by Eric Stashin (aka The Rotoprofessor)
Update at 9:00 PM EST on 12/08/15: It took less than 24 hours for our initial rankings to become out-dated as the Braves traded Shelby Miller for two significant prospects.
There are two things that certainly aren’t secret when it comes to Atlanta:
- They are rebuilding
- They are focusing on high upside starting pitchers in all of their trades
The deals they’ve made have clearly helped bolster the system, with the Top 10 being littered with recent trade acquisitions (as well as a few recent draft picks). Who has the most upside? Let’s take a look:
1) Dansby Swanson – Shortstop
ETA – 2017
Grade – A
Selected with the first pick in the 2015 draft, Swanson made a nice first impression by slashing .289/.394/.482 over 83 AB. It’s a small sample size, but 14 K vs. 14 BB and 11 extra base hits (7 doubles, 3 triples, 1 home run) certainly can’t be ignored.
While he’s not projected to hit for a significant amount of power, Swanson profiles as a top of the order bat who can steal some bases and get on base. At 21-years old (he’ll turn 22 before Opening Day), there’s a good chance that he can move quickly through the Braves system. While arriving in 2016 is a long-shot, don’t be surprised to see him finish the year at Double-A (or maybe even Triple-A) and make his MLB debut in 2017.
2) Ozhaino Albies – Shortstop
ETA – 2018
Grade – B+
Albies is quickly gaining attention as one of the better shortstop prospects in the game. Playing the entire season at 18-years old he thrived by hitting .310 with 29 SB over 394 AB at Single-A. His contact rate was impressive, with a 12.8% strikeout rate, and he also showed extra base power despite not hitting a home run (21 doubles and 8 triples).
He’s never going to be a slugger, nor does he profile as one, as he’s listed at 5’9” and 150 lbs. That said, with his speed and contact ability the potential is there to be a .300 hitter with 30+ SB every season. If he can develop into a 5-8 HR hitter as well, which seems possible, the value will certainly be there. It’ll be interesting to see how quickly the Braves push him, but it wouldn’t be shocking to see him make his debut as a 20-year old, though 2018 is probably more likely.
3) Sean Newcomb – Left-Handed Pitcher
ETA – 2016
Grade – B+
The key to the Andrelton Simmons trade, the southpaw racked up 168 K over 136.0 IP across three levels. While he needs to work on his control, including a 6.00 BB/9 at Double-A, his ability to generate strikeouts and groundballs (1.36 GO/AO) certainly puts him on the map. He also brings the size teams look for, at 6’5” and 245 lbs., so there’s little reason to think that he won’t stick in the rotation. It sometimes takes bigger starters a little bit more time to find their control, so fantasy owners will have to be patient. If he makes the adjustments, which seems very likely, he has the upside of a true ace.
4) Aaron Blair – Right-Handed Pitcher
ETA – 2016
Grade – B+
He split time between Double and Triple-A last season, showing control (BB/9 of 2.48 and 3.16) and the ability to generate groundballs (1.42 GO/AO). He saw his strikeout rate fall last season, which is something we’ll need to monitor, as he posted K/9 of 6.91 and 6.55. He had shown a lot more than that coming up through the minors, so there is reason for optimism. At 6’5″ and 230 lbs. there’s little reason to think that he can’t stick in the rotation and he’s another high upside arm to what is truly becoming an impressive group.
5) Kolby Allard – Left-Handed Pitcher
ETA – 2019
Grade – B+
Had he not been injured (he suffered a stress reaction in his back) he likely would’ve been drafted significantly earlier than he was (he went 14th, but could’ve been among the top two or three selections). That alone tells you the upside, and the southpaw certainly presented himself well in his first taste of professional baseball (12 K, 0 BB, 1 H over 6.0 IP). Obviously we aren’t going to draw any conclusions off of those numbers, but in a system that has numerous high upside arms, Allard’s upside looks like it’s the highest. At 18-years old he’s going to need time to develop and prove the injury isn’t a long-term concern, but the potential is there to be a top of the rotation starter.
6) Hector Olivera – Third Baseman/Outfielder
ETA – Already Arrived
Grade – B
It was a roller coaster ride for Olivera, who was signed to a big contract by the Dodgers but was ultimately traded to the Braves at the deadline. He certainly didn’t make the best first impression, hitting .253 with 2 HR over 87 PA, though it’s hard to draw many conclusions off such a small sample size (how realistic is a 25.0% popup rate?). Of course, while he did make contact consistently in the minors (15 K over 125 AB), he hit just .272 with 2 HR (as well as 5 doubles and 1 triple). Again how much do we read into that as he battled injuries and a few years virtually off? Sooner or later we have to stop making excuses, as he’s hitting .275 with 0 HR in the Puerto Rican League (through Sunday). There’s obviously still upside and we need to be patient, but the questions are starting to pile up.
7) Touki Toussaint – Right Handed Pitcher
ETA – 2018
Grade – B
It was a surprise when the Braves were able to acquire him from Arizona, but there is certainly reason for optimism. That said it’s going to take time, as he managed just 67 K vs. 48 BB over 87.2 IP for two different Single-A teams last season, while also giving up 10 HR. The stuff is there, it’s just a matter of him figuring it out.
8) Lucas Sims – Right-Handed Pitcher
9) Austin Riley – Third Baseman
Note – He was extremely strikeout prone, but hit 12 HR over 252 PA in his first taste of professional ball. Power is at a premium and he’s just 18-years old, so we need to give him time. This is an aggressive ranking, but he could quickly justify it.
10) Mallex Smith – Outfielder
Just Outside The Top 10
11) Tyrell Jenkins – Right-Handed Pitcher
12) Max Fried – Left-Handed Pitcher
Note – He lost 2015 due to Tommy John surgery, but we can’t forget the upside that he had previously shown. If healthy he could quickly vault himself back up these rankings assuming he can discover his control.
Grading System (still in development):
Grade A – Elite Prospects (aka potential future perennial All-Stars)
Grade B – Above Average Prospects (aka above average Major Leaguers, could develop into a potential All-Star)
Grade C – Average Prospects (aka solid, though unspectacular)
Grade D – Nothing More Than Roster Filler
Grade F – Move On
Make sure to check out all of our Top 10 Prospect Lists: