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Still one of the best.
Even after graduating Sean Newcomb, this is the deepest group of pitching prospects in the game. Atlanta has a full rotation of starting pitching prospects who have experience at Double-A or higher, with another wave of young arms right behind them. The Braves are especially deep in lefty starters. Ronald Acuna gives the Braves a cornerstone position prospect to build around as well. The team’s catching depth has also improved dramatically.
After graduating Dansby Swanson, Ozzie Albies and Johan Camargo from last year’s Top 30 Prospects, the farm system lacks middle infield prospects, especially ones who have full-season minor league experience.
Notable Graduations: Double-play combo SS Dansby Swanson (1) and 2B Ozzie Albies (2) and LHP Sean Newcomb (8) gained valuable experience.
TRACK RECORD: Acuna's father Ron was a long-time Mets minor leaguer. But from an early age, the elder Acuna knew that his son would likely end up the better player. Ronald signed for $100,000, choosing the Braves over the Royals, and was advanced enough to begin his pro career in the U.S. in 2015. Acuna missed much of 2016 with of a thumb injury and began 2017 high Class A Florida. The Braves were confident he was ready for an in-season promotion--and they were right. Acuna blitzed through Double-A Mississippi in just two months and was even better for Triple-A Gwinnett, earning Minor League Player of the Year honors. The Braves' experience with Andruw Jones, who similarly jumped three minor league levels in a POY season in 1996, influenced their decision to move Acuna aggressively. They quickly realized he thrived when challenged. SCOUTING REPORT: Acuna has a wide range of strengths and few glaring weaknesses. Multiple scouts predicted multiple all-star appearances in his future. He's the rare prospect who actually carries future 60 (or better) grades on the 20-80 scale for all five tools. Acuna is a 70 runner with 70 defense who has a 60 arm and 60 hit tool. Many scouts project him to future 70 power. He already uses the whole field, and he went deep six times in 2017 to right or right-center field. Acuna used the opposite field more often as the season progressed. Not coincidentally he became tougher to strike out. Scouts looking for flaws noted that his strong arm is sometimes inaccurate and he could sometimes be stymied by quality fastballs up and in. But he already shows an ability to lay off breaking balls and velocity out of the zone. When he gets a pitch to hit, Acuna has extremely fast hands with strong wrists that whip the bat through the zone with excellent bat speed. He already generates exceptional exit velocities, which should pay off with 25-30 home runs once he matures. THE FUTURE: Even though he has fewer than 1,000 minor league at-bats, Acuna is big league ready and will head to spring training expected to play a significant role in 2018. With Ender Inciarte in center field, his initial role will be left or right fielder. The track record for 20-year-old big leaguers is spotty, but Acuna's defense and plate discipline should help ease his transition.
TRACK RECORD: Coming into 2017, Gohara was largely seen as a high-ceiling tease. His development was slowed by disagreements with the Mariners front office over his conditioning. Traded to the Braves for righthander Shae Simmons and Mallex Smith in January 2017, Gohara seemed to embrace the Braves' lighter touch, and he advanced three minor league levels before reaching Atlanta in September. SCOUTING REPORT: Gohara's pure stuff compares favorably with anyone. In just 29 big league innings, he threw more 98-plus mph fastballs than any other lefty starter. His 95-99 mph fastball generates top-of-the- scale grades and his 82-85 mph slider is equally impressive because it looks like his fastball coming out of his hand before diving with late tilt. He shows some feel for a changeup, but it lacks late fade and he struggles to keep it on the edges of the plate. Gohara's control is fringe-average at best, but he has made significant strides and should develop average control. THE FUTURE: Gohara's speedy climb ensures he will go to spring training competing for a spot in the rotation. He has the potential to be a front-line starter.
TRACK RECORD: The Braves skipped Soroka over high Class A in 2017 and made him the second-youngest player in Double-A on Opening Day. He responded by finishing second in the Southern League in ERA (2.75). SCOUTING REPORT: Soroka is a sinker/slider pitcher who touches 95 mph but lives at 90-93 mph with his two-seamer. His delivery has a little crossfire action that adds deception and has not affected his plus control. He started to throw his four-seamer more alters hitters' eye levels. Soroka's plus breaking ball is hard to classify. At it's best it's an above-average 84-86 mph curveball because of 1-to-7 shape, but it's tighter and has a sharper break than normal. When his adrenaline is flowing, it morphs into a high-80s pitch with slider tilt. His changeup flashes above-average with some late run but could use more consistency. His sinker and breaking ball eat up righthanders, but those same offerings end up down and in where lefties can feast, so his changeup must show run away from lefties. THE FUTURE: Soroka's pure stuff doesn't match Kyle Wright, Luiz Gohara or Ian Anderson, but his exceptional makeup, pitchability and athleticism make him a safe bet to be a mid-rotation starter.
TRACK RECORD: Wright traveled the typical Vanderbilt ace develop- ment track, going from dominating reliever as freshman to reliable starter as a sophomore and junior. The Braves went nearly $1.3 million over slot to sign Wright for $7 million as the fifth overall pick in 2017. He finished the year with six starts at high Class A Florida. SCOUTING REPORT: Wright's plus-plus fastball ranges from 92-98 mph, with late life at its best to go with excellent angle. His command is better when he's pitching in the lower registers of his velocity range. Wright's curveball and slider both generate potential plus grades, but he often shows a knack for locating one or the other, depending on the day. His curveball is a low- 80s pitch with late break and good depth. His harder mid-80s slider has modest break but plenty of power. His mid-80s changeup is his fourth pitch for now but shows excellent fade and run when he's locked in. THE FUTURE: Wright is still adjusting to the five-day schedule of pro ball, but in an organization that doesn't hesitate to challenge players, an Opening Day assignment to Double-A isn't out of the question. He has a chance to be a future top-of-the-rotation starter thanks to his varied repertoire, physicality and control.
TRACK RECORD: Anderson was a victim of his own success in 2017. His efficiency in the first half meant he bumped up against his innings limit earlier than expected. Worried about overtaxing a cold-weather arm in his first full season, the Braves slammed the brakes on Anderson's pitch limits, holding him to just 17.2 innings in the final two months. SCOUTING REPORT: The Braves' initial point of emphasis with young pitchers is to teach them to throw a quality changeup. Anderson embraced the pitch, developing it from afterthought to a pitch that flashes above-average in the span of a year. The improved change gives him a chance to end up with three above-average pitches. His 91-95 mph fastball touches 97, and he gets downhill thanks to his over-the-top delivery. As he worked on his change, Anderson relied less on his plus curveball with 12-to-6 action. Scouts believe Anderson has advanced control and command for his age, despite his walk rate of 4.7 per nine innings. THE FUTURE: Anderson projects as a future No. 2 or 3 starter, though he has to prove his durability and consistency. He will jump to high Class A Florida in 2018.
TRACK RECORD: Many teams saw Riley as a better pitching prospect coming out of high school. The Braves disagreed, believing in Riley's power. He's rewarded their faith by hitting 20 home runs in each of his first two full seasons while advancing to Double-A Mississippi at age 20 in 2017. SCOUTING REPORT: Riley has embraced the Braves' focus on improving his nutritional habits. He appears slimmer, stronger and quicker than he was when drafted. He also has shortened his swing and improved his bat speed, helping him to more consistently get to his plus power potential and alleviating concerns about his now average hit tool. Riley's biggest improvement has come defensively. He has alleviated fears he would need to move to first base and is now an above-average third baseman. His plus-plus arm is still his calling card, but he also improved his first-step quickness. THE FUTURE: Riley headed to the Arizona Fall League, which will help prepare him for a move to Triple-A Gwinnett in 2018. Unless blocked by a future trade or free agent acquisition, Riley is the Braves' third baseman of the not-too-distant future.
TRACK RECORD: The Braves challenged both Allard and Mike Soroka with a two-level jump to Double-A Mississippi in 2017. Allard handled it with few issues. The youngest player in Double-A at the start of the season, Allard worked five or more innings in 25 of 27 starts. SCOUTING REPORT: Allard is a nibbler by necessity. His average 88-92 mph fastball lacks the oomph and plane to consistently challenge hitters, but thanks to plus command, he largely avoids the heart of the plate. He can manipulate his fastball by cutting it to get in on hitters' hands. His changeup graded as consistently plus in 2017, while his curveball is plus at its best, but it wasn't as consistent in 2017. His lack of size limits his projection, but his preternatural polish and command give him a high likelihood of big league success. THE FUTURE: Even as Allard earns comparisons with frontline Braves pitchers of the past, like Steve Avery, scouts consistently project him as a future No. 4 starter, with a few seeing a potential No. 3 and others saying No. 5. Allard is ready for Triple-A Gwinnett and could reach the majors as a 20-year-old in 2018.
TRACK RECORD: The first high school pitcher drafted in 2012, Fried has endured Tommy John surgery, a trade and bouts of wildness. A blister issue helped ruin his first half in 2017, but he rebounded to make his big league debut in August. SCOUTING REPORT: Fried's fastball and curveball combo can be devastating when he's throwing strikes. His plus curve has long been his biggest weapon. He loosens it up as a 72-74 mph get-me-over pitch early in counts, but then tightens it into a harder 75-77 tight-breaking curve that generates swings and misses later in counts. Fried's 92-93 mph fastball touches 97 at its hottest. It is an above-average pitch, but his cur- rent below-average control limits his effectiveness. His fringe-average changeup is a usable pitch Fried unveils against righthanders. He fields his position well and has a dangerous pickoff move. THE FUTURE: Fried lacks the polish and control of younger systemmates Mike Soroka or Kolby Allard, but he also has better pure stuff. As a member of the 40-man roster, he figures to see big league time in 2018, though his control could use further refinement.
TRACK RECORD: Maitan was considered one of the top young hitters to come out of Latin America in years. He signed with the Braves for $4.25 million and was considered advanced enough to spend most of his first pro season in the Rookie-level Appalachian League. SCOUTING REPORT: Maitan's pro debut was worrisome. He gained significant weight in his lower half since signing, and now few scouts believe he will be able to stick at shortstop. The switch-hitter's righthanded swing was quick and direct, but his lefthanded one showed significant length and less bat speed. He also showed a tendency to chase pitches out of the zone. Maitan has plus power potential, but his approach will have be refined to tap into what scouts have long seen as his plus hit tool. Maitan has good body control, a plus arm and soft hands, but his range was limited by his lack of speed and first-step quickness. THE FUTURE: Maitan slimmed down to 210 pounds for instructional league. Even with a probable move to third base, he has the hitting ability to be an impact player, but he doesn't have the expected polish. He could break camp with low Class A Rome in 2018.
TRACK RECORD: A top prospect in the 2015 international class, Pache has gotten better since he signed. An above-average runner then, he's now a top-of-the-scale runner. His glove work has similarly improved as he advanced to low Class A Rome in 2017. SCOUTING REPORT: Pache's aggressive, almost cocky center field defense will get him to the big leagues. He plays shallow, challenging hitters to hit it over his head. If they do, he proves he can track balls over his head with ease. He's one of the best defensive center fielders in the minors and has Gold Glove potential with an above-average arm. Pache's speed plays on the basepaths, too. At the plate, his swing has some length that leads scouts to see a future average hit tool, but he has shown improved strike-zone recognition and solid bat-to-ball skills. Scouts love his athleticism and believe that once he fills out he'll hit for at least average power, even though he has yet to homer as a pro. THE FUTURE: Pache's bat will determine whether he becomes an impact regular or just a useful, speedy outfielder. He has plenty of time to develop power, which probably won't show up in the expansive parks of the high Class A Florida State League in 2018.
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