At this point in the season, Jason Heyward, the Braves (and baseball’s) top prospect is tearing it up in Atlanta. But the Braves system still has a load of young talent, so here are my top 10 Atlanta Braves prospects as of right now.
Although the rankings are affected by performance thus far in 2010, I’m not going to make any huge drops based on performances thus far.
1. Julio Teheran
Last year, Teheran split time between Danville and Rome, and wasn’t a dominant pitcher while playing in A-ball. This year, that changed. After toying with Sally League hitters in his first seven starts (1.14 ERA, 10.3 K/9) Julio earned a promotion to Myrtle Beach, and has continued to impress. In his first two starts, he has allowed just one run over 13 innings, while striking out 14. Just 19 years old, Teheran could crack the major league roster by September of 2011 if he continues to dominate hitters.
2. Randall Delgado
Coming into the season, Delgado was seen as the third or fourth best pitching prospect in the Braves organization, but he has really impressed me so far in 2010. Pitching in Myrtle Beach (high-A) he has posted a 2.43 ERA over 10 starts. The reason he has risen on the prospect list is his improved control, which has led to a 5.67 K/BB ratio so far. Assuming he continues to strike batters out at a terrific 10.3 K/9 rate, Delgado should be pitching in AA by the end of the season, which means a September call-up in 2011 isn’t out of the question.
3. Arodys Vizcaino
Acquired in the Javier Vazquez trade this winter, Vizcaino has impressed thus far in Rome (A). Although he struggled some to begin the year, he hasn’t allowed a run over his past three starts (spanning 23.2 innings) and has compiled a 2.73 ERA on the year. While his strikeout rate has dipped a bit (from 11.1 to 8.5 K/9) he has shown improved control (6.2 K/BB) and gives the Braves another young (19) arm with a bright future. Best case scenario, he is a September call-up in 2011, but I don’t see him in the majors until the middle of the 2012 campaign.
4. Freddie Freeman
The guy whom most consider the Braves top prospect at this point is fourth on my list simply because of the dominating numbers put up by the Braves trio of young pitchers. Although he hasn’t been great in AAA thus far (.263/5/24) he is still only 20 years old and hit pretty well in limited spring training at-bats. Still developing as a power hitter, Freeman should continue to improve as the year progresses, and likely will be starting in Atlanta at some point during the 2011 season.
5. Craig Kimbrel
Although Kimbrel just recently completed his first stint in the major leagues, I am including him on this list as he only pitched 3.1 innings in Atlanta. The Braves closer of the future, Kimbrel undoubtedly has some of the nastiest stuff in the organization. The strikeouts have always been there for Kimbrel, who has posted 28 of them in just 18 AAA innings this year, but control is keeping him from pitching full time in Atlanta. Although he has walked just seven batters in AAA, he allowed five free passes in his brief major league stint. It’s likely we will see Kimbrel in Atlanta again before the season is over, and with Billy Wagner retiring at the end of the year, Kimbrel could be the closer in 2011.
6. Edward Salcedo
Although he is yet to play in a game, the Braves (and obviously myself) are high on the shortstop that the Braves signed this spring. He will be playing rookie ball the second half of this season, and is only 18 years old. It will be hard to get a read on him until he gets a taste of professional ball, but given that the Braves view him as a first round talent, I am high on the young shortstop.
7. Mike Minor
It’s hard to figure out what to make of Minor, the Braves most recent first round pick. Seen as a very developed pitcher who should reach the majors quickly, Minor wasn’t supposed to strike a ton of people out. But through 10 AA starts, Minor has posted 12.9 K/9, a number that nobody saw coming. His 4.20 ERA isn’t good, but isn’t terrible. Before giving up seven runs in his last start, Minor has allowed just two runs over his past 19 innings. If he can figure things out quickly and earn a promotion to AAA before mid-year, it’s possible he could pitch in Atlanta at some point during the 2010 season.
8. Christian Bethancourt
The 19 year old catching prospect has struggled some this season in A-ball, but Bethancourt still has the tools to be the eventual successor to Brian McCann. Eventually, Bethancourt could develop into a top notch defensive catcher with an above-average bat. While his .234/2/13 line is rather unimpressive, Bethancourt is hitting .314 over his past nine games, and might be figuring out Sally League pitching. With McCann under contract for a couple years, he won’t break into the majors until September 2012 or early 2013.
9. Robinson Lopez
Lopez is the first guy who wasn’t in the top 10 at the beginning of the season, and I had him in the 12-14 range. After an impressive stint in Rookie League last year (1.29 ERA) Lopez has been pretty darn good in Rome (2.63 ERA). Originally a reliever, his last three appearances have been starts, and he continues to excel (his ERA in those starts is 2.64, so about the same as it was as a reliever). With an impressive 10.0 K/9 and 3.00 K/BB, Lopez will be moving up a lot of Braves prospects lists as the year goes on. He is only 19 years old, and I would say his ETA in the majors is late 2012-mid 2013.
10. Cory Rasmus
Although Rasmus is older (22) for the levels he has been playing at (A-ball this year). A former first round pick (in 2006) he obviously has potential, but has dealt with injuries over the past few years. This year he has spent time both starting and finished games in Rome, and has impressed in both cases (2.45 ERA as starter, 1.93 in relief). On the year, he has struck out a batter per inning, and should be moving up to Myrtle Beach soon if they can find room. I will set his ETA at 2012, hoping he can move through the system somewhat quickly because of his age.
All in all, the Braves still have some top flight prospects even after losing Jason Heyward. The system could use some impact hitters soon, as only three cracked my top 10. Adam Milligan and Cody Johnson both are interesting prospects, but I see major flaws in both of their games which could prevent them from making the majors.
Chris Masters also just missed out on this list. He has been dominant in Rome (1.56 ERA) but, like Rasmus, is old (22) for the league. In the end, I had to go with the former first round pick.
As the year progresses, this list will probably shift some (especially toward the bottom of the group), but the Braves should continue to have impact players (especially pitchers) getting called up over the next couple years. A potential 2013 rotation of Hanson, Jurrjens, Teheran, Delgado and Vizcaino could be flat out dominant.
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