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The 36th overall pick in the 2003 draft, Saltalamacchia built a reputation during high school as a big league hitter and has done little to disappoint. He established himself as the best all-around catching prospect in the minors with a breakout 2005 campaign. He rated as the top prospect in the high Class A Carolina League and starred for Team USA in an Olympic pre-qualifying tournament after the season. However, he followed up with his most difficult season as a pro. A lingering wrist injury and focus on improving his defense led to struggles at the plate during the first half of the year. Saltalamacchia batted just .197 with four homers in the first three months before going on the disabled list with an injury to his wrist. He bounced back by hitting .338 with five homers in his last 23 games before leaving Double-A Mississippi to rejoin Team USA for an Olympic qualifying tournament. Saltalamacchia helped the United States qualify for the 2008 Beijing Games and capped the event with a homer off Cuban closer Pedro Luis Lazo. He continued to rake in a brief stint in the Arizona Fall League, going 13-for-23 (.535) with three homers before hamstring problems shut him down. Saltalamacchia's calling card is his ability to hit and drive the ball from both sides of the plate. He has one of the sweetest swings in the game from the left side, displaying natural loft that should produce solid home run numbers. Despite his troubles in 2006, the Braves have no concerns about his offense, especially with the way he regrouped at midseason. His walk rate continues to increase as he climbs the minor league ladder. Considered suspect defensively coming out of high school, Saltamacchia has worked hard to get better. He spent the spring picking veteran Todd Pratt's brain to upgrade his game-calling ability, and he continues to get more comfortable working with pitchers. He has a strong arm and a release that has quickened considerably, enabling him to throw out 36 percent of basestealers in 2006. Saltalamacchia has shown increased maturity, particularly after getting married midway through the 2005 season. Always upbeat, he has a desire to learn and improve. Consistency is the key to Saltalamacchia reaching the majors. He'll make more consistent contact once he displays more patience. In 2006, opponents noticed Saltalamacchia collapsing the back side of his swing from both sides of the plate. His righthanded swing is a little mechanical, though he was more productive from that side in 2006. He batted .262 against lefties, compared with .214 against righties. Defensively, he needs to continue to improve his footwork and to learn how to set up advanced hitters. Brian McCann is one of the best young catchers in baseball, and while Saltamacchia is similarly gifted, there's room for only one of them behind the plate in Atlanta. For now, Saltalamacchia will continue to work at catcher, where he has the most value. If he doesn't begin the year at Triple-A Richmond, he should get there at some point in 2007. His bat should be ready for Atlanta by mid-2008, when the Braves may have to move him to first base or left field.
The younger brother of Devil Rays minor league outfielder Erold Andrus, Elvis held his own in the low Class A South Atlantic League, showing no signs of being overwhelmed in a league with players who were on average four years older than him. Andrus has three plus tools and a chance to develop plus hitting ability and possibly power. His soft hands, impressive range and above-average arm strength make him a natural shortstop. Andrus employs a mature approach at the plate by using the entire field. His instincts and knowledge of the game far exceed his age. The Braves rave about his work ethic and enthusiasm, and he has become fluent in English in less than two years in the United States. Andrus is still raw in all phases of his offensive game. Plate discipline is his biggest weakness, and he also must improve his overall strength. Though he has plus speed, he's still learning to steal bases and was caught 15 times in 38 tries in 2006. The Braves feel no need to push Andrus more than a level at a time, but he's still well ahead of almost every player his age. He's headed to high Class A Myrtle Beach as an 18-year-old and could accelerate his timetable once he improves at the plate.
The Braves cited Harrison as their breakthrough pitcher of 2005, and he maintained his momentum in 2006. He led Atlanta farmhands in ERA, reached Double-A before he turned 21 and now ranks as the system's top mound prospect. It seems like every quality lefthanded pitching prospect must be likened to Tom Glavine, but that comparison seems more legitimate when applied to Harrison. He's adept at using both sides of the plate and altering the batter's eye level. He delivers a heavy fastball between 89-92 mph and does an excellent job of keeping it down in the zone. His above-average curveball breaks at times like a slider. Harrison also has a plus changeup that he uses at any time in the count. Harrison admits he gave Double-A hitters too much credit and wasn't aggressive enough following his midseason promotion. He needs to continue to learn how to mix his pitches in order to keep batters off balance. Harrison, who has No. 3 starter potential, could open 2007 in Triple-A, where he'd be knocking on the door to the big leagues.
A baseball/basketball/football star in high school, Jones turned down the Royals as a sixth-rounder in 2002. The Braves aggressively pursue draft-and-follows, and that's how they signed him after taking him in the 24th round in 2003. He's the best all-around athlete in the system but has been sidelined by injuries in each of his two full seasons. Though he had just 20 extra-base hits at Myrtle Beach, managers rated Jones the best power prospect in the Carolina League. He makes hard contact and drives the ball into the gaps with his quick, line-drive swing. Jones possesses above-average wheels and could become a solid power-speed threat at the major league level. His plus range and strong arm enable him to play anywhere in the outfield. A broken left hand cost Jones two months in 2005, and he missed the last three weeks of 2006 after having surgery to repair a labrum tear in his throwing shoulder. He needs game action to add some loft to his swing and improve his pitch recognition. He also can improve his routes on fly balls and his instincts as a basestealer. While he still needs to polish many aspects of his game, he continues to attract comparisons with Matt Lawton and could emerge as Atlanta's long-term answer in left field. Jones should be healthy for spring training and likely will open 2007 in Double-A.
Before the 2006 season the Braves thought Pope was on the verge of blossoming. They were right, as he more than doubled his previous career high in homers (seven) and earned Carolina League all-star recognition. He was a two-way star who threw in the low 90s in junior college, but Atlanta hasn't regretted making him a full-time third baseman. An aggressive hitter, Pope possesses above-average raw power. He worked deeper counts in 2006, waiting for a pitch to attack rather than swinging at what pitchers wanted him to chase. He has slightly above-average speed and runs the bases very well. Managers rated him as the best defensive infielder and strongest infield arm in the CL. He has soft hands, plays balls to both sides with ease and is adept at making plays on slow rollers. Pope has the athleticism and skill to be a Gold Glove third baseman, but some scouts question whether he'll refine his raw power enough to provide the pop wanted at the position. He must continue to do a better job at recognizing pitches he can drive. The Braves believe Pope will continue to make adjustments and accelerate his development at Double-A in 2007. He's the heir apparent to Chipper Jones at third base.
The co-MVP in the Rookie-level Appalachian League in 2005, Campbell led the South Atlantic League in homers for an encore. Atlanta's top pick in the 2004 draft, he overcame a midseason back injury to set single-season Rome records for homers and RBIs. Campbell is an aggressive hitter with above-average power from right-center to the leftfield line. He's one of the most adept hitters at capitalizing on pitchers' mistakes in the system. He has soft hands and an accurate arm at third base. Though not particularly fleet afoot, he's an intelligent baserunner who can read pitchers. He succeeded on 18 of his 21 steal attempts in 2006. Campbell lacks ideal quickness and explosiveness. His power comes more from his natural strength than bat speed. His open stance can cause him to fly open on the front side of his swing, which limits his power to the right side. His plate discipline needs improvement. He also has to do a better job of controlling his emotions on the diamond. Drafted as a shortstop, Campbell has played third base the last two seasons and saw time at second base in Hawaii Winter Baseball. With Chipper Jones and Van Pope ahead of him, Campbell may have a better opportunity at second in the long run, but he'll stay at third base as he advances to high Class A.
After developing slowly but steadily since being drafted out of Canada in 2000, Thorman finally became the hitter the Braves have long expected. Managers rated him the top power prospect in the Triple-A International League, and he was leading the circuit in RBIs before he was promoted to Atlanta in mid-June. Thorman has had tremendous raw power since he signed, but didn't show it consistently in games until 2006. He can produce tape-measure shots to all fields. He has shortened his swing in recent years and consequently has hit for a higher average. Clocked as high as 95 mph off the mound in high school, Thorman has a strong and accurate arm. He runs and moves well for his size. Thorman needs to refine his knowledge of the strike zone to maximize his production. He becomes too pull-conscious on occasion. Though he has worked hard on his defense, he'll never be a Gold Glove candidate. Hard on himself in the past, Thorman has learned to keep his temper in check but needs to maintain a more even keel at the major league level. Adam LaRoche is blocking Thorman at his natural position, but the Braves have an unsettled situation in left field. Thorman could win a regular job or platoon role if he performs well in spring training.
The 43rd overall pick in the 2003 draft, Reyes had Tommy John surgery in 2004 and tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his knee after returning in 2005. Finally healthy in 2006, Reyes earned the starting nod in the South Atlantic League all-star game. Reyes is a thick-bodied lefthander who does a good job of keeping hitters off balance. His four-seam fastball sits in the low 90s and appears harder due to his deceptive delivery. He also has an overhand curveball and a solid changeup with good movement. He has an abundance of confidence and relishes being atop a rotation. Injuries have been the biggest roadblock to Reyes' progress. Because he never had built up his endurance, he ran out of gas while pitching 141 innings in 2006--67 more than his previous career high. Reyes body offers nothing in the way of projection, and he'll have to watch his weight. Reyes is back on track and will pitch in Double-A as a 22-year-old. He could become a No. 3 or 4 starter in the major leagues.
Devine has endured a bumpy road since the Braves drafted him 27th overall in 2005. Pushed to Atlanta less than three months after signing, he became the first big leaguer to give up grand slams in his first two appearances, and he also served up an 18th-inning, Division Series-ending homer to Chris Burke. In 2006, a degenerative disc in his lower back sidelined him for most of the first half. Devine's main pitch is a sinker that sits at 92-94 mph and can touch 97. He also has a sidearm slider that starts out behind righthanders before cutting across the strike zone. He has excellent athleticism and the makeup to close games. Devine's ailing back caused his mechanics to become shaky, although Mississippi pitching coach Kent Willis helped correct some flaws in August. His inconsistent delivery has led to problems with his command, which must improve in order for him to succeed in the late innings. The addition of a consistent changeup would help him against lefthanders. Devine broke camp with Atlanta in 2006 and will have the opportunity to do so again in 2007. He could emerge as a closer down the road, but Bob Wickman will open 2007 in that role.
A Cuban defector who was a childhood friend of Braves catcher Brayan Pena, Escobar went in the second round after becoming draft-eligible just a month before the 2005 draft. He spent his first full season in Double- A, shifting between second base, shortstop and third base as part of a three-man infield rotation with Luis Hernandez and Martin Prado. He represented Cuba in the Futures Game last summer. Escobar has solid tools across the board. His smooth swing produces line drives from gap to gap. Though aggressive at the plate, he has good plate discipline and pitch recognition. He has consistent hands and a strong arm that's a plus at any infield position. Escobar hasn't shown the ability to drive the ball that many scouts projected before the 2005 draft. His modest range could prevent him from playing shortstop in the majors. He has just average speed and is a tick below-average for a middle infielder. A year ago, Escobar figured to be in a tight battle with Elvis Andrus as the Braves' long-term answer at shortstop. Because second baseman Marcus Giles was non-tendered, Escobar's best shot will probably come at that position or as a utilityman. He's ready for Triple-A.
Kaaihue is part of a baseball family. Father Kala Sr. reached Triple-A in the Pirates system during the mid-1970s, and older brother Kila spent 2006 as a Double-A first baseman for the Royals. The Red Sox drafted Kala out of a Hawaii high school as a 22nd-round pick in 2003, but he opted to attend South Mountain (Ariz.) CC, out of where he signed with the Braves for $50,000 as a nondrafted free agent in 2005. Kaaihue had a strong pro debut and an even better first full season, leading the system in homers (28), RBIs (80) and slugging percentage (.550). He topped the South Atlantic League in homers, RBIs and walks during the first half of the season. Promoted to high Class A in late June, Kaaihue struggled initially before rediscovering his power stroke. The only negative came on Aug. 18, when an errant pitch broke his left wrist and ended his season. Kaaihue draws comparisons to Andres Galarraga, both for his power and for his 6-foot-2, 230-pound build. He doesn't have to get all of a pitch to drive it out of the yard. Though his 115 strikeouts led all Braves farmhands last year, he compensates by drawing a lot of walks. He'll need to improve his pitch recognition, however. He's a below-average runner but has made a nice conversion from a high school catcher to a steady first baseman with quick reflexes. He should open 2007 in Double-A. Kaaihue is one of the system's best power prospects, but he'll have to contend with Adam LaRoche, Scott Thorman and possibly Jarrod Saltalamacchia to play at first base for the Braves.
A talented high school athlete who was more of a football prospect than a baseball standout, Lerew made rapid strides in 2004, when he added 5 mph to his fastball over the course of the season. He parlayed the increased velocity into 10 wins, a Futures Game selection and his first taste of the majors in 2005. Yet just as it appeared that Lerew was on the verge of breaking into the Atlanta rotation, he experience a difficult 2006 campaign that included a midseason demotion to Double-A. Lerew's problems stemmed from mechanical issues. Despite possessing a loose and easy arm action and maintaining his 92-95 mph fastball, he lost the feel for his solid changeup and slider. His command also suffered. While consistent mechanics and command remain his biggest needs, Lerew is the most athletic pitcher in the system, which bodes well for him figuring it out. He helps himself at the plate (career .302 average), can steal bases (three swipes in 14 trips to first base) and is an excellent fielder. If Lerew can make the necessary adjustments, he can bounce back from a dismal 2006 to be a middle-of-the-rotation starter or a setup man in the majors.
Evarts put together an impressive spring to emerge as the top high school southpaw in Florida last year. Taken by the Braves with the 43rd overall pick, he signed for $800,000 and made a seamless move to pro ball. He had the best combination of stuff and feel on a talented Rookie-level Gulf Coast League pitching staff that featured five other members of this top 30 list. Evarts is a projection project with an immature, lanky build and a loose, lively arm. He throws strikes with his smooth mechanics and his ability to repeat his easy delivery. He has an average fastball that sits consistently around 90 mph and touches 93 with plus life and late movement, particularly when he cuts it. His best pitch is a nasty changeup that breaks much like a screwball. Evarts throws the change with an unusual grip and will use it at any time in the count. It has the potential to carry him into the upper levels. His breaking ball is well below-average. He showed some promise in developing a hard slurve in the GCL and worked on a slider during instructional league. He was arrested in December in Tampa and charged with criminal mischief, a felony. Police said he damaged a vehicle with a baseball bat, and the incident highlights questions scouts had about his makeup. Evarts needs innings, which he'll get as one of the younger starters in the South Atlantic League in 2007.
The Braves considered taking Jones with their first pick in 2005 and were delighted to get him 14 selections later. After a strong debut, though, his control regressed in his first full season, and he wore down late in the year, allowing 32 earned runs in his final 32 innings. The good news was that his stuff remained promising. Jones has a low-90s fastball that reaches 95 and has nice movement. His curveball shows signs of becoming an out pitch with high-70s velocity and hard, sharp break. His changeup remains in the developmental stages, and he lacks confidence in it. He has an easy delivery and a determined approach that attracts comparisons to Kyle Davies. Jones has a lot of work to do, as he must make major strides with his control, command and changeup while becoming more consistent with his fastball and curve. Those will be his goals this year in high Class A.
Like fellow 2005 draftee Beau Jones, Lyman had a strong Gulf Coast League debut before running into command difficulties in low Class A last year. He got off to a nice start prior to missing a month with back spasms. He was inconsistent upon his return in late June. Lyman throws strikes with his 92-95 mph fastball, and he can run his two-seamer in on hitters, making it difficult for them to center the ball. His secondary offerings are works in progress. He has a sharp curveball that can be effective, as well as a splitter that functions as a changeup. Lyman's mechanics aren't always fluid, which has led to difficulties with his command and control. The Braves love his intensity and believe his work ethic will allow him to iron out the rough spots in his game. He'll team up with Jones again this year in high Class A.
Before the Braves made Rasmus the 38th overall pick in 2006 and signed him for $900,000, he had a storied amateur career. He helped Russell County High (Seale, Ala.)-- coached by his father Tony and featuring his older brother Colby (the Cardinals' No. 1 prospect)--win the 2005 national championship. Cory has a power arm and a deeper repertoire than most pitchers his age. He throws a 92-94 mph fastball that tops out at 97 and has decent life. His best pitch is a knee-buckling 11-to-5 curveball that seems to fall out of the sky and left many batters shaking their heads during instructional league. Rasmus also has an above-average changeup, a pitch that he has become so adept with that he sometimes relies on it too much instead of challenging hitters. He has a thick body that leaves little room for projection. His arm is quick and he has a good feel for pitching. As he moves up the ladder, Rasmus will have to smooth out his command and the mechanics of his fulleffort delivery. He has the ability to be a No. 2 or 3 starter in the big leagues, though that's a long ways off. He'll open 2007 in low Class A.
Hanson could prove to be the crown jewel of the seven draft-and-follow picks the Braves signed last May. After he went in the 22nd round of the 2005 draft, he ranked as the No. 1 prospect in the West Coast Collegiate League that summer and led California juco pitchers with 138 strikeouts in 101 innings. Signed away from an Arizona State commitment for $325,000, Hanson presents an imposing physical presence on the mound thanks to his 6- foot-6 frame. He throws the ball on a tough downhill plane to the plate. He's not overpowering but commands his 89-92 mph fastball with precision, leading to an impressive 56-9 KBB ratio in his pro debut. His secondary pitches show promise, particularly after he worked extensively with Rookie-level Danville pitching coach Doug Henry on tightening the spin of his curveball and the depth of his changeup. As he continues to develop those pitches, Hanson will need to mix his three offerings instead of focusing on his fastball, as he did in his pro debut. Hanson will be part of a strong but young Rome rotation in 2007.
Feliz shined as bright as any of the organization's young arms last summer in the Gulf Coast League, recording more than twice as many strikeouts as hits allowed. He has a lanky frame to grow into, along with a clean delivery that produces an effortless 90-93 mph fastball with late life. He reaches 96-97 with his heater and the ball jumps out of his hand. At this point, his fastball is his lone plus offering. Feliz has a sweeping low-80s slider that's sharp when he stays on top of it, but his changeup needs considerable work in order to become a usable pitch. His biggest challenge will be learning to harness his repertoire by pitching down in the strike zone more consistently and gaining better overall control. Feliz might have as much upside as any pitcher in the system. He doesn't turn 19 until May, so he could open 2007 in extended spring training before reporting to Danville.
Locke has the potential to carry on the New Hampshire pitching tradition--the state has produced all-stars Chris Carpenter, Mike Flanagan and Bob Tewksbury--after pitching his way into the second round last June. He recovered from a rocky start to allow just one earned run over his final four outings and led the loaded GCL Braves in victories. Locke has good command of a lively fastball that he throws at 88-91 mph and touches 93. He turned his breaking ball, a slurvy pitch in the spring, into a true curveball by the end of instructional league. It projects as a plus pitch. His changeup is still a work in progress, but he has shown some touch for the offspeed pitch. Though Locke's delivery could use some smoothing out, his arm works easy and his command should be a strength. He's confident and relishes a challenge. His next one will come when he spends his first full season in low Class A.
Ohio's top pitching prospect in the 2006 draft, Rodgers went in the third round and passed up the chance to attend Kent State in order to turn pro for $385,000. He outperformed the other top high school lefties from Atlanta's 2006 draft class who were assigned to the Gulf Coast League, supplemental first-rounder Steve Evarts and second-rounder Jeff Locke. Rodgers had a reputation for being very polished for a teenager, drawing comparisons to Jeremy Sowers, and he backed it up by filling the strike zone in his pro debut. He already throws 87-91 mph and should gain more velocity on his fastball as he fills out his slender, projectable frame. He has an advanced feel for mixing pitches and changing locations to keep hitters off balance. He throws two- and four-seam fastballs, a hard downer curveball and a changeup, all of which should be average or better pitches. Rodgers is well equipped to handle the jump to low Class A in 2007.
Undrafted out of high school in 2002 and signed as a free agent in 2003, Smith quietly has made rapid progress. He reached Double-A in 2006 and posted a 1.63 ERA when the Braves moved him into the rotation on a full-time basis in August. Smith's fastball velocity has increased every season since he signed. His four-seamer sat in the low 90s last year, and he continued to throw it on a downhill angle to the plate. He also has a solid changeup with consistent fade. To continue to progress as a starter, Smith will have to improve the command and consistency of his breaking ball. If not, he still could serve as a reliever in the majors, though he performed better while pitching in the rotation in 2006. He'll receive a long look during spring training and should spend the year knocking on the door in Triple- A if he doesn't make the Braves.
For the second straight season, Pena was on call in Triple-A waiting for an emergency opportunity. He played sparingly for the Braves in May and June while Brian McCann was injured, and otherwise turned in his second straight strong season in Richmond. The switch-hitting Pena has a knack for centering the ball on the bat but possesses minimal power at the plate. He's known as "The Cuban Ichiro" for his bat control. Pena has the speed of a typical catcher, making him a liability on the bases, yet he has improved his mobility behind the plate. He does a good job of blocking balls in the dirt, and he has a quick release and makes accurate throws. He erased 29 percent of Triple-A basestealers last year. Though McCann has developed into one of the premier young backstops in the game and Jarrod Saltalamacchia is on his heels, the Braves believe Pena has shown enough to serve as their backup catcher. He'll get a chance to claim that role in 2007.
Romak attracted comparisons to fellow Canadian Scott Thorman last season with his development as one of the more impressive power hitters in the system. Like Thorman, Romak has come along slowly since being drafted. He spent three seasons in Rookie ball before placing second behind Eric Campbell at Rome in doubles, homers and RBIs in 2006. Romak followed that performance by consistently hitting the ball harder than anyone in the Braves' instructional league camp during the fall. He has a couple of plus tools: the pop in his bat from right-center to the left-field foul pole, and a strong arm suited for right field. His ability to make consistent contact will determine just how high he's able to climb. He needs to shorten his swing and close some holes. Originally signed as a third baseman, Romak is a lumbering defender with below-average speed. His overall defensive game could use some polish. Scheduled to open 2007 in high Class A, he has a chance to become an average big league corner outfielder who hits in the bottom half of the order.
Richmond joins Jamie Romak as a developing Canadian who could be on the verge of a breakthrough. With his command of three pitches and advanced feel for pitching, Richmond was the Appalachian League's 2006 pitcher of the year and ERA leader. He works both sides of the plate with a 90-91 mph fastball that features late cutting action, making it difficult for hitters to center the ball. He still has projection in his lanky frame and could add more velocity. His curveball and changeup are average pitches that he locates well, and he's not afraid to throw the curve when he's behind in the count. His 52-4 K-BB ratio was even more pronounced than teammate Tommy Hanson's. Some scouts label Richmond as a slinger, but he repeats his delivery well and pounds the strike zone. He'll move up to low Class A in 2007.
The sixth of six Braves picks in the first two rounds last June, Fontaine made the Appalachian League all-star team in his pro debut. His career path didn't always look so promising, however. A slump as a high school senior in 2004 caused him to go undrafted and head to Texas, but he transferred to Daytona Beach (Fla.) Community College before he ever took the field for the Longhorns. After the Rangers drafted him in the 18th round in 2005, he hit .407 with 10 homers and starred in the Florida state community college tournament this spring. Fontaine sought $500,000 as a draft-and-follow, and while the Rangers wouldn't meet his price, Atlanta did. He's a line-drive hitter who's aggressive at the plate. His bat does not have a lot of pop at this point, but some scouts believe he could develop power as he gets stronger and adds some loft to his swing. Though he has slightly aboveaverage speed and a strong arm, Fontaine doesn't profile defensively as a shortstop. His stiff hands, mechanical actions and modest range should force him off shortstop, especially with superior defenders such as Elvis Andrus ahead of him in the system. Fontaine eventually will move to second base, but he'll stay at shortstop for now as he advances to low Class A.
After leading Georgia to a surprise third-place finish at the 2004 College World Series, Sammons has shown everything the Braves look for in a catcher. Rome's MVP in 2005, he batted .221 during the first three months of last season before starting to drive the ball more consistently and hitting .303 the rest of the way. His knowledge of the strike zone has improved significantly since he signed, and he has learned how to recognize and smash certain pitches into the gaps and over the wall. His eight homers doubled his total from his first two pro seasons. While Sammons has improved offensively, defense remains his forte. He has a strong arm and a quick release, enabling him to throw out 40 percent of basestealers in each of the last two seasons. He does a good job of blocking balls, working with pitchers and taking charge behind the plate. Atlanta projects Sammons as a borderline starter or a solid backup, though he won't relegate Brian McCann or Jarrod Saltalamacchia to the bench. Sammons will spend this year in Double-A.
Schafer has been on the prospect radar since he played first base for his high school team as a 13-year-old, at which time Baseball America ranked him as the top player in the nation for his age group. By the time he graduated in 2005, he attracted serious consideration as a lefthanded pitcher, but his solid tools and desire to play every day led to his signing as a center fielder. Schafer's production to this point has been lackluster, but the Braves aren't concerned. He has a quick bat and should be more of a force once he gets stronger. He also needs to improve his plate discipline and pitch recognition. Schafer has good speed but needs to get better at reading pitchers because he has been caught in 15 of his 43 pro steal attempts. He has stood out the most in center field. Managers rated him the best defensive outfielder in the South Atlantic League last year, a credit to his instincts, quick first step and plus arm. Schafer's spring-training performance will determine whether he repeats low Class A or moves up to high Class A. A return trip to Rome wouldn't be considered a setback, but he needs to start making some positive strides at the plate.
Drafted by the Devil Rays in the 37th round out of high school, Medlen spent time at El Camino (Calif.) Junior College before transferring to Southern California juco powerhouse Santa Ana. He also played shortstop for the Warriors, but the Braves took him in the 10th round last June as a pitcher. He signed quickly for $85,000 and wasted little time opening eyes in the organization, allowing only one earned run in 20 relief outings. He tied for third in the Appalachian League with 10 saves, then added another along with a victory in the postseason to help Danville win the championship. Though he's just 5-foot-10, Medlen has a quick arm and works at 91-93 mph with his fastball. He commands it well, setting up hitters for a sharp curveball that has the potential to become a major league out pitch. He's still honing his changeup but has displayed a good feel for the pitch. He throws with an easy arm action, repeats his compact delivery with consistency and isn't afraid to go right after hitters. Medlen has drawn comparisons to former all-star closer Jeff Montgomery because of his size and overall approach to the job. He could reach high Class A at some point in his first full season.
Gunderson was one of the heroes of Oregon State's 2006 College World Series championship. He earned a victory and three saves in Omaha, winning an elimination game with 51⁄3 gutsy innings and coming back the next day to record the final two outs of the clincher. The NCAA Division I leader with 20 saves, he signed for $162,000 as a sixth-round pick. Gunderson doesn't have a high ceiling, but he has a huge heart and excellent command. Given those attributes and the Braves' need for lefthanded relievers, he could advance quickly to the majors--where his uncle Eric Gunderson carved out a 10-year career as a reliever. Kevin gets ahead of hitters by locating his 86-89 mph fastball, then tries to put them away with a slider that's effective against both lefties and righties. He can vary the break and velocity on his slider to keep hitters off balance. He also mixes in an occasional changeup. Gunderson keeps hitters uncomfortable with his low three-quarters arm angle and slingshot delivery. Though he's small, he's athletic and has proved resilient during his college career. He had every reason to be gassed during his pro debut, yet he handled low Class A with ease. Don't be surprised if he climbs to Double-A--or higher--in his first full season.
It came as a mild surprise when Atlanta drafted Johnson in the first round with the 24th overall pick last June. He made a name for himself on the showcase circuit in the summer of 2005, highlighted by winning MVP honors at a pair of Perfect Game wood-bat tournament in Marietta, Ga. But his performance as a high school senior raised major questions about whether he'll make enough contact to be a productive hitter, and striking out 49 times in 114 pro at-bats did nothing to dispel them. Johnson earned a $1.375 million bonus, the fourth-highest in club history, on the basis of his power potential. He can hit majestic home runs to all fields, particularly when he gets his long arms extended. He struggles with pitch recognition, though, and some scouts are worried about a hitch in his swing. Johnson has solid speed, though he'll slow down as he fills out. And though he runs well, his lack of athleticism limits him defensively. He showed little agility in left field after signing and was a below-average defender at first base as an amateur. The Braves know Johnson is a work in progress and will move him slowly, but they think he has the work ethic and aptitude to make adjustments at the plate. He'll begin 2007 in extended spring training and report to Danville in June.