Thursday, July 13, 2017

Walk-Off Talk 1.7: Talking About the Midseason Top 50 Prospects

To add context to this year's Midseason Top 50 Prospects, the Walk-Off Walk contributors sat down for an informal discussion about their picks, some of the surprises, and a few of the guys who could rocket up the charts by the end-of-the-year countdown. Tommy Poe, new contributor Stephen Tolbert, and Ryan Cothran are all part of today's Walk-Off Talk.

It might help to have this year's Top 50 open in another window to provide context. If you think we ranked one guy higher than the next, feel free to chime in with a comment.

One last note. All but one of the pictures in this article come via Jeff Morris. Remember to follow him on Twitter for continued superb pictures to attach faces to many of the prospects.


Kyle Wright
Tommy Poe: Let’s get right into this and start with #1. Officially, Ronald Acuña took home the top spot in our rankings as he was the only player to rank first or second on all three lists. However, he only made #1 on Stephen’s. Ryan had Ozzie Albies as his top guy while I went with Kyle Wright. This trio of players easily pulled away from the field with an average ranking between 1.67 and 2.33. Fourth place averaged 5.00.

My first question is how did you arrive at your choice? And being the nice guy I am, I’ll answer first.

Let me start by saying that each of these incredibly talented players is majorly deserving of such an honor. The sky's the limit for Acuña and that might be selling the guy short. Ozzie Albies is a trade away from taking over second base, a position he may hold for the next decade. Having three legitimate players for an organization’s best prospect is a testament to both how deep this organization is and how off-the-charts talented this trio is. To hype these guys up just a little bit more - all have a legitimate shot to be in the majors by the end of 2018.

But, and forgive me for saying so, I’m the only one who made the Wright choice. (/ducks)

I won’t disagree with you guys that either Acuña or Albies has a higher ceiling than Wright. What I will say is that Wright has the highest floor of any draft choice the Braves have selected since Bob Horner. Now, the Braves have absolutely no reason to rush him to the majors like they once did with Horner, but in my mind, we don’t just reward projection, but the floor a prospect has and especially when that floor is quite elevated. Acuña and Albies should be - and I think will be - excellent players in the major leagues, but they cannot match the likelihood of reaching their potential like Wright.

The man comes into professional baseball with three plus pitches and a strong possibility of taking his weakest pitch, a pretty decent changeup, and transferring it into a plus pitch as well. His simple-and-easy mechanics are repeatable and don’t put undue stress on him. Mark my words, gentlemen - the Braves will look back at the 2017 draft and thank their lucky stars four other teams passed on Wright.

Both of you ranked him third on your lists. Why did your guy - either Albies or Acuña - get your pick as the number one prospect in the system?


Ronald Acuna
Stephen Tolbert: Hey guys! Glad to be a part of the team.

Let’s start with this; I love Kyle Wright. Getting him at 5 in the draft was thievery. For my money, he’s the best pitching prospect in the system. And in this system, that’s quite an accomplishment. But Wright has two things working against him being at the top.

One, he hasn’t thrown a pitch in pro ball yet and until I at least see some work against other pro’s, I can’t crown him #1. Two, he isn’t Ronald Acuña.

When I think about the number one overall prospect, I think “who can be the best player in the game?” “Who has that type of potential?”  And among the 3 obvious choices, Acuña was the only one who fit that profile. A 19-year-old, legitimate 5-tool player already destroying Double-A is as rare as it is impressive and when you have that guy in your system, he’s #1. Now, he's headed to Triple-A to unseat Albies as the youngest player in the International League.

And if you watched the Futures Game, you saw it all on display. The show he put on in BP had national writers tweeting about it, and then, once the game started, you saw the incredible defensive talent he’s going to be. Coming up as a CF with plus speed, he clearly has the skills to play all 3 OF positions and he showed off his 70-grade arm a few times during the game.

Maybe the most impressive part of the night, though, was the multiple 10+ pitch AB’s he put up against some of the nastiest pitchers in MILB. Taking 98-mph fastballs just off the plate. Spitting on hard-breaking off-speed pitches in 2-strike counts. Basically, he was doing things a 19-year-old shouldn’t do against pitchers that advanced.

Acuña is dynamic, powerful, advanced, and the most gifted overall player to come through this system since Andruw. Truly a rare talent. In my opinion, he’s clearly the #1 prospect in the Braves’ system and eventually, in all of baseball.

But I’m open minded--so Ryan, let’s hear why Ozzie Albies is really the top man in this incredible system.


Ozzie Albies | Grant McAuley - Follow on Twitter - used with permission
Ryan Cothran: Hey you 2 scoundrels! I'm on Whidbey Island off the coast of Washington and maybe it’s just the island vibes soaking in, but man I love the heck out of Ozzie Albies. He's been my guy for quite a while (not in a Robert Baker sense) and I'm going to show him some love, but first off, it's slanderous for us to talk number 1 Braves prospect and not discuss Kevin Maitan. He’s already wreaking havoc in the GCL and maybe we look at this discussion in a year and think how big of buffoons we were for not including him, and that brings me to my next point and Stephen has already made it: Whether it's the Wright or Wrong call, I cannot give the number 1 title to a guy that hasn't thrown a professional pitch, or in Maitan’s case, limited exposure.  Sorry Kyle, your poise, promise, 3-plus pitches and potential power arm will have to settle for 3 on my rankings.

From there, it was a wash between Acuña and Albies, but what has been occurring in the past month for 20-year old Albies pushed my ranking: he's destroying the ball. Doubles, triples, home runs, he's hitting them and he's doing it from both sides of the plate thanks to Chipper! From the looks of him, I'd guess he's added 20 pounds of muscle in the last year, has put more emphasis on successful steals rather than just running because he's fast, and from what I've read and saw, he's developed some more arm strength. He's sharpened his game all around at the minors highest level and he still can't buy a beer in Georgia. I'm overly excited about what the Braves lineup could feature in 2018 with Albies in it and am very anxious for Brandon Phillips to move on so we can see Ozzie in the show I think he's a seasonal 4 WAR player that could be an all-star 4-5 times in his career.


Tommy Poe: All valid arguments. I think we all agree that all three guys are going to help shape the future of the Atlanta Braves over the near future. The Top 5 was completed by the aforementioned Maitan at #4 and Kolby Allard at the fifth spot. Allard actually matched his fellow 2015 Draft Class member Mike Soroka for the fifth-best average, but gets the fifth spot due to a tiebreaker which I stole from Outfield Fly Rule’s Andy Harris. In the event of a tie, the player with the highest individual ranking gets the spot.

#7 was an interesting pick. Both Ryan and Stephen had Sean Newcomb around that spot in their rankings, but I went against the grain and stuck with my preseason belief that Sean Newcomb was underrated and put him in the fourth spot.

On Newcomb, since it was my pick, this is probably building on where I had him ranked preseason. At number two. As in, the top non-Dansby Swanson prospect in this system. Nobody agreed with that ranking at the time, but I felt the improvement he made over the second half of 2016 could not only be sustained, but built upon. I was little disappointed with some walk totals with Gwinnett as I felt he was improving in that regard, but I still hold firm in my belief that Newcomb's combination of power, stuff, and pitchability was being underranked by other sources. As such, I rank him as the second-best pitcher in my rankings - a distinction that only changed because of Wright.

His time in the majors has been mostly solid, though he ran into the buzzsaw known as the Astros and was charged with four runs against the Nationals over his last two starts. Nevertheless, he's reached the seven-strikeout plateau in half of his six starts and walked two or less in four of those games. That's something that the Braves can possibly build upon moving forward.

I do understand the criticisms, but control is the thing I'll give a break to when it comes to pitchers. Give me a guy who has issues sometimes finding the plate, but has the weapons to be a #2 starter (possibly #1) if he can find the plate more consistently and I'll be a fan. But the great thing about this organization is whether you want to go with Newcomb, Allard, or Soroka as your second-best pitching prospect in the system - as the three of us did - I believe you can make justifiable arguments about all three.

On the subject of pitchers, Stephen, you had Joey Wentz #17 in your rankings. Ryan and I both had him near the tail end of our Top 10. You were the only one to rank both Touki Toussaint and Kyle Muller ahead of him. Any particular reasoning or just liked him less?


Stephen Tolbert: Before I jump back in, I do want to make the point that this system is almost unfathomably deep. Guys like Joey Wentz being in the 10-20 range shows how difficult it can to rank all these guys and that often, a guy is where he is because I like a different guy more, not because I like that player less.

Drew Waters
This is what happened with Wentz on my list where he came in at #17. There were a couple players I felt had higher ceilings that I had to put in front of him. A couple of those guys being Drew Waters and Cristian Pache - both tooled out OF who are having early success at their respective levels.

In general, I prefer position players to pitchers because of the severe volatility pitching prospects experience. That means when I get to a group of prospects I feel all around the same level, I lean towards the bats.

Joey is a terrific 3-pitch guy who probably has a bit more pitchability than some of the other guys in the system. But ultimately I see more of a mid to back-end SP as his career path and there were some other guys I project higher.

But being in the top 20 of this system means you're a serious player and very likely have a major league career ahead of you. So Joey at 17 on my list means I still think very highly of him. What surprised me was Ryan's ranking of Touki at #22. That down on him, Ryan, or just high on others?


Ryan Cothran: I agree that it's pretty easy to rank a top-10 in this organization and have a near consensus 10 guys, whether they're up or down a few spots. After that, it's tricky. One ranking that I had that will likely draw criticisms by many is Touki at 22. Honestly, I just don't get it. He has a curve that’s known as the best pitch in the Braves system, a mid-90s fastball, a working change, and his ERA is pushing 6. Sure, his K-rate is up, his BB-rate down, but he's now in his 4th year in professional ball and the ERA is still going the wrong way. How is this happening? Sure..blame the defense, blame the umps, or just state the obvious and say he's developing, but regardless of the reason, I just cannot look at him and continue to think Starting Pitcher. With that in mind, Geez Louise, he could be a dominant bullpen stud but that just doesn't warrant a near top-10 ranking in the best system in the bigs. For whatever the reasons that Touki and Ricardo Sanchez have to not put it all together, there's guys like Bryse Wilson and Patrick Weigel who clicked and are big jumpers in the org. Hopefully, we will see the same click happen for the aforementioned two.


Tommy Poe: I definitely do hope we see them start to put it together more as well, Ryan. For now, I want to spend a little time going over our individual rankings and what stands out compared to the rest. At #16, I had Alex Jackson, his lowest ranking. I don't doubt the offense is for real because I was on board with the trade when it happened considering he showed improvement last season. I thought the Mariners were short-sighted in the move. I do wonder if he'll stay behind the plate, though. From people I've talked to (non-scouts, I grant you), they aren't so sure and that's what prompted me to rank him a bit lower. If he's forced back to the outfield, he's still a good prospect - just not as hot. Still, to rank #16th in this system is a pretty nice accomplishment - especially when left for dead by the M's.

I also had Kyle Muller and Bryse Wilson a bit lower than you guys. Similar to why Stephen went with others over Wentz, I felt Muller and Wilson's ceilings are not as high as guys I put ahead of them. Either that rationale or, as was the case with Patrick Weigel and Lucas Sims, I valued their closeness to the majors over Muller and Wilson. I still love both pitchers, though, and look forward to being wrong.

Derian Cruz
I had the lowest rank of Derian Cruz, who I plugged in at #31. I think he's going to hit and flash very good speed, but I am really worried about his defense. From watching him a few times with Danville, he doesn't have soft hands and is frequently forced to rush a throw as a result. My placement is similar to Jackson's in that if he doesn't stay at his current position, his value declines. Right now, I'm looking for reasons to believe he'll stay at shortstop and I have too much concern he'll get shifted to the outfield.

Speaking of speedy guys - this time who already play in the outfield - Randy Ventura had one of the most diverse rankings in the whole thing. I had him #43, Stephen ranked him #34, and Ryan squeezed him into the Top 30 with a #27 placement. And here I was concerned I was ranking him too highly because he has slowed down somewhat as the season has progressed.

I didn't include recent draftees like Freddy Tarnok and Drew Lugbauer on my list. Both were guys who would have showed up if we went beyond Top 50's and because both landed on your lists, each gets a place in the WOW Midseason Top 50. I do like both, but I haven't seen enough of Tarnok to give him a Top 50 spot and Lugbauer might struggle to have a position moving forward. That said, in most systems in the majors, they would be consensus Top 50 prospects - if not Top 30.

I'm glad Jason Hursh made all of our lists, by the way. He's a guy who has shown a lot of improvement over the last year. I'm still not sure he'll be a high-leverage reliever, but there's something here now that I felt was gone when I left him off my preseason Top 50. Really want to see how his career develops moving forward.

Stephen, what are some of your observations about your Top 50 compared to Ryan's and my versions?

Stephen Tolbert: First, just to respond to one thing you mentioned, I put  A. Jackson as high as I did because I love the bat and the arm. I haven't heard anyone reputable express any optimism that he can stay at catcher but his profile still fits a corner OF spot and man can he hit.

Ok on to mine. Looking at all 3 lists, the first thing that jumps out is Drew Waters. You and Ryan both had Drew 25 while I had him 15. If I'm being 100 percent honest, I almost had him in my top 10. Switch-hitting OF with speed, projectable power and, early on, what seems like a good feel for hitting. Yeah, I'm all aboard. My hot take/bold prediction for next year is once Acuña and Albies graduate, Maitan and Waters will be the 2 best hitting prospects in the system.

Another notable difference I see is you and Ryan both had Ray-Patrick Didder in the mid 30s while he didn't make my top 50. Yeah, I just don't see it with Didder. It's 20 power with a 27% strikeout rate in A ball. He gets by on some fluky HBP numbers that won't hold when he faces pitchers with better control at upper levels. Outside of that, I see an org OF who can run but really not do much else. In a lesser system, he may crack the top 50 for me, but certainly not the best system in baseball.

Alright, Ryan, who were the players you saw differently than Tommy and me?


Ryan Cothran: Admittedly, I've seen very little of Waters, but have liked what I've seen. For me, it's the unknown that's near impossible to rank but I appreciate the boldness and sure hope your ranking turns to be the more accurate.

As far as my guys, I just cannot get enough of Bryse Wilson. Dude’s fastball stayed 93-96 throughout a complete game shutout and his positive demeanor has been discussed in numerous outlets both inside Braves fam and out. His arsenal is developing, he's striking out a lot of people while walking guys seldom, and he's only 19 years old. While he might have a bit more to learn in comparison to Allard and Soroka, he's right on their heels and I'd expect a promotion before year's end.

Another guy that I likely have an unhealthy fondness of is Randy Ventura. While he's cooled off recently, he can flat out hit. Combine that with above average speed, superior baseball instincts, and a good glove and he's likely a good 4th outfielder. However, that's not how I see him. I think there's some power there and room for growth in that body. I'd keep an eye on him these next few here's to see if 16-20 of those singles become doubles and  6-7 of those doubles and triples become homeruns. If that happens, there could be some serious under the radar hype here.


Tommy Poe: Finally, I want to go over the five guys you feel might be climbing up the rankings by the end of this season. These can be guys who made your Top 50 or weren't on the list at all. You can also say how you feel they will rise up the WOW list as others come around on your way of thinking.

Bryse Wilson, #17 - I do believe I ranked him lower than you guys because he was ranked really low in my preseason Top 50. He jumped about 20 spots but probably didn't jump enough spots. He'll be an easy Top 20 guy for me by the end of the season and might be in the Top 15.

Drew Waters, #22 - Stephen's aggressive #15th rank might prove to be matched by my own by the end of the year. That's not only a product of my stealing from Stephen :), but the guy's talent is ridiculously high. I'm seeing some people put him as the third-best position prospect in the system behind Acuna and Albies. I'm not there - yet - but he's definitely climbing.

Abraham Gutierrez
Abraham Gutierrez, #34 - I had him ranked the lowest at #39th, but I do believe he'll be in the Top 30 by the end of the season. He seems like the catching prospect with the best chance to not only be a plus at the plate but also behind it.

Drew Lugbauer, #45 - Though I do have concerns about him finding a position, I'm also massively intrigued by the idea of a power-hitting righty-mashing utility player who can cycle from catcher-to-first-to-third. If he can also get some time in left here-and-there, I'm jumping on the hype train big time.

Jean Carlos Encarnacion, UR - First off, Encarnacion is why the Braves need another minor league team or two. I don't know if they truly believe he can't play shortstop anymore or can't find any playing time there for him while playing on a team with Livan Soto and Kevin Maitan. Either way, the current 1B/3B is off to an excellent start in the GCL with six extra-base knocks over his first 51 PA. He was a late signing in the 2015-16 international signing class and I think the Braves found yet another solid bat out of the DR who could rise in a hurry. He's got a big frame to grow in and one that might lead to a good deal of power.

What are some of the guys you think will climb the charts moving forward, Stephen?


Stephen Tolbert: I like the Juan Carlos Encarnacion pick, Tommy. Here are my top 5 potential climbers:

OF Drew Waters, #22 - (see bold prediction above) Drew was #15 on my personal list but could easily be my top OF prospect in the system once Acuña graduates.

SP Max Fried, #21 - I think Fried has a much pure talent as any arm in the org but his results haven't shown it. If his second half this year matches his second half last year, he could be up in the top 10.

OF Dustin Peterson, #20 - Dustin would've easily made my top 15 coming into the year but the wrist injury in Spring Training has zapped him of his power which is a key part of his development. If he gets that back, he's probably closer to #10 than he is to #20.

C Lucas Herbert, #36 - Lucas has really progressed this year in all aspects of his game. The only reason I didn't have him higher is I just want to see more of it. If he continues at his current pace, he's a top 20 prospect.

OF Braxton Davidson, #38 - I still believe in Braxton. He hits the ball hard, he hits it in the air, and he knows how to take a walk. I love those three things in a prospect. He just needs to put it all together. If he does, the raw talent is there to be big time prospect.

What say you Ryan?


Ryan Cothran: Man, I hope you're right on Max and D-Pete as they're two guys that are easy to like.

Izzy Wilson, #42 - Seriously talented youngster that could be the next big thing. Has had disciplinary issues in the past but if he can put his focus on baseball, Braves will have something.

Bryse Wilson, #17 - On the heels of all our other young pitchers but maybe not for long. Shelby Miller in the making?

Max Fried, #21 - Bad first half but has tools and talent to be a very good starting pitcher. Think we will see a rise in stock for the 2nd time.

Drew Waters, #22 - Could he be the Braves steal of the draft? Too early to tell, but if he keeps going at current pace, he'll be a serious mover.

Justin Smith, UR - Tommy and I both liked this pick in the draft and Matt Powers of Talking Chop did as well. A JUCO guy with the ability to do everything well. Look for him to adjust then explode.


  1. Great list, guys. I tend to side with Tommy's conservative approach to ranking Alex Jackson - I think a player's position does matter a good deal in calculating future value, and I have a feeling he's headed back to right field as soon as he and Braxton Davidson are no longer at the same level. As noted though, if he can keep developing the bat he's a legit prospect anywhere on the field.

    As an aside, I'm excited for the recent developments at the blog with the growing staff (welcome aboard, Stephen!) and the added content. Unsolicited feedback alert: I really like the conversational format of the back-and-forth stuff that you all do, as with this piece. Keep up the good work!

    1. Thanks, Mike!

      I do hope we're wrong about Jackson and enough time there will help him develop into an average catcher, but typically, guys who are "good enough" to catch typically don't get moved to the outfield in the first place. But his bat does warrant a lot of attention.

      I'm thrilled about how the blog is developing. It's been my little portal to the world for too long. Happy to share it with Ryan and Stephen. Check out Stephen's first piece on Sean Newcomb's curveball. Tremendous work.

      And thanks for your comments on the Walk-Off Talk format. It's the old-school podcast. :)