Here is the final ten of last year's top 30 prospects. Expect this year's top thirty to begin within a few days over at chopnation.com.
10. Jamie Richmond – Right-Hand Pitcher – Age: 21…Here is one of the best, but not well-known stats of the year. In 67 innings, Richmond struck out 52 and (…wait for it…) walked FOUR. Let me emphasize that. For every person Jamie Richmond walked last year, he struck out 10.5 batters. Granted, he was at Danville, but still, how can you not get excited by that?
Richmond was a 31st rounder in 2004 and did not play until the following season, a likely draft-and-follow. He showed solid skills in eight games out of the bullpen for the GCL Braves, but it was this year that Richmond exploded. He also did not allow a homerun, just 51 hits, and ended the year with a 7-1 record, 1.21 ERA, and a 0.82 WHIP. It might be just one year and I might be crazy to rank Richmond this high, but he deserves with such an incredible year.
ETA: Mid 2010
Richmond is one of my favorite hurlers, though he was not as amazing this year as he was in 2006. He was one of Rome's most consistent pitchers, leading them in starts, innings, and K's. His 3.05 ERA was decent, but his 1.20 WHIP was hardly anything to write home about. Obviously, his K/BB ratio couldn't be as good, but 98 K's to just 25 walks is not a bad thing. I think he can rebound to have an even bigger year and my disappointment over what is considered a pretty decent year speaks well of what I expect out of Richmond.
9. Neftali Feliz – Right-Hand Pitcher – Age: 18…Ranked eighth in Baseball America’s Gulf Coast League rankings, Feliz is getting more and more press seemingly every time someone posts a Top Braves prospect list. My rankings will be no different. While the Dominican reportedly has a wild delivery, if he stays healthy, he could be special.
In his first professional season, he tossed 29 homerless innings, striking out 42. The 14 walks and four wild pitches show a hurler needing a little harnessing, but nothing too out of the ordinary. He received equal time as a reliever and a starter so it is unknown where the Braves ultimately see him, but with time, he could be the next Jose Capellan (a phenom) or something even better.
ETA: Early 2011
Feliz remains a big-time arm in need of sculpting, but it will not be done with the Braves. He played very well with Danville until he was included in the Mark Teixeria deal. Texas pushed him to get a taste of A-ball and his numbers were not quite as good.
8. Van Pope – Third Base – Age: 23…Pope has quietly been a solid player for the Braves since they selected him in the 2004 draft in the fifth round. Last year with Myrtle Beach, he showed impressive power despite playing with the Pelicans as he pitched in 31 doubles and 15 homeruns. If that was not enough, he added a .090 IsoOBP.
With Eric Campbell in the system, it is understandable why Pope has received so little press. However, Pope has a pretty good chance of succeeding Chipper Jones in the future. He is also an excellent defender and that will be welcomed after watching Jones’s slow reaction time. Recently, Pope made the Baseball America’s Top 10 Prospects forn the Braves organization and provided he performs well at Mississippi, he could be knocking on the door pretty soon. I look for him to get some experience at first base to add some versatility.
ETA: Early 2009
Pope was extremly solid in 2006, but was abysmal last season. He remains one of the best infield defenders in the organization, but his time as a pretty good prospect is dwindling. Last year with Mississippi, Pope failed to secure a .300 OBP and OPS'd .638. While there are few third base prospects close to the majors to push him, his bat, which was always a question mark, will need to be much better next year.
7. Scott Thorman – First Base/Outfield – Age: 25…The only thing Scott Robert Thorman has done since he was drafted with the 30th overall selection in 2000 is hit. While his numbers do not stand up to some of the big-time first base prospects in the game, considering the pitcher-friendly parks he has called home during his ride up the minor league system, I believe we have yet to see the best he can provide.
Thorman got his first shot at major league pitching this year and was immediately thrust into the third spot in the Braves order for a time. The first person he faced? Curt Schilling. Welcome to the big leagues. All in all, Thorman showed explosive power (16 of his 30 hits went for extra bases), but struggled with consistent contact, showing little of his decent plate discipline. Ultimately, I see Thorman settling into a very Adam LaRoche-like offensive profile. His best power seasons have come in the past two years so he still may have some power he has yet to take advantage of.
ETA: Early 2007
Well, we all know how Thor's 2007 went. After essentially being given the lionshare of first base duties, the beast from Canada flopped. He continued to show explosive power, but he rarely hit the ball. Finally, the Braves acquired Teix and Thor spent the final two months as a bat off the bench. He could continue to be that, but his lack of verstility on the bench could be a problem. I believe he will be traded sometime.
6. Joey Devine – Right-Hand Pitcher – Age: 23…Not every college reliever is built the same. The Braves were tempted by bad pitching in their own bullpen, excellent minor league numbers by Devine, and success stories like Huston Street and thrust Devine into a significant role in their bullpen in 2005. It did not go too well, I am afraid. Everyone knows about the two Grand Slams he gave up in his first two games. In addition, he gave up Chris Burke’s 18th inning homerun to end the Braves season. Last year, he looked stellar in spring training, though late struggles had him headed to Richmond, which was the right idea. Injuries prompted a call-up that produced little success and injuries of his own quickly followed. In September, Devine was used as a situational righty (a ROOGY?) to moderate promise.
That is all things we know right now. Where Devine goes from here is still to be decided. The former Wolfpack member from NC State has a great arm. He reminds me of Tim Spooneybarger in the sense that he has great natural movement. Talent wise, Devine could be anything from a great setup reliever to a shutdown closer. Will he get there? Probably not next year, but I think he will eventually get it together as long as Atlanta treads softly.
ETA: Mid 2007
Devine finally started to put it together as he was healthy and effective for the entire 2007 campaign. He finished fourth in the Southern League in saves with 16 in 33 games. He was also on the Ascanio/Devine shuttle between Mississippi and Atlanta where each pitcher would get a game or two in the majors before getting demoted again. He added to his resume with an impressive 17 games with the eventual International League champs, Richmond. His control remained problematic in the majors, but he was much more confident in ten outings. Out of options, Devine's time to shine is now.
5. Brandon Jones – Outfield – Age: 23…In the recent Collective Bargaining Agreement, they basically killed off “draft-and-follow” players, or players that are drafted, play a season at a junior college or whatever, and then the team re-evaluates if they want to sign him or if the player wants to re-enter the draft. Jones was one of those players and was a big find for the Braves after he was selected in the 23rd round. In three years since he signed merely days before the 2004 draft, he has handled himself to the tune of a .819 OPS.
Jones has not played a full season in any year (signing late and injuries played their part), but after 58 games with Myrtle Beach this year, he was promoted to Mississippi and actually hit better than he had at the Beach, showing off a .477 SLG power and a .273 batting average. His projections vary, but I see him along the lines of 20-25 HR, solid contact skills, and generally a good hitter. Maybe not an All-Star, but a guy who keeps a position from being a weakness.
ETA: Early 2009
Like many of the players who had Mississippi dominating the first half, Jones earned promotions the rest of the year and even got a chance in the majors in September. In a season that saw the Braves trade many of their top prospects and other top prospects regressed, Jones flourished for the Braves, hitting a combined .295/.367/.490 with 19 homers and 100 RBIs for Mississippi and Richmond. That 100 RBIs was best in the organization. He went 2-for-19 in the majors with a double, but has a good chance of competing for a job in the spring.
4. Eric Campbell – Third Base – Age: 21…In 2005, Campbell, the former second rounder from Indiana, showed why the Braves selected him as high as they did for he took home just about every conceivable honor for his success at advanced rookie level Danville. Last year, he was almost as impressive, hitting .296 with a .517 SLG. Adding to that, he stole 18 bases and mashed 22 homeruns for Rome.
Where Campbell will play is up for debate. Most believe he will be moved to second and become the long-term answer at that position, opening third base for Van Pope. His experience at second in the Hawaii Winter League gives credence to that. Campbell is a hacker like Jeff Francoeur, but seems to make more contact, striking out in just 15% of his at-bats while playing most of 2006 at a younger-than-average age for his level. Keep an eye on Campbell. He could be fast tracked if he handles Myrtle Beach.
ETA: Late 2008/Early 2009
Spoiler alert - none of the top four in this list will be in the 2007 top ten. The top three were all traded, but Campbell's attitude and regression as a player was his biggest fault. He batted .221/.312/.406 in 81 injury-and-suspension hurt games for Myrtle Beach. The walks, 36, were a new personal high and he showed enough power, but simply sucked. He will need a major bounceback year to remain in the Braves plans.
3. Matt Harrison – Left-Hand Pitcher – Age: 21…Matt Harrison has a real shot of making some moves in the organization as soon as this season. Since he was selected with the 97th choice in 2003, all Harrison has done is become more and more impressive. While with Danville in 2004, he gave up nearly ten hits per nine innings, yet considering his age of 18, even keeping the hits per nine innings fewer than ten was impressive. He came onto the map while again playing under the average age of the league the following season, going 12-7 with a 3.23 ERA and a 1.08 WHIP. Last year, between Myrtle Beach and Mississippi, he again kept performing at a high level.
If Harrison does have any problems it is the fact he gives up a good amount of homeruns considering the parks he has played in. But because he walks under two per nine innings and has a career WHIP of 1.17, he can give up 35 homeruns a year and still be a leader on the staff. Harrison is the one serious pitching prospect the Braves currently have in their system. If labels make you happy, Harrison could become a number two starter in the upcoming years.
ETA: Late 2007/Early 2008
My favorite Braves pitching prospect is no more after he was included in the Teix trade. Harrison dealt with injuries and was not as effective as he was the previous year, posting a 1.30 WHIP. The addition of Beau Jones to the trade was said to be a little backup in case Harrison was not able to stay healthy. He was named one of the Arizona Fall League's top 22 players to finish the year however.
2. Jarrod Saltalamacchia – Catcher – Age: 21…With Salty, his 2006 season needs to be taken into context. He suffered from a wrist injury and considering the fact he turned 21 last May, he was pretty young to play in the Southern League. Whether or not he repeats the level next year, Salty still remains among the crème of the crop as far as prospects go in the organization and one of the top three catcher prospects in the minor leagues. His power struggled last year, but he showed explosive power with Myrtle Beach in 2005. Posting a .200 IsoSLG while playing half of your games in that pitcher’s paradise is astonishing.
Salty has the potential to be the best power hitter the Braves have developed in a decade. His plate discipline is incredible and he is able to rebound as he should, Salty will once again re-establish himself as one of the best prospects in baseball. However, will he go the Andy Marte way and find himself traded or will he be moved to a position so the Braves can get him into the lineup? Hopefully, the latter.
ETA: Mid-to-Late 2008
What is there that needs to be said about Salty? After absolutely crushing the Southern League for a month, Salty was promoted to the majors and held his own. Over his next 44 games, Salty hit .284/.333/.411 and showed a strong throwing arm. Saldy, the Teix trade gobbled him up, too. He hit for more power with Texas, but his AVG/OBP slumped. I still think he will be a yearly .900 OPS guy within 2-3 years.
1. Elvis Andrus – Shortstop – Age: 18…Elvis may be the most popular Braves prospect right now and when you are already playing A-ball at 18, you should be pretty popular. In fact, he did not turn 18 until late August so he spent most of the season at 17. Still, he hit .265. Andrus is most definitely for real.
It is hard to project Andrus so I will say this. He has the potential to be the best the shortstop in Braves history. Too much? When you take into account his age, his relative success, and the fact that scouts love his possibilities, I have to believe that once he develops a little more, both physically and mentally, he is going to be a consistent force for years to come.
For me to rank him this high took a lot of convincing because he does not have the resumes that Matt Harrison and Jarrod Saltalamacchia easily present. However, there is not a Brave in the system right now that I believe can be Andrus’ equal in the terms of what he can do. Whether or not he actually does…well, that is why they play the games, correct?
ETA: Early 2010
It still amazes me what Teix cost the Braves. My top three prospects from last year, not to mention my #9. Andrus turned 19 in late August and finished strong to go with his birthday as he hit .300/.369/.373 after the trade. He was on his way to losing the number one slot in this organization before the trade as he hit .244/.330/.335 with Myrtle Beach. Just the same, there is a lot to be excited about with Andrus and he too was part of the Top 22 AFL players this year.