Saturday, February 6, 2016

2016 Top 50 Prospects - #25-#16

Last week, I began my Top 50 for 2016 with the first half of the list. I won't finish the list this week, but the next ten will be revealed. In a deep farm system, several players that are mentioned today could rank much higher if the top 15 wasn't so good.

A couple of notes. My list does not include Derian Cruz or Christian Pache, the top prospects from last year's international class. Other blogs will include them, but unless the player has actually suited up, they don't make my list. If they did, Cruz would have been in the #10-#20 range with Pache likely in the Top 25 as well. Further, Hector Olivera and Dian Toscano are also not on my list. Even if they were young enough, so many years spent in Cuba's premier league would have kept them off. Finally, I am not a scout so take my rankings and grading system with the largest grain of salt. I believe in them, but acknowledge that other experts could disagree.

25. Randy Ventura, OF, Grade: C

It's hard to get too excited about a speedster with one year under his belt in the Dominican Summer League, but Ventura is one of those players that could be a fast riser if he can keep getting on base. The outfielder signed late last season and played most of the DSL's 2015 season as a must-see attraction. In 58 games, he swiped 55-of-64 bases. He also hit .329 and walked more than he struck out while grounding into just one double play all year. Now, the fun part begins - Ventura gets a chance to prove that 2015 wasn't a fluke. Working in his favor is his age (he won't turn 18 until July) and ridiculous burst on the basepaths. However, the switchhitter has no power and at 5'9", it's unlikely he'll add enough muscle to have many .100+ ISO seasons. He'll also need to cut down on the defensive miscues in center and provide value there, but I've heard reports he has the instincts to stay in center. On the high end, he could be a .300ish hitter with good leadoff skills and great stolen base numbers. On the low end, he could be cut by 2018 after not progressing. He should begin this season with the GCL Braves or Danville after fully coming back from a car accident that ended his season last year a week or two early.

24. Andrew Thurman, RHP, Grade: C

A 2nd rounder by the Astros in 2013 out of Cal-Irvine, Thurman came to the Braves last winter in the Evan Gattis trade. At the time, he had spent two years at short-season and low-A ball with unimpressive results. That didn't stop him from getting off to a great start with Carolina. In his first six starts, he threw at least five innings every time and in five of those six outings, Thurman was charged with two or fewer runs. It was the kind of start that gets you a quick promotion, but a bus crash in May that disabled several Mudcats slowed his momentum. He missed nearly two months before getting back to action with some rehab starts in the Gulf Coast League before returning to Carolina. He mostly struggled in five starts, but got his feet wet with a month in Mississippi to end 2015. Overall, his results took a hit. His great walk numbers evaporated in Mississippi while his nice and tidy ERA at the start of the year climbed steadily after his return. His year ended with bad numbers in the Arizona Fall League. A nice college starter, Thurman added velocity after he was drafted and has developing secondary pitches. Ultimately, he could develop into a decent swingman starter, but will need his pitches to develop a lot quicker to threaten the starting rotation in the majors.

23. Juan Yepez, 1B/3B, Grade: C+

He didn't turn heads quite like Austin Riley did, but Yepez posted some impressive stats of his own in 2015. Frank Wren's last big international signing, Yepez slashed .299/.364/.458 while splitting nearly equal time between the GCL Braves and Danville. He hit a quartet of homers and stole 3 bases. However, the biggest thing hurting Yepez's value might be found in his fielding numbers. Of the 51 games he played in the field during 2015, only six (44 ING) occurred at third base. With his offensive profile, he makes for an intriguing offensive third baseman. His prospect status is not nearly as high if he's playing first. Now, the presence of Riley probably played a role, but the concern about Yepez when he signed was that his long-term position might be at first. However, if Yepez continues to parlay his quick, loose swing into big numbers, people will care less about being stuck at first.

22. Robert Whalen, RHP, Grade: C+

Part of the Juan Uribe/Kelly Johnson deal, Whalen carried a bit of a higher grade than the other pitcher (John Gant) acquired in the trade. However, Whalen would only make a trio of starts after the trade before undergoing surgery on both knees to fix some pain he had been dealing with. Nothing is overly impressive about Whalen on the surface, but a 2.48 ERA over nearly 240 innings before the age of 22 is still kind of fun. The big goals for Whalen in 2016 is to stay healthy and a return of his previous strikeout rates would also help. If ready for opening day, I imagine he'll be back in Carolina but Atlanta is certainly hopeful he'll be in Mississippi before August.

21. Max Povse, RHP, Grade: C+

It's hard to miss the former UNC-Greensboro righty. He's 6'8" with a Twitter pic that only makes him look like even more of a giant. He also could be an interesting piece for the future if he can continue to spot his pitches and keep the ball in the yard. After nearly 50 innings with Danville in 2014, Povse moved to Rome to open last season and was rather good there to the tune of 3.1 K/BB and just 2 HR allowed in 59.2 ING. A late June promotion to Carolina didn't continue his success and after one inning on July 20, his season came to a close due to undisclosed injuries. I like his chances of realizing his potential, though that potential might only lead Povse to max out as a productive bullpen piece.

20. John Gant, RHP, Grade: C+

At the time of the trade with the Mets, Gant was considered to be closer to the majors than Whalen, but had a lower ceiling. Apparently, nobody told Gant, who blitzed the Southern League after the trade to the tune of a 1.99 ERA and over a strikeout an inning. That success is a complete turnaround from his 11 games with Binghamton in the AA-Eastern League. A closer look at each spot's BABIP might help explain that (.337 vs. .273 with Mississippi). With limited velocity, Gant relies on deception from a changeup that has similar sink to his fastball. If he can add a better breaking pitch - or upgrade his curveball - Gant could become a decent bottom-of-the-rotation fixture either in Atlanta or elsewhere. If he pitches up to his professional results so far during the upcoming season at Gwinnett (3.24 ERA, 1.25 WHIP, 2.8 K/BB, 43-51% GB%), Gant could be in Atlanta as soon as this season.

19. Mike Soroka, RHP, Grade: C+

My ranking pales in comparison to Baseball Prospectus, who ranked the 18 year-old #7 in their Braves' Top 10. Drafted with the #77th overall pick last June, Soroka is a Canadian righty with a plus fastball in stuff and control (velocity maxes out at about 94 mph) plus a great changeup that he has much more control of than pitchers 3-5 years older than him. Where Soroka has made up some of his perceived weaknesses is with a breaking ball, a curveball. While not a plus pitch - at least not yet - it's good enough to give hitters something else to think about. The development of his curve led the Braves to aggressively push Soroka up to Danville to finish 2015. His results weren't as sparkling as they were with the GCL Braves, but a peak at his overall numbers uncovers this amazing nugget - 7.4 K/BB. Now, that's just 34 innings in which he walked five and struck out 37, but we are talking about a guy who didn't turn 18 until last August 4th. That's a very impressive start. More of the same will get him closer to single-digits on my list. Braves might hold him back when Rome's season begins, but I do expect him in Rome sometime this summer.

18. Dustin Peterson, OF, Grade: C+

It'd be easy to ignore that Peterson keeps playing young for his level, but with already over 240 games above rookie ball, the now-21 year-old is off to a quick start to his career. His results haven't been thoroughly impressive by any means, but I still believe the raw power is there. It'll have to be after the Braves moved him away from third base, limiting his overall potential. Peterson has an older brother D.J. that will beat him to the majors, but Dustin has a shot to join him if his in-game power begins to show. While youth has likely stifled his numbers as he has been really young for each year's level, it's time to start seeing some production as he heads into his third full-season year.

17. Ricardo Sanchez, LHP, Grade: C+

One thing that has been quickly apparent under the Holy John Trinity is that young players get pushed quickly. Sanchez was the youngest player in the South Atlantic League last year and signed as a 16 year-old less than three years ago. The results with Rome weren't very pretty. He walked too many batters and struggled to stay on the mound before his season ended in mid-July. The lefty out of Venezuela sports a smooth, repeatable delivery and his velocity sits comfortably in the mid-90's. He has a curveball that could become a plus pitch and a ticket to the majors - at least in a relief capacity. His changeup will likely decide if he can start in the majors. Fortunately, he's got a lot of time and turns just 19 in April. 2016 could be a great bounceback season for him.

16. Zachary Bird, RHP, Grade: C+

Maybe the player most often forgot in the mega deal involving Alex Wood and Hector Olivera last July, Bird has seen slow progression during his minor league run since signing as a ninth rounder in 2012. Still just 21, Bird has great size, improving stuff, and looks the part of the durable middle-of-the-rotation arm who won't be an All-Star often, but will routinely crank out solid campaigns. To become that, he'll need to develop either his curveball or changeup to the point where one of them becomes a consistent third pitch. His slider flashes plus ability while his fastball hits the mid-90's with sink - a profile that could keep a relief option open if the third pitch never really develops. I'm ranking him under the belief that he'll be able to develop that third pitch and become a Jason Hammel-type - a durable, innings eater who gives you 170-200 innings, a good strikeout rate, and 2-3 WAR seasons. That player is valuable. Just ask J.A. Happ who turned a season like that into $36M.

I meant to get this posted a few days ago, but I've been sick so my time schedule has lagged. Next week - hopefully Thursday - I'll release the next ten as we start to get into B-grade prospects and the creme of the crop the system has to offer.

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