Stock Up, Stock Down for Atlanta Braves' Top 10 Prospects for Week 4
It was a rough week for a few of the Braves' top pitching prospects as they go through the growing pains that are a part of every player's minor league journey. On the other side of the ball, some of the Braves' hitting prospects are starting to get hot at the plate.
Overall, though, the Braves' minor league system is severely lacking in top hitting prospects, especially power-hitting prospects. I expect that this will be a major area of focus for the team in this June's draft.
Atlanta has traditionally focused on starting pitching with its high draft picks, and the positive results of that can be seen in the team's current crop of top prospects.
No. 10 Prospect: SP Wes Parsons, High-A Lynchburg
Last Week’s Stats: Did not pitch
Parsons was officially sent to extended spring training last week, even though he's having a good start to the season. I asked the Lynchburg media relations director Erik Wilson why Parsons was sent out and if there might be an injury, and he indicated that Parsons was still with the team.
The Hillcats had used a lot of pitchers because of extra-inning games the previous week, so Wilson thought they just needed a few more pitchers and that Parsons would be back with the team soon.
Minor league transactions can sometimes be very cryptic, and they're almost like reading tea leaves. This might be one of them, so we're going to leave Parsons on here and hope he returns to the mound this week.
2014 Stats: 1-1 in 3 starts, 3.45 ERA, 1.21 WHIP, 2.37 FIP, .233 BAA
No. 9 Prospect: SP Cody Martin, Triple-A Gwinnett
Last Week’s Stats: 1-0 in 2 starts, with a 1.64 ERA and 15 K in 11 innings pitched.
Martin continues to prove my assessment of his early work wrong. His first two starts of the season were a little rough, which concerned me, but since then he has been lights-out. That includes a 10-strikeout performance (in five innings) in his most recent start.
While Martin is at a higher minor league level than the other starting pitching prospects on this list, he could be considered behind J.R. Graham and Jason Hursh if a starter was needed in the Atlanta rotation. Of course, that was before his most recent stellar work—another week like this and I might consider him ahead of those guys now.
Martin should be ready to assume a role in the major leagues if pressed into service. More than likely the Braves will not need Martin in the rotation anytime soon, and because of that his best chance to reach the big leagues is probably out of the bullpen. If he continues to post good numbers, he could also be a big trade chip for the Braves.
2014 Stats: 2-1 in 4 starts (5 total games), 2.66 ERA, 0.97 WHIP, 2.01 FIP, .184 BAA
No. 8 Prospect: C/3B Victor Caratini, Low-A Rome
Last Week’s Stats: 8-for-20 (.400) with a double, three BB and three K.
Caratini had a good week at the plate and once again split time between two challenging positions in the field. He played three games at third base and three games at catcher.
That batting average is slowly creeping up, as is his walk percentage. Once his power materializes, we'll know that he's legit.
The Braves like to keep their young star prospects like Caratini at the same level in their first full season. More than likely, he'll stay at High-A Rome all year, so there's no reason to be too concerned with his somewhat slow start.
2014 Stats: .275/.342/.391, .305 BABIP, 13.8 K%, 8.8 BB%
No. 7 Prospect: 2B Tommy La Stella, Triple-A Gwinnett
Last Week’s Stats: 12-for-30 (.400) with 1 double, 7 RBI, 2 BB and 1 K.
La Stella had a good week at the plate, especially with runners on base, as his seven RBI will attest. He's also walked more (nine times) than he's struck out (four times) this season. That trend continued last week as well.
One area of possible concern for La Stella is his lack of power—he has just two extra-base hits this season, both doubles. While home run power has never been a part of La Stella's game, he has hit a decent amount of doubles and posted slugging percentages around .450 in his minor league career. He's slugging about 100 points lower this season, so that part of his game has some catching up to do.
A lot was made over the offseason and during spring training about La Stella being a better option at second base in Atlanta than Dan Uggla. So it's worth putting up Uggla's slash line (.207/.258/.317) and comparing it to La Stella's (.338/.395/.365). That's not to say that La Stella would put up those same numbers in the majors, but could it really be worse than Uggla?
While I believe the answer to that question is no, La Stella should nonetheless benefit from more time in the minors.
2014 Stats: .338/.395/.365, .342 BABIP, 4.7 K%, 10.5 BB%
Stock: Better than Dan Uggla
No. 6 Prospect: 2B Jose Peraza, High-A Lynchburg
Last Week’s Stats: 8-for-24 (.333) with 1 triple, 0 BB and 4 K.
It was another good week for Peraza in the hit department, but a big hole in his game is starting to form—lack of bases on balls. He has just three walks in 98 plate appearances this season.
Peraza has always had a low walk percentage (5.9 percent for his career), but I believed his 6.7 percent walk rate last year was a step in a positive direction. So far in 2014, that area of his game has regressed.
That's an important factor to consider when assessing Peraza as a prospect, since he doesn't hit for power and needs to get on base to utilize his plus-plus speed.
Ultimately, I'd like to see a walk rate from Peraza that is above league average (7.8 percent). If that doesn't happen, then he's a bit of an unfinished product.
2014 Stats: .315/.340/.370, .363 BABIP, 13.3 K%, 3.1 BB%
No. 5 Prospect: SP Mauricio Cabrera, High-A Lynchburg
Last Week’s Stats: Did not pitch.
He was placed on the seven-day disabled list on April 24. Like Wes Parsons, the Braves may be taking it easy with the young and talented Cabrera. We'll see if he returns to the rotation this week.
2014 Stats: No record in three starts, 2.61 ERA, 1.45 WHIP, 4.74 FIP, .189 BAA
No 4. Prospect: SP Jason Hursh, Double-A Mississippi
Last Week’s Stats: 0-1 in 2 starts with a 2.89 ERA and 8 K in 9.1 innings pitched.
Hursh got knocked around a bit in his two starts this week, though only three of the eight runs he allowed were earned. Some of those unearned runs came from his own throwing error.
His numbers this year are good, though they are not great. I have to keep reminding myself that this is his first full season in professional ball, having been drafted last June (in the first round), and he's already at Double-A.
When I look at his stats, I also keep expecting to see big strikeout numbers, since Hursh is said to have a mid-to-high-90s fastball, according to the Baseball America 2014 Prospect Handbook. But that fastball generates a lot of movement, and he treats it like a sinker and uses it to get groundball outs instead of strikeouts.
This year, his groundouts-to-flyouts ratio (GO/FO) is 2.53, which is even more extreme than his 1.95 GO/FO ratio last year.
2014 Stats: 1-2 in 5 starts, 2.70 ERA, 1.37 WHIP, 3.42 FIP, .253 BAA
No. 3 Prospect: SP J.R. Graham, Double-A Mississippi
Last Week’s Stats: No decision in one pretty bad start. 3 H, 3 BB, 1 HBP in just 2 innings pitched (27 balls and 27 strikes).
Graham had a very bad and frustrating start last week in which he labored through two innings, giving up the first two earned runs he's given up this season. Talking Chop's Ian Morris was at the game and has a good scouting report of Graham.
Braves minor league pitching coordinator Rich Dubee discussed Graham's bad outing, as well as a many other things, with M-Braves broadcaster Kyle Tait. Listen to audio clips here. From Dubee's comments, it sounds like Graham was out of whack mechanically in that bad start.
Overall this season, Graham has pitched quite well, especially for a pitcher who missed so much time last year nursing an injury. While he would probably like to forget his poor start this week, hopefully he can use it to learn from.
2014 Stats: 0-1 in 4 starts, 1.17 ERA, 1.04 WHIP, 3.58 FIP, .200 BAA
No. 2 Prospect: C Christian Bethancourt, Triple-A Gwinnett
Last Week’s Stats: 3-for-17 with a double, 2 walks and 5 strikeouts.
So far it's gone just about like I expected it would go for Bethancourt at Triple-A. He's struggled in just about all facets of the game on the offensive side. On the positive side, he has thrown out 4-of-9 baserunners attempting to steal.
His slash line this year (.200/.254/.236) should tell us that he's still an extremely raw hitter who has a lot left to learn. He struggled in much the same way when he first reached the Double-A level, hitting just .243/.275/.291 in 2012. It was only in the second half of last year that he really turned a corner at Double-A.
I'm willing to be patient with him, and I bet the Braves are, too. Bethancourt is only 22 years old, which makes him the third-youngest player in the International League. That means he has plenty of time to work on his hitting, especially with El Oso Blanco doing his thing behind the plate in Atlanta.
2014 Stats: .200/.254/.236, .282 BABIP, 27.1 K%, 6.8 BB%
No. 1 Prospect: SP Lucas Sims, High-A Lynchburg
Last Week’s Stats: 0-2 in 2 starts with a 5.56 ERA with 5 BB and 7 K in 11.1 innings pitched.
It was a rough week for the Braves' top prospect. He's not giving up an excessive amount of hits (only nine in 11.1 innings last week), but the five walks are a bit troubling.
He faced the same team in both of his starts last week, and that's the third time he's faced that team in five starts this season. His poor results could be the growing pains of a young pitcher who needs to learn how to get the same batters out in back-to-back starts.
That opposing team, by the way, is the Nationals' High-A team, so Sims really needs to learn how to get those guys out.
2014 Stats: 1-3 in 5 starts, 4.78 ERA, 1.06 WHIP, 5.33 FIP, .196 BAA