Fantasy Baseball 2014: Atlanta Braves Prospects to Watch

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Christian Bethancourt

Braves catcher Christian Bethancourt. Daniel Shirey-USA TODAY Sports

We continue our trip north from Tampa Bay, Florida, and cross the border that separates them and Georgia as we continue our Major League Baseball Prospects Overview. Also, this stop is right on cue with our Atlanta Braves 2014 Preview.

Be sure to check out our Florida big league prospects, beginning with the Tampa Bay Rays and then the Miami Marlins. Don’t forget about the west coast baseball teams, starting out with the Colorado Rockies.

The Braves farm system took a hit in the past year. On the bright side, Atlanta was able to use their top prospects to bolster the big league roster last season. They finally found a spot in the rotation for young pitcher Julio Teheran. They used Zeke Spruill to acquire Justin Upton last offseason. Catcher and outfielder Evan Gattis became the feel-good-story of last year. And the Braves were able to use the services of Alex Wood to help replace an injured Tim Hudson

To check out our recap of pitcher Zeke Spruill, check out our overview of the Arizona Diamondbacks prospects’ report.

However, that left the Braves pretty thin down at the farm with a lot of their top prospects still years away from knocking at the MLB door. But as they have done in the last 20 years or so, the Braves don’t rebuild, they reload as they attempt to slowly but surely build up their farm system while keeping their big league roster competitive.

J.R. Graham–SP–2013

2013 Outlook: Lacks strikeouts and size, but fastball can reach high 90s. Can induce groundballs.

Player

Class

IP

W

L

ERA

WHIP

K/9

BB/9

H/9

HR/9

J.R. Graham

AA

35.7

1

3

4.04

1.37

7.1

2.5

9.8

0.0

After making strides in his 2012 campaign, shoulder woes in 2013 sidelined Graham and explains the unimpressive numbers he posted in 35 innings of work. Nevertheless, he was still awarded the organization’s Best Control by Baseball America. It’s very likely he will be one of the first players that the Braves will call up in 2014, but it’s hard to tell what the future is for Graham. On the one hand, his fastball makes him an ideal candidate for a bullpen role in the majors, but it’s hard to ignore his great control and the implications that might have as starter. The Braves are well-stocked in the rotation so odds are Graham’s fast track to the big league club is through the bullpen, but is certainly worth considering if given a spot in the rotation and shows no ill-effects from his shoulder injury from last year.

Sean Gilmartin–SP–2013

2013 Outlook: Pitches to contact; limited ceiling; good, middle rotation pitcher; four solid pitches

Player

Class

IP

W

L

ERA

WHIP

K/9

BB/9

H/9

HR/9

Sean Gilmartin

AAA

91.0

3

8

5.74

1.59

6.4

3.3

11.1

1.2

As explained, the Braves’ system took a hit in their attempts to bolster their big league roster. That would explain why a pitcher like Gilmartin was a top five prospect coming into the 2013 season (ranked fourth). Just like Graham, Gilmartin succumbed to shoulder woes last season, making a total of 17 starts in 2013. He still was awarded the Best Changeup in the Braves’ organization, but at this point of his career, it’s okay if fantasy owners decide to drop Gilmartin a couple of notches–or ten–down their prospects’ list.

Jose Peraza–SS–2016

2013 Outlook: Incredibly fast; good contact, rarely strikes out; lacks power; potential leadoff man

Player

Class

PA

HR

RBI

SB

BB

SO

AVG

OBP

SLG

Jose Peraza

LoA

504

1

47

64

34

64

0.288

0.341

0.371

Peraza will only be turning 20 years old during the early portion of the 2014 campaign, but based on his abbreviated scouting report, he has lived up to expectations. It’s not often you see a guy strike out  as many times as he steals bases (64).  Juan Pierre finished the 2013 season with 27 strikeouts while stealing 23 bases. No other player that stole 20 plus bases came close to matching or exceeding their strikeout totals. Peraza is an ideal player for his position and looking like a top-of-the-order hitter, but still has a long way to go before he makes the big league team. Regardless, his career is off to a good start.

SIMS’ CITY

Lucas Sims–SP–2016: Drafted in the first round of the 2012 draft out of a high school in Georgia (someone get me a screenwriter), Sims had an impressive year in Low-A, as the managers and coaches of the South Atlantic League deemed him to have the Best Breaking Pitch in the league. The kudos didn’t stop there as Baseball America not only deemed him to have the Best Curveball in the organization, but also the Top Prospect spot in the system. Balancing his curve is a low-90s fastball and intangibles that have many scouts thinking of him as a top-of-the-rotation starter. The Braves will most definitely take it very slow with Sims, but for fantasy owners looking for a future starter in the long-term are advised to take a chance on Sims.

COMING SOON IN 2014?

The rest of the Braves’ top ten prospects are full of enigmatic players: seemingly one-tool players and unspectacular pitchers. But because they were projected to come up for the 2014 season, here’s a quick rundown:

  •  Christian Bethancourt-Catcher: With Brian McCann gone, Bethancourt is a step closer to finally finding a permanent spot on the Braves’ roster. He is a very raw, free-swinging hitter, but his defense will be his one-way ticket to the Majors. He has a cannon for an arm and gets credit for moving well behind the plate, though there are still flaws in his game that the team would like to see improvement before they have him take over catching duties in the big leagues.
  • Cody Martin-Pitcher: Most likely will be summoned to bolster the bullpen, but gets high marks for his control, which makes up for the lack of dynamic stuff. He did post great strikeout totals in two minor league classes last season, but his walks were high as well (Total Walks/9 of 3.8), as the capability to streamline his control to the majors should be questioned.
  • Todd Cunningham-Centerfield: Gets high praise for having speed and defense and not much else. He did a great job limiting his strikeouts in Triple-A, but he still rates as an average hitter. If he is penciled in the starting lineup for a substantial amount of time for Atlanta, he could prove to be a good source for cheap steals, but not much else.
  • Aaron Northcraft–Pitcher: The big right-handed pitcher (6-4, 230 lbs.) would appear to possess everything needed to be a good starting pitcher at the next level: size, intangibles, the statistical metrics. Unfortunately, he lacks the stuff to be a frontline starter in the majors.

Not a very good list out of Atlanta. But the Braves have a history of bringing up ready-made Major Leaguers, regardless of pedigree. They somehow find ways to maximize the best out of their farm players once called up to the Majors. It should be interesting to see how these players will react if they ever get the promotion to Atlanta (especially Bethancourt and his defense), but owners will not be penalized if they decide to ignore the Braves’ farm system this season.

Stats and scouting reports courtesy of Baseball AmericaBaseball Prospectus, and MLB.com.

Felipe Melecio was the managing editor for the blog Pathological Hate. When not watching sports, he's listening to music--or listening to music while watching sports. Keep tabs on all his knee-jerk reactions on Twitter:
9 comments
Felipe M (@pathological_h8)
Felipe M (@pathological_h8)

Hello again, Bob. From MLB.com, Tommy La Stella "gets the typical labels of being a "real baseball player" and a "gamer," as he's a gritty, hard-nosed type." MLB.com rates him with an adequate arm and speed with underwhelming pop and finished the season ranked #13 in the Braves' system. Even Baseball America is worried about his durability and just seems to be ranked #9 on the Braves system because the system isn't as strong as in years past. If you've read any of my other farm system overviews, you'll know that I'm a sucker for a guy with tremendous plate discipline. But keep in mind, this is done from a perspective of a fantasy baseball owner. Am I going to give up a roster spot for a guy like La Stella? No! In a perfect world, and if I'm the GM of the Braves, would I give La Stella a chance over Uggla without having to worry about the latter's massive contract? Yes! But again, I must reiterate, this is for fantasy baseball purposes. He has intangibles and a good hitting approach, but for my team, I want more than just a "grinder" on my team. His scouting reports should just grab me by the throat and force me to pay attention. Unfortunately, he didn't make the cut because though he's solid, he's also unspectacular. So I didn't overlook La Stella. I just wasn't impressed. Even MLB.com doesn't even bother to rank him in their top 10 second base prospects for 2014: http://mlb.mlb.com/mlb/prospects/watch/y2014/

Bob
Bob

Felipe, I understand what you're doing and understand the effort it takes to get involved and understand each and every organization in order to write about it with some type of knowledge. However, I just feel like you are not a follower of the Braves or even have half the knowledge of an above average Braves fan. Therefore, I don't understand why you try to write about the organization. The coming soon part is kind of a joke in my personal opinion. If you wanted to key on understanding one or two prospects and reading more about such prospects and writing something then, I'd get it. However, you attempt to cover the entire organization in which you fail. Tommy La Stella is one of many people you looked over in your research. With Uggla fighting to keep his job, writing up an article about Tommy La Stella seems much more approachable. It also creates a dramatic hype behind your story in which might catch up with more followed websites. I sincerely appreciate and respect your drive to write about baseball, but I personally believe a writer who is going to attach the website to places should have done his or her research. I wish nothing but the best in the future, but until you know the Atlanta Braves, please approach your write ups a little more carefully. Thank you Felipe. Your friend, Bob

@pathological_h8
@pathological_h8

Regarding Cody Martin, I share your frustration! Martin is not an impressive prospect (to me at least), but I went ahead and mentioned him because he's projected to be called up in 2014. Per the sources that I used (i.e. Baseball America, MLB.com, etc.), scouts are impressed with his control. I don't know why, because the numbers don't seem to back that statement up. This is what MLB.com said about Martin: "[All four of his pitches] play up with his above-average to plus control." And then he goes on to have a high BB/9. Go figure, right?

Bob
Bob

And your write up on Cody Martin makes no sense. He has high marks for his control and then he walks too many people?

Bob
Bob

You know Gilmartin was traded in the Doumit deal, right?

@pathological_h8
@pathological_h8

Also, Bob, keep in mind WHAT I WROTE ABOUT MARTIN: "the capability to streamline his control to the majors should be questioned." Hope that clears up some of the confusion about Cody Martin, but so is the life of a prospect. They are walking paradoxes.

@pathological_h8
@pathological_h8

Bob, What makes it worse is that even the mighty Baseball America still has Sean Gilmartin in the Braves' system for their newly published 2014 PROSPECT HANDBOOK (which is available for purchase on their website). A book which I used for reference when writing this article. Baseball America still has Gilmartin ranked as a top 10 prospect for the Braves' system in said HANDBOOK.

@pathological_h8
@pathological_h8

First and foremost, thanks for reading. I was going to mention Sean Gilmartin in this section as he was ranked #4 with the Braves organization last season, per Baseball America. I just think it's interesting to see how a highly ranked prospect can go on to have a disastrous season. But I did forget that he was traded in that deal you mentioned, way back in December. I was so focused on his falling stock, I completely forgot about that and for that I apologize for the error. Regardless, I appreciate the feedback.

Chad
Chad

haha ya how do you take an article seriously when the writer obviously has no clue???