ATLANTA - SEPTEMBER 01: Freddie Freeman #5 of the Atlanta Braves warms up at first base against the New York Mets at Turner Field on September 1 2010 in Atlanta Georgia. (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)

Atlanta Braves Top 30 Prospects: The Countdown

The Braves have a strong farm system top to bottom, and for 30 days I will be counting it down one prospect a day.

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Atlanta Braves Top 30 Prospects: No. 1, Julio Teheran

1. Julio Teheran, RHP
B/T: R/R 2011 Age: 20 Ht: 6'2" Wt: 150
2010: (A-)
7 GS, 39.1 IP, 1.14 ERA, 2.3 BB/9, 10.3 K/9, 0.2 HR/9
(A+) 10 GS, 63.1 IP, 2.98 ERA, 1.8 BB/9, 10.8 K/9, 0.9 HR/9
(AA) 7 GS, 40 IP, 3.38 ERA, 3.8 BB/9, 8.6 K/9, 0.4 HR/9

Julio Teheran signed with the Braves in 2007 out of Colombia. He completely skipped the Dominican Summer League and Gulf Coast League, beginning his pro career at Rk Danville at 17 years old. While he was considered one of the best prospects in the system prior to 2010, his full season debut this past season officially signaled that the Braves have one of the best prospects in all of baseball.

In 2009, Teheran made seven starts for Danville and A- Rome, combining for a 3.65 ERA, 18 walks and 67 strikeouts. His numbers at Rome weren't off the charts (4.78 ERA, 11 BB, 28 K), but at 18 years old he handled the better competition well.

Teheran was in the spotlight for his full season debut in 2010, and he did not disappoint. His microscopic ERA and great rates at Rome quickly earned him a promotion to A+ Myrtle Beach, where he continued with equally solid numbers, including a walk rate below two per nine. After just 10 starts, he was aggressively promoted to AA Mississippi for the rest of the season. Naturally, his numbers took a little hit, but for a 19-year-old to do what he did between three levels like this is jaw dropping.

Teheran's fastball ranges from 92-95 and can touch 97, featuring a bit of tail. His curveball isn't a straight 12-6, but it snaps well down in the zone when he has a feel for it. The issue with this is at times he doesn't have a feel for it and occasionally leaves it up, but it's considered a well above average pitch. He has a plus changeup that is his out pitch, and it's lethal enough to record good strikeout numbers in the higher levels now. He occasionally telegraphs it with his motion, but it's rare and I'm to the point of reaching here. Teheran's stuff is off the charts for a 20-year-old, and it makes scouts salivate.

Teheran's delivery is a bit chaotic, causing some concern of repeating mechanics, as well as health and durability. For the most part, the mechanics concern has been proven false, though at times he may have the tendency to fly open. Health and durability have yet to be tested, and there's really no way of knowing how he might respond to 180+ innings, but he will continue to build strength and size as he matures.

Teheran's itty bitty tiny nit-picking weaknesses are all listed above, but what you need to know is he is a 20-year-old that projects as an ace. I tend to be cynical with my prospect reports just to keep things realistic, so it takes more for me to label someone a potential ace than you realize. Teheran is that guy. His stuff plays as a top of the rotation pitcher and his age is well below his level of play. There is one player with legit superstar potential in the Braves system, and it is Julio Teheran.

Three Things to Look For in 2011: 1) Full Season in Upper Minors 2) Strikeouts 3) Durability
Destination in 2011: Half at AA/Half at AAA; possibility of cup of coffee in Majors
ETA: 2012
Ceiling: Ace
My Prediction: Ace


Atlanta Braves Top 30 Prospects: No. 2, Freddie Freeman

2. Freddie Freeman, 1B
B/T: L/R 2011 Age: 22 Ht: 6'5" Wt: 225
2010: (AAA)
519 PA, .319/.378/.521, 35 2B, 2 3B, 18 HR, 87 RBI, 6 SB, 43 BB, 84 K
(MLB) 24 PA, 4-24, 2B, HR, RBI, 8 K

Freddie Freeman was selected in the second round of the 2007 draft out of high school by the Braves. It wasn't a bad draft for the Braves considering Jason Heyward came before him. Freeman and Heyward have been close ever since, and 2011 figures to be the beginning of the two-headed monster in Atlanta.

Freeman made his full season debut at 18 years old in A- Rome in 2008, hitting .316/.378/.521 with 33 doubles, 18 homers and 95 RBI. After a less than stellar pro debut in '07, his season at Rome solidified his spot as one of the best positional prospects in the system. It continued in '09 at A+ Myrtle Beach, hitting .302/.394/.447 with 19 doubles and six homers in 297 plate appearances. He made the move to AA Mississippi for the rest of the season, hitting just .248 with a .308 OBP in 169 plate appearances. He suffered from a wrist injury that hindered his performance in '09, so you can't take a lot from it.

The Braves were apparently satisfied with it because they aggressively promoted him to AAA Gwinnett to begin 2010. He more than held his own at 20 years old, maintaining his walk rate of 8.3% while putting up the second highest ISO of his pro career at .200. For the most part, concerns of his power were answered in 2010, as well as whether he could handle advanced pitching despite not recording a ton of walks.

Freeman is huge at 6-5, but he doesn't display monster power that you would expect from a first baseman with his size. He has a short, compact swing that shoots for the gaps, resulting in a lot of doubles that end up being home runs from time to time. He swings down on the ball and doesn't cause a ton of fly balls. It's not unreasonable to be concerned about how his power will play in the majors, but his full season at AAA should be a sign that 25 homers can be an average number for him as he matures, and 30+ could be peak.

With his short swing also means good contact ability. He struggles at times with recognizing change in speeds, but he has the ability to prolong at bats and avoid strikeouts. Freeman does need to continue working on drawing more walks, which is probably his one weakness. His rates may take a hit as he learns the majors, and it may take some time to adjust, but it should be expected at 21 years old.

Freeman's defense has progressed very well through the minors, and he is now very solid defensively. He flashes great footwork and hands while boasting a great arm. Even if it takes time for him to adjust in the box, the Braves will have an above average defensive first baseman. The first base job is Freeman's to lose, and considering there is no solid backup plan, it will take a ton for him to lose it. The Braves will be patient with him and ride out the struggles, but overall, he should produce enough for a sixth slot hitter in his rookie season. Beyond that, he's a middle of the order hitter.

Three Things to Look For in 2011: 1) Rookie Adjustments 2) Walks 3) Power
Destination in 2011: MLB
Ceiling: .300, .360 OBP, 30 HR
My Prediction: .280, .350 OBP, 30 HR Peak


Atlanta Braves Top 30 Prospects: No. 3, Randall Delgado

3. Randall Delgado, RHP
B/T: R/R 2011 Age: 21 Ht: 6'3" Wt: 165
2010: (A+)
20 GS, 117.1 IP, 2.76 ERA, 2.5 BB/9, 9.2 K/9, 0.5 HR/9
(AA) 8 GS, 43.2 IP, 4.74 ERA, 20 BB, 42 K, 2 HR

Randall Delgado was signed by the Braves out of Panama in 2006 and made his debut at the age of 17 in 2007. He has made a quick and consistent rise through the minors since, all the way to a spot on the 40-man roster and No. 3 placement on most Braves prospect lists.

Delgado made his stateside debut at Rk Danville in '08, recording a 3.13 ERA and 10.6 K/9 in 69 innings. His full season debut went just as well at A- Rome in '09, recording a 4.35 ERA (3.20 FIP) and 10.2 K/9 in 124 innings at 19 years old.

His climb continued to A+ Myrtle Beach to begin 2010, and his great numbers continued. While his K/9 took a bit of a hit, it's only natural as he faces better competition, plus it's not like 9.2 is terrible or something. He also dropped the walk rate by a considerable amount from mid-3s to 2.5 BB/9, and the home run rate even dipped a little. This earned him a promotion to AA Mississippi for eight starts. His ERA isn't the best indication of his performance considering he posted a 3.38 FIP and 42 strikeouts in 43.2 innings. He did see a climb in walks, but the sample size is pretty small, and there's nothing to indicate this is a trend.

Delgado features a fastball ranging in the low-90s with the occasional 95-96, including downward movement. He also has a good curveball and changeup. While neither is a plus pitch, they are both serviceable and will maintain success in the upper levels. He is also said to have a great slider, though I have yet to see it.

Delgado is tall and thin, and at 20 years old he projects to fill out some. He has shown signs of being a workhorse in the rotation and has proven durable thus far. If his stuff continues to play well in the upper levels, his control remains solid and the strikeouts don't dip much further, he will be in the majors in no time. Just because he is now on the 40-man roster doesn't mean he's guaranteed a call up in 2011, but the chance of seeing him a time or two is there. The hope and plan is for Delgado to be Julio Teheran's partner in crime, and he certainly projects as a possible #2 starter.

Three Things to Look For in 2011: 1) Sustain Strikeouts in Upper Levels 2) Walks 3) Off-Speed
Destination in 2011: Half at AA/Half at AAA; possible cup of coffee in majors
ETA: 2011
Ceiling: No. 2 Starter
My Prediction: No. 2 Starter


Atlanta Braves Top 30 Prospects: No. 4, Mike Minor

4. Mike Minor, LHP
B/T: R/L 2011 Age: 24 Ht: 6'3" Wt: 210
2010: (AA)
15 GS, 87 IP, 4.03 ERA, 3.5 BB/9, 11.3 K/9, 0.8 HR/9
(AAA) 6 GS, 33.1 IP, 1.89 ERA, 12 BB, 37 K, 1 HR
(MLB) 9 G, 8 GS, 40.2 IP, 5.98 ERA, 11 BB, 43 K, 6 HR

Mike Minor was selected by the Braves in the first round (seventh overall) in 2009 out of Vanderbilt, and he signed for a team record $2.42 million bonus. Many considered the pick to be too conservative for the placement, and the money too high for such a player. Minor's 2010 season silenced much of that talk.

Minor began his first full season in AA Mississippi, where he put together a 3.16 FIP and surprising 11.3 K/9. After 87 innings, he earned the promotion to AAA Gwinnett, where he continued his onslaught on minor league hitting, recording a 2.45 FIP and 10 K/9 in 40.2 innings.

By the end of the season, he was promoted to the majors, where he fought through 40 tough innings. He was worn down and had arm fatigue, which is natural for a pitcher in his first full pro season. It's not often a pitcher is in the majors by the end of his first full season, and it's probably not the best idea for this reason, but the Braves had no other choice after Kris Medlen went down with the elbow injury. Minor still showed some positives, including 43 strikeouts and only 11 walks.

Minor had the baseball world buzzing after displaying an increase in velocity and strikeouts in 2010. This was the concern following the draft, as he had nothing in his arsenal that screamed punch out ability. But his fastball was now touching mid-90s and his strikeout rates were consistently over 10, making him a new prospect. This certainly helped accelerate his trip through the minors.

Minor features a fastball in the low-90s that can touch 95 with movement, a plus changeup and good curve. The changeup is his go-to pitch, and it is the best in the system when he has a feel for it. The curve is still a work in progress, but it is considered a major league average pitch that should continue to develop and give batters something else to think about.

The fifth spot in the rotation is Minor's to lose. The only pitcher in his rearview mirror is Brandon Beachy. If his velocity and strikeout numbers are not flukes, and he continues to see improvement in his curve, he will stick in the rotation for good. He has #2 potential, but right now I see him as a mid-rotation starter.

Three Things to Look For in 2011: 1) Strikeouts 2) Velocity 3) Curveball
Destination in 2011: MLB
Ceiling: #2 Starter
My Prediction: #3 Starter


Atlanta Braves Top 30 Prospects: No. 5, Edward Salcedo

5. Edward Salcedo, SS
B/T: R/R 2011 Age: 19 Ht: 6'3" Wt: 195
2010: (DSL)
95 PA, .297/.453/.432, 5 2B, 3B, HR, 11 RBI, 8 SB, 18 BB, 19 K
(A-) 209 PA, .197/.239/.295, 5 2B, 4 3B, 2 HR, 16 RBI, 6 SB, 11 BB, 56 K

The Braves signed Edward Salcedo to a $1.6 million deal prior to the 2010 season, considered by many to be equivalent of their first round pick since they didn't have one. Salcedo didn't do much to impress in his stateside debut, but his raw tools alone give him a top five ranking.

Salcedo did well in the Dominican Summer League, recording a .453 OBP in a short stint. He was aggressively promoted to A- Rome for the rest of the season, where he struggled mightily. He wasn't able to keep his average above .200, and he had just 11 walks in 209 plate appearances. Salcedo struggled with basic stuff in the box, not laying off high fastballs and struggling with low breaking pitches. He showed brief signs of recognizing pitches late in the season, but it's apparent that his promotion was a bit too soon.

Salcedo is huge for 18 years old. He's tall with broad shoulders and strong forearms and wrists. Just one look at him and you know he projects to have major power down the road. As of right now, his swing doesn't play for it, as he seems more worried with avoiding strikeouts and seeing pitches than driving the ball, causing more hands than full body. But Salcedo has a solid loading position and will use his body well once he gets used to the pitching.

Defensively, Salcedo will have to change positions due to his size and limited range. He has a good glove and arm, though his throwing motion is longer than you'd like to see. Third base is his most likely position, but first base or left field are also options. I would expect the switch by the time he reaches AA.

Salcedo projects to have monstrous power as he progresses. As shown by his swing and DSL success, he is capable of maintaining a good average and getting on base at a good clip, but it will never be his strength. His power potential and size give him this ranking. While some aren't as high on him due to his struggles at Rome, it's impossible to ignore what he is capable of. Look for some of that to emerge in his second stint at Rome.

Three Things to Look For in 2011: 1) Eye 2) Power 3) Less Hands, More Leverage
Destination in 2011: All at A-
ETA: 2015
Ceiling: 30-Homer Third Baseman With .350 OBP
My Prediction: 30-Homer Third Baseman With .330 OBP, High Strikeouts


Atlanta Braves Top 30 Prospects: No. 6, Arodys Vizcaino

6. Arodys Vizcaino, RHP
B/T: R/R 2011 Age: 21 Ht: 6'0" Wt: 189
2010: (A-)
14 GS, 71.2 IP, 2.39 ERA, 1.1 BB/9, 8.5 K/9, 0.1 HR/9
(A+) 3 GS, 13.2 IP, 4.61 ERA, 3 BB, 11 K, 1 HR

Arodys Vizcaino was signed by the Yankees in 2007 out of the Dominican Republic. After a 2.13 ERA in A- in 2009, he was traded to the Braves as part of the Javier Vazquez deal. In his stint at A- Rome, he showed why he was considered the main piece in that trade. The only thing holding him back is injury concerns.

Vizcaino put up tremendous numbers in his 14 starts for Rome in 2010, including a 1.99 FIP. He gave up just one home run in 71.2 innings, and he only walked nine. It was a great beginning to his Braves career at 19 years old, and it earned him a promotion to A+ Myrtle Beach. However, he only made three starts before going down with a partial tear of his UCL, the elbow ligament that requires Tommy John surgery. He was able to avoid surgery and pitched a couple innings at the end of the season, but the scare is there.

Vizcaino throws a mid-90s fastball with movement and a plus curve that rates as one of the best in the system. The curve will profile as his out pitch, and it racks up most of his strikeouts. It should continue to do so in the upper levels. His third pitch is a developing changeup that is average at best, and if he is able to develop it further, he will have a major league starter's arsenal.

The issue with Vizcaino is his mechanics. His delivery puts a tremendous amount of stress and pressure on his arm, and many felt the injury was bound to happen. Add to that his average frame that doesn't project for great durability, and Vizcaino will continue to have that cloud hanging over him. When you have a pitching prospect whose main concern is elbow stress, you have no idea what his future will hold. He could become a top three starter alongside Julio Teheran and Randall Delgado, or he could suffer from injuries and stick in the bullpen. It's impossible to say, but we do know Vizcaino's potential, and it's very high.

Three Things to Look For in 2011: 1) Health 2) Changeup 3) Full Season
Destination in 2011: Majority at A+; late promotion to AA
ETA: Late 2012 or 2013
Ceiling: #2-3 Starter
My Prediction: #3 Starter


Atlanta Braves Top 30 Prospects: No. 7, Craig Kimbrel

7. Craig Kimbrel, RHP
B/T: R/R 2011 Age: 23 Ht: 5'11" Wt: 205
2010: (AAA)
48 G, 55.2 IP, 1.62 ERA, 5.7 BB/9, 13.4 K/9, 0.5 HR/9
(MLB) 21 G, 20.2 IP, 0.44 ERA, 7 BB/9, 17.4 K/9, 0.0 HR/9

Craig Kimbrel was selected by the Braves in the third round in 2008 out of Wallace State Community College. He rocketed through the minors, reached the majors in 2010 and is projected as the closer in 2011. But he's not without his weaknesses.

Kimbrel put up a 1.62 ERA in 55.2 innings for AAA Gwinnett, but a 5.7 BB/9 resulted in a 3.02 FIP. It was the same story in his 20.2 innings for the big league club, as he put up a 7 BB/9. This is a trend we have seen from Kimbrel since he was drafted. His average BB/9 as a minor leaguer is 5.7. However, his K/9 as a minor leaguer is 14.4.

Kimbrel's story is pretty basic. He will rack up strikeouts at a remarkable rate and keep the ball in the park, but he will also struggle with control and suffer the occasional implosion. The fact that he walks so many is alarming and may prevent him from being an elite closer, but the fact that he can strike out batters at a rate of over 14 per nine with regularity will give him every chance to succeed.

Kimbrel has been described as a right-handed Billy Wagner. He is short but thick, and he can ride his fastball up into the high-90s with the occasional 100 MPH. He also has a great breaking pitch, though it isn't as lethal as Wagner's slider. He uses the fastball to set it up and get maximum success from it. The one big difference between Kimbrel and Wagner is mechanics. Wagner had a violent whipping motion that put incredible stress on his elbow, but Kimbrel has fluid motion through the delivery, and his landing is very smooth.

Kimbrel will be given the opportunity to take most of the saves for the Braves in 2011, and he could get them all if he starts out hot. But expect plenty walks and tight situations. If you get down on him due to blown saves from control issues, you obviously aren't aware of who this guy is. I will continue to have concern as to how successful he can be over a full major league season, but there's no denying the potential.

Three Things to Look For in 2011: 1) Walks 2) High Leverage Situations 3) Full Season Patience
Destination in 2011: MLB
Ceiling: Top Five Closer
My Prediction: Brief Stints in Top Five


Atlanta Braves Top 30 Prospects: No. 8, Christian Bethancourt

8. Christian Bethancourt, C
B/T: R/R 2011 Age: 20 Ht: 6'2" Wt: 175
2010: (A-)
108 G, 420 PA, .251/.276/.331, 19 2B, 2 3B, 3 HR, 34 RBI, 11 SB, 14 BB, 62 K

Christian Bethancourt was signed by the Braves in 2008 out of Panama. He was signed knowing the Braves could get an advanced defensive catcher with time to develop the bat at a young age. So far we have seen the defensive side but little of the bat.

Bethancourt made his stateside debut in 2009, putting up a line of .277/.342/.446 between GCL and Danville. He hit well in the rookie leagues at 17 years old, recording wOBAs of .377 and .363 in the small sample sizes. Also, his arm and defensive skills were on full display. This vaulted his prospect status to top 10 very quickly.

However, Bethancourt hit a snag at A- Rome in 2010, putting up a .279 wOBA with only 14 walks in 420 plate appearances. A combination of being his first full season at 18 years old and better competition caused him to hit a serious wall. He didn't show much as far as identifying pitches or having a decent approach in the box. However, his defense remained solid.

Bethancourt will never be a really strong hitter, though he's certainly not as bad as he showed last season. His approach and mechanics are off, and his swing is long, but age is on his side. It's nothing to be overly concerned with at this point. His defense rates as one of the best behind the plate in the entire minors, especially his arm, which could be a legit top five in the majors now. His big frame means a strong lower body, and he's not so overly big that it will hurt him down the road. He's very physical and strong for such a young age.

In the box, Bethancourt projects to have good power and eventually a decent idea of the zone. Behind the plate, he projects to win awards at the big league level. The bat is his only concern, and another trip to Rome will hopefully put him on the right track.

Three Things to Look For in 2011: 1) Eye & Discipline 2) Approach 3) Power
Destination in 2011: All at A-
ETA: 2015
Ceiling: All-Star catcher, top five defense, respectable offense
My Prediction: Starts in majors mainly for defense


Atlanta Braves Top 30 Prospects: No. 9, Matt Lipka

9. Matt Lipka, SS
B/T: R/R 2011 Age: 19 Ht: 6'1" Wt: 188
2010: (GCL)
48 G, 210 PA, .302/.357/.401, 8 2B, 4 3B, HR, 24 RBI, 20 SB, 14 BB, 22 K
(Rk) 4 G, 18 PA, 2-16, RBI, SB, BB, 2 K

Matt Lipka was the first player taken by the Braves in the 2010 draft in the first supplemental round. He signed very quickly and got 228 plate appearances out of it, almost all in the Gulf Coast League. Lipka was drafted as a very toolsy infielder with great speed and an advanced baseball intelligence for a high schooler.

Lipka received 210 plate appearances in the GCL after signing, and he showed a little bit of everything. He hit for average and OBP, and he even put in a little power, though his swing doesn't project for much. He showed the ability to guard the zone and avoid strikeouts, but there wasn't much in the form of walks. Perhaps the most intriguing part was 20 stolen bases while getting caught just three times. He has legit speed and smart baserunning ability, which is something Frank Wren has been harping on that the Braves need more of.

Like a lot of high schoolers without great power, Lipka uses his hands in the zone a bit too much, resulting in a good amount of pokes instead of drives. His bat stays in the zone well, and he lets the ball travel deep into the zone at times, not unlike Todd Cunningham. His swing is pretty refined for a high schooler, and he will be able to take care of himself in the higher levels.

Lipka has a solid arm but average motions and hands at best in the infield. If he is able to work on motions and develop softer hands, he could become a very rangy shortstop, but he is probably destined to move from the position. Baseball America has already recognized this, listing him as the starting center fielder down the road for the Braves, and I have to agree. It's likely he will make a move to something like center eventually, but how soon is not known. With his speed, Lipka could handle center easily as long as he has good route running.

As is my rule, I try not to take part in ceilings or projections for players who haven't played a full season, but Lipka may not be that difficult to project. He will never produce real power, he should maintain solid averages, his OBP depends on whether he can record walks and his defense is average at shortstop but could be above average in the outfield. It equals a top of the order hitter with above average on-base ability and great speed. He will be 19 in 2011, so he may begin at Rk Danville, but expect significant time at A- Rome at some point.

Three Things to Look For in 2011: 1) Walks 2) Defense 3) Full Season Debut
Destination in 2011: Some at Rk; half/majority at A-
ETA: 2015


Atlanta Braves Top 30 Prospects: No. 10, Carlos Perez

10. Carlos Perez, LHP
B/T: L/L 2011 Age: 20 Ht: 6'2" Wt: 195
2010: (Rk) 6 G, 6 GS, 32 IP, 1.12 ERA, 14 BB, 27 K, 0 HR
(A-) 2 G, 2 GS, 7 IP, 9 R, 3 ER, 3 BB, 4 K, 1 HR

Carlos Perez was signed out of the Dominican Republic in 2008, receiving a nice sum and completely avoiding the Dominican Summer League. Therefore, he was one to watch as he began his career in 2009, and he has not disappointed at such a young age.

Perez had a 5.28 ERA in 30.2 innings for the Gulf Coast League in 2009, but he pitched better than the ERA showed, and it's tough to take anything from this at 17 years old. He started 2010 at Danville, where he posted a 5.6 H/9 and 7.6 K/9. Despite the ERA, the numbers aren't overwhelming, but again, you can't take much from the sample size and the fact that he's 18. He got two starts at A- Rome before his season ended due to injury, but it's nothing to consider going forward.

Perez has a fastball in the low-90s that touches mid-90s, a solid curveball and developing changeup. The fastball is the only developed pitch at this point, but with time his curve will become his out pitch. Looking at it right now, his changeup will develop enough to become a reliable third offering. As he grows and develops, Perez should hit mid-90s with the fastball, get enough feel for the curve to make it a plus pitch and have a changeup that is more than just a show-me pitch.

Like most from the DR, Perez is tall and lean, and he has plenty room to grow. He doesn't project to have a strong lower half, and durability could be a concern in the future. His first full season at A- Rome in 2011 could tell the story.

Perez's 2011 season (19 years old at A- Rome) will be one of the most anticipated in the Braves system. A ceiling is impossible to predict until after a full season, but right now it's not unreasonable to say his stuff can project as at least a mid-rotation starter. Come back in a year and I may be upping that to number one or two type potential.

Three Things to Look For in 2011: 1) Full Season Debut 2) Curveball 3) Durability
Destination in 2011: All at A-
ETA: 2014


Atlanta Braves Top 30 Prospects: No. 11, Brandon Beachy

11. Brandon Beachy, RHP
B/T: R/R 2011 Age: 25 Ht: 6'3" Wt: 215
2010: (AA)
27 G, 6 GS, 73.2 IP, 1.47 ERA, 2.7 BB/9, 12.2 K/9, 0.4 HR/9
(AAA) 8 G, 7 GS, 45.2 IP, 2.17 ERA, 1.2 BB/9, 9.5 K/9, 0.4 HR/9
(MLB) 3 G, 3 GS, 15 IP, 3.00 ERA, 7 BB, 15 K, 0 HR

Brandon Beachy's rise to the majors is a story in itself. He was an undrafted free agent out of Kokomo, Indiana and Indiana Wesleyan University. He battled shoulder tendinitis in college and wasn't a devoted pitcher, but the Braves took a flyer on him and it has certainly paid off.

Beachy toiled in the lower minors between starting and relieving, putting up unimpressive numbers but slowly working his way up. However, whether it was mechanics or a new feel for his stuff or what, he flipped a switch in 2010, beginning with a strong showing from the bullpen at AA Mississippi. It was enough to give him some starts at the higher level, and he took off, completely dominating through six starts and earning a promotion to AAA Gwinnett.

His success continued at AAA, walking only six in 45.2 innings and recording a 1.73 ERA as a starter. Even then his season wasn't finished, as he received his major league call up when Jair Jurrjens went down with a knee injury. He was thrown into the fire by facing the Phillies twice in very important games, and he certainly held his own.

My ranking of Beachy is definitely lower than most, but it is because I am not completely certain of his future projection. He has a fastball in the low-90s that must run on the corners to avoid getting hit due to little movement. The times he left it up against the Phillies he was hit hard, but luckily most of the liners found gloves. The evidence is a .370 BABIP in those three major league starts. Now, I do realize tension and adrenaline lead to missed spots and leaving the ball up in the zone, but it still shows that Beachy is vulnerable due to little movement. His curveball got a large number of his strikeouts in the minors, and when he has a feel for the pitch it snaps hard. His changeup is also solid, pretty much on the same level as the curve. He has two legit offspeed pitches that can stick in the majors, but I do have concerns as to how much we should expect.

Beachy's true strength is his control. The highest BB/9 of his career so far is 2.66, but that was coupled with a 12.2 K/9 in AA. Low walk rates will always be his strongest stat. His K/9 rates in the minors also shows he should be able to maintain solid strikeout numbers, though I don't believe he will be able to display major punch out ability like he did in the minors. High strikeout rates and great control, combined with a strong intelligence on the mound, shows Beachy will be able to stick in the majors. However, he will also need all of these to avoid getting hit hard. His stuff isn't that of a frontline or even potential frontline starter. Until he gives 100+ innings in the majors, I will remain a little lower on Beachy than most. The only chance of this happening in 2011 is a major injury to a starter. At 24, we know what we have in Beachy, so it's just a matter of finding an opportunity.

Three Things to Look For in 2011: 1) MLB Innings 2) Hits Allowed 3) Fastball
Destination in 2011: Half at AAA/Half at MLB
Ceiling: #3 Starter
My Prediction: #5 Starter


Atlanta Braves Top 30 Prospects: No. 12, J.J. Hoover

12. J.J. Hoover, RHP
B/T: R/R 2011 Age: 24 Ht: 6'3" Wt: 215
2010: (A+)
24 GS, 132.2 IP, 3.26 ERA, 2.4 BB/9, 8 K/9, 0.5 HR/9
(AA) 4 GS, 20.2 IP, 3.48 ERA, 15 BB, 34 K, 1 HR

J.J. Hoover was selected by the Braves in the 10th round of the 2008 draft out of Calhoun Community College. He is a rock solid starter with a legit arsenal that is already developing major league ready stuff, and his strikeout rates so far have proved it.

Hoover racked up a 9.9 K/9 to 1.7 BB/9 over 134 innings for A- Rome in 2009, including a 3.35 ERA and 2.58 FIP. This season put his name on the map considering he was a 10th rounder coming into his first full season. The success continued in 2010, though not at the same dominating rate. Both his K/9 and BB/9 took hits, but his ERA and 3.03 FIP, along with only seven home runs allowed, shows he still had a great season. He made four starts at AA Mississippi to end the season, striking out 34 and walking 15 in 20.2 innings.

Hoover projects as having a strong lower body, giving him durability and a smooth motion on the mound. His fastball ranges from the low-to-mid-90s with tail, a plus curveball and a good changeup. His stuff is advanced at 23 years old, and I would expect the transition to AA to be a smooth one. If his changeup continues to develop, he could have one of the best overall arsenals in the system.

Hoover will be 23 during the 2011 season at AA, so he is on schedule. As long as his K/9 remains respectable, he should move through the system quickly. The fairly large drop from 2009 to 2010 could be cause for concern down the road if it continues, but his stuff should play well in the upper levels. If he remains on track, he could be a regular for 200 innings as a mid-rotation starter.

Three Things to Look For in 2011: 1) K/9 2) AA Jump 3) Changeup
Destination in 2011: All at AA
ETA: 2012
Ceiling: #3 Starter
My Prediction: #3-4 Starter


Atlanta Braves Top 30 Prospects: No. 13, David Filak

13. David Filak, RHP
B/T: R/R 2011 Age: 22 Ht: 6'4" Wt: 220
2010: (Rk)
10 G, 8 GS, 26 IP, 2.42 ERA, 3.8 BB/9, 9.3 K/9, 0.3 HR/9

David Filak was drafted by the Braves in the fourth round in 2010 out of SUNY-Oneonta. Being from the northeast, he was likely overlooked by many, and the Braves snatched him with what could be their best selection in the draft.

Filak pitched 26 innings for the rookie league Danville Braves, putting up solid numbers in the short amount of time. You can't take much from the sample size, but you can take plenty from how he looked and how he projects. He has a fastball that ranges in the low-to-mid-90s, a plus curve and a decent changeup. The fastball rides and is heavy, but the true punch out pitch is the curveball, which will eventually rate as one of the best in the system if it doesn't already. The changeup is the biggest question; if he is able to develop it into a good third offering, Filak will have one of the best arsenals in the system.

Filak has a big frame with room to fill out with age, and his strong lower half should mean durability. He will be 21 years old during the season, most likely starting at A- Rome with a possible trip to A+ Lynchburg. He is young for a college product, but his size and stuff is advanced for his age, and he should move quickly.

With a good year at Rome, Filak can prove himself worthy of a top 10 ranking next year. For a fourth round pick without much fanfare, that's not a bad deal for the Braves. He still has a ways to go, but I'm very high on this guy.

Three Things to Look For in 2011: 1) Full Season Debut 2) Changeup 3) Walks
Destination in 2011: Majority at A-; decent time at A+ with hot start
ETA: 2013
Ceiling: 2011 will tell


Atlanta Braves Top 30 Prospects: No. 14, Mycal Jones

14. Mycal Jones, SS
B/T: R/R 2011 Age: 24 Ht: 5'10" Wt: 165
2010: (A-)
53 G, 219 PA, 12 2B, 6 HR, 34 RBI, 6 SB, 11 BB, 48 K
(A+) 69 G, 318 PA, 19 2B, 3B, 7 HR, 22 RBI, 15 SB, 31 BB, 66 K
(AA) 7 G, 33 PA, 3B, 2 HR, 5 RBI, SB, BB, 9 K

Mycal Jones was drafted by the Braves in the fourth round in 2009 out of junior college. Despite being a college product, he was drafted as a raw infielder with great athleticism. That showed in his first full season in 2010.

Jones struggled at the beginning of the season, but a big turnaround in May sparked what became a good year for him. His numbers at A- Rome are a product of his early slump, but the tear promoted him to A+ Myrtle Beach, not to mention he needed to be on the move at 23 years old. He had the most plate appearances at the Beach, where his numbers continued to improve all around, especially his on-base stats. A .361 wOBA and 122 wRC+ is great to see for Jones. He earned a promotion to AA Mississippi for the last week of the season, where he will return to begin 2011.

Jones' numbers spell out a raw hitter with decent on-base ability, decent zone discipline, a little more pop that you'd expect and smart base stealing ability. He will never have great walk rates and may strike out more than you'd like to see, but he keeps the on-base and power numbers respectable. Whether that will continue in the upper levels remains to be seen.

Jones is very raw on defense, showing good range but shaky motions and hands, resulting in a lot of errors. These things are fairly easy to improve on with time, and Jones is in the process of learning second base to further his development and time. Giving him the chance to learn a new position will only help his defense. With time, Jones should become a good defensive infielder, but not great.

Jones relies on his athleticism to further his development. His raw ability on offense and defense takes time to adjust, and it will only be tougher for him in AA. At 24 years old this season, he doesn't have a ton of time to toil between AA and AAA. If he can adjust quickly, there's no reason he can't be a candidate for a utility role by 2012. But there is a chance he could get stuck.

Three Things to Look For in 2011: 1) AA Jump 2) Defense 3) OBP
Destination in 2011: All at AA; chance of late promotion to AAA
ETA: 2012
Ceiling: Starting 2B or SS
My Prediction: Starting 2B for a few years; Utility Infielder the rest


Atlanta Braves Top 30 Prospects: No. 15, Brett Oberholtzer

15. Brett Oberholtzer, LHP
B/T: L/L 2011 Age: 22 Ht: 6'2" Wt: 190
2010: (A-)
4 GS, 23 IP, 1.96 ERA, 5 BB, 19 K, 1 HR
(A+) 22 G, 18 GS, 112.2 IP, 4.15 ERA, 1.4 BB/9, 8.5 K/9, 0.6 HR/9

Brett Oberholtzer can be a bit of a brewing debate as to what his ranking should be. People will see his bland stuff and low ceiling as something that should prevent a high ranking, but others will see a smart pitcher and low walk rate as a sign of sure success in the Majors. Oberholtzer is pretty much in the middle for me, but I do believe he has what it takes to succeed in the upper levels.

Oberholtzer was taken by the Braves in the eighth round of the 2008 draft out of junior college. He spent two seasons in rookie ball at the ages of 18 and 19, showing great control but not much ability to record strikeouts. 2010 was his first full season, throwing 135.2 combined innings between A- Rome and A+ Myrtle Beach, almost all at A+. He continued his great walk and home run rates, but the best part was an increase in strikeouts to a solid 8.5 K/9 at A+. As expected, his ERA was much higher than his true performance, as a FIP of 2.69 shows. The Braves already knew they had a good lefty in Oberholtzer, but last season gave them a true idea of what they had.

Oberholtzer's innings were limited by a leg injury, but he is known to be strong and durable as a starter. He throws a fastball that ranges from high-80s to low-90s, and it relies heavily on movement. He also has a solid curve, part of an above average starting pitcher's arsenal. He has a strong pitcher's intelligence and knows how to pitch in his favor. Nothing screams "ace," but that's not what we're looking for from Oberholtzer. If he can continue to get good movement, keep the ball in the park and get some strikeouts on his curve, he will move up.

Oberholtzer will be 22 during the jump to AA in 2011, so he's right on schedule. A left-handed starter's true test comes in AA perhaps more than any other player, so this year will be a big one for him. If he can continue what he did in the lower levels the past couple seasons, there's no reason he won't be contending for a rotation spot by 2012. The ceiling isn't high, but the chances of him being a valuable member of a Major League rotation are high.

Three Things to Look For in 2011: 1) AA Jump 2) Strikeouts 3) Innings Pitched
Destination in 2011: All at AA
ETA: 2012
Ceiling: #3-5 Starter, 200 IP
My Prediction: #4-5 Starter


Atlanta Braves Top 30 Prospects: No. 16, Tyler Pastornicky

16. Tyler Pastornicky, SS
B/T: R/R 2011 Age: 22 Ht: 5'11" Wt: 170
2010: (A+)
77 G, 331 PA, .258/.348/.376, 16 2B, 6 HR, 35 RBI, 24 SB, 39 BB, 49 K
(AA) 38 G, 160 PA, .254/.333/.366, 5 2B, 2 3B, 2 HR, 15 RBI, 11 SB, 16 BB, 22 K

People may not realize that the Yunel Escobar to Toronto trade not only brought to Atlanta a starting shortstop for two years, but also possibly the in-house replacement for him. I'm a sucker for middle infielders who know how to play the game, and Tyler Pastornicky is the definition at 20 years old. Pastornicky was taken by the Blue Jays in the fifth round of the 2008 draft out of high school.

Pastornicky gave Toronto a pretty good idea of what they had in the lower levels in 2009, hitting a combined .269/.331/.342 between A and A+, almost all at A. Zero power from a small middle infielder in his first full season is to be expected, but he still had a .332 wOBA and showed good discipline by walking 42 times. Pastornicky returned to A+ for the Jays in 2010, where he showed better numbers across the board, including power, the second time around. He was shipped to the Braves, and they sent him straight to AA, which was a risky move for a 20-year-old without big bat potential. But Pastornicky showed what kind of hitter he is in the 160 plate appearances, adjusting well enough to maintain a .333 OBP, .338 wOBA and 10% BB%.

Pastornicky continues to show solid BB/K rates as he progresses, including his two best rates in 2010 between A+ and AA. He has a great idea of the zone and shows good bat control, and I project him as a top of the order hitter who will maintain good walk rates. The power shown in A+ is probably what we should expect in his younger years in the upper levels, but it should develop some with age. He will never possess impact power, but he will be able to keep the bat from being knocked out of his hands.

The other half of a smart infielder's game is defense, and Pastornicky's is very good. He has great range and a good arm, and it should always remain the strongest part of his game. Also part of a smart infielder's game is baserunning instincts, which he also has. He rarely runs into outs and has shown the ability to record 40-50 steals with great success rates.

Pastornicky gets on base, shows good discipline, plays good defense and is a smart baserunner. To me, this is the perfect combination for a shortstop or second baseman to have. He isn't flashy or overly gifted at any one thing, but he will be successful as a Major Leaguer. If the Braves are looking to stay cheap, spend elsewhere or just see Pastornicky as capable of filling the spot left by Alex Gonzalez after the 2011 season, I fully expect him to seize the role. A solid year between AA and AAA is necessary for this to happen.

Three Things to Look For in 2011: 1) A Repeat Season In Upper Levels 2) Power 3) Walks
Destination in 2011: Half/Majority at AA; Rest at AAA
ETA: 2012
Ceiling: Starting Shortstop
My Prediction: Starting Shortstop


Atlanta Braves Top 30 Prospects: No. 17, Stephen Marek

17. Stephen Marek, RHP
B/T: L/R 2011 Age: 28 Ht: 6'2" Wt: 230
2010: (AA)
11 G, 0.00 ERA, BB, 18 K, 0 HR
(AAA) 49 G, 50.1 IP, 1.43 ERA, 3.4 BB/9, 10 K/9, 0.7 HR/9

The fact that Stephen Marek will be 28 this year and he is still not in the Majors seems mind-boggling when looking at his stuff and ability. Marek was drafted in the 40th round in 2004 by the Angels out of San Jacinto College in Texas, the same as number 20 on my list, Benino Pruneda. Marek was shipped to the Braves in the Mark Teixeira deal.

Marek pitched pretty well as a starter, but the Angels sent him to the bullpen in 2008. That was also the year he made the jump to AA, and it went well, as he saw a spike in strikeouts to 10 K/9 in 60.2 innings, and a 3.56 ERA. The next season was a disaster, as he posted a combined 6.00 ERA between AA and AAA in 45 innings, including rates of 7.2 BB/9 to 7 K/9. The shortage of innings and performance most assuredly had to do with injuries and durability. It was a major blow to Marek's development, as well, because a great season could have put him in Atlanta in 2010.

Marek returned as a different pitcher in 2010, recording a combined 1.14 ERA between AA and AAA, including a 1.43 mark in 50.1 innings at AAA. He also saw his strikeout numbers increase to 10.5 K/9 and walks went down to 2.8 BB/9. That season proved Marek's K/9 rate of 10 as a reliever was legit, and he was able to mow down AAA batters like everybody thought he could.

Marek has a mid-90s fastball and great curveball, both profiling as late-innings worthy. It also keeps the ball in the park, as his 0.7 HR/9 in 2010 shows. Any doubt as to whether his stuff can play in the upper levels disappeared with his tremendous 2010 season, and it backed up his 2008 numbers when he made the transition. Marek will be 27 years old during the 2011 season, and there is nothing left for him in the Minors. He either makes it in the next year or two and has a shot at a late-innings role, or he is destined to fill the back of a bullpen.

The fact that the Braves spent actual money on Scott Proctor when Marek is sitting in the system completely blows my mind. I feel Proctor won't last half the season, in which case Marek should get his shot, but it should be coming out of Spring Training. Either way, expect Marek to be the first called up to fill a spot in the bullpen this season.

Three Things to Look For in 2011: 1) MLB Debut 2) K/BB 3) Durability
Destination in 2011: Half at AAA, Half at MLB
ETA: 2011
Ceiling: Late Innings Reliever
My Prediction: Middle Relief


Atlanta Braves Top 30 Prospects: No. 18, Andrelton Simmons

18. Andrelton Simmons, SS/RHP
B/T: R/R 2011 Age: 22 Ht: 6'2" Wt: 170
2010: (Rk)
62 G, .276/.340/.356, 11 2B, 3B, 2 HR, 26 RBI, 18 SB, 16 BB, 14 K

Andrelton Simmons was a second round pick by the Braves in 2010 out of Western Oklahoma State Junior College. He was drafted as a pitcher but debuted as a shortstop last season. However, that may not last long, as his true value could lie on the mound.

Simmons actually hit better than I expected at Danville in his pro debut, but his bat doesn't play past the lower levels. He has a good idea of the zone and decent on base ability, but he shows no sign of being able to drive the ball. His skinny frame solidifies my belief because, while he will fill out some, he will remain lean in the shoulders and legs. His body projects well as a pitcher.

Simmons' defense is very good. He has fluid motions and one of the best defensive arms in the system. He could play as a backup shortstop in the Majors now. But again, I have doubts that this is his calling.

Simmons has been clocked at 98 MPH off the mound, and his fastball is said to be plus now. I have yet to find accounts on the rest of his stuff, but a decent breaking pitch that he can command to pair with the fastball would set him as a top 15 prospect. A good breaking pitch would put him higher. As I said above, his body projects well as a starter or reliever due to his lean frame, and at 21 years old for the 2011 season, he has plenty time to develop even more arm strength if he is allowed to do so.

Simmons is ranked in the top 20 for two reasons: his defense will carry him to the Majors, and his raw ability as a pitcher projects very high. Which one will continue to push him higher on my list remains uncertain, but if I had to guess right now, I'd say pitching. When and if he will get that shot is unknown. Until then, look for more of the same from his bat in the lower levels.

Three Things to Look For in 2011: 1) A Shot at Pitching? 2) Power 3) Zone Discipline
Destination in 2011: All at A-
ETA: 2014
Ceiling: Backup Infielder; Closer
My Prediction: Closer


Atlanta Braves Top 30 Prospects: No. 19, Cory Harrilchak

19. Cory Harrilchak, OF
B/T: L/L 2011 Age: 24 Ht: 5'10" Wt: 175
2010: (A-)
60 G, .306/.380/.393, 10 2B, 3 2B, HR, 22 RBI, 18 SB, 24 BB, 24 K
(A+) 58 G, .269/.329/.406, 16 2B, 5 3B, 2 HR, 25 RBI, 4 SB, 21 BB, 45 K

Cory Harrilchak was selected by the Braves in the 14th round of the 2009 draft out of Elon. He was drafted as a toolsy outfielder with decent power and a good idea of the zone. So far as a pro, he has shown it all.

For some reason, Harrilchak was limited to Danville for 253 plate appearances in 2009, where he hit .324 with a .842 OPS, 27 walks and 22 strikeouts. As expected, he fared just as well in A- Rome to begin 2010, matching his walk and strikeout numbers and getting on base at a great clip. Power was the issue at Rome, as he had just a .393 SLG and .087 ISO. However, power can run thin in the Sally League, and the most important part was the on base numbers.

He got a call to A+ Myrtle Beach to end the season, where his on base numbers took a dive. His BB/K of 1.00 at Rome dropped to 0.47 at Myrtle Beach, going from a 9.6% BB% to 8.1%. But his power increased to a respectable number that shows the bat wasn't being knocked from his hands, and it showed his true gap power. Harrilchak's game is getting on base by working counts and getting walks, but his numbers at both levels showed a lot to me.

Harrilchak has the ability to get some steals, but he isn't a big threat. However, the speed translates to his skills in the outfield, where he plays some solid defense at all three positions. It's enough to make him a legit fourth outfielder based on defense, but for now the Braves are hoping for more.

Harrilchak has the zone discipline to help him succeed in the upper levels. He works walks and has solid pitch recognition, making him a polished college product. He shoots for the gaps well, which was shown at Myrtle Beach. By all accounts, he's also a great guy and one to root for. Playing at the age of 23 in 2011, Harrilchak should move along pretty well, and my guess is he will succeed in his first jump to AA. Expect him to be a contender for a Majors spot in a couple years, and not just as a fourth outfielder. I have no problem banking a lot on this guy, and with a good 2011, he will move up a lot on my list.

Three Things to Look For in 2011: 1) OBP 2) Gap Power 3) AA numbers
Destination in 2011: All at AA
ETA: Late 2012 or 2013
Ceiling: Starting Center Fielder
My Prediction: Starting Center Fielder


Atlanta Braves Top 30 Prospects: No. 20, Benino Pruneda

20. Benino Pruneda, RHP
B/T: R/R 2011 Age: 22 Ht: 5'9" Wt: 170
2010: (A+)
20 G, 30 IP, 2.70 ERA, 4.2 BB/9, 13.2 K/9, 0 HR/9
(AA) 25 G, 34.2 IP, 3.63 ERA, 6 BB/9, 12.7 K/9, 0.5 HR/9

First of all, Benino Pruneda ranks several spots higher than Juan Abreu because Pruneda has been able to sustain his strikeout rates as he progresses. Pruneda was taken in the 31st round of the 2007 draft by the Braves out of Jacinto Junior College in Texas. He was drafted as a straight reliever due to size, but his arm has carried him to the upper levels.

Pruneda did well in his first two pro seasons, but he hit a snag at A+ Myrtle Beach in 2009, recording a 5.47 ERA. However, a 3.75 FIP and 11.3 K/9 proved it wasn't as bad as the ERA shows. He did walk 5.6 per nine, but that is part of his game and should be expected. Still, Pruneda was held back at Myrtle Beach to begin 2010, and a better ERA and BB/9 pushed him to AA fairly quickly. He pitched the second half at AA Mississippi, where his BB/9 went back up to six, but his ERA and K/9 held firm for the AA jump. It's enough to put him in AAA to begin 2011.

Pruneda is tiny and is another natural arm, relying on torque and natural arm strength. He gets by on his fastball that sits in the upper-90s and can touch 100, but the rest is average. He's a flamethrower who punches out Minor League batters with a plus fastball, but it doesn't necessarily correlate to Major League success. Like Abreu, if he could develop a good secondary offering he would be a top 10-15 prospect, but it is not there.

At 22 years old in 2011, Pruneda will be on schedule for a college reliever at AAA, and at this point you pretty much know what you have. He will always suffer from control problems, and it may harm him greatly in the Majors, but his arm alone will get him there and give him a shot. Very good home run rates, and low FIPs, could keep him around long-term, but control could prevent him from being a late-innings option.

Three Things to Look For in 2011: 1) Control 2) Good Full Season at AAA 3) MLB Debut
Destination in 2011: All at AAA; cup of coffee in Majors unless injuries call for it earlier
ETA: 2011
Ceiling: Late Innings Reliever
My Prediction: Middle Relief; Brief Stint in Late Innings


Atlanta Braves Top 30 Prospects: No. 21, Todd Cunningham

21. Todd Cunningham, OF
B/T: B/R 2011 Age: 22 Ht: 6'0" Wt: 200
2010: (A-)
65 G, .260/.341/.338, 9 2B, 3 3B, HR, 20 RBI, 7 SB, 14 BB, 30 K

I may be ranking Todd Cunningham too high at 21, but the likelihood that he makes the Major Leagues is pretty high at this point, no matter the impact he will have there. Cunningham was drafted by the Braves in the second round in 2010 out of Jacksonville State.

Coming out of college, Cunningham profiled as a toolsy player who could play a variety of positions and had a good sense of the zone. His first season as a pro in A- Rome at the age of 21 exploited his lack of power and showed his ability as a utility type wasn't as great as first thought. He hit just nine doubles, three triples and one home run in 263 plate appearances, good for a .338 SLG and .078 Isolated Power. A relatively decent idea of the zone in his pro debut salvaged a .320 wOBA (Weighted On-Base Average) and .341 OBP. He didn't walk as much as anticipated but kept the strikeouts low.

Cunningham shows good speed in the outfield but has a weak arm. I wouldn't be able to tell yet whether he can stick in center field. It's practically his only shot at a prominent role in the upper levels because he likely won't be able to hit enough to start as a corner outfielder. On the other hand, if he displays below average defense in center he must progress a lot further with the bat. Either way something has to happen for Cunningham to start in the upper levels, but his zone discipline and switch-hitting ability alone will keep him going and give him a good shot at reaching the Majors.

Cunningham's lack of power is due to throwing his hands at the ball and slapping opposite field hits. He has good coverage of the plate and will probably keep the strikeouts low as he progresses, but it would serve him well to work on more walks. At his best, he profiles as a slap hitting leadoff type with decent speed. Otherwise, he's a fourth outfielder.

Three Things to Look For in 2011: 1) Power 2) Defense 3) Walks
Destination in 2011: All at A+; even if he begins back at A- Rome, age will push him quickly
ETA: 2013
Ceiling: Slap Hitting Leadoff Hitter in CF
My Prediction: Fourth Outfielder in Majors


Atlanta Braves Top 30 Prospects: No. 22, Adam Milligan

22. Adam Milligan, OF
B/T: L/R 2011 Age: 23 Ht: 6'3" Wt: 210
2010: (A+)
21 G, .200/.277/.376, 3 2B, 4 HR, 8 RBI, 9 BB, 35 K

Adam Milligan has always been high on the Braves' board. He was drafted three separate times by them, finally signing after being taken in the sixth round in 2008. Milligan comes out of Tennessee and Walters State Community College.

Milligan made a name for himself in 2009 at A- Rome, hitting .345/.393/.589 for a .981 OPS, 10 homers and 33 RBI in 214 plate appearances. He quickly put himself on the map, being ranked fairly high on most lists after just one full season as a pro. However, the one knock was 12 walks to 43 strikeouts at Rome, which never looks good.

Milligan only received 94 plate appearances in 2010 due to a shoulder injury. He spent those 21 games at A+ Myrtle Beach, where his walks and strikeouts continued to look awful, but it's tough to take anything from it. What it does do is make people focus on it that much more in 2011. Milligan has been hurt more than once, and it has gotten to the point where it is hindering his development. He will be 23 this coming season and will more than likely be spending an entire season at A+, which will be his third appearance there. If he can return to his numbers from 2009, he could be on the fast track to AA. If he starts slow, he could easily be attempting the transition to AA at the age of 24, and with his walk rates so far, it may not be easy for him.

Milligan has a body projected for power from the left side. He displays a solid power swing with the ability to lift. As mentioned more than once already, however, the swing is exploited and a lack of plate discipline can cause problems down the road. As he progresses, it's worth keeping an eye on how he fares against higher competition. For now, questions about how quickly he will be able to prove himself due to injuries are holding him back. It won't necessarily take a repeat of 2009 to inch higher on my list. A healthy season with respectable on-base numbers and good power will put some confidence back into people.

Three Things to Look For in 2011: 1) Rebound Season 2) Walks 3) A Chance At AA
Destination in 2011: Majority, if not all, at A+; age could speed him up to AA if he starts hot
ETA: Late 2012 or 2013
Ceiling: Middle of the Order Slugger
My Prediction: Average to Above Average Starting Outfielder in Majors


Atlanta Braves Top 30 Prospects: No. 23, Cory Gearrin

23. Cory Gearrin, RHP
B/T: R/R 2011 Age: 25 Ht: 6'3” Wt: 200
2010: (AAA)
52 G, 80.1 IP, 3.36 ERA, 3.6 BB/9, 7.4 K/9, 0.7 HR/9

Cory Gearrin was selected by the Braves in the fourth round of the 2007 draft out of Mercer (originally from Chattanooga). He was drafted as a straight reliever with big strikeout rates along with control issues, but as a side-armer, Gearrin always posts great groundball and home run rates.

Gearrin has moved up the ladder slowly for a college reliever. Some brief struggles at A+ Myrtle Beach in 2008 held him up, and he spent half of 2009 there before finishing at AA Mississippi. That 2009 season was the best he's had as a pro, recording a 2.30 ERA and 1.8 BB/9 between the two levels. He entered 2010 with higher expectations as someone the Braves could call on if the need arose. He was never called on, but he had a solid year at AAA Gwinnett, though his walk rate did increase closer to his career averages. However, his home run rate stayed the same, showing the Braves he is pretty much a finished product.

As mentioned above, Gearrin comes from the side and lives off groundouts. Control has long been his main problem, and it's not something that is alleviated by being a groundball pitcher. We saw great improvement in his walk rate in 2009, but last season seems to be a sign that it was more of a fluke. I'd say it's his one concern. Gearrin is losing a good bit on his strikeout rate as he progresses, but it's not too terribly concerning due to his style of pitching, as long as the strikeouts aren't replaced by more line drives.

Gearrin is just about done developing and has nothing left to prove in the minors. The Braves have no room for him right now, though, and it appears the only way they will is if they cut ties with Peter Moylan. It's safe to say his future with the Braves depends on this, but either way he will make a major league roster soon and should stick.

Three Things to Look For in 2011: 1) Control 2) Home Run Rate 3) MLB Debut
Destination in 2011: Majority at AAA; cup of coffee in majors or more if injuries call for it
ETA: 2011
Ceiling: Set-Up Reliever
My Prediction: Middle Relief


Atlanta Braves Top 30 Prospects: No. 24, Juan Abreu

24. Juan Abreu, RHP
B/T: R/R 2011 Age: 26 Ht: 6'0" Wt: 180
2010: (A+)
8 G, 15.1 IP, 8.22 ERA, 8 BB, 15 K, 5 HR
(AA): 39 G, 44.2 IP, 3.02 ERA, 4.4 BB/9, 9.5 K/9, 0.4 HR/9

Number 24 on the list is the second consecutive pitching prospect previously employed by the Royals. Juan Abreu was signed as a minor league free agent following the 2009 season. He showed tremendous strikeout rates in the Kansas City system, including a mark of 12.3 K/9 in 76 innings for their A-ball team. However, he has long been a shallow relief prospect.

Abreu's strikeout rate took a bit of a hit in AA Mississippi in 2010, yet at 9.5 K/9, it shows how great of a strikeout pitcher he is. To go along with the strikeouts is a lack of control, as his career BB/9 is 5.5. It did decrease to 4.4 at AA, which is a good sign, but he needs to continue working on it. Also, his home run rates have fluctuated wildly over the course of his career, and he has always allowed more than he needs to, but a rate of 0.4 in 2010 was great to see. If he can keep it up remains to be seen.

Abreu has a natural arm, which is a term I use for pitchers without great size that rely on torque and pure arm strength. His fastball ranges in the high-90s and blows hitters away for most of his strikeouts, but his secondary offerings leave much to be desired. Relying so heavily on the fastball has served him well thus far, but it will not get him far in the majors. I would say he needs to work on developing his breaking pitch better, but at age 26 in 2011, he seems to be about where we should expect from here on. He is an undeveloped 26-year-old reliever, and that doesn't spell success.

Abreu's recipe for making a major league team is continually lowering walk and home run rates, keeping the strikeout rate high, throwing tons of fastballs and staying healthy. How he fares once he makes a roster is not certain. Relief arms such as Abreu vary so widely that it's nearly impossible to predict his future.

Three Things to Look For in 2011: 1) K/BB 2) Breaking Ball 3) MLB Debut
Destination in 2011: Majority at AAA; cup of coffee in Atlanta or sooner if injuries call for it
ETA: 2011
Ceiling: Set-up or Closer
My Prediction: Middle Relief; Brief Stints in Late Inning Roles


Atlanta Braves Top 30 Prospects: No. 25, Erik Cordier

25. Erik Cordier, RHP
B/T: R/R 2011 Age: 25 Ht: 6'4" Wt: 230
2010: (AA)
25 G, 21 GS, 135.2 IP, 3.71 ERA, 4.6 BB/9, 7.5 K/9, 0.2 HR/9
(AAA) 2 G, 2 GS, 8 IP, 5.62 ERA, 7 BB, 4 K, 0 HR

Erik Cordier was drafted by the Royals in the second round of the 2004 draft out of high school. Cordier pitched well as a member of the Royals system between rookie league and A-ball, but he missed two full seasons due to injuries, including Tommy John surgery, so apparently they gave up on him. The Braves acquired him while he was out from the surgery and put him to work in 2008.

After a bit of a rehab season in 2008, Cordier made 25 starts at A+ Myrtle Beach in 2009, posting a 3.87 ERA, but only 88 strikeouts to 74 walks in 121 innings. He also had a career high 1 HR/9. Despite this, the Braves continued to move him up by having him begin 2010 at AA Mississippi, where he saw his walks and strikeouts improve, but they still weren't great. He also improved on his home run rate by allowing just three homers.

Cordier has a great fastball that can touch the high-90s but sits mid-90s, a plus changeup and a decent breaking ball. If he continues to work on the breaking pitch, he has the arsenal to succeed as a starter, but his injury history puts that into question. Many have already written him off as a future reliever due to this, and his explosive fastball means he would more than likely be great there, but if he stays healthy there is no reason he can't make it in a rotation.

However, I did not say he would be overly successful in a rotation. Control will continue to be a problem for him, and he needs to improve his strikeout rate as a result. While he did improve it in the jump to AA, which is impressive, it still has a ways to go. Also, Cordier is surrounded by similar prospects in the Braves system, and his margin for error is slim to none. Added to that, Cordier will be 25 during the 2011 season and must show the ability to stick in the majors as soon as the end of the season if he wants to remain in the Braves organization. If not, he could be shipped out. If he sticks, it will be in the bullpen. If not, he has value as a starting prospect.

Three Things to Look For in 2011: 1) Improved K/BB 2) Majors Debut 3) Health
Destination in 2011: Majority at AAA; cup of coffee in Majors unless injuries call for it earlier
ETA: 2011
Ceiling: #5 Starter or Late Innings Reliever
My Prediction: Late Innings Reliever


Atlanta Braves Top 30 Prospects: No. 26, David Hale

26. David Hale, RHP
B/T: R/R 2011 Age: 24 Ht: 6'2" Wt: 200
2010: (A-)
28 G, 7 GS, 93.2 IP, 4.13 ERA, 4.2 BB/9, 6.6 K/9, 0.1 HR/9

Every now and then I make a mistake, and sometimes I'm able to admit to it. I will admit that my ranking of David Hale last season was a mistake. At number nine, I clearly had Hale too high on the board, but just because I dropped him so low doesn't mean he's meat.

Hale was selected by the Braves in the third round of the 2009 draft out of Princeton, though he lives in Marietta. At college, Hale never put up great numbers, his lowest ERA being 4.43 and his lowest BB/9 being 3.64. However, the Braves saw solid stuff coming from his arm and a body projected for strength, and that much is clear.


The first stat worth telling with Hale is the line between starting and relieving.


In seven starts at A- Rome last season: 27 IP, 9.00 ERA, 14 BB, 15 K, .386 BAA.

In 21 relief appearances: 66.2 IP, 2.16 ERA, 30 BB, 54 K, .204 BAA.


The difference between relief appearances and relief innings shows Hale still pitched several innings at the time, but nonetheless, coming out of the bullpen means more effort on all pitches. Whether his unusual swing in success after going to the bullpen has to do with that, or stamina issues, or whatever, it is not certain. What is certain is he has been a completely different pitcher as a reliever so far in his pro career, and that means the Braves have to think about how to handle him going forward.


Hale has a strong body that seems good enough for starting. He has a good fastball, solid changeup and good enough curve to get by. He doesn't record many strikeouts, but he keeps the ball in the park, evident by only one homer allowed all season. He does need to work on control and limiting walks, which may also be attributing to the struggles as a starter. Whether he will make it as a starter, or if the Braves will even give him another chance, will be discovered in 2011. If he gets the chance, he needs to work on control and continue to keep the ball on the ground.


Three Things to Look For in 2011: 1) Starting Opportunities 2) Control 3) Working Toward AA

Destination in 2011: Majority at A+; could see decent time at AA

ETA: Late 2012 or 2013

Ceiling: #4-5 Starter

My Prediction: Spot Starter or Solid Reliever


Atlanta Braves Top 30 Prospects: No. 27, Joe Leonard

27. Joe Leonard, 3B
B/T: R/R 2011 Age: 23 Ht: 6'5" Wt: 215
2010 (Rk)
: 39 PA, .278/.333/.417, 2 2B, HR, 5 RBI, 3 BB, 7 K
(A-): 120 PA, .268/.303/.446, 7 2B, 3 HR, 19 RBI, 6 BB, 22 K

The Braves selected Joe Leonard in the third round of the 2010 draft out of the University of Pittsburgh. At Pitt, Leonard never showed much power until his final year, when he posted a .663 SLG. Despite this, it was not surprising when there was a lack of power from Leonard in his pro debut.


Leonard only appeared in 10 games at Danville before moving to A- ball at Rome, where he received 120 plate appearances. His power increased to a respectable .446 SLG and .179 ISO, but the better competition showed in the small sample size as he saw a spike in strikeouts compared to what he is used to. Going by his college numbers, Leonard has never posted great walk rates compared to strikeouts, so there is no reason to believe what he did at Rome in 120 plate appearances will change much over a full season. Because of this, I am skeptical.


Leonard is a big third baseman with a body that projects power, but a short, level swing eliminates the power potential. He shoots gaps and shows zero leverage on pitches. If he isn't able to lift the ball more, he will struggle to produce at the higher levels. Hitters at a "power position" that are not able to produce power absolutely must rely on well above average plate discipline and a lot of walks, and Leonard has yet to prove he is capable of doing so.


Leonard's defense is that of an experienced college player. He has a good arm and shows good motions at third. Defense will probably always be his strongest suit.


Leonard will either have to gain leverage and develop power, or he will need to develop a serious eye at the plate. The former is the more reasonable way of development at his age. Coming out of college and playing most of 2011 at the age of 22, he will continue to move up the ladder as long as the OBP remains respectable.


Three Things to Look For in 2011: 1) Power 2) Zone Discipline 3) Walks

Destination in 2011: Majority at A+; could see small sample at AA

ETA: 2013

Ceiling: Average Starting 3B in Majors

My Prediction: Reserve 3B in Majors


Atlanta Braves Top 30 Prospects: No. 28, Jesus Saldeno

28. Jesus Saldeno, RHP
B/T: R/R 2011 Age: 19 Ht: 6'0" Wt: 170
2010 (DOSL)
: 14 G, 10 GS, 60.2 IP, 2.67 ERA, 1.9 BB/9, 8.5 K/9, 0.3 HR/9

Going from an experienced college prospect to a raw teenager, number 28 on the list is Jesus Saldeno. Out of Venezuela, Saldeno was signed and made his pro debut at the age of 17 last season, where he shut down his opponents in the Dominican Summer League. He showed tremendous control and the ability to record strikeouts while keeping the ball in the park. At a 2.64 FIP, it was a great first showing for the young pitcher.


Of course, nothing is ever certain until he debuts stateside. Several DSL pitchers seem worthy of being on the prospect list due to great numbers, but the transition to the United States is where they make a name for themselves. As you will see at the conclusion of the prospect countdown, I have ranked Saldeno as the top prospect from this year's DSL class because of my belief that he will make the transition.


Saldeno has age (will more than likely make GCL debut at 18) on his side. He has the strikeout ability (57 strikeouts in 60.2 innings) needed to progress. He has the strong and live arm needed. As with most DSL prospects, he is coming stateside lean and will continue to grow, but his size does not show much advantage. We won't know more than this about Saldeno until he debuts in the GCL, but he is one to watch in 2011.


Three Things to Look For in 2011: 1) Stateside Debut 2) Strikeout Rate 3) Arm Strength

Destination in 2011: Rk GCL

ETA: 2014

Ceiling: 2011 Will Tell


Atlanta Braves Top 30 Prospects: No. 29, Chris Masters

29. Chris Masters, LHP
B/T: L/L 2011 Age: 24 Ht: 6'0" Wt: 225
2010: (A-)
27 G, 26 GS, 136 IP, 4.30 ERA, 3.4 BB/9, 8.1 K/9, 0.9 HR/9

Chris Masters was drafted by the Braves in the 11th round of the 2009 draft out of Western Carolina University. He made the move to starter for his final year of college, though the innings pitched did not prove to be much of a difference. The ERA rose considerably to 5.59, but his peripherals actually improved aside from home runs allowed, so you could probably attribute much of that to luck. The Braves drafted him with the intention of trying him out of the rotation.

Masters signed early and got 69 innings in Danville, recording a 1.42 ERA with 85 strikeouts to nine walks. Much of the success can be attributed to him being an advanced lefty in rookie league, but the walk rate was worth noting nonetheless. He earned the promotion to A- Rome for all of 2010, where he saw all of his numbers take a hit due to better competition. His strikeout rate dropped by almost three full K's, while his walk rate increased considerably. His home run rate also increased to almost a full homer per nine. It's probably not what Masters or the Braves were hoping for as a 22-year-old in low-A, and it's probably why he remained there all season.

Masters has a stocky body with a strong lower half, which leads me to believe he may be destined for relief. This belief is supported by his stuff. He has a good fastball that touches 92-93, a solid palmball and a decent slider. If he is able to work on the slider and not depend so heavily on the palmball, he could succeed at a faster pace. But if he remains dependent on the off-speed, he could hit a wall in the upper minors. The book is still out on Masters, but he needs to make a move considering he will be 23 during the 2011 season.

Three Things to Look For in 2011: 1) Better Third Pitch 2) Control 3) Promotion to AA
Destination in 2011: Majority, if not all at A+
ETA: Late 2012 or 2013
Ceiling: #3-5 Starter
My Prediction: Long Relief


Atlanta Braves Top 30 Prospects: No. 30, Cory Rasmus

Today begins the journey that is my top 30 Braves prospect list. For the next 30 days, I will be counting down the list with one prospect a day, giving a report on each prospect and stacking them on this same post for easy access. I hope you enjoy, and please feel free to provide feedback as we go.

30. Cory Rasmus, RHP

B/T: R/R 2011 Age: 24 Ht: 6'1" Wt: 220

2010: (A-) 20 G, 12 GS, 83 IP, 3.14 ERA, 3.1 BB/9, 7.8 K/9, 0.7 HR/9

(A+) 8 G, 8 GS, 41.1 IP, 3.27 ERA, 3.9 BB/9, 6.5 K/9, 0.7 HR/9


Perhaps more well-known as the brother of Colby Rasmus than anything, Cory Rasmus was a first-round pick by the Braves in 2006 out of a high school near Columbus, Ga. Almost immediately, Rasmus went under the knife and did not appear above the Gulf Coast until 2009, when he threw 51.2 innings for Danville and posted a 3.48 ERA with 57 strikeouts.


It was not until 2010 when we had a full season to look at Rasmus. He began the season at A- Rome, where he minimized his walks and hits allowed and maintained a 3.53 FIP. His strikeout rate coming off injury and facing tougher competition was worth looking at, and he maintained a good enough rate to succeed. He earned a promotion to Myrtle Beach to end the season, where his numbers dropped a good bit, including a 4.43 FIP and a much lower strikeout rate. But it was only 41 innings, which is pretty small to consider.


Rasmus' many delays by injuries have set him back in development. His stuff is said to be a notch below what it was, though his strikeout rates remain decent enough at this point. We will not really know the truth of this until he faces higher competition. Despite being a first-round pick, his prospect status is on the verge of being up in the air due to injury history, and it will take a couple seasons of full health to earn his way back into the higher ranks for me.


Rasmus has a strong arm that results in a strong fastball that works in the low-to-mid-90s, but his main pitch is a power curve. When the curve is on, Rasmus racks up strikeouts with ease. Despite slowing down due to injuries, he will only be 23 during the 2011 season, so if he stays healthy he will remain on track.


Three Things to Look For in 2011: 1) Health 2)Strikeouts 3) Arm Strength & Stamina

Destination in 2011: Majority at A+; possible late promotion to AA

ETA: Late 2012 or 2013

Ceiling: #3-5 Starter

My Prediction: #5 Starter or Solid Reliever

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