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Expectations never have been a problem for Teheran. Signed as a 16-year-old out of Colombia in 2007 for $850,000, the largest bonus given to any international pitcher that year, he overcame a bout of shoulder tendinitis in the Rookie-level Appalachian League in 2008 to rank as that circuit's top prospect a year later. He then garnered the same recognition in the high Class A Carolina League in 2010 before earning pitcher and rookie of the year honors in the Triple-A International League in 2011. He also made his major league debut that year and entered last spring as a leading candidate to break camp in the Atlanta rotation. Instead, Teheran struggled with leaving pitches up in the strike zone and allowed nine homers while in big league camp. He performed well in the first two months at Triple-A Gwinnett and tossed the first nine-inning complete game of his career on June 3 before making an emergency start for the Braves. He wasn't the same pitcher after returning to the IL, going 2-7, 6.46 in his final 15 starts. Though Teheran was just 21 and trying to incorporate some mechanical adjustments, his downturn still was stunning. Teheran has an electric arm, but his delivery had some violence that the Braves wanted to iron out in order to reduce his risk of injury. In 2012, they decided to reduce the bend on his back leg during his windup. He had been turning and coiling his body to generate more momentum toward the plate, placing additional strain on his right knee and elbow. Atlanta worked with Teheran on keeping his back leg straighter in order to create a better center of balance, particularly in his core. The alterations not only led to less initial success, but also to a reduction in fastball velocity. After sitting at 93-95 mph and reaching 97 in 2011, Teheran operated mostly at 90-93 last season. To his credit, he stuck with the changes and showed signs of regaining his previous velocity during the latter weeks of the campaign. He still has above-average fastball command and the ability to work both sides of the plate. His changeup remains the best in the system, a 79-81 mph offering with outstanding depth and fade. Teheran continues to search for a consistently reliable breaking ball. His curveball has good rotation but he hangs it too often, and he trusts his slider even less than his curve. After struggling with his confidence for most of 2012, he regained his swagger as he became more comfortable with the way he was throwing the ball. He has an impressive knowledge of how to set up hitters, along with impeccable work ethic and determination. Though Teheran couldn't crack the Braves rotation in 2012, he remains firmly in their long-term plans and has as much upside as any starter in the organization--including the big league club. He won't be a No. 1 starter without a better breaking ball, but he definitely has the package to become a No. 2 or 3. He'll compete for a starting job again this spring, and Atlanta won't be concerned if he winds up back at Gwinnett to open the season. Either way, he should see a decent amount of time in the big leagues in 2013.
A two-way player early in his career at Santa Clara, Graham didn't make his first college start until his draft year in 2011. He has thrived as a full-time starter in pro ball, leading the Appalachian League with a 1.72 ERA in his debut, then going 12-2, 2.80 while reaching Double-A Mississippi in his first full season. A fierce competitor who attacks hitters, Graham succeeds by generating a plethora of groundouts. His four-seam fastball has good movement while residing at 93-97 mph, but his best offering is a low-90s two-seamer with heavy sink. He does an impressive job of keeping hitters off balance with his sharp 82-85 mph slider and a changeup that has made steady progress. Graham is a quick-twitch athlete who repeats his delivery well, giving him the best command in the system. He's not big for a starter, yet he made 26 starts and worked 148 innings without missing a turn in 2012. The Braves believe Graham could fill one of several roles in the major leagues, depending on the team's needs. He'll continue to start in 2013 and has a ceiling of a No. 3 starter. He could open the year in Triple-A, and making his major league debut later in the season isn't out of the question.
Highly touted since starring for Panama in the 2004 Little League World Series, Bethancourt signed for $600,000 four years later. He rode his defense to a berth in the Futures Game in 2012, but he had his worst offensive performance as a pro and played in just 71 games because of a strained hamstring and broken hand. Bethancourt is a premier athlete behind the plate, with soft hands and one of the strongest arms among minor league catchers. He threw out 39 percent of basestealers last season. He moves well and does a good job of blocking pitches in the dirt, though he tends to get lazy and backhand balls on occasion. He has improved his game-calling ability and the way he works with pitchers. Bethancourt's bat lags considerably behind his defense, and he has hit just .253/.276/.304 above low Class A. His approach needs a lot of work, as he chases too many pitches far outside the strike zone and can't handle sharp breaking balls. He has raw power but doesn't tap into it because he has a flat swing. He runs well for a catcher. With Brian McCann recovering from offseason shoulder surgery, Bethancourt could make his major league debut in April. He'll likely spend most of 2013 in Triple-A after joining the 40-man roster in November.
The No. 1 starter for three years at Florida State, Gilmartin went 28th overall in the 2011 draft and signed for $1,134,000. He lived up to his billing as an advanced college pitcher in his first full pro season, leading the Double-A Southern League in WHIP (1.15) and earning all-star honors there before a July promotion to Triple-A. Considered by some scouts to be a poor man's Mike Minor, Gilmartin is a finesse lefthander who knows how to set up hitters and pitch to his strengths. His best pitch is a plus changeup with depth and fade. His 89-91 mph fastball has good movement, and he creates deception with a low-80s slider that has late break. He throws all three pitches for strikes and with the same arm speed. Gilmartin will need to get stronger after his fastball dipped to 86-88 mph late in the season. He remained effective even with diminished velocity because he continued to work the corners and pitch down in the strike zone. He's a good athlete who repeats his smooth delivery and fields his position well. Gilmartin is moving just as fast as the Braves expected, and he could see his first big league action in 2013. He'll open the season back in Gwinnett, however. His ultimate ceiling is as a No. 3 or 4 starter.
The 21st overall pick in the 2012 draft, Sims represents a return to the Braves' tradition of selecting local high school products and high-ceiling pitchers. Atlanta kept him on a tight pitch count after he turned down a Clemson commitment to sign for $1.65 million, yet he still struck out 39 in 34 pro innings. Though Sims struggled at times with his mechanics and release point during his pro debut, his arm works well and generates above-average velocity. His fastball sits in the low 90s and touches 95 mph with good running action. His velocity could continue to increase as he gains strength and becomes more efficient in his delivery. His 73-78 mph curveball has tight spin and is a plus pitch. Sims' changeup wasn't effective last summer, but he has shown solid feel for it in the past. He'll need to learn to do a better job of repeating his delivery so he can throw more strikes. He's an excellent athlete for a pitcher--he also played shortstop in high school--which should help him accomplish that goal. A potential contributor in the front half of a major league rotation, Sims should spend his first full pro season at low Class A Rome. The Braves' pitching depth in the upper levels means they can give him as much time as he needs to develop.
After a lull, the Braves have pursued Latin American talent more aggressively in the last few years. Their latest top prospect from the region is Cabrera, who signed for $400,000 in 2010. He bypassed the Gulf Coast League and went to the system's more advanced Rookie affiliate in Danville for his U.S. debut in 2012, leading the Appalachian League in opponent average (.213). His older brother Alberto, also a righthanded pitcher, reached the majors with the Cubs last season. Cabrera has above-average arm strength and a strong frame for a 19-year-old. His 94-96 mph fastball has impressive cutting action and shows good sink when he stays on top of the pitch. He has the makings of a second plus offering in a low-80s slider that breaks down and in on lefthanders. He also has advanced feel for a changeup that could give him a third plus pitch. Cabrera is still learning to command all of his pitches, his slider in particular. He has a wrist wrap that makes that task more difficult. He has a solid mound presence and isn't afraid to challenge hitters. How well Cabrera can refine his secondary pitches and command will determine if he winds up in the rotation or bullpen. He has the upside of a No. 2 starter and will pitch alongside Lucas Sims in the Rome rotation in 2013.
Wood posted the best ERA by a Georgia starter since ex-big leaguer Dave Fleming in 1989. The Braves liked Wood so much that they were leaning toward drafting him in the first round last June if Lucas Sims hadn't been on the board. A redshirt sophomore who had Tommy John surgery before his college career started, Wood went 88th overall and signed for $700,000. He made a seamless transition to low Class A, helping guide Rome to the playoffs before he was sidelined with a pulled back muscle. Wood pounds the strike zone on both sides of the plate with a low-90s fastball that touches 96 mph. He does a good job of working off his heater, then destroys hitters' timing with his above-average changeup. He can fall in love too much with his changeup at times. Scouts have two concerns with Wood: his breaking ball and mechanics. He struggles to throw his below-average slider for strikes and may need a better third pitch in order to remain a starter. He also employs a high-effort delivery in which he hops backward on his right leg after landing on it, though he does throw strikes. Wood's strong debut showed why Atlanta was so high on him. He should move quickly through the system and likely will finish his first full pro season in Double-A. With a better breaking ball, he could become a solid No. 3 starter.
Gattis took a four-year hiatus from baseball before surfacing at NCAA Division II Texas-Permian Basin in 2010 and signing for $1,000 as a 23rd-rounder that June. He won the low Class A South Atlantic League batting title (.322) in his first full pro season, then slugged 18 homers in 74 games while battling tendinitis in his right wrist in 2012. Gattis possesses more raw power than any hitter in the system. He generates impressive bat speed with lightning-quick wrists and tremendous strength, producing power from foul pole to foul pole. He controls the strike zone and barrels the ball with consistency. Gattis' layoff shows how raw he is as a catcher. He has solid arm strength and threw out 39 percent of basestealers in 2012, but he's rough as a receiver and awkward behind the plate. He has enough athleticism to play left field adequately, where he saw most of his action in Double-A and in winter ball. He has below-average speed but moves well for his size and runs the bases aggressively. Gattis could follow the path of Josh Willingham, a catcher-turned-outfielder who didn't establish himself in the big leagues until age 27. A strong winter in Venezuela should prepare Gattis for Triple-A and possible big league shot in 2013.
Spruill has overcome off-field issues and a broken right hand (from punching a dugout wall) early in his career to become a reliable, durable starter the last two seasons. He led the Southern League in starts (27) and innings (162) in 2012. He cemented a spot on the Atlanta's 40-man roster by performing well in the Arizona Fall League. Spruill uses his tall frame to pitch on a downhill plane, pounding the lower half of the strike zone while pitching to contact. His 91-94 mph fastball has good sink, and he uses it to get ahead in the count. His changeup also features nice sink and fades away from righthanders. He sells it well by throwing it with the same arm speed he uses with his fastball. His changeup helps him handle lefthanded hitters (.696 OPS in Double-A) almost as well as he handles righthanded hitters (.674). The key to Spruill's future is the consistency of his slider, which isn't particularly tight. He can get strikeouts with his slider when it's working, but it also flattens out and hangs up in the strike zone at times. He doesn't miss a lot of bats, but he also doesn't beat himself by giving up walks or home runs. Counting the AFL, Spruill has made 61 starts and worked 359 innings in the last two years. He profiles as an innings-eater who can fill the No. 4 or 5 spot in a contender's rotation. He'll get his first Triple-A opportunity in 2013.
The Braves signed both Peraza (for $350,000) and Mauricio Cabrera at the start of the international signing period in 2010. The organization's Rookie-level Dominican Summer League player of the year in his 2011 pro debut, Peraza played well at two more Rookie stops in the United States last summer. Peraza's strengths are his plus-plus speed and outstanding hand-eye coordination. He relishes the role of leadoff hitter, looking to get on base by any means necessary. He can beat out bunts and barrels the ball consistently when he swings away. He could use more patience to draw more walks, however. Peraza has surprising pop and may reach double-digits in home runs, but he stands out most with his quickness and basestealing instincts, which could result in 50 steals on an annual basis. He also has excellent first-step quickness at shortstop, where he has plus range and soft, sure hands. He has solid arm strength, but his throwing mechanics need work in order to improve his accuracy. Though he's nestled in an organization with plenty of depth at shortstop, Peraza has a higher ceiling than anyone the Braves have at the position--including Andrelton Simmons. Atlanta believes Peraza has the makeup to handle a jump to low Class A at age 19.
Ahmed had an outstanding first full pro season in 2012 at high Class A Lynchburg. He led the Carolina League in runs (84), doubles (36), steals (40) and fielding percentage at shortstop (.963). Managers rated him the fastest baserunner and best defensive shortstop in the CL, and he capped the year by leading Lynchburg to the league title by going 4-for-5 with three doubles in the deciding contest against Winston-Salem. Ahmed has great first-step quickness and above-average speed that give him outstanding lateral range at shortstop. He has soft hands and enhances his solid arm strength with a quick release and good accuracy. Ahmed is adept at working the count and can drive the ball but strikes out too much because he chases pitches up in the strike zone. He needs to use the opposite field more often and improve upon his bunting ability to increase his on-base percentage. Ahmed is a gritty player who proved his toughness by coming back quickly from a collapsed lung during his draft year at Connecticut. He continued to excel in the Arizona Fall League and will make the jump to Double-A in 2013. Andrelton Simmons looms as a significant obstacle ahead of him in Atlanta.
Cunningham had a breakout Double-A season in 2012 after battling a strained right elbow the year before, ranking third in the Southern League in batting (.309) and runs (77) while serving as one of the few consistent offensive contributors at Mississippi. He has a smooth swing from both sides of the plate and drives the ball from gap to gap despite having limited power. He has strong hands and makes good contact but doesn't accumulate many walks, a trend that needs to change if he's to remain at the top of the batting order. He has made progress in getting better reads and jumps on stolen-base attempts, and he's an intelligent and productive runner with plus speed. Cunningham has good first-step quickness and moves well on balls hit in all directions in center field. His arm strength is fringy, but he makes accurate throws, hits the cutoff man and makes the right decisions. Cunningham will move up to Triple-A in 2013 and should be ready for a major league opportunity soon. It may not come with the Braves after they committed to B.J. Upton in center field for the next five years.
Martin was a reliever for three of his four seasons at Gonzaga, leading NCAA Division I with a 0.86 ERA in 2011 while filling that role, and had a strong pro debut out of the bullpen in 2011. The Braves were intrigued with his command of four pitches and decided to look at him as a starter in his first full pro season. He responded by ranking second in the Carolina League with 12 wins and tying for third with 123 strikeouts despite getting shut down in early August once he reached his innings limit. Martin has a lethal one-two punch in a 91-94 mph fastball with late movement and a mid-80s slider that's his out pitch. He also commands a solid curveball and a changeup with decent depth and fade, and he mixes all of his offerings with aplomb to keep hitters off balance. The Braves remain open-minded about Martin's future and believe he has the makeup and ability to succeed in virtually any role. The current plan calls for him to remain in the rotation in 2013 while moving up to Double-A.
Signed for $800,000 as a 2010 sandwich pick, Lipka played center field for the first time last year after two seasons at shortstop and showed good instincts. He was limited to 51 games and didn't play again following a hamstring injury on June 23, but the standout high school wide receiver continued to bring an all-out, football mentality to the diamond. The Braves believe that once he gets comfortable and improves his routes, he'll make highlight-reel catches look routine. He had an awkward arm stroke at shortstop and has no better than average arm strength in the outfield but gets good accuracy on his throws. Lipka showed better plate discipline last season prior to getting hurt. With little power (46 extra-base hits in 937 career at-bats), he has to hone his small-ball approach, particularly with bunting, in order to utilize his plus speed. He also needs to get better reads while stealing bases in order to improve his success rate, which was 68 percent last year and 73 percent for his pro career. Because he missed the second half of last season, Lipka is likely to return to high Class A to open 2013.
Moore had Tommy John surgery during high school and was used sparingly during his first two years at Vanderbilt before emerging as the Commodores' closer as a junior in 2011. The Braves' lone over-slot signing that summer-he got $400,000 in the 14th round--he made his pro debut in 2012 and spent the first half of the campaign in the Rome rotation before moving to the bullpen in order to limit his workload. The velocity of Moore's fastball improved as the season went on, sitting at 93-95 mph at its best while maintaining above-average movement. He worked hard on improving the consistency of his curveball and can generate good spin with sweeping action. His curve is more effective than his slider, which lacks a sharp, cutting action. His changeup also has made strides and shows flashes of being a solid pitch. The 103 innings he pitched in 2012 were by far the most action Moore has seen on the mound, and he will need more innings to refine his command and overall feel for pitching. The development of his breaking ball will determine whether he starts or relieves at higher levels, with most scouts seeing him as a potential force in the back of a bullpen. High Class A is next on his agenda.
After shifting Hale between starting and relieving during his first three minor league seasons, the Braves decided to stick him in their Double-A rotation in 2012 to help him develop all of his pitches. He responded by tying for the Southern League lead with 27 starts and ranking fourth with 124 strikeouts. He also ranked fourth with 67 walks, however, showing that he's still developing control. A two-way player at Princeton who saw more time in center field than on the mound, Hale continues to play catch-up in his development as a pitcher. He has a quick arm with a fluid delivery that produces a heavy 92-94 mph fastball that touches 96 mph. His slider can be a solid offering at times, while his feel for his changeup comes and goes. Hale needs to do a better job of getting ahead in the count, and of working off his fastball. Though he has proven to be durable as a starter, he could end up back in the bullpen at higher levels. He embraces relieving because his workload resembles that of an everyday player. Regardless of which role he fills this season, he'll make the jump to Triple-A after the Braves added him to their 40-man roster in November.
The Braves knew Salcedo was raw when they signed him for $1.6 million in 2010, their largest bonus ever for an international amateur, yet they still have moved him aggressively through the system. In part that's because he lost more than two years of playing time while Major League Baseball investigated his age and identity after he first surfaced as a prospect on the international market in 2007. He didn't post great numbers in a season and a half in low Class A, but he got promoted anyway in 2012 and struggled both offensively and defensively. Salcedo generates impressive raw power with his quick swing, but his approach needs work after showing signs of improvement in 2011. He gets anxious and his lack of patience results in high-strikeout totals. Salcedo moved to third base from shortstop in 2011 and continued to struggle there last year with 42 errors, the third-highest total in the minor leagues. He has hard hands and makes bad throws while forcing too many plays. He has above-average arm strength that would play well on an outfield corner, where many scouts believe he would fit best. He has below-average speed and is too aggressive on the bases. Atlanta would like to push him to Double-A in 2013, but he may be better served by repeating high Class A.
After setting a Carolina League record with 52 doubles, earning Braves minor league player of the year honors and performing well in the Arizona Fall League in 2011, Terdoslavich was heralded as the heir apparent to Chipper Jones. Two months into the 2012 season, however, the nephew of former all-star Mike Greenwell was demoted from Triple-A to Double-A and shifted from third base to first following a dismal showing in all phases of the game. To his credit, he bounced back at Mississippi and put together a solid performance. Terdoslavich is a switch-hitter with an uppercut swing who generates good backspin and is capable of spraying line drives to all fields, though he doesn't produce big home run totals. He generally does a good job of barreling the ball even with his aggressive approach, but Triple-A pitchers exposed holes in his swing. Terdoslavich is a below-average runner with an average arm, so finding a defensive home has been problematic. He made 25 errors in 56 games at third base last year and hasn't looked fluid in limited action in the outfield, so first base is his most likely long-term destination. He'll get another shot at Gwinnett in 2013.
A strong summer behind the plate with the U.S. national college team put Elander in position to go in the first round of the 2012 draft, but he wasn't as strong defensively last spring and lasted until the sixth round. The Braves were pleased to land a hitter of his caliber for $166,700. Elander has a compact swing and a lot of bat speed, which combine to produce above-average pull power. He does a good job of keeping his hands back and controlling the strike zone. More athletic than most catchers, he's close to an average runner and has heady instincts on the bases. Elander moves well behind the plate and enhances a fringy arm with a quick release, throwing out 29 percent of basestealers in his pro debut. His hands are hard, however, and he doesn't project to receive well enough at the major league level. He played some right field in college and figures to wind up on an infield or outfield corner, perhaps as early as 2013. His bat is advanced enough to get him to high Class A in his first full pro season.
Jaime spent five seasons in the lower levels of the Nationals system before missing the entire 2010 and 2011 campaigns after Tommy John surgery in April 2010. Washington tried to slip him through waivers in late 2010 but the Diamondbacks claimed him, only to lose him in similar fashion to the Braves in August 2011. He finally returned to action last season and emerged as the closer at Lynchburg, ranking first in the system and second in the Carolina League with 18 saves. Though raw in many respects, Jaime has a classic power arm and a closer's mentality. He's not afraid to challenge hitters with his fastball, which flirts with 100 mph and sits in the upper 90s. He can be overpowering at times, though throwing strikes always has been an issue for him. His secondary pitches need work, with his slurvy curveball showing more promise than his below-average changeup. Atlanta placed Jaime on the 40-man roster in November, and he could be a factor in the majors by the end of 2013. He'll open the slate in Double-A.
Franco entered 2012 as a career .205 hitter in three years of Rookie ball, but took a big step forward and earned team MVP honors at Danville. He displayed a variety of above-average tools and overall ability that make him one of the more intriguing position players in the system. Franco has solid pop from both sides of the plate. He has good plate discipline for a young player and makes consistent contact with solid hand-eye coordination. His frame is strong and sturdy, and he projects to generate above-average power as his body matures and he gains more experience. He runs well but won't be a big basestealing threat. Franco has good hands and well above-average arm strength at third base. He finally should be ready to make the jump to full-season ball in 2013.
Signed out of the Dominican Republic a month into the 2011 international signing period for a modest $65,000, Merejo skipped the Dominican Summer League and made his pro debut in the Gulf Coast League last season. He finished third in the league with 53 strikeouts (against just nine walks) while mixing three pitches and repeating his delivery with consistency. He makes up for a lack of size with solid stuff and advanced feel for pitching. He works off his 89-93 mph fastball with good movement, and does an excellent job of getting ahead in the count by being aggressive in the strike zone. He struggled to throw strikes with his curveball, but it shows swing-and-miss potential when he has it dialed in. He also has some aptitude for throwing a changeup. The Braves were rewarded for being aggressive with the underrated Merejo and believe he has the makeup and ability to handle further challenges. His spring training performance will determine whether he spends 2013 at Danville or Rome.
A native of Toa Alta, Puerto Rico, de la Rosa attended the Bucky Dent Baseball Academy (Delray Beach, Fla.), one of the growing number of baseball-oriented private schools that have popped up in Florida. That experience gave de la Rosa extra exposure, and he opened eyes at showcases with 1.71-second pop times and base and throws clocked at 85 mph. The Braves drafted him in the third round last June and signed him for $408,300. Short and stocky, de la Rosa has quick, agile feet behind the plate and soft hands. He still has some rough edges to smooth out after committing 13 passed balls in 28 pro games, though he did throw out 30 percent of basestealers. De la Rosa doesn't have as much upside with the bat, though he has decent power to his pull side and a relatively smooth swing. He has considerable work to do with his plate discipline after striking out 30 times and walking just twice in his pro debut. He's a below-average runner but is a good athlete for a catcher. He's not ready for a full-season assignment after his rough introduction to pro ball, so he'll likely play at Danville in 2013.
Acquired from the Twins before the 2011 season as compensation for Rule 5 pickup Scott Diamond, Bullock has stalled in Double-A with the Braves. They thought he might be on the verge of the big leagues heading into 2012, but he struggled for most of the season and got knocked around when he got to Triple-A in mid-June. He had trouble finding a consistent feel for his release point, which hurt the effectiveness of his secondary pitches. In one four-game stretch in July, he allowed 16 earned runs in six innings. A closer at Florida, Bullock has a fearless approach on the mound and will challenge hitters and work inside with his 92-94 mph fastball. He uses his height to throw on a downhill plane. He tends to lose the feel for his slider and below-average changeup, however. Scouts say Bullock has the potential to be a set-up man in the majors if he gets more consistent. Atlanta was encouraged with the way he finished the season after going back down to Mississippi, and hopes he can maintain that momentum when he opens this year at Gwinnett. The Braves declined to protect him on their 40-man roster, however.
Kubitza got off to a strong start last year, his first full pro season after becoming the highest-drafted (third round) position player in Texas State history in 2011, but he tailed off and batted just .229/.327/.335 in the second half. He has patience and manages the strike zone well, though he pressed at times last season and struck out 127 times. He has a smooth swing, his hands work well and he sees the ball well against southpaws, against whom he batted .302 in 2012. He's prone to tinker with his stance, but the Braves believe he'll settle down as he gains experience. Though primarily a line-drive hitter, Kubitza has solid raw power and could hit 20 homers if he adds some loft to his stroke and pulls more pitches. He's a good defender at the hot corner, with decent quickness and soft hands along with above-average arm strength. He also runs well for his size. He'll strive for more consistency when he advances to high Class A this year.
Hyatt jumped onto the radar of scouts last spring while helping Appalachian State win a school-record 41 games and reach the NCAA postseason for the first time since 1986. In his only season as a closer, he established the single-season school record with 16 saves, a total that led the Southern Conference and ranked sixth in NCAA Division I. That performance and an increase in velocity led the Braves to draft him in the 13th round and sign him for $100,000, and he continued to dominate in his pro debut. Hyatt doesn't have a classic closer's build, but the ball appears to jump out of his hand. His fastball sits at 92-95 mph and touches 97 while showing late life. He made improvements with the command and cutting action on his hard slider over the course of the year. His slider registers in the mid-80s and is difficult to hit, even when batters know its coming. More than one club official has said Hyatt resembles Craig Kimbrel as a minor leaguer. Hyatt has the stuff and makeup to work the late innings in the major leagues, and he might not need much time to get there. He'll open his first full pro season in high Class A.
Drury blossomed at the plate in 2011, when he led the Appalachian League with 92 hits and narrowly missed winning the batting title with a .347 average. His quick, short stroke generated good backspin and he made consistent contact despite lacking patience at the plate. More advanced pitchers exploited his aggressiveness in 2012, particularly during the first half of the season. He started to figure things out after the all-star break, when he batted .279/.323/.407, but he's still going to have to tone down his approach. Drury gives away too many at-bats by chasing pitches, and he needs to wait for offerings he can drive if he's going to develop more than gap power. There's more pressure on his bat now that he's spending more time at first base. A shortstop in high school, Drury initially moved to third base as a pro. But his speed, range, arm strength and throwing accuracy are all below-average, and he saw more action at first base last year due to the presence of Kyle Kubitza at Rome. Drury will repeat low Class A to start the 2013 season, in hopes he can refine his approach at the plate.
Since he rated as the Appalachian League's top prospect in 2010, Perez's development has gone much more slowly than the Braves anticipated. He has bounced between Rome and Danville, battling his control and confidence while displaying an inability to repeat his delivery. His fastball dipped to the upper 80s in 2011 before returning to 91-95 mph last year. His curveball also showed tighter spin, though his changeup remains a distant third pitch. Perez's confidence is shaky, but he responded well after moving to the bullpen following a demotion to the Appy League last summer. He's still just 21, so time is on his side, but he needs to show he can clear the hurdle of low Class A this year in his new role. His inability to do so to this point led to Atlanta's decision to leave him off its 40-man roster this offseason.
After a dismal start in high Class A last year, the light came on for Hefflinger in the second half after he returned to Rome, where he had spent most of the previous two seasons. Instead of sulking, he worked hard in extensive sessions with hitting coordinator Don Long, and put together his best performance since turning pro in 2009. Much of the change centered on Hefflinger's approach at the plate. He had been taking too many pitches early in counts and then chasing breaking balls with two strikes. By hitting better pitches earlier in the count, he dialed into his easy plus power and used his smooth swing to hit the ball with authority to all fields. A good all-around athlete, Hefflinger runs the bases smartly with speed that's a tick above-average. He covers the outfield corners well and has above-average arm strength with good accuracy. He also generates raves for his leadership, getting a large share of the credit for Rome's worst-to-first turnaround in the second half of 2012. Hefflinger has the raw strength and overall tools to succeed at higher levels, but because he hasn't thus far, the Braves didn't bother protecting him on their 40-man roster this offseason. He'll have to show he can solve high Class A pitching in his third attempt this year.
Northcraft has made a slow but steady climb through the system and earned a spot on the Braves' 40-man roster after putting together his best season as a pro in 2012. He led the Carolina League with 27 starts and 160 strikeouts and pitched well in the playoffs as Lynchburg won the championship. Northcraft has good size and excellent mound presence. Throwing from a low three-quarters arm slot, he works fast and gets quick outs by coaxing groundballs. His main pitch is an 87-91 mph sinker, which he backs up with a solid changeup and fringy curveball. His breaking ball has continually improved since he signed, so there's hope that he could eventually have three average pitches. Scouts aren't crazy about his delivery, which includes a long arm action and a stiff front leg, so they're not convinced that he'll make it as a starter at the upper level. However, Northcraft is an intelligent pitcher who gets the most out of his ability. Atlanta is interested to see how he fares in his first taste of Double-A in 2013.
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