We continue our countdown of the top prospect rankings for 2021, and even though coronavirus muddied the waters, we’re gonna put on our GM caps and do some scouting of our favorite Atlanta farmhands. If you missed any of our previous entries, you can find them here:
25. Thomas Burrows (LHP)
I’m a little higher on Burrows than Chase, who had him clocked in at 28. He was eligible to be selected in the Rule 5 draft, and thankfully Atlanta held onto him. Like EDGE rushers in the NFL, you can never have enough lefties out of the ‘pen. Burrows posted a 2.66 ERA over three minor league levels in 2019, but righties tagged him for a 5.64 ERA. He could be a lefty specialist in the future, but there’s a lot to like about his 11.6 K/9. We’ve seen Atlanta develop big college strikeout lefties like AJ Minter (even in a roundabout way), so Burrows could still make an impact, even if he only ranks at 25 for me. The three-batter minimum rule hurts his stock a lot, but he’s got massive potential if he can solve righties in 2021. He’s 26, so the clock’s ticking. We may see him in Atlanta this season.
24. Vaughn Grissom (SS/INF, R/R)
Grissom is an odd prospect. A name that Atlanta fans don’t hear a lot of, he was an 11th round pick in 2019. The shortstop is a jack of all trades, master of none type prospect. He’s well rounded, but he doesn’t do anything super extraordinary. I will say his pro debut in Low-A was pretty impressive. He slashed .288/.361/.400/.761 with 7 doubles, 1 Triple, 3 HR, 23 RBI, 6 BB, and 3 SB for Rome. Grissom’s potential isn’t through the roof, but if he keeps posting numbers like this — he’ll get a shot in the bigs. With Braden Shewmake, newly acquired Jack Mayfield, and a AAA Rule 5 pick in Jaden Miller as the main minor league middle infield depth — Grissom should get plenty of playing time, especially in the wake of AJ Graffanino being part of the Tommy Milone trade.
23. Jesse Franklin (OF, L/L)
Another guy I’m higher on than Chase, I really loved Jesse Franklin’s game out of Michigan. Franklin didn’t get to play after COVID struck, and he broke his collarbone in a skiing accident (what a dude), but he showed major flashes in 2019. A .865 OPS with 15 doubles, 13 Bombs, 55 RBI, and 4 steals in 68 games was enough to get him picked in the 5-round 2020 MLB draft. While his athleticism is above average, a move to a corner outfield position may be in the cards. We’ve seen Atlanta develop raw power prospects before (see: Riley, Austin), so I’m excited about Franklin’s future. The outfield depth in the minors is clearing out with Drew Waters and Cristian Pache graduating sooner rather than later, so Franklin has a fantastic opportunity to join guys like Trey Harris, Michael Harris, and Greyson Jenista as fast risers. I think he could very well be much higher on this list by the end of the year.
22. Mahki Backstrom (1B/OF, L/L)
My boy! I have to give Mahki some shine; I wrote a while back that he could be Atlanta’s next breakout prospect. Well, consider this his breakout for me. From that same article:
2019 Stats (Rk): .300/.402/.457/.860, 5 2B, 2 HR, 8 RBI, 1 SB (23 Games)
While this is a petite sample size in Rookie Ball, Backstrom has the swing and athleticism to be molded into an elite hitting prospect as Atlanta has done with so many other guys. While Freddie Freeman has first base locked down until his retirement (hopefully), the DH in the NL and LF may be in Mahki’s future. Backstrom was an 18th round pick by the Braves and just turned 19 years old. He weighed about 220 when he was drafted, but he looks to have put on some more muscle. Backstrom has been called “lumbering” by scouts when he runs, but at 6’5, he takes those long Freddie Freeman-esque strides around the bases.
Backstrom is oozing with raw power, and if the DH comes to the NL — watch out. He has to cut the strikeouts, but he could be 2021’s Bryce Ball. I’m willing to bet Braves fans take notice of him before the end of the season.
21. CJ Alexander (3B, L/R)
Friend of the podcast, CJ Alexander had a rough go with injuries and inconsistency in 2019. However, He’s still a name to watch in this system. His combined .117 AVG & .405 OPS in 2019 over 43 games was brutal, but upper-body injuries are tough on third basemen. He’s still only one season removed from .352/.429/.495/.924 across Rookie & A+ ball. 2021 is truly a make or break year for CJ, but I think he’ll make it. Third base is a sore spot in this system; he’s actually the only pure one clocking in on my Top 30.
25. Mahki Backstrom (1B/OF)
Backstrom doesn’t have the experience to make many the Braves top prospect lists; however, while Atlanta has a lot of high-quality talent at the top of their farm system, the lower levels are pretty barren. Backstrom is one of those guys that will start to get talked about more this season. Unfortunately, he didn’t get to play in 2020 — like most lower-level prospects — but he impressed in his first stint of pro-ball, hitting over .300 with a couple of homers and five doubles in just 23 games.
24. Greyson Jenista (OF)
Once a second-round pick, Jenista just hasn’t shown enough consistency with the bat to move up the prospect rankings. He only managed to hit .233 in 2019 and struck out 144 times in just 130 games. There is still hope that he can become a power bat at the major league level, but he’ll never get the chance if he can’t cut down on the strikeouts.
23. Ricky DeVito (P)
DeVito is an 8th round pick out of Seton Hall that pitched very well in his first half-season of pro-ball back in 2019, recording 35 strikeouts in 36.2 innings. He was so impressive that he was already in Rome by season’s end. It’s disappointing he didn’t get to build off of that in 2020, but the Braves are still high on his projectability.
22. C.J. Alexander (3B)
In 2018, C.J. Alexander was Bryce Ball before Bryce Ball. He hit a ridiculous .352 with a .429 on-base percentage in 52 games between three levels (Rookie, A, A+). Unfortunately, Tommy John Surgery cut his 2018 campaign short, and he didn’t look like himself when he returned, hitting just .117 in 43 games. Now, he’s missed an entire year of development because of the coronavirus. It’s safe to say the hype has passed, but there is clearly still some talent here. We’ll have to see if he can bounce back in 2021.
21. Alex Jackson (C)
Jackson is as boom or bust of a prospect in the entire system. In 2019, he slugged 28 homers in just 85 games for Gwinnett, but he also struck out 118 times over that span. That’s discouraging when attempting to project a prospect’s success at the next level, and in his brief stints with the Braves thus far, he’s looked lost at the plate. I still think he can figure it out with time, but he’s running out of chances with William Contreras and Shea Langeliers on the horizon.