Atlanta Braves prospects succeed in first half

Atlanta Braves starting pitcher Kolby Allard (76) throws a pitch during the fifth inning against the New York Mets at Champion Stadium. (Photo: Reinhold Matay-USA TODAY Sports)

(TNS) —The Atlanta Braves minor league system is again producing notable seasons from some of its prospects, including familiar names and newcomers.

With the first half wrapping up for minor league seasons, teams often take a look at where their prospects are in terms of development, and they could decide to promote players within the next few weeks.

The Braves could reward some of their prospects with new assignments, such as young pitchers getting their first major league call-ups or flamethrowers in Double-A moving up to Triple-A.

Left-hander Kolby Allard is one of the first prospects to come to mind. The 20-year-old has a 2.28 ERA with 51 strikeouts to 20 walks in 75 innings spanning 12 starts for Triple-A Gwinnett.

Allard doesn’t light up radar guns or drop jaws with his stuff, but he’s advanced beyond his years with command, showing the ability to locate all of his pitches to all four quadrants of the strike zone and sequencing his stuff to get out hitters much older than him.

The lefty’s fastball sits around 90 mph, while he has a solid change-up that draws whiffs and a curveball with big break to keep hitters honest. His strikeout totals will never be high, but Allard has the command to succeed at the major league level, and he’s ready for a promotion.

Right-hander Touki Toussaint is a vastly different pitcher compared to Allard, but he’s seeing similar success at Double-A Mississippi, recording a 3.41 ERA in 74 innings over 14 starts. The difference for him is a total of 92 strikeouts, best in the Southern League.

Toussaint’s stuff consistently drops jaws by easily sitting mid-to-upper-90s with his fastball and spinning a sharp curveball and adding a firm change-up. The stuff is among the best in the minor leagues, and his ceiling is high as a potential frontline starter.

There’s a sizable gap between his ceiling and a more realistic projection as a back-end starter or late-innings reliever because of command and control that waver at times. He’s worked to shore up his high walk totals, and a strong first half in Double-A is a positive sign for his development.

Outfielder Drew Waters has jumped on the scene after being drafted in the second round last year out of a Georgia high school. He’s hitting .313 with a .545 slugging percentage at low-A Rome, totaling 20 doubles, four triples, six home runs and 11 stolen bases in 49 games.

The 19-year-old also has impressive defensive tools in center field, giving him the total prospect package as a speedy player up the middle who hits for power. He continues to be overlooked by many evaluators, but Waters has the tools to be one of Atlanta’s top prospects by the end of the season, and he could even earn a promotion to Class-A Advanced Florida in the second half.

Waters’ teammate, third baseman Jean Carlos Encarnacion, is hitting .315 with 25 extra-base hits. He’s a more polarizing prospect as a tall, lengthy 20-year-old with the potential for impact power, but his swing is inconsistent and his approach is raw.

WIDENER THRIVING: Toussaint holds the top spot in the Southern League for strikeouts, but another familiar name is right behind him.

South Aiken product Taylor Widener is second in the league with 89 in 67 2/3 innings for Double-A Jackson, an affiliate of the Arizona Diamondbacks. The 23-year-old has a 2.53 ERA and just 22 walks.

Widener is quickly establishing himself as a true prospect for the Diamondbacks with these numbers, and he’s not slowing down. His last start was six scoreless innings on three hits with 12 strikeouts against Jacksonville.

The right-hander could be in Arizona by the end of the season and is a definite rotation candidate for 2019.

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