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The Braves signed Teheran out of Colombia in 2007 for $850,000, the largest bonus for a pitcher on the international market that year. His cousin Miguel was one of the scouts who signed him, and that relationship contributed to Julio's decision to turn down a higher offer from the Yankees. It took some time to start living up to his projections, as his 2008 pro debut lasted just 15 innings due to shoulder tendinitis. He returned to Rookie-level Danville in 2009 and ranked as the Appalachian League's top prospect before earning a late-season promotion to low Class A Rome. Atlanta turned Teheran loose last season, when he advanced three levels while ranking second in the system in ERA (2.59) and strikeouts (159 in 142 innings). He overpowered the low Class A South Atlantic League in April and May before jumping to high Class A Myrtle Beach, where he ranked as the No. 1 prospect in the Carolina League, then earned a promotion to Double-A Mississippi in late July. Teheran also stood out at the Futures Game, where he didn't throw a fastball under 95 mph. Teheran has an electric arm, the ability to throw all of his pitches for strikes and the knowledge of how to exploit batters' weaknesses. His fastball clocks consistently in the 94-96 mph range, and he maintains his velocity throughout a game. He has a pair of above average secondary pitches, with his changeup grading slightly better than his curveball. His changeup shows nice fade and he's willing to throw it in any count. His curve resides in the low 80s with hard bite and depth. Teheran's command is impressive, though he struggled a little with his precision shortly after being promoted to Double-A. He works both sides of the plate, usually keeping all of his offerings at the knees and below. Teheran needs to get stronger, but that will come naturally as his body matures. Some scouts say his delivery has a little bit of violence and worry about the long-term wear and tear on the elbow and shoulder, while others believe he throws easy gas and aren't worried about his mechanics. Comparisons to a young Pedro Martinez are commonplace, and Teheran's biggest backers think he's more advanced at the same stage of his career. The Braves thought Teheran could jump on the fast track, and he exceeded their expectations, advancing to Double-A as a teenager. He may split 2011 between Mississippi and Triple-A Gwinnett, with a late season cup of coffee in Atlanta a possibility. Chances are his first opportunity for a job in the big league rotation won't come until 2012. He has front-of-the-rotation talent and will challenge Tommy Hanson for the role as the Braves' No. 1 starter by the middle of the decade.
The 78th overall pick in the 2007 draft, Freeman has been among the youngest players in every league he has played. He was the second-youngest starter in the Triple-A International League in 2010, when he was tabbed the circuit's rookie of the year. He led the IL in hits (147) and total bases (240), and managers rated him the loop's best defensive first baseman. Freeman has a smooth, aggressive swing from the left side. He possesses raw power that should generate 20-plus homers annually in the major leagues. He has good plate coverage with a patient approach that leads to consistent contact. He thrives in RBI situations and wants the bat in his hand with the game on the line. Defensively, Freeman has quick feet and above-average range at first base. He does all the little things well around the bag and he even has a cannon for an arm. Though not a blazer, he runs well for his size and shows outstanding instincts on the basepaths. Though his success was limited during his September callup, Freeman swatted his first big league homer against Roy Halladay. He may have an up-and-down 2011 season at the plate, but that roller-coaster ride should come as Atlanta's starting first baseman at age 21.
Signed as an unheralded 16-year-old from Panama, Delgado has moved rapidly due to his maturity and repertoire. He led the Carolina League in strikeouts (120) last year despite getting promoted in mid-July, and he topped the system with 162 whiffs overall. He's similar to Julio Teheran in that he's a slender fireballer who reached Double-A well ahead of schedule. Delgado pounds the strike zone and challenges hitters. His fastball resides at 92-96 mph, and he mixes it well with a plus curveball and solid changeup. His curve has good downward bite, and his changeup shows impressive deception. Delgado struggled with his control in 2009 until altering his mechanics and mindset in July, leading to an impressive second half. When he got to Mississippi last summer, he had some problems leaving pitches thigh-high. He again adapted, improving his ability to throw his fastball down in the zone and on both sides of the plate. If not for Teheran's presence, Delgado would receive more hype. By making significant adjustments the past two seasons, he has shown he could pitch in the front half of a major league rotation. Added to the 40-man roster in November, he'll open 2011 in Double-A with the chance to advance quickly to Triple-A if he continues his rapid progress.
Atlanta signed Minor to a $2.42 million bonus in 2009, the biggest in franchise history and the largest ever given to the seventh overall pick in the draft. His pure stuff was better than expected last year, when he reached the major leagues three days after his one-year anniversary of turning pro. He tied a Braves franchise rookie record with 12 strikeouts in a start against the Cubs but tired in September. Minor mixes three pitches with impressive command and acumen. His best offering is his changeup, which could become a plus-plus pitch as he gains experience. After throwing his fastball in the upper 80s in late 2009, he added velocity and worked at 91-94 mph in the early innings of his starts last season. His heater has significant movement, as does his slurvy curveball, which dives with three-quarters tilt. Minor can add and subtract with his pitches to keep hitters off-balance. He has a great pickoff move and fields his position well. In addition to needing more strength, he'll have to challenge hitters more often instead of being so fine in the strike zone. Minor should open 2011 as Atlanta's fifth starter. He has a ceiling as a No. 2 starter, though he may not serve in that role with Tommy Hanson, Julio Teheran and Randall Delgado all part of the Braves' future.
The Braves selected 10 junior college players in the first 15 rounds of the 2008 draft, starting with Kimbrel in the third round. He signed for $391,000 after turning down $125,000 from Atlanta as a 33rd-round pick a year earlier. He ranked third in the International League with 23 saves and reached the big leagues in his second full pro season. He was dynamic during the pennant race, finishing the year with 12 scoreless big league outings while striking out 23 in 12 innings. Kimbrel has averaged 14.8 strikeouts per nine innings as a pro, thanks to his heavy fastball, which sits at 93-96 mph with excellent sink. His slurvy curveball gives him a second plus pitch to complement his heater. After rarely throwing a changeup in 2009, he worked on the pitch prior to last season and mixed it in on occasion. While moving faster than anticipated, Kimbrel has made significant strides with his command and his ability to pitch inside. Reminiscent of a righthanded Billy Wagner, he has the stuff and makeup to finish games. The Braves tried to expose Kimbrel to the job of a major league closer and Wagner's expertise without rushing him in 2010. He responded well, putting himself in position to take over as Atlanta's closer in 2011 following Wagner's retirement.
Lipka was a two-time all-state 4-A wide receiver at McKinney (Texas) High, where his quarterback was Dodgers 2010 first-round choice Zach Lee. Lipka went seven picks after Lee, 35th overall as Atlanta's top selection last June, and turned down an Alabama baseball scholarship to sign for $800,000. He earned Rookie-level Gulf Coast League allstar honors in his pro debut. A quick-twitch athlete and high-energy performer, Lipka is a throwback player with plus-plus speed. His quickness puts pressure on infielders when he hits routine groundballs, and he's a basestealing threat who runs the bases as well as anyone in the system. He has a line-drive stroke and an advanced feel for hitting the ball where it's pitched. Stronger than most speedsters, he has a quick bat and the chance to have average power. The Braves envisioned Lipka as a center fielder upon drafting him, but they believe he has the arm, actions and instincts to remain at shortstop for the foreseeable future. His hands are his biggest question as an infielder. Atlanta's coaches rave about his approach and obvious love for the game. Lipka has the potential to be an impact up-the-middle player who hits at the top of the lineup. He'll start his first full pro season as the everyday shortstop at Rome.
Vizcaino ranked with Julio Teheran and Martin Perez (Rangers) as the best international amateur pitching prospects in 2007, when he signed with the Yankees for $800,000. New York traded him along with Melky Cabrera and Mike Dunn to obtain Javier Vazquez and Boone Logan from the Braves in December 2009. Vizcaino dominated low Class A hitters in 2010 but missed two months with a partially torn ligament shortly after a promotion in June. Vizcaino's fastball has good life while residing at 92-94 mph and touching 96. His best pitch, however, is a hammer curveball that he commands with precision. He made improvements with his changeup last year and is on the verge of having three plus pitches. In addition to his stuff, Atlanta was impressed with how he learned to pitch and work hard in 2010, rather than just trying to throw the ball past hitters. While he avoided surgery and returned before the end of season, he still has to answer questions about his durability. He never has pitched more than 85 innings in a season, and he also missed time in 2009 with a strained back muscle. Though Vizcaino must prove he can stay healthy, his high ceiling is undeniable. He'll open the year in high Class A at age 20, with a midseason promotion a possibility.
Beachy was a third baseman who moonlighted as a closer when he went undrafted following his junior season at Indiana Wesleyan in 2008. After starring as a pitcher in the collegiate Valley League that summer, he signed with the Braves for $20,000 as a free agent. He had a breakthrough season in 2010, leading the minors with a 1.73 ERA and making three solid starts for Atlanta in September. Beachy has a live, fresh arm with good overall command of three pitches. He gets ahead of hitters by establishing his 90-94 mph fastball with plus life, throwing it on a nice downhill plane and to both sides of the plate. His hard, sharp-breaking curveball has quality depth. After beginning last season in Mississippi's bullpen, he began using his effective changeup more often as a starter. Hitters rarely barreled Beachy's pitches last season, even when he reached the big leagues. His confidence has improved considerably, though he's still honing the mental aspects of pitching at the game's highest levels. He may not have a long track record of success on the mound, but Beachy's repertoire and feel for pitching bode well for the long term. He succeeded as both a reliever and a starter in 2010, enhancing his chances of making the Atlanta pitching staff this spring. His ceiling is as a No. 3 starter.
Part of the Braves' influx of junior college talent in the 2008 draft, Oberholtzer didn't reach full-season ball until his third pro season. He needed just four starts to earn a promotion from Rome to Myrtle Beach, where he pitched well despite battling blister problems that cost him three weeks in June. He struck out 12 in his final start of the year, then turned in a strong showing in instructional league. Oberholtzer has plus command of three pitches. His fastball sits at 88-92 mph and touches 94 with good, late tailing life. He uses his solid average changeup to his advantage by mixing it in at any time in the count. His curveball is also a fringy above-average pitch. His herky-jerky mechanics create deception, and his aggressiveness and ability to work both sides of the plate enhance his stuff. An excellent athlete, particularly for a big lefthander, Oberholtzer fields his position well. He needs to improve his ability to hold runners after giving up 18 steals in 22 attempts last year. Oberholtzer has impressed Atlanta with the progress he has made in the last two seasons. A potential third or fourth starter in the big leagues, he's slated to spend 2011 in the Mississippi rotation.
Hoover joins Brett Oberholtzer as a junior college starter who has outshined more-heralded high school arms Brett DeVall, Tyler Stovall and Zeke Spruill from Atlanta's 2008 draft class. Hoover built on a strong developmental year in 2009 by leading the system with 14 wins last season while reaching Double-A. After making a mechanical adjustment with how he held his hands in his delivery in May, he finished on a tear, going 10-2, 2.17 with 93 strikeouts in 75 innings over the final two months. Hoover is a classic workhorse, possessing a strong body with thick thighs and a resilient arm. He pitches on a good downhill plane, generating a low-90s fastball with decent movement. He also throws an average curveball, slider and changeup--his curve may be his best secondary pitch--and commands all of his offerings well. The key for Hoover is staying on top of his pitches, because they flatten out and become hittable when he doesn't. Hoover projects as a potential No. 3 starter, but he has the mentality to work in relief if the Braves need bullpen help. He'll open 2011 back in the Mississippi rotation, with a promotion to Triple-A a strong possibility during the summer. His big league ETA is 2012.
Perez signed in 2008 out of the Dominican Republic for $600,000, which could prove to be a steal considering the rapid progress he has shown. He overpowered the Appalachian League last year, earning recognition as the circuit's top prospect, then made two starts in low Class A before a right rib fracture sidelined him. Perez combines everything scouts want to see in a young pitcher, including stuff, poise and intelligence. His fastball sits in the low 90s and touches 94 mph. He works both sides of the plate, as well as the top and bottom of the strike zone. He tightened the spin on his breaking ball last year, inducing batters to chase it out of the strike zone. When he had feel for his changeup, he pitched with more confidence and hitters got few good swings against him. He still needs to improve the consistency of his secondary pitches. Perez is a hard worker who wants to be the best. He does an excellent job of holding runners with his quick delivery and above-average pickoff move. Scheduled to return to Rome to open 2011, he could move quickly.
There's no doubt that Bethancourt has tools, but scouts are split on whether he'll be able to put them to use and become a major league catcher. He has everything a young catcher could want, including soft hands, a quick release and plus arm strength. His pop times average close to 1.8 seconds and he threw out 39 percent of basestealers last year. He also has an ideal frame and good athleticism behind the plate. He sets up high, and while he has good lateral movement, he needs to do a better job of blocking balls in the dirt. A free swinger, Bethancourt is a streaky hitter who needs to improve his command of the strike zone. He's capable of driving the ball and could develop at least average power as his body continues to mature. He's a below-average runner but not bad for a catcher. For all his physical ability, Bethancourt has plenty of questions to answer about his his approach to the game. He shows bad body language and a questionable work ethic. Scouts have concerns about his lack of energy behind the plate. Some say he doesn't give his pitchers enough support when they get into jams. Bethancourt will play the entire 2011 season at age 19, so there's plenty of time for him to grow up. He has the ability to become a special player once he matures. The next step in his development will come in high Class A.
Acquired from the Royals for shortstop T.J. Pena near the end of spring training in 2007, Cordier finally has proven he can stay healthy and earned a spot on the Braves' 40-man roster this offseason. He missed all of 2005 with a knee injury and all of 2007 following Tommy John surgery, but he has worked 265 innings during the last two years. He made mechanical adjustments in mid-2010, improving his fastball command and pitching as well as at any time in his career during the second half. Cordier's fastball velocity returned in a big way last season. He now sits at 94-97 mph with his heater and has improved the consistency of his slider, which often gives him a second plus pitch. His changeup remains his weakest link, but he has shown a decent feel for it and should be able to develop it into an average offering. Cordier's makeup is off the charts, and his resilience could play a big role in allowing him to reach the big leagues. After a September promotion to Triple-A, for example, he gave up five earned runs in two-thirds of an inning in his first start, then bounced back with 71/3 shutout innings in his second outing. Cordier should be a key member of the Gwinnett rotation in 2011, readying himself for the big leagues should an opportunity arise.
When the Braves shipped Yunel Escobar and Jo-Jo Reyes to Toronto last July, they got their shortstops of the present (Alex Gonzalez) and possibly the future (Pastornicky), as well as minor league lefthander Tim Collins. The son of Cliff Pastornicky, who played briefly for the Royals and now scouts for the Blue Jays, Tyler moved to Double-A after the trade. He impressed Atlanta officials with his all-around skills before a hamstring injury hampered him late in the season. A solid athlete who's fundamentally sound, Pastornicky has a smooth line-drive stroke and makes consistent contact. He has minimal power but can drive the ball into the gaps and should produce his share of doubles and triples while batting near the top of the lineup. He has above-average speed that he uses to his advantage by stealing bases and taking the extra base when the situation presents itself. Pastornicky is surehanded at shortstop and moves his feet well. His range and instincts are above-average, and his arm is strong enough to remain at short. The Braves have rebuilt their depth at the position, and Pastornicky is their most advanced shortstop prospect. He'll get a look as a potential long-term answer there, and if he doesn't pan out as a starter, he could be a good utility player. After playing in the Arizona Fall League, Pastornicky could make the jump to Triple-A in 2011.
Simmons turned down several small offers from pro teams when he was 16 and growing up in Curacao, and it appeared his days on the diamond were numbered until Western Oklahoma State JC head coach Kurt Russell saw him during a Caribbean scouting trip. As a 20-year-old freshman in 2010, Simmons generated immediate scouting buzz despite missing a month with a broken toe. In 38 games, he hit a team-high .472 with seven homers, 40 RBIs and 15 stolen bases, and he also pitched 20 innings to help the Pioneers to third place in the Division II Junior College World Series. The best defensive player available in the 2010 draft, Simmons went in the second round and signed for $522,000. He has athletic actions, excellent range, soft and quick hands and an incredible feel for the position. His best tool is his arm, which has delivered fastballs clocked as high as 98 mph. While the Braves considered putting him on the mound, he wants to play shortstop and they fell in love with his defense after watching him in his pro debut. The question mark is Simmons' bat. He has some pop and is able to drive the ball, but his swing is long and he'll have to work on his approach to succeed against more advanced pitching. He runs well and has good instincts on the basepaths. Simmons will remain an everyday player for the time being. Given his age and experience, he could open 2011 with Atlanta's new high Class A Lynchburg affililate.
Salcedo emerged as one of the hottest prospects on the international market in the summer of 2007, but he didn't sign until last February because of an extended investigation into his age by Major League Baseball. The Braves signed him for $1.6 million, the largest they've ever given to a foreign amateur. Having lost its 2010 first round pick as compensation for signing free agent Billy Wagner, Atlanta regarded Salcedo as a fine substitute. He made a positive impression in spring training and during the early portion of the Rookie-level Dominican Summer League season before making a big jump to low Class A. Physically advanced for his age, Salcedo generates excellent bat speed and can put the barrel on the ball, though he had difficulty against pitchers who were skilled at setting up hitters. He has above-average speed and the potential to develop above-average power. Salcedo has a strong arm, but his defense needs more polish than some expected, due in part to his lack of playing time over the previous two years. His hands aren't particularly soft, and while his range is good, he tries to force too many plays. Add in his big frame, and Salcedo may have to move to third base eventually. His raw tools, especially on offense, make him an intriguing prospect. He should return to Rome to open 2011, with an in-season promotion to Lynchburg a possibility.
The 87th overall pick in the 2009 draft, Hale was a two-way player at Princeton who spent most of his time in center field. The Braves preferred his lightning-quick arm and liked what they saw on the mound. After a promising pro debut, he struggled early last season in low Class A, going 0-4, 7.99 through six starts. He moved to the bullpen in mid-May and went 5-3, 2.16 with five saves in six opportunities as a reliever. Hale tended to lose focus as a starter and enjoyed working in relief because it more closely resembled the daily routine of an everyday player. He has two potential pitches: a 93-94 mph fastball that touches 96, and a hard slider at 84-86 mph. He has struggled to find consistency with his changeup, though it's effective on occasion. The quality of Hale's two primary pitches and his feel for pitching improved significantly last year as he focused solely on moundwork for the first time in his career. He still needs to improve his command and get ahead in the count more often. Those upgrades, combined with a deeper understanding of how to get pro hitters out, should allow Hale to move quickly as a reliever. A promotion to high Class A is next on his agenda.
Delgado had an impressive full-season debut in 2009 and was slated to be part of a prospect-laden Myrtle Beach rotation last year. Instead, he was involved in a bad traffic accident in his native Panama in February that left him with a broken left hand just above his wrist, a broken femur in his right leg and a torn ligament in his right knee. He missed the entire season, though he was able to pitch during the final three weeks of instructional league. Delgado frustrates hitters by mixing a low-90s fastball and a plus changeup. He shows an advanced feel for pitching by commanding his fastball to both sides of the plate, hitting his spots and coming inside to both lefthanders and righthanders. His changeup has outstanding depth and fade, making it among the best in the organization. He has made steady improvements with his slow curveball, which still needs more definitive break. He's an above-average athlete and fielder, though he needs to improve at holding runners. A potential No. 3 starter, Delgado should be at full strength in 2011, when he'll finally make it to high Class A.
Jones started his college career with two years at North Florida before transferring to Miami-Dade CC, so he's older than the average junior college draft pick. He's making up for lost time, however, turning in a solid pro debut in 2009 and playing at three levels last season. He got off to a .125/.157/.188 start at Rome last April, because he had an uppercut that slowed his bat and made his swing long. He didn't hang his head, corrected the flaw and rebounded to hit .352/.398/.523 in May, leading to a promotion to Myrtle Beach in June and a lateseason callup to Mississippi. Jones has some power and ranked fifth in the system with 15 homers last year, but he's much more effective when spraying line drives from pole to pole. He needs to tighten his strike zone and adopt a more disciplined approach so he can get on base and take advantage of his plus speed. A shortstop in his first two pro seasons, Jones moved to second base during instructional league and looked much more comfortable there. He has impressive quick-twitch athleticism and actions in the middle of the infield, giving him above-average range. His arm, which was fringy for shortstop, also plays much better at the keystone sack. Jones has plus makeup and a strong desire to succeed. He'll open 2011 as the starting second baseman at Mississippi.
Braves scouting director Tony DeMacio put it simply enough when he said last June that Cunningham was drafted for his bat. He won a pair of summer league batting titles, hitting .310 in the Texas Collegiate League in 2008 and .378 in the Cape Cod League in 2009. After he batted .359 as a junior last spring, the Braves drafted him in the second round and signed him for $674,100. A switch-hitter, Cunningham stays inside the ball and drives pitches to the gaps from both sides of the plate. He has an outstanding approach, good patience and solid speed, allowing him to profile as a potential leadoff hitter. Atlanta believes he'll develop close to average power as he physically matures. Cunningham spent most of his time in center field last year, both in college and pro ball, and the Braves believe he can play almost anywhere in the infield or outfield. He has good hands and moves well, with his arm his lone tool that rates as below-average. His performance in spring training and whether Atlanta decides to try him as an infielder will determine whether he opens his first full pro season at Rome or Lynchburg.
The Braves' improved depth at shortstop led them to shift Reyes to second base last season, his first in the United States. Signed as an 18-year-old out of Nicaragua, he played for both of Atlanta's Rookie-level affiliates last season and displayed excellent instincts in the field. He's a smooth defender who has the arm strength to play shortstop, along with a quick release. He has a quick first step with soft hands and consistently makes plays. At the plate, Reyes has surprising power for his size, with a good approach and the ability to put the barrel on the ball. To maximize his potential, he needs to get stronger, show more patience at the plate and make some changes to his stance. He tends to wrap his bat so far that it's nearly pointing at the pitcher. He loads and uncoils well, but he has a long path to the ball and scouts say his swing will make it hard to succeed at higher levels. He also must shorten his stroke with two strikes. Reyes isn't a burner, but he runs well once he gets going. He remains a work in progress, but the Braves like the early returns. He'll spend 2011 in low Class A.
Milligan originally committed to play football at Austin Peay State before spending two years playing baseball at Walters State (Tenn.) CC, and the Braves drafted him three times before signing him as an eighth-rounder in 2008. He missed his first pro summer with a knee injury, and he missed most of 2010 with a shoulder injury that turned out to be a torn rotator cuff and required surgery in June. In between, he slugged .592 and reached high Class A during an impressive 2009 pro debut. When healthy, Milligan is an offensive-oriented player who can drive the ball to all fields. He showed above-average power in 2009 and Atlanta believes he can hit 20-25 homers annually at higher levels. He also should hit for average, possibly in the .275-.290 range, with his ability to make hard contact while going with pitches instead of trying to pull them. He's aggressive, so he may never walk much. Though not fleet of foot, Milligan doesn't clog the bases and displays good instincts in the outfield. He is a fringe-average defender who may be best suited for left field, but he has the arm strength as well as the carry on his throws to play in right. Milligan participated in the final week of instructional league and is expected to be healthy for spring training. He should open the season back in high Class A, but if he can regain his 2009 form, he could reach Double-A at some point during the year
Leonard played a major role in one of the best seasons in Pittsburgh baseball history in 2010. The Panthers had a school-record 11-game winning streak and appeared in Baseball America's Top 25 poll for the first time in the program's history, while Leonard batted .436/.492/.678, saved a school-record eight games and was the Big East Conference player of the year. When the Braves picked him in the third round, it was the highest a Pitt player had been drafted since 1985. His father John was a righthander drafted six times from 1979-82. Signed for $324,900, Leonard has solid all-around skills. While his swing tends to get long, he has good bat speed and puts the barrel on the ball with consistency. He's adept at hitting to the opposite field. Atlanta believes he'll hit for at least average power as he learns to pull pitches and add loft to his flat swing. Though he's a below-average runner, Leonard's feet work well at third base. He has good instincts and a plus arm that delivered low-90s fastballs off the mound. He struggled with a sore elbow late in his pro debut and during instructional league, but he should be fine next spring. Leonard likely will open his first full pro season in high Class A.
The Braves scout the Northeast as heavily as any team, and Filak is a result of those efforts. They were delighted to get him with a fourth-round pick and a $204,300 bonus last June. He walked on as a catcher at Oneonta State (N.Y.) and quickly moved to the mound. He led NCAA Division III in strikeouts per nine innings in each of the last two seasons, with 14.9 in 2009 and 13.9 despite battling elbow stiffness in 2010. A big, physical pitcher, Filak has a low-90s fastball that touches 95 and bores in on righthanders. His low-80s spike curveball gives him a second plus pitch. He started throwing a changeup in 2009 and has made strides with the pitch. Filak is athletic and has a fresh arm, and he might add more velocity if he uses his legs more in his delivery and lengthens his stride. He possibly could have three legitimate major league pitches, and his fastball/curveball combination alone could make him an effective late-inning reliever. He'll begin his first full pro season in low Class A.
Gosselin played a key role in Virginia's run to the College World Series in 2009, including hitting a home run off San Diego State's Stephen Strasburg in the NCAA regionals. He became an offensive catalyst for a Cavaliers team that was ranked No. 1 in the nation for much of last spring, batting .382 and leading the club with 22 doubles and 11 home runs. That performance got him drafted in the fifth round last spring and earned him a $150,300 bonus. Gosselin is a good athlete who batted leadoff at Rome during his pro debut and is capable of hitting in a variety of slots in the lineup. He has plus bat speed and barrels up balls with consistency. He has gap power and average speed that plays up thanks to his baserunning savvy. Gosselin played several positions in college but stayed at second base after signing and exceeded the Braves' expectations. He showed nice footwork and instincts, and he turned the double play well. His range is fringy but his arm is average. Several club officials regard Gosselin as the steal of Atlanta's 2010 draft, and they think his blue-collar approach will take him to the big leagues. He'll probably open 2011 in high Class A and could reach Double-A by midseason.
Clemens has as much raw ability as any pitcher in the organization. He just hasn't been able to put everything together on a consistent basis, a problem that dates back to his college days, when he pitched his way out of the Louisburg (N.C.) JC rotation as a sophomore. In 2010, he was overpowering during the first five weeks at Rome, only to walk four batters in two-thirds of an inning in his debut with Myrtle Beach. He finished strong, however, and posted a better ERA as a starter (2.95) than as a reliever (4.64) in high Class A. On his best days, Clemens hits 97 mph with his fastball and mixes it with an above-average curveball. On others, he tops out at 92 mph and is unable to find the strike zone. He has an ideal pitcher's frame and solid athleticism that should allow him to be a middle-of-the-rotation starter or a useful reliever. Clemens' future role will be determined by his ability to develop a changeup. He also has to improve his feel for pitching and his command, which have proven to be major hurdles in his development. The Braves still love his live arm and potential, however. They've worked with Clemens to help him harness his energy and maintain more of an even keel on the mound. He should reach Double-A at some point in 2011.
Abreu had one of the best fastballs in the Royals system, which prompted Kansas City to agree to a deal to re-sign him as a minor league free agent after he reached Double-A in 2009. A contract snafu allowed him to hit the open market, however, and the Braves landed him by giving him a big league contract. Atlanta removed him from the 40-man roster at the end of last March, but added him again in November. He got knocked around in high Class A to start last season, but pitched much better after a May promotion and became Mississippi's closer during the second half. Employing a whip-like arm action, Abreu sits at 95-96 mph with his sinking fastball and was clocked as high as 99 mph last summer. He also has a 78-80 mph curveball that could be a plus pitch. He lacks feel for his changeup and abandoned the pitch at times last season. Abreu gets into trouble when he overthrows, causing him to leave his pitches up in the strike zone and making him susceptible to the longball. He needs to throw more strikes after averaging 4.5 walks per nine innings in 2010, and he also must do a better job of commanding his pitches in the strike zone. When he hits 96 mph on the inner half of the plate, few hitters can do much against him. A potential set-up man and a spot closer if it all comes together, Abreu should move up to Triple-A in 2011.
The Braves kept things in the family when they drafted Butts in the 19th round out of Auburn in 2007. His uncle Alan Butts is the major league club's baseball systems operator as well as its longtime bullpen catcher. While growing up south of Atlanta, Brett attended Braves games on a regular basis. He became a reliever midway through his college career and has stayed in that role in pro ball. He made steady progress in the minors, pitching well in Double-A the last two years before injuring his elbow last May and having Tommy John surgery in July. Before he got hurt, Butts' fastball was sitting at 90-94 mph with plus movement. He also had good command of an above-average changeup, which has been his out pitch since college, and a 12-to-6 curveball that's a solid average offering with good downward break. He attacks hitters, throwing strikes and mixing his pitches to keep them off-balance. Butts was on the verge of being promoted to Triple-A at the time of his injury. His recovery has progressed as hoped, but he's not expected to pitch before July 1 at the earliest. He has a chance to make an impact in the major league bullpen in 2012.
Though he had played just a half-year at high Class A, Harrilchak went to the Arizona Fall League after the 2010 season and hit .333/.432/.520 in 75 at-bats. His performance was a testament to the progress he made in his first two years of pro ball after signing for $1,000 as an unheralded 14th-round senior sign from Elon. Harrilchak is a grinder who can hit and get on base. He battles every time he steps in the batter's box and his swing produces line drives from gap to gap. He has below-average power but average speed and the baserunning instincts to steal 15-20 bases per year. Harrilchak is the best defensive outfielder in the system. He gets good jumps and covers both gaps in center field, and he has the solid arm strength and carry on his throws to play right field. He gets the most out of his abilities, though his tools fit more of a fourth-outfielder profile than that of a regular. A promotion to Double-A is on Harrilchak's immediate horizon.
When the Braves selected Sullivan in the 11th round in 2008, he became just the second player ever drafted from the Savannah College of Art and Design, an NAIA school. A two-way player in college, he became a fulltime pitcher in pro ball and reached Double-A briefly in his first full season in the system. When he returned to Mississippi in 2010, he struggled with his command as a starter, going 1-7, 7.17 and allowing opponents to bat .346 against him. Atlanta moved him to the bullpen at midseason and he took to that role, posting 2.72 ERA and limiting the opposition to a .230 average. Sullivan thrives when he pitches down in the strike zone with his heavy two-seam fastball. He adds and subtracts from it, ranging from 87-93 mph and inducing groundball. His second pitch is a hard three-quarters breaking ball that at times has true tilt and is a plus slider. He also has a decent changeup. Sullivan has made rapid adjustments while moving quickly through the minors but still is fine-tuning his ability to set up hitters. He's also susceptible to the running game, especially for a lefthander. He improved his conditioning in 2010 but still doesn't stick out in terms of athleticism or fielding his position. Sullivan's future is as a set-up man or middle reliever. With a strong spring training, he could open 2011 in Triple-A.