Just last week we discussed the five Braves prospects that showed up on MLB Pipeline’s 2020 Top-100 list, here:
- Cristian Pache, OF, No. 13
- Drew Waters, OF, No. 26
- Ian Anderson, RHP, No. 37
- Kyle Wright, RHP, No. 52
- Shea Langeliers, C, No. 70
Those five names above shouldn’t surprise anyone, given that all are either proven prospects or guys with incredible upside. Honestly, what’s surprising is that there weren’t more players from the Braves’ system, as the entire class is about as deep as it’s been in several years.
Speaking of depth, last September, our own Jake Gordon compiled a list of five Braves’ prospects he believed would make this year’s Top 100 (excluding ones that had already been included before). Gordon’s list was about as good as it gets, as I expected at least a few of his picks to make the cut last week; however, surprisingly, none of them did:
(Our Braves’ ranking in parenthesis)
- Bryce Ball, OF (No. 21)
- Trey Harris, OF (No. 13)
- Kyle Muller, LHP (No. 9)
- Braden Shewmake, SS (No. 8)
- Tucker Davidson, LHP (No. 5)
So today, I’m going to attempt the same thing Gordon did, though I like his list so much that I’m just going to add to it. I still believe all five of the players he listed have a strong chance to crack the Top 100 this season (granted, a few may lose their prospect tag by the end of the season), so there’s no need to delve into the players he has already written about several months ago. Obviously, ALL of these players will not make next year’s Top 100, so look at this as the pool of players that have the best shot. Here are my Braves’ prospects who could break the Top 100 list in 2021:
Jasseel De La Cruz, RHP
I have Cruz pegged as the top “up-and-coming” Braves’ starting pitching prospect, behind the current crop of top-tier pitchers that are right on the cusp (guys like Wright, Wilson, Anderson, Muller, and Davidson). Last season was Cruz’s breakout year, as he threw the first no-hitter in franchise history for the High-A Florida Fire Frogs back in May, and wound up making it to Double-A Mississippi as a 22-year-old.
It’s pretty amazing what Cruz accomplished in 2019, given that in each of the three seasons prior, the righty never surpassed 43 innings-pitched. Last year Cruz logged 133 frames, all while preventing runs (3.25 ERA), striking out a bunch (8.2 K/9), and limiting walks (3.3 BB/9).
Despite Cruz now being on the Braves’ 40-man, scouts still don’t see him as an MLB starter. I disagree. I think the large amount of talented starting pitchers in the Braves’ system perhaps has clouded people’s expectations a bit. Cruz sits in the mid-90s and can run his fastball up to 98-99 mph at times. His heater and slider provide the strikeouts, but Cruz also has a developing changeup to give him a reliable three-pitch mix. A great year in Mississippi and Gwinnett this season, and he’ll make the list in 2021.
Greyson Jenista, OF
For a player with 60-grade raw power (on an 80-grade scale), it remains a mystery what exactly happened to Jenista last season. The former second-round pick had a promising pro debut in 2018 as a 21-year-old, playing at three different levels and posting a near-average 96 wRC+ overall; however, Jenista developed too much swing-and-miss in 2019 and struck out over 30% of the time in High-A Florida, resulting in a .233 AVG overall. Jenista’s struggles against right-handed pitching played a big part, given he hit .176 with zero homers versus them, as opposed to a .248 mark with nine long balls against lefties. Though, he did show flashes last July in Mississippi as he slashed .333/.402/.481 with three home runs in 26 games during the month, ultimately earning himself a trip to Arizona for the AFL.
Jenista has too much talent not to be putting up big numbers. I’m expecting the 6-foot-4 slugger to turn things around in 2020. He will also be with the Braves in Spring Training this year.
CJ Alexander, 3B
Just like Jenista above, Alexander is a big-bodied power-hitter that struggled last season after having a great start in the pros, but injuries played a substantial role in that. Still, the regression was rather significant, given Alexander posted a .352 AVG and .924 OPS in the lower levels of the minors in 2018, compared to a horrendous .117 AVG and .425 OPS in a shortened campaign of 43 games in 2019.
The problem is that Alexander will be 24-years-old in July and has yet to prove he can handle the pitching in the upper minors, shown by a .117 AVG in 24 games in Double-A Mississippi last August. He needs to turn things around quickly.
I’ll remind em 😴 #2020 pic.twitter.com/Ep4lJb0coj
— Cj Alexander jr. (@CAlexander_52) January 22, 2020
I think the talent remains, and with him fully aware of his current standing within the Braves’ system, I believe Alexander will kick off the 2020 season strong.
Ricky DeVito, RHP (SportsTalkATL #23)
I wouldn’t quite predict a Top 100 list for DeVito just yet, but the early signs suggest the former eighth-round pick out of Seton Hall is the real deal. Coming into the MLB Draft, DeVito was in the low-90s as a three-pitch pitcher, but by the end of the season, he was reportedly up to 97 mph with his fastball, according to FanGraphs. The 6-foot-2 righty posted a 3.44 ERA with 8.6 K/9 and 3.9 BB/9 in 36.2 innings across rookie ball and Single-A Rome in 2019.
William Contreras, C (SportsTalkATL #10)
I will admit, I’m not near as high on Contreras as most people, but the kid still has a decent amount of upside left in him as a 22-year-old bat-first catcher. He just needs to get back to producing on offense, as he did in 2018 when he hit .285 with 11 home runs. I’m hoping the Braves will take their time with him in 2020 and keep him in Double-A Mississippi for the entire season, as he’ll most likely compete with Shea Langeliers for playing-time. Contreras doesn’t need to be J.T. Realmuto, but if he can rediscover even 75% of what he had two seasons ago, he’ll be the Braves’ future catcher.