SportsTalkATL’s 2021 Braves Top 30 Prospect List: Examining the list’s honorable mentions, graduates and more

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Following a month-long postponement to the start of the season, the minor leagues are back in full force in 2021 and that means we can finally watch the Braves most heralded prospects again. Last year’s canceled season was obviously warranted given the real world issues the sport was forced to deal with, but boy was it rough for those of us that religiously follow the team’s next group of stars. 

Back in January, despite literally zero data to pull from the lack of a 2020 season, Chase and Jake did the nearly impossible task of updating the site’s Braves Top 30 Prospect List. Naturally, with no games played the previous year, most of the list remained very similar to what it was in 2019. But now that we’re at roughly the 30-game mark for most of the full-season minor league affiliates, it’s time to update SportsTalkATL’s top 30. 

I’ve already completed an updated version of the latest list of Braves prospects, which I will begin rolling out this week in a series of three installments. However, first there are some important changes that need to be covered so that we’re all on the same page. 

Prospects no longer with org

First off, we should probably discuss the prospects from the previous list that are no longer part of the Braves organization. 

The trio of Philip Pfeifer, Patrick Weigel and Jeremy Walker are, for various reasons, no longer with the Braves. Save for Walker (ranked no. 16 on our January list), these were reliever-only guys that had barely cracked the top 30 anyways, and coincidentally enough, all three were on the downward trend. 

Pfeifer, who was ranked 30th, was DFA’d by Atlanta back in late February to open up a spot for veteran infielder Jake Lamb. Roughly a month later the lefty pitcher signed a minor league deal with the Giants and so far this season has posted an 11.25 ERA in 12 innings of relief with its Triple-A team. 

In retrospect, Weigel’s no. 19 ranking from back in January, and maybe even a lot of the hype he received even before that, came simply from the fact that he managed to exceed expectations following his Tommy John surgery from back in 2017. As you may already know, Weigel was part of the Braves trade package — along with reliever Chad Sobotka — sent to Milwaukee in exchange for shortstop Orlando Arcia. After a short MLB stint with the Brewers to start 2021, the 26-year-old Weigel is now pitching for Milwaukee’s Triple-A team, where he has amassed a 7.11 ERA in 6 ⅓ innings this season. 

Lastly, there was the unfortunate release of Walker from back in mid-February, who many expected to become a significant contributor for Atlanta in 2021, after missing all of last season with a shoulder injury. The Walker deal is a little weird, but evidently the Braves either weren’t completely aware of how serious his shoulder ailment was, or simply didn’t want to invest any more time and money in him. Walker caught on with the Giants in Spring Training, but he’s not listed with a team on Baseball Reference so it appears he was cut before the start of the season. 

 

2021’s graduated prospects

Now that we know who’s no longer with the Braves org anymore, it’s important that we know who’s still considered a prospect. I have pitchers Bryse Wilson, Kyle Wright, and our top prospect from January’s list, Ian Anderson as graduates, considering all have now logged considerable time in the majors. 

You could say both Wilson and Wright should’ve been ridden of the prospect label for a few years now as each has had stints with Atlanta for parts of four seasons now, and performance-wise — other than a few flashes in the pan — not much has changed. I do like what Wilson has done in 2021, both at the minor and major league level. Leaning on that changeup more this year has paid huge dividends for the former 4th round pick as opposing MLB batters are just 2 for 23 (.087 AVG) versus Wilson’s off-speed offering.

And then there’s obviously Anderson, who surprisingly has already surpassed the two more-seasoned young pitchers listed directly above in major league innings, despite debuting for Atlanta two years later. It may seem weird, but for me, it’s sort of bitter sweet to see Anderson graduate from prospect status. This is a kid I’ve really followed over the years, and one of the first prospects I covered when I began writing. He, of course, was also a damn good prospect, perhaps one of the best in the Braves farm system in a very long time. In four minor league seasons, Anderson posted a 2.91 ERA to go with 10.7 strikeouts per nine in 377.2 innings, all while allowing just 16 home runs in that span (a rate of only 0.4 HR/9).

 

2021’s Honorable Mentions

Most folks in the prospect industry tend to keep their team prospect lists capped a 30. Some will go higher, but 30 just seems like the perfect amount to both properly include the organization’s truly best prospects and keep from listing a ton of players that’ll probably never see an MLB clubhouse. The Top 30 is all about showcasing the future of the big league team, and building rankings with nearly 50 players on it sort of gets away from that general goal. We didn’t do an Honorable Mentions list back in January, but I believe it will provide a bit more perspective and insight into the actual list, especially since we’re coming off a season in which most of these players didn’t even play.

The 11 players listed below are in no specific order. And just like I did in my 2021 Braves Check-in series, I’ve also provided trend arrows for each player to help represent which direction they are headed in terms of prospect stock.

 

Logan Brown, C ↓ :  After just barely cracking the top 30 back in January, I believe Brown has finally reached the end of the rope as a Braves prospect. And it’s unfortunate because the 24-year-old catcher started the 2021 season on fire, posting a .994 OPS with four XBH and 10 RBI in his first eight games. But since that first week, Brown’s performance in Rome has sharply declined, and at this point, he’ll settle in as minor league catcher depth in a system that currently has one prospect catcher in the majors (William Contreras) and one absolutely destroying the ball in Double-A Mississippi (Shea Langeliers.)

 

Drew Lugbauer, 1B/DH ↑ :  After crushing it in his pro debut season in 2017 and essentially repeating that impressive performance in ’18 (a two-year stretch that featured a .246 AVG to go with a combined 25 home runs and 92 RBI in 174 games between Rookie-Advanced Danville and then-Single-A Rome), Lugbauer’s stock took a hit versus High-A pitching in 2019. The former 4th round pick out of the University of Michigan was never really considered a prospect anyways, but his .194 AVG with Florida ruined any momentum that he’d begun to develop. But Lugbauer is hitting really well in 2021, and at an even higher rung on the minor league ladder as he’s now in Mississippi.

 

Beau Philip, SS ↓ :  Many of us forget that this was a 2nd round pick by the Braves back in 2019, but for whatever reason, Philip just hasn’t put together a top-30-prospect-like performance yet. As of this past Friday, the shortstop had managed just a .632 OPS in 77 career minor league games and his K rate has risen by roughly 14% this year relative to his previous season (21.3% up to 35.2%). It’s pretty evident that perhaps Philip isn’t ready for High-A pitching, and in turn, I’m not ready to include him within the Top 30.

 

Kevin Josephina, 3B ↑ :  Many maybe aren’t aware, but this was the other shortstop the Braves signed during the 2013 July 2nd international signing period, understandably overlooked by the excitement surrounding the more well-known Ozzie Albies. The Braves signed Josephina for $300K that year, and despite a pair of middling seasons in 2017 and ’18 while with Rome and Florida, the now-24-year-old has been an above-average contributor on offense with plenty of speed and athleticism on defense and on the base paths. And he’s been extremely hot as of late. Entering this past weekend, Josephina was 15 for his last 30 (.500 AVG) for High-A Rome and was up to a .320 AVG for the season.

 

Cody Milligan, 2B ↑ :  As a pro, Milligan has displayed plus-speed and a respectable amount of gap power with the bat. But everything seems to be coming together this season for the former 9th round pick out of a community college in Arkansas. Milligan is still just 22-years-old so there is the chance of some untapped potential here, and with the second base position extremely thin in terms of prospects within the org, one day soon he could find himself with a ranking beside his name.

 

Javier Valdes, C ↑ :  After being taken in the 21st round of the 2019 draft and then following that selection up with a dismal .088 AVG in his first taste of pro ball that same year while with the GCL Braves, Valdes has sort of come out of nowhere with a doubles-power swing down in Single-A Augusta. The Miami native wasn’t exclusively a catcher while in college at Florida International, playing behind the plate in 61 of his 159 career collegiate games, and it has sort of shown given base runners are stealing on him pretty easily this season. But as a catcher, this kid’s bat is definitely a strong one.

 

Tyler Owens, RHP ↓ :  Owens was ranked 26th on our list back in January, and for good reason considering he pitched well in his first taste of pro ball after joining the org as an exciting draftee. But I’ve become a little more hesitant with the Braves 13th round pick from two years ago. Sure, Owens dominated down at the Rookie GCL level in 2019, but once moved up to Rookie-Advanced his numbers made a noticeable change. Now, in his age-20 season, Atlanta wants to see what he can do in full-season ball… and the results have been far from ideal as — through last Thursday — Owens sported a 9.28 ERA in his first 10.2 innings with Augusta.

 

Alec Barger, RHP ⇔ :  Barger has done much better with homers this season, following a 2019 campaign in which he allowed seven long balls in just 40 innings at Danville, but his run-prevention in general is still lacking as the 23-year-old righty was sporting a 4.50 ERA as of this past weekend. The Braves took Barger in the 17th round back in 2019, and he was featured as sort of an honorable mention in FanGraphs’ Braves prospect report last year.

 

Darius Vines, RHP ↑ :  The 23-year-old Vines seems to be finding his groove this season in Augusta. This is a kid that came out of Cal State Bakersfield having posted a decent 4.10 ERA in 74.2 innings in 2019, and then was roughed up pretty bad during his pro debut with both the GCL Braves and Danville team — pitching to a combined 7.80 ERA with the two rookie level clubs — following his 7th round selection. Many evaluators had claimed that Vines could break out and become a real prospect if he ever improved upon his low-90s MPH velocity as the 6-1, 190-pound righty already has a solid breaking ball and changeup. Perhaps that’s what is happening in 2021? Vines was carrying a sub-2.00 ERA into this past weekend.

 

Mahki Backstrom, 1B ⇔  :  We had Backstrom ranked at no. 23 in our rankings at the beginning of the year, and our hope was that with more looks this season we would be able to determine a more accurate place for him rank-wise. However, the former 18th round pick didn’t get an assignment following spring camp. Given he played really well with the GCL Braves as a 17-year-old in 2019 (hitting .300 with seven XBH in 23 games), I would imagine he’ll wind up in Augusta at some point in 2021. Regardless, there has just been too many other positive-trending players for me to keep him in the top 30… at least for now. We’ll see how he does once he begins playing again.

 

Tanner Gordon, RHP ↓  :  Innitially, I struggled with where to place Gordon, who was a 6th round pick by the Braves in 2019 out of Indiana University. I haven’t seen any one else label Gordon as a prospect, but it was really hard to ignore the strong numbers he posted two years ago both as a college player pitching against Power-5 competition and as a 21-year-old with Danville. However, Gordon has somewhat made the decision to keep him off the list a bit easier in 2021. So far with Rome, in his age-23 season, the righty just hasn’t been very effective as he’s already allowed five home runs in 21.2 innings this season. Perhaps the two-level jump in the minors was a little too much for him right now.

 

Players that have aged out

Here are some older minor league players (25-year-olds or older) that I think are perhaps talented enough to receive attention as prospects, but because of their age, it’s a little to late in the game to include them in the next Top 30. To wrap this up, I didn’t include blurbs for the six players below…

Be sure to check back at SportsTalkATL throughout the week as we begun releasing the site’s updated 2021 Braves Top 30 Prospect List.

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