Baseball America, one of the top sources for the minor leagues, posted its top 10 Atlanta Braves prospects today. A rundown of the list:
1. Lucas Sims
2. Christian Bethancourt
3. J.R. Graham
4. Jason Hursh
5. Mauricio Cabrera
6. Jose Peraza
7. David Hale
8. Victor Caratini
9. Tommy La Stella
10. Sean Gilmartin
As in years past, the top half of the Braves top 10 is pretty set. You can swap the top 5 around in any order your heart desires, but the talent level is fairly similar. Lucas Sims at No. 1 is set in stone.
I saw Sims in late July of this season and wrote a report here. It wasn't a good look, but I still saw what Sims offers, and he's the clear No. 1 in the Braves system.
Bethancourt has the potential to become an everyday catcher for a good team like the Braves. He has an elite arm, plus glove and 5+ power who should hold his own with the bat with time. I wrote a more detailed post on him here. He's deserving of a 2.
You could also make the argument that Graham is deserving of a 2 ranking. He's right behind Sims in terms of pure stuff, currently with a plus fastball and slider, and a changeup that's coming along. The changeup is the difference between the two pitchers, and it's the reason some may hesitate to call Graham a slam-dunk starter down the road, but it looks good enough to hold its own in my eyes.
Despite being a college product, Hursh isn't as polished as some at this stage, one reason being Tommy John surgery in 2011. His secondaries are a tick behind a plus fastball, but he has the aptitude and talent to make them average offerings. Hursh throws hard and is a very strong candidate for a major league bullpen role, but I know many feel he has what it takes to be a starter, and I can't fault them for that.
Cabrera is in a similar position as Hursh with a hard fastball and secondaries that are a tick behind. However, he also shows the talent to turn them into average offerings with time. If so, he's a 3-ceiling. If not, he's a late-innings reliever.
Peraza is a solid middle infielder with plus speed and a good glove who should stick at shortstop. He shows the ability to make consistent contact and has a 5+ hit tool, but he's a long way away. Double-A in a couple years will determine whether he can keep the bat in his hands.
After Peraza, the talent takes a step back. Hale has a good arm and had some impressive innings in his first big league stint this season, but his ceiling is a 5. The same goes for Gilmartin. I think there will be questions about Hale being on the list - he's making a significant leap that might not be fully warranted, but his major league innings likely provided a boost.
It's good to see Caratini getting some attention from BA. I get the feeling he could fly under the radar for some prospect publications, even though he deserves a top 10 ranking in this system. La Stella is getting the hype this fall from Arizona thanks to impressive numbers, but he remains a player with only one above-average tool (hit), and he shouldn't place any higher.
If Luis Merejo had been able to stay on the field, he might have received attention for the list. Matt Lipka might appear on some lists this offseason, but I question the overall potential of the hit tool to back up his solid athleticism. Aaron Northcraft and Cody Martin are a couple polished minor league arms who are right outside the top 10, and you could make the case for one or both instead of Hale or Gilmartin.
One could also make a case for Kyle Kubitza and Edward Salcedo, the latter being that fringe-top 10 guy for the past couple years. But all this goes to show there isn't a lot of depth in the system. Atlanta has a solid and legit top 5, but beyond that, you could move 6-20 players around without a lot of debate. That can be a good sign if you have deep talent, but it can also mean you're short on depth, and the latter is more true for the Braves.
Baseball America recently ranked Atlanta's farm system as 10th-best according to talent that is close to big league ready and impactful. That includes Alex Wood, Bethancourt, La Stella, Joey Terdoslavich and Salcedo. The problem is, aside from Wood and Bethancourt, the talent isn't that impactful. La Stella and Terdoslavich have low ceilings, and Salcedo is a high-risk player who will likely need adjustment time in the higher levels.
The ceilings of Atlanta's higher-end prospects are good, but most are several years away and remain high-risk prospects. The Braves are graduating Wood and Bethancourt now, but that's all they have to look forward to in the near future.