The Braves saw many of their prized minor leaguers graduate over the past couple of years. Ronald Acuna, Ozzie Albies, Sean Newcomb and the like no longer comprise the upper-echelon of their system. In most cases, such would knock that system down a peg.
Yet it comes as no surprise the Braves continue churning out top prospects like Kevin Hart does attempted comedies or The Rock does passion projects. Eight Braves made Baseball America’s preseason Top 100, the third consecutive year the Braves have put as many on the prestigious list.
Only the Rays and Padres, both with nine, had more. Like the Braves, the Rays deserve props for contending while boasting an elite farm. Unlike the Braves, Tampa Bay didn’t get its deserved credit since 90 wins didn’t sniff a playoff spot in the American League.
This Braves edition isn’t as top-heavy as years past, but here’s what we’ve got (ranking in parentheses): 3B Austin Riley (22), RHP Ian Anderson (24), RHP Mike Soroka (25), RHP Kyle Wright (39), RHP Touki Toussaint (53), RHP Bryse Wilson (80), OF Drew Waters (83), OF Cristian Pache (85).
We’ll start with the obvious observation, which I gathered from repeatedly writing “RHP” as if it was a grade-school punishment: The Braves are still pretty darn rich with pitching! Who knew?
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Soroka, Wright, Toussaint and Wilson cracked the majors last year. Each showed flashes, from Soroka twice owning the Mets to Wilson locking down the Pirates in Pittsburgh. One of those four, likely Soroka or Toussaint, will open the season in the rotation.
As for the less obvious, we knew the Braves were thinner on position players, but Baseball America captures that reality here. Still, it’s not like they’re bad off. Several guys, including catcher William Contreras, are highly regarded and will get their due in time. But the Braves are short on internal options for depth purposes, which is unfortunate when you’re trying to win a division title.
Riley is the only highly regarded position player capable of helping soon (and he will). He’s also been a focal point of the Braves’ past two offseasons, when they were conscious of blocking their possible future. They opted for Camargo at third last year, and this season roll with Josh Donaldson on a one-year deal. Riley will play some outfield, but make no mistake, he’s ideally a third baseman. This is a nice bridge year to figure out what’s there (assuming Riley isn’t traded, of course).
For the sake of reading aesthetics, here are a few organized thoughts on Baseball America’s list:
» There might be some level of surprise that Waters, who entered the Top 100 in August, has passed Pache. The latter simply needs to continue developing at the plate. There’s chatter his outfield defense might be the best in the minors, but the bat isn’t close to major-league ready (he’s 20; it’s not supposed to be).
Baseball America’s Kyle Glaser on Twitter: “The growing power is certainly nice. There's still some concern among the scouting community that he'll be more Kevin Pillar ... 250s with a 300ish OBP. We're a little more bullish, but it's not a slam dunk.”
» It’s impressive that Waters, a Georgia native and 2017 second-round pick, already broke into the top 83. He hit .293/.343/.476 with 39 doubles, nine triples and nine homers across two Single A-levels as a 20-year-old.
» Anderson edged Soroka for the highest pitcher ranking, and there’s a lot of love for the former No. 3 overall pick’s upside. After producing a 2.52 ERA and .198 average against in High-A, Anderson finished the year at Double-A Mississippi, where he warranted a 2.33 ERA and .203 average against in his 19-1/3 innings.
Just 20, Anderson might have the highest ceiling of this gaggle of pitching prospects. He’s also the furthest away, perhaps making him a coveted piece in higher-profile trade talks. Then again, how far away are any of these dudes, really? The Braves promote aggressively if the player shows he’s ready. Anderson probably will open 2019 in Mississippi, but it might not take long to reach Triple-A Gwinnett.
» This is a pivotal season for Luiz Gohara and Kolby Allard, both of whom stumbled out of the top 100. For Gohara, it’s about staying on the field and managing himself off of it. In Allard’s case, he wasn’t totally ready for the majors, which is OK. We’ve grown accustomed to star 20-year-olds around here, but it shouldn’t be considered the norm.
» I’m surprised Toussaint settled in the 50s. As one American League scout once told me, in the most succinct way possible, “He’s really, really good.”
There’s easily a case for Toussaint as the Braves’ best prospect. He became a useful piece of their postseason run, capable of working out of the rotation or bullpen. He even earned the coveted #pitcherwin in the Braves’ lone NLDS victory (tossing a scoreless sixth), making him the first rookie with the franchise to win a postseason game since John Rocker in 1998.
The spring-training competition for rotation and bullpen spots will be as fascinating as any. I’d peg a healthy Soroka as the slight, slight favorite for the fifth spot. I could see Toussaint working out of the bullpen and making spot starts in that case – remember, the Braves will work with an expanded rotation again. Wright and Wilson would be in Triple-A, ready if the call comes.
Again, it’s early for that type of talk, but it’s late January with just the Super Bowl to go. Almost there ...