Minor League Keeper Thoughts: Atlanta Braves

March 19, 2012; Lake Buena Vista, FL, USA; Atlanta Braves starting pitcher Julio Teheran (27) throws against the St. Louis Cardinals during the top of the sixth inning of a spring training game at Disney Wide World of Sports complex. Mandatory Credit: Derick E. Hingle-US PRESSWIRE

The goal with each team I look at is to discuss a couple players who are likely to have an impact in the Majors in 2012, a couple who could be ready by the start of 2014, and a few more who are a long ways away, but could be interesting as well. You can find links to the previous teams below:

AL West: Los Angeles Angels | Oakland | Seattle | Texas

AL Central: Chicago White Sox | Cleveland | Detroit | Kansas City | Minnesota

AL East: Baltimore | Boston | New York Yankees | Tampa Bay | Toronto

NL East: Atlanta | Miami (3/28) | New York (3/26) | Philadelphia (3/28) | Washington

NL Central: Chicago Cubs | Cincinnati | Houston | Milwaukee | Pittsburgh | St. Louis

NL West: Arizona | Colorado | Los Angeles Dodgers | San Diego | San Francisco

Prospects Traded Post-Review Of New Team (3/30)

The remaining reports will be coming out on the dates in parenthesis next to their names, so if there are specific prospects that you'd like to hear about from those organizations, please let me know in the comments and I will see what I can find out for you

2011 Graduates

Freddie Freeman, Mike Minor, Craig Kimbrel, Brandon Beachy

Overview

Known for developing young players, the Braves have built themselves a solid, but not spectacular minor league system. You have a pair of high-ceiling starting pitchers who will likely contribute during the 2012 season. You have a pair of shortstop prospects, both of whom should be able to stay at the position in the Major Leagues. You also have an extremely interesting catching prospect, along with some other low-level finds who could be interesting with another good season under their belts. And these are after graduating 4 regulars and trading away 4 prospects to acquire CF Michael Bourn. Overall, the system is doing well, and fulfilling the role it should be: giving the team players to fill holes, or the ability to acquire players to fill those holes instead.

Ready in 2012

Julio Teheran

Teheran has been a name on prospect lists for a long time now, so it's hard to remember sometimes that he is still just 21 years old this season. A flame-throwing right handed pitcher, Teheran was briefly in the majors last season, but has been competing for a rotation spot with the Braves this spring. He has posted excellent results at every level he's pitched at, although there was a drop in his strikeout rate in reaching AAA last year.Here's a brief scouting report from Keith Law's top 100 prospects list:

He'll pitch comfortably at 91-96 mph as a starter with very little effort, although he tries to throw his heater up in the zone and doesn't have a matching weapon to change hitters' eye levels. His best secondary pitch is a changeup that grades out as plus, with good fading action, although he showed a moderate platoon split in the minors and was spanked by left-handed hitters in five big league appearances (.968 OPS against).

Teheran's biggest shortcoming is the lack of an above-average breaking ball, although his mid-70s curveball was shorter and harder this year than it was in the past. He also opens up his front side very early, making the ball much easier for hitters to track, especially from the left side.

With a prospect like Teheran, we're kind of nit-picking to some extent. The breaking ball seems like what could be the difference between him being a true #1 starting pitcher and a still solid #3/#4 starting pitcher for his team. I think that Teheran can provide fantasy owners this year with a little less than a strikeout per inning and an ERA right around 4.00. The only concern I really have right now is that his walk rate may hurt his WHIP at this point, but that should hopefully continue to improve for Teheran. I don't know how many starts he's going to get this year based on the rotation that's already in place, but he should be entrenched in the rotation by 2013.

Randall Delgado

A right hander signed out of Panama, Delgado has posted excellent strikeout rates at each level of the minors, albeit with an elevated walk rate. He did end up making 7 starts for the Braves last year, although he posted an 18/14 K/BB rate in 35 innings there. He has also been competing for a rotation spot this spring, and it sounds like he may have a pretty good shot at it despite some shortcomings. From Nathaniel Stoltz of Seedlings to Stars:

His third pitch is a slurve that isn't much more than a show pitch in the big leagues, and he desperately needs to come up with more of a true slider or curve that'll give hitters a different look. Right now, he's too one-dimensional, throwing a ton of fastballs away from righties and fastballs and changeups away to lefties. That's going to leave him with little margin for error once the scouting reports on him get around to MLB teams

Delgado should definitely provide strikeouts at the big league level, and I'm not really worried that much about his performance last year in that category. I am a lot more concerned about his potential risk for WHIP, as his walk rate could continue to pose problems for him as a fantasy contributor and as a starting pitcher for the Braves. Long-term, I think he'll develop into a #3/#4 type starting pitcher for fantasy, but I'm not sure how much of that performance will show up in the 2012 season.

Could Be Ready in 2014

Andrelton Simmons

Drafted out of a community college in Oklahoma, Simmons may very well be the long-term answer for the Braves at shortstop. Simmons made his full-season debut last year in the Carolina League, hitting .311 with 26 stolen bases. While he had a solid performance at the plate, his defense is likely what will be his calling card in the Majors. Here's what Kevin Goldstein had to say about Simmons:

Simmons has the potential to be a special defender. He has outstanding instincts, above-average range, soft hands, and one of the strongest infield arms in the minors. He's capable of highlight reel plays but also has excellent fundamentals. He deployed a simplified swing as a pro and laces line drives to all fields while rarely striking out. He's a plus runner.

The consensus seems to point toward Simmons being ready defensively at worst sometime during this season. That said, it doesn't really appear that he's likely to bring a lot to the fantasy table right out of the chute. He has the potential to hit for a high average down the road, and could provide some stolen bases as well. He's still fighting for the starting job in Atlanta, which seems completely insane given that he hasn't played above High-A yet. It seems a lot more realistic that he will end up sent down to AA to start the season, and try to let his bat develop even further. For fantasy owners, he's worth monitoring in really deep leagues, but he seems more like a player who won't really help out in most standard leagues.

Sean Gilmartin

Last season's top draft pick, Gilmartin finished up his season in Low-A Rome, where he struck out 30 batters against just 2 walks in 21 1/3 innings pitched. I absolutely love seeing that kind of control, even in a small sample size, and with Gilmartin it sounds like the sample size isn't an issue. From Marc Hulet of Fangraphs:

Because he doesn't have an electric repertoire he needs to work down in the zone to succeed and his control is important. His repertoire includes an 87-91 mph fastball, slider and potentially-plus changeup. A two-way player in college, a full-time focus on pitching could help him take another big step forward.

I didn't realize that he had not focused on pitching,es, which could really show some growth will more time spent on that. It sounds to me like Gilmartin may be ready very soon for the big leagues, but that his upside may not be as high as some of the other first round draft picks from last year's draft. I'll be very interested to see if he can maintain both his strsikeout and his walk rate when moving up another level, as I don't think he'll be in High-A for very long. If he can show those rates or close to them again at AA, he could potentially be in Atlanta before the end of 2013. As a fantasy contributor, I'll be very interested in the strikeout rate, but he seems to profile to me as of right now as a #5/#6 type for fantasy in deeper leagues, and a potential streaming starter for more shallow leagues. He's still a long way from the bigs, but he's definitely a prospect in my mind who could jump into top 100 lists with a strong year in 2012.

Long-Term Prospects (Might Not Be Ready Until At Least 2015)

Joe Terdoslavich

A first base prospect for the Braves, Terdoslavich is starting to get noticed after crushing 20 home runs, 52 doubles, and driving in 82 runs in 131 games at High-A last season. While he was a bit old for his level (22 for most of the season last year), he continued that performance in the Arizona Fall League against better competition as well. Baseball Instinct ranked him as their 142nd best prospect overall, and had this to say about him:

He's still not getting the attention that he should be getting. While the classic HR power might not be there in full bloom, I think he's very similar to one Paul Goldschmidt. Terdoslavich has raked and it's time to give him his just due. He's enough of a hitter push his way to Atlanta soon and he may be asked to shift to the OF soon if Freddie Freeman takes the next step.

There have been rumors that Terdoslavich may try to play 3B, which could definitely make his path to the Majors a lot quicker with the retirement news on Thursday. (insert link to Chipper retirement) Even if he can't make that transition, if he continues to hit home runs and doubles at that rate in AA this season, he'll likely force his way into the Bigs at some point down the line. Once he's there, I could see a .275-.280 hitter with 20+ HR power, regardless of the position.

Christian Bethancourt

A catching prospect signed out of Panama, Bethancourt started out the season repeating the Sally League, but with much better results at the dish. In just 54 games there, he hit .303 with 4 home runs and 6 stolen bases. He was sent up to High-A Lynchburg in June, and while he didn't hit quite as well, he did hit a respectable .271 with a home run and 3 stolen bases in 45 games. Bethancourt's calling card will definitely be his defense though, as he threw out nearly 40% of would-be base stealers across both levels, including 47% at High-A. Jonathan Mayo of MLB.com ranked him as the 5th best prospect in the Braves' system, and had this to say about Bethancourt:

Scouts raved about his tools in the Arizona Fall League as well, noting his athleticism and strong throwing arm behind the plate as well as ability to handle the bat. Still raw in many facets of the game, it will be interesting to watch how Bethancourt's AFL experience helps him in '12, perhaps in Double-A.

Bethancourt remains an extremely raw hitter, but it is becoming extremely clear that he will be able to stay behind the plate, and could even be an elite-level defender in the Majors. I believe he will start the season back in High-A, working on his approach at the plate. If he can show improvement over the end of his stint there last year, he could finish up in AA. Until he shows the potential for elite level production in one of the hitting categories, I would say keep an eye on him, but I don't think as of now he would break into the top 10 in the Bigs based on his potential alone.

Others to Watch:

Tyler Pastornicky - Pastornicky was acquired by the Braves as a part of the Yunel Escobar trade, and is currently competing for the starting shortstop job for the Braves. Based on the statistics he's posted in the minors to this point, he seems a lot more likely to be a solid major league shortstop than a fantasy contributor. He looks likely to post a solid batting average, but with little power and 20-25 stolen bases in a full season, but would probably be an NL-only play for me if he got the job.

Arodys Vizcaino - Vizcaino was used primarily out of the bullpen in the Majors in 2012, but was anticipated to be a starting candidate long-term. However, he is scheduled to have Tommy John surgery at this point, and will miss the entirety of the 2012 season. His rehab will be worth watching, but obviously his value takes a hit both in the short-term andf the long-term with this news.

Matt Lipka - Lipka was the Braves' top draft pick back in 2010, and is expected to be converted from the infield in 2012 to center field to make way for Andrelton Simmons long-term. Lipka seems to fit the toolsy profile, but his results to this point have not shown themselves in game. Based on what I've seen to this point, he seems like a shot at a decent batting average with some solid speed numbers. The move to center field likely hurts his fantasy value, but could help him long-term as a prospect.

Brandon Drury - Drury repeated short season rookie ball last year, but performed much better in a longer stint there in 2011. He his .347 with 8 home runs there last year, while playing nearly the whole season at age 18. Drury could be the best 3B prospect in the system right now, but he'll likely only make his full-season debut this year in Low-A. The big team will need to find someone to play there until Drury is ready, but it sounds like Drury could be an excellent hitter.

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