While we haven’t hit the All-Star game yet, baseball has already reached the halfway mark. The Braves have played 82 games already and many minor leagues have finished the first half of their season (many of the lower minor leagues have a winner in the first and second half).
With that in mind, it’s time to take a look back at the Braves top 10 prospects coming into the season and see how they have fared before we release BravesFTW’s midseason top prospects list in this column next week.
Thus far, six of the Braves top 10 prospects have spent time at the Major League level and three of them (Freeman, Beachy and Kimbrel) are contenders for the Rookie of the Year award at this point.
1. Julio Teheran – Starting Pitcher – MLB and AAA
Teheran wasn’t great in his two MLB spot starts but he has absolutely dominated AAA hitters. Arguably the top pitching prospect in baseball coming into the season, Teheran has cemented that status as his own by posting a sparkling 1.79 ERA, 2.59 FIP, 4.00 K/BB and 0.946 WHIP in 85.2 minor league innings.
While his strikeouts are down overall (just 7.6 per nine innings compared to 10.0 across three levels last year) Teheran has managed to exceed the lofty expectations placed on him and remains a future ace for the Braves.
2. Freddie Freeman - First Base - MLB
After a slow start to the season Freeman has come on strong and been one of the Braves best hitters over the past month. His season has been similar to his AAA season last year in which he struggled to adjust out of the gate but eventually raked after he got acclimated.
Freeman is currently in the running for the Rookie of the Year award with a .272/.229/.434 slash line and continues to improve. Since the beginning of May, Freeman has put up a .299/.351/.460 slash line and hit six of his nine homeruns. If last year was any indication, Freeman could keep up his recent pace for the remainder of the season.
3. Mike Minor - Starting Pitcher - MLB and AAA
Minor lost the fifth starter battle to Brandon Beachy in spring training but has made six MLB starts due to injuries and compiled 0.9 WAR in that short span. While his 4.69 ERA isn’t pretty, Minor is sporting a 2.73 FIP and 3.73 xFIP in the majors, showing that he has pitched pretty well in his few starts (although control has been an issue).
Minor has been terrific in AAA with a 2.88 ERA and 3.58 K/BB ratio. He is still striking out more than a batter per inning and continues to outperform the expectations placed on him when he was originally drafted. As the season wears on Minor will likely continue bounce between Gwinnett and Atlanta.
4. Randall Delgado - Starting Pithcer - MLB and AA
Another starting pitcher who made his MLB debut this year, Delgado doesn’t have the high ceiling of the guys ahead of him but has performed well so far this year. Coming off a breakout season in 2010 when he dominated the Carolina League, Delgado has spent the entire year in AA Mississippi and put up solid numbers.
While his 3.68 ERA and 3.86 FIP aren’t spectacular (largely due to an increase in walk rate), Delgado is still striking out eight batters per nine innings and has a solid 2.57 K/BB ratio. Hitters have hit for a higher average off Delgado this year but he still has held his own as a 21 year old in AA. As the season progresses Delgado will likely head to Gwinnett to get some experience against AAA hitters.
5. Arodys Vizcaino - Starting Pitcher - AA and A+
Vizcaino was only ranked this low because of injury issues that he has had in the past. Based on potential, he’s probably behind only Teheran. Thus far in 2011, Vizcaino has stayed healthy and shown why the Braves targeted him in the deal that sent Javier Vazquez to New York. Between A+ and AA (with the majority of his starts coming at A+) Vizcaino has put up a 3.01 ERA and 3.22 FIP.
The 20-year olds numbers have taken slight hit in AA, but that’s to be expected as he adjusts to facing better hitters. Vizcaino has struck out a batter per inning this season and put up an impressive 3.43 K/BB ratio between the two leagues. If he can continue to stay healthy, Vizcaino will be competing for a shot on the MLB roster late next year.
6. Craig Kimbrel - Relief Pitcher - MLB
Groomed to be the Braves closer, Killa Craig has been one of the best relievers in the MLB during his rookie year. Thus far, Kimbrel is on pace to break the rookie record for saves, is leading all MLB relievers in WAR and FIP and has whiffed batters at an astonishing 14.29 K/9 rate.
Kimbrel, along with Jonny Venters, has given the Braves the most dynamic 8th/9th inning combo in the major leagues. Despite a terrific 2.63 ERA, Kimbrel’s 1.48 FIP, 2.09 xFIP and .325 BABIP show that he could be even better as the season progresses. In his short (61.2 inning) MLB career, Kimbrel already has 105 strikeouts and should be a force at the back of the Braves bullpen for years.
7. Matt Lipka - Shortstop - A
Lipka is the first prospect on the list that hasn’t had a good (or great) season in 2011. The Braves top draft pick just a year ago, Lipka has struggled in his first full season of professional baseball and has been unable to match the impressive .288/.344/.380 line he posted last year.
A speedy, athletic shortstop that may end up in the outfield, Lipka has even struggled on the base paths. His 14 stolen bases thus far are good, but not against being caught nine times. Lipka’s .246/.293/.279 slash line in A-ball shows he hasn’t done anything right at the plate. Lipka is still only 19, so there is time to turn things around and eventually become a leadoff hitter at the Major League level.
8. Brandon Beachy - Starting Pitcher - MLB and AAA
When Beachy made his way onto this list after going undrafted, it was a surprise. What Beachy has done so far in 2011 has been an even bigger surprise. In 10 starts (he missed some time due to injury) Beachy has a 3.04 ERA, 2.89 xFIP, 10.54 K/9 and 4.40 K/BB ratio. Beachy’s dominant performance gives the Braves a third rookie of the year candidate from this list.
While Beachy likely will be unable to maintain his current level of dominance (his strikeout and walk ratios are both better than throughout his minor league career) he has established himself as a member of the Braves starting rotation and silenced critics who believed he would be nothing more than a bullpen arm (as well as the critics who thought he wasn’t good enough to get drafted).
9. J.J. Hoover - Starting Pitcher - AAA and AA
Hoover is probably the least exciting player on this list. He has been called the most average pitching prospect ever in the past as he doesn’t do anything exceptionally well – except get results. This year Hoover has pitched in AA and AAA (although he was terrible in his two AAA appearances) and has recently been coming out of the bullpen despite his success as a starter.
In AA, he has posted a 2.83 ERA and 3.29 FIP in 70 innings while striking out 67 batters and walking just 21. If everyone ahead of him stays in the organization, the Braves don’t have room for Hoover despite his ability to be a third or fourth starter who can eat up innings on any level. It remains to be seen whether Hoover is pitching from the bullpen because the Braves don’t think his future is in the rotation or simply because of the logjam of pitching in the higher minor leagues. Hoover could see Major League action within the next year if he continues to impress.
10. Edward Salcedo - Shortstop/Third Base - A
Salcedo might have the most raw talent of any hitter in the Braves system, but you wouldn’t know it looking at his 2010 stats. A powerful shortstop who may eventually end up at third base, Salcedo played well in the Domincan Summer League before coming to the United States to play in the South Atlantic League last year. Salcedo put up Uggla-like numbers in the US, hitting just .197 with a .534 OPS.
2011 has been a different story for Salcedo. While he still hasn’t reached his full potential and is continuously making errors in the field, Salcedo has rebounded nicely at the plate. His slash line is .274/.345/.451 and he is showing signs of developing power with nine homers on the season. If Salcedo can continue to cut down on his strikeouts he should continue to develop at the plate. Just 19 years old, Salcedo is a few years away from contributing in Atlanta but could be a perennial All-Star if he continues to develop.
All in all, the Braves top 10 prospects have had a ton of success so far. Only Lipka hasn’t performed up to expectations and some have blown them away. For any team to have three legitimate Rookie of the Year candidates at midseason is impressive (especially when Jason Heyward, Jonny Venters and Tommy Hanson just came out of the same system). The Braves have one of the strongest young cores in all of baseball and should continue to develop high end starting pitchers over the next few years.