5 Braves prospects that are reason for excitement whenever baseball returns

It's questionable whether there will be a major league season, and it seems even less likely there will be a minor league campaign. ESPN's Jeff Passan recently wrote we probably won't see minor-league baseball this season.

“Because major league rosters will be expanded both to account for a shortened spring training (and lack of pitchers’ abilities to pitch deep into games early on), that will take care of a number of upper-level players,” he said. “Teams could theoretically house their minor leaguers at spring facilities and have them play unofficial (or official) games at all levels on back fields.

“But games in cities around the country? No. There is nothing official, no announcement, probably not one until MLB finalizes its plan, but the difficulty in wrangling it, and where it stands on the priority list, simply doesn't compute.”

That said, whenever minor league baseball does resume, even if it’s 2021, the Braves have no shortage of players that could bring excitement. Here are five such prospects who haven’t made their major-league debuts:

Outfielder Cristian Pache

The first three on this list won’t surprise anybody. It starts with Pache, the defensive extraordinaire who could debut as early as this season (depending on how it’s formatted). The 21-year-old is expected to be a fixture in center field for the foreseeable future whenever he breaks through.

Pache is a tantalizing talent not only because of what he is – a high energy, Gold Glove-caliber outfielder – but because of what he’s yet to become. Pache is growing into his power. He went from zero homers in 2017 to nine in 2018. He hit 12 last season (11 in Double-A before a promotion to Triple-A). Pache is still filling out his frame and developing at the plate, making his ceiling fun to imagine. Even in his fertile stages, he’ll be a defensive force in the outfield.

Outfielder Drew Waters

Waters didn't look major-league ready in spring training, when he went 4-for-24 and struck out 14 times. As previously noted, it confirmed what everyone already knew: Waters needs to trim down his strikeouts. The biggest red flag in his game are the swings and misses, especially from the right side.

Whenever minor league baseball comes back, all eyes will be on Waters’ offensive growth. Right now, he’s probably ticketed to eventually man left field in Atlanta. He projects as a solid hitter with above-average power and speed. The Braves will evaluate the long-term viability of a Ronald Acuna-Pache-Waters outfield, and one of the more important aspects comes in learning how much power a Pache-Waters duo can provide.

Starting pitcher Ian Anderson

Not every pitching prospect can provide the immediate upgrade Mike Soroka did. In his first full season, he was an All-Star and Cy Young candidate. He emerged into the Braves’ best starter in a short time.

Anderson won’t carry those expectations, but he’s the most capable Braves youngster to make a quick difference on the mound. He’ll turn 22 next month and very likely will be part of the Braves’ season (if there is one), given the likelihood of expanded rosters.

At worst, Anderson projects as a middle-of-the-rotation arm. The Braves are hoping he’s something more. Anderson and Kyle Wright will have golden opportunities to cement themselves when baseball returns, and the Braves will be hoping an arm or two takes the next step forward.

While that’s the optimistic viewpoint given the circumstances, the Braves might also be positioned to play it slowly with Anderson. He’s logged just over 24 innings in Triple-A, and the team is well-equipped with pitching depth.

Starter/Reliever Tucker Davidson

Davidson burst onto the scene last season and was added to the Braves’ 40-man roster this winter to protect him from the Rule 5 draft. His brief spring sample aligned with his past body of work: Lots of strikeouts, lots of walks.

The southpaw struck out 122 hitters in 111 innings in Double-A last season. He also issued 45 walks. It’s probable if Davidson impacts the club this season, it’s mostly as a reliever. Part of Baseball America’s scouting report on Davidson reads: “There’s some effort in his delivery and he pitches exclusively out of the stretch, which leads some scouts to believe he’s a reliever (long term).”

First baseman Bryce Ball

One player you won’t see on the 2020 Braves is Ball, yet he’s worthy of being on this list. Ball is a behemoth who hit 17 homers in his first 231 at-bats in the low minors. The 6-foot-6, 240-pound slugger was a 24th round pick last June.

The National League’s possible adoption of the designated hitter might soon enhance the first baseman’s value. Instead of being pegged a trade chip, Ball might become the franchise’s first regular DH.

Not to get too far ahead of ourselves. He’s only 21, making his progression arc even more interesting. Early returns have the Braves crossing their fingers they landed a steal. Worst case, Ball’s going to provide pop.

“That’s the kind of power that gets your attention, for sure,” manager Brian Snitker said Feb. 26.