Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Braves Top 50 Prospects, 2017 Preseason: #50-#41

The Atlanta Braves system is ridiculously stacked. Oh, sure, some have argued that most of its elite talent is at A-ball or lower. They aren't wrong, but that doesn't change how much talent the Braves have now. Considering how many prospects the team has added since the winter of 2014-15, the turnaround has been astounding. The front office, scouting department, and development team have outdone themselves.

Last week, I gave you five names I like, but who missed my Top 50 Prospects. Today, I start counting down the Top 50 with the bottom ten. Though I grade these guys at the tail end of my Top 50, I don't expect many of them to fall out of the list - if any. Rather, I expect quite a few to climb up the list by midseason and next offseason.

Added January 12, 2017. I originally set out to do a Top 50, but after this trade with the Mariners, I had to adjust my numbers. As such, I have altered the rankings to squeeze in the two new prospects. Next week, I will do a dozen prospects to get back on track with release ten prospects weekly until the Top 10.

52. Jon Kennedy, LHP, 21 years-old, Prospect Grade: C

While his name immediately brings up images of American political royalty, Kennedy is a native of Melbourne, Australia. Standing 6'5", Kennedy got his first break at the tender age of 16 while playing for the Melbourne Aces in the Australian Baseball League. For three years, he rarely pitched at Australia's highest level, but the fact that he did at all was impressive because of his age. Before the 2015 season was to kick off in Australia, interest was beginning to rise in Kennedy. Baltimore considered him before the Braves came away impressed enough to sign him.

Kennedy would still pitch one more year for Melbourne, but with the Braves' support, he became a regular starter for the Aces. After the season wrapped up, he soon made the trip to the states and pitched well to make the Rome roster out of spring training. After a couple of ugly games, he was moved back down a peg to wait for the Danville season to begin. It wouldn't be the first time he went up to Rome before spending more time with Danville. His last game was a two-inning stint with Carolina where he struck out four.

On the season, Kennedy had a 2.93 ERA over 30.2 innings with just 4 walks and 29 strikeouts. While scouting reports are scarce for Kennedy, he works off a 90 mph fastball and a breaking pitch that gets a good deal of movement from his 3/4's delivery. While new to the American scene, Kennedy understands that his path to the majors might be pretty narrow and limited to a left-hand specialist role. If he continues to show he's capable of generating K's with good control, he could follow that path all the way to the bigs.



51. Isranel Wilson, OF, 19 years-old, Grade: C

Few minor leaguers sparked more interest from me than Wilson heading into 2016. One of the first big splashes made by the Holy John Trinity after Frank Wren's firing, Wilson was aggressively pushed to the Gulf Coast League to begin 2015. After a terrible start, he raked over the last month-plus to finish the season with a .349 OBP, .257 ISO, and 149 wRC+. Did I mention he never faced a pitcher he was older than and was in his first year in a new country?

There were a lot of reasons to be excited about Wilson heading into 2016. And then...the season actually happened. He slashed .192/.276/.315 over nearly 150 PA. After hitting ten homers in the GCL, he hit just two in 2016. His walk % fell 5% while his ISO came down 134 points. If all of this wasn't confusing enough, his BABIP was actually 17 points higher in 2016.

This leaves us with a really muddled snapshot of Wilson as a player. A left-hand hitter, Wilson's swing looks like it will lead to pulling the ball a good deal and when he does connect, he hits the ball pretty solidly. Right now, Wilson could return to prospect status or continue to fall off. The natural gifts are there, but can he display them on the field? I would be shocked if Wilson doesn't start the year in extended spring training and we might not see him play until the Appalachian League season opens in June. Until then, his Jekyll and Hyde act is all we have.



50. Yoeli Lopez, OF, 19 years-old, Grade: C

There wasn't a lot to cheer about last summer for the Dominican Summer League Braves. They finished ten games under .500 and twelve games back in the San Pedro Division. One of the few bright spots, however, was Yoeli Lopez. Born in the Dominican Republic, but schooled in Miami, 2016 was the first year of Lopez's career and the results were pretty impressive.

Lopez played in nearly every game while slashing .240/.382/.357 with 3 homers and 11 steals. Consider that the DSL Braves hit just 9 homers overall. Lopez possesses a big swing and showed impressive plate discipline last year (though he struck out way too much). He also was hit 19 times, which could be an indicator of him crowding the plate. Obviously, there's not a lot of information about Lopez to this point and DSL outfielders are notorious for flaming out once they come to the states. Nevertheless, keep an eye on Lopez. There might be something here.




49. Carlos Castro, 1B, 22 years-old, Grade: C 

For three years, Castro labored in the Dominican Summer League. First signed in 2011, between 2012-14, he played in 124 games in the DSL as the Braves tried see if he could stick at catcher. Ultimately, his defensive issues led them to decide that he wasn't, but thtat didn't hold him back. After a .308/.378/.450 run in 2014, he was brought state-side.

Already 21 and now with Danville, Castro played backup to converted 3B Juan Yepez at first base as Yepez was the higher-rated prospect. Most of Castro's at-bats came as the team's DH and while he did hit .319, he showed little pop and appeared quite willing to swing at any-and-everything. In 2016, Castro was waiting around in extended spring training when injuries and poor play finally opened up a spot in Rome. He collected a pair of hits on May 23, his first game of the year, and his season was off and running. June was especially good as he hammered nine homeruns, including a pair of two-homer games. Amazingly, he hit just .221 that month and rarely hit a single. Even more curious, as the months transpired, the higher his average climbed, the lower his power numbers went. On the season, he slashed .266/.301/.508 with 17 homers. The dinger total was second to Austin Riley in the system.

But he was a bit old to get much prospect love in the South Atlantic League. His teammate, Riley, was in his Age-19 season and Dustin Peterson, who was two levels above Castro, was also a year younger. That's why Castro's power numbers, while impressive, won't push him high on my list. Nevertheless, considering he had hit just six homers in four years before 2016, it was a breakout season worth more attention. Castro has his faults - he hasn't seen a pitch he didn't think was worth swinging at, for one. Unless he hits .300 or better, his on-base percentage will be a concern. Plus, right-handed first baseman rarely make for defensive wonders. Still, over the last three years, he's averaged around a 125 wRC+. I'm sure Atlanta hopes he swings a big stick early in Florida, which will allow them to aggressively push him up to Double-A.




48. Dilmer Mejia, LHP, 19 years-old, Grade: C 

It seems like forever ago that Mejia burst on the scene with a strong 2014. Starting the year in the Dominican Summer League, the almost 17-year-old blitzed the DSL with 52 K's in 59 innings and just 11 walks. The native of Nicaragua made the rare in-season transition to the states and finished with 15 innings in the GCL. He faced just 16 hitters the entire year who were younger than him.

The expectations were sky-high for Mejia heading into 2015, but it would be a season to forget for the young lefty. After just 21.2 innings where the results were much more miserable, Mejia hit the DL  - a place he would remain for the rest of the year. He would return last season for 35.2 innings - still in the Gulf Coast League - and rebounded with a 2.96 FIP.

On the smallish side at just 5'11", Mejia has three pitches including a low-to-mid 90's fastball. He works off control (career 2.0 BB/9) and isn't likely to strikeout a ton of batters. He's kept the ball in the ballpark to this point, though that will be tested as he climbs the minor league ladder. I imagine the Braves would love to work him into the picture at Rome this season either before the Appalachian League season begins or after. He turns 20 in July so the time to get moving is now.

Below is the only video I could find of Mejia. It's in Spanish and you will have to skip to about 1:25 to see a brief clip of him.



47. Anfernee Seymour, SS, 21 years-old, Grade: C 

The 2016 Baseball Prospectus book had this to say about Seymour. "A local high school product, Anfernee Seymour was popped in the seventh round in 2014 because he's fast. He swiped the second-most bags in the New York-Penn League also because he's fast. He's fast." And that basically sums up Seymour to this point. In 215 career games, Seymour has swiped 83 bases and has been caught 21 times. But the bat...well, we're still waiting.

Acquired last season in the Hunter Cervenka trade, Seymour hit .257/.296/.303 at a pair of South Atlantic League stops last year. His walk rate was under 5% and his strikeout rate was on the wrong side of 20%. Seymour is a player who I don't see nearly as fondly as MLB Pipeline, which currently ranks him 19th (better than Patrick Weigel, A.J. Minter, and Braxton Davidson).

There is some skill here. A switch-hitter, Seymour is a good bunter, but doesn't use his speed well enough when he's swinging. With his lean frame, he ought to cut down on his swing and serve the ball where it's thrown. Instead, he too often tries the old Kevin Millwood method to hitting - Swing-Hard-In-Case-You-Hit-It. Millwood was a pitcher, though.

Seymour is also not a very gifted fielder. He has the speed to make up, to some degree, for iffy instincts and bad decisions in the field, but that still means that he's putting himself at a disadvantage. I could see the Braves moving him to second base, where his arm plays better. Atlanta could also try him again in the outfield, which he played some of in 2014. Either way, I don't foresee Seymour living up to the Top 20 MLB Pipeline billing.



46. Bryse Wilson, RHP, 19 years-old, grade: C

The 109th overall pick of the 2016 draft, the Braves had to convince Wilson to not attend UNC and instead, sign with Atlanta. By doing so, they put the cherry on the top of what was the 2016 draft. For a sign of how dominant Wilson was at Orange High School (Hillsborough, NC), you need only know this - he tossed multiple no-hitters his senior year. Multiple. As in, more than one.

Wilson spent the summer in the Gulf Coast League and in 26.2 innings, he K'd 29 and allowed just two earned runs. In six of his nine starts, he had at least a 2-to-1 GB to FB rate. Even though he didn't allow many baserunners, he induced four double plays in less than 30 innings of work. It remains to be seen if that groundball tendency will continue, though.

Standing 6'1" and weighing a stout 225 pounds, Wilson relies on a heater capable of reaching the mid-90's. To supplement his fastball, he throws a slider that has plus potential. The issue with Wilson and why I may rank him a bit lower than others is whether or not he profiles as a starter as he rises through the system. He needs an offspeed delivery and has to refine his slider to keep that option available. Nevertheless, for a 19-year-old, he's pretty dang impressive and should climb this and other prospect lists by next year.



45. Kade Scivicque, Catcher, 24 years-old, Grade: C

Originally a fourth-round pick out of LSU, Scivicque is, by default, the top catching prospect in terms of level + potential. I say default because the only real catching prospects are still A-ball and under. Still, Scivicque has some skills that might get him to the majors.

Before being acquired in August for Erick Aybar, Scivicque made quick work of the New York-Penn League and Midwest League. At the time of the deal, he was hitting .282/.324/.379 in the Florida State League. A right-handed hitter and thrower, Scivicque would split time between Carolina and Mississippi to end the regular season. He would also get an assignment in the Arizona Fall League where he posted an out-of-character 151 wRC+ over ten games.

Scivicque isn't particularly gifted behind the plate, though he is recognized as a solid game caller with good leadership skills. I've heard that he's a solid pitch framer as well. At the plate, he's fairly aggressive and his level swing mutes much in terms of power. A lot will have to go right to get Scivicque to the majors and he probably will max out as a backup. Nevertheless, that's still pretty good return for a month-and-a-half of Aybar.



44. Yunior Severino, SS, 17 years-old, Grade: C

It's easy to forget about the prospects signed last July who aren't named Kevin Maitan, but Severino was a big "get" in his own right. Ranked #8th among international prospects entering the signing period by Baseball America, Severino received a million to join the Braves. He won't make his debut until this season at the earliest, though he could skip the Dominican Summer League and immediately start his career in the GCL. A switch-hitter, Severino might still outgrow shortstop (the jury's still out), though he could stay in the middle infield and play second base. If so, he could be a big threat at second base as a potential 20-HR player.

Obviously, there isn't much information to go with here until we see Severino in game action, which won't happen until next June. With that said, last year's bounty of players has a chance to remake the franchise and Severino can play a starring role in doing so.



43. Abrahan Guiterrez, Catcher, 17 years-old, Grade: C

As far as pure potential goes, the Braves don't have a better catching prospect than Guitierrez. Signed for just $750K less than Kevin Maitan last July ($3.5M total), Guiterrez was ranked #15th in Baseball America's Top 50. Born on Halloween in 1999 in Venezuela, Guiterrez is a right-handed thrower and hitter.

Much like with Severino, right now, we are living on hype as we try to put together a scouting report. Guiterrez has a quick release behind the plate, though his footwork isn't very efficient yet. He's a little taller than you might like for a catcher (6'2"), but shows impressive athleticism behind the plate with mature (for his age) receiving skills. At the plate, he has a quick bat and the ability to serve line drives all over the field.

The Braves haven't had a catcher who was signed on the international market who later became a big contributor at the major league level since Javy Lopez. Could Guiterrez change that? Time will tell.



The Walk-Off Walk Top 50 Prospects (to recap)
52. Jon Kennedy
51. Isranel Wilson
50. Yoeli Lopez
49. Carlos Castro
48. Dilmer Mejia
47. Anfernee Seymour
46. Bryse Wilson
45. Kade Scivicque
44. Yunior Severino
43. Abrahan Guiterrez

Check back next week for the next ten prospects as I continue to countdown to #1.

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