The Braves might not have the stellar farm system they had just a few seasons ago with guys like Jason Heyward and Freddie Freeman in the mix, but the organization continues to sign and draft remarkably well. Here is my top-10 list for 2012, with a few omissions and sleepers at the end.
1. Julio Teheran - RHP - Age: 21
Teheran has all the tools to become an ace in the Major Leagues. He dominated the competition in Triple-A last season and experienced some growing pains while making a handful of starts in Atlanta. He features a hard fastball with movement and solid changeup, and while his breaking ball lacks polish and needs to sharpen a bit, it still rates as average with the potential to improve greatly.
2. Randall Delgado - RHP - Age: 22
Delgado projects to be a front-end starter in the Major Leagues and could see plenty of time in there in 2012 after getting a cup of coffee with the Braves in 2011. Armed with a solid fastball, slider and changeup, Delgado will likely need some more time pitching at Gwinnett to refine his mechanics, but he has the potential to be a stalwart in Atlanta for years to come.
3. Arodys Vizcaino - RHP - Age: 21
Vizcaino finally stayed healthy in 2011 and rocketed from High-A ball to Atlanta in August. When he was acquired from the Yankees in 2009 most felt he projected as a front-end starter, but the Braves appear to be grooming him as a late-inning reliever for the near future. His fastball-curveball combination is as good as any in baseball, although he lacks a third pitch, which is likely the reason for the move to the bullpen.
He will likely begin the season in Atlanta or Gwinnett, depending on his performance in Spring Training.
4. Andrelton Simmons - Shortstop - Age: 22
Simmons is a very intriguing prospect who could move into the top-50 for all of baseball with a big year in 2012. He features a rocket arm that will draw comparisons to Rafael Furcal and Yunel Escobar and has solid range at shortstop. Simmons is very lean and will not hit for much power, although he could steal 30+ bases at the next level. Because of the small frame, it is very unlikely he ever develops much power.
Simmons will spend the 2012 season at Double-A Mississippi and all eyes will be on the shortstop as he makes the most difficult jump of his career. Should he perform well, a promotion to Atlanta could be in the cards as early as 2013.
5. Edward Salcedo - 3rd Base - Age: 20
Salcedo signed with the Braves and was widely regarded as the best international free agent to ever sign with the club. He played his first full season in 2011 and struggled both at the plate and in the field, although he showed flashes of brilliance that had scouts drooling over the athletic third baseman. His power numbers are already in place, although many would like to see him improve his plate discipline and contact rate going forward.
Defense is also a concern. Salcedo, who began as a shortstop before switching over to the hot corner, committed 40 errors last year, although quite a few of them can probably be attributed to poor playing conditions and official rulings. Should he improve in the field this season, his value will increase tremendously, even if his development at the plate is not what some would like to see.
Salcedo will likely play the year year at High-A Lynchburg.
6. Sean Gilmartin - LHP - Age: 21
Gilmartin was the first round pick of the Braves this past summer after a successful tenure at Florida State. He has been compared to Mike Minor for obvious reasons; a southpaw, he does not posses electric 'stuff', although he is capable of getting outs and knows what he wants to do on the mound. His fastball will sit in the low-90s and mixes in a solid changeup and curveball. At best, he's a No. 3 starter in the Majors for a long time. At worst, he's a decent No. 5 starter.
Gilmartin will likely take a similar path to Atlanta as Minor did, beginning the season at Double-A Mississippi and then moving up to Gwinnett if he performs well.
7. Christian Bethancourt - Catcher - Age: 20
Some folks are in love with Bethancourt, who could certainly become an All-Star catcher one day, but I'm just not sold. While he already possesses a rocket arm behind the plate and continually makes solid contact at the plate, he has a long, long way to go both offensively and defensively to make it.
Between A, A+ and the Arizona Fall League in 2011, Bethancourt hit .287/302/.426, which isn't horrible for a catcher his age. What is concerning is his BB% of 2.6% and poor approach at the plate, along with his .330 BABIP which is bound to come down some as he reaches the higher levels of the Minor Leagues.
2012 will be a huge year for Bethancourt. Similar to Salcedo, it could be his make-or-break season. That is not to say that a poor campaign would derail his chance at a successful career with the Braves, but many in the industry may stop viewing him as a top-tier catching prospect. He will likely spend the year at High-A Lynchburg.
8. Tyler Pastornicky - Shortstop - Age: 21
Pastornicky will likely be the Opening Day shortstop for the Braves, which is concerning to many, myself included. This being said, there is plenty to like about Pastornicky, mostly because he does not have a glaring weakness to his game. He probably won't ever hit for much power, but he had solid numbers throughout all levels of the Minors, including a remarkable run at Gwinnett to end the season.
Defensively he will be a downgrade from Alex Gonzalez, but his improved hitting should make up for it. Most scouts view Pastornicky as slightly above average in terms of range and throwing ability. Best case scenario is he holds his own at the plate and in the field. Worst case scenario is he manages to get through the 2012 season and then turns into a very valuable utility infielder off the bench.
9. Joey Terdoslavich - Third Base, First Base - Age: 23
J-Terd is an interesting guy. After a pretty average debut season as a professional in 2010, he had arguably the best offensive season of any player in the farm system. While he was one of the older players in High-A ball, Terdoslavich hit .286, belted 20 homers, had an OPS of .867 and posted respectable walk and strikeout ratios.
What makes J-Terd so intriguing is he will play third base in 2012, a position the Braves desperately need to stockpile with Chipper Jones likely done in a year or two, and he will make the transition while making the biggest jump of his career to Double-A Mississippi.
No one should realistically expect him to duplicate his strong numbers from 2011, but if he can hold his own defensively at the hot corner and continue to hit well in the meantime he would immediately become the best hitting prospect in the organization. If he hits well but struggles in the field, he will likely move back to first base or to the outfield, which would diminish his value quite a bit.
10. J.R. Graham - RHP - Age: 21
Graham was a fourth round pick for the Braves last summer and probably has the most electric stuff of anyone in the organization outside of Atlanta. Similar to Craig Kimbrel, his fastball-slider combination is lethal and he has been clocked in the high-90's by various scouts. He still lacks a third pitch to continue his development as a starting pitcher, but he always has the potential to be a back-end reliever should that development never take place.
He dominated the competition in a short stint at Rookie Ball and will likely begin the year in High-A Lynchburg. Should he continue to improve and show scouts why some had him projected for the second round of the draft, he could see Atlanta by mid-2013.
Just missed the cut: J.J. Hoover, Zeke Spruill; I'm a fan of both pitchers, but Hoover is likely headed for the bullpen as a middle reliever and Spruill doesn't have nearly as high of an upside as others on this list. Both will likely spend quite some time in the Major Leagues, but I don't expect anything special from either.
Breakout Candidates: Brandon Drury, Tommy La Stella, Todd Cunningham, Carlos Perez, Navery Moore.
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