Saturday, February 13, 2016

2016 Top 50 Prospects - #15-#6

For the past couple of weeks, I have looked at the start of the Top 50 list. I've ranked prospects #50 down to #16 so far and now you really start to see the elite prospects of this system. The next ten includes a pair of outfielders, two third basemen, and six pitchers. This section also includes my first grades better than a C+.

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.

Previously Ranked: #50-#26, #25-#16

15. Rio Ruiz, 3B, Grade: C+

It wasn't exactly the season that either Ruiz or the Braves had in mind after he was acquired in the Evan Gattis trade last January. He was coming off a .293/.387/.436 slash with Lancaster (A+) as a 20 year-old and more power was expected. However, the Southern League is a bit tougher to hit in than the California League and Ruiz struggled to the tune of .233/.333/.324. It's worth noting that like many Braves prospects - especially hitters - Ruiz was pushed aggressively and had just eight plate appearances against pitchers younger than him. He also finished strong, hitting nearly .300 with 4 of his 5 HR after August 1. Another trip to Mississippi is likely in his future, though a strong spring could change things. I'm still a believer.

14. Chris Ellis, RHP, Grade: C+

Of the top prospects acquired this offseason, it's easy to forget about Ellis. A stout right-hander who was drafted in the 2014 third round out of Mississippi, Ellis has already started 15 games at AA and held his own. While he lacks the high-end talent of Sean Newcomb, who the Braves also acquired for Andrelton Simmons, Ellis had an impressive first full season of professional ball. Ellis is a breaking pitch away from being a prospect that could climb into the top 10 in no time. It's still amazing that the Angels gave up so much for Simmons. A great player, no doubt, but when you have so few prospects, surrendering Ellis and Newcomb remains a head scratcher.

13. Tyrell Jenkins, RHP, Grade: B-

Two things happened for Jenkins in 2015 that has never happened before in his previous three years since graduating rookie ball - he pitched above A-ball and he stayed pretty healthy. However, while there are things to like about the results, I am a bit slow to get too excited because the K/9 rate was the worst of his career and his walk rate went up. On the other hand, just staying healthy and on the mound was an accomplishment and could give us hope for better things to come. I'm still grading him on his potential and youth is on his side. Jenkins could be a breakthrough player in 2016.

12. Braxton Davidson, OF, Grade: B-

"But he only hit .242." Yes, random person, he did. At the age of 19 in the South Atlantic League. He also on-based .381 with the help of 84 walks and hit ten homers. Davidson will need to make more contact to avoid being a Cody Johnson, but I think he won't have that problem. Though he's only belted ten homers to this point, he has the raw power that could help him cruise past that total in 2016. The big question following Davidson has been whether or not he'll be able to stay in the outfield and while he probably won't be a world beater, he did enough to stick in right field last year and not completely embarrass himself. This is a good sign because his bat has more value in right field than at first base, which is considered his fallback destination. A challenge in Carolina awaits him and he won't turn 20 until June so struggles should be expected. Still...if he is able to turn it on, Davidson could be a difference maker in any lineup.

11. Austin Riley, 3B, Grade: B-

From intriguing prep pitching arm to one of the best hitting prospects in the system in a blink of an eye. After the draft, Riley spent 30 games each at the GCL level and with Danville and hammered 12 homers along the way with a .304/.389/.544 composite slash. Yes, it was only 252 PA and yeah, he struck out 65 times...but we're talking about a kid who doesn't turn 19 until April 2. It's difficult to rank Riley considering his relative inexperience, but it's hard not to push him toward the Top 10 with that kind of start. Now, the fun part begins - can he repeat his success in 2016? He joins a talent-rich Rome squad that should be exciting to watch and more eyeballs than normal will be on him. If he continues to hit, the sky is the limit for this kid.

10. Manny Banuelos, LHP, Grade: B

Is the clock starting to run out on Manny as a prospect? To a degree. He'll turn 25 in a month and started just professional career eight years ago. Injuries limited him considerably with 2016 marking the first season since 2011 that he threw at least a 100 innings. He also picked up his first shutout since 2011 as well while with Gwinnett, where he was excellent before earning a promotion to the majors. The results once promoted to the bigs started well, but the production declined before he was hurt and couldn't stay on the mound. Since injuries have taken some of his velocity, he's been relegated to a change-of-speed guy who will need to improve his location to be effective as a starter at the major league level. Still a shot he transitions into a decent LOOGY option down the line, but Atlanta will give him plenty of opportunity to be a rotation fixture first.

9. Mallex Smith, OF, Grade: B

It's easy to become overly excited about Mallex. The speed stands out at first, but its value increases when you look at Mallex's on-base skills. Over four seasons, he has a .380 OBP in the minors. But then you look at the power numbers and it's just as easy to be a bit discouraged. He had an .080 ISO last season, which is about his career norm so far. That gives him very little margin for error. It's difficult for an outfielder to post 4 WAR seasons without a .100 or better ISO. The walks help Mallex in this case and if he's able to improve his defense, which has only garnered okayish grades so far, he could definitely do that. In the end, Mallex needs all the things that he currently does to translate - hit for average, get walks, steal bases, stay in center. If any of these fade, his value is closer to 4th outfielder than the guy many are convinced will shift Ender Inciarte to left when he arrives this summer. Still, I like his chances to become a leadoff hitter in the majors much higher than Jose Peraza.

8. Max Fried, LHP, Grade: B+

At 22, Fried has just 147 innings of professional ball since the Padres made him the 7th overall pick of the 2012 draft. Even with that in mind, there are likely a few organizations out there where Fried would be their top pitching prospect right now. With a major-league quality curveball and great velocity, Fried has drawn comparisons to Cole Hamels. While the Braves will certainly baby him in 2016, the hope is that if Fried can get a hundred of innings in and pitch at AA, he'll be on a path that will get him into the major league picture before the end of 2017.

7. Lucas Sims, LHP, Grade: B+

Selected 13 picks after Fried in 2012, Sims has experienced a much healthier climb, but was bogged down by struggles in the Carolina League. That's a bit surprising because the Carolina League is typically forgiving for pitchers, but Sims was also very young for the level. He got off to a poor start in a return trip in 2015, but had back-to-back good performances before the Carolina bus accident sidelined him. After missing over a month, he came back for a brief run in Carolina before moving up to Mississippi. Outside of one bad outing against Birmingham, he was very stout with the M-Braves, striking out a season-high 10 against Pensacola and pitching into the sixth inning in each of his final six starts. He finished with an impressive 11-inning run in Arizona where he struck out 11 and walked just three. After coming off a disappointing season in 2014, Sims has momentum back on his side.

6. Touki Toussaint, RHP, Grade: B+

With Toussaint, there are few pitchers with more raw stuff. His curveball can be absolutely lethal and his fastball has amazing movement. The problem is getting Toussaint to throw strikes consistently and that can come with more experience. Cleaning up his mechanics will help considerably and at 19, he has plenty of time to get there. The Braves will likely keep the kid gloves on him for the next few seasons and progress him through the system with care. Very few pitchers have the best case scenario as a #2 - maybe even #1 - but Toussaint has that if he can develop an off-speed delivery to compliment his fastball/curve combo (plus mechanics and control, of course). It's going to be fun to watch him try to put it all together and if you can see him pitch this year, you better go. You might see a stinker or you might see him throw six hitless innings like he did against Lakewood last July 20th. That was just his 24th career game.

Next week, I'll post the Top 5 Braves prospects at my other website, atlantabraves.about.com.

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