Every Spring Training, prospects get a chance to show what they can do as they prepare for the upcoming season. Some compete for jobs in big league camp, while others vie for spots on Minor League affiliates. MLB Pipeline will visit all 30 camps this spring, and today we check
Every Spring Training, prospects get a chance to show what they can do as they prepare for the upcoming season. Some compete for jobs in big league camp, while others vie for spots on Minor League affiliates. MLB Pipeline will visit all 30 camps this spring, and today we check in on the Braves.
LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- With the No. 2-ranked farm system and an MLB Pipeline-best eight Top 100 prospects, the fruits of the Atlanta Braves' rebuild are starting to show.
• Braves' Top 30 Prospects list | Q&A with Joey Wentz
Never has that been more evident than this spring through the standout performance of Atlanta's top prospects, most notably Ronald Acuna. MLB Pipeline's No. 2 overall prospect was reassigned to Minor League camp on Monday despite torching Grapefruit League pitching at a .432/.519/.727 clip, with 19 hits and four home runs over parts of 16 games.
:: MLB Pipeline Spring Training reports ::
But while Acuna represents an obvious piece of the Braves' exciting future, it will be the club's waves of pitching prospects, currently staggered throughout the Minors, that could help Atlanta return to its competitive ways in the coming years. What's more, many of those highly touted pitching prospects have continued to make strides in developing this spring.
"It's exciting for us to be moving our younger players to the [Major League] side like we have this spring," Braves Minor League field coordinator Dave Trembley said. "They're getting recognized and getting closer to playing at that level, and I think it's been good exposure for a lot of our guys to go over there."
No. 31 overall prospect Mike Soroka (Braves' No. 3) and No. 58 Kolby Allard (Braves' No. 6) both performed well during their respective time in Major League Spring Training, and 2017 first-rounder Kyle Wright (No. 30 overall, Braves' No. 2) gained valuable experience in his first big league camp. The performances of all three hurlers, both individually and collectively, suggest that they are on the cusp of making an impact at the next level.
"It shows that the process is paying off," Trembley reflected. "We've had very good scouting, our player development department is very strong, we have good coaches -- but the makeup of our players, along with their ability, speaks for itself. For me, that's the most exciting part: the makeup and the ability of our players match what it will take to be a very good Major League player for a long time. That's the key."
Trembley's words underscore one of the Braves' greatest strengths as an organization: the ability to identify the right players to challenge with aggressive assignments at a young age. That took place throughout the team's farm system last season, as Soroka and Allard excelled as teenagers in Double-A, while several of the club's 2016 Draft picks established themselves as the next big wave of pitching prospects poised to ascend the system.
"I think our philosophy of challenging guys was demonstrated last year by us putting guys at higher levels coming out of high school and with one year experience in professional baseball," Trembley said. "We pushed guys at higher levels and moved them along. I think you'll continue to see that, especially with guys who we feel have the makeup to handle that."
Among the hurlers who fit that bill, according to Trembley, is the aforementioned crop of 2016 draftees in Ian Anderson, Joey Wentz and Bryse Wilson, all of whom comprised an impressive Class A Rome starting rotation in their first full seasons. While Anderson, Atlanta's No. 5 prospect and No. 51 on the Top 100 already comes with considerable fanfare, Wentz and Wilson, currently Nos. 10 and 13 on the team's Top 30 list, have Trembley and the rest of the Braves' development staff plenty excited.
"He has stuff, ability, size and durability," said Trembley of Wentz, a 6-foot-5 left-hander who garnered South Atlantic League Most Outstanding Pitcher honors at age 19 in 2017 after he finished among the circuit leaders with 152 strikeouts (second), a .209 opponents' average (.209) and a 2.60 ERA (fourth).
"Joey is very attentive and mature, both on and off the field," continued Trembley, "and for a young guy, he has great attention to detail and takes ownership of his career."
As for Wilson, the 2016 fourth-rounder with a two-sport background has impressed the organization with his makeup and work ethic as he blossomed on the mound in his first full season. Spending all of 2017 with Rome, the North Carolina prep product pitched to a 2.50 ERA with a 1.04 WHIP and 139 strikeouts in 137 innings (26 starts).
"He's a power pitcher who has movement," Trembley noted. "He's a ground-ball guy, sinks the ball really well, and he's working here on developing a third pitch -- a changeup. He's going to move up a level this year, and I wouldn't be surprised if, before the season is over, he moves up another one."
The Braves made Drew Lugbauer their 11th-round pick in 2017, targeting the University of Michigan product for his left-handed power as well as his defensive versatility. After playing a host of positions for the Wolverines and then manning primarily the infield corners with some occasional work behind the plate during his pro debut, the Braves' No. 30 prospect is using his first pro Spring Training to refine his catching skills and impressive club officials in the process.
"He's a big, strong, athletic kid behind the plate who can really throw, with big left-handed power to all fields," said Trembley of the 21-year-old Lugbauer, who connected on 13 home runs in 60 games across two levels last summer, including the South Atlantic League. "We think he's going to be something this year. There are a lot of reasons to be excited about Drew, and we really like him behind the plate."
Also standing out this spring among the organization's backstop contingent this spring has been No. 24 prospect Brett Cumberland. The 22-year-old catcher opened eyes by reaching the Class A Advanced Florida State League in his first full season, and he built on that success during the offseason with a successful campaign in the Australian Baseball League.
"We like [Brett] because he can hit from both sides of the plate with pop," Trembley said. "He made probably the most improvements in a short period of time as just about anyone in our system -- defensive analytics show tremendous improvement with his receiving, pitch framing, receiving, blocking from the beginning of last year."
Mike Rosenbaum is a reporter for MLB Pipeline. Follow him on Twitter at @GoldenSombrero.