Pipeline Inbox: How does Braves' farm system rank?
Jim Callis responds to fans' questions about baseball's future stars
I've just returned from my favorite baseball event, the College World Series, and soon I'll be heading to what might be my second favorite, the SiriusXM All-Star Futures Game, scheduled for July 12 in Cincinnati.
There's a lot going on at MLBPipeline.com these days. We're covering prospects, tracking Draft signings and preparing to overhaul the overall Top 100 list and the teams' Top 30s on Prospect Watch in advance of the Trade Deadline. Not to mention that the Pipeline Inbox is overflowing with questions, so let's tackle some.
Where would you rank the Braves' farm system?
-- Rocky S., Toronto
In February, I wrote that the Braves had acquired more prospects in the offseason than any other club. Since then, president of baseball operations John Hart has continued to trade for young talent, adding right-hander Matt Wisler and outfielder Jordan Paroubeck from the Padres, and righty Touki Toussaint from the D-backs. Atlanta also had six of the first 89 picks in the Draft and should sign them all, starting with first-round high school arms Kolby Allard and Michael Soroka.
With all of the talent the Braves added, they might have the deepest farm system in baseball. Factoring in both quality and quantity, while including current big leaguers who retain prospect/rookie eligibility and Draft picks who are expected to sign, I rate Atlanta as having the seventh-best system. My top seven:
6. Red Sox
If Indians first-rounder Brady Aiken returns to health, what's his upside, comparable player and possible ETA?
-- Brian H., Penfield, Ohio
The No. 1 overall pick in 2014 -- and rightfully so -- Aiken agreed to a $6.5 million bonus, only to see the deal fall apart when he failed the Astros' post-Draft physical. He was projected to go near the top of the 2015 Draft, until he injured his elbow and had Tommy John surgery in March. Cleveland took Aiken at No. 17 overall and signed him for $2,513,280, roughly half of Houston's revised offer at the signing deadline last July.
If Aiken makes a full recovery, then the Tribe will have made a true steal. A healthy Aiken profiles as a legitimate No. 1 starter, because he's an athletic left-hander with three-plus offerings and the feel for pitching to match.
The comparison I've heard most is Cliff Lee, though it should be noted that Aiken was much more advanced than Lee was as a teenager. The Indians almost assuredly will take things slowly with Aiken, which means limited pitch counts and innings when he returns to the mound in 2016. The earliest realistic ETA would be 2018.
Second baseman/outfielder Tony Kemp is an unstoppable force. Will we see him in Houston this year?
-- Greg C., Nashville, Tenn.
It's easy to dismiss Kemp as a prospect because he's just 5-foot-6, but it's getting hard to ignore his results. He has played his way to Triple-A two years after signing as a fifth-round pick, and entering Thursday's play, he was riding a 25-game hitting streak, leading the Minors with a .449 on-base percentage and ranking second with a .357 batting average. Kemp's plus speed helps him in all phases of the game.
The good news for Kemp is that Jose Altuve demonstrates that the Astros have no prejudice against tiny second basemen, but the bad news is that Altuve isn't going anywhere. Houston has begun giving Kemp more time in the outfield, his original position at Vanderbilt, in order to enhance his versatility. He could surface at Minute Maid Park in a utility role after the All-Star break, though his below-average arm would make it difficult to use him on the left side of the infield.
Is there any chance right-hander David Berg will make it to the Cubs' bullpen this year?
-- Brandon O., Paducah, Ky.
Berg had as distinguished a career as any reliever in college baseball history. He was a key setup man as a freshman on UCLA's 2012 national championship team, then set the NCAA Division I saves record with 24 as a sophomore. Berg led the Pac-12 Conference in ERA three times in four years, finishing second in D-I this year at 0.68 and posting a UCLA record 1.11 ERA for his career.
A submariner, Berg is more about deception than pure stuff, which is why he lasted 17 rounds in the 2014 Draft as a junior and was a sixth-round senior sign this June. He's extremely competitive and throws a lot of strikes with a mid-80s mph fastball and a sweepy slider. Berg will have to prove himself at every level, and while it would be unwise to bet against a guy who continually exceeds expectations, he won't rush to the big leagues in 2015.