Braves power prospect Demeritte impresses in fall league

Besides being a Georgia kid and a first-round draft pick who led the high-A California league with 25 home runs before he was traded to the Braves in late July, here’s something to remember about second-base prospect Travis Demeritte:

The small price the Braves paid to get him.

They gave up 31-year-old journeyman pitcher Lucas Harrell and 27-year-old rookie reliever Dario Alvarez. That’s it. In exchange for a guy who turned 22 in September and is a legitimate four-tool prospect with above-average speed, a good glove, strong arm and big-time raw power, albeit with nearly a strikeout every three at-bats.

After the trade Harrell had a 5.60 ERA and 1.925 WHIP in four starts and Alvarez had a 7.71 ERA in 10 appearances.

“Travis is a first-round pick (2013 by the Rangers) — it’s hard to get these guys,” said Braves general manager John Coppolella, while watching Demeritte and other Braves prospects play for the Salt River Rafters in a recent Arizona Fall League game. “Would we like him to cut down the strikeouts? Sure, I’d like every player to cut down strikeouts. But we really like what Travis is.

“We don’t have a lot of right-handed power in our system, and this guy has as much as anybody does. And he plays the game with energy, he’s a good teammate. So we’re very happy to have Travis.”

In a fall league finale Thursday, Demeritte doubled, hit his fourth homer — one off the league lead — and drove in two runs to raise his team-best total to 14 RBIs. He led the league in triples (four) and tied for the lead in total bases (48) while hitting .261 with an .855 OPS, including a .522 slugging percentage that was second on the team to Braves prospect Dylan Moore (.537) who played half as many games.

“He’s got a little juice, man,” said Moore, 24, who came from the Rangers in a trade in August and was teammates with Demeritte at high-A Carolina for the last two weeks of the season. “Young kid with a lot of juice, that’s for sure.”

Demeritte had 10 extra-base hits and 12 RBIs in his last 11 games in the AFL, going 12-for-45 (.267) with three home runs in that span for an OPS near 1.100. He made just one error in a team-high 22 games played.

While he continued to strike out a bunch out west, his 25 whiffs in 92 at-bats was a significantly lower rate than during the minor league season, when Demeritte had 175 strikeouts in 455 at-bats, including 50 in 124 at-bats at Carolina.

“Everybody’s got something they can improve on,” Moore said. “But you can see (his talent). You definitely can see it.”

Demeritte hails from Winder about 20 minutes from Athens and just over an hour from Atlanta. He’ll be much closer to home, whether playing at Double-A Mississippi, Triple-A Gwinnett or eventually the majors.

He spent most of last season at high-A High Desert in the hitter-friendly California League, then added three homers in 35 games for Carolina to finish with 28 homers in 455 at-bats in 2016, the 11th-highest total in minor league baseball and the second-most homers by any hitter below the Double-A level.

Nine of 10 minor leaguers who had more homers were older than Demeritte.

“I’m very excited,” he said of being part of the Braves organization. “I haven’t gotten to truly experience (playing near home) yet; I had a brief stint in Carolina. But I’m happy, my family’s happy, friends are happy for me. I think it’ll be a great opportunity to get to play in front of family and friends. Even old coaches and people that helped me along the way to get to this point. So it’ll be awesome, I’m looking forward to it.”

Demeritte, who is 6 feet and a wiry 185 pounds, was rated the No. 8 prospect in Baseball America’s year-end poll of league managers and judged “most exciting player” in that same publication’s midseason poll of league managers.

“He’s surprised some guys,” said Braves catcher prospect Kade Scivicque, another teammate in the fall league. “They wouldn’t think he’d have power, but the ball flies off his bat.”

Braves outfield prospect Dustin Peterson hadn’t seen Demeritte play until the group of Arizona-bound prospects spent a week together in the Instructional League before heading west. Count Peterson among those impressed.

“He can pick it really well (defensively), and he can swing it,” Peterson said. “He’s fun to watch, too.”

Demeritte played mostly second base in his four minor league seasons, but also has experience at shortstop and third base. He knows he could be moved to third since the Braves have top prospect Ozzie Albies at second.

Albies’ broken elbow in the Double-A playoffs kept him out of the Arizona Fall League and opened the door for Demeritte to be the primary second baseman for Salt River.

“As of now the plan has just been second base,” Demeritte said. “I haven’t been told much else. I’ve been playing a little third base; I’m anticipating maybe a move to third base. If I’m at third base I’m comfortable there. If I’m at shortstop I’m comfortable there. I would like to play short or second, but I know what we have in this organization. If that means I need to go to third base to make room, I’m happy to comply with it.

“Anything to get to the big leagues.”

Coppolella said, “Demeritte, for me, is kind of like a Javy Baez-type guy. This is right-handed power, this is speed, this is an athlete. I think this is somebody who can really do a lot of things. Is he going to strike out? Yes. Is he going to hit for power? Yes. At the end of it, you look up and it’s not Mr. Contact, but it’s also good speed and power. We don’t want him to change his game.”

Demeritte has been encouraged by what he’s seen so far in the Braves organization, from the talent, personalities and coaching in the minor league system to the front office and performance of the major league team late in the season.

“I’m loving it, man,” he said. “We’re obviously in a rebuilding phase, and I’m happy to be a part of it. I’m hoping to be a key part in this rebuilding. Coming over, I knew it would be a good opportunity for me to progress further in my career. At Texas it was kind of a log-jammed with a bunch of guys, it was kind of tough. But I’m looking forward to the opportunity. Guys welcomed me with open arms. I’ve been happy with that I’ve seen so far.”