Graduations and trades have helped to thin the once mighty Atlanta Braves’ system, but that’s what happens to a team that’s ready to contend for a World Series title. Of course it’s not like the system is void of talent, though even at the top there are some fair questions that need to be asked. Who is the best of the bunch? Who’s talent is fading? Let’s take a look:
1) Christian Pache – Outfielder
Grade – B
ETA – 2020
The 21-year old has significant upside, having hit .278 with 11 HR and 8 SB over 433 PA at Double-A (.274 with 1 HR over 105 PA at Triple-A). However there are also significant questions that need to be answered. The same player who stole 32 bases in ’17 went 8-for-19 in stolen base attempts last season. Then you have the swing and miss, which wasn’t particularly good at either level he played (SwStr%):
- Double-A – 14.6%
- Triple-A – 15.0%
The lack of efficiency on the bases and the risk of the strikeouts continuing to rise significantly hurts his outlook. It’s not to say that he can’t figure it out, and we’d expect him to (especially with his power potential, adding 36 doubles and 9 triples), but for now the questions outweigh the potential answers.
2) Kyle Wright – Right-Handed Pitcher
Grade – B
ETA – Already Arrived
Wright pitched to an 8.69 ERA over 19.2 innings in the Majors, and while his 4.17 ERA over 112.1 IP at Triple-A isn’t going to impress you the underlying metrics are there:
- Strikeouts – 9.29 K/9
- Control – 2.80 BB/9
- Groundballs – 47.2%
He’s consistently shown control (3.1 BB/9 over his minor league career), and he’s been solid over his 141.0 IP at the level over the past two seasons (2.74 BB/9). He also has regularly shown an ability to generate groundballs, with a minor league GO/AO of 1.43. Couple those two things with an 11.9% SwStr% at Triple-A and what’s not to like? His struggles in the Majors should not impact his overall outlook, with the size (he’s listed at 6’4”) and stuff to thrive in the Majors.
3) Drew Waters – Outfielder
Grade – B
ETA – 2020
Overall Waters hit .309 with 7 HR and 16 SB as he split time between Double-A (454 PA) and Triple-A (119 PA). With 40 doubles and 5 triples it’s easy to see the power taking another step forward, especially at just 21-yards old, but his approach at the plate is a significant question (SwStr%):
- Double-A – 16.8%
- Triple-A – 18.0%
It’s easy to expect that number to take another step in the wrong direction against more advanced pitching, and as it is he posted a 28.6% strikeout rate while barely drawing a walk (6.8% walk rate). You need to make contact to tap into your power and speed, and that simply isn’t a guarantee with Waters. Throw in having benefited from a .435 BABIP and it’s easy to envision him getting exposed in 2020. That’s not to say that there isn’t upside or that he should be ignored, but it wouldn’t be surprising if he stumbled along the way.
4) Ian Anderson – Right-Handed Pitcher
Grade – B
ETA – 2020
Anderson split time between Double and Triple-A last season, and the numbers took a hit after his promotion:
- Double-A – 111.0 IP, 2.68 ERA, 11.92 K/9, 3.81 BB/9
- Triple-A – 24.2 IP, 6.57 ERA, 9.12 K/9, 6.57 BB/9
He’s generally struggled with his control throughout his minor league career, and there also is going to be concern that home runs continue to plague him as he advances. While they weren’t an issue at Double-A (0.65 HR/9), he allowed 5 HR at Triple-A while watching his groundball rate take another step backwards (44.7% to 38.6%). Obviously it’s a small sample size but it will be worth monitoring.
It would be easy to argue Anderson as having the highest upside of any of Atlanta’s pitching prospects, though he also has a lot to prove.
5) Kyle Muller – Left-Handed Pitcher
Grade – B-
ETA – 2021
Taller pitchers tend to struggle with their command, so while Muller posted a 5.48 BB/9 over 111.2 IP at Double-A last season it’s understandable given his age (21-years old) and size (6’6”). Throw in his lack of groundballs last season (39.1%), which will likely lead to home run issues, and there are a lot of problems that shouldn’t be ignored.
At the same time Muller has premium stuff as a left-handed pitcher, and that too is going to give him an advantage over other prospects on this list. Now 22-years old it will be interesting to see if he can take a step forward while also being promoted to Triple-A (where we’d assume he’s going to open the year). If he can show early that he’s fixed the problems he could take a monumental leap up prospect lists quickly.
The Next Five:
6) Bryse Wilson (RHP; Grade – B-) – Thus far Wilson’s impressive control hasn’t translated to the Majors, as he’s posted an ugly 7.00 ERA over 27.0 IP over the past two seasons in large part due to a 5.33 BB/9. Over the past two seasons in the minors (246.2 IP) he owns a 2.26 BB/9, and while a regression at the highest level shouldn’t come as a surprise this also takes it to a bit of an extreme. Even as a 3.00 BB/9 (though he’s likely better than that), there would be a lot to like. The questions lie in his secondary pitches mostly, though opponents have hit .313 against his fourseam fastball in the Majors. He needs to prove that he can generate groundballs in the Majors (45.7% groundball rate in the minors the past two seasons), or home runs may start to plague him.
7) Braden Shewmake (SS; Grade – B-) – Selected 21st in the 2019 draft, the Braves were aggressive with Shewmake who made quick work of Single-A (.318 with 3 HR and 11 SB over 226 PA) before getting a taste of Double-A (.217 over 52 PA). An 11.7% SwStr% at Single-A is a number we’ll have to watch closely, but adding 18 doubles and 2 triples shows that there’s some power to tap into and he could develop into a 15/15 or 20/10 type threat as he develops. There are going to be questions about his position moving forward, though regardless he’ll be worth monitoring.
8) William Contreras (C; Grade – C+) – Contreras split time equally between High-A (207 PA) and Double-A (209 PA), combining to hit .255 with 6 HR and 39 RBI. Obviously the position he plays does have a role in his development, as he needs to focus both on his defense and his offense (and often times catchers struggle offensively as they learn the balance). That said he either needs to develop more power (he added just 20 doubles) or cut down on the strikeouts (14.4% SwStr%) in order to take the next step forward in his development. The potential is there, especially having improved his SwStr% with the move to Double-A (12.4%), but there’s obvious work to be done.
9) Shea Langeliers (C; Grade – C) – The ninth overall pick in the 2019 draft, he was considered the best defensive catcher in the draft by many. How he develops offensively will be interesting to watch, having hit .255 with 2 HR over 239 PA at Single-A last season. He did struggle to make consistent contact (13.1% SwStr%) and he didn’t draw many walks (7.1%), so there questions about his approach. Like we said with Contreras, however, given the position he needs to be given time. It’s possible he develops into the catcher of the future for the Braves, but we may not know that for another year or two down the line.
10) Jasseel De La Cruz (RHP, Grade – C) – He doesn’t garner much attention, especially given the other arms in the system, but De La Cruz pitched across three levels in ’19 (topping out at Double-A) and showed enough control (3.32 BB/9), groundballs (47.6%) and strikeout stuff (12.4% SwStr%). Of course he was much better at the lower levels of the minors, with a 3.83 BB/9 and 45.7% groundball rate over 87.0 IP at Double-A. The stuff is there to develop into a mid-rotation starter and there’s reason to keep a close eye on his development, but he also needs to prove what he can do against more advanced prospects.
Sources – Fangraphs, Brooks Baseball, Baseball Reference
Make sure to check out all of our 2020 prospect rankings: