ATLANTA — Braxton Davidson, the Atlanta Braves’ first-round pick in last year’s June draft, was No. 6 in Baseball America’s ranking of the organization’s top-10 prospects after the season. He wouldn’t have made the list if the publication had waited until Jan. 15.
That’s not a reflection of Davidson so much as a testament to how many prospects the Braves accumulated in a trading frenzy from mid-November through mid-January. Five of the reshuffled top 10 were acquired in recent trades.
That haul includes a pair of pitchers, Mike Foltynewicz from the Houston Astros and Max Fried from the San Diego Padres, who move into the Nos. 2-3 spots on Baseball America’s revamped Braves prospect list, behind only second baseman Jose Peraza.
The Braves’ farm system ranked 29th out of 30 major league teams in early November, Baseball America editor-in-chief John Manuel said. Now it’s in the top half and in the top 10 according to some other evaluators.
Braves official say it’s not a strip-it-down rebuild — for instance, they signed free-agent Nick Markakis to a $44 million deal and haven’t traded stars like Craig Kimbrel. But Braves president of baseball operations John Hart made it clear that restocking an alarmingly thin farm system was the immediate priority, particularly pitching.
Some critics have howled about the Braves falling behind not just the Washington Nationals but also the Miami Marlins and New York Mets in the NL East. Many fans wonder if the team will lose 100 games in 2015. Inside the industry, the moves have received mostly favorable reviews from evaluators who believe the Braves positioned themselves for a far brighter future.
In a span of eight weeks, they made six trades that swapped mostly major-leaguers for prospects. All seven prospects acquired from San Diego and Houston in trades for sluggers Justin Upton and Evan Gattis are in the Braves’ reshuffled top 20 by Baseball America, which does a top 30 for each organization in its annual prospect guide.
“All these guys aren’t going to work out, and I think we all should know that about prospects…” Manuel said. “That’s why we go 30-deep. I think you can see how much deeper the Braves’ system is now than if we’d stopped at 10.”
Manuel provided the AJC with an updated Baseball America ranking of Braves prospects. Here’s the top 10 (check this link to our Braves blog for top 20 with expanded comments):
1. Jose Peraza, 2B: Hit .339 with .364 OBP and 60 steals in 110 games in high-A and Double-A in 2014. Only 20, the converted shortstop could take over as the Braves’ second baseman and leadoff man at some point in 2015. “You have to think this guy can be a table-setting shortstop as well as a table-setting second baseman,” Manuel said. “That to me is why he’s a No. 1.”
2. Mike Foltynewicz, RHP: First-round draft pick in 2010, he made his major league debut with the Astros in 2014 and was their No. 3 prospect. Top-of-the-rotation potential, has a 96-100 mph fastball and above-average breaking ball. Why him over Fried? “No. 1, because of health,” Manual said. “And No. 2, his high level (ceiling). His floor is as a seventh- or eighth-inning impact relief pitcher, as hard as he throws.”
3. Max Fried, LHP: Big lefty will miss 2015 season recovering from Tommy John surgery, but regarded as another legit potential ace. “Our international guy made some points about him and (No. 8 Ricardo) Sanchez, said he would grade out their stuff very similar. This list 3 through 8 is malleable. You may not know what you have (with Fried) till 2016 or even 2017. But he’s an athletic left-hander who showed you good stuff.”
4. Lucas Sims, RHP: Braves first-round draft pick in 2012 out of Brookwood High, was No. 2 on this list before winter trades. Only a 4.19 ERA and 107 strikeouts in 156 2/3 innings in high-A, but after striking out 4.9 per nine in the first three months, he averaged 7.6 thereafter. “You can’t look too much at the stats,” Manuel said, “or if you do you need to drill down a little further to where were the trends going in second half.”
5. Christian Bethancourt, C: Penciled in as the Braves’ primary catcher for 2015, he showed flashes of good offensive potential in stints with big-league club. Undeniable defensive skills made him a top prospect, but he remains shaky at time behind the plate. “He was a little sloppier defensively than you’d like to see him,” Manuel said. “He’s consistently been a passed-ball guy.”
6. Jason Hursh, RHP: Braves’ first-round pick in 2013, had a 3.58 ERA and 83 strikeouts (43 walks) in 148 1/3 innings in Double-A. “Above-average fastball, chance to be above-average changeup,” Manuel said. “Keeps the ball in the park. Should be a guy in the middle of the rotation, a 3-4 guy.”
7. Ozhaino Albies, SS: Another gifted shortstop from Curacao, Albies hit .364 with a .446 OBP and 22 steals in 57 games in two rookie leagues at age 17. “He just checks all the boxes for a young hitter — stays inside the ball, hand-eye coordination with good contact, good pitch recognition, lot of walks for a kid,” Manuel said. “Accurate arm, above-average range. He’s not big, but everything else, the arrows point straight up.”
8. Ricardo Sanchez, LHP: Was rated No. 3 Angels prospect after the season. Low- to mid-90s fastball and impressive curveball, had a 3.49 ERA in 12 appearances (nine starts) in rookie ball while striking out 43 in 38 2/3 innings. “We had reports on him hitting 95 (mph); I don’t think he pitches there, but to see him do it at age 17, you think this is a guy who can grow into maybe doing that fairly consistently.”
9. Jace Peterson, 2B/3B: Hit .307 w/ .402 OBP and 33 extra-base hits (three homers) in 382 plate appearances for Padres’ Double-A and Triple-A teams. “For some people he’s just a championship-caliber utility guy,” Manuel said. “I think we see him as guy who could be a solid second baseman.”
10. Rio Ruiz, 3B: Former high school quarterback standout committed to play football at Southern Cal before signing with Astros. Ruiz, 20, hit .293 with a .387 on-base percentage and 50 extra-base hits (11 home runs) in high-A, and replaces Kubitza as the club’s top third-base prospect.