Tuesday, January 3, 2017

Braves Top 50 Prospects, 2017 Preseason: Next 5 Looking In

This week begins the long countdown to the #1 prospect on the Walkoffwalk list of the Top Atlanta Braves Prospects as we head into the 2017 season. While next week and the weeks that follow will focus on the rankings, this week focuses on five interesting prospects who were guys who just missed my Top 50. I want to give them their own article because it would not surprise me if all five are in the Top 50 by midseason.

I should note that these were not necessarily my #51-#55 guys in my rankings, but the five I believe have the most "wow" factor to make a leap.

*All ages are as of opening day, 2017.

Corbin Clouse, LHP, 21 years-old, @corbin018

It's not often that a 27th rounder starts pushing his way into the Top 50 prospects of a well-respected system a half-year after being drafted, but Clouse nearly did that for me. Drafted out of small Davenport College last June, Clouse put up one of my favorite numbers of 2016 during a four-game swing in the Appalachian League where the difficulty level was on easy. In 6.2 innings, he had a -0.24 FIP. That's right - FIP can go negative. Of the 22 batters he faced, he struck out 16 and only allowed two to reach base (both via a walk). He then finished the season with Rome and while his dominance wasn't superhuman, it was still dang good (39% strikeout rate, 2.60 FIP, and one home run allowed in 23.2 innings). While lefties dreamed of getting a hit off him (he only allowed three to them), righties slashed a miserable .137/.250/.192 off him. Yes, he's just a reliever, but those numbers are absurd.

But Jaime Richmond once had absurd numbers, too. Richmond, who later was traded for Mark Kotsay, is my control for not getting too excited about rookie-league pitchers. Back in 2006, he had a 2.16 FIP over 67 innings. He never made it to Double-A. That's not an indictment on Clouse, who I do like a lot. Clouse rarely pitched until his senior year of high school and then pitched for the largely unknown NAIA program at Davenport. That alone makes him easy to root for. Clouse works off a low-to-mid 90's two-seam fastball and a slider that was impossible for lefties to touch last year and buckled a lot of right-handed batters' knees. He also has a four-seamer and a changeup, but both pitches need more developing to be a weapon.

The Braves have shown a willingness to be aggressive with college-age arms - especially relievers. Matt Marksberry made it to the show in his second full season while A.J. Minter climbed from low-A ball to Double-A last year. If Clouse continues to perform, he could be on a similar trajectory.

Josh Graham, RHP, 23 years-old

As a member of the Oregon Ducks, Graham was a catching prospect looking for at-bats. Instead, he became a reliever in his junior year and flourished in the role. Oregon liked him so much that they moved him to the starting rotation for a half-dozen starts and over 65 innings, Graham K'd 64 despite never throwing in a college game until that season. The success convinced Brett Evert, a former top draft pick by the Braves turned scout, to lobby hard for the Braves to select the 6'1" righty high in the 2015 draft. Atlanta did just that, selecting Graham with the 120th overall selection (4th round) and signing him for an over-slot $500K.

Graham would be used as a reliever in his first outing, but started his final five games of 2015 for Danville. Overall, he K'd 21 in 17.1 innings with just three walks. With mid 90's heat and an improving collection of secondary offerings, Graham entered 2016 as a name to watch. He would miss the first month of action before appearing in 35 games from May until the end of the season. His final 16 games were especially good as he K'd 20 in 16.2 innings while allowing just five earned runs.

The Braves are still not sure what they have with Graham considering his rawness. When you combine his Oregon days, he has pitched just 124.2 innings since high school. He hasn't induced a lot of grounders to this point and the four homers he allowed last year could be considered slightly troubling. With that said, Graham has a great shot to rocket up the ladder if he can get more lefties out and keep the ball in the yard at a better clip.

Here is a look at his pitching mechanics from his Ducks days.

Dylan Moore, Infielder, 24 years-old, @d_moore22

Picked up in the overly complicated three-team trade that sent Jeff Fancoeur to the Marlins, Moore is a fringy right-handed hitter without a position. That said, he can play enough positions to be a pretty interesting player moving forward. Drafted by the Rangers in the 7th round of the 2015 draft out of Central Florida, Moore hit .271/.376/.454 after joining the Rangers. The following year, he spent most of the year in the South Atlantic League before a short stay in the California League. After the trade, he moved to Carolina and OPS'd .872. Overall, his 2016 line was .269/.379/.441 with 14 homers and 42 steals. Not included in that slash was his postseason experience with Double-A Mississippi after Ozzie Albies got hurt. At the end of the year, he headed to the Arizona Fall League and hit .317 with 2 homers in 45 PA.

Along the way, Moore played every position on the field except for catcher. Yeah, he even logged one inning on the mound where he gave up seven runs (all unearned). The Braves limited him to 1B/SS/3B after the trade, though it'll be interesting to see if he plays any position in particular or keeps being used as a journeyman.

While picked in the first ten rounds, Moore's selection likely had a lot to do with his willingness to sign for cheap (his slot value was near $220K, he signed for $10K). That said, all that matters is that so far, Moore has hit and shown enough defensive flexibility to be a rather intriguing player. Moore is what I call a "maximizer." Individually, none of his tools stand out, but he makes the most of what he has. He has good discipline at the plate and his short-and-compact swing allows him to avoid big strikeout numbers. He'll swipe a few bases - largely due to intelligence on the base paths. Like I said, Moore makes the most out of his tools and while he'll never rocket to the top of a prospect list, he's got enough going in his favor to deserve more recognition.

Carlos Salazar, RHP, 22 years-old

Sometimes, the ceiling is just too high for players to reach. Salazar was one of Frank Wren's final high-projection picks before he was axed. Picked at the end of the third round in 2013, Salazar was considered a Top 100 draft prospect before the Braves took him at 102nd overall. Capable of reaching near three digits, the question was whether or not he'd be able to hit the strike zone.

Three-and-a-half years later, that question remains. His walk rate has been above 25% since arriving in high-A ball in the summer of 2015. While he has struck out 86 in 63.1 innings, that doesn't make up for the 79 walks. Worse, rather than his control getting any better, it has worsened the more he's advanced up the minor league ladder. His breaking ball has never been able to land consistently for strikes and Salazar may have benefitted from going to Fresno State rather than signing, though he likely would have sacrificed draft spots and money in doing so.

That said, pitchers sometimes click with the right pitching coach and maybe the Braves have that person. He's been compared to Jordan Walden largely because of a small hop at the end of his delivery. If the Braves can ever get him to locate his breaking stuff to go with his fastball, Salazar could be salvaged and he would be a deserving candidate for a Top 50 slot as a prospect. That's a lot to hope for right now, but the ceiling is still there - however hard it is to see.

Randy Ventura, OF, 19 years-old

Old loves die hard. The center fielder became a bit of a summer star for the Braves in 2015 as he made his professional debut in the Dominican Summer League and stole 55 bases in just 58 games. He complimented his big debut with a .421 OBP on the heels of a .329 batting average and a 35/27 K/BB combo. And then...a car accident ended his season after his left scapula (shoulder blade) was fractured. Nevertheless, it was a promising start for the switch-hitter.

2016 wasn't so...overwhelming. It wasn't a bad season for Ventura, who spent the year in the Gulf Coast League. He hit .284 after all. However, his slight frame only let him hit seven extra base hits and he only stole 15 bases. His on-base percentage was solid at .358, but the qualities that made him exciting were gone.

I fell in love with Ventura in 2015 which is why I forgot to logically look at things. There were over 3600 stolen bases in the short-season DSL during 2015. The GCL in 2016 (in fewer games) didn't reach 1000. There are better catchers the more you climb the charts. To be honest, Ventura isn't more deserving than J.B. Moss, Wes Parsons, and Evan Phillips - who all missed my Top 50. But ranking prospects is largely an exercise in faith. We can use numbers and compare what players did versus the level they did it at. We can also include tools and projectability. At the end of the day, it's a lot of hope, though. For one more year, I'll hope Ventura returns to being an interesting prospect. Maybe I'll be rewarded - chances are, I won't. But I still have some hope.

Thanks for my reading the five bubble guys - well, really four - that just missed my Top 50. My current plan is to release Prospect #50 to #41 next Tuesday and continue each week to release ten more until I get to the Top 10. At that point, I'll split it up into two final parts. If I do this right, the Top 5 will be released the morning that the Braves pitchers and catchers report. Again, thanks for reading!

No comments:

Post a Comment