Outside of the Braves, only the Dodgers and Rays can argue they have a top-five farm system and a shot at a World Series title this year. Despite all of the international signing sanctions, the Braves boast one of the best minor league systems, featuring five players who cracked MLB.com’s 2020 Top 100 Prospect List.
However, there are always prospects who seem to fly under the radar for various reasons. Most of the time it is because a player is new to the system, the sample size is small, and they haven’t faced upper-level competition yet. Of course, that is not always the case… every player has a different story. Just for fun, let’s take a look at some examples from the Braves’ farm rankings over the past decade:
- Evan Gattis had a breakout 2011 down in the minors, but due to his older age, many did not consider him a highly rated prospect. Only after following it up with a dominant performance a year later did he crack any sort of list. The organization caught on, but at the time, due to his janitorial background and advanced age, he was the ultimate diamond in the rough.
- Though he made plenty of appearances on prospect lists, Johan Camargo was never highly regarded in the minors. We all know about his 2019 struggles, but he was a 3.0 WAR ballplayer in 2018 and still factors in the future of the team, especially with the departure of Josh Donaldson.
- When Ronald Acuna Jr. and Cristian Pache debuted on MLB.com’s top 30 Braves prospect list, they were both ranked outside the top 15.
Baseball evaluators have a job for a reason, and although the bust rate for prospects may be high, very few players fall completely under their radar. However, they can be hesitant at times, wanting production over a long stretch to back up their rankings. The purpose of this article is to identify two recent draft picks — one hitter and one pitcher — who are not currently viewed as top prospects, but have a legitimate shot at being above-average major leaguers in the long run, whether it is with Atlanta or another team.
The guy who is not getting nearly enough love is slugger Bryce Ball. We have written on Ball in the past, but if he is not on your radar now, he needs to be. Like Gattis, if Ball can produce as he did last season for another year, he has a legitimate chance at being a top 10 prospect in the system. He did nothing but mash at the NCAA level with Dallas Baptist, yet he fell to the Braves in the 24th round of the 2019 MLB Draft. By season’s end, he had already established himself as a force in Rome. Between Rookie ball and A-ball, he posted a ridiculous 1.023 OPS.
It is understandable to be bearish and patient on a late-round pick who has not even spent a full season in the minors. However, I do not put too much stock in where a player is drafted. It appears that Ball may be the best pure power hitter on the farm already, and in my book, that makes him a top 15 prospect in the system.
With increasing optimism that the NL may incorporate the DH by 2021, Ball now has a path to the big leagues, especially since he will turn 22 next season. He is a guy who is not talked about enough, but that will change if he continues at this pace in the higher levels of the minors. The organization saw enough to invite him to Spring Training, so we will get a chance to see what he can do against some major league pitching. Considering the lack of depth the Braves have at first base, where he is currently positioned, he will have nobody blocking him moving forward as long as he rakes.
It is also easy to fade relievers as prospects because they have less of a long-term outlook for a team. But Kasey Kalich was drafted in the fourth round last year and has a fantastic shot at developing into a late-inning reliever for Atlanta. The Braves spending that much equity at the position in the first place shows they are big-time believers in his talent.
The second closer out of Texas A&M in recent memory, Kalich has incredible stuff that makes hitters miss. Like Ball, he started hot right out of the gate, earning a prompt promotion to A ball, where he excelled. It is a small sample size, but in 14 appearances, he posted a 1.25 ERA. The most notable thing holding him back, like many young relievers, will be harnessing his control and adding additional pitches to his repertoire.
Another similarity between Kalich and Ball is that he has already established himself as the top relief prospect in the system in a short period, especially after Thomas Burrows’ struggles in AAA Gwinnett. The Braves haven’t brought in a highly touted relief pitcher since they drafted his fellow alumnus A.J. Minter back in 2015. Sure, many of their starter prospects will eventually turn to relievers, which is inevitable. But Kasey has already established his role, and if he continues to excel, relievers can move through the minors quicker than any other position. Kalich could be a guy that contributes to the major league team as soon as next season.
Keeping stock of the Braves’ draft selections is more important than ever due to the sanctions dropped on them by the MLB in late 2017. Though the players who were stripped from the team have not amounted to much, the team still has restrictions in the international prospect pool through 2021. These picks are a prized commodity for the Braves, and picking up two youngsters who, by default, become the most talented players at their respective position on the farm, is a big deal. Keep an eye on them.