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2019 Atlanta Braves Top 10 Prospects Chat

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Austin Riley (Photo by Mike Janes/Four Seam Images)

To see the Braves top 10 prospects, click here. 

2019 Atlanta Braves Top 10 Chat


J.P. (Springfield, IL): 

    Thanks for chatting. Do you expect Riley will be able to hold his own in the outfield if the Braves decide to play him there? If so, which position will suit him best?


J.J. Cooper: Hey everyone. Thanks for coming to chat. I think that he'll be below-average in left or right field. His arm would be more than fine for either spot, so it comes down to whichever corner the Braves feel is easier to play at SunTrust Park. Left field is actually bigger in Atlanta than right field, so I could see the argument for trying him in right field while Acuña stays in left. It's not a great fit for Riley. He's more athletic than he looks, but foot speed is his weakness, and that matters in the outfield. That said, I've watched Joey Votto play outfield in AAA (he was actually pretty decent out there). Yonder Alonso has played outfield. Rhys Hoskins has played outfield. Daniel Palka has played outfield. It comes down to what a team is willing to live with.

Mike (Tampa, FL): 

    In retrospect, do you regret ranking Allard higher than he deserved to be in the past? (Feel free to pass this question onto Bill Ballew, if necessary.)


J.J. Cooper: Fair question, although I will note that the question I was given and answered in this chat last year was "why isn't Allard ranked higher." What Allard has done is actually quite remarkable. He's been a successful pitcher at every stop in the minors as one of the youngest players in each league. However, his fastball just keeps backing up. He's lost a couple of mph off his fastball as a pro, and he doesn't come close to matching the velocity he showed at times in high school. Now that Allard is pitching with a below-average fastball (down from the average fastball he showed in low Class A a couple of years ago), it puts pressure on him to execute everything perfectly. He has very little margin of error. He still could be a useful big league back-of-the-rotation starter, but without 2-3 mph more on his fastball, it's going to be hard for him to maintain consistent MLB success. The number of pitchers succesfully breaking into MLB with an 88-90 mph fastball is a very, very small list.

Noel (Portland): 

    Why did the Braves go out and sign Josh Donaldson when Austin Riley sure looks ready?


J.J. Cooper: Because it made the team better. It's hard not to like this deal for the Braves. There's injury risk, but Donaldson was one of the best players in baseball from 2013-2016 and was still a cornerstone-type player in 2017. He's one-year removed from that and with a one-year deal, the only thing the Braves are risking here is short-term money. If Donaldson is back to the player he was in 2017, he's likely to outproduce Riley in 2019 by a reasonable margin. If he's not and he spends a lot of time on the DL, the Braves have other options with outstanding depth in the infield. They now have six players (Freeman-Albies-Swanson-Donaldson-Camargo-Riley) for four spots plus a legit utility infielder in Culberson. They are protected against injury at every spot and if Donaldson is healthy, they could have a trio of 4+ WAR infielders to go with Acuña in the outfield. Donaldson is a one-year deal and Riley won't be damaged by an extra 200 at-bats in Triple-A as a just-turned 22-year-old if the outfield experiment doesn't work out.

Dave (Grayson, ga): 

    How did Luis Mora look in his return from injury?


J.J. Cooper: The stuff is fine...more than fine, like set your radar gun on fire fine. But he has zero idea where it's going right now. It's "hit the Bull" control and the stuff isn't consistent from outing to outing. Name to keep an eye on.

Kusum (San Francisco): 

    Are scouts concerned about Drew Waters' fairly pronounced platoon splits?


J.J. Cooper: Not really because it's the way you'd prefer to see a split. You'd much rather see a switch-hitter who can hit from the left side and has work to do as a righthanded hitter because he's going to get a lot more at-bats as a lefty. The Braves' switch hitters (Albies and Camargo) had more than 70 percent of their plate appearances in 2018 as LHHs. Ozzie Albies splits were more pronounced than Waters when he was coming up, but Albies' splits were the opposite (great as a RHH and struggled as a LHH). That normally would be a concern but Albies righthanded bat is so good he's made it work despite being nearly 200 points better in OPS as a RHH.

Rick (Atlanta): 

    Are the Braves just going to go head and use Austin Riley as trade bait? With Donaldson and Camargo is there a need for him. I see they may try him in outfield but seems with his speed and athleticism and lack of experience there he could be below average other than his arm.


J.J. Cooper: To follow up on my previous answer about Riley, the Braves are understandably trying to win now, but they are also trying to win over the long-term too. As the 2020 season begins, there's a good chance that Donaldson will be playing elsewhere (it's a one-year deal). And if the Braves trade Riley now, that would very possibly leave them wishing they had Riley still around. No one is untradeable in the right deal (Trout for a reincarnated Ted Williams in his prime seems reasonably fair to me if the Red Sox threw in a pitcher too), but Riley spending a little more time at Gwinnett is not the worst thing in the world for him or the Braves.

Dave (Grayson, ga): 

    Of course the system is loaded overall, but should Braves fans be concerned about the state of the farm system in the lower levels? Danville and the GCL/DSL teams look pretty bad and seems like they’ll remain that way until the international penalties are over. It looks like the reverse of the Demacio era, now with strong drafting, but no international talent.


J.J. Cooper: Absolutely. Although as concerns go, this is a much less worrisome one than being an Orioles fan right now wondering how many years it will be before they dig out of the basement. Long term, this will be an issue, but it is one that a team with tons of young, cost-controlled big leaguers can handle. The Cubs' system has gone from being an all-time great system to a bottom-tier system and with money to spend, they've been fine. Last year the Braves were extremely talented in the Top 10 and extremely talented from 21-30 and beyond on their Top 30. That is no longer the case. The farm system is still one of the best in baseball because of the extremely enviable depth of close-to-the-big-league pitchers. And they have a number of excellent position prospects in the Top 10. But this system has major holes now and the 21-30 range of the system is significantly thinner than last year. It's good that the team has youth in the middle infield at the big league level because it's very lacking in middle infield prospects in the minors. The team doesn't have many corner infield/outfield bats either. But most importantly, the lower levels of the minors are now thin and they will likely only get thinner as the international sanctions (and the players they lost to penalty) continue to impact them for a couple of years to come.

J.P. (Springfield, IL): 

    What was the word on Kyle Muller's season and his progression? Will he be in the early teens of your top 30?


J.J. Cooper: He almost cracked the Top 10. Credit him with working really hard to fix his issues from 2017. He was a much better pitcher in 2018 than he was the year before, and in the span of one year, he managed to make up for falling behind his peers the year before.

Zac (NYC): 

    Beyond Riley, this system feels very pitching heavy, would you say this group of position players is weak or is the pitching just that much better?


J.J. Cooper: It is a pitching heavy system. Now most any team would be happy with a Riley-Waters-Pache-Contreras position group too, but it's just that after them you have a long list of pitchers til the next position player prospect. But what makes this Braves system pretty unique is its big league ready (or close to big league ready) pitchers. They have five SP prospects with MLB time (Toussaint, Wilson, Wright, Gohara and Allard) who could credibly be in an MLB rotation next season, plus the just graduated Max Fried, plus another wave of pitchers in Double-A right behind them. Few systems can come close to matching that.

Matt (Nashville, TN): 

    Joey Wentz seems to be consistently rated below the top-tier of Braves farmhands. Is this a case of a deep Braves system or just lower evaluations? Considering his age, production relative to age/level, size/frame, left-handedness, and pitchability I'm surprised he isn't talked about more.


J.J. Cooper: Much like Muller he's just on the outside looking in of this top 10. He's a very solid prospect and much like Muller the arrow is pointing up for him to keep getting better. I would say it's a case of a deep Braves system.

Ken (NCalifornia): 

    Among the Braves high tier pitching prospects, which pitchers among this foursome are worth retaining as the higher possible rotation starters, IAnderson, Kyle Wright, Kyle Muller, or JWentz? Where would you rank them? Thx


J.J. Cooper: If I answer in a way other than Anderson-Wright-gap-Muller-Wentz then you have a reason to question the rankings that we just pushed live today.

Kusum (San Francisco): 

    Could the Braves compete in 2019 if their entire starting rotation was made up of guys from their Top 10?


J.J. Cooper: No. Mike Foltynewicz was a very good prospect as was Sean Newcomb. Both needed time to acclimate to pitching in the big leagues. Julio Teheran's first 25 innings over two different seasons were rough, and he then became a mid-rotation stalwart in his third year of pitching in the big leagues. I think that's why the Braves currently are pencilling in one spot for the rookies. It's not unthinkable that one of the Braves young SP prospects will set the league on fire in 2019, but predicting that is a risky gambit. It's much safer to predict that 2-3 of these pitching prospects will end up being solid MLB starters over the long-term. But the Braves managed to give starts to Soroka (oops, forgot him in the previous answer, dumb oversight), Wilson, Toussaint, Allard and Gohara last year despite a relatively healthy rotation. There will be spots for some of those guys to pitch in 2019.

Warren (New London): 

    How would you compare Cristian Pache to Rangers prospect Leody Taveras? The descriptions sound pretty similar. Which one do you think is more likely to hit?


J.J. Cooper: I think Pache has more strength, is more physical and drives the ball better right now. But they do have some similarities. Scouts were baffled by Taveras' regression this year at the plate, so I'd definitely rank Pache higher right now, but a year ago, it was easy to find scouts who thought Taveras would be a better hitter.

Dave (Minnesota): 

    Is Riley's rise to the top spot have more to do with a rise in his prospect status or a drop in the status of some of the pitchers (Soroka, Wright)? Also do you think he could adjust to playing left field? Thanks.


J.J. Cooper: I don't think the Braves have a clear No. 1 this year. You could easily make an argument for Soroka (shoulder injury dinged him a little), Wright or Anderson and I could see cases for Toussaint, Wilson, Waters or Pache. The gap from No. 1 to No. 2 on this list last year was pretty significant because Acuña was such a good prospect. The gap from No. 1 to No. 7 on this list is smaller in many ways than the gap from Acuña to No. 2 last year.

Paul (Decatur): 

    What’s Christian Pache’s ETA and what position do you envision him playing? What will happen to the player currently there?


J.J. Cooper: His value will come from being a defensive whiz in center field. Putting him in a corner outfield spot long-term is like buying a Ferrari and deciding that you want to use it only for car pooling the kids to school. The Braves have a good CF already in Inciarte who has a deal that has him signed for the next three seasons with a team option for a fourth. I have trouble believing both Pache and Inciarte will be on the roster in 2020, so one or the other will likely need to be moved.

Adam (ATL): 

    Hi JJ, great list! Love seeing Riley and Anderson so high. Which of the non-Top 10 pitching prospects do you think are primed for a big jump this coming year? I've got my money of Patrick Weigel


J.J. Cooper: I've been a Patrick Weigel fan for years and it is encouraging that he got back on the mound in instructs. That said, I'd be more confident on Muller or Wentz taking a step forward in 2019.

Carlos (Puerto Rico): 

    Biggest difference between Wentz, Allard, and Muller? Future starters or bullpen pieces?


J.J. Cooper: Wentz and Allard to me both have much more value as starters than relievers, while Muller could end up in either role because of his power fastball. It's really hard to see Allard in a bullpen role, as his stuff works better over longer outings than it does in short one-inning bursts.

Bertram (Taiwan): 

    I am a little surprised to see Bryse Wilson has #4 upside with that fastball and command. What prevents him from being a potential top end guy? Is it a lack of good secondaries?


J.J. Cooper: Yes. It's a great fastball, but few front-end starters thrive based solely on a great fastball. His secondaries have a lot further to go and so far, he hasn't really needed them all that much.

Claudio (Italy): 

    Braves have been able to stay in the top 5 in system rankings for some time now, but they probably lack depth in the low minors due to losing all those prospects last year. And the upcoming limitations in international signings will have an impact. Do you see the Braves being able to keep their farm system in good shape in 2 years?


J.J. Cooper: I expect it will be a 21-30 system as we head into the 2021 season. I'd actually be pretty surprised if it's not. Part of that is the life cycle of a successful team. The Braves are no longer in the acquisition phase of a rebuilding team. They are at the point where you have to consider trading any prospect you have if it would significantly increase the chances of winning a World Series. The Cubs don't regret trading Gleyber Torres (although they may regret trading Eloy Jimenez). So some of these prospects will likely be traded away, and the Braves are unlikely to be adding many prospects in trades over the next two seasons. Having an extra first round pick in 2019 (and a high one at that) will help, but by the end of the 2020 season most of the current top 15 prospects in the system will likely have either graduated or have been traded. The Braves generally draft well, but it will be hard for the Braves to have added much international talent in the meantime. If you look at the lower levels of the farm system right now, filter in likely upcoming trades that help the big league team but thin out the farm system and then throw in the international sanctions, this is a team that will be thinner and thinner on the farm over the next few seasons.

Texas Jim (South Central): 

    Not much love for relievers but maybe that's a separate list. Who would be the top 3 relievers on a prospects list?


J.J. Cooper: It's really hard for relievers to crack a top 10 in a really good system because most of the best relievers in the big leagues were minor league starters. See: Edwin Diaz, Andrew Miller, Josh Hader, Aroldis Chapman, etc., etc., etc. I wouldn't be surprised to see a couple of these SP prospects end up in the pen in 2019 because of the Braves' pitching depth and maybe one or two of them are so good at it that they stay there. But if you are talking about pure relievers, Chad Sobotka and Jacob Webb will make the Top 30. Among the SP prospects, Huascar Ynoa and Freddy Tarnok are most likely to end up in the bullpen I would surmise.

Manu (Mexico): 

    Surprising to see Waters ahead of Pache: Pache has a higher seiling IMO; can you explain the reasoning behind that ranking?


J.J. Cooper: Sure. It's close, but the feedback I got over numerous conversations was that there is a lot more belief in Waters' bat. With Pache, we all know that he is going to provide solid if not excellent defense in center field which is quite valuable. But with the bat, it's still a whole lot of projection with Pache. His 2018 season was a nice step forward, but I feel confident in saying that Waters has a full grade or more better bat and power and Waters, while not the athlete or defender that Pache is, is very solid in both aspects himself (and is a better basestealer). They have different strengths and weaknesses, but to me there isn't a lot of separation between them as prospects.

DH (PA): 

    How many of these guys would you put in the top 100? And how many do you suppose graduate off this list next summer. 6? It's going to be a very different list next year.


J.J. Cooper: Comfortable saying 8, maybe 9. It's a really good list.

Israel (Gainesville, GA): 

    Ted Williams prime for Trout was at least even considering the contracts... Anyway, Contreras ready for a part-time role in 2019 (possibly splitting time with Flowers and freeing up McCann as a part-time DH/bench bat/3rd catcher)?


J.J. Cooper: More defensive value from Trout as he cares about defense. Williams just wanted to get that half inning over so he could go hit again. On your second question. No. No. No. No. He was a catcher in low Class A last year. He won't be ready for a part-time role in 2020 either. Catching is really, really hard. Catchers in low Class A usually need two or three more years to be big league ready (and in some cases four or five years). And Contreras is not the kind of Ivan Rodriguez/Yadier Molina defensive whiz where his defense is so good that you could live with a struggling bat. He's a very good prospect but he needs plenty of development time.

Dee Mcc (Atlanta, GA): 

    I like the short term C situation with McCann/Flowers. What are your thoughts on Contreras being ready in a year? I got to see him a lot and he was definitely a stand out.


J.J. Cooper: I really like Contreras as a prospect, but let's all slow down. I know Brian McCann went low Class A to high Class A to AA/MLB in the span of three seasons, but that is unusual. I think a 2021-2022 ETA for Contreras is more reasonable.

Jeff (ATL): 

    What inclined you to put Kyle Wright above Touki while Touki had several strong showings at the big league level?


J.J. Cooper: I still have some hesitation about Toussaint's control. He's done a great job of getting better and better, but his control still wavers. Some of the same criticisms could be leveled at Wright admittedly, but I'm a little more confident in Wright's ability to have future above-average control. Both are very solid prospects.

Joe R (Newport News, VA): 

    Who will be in the rotation for Gwinnett in 2019? Could that prove to be the AAA rotation of the century?


J.J. Cooper: Last year the Braves didn't need a fifth starter til a few weeks into the season because of off days. If that allows me to punt on who wins the fifth starter job, how about at the beginning of the year Gwinnett could have Wright-Soroka-Toussaint-Wilson-Allard in the rotation. That's pretty insane. Especially when you consider the AA rotation right behind them could be Anderson-Muller-Wentz-Davidson. And I haven't figured out where to slot Patrick Weigel into this mix.

J.J. Cooper: Sorry I can't get to all the questions, but I have to get back to writing up the Braves 11-30 prospects for the Prospect Handbook. Thanks to all our subscribers. We appreciate you all a lot.

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2018 MLB Rule 5 Draft Preview (Updated 12/12)

Multiple players eligible for selection in next month's Rule 5 Draft, led off by Richie Martin.

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