In recent years, the Atlanta Braves farm system has produced a myriad of names who have helped the club at the Major League level. Jason Heyward, Freddie Freeman, Kris Medlen, Mike Minor, Randall Delgado, Brandon Beachy, Craig Kimbrel and Jonny Venters are among the examples.
The club is currently not as deep as it once was, but it still features an assortment of intriguing starting pitchers. Leading the pack is 21-year-old right-hander Julio Teheran, who was rated by Baseball America as the No. 5 pre-season prospect in 2011 and 2012.
Here are Atlanta’s Top 10 Prospects from Baseball News Source entering the 2013 season:
1) Julio Teheran, who was widely regarded as one of the top five prospects in the majors last year at this time and in 2011, slipped a bit after struggling to a 7-9 record, a 5.08 ERA, a 1.44 WHIP and a .289 opponent’s batting average at Triple-A Gwinnett. In 26 starts and 131 innings, he allowed 146 hits. Those numbers were significantly less impressive compared to 2011, when Teheran was 15-3 with a 2.55 ERA and a 1.18 WHIP while permitting just 123 hits in 144.2 innings. In seven games, including four starts, with the Braves over the last two seasons, he owns a 5.19 ERA and a 1.35 WHIP. His ceiling remains high, though, because of three plus pitches (fast ball, curve ball, change-up). Teheran will be 22 on January 27, so he is still young and is gaining strength and Major League experience. He has a chance to eventually emerge as the ace of a deep and talented Braves rotation. As for 2013, Teheran will battle for a rotation spot in spring training.
2)The 18-year-old Lucas Sims was Atlanta’s first round pick (21st overall) in 2012. Out of Snellville, Ga., the right-hander has an above-average fast ball and curve ball, and his change-up is still in development. Because he signed early, Sims gained experience in the Gulf Coast League (1.29 ERA and 0.43 WHIP with a .091 opponent’s batting average in three starts) and the Appalachian League (4.33 ERA and 1.41 WHIP with a .243 opponent’s batting average).
3) Sean Gilmartin first round pick (28th overall) out of Florida State University in 2011, the 22-year-old Gilmartin is not flashy, yet the left-hander keeps hitters off-balance with a plus change-up and has strong command. He drew attention with a 3.54 ERA and a 1.15 WHIP while holding hitters to a .245 average in 20 starts and 119.1 innings at Double-A Mississippi in 2012. Gilmartin received a promotion to Triple-A Gwinnett and posted a 4.78 ERA and a 1.43 WHIP in seven starts. With further development in 2013, he could make his Major League debut if an injury arises in the Braves rotation.
4) Christian Bethancourt signed as an international free agent out of Panama, the 21-year-old Bethancourt combines athleticism, agility and a strong throwing arm behind the plate. He hit .243 with two home runs and 26 RBI in 268 at-bats at Double-A Mississippi, managing just a .291 slugging percentage and a .566 OPS. In two Single-A seasons, his slash line was .269/.293/.356/.653, so the right-handed hitter needs to improve with the bat. At the least, he projects as a defensively sound back-up catcher at the Major League level.
5) J.R. Graham was a fourth round pick out of Santa Clara in 2011, Graham had a successful debit season as a pro when he led the Appalachian League with a 1.72 mark in 57.2 innings. Last year, between advanced Single-A Lynchburg and Double-A Mississippi, the soon-to-be 23-year–old right-hander was 12-2 with a 2.80 ERA and a 1.06 WHIP while holding hitters to a .228 average and allowing 123 hits in 148 innings. Graham has a mid-90s fast ball and will likely split 2013 between Double-A and Triple-A.
6) Alex Wood -Last summer’s first two rounds yielded the Braves Lucas Sims and Wood, a 21-year-old left-hander out of the University of Georgia. The 6-foot-4 Wood has recovered from Tommy John surgery, which could be a reason why he was available in the second round, but he features a plus fast ball and curve ball, and an improving change-up. In his debut season at Single-A Rome, Wood was 4-3 with a 2.22 ERA, a 1.01 WHIP, and a .206 opponent’s batting average in 13 starts and 52.2 innings.
7) Zeke Spruill was second round pick out of Marietta, Ga. back in 2008, the 23-year-old Spruill boasts a sinker, a curve ball and a change-up who pitched respectably in his first full season at Double-A Mississippi in 2012, when he logged a 3.67 ERA and a 1.26 WHIP while allowing a .260 opponent’s batting average and 158 hits in 161.2 innings.
8) Maurico Cabrera is currently throwing a fast ball that touches 97 mph, the 19-year-old Cabrera has the potential to reach 100 eventually, the Braves believe. Signed as an international free agent out of the Dominican Republic, Cabrera flashed a 2.97 ERA and a 1.18 WHIP with a .213 opponent’s batting average in 12 starts and 57.2 innings at Danville in the Appalachian League last year.
9) Nick Ahmed, the Braves don’t have many intriguing position player prospects, and the 22-year-old Ahmed isn’t flashy, but he projects as a useful middle infielder who is above-average defensively and possesses a strong arm. A second round pick out of the University of Connecticut in 2011, Ahmed hit .269 with a .728 OPS, six home runs and 49 RBI in 506 at-bats at advanced Single-A Lynchburg in the Carolina League last season. He swiped 40 bases and pounded 36 doubles.
10) Matt Lipka was a first round pick out of high school in 2010, the 20-year-old was switched from shortstop to outfield in 2012. He is a proficient middle infielder, so the McKinney, Texas product gives the Braves versatility. Limited to 199 at-bats at advanced Single-A Lynchburg because a hamstring injury sidelined him last June, Lipka hit .271 with 12 stolen bases.