Tuesday, November 16, 2021
Following the site’s release of its latest Braves Top 10 prospect rankings on Monday, Baseball America provided even more insight into the organization’s farm system by holding a chat with Carlos Collazo. After reading through the Q&A, here are the excerpts that peaked my interest the most…
Joey Estes and “reliever risk”
The very first question asked during yesterday’s chat was regarding right-handed prospect Joey Estes, who I ranked 15th on my midseason list back in August. In his second pro season with the Braves, pitching the entire year as a 19-year-old, Estes killed it in 2021, logging 99 innings with Single-A Augusta and posting a 2.91 ERA to go with 11.5 strikeouts per nine. After struggling a bit in rookie ball in 2019, it appeared, at least to me, that Estes had found his groove and was on his way to becoming a top 10 prospect in the system. But Collazo thinks differently…
“I can’t say he was seriously considered for the top 10. There were three names I really debated on for the No. 10 spot specifically (we’ll probably get into those names for future questions) but he was not among them. What holds him back from that range right now for me are proximity, reliever risk expressed by a number of external sources and a lack of legit wipeout stuff. It wouldn’t surprise me if he did continue to improve and his stuff continued to tick up in the future, but I would want to see him continue doing this at more advanced levels, and while the strike throwing is quite good, at times he showed a tendency to throw too many strikes. Getting ahead in the count and doing a better job with his finishing pitches will be something to watch for him moving forward. Still, what a year for him and he’s certainly trending up.”
I have to say, it’s pretty surprising that Collazo believes Estes is at risk at becoming a reliever. I know the kid is still super young, and I’m sure the Braves will take their time with him, but regardless of where he ranks within the organization’s prospect list, it’s too early to already be giving up on him as a starter. Perhaps once Estes starts putting up big numbers in High-A or Double-A he’ll solidify his place among the great prospect pitchers.
Brandol Mezquita and Kadon Morton
It’s good to know that Collazo is also excited about both Mezquita and Morton – two young Braves that have now mastered the rookie levels. Both were drawing attention in instructs back in 2020, and with the FCL team this past season each of them showcased their skills again. These are two 20-year-olds with some pop in their bat and speed on the base paths, and they could really become household names in 2022 as they make their full-season debuts in the minors.
Braves farm rank
Baseball America ranked the Braves minor league system at 14th following the most-recent trade deadline, and Collazo believes that ranking has maybe fallen a bit…
“The Braves are certainly trending down in the organization rankings, but for all the right reasons! A number of their highly-regarded prospects just powered the Braves to a World Series championship and that is certainly the goal. However, you can see the impact of those graduations (and to a lesser degree the impact of the international sanctions) on the quality of the system. The depth that Atlanta had previously isn’t quite there, although I will say a number of lower-level players did have strong seasons this year and the Braves continue to make savvy late-round draft picks.”
I agree that the system isn’t what it once was, and of course the ultimate goal is for the major league team to win a championship (which they obviously did in 2021). But I also believe national sites are overlooking a lot of the lower-level talent that’s coming up through this Braves system. Guys like infielders Luke Waddell and Vaughn Grissom, as well as Victor Vodnik and Indigo Diaz. Plus, I think the Braves have one of the better fringy-type prospects in the league, headlined by former prospects and up-and-comers like outfielders Trey Harris and Justin Dean, and pitcher Darius Vines. I guess, more than anything, I feel as if this version of the Braves farm is much deeper than before. That may not mean it’s as great, but I definitely don’t believe it’s just an average system compared to the rest of the sport.
On the cusp of cracking the top 10
Collazo listed Grissom and Freddy Tarnok as just-outside-the-top-ten prospects, and said he even had the latter player ranked tenth before swapping him with Jesse Franklin V at the last minute…
“If this list was strictly based on my own opinion I might go with Tarnok—I really like his stuff and think his ceiling as a player is quite high. He’s got a power fastball, has improved his curveball and has a real four-pitch mix. For Grissom, you could make a case that he had the best offensive season of any of the team’s hitting prospects. He puts the barrel on the ball an awful lot, but I would like to see how he performs against upper-level pitching before I get too carried away. He also will need to tap into more power in the future to get to an everyday sort of role, considering his defensive limitation. If he were a better athlete or had a clear everyday defensive position or just was able to get to his power a bit more freely now I think I would be more excited about him. However, it would not be surprising at all for that in-game power to be one of the last steps for him in his development. We’ve seen that enough that it shouldn’t be surprising when it happens now.”
Is Michael Harris the next RAJ?
This was an excellent question, and I believe Collazo answered it perfectly. A lot of Braves fans are unfairly comparing Harris to Acuna, so I’ll just provide you the entire excerpt from Collazo…
“We’ve talked a bit about some of the guys towards the back of the top 10 but how about the top player on the list?? Thanks, Brian, for asking this one so we can get into Harris a bit. I would not compare the two players. I don’t think they’re very similar at all outside of the fact that both can claim to be Braves top prospects and outfielders. Acuña’s toolset across the board was better. He had three 70 grade tools on his card after all and when he was 20 years old (the same age Harris was this year in High-A) he was in the majors getting MVP votes and earning the Rookie of the Year Award. I think Harris is a really good prospect. I think it’s a disservice to him to compare him to Acuña, who is one of the elite players in the game. I have a 60/High grade on Harris in these rankings, which is great! That’s an occasional All-Star sort of player and it would be a massive win for the Braves to get him to that level after drafting him in the third round (when many teams preferred him as a pitcher). Still, Acuña is quite obviously a franchise player and that’s an entirely different sort of phylum we’re talking about. It shouldn’t be a knock on Harris to say he’s not that.”
Later in the chat, Collazo goes on to say that Jason Heyward is a more accurate comp for Harris (at least profile-wise), though that the former was much more passive as a hitter in the minors. He also goes on to list some things that Harris could work on to become better at the plate…
“Harris showed a tendency to expand the zone and hit pitches that weren’t necessarily ‘good pitches to hit’ because his plate coverage and barrel skills are just that good. I would like to see him be more selective at the next level and look for balls to drive and he showed enough adjustments later in the year that I think that’s certainly in his wheelhouse if he’s making a concerted effort to do that. I’ll be curious to see his walk rates in Double-A/Triple-A.”
Don’t worry about Pache, Waters or Shewmake
Even though their regression varied a bit, the trio of Pache, Drew Waters and Braden Shewmake struggled at different times during the 2021 season. Pache hit pretty well with Triple-A Gwinnett (.265 AVG / 100 wRC+), but with Atlanta he put together a dreadful -8 wRC+ in 22 games before getting hurt and later demoted. Waters, perhaps the best performer of the three, declined a bit contact-wise (.240 AVG) but still managed 11 homers, 28 stolen bases and a 94 wRC+ overall in 103 Triple-A games. And then Shewmake. Wow. He started off 2021 with such a horrid stretch in Double-A that I thought he might get moved down to Rome. However, luckily, the shortstop recovered, and though his numbers weren’t great, his .228 AVG, 12 homers and 84 wRC+ was way better than I could’ve ever imagined considering how bad he was hitting during the first-half of the campaign.
Collazo says there’s nothing to worry about, though…
“Additionally, I think the lost 2020 season is still looming in the background for a great many players throughout the minors and it’s almost impossible to know how much those lost at-bats slowed down development for hitters—particularly those with flaws that can only improve in big ways by logging ABs. Not everyone is Ronald Acuña or Jason Heyward. Sometimes it takes a bit longer. I’d still be patient and trust the Braves PD system. They’ve been quite good IMO.”
There was a lot more included in the chat, like velo questions regarding Jared Shuster, details on Spencer Schwellenbach, and even some insight on a guy many Braves fans aren’t even aware of in Alan Rangel. So I highly recommend checking it out. But the above excerpts were most interesting to me. As usual… lots of good content at Baseball America.