Spring Training is here, and it is that time of year when hope springs eternal for every Major League Baseball team, player, and prospect. The Atlanta Braves are entering their third year of a complete rebuild, following a disappointing 2014 season. Results at the MLB level disappointed in 2015 and 2016, but a lot of young talent has been acquired along with a growing and talented farm system. Season projections do not hold the Braves in high regard; however, there is a growing sense of optimism around the franchise. These top prospects have contributed to that optimism. (Be sure to check out Part One which includes prospects 10-20.)
Atlanta Braves Top 20 Prospects Part Two
Omission: Dansby Swanson was not included on this list. After some discussion, the Braves department at Last Word on Baseball decided the extra spot would best be used to include one of Atlanta’s prospects that is yet to make it to the big leagues. Swanson did retain his prospect status heading into 2017, but it is hard to view him as a prospect at this point. Barring any major setbacks, he will be the opening day shortstop at SunTrust Park for this season and many more to come.
- Patrick Weigel – RHP
Weigel was hard at work improving his stock in 2016. The hard-throwing righty began the season with Single-A Rome as the ace of the staff. He accumulated 129 innings over 21 starts, with just four losses against him. Weigel posted an ERA of 2.51, alongside 135 strikeouts and a 1.08 WHIP. He received a late-season promotion to Double-A Mississippi, where he was impressive in all but one game. For the year, Weigel posted 149.2 innings pitched with a 2.47 ERA, an 11-6 record, a 1.04 WHIP, and a .194 batting average against.
Weigel was named Atlanta’s Organizational Pitcher of the Year for 2016. His performance secured him a non-roster invite to Spring Training to begin 2017. He is one of three top pitching prospects to receive a non-roster invite from the Braves. However, his immediate future remains unclear. Atlanta acquired veteran starters Bartolo Colon, R.A. Dickey, and Jaime Garcia in the offseason to bolster the rotation. It is also possible that Weigel will fall behind Aaron Blair and Matt Wisler in the pecking order for spot starts when someone is injured or needs rest. Regardless, Weigel’s work in 2016 and ranking on this list is no fluke. Look for him to make an impact soon.
- Touki Toussaint – RHP
Toussaint has the distinction of being the prospect the Arizona Diamondbacks included in the trade to bring in utility infielder Philip Gosselin. That trade foreshadowed other dealings with Arizona in the future. It is also worth noting that Gosselin is no longer with Arizona. Toussaint, however, remains with Atlanta and continues to impress.
Toussaint played for Single-A Rome in 2016 and produced mixed results. Walks continued to be an issue, which led to a 3.88 ERA and a 1.33 WHIP over 24 starts. He did manage to log 132.1 innings and 128 strikeouts. He even finished the year on a tear, with five straight starts of one earned run or fewer. Toussaint capped his season with a dominant start in Rome’s postseason run. He scattered one run over eight innings, with six strikeouts and no walks in his South Atlantic League Championship Series outing. The talent is evident, and he will look to build his stock in 2017.
- Kevin Maitan – SS
Maitan is one of the rare players to debut high on many prospect lists despite having yet to play a single professional game. He is a switch-hitting, Venezuelan shortstop who signed with the Braves for $4.25 million at just 16 years of age. Some scouts have already compared Maitan to fellow Venezuelan Miguel Cabrera.
It’s possible Maitan will switch positions as his body matures, but it should not be difficult to find a place to play the youngster. He is said to have an incredible arm, solid range, and an impact bat that should play at every level. Maitan must still figure the game out as he matures. That said, he is the latest in a line of “can’t miss guys” with the tools to set the big leagues ablaze.
- Ronald Acuna – CF
Acuna had a fantastic season in Single-A in 2016. The 19-year-old center fielder posted a line of .311/.387/.431, with an .819 OPS, eight extra-base hits, 18 RBI, and 14 steals in 40 games. Acuna demonstrated can hit for average and power, steal bases, and provide solid defense.
He performed well in Rome, but Acuna did not stop there. He traveled to the Australian Baseball League, where he appeared in 20 games for the Melbourne Aces. To say Acuna did well would be a vast understatement. He slashed .375/.446/.556, with a 1.001 OPS, two home runs, 27 hits, 40 total bases, 15 runs, and 13 steals in 16 attempts. His recent performances have created a lot of buzz and put his name in the spotlight moving forward. A strong 2017 could put Acuna among the top prospects in baseball.
- Mike Soroka – RHP
Soroka spent 2016 as a mainstay in Rome’s championship rotation. Soroka posted a full season of impressive numbers while competing in his age-18 season. Most 18-year-olds are thinking about graduation and potentially college. Soroka spent his summer winning a championship, and posting great numbers while doing so.
The .500 record of 9-9 does not even begin to tell the full story of Soroka’s 2016 season. He made 24 starts with an ERA of 3.02, which ranked second for Rome starters with 20 or more starts. Soroka’s 143 innings pitched was tops for Rome, and he posted a WHIP of 1.13 while allowing just three home runs. Soroka has established himself as a force to be reckoned with.
- Max Fried – LHP
It could be argued that Fried is the most talented pitcher in the Braves organization. There is no telling where he would be ranked had he not sat out all of 2015 while recovering from Tommy John surgery. Fried did a great job getting back on track, with a solid performance in 2016. He posted 103 innings pitched and a 3.93 ERA in 20 starts for Rome. The most impressive stat for Fried was his 112 strikeouts on the season.
There is no doubt that Fried saved his best for last in 2016. The young southpaw had two Glavine-esque performances in the postseason, both of which clinched a series for Rome. Fried won both postseason starts with combined stats of 14.2 innings pitched, two runs allowed, seven hits surrendered, four walks, and 24 strikeouts. That fantastic finish raised the bar for Fried heading into 2017. Fans and coaches will hope for no health setbacks and a full season. A quick rise through the system is not out of the question.
- Ian Anderson – RHP
Anderson was Atlanta’s first draft pick in 2016. The young right-hander signed quickly and was assigned to the Gulf Coast League to begin his career. He passed that first test with flying colors. Anderson made five starts and logged 18 innings without allowing an earned run. His 18 strikeouts against four walks was also an encouraging sign.
Anderson went on to make five more starts for Danville, where he experienced his first struggles. He posted a 3.74 ERA over 21.2 innings pitched, but he did strike out 18 more at Danville. All-in-all, Anderson posted a 2.04 ERA and a 1.13 WHIP in 10 starts and 39.2 innings pitched. Anderson is entering his first full professional season, with a clean slate ahead of him.
- Kolby Allard – LHP
Allard continues to look like the steal of the 2015 draft. Atlanta selected him 14th overall, but he may have been a top-five pick if not for a back issue at the time. The Braves took the gamble, and it is paying off. Allard made 16 starts across two levels in 2016. His 3.73 ERA in Single-A was mainly the result of a slow start to the season. Allard was demoted to Danville, where he made five starts and allowed just four earned runs and no home runs in 27.1 innings pitched.
Allard finished the regular season with eight starts for Rome. He allowed more than four earned runs in just one of those games, and two or fewer in six of them. He recorded nine or more strikeouts twice. Allard is yet another young starter who performed well in Rome’s championship run. He made two starts in the postseason without allowing a run. Allard’s two starts combined for 12 innings pitched, nine hits allowed, no runs, three walks, and 10 strikeouts. The pitching talent in the Braves system is no secret. Fans will be in for a treat with the development of Allard and his cohorts over these next few seasons.
- Sean Newcomb – LHP
Newcomb posted a solid 2016 campaign and ended the season on the precipice of the big leagues. There was lots of speculation that he may have been a late-season call-up. The call never happened, but Newcomb will begin 2017 as a non-roster invite to Spring Training.
In 2016, Newcomb made 27 starts and logged 140 innings for Double-A Mississippi. The young lefty posted a phenomenal 152 strikeouts and allowed just four home runs and a .224 batting average against. There remain some concerns over Newcomb’s ceiling. Walks remain an issue; 71 in 2016 led to an increase in his ERA (3.86). Newcomb has all the tools of a top-notch, left-handed starter in the big leagues. Nevertheless, he must reduce his walks if he hopes to break through and stick in the majors.
- Ozzie Albies – 2B
Albies is the current crown jewel of Atlanta’s farm system. The 19-year-old played 138 games between Double- and Triple-A, while shifting from shortstop to second baseman. It is no secret that the goal is to pair Albies with Swanson for a young double-play tandem up the middle. Albies did everything he could to join Swanson in Atlanta, with a fantastic 2016 season. He posted a triple-slash line of .292/.358/.420 between two minor league levels. Albies even won the South Atlantic League batting title, with an official mark of .315.
Unfortunately, Albies’ 2016 season ended with a fractured elbow in the Double-A playoffs. The good news is that there was no ligament damage. The bad news is that Albies is still recovering. Albies is a non-roster invite to Spring Training, but David O’Brien reports that he will miss about half of the Grapefuit League schedule. As frustrating as the injury is, Albies’ main focus this spring should getting healthy. Atlanta acquired Brandon Phillips to man second base and fill the void created by the shoulder injury to Sean Rodriguez and the delay in Albies’ recovery. There is no rush to get Albies to the majors, but he will likely be given a shot once he is healthy.