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Acuna's father Ron was a long-time Mets minor leaguer. But from an early age, the elder Acuna knew that his son would likely end up the better player. Ronald signed for $100,000, choosing the Braves over the Royals, and was advanced enough to begin his pro career in the U.S. in 2015. Acuna missed much of 2016 with of a thumb injury and began 2017 at high Class A Florida. The Braves were confident he was ready for an in-season promotion--and they were right. Acuna blitzed through Double-A Mississippi in just two months and was even better for Triple-A Gwinnett, earning Minor League Player of the Year honors. The Braves' experience with Andruw Jones, who similarly jumped three minor league levels in a POY season in 1996, influenced their decision to move Acuna aggressively. They quickly realized he thrived when challenged. Acuna has a wide range of strengths and few glaring weaknesses. Multiple scouts predicted multiple all-star appearances in his future. He's the rare prospect who actually carries future 60 (or better) grades on the 20-80 scale for all five tools. Acuna is a 70 runner with 70 defense who has a 60 arm and 60 hit tool. Many scouts project him to future 70 power. He already uses the whole field, and he went deep six times in 2017 to right or right-center field. Acuna used the opposite field more often as the season progressed. Not coincidentally he became tougher to strike out. Scouts looking for flaws noted that his strong arm is sometimes inaccurate and he could sometimes be stymied by quality fastballs up and in. But he already shows an ability to lay off breaking balls and velocity out of the zone. When he gets a pitch to hit, Acuna has extremely fast hands with strong wrists that whip the bat through the zone with excellent bat speed. He already generates exceptional exit velocities, which should pay off with 25-30 home runs once he matures. Even though he has fewer than 1,000 minor league at-bats, Acuna is big league ready and will head to spring training expected to play a significant role in 2018. With Ender Inciarte in center field, his initial role will be left or right fielder. The track record for 20-year-old big leaguers is spotty, but Acuna's defense and plate discipline should help ease his transition.
Coming into 2017, Gohara was largely seen as a high-ceiling tease. His development was slowed by disagreements with the Mariners front office over his conditioning. Traded to the Braves for righthander Shae Simmons and Mallex Smith in January 2017, Gohara seemed to embrace the Braves' lighter touch, and he advanced three minor league levels before reaching Atlanta in September. Gohara's pure stuff compares favorably with anyone. In just 29 big league innings, he threw more 98-plus mph fastballs than any other lefty starter. His 95-99 mph fastball generates top-of-the-scale grades and his 82-85 mph slider is equally impressive because it looks like his fastball coming out of his hand before diving with late tilt. He shows some feel for a changeup and throws hard enough that the change of pace gives it some deception, but it lacks late fade and he struggles to keep it on the edges of the plate. He will need to refine if it's going to be anything more than a show-me pitch. Gohara's control is fringe-average at best, but he has made significant strides and should develop average control. Gohara's speedy climb in 2017 ensures he will go to spring training competing for a spot in the rotation. He has the potential to be a front-line starter, though his lack of a track record of durability is a concern.
The Braves skipped Soroka over high Class A in 2017 and made him the second-youngest player in Double-A on Opening Day. He responded by finishing second in the Southern League in ERA (2.75). Soroka is a sinker/slider pitcher who touches 95 mph but lives at 90-93 mph with his two-seamer. His delivery has a little crossfire action that adds deception and has not affected his plus control. He started to throw his four-seamer more to alter hitters' eye levels. Soroka's plus breaking ball is hard to classify. At it's best it's an above-average 84-86 mph curveball because of 1-to-7 shape, but it's tighter and has a sharper break than normal. When his adrenaline is flowing, it morphs into a high-80s pitch with slider tilt. His changeup flashes above-average with some late run but could use more consistency. It's vital for Soroka to handle lefties. His sinker and breaking ball eat up righthanders, but those same offerings end up down and in where lefties can feast, so his changeup must show run away from lefties. Soroka's pure stuff doesn't match Kyle Wright, Luiz Gohara or Ian Anderson, but his exceptional makeup, pitchability and athleticism make him a safe bet to be a mid-rotation starter.
Wright traveled the typical Vanderbilt ace development track, going from dominating reliever as freshman to reliable starter as a sophomore and junior. The Braves went nearly $1.3 million over slot to sign Wright for $7 million as the fifth overall pick in 2017. He finished the year with six starts at high Class A Florida. Wright's plus-plus fastball ranges from 92-98 mph, with late life at its best to go with excellent angle. His command is better when he's pitching in the lower registers of his velocity range. Wright's curveball and slider both generate potential plus grades, but he often shows a knack for locating one or the other, depending on the day. His curveball is a low-80s pitch with late break and good depth. His harder mid-80s slider has modest break but plenty of power. His mid-80s changeup is his fourth pitch for now but shows excellent fade and run when he's locked in. Wright is still adjusting to the five-day schedule of pro ball, but in an organization that doesn't hesitate to challenge players, an Opening Day assignment to Double-A isn't out of the question. He has a chance to be a future top-of-the-rotation starter thanks to his varied repertoire, physicality and control.
Anderson was a victim of his own success in 2017. His success and efficiency in the first half meant he bumped up against his innings limit earlier than expected. Worried about overtaxing a cold-weather arm in his first full season, the Braves slammed the brakes on Anderson's pitch limits, holding him to just 17.2 innings in the final two months. The Braves' initial point of emphasis with young pitchers is to teach them to throw a quality changeup. Anderson embraced the pitch, developing it from an afterthought to a pitch that flashes above-average in the span of a year. The improved change gives him a chance to end up with three above-average pitches. His 91-95 mph fastball touches 97, and he gets downhill thanks to his over-the-top delivery. As he worked on his change, Anderson relied less on his plus curveball with 12-to-6 action, but it's still his best secondary offering. His walk numbers would indicate otherwise, but scouts believe Anderson has advanced control and command for his age, despite his walk rate of 4.7 per nine innings. Anderson projects as a future No. 2 or 3 starter, though he has to prove his durability and consistency. He will jump to high Class A Florida in 2018.
Many teams saw Riley as a better pitching prospect than hitter coming out of high school. The Braves disagreed, believing in Riley's power. He's rewarded their faith by hitting 20 home runs in each of his first two full seasons while advancing to Double-A Mississippi at age 20 in 2017. Riley has embraced the Braves' focus on improving his nutritional habits. He appears slimmer, stronger and quicker than he was when drafted. He also has shortened his swing and improved his bat speed, helping him to more consistently get to his plus power potential and alleviating concerns about his now average hit tool. Riley's biggest improvement has come defensively. He has alleviated fears he would need to move to first base and is now an above-average third baseman. His plus-plus arm is still his calling card, but he also improved his first-step quickness. Riley headed to the Arizona Fall League, which will help prepare him for a move to Triple-A Gwinnett in 2018. Unless blocked by a future trade or free agent acquisition, Riley is the Braves' third baseman of the not-too-distant future.
The Braves challenged both Allard and Mike Soroka with a two-level jump to Double-A Mississippi in 2017. Allard handled it with few issues. The youngest player in Double-A at the start of the season, Allard worked five or more innings in 25 of 27 starts. Allard is a nibbler by necessity. His average 88-92 mph fastball lacks the oomph and plane to consistently challenge hitters, but thanks to plus command, he largely avoids the heart of the plate. He can manipulate his fastball by cutting it to get in on hitters' hands. His changeup graded as consistently plus in 2017, while his curveball is plus at its best, but it wasn't as consistent. His lack of size limits his projection, but his preternatural polish and command give him a high likelihood of big league success. Even as Allard earns comparisons with front-line Braves pitchers of the past, like Steve Avery, scouts consistently project him as a future No. 4 starter, with a few seeing a potential No. 3 and others saying No. 5. Allard is ready for Triple-A Gwinnett and could reach the majors as a 20-year-old in 2018.
The first high school pitcher drafted in 2012, Fried has endured Tommy John surgery, a trade and bouts of wildness. A blister issue helped ruin his first half in 2017, but he rebounded to make his big league debut in August. Fried's fastball and curveball combo can be devastating when he's throwing strikes. His plus curve has long been his biggest weapon. He loosens it up as a 72-74 mph get-me-over pitch early in counts, but then tightens it into a harder 75-77 tight-breaking curve that generates swings and misses later in counts. Fried's 92-93 mph fastball touches 97 at its hottest. It is an above-average pitch, but his current below-average control limits his effectiveness. His fringe-average changeup is a usable pitch Fried unveils against righthanders. He fields his position well and has a dangerous pickoff move. He toys with hitters' timing by varying his time over the rubber in his delivery.Fried lacks the polish and control of younger system-mates Mike Soroka or Kolby Allard, but he also has better pure stuff. As a member of the 40-man roster, he figures to see big league time in 2018, though his control could use further refinement up the road in Gwinnett.
A top prospect in the 2015 international class, Pache has gotten better since he signed. An above-average runner then, he's now a top-of-the-scale runner. His glove work has similarly improved as he advanced to low Class A Rome in 2017. Pache's aggressive, almost cocky center field defense will get him to the big leagues. He plays shallow, challenging hitters to hit it over his head. If they do, he proves he can track balls over his head with ease. He's one of the best defensive center fielders in the minors and has Gold Glove potential with an above-average arm. Pache's speed plays on the basepaths, too. At the plate, his swing has some length that leads scouts to see a future average hit tool, but he has shown improved strike-zone recognition and solid bat-to-ball skills. Scouts love his athleticism and believe that once he fills out he'll hit for at least average power, even though he has yet to homer as a pro. Pache's bat will determine whether he becomes an impact regular or just a useful, speedy outfielder. He has plenty of time to develop power, which probably won't show up in the expansive parks of the high Class A Florida State League in 2018.
Considered one of the best power hitters in the 2014 draft class, Jackson's pro career with the Mariners quickly fell apart. He proved to be a less accomplished hitter with less hand-eye coordination than projected and he battled injuries. The Braves acquired Jackson after the 2016 season for Rob Whalen and Max Povse in a change-of-scenery trade and immediately moved him back to catcher, which he hadn't played since high school. It was a wise move, as Jackson's big power and hit tool concerns fit much better at catcher than as a below-average defender in right field. Understandably Jackson looked rusty and raw behind the plate, but he showed a willingness to work and improve and he has a plus arm (although poor footwork sometimes affects his accuracy). As a big bodied catcher, he's never going to be particularly agile, but scouts say he could work to be a fringe-average defender. At the plate, Jackson's plus-plus raw power came more into play in 2017. He's too aggressive and his power comes more from strength than bat speed, which makes him vulnerable to velocity, but he has 20-plus home run potential, even if it comes with .230-.240 batting averages. Jackson needs a year or more of defensive work, and his glove will determine how quickly he advances from Double-A Mississippi.
A lanky, power-hitting first baseman who blossomed into one of the better lefthanders in the 2016 draft class with an outstanding senior season of high school, Wentz's first full pro season in 2017 was outstanding. He finished second in the South Atlantic League in strikeouts (152), third in opponent average (.209) and fourth in ERA (2.60). Wentz's approach and stuff draws comparisons with Kolby Allard's, because both are lefties with 88-92 mph fastballs and above-average changeups. Wentz stuck his above-average curveball in his back pocket for some starts as he worked on refining his changeup, and the focus on his change did seem to lessen his feel for his curve. It paid off in the sense that his changeup has developed into a difference maker, but the hope in the long run is that he'll be throwing a pair of above-average offspeed pitches. Wentz's fastball is an average pitch right now, and he's touched 96 mph in the past, so some believe that the skinny lefty will add more velocity as he fills out. Scouts debate how much projection he has left. If he adds another two or three ticks to his fastball, Wentz has the makings of a front-line starter, but any erosion of his current velocity would lead him into fringe territory.
Football was always Wilson's second-best sport, but he still received scholarship offers from various Division I teams after they watched him excel as a quarterback, running back, wide receiver, linebacker and punter. Whenever there was an injury for his Orange High team, Wilson just slid to another spot and did the job. That same attitude is apparent on the mound. The Braves believe Wilson has special makeup. He pitches off of his above-average 92-94 mph fastball, but it's the development of his changeup into an above-average pitch that has really helped him take a step forward. He was a fastball/slider pitcher before 2017, but his newly-refined changeup has surpassed his breaking ball already. Wilson's delivery has a lot of length in his takeaway and a wrap, which leads some scouts to worry that it will be difficult for him to ever consistently snap off his slider, but when it's on, it's an above-average pitch. Wilson's potentially above-average control, strong frame and three-pitch mix gives him a shot to be a future mid-rotation starter. He's ready for high Class A Florida.
No player drafted out of Midland (Texas) JC ever has made the majors, but Davidson has a chance to become the first. He has proven to be an impressive scouting find. Expected to be a useful organization reliever, Davidson showed up in 2017 in better shape than he'd been in his draft year, and his fastball took a step forward. After he blew 95-97 mph fastballs by Asheville hitters in a three-inning relief outing in June, the Braves decided to see how he handled starting. He survived an awful rotation debut, where he allowed seven unearned runs in 1.2 innings, to allow two runs or less in nine of his remaining 11 starts. As a starter, Davidson maintained a 90-95 mph fastball that earns plus grades thanks to its excellent finish. He also flashes a plus curveball and changeup. He has less track record, but Davidson's pure stuff is better than that of Joey Wentz or Kyle Muller. On the other hand, Davidson has more effort to his delivery and is not as fluid an athlete, leading some scouts to expect he'll eventually return to the bullpen. He's ready to head to high Class A Florida.
Data demonstrates that first-round high school pitching prospects can take a while to develop. Toussaint is a prime example of that adage, because his minor league career has yet to match the expectations that come with his exceptional stuff. Scouts who see Toussaint on a good night throw an easy plus grade on his 93-95 mph fastball and a plus-plus grade on his 12-to-6 hammer curveball. After tweaking his grip, his changeup has improved to become a useful, fringe-average third pitch that he can throw for strikes as well. It lacks late drop, but it has good deception and separation. He's an excellent athlete with long arms and a solid frame. But Toussaint has yet to develop the consistency to go with his stuff, and his fastball proves more hittable than its velocity (he can touch 98 mph) would indicate. Too often, his control wanders and he leaves hittable fastballs up in the zone. When he runs into trouble, he's yet to figure out how to limit the damage. With a long arm action, Toussaint has yet to show he can consistently repeat his delivery, leading to below-average control. The pieces are there for Toussaint to be a solid mid-rotation starter, but he has plenty of work to do on control and consistency as he heads back to Double-A Mississippi.
If the Braves can keep Minter healthy, he will be a valuable piece of their bullpen. But much like Arodys Vizcaino, staying healthy has long been a problem for Minter. Minter missed most of his freshman year at Texas A&M with thoracic outlet syndrome. He missed most of his junior season because of Tommy John surgery. He got off to a late start in 2017 because of elbow soreness, but once he returned, he rocketed to the big leagues, where he quickly proved to be one of the Braves' most effective relievers. Minter eats up lefties with a plus 94-98 mph fastball, an average cutter and a hard 88-91 mph plus slider. Minter's combo annihilates lefties (big leaguers hit .190/.227/.190 against him), but his slider isn't as effective against righthanders. Still, his cutter and velocity give him a chance to be more than a lefty matchup reliever. Minter is big league ready and has late-inning stuff. He just has to stay off the disabled list.
A steal of a seventh-round pick who quickly established himself as a hard-throwing starting pitching prospect as a pro, Weigel was putting himself in contention for a spot in Atlanta in 2017 when his season ended in mid-June with a torn elbow ligament. His final outing blew up his ERA as he labored through three innings, giving up nine runs. Before he went down with the elbow injury, Weigel had been a dominating presence despite a delivery that seems better suited for 15-20-pitch stints out of the bullpen. He has a high back elbow in his delivery and his arm sometimes has to catch up to his lower half, but he generally makes it work because he's extremely strong. He has average control. Hitters get a good look at the ball thanks to Weigel's delivery and high slot, but they still have trouble catching up. Weigel has a power approach, attacking hitters with a 92-95 mph fastball. He'll mix a curveball and slider that trade back and forth as far as which is better. Both flash above-average on a good day, and he's comfortable using his slider to backdoor hitters or get them to chase away. Weigel's below-average changeup needs more separation. Weigel will likely be ready for instructional league in 2018, but his next official outing may not be until 2019.
The Braves have long focused on drafting some of the top talents in the Atlanta area. Waters was the top hitter and athlete in the state of Georgia in 2017, making him a logical choice to be the Braves' second-round pick. He showed enough for the Braves to quickly move him to the Rookie-level Appalachian League, but a 36 percent strikeout rate was a sign of how much work Waters has left to do. Scouts are divided on the switch-hitter's hitting potential. There are some who don't believe Waters' funky swing will work consistently, but other scouts see loose hands and an ability to whip the bat head through the zone that compensates for a noisy and high-maintenance swing. He's already toned down what was an exaggerated leg kick that messed with his timing. Scouts are more confident in the rest of his tools. He has an excellent frame and the strength to develop plus power by getting bigger and stronger over the next few years. He is a plus runner who plays an above-average center field, though he's a little too aggressive with his plus arm, making throws he should leave in his back pocket. Waters will head to low Class A Rome in 2018.
The younger brother of Cubs catcher Willson Contreras, William was not a prominent prospect as an amateur, but he's shown a knack to hit that endears him to scouts. Even as a teenager, Contreras has shown strength in his swing, but he's a hitter first, serving up line drives to right field more than he yanks the ball. Eventually, he should hit for average power as well, because he already lofts the ball with some thump from time to time. Contreras is undersized, but like his brother he has more athleticism than the average catcher. He has the building blocks to be a solid-average receiver with an above-average arm and a quick transfer, though he has further work to do on his game calling. In a system suddenly filled with catchers at the lower levels, Contreras' hitting ability and athleticism help him stand out as the most likely of the Braves' many young catchers to develop into a future big league regular. Contreras is ready for low Class A Rome, where he'll catch a good staff that will challenge his ability to handle velocity.
he Braves acquired Sanchez in a 2015 trade that sent Kyle Kubitza and Nate Hyatt to the Angels. Hyatt retired and Kubitza hit .192 for the Angels, ending up back with the Braves when he hit waivers. Sanchez is the reason the trade could still avoid being irrelevant. Sanchez has better pure stuff than any lefthanded starter in the Braves' system other than Luiz Gohara. He will show three plus pitches at his best, including a 91-94 mph fastball, as well as a changeup and curveball, but he's never been consistent enough to have real success. He's a short lefty whose size gets in the way when he lets his release point drop, causing his stuff to flatten out. But when he stays tall in his delivery, Sanchez can get swings and misses and also locates better. His curveball isn't as consistent as his changeup and his control is below-average. The lefty also hasn't yet figured out damage control. Sanchez joined the 40-man roster in November and is headed to Double-A Mississippi. He's yet to put it together, but he'll be just 21 for the entire 2018 season.
Muller's prospect stock soared when his velocity spiked as a senior and he dominated all comers on the Texas high school circuit. That stuff has taken a step back as a pro. The Braves are an aggressive organization when it comes to minor league assignments, but with Muller, they hit the brakes. Unlike most every top prep pitching prospect Atlanta drafts, Muller didn't make it to low Class A in his first full season. Instead he spent the year at extended spring training and at Rookie-level Danville. He's shown a feel to pitch, but his fastball is more consistently 88-91 mph, touching 93, and not the 91-95 he showed on longer rest in high school. It does have angle and enough movement to avoid the sweet spot of bats, but he lacks deception. His curveball improved this year as it's showing a tighter break and late movement––some evaluators described it as a slider––giving it a chance to be an above-average pitch. He's still working on getting comfortable with his nascent changeup. Muller's command and angle give him survival skills even with a fringe-average fastball, but for him to live up to expectations, he'll need more arm speed and velocity. He'll work on that at low Class A Rome in 2018.
Wilson is one of the more athletic outfielders in the Braves' system. A shortstop as an amateur, Wilson immediately moved to the outfield in pro ball, where his plus speed is apparent and his 6-foot-3, 185-pound frame fits better. As a lefthanded-hitting center fielder with an above-average arm that can handle right field, Wilson has the perfect fourth outfielder profile, though it's not hard to find scouts who think he'll develop into a regular. The Braves were happy to see the strides he took at the plate this year. He's still pull-happy and right field is still a no-fly zone for Wilson, but he started to use center field regularly in 2017. Wilson has the tools and the short, simple swing to be a plus hitter. He also can drop down a bunt and beat it out using his speed. He's too skinny as of yet to drive the ball consistently, but he has the frame to end up with average power if he fills out as expected. Wilson likely returns to low Class A Rome to start 2018, but he could play his way to high Class A Florida before the season ends.
The younger brother of Mariners' 2013 first-round pick D.J. Peterson, Dustin was helped by D.J.'s well-timed college breakout season and went 31 rounds earlier than his brother did coming out of high school. The Padres drafted him but traded him to the Braves after the 2014 season in the Justin Upton deal. Peterson's value, much like his brother's, is tied to his bat. A high school shortstop who immediately moved to third base as a pro, Peterson was quickly booted to left field, where he's perfectly adequate. He's a fringe-average runner with an average arm. If Peterson is going to be a big leaguer, it's going to be because he has above-average bat speed and above-average power. But a hamate injury cost him a month of the 2017 season and seemed to sap his power afterward. Peterson's modest power surge in 2016 seemed to show he was making progress toward being an above-average hitter with the above-average power he needs to be an everyday big leaguer. Now he has to prove that his 2017 power outage was injury-related. The Braves left Peterson off the 40-man roster in 2017, making him Rule 5 eligible, and he was not picked. As a righthanded-hitting corner outfielder, he doesn't really fit as a backup. He's more of an up-and-down fill-in or a regular, with few in-between options.
Tarnok was a two-way prospect whose pitching took a big step forward during his senior year, launching him from being a guy for scouts to keep an eye on in three years to a third-round pick in 2017. Tarnok is raw potential and power at this point. His fastball has loads of angle and sink and pops the mitt. He sits at 92-94 mph and touches 97 with room to add a little more velocity as he adds muscle and weight with maturity. He has also shown feel for spinning a 77-80 mph curveball that flashes at least average now, and he quickly picked up a changeup. He throws a typical Rookie-level Gulf Coast League changeup right now--which means for every good pitch, there are several poor ones--but he showed aptitude and some conviction throwing it. Tarnok has to work on his consistency and a lot of the little things––holding runners, time to the plate--but he has athleticism and poise. With fewer innings on his résumé than most young pitchers, Tarnok may need a stop at Rookie-level Danville, but his stuff may force a jump to low Class A Rome instead.
Encarnacion signed for a modest $10,000 bonus in 2016, but he's quickly proven to be one of the highest-ceilinged prospects in the organization thanks to a rare combination of speed, size and strength. Encarnacion played shortstop in the Dominican Summer League in 2016 and first and third base in 2017. First base is a waste of his athleticism, so he played third base exclusively after being promoted to Rookie-level Danville. He has to improve his footwork and angles on balls, but with a plus arm, excellent range and adequate hands, he could end up as at least an average third baseman. Other scouts see a rangy outfielder. Encarnacion will turn plus times from home to first and has some of the best raw power in the organization. He'll have to get more selective, because he has a swing-at-everything approach right now. His strength and bat-to-ball skills have made him a career .298 hitter. If Encarnacion heads to full-season ball in 2018, expect some initial struggles, but he has the tools to be worth plenty of patience.
Former Braves general manager John Coppolella added R.A. Dickey, Bartolo Colon and Jaime Garcia on short-term deals for the 2017 season with the hope of stabilizing the rotation and getting some prospects back in deadline deals. Dickey and Colon didn't work out, but Garcia was traded to the Twins for the high-ceiling, high-risk Ynoa. Ynoa is the younger brother of Michael Ynoa, who set an international bonus record in 2009 when he signed with the Athletics for $4.25 million. The younger Ynoa signed for $800,000. Much as it was true when he signed, Ynoa has loads of potential, but is too inconsistent as of yet to dominate. He will sit 95-96 mph and touch 99 with a fastball that is hard to square up. He naturally cuts the ball and has shown an ability to spin a breaking ball, though his curveball and slider tend to merge into one pitch at times and are inconsistent. When he's on, Ynoa's slider shows plus potential with good depth. Ynoa's mechanics are rough. He yanks his fastball at times, doesn't always stay in line to the plate and needs to repeat everything more consistently to refine his control. Ynoa has the foundation to be a mid-rotation starter or power reliever as he embarks on his first full-season assignment in 2018.
Ramos is going to have to really hit because he's a left fielder who doesn't run all that well. As such, he's already on the wrong end of the defensive spectrum. Virtually all of his value at the big league level would come from his bat. That's a good thing for Ramos because he has a very good chance to hit. Signed for $250,000 as an 18-year-old, Ramos led the Rookie-level Gulf Coast League Braves and finished third in the GCL with six home runs despite being promoted to the Rookie-level Appalachian League in early August. Because he's yet to even reach full-season ball, there's plenty of risk with Ramos, but scouts see a hitter who has a chance to hit for plus average and plus power. Defensively, he's a below-average runner. He's improved in the field, but he's a left fielder only thanks to a below-average arm, and he'll have to work to get to average defensively. Because he is a late bloomer, Ramos has to move a little quicker than a 16-year-old signee, and he is ready for low Class A Rome.
The Braves snagged de la Cruz, a late-blooming 18-year-old, for a modest five-figure bonus in 2015 and quickly saw him blossom into a fire-balling righthander with two potential swing-and-miss offerings. De la Cruz sits 90-96 mph with his fastball, though he struggles to maintain that velocity deeper into games. The velocity, life and control of his fastball all vary from pitch to pitch. His hard 85-88 mph slider gives him a second potentially plus pitch. It's not yet as consistent as it needs to be, but when he locks in, it's got late movement. His changeup will be a point of emphasis going forward, because currently it lacks deception and is too hard. De la Cruz has room to fill out. He's all long, lanky arms and legs at this point.
Lugbaeur's versatility was a blessing for Michigan. He played all over the diamond for the Wolverines while providing lefthanded power. Lugbauer continued to bounce around the diamond in his pro debut with the Braves, but his path to the majors involves a lot of squatting in his future. Lugbauer's best assets are his strong frame and his plus lefthanded power. He hit 13 home runs in his pro debut. He produces power to his pull side more because of leverage and strength than bat speed, so he'll have to prove that he can catch up to better velocity. His ability to play first base and a below-average third base is a bonus, though he lacks range. The Braves understandably are trying to develop Lugbauer's catching. His hands work pretty well and he has an above-average arm, but he's big enough that there are some questions whether he can hold up and be nimble enough to stick behind the plate five nights a week. As a big, strong-armed catcher with plus power, Lugbauer fits the backup catcher profile perfectly if he can refine his technique behind the plate.
Pfeifer holds the Tennessee high school record with 46 wins in his career at Knoxville's Farragut High, but his baseball career was almost derailed soon after. Drug and alcohol abuse slowed his career at Vanderbilt, eventually culminating in a wake-up call when he was suspended for the Commodores' 2014 national championship season. Pfeifer sobered up, returned to the mound in 2015 and remade himself as a draft prospect. The Braves picked him up in a June 2016 trade that sent Bud Norris to the Dodgers. Pfeifer is a two-pitch lefty reliever, but those two pitches are good enough to get him to the big leagues. His above-average 93-95 mph fastball has played up in relief, but his strikeout pitch is a big downer curve. It's a big breaking pitch that hitters can pick up quickly, but his ability to locate it in any count makes it an above-average pitch. Lefties have been generally helpless against him, hitting .200 with just three extra-base hits (all doubles) in 130 pro at-bats. But Pfeifer's control is below-average, which limits his effectiveness. Pfeifer will return to Triple-A Gwinnett to try to tame his control, but with even fringe-average control, he's a lefty matchup reliever.
Graham was drafted by the Twins in the 22nd round coming out of high school as a strong-armed catcher who also pitched. He was Oregon's starting catcher as a freshman, but he lost the job and became a backup as a sophomore. Buried on the bench, the Ducks let him go back to the mound and he quickly turned into one of their better pitchers. Graham's catching roots are still apparent in his delivery. He cocks the ball near his ear in his setup, then begins with a plunge and speeds his arm through his delivery. It's not pretty, and it leads to fringy command and control. But Graham has a plus 93-96 mph fastball and a changeup that has developed into a weapon. It's a plus pitch with good velocity separation and late fade. His loopy slider is much less consistent. He'll tighten it up sporadically, but usually it's a loopy fringy pitch. Graham got a quick taste at Double-A Mississippi to end the 2017 season. He'll head back there, but with further refinement, he could be yet another catcher-to-reliever success story.
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