2016 Atlanta Braves

  • 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. 

Pitchers

Now that we begin with the National League, I’m not only taking the time to review the UTR-OAS from the last two years, but blowing the dust from archives. Longtime followers of UTR have been with us since the 2009 season when Marc and I provided content for another website (MLBDepthCharts.com). It’s interesting to see how we have grown from those early days, and refined our processes…and let’s face it, some head-scratching over some of those selections. It wasn’t all that bad, as we have made some solid predictions.
I won’t mention those early picks from the Braves, as it took me until 2013 to zero in on a UTR that panned out. Shae Simmons was projected to be a part of a solid bullpen for the 2017 Braves, but he was shipped to Seattle in the the Mallex Smith deal. 2014 brought promise with Yean Carlos Gil, Dilmer Mejia, Alec Grosser, and Wes Parsons. Carlos Gil repeated as a UTR-OAS in 2015, but ended up playing in the Independent Leagues in 2016. Grosser (2015 “One to Watch”) is no longer with the Braves. He was the PTBNL in a trade with the LA Dodgers back in June. I got excited that Parsons would be a solid UTR while on his way to Atlanta. He made the list despite some struggles at HiA Carolina, but it was reported that he pitched through an injury. This lingered on into 2015 and 2016 season, so hopefully the undrafted 24-year -old will return healthy in 2017.
2015 was the year of misses on starting pitchers, except for Patrick Weigel. Yean Carlos Gil was tagged as a “Legit UTR”, Brandon Barker, and Trevor Belicek (2016 “One to Watch”) were traded to Baltimore for Brian Matusz. Max Povse was sent to Seattle last month. Are they really misses…if other teams showed interest by including them in trade deals? Caleb Beech was just off my radar to start the season and should see Double-A in 2017. Most of the “Legit UTR” in 2015 were from the bullpen. Bradley Roney, Andy Otero, and Kyle Kinman pulled a three-of-a-kind. Roney had a s0-s0 season making his way to Triple-A Gwinnett, Kinman was rolling until an injury end his season in June with AA-Mississippi and Otero was my Breakout pick back in 2010, yet was released by the Braves when Spring Training broke for the 2016 season.
I didn’t have much of an opportunity to miss on International prospects for the Braves. Only two surfaced over the last two season within my system, Javier Sanchez (14′ & 15″) and Angel Gaviria; and both are no longer with the organization. 
 
 
Top 5 Starting Pitchers – Factor Score / TPS
 
1. RHP Mike Soroka – 21 / .101
  • 18 years old – (LoA Rome)
  • 1st round – 2015
  • First let me say that the list you are about to see is basically the LoA Rome Braves starting rotation. A pitching staff that steered the Braves to the South Atlantic League title. Soroka racked up the most innings with 143 and posted a 3.02 ERA. He only allowed 3 home runs along with a 3.91 K/BB ratio. His mid-90’s fastball has late sink that kept the ball in the yard, generating a 49 percent ground ball rate.
 2. RHP Patrick Weigel – 21 / .080   “Solid Stash”
  • 22 years old – (LoA Rome / Double-A Mississippi)
  • 7th round – 2015
  • The first round picks on this list could all be tagged “Solid Stash” or “Instant Roster Adds”, but Weigel will be the only one to earn it going into 2017. Hopefully our readers will begin to see Weigel’s name appearing on prospect lists heading into 2017; and will remember that he was listed here last season (#2 TPS). I also had him “Just Off the Scope” prior to the 2016 season, so it’s very safe to say….”that the signal is currently quite strong for 2017.” He could’ve gotten lost in the shuffle with the Rome staff, but ended-up being their  ace, finishing 10-4 with a 2.51 ERA and 9.4 K9 rate.
 3. LHP Kolby Allard – 16 / .080    “Instant Roster Add”
  • 19 years old – (LoA Rome / Appy Danville / LoA Rome)
  • 1st round – 2015
  • Allard could be the future anchor that will bring the Braves staff back to prominence. He had a stress injury (back) that only allowed him to make three starts in his pro debut season. The lefty came on like gangbusters in 2016 with a short “refresh” session in the Appy League (3-0, 1.32 ERA, 33 K, 5 BB, 0.841 WHIP) and LoA Rome. Allard displays front-of-the-rotation stuff with a 90-94 mph fastball with excellent movement, a curveball that ranks as the best within the Braves system, and a potential plus-changeup. He’ll still be a teenager (19) throughout the 2017 season and should start at HiA.
 4. RHP Touki Toussaint – 12 / .092
  • 20 years old – (LoA Rome)
  • 1st round – 2014
  • Toussaint comes to the Braves by way of Arizona after Atlanta absorbed $10 million of Bronson Arroyo‘s salary. The right-hander should be an important component during the rebuilding of the rotation. During his time with the Diamondbacks, Toussaint seemed to be pushed without proper development. His stuff is deemed “electric” and the Braves are working to refine and improve his mechanics. He made progress in 2016, but his overall stats may indicate a return back to LoA Rome to start 2017. Now that the farm is restocked, there no need to rush Toussaint.
 5. LHP Ricardo Sanchez – 12 /  .105
  • 19 years old – (LoA Rome)
  • International Free Agent – 2013
  • Sanchez is another piece of the restocking of the system and he could be the biggest under the radar addition. Sanchez was acquired in a trade (with the Los Angeles Angels in 2015) for former UTR hitter Kyle Kubitza. Although he repeated LoA Rome in 2016, his periphials wouldn’t lead one to expect much from the 19-year-old. He has plenty of stuff, but needs to cut down on the inconsistencies and harness his offerings. I will tread light on Sanchez, as he reminds me of Rafael Montero (NYMets), a UTR that I was very high on back in 2012. Watch Sanchez closely. There’s a lot of room for improvement, especially within this system.
 
Top 3 Relief Pitchers – Factor Score / TPS
 
1. RHP Josh Graham – 8 / .075     
  • 22 years old – (LoA Rome)
  • 4th round – 2015
2. RHP Matt Custred – 7 / .074    *Legit UTR*
  • 22 years old – (LoA Rome)
  • 31st round – 2015
2. RHP Carlos Salazar – 7 / .069     
  • 22 years old – (LoA Rome)
  • 3rd round – 2013
  • The move from a starter to a relief role is underway. An impressive TPS number considering his 10.2 BB/9 rate. Once the free passes start shifting toward strikeouts…Salazar will move quickly.