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November 7, 2008

Future Shock

Braves Top 11 Prospects

by Kevin Goldstein

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top 11 prospects

Team Audit | DT Cards | PECOTA Cards | Depth Chart

Five-Star Prospects
1. Jason Heyward, OF
2. Tommy Hanson, RHP
Four-Star Prospects
3. Jordan Schafer, CF
4. Gorkys Hernandez, CF
5. Freddie Freeman, 1B
Three-Star Prospects
6. Julio Teheran, RHP
7. Cole Rohrbough, LHP
8. Tyler Flowers, C
9. Randall Delgado, RHP
10. Brandon Hicks, SS
Two-Star Prospects
11. Kris Medlen, RHP

Just Missed: John Gilmore, 3B; Craig Kimbrell, RHP; Jeff Locke, LHP

Ranking Challenges: There was a lot of flip-flopping from top to bottom during the ranking process. I went back and forth on number one between Heyward and Hanson, but ultimately Heyward's advantage as far as his ceiling outweighed Hanson's edge in certainty. Schafer was always number three, but I also went back and forth with the Hernandez and Freeman spots. Teheran jumped all over the place between sixth and 10th before a discussion with a scout provided some clarity, and having two scouts both express strong concerns about Flowers' defense dropped him a bit at the end. As was the case with Arizona, there were many possibilities for the 11th spot, before finally settling on Medlen.

1. Jason Heyward, OF
DOB: 8/9/89
Height/Weight: 6-4/220
Bats/Throws: L/L
Drafted/Signed: 1st round, 2007, Henry County HS (GA)
2008 Stats: .323/.388/.483, .262 EqA at Low-A (120 G); .182/.240/.273, .156 EqA at High-A (7 G)
Last Year's Ranking: 2

Year in Review: This former first-round pick more than lived up to expectations in his first full season.
The Good: The most notable thing about Heyward is that he's a great player now who still has incredible room for growth. He's a massive, intimidating presence at the plate who has a very good feel for the strike zone, and he makes consistent hard contact. Despite hitting just 11 home runs in 2008, he still projects for plus power down the road due to his size and raw strength. He's a good outfielder with a plus arm, and Braves officials rave about his work ethic.
The Bad: Heyward's power is still in the raw category, and he'll need to develop some life in his swing. Some scouts would also like to see him become less contact-conscious and more focused on power. He's an average-rated runner now, but that will likely decrease over the next few years as his immense frame fills out.
Fun Fact: If you're wondering what Heyward's hometown looks like, just watch the original Smokey and The Bandit, as much of it was filmed in McDonough, Georgia.
Perfect World Projection: He should be a run-producing impact hitter who bats third for a championship-level team
Glass Half Empty: The power may never explode, and he could end up being a good everyday player, as opposed to a great one.
Path To The Big Leagues: Heyward is the kind of prospect that take any opportunity he gets, and the Braves certainly need some help in the outfield. That said, he's still two or three years away.
Timetable: Heyward will take the next step by beginning the year at High-A Myrtle Beach. The goal is to have him ready for the upper levels the following year, and he has an outside chance of tasting the big leagues before his 21st birthday.

2. Tommy Hanson, RHP
DOB: 8/28/86
Height/Weight: 6-6/210
Bats/Throws: R/R
Drafted/Signed: 22nd round, 2005, Riverside Community College
2008 Stats: 0.90 ERA at High-A (40-15-11-49), 2.68 DERA; 3.03 at Double-A (98-70-41-114), 4.31 DERA
Last Year's Ranking: 8

Year in Review: One of the best pitchers in the minors throughout the year, Hanson struck out 13 of 15 batters in his season debut, tossed a 14-strikeout no-hitter for Double-A Mississippi in June, and has been the most dominant arm in the Arizona Fall League, allowing four hits over 13 2/3 shutout innings with 19 strikeouts in his first four appearances for Mesa.
The Good: Some scouts believe that Hanson could get big-league hitters out right now, as he's one of the rare prospects in the game with four plus pitches. His fastball is parked at 91-93 mph but can touch 95-96 when he rears backs for a little extra. His best pitches are his breaking offerings; he throws an over-the-top hard-dropping curve as well as a sharp slider with plenty of tilt, while adding a deceptive changeup against lefties. He's a big-bodied starter who the Braves had no problem moving to a higher pitch count when he was pitching well.
The Bad: Some wonder if Hanson is not quite as good as his numbers, as most of his strikeouts come on his secondary offerings as opposed to the fastball, and there is some effort in his delivery. While his control is solid, his command can falter at times, and he has a tendency to elevate his pitches.
Fun Fact: During his first four Arizona Fall League appearances, right-handed batters facing Hanson went 2-for-32 with 16 strikeouts.
Perfect World Projection: A consistent 16-18 game winner in the big leagues as a number one or two starter.
Glass Half Empty: As one scout puts it, "He's good, but not jaw dropping," and his dependency on the secondary pitches could mean he's more of a third starter.
Path To The Big Leagues: With an old rotation in need of rebuilding, nothing is blocking Hanson's way to Atlanta.
Timetable: Some are surprised that Hanson hasn't already seen the majors, and scouts that have seen him in Arizona think he's ready. He'll be given a shot to earn a big-league job in spring training, but the Braves might be more comfortable giving a handful of Triple-A starts first.

3. Jordan Schafer, CF
DOB: 9/4/86
Height/Weight: 6-1/200
Bats/Throws: L/L
Drafted/Signed: 3rd round, 2005, Winter Haven HS (FL)
2008 Stats: .269/.378/.471, .263 EqA at Double-A (84 G)
Last Year's Ranking: 1

Year in Review: Last year's breakout performer missed two months early in the season serving a 50-game suspension for some kind of involvement with HGH-the facts are still not clear. He got off to a slow start due to rust and plenty of distractions, but found a groove in the second half, batting .303/.387/.526.
The Good: Schafer's tools rate as average or above across the board. He's a patient hitter with a quick, quiet swing and at least average power. He's a 60 runner and an even better center fielder because of his outstanding instincts, with one scout adding, "I don't think I ever saw him break wrong on a ball." His arm is another weapon due to both its strength and accuracy.
The Bad: Schafer struggled against left-handers in 2008, who found success both in busting him inside and getting him to chase good breaking balls. The suspension seemed to hang over his head much of the year; he was clearly pressing at times, and his body language left many wondering if he was having any fun out there.
Fun Fact: While 12 players have been drafted out of Winter Haven High School, Schafer is aiming to become the first to reach the big leagues.
Perfect World Projection: An everyday star-level center fielder who annually hits .300 with 20/20 power/speed numbers.
Glass Half Empty: He turns out to be a one-sided star in desperate need of a platoon partner, a la Ray Lankford.
Path To The Big Leagues: Gregor Blanco does not provide a significant roadblock.
Timetable: The Braves still have the utmost confidence in Schafer, and while they do not go into detail, they have no long-term concerns about his suspension. Schafer is their center fielder of the future, and there's an outside chance that the future could begin in April.

4. Gorkys Hernandez, CF
DOB: 9/7/87
Height/Weight: 6-0/175
Bats/Throws: R/R
Drafted/Signed: Venezuela, 2005 (DET)
2008 Stats: .264/.348/.387, .221 EqA at High-A (100 G)
Last Year's Ranking: 5

Year in Review: Acquired from Detroit in the Edgar Renteria deal, Hernandez got off to a blazing start at High-A Myrtle Beach, but struggled with hamstring issues during the second half of the season.
The Good: When his legs are 100 percent, Hernandez has impact speed, with one scout stating that, "any ground ball off his bat turns into an interesting experience." He showed a much improved approach at the plate this year, and nails line drives all over the field. He always hustles-breaking up double plays and taking extra bases-and brings an enormous amount of energy to the field. Beyond his speed, he's also an excellent defensive outfielder with a plus arm.
The Bad: Hernandez has little pop or much projection for any, as his skinny lower half is designed far more for speed than power. As a player whose value depends on speed, defense, and getting on base, he could still use another step forward in his plate discipline.
Fun Fact: Hernandez is named after Maxim Gorky, the Russian writer who was critical of both the czars and the Bolsheviks during the Russian Revolution, and who was ultimately brought back to Russia in the 1930s as a propaganda tool for the dictator Joseph Stalin, who many feel was responsible for Gorky's untimely death in 1938.
Perfect World Projection: He's an above-average center fielder who hits .280-.300 with 10 home runs and 40 stolen bases on a yearly basis.
Glass Half Empty: He may top out as more of a second-division starter, or a fourth outfielder on a good team.
Path To The Big Leagues: While Jordan Schafer has dibs on a the center-field job, Hernandez certainly has the ability to claim a starting job of his own.
Timetable: A year behind Schafer developmentally, Hernandez will face his big test in Double-A in 2009, and the Braves think that if he's healthy he could be primed for a breakout.

5. Freddie Freeman, 1B
DOB: 9/12/89
Height/Weight: 6-5/220
Bats/Throws: L/R
Drafted/Signed: 2nd round, 2007, El Modena HS (CA)
2008 Stats: .316/.378/.521, .261 EqA at Low-A (130 G)
Last Year's Ranking: Not Ranked

Year in Review: This second-round pick from 2007 surprised everyone by putting together one of the Sally League's best seasons in a circuit that was loaded with prospects.
The Good: Freeman displays both present ability and tremendous potential offensively. His swing has both speed and leverage, and it's rare to find a player so young with both power and his kind of feel for contact, making it easy to project him as a player who hits tons of home runs while maintaining a high batting average. He's a surprisingly good defender as well, with soft hands, good footwork, and a great arm.
The Bad: Freeman runs about as well as you'd expect for a 6-foot-5, 220-pound first baseman. With his size and youth, there are concerns that he'll end up as a massive, plodding type. He can be overly aggressive early in the count and put himself in bad hitting situations, especially against left-handers.
Fun Fact: El Modena High School also produced Heroes star Milo Ventimiglia.
Perfect World Projection: He becomes a classic, middle-of-the-order run-producing first baseman.
Glass Half Empty: Too much size slows down his swing, and he ends up more of a one-dimensional masher.
Path To The Big Leagues: The Braves acquired Casey Kotchman in the Mark Teixeira deal, but he did little to endear himself to the organization with a .237/.331/.316 line in 43 games. Freeman is the future, but he's a long way from being ready.
Timetable: Freeman will begin the year in the tough offensive environment of High-A Myrtle Beach.

6. Julio Teheran
DOB: 1/27/91
Height/Weight: 6-2/150
Bats/Throws: R/R
Drafted/Signed: Colombia, 2007
2008 Stats: 2.53 ERA at Rookie-level (15-18-4-17)
Last Year's Ranking: 7

Year in Review: This 17-year-old's much anticipated debut was hampered by shoulder soreness, but he nonetheless made a strong impression on those that saw him.
The Good: Because of his youth and arm strength, Teheran's ceiling surpasses that of any pitching prospect in the system. His fastball sits effortlessly at 92-95 mph, he hit 97 on the gun on numerous occasions, and the pitch has nice late life. He also throws a hard, breaking curve and shows some feel for a changeup. He throws all of his pitches for strikes and works aggressively.
The Bad: Teheran is still learning how to pitch, and needs to improve his approach. He depends solely on trying to blow batters away, and needs to learn how to better attack hitters by working the count and using his secondary offerings as chase pitches. He became easily flustered during his brief time at Danville when he felt squeezed by umpires or his defense made bad plays behind him. While he's clean mechanically, his lanky, downright skinny frame will need to fill out.
Fun Fact: Going into 2009, Emiliano Fruto is the only Columbian-born pitcher to ever reach the majors, and is therefore also the nation's all-time leader with two wins and 34 strikeouts.
Perfect World Projection: Teheran's ultimate projection is through the roof.
Glass Half Empty: He's just 17, still has a long way to go, and already has had some shoulder issues. There is too much that can go wrong to guarantee anything. If his frame and approach don't change, he'll be better suited for relief.
Path To The Big Leagues: There's nothing to worry about yet; we're talking about a guy who, even with the most aggressive of timetables, wouldn't be in the big leagues until late 2011.
Timetable: Most inside the Braves organization feel that Teheran is ready for a full-season assignment, but his health and workload with be closely monitored at Low-A Rome.

7. Cole Rohrbough, LHP
DOB: 5/23/87
Height/Weight: 6-3/205
Bats/Throws: L/L
Drafted/Signed: 22nd Round, 2006, Western Nevada Community College
2008 Stats: 4.94 ERA at Low-A (58.1-55-31-76), 8.70 DERA; 3.41 at High-A (31.2-27-8-28), 6.90 DERA
Last Year's Ranking: 9

Year in Review: A high-ceiling left-hander who struggled early in the year due to a number of minor but persistent injuries, he showed the kind of stuff late in the year to retain his prospect status.
The Good: It's hard not to get excited about Rohrbough's combination of size, athleticism, and power stuff from the left side. He sits at 90-93 mph with a boring, heavy fastball, but his best pitch is a hard curve that is equally effective whether he drops it into the strike zone or buries it in the dirt. He's aggressive, likes pitching inside, and has a good feel for setting up hitters.
The Bad: While Rohrbough flashes a good changeup at times, he can also lose the feel for it in either direction-either overthrowing the pitch or tipping it off with slow arm action. He can rush his delivery and get his arm ahead of his leg drive, which leads to an inconsistent release point and control issues.
Fun Fact: Only eight players have ever been selected out of Western Nevada Community College, and five of those have been selected by the Braves in the last three years.
Perfect World Projection: A solid number-three starter with some star potential.
Glass Half Empty: It's possible that the changeup doesn't come around and some minor shoulder issues become a bigger issue, relegating him to the bullpen.
Path To The Big Leagues: It's a good time to be a starter in the Braves system, although Rohrbough is probably at least two years away.
Timetable: Rohrbough will return to High-A Myrtle Beach this year, but the Braves feel he could be ready for Double-A by midseason if he continues to progress.

8. Tyler Flowers, C
DOB: 1/24/86
Height/Weight: 6-4/245
Bats/Throws: R/R
Drafted/Signed: 33rd round, 2005, Chipola Junior College (FL)
2008 Stats: .288/.427/.494, .271 EqA at High-A (122 G)
Last Year's Ranking: Not Ranked

Year in Review: Among the many Braves draft-and-follow prospects, Flowers broke out by finishing in the Carolina League's top five in both on-base percentage and slugging, while placing second overall in all of the minors with 98 walks.
The Good: As a massive backstop with power and patience, one scout dubbed Flowers, "almost Matt Wieters light... or I guess heavy." He has a highly-advanced approach at the plate and smokes balls in the zone to both gaps. He makes excellent in-game adjustments to pitching styles and is equally effective against both left- and right-handed pitchers. He has good hands behind the plate.
The Bad: Flowers' size is an issue, as his body borders on soft. He's not athletic behind the plate, and his below-average arm is brought down even more by his size, resulting in a slow release. That leaves some wondering if he can stay behind the plate in the long term, and projections of a player's value change drastically when one moves him from catcher to first base, which would be the only other option for Flowers.
Fun Fact: When batting with the bases loaded in 2008, Flowers went 5-for-13 with three doubles, two grand slams, and four walks.
Perfect World Projection: He could end up as an offense-first catcher who provides enough run production to make up for his poor defense.
Glass Half Empty: The defensive issues are too much to overcome, leaving him as a big bat without a real home, a la Craig Wilson.
Path To The Big Leagues: With Brian McCann entrenched behind the plate, there's no need to rush Flowers, and he may be one of the more obvious trade chips for the team.
Timetable: Flowers moves up the Double-A in 2009, in what may end up being a showcase season.

9. Randall Delgado, RHP
DOB: 2/9/90
Height/Weight: 6-3/165
Bats/Throws: R/R
Drafted/Signed: Panama, 2006
2008 Stats: 3.13 ERA at Rookie-level (69-63-30-81)
Last Year's Ranking: Not Ranked

Year in Review: Yet another teenage arm from a non-traditional Latin American country, Delgado showed plenty of promise while finishing second in the Appalachian League in strikeouts.
The Good: For many scouts and Braves officials, Delgado rates only a tick behind Teheran in the system in terms of ultimate ceiling. He effortlessly pops 92-95 on the gun with his two-seam fastball which features natural sinking action, and he already has a plus curveball, which comes off of his hand with consistent heavy spin. He's long and loose with an all arms-and-legs delivery that makes the ball hard to pick up.
The Bad: Delgado's mechanics are smooth but a bit complicated, and he has trouble consistently throwing the ball for strikes. When he gets behind in the count he has a tendency to take a bit off of his pitches in order to aim them. His changeup is no more than rudimentary.
Fun Fact: Delgado had a 1.93 ERA in the first three innings of his games in 2008, but a 5.00 mark thereafter.
Perfect World Projection: Most project physical growth in Delgado, which could lead to him developing into an elite arm.
Glass Half Empty: There are a few of these guys in every system, and trying to figure out which ones get there can be something of a dart-throwing contest.
Path To The Big Leagues: Right now, Delgado has no more than a path to a full-season league.
Timetable: Depending on how cautious the Braves decide to be with his workload, Delgado will either join Teheran at Rome, or go back to the Appy League after honing his stuff in extended spring training.

10. Brandon Hicks, SS
DOB: 9/14/85
Height/Weight: 6-2/200
Bats/Throws: R/R
Drafted/Signed: 3rd round, 2007, Texas A&M
2008 Stats: .234/.335/.480, .241 EqA at High-A (93 G); .241/.333/.389, .233 EqA at Double-A (16 G)
Last Year's Ranking: Not Ranked

Year in Review: This polished college product had a strange season at High-A, delivering a low batting average but plenty of secondary skills to make up for it, including 19 home runs in 93 games.
The Good: Tools-wise, Hicks fits the mold of the new breed of big, athletic shortstops. His power is very real, and if anything it was hampered by playing at Myrtle Beach, as he smacked 13 of his 19 home runs in just 53 road games. He works the count well and has a good feel for the strike zone. Defensively, he's above average in every way, with good range to both sides and a strong, accurate arm.
The Bad: Hicks will never be one who hits for average; his swing has a mechanical hitch and a profound uppercut, which certainly helps with the power but will always lead to too many strikeouts. He can overwork the count in some situations and get himself behind, often passing on hittable pitches while waiting for the perfect one.
Fun Fact: While the Aggies have an outstanding baseball program, the only drafted alum with more than 17 career home runs is Chuck Knoblauch (98).
Perfect World Projection: He develops into an everyday big-league shortstop with plus defense and 20-plus home runs.
Glass Half Empty: Is he the next Jose Hernandez?
Path To The Big Leagues: While Yunel Escobar has a firm hold on the Atlanta shortstop job, the rest of the Braves' infield is in a state of flux.
Timetable: Hicks will begin the year at Double-A Mississippi. If scouts made his PECOTA card, it would have high breakout and collapse rates.

11. Kris Medlen, RHP
DOB: 10/7/85
Height/Weight: 5-10/175
Bats/Throws: S/R
Drafted/Signed: 10th round, 2006, Santa Ana College
2008 Stats: 3.52 at Double-A (120.1-121-27-120), 4.17 DERA
Last Year's Ranking: Not Ranked

Year in Review: The former system sleeper is now a legitimate prospect after proving himself as both a starter and reliever at Double-A.
The Good: Medlen pounds the strike zone with an effective three-pitch mix. His fastball is above average at 90-92 mph and can touch 94, and he locates it extremely well. His best pitch is a hard-breaking overhand curve, and he also mixes in a solid changeup. He's a fantastic athlete who can field his position, has an excellent pickoff move, and went 8-for-26 at the plate this year with two doubles, a triple, and a home run.
The Bad: It is hard to get past Medlen's size, as he's both short and a bit frail. That frame, combined with a delivery that requires significant effort, leaves some to wonder if he could hold up for 30-plus big-league starts each year. His fastball can be a little too true at times.
Fun Fact: Three years prior to signing with the Braves, Medlen was a 37th-round pick by the Rays out of Gahr High School, the school that produced big leaguers Shane Mack and Brett Barberie, as well as Washington Redskins coach (and former NFL quarterback) Jim Zorn.
Perfect World Projection: He becomes a decent back-end starter or a valuable swingman.
Glass Half Empty: If he can't hack starting, he doesn't have the stuff for late-inning relief work, so he's no more than a middle reliever.
Path To The Big Leagues: As a "fill-in-the-blank" type of pitcher who can be dropped into any role, there is nothing blocking a player like Medlen.
Timetable: He'll begin the year with the Braves' Triple-A team that has moved to suburban Gwinnett, and he should get the call for a short drive to Atlanta at some point in the year.

The Sleeper: Acquired from the Red Sox for Mark Kotsay, Luis Sumoza is a small but athletic outfielder who murders lefties, runs well, and has above-average raw power.

Top 10 Talents 25 And Under (as of Opening Day 2009)

1. Brian McCann, C
2. Jason Heyward, OF
3. Tommy Hanson, RHP
4. Jair Jurrjens, RHP
5. Jordan Schafer, CF
6. Gorkys Hernandez, CF
7. Freddie Freeman, 1B
8. Jeff Francoeur, RF
9. Julio Teheran, RHP
10. Cole Rohrbough, LHP

The Braves have produced their share of young talent of late, but much of it has been of the fifth starter or swing-man type on the mound (Jo-Jo Reyes, Charlie Morton), and bench players in the field (Gregor Blanco, Martin Prado). McCann is a genuine star, but I'm not yet sold on Jurrjens, who many believe performed a little over his head in 2008-that could be the peak performance to expect from him-and will settle as a dependable middle-rotation starter. As far as Jeff Francoeur goes, I'm honestly not sure what to expect. I can't say I'd be shocked if he drove in 100 runs next year, nor would I be if he merely turned out to be this decade's Ben Grieve.

Summary: The Braves have a solid core of young talent, but for the most part it's not going to help this team get any better in 2009. The Braves are a solid long-term play, but a trade of top prospects for Jake Peavy would be a mistake, simply guaranteeing a solid run at mediocrity, as opposed to having the patience to wait out a possible return to National League East glory at the beginning of the next decade.


Today on BP Radio, Atlanta's top prospect, Jason Heyward, and Kevin Goldstein talk about what's hopping in the Braves' farm system.

Click to download mp3

Kevin Goldstein is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Kevin's other articles. You can contact Kevin by clicking here

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