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Winning has become synonymous with Swanson since he was a dual-sport athlete at Marietta High in suburban Atlanta. He was part of two state championships in basketball and was a member of the East Cobb Yankees, a team that won the 2012 Perfect Game national championship. After opting to attend Vanderbilt despite being drafted by the Rockies in the 38th round in 2012, Swanson overcame a broken foot and a shoulder injury as a freshman, then led the Commodores to the program's first College World Series national championship as a sophomore in 2014. He earned CWS Most Outstanding Player honors while hitting .323. He moved from second base to shortstop as a junior and helped guide Vandy back to the CWS finals in 2015. That month the Diamondbacks made Swanson the first overall pick in the draft. Hit in the face by a pitch during a simulated game, he bounced back in time to be part of short-season Hillsboro's Northwest League championship in his pro debut. Three months later, Arizona sent Swanson, outfielder Ender Inciarte and righthander Aaron Blair to the Braves for righthander Shelby Miller and low Class A lefthander Gabe Speier. He proceeded to tear up the high Class A Carolina League for a month in 2016 before moving on to the Double-A Southern League, where he ranked as the No. 1 prospect in the circuit. He made his major league debut as Atlanta's starting shortstop on Aug. 17, stroking two hits in four at-bats against the Twins. He batted 129 times, thus retaining his rookie eligibility for 2017 by just two at-bats. Braves scouting director Brian Bridges got to know Swanson well during the latter's high school career and loved everything the shortstop brought to the table at a young age. Rated by SL managers as the league's best defensive shortstop, Swanson has outstanding quickness with exceptional range, soft and steady hands, and above-average arm strength with excellent accuracy on his throws. He uses his intelligence and superior feel for the game to anticipate plays, which helped him lead all minor league shortstops with an average of 3.27 assists per game in 2016. His cerebral approach is also noticeable on offense, where he uses his above-average speed to take the extra base. An ideal No. 2 hitter, Swanson makes hard and consistent contact with his advanced approach at the plate. His patience and feel for the strike zone allow him to work counts and pile up walks. He also is capable of executing the hit-and-run and driving the ball to all fields, and he should have at least average power once he gains more experience at the game's top level. The biggest question scouts have is how much his power will play to go along with a fairly high strikeout rate going back to his Vanderbilt days. Swanson looked the part as Atlanta's long-term answer at shortstop over the final seven weeks of the 2016 campaign. While he may not put up the kind of numbers to garner perennial MVP consideration, his steady and consistent performance on the field and his overall makeup and personality off it, while playing his home games in the county where he was born, make Swanson a natural fit for a rebuilding organization. He's positioned to be a face for the franchise as its starting shortstop for years to come.
Albies continued his rapid ascent through the organization in 2016. At age 19, he skipped high Class A and led the Double-A Southern League in average (.321) and on-base percentage (.391). Despite struggling during a two-month stint in Triple-A at midseason, he thrived in a return to Mississippi before breaking the tip of a bone in his right elbow on Sept. 9, keeping him out of the SL playoffs. Strictly a shortstop prior to 2016, Albies shifted to second base when he teamed with Dansby Swanson at Mississippi. The definition of a quick-twitch athlete, Albies' first-step quickness, soft hands, above-average arm strength and baseball instincts make him a plus defender at both middle-infield spots. He has work to do making the pivot on double plays, which should come with experience. His offensive strength is his ability to make hard and consistent contact from both sides of the plate, thanks to his plus bat speed and superior hand-eye coordination. He drives the ball better than advertised, draws walks and uses his plus speed to beat out grounders and steal bases, making him an ideal top-of-the-lineup hitter. Atlanta's long-term second baseman, Albies is headed for Triple-A Gwinnett in 2017 with his first big league callup not far off. .
The Braves selected Allard 14th overall in 2015 after he fell in the draft because of a stress reaction in his back that caused him to miss most of his senior year of high school. He had minor surgery after signing and was held back in extended spring training as a precaution to open 2016. Allard opened at low Class A Rome in June before the Rookie-level Danville season started, then returned to Rome after five starts and got better as the year went on. Allard went 4-0, 1.72 with 37 strikeouts in 31 innings in August before tossing 12 shutout innings in the South Atlantic League playoffs. The lefthander has an excellent feel for pitching and works down in the strike zone. His fastball sits at 90-94 mph and possesses late cutting action. He mixes his heater with a plus hammer curveball with a 1-to-7 drop that may be his best pitch. Allard has made outstanding progress with his changeup that could improve to the point where he winds up with three plus pitches. He throws a lot of strikes and should have above-average command when he matures. Allard has the overall package to be a No. 2 or 3 starter in the big leagues. He should open 2017 at Atlanta's new Florida State League affiliate but could make the jump to Double-A during the campaign.
The Braves loved what they saw in Soroka when he pitched on the Canadian Junior National Team and they took the righthander with the 28th overall pick in the 2015 draft. Efficient due to his advanced feel for pitching, Soroka wound up working more innings (143) than any prep first-rounder in his first full season in at least a decade. He served as No. 1 starter in both rounds of the South Atlantic League playoffs for low Class A Rome. Soroka's intelligence is readily apparent on the mound and helped him adjust after lefthanded hitters pounded him in his pro debut. He switched sides of the pitching rubber to locate better to his glove side and it worked. He limited lefthanders to a .648 OPS in 2016. Soroka mixes three above-average pitches with aplomb and generates lots of groundouts due to his plus control and ability to pound the lower half of the strike zone. His 90-92 mph fastball has excellent sinking action and touches 95 when he guns for a strikeout. His curveball has tight spin, his changeup has solid movement and he reads hitters' swings to attack their weakness. Strong with a solid presence on the bump, Soroka is a former hockey player and a solid all-around athlete who fields his position well. Soroka was one of the youngest players in his draft class and among the youngest pitchers in the SAL in 2016. While his next step will be high Class A, he projects as a mid-rotation starter in the big leagues.
Anderson attracted attention in the Metropolitan Baseball Classic prior to his junior year and took off when he pitched against fellow New York state prep and 2015 first-round pick Garrett Whitley the following spring. Despite battling pneumonia and a minor injury during his senior year, Anderson ranked high on the Braves' 2016 draft board, and Atlanta drafted the lanky, projectable righthander third overall and signed him for a below-slot $4 million. He possesses the classic combination of current ability with the potential to become even better with experience and physical development. A cerebral pitcher who was a Vanderbilt commit, he has impressed with his calm, mature approach and ability to dissect the strike zone with his impressive command and ability to work both sides of the plate. He throws all three of his pitches from the same release point, which makes them difficult for hitters to decipher. His fastball sits 92-94 mph and has touched 97. He also throws a late-breaking curveball, with above-average potential and 10-to-4 shape at 79-81 mph and a plus changeup in the mid-80s. After spending his pro debut at Atlanta's two Rookie-level affiliates, Anderson will open 2017 at low Class A Rome. From there he has the ability to move quickly as he develops into a mid-rotation starter at the big league level.
The Braves have been aggressive in challenging Acuna since he signed for a modest $100,000 in 2014. He performed well in his U.S. debut after bypassing the Dominican Summer League in 2015 and proceeded to get off to a fast start at low Class A Rome in 2016 before a broken thumb sidelined him from mid-May to mid-August. Despite the injury, Acuna displayed his electric tools in all phases of the game. He uses his plus speed to cover center field from gap to gap and has the arm strength to play any position in the garden. He reads balls well, takes good angles and shows impressive anticipation along with excellent first-step quickness. Acuna is aggressive at the plate but has above-average discipline for a teenager. While his body is still developing, he has plus raw power and barrels pitches consistently with his above-average bat speed. Those traits should allow him to hit for average at higher levels. He needs work on stealing bases more consistently but has the speed to make an impact on the basepaths. His shortened season at Rome notwithstanding, Acuna should open the 2017 campaign at high Class A Florida after making up for lost time in the winter Australian Baseball League. Though risky, Acuna has as high a ceiling as any Braves position player.
Maitan began to attract the attention of scouts in Venezuela at age 13. Over the next three years, the power-hitting shortstop emerged as the top international prospect and was considered the best foreign amateur to hit the market since Miguel Sano in 2009. Maneuvering their way to make a big splash on the international market in 2016, the Braves made Maitan their primary target and signed him for $4.25 million. He draws comparisons with Chipper Jones for his ability to hit for power and average from both sides of the plate. He gets more loft from the right side but shows an advanced feel for the strike zone and excellent discipline. Like Jones, Maitan is a physical player with solid athleticism and high baseball intelligence. Given his current size, he may move to third base as his body matures, though his easy actions and footwork and strong arm suggest he could remain up the middle. Either way the Braves envision a middle-of-the-lineup hitter thanks his plus raw power. Were Maitan an American player eligible for the draft, he would have been in the 2018 class. He's advanced enough to open his pro career at one of the Braves' Rookie-level affiliates.
The 15th overall pick in the 2014 draft, Newcomb was the centerpiece of the deal that sent Andrelton Simmons to the Angels after the 2015 campaign. A two-sport standout in high school prior to pitching at Hartford, he appeared in the Futures Game during his lone season with the Angels before leading the Double-A Southern League with 152 strikeouts and ranking second with a .224 opponent average in 2016. Newcomb is a power pitcher who improved the consistency of his delivery over the course of the 2016 season. His fastball ranges from 90-95 mph but sits at 92-93 and tends to jump out of his hand due to his ability to hide the ball until he releases it. He records many of his strikeouts with a hard, tight curveball that possesses plus spin and sits at 77-78 mph. Newcomb's mid-80s changeup is at least a solid-average offering but lacks late movement. He tends to lose his rhythm and focus on occasion, helping produce his below-average control, and he needs to get more aggressive with his pitch selection when he's ahead in the count. Newcomb has the broad-shouldered frame and strength to be a workhorse in a big league rotation--if he throws enough strikes. He is ready for Triple-A Gwinnett in 2017 and should make his major league debut at some point during the season.
Weigel pitched for three schools in college and was a reliever at Houston when the Braves made him a 2015 seventh-round pick. A mediocre pro debut at Rookie-level Danville that year did little to excite the masses before the righthander displayed the ability to throw four pitches for strikes at low Class A Rome in 2016. He wound up ranking second in the organization in wins (11) and ERA and tying for second in strikeouts (152) while finishing the season at Double-A. Standing 6-foot-6 and possessing a live arm, Weigel has an intimidating presence on the mound. His fastball sits 94-95 mph and touches 98, which is velocity that overpowered most low Class A South Atlantic League hitters. He mixes his heater with a sweeping mid-70s curveball, a hard mid-80s slider with short, downward action and a changeup that is inconsistent but flashes plus potential when he throws it properly. The development of his changeup could determine whether Weigel starts or relieves at higher levels. He also has ironed out most of the control problems that hampered him in college but needs to fine-tune his command. A classic late bloomer, Weigel will return to Double-A Mississippi to open 2017 and could be knocking on the door to the big leagues by the end of the season.
Atlanta finally had the opportunity to see Fried on the mound after the Braves acquired him from the Padres in December 2014 as part of the Justin Upton trade. The seventh overall pick in the 2012 draft, Fried missed much of 2014 and all of 2015 while recovering from Tommy John surgery. Other than a blister problem that cost him a month at midseason, the lefthander showed few ill effects from the procedure while making 21 appearances at low Class A Rome in 2016. Fried displayed an increase in overall maturity and overcame some early-season rustiness with his fastball command to overpower hitters late in the campaign. He struck out 10 batters in each of his last two starts before notching 11 in his first playoff appearance. Fried showed a plus fastball at 92-95 mph and even touched 97 on several occasions, though his fastball command is below-average. He throws a hard curveball that generated many of his strikeouts. He also throws a slower breaking ball primarily early in counts and became more consistent with both breaking balls as the year progressed. Fried's improving changeup features solid fade and depth and generates swings and misses. He finished the season with 44 strikeouts in his last 25.1 innings, counting the South Atlantic League playoffs. He'll try to maintain that momentum in 2017 at high Class A Florida. With more command, he could pitch toward the front of a big league rotation.
Riley was a premier two-way player in high school who was considered more of a pitching prospect until the Braves took him 41st overall as a hitter. After a stellar debut in Rookie ball in 2015, Riley overcame a slow start in the South Atlantic League to help lead low Class A Rome to a championship while leading the organization in home runs (20) and ranking second in RBIs (80). His youth and inexperience showed early, when pitchers took advantage of his inability to hit pitches in on his hands, before he made an adjustment with his hitting setup that resulted in a more direct path to inside pitches. Riley barreled the ball consistently and reduced his strikeout rate after the adjustment, allowing him to tap into his double-plus raw power. He has plus arm strength at third base, but his hands are not particularly soft and he needs to improve on balls hit to his left. Some scouts believe he would be better served moving to first base or left field, the latter of which may be a stretch with his below-average speed. The Braves believe Riley can be an impact bat in the middle of the lineup. The primary question centers on which corner position he will play. A promotion to high Class A Florida awaits in 2017.
Toussaint had one of the most electric arms in the 2014 draft and went 16th overall to the Diamondbacks. After a year in the Arizona system, the righthander was traded on his birthday, along with Bronson Arroyo (and his salary), to the Braves for utility infielder Phil Gosselin. The inexplicable move was Atlanta's gain, particularly after Toussaint began to show his previous potential after dropping his arm slot from overhand to three-quarters in 2016 under the tutelage of low Class A Rome pitching coach Dan Meyer. The alteration made Toussaint's delivery more compact and efficient. At the same time, his mid-90s fastball became a swing-and-miss pitch, and his sharp, fall-from-the-sky curveball, which D-backs officials encouraged him not to rely on, returned to its previous status as a plus pitch. As a result, Toussaint's strikeout rate improved from 6.0 per nine innings in the first half to 11.2 in the second. He still is inconsistent with his changeup, though it flashed above-average as an amateur, and he has struggled with his overall control. His progress with his third pitch will determine whether his long-term role is starter or reliever, but better control is mandatory in either situation. He will attempt to improve in those departments in 2017 at high Class A Florida.
Pache ranked as the No. 21 international prospect in the 2015 class, and the Braves signed the young outfielder for $1.4 million. He progressed rapidly in 2016, starting the season in the Rookie-level Gulf Coast League before moving up the Appalachian League. He ranked among the Top 10 Prospects in both leagues. A lanky, electric player, Pache has an unorthodox swing with a hard stride but manages to make consistent contact because of his superior hand-eye coordination. He rarely swings and misses, and he has the ability to spray line drives from gap to gap. Pache's pitch recognition and feel for the strike zone need work, but he has overcome those shortcomings to this point because he can hit virtually anything he can reach. Pache has double-plus speed he uses on the basepaths as well as in center field, where he could become a Gold Glove defender. He has exceptional range to both sides and outstanding closing speed with above-average arm strength. Pache needs work coming in on balls and taking better angles, but he is advanced for someone who will play the entire 2017 season, most likely at low Class A Rome, at age 18.
One of the few remaining prospects from the Frank Wren era, Sims was the 21st overall pick in 2012. After missing two months in 2015 with injuries he suffered in a bus wreck at high Class A Carolina, Sims had a full slate in 2016 that included a disastrous stretch at Triple-A Gwinnett in May and June. However, he regained his dominant form upon his second-half return to Double-A Mississippi and ranked fifth in the minors with 159 strikeouts. A competitive and aggressive righthander with outstanding athleticism, Sims challenges hitters with his plus fastball that sits 93-95 mph and touches 97 with armside run. He mixes it well with his above-average 77-79 mph curveball with a hard, late break. His difficulties have centered the slow development of his changeup and his inability to maintain consistent control and focus, leading to 92 walks, the fourth-highest total in the minors in 2016. He has altered his delivery multiple times with varying degrees of success but has not conquered his wildness. Sims may be headed for a relief role at the major league level, potentially as a closer. The Braves will to give him another shot to gain consistency with his third pitch and remain in the rotation at Triple-A in 2017.
A two-way prep standout with a power bat at first base, Wentz overcame a dead arm following his junior season to reemerge as premier pitcher with physical projection remaining. The 40th overall pick in 2016, Wentz signed for an above-slot $3.05 million to forgo a Virginia commitment and earned a promotion to Rookie-level Danville after four dominant Rookie-level Gulf Coast League outings. Scouts love Wentz's tall, lanky build, his easy, repeatable mechanics and his potential as he adds strength and maturity. A decent athlete who repeats his short arm action with consistency, he uses his 6-foot-5 frame to his advantage by pitching downhill and extending toward the plate. Despite struggling with walks at Danville, he has demonstrated at least average control of three pitches. His fastball has good armside run down in the zone and sat at 87-91 mph in pro ball after touching 96 in high school. His upper-70s curveball has late depth, and he shows an advanced feel for a changeup with fade that flashes plus potential. With as much pitching depth as the Braves have in the minors, Wentz can move slowly and spend the entire 2017 season at low Class A Rome. Long-term, he has the ability to be at least a No. 3 starter in the big leagues.
Part of the Braves' prospect haul from the Padres in the Justin Upton deal following the 2014 season, Peterson had his best season at Double-A Mississippi in 2016. He led the Southern League with 38 doubles, ranked second in RBIs (88) and third in hits (148). He homered twice in a June series against his brother D.J., a Mariners prospect and 2013 first-round pick. Peterson is an offense-first player with above-average bat speed and the ability to generate backspin with his quick hands and whip-like swing. He has an advanced approach at the plate but tends to accumulate strikeouts due to his tendency to swing and miss. The former third baseman continued to become more comfortable in left field and even saw some time in center in 2016. His glovework, which is fringe-average with his average speed and improving routes, likely limits him to left at higher levels. Peterson has the ability to be a steady contributor but projects as more of a complementary piece at the major league level rather than as a star. He's set for Triple-A Gwinnett in 2017.
A stellar senior season from Muller led the Braves to take the lefthander with the 44th overall pick in 2016. His velocity increased from 87-89 mph in the summer of 2015 to sitting in the low 90s and touching 95 mph on a few occasions in 2016. Featuring a heavy swing-and-miss fastball with late action, Muller dominated prep hitters and established a national high school record by fanning 24 consecutive batters over two starts and notched 36 straight outs via the strikeout. An excellent athlete who played first base and the outfield when not pitching, Muller displayed impressive power at the plate and would have been a two-way player at the University of Texas had he not signed an above-slot $2.5 million. The Braves limited Muller to a maximum of three innings in his 10 Rookie-level Gulf Coast League outings and were impressed with the transition he made to pro ball, even though his velocity fell slightly over the course of the summer. He uses his tall frame to his advantage with a downward plane on his pitches and a strong presence on the mound. Muller consistently repeats his clean delivery despite his 6-foot-6 height, and he does an excellent job of making use of the entire strike zone with his fastball. He showed a solid feel for his slurvy curveball and changeup but needs to hone consistency, break and depth of both pitches in order to emerge as a mid-rotation starter in the big leagues. He has a good shot at opening the 2017 campaign at low Class A Rome.
A three-sport star in high school, Minter was drafted in the 38th round by the Tigers in 2012 before attending Texas A&M. He relieved for much of his college career, which included a stint with USA Baseball's Collegiate National Team, then moved to the rotation in 2015 and went 3-0, 0.47 in four starts before succumbing to Tommy John surgery. The Braves selected the rehabbing Minter with the 75th overall pick in 2015 and were rewarded in 2016 when he pitched at three levels during his first taste of pro ball. He recorded a combined 1.30 ERA and 0.84 WHIP with 12.2 strikeouts per nine innings. Minter is a power pitcher who throws from a high three-quarters arm slot and features a fastball-slider combination with improving command. His plus fastball sits 94-96 mph and touches 98 with impressive armside sink and run. His mid-80s slider has horizontal movement and little depth but he keeps it down in the strike zone. He also throws an above-average cutter in the low 90s, giving him three power pitches that miss bats. Minter challenges hitters and has the overall package to be a dominant reliever in the majors if he stays healthy. He probably will open 2017 at Double-A Mississippi.
The Rangers drafted Demeritte 30th overall in 2013 and traded him to the Braves in July 2016 for starter Lucas Harrell and reliever Dario Alvarez. Demeritte finished 2016 tied for 11th in the minors with 28 home runs. While 25 of them came in the hitter-friendly California League, the total demonstrates his power potential. Demeritte also paced the South Atlantic League with 25 homers in 2014 at age 19 before testing positive for Furosemide, a diuretic often used to flush the body of another drug, and received an 80-game suspension in 2015. He possesses quick, strong hands that generate plus bat speed and backspin. His problem comes in making consistent contact. Demeritte struggles with pitch recognition and chases too many pitches outside the strike zone by being overly aggressive, resulting in a strikeout rate pushing 40 percent, which includes a career-high 175 punchouts in 2016. He has made steady improvements at second base after playing shortstop in high school. His hands are not smooth, but he has good arm strength and above-average range and athleticism. He made more contact while still hitting for power in the Arizona Fall League, ranking tied for second with four homers. Demeritte is expected to receive his first taste of Double-A in 2017.
Ruiz joined the Braves in January 2015 when he and righthanders Andrew Thurman and Mike Foltynewicz were traded from Houston for Evan Gattis. A heavily-recruited quarterback in high school, Ruiz struggled at the plate throughout most of his first season with the Braves before improving his physique and overall athleticism heading into 2016. He made the jump to Triple-A in 2016 as one of Gwinnett's youngest players and demonstrated excellent plate discipline and pitch recognition. He received his first big league callup at the end of the year. Ruiz has a smooth swing from the left side and makes good contact. He ranked fourth in the organization in RBIs (62) and has shown raw power that produces a steady stream of doubles and could generate more home runs as his body matures. His defense is a tick above-average. His hands are fringe average, but he has improved his range and the accuracy of his throws, leading to just seven errors in 2016 and an International League-leading 31 double plays turned by a third baseman. The Braves believe Ruiz has the ability to develop into a Bill Mueller type of player at the major league level. He will battle for a 25-man roster spot in 2017.
Davidson was drafted 32nd overall in 2014 after displaying impressive power on the high school showcase circuit. Though his raw power is obvious, he has yet to parlay that into run-producing numbers due to a low batting average caused by high strikeout totals. Davidson has feel for the strike zone but is at times too willing to take a walk and relies too often on minor league umpires to make the correct call on close pitches. He also tends to struggle with inside fastballs, which contributed to his 184 strikeouts, the fifth-most in the minors in 2016. While Davidson needs to be more aggressive at the plate, he does have a smooth swing from the left side. Though not blessed with speed, he is an intelligent baserunner. He has developed into a solid right fielder after moving from left early in his pro career and possesses enough arm strength and accuracy to remain at the position. The Braves realize they may have been overaggressive in promoting Davidson to high Class A in 2016 and will probably have him open the 2017 campaign at the same level, with their new Florida State League affiliate.
The Braves signed Cruz for $2 million in 2015, making him their highest-paid player on the international market that year, and he played his way through two Rookie levels in his pro debut in 2016. An impressive athlete with plus-plus speed, Cruz is raw in many facets of the game. He is a natural righthanded hitter learning how to switch-hit. He employs a line-drive approach with solid gap power from the right side, but often is off-balance and struggles to hit with authority from the left side. Cruz is aggressive at the plate with little discipline or strike-zone judgment. Given his speed, some feel he needs to make bunting a bigger part of his game. Defensively he makes the routine plays at shortstop but needs to needs to improve his game awareness. His hands are soft and he has quick feet, but his overall footwork needs improvement. Cruz has shown an above-average arm but can be timid cutting loose on his throws. The Braves are confident Cruz can work through his struggles, particularly given his age. Spring training will determine whether he returns to Rookie-level Danville or moves up to low Class A Rome to open 2017.
Cumberland led the Pacific-10 Conference with 16 home runs in 2016, and his power potential and solid swing from both sides of the plate led the Braves to make the draft-eligible sophomore the 76th overall pick. He began his pro career at Rookie-level Danville and failed to impress scouts, though fatigue from catching a full college season played a part. Cumberland showed plus bat speed from both sides as well as raw power to his pull side, but rarely carried it to games. He demonstrated a good approach at the plate and the ability to work counts but needs to hit balls on the outer half with more authority. The Braves knew when drafting Cumberland that his defense needs polish, particularly with his footwork and ability to block balls in the dirt. He has soft hands and catches the ball well. He features average arm strength but needs to quicken his release. Cumberland's stocky build does not exude athleticism and fluidity, which led several scouts to suggest he would be better served moving to first base. The Braves will continue to work with Cumberland behind the plate, starting him at low Class A Rome in 2017.
Harrington worked primarily in relief during his first two seasons at Louisville before moving to the rotation as a junior in 2016 and emerging as the Atlantic Coast Conference's pitcher of the year after going 12-2, 1.95 overall and 8-0, 1.33 in conference play. Drafted 80th overall, Harrington has off-the-charts makeup, work ethic and intelligence to go with a solid-average skill set that has some within the Braves organization believing he could become a Dallas Keuchel-type of hurler at higher levels. Harrington works off an 89-91 mph fastball that touches 93 and an average slider. He has above-average command of both pitches and hides the ball well to create deception. Harrington works both sides of the plate with his fastball and generates late life. He sets up hitters and gets them to chase his slider out of the zone. His long-term role will be determined in large part by the development of his below-average changeup, a pitch he rarely threw in college. Harrington made progress with the depth of the pitch during his pro debut, but he could become a lefty reliever in the big leagues if his third offering does not continue to improve. Spring training will determine which Class A level he joins to open 2017.
A North Carolina commit, Wilson was a football standout on both sides of the ball and a power pitcher who overwhelmed hitters in high school as well as those in Rookie-level Gulf Coast League in his first taste of pro ball. At Orange High he threw three no-hitters as a senior, including a perfect game in the playoffs, while working with current North Carolina State freshman catcher Brad Debo. Wilson signed for an above-slot $1.2 million as a 2016 fourth-round pick. The uber-athletic righthander brings a football mentality to the mound by challenging hitters without fear. Wilson pounds the strike zone with his 93-95 mph fastball that touches 97 with armside run and a hard slider in the mid-80s. Scouts questioned his ability to spin his breaking ball due to his long arm action, but the Braves were encouraged with Wilson's progress after making minor alterations. He needs a third pitch to remain a starter and has a long way to go for his changeup to be anything more than a show-me offering. His thick, physical frame lacks much projection, but he possesses the arm strength and mentality succeed at higher levels. Wilson is projected to open the 2017 season at low Class A Rome.
Gutierrez has been on scouts' radars since he was an 11-year-old catcher at the 12U World Championship in Taiwan. Three years later, at the age of 14, he was Venezuela's starting catcher at the 15U World Cup in Mexico. He trained at Carlos Guillen's academy and continued to attract attention, though many scouts felt his progress began to level off. The Braves believed otherwise and signed Gutierrez for $3.5 million in 2016 when the international signing period opened on July 2. The thick-bodied receiver does not run well but flashes plus arm strength and raw power potential, and the Braves believe he should develop into at least an average hitter and defender. Gutierrez has good hands and solid catch-and-throw skills with above-average accuracy on his throws. At the plate, his swing tends to get long and he will expand his strike zone. Gutierrez does a good job using the entire field and is projected to be a run producer as he gains experience. He could move quickly once he builds a foundation in pro ball. After a stint in extended spring training, Gutierrez may open the 2017 season in the Rookie-level Gulf Coast League.
The Braves tried Didder at second base after they signed him out of Aruba in 2013. After that didn't work, they slid him to right field to take advantage of his double-plus speed and above-average arm. That was going to be the plan for Didder at low Class A Rome in 2016, but when Ronald Acuna went on the disabled list, Didder shifted to center field and wowed Braves officials and scouts with his defense in the middle. He also showed continued refinement at the plate. He has well below-average raw power, but he can line balls in the gaps for doubles and triples. He has a knack for getting hit by pitches (39 in 2016), which plays a significant part in his solid on-base percentage. Didder's defensive versatility makes him a potential fourth outfielder, but his on-base skills could make him a starter. He will head to high Class A Florida in 2017.
Jackson made his big league debut with the Rangers in 2015 but opened 2016 in the Triple-A Round Rock bullpen before getting called up to Texas in May. After returning to Triple-A a month later and bouncing back up to Texas at the end of June, Jackson allowed six runs in 1.2 innings in a July 2 appearance in Minnesota before the Rangers demoted him to Double-A Frisco, where he spent the rest of the season and continued to struggle with his control. The Braves acquired him at the 2016 Winter Meetings in a trade for righthander Tyrell Jenkins and lefthander Brady Feigl. Jackson still has good stuff but doesn't know where it's going. He throws his fastball 93-97 mph and complements it with a sharp-breaking curveball that grades as a tick above-average. He sprinkles in an occasional fringe-average changeup and slider. What's long plagued Jackson is poor control of all of his pitches, which stems from his inability to control his high-effort delivery or repeat his release point. If Jackson can ever learn to throw more strikes, he can be a middle reliever, but he has to find a delivery that allows him to throw quality strikes before the Braves will trust him at the major league level.
Jackson was one of the decade's most touted prep players, a three-time high school All-American and the sixth overall pick in 2014 by the Mariners, but his star has since taken a fall in pro ball. The Braves took a flier on him, trading righthanders Max Povse and Rob Whalen for him after the 2016 season. Jackson has 223 strikeouts in 190 career games because of an inefficient bat path, which has raised doubts he'll ever make enough contact to tap into his plus raw power. He still hits the occasional towering home run, but evaluators increasingly grade Jackson as a below-average hitter. The Mariners sent Jackson to extended spring training to begin 2016, the first time this millennium a healthy, non-suspended first-round infielder or outfielder did not begin his second full season assigned to a team. He finally responded to coaching after the move and was bumped to low Class A Clinton in mid-May, but even with improvement in his bat path still struck out in 27 percent of his plate appearances. He has average range in right field and a plus arm, and the Braves have hinted at trying Jackson back at catcher, his primary high school position. Atlanta's roving catching instructor Jeff Datz scouted for the Mariners when they drafted Jackson. He is likely headed for high Class A Florida in 2017.
Since Brian McCann left as a free agent after the 2013 season, the Braves have struggled to develop a homegrown catcher, opting instead for such journeymen as Gerald Laird and A.J. Pierzynski. The likes of Evan Gattis (defense) and Christian Bethancourt (offense) displayed too many weaknesses to stick. Atlanta attempted to address its catcher depth by drafting Herbert with the 54th overall pick in 2015. He played just three games in his pro debut because of a knee injury and then hit .185 at low Class A Rome in 2016 and lost playing time to Jonathan Morales. Herbert lacked consistency with his hitting approach. He has shown raw power on occasion but needs to make adjustments in his setup, swing path and pitch recognition. Conversely, Herbert is the best defensive catcher in the organization, and he started 64 games behind the plate in 2016. He did an outstanding job of working with Rome's talented pitching staff and displayed the necessary leadership skills to call and control a game. He has excellent mobility with plus footwork, and he possesses plus arm strength with good accuracy on his throws. A high school teammate of 2015 first-round lefthander Kolby Allard, Herbert must improve his offensive production to become a top prospect. He will receive that opportunity in 2017 by returning to Rome.
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