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The 14th overall pick in the 2007 draft, Heyward signed for $1.7 million and since has emerged as the top position prospect in baseball. He earned Baseball America's Minor League Player of the Year award after hitting .323/.408/.555 at three minor league stops, including a dominating performance at Double-A Mississippi. An oblique injury slowed him in early May, and he missed the Carolina League-California League All-Star game with a hip injury. Heyward recovered in time to play in the Futures Game and raised the issue about whether the Braves should call him up for the stretch drive shortly after his 20th birthday. He ranked as the No. 1 prospect in the high Class A Carolina and Double-A Southern leagues. The main reason Heyward remained on the draft board so long in 2007 centered on the limited number of times he swung the bat as a high school senior. Opponents rarely pitched to him and he refused to compromise his impressive command of the strike zone. He has continued to demonstrate uncanny patience as he has climbed the ladder in pro ball. That type of feel for the game is just one of the many intangibles Heyward brings to the field . He has a plan every time he steps in the box and makes adjustments between at-bats. Heyward has outstanding bat speed, uses the entire field well and can drive the ball to the opposite field. His short swing is a bit unorthodox, but it works and he should hit for a high average with a lot of power. Despite standing 6-foot-4, Heyward has solid-average speed. He has outstanding instincts on the basepaths and plus range in right field. His impressive body control allows him to make diving catches with relative ease, and his plus arm is one of the strongest in the minors with velocity, carry and accuracy on his throws. He also takes good routes on fly balls. Heyward briefly struggled with quality changeups when he reached Double-A but quickly adapted. Injuries are the other concern. They've limited him to just 876 pro at-bats, and he played in just 99 games in 2009 because of the oblique and hip injuries, plus a jammed heel in August. Then his Arizona Fall League stint was cut short with a hamstring strain that was also causing back inflammation. He needs to prove he's not brittle. Scouts who follow the Braves say Heyward was the best player they saw in the minor leagues last season. With the trade of former golden boy Jeff Francoeur in July and the expected free-agent departure of Garret Anderson, there are openings for Heyward to make his major league debut sooner rather than later. Atlanta wants to be patient, but he has improved every time he has been challenged at a higher level, including a stint in big league camp last spring as a non-roster invitee. Even if he opens 2010 at Triple-A Gwinnett, Heyward will be starting in Atlanta at some point during the year, and he has all the ability to emerge as one of the game's premier players .
The youngest player to sign out of the 2007 draft, Freeman continues to be Robin to Jason Heyward's Batman. He reached Double-A at age 19 last summer and hit .319/.354/.493 in his first month there before lingering soreness in his left wrist hampered his production. He missed the last two weeks, but didn't need surgery and headed to the Arizona Fall League. Freeman has been an RBI machine at every level, thriving with runners in scoring position. He drives the ball with consistency with a sweet, fluid swing, and scouts believe his doubles will become homers as he gains experience and strength. Comparisons to Keith Hernandez and Mark Grace with more power have become commonplace because of his defense, which managers rated the best among first basemen in both the Carolina and Southern leagues last season. Freeman runs well enough for a big man but never will be noted for his speed. His attacking approach at the plate doesn't lend itself to walks, but Atlanta gladly will sacrifice some on-base percentage for RBIs. The Braves will seek a stopgap solution at first base for 2010, with an eye on turning the position over to Freeman the next season. With him and Heyward, the Braves should be set at the right-side corners for the foreseeable future.
The Braves signed Teheran for $850,000, the largest bonus given to a pitcher on the international market in 2007. After pitching sparingly in 2008 because of shoulder tendinitis, Teheran returned to the Rookie-level Appalachian League last summer and ranked as the loop's top prospect. Teheran throws easy heat with plus command and mound presence beyond his years. His fastball resides at 92-96 mph and holds its velocity throughout the game. His sharp, mid-70s curveball has good depth and can be a plus pitch, particularly after he tightened its spin. His 79-82 mph changeup is also an above-average pitch at times, with depth, fade and screwball-like movement. He has impressive poise that some scouts believe borders on cockiness. Teheran is still learning how to pitch. His physical stamina needs some work, and scouts have some concerns about his mechanics, which aren't effortless. He has a long arm rotation in the back of his herky-jerky delivery that creates deception but attracts questions about his durability. Teheran has all the ingredients to develop into a frontline starter. He's expected to return to low Class A Rome to open the 2010 slate. While the Braves will be cautious due to his youth and lack of physical maturity, Teheran could accelerate his timetable.
Drafted in the 13th round out of high school, Minor was the Southeastern Conference freshman of the year in 2007 and Baseball America's Summer Player of the Year in 2008. After a 6-6, 3.90 junior season, Minor signed for $2.42 million, a club record and the most ever for a No. 7 overall pick. Minor's repertoire consists of four pitches, with his plus changeup rating as his best offering. His fastball has excellent movement and sits in the upper 80s, and he is capable of increasing and reducing the velocity of the pitch to keep hitters off balance. Both his command and control are outstanding, and he didn't walk a batter in 14 innings after signing. His pickoff move is also a significant weapon. Minor still is trying to determine which breaking ball to work with. He threw an above-average slider with good depth during his first two years at Vanderbilt, but he had trouble snapping the pitch and locating it after adding a curveball last spring. He's not overpowering and his repertoire is similar to that of former Vanderbilt ace Jeremy Sowers, who hasn't been able to finesse his way past big league hitters. After pitching in the Arizona Fall League, Minor could open his first full season in Double-A. His greatest attribute is his overall pitching savvy, which should make him at least a middle-of-the-rotation starter in the big leagues.
Kimbrel turned down $125,000 as a Braves 33rd-round pick in 2007 before signing for $391,000 as a third-rounder a year later. He overcame a slow start at high Class A Myrtle Beach--he had 18 walks and a 10.97 ERA in 11 innings--to save 18 games and rank second among minor league relievers with 15.5 strikeouts per nine innings. Kimbrel has the stuff and mentality to be a big league closer. He aggressively challenges hitters with his plus-plus fastball, which sits at 93-95 mph, touches 98 and has nasty life. He also throws an above-average breaking ball that he calls a curveball but looks more like a slider. He flashes a deceptive changeup, though he rarely used it in 2009. Kimbrel needs to pitch inside more often with his fastball. Though he showed marked improvement after April, he needs better command of his stuff. He spent most of his time in the AFL trying to hone his changeup. Kimbrel has moved quicker than expected and is Atlanta's closer of the future. More time in Triple-A wold benefit him, but he could make his major league debut in the second half of 2010.
Bethancourt starred for Panama at the 2004 Little League World Series, and four years later he signed with the Braves for $600,000 as the top catching talent on the international market. In his U.S. debut last season, he ranked as the No. 1 prospect in the Rookie-level Gulf Coast League and helped Danville win the Appalachian League title. Bethancourt stands out with his skills and presence behind the plate. He has soft hands, plus-plus arm strength and a quick release. His pop times to second have registered as low as 1.78 seconds, and he threw out 30 percent of basestealers in 2009. He swings the bat well with a short stroke and is expected to hit for some power as his body matures and he gains experience. While the raw abilities are obvious, Bethancourt is somewhat rough on the finer aspects of catching. He can improve his lateral movement and ability to block balls in the dirt. He's a free swinger who needs to gain better command of the strike zone. He's athletic for a catcher but a below-average runner. With his ideal frame and leadership abilities, Bethancourt could develop into a special player. At 18, he'll be one of the younger players in the low Class A South Atlantic League in 2010.
Delgado was advanced enough for his age for the Braves to skip him to the Rookie-level Appalachian League (over the Gulf Coast League) in his first season in the U.S. He had a tale of two seasons in his introduction to full-season ball. He never hung his head while going 1-8, 5.45 in his first 16 starts at Rome. After improving his control, he dominated at times and finished second in the system with 141 strikeouts in 124 innings. Delgado throws on a sharp, downhill plane that helps produce electric stuff and allows him to overpower hitters with all three of his pitches at times. His explosive fastball sits in the low 90s and touches 96 mph, and his projectable frame could get stronger, giving him more velocity. His curveball and changeup improved once he made progress with his control. While Delgado threw more strikes in the second half of 2009, he still needs to upgrade his ability to command his pitches. He works up in the strike zone too often. His curve and changeup are potential plus pitches but still require more consistency. One of the youngest pitchers on a prospect-laden roster last season, Delgado made the greatest strides of any of Rome's pitchers. He'll open the 2010 season as a 20-year-old starter in high Class A and could move quickly if he continues to refine his command.
Spruill had to wonder what was so tough about pro ball after he went 7-0 in his pro debut and won his first six decisions in 2009. But he earned just three more wins the rest of the season, thanks mostly to poor run support. He also spent time on the disabled list and in Rookie ball with a non-physical issue the Braves have remained tight-lipped about. Spruill has an excellent feel for pitching and even at age 20, he's one of the more polished prospects in the system. He pounds the lower half of the strike zone with an 89-91 mph sinker that arrives on a steep downhill plane. He also does a good job of mixing his breaking ball and changeup. He's all business and tenacious on the mound. Spruill can't overpower opponents, so he'll have to mix and locate his pitches well to succeed. He has a mid-70s curveball with decent break and an upper-70s slider, and he probably needs to settle on one to have a reliable breaking ball. His changeup can be inconsistent. Spruill has the potential to move quickly and become a mid-rotation starter once he gains feel for all of his pitches. He'll spend 2010 in high Class A.
The 30th overall pick in 2006, Johnson signed for $1.375 million and then hit .184 with one homer in his pro debut. He since has led the Appalachian League with 17 homers in 2007, ranked second in the Sally League with 26 in 2008 and topped the Carolina League with 32 last season. No CL hitter had reached the 30-homer plateau since Danny Peoples in 1997. A pure power hitter, Johnson has as much raw strength as anyone in the minor leagues. Nearly half of his hits have gone for extra bases, and he's developing more patience when pitchers refuse to challenge him. A better athlete than he gets credit for, he's a slightly above-average baserunner. Johnson has ranked second in the minors in strikeouts in each of the past two seasons. When he struggles, he starts trying to pull everything, and more advanced pitchers could really exploit his all-or-nothing swing and approach. He's just adequate in left field, where he needs to take better routes and has below-average arm strength and accuracy. Johnson has been a minor league version of Adam Dunn, albeit with significantly fewer walks. His ability to hit for enough average while maintaining his power will determine his future. A full season in Double-A awaits in 2010.
The Braves drafted Milligan three times before signing him for $600,000 in 2008. He originally committed to Austin Peay State to play football, then played two years of baseball at Walters State (Tenn.) CC. A knee injury delayed his pro debut until 2009, when he led the system with a .592 slugging percentage and slugged 13 homers in half a season. Milligan drives the ball to all fields and projects as a potential .280 hitter with 20-25 homers per season. He runs well for a big man, with solid-average speed, and he has a slightly above-average arm and good accuracy and carry on his throws. Though he shows some aptitude for working counts, Milligan doesn't exhibit much patience at the plate and will have to tighten his strike zone against better pitching. He has made strides in left field but still needs to make further improvements to his defense. He has enough bat to profile as a regular left fielder in the major leagues, though Cody Johnson is one step ahead of him. Milligan will open 2010 in high Class A but could advance quickly if he continues to produce.
Aside from Zeke Spruill, Hoover has had as much success as any pitcher the Braves took in the 2008 draft. He signed for $400,000 as a 10th-round pick after being selected out of Calhoun (Ala.) CC--the alma mater of Jorge Posada--and putting together an impressive showing in the Cape Cod League. He opened 2009 in the bullpen but looked at home after a move to the rotation in early May. He didn't let playing for a weak offensive team at Rome hinder his performance, and he was one of the most consistent hurlers in the South Atlantic League. A workhorse with thick, strong thighs, a la Tom Seaver and Roger Clemens, Hoover keeps his pitches down in the zone while challenging hitters. He throws his fastball in the low 90s and complements it with a good changeup and curveball, both of which could become plus pitches with added refinement. He possesses impressive control that helped him limit his walks to 1.7 per nine innings in his first full pro season. While he has shown signs of being an innings-eater, Hoover also has the mentality and repertoire to pitch late in games, possibly even as a closer. The progress of his secondary pitches will determine which route he eventually takes. He should begin the 2010 campaign in high Class A, with a midseason promotion likely if he continues to produce like he did last season.
Delgado has flown under the radar, overshadowed in the Braves system by Julio Teheran and Randall Delgado (no relation) and a host of early-round draft picks. Despite the lack of exposure, Delgado has emerged as a legitimate prospect after turning in a strong full-season debut in 2009. His changeup is one of the best in the organization and he does an excellent job of mixing it with his fastball, which peaks in the low 90s. His slow curveball lags behind his other two pitches and still needs a lot of work. Delgado has an advanced feel for pitching, working both sides of the plate and throwing inside with consistency. He also has a tremendous work ethic with the drive to get the most out of his ability. He has good athleticism and fields his position well. He needs to do a better job holding runners after giving up 14 steals in 16 attempts last season. If he improves his curveball, Delgado could become a mid-rotation starter in the majors. He'll serve a similar role in high Class A in 2010.
Oberholtzer was the first player signed from the Braves' 2008 draft class, one year after he opted to attend Seminole (Fla.) CC instead of joining the Mariners as a 47th-round pick out of a Delaware high school. After a solid if unspectacular pro debut, he ranked fifth among pitchers in short-season and Rookie-leagues with a .191 opponent average last season. Employing a herky-jerky arm action that creates deception, Oberholtzer has good tailing life to his 86-92 mph fastball. His changeup and curveball are both average pitches, and he'll throw any of his offerings at any time in the count. Aggressive and able to work both sides of the plate, Oberholtzer has excellent command. He fields his position and holds runners very well. He showed the ability to pitch under pressure when he tossed a complete-game five-hitter in the opener of the Appy League championship series. His body still has some projectability, and scouts believe he will continue to improve as he gains experience and maturity. He'll pitch in the Rome rotation in 2010.
The third-highest pick ever out of Princeton, Hale signed for $405,000 as the 87th overall choice in the 2009 draft. A two-way player in college, he batted .291 as a center fielder over three seasons with the Tigers and pitched in only 26 games (22 starts). An excellent athlete, he has an ideal pitcher's frame and a lightning-quick arm. His fastball sits at 93-94 mph and repeatedly touches 96 mph, and he could gain more velocity now that he's not expending energy as an everyday player. His slider also has the makings of becoming a plus pitch while residing at 84-86 mph and touching 88. In order to remain a starter, he'll have to maintain consistent movement on his fastball and command his slider, which has nice bite at times but tends to hang and sweep. The development of his changeup, which he has shown some feel for, also will go a long way in determining his future role. Hale never dominated on the mound at Princeton or in the Cape Cod League, but he should improve now that he's focusing solely on pitching for the first time. He'll likely open his first full pro season in low Class A.
Stovall had a storied high school career in Alabama, winning four state titles in baseball and another as a quarterback in football. He set a national high school mark with 95 career doubles and numerous state standards, including marks for career wins (54) and strikeouts (683). He has battled his control in pro ball, leading the Appalachian League with 56 walks in 52 innings last year, but his potential is evident. Stovall does a good job of forcing batters to hit the ball on the ground, allowing only one home run in 2009, and he is capable of shutting down southpaw swingers, who batted just .147 against him last summer. When in rhythm, he works off an 89-91 mph fastball that features outstanding natural movement. The life on his fastball makes it difficult to control at times. His plus curveball is his best and most consistent offering, but he tends to rely on it too often when he can't locate his heater. He also has the makings of a quality changeup. Stovall's mechanics are a little rough, producing a maximum-effort delivery that needs to be honed in order to improve his accuracy and reduce his chances of injury. He's a work in progress, but he has the raw ingredients to be a mid-rotation starter. A promotion to low Class A is on the immediate horizon in 2010.
Lopez may be the biggest sleeper in the system. After he signed out of the Dominican in 2008, his raw ability allowed him to come straight to the United States for his pro debut, during which he ranked fourth in the Gulf Coast League with a 1.29 ERA as an 18-year-old. Lopez's fastball resides at 90-92 mph and touches 94. He also has an above-average curveball and an average changeup. Lopez pounds the strike zone and competes very well on the mound while displaying a solid all-around feel for his craft. He needs to improve the consistency and the depth of his changeup as well as the overall command of his fastball, which is true for most teenagers. Based on his progress in 2009, Lopez could make the jump to low Class A with a solid showing in spring training.
Jones wasted no time making a name for himself after signing for $252,000 as a fourth-round pick last June. He went 3-for-6 with four RBIs in his first pro game, then helped turn a triple play in Danville's home opener. Undrafted out of high school, he attended North Florida for two years before transferring to Miami Dade CC, making him old for a juco draftee at age 22. Jones' best tool is his plus-plus speed, which he used to steal 19 bases in 23 attempts and lead the Appalachian League in runs (50) and triples (six). He tends to uppercut the ball and his swing can get long, which limited him to a .258 average in his pro debut. He flashed some power with metal bats in college, but the Braves believe he'll be better off with more of a line-drive approach that uses his speed to his greatest advantage. Jones has the quick-twitch athleticism and actions to excel on defense. He has good range and hands and an average arm, though his maximum-effort throws scare some scouts. Jones could move rapidly in a system that's not deep with shortstop talent. He'll open 2010 in low Class A.
In his 2007 pro debut, Hicks appeared to be on the fast track to Atlanta. He offered the possibility of hitting for both power and average, while also showing a plus arm at shortstop. Add in his determination and intensity, and he had the makings of becoming a top infield prospect. However, in his two full seasons since, he has struggled with strikeouts and been merely solid at shortstop. After hitting 20 homers in 2008, he dropped to 10 last year while batting .237 in Double-A. Hicks has tinkered with his batting stance in an effort to see the ball better and make better contact, but the results haven't been forthcoming. Despite his high strikeout totals, Hicks does have a good eye at the plate and draws some walks. He has slightly above-average speed and outstanding instincts, succeeding on 17 of his 18 steal attemps last year. A knack for being in the right place and a strong arm with a quick release are his strengths on defense, which help him compensate for fringe-average range. Hicks will be 24 next season, making it an important campaign for him. He's unlikely to unseat Yunel Escobar as the Braves' shortstop, but they're going to need to replace Chipper Jones in the near future. Hicks will move up to Triple-A in 2010.
When he has taken the mound, DeVall leaves no doubt as to why the Braves made him their top pick (40th overall) and handed him a $1 million bonus in 2008. Unfortunately, a lingering forearm ailment and an elbow strain have limited him to 63 pro innings. He opened 2009 in extended spring training before reporting to Rome in early May. He gave up a total of 10 earned runs in his first eight starts, then 11 in his next two before he was shut down until instructional league. DeVall felt strong and pain-free in the fall, but there's still concern that surgery may be in his future. He does have a clean delivery and good mechanics, which makes his arm problems puzzling. When healthy, DeVall has an 88-91 mph fastball that features good movement when he keeps it down in the zone. He's also developing a solid curveball and showing good feel for his changeup. His advanced knowledge of pitching helps him set up hitters, but the key is going to be whether he'll be available to pitch every fifth day. If he's 100 percent physically, he should open next season in high Class A.
Abreu has shown an intriguing arm since signing with the Royals out of the Dominican Republic in 2003, but a variety of hurdles, including an elbow injury that cost him all of the 2007 season, has prevented him from reaching his potential. He had the best stretch of his career at high Class A Wilmington in the first half of 2009, going 12-for-12 in save opportunities, but struggled in Double-A during the second half. Kansas City reached a deal to re-sign him as a minor league free agent after the season, but a contract snafu allowed him to hit the open market, and the Braves landed him by offering him a major league contract. Small and wiry, Abreu has a whippy arm action that produced a hard sinker that sits at 94-95 mph. Some teams have clocked his fastball as hard as 100 mph. His 78-80 mph curveball has an early break, shows good rotation and could develop into a plus pitch. He also has some feel for a changeup, but it's not as effective as his other two pitches. In addition to injuries, Abreu has battled a lack of command. If he can harness his live arm, he has a chance to be a solid setup man in the major leagues. After a stop in big league camp, he figures to open 2010 in Double-A.
A hip injury cost Brewer the 2008 season, but he made up for lost time by leading the Gulf Coast League with 65 strikeouts in 45 innings last summer. Though he was old for the GCL at age 20, he displayed one of the best arms in the league, highlighted by a fastball that sat at 91-93 mph and touched 95. He also showed a good overhand curveball with above-average spin and hard downward break. Scouts like his high arm slot and downhill plane from which he delivers the ball to the plate. Brewer's greatest need is to develop better fastball command. He also needs to refine a changeup and locate all of his pitches more consistently after ranking second in the GCL with 31 walks. Brewer's durability shouldn't be a factor in the future, as he had no further problems with his hip last year. He should move two steps up the organization ladder to Rome in 2010.
The Savannah College of Art and Design isn't a hotbed for major league prospects, but Sullivan has displayed promise after becoming just the second player drafted out of the NAIA school. After pitching well at Rome at the end of his 2008 pro debut and the start of 2009, he earned a quick promotion to high Class A. An extreme groundball pitcher, he was victimized by poor infield defense at Myrtle Beach, where he pitched better than his 2-12 record would indicate. He had six quality starts with the Pelicans but won only one of them--a complete game in which he fanned 10. Sullivan employs a heavy 87-93 mph sinker, a plus changeup and an average curveball. He doesn't miss a lot of bats and has to rely on his infielders, but he throws strikes, keeps the ball down and makes it difficult to lift the ball in the air. He does a good job of using his size to his advantage. He's still working on the nuances of pitching, and he's extremely vulnerable to the running game, especially for a lefthander. Sullivan made three starts in Double-A at midseason and will return there in 2010.
The Braves' final draft-and-follow sign before the process was eliminated with the 2007 draft, Rohrbough received a $675,000 bonus and ranked as the Appalachian League's top prospect in his pro debut. An ankle injury that begat a shoulder problem limited his performance in 2008. Last season, he struggled to find any consistency. After he made his first start, he spent a month on the disabled list with a hamstring injury. He gave up a total of six runs in his first four starts back, then got bombed for 10 runs in his next outing and had a 2.70 ERA through five starts, then gave up 10 runs in his next outing and had a 6.53 ERA from June on. When Rohrbough is on, he has a 92-94 mph fastball with plus movement and a power curveball with late, hard break. His changeup continues to need work, and he still tends to drop his arm angle on occasion, which flattens his pitches and makes them hittable. Rohrbough gets down on himself and dwells on his difficulties, and he wasn't able to snap out of it in 2009. He has electric stuff at times and the ability to be a solid major league starter, but Atlanta still isn't sure what it has in him. His 2010 performance in Double-A should help make his future more clear.
After splitting his time between the rotation and bullpen during his first three seasons in the organization, Cofield became a full-time starter in 2008 and ranked second in the Carolina League with a 3.26 ERA. Last year, he jumped to Double-A and tied for the system lead with 10 wins. He bordered on dominating in the first half of 2009, allowing three earned runs or less in 13 of his first 14 outings. The primary weakness preventing Cofield from being one of the Atlanta's premier prospects is his lack of control. He ranked second in the minors in 2009 by issuing 89 walks, which comes from an inconsistent feel for his pitches and a tendency to be too fine. A work-in-progress since turning pro in 2005, Cofield signed as a raw high school hurler out of Alabama and has struggled with his confidence. There's nothing wrong with his pure stuff. His fastball resides in the low 90s and touches 95 mph. His plus curveball is his best pitch, but he also struggles with commanding it in the strike zone. His changeup shows promise but lacks consistency as well. The Braves believe Cofield can be a valuable asset if and when he puts everything together, so much so that they added him to their 40-man roster to protect him from the Rule 5 draft. He'll work toward that goal this year in Triple-A.
Ortegano just concluded his sixth season in the organization, yet the crafty lefthander didn't celebrate his 22nd birthday until the final month of the campaign. He spent four years in Rookie ball, leading the Appalachian League with a 1.48 ERA in 2007, and battled shoulder tendinitis in his first taste of full-season ball in 2008. Normally a starter, he excelled early last year as a reliever at Myrtle Beach before finishing strong in the Mississippi rotation. Ortegano's strength is his ability to command three pitches. His fastball sits at 86-88 mph and occasionally touches 90. He also has a plus curveball and locates his changeup with precision. He has an excellent feel for pitching, keeping hitters off balance with his ability to mix his offerings and put them where he wants. The skinny Ortegano may not be physical enough to succeed as a starter in the big leagues, and his ultimate role may be as a crafty lefthanded reliever. Although he was added to the Braves' 40-man roster after the season, he'll likely return to Double-A to open 2010.
Signed by the Braves as a nondrafted free agent for $50,000 after starring in the summer collegiate Coastal Plain League, Diamond was the surprise of the system in 2008. In his pro debut, he led the system with 15 wins and ranked fifth with 123 strikeouts in 153 innings. His numbers weren't as sexy last year, but he successfully made the jump to Double-A. The Canadian thrives by locating most of his pitches in the lower third of the strike zone. He mixes three offerings: an 89-91 mph fastball, an above-average curveball and a solid-average changeup. He isn't afraid of pitching to contact and does a good job of forcing opponents to hit the ball on the ground. Diamond's stuff isn't overwhelming, but he passed the test in Double-A. He'll get challenged again in Triple-A this year, with a big league callup awaiting afterward.
Since instructional league in 2008, Sucre has made greater strides than any prospect in the system. He entered 2009 with a career batting average of .223 over four pro seasons, including a paltry .182 performance at Danville in 2008. Yet a strong showing in spring training carried over into the regular season at Rome, where he hit for both power and average before making a midseason jump to Myrtle Beach. Pull-happy during his first few years as a pro, Sucre did a much better job putting the barrel of the bat on the ball in 2009, and he must continue to take pitches to the opposite field. He has possessed a cannon for an arm since signing as a 17-year-old, and he threw out 42 percent of basestealers last year. He still needs to continue smoothing out some rough areas with his defense, such as his footwork and lateral mobility. Sucre's offensive and defensive improvements have coincided with his diligent work and becoming more comfortable in speaking English. He has come a long way but still has a ways to go to serve as Brian McCann's backup in Atlanta. Spring training will determine whether Sucre starts the 2010 season in high Class A or Double-A.
Clemens has been somewhat of an enigma over the past two years. He was so ineffective as a sophomore at Louisburg (N.C.) JC in 2008 that he lost his job in the rotation. The Braves still drafted him in the seventh round that June because of his live arm. He was effective in his pro debut but underachieved in low Class A last year. When he's right, Clemens' stuff is undeniable. He has a 91-94 mph fastball he can dial up to 97 and an above-average curveball. The problem, however, is inconsistency. In one game last year he couldn't top 93 mph or throw strikes, but two outings later he was hitting 97 and blowing hitters away with impressive command. Clemens has an ideal pitcher's build and the arm strength to develop into a mid-rotation starter or late-inning reliever. His ability to develop a changeup and refine his command will determine his ultimate role. Clemens still is learning how to harness his energy and improve his understanding of the game. His composure on the mound also needs work. His learning process will continue in high Class A this season.
Though Spanjer-Furstenburg was on South Africa's provisional World Baseball Classic roster and hit .393- 15-67 at Nova Southeastern (Fla.) in the spring, he was a relative unknown when he signed for $75,000 as a 16th-round pick in June. That changed after he tore up the Appalachian League, hitting safely in his first 10 pro games en route to winning the MVP award and batting title (.359). Spanjer-Furstenburg has a sweet swing with a chance to hit for average and solid power. He has a lot of strength in his 6-foot-2, 235-pound frame. He doesn't have much speed or athleticism, which limits him to first base, where he's an average defender at best. With Freddie Freeman in the system, his lack of versatility may hurt him. He could end up as a solid bat off the bench and a caddy for Freeman on the major league roster in the future. Spanjer-Furstenburg's impressive debut could allow him to jump to high Class A in 2010.
Injuries have highlighted Venters' career, including a torn elbow ligament that required Tommy John surgery and cost him the entire 2006 season, and elbow tendinitis that limited him to 34 innings in 2008. Healthy again last season, he didn't allow an earned run in half of his 12 starts at Mississippi before a promotion to Gwinnett in mid-June. Venters has solid overall stuff and is aggressive with all of his pitches. His fastball ranges from 88- 94 mph, and he can add to and subtract from it at will. He also has a plus slider and an average curveball and changeup. Venters' stuff isn't as effective as it should be, because he doesn't throw strikes or locate his pitches consistently. He projects best as a late-inning lefty reliever and occasional spot starter. Venters will open 2010 back in Triple-A but he's been added to Atlanta's 40-man roster and should make his major league debut at some point during the season.