- C – Joseph Odom – 24 yo
- 2.65/.677 combined – PAG/APPA – (HiA Carolina – 3.27/.798; AA Mississippi – 1.82/.497)
- 2016 stats combined: .278/.327/.431; .758 OPS; 19 doubles, 9 home runs;
Now that the American League OAS has come and gone, Jim and I now dive into the portion of the work that’s not only informative to the reader, but extremely personal due to our involvement in a highly competitive National League-only fantasy baseball league. The N.L. portion helps us give you the UTRs you need and us the research required to stay ahead of our competition. The Braves catchers kicks things off and let me tell you, the Braves catching vector makes me realize how fortunate Atlanta is in having eight year veteran Tyler Flowers, because I’m sorry Braves fans, but your minor league catching cupboard is pretty bare. The best 2016 had to offer was the 24-year-old Odom, who logged time at two levels this season. Top catching prospect Lucas Herbert registered a rather dismal season batting .185 with 6 home runs and 30 RBi’s in 96 LoA Rome games. For HiA Carolina, the 6’2″- 225 lb. Odom batted .292 with 8 home runs and 12 doubles in 52 games. He saw a late June promotion to Double-A Mississippi where he batted .259, seven doubles and a home run in 39 games. Let’s be honest, Odom is a glove-first organizational filler. Herbert and 2016 Cal-Berkely 2nd rounder Brett Cumberland will polish their skills and work their way up the rankings sooner rather than later.
- 1B – Carlos Castro – 22 yo
- 3.25/.848 – PAG/APPA – (LoA Rome)
- 2016 stats: .266/.301/.508; .809 OPS; 15 doubles, 17 home runs;
With both Levi Hyams and Jake Schrader past the UTR age qualification and several small time big league contributors sitting on the high minors first base vector, Braves All-Star first baseman Freddie Freeman doesn’t have to worry about job security any time soon. But none of this takes away the fact that 22-year-old Carlos Castro had quite the season. The 2011 free agent signee out of the Dominican Republic ranked second among all Braves minor leaguers (AAA down) in home runs. Those home runs also ranked him sixth in the South Atlantic League. Again, we’re not looking at a world-beating prospect here. Castro three-peated the DSL to start his career. However, what’s most notable is how Castro has methodically improved each and every year. He began with a 1.73 PAG in 2012, then a 2.19, (’13), 2.88 (’14), 2.94 (’15 with Rookie Danville) and then this season; and that’s a hopeful trend that I, as well as Braves fans, like and want to see continuing.
- 2B – Travis Demeritte – 21 yo
- 4.07/.943 combined – PAG/APPA – (HiA High Desert – 4.31/1.003; HiA Carolina – 3.46/.796)
- 2016 stats combined: .266/.361/.554; .915 OPS; 29 doubles, 28 home runs, 9 triples; 17 stolen bases
Now this is where the batting depth chart for the Braves gets nice and meaty. As you read last month in the Texas Rangers UTR OAS, the Braves sent pitchers Lucas Harrell and Dario Alvarez to Texas for the 6’0″- 180lb. Demeritte, who appeared to be expendable due to the emergence of young Cuban second baseman Andy Ibanez. This move may prove to be quite the coup for Atlanta. With stud Dansby Swanson entrenched at shortstop, this leans toward shifting top prospect Ozzie Albies to second base. So, where does Demerritte fit? Well, when you look at the season Demeritte had in 2016, it either screams power-hitting second baseman or that of a prototypical third baseman, which is where I think Demeritte will eventually end up playing. The former Winder-Barrow HS (GA) grad ranked seventh in all the minors in runs scored (94) and home runs and came in 14th in total bases with 252. Now, there are some weaknesses, as his 175 strikeouts ranked him sixth overall, but let’s face it, Demeritte is no fluke and adds incredible depth to an absolutely stacked Atlanta Braves minor league infield vector. If he’s available in your fantasy league, go pick him up. He will eventually add immense power, good speed and above average defense to your fantasy lineup.
- 3B – Austin Riley – 19 yo
- 3.31/.786 – PAG/APPA – (LoA Rome)
- 2016 stats: .271/.324/.479; .803 OPS; 39 doubles, 20 home runs
When I run my numbers each off-season, I try real hard to find a silver lining within the UTR vein even though a top prospect’s numbers far extend past those who sit behind him. Such is the case with Riley and his HiA-and-below competition. Besides Triple-A’s Rio Ruiz, no one in the organization offers the 2015 – 1st rounder any competition for minor league third base supremacy. Riley came to the organization via the 1st round of the 2015 draft. The DeSoto Central HS (MS) draftee was assigned to the Gulf Coast League and in his first 30 games as a pro batted .255, belted 7 home runs, scored 18 runs and drove in 21. He received a July 31st promotion to Rookie Danville where he logged another 30 games. He ended the season ranking third in batting (.351) and on-base percentage (.443), second in slugging (.586) and first overall in OPS (1.028). The 6’3″- 220lb. righty received a promotion to LoA Rome in 2016 and didn’t slow down ranking fifth in hits (134), second in doubles, third in home runs, RBi’s and in total bases, all as a teenager. True third basemen are hard to come by in fantasy, but Riley is the real deal. If you’re in need of a third baseman, but don’t have room on your fantasy roster, make room immediately. I love this kid. If he stays healthy and continues to project, he could be a power hitting, middle-of-the-order run producer in Atlanta for the next decade.
- SS – Derian Cruz – 17 yo
- 2.59/.584 combined – PAG/APPA – (Gulf Coast League – 3.15/.701; Rookie Danville – 2.00/.459)
- 2016 stats combined: .248/.272/.364; .637 OPS; 11 doubles, 2 home runs
It almost isn’t fair when you look at how loaded the shortstop position is within the Braves organization. Topping the list is of course is Dansby Swanson. The former #1 draft pick (ARI) out of Vanderbilt is an on-base machine with ability to hit for average and steal plenty of bases at the highest level. Then you have Ozzie Albies mentioned above. Next up is top international signee in 2016 Kevin Maitan who comes to the organization with extremely high praise for his overall skills and rather lofty comparisons, as some say Atlanta has the next Miguel Cabrera on their hands. This helps set up the perfect UTR scenario with 2015 international signee out of the Dominican Republic Derian Cruz. Considered the top athlete in the 2015 class, the Braves signed Cruz as a 16-year-old and saw what some scouts said was, “an explosive athlete with plus-plus speed, projecting to be an 80 runner as he gets stronger.” Cruz started his pro career by skipping the DSL and heading straight to the Gulf Coast League. In 26 games he batted .309 with 7 doubles, 2 home runs and 16 RBi’s. He received a late July promotion to Rookie Dansville where his production stalled. This comes as no surprise, where at 17-years-old, he was facing much more advanced pitching. The switch-hitting Cruz is incredibly raw, possessing more polish (if you will) from the right side of the plate than from the left. Defensively, his natural athleticism plays well, but his arm strength is a tad behind. If Cruz stays healthy and polishes his overall skills, the Braves could be developing yet another monster infield prospect who, with a year or two of development, could be sitting well within the organizational top 10.
- LF – Jared James – 22 yo
- 3.02/.748 combined – PAG/APPA – (Rookie Danville – 2.88/.674; LoA Rome – 3.19/.851)
- 2016 stats combined: .300/.379/.420; .799 OPS; 9 doubles, 4 home runs; 11 stolen bases; 21:30 BB:K
Several weeks ago I had a brief conversation with a reader regarding a choice, or lack thereof, for one of my OAS lists. In the end I reclarified what our goals are here for the UTR OAS series: creating awareness for the lesser known prospects at each position; unless, however, the variance between top prospects and their “notspect” counterparts is way too wide. I say this because there are plenty of OF prospects gracing several Braves top prospect lists. One is Double-A left fielder Dustin Peterson. The 2013 – 2nd rounder came to Atlanta in the trade that sent All-Star Justin Upton to San Diego in December 2014. The Braves shifted the 6’2″- 210 lb. righty to left field after he registered 52 errors at third in his first two seasons as a pro. Peterson made an easy transition to left, he possesses good power (35% extra bases in ’16) and he hits for average. The attention Peterson attracts allows us to apply the UTR philosophy and talk about the season 2016 – 34th rounder Jared James had. The 6’1″- 185 lb. lefty came from Cal Poly Tech (CA) and began his career with Rookie League Danville. He batted .298 and drew nearly as many walks as he did strikeouts (13:19). James earned a promotion to LoA Rome and improved his overall production, batting .302 and -most notably- boosting his extra base percentage (.167 to .346). Generally organizations rarely expect much from a 34th round pick, but it’s these types of guys, these types of situations, that bring up the rear of the system [that] you need to watch closely if you want to succeed in the fantasy game.
- CF – Ray-Patrick Didder – 21 yo
- 3.02/.699 – PAG/APPA – (LoA Rome)
- 2016 stats: .274/.387/.381; .767 OPS; 15 doubles, 9 triples, 6 home runs; 37 stolen bases
In last season’s edition of the UTR OAS series, teenage Venezuelan center fielder Ronald Acuna made my Atlanta Braves list. He entered the 2016 season as the 26th ranked prospect the Baseball America Prospect Handbook. Fast forward to this season and Acuna (at press time) finds himself ranked #17 on MLB Pipeline’s current top 30 and #6 on Baseball America’s current Braves Top 10 index. I firmly believe that this year it’s Ray-Patrick Didder‘s turn. Didder was signed out of Aruba prior to the 2013 season and began his career in the Dominican Summer League. He posted a 48-game P/A of 2.58/.689 and most notably walked 31 times to 34 strikeouts. The following season Didder came state side to the Gulf Coast League and logged an identical PAG, but his walks were cut in half (15). The Appalachian League welcomed the 6’0″- 170 lb. righty in 2015 and his overall production slipped (2.48/.583), but his gap power and speed blossomed leading the APPY League in triples with seven. This season, it almost seemed Didder waited until he entered full-season ball to breakout, as he posted career highs in almost every statistical category. Didder led the Sally League in runs scored (95), ranked third in triples and stolen bases. In crooked number fashion, Didder also led all of organized baseball in hit-by-pitches. His 39 plunks is a sign that Didder is an aggressive/possessive hitter who crowds the plate. Some scouts say he carries much more power in his thin frame than it shows in his stat line, but cannot fully tap into it due to his plate crowding/lack of arm extension. All this points to the fact Didder has a LOT more to his game than he’s showed to this point. He’ll get his chance to pull more out of his tool bag in either HiA Carolina or possibly Double-A Mississippi in 2017.
- RF – Justin Ellison – 21 yo
- 2.63/.668 – PAG/APPA – (LoA Rome)
- 2016 stats: .247/.304/.370; .673 OPS; 25 doubles, 4 home runs; 18 stolen bases
The Braves have Braxton Davidson sitting atop their right field prospect vector. The 2014 – 1st rounder out of T.C. Roberson HS (Asheville, NC) brings big time power from the left side of the plate, a great walk rate, but plenty of strikeouts as well. At 20 years old, Davidson has plenty of time to polish his overall game and should see Double-A Mississippi this coming season; and possibly SunTrust Park the following season. This leaves a little bit of a fight for right field UTR attention and this year that belongs to 2015 – 12th round draft pick Justin Ellison. Now, before I illustrate my choice of the 6’2″- 175 lb. Western Oklahoma State College draftee, I’ll declare that 19-year-old Dominican Randy Ventura received consideration for the right field OAS spot. However, this off-season I wanted to try seeing through just the stats and apply the offensive calling card per position, and in doing so, I just don’t see Ventura, a 2015 Organizational All-Star and 2016 “One to Watch, as a right fielder. He has 20 extra base hits, more walks than strikeouts (60:58) and 70 stolen bases in 111 career minor league games. The 21-year-old Ellison is a corner outfielder by trade playing all but 11 games of his pro career so far in left and right. He was LoA Rome’s regular right fielder and ranked within the team’s top five in nearly every fundamental statistical category including runs scored (49), hits (107), doubles, triples (8), home runs, RBi’s (54), stolen bases, walks (37) and total bases (160). I have a feeling Ellison may follow 2016 Rome teammate Ray-Patrick Didder to either HiA Carolina or Double-A Mississippi next season.