Yesterday, Fangraphs released their top 100 prospects before the 2019 season. The Braves had a league-leading ten players make that list – all between numbers 19 and 72. First among the Braves’ farmhands was Christian Pache, who continues to fly up these charts year-by-year, much like Ronald Acuña did through the minors.
Austin Riley – the Braves most MLB-ready positional prospect – follows Pache at #33 on the list. Then, Atlanta’s crowd of pitching prospects begins to arise. Mike Soroka, Ian Anderson, and Kyle Wright break the top 40 at #36, #38, and #39, respectively. They are followed by two more risers – Drew Waters (#49) and William Contreras (#55). Touki Toussaint cracks the list at #57, Luiz Gohara at #61 and Bryse Wilson rounds up the group at #72.
That’s an overly impressive band of prospects filled with several names that will crack the Opening Day roster and some players who are still a few years away. Now the question looms: which prospect will own the top spot on the Braves list by the time 2019 is over?
Inevitably, many of these players will lose prospect status during this season. For that to happen, they must accumulate 130 ABs, pitch more than 50 innings, or accumulate 45 days of Major League service prior to Septemeber 1st – when the rosters expand from 25 to 40. That should knock off quite a few of these players.
- Mike Soroka
- Touki Toussaint
- Luiz Gohara
- Austin Riley
Soroka would have already lost his prospect status last year had he not suffered a season-ending shoulder injury. Providing he is able to bounce back from that this year, there’s no reason he will be on this list this time next year – even if they Braves do choose to take it cautiously with him.
The same could be said for Gohara, whose injuries and family issues kept him from being a significant piece to Atlanta’s 2018 playoff run. He’s been on the major league roster for stints the last two years. If he doesn’t graduate from prospect status, it will be because of a lack of production, which might find him off this list altogether anyways.
Touissant appeared to be the most major league ready pitching prospect in 2018. In five starts, he went 2-1 with a 3.33 ERA, struck out batters at a 9.7/9 innings clip, held opponents to a .177 average against and a .261 slugging percentage. Touissant is a legit option to be in the starting rotation on Opening Day, and if not, he could find himself in the bullpen. Either way, it will be surprising if he is still a candidate on this list by the end of the season.
Austin Riley is the one player among these four that could keep his prospect status heading into 2020. However, he’s ranked by Baseball America as the #1 prospect in the Braves system and is probably too good to keep in the minors for the majority of the season. I expect him to start the season accumulating at-bats in AAA, but eventually do enough to get in the majors by the middle of the year and stick.
These are the players who are likely to remain prospects through the end of the season and have the potential to skyrocket up these rankings with a standout 2019.
- Kyle Wright
- Ian Anderson
- Drew Waters
- William Contreras
If there is a player among this group that could find himself losing his eligibility, it is Kyle Wright. He was the Braves first-round pick in 2017 and already made his debut in the majors last September. However, he only has seven appearances in AAA and threw 28.2 innings for the Stripers. Wright could use a bit more time in AAA before becoming a full-time starter for the Braves, but if he has a hot spring and continues that early on with the Stripers, there’s a chance he finds himself in the majors sooner than people expect.
Like Wright, Ian Anderson is a potential stud pitcher in the future. He has the best pure stuff of any pitcher in Atlanta’s system, holding hitters to a .199 batting average in his minor league career and recording 279 strikeouts in 242 innings pitched. That said, he reached AA in 2018 and made just four starts there. Anderson is still a year away from the majors, so he could easily be the Braves’ top prospect on this list by season’s end.
Waters, the Braves second-round pick in 2017, is another notable riser in this year’s rankings, and that could be nothing more than a stepping stool for him. As a 19-year old switch-hitting outfielder, he hit .293 with nine home runs in Rome and Florida combined. His power should only continue to grow, making him an option to be the Braves top positional prospect after this year.
William Contreras – younger brother to All-Star catcher, Willson Contreras – is also beginning to garner clout after a marvelous 2018. He hit .285 with 11 home runs over 105 games in Rome and Florida. Contreras is currently the fifth-ranked catcher according to FanGraphs and aiming to be a rare catcher who can provide offensively as well as defensively.
The Lone Wolf
- Christian Pache
This will be a difficult spot for Pache to continue to hold. Players like Anderson, Wright, and Waters could very well own the top rank with an exciting 2019 campaign. But I don’t think Pache is going anywhere anytime soon.
There are whispers that Pache could already be the best defensive player in the Braves’ system. That includes back-to-back-to-back Gold Glove recipient Ender Inciarte. His speed, range and arm strength leave very little to be desired, as he graded out as a 70 in all of those categories – which is regarded as well-above average.
Where we saw him take the next step is with his power. Pache did not have a home-run prior to the 2018 season, where he accumulated nine of them in 122 games over the A+ and AA levels. There’s still room to improve there, but he was only 19-years old and should continue to get stronger as he ages. This picture should tell you all you need to know about where his strength is heading.
Pache’s work ethic, both in the weight room and on the field, has been duly noted by the organization. This is a prospect that has the raw skills to be an elite player but will have to hone his baseball skills as he continues to progress through the minors.