Toussaint, Wilson, Mueller, Weigel, etc - who has the best chance of being a front line major league starter? Bonus Question - which top Braves prospect do you believe is the highest bust risk?
J.J. Cooper: Interesting question. Hmmm, Wentz best chance. I think Wilson, Toussaint, Weigel and Davidson have maybe a little less chance but higher upside. The riskiest in the Top 10 is Maitan because you are projecting improvement in basically everything. He should improve because he's only 17, but the gulf from now to ceiling for him is larger than anyone else in the top 10.
Larry (Pennsylvania): The Maitan writeup has me really concerned. It also said he showed up at 210 pounds for instructs. Any idea what he weighed at Danville?
J.J. Cooper: I don't have an exact number. I do know it was more than that 210 figure.
Cody (South Carolina): Now that Alex Jackson's bat has awoken since the trade, if he doesn't work out at catcher would his bat make up for subpar defense in LF?
J.J. Cooper: I think he needs to figure it out at catcher to really make it work. I've gotten a lot of questions here questioning Austin Riley's K-rate and his ability to hit, and a lot of questions from readers who are now quite confident in Jackson's bat again and the only worry is his defense. I will note that Jackson is a year and a half older than Riley, does not have Riley's multi-year pro track record of hitting, struck out at a higher rate this year and walks less while posting a lower batting average and on-base percentage while spending less time in AA than Riley did. I write that not to denigrate Jackson. He did take big steps forward, but I am saying that he's got further refinement to do offensively to go with a lot of work to do defensively.
cjbuet (lyon, france): Any love for Bryse Wilson, or Isranel Wilson, to make a big jump next year?
J.J. Cooper: Both are very good prospects and firmly planted in the Top 30 for the handbook.
Alex (CT): Bryse Wilson - reliever or starter for you? Also, he was #10 in the mid-season update.
J.J. Cooper: I've talked to multiple scouts who say reliever, but I think he has a shot to stay as a starter. The stuff is legit.
Bobby (Oregon): What can you tell us about RHP Josh Graham? Numbers looked good this year and it seems he is kind of new to pitching (college catcher). Does he have a shot at contributing in 2018? Thanks!
J.J. Cooper: He's a good arm. Our Josh Norris just saw him in the AFL and he was up to 98 mph with an A-A changeup and a fringy breaking ball. The Braves Top 30 is deep enough that I'm not sure that he will crack the 30 with that kind of stuff.
Richard (Dawsonville): Is there a plus defensive catcher (including framing) in the system that should be with the MLB team in the next two-three seasons?
J.J. Cooper: Kade Scivicque is the best defensive catcher in the full minors for the Braves, but he's more likely a backup than starter.
Cody (South Carolina): It seems the biggest problem scouts have with Riley is his lack of bat speed and ability to catch up to MLB fastballs. Is this as big of an issue as some make it out to be?
J.J. Cooper: I think you're going off of old reports. The scouting report in this year's Top 10 covers that.
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J.J. Cooper: Thanks everyone for a lot of great questions. We'll be back on Wednesday with the Mets Top 10 and a chat with Matt Eddy.