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One of the team's big finds in the now-extinct draft-and-follow process, Hanson signed with the Braves for $325,000 in 2006 while turning down an opportunity to pitch at Arizona State. He made tremendous strides transforming from a thrower to a pitcher in 2007 under the tutelage of the late Bruce Dal Canton, his pitching coach at high Class A Myrtle Beach. Hanson broke out as one of the baseball's top pitching prospects in 2008. He dominated in a return to Myrtle Beach to start the season and easily handled a promotion to Double-A Mississippi, where he tossed a no-hitter with a career-best 14 strikeouts on June 25. He concluded the regular season leading the minors in opponent average (.175) and ranking second in strikeouts per nine innings (10.6) and fourth in strikeouts (163). Hanson capped his year by winning the pitching triple crown in the Arizona Fall League, going 5-0, 0.63 with 49 strikeouts in 29 innings. He also limited hitters in the offensive-oriented loop to a .105 average. After displaying a tendency to rely on his fastball early in his minor league career, Hanson has developed four quality pitches that he throws for strikes. His moving fastball resides in the low to mid-90s and explodes in on the hands of righthanders. He added a hard slider in the upper 80s midway through last season, which brought about comparisons to John Smoltz's best offering while taking Hanson's considerable potential to a higher level. His overhand 12-to-6 curveball is a plus pitch that makes his slider even more difficult for hitters to diagnose. His changeup is at least major league average and has improved impressively over the past two years. Hanson mixes his pitches well, uses both sides of the plate and does an outstanding job of altering the eye level of hitters. He hides the ball well in his delivery, making him even tougher to hit. He displays impressive poise with a strong mound presence. He uses his height to his advantage by pitching on a steep downhill plane and challenges hitters throughout the lineup. The key to Hanson's success is working ahead in the count. While his slider has become his best pitch, he must establish his fastball command and use all of his pitches. The few difficult outings he had in Double-A came when he issued too many walks and became too fine in the strike zone, giving hitters a chance to make more hard contact than usual. The Braves believe Hanson is a future ace, which GM Frank Wren made clear early in the offseason when he refused to include the righthander in any trade talks, even those involving Jake Peavy. Though not a finished product, Hanson is getting close to joining the big league rotation. The trade for Javier Vazquez increased the odds that Hanson will open 2009 at the club's new Triple-A Gwinnett County affiliate, but he should make his major league debut before season's end.
The 14th overall pick in the 2007 draft, Heyward continues to leave many observers wondering why 13 teams passed on the five-tool outfielder. Signed for $1.7 million, he ranked as the No. 2 prospect in the low Class A South Atlantic League in 2008. He finished third in hitting (.323) and fourth in on-base percentage (.388) as one of the SAL's youngest players at age 18. Heyward is a prototypical right fielder with impressive size, athleticism and makeup. He swings a big bat from the left side, drawing comparisons to the likes of Willie McCovey, Dave Parker and Dave Winfield. Heyward has outstanding plate discipline and pitch recognition for a teenager. He has average speed and is an intelligent baserunner. Defensively, he covers a lot of ground in right field and has a plus arm with excellent carry on his throws. While there is no question he has power in his bat, Heyward went deep only 11 times in 2008. The Braves believe he'll hit more homers once he learns to use his hands more efficiently and looks for pitches to pound. He's still working on getting better jumps on balls hit over his head and improving his routes on balls hit to his right. Heyward will return to high Class A, where he ended 2008, but his mature approach and ability to make rapid adjustments soon will put him on the fast track. Atlanta's No. 3 hitter of the future could make his big league debut in 2010.
The No. 1 prospect on this list a year ago, Schafer began 2008 with a 50-game suspension for accusations of human growth hormone use. He tried too hard to make up for lost time when he returned in May but salvaged his season with a hot August. Schafer has good hand-eye coordination with quick wrists and plus bat speed. He uses the entire field and has surprising power for his wiry frame. A premier defender in center field, he has excellent range and plus arm strength. He possesses above-average speed and has a knack for taking the right angle on hard-hit balls in the gaps. He's a supremely confident player with a tireless work ethic. Schafer hit just .196/.306/.299 against lefthanders last season, struggling to center the ball on the barrel of the bat. He's prone to streakiness and strikes out excessively during slumps, which often come from his tendency to put extreme pressure on himself. He runs well but isn't a standout basestealer. The suspension should have no long-term effect on his career. He'll probably open 2009 in Triple-A but could take over as Atlanta's center fielder by the end of the season.
Hernandez won the Gulf Coast League batting title and Midwest League MVP award in his first two seasons in the United States, then was part of a one-sided trade with the Tigers that also delivered Jair Jurrjens in exchange for Edgar Renteria. Hernandez missed a month in 2008 with a hamstring injury, but recovered to earn accolades from managers as the Carolina League's most exciting player. Hernandez has all the tools to be a quintessential leadoff hitter and center fielder. He drives the ball from gap to gap with his linedrive swing and is a weapon on the bases with above-average speed. He covers tremendous ground in center with his quickness and precise routes, and he also has a strong, accurate arm. Hernandez still gives away too many at-bats despite cutting down on his swing, particulalry with two strikes. He doesn't have much home run power yet swings for the fences on occasion. A more refined approach and improved strike-zone judgment will boost his modest walk totals and on-base percentage. With Jordan Schafer and Hernandez, the Braves have two of the premier center-field prospects in the game. Their skills are similar, and Schafer is only one rung higher on the organizational ladder. Hernandez will spend 2009 in Double-A.
Many scouts preferred Freeman as a power pitching prospect, but he wanted to swing the bat and the Braves were glad to oblige when they drafted him in the second round in 2007. The youngest player to sign out of the 2007 draft, he was named Braves minor league player of the year in 2008 after ranking second in the South Atlantic League in slugging (.521) and fourth in RBIs (95). Freeman is an RBI machine who relishes the opportunity to hit with runners on base. He's an aggressive hitter with a swing-first approach, yet he has good pitch recognition and doesn't chase pitches out of the zone. He drives the ball with authority with his sweet, smooth swing and should be able to produce significant home run totals at higher levels. His defense is well-above-average at first base, with some scouts comparing Freeman to Mark Grace but with more power. Freeman's approach doesn't lend itself to drawing a lot of walks. He has belowaverage speed, though he's by no means a baseclogger. The Braves could have moved Freeman to high Class A last season with relative ease, but they wanted to make certain he had a solid foundation of success as an 18-year-old. He'll move up to Myrtle Beach in 2009, and the Braves won't hold him back if he continues to produce.
The final draft-and-follow signed by the Braves before MLB eliminated the process, Rohrbough received a $675,000 bonus and ranked as the top prospect in the Appalachian League in his pro debut. An ankle injury suffered during offseason workouts and rotatorcuff tendinitis hampered his development last season. Rohrbough has electrifying stuff with three above-average pitches at times, including the best fastball/curveball combination in the system. His fastball has good movement while residing at 92-94 mph. His power curve borders on being unhittable when it is sharp with nasty late break. He has a tremendous feel for pitching and mixes his offerings well. Rohrbough tends to drop his arm slot on occasion, which decreases his fastball velocity and makes his curve flatter and hittable. He also needs to improve the consistency and fade of his changeup. Atlanta believes Rohrbough is a special talent and projects him as a possible No. 2 starter. He should be completely healthy in spring training and should advance to Double-A at some point in 2009, with a late-2010 big league ETA.
Locke ended 2007 on a seven-game winning streak, but last season was not as kind. He lacked run support and ranked third in the South Atlantic League with 12 losses. Nevertheless, he maintained his composure and showed three solid-average pitches. Locke's two best pitches are a 91-94 mph fastball with good movement and a hard curveball that borders on being a plus offering. He also throws a changeup that continues to show improvement with its depth. He does an excellent job of keeping the ball down in the zone, which helped limit opponents to six homers in 2008. His herky-jerky delivery creates deception and makes it difficult for hitters to pick up the ball. His mound presence and competitiveness are impressive for a young hurler. Locke tends to fall out of sync in his delivery and needs to repeat his mechanics with more consistency to achieve better command. He throws strikes but can locate his pitches better in the zone. He needs to fine-tune some of the nuances of his craft, such as fielding his position, holding runners and covering and backing up bases. The best pitching prospect from New Hampshire since Chris Carpenter, Locke could be a workhorse in the middle of a major league rotation. His next stop will be high Class A.
The top amateur pitcher on the international market in 2007, Teheran signed for $850,000, thanks in part to his cousin Miguel, a Braves scout. Impressed by his maturity in spring training, Atlanta sent him to the Appalachian League, where he was the youngest pitcher at age 17. He developed a sore shoulder after two starts, and was used sparingly afterward. Teheran throws easy gas, displaying a 90-93 mph fastball with above-average life in instructional league. His changeup is also a plus pitch and he'll throw it any time in the count. His poise is remarkable, and he has a strong idea of what he needs to accomplish by working both sides of the plate as well as the top and bottom of the zone. Teheran needs to tighten the spin on his rolling curveball. He also must do a better job commanding his pitches in the zone. Though doctors found nothing wrong with his shoulder, he'll have to get stronger. He's still learning that he can't just overpower every hitter he faces. The Braves feel no need to rush Teheran and may keep him in extended spring before sending him back to Danville. He has top-of-the-rotation ability and will get all the time he needs to develop.
After dominating as a reliever and posting a 1.17 ERA in his first two years as a pro, Medlen faced adversity for the first time in the minors at Mississppi in the opening two months of the 2008 season. He moved into the rotation and proceeded to pitch as well as any Southern League starter, going 6-5, 3.11 in 17 starts before excelling in the playoffs. Medlen features a 92-94 mph fastball and a plus curveball in the upper 80s. He also has a solid changeup and a slider he'll throw to give hitters another pitch to think about. The additional innings as a starter allowed him to improve his command. A converted shortstop, he's athletic and helps his cause as a hitter and fielder. He's aggressive and tough on the mound. Medlen is undersized, which raises questions about his durability as a starter, though his stress-free delivery and ability to throw strikes works in his favor. His command isn't as sharp as his control, and the last step in his development will be to throw more quality strikes. A promotion to Triple-A is the most likely scenario for Medlen, though he could get a long look in spring training. He has the versatility to fit in as a starter, swingman or reliever depending on Atlanta's needs.
The Braves drafted Kimbrel in the 33rd round in 2007, but he turned down a $125,000 bonus to return to Wallace State (Ala.) CC. He averaged 13.7 strikeouts per nine innings and limited batters to a .140 average as a sophomore, and the Braves signed him for $391,000 as a third-round pick. He was just as dominant in pro ball, concluding his debut with four scoreless innings in high Class A. Though he's somewhat undersized, Kimbrel has a strong frame and a lightning-quick arm. Throwing from a low threequarters delivery, he has a fastball that resides at 92-95 mph and touches 98 with heavy sink. His heater tends to run in on righthanded hitters before exploding to the plate. He has a closer's mentality. Kimbrel needs more consistency with his control and two secondary pitches, both of which project to become average. His slider still gets slurvy and his changeup isn't reliable. Kimbrel made the best initial impression among members of Atlanta's 2008 draft class. He has the ingredients to become a major league closer. He'll stay on the fast track and could reach Double-A in his first full pro season.
Undrafted after leading San Jacinto (Texas) JC to the 2006 Junior College World Series, Hicks has risen rapidly since signing as a third-round pick in 2007. Featuring a tremendous work ethic and strong desire to win, he earned all-star honors in the Carolina League and managers rated him the circuit's best defensive shortstop last year. Hicks has a quick swing that generates above-average power, and he ranked fourth in the CL with 19 homers despite missing two weeks in April with a thigh bruise and spending part of August in Double-A. He does a good job using the entire field, but high strikeout totals have limited Hicks' batting average and overall production. He spread his stance out last June so he could see the ball better, but his numbers didn't noticeably improve. The Braves believe he'll become more consistent at the plate with additional experience. His speed is slightly above-average, and he's an excellent baserunner who can steal an occasional base. While not flashy at shortstop, Hicks combines solid defensive tools with great instincts. His range may be just fringe-average, but he charges balls well and has plus arm strength and a quick release. He's bigger than most shortstops, which leads some scouts to believe he might have to make a move to second or third base. With his power and defense, Hicks has a chance to be an everyday player in the majors. He'll spend 2009 in Double-A.
The roller-coaster ride that is Johnson's career continued in 2008. One year after leading the Appalachian League in homers (17), extra-base hits (40) and slugging (.630), the 24th overall pick in 2006 did little more than air-condition ballparks during the first half of last season. He did make some adjustments, improving his selectivity, shortening his swing with two strikes and using the opposite field, and he ended up batting .296/.340/.578 in the second half. Signed for $1.375 million, Johnson possesses a classic slugger mentality and finished second in the South Atlantic League with 26 homers. He lives to record tape-measure shots and is capable of hitting the ball so hard that infielders don't have time to react. He has excellent bat speed and loves the ball up and out over the plate, which allows him to extend his long arms. The biggest question is whether he'll make enough consistent contact at higher levels. He ranked second in the minors with 177 strikeouts last year and has fanned 298 times in 222 pro games. Another concern is his defense in left field. Limited from an athletic standpoint, Johnson has shown some improvement but continues to struggle in taking the correct angles on balls. His arm strength rates as below-average. While several opposing SAL managers labeled him a designated hitter and questioned his attitude and approach to the game, Johnson did make strides with his maturity. The power is undeniable, but the rest of the package remains a work in progress. His next test will come in high Class A in 2009.
The Braves broke from their traditional pattern when they assigned Delgado to Danville instead of the Gulf Coast League in his first season in the United States in 2008. He continued his smooth progression since signing as a 16-year-old out of Panama, dominating in extended spring training and pitching well in the Appalachian League. The addition of strength and maturity to his tall, projectable frame has resulted in an increase in velocity over the past year. His fastball has improved from 89-91 mph to 90-93, topping out at 94. He shows a good feel for his changeup and curveball, both of which show above-average promise. He's still working on his secondary offerings and his control and command. He ranked second in the Appy League in both strikeouts (81 in 69 innings) and walks (30) last season. Delgado gets excellent leverage in his easy, repeatable delivery, throwing on a sharp downhill plane from a high three-quarters slot. He also hides the ball well, creating deception. Though still somewhat raw, Delgado quietly is developing into one of the premier pitching prospects in the system. He'll pitch in the low Class A Rome rotation in 2009.
DeVall was the first pick by the Braves and the second high school lefthander taken in the 2008 draft, going 40th overall and turning down a Georgia scholarship to sign for $1 million. He wound up pitching just 10 innings in his pro debut while battling forearm tenderness. Known for his pitchability, he put himself on the Braves' radar by pitching in the suburban Atlanta East Cobb League as well as for the U.S. national youth team. DeVall has excellent size, good mechanics and the ability to throw three pitches for strikes. His fastball resides at 88-91 mph and has good movement when he keeps it down. His curveball shows the promise of being a plus pitch but is still slurvy at this point. He entered pro ball with a well-developed changeup for a high school pitcher, and he should be able to develop it into a plus offering. DeVall doesn't have a true out pitch, but he has a strong foundation and a projectable body. His knowledge of how to set up hitters is advanced, which should make honing his secondary pitches somewhat easier. He'll get strong consideration for making the Rome rotation during spring training.
The Braves are fond of drafting Atlanta-area players with strong makeup, and Spruill fit that description on both fronts. The 70th overall pick in the 2008 draft, he signed for $600,000 after attracting the team's interest while pitching in the East Cobb youth program. Possessing a tall, rangy frame with classic projectability, Spruill is a quality athlete. He had immediate success in pro ball, leading the Gulf Coast League with seven wins in as many decisions while displaying an impressive overall feel for pitching. His fastball sat in the low 90s with good life and solid sinking action during high school, but his velocity fell to the mid-80s during instructional league. The drop was common with Spruill when he went deep into games as an amateur, and the Braves believe it will be less of an issue once he adds strength. His mid-70s curveball has decent late bite, and his high-70s slider has potential. He's working on a changeup but hasn't developed feel for the pitch to throw it consistently. Prior to the draft, some scouts were concerned by Spruill's long arm action, but his ability to repeat his fluid delivery should allow him to stay healthy and throw strikes. While he's very much a work in progress, he possesses physical ability that can't be taught. He could earn a spot in low Class A this year.
A multi-sport standout in high school, Stovall was part of five Alabama prep championship teams, one as a quarterback and four straight on the diamond. He established numerous state baseball records, including career wins (54) and strikeouts (683), and set a national mark with 95 career doubles. He also graduated at the top of his high school class with a 4.0 grade point average, and turned down Auburn to sign as a second-rounder for $750,000. Stovall's fastball resides in the low 90s, topping out at 94. His best pitch is his tight curveball, an offering he tends to rely on too often instead of working off his fastball. His changeup has some promise as well. He has good athleticism, though at 6-foot-1, he doesn't offer a lot of projection. He's one of several talented young arms in the mix for Rome's rotation in 2009.
Osuna has flown under the radar since signing out of Mexico in 2004, but that's starting to change as he climbs through the lower minors. He ranked third in the Appalachian League with a 2.47 ERA in 2007, then was named Rome's pitcher of the year in 2008. He moved into the rotation in the second half and went 7-3, 3.32 with two complete games in 14 starts. He also has proven himself against more experienced hitters by pitching well in the Mexican Pacific League the last two winters. Osuna challenges hitters with an assortment of pitches that he mixes well. He spots his mid-80s fastball with precision and uses it to set up a plus curveball and the best changeup in the system. He has fine control and does a good job of locating his pitches. Osuna doesn't project off the charts physically, and his modest velocity makes him the quintessential crafty lefthander. But based on his ability and pitching knowledge, he has a strong chance of finding a role in the majors. A promotion to high Class A is in the immediate offing.
Tyler Flowers' inclusion in the Javier Vazquez trade left Schlehuber as the best catching prospect in the system. A fourth-round pick last June, he gave up an Arkansas scholarship to sign for $240,000. He has the potential to stand out offensively and defensively. Schlehuber has excellent hand-eye coordination that allows him to center the ball on the barrel of the bat. He has good power that could develop into a plus tool as he adds strength to his 6-foot-3 frame. An aggressive hitter, he needs to hone his strike-zone discipline. He runs extremely well for a catcher, stealing a combined 23 bases between the CC of Southern Nevada and his pro debut in 2008. Schlehuber's athleticism gives him strong receiving and blocking skills. He has an average arm but threw out just 22 percent of basestealers in pro ball, in part because he tired by the end of the summer. He needs to get stronger and improve his game-calling skills. Schlehuber has impressed the Braves so much that they may send him to high Class A to open 2009.
Campbell is the biggest enigma in the system. He was co-MVP in the Appalachian League in 2005 and led the South Atlantic League with 22 homers in 2006, but he has been suspended three times in the last three seasons. He missed the first two months of 2008 after the Braves sat him down for undisclosed reasons. On the positive side, he remained healthy after shoulder and thumb ailments slowed his development in 2007, and he posted impressive power numbers during his return to Myrtle Beach. He has attracted comparisons to Wilson Betemit, who ranked No. 1 on this list in 2001 and 2002 but failed to live up to his minor league billing before earning a reserve role in the majors. Campbell drives the ball to all fields with above-average power and continues to improve his plate discipline. He has below-average speed and athleticism, but he shows decent hands and a strong arm at third base. His makeup has been questioned by coaches and teammates, but he also has the tools to become a starting third baseman in the major leagues. He has left himself with little room for error as he advances to Double-A in 2009.
A pitcher and corner infielder when he signed with the Braves as a 16-year-old from western Australia, Kennelly has started to make rapid progress in his development as a catcher with substantial offensive potential. The brother of Phillies minor league outfielder Tim Kennelly, Matt threw out 57 percent of basestealers last season, thanks to his strong and accurate arm. He also has strong receiving skills and leadership ability, and he's surprisingly sound fundamentally given his inexperience behind the plate. Kennelly already shows above-average pop when he pulls the ball and should develop more power as his body continues to mature. He has a smooth swing, though he struggles to recognize and handle breaking balls. He also could use some more patience at the plate. Kennelly has below-average speed, as expected from a catcher. He'll move up to low Class A in 2009.
The Braves believe they received considerably more than the usual return in a late-season trade that sent Mark Kotsay to the Red Sox. Atlanta had little use for Kotsay in September and received a young, toolsy outfielder whom it had scouted extensively in the past. Sumoza has a good feel for his swing and decent bat speed. His power currently rates as fringe-average, particularly for a corner outfielder, but he makes hard contact when he connects. He could produce more pop down the road if he can cut down on his strikeouts. He showed flashes in the Boston system, leading the Gulf Coast League with 24 extra-base hits in 2007. Sumoza had good all-around skills and has a chance to be a plus defender. Though he's a below-average runner, he's athletic, moves well in the outfield and has a strong arm with good carry. Most scouts project Sumoza as a decent regular or fourth outfielder at the major league level. After playing mostly left field for the Red Sox, he'll be the starting right fielder in Rome this season.
Acquired with Casey Kotchman from the Angels in the Mark Teixeira deal last July, Marek was one of the top draft-and-follows on the market in the spring of 2005. He signed for $800,000 and made solid progress as a starter for three years in the Angels system before moving to the bullpen last April. Inconsistent command and mental focus led to that shift, and Marek still has work to do in both areas. Still, he has the stuff and makeup to be a set-up man in the big leagues. His fastball sits at 90-93 mph with good movement, and his 11-to-5 curveball may be a better pitch. His changeup lags behind his other two offerings but has the making of an average pitch. Marek has tried to refine his mechanics, particularly his release point, which tends to stray too high on occasion and hurts his fastball velocity and command. Added to Atlanta's 40-man roster in November, he'll enter spring training with an outside shot at earning a job in the bullpen. More likely, he'll open the campaign in Triple-A and make his big league debut later in the season.
One of 10 junior college products selected by the Braves in the first 15 rounds of the 2008 draft, Clemens had an ineffective sophomore season and dropped out of the rotation at Louisburg (N.C.) JC. Atlanta loved his electric arm and took him in the seventh round anyway, signing him for $150,000. Possessing a lean, athletic frame with plenty of projectability, Clemens uses whip-like arm action to produce a 91-94 mph fastball that touches 97. He spots his fastball well throughout the strike zone, and it dives inside on righthanded hitters. Clemens has flashed some promise with his curveball and changeup but both pitches remain inconsistent, as does his command. He throws strikes but gets hit more than someone with his fastball should. Atlanta believes Clemens has the arm to develop into a solid middle-of-the-rotation starter, though he'll need time to develop. Plans call for him to pitch in low Class A this season.
The Braves convinced Hoover to bypass transferring to West Virginia by inking him for $400,000 at the signing deadline. His strong performance in the Cape Cod League, where he helped pitch Harwich to the league title, earned him an over-slot bonus. Hoover has a four-pitch arsenal, working off his low-90s fastball with good sink and some run. His curveball is a bit loopy and flashes good rotation, but it could be a plus pitch if he tightens it up. He also has a solid changeup and developed a hard slider during the spring at Calhoun (Ala.) CC. Hoover has a good overall feel for pitching and average command, so he should throw strikes at higher levels. He has a large, thick build with a pump delivery, and while he has a strong frame, he doesn't have much projectability remaining. He's still somewhat raw but has a solid foundation with four pitches and could be a potential workhorse in the middle of a rotation. He'll probably start his first full pro season in low Class A.
Rodgers joined fellow lefties Cole Rohrbough, Jeff Locke and Steve Evarts in a prospect-laden Rome rotation last spring. Like Locke, he received modest run support (which led to an eight-game losing streak), and like Rohrbough and Evarts, he experienced some physical problems. Rodgers pitched just 22 innings in the second half because of a strained shoulder, and he also had shoulder tendinitis in 2007. When healthy, Rodgers has above-average movement on his 89-91 mph fastball. His hard curveball features sharp bite, and his changeup continues to gain consistency after he altered his grip in 2007. He's a quality athlete and competitor who challenges hitters and throws strikes, but he must get stronger so he can pile up the innings he needs to develop. The Braves would like him to open 2009 in high Class A, but a return to Rome is possible if he's not at his best in spring training.
In his introduction to pro ball, Diamond led Braves farmhands with 15 victories and ranked fourth in the Carolina League with a 2.89 ERA. Undrafted following his junior season at Binghamton in 2007, the Canadian signed with the Braves for $50,000 after twirling in the collegiate Coastal Plain League. He impressed during instructional league and spring training, so his debut wasn't a complete surprise. Diamond's success comes from mixing three pitches and working in the bottom third of the strike zone to produce groundouts. He has the ability to add and subtract velocity from all of his pitches. Diamond also excels at getting hitters to hit his pitch. He works ahead in the count and pounds the strike zone with an 89-91 mph fastball, a plus curveball and a changeup. He still needs to prove himself against quality hitters, but he's off to a good start. He'll face a strong test this season in Double-A.
Thompson entered the spring of 2008 as a potential first-round pick after starring at Virginia and for the Team USA college national team. His junior season didn't unfold as planned, however. He struggled with an illness that caused him to lose 25 pounds, and also with his command and ability to pitch downhill, which caused his fastball to get hammered up in the strike zone. He dropped to the fifth round and signed in August for $190,000. After joining the Braves, Thompson showed an average 88-91 mph fastball after pitching at 90-93 in previous years. His plus curveball is his best pitch, and he also throws a slider that could become an above-average offering if it develops more consistent bite. His changeup is fringy and features some sink. Thompson has a large, lanky frame and a full windup that doesn't produce a lot of arm speed but does create deception. Repeating his delivery, trusting and improving his changeup, and maintaining a downhill plane will be the keys to Thompson's success in the pro ranks. Should he regain his previous form, Thompson has a chance to be a No. 3 starter. He'll begin his first full pro season in low Class A.
For years Parr held promise, but he never really lived up to his potential after going 13-4, 3.41 in low Class A during his first full pro season. The light came on during 2008, as he solved Double-A, pitched even better in Triple-A and earned a big league callup. He won his major league debut on Sept. 4 with six shutout innings of two-hit ball in a 2-0 triumph against the Nationals. Parr has a classic sneaky-fast fastball. It rarely exits the high 80s, but it features boring, arm-side life. His ability to mix his pitches keeps hitters from teeing off. In addition, he throws a big-breaking curveball with tight spin and a changeup, both of which showed significant improvement last season. The keys to Parr's recent success were his ability to get ahead in the count by commanding his fastball and learning to trust his stuff. He has a cerebral approach and understands he must live in the bottom of the strike zone in order to get big leaguers out. He'll go to spring training with a chance to earn a spot in Atlanta's rotation, though the Javier Vazquez trade diminishes his chances.
Redmond joined the Braves prior to the 2008 season when they shipped spare reliever Tyler Yates to Pittsburgh. He regressed in his final season in the Pirates system, but made adjustments and emerged as the Southern League pitcher of the year in his first year as a Brave. He led the SL in wins (13) and strikeouts (133 in 161 innings) and helped Mississippi win the league title. Redmond works off his fastball and pitches to contact while allowing his defense to do its job. He pounds the strike zone with three pitches and fine overall command. He's not overpowering, working with a 90 mph fastball with a little sink, a solid curveball and a changeup. Redmond works on a good downhill plane, but sometimes drops his arm slot, gets under his pitches and leaves them up in the zone. He has to locate his pitches well to succeed and at times he runs into trouble if he tries to be too precise. Some scouts believe his future will be as a situational reliever rather than a starter, but the Braves plan to keep him in the rotation for now. He'll open 2009 in Triple-A after Atlanta protected him on its 40-man roster.
The Braves' increased efforts in Latin America continued with the signing of Bethancourt for $600,000 last March. Deemed the top catching prospect from the international ranks last year, he initially appeared on the radar when he played for Panama at the 2004 Little League World Series. He showed some bat speed and a decent feel for the strike zone as a 16-year-old in the Dominican Summer League, but the overall lack of strength in his swing shows his need for added development. While he doesn't have a big league body at this point, his potential behind the plate is obvious. A quality athlete for a catcher, he has a plus arm with true carry on his throws. He erased 43 percent of basestealers in his debut. He also has soft, quick hands and agility behind the plate. He'll be only 17 this season, so he'll probably make his U.S. debut in the Gulf Coast League.