|Atlanta Braves Top 5|
|1||Jason Heyward||RF||6-foot-4, 220-pounder had .377 wOBA, 9.7% BB, not too many K's (14.7%) last year in Low-A||19.2||A+|
|2||Tommy Hanson||RHP||Power arm who had mediocre '08 walk/ground ball rates (27.8% K, 10.0% BB in AA; 410 TBF)||22.1||AA|
|3||Jordan Schafer||CF||HGH use costed him 50 games; good power (.202 IsoP), good BB (14.0%), bad K's (25.2%)||22.1||AA|
|4||Freddie Freeman||1B||From .294 wOBA, 9% LD in '07 to .386, 19% in '08; 2007 2nd rounder could break out in '09||18.8||A|
|5||Julio Teheran||RHP||High-upside, low-floor teenager has only pitched 15.0 pro innings (17 K, 4 BB, 18 H, 4.46 FIP)||17.7||R|
|Honorables: Jeff Locke (LHP), Kris Medlen (RHP), Gorkys Hernandez (CF), Randall Delgado (RHP), Cole Rohrbough (LHP), Brett DeVall (LHP),|
|Zeke Spruill (RHP), and Cody Johnson (OF).|
|* Our rankings combine a player's ceiling with the odds that he'll reach it and favor recent production|
|** Ages are as of November 1st, 2008|
|*** Level is the highest level the player has reached|
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Jason Heyward – The 14th overall pick of the 2007 draft out of Henry County High School in Georgia, Jason Heyward has quickly risen to elite prospect status. The Braves were delighted when Heyward slipped to them in the draft, as he was considered a potential Top 10 overall pick by some. Featuring a wide range of abilities that include discipline (9.7 BB%), power (.161 isoP) and average speed, Heyward is the total offensive package for a 19-year-old corner outfielder. And he wasted no time getting acquainted with the minor leagues, posting a .393 wOBA (7th best in Low-A) as the 11th-youngest hitter in Low-A. In June, Heyward faced minor shoulder and knee ailments which held him back somewhat (.288 July wOBA over 107 PA). He bounced back nicely in August (.459 wOBA), which led to a subsequent promotion to High-A Myrtle Beach (25 PA). Heyward will likely start 2009 in Myrtle Beach. The Braves have a void in the outfield, so once Heyward is ready, he could be on the fast track to the big-leagues.
Tommy Hanson – Since signing with Atlanta through the draft-and-follow process in 2005, Hanson has rapidly become an elite pitching prospect. A 6-foot-6 righthander, Hanson has a chance to be at the head of the Braves' staff in the near future. Between 2007 and 2008, Hanson pitched 271.0 minor league innings in Low-A Rome, High-A Myrtle Beach, and Double-A Mississippi. Over that span, he struck out 317 batters (28.5%), while walking 110 (9.9%). Hanson shredded the Carolina League over seven 2008 starts (2.21 FIP) -- he did not allow a home run in 40.0 innings despite a 32% ground-ball percentage. Following some early struggles after his promotion, Hanson found success in the Southern League (3.68 FIP), though it's important to note his low BABIPs (.188 in High-A, .262 in Double-A). In the Arizona Fall League, Hanson was even more impressive (28.2 IP, 51.7 K%, 7.3 BB%) against a bevy of top hitting prospects in a historically hitter-friendly league. He became the first pitcher to take home the MVP honors in the league's 14-year history. Hanson threw a total of 166.2 innings in 2008 and could make an impact in the Braves rotation sometime in 2009.
Jordan Schafer – Since being taken 107th overall in the 2005 draft, Schafer has had his share of ups-and-downs. With speed, power, and discipline, Schafer could find himself roaming center field for Atlanta sometime in 2009. He was productive over 349 plate appearances for Double-A Mississippi last season (14.9% BB, .202 IsoP, .371 wOBA 25.2% K). But his season got off to a confusing start in April, as he was suspended for supposed HGH use, which cost him 50 games. Schafer was outstanding in 145 Low-A plate appearances in 2007 (.458 wOBA), and solid in High-A Myrtle Beach (.353 wOBA). His strikeout rate rose from 19.8% in High-A to 25.2% in Double-A, prompting contact concerns. A strong defensive center fielder who has impressed teammates with his improved maturity this Spring, Schafer gets knocked by many for his 2008 suspension. But we see the 6-foot-1 lefty as a potential above-average center fielder. There aren't many players with his kind of ceiling who have already been very successful in Double-A.
Freddie Freeman – Although Freddie Freeman was a highly coveted pitcher coming out of high school, the Braves saw enough potential in his bat to use the 78th overall pick on him. Early indications show that Freeman’s bat has a world of potential. He has a chance to hit for both average and power. Following a poor GCL stint in 2007 (232 PA, .294 wOBA), Freeman was exceptional as the 9th-youngest hitter in Low-A in 2008. Like teammate Jason Heyward, Freeman showed power (.206 isoP) and patience (8.4 BB%) as a 18-year-old for the Rome Braves. Finishing 3rd in the league in wOBA (.386), Freeman had a similarly impressive statistical season as the highly touted Heyward. A 6-foot-5 lefthander, he also showed the ability to make plenty of contact (15.6 K%). Freeman will likely be the starting first baseman for the Myrtle Beach Pelicans in 2009, and could rise through the minors quickly.
Julio Teheran – An elite international talent who signed in 2007, Teheran secured a $850,000 signing bonus from the Braves. Teheran has a brief professional resume but his upside alone is worthy of recognition. The Braves have been very cautious with Teheran so far, limiting him to only 15.0 innings in 2008, as well as having his shoulder checked out by team doctors during the season. A quick look at his statistics would say he was overmatched in this small sample, but his .400 BABIP was an obvious factor in his high earned run average. Teheran managed to strike out 25.8%, walk 6.1%, and got batters to hit the ball on the ground 59% of the time (66 TBF). The Braves are likely to continue being very cautious with this young righthander, but his upside remains intriguing.
Jeff Locke (11/20/87) – Not the flashiest prospect, Locke is a solid all-around pitcher with a high floor. A 6-foot-2 lefthander, he has shown above-average command and ground-ball tendencies, with decent ability to record strikeouts. All these things considered, his upside may only be that of a No. 3 starter, but his likelihood of contributing in the majors is outstanding for a pitcher whose highest level played is Low-A. Locke over matched short-season leagues in both 2006 and 2007 (30.1 K%, 3.5 BB% over 93.0 IP), and followed with a solid performance for Low-A Rome in 2008. Although his strikeout rate dropped significantly (18.5%), Locke’s strong overall performance generated a 3.40 FIP. Locke will start 2009 in High-A Myrtle Beach, and will be 21-years-old the entire season. He will likely head forward putting up similar numbers as he did in 2008 – not flashy, but a nice lefthanded arm..
Kris Medlen (10/7/85) – Starter or reliever, one thing is for sure, Medlen pitches bigger than he stands. The 5-foot-11 righthander has found plenty of success at every stop in the minors since he was drafted in the 10th round of the 2006 draft. The question still remains to be seen as to where Medlen ends up – he started 17-of-36 games for Double-A Mississippi in 2008, and only 1-of-12 games in the Arizona Fall League. This tells me that Atlanta is likely looking at him for the bullpen when his time comes – which could be at some point in the 2009 season. Medlen’s minor league numbers are fantastic, as he struck out 24.2%, walked 5.5%, and posted a 2.97 FIP in Double-A. He followed that success up with 21.0 innings great in the Arizona Fall League (25-1 K/BB). Atlanta already has a strong major league bullpen, Medlen could be accepted with open arms once he's ready.
Gorkys Hernandez (9/7/87) – Along with Jair Jurrjens, Gorkys Hernandez completed the package that netted the Tigers Edgar Renteria. He has the potential to be an above-average starting outfielder, though he's likely still at least a few years away. With plenty speed and emerging discipline, Hernandez could be an asset in center field, but at a corner position would have much less value. Hernandez was solid in High-A Myrtle Beach last season, although he saw his power increase only slightly from Low-A (.098 to .121 isoP), and his strikeouts increase significantly (12.9% to 17.0). On the flip side, he showed much more patience at the plate (6.8 to 10.3 BB%). A corner outfielder with this type of production is likely not an everyday player, so it is important to track Hernandez’ production closely in the coming years to see if he can add any serious power or center field defense.
Randall Delgado (2/9/90) – Signed out of Panama in 2006, Delgado has a projectable, young arm with plenty of talent, although he is quite a bit away from the big show. With his youth (will spend all of 2009 as a 19-year-old) and raw ability, the 6-foot-3 righthander is the type of pitcher who could be a fast riser. Delgado spent the 2007 season in the Dominican Summer League where he was exceptional over 45.0 innings (2.74 FIP). The DSL, however, is known for its pitching and many young pitchers put up stellar numbers there only to collapse against more advanced competition. This was not the case for Delgado, who was great in the Appalachian league in 2008. In 69.0 innings, Delgado walked 10.3%, and struck-out 27.7%. He'll likely start 2009 at Low-A Rome, but he could return to Danville in order to sharpen his command.
Brett Sullivan can be reached at email@example.com.