The Atlanta Braves farm system is as deep as any in the game. By now, we all know the big names in the organization.
All eyes will be on Major League Baseball on (roughly) April 15th when Ronald Acuña will likely be making his debut. If everything falls into place as it is now, Gwinnett and Florida will have two of the more exciting rotations in the minors.
But not everyone else is an Austin Riley or Kyle Wright. What about some of the guys that left us wondering after 2017?
One guy I’m excited to see return is Patrick Weigel. The unfortunate truth is that pitchers take time bouncing back from Tommy John surgery. Weigel isn’t expected to return until late June or July I would assume, and it would be surprising to see the Braves push him.
That said, here are a few Braves prospects that need to show a little something more from start to finish in 2018.
Dustin Peterson, OF
Peterson was part of the Justin Upton deal that brought he and Max Fried to Atlanta. He struggled as a Padres farmhand at third and the Braves moved him to the outfield. The immediate results looked good, both offensively and defensively.
He had a big 2016 in Double-A seeing a big leap in the Braves organizational rankings. Peterson didn’t start 2017 until the middle of May last year because of a hamate injury, and it just felt like he never got it going. He had another stint on the DL to close the season, and fell down the Braves prospect rankings after a wash of a campaign.
Peterson was good enough to be my 18th-ranked Braves midseason prospect, but right now he’d be outside the Top 20. The righty-hitting left fielder was never big on over-the-fence power, but at one time could work the gaps and lines as a doubles machine. That was all null and void last year, although many felt it was because of the hamate. Strikeout rates from a somewhat longer swing have always seemed to be an issue.
Peterson wasn’t protected on the 40-man and went unselected in the Rule 5 Draft, which speaks volumes as to how others viewed his 2017. He’ll be 23 for pretty much the whole 2018 season, so Peterson isn’t a lost cause at all. If he can stay healthy, and show more of his 2016 breakout than his 2017 dud, he’ll be right back in the Top 20 conversation.
Kyle Muller, LHP
All the Braves 2016 MLB Draft class of pitchers had a breakout of sorts in 2017. All but Muller that is.
Muller is still just 20 years old, and a 6-6 lefty, so there is plenty of appeal. It simply seems odd that he wasn’t in Rome at all last season. It’s more so curious after watching Tucker Davidson transition from the bullpen to starter instead of a promotion for their second-round pick.
Like I said, there is still plenty to like in Muller even after a curious 2017 in Danville. He struck out more than one an inning but walked 3.43-per-nine, but let’s be real. Muller is big, really big, and big guys usually start out with command issues. Despite being hittable (.232 battings average against) and posting a 4.15 ERA to 1.28 WHIP, John Sickels still thinks highly of him. He has him ranked No. 16 heading into 2018. Here’s why:
a typical live-armed Braves pitching prospect from the South, fastball 90-94 with more possible, both breaking ball and change-up have plus potential but needs better control, another breakout candidate for ’18 and potential mid-rotation arm. ETA 2021.
Some of the reports that stand out to me are that he has an above-average curveball. I’ve seen first hand some of the best curves in the system develop in Rome over the past two seasons. One report that is worrisome is that his velocity was reported way lower than expected, and although his fastball has some downward movement, it isn’t electrifying.
There are some questions that need to be answered, but the talent is there. His full-season debut will be one to watch.
Lucas Herbert, C
Brett Cumberland. Drew Lugbauer. It seemed there was plenty of catching prospects in Rome last year that made the jump, and Herbert still remained Herbert: a conundrum at the plate.
The advantage Herbert has is his defense may be the best behind the plate in the system. Even ahead of him, a guy like Alex Jackson will be a power-hitting backstop, and Lugbauer’s days behind the plate already seem numbered. Herbert’s defense is undeniable, he just needs his bat to catch up.
He teased that last year, catching fire in the middle of the season. Herbert struggled mightily in his 2016 debut in Rome as a 19-year-old, and simply couldn’t keep up with the pitching, hitting .185 over 96 games. He came out of the gates slow in 2017, but was scorching hot in June and pretty good in July before falling off a cliff again to close out the season.
William Contreras is likely taking over in Rome, and it would be a terrible sign to see Herbert begin a third season there anyway. That means he’s likely heading to the FireFrogs in a pitcher-friendly league. While he shouldn’t be expected to replicate his .318 June and July, he has to show some life with the bat and that he can handle the next level of ball.