glenn

The All-Bust Braves

A position-by-position list of the can’t-miss prospects who did:

C: Tyler Houston. The second overall pick in the country was selected ahead of Frank Thomas, John Olerud, Mo Vaughn, Chuck Knoblauch, Jeff Bagwell, Tim Salmon and Charles Johnson, among others. He turned out to be a poor man’s Eli Marrero.

1B: Not many high-profile busts at this position – Scott Thorman was a first-round pick but never really stood out as a prospect. The Braves oversold him, as is their wont. Runner-ups: A.J. ZappDrew DensonKen Smith.

2B: Glenn Williams was supposed to be Australia’s first baseball star, signed by the Braves when he was 16 for $1.3 million. It took him 12 years to reach the majors, with the Twins, for whom he hit .425 in 40 AB’s. He’s now managing in the Australian league.

SS: Yes, Andres Thomas didn’t quite pan out but he at least showed some flashes. Pat Rockett, selected 10th overall in the 1973 draft ahead of Fred Lynn and Eddie Murray, showed none. Hapless at the plate and in the field, Rockett batted .214 in 152 games as a Brave with 28 errors.

3B: Andy Marte. I was wary when the Braves dealt him for Edgar Renteria. The slick fielding third sacker had been ranked as the 9th best prospect in the game by Baseball America prior to the trade, showing solid plate discipline (.878 OPS) at Richmond in ’05. But he never could figure out major league pitching, hitting .218 in 838 career AB’s.

LF: George Lombard. The erstwhile Georgia Bulldog appeared on the verge of stardom following his Double-A debut in 1998 when he hit .308 with 22 homers, 35 steals and a .410 OPS. But he never could take that next step, striking out at an Adam Dunn pace without the power.

CF: Mike Kelly. It’s rare when pennant contenders hold the second overall pick in the draft, as the Braves did in 1991. Kelly was viewed as being close to major league-ready, which explains why the braintrust chose him ahead of Manny Ramirez, Shawn Green, Cliff Floyd and (brace yourself, stat geeks) Scott Hatteberg. The Braves finally admitted defeat in ’96, trading the free-swinging Kelly to Cincy for Chad Fox and the Burger, Ray King. Jordan Schafer ranks a close second.

RF: You say Francoeur, I say Brad Komminsk. Both were busts, but Komminsk has to rank as the biggest disappointment of them all. His lone highlight as a Brave came when he won a radio listener $100,000 with a grand slam during the Goody’s HR Jackpot inning.

P: Tim Cole. With the third pick in the first round of the 1977 draft, the Milwaukee Brewers selected Paul Molitor. The Braves followed with Cole, a lefty high school hurler from New York who never made it to the majors. He lasted nearly 10 years in the Braves system, walking 706 in 883 innings with a 1.748 WHIP. Cole was drafted ahead of Ozzie Smith, Tim Raines, Bob Welch and  Dave Henderson.

Braves 2.016

No team has assembled more young  talent at the big league level than the Bravos, but a variety of missteps — including some questionable draft picks — has left the farm system bereft of prospects.

They have some useful parts, but only two potential difference-makers. Three, if Christian Bethancourt learns how to hit, and there’s promising signs on that front. (We’re not counting Alex Wood, since he’s already in the majors.)

Lucas Sims seems to have reversed the trend of lamentable first-round draft picks, developing as you’d expect from an elite prospect. Sims, who touches 97 MPH with his fastball,  may not be there yet, but he’s improved across the board this season for the Rome Braves, averaging 10 strikeouts, 3 walks and 6 hits  per 9 IP (down from 8.7 a year ago at Danville). The Brookwood High grad has yielded only 2 HR in 67 innings.

On offense, the cupboard is bare. Real bare. But the Braves should have a dynamic replacement for Uggla in 2016 when Fan’s contract finally expires. In just 70 games, Jose Peraza has stolen more bases (38) than anyone in the majors. And he’s been caught just 7 times. His .348 OBP isn’t great, but the swtich-hitting Venezuelan is learning to be more selective at the plate, drawing as many walks this season as he had during the previous two combined. He appears to be the player the Braves thought they were getting when they selected Matt Lipka with their first in the 2010 draft.

Sims and Peraza, both 19, are teammates at Rome and figure to move up concurrently.

Where’s Randall Delgado?

He’s at Reno, pitching horribly.

Randall has 0 wins and a 9.09 ERA in 8 starts with a 1.933 WHIP. As for the other prospects shipped to Arizona:

*Zeke Spruill has struggled since his promotion from Double-A Mobile, striking out only 6 in 18 IP.

*Don’t expect Nick Ahmed to get promoted any time soon — he’s hitting .162 with 1 XBH in 111 AB’s at Mobile.

*Brandon Drury is raking at Single-A South Bend but the third baseman is a marginal prospect at best.

Randall surprises me. He had his moments last season but those may have been the highlights of a briefer than expected major league career.

Who replaces Avilan?

Losing Luis hurts. But his injury doesn’t appear as bad as it looked — just a left hamstring strain, according to the great Jerome Jurenovich, though he’ll be re-examined tomorrow.

Even the bad news is good for these Braves.

Still, Avilan is likely to miss a month, at best.

Possible replacements:

  • If he was on the 40-man roster, Ryan Butcher would be the most likely call-up. The 26-year-old lefty, formerly of the Cubs and Nats organizations, is off to a rousing start at Gwinnett, striking out 10 in 5-2/3 IP. Butcher had a 1.31 ERA last year at Mississippi, striking out 50 and allowing just 24 hits in 41-1/2 IP.
  • Wirfrin Obispo, or Wirf, as I like to call him, made a big impression on the Braves hierarchy this spring and has dominated at Gwinnett, albeit with spotty control (9K, 6 BB, 2HA, 6-2/3 IP). Like Butcher, the hard-throwing right-hander, who pitched in Double-A last season with the Reds after five years in Japan, is not on the 40-man roster.
  • Righty David Carpenter –who allowed 18 runs in 30-1/3 IP with Houston and Toronto last year — is, although a shaky spring and unimpressive start at Gwinnett (11 HA in 9-/13 IP) may put the 27-year-old’s roster spot in jeopardy.
  • If Avilan’s injury is more serious than first diagnosed, J.R. Graham might get the call. The Mississipi righty gave up just one run in 6 IP last night and was clocked consistently in the upper-90s. But I doubt the Braves want to interrupt his development for a short-term fix. Then again, this organization isn’t afraid to promote guys ahead of schedule (i.e. Andruw Jones, Rafael Furcal), and Graham is on the 40-man.
  • Alex Wood is not on the 40-man, either, but his spring performance puts him on the radar. The UGA alum is the only lefty besides Butcher on this list and has dazzled at Mississippi, striking out 13 and walking just two in 9 IP.

And I haven’t forgotten JV, though it’s doubtful he’ll be ready before Avilan.

Teheran, Delgado inspiring little confidence

June, when Brandon Beachy is expected to return to full health, may not come fast enough for the Braves, who are counting on prospects Randall Delgado and Julio Teheran to fill the 5th spot in the rotation.

I’ve been high on Delgado but was a little troubled by his mediocre performance after being demoted to Gwinnett. Teheran was wildly erratic in Triple-A, though he finished strong.

Unfortunately, both are struggling in winter ball.

White Bear

Evan Gattis rarely comes up in any discussion of what to do if/when Brian McCann leaves the organization but maybe he should. He mashes wherever he goes, and while he’s got some work to do defensively B-Mac isn’t exactly Benito Santiago. But because he’s 26, most dismiss him as a prospect. Usually, they’d be right, but Gattis is a particular case.

First, he’s not 25, at least not in baseball years. He missed out on 4 years of development, blowing his scholarship at Texas A&M. After a year at Oklahoma Junior College, Gattis dropped out again. Then, following three years on the road, Gattis managed to land at a Texas college I’ve never heard of before being drafted by the Braves (which, considering his background, speaks of his talent).

You could make the argument, and you would be right, that Gattis is dominating more seasoned competition. They may be younger, but most have more minor league experience and/or hail from programs a tad more prestigious than Texas Permian-Basin.

Julio Teheran returning to form?

The Braves top prospect isn’t all the way back, but there’s signs of progress. On Aug. 14 he pitched 8 dazzling innings, striking out nine and allowing just one run. He repeated those numbers Saturday night, though in his previous start he didn’t make it out of the third, allowing 7 runs. Don’t be surprised if he’s in the parent club’s rotation next April.

J.R. Graham may not be far behind. The 2011 4th round draft pick, whose fastball has been clocked as high as 100 MPH, has put together an impressive season: 12 wins, 2.71 ERA, 1.049 WHIP. And he’s pitched even better since his promotion to Mississippi, raising his K/9 IP from 6.0 to 8.5 and lowering his H/9 IP from 7.7 to 6.5 in 8 starts. At 6’0 and 185 pounds he doesn’t have the build of your typical power pitcher but otherwise there’s little separating him from the game’s best mound prospects.

One more reason not to trade Randall Delgado, and the deal I would offer

Randall Delgado may well be the Braves’ best pitching prospect.

Julio Teheran failed to pitch past the 4th inning for the 6th time this season, allowing six runs and eight hits in 3-1/3 IP, according to DOB. His ERA now stands at 5.34, nearly 3 runs higher than in 2011, at the same level. His strikeouts are appreciably down and his WHIP has neared 1.500. Pinto is either hurt or he’s hit a wall.

Delgado projects as a  third starter, though I think he’ll become a solid #2. I won’t argue that he’s an ace, but right now he’s the best we’ve got. An inflexible budget that will soon pale in comparison to its rivals — thanks to Time Warner trading the team’s broadcasting rights for a bag of peanuts — demands young starters like that.

If I was FW, I’d offer Milwaukee Tommy Hanson, under team control through 2015, and Sean Gilmartin (Minor  lite) for Greinke. I’d throw in a marginal prospect if need be.

Hanson will be arbitration eligible next year and, despite his recent struggles, he’s due a big raise. That money could go be used to re-sign Greinke, who reportedly wants to play here. Perhaps I’m giving up on Tommy too soon but he seems to take a step back each season. If that trend continues the Braves will be stuck with another JJ, likely to be non-tendered.

A rotation of Greinke, Huddy, Sheets, Minor and Delgado is a little thin; the Brewers would probably throw in Randy Wolf and pay his remaining salary. He’s sucked this year but has pitched better of late and would at least provide a fallback with a decent resume.

By the way, Greinke was stellar tonight, allowing only three baserunners and one run in 7 IP.

Filling the game-less days

Listened to a Baseball Prospectus podcast yesterday, and it was right good. BP is known for sabermetrics, I guess, but the hosts, Kevin Goldstein and Jason Parks, offered a nice blend of stats and older school viewpoints, and even a little humor. They sound like they actually like to get out and see players, you know, play baseball.

Of most interest here, they discussed Teheran and Bethancourt. On Julio, Parks said he still views him as an elite prospect. He believes Teheran’s problems this year are typical of a young pitcher refining his arsenal of pitches and adjusting to high-level hitters. He noted that Teheran is only 21, the same age as many highly regarded prospects in the lower minors.

Parks said that while Teheran might not be a sure-fire future ace, he is still “a monster,” and likely to become a very good No. 2 or No. 3 starter. Nothing wrong with that. He added that he senses the Braves are unlikely to deal him, even for a No. 1 starter-type.

As for Bethancourt, Parks and Goldstein marveled at his arm and overall defensive skills. Offensively, it’s a different story. He’s hitting just .254 with no homers and a .278 OBP at AA Mississippi. Neither of the BP podcasters sounded particularly optimistic about Bethancourt’s future with the stick. He’s not even 21, though.

Sounds like his defense is without peer among minor league catchers. He’s a very different player from McCann, in other words. Yadier Molina wasn’t much of a hitter in his first couple seasons, and he’s improved dramatically. Maybe Bethancourt can do likewise.

Tomorrow’s prospect today

Baseball America reports on a 17-year-old southpaw off to a promising start in the minors:

• Luis Merejo, lhp, Braves: When we reviewed Atlanta’s 2011 international signings(subscription required), we tabbed Merejo as the sleeper of the group. Signed for $65,000 last October, Merejo earned an aggressive assignment to the Rookie-level Gulf Coast League and has not disappointed. Through four outings, Merejo has a 2.25 ERA and a stellar 25-1 K-BB mark in 20 innings. He’s only 6 feet, 175 pounds, but both his feel for pitching and his stuff are advanced for a 17-year-old. Merejo commands a fastball that sits in the low-90s and backs it up with two potentially above-average secondary pitches in his curveball and changeup. Merejo may not be a widely-known prospect yet, but that could change very, very soon.

Zack Greinke to the Braves?

Bowman writes that a trade for Milwaukee’s ace is a very real possibility, with the Braves then signing Greinke, whose agent is NOT Scott Boras) long-term.

There’s many reasons to endorse a Greinke trade. He’ll be 29 on Opening Day. He’s topped 200 innings three times and is on pace to do so again. The former Royal has 9 wins and a 2.82 ERA this year and is averaging a strikeout per inning with only 22 walks.

It’ll cost something approaching the $112.5 million deal signed by Matt Cain. So be it. Aces don’t come cheap and the Braves need one, this season and beyond.

Even if it takes Julio Teheran to get one.

Braves pursuing top Cuban prospect

This qualifies as a pleasant surprise — according to Buster Olney, the Braves are making a serious push to land Cuban uber-prospect Jorge Soler, a 19-year-old right-handed hitting slugger who projects as a corner outfielder with big power and plus defensive skills.

The second round of bids is due this weekend, with the price tag expected to top $25 million.

Don’t get your hopes up, however — the Yanks, Cubs and Dodgers are said to be the other finalists, along with the Braves. On the other hand, who would’ve thought the Reds and A’s would land Aroldis Chapman and Yoenis Cespedes.

Not all is lost

There was some good news Sunday:

JJ was dominant for the Buford Braves, tossing eight scoreless innings, walking none and striking out five. Don’t know what his fastball was clocked at but recent reports say his velocity is back to where it was this time a year ago. His stay in Gwinnett may be over.

And we may not have to endure the middling defense of Tyler Pastornicky much longer. Andrelton Simmons is raking at Pearl, hitting three homers this week. He’s batting .305 with 21 RBI, a .380 OBP and a slugging percentage of .439. He’s committed only  three errors, compared to the Reverend’s seven.

keith-law-correction-jays

Will Gattis make the eggheads eat their words?

Keith Law, in a recent online chat, mocked the idea of Evan Gattis as a prospect. He’s 25, wrote Law, and still in Single-A. Gattis has since been promoted, and in his first 16 ABs, has 7 hits — 2 doubles, 2 HRs and 6 RBI.

Does that make him a prospect? I dunno, but dismissing him out of hand seems foolish. First, he’s not 25, at least not in baseball years. He missed out on 4 years of development, blowing his scholarship at Texas A&M. After a year at Oklahoma Junior College, Gattis dropped out again. Then, following three years on the road, Gattis managed to land at a Texas college I’ve never heard of before being drafted by the Braves (which, considering his background, speaks of his talent).

You could make the argument, and you would be right, that Gattis is dominating more seasoned competition. They may be younger, but most have more minor league experience and/or hail from programs a tad more prestigious than Texas Permian-Basin.

You can’t ignore the numbers. In his last 113 games, Gattis has 33 homers, 33 doubles, a 340 BA and an OPS hovering around 1.100. He’s struck out only 67 times.

Again, I don’t know how to judge Gattis. I’d like to see how he handles LF. Considering his size, I’m skeptical. But Gattis has defied enough odds to make me intrigued, if for no other reason than I like to see the Keith Laws of the world humbled. As if that were possible.

Elsewhere on the minor league front …

Andrelton Simmons, who attended Oklahoma State Junior College, continues to surpass expectations at the plate, hitting .319 with a .377 OBP and 6 steals. He’s committed 1 error.

At Lynchburg, the DP combo of Tommy LaStella and Nick Ahmed continue to produce (.940 OPS and 7 steals for the former, .377 OBP and 8 SB for last year’s second-round pick). Matt Lipka is doing okay, while Edward Salcedo is struggling.

Up the road at Gwinnett, Julio Teheran bounced back after a bad start, though he’s nowhere near what he was a year. As you’ve probably heard, JJ was solid in his first outing, allowing one run in 7.

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Meet your new LF prospect

The Braves have moved late-blooming catcher Evan Gattis to LF, and the 25-year-old slugger responded Tuesday with two long homers in his first game as an outfielder, driving in five against the Carolina Mudcats.

In 16 games Gattis has 8 homers, driven in 26 and struck out only 8 times. He has a .424 BA, .507 OBP and .898 slugging percentage. In other words, Gattis is no longer just a curiosity but a legit prospect.

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Only Lynchburg bats hotter than the parent club

Twenty-five-year-old’s who have yet to advance past Class-A ball typically don’t register as prospects but Lynchburg Hillcats catcher Evan Gattis may prove to be an exception.

Gattis, who took a few years off from baseball to find himself before returning to the game at the University of Texas-Permain Basin, was drafted by the Braves in the 23rd round of the 2010 amateur draft. The 270-pound rookie did little to distinguish himself at Danville his first year but after losing 30 pounds he’s turned into Roy Hobbs.

He homered 22 times in 338 AB’s at Rome last year, winning the South Atlantic League batting title. Gattis opened a lot of eyes at Disney this spring and has picked up where he left off with the H’cats. In 42 AB’s he has four doubles, four homers, 17 RBI and an OPS of 1.319. He’s not the only one raking in Jerry Falwell’s backyard.

Edward Salcedo has seven doubles already and a .953 OPS. Recent draft picks Tommy LaStella, 2B, and Nick Ahmed, SS, are also putting up gaudy numbers. LaStella, who hit .328 with a .401 OBP during his professional debut last year at Rome, has 12 hits, 5 walks and just one strikeout, good for a 1.015 OPS. Ahmed, drafted in the second round of the 2011 draft, is hitting .319 with a .429 OBP and six steals.

This year’s Travis Wilson or the best Braves hitting prospect you’ve never heard of?

DOB reports:

[Evan] Gattis is a 6-foot-3, 235-pound, right-handed-hitter — “a beast, a man-child,” veteran catcher David Ross said — who hit .322 with 22 homers in just 88 games last season at Class-A Rome.

He is a non-roster invitee who’s created a buzz in Braves camp, both for his batting-practice exploits — including homers off O’Flaherty, closer Craig Kimbrel and top prospect Julio Teheran — and his highly unusual background.

Did we mention he is 25 and was out of baseball for nearly four years?

New Zealander Travis Wilson, you may recall, was an ex-softball player who hit over .400 in spring games a decade ago. He once hit for the cycle. Bobby even effused about the ”special sound” when Wilson hit the ball. As CD noted previously, “Alas, that sound was heard only in the Southern and International leagues from then on.”