Monday, March 16, 2015

2015 Top 30 Prospects: 20-11

Last Monday, I began the Top 30 prospects in the Braves system with the bottom tier. I don't claim to be a minor league expert so my rankings may differ from the more respected outlets, but I do think I'm a fairly reasonable grader. This week, we look at the middle tier of the Top 30 - specifically prospect #11 through #20. There is an equal number of pitchers as there are position players in this group. Further, in the bottom tier, only one player was added to the system since the end of the 2014 season. In this tier, six were added, including the first three we will look at.

A small note on grading...simple A-F grading scale with pluses and minuses added. To be a grade-A player, you have to be a top prospect in all of baseball and spoiler alert, there is not a grade-A guy in the system according to my grading. There is one A-, though, and a trio of B+ guys. Only 11 players received a grade of B- or better.

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20. Jace Peterson, IF, Grade: C+....I have to admit that I was tempted to push Peterson up the rankings based on what has been a solid spring so far, but I'll refrain. Why is someone who might be the opening day second baseman holding down just the #20 spot in my rankings? Projections for Peterson have largely been unremarkable and many have been convinced that his ultimate future is as an utility player / second division starter. That's still valuable, but the Braves clearly think he's better than those reports. He has shown very solid speed and just enough pop to give us a bit of hope. Plus, no one doubts the ex-wide receiver's athleticism in the field. While probably a sub-standard shortstop option beyond the occasional start, he has the range to play second and the arm to make most of the throws from third. He was the toughest player for me to grade.

19. Dian Toscano, OF, Grade: C+....The red tape that goes with getting a Cuban defector into camp has eliminated any chance Toscano had to make the roster in his first spring training, but the five-year veteran of the Cuban National Series still will likely get a look this season provided he hits in the minors. Not expected to have much pop, Toscano showed remarkable plate discipline in Cuba. Surprisingly, he's not much of a base stealer, though.

18. Dustin Peterson, 3B, Grade: C+....Before the Braves picked up Rio Ruiz in the Evan Gattis trade, it looked as if Peterson was the future at 3B. He may still be if the Braves can help him rectify some killer problems. Chief among those issues is whether or not Peterson will connect with the ball enough. He has the raw power that make us dream of his potential which is what the Braves wanted when they acquired him from the Padres. But can he turn that potential into production? Well, he's entering his age-20 year so he has plenty of time. He could lead the system in homers this year and let's be honest...in today's game, power comes at a premium.

17. Garrett Fulenchek, P, Grade: C+....A lot of negative things were said about Frank Wren's drafts, which I find a bit much considering the talent that was drafted under Wren that are already established in the majors. Even with those accomplishments, 2014 might turn out to be his best class. Selected in the second round out of Howe High School was Fulenchek, a tall and imposing force on the mound. He struggled with control after joining the system last year, but when he controls his hard sinker (that he can run it up into the 94-95 mph range) and miss bats with his slider, he has the profile necessary to be excellent in the majors. Fulenchek could be in the Top 10 this time next year.

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16. Mauricio Cabrera, P, Grade: C+....He wowed with triple digit velocity this spring, giving us a feel that his future may be in the pen. That's where he finished the 2014 season. His best value comes in the rotation, but his fastball and less-than-overwhelming secondary pitches might necessitate the move. He's still going to have to work on control, though. The Braves liked him enough to protect him in the Rule 5 draft despite just 29 innings at advanced-A last year. He'll probably return to the Carolina League.

15. Ricardo Sanchez, P, Grade: C+....One of the strangest trades this offseason came when the Braves cashed in a pair of prospects, including the well-liked Kyle Kubitza, to get Sanchez. The 5'11" lefty out of Venezuela debuted state-side last summer in Arizona with a dozen games and 38.2 ING. He showed impressive strikeout numbers against largely older hitters and will be just 18 all of next season, which will likely begin with extended spring training as he preps for the Danville season.

14. Jason Hursh, P, Grade: C+....I have to admit that I'm not the biggest Hursh fan. I like pitchers who can get grounders, but I'm not sure Hursh will ever strike out enough batters to fully take advantage of his great control and sinker. There will be times when Hursh needs an out pitch, not another grounder to the right-side hole. Just not sure he will have that capability. That said, his mediocre AA numbers do come with this caveat. Of the around 600 batters he faced, less than 90 came against guys who were younger than him. With that knowledge, it's like saying he held his own.

13. Alec Grosser, P, Grade: C+....Selected out of the same high school made famous by Remember the Titans in 2013, Grosser has pitched 93 innings at rookie ball over the last two seasons. He improved his walk and strikeout numbers last year, though he faded late. He gave up three or more ER just twice before his last three starts. He gave up three or more in each of those starts. Grosser was ranked the 159th prospect by Baseball America ahead of the 2013 draft, but fell to the 11th round because of sign-ability concerns, which made the Braves signing of Grosser all the more impressive. If he can gain more consistency with his 91-93 mph fastball and better feel for his secondary pitches, there's reason to think Grosser will be a guy who can rise up prospect lists like this one.

12. Jose Briceno, C, Grade: C+....Take the scouting report on Christian Bethancourt and reverse it and you have Briceno. A strong hitter coming off back-to-back years with double-digit homers before he turned 22, Briceno also has displayed a solid hit tool that has allowed him to hit .280 as a professional. The only real worry at the plate is that he has shown no plate discipline. The bigger concern with Briceno is behind the plate. Though he has the athleticism to be a solid defender (38 steals over 5 years), we haven't seen it yet. His footwork needs a lot of work for one thing and the reports on his ability to block pitches aren't glowing. That said, you can work with Briceno on that skill if he's willing to put the effort in. He could develop into a guy who's able to display plus-power from the catcher position and an .800 OPS or better.

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11. Mallex Smith, OF, Grade: B-....Of all the players acquired this offseason, few had more diverse reactions than Smith. We know he has the speed that goes vroom. We also know that he's willing to take walks and that makes him an attractive leadoff option. The left-hand hitter has decent defensive ability in center. He might rely a little too much on his speed over taking better routes, but that can come. My question and the reason why I'm not sold on Smith...will he hit enough? So far, the answer is yes. He's a career .290 hitter over 265 games and displays the speed to take extra bases and make up for his lack of real power. But take him out of the hitting paradises of the west and bring him east...now we will find out. He's probably ticketed for a trip to Mississippi, which if he's successful, could put him on a time table to arrive before 2017.

Thanks for reading and be sure to check back next Monday for the final ten prospects. Also, two weeks from now, I'll look at a player at each position who could be guys that will trickle into the Top 30 by midseason.

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