Atlanta Braves 2018 Top 50 Prospects

Six months ago, the Braves owned far and away the deepest and most talented minor league system in baseball. Apparently, former GM John Coppolella may have cut some corners to achieve that depth, and MLB brought down the hammer to rectify the situation in late November. Gone from my midseason list are 7 prospects (midseason #’s 3, 23, 26, 38, 41, 42, and 44) whose contracts MLB voided, making them free agents. While these players were all several years away from competing, there is now a large depth gap, particularly in the middle infield. This is currently felt particularly in the back half of the list. In addition to removing most of the Braves well renowned 2016 international class, the team is now under international signing sanctions through 2020 that will limit the ability to recoup any of that depth. The Braves will find themselves having to draft well and be innovative in re-stocking their farm as many of their top prospects prepare to move on to the big leagues.

Now, to the rankings. A reminder that these are FANTASY baseball rankings, not simply prospect rankings. We’re looking for players who have the potential to make a positive impact on a fantasy squad. As a result, I always give priority to upside at the expense of safety. In the latter portion of the list for example, high upside/high risk bats take precedence over safer back-of-rotation arms or bullpen arms. One adjustment I have made with these rankings is the inclusion of more relief arms overall. With the way the real and fantasy game seems to be changing, there is an increased value in high leverage non-closers.

Prospects1500 Tiers:
Tier 1: Players with high expectations of both making the majors and playing at an All-Star level for a number of years
Tier 2: Players with an above average expectation of making the majors and being a solid contributor
Tier 3: Players with an average expectation of making the majors and being a solid contributor
Tier 4: Players who have the potential of making the majors, or have high likelihood of making the majors but providing minimal impact (e.g. middle reliever, low-ceiling UT guys)
Tier 5: Players who are worth keeping an eye on, but likely to never make a team’s 40-man roster





Tier 1

1. Ronald Acuna, OF
Age: 20
Highest 2017 Level: AAA
The top fantasy prospect in all of baseball, Acuna has the potential to be a 5-category star. Across 3 levels in 2017, he put up 21 HR and 44 SB while slashing .325/.375/.522, then continued his dominance by winning the Arizona Fall Leauge MVP award. If I had to guess, the Braves try to delay the arbitration clock to start the year, but Acuna should be patrolling either right or left field by late May.

2. Luiz Gohara, LHP
Age: 21
Highest 2017 Level: MLB
Going into 2017, the biggest thing I wanted to see from Gohara was durability. While he did have a couple small injuries, the big lefty still put together 150+ innings and did so across 4 levels. His slider is the dominant pitch in a strong repertoire that should lead to solid ratios and big strikeout numbers. After a rough MLB debut, Gohara’s subsequent 4 starts were impressive.

3. Kyle Wright, RHP
Age: 22
Highest 2017 Level: High A
The Braves were careful with Wright, their 2o17 1st round pick after a long college season. What he showed, however, was the dominance expected of an elite college pitcher. Wright has an advanced repertoire that should allow him to move quickly in 2018 and compete for a rotation spot in 2019. There is ace potential here and the floor of a back end starter.

Editor note – since this article was originally published, Drew has moved prospects ranked 4-7 into Tier 2.

Tier 2

4. Mike Soroka, RHP
Age: 21
Highest 2017 Level: AA
Gohara and Wright jumped Soroka for me, based on their ceilings. While Soroka will almost certainly have a long big league career due to his excellent control and command of the strike zone, he doesn’t possess the strikeout upside that fantasy owners are looking for in a top of the rotation starter.

5. Kolby Allard, LHP
Age: 20
Highest 2017 Level: AA
After skipping High A to start 2017, Allard had a strong year for AA Mississippi and managed to stay healthy (a key concern coming out of the draft). Some scout see a lower ceiling for Allard, but the floor is also rising rapidly. 2018 should give us a good idea of whether Allard can take step forward in the strikeout department or if we are looking more at a mid rotation ceiling.

6. Ian Anderson, RHP
Age: 19 (DOB: 05/02/98)
The Braves were cautious with Anderson in 2017, as he threw only 83 innings across 20 starts. The results were strong, with the 2016 first rounder striking out 101 batters. Like many cold weather pitchers, he has room for improvement with his command. 2018 will be telling, as Anderson will likely get a chance to really boost his innings total and show what he can do with a second and third time through an order. There’s ace ceiling here if the command improves.

7. Joey Wentz, LHP
Age: 20
Highest 2017 Level: A
After an unimpressive 2016 debut, Wentz broke out in 2017, showing better than expected command and absolutely dominating the South Atlantic League. Wentz has struck out more than 10 batters per inning while limiting walks and hits en route to a 2.60 ERA and 3.19 xFIP. His top of draft pedigree and strong season likely land him on quite a few Top 100 lists this winter.

8. Austin Riley, 3B
Age: 20
Highest 2017 Level: AA
Riley is the biggest riser on this list since mid-season, after a torrid second half and an excellent run along side Ronald Acuna in the Arizona Fall League. Riley slashed .315/.389/.511 in AA with 8 homers in 178 at bats and followed in up with a .300/.364/.657 line in Arizona. Riley’s defense has also reportedly improved significantly and the Braves seem to be keeping open the option of Riley being ready to take over at the hot corner as early as 2019. Continued improvement in plate discipline and decreased strikeouts will be important for Riley to go from AA hitter to fantasy contributor.

9. Max Fried, LHP
Age: 23
High 2017 Level: MLB
After a strong return from Tommy John surgery in 2016, Fried struggled somewhat out of the gate in 2017, although advanced metrics suggest that his 5.92 ERA at AA was quite unlucky. After a brief stint at AA, Fried split 9 solid appearances between the major league rotation and bullpen. He then dominated the Arizona Fall League (a theme you might see developing) striking out 32 in 26 innings while allowing only 5 earned runs. The acquisition of Brandon McCarthy likely closes the gate on any chance of Fried starting 2018 in the MLB rotation, but the bullpen or AAA rotation should give him a chance to show he is ready when a spot opens.

10. Alex Jackson, C/OF
Age: 21 (DOB: 12/25/95)
Highest 2017 Level: AA
Jackson took his first step toward fantasy relevance is 2017 by getting back behind the plate. He also took a big step forward with the bat, showing the power that was expected when the Mariners drafted him in the first round in 2014. There’s still a lot of work to be done to stay behind the plate, but the Jackson would certainly be an asset if he can stick there and improve his plate discipline a bit.

11. A.J. Minter, LHP
Age: 24
Highest 2017 Level: MLB
Minter is the type of relief pitcher I want to roster in dynasty formats- high strikeout, good ratios, with a path to holds and saves. After a couple injury plagued seasons, Minter made his MLB debut in August and put up a 1.63 xFIP over 15 innings while striking out 26 batters. Arodys Vizcaino is the only man clearly ahead of him in the Braves bullpen, so look for Minter to rack up holds in 2018 while also possibly pushing Vizcaino for the closer’s role.

12. Touki Toussaint, RHP
Age: 21
Highest 2017 Level: AA
Toussaint finally broke out in 2017 thanks to a big improvement in his command. While his ERAs are not overly impressive, a 3.27 xFIP at High A and 3.67 xFIP at AA tell a better story. Combine those with a 10.51 and 9.98 K/9 respectively and you get a glimpse of the potential stud that we’ve been hoping on for what seems like forever. Scouts have always loved his stuff and athleticism, and now he seems to be figuring out the “pitching” portion.

13. Cristian Pache, OF
Age: 19
Highest 2017 Level: A
Right now, Pache is a defensive stud without much to show in the way of fantasy category juice. He does however, have good speed and a frame that should develop some power to go along with a solid approach at the plate. If that power, comes, watch out!

14. Bryse Wilson, RHP
Age: 20
Highest 2017 Level: A
Wilson was one of the most pleasant surprises of the 2017 minor league season for the Braves. In a draft class with Anderson, Wentz, and Kyle Muller, Wilson was an afterthought. He showed otherwise with .211 opponent average, 1.04 WHIP and just over a strikeout per inning. His smaller size gives him a lower ceiling than Wentz or Anderson, but Wilson is certainly worth rostering in leagues of at least 150 prospects.

15. Drew Waters, OF
Age: 19
Highest 2017 Level: Rookie
The Braves took Waters in the 2nd round as a toolsy local high schooler. He has power and speed and showed pretty well across 2 rookie ball stops in his debut. He’ll likely take some development time, but is someone I’ll be targeting in the 15-20 range of my First Year Player Drafts.

Tier 3

16. Travis Demeritte, 2B/3B
Age: 23
Highest 2017 Level: AA
Demeritte has the feel of one of those guys who will have 1 crazy fantasy month per season for a few years and be a huge disappointment the rest of the time. He has big power for a middle infielder and good speed. His defense is also an asset, so he has a lot going for him. Unfortunately, contact is a big issue, so he’ll likely have trouble carving out a full-time role at the big league level.

17. Brett Cumberland, C/OF
Age: 22
Highest 2017 Level: High A
Cumberland is Alex Jackson with better plate discipline, but less raw power. He’s going to struggle to stick behind the plate, so his bat will have to really carry him as a left fielder. He OPSed .855 across 2 levels in 2017, so the power and approach are there. It will be very interesting to see where he lines up most in 2018.

18. Patrick Weigel, RHP
Age: 23
Highest 2017 Level: AAA
Weigel got off to a great start at AA and AAA before undergoing Tommy John surgery in June. Unfortunately for him, the Braves pitching depth chart has become much more crowded in the meantime and starting opportunities may be harder to come by upon his return. Now is probably still an acceptable time to pick him up cheap and see how the rehab goes.

19. Kyle Muller, LHP
Age: 20
Highest 2017 Level: Rookie
Muller got a late start on 2017, remaining in Extended Spring to start the year. Once he joined Danville, he struggled with consistency, but did show some strikeout upside. Can he follow in the footsteps of draft classmates Anderson, Wentz, and Wilson and develop into a legitimate prospect? Now is probably a prime time to buy and find out.

20. William Contreras, C
Age: 20
Highest 2017 Level: Rookie
If Alex Jackson can’t remain behind the plate, Contreras may be the Braves’ best shot at a catcher of the future. He’s shown excellent plate discipline and bat to ball skills, and the power seems to be on the way. Willson’s little brother is definitely someone I will be targeting this offseason.




Tier 4

21. Tyler Pike, RHP
Age: 23
Highest 2017 Level: AA
After struggling mightily with his control in the Mariners’ system, Pike seemed to find it upon joining the Braves. Unfortunately, a promotion to AA mid-season saw the walk totals again become unbearable, leading to a 1.67 WHIP across 74.2 innings. The stuff is solid, but almost a walk per inning just won’t cut it. Hopefully a second run at the Southern League will yield better results.

22. Lucas Herbert, C
Age: 21
Highest 2017 Level: A
Herbert’s 2017 numbers were nothing special, but they were a huge improvement over 2016. Defense will always be his calling card, but if the bat can continue to develop, there might be something here. Herbert likely heads to High-A this year with a chance to continue to develop his offensive game.

23. Freddy Tarnok, RHP
Age: 19
Highest 2017 Level: Rookie
Tarnok was a relative unknown when the Braves took him in the 3rd round of 2017. As a 2-way player in high school, he hadn’t spent a ton of time on the mound. The Braves saw an athletic pitcher with the makings of a nice repertoire, and the reports from a 14-inning pro debut matched. I’ll be taking a flier in the late rounds of First Year Player drafts.

24. Tucker Davidson, LHP
Age: 21
Highest 2017 Level: A
Davidson was the most out-of-nowhere riser of the 2017 season, putting up 103 innings of 3.15 xFIP ball between starting and relieving. He was a 19th rounder in 2016 with little fanfare, but has shown a solid fastball and developing slider along with good control. There isn’t huge upside, but there is potential for a back end starter.

25. Drew Lugbauer, C/?
Age: 21
Highest 2017 Level: A
Slugbauer put a pretty good assault on minor league pitching, launching 13 home runs in a 200+ AB debut after being selected in the 10th round. Like Jackson and Cumberland, he’s without a true position as a former catcher that will probably end up in left field or at first. As a college bat, he’ll advance quickly, but defense will define his future.

26. Ricardo Sanchez, LHP
Age: 20
Highest 2017 Level: High-A
Sanchez was one of former GM John Coppolella’s first attempts at trading depth for high upside. Thus far, his stuff has failed to translate into results. He’s only 20, so there is certainly room for him to find himself as he continues to advance. He’s probably due to start the year at High-A Florida again, where he will attempt to refine both his control and command.

27. Dustin Peterson, OF
Age: 23
Highest 2017 Level: AAA
Peterson never had power to spare, and a hammate injury in spring training sapped it even further this season. The result is a player who is almost major league ready, but may not have much to offer fantasy owners. We’ve seen power breakouts before, but Peterson offers limited upside. As I was writing the list, I kept finding myself bumping Peterson farther and farther down.

28. Anyelo Gomez, RHP
Age: 24
Highest 2017 Level: AAA
Rule 5 pick from the Yankees broke out in 2017 after moving to the bullpen. Gomez is the type of relief arm who can make an impact if he can prove himself worthy of high-leverage situations.

Tier 5

29. Derian Cruz, SS
Age: 19
Highest 2017 Level: A
Cruz’s first 2 years in the Braves system have been downright ugly. His offensive game has been nearly non-existent, and his defense has been inconsistent at best. Still, the tools and profile exist for an exciting prospect. He’s worth keeping an eye on to see if he can turn a corner in 2018.

30. Huascar Ynoa, RHP
Age: 19
Highest 2017 Level: Rookie
Acquired in the Jaime Garcia trade, Ynoa somehow managed to throw the exact same number of innings (25.2) with the exact same ERA (5.26) with both the Twins and Braves Appy League affiliates. That’s pretty amazing, even if his performance was not.

31. Braxton Davidson, OF/1B
Age: 21
Highest 2017 Level: High-A
I’m just going to quote my mid-season list, because I read it again and it sounded so right: “Davidson is by far the biggest faller on the list, and that has been the case essentially from the day he was drafted in 2014. What was billed as an excellent batting eye with the potential for big power has turned into a lot of walks, a lot of strikeouts, and not much more. I have a bit of a sense that Davidson some days explodes as a post-hype sleeper, but there really isn’t any evidence that gives credence to that theory so far.”

32. Isranel Wilson, OF
Age: 19
Highest 2017 Level: A
Big power and a big arm are the signature tools for Wilson. If he can harness his swing, there’s an exciting bat here.

33. Jean Carlos Encarnacion
Age: 19
Highest 2017 Level: Rookie
Encarnacion is a guy that has really piqued my attention. He was a low-profile signee, but showed a nice combination of hit tool and power this season. At 6’3″, 195 lbs, he has the frame to continue to develop some power.

34. Jefrey Ramos, OF
Age: 18
Highest 2017 Level: Rookie
Ramos had a strong 2017 across two rookie league levels. He combines power and contact into a typical left field profile. One to keep an eye on in 2018.

35. Braulio Vasquez, SS
Age: 18
Highest 2017 Level: Rookie
What was once a very crowded middle infield scene in the low minors is now wide open for Vasquez. The Dominican shortstop has good plate discipline for his age and a strong ability to put bat to ball. He put up only 6 XBH in 152 at bats in 2017, so the power is still to come.

36. Leudys Baez, OF
Age: 21
Highest 2017 Level: A
Baez is a high upside bat who has yet to prove much in his 3 year minor league stint. His 2017 season had some of the ingredients of a breakout, and I’ll be interested to see if he gets a run at High-A to start 2018.

37. Anfernee Seymour, OF
Age: 22
Highest 2017 Level: High-A
Seymour is a speed-only prospect without much else to offer. With speed at a premium, there’s a small chance for fantasy relevance with some offensive progress.

38. Matt Withrow
Age: 24
Highest 2017 Level: AA
Withrow’s stuff isn’t overly impressive, but he just keeps getting results. The advanced numbers aren’t as good as the ERA and AVG against numbers, so he’ll probably hit a ceiling before making it to the big leagues.

39. Thomas Burrows, LHP
Age: 23
Highest 2017 Level: A
Burrows has the look of a multi-inning reliever with excellent strikeout potential. As the game evolves, more of these guys are going to creep onto my lists.

40. Jared James, OF
Age: 23
Highest 2017 Level: AA/AFL
High OBP grinder who seems likely to make a major league roster some day due to “grit” or “clubhouse presence.” There’s no standout tool, but James has a solid approach and pretty good bat-to-ball skills. The Braves thought enough of him to give him a shot in the AFL this fall. He didn’t play much, but wasn’t embarassed either.

41. Tyler Neslony
Age: 23
Highest 2017 Level: AA
Neslony started 2017 with a very impressive stint with the High-A Florida Fire Frogs. A promotion to AA, however, was much less successful. Neslony doesn’t have a carrying tool outside of his ability to draw a walk, so he probably has a 4th outfielder ceiling.

42. Akeel Morris, RHP
Age: 25
Highest 2017 Level: MLB
Morris makes the list as an MLB ready reliever with some strikeout prowess. He’s low upside and likely only a middle reliever, but that has some value in super deep leagues.

43. Troy Bacon, RHP
Age: 20
Highest 2017 Level: Rookie
Bacon was a dominant JUCO closer. There were rumblings after the draft that the Braves might try him as a starter. At worst, there’s a fast-moving reliever here. If he’s a starter, maybe there’s more.

44. Corbin Clouse, LHP
Age: 22
Highest 2017 Level: AA/AFL
Clouse is a lefty reliever who strikes out a lot of guys, but also walks a lot of guys. The AFL was not kind to him, but his inclusion on the roster shows that the Braves think highly of him.

45. Alay Lago, 2B
Age: 26
Highest 2017 Level: High-A
Lago is a Cuban import with bat-to-ball skills and gap power. In a system suddenly bereft of middle infield talent, the Braves could really use continued development from Lago.

46. Wes Parsons, RHP
Age: 25
Highest 2017 Level: AAA
Parsons likely gets a cup of coffee at some point as a swing man, but lacks much upside. At 25, he’s running out of time to make a fantasy impact.

47. Raysheandall Michel, OF
Age: 20
Highest 2017 Level: Rookie
Michel hit .312 in 40 games at Rookie level (GCL and Danville Braves) in 2017. Power isn’t there at this point but could be a doubles/SB threat in the future.

48. Yoeli Lopez, OF
Age: 20
Highest 2017 Level: Rookie
After a strong stateside debut in 2016, 2017 was a disappointing year for Lopez. His plate discipline regressed and he didn’t show much development in any one area. Speed and defense should help him move up while his bat develops.

49. Dilmer Mejia, LHP
Age: 20
Highest 2017 Level: Rookie
Mejia is a small lefty who has slowly climbed the rookie league ladder since signing out Nicaragua. He seemed to take a nice step forward in 2017 in terms of control and command and will hopefully get a look at full season ball this year.

50. Justin Ellison, OF
Age: 22
Highest 2017 Level: High-A
Ellison returned to Rome of the Sally League to start 2017 and showed some slight development. A promotion to High-A again exposed his lacking hit tool, making it difficult for his power/speed combo to play up. Without some correction, Ellison will be off this list next year.

Not prospect eligible anymore but still wanted to profile him:
Lucas Sims, RHP
Age: 23
Highest 2017 Level: MLB (57.2 IP so has graduated from prospects-eligible list)
Sims had a nice bounce back year after a couple of struggle and injury plagued seasons. He really improved his command and got the chance to make his major league debut. Gohara, Fried, and Sean Newcomb have already passed him over, however, with several other rotation options waiting in the wings. My guess is Sims ends up as trade bait or in the bullpen. I can see the potential for the type of high leverage swing man that I mentioned in the intro.

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