1. RHP Tommy Hanson-
Fans are becoming familiar with Hanson's story. The 6'6" right-hander was a draft-and-follow selected in the 22nd round. He had a good season last year but not many people took notice because he was playing for a rookie-level team. This year he has really put his name on the map though and has kept it up all season through two levels. In his time between Rome and Myrtle Beach, Hanson has a 2.76 ERA with 123 strikeouts to only 42 walks in 101 innings of work. He works with three good or better pitches in his fastball, curve, and changeup and still has room to fill out and add velocity. He has the highest upside of any pitcher in the organization and is a polished pitcher at only 20-years old.
2. OF Brandon Jones-
Jones was a scout's prospect up until this season. He was oozing with tools and incredible athleticism but had never really put it together into on the field success in his pro career. This season has been his breakout season between Mississippi and Richmond. So far he has hit .284/.361/.487 with 16 home runs and 12 stolen bases. The 23-year old outfielder has an intriguing power-speed combo that could find its way into the Atlanta outfield as early as next year. He'll never be a perennial All-Star but his defense and offense will make him a very solid all-around outfielder at the major league level.
3. 1B Kala Ka'aihue-
The debate rages on about Ka'aihue. The big question surrounding the slugging first baseman is if he can maintain a high enough average to be a major-league starter despite his exorbitant strikeout totals. My answer is obviously yes. The doubters say that he will become a "three true outcomes" player or a player that will strikeout, walk, or hit a home run when he comes to the plate (ie. Adam Dunn). I think that is selling him a bit short though. He had to go against one of the worst hitting parks in all of the minors this season, yet came away with a .992 OPS and 22 home runs. Will he ever be a .300 hitter? No, but even if he is a .270 hitter throughout his career, the power will make him a valuable offensive first baseman.
4. SS Brent Lillibridge-
I admit, I soured on Lillibridge. After mashing away A-ball at the age of 23 and then struggling in AA and AAA, it was easy to think that his success was a product of being old for his league. He got an unlikely invite to the Futures Game and since then has absolutely been raking for Richmond. Since the All-Star break, Brent has a line of .363/.433/.638 with five home runs, three doubles, two triples, and nine stolen bases in 80 at bats. Maybe the most important is the 9/11 BB/KK he has put. In any event, Lillibridge is showing the power and speed along with great defense that made him a valuable addition to the Adam LaRoche deal. People started to question whether he would ever be a major league starter but he is trying to answer that question. I would not at all be surprised if he pushed Yunel Escobar out of the way at some point, given the chance.
5. OF Jordan Schafer-
I held off on Schafer through the first half of the year, waiting to see if it was just a fluke. He had a disappointing year with Rome in 2006 but 449 at bats are enough for me. Not only did he dominate the opposition at Rome, but in the 78 games since he was promoted to Myrtle Beach, the 20-year old center fielder has done more than hold his own. After hitting .372 with Rome, Schafer has hit .288 with Myrtle Beach along with eight home runs and fourteen steals for the Pelicans in 320 at bats. He'll need to improve his plate discipline but most hitters do at 20. His offense though is surpassed by his defense. He has gained the top compliment that a Braves outfielder can be given with a comparison to the way Andruw Jones covers center. This could be a special player down the road if he keeps developing with tools that match the performance.
6. RHP Joey Devine-
Devine had people giving up on him after last year's struggles. His performance in the majors in his first season of pro ball seemed to take everything out of him but he has silenced those doubters this year. Devine re-worked his mechanics a bit to drop his arm almost to a complete side-arm delivery and his power fastball-slider combo makes for a future setup man or closer. In his time in Mississippi and since he recent call-up to Richmond, he has shown that potential with an ERA of 1.91 in his 42.1 innings of work with a 61 strikeouts to only 16 walks. Devine has held batters to a .208 clip and is getting almost 1.60 groundouts for every fly ball out. The team is taking it slow with Devine after his struggles last season but he will be in the Atlanta bullpen to start 2008.
7. 3B Eric Campbell-
Campbell came into the year as our number one ranked prospect in the organization after mashing the ball his entire career. After moving up to Myrtle Beach this year, Campbell experienced wrist problems and has had a nightmare of a season, hitting a mere .228. His power really hasn't suffered that much, which is surprising given not only the injury problems but moving from Rome to Myrtle Beach. He is showing signs of life recently though. In his past ten games, Campbell is batting .333 with seven extra base hits for the Pelicans. Jarrod Saltalamacchia rebounded from his wrist injury last year and I am confident that Campbell still has the 30 home run power in him that made him such a good prospect.
8. RHP Jo-Jo Reyes-
It's been two completely different sides for Reyes this year. In the minors he was very impressive with a 3.08 ERA and over a strikeout per inning. Unfortunately his command was miserable with a walk almost every other inning and that is what really showed through in his recently ended time with Atlanta. His pure stuff is some of the best for any southpaw in the minors. Good velocity and four usable pitches. It is not good enough to make up for his lack of command though. If you can't throw strikes, you can't win. He still has potential and should be a good back-end starter or bullpen arm in my opinion, but he needs to be taught how to throw strikes and keep the ball down to ever be much more than that.
9. OF Cody Johnson-
Cody Johnson started off the year smoking the ball. In June, the 18-year old outfielder hit a robust .364 with a slugging percentage over .700. In July however he has bombed with only a .193 average and a .373 slugging percentage. No one said it is going to be easy for Johnson. He is a very raw talent but the possible 40-home run power from the left side of the plate is what is going to keep him up on prospect lists. His plate discipline is miserable leading to very bad contact rates and his low batting average. He is going to have to become much more patient at the plate to be able to put his raw power into use at higher levels.
10. LHP Cole Rohrbough-
Rohrbough has followed a very similar path to Tommy Hanson thus far. A 22nd round pick and high profile draft-and-follow signing, who have shown that they are too good for their league in their first pro season. Hanson was good but Rohrbough has absolutely dominated when he is on the mound. He has a bulldog mentality, good command of his three pitches, and good stuff. The fastball and change rate as average or a bit above but the spike curve is what makes him so good. It is a great pitch that almost no one throws or has seen before. We'll see what he can do in his first full season above rookie ball next year before putting him in the top five.
11. RHP Kris Medlen-
Medlen's two-year pro career has been marked but dominance out of the pen. So far in his time with Danville, Rome, and Myrtle Beach, Medlen has a 0.95 ERA in 57 innings with 87 strikeouts and only 9 base on balls. The concern is that he is old for his level at 21 and in Rome and Danville was just dominating younger hitters. He has a good low-90's fastball with a plus curve so he should keep having success and could bea good middle-reliever down the road, just not a closer most likely.
12. RHP Jamie Richmond-
Richmond reminds me a lot of a right-handed Matt Harrison. He isn't dominant by and stretch of the imagination. He does however have very, very good command and a decent repertoire of pitches. He showed a lot more ground ball tendencies last year with Danville but has a just about even ratio this year. I think he could be a good number three starter down the road that will be able to carry a lot of innings. Of course he is still young and if he fills out his 6'3" frame more than the 185 lbs he ways right now, that added velocity could move him up in the rotation
13. 2B Chase Fontaine-
Fontaine is pretty well known for being compared to Chase Utley so many times in his short pro career. The comparisons come from his size, tools to some degree, and the fact that he bats from the left side. His power is far off from what Utley's was at the same age however. Most projections count on him getting to at least fifteen home run power with his side and possible more and he should be able to steal as many bases. Right now he strikes out far too much but also walks a ton. Fontaine is batting .282/.395/.385 so far for Rome but until I see a SLG over .400 in A-ball, Fontaine isn't moving up the list.
14. RHP Anthony Lerew-
Lerew has fallen from his top prospect status a couple years ago. The 24-year old right-hander seemed to have made a breakthrough this season, trading in his 97 mph fastball for a 93 mph sinker at the suggestion of Braves pitching coach Roger McDowell. Lerew went 1-0 with a 1.37 ERA in his five starts for Richmond before getting the call-up to Atlanta. His first start was very good in the majors, however he kept a sore elbow that had popped up a secret from the team's doctors and struggled mightily in his final two starts. Soon after he was placed on the DL and just recently underwent Tommy John surgery. He'll miss the first half of 2008 so he won't be a factor in the majors until at least 2009. He could become a middle or back-end starter or could be a very good reliever out of the pen but the Braves will have to wait for that.
15. LHP Dan Smith-
Smith really has just made a name for himself this year. The 23-year old southpaw made it all the way up to AA in his four previous pro seasons before being converted to a starter this season. Smith worked his way through the GCL, dominated in 51 innings for Mississippi, and now has struggled since his promotion to Richmond. Because he was a fairly unknown prospect I haven't been able to find out much about him. What I have been able to gather is that he is like Chuck James with a little more velocity on his fastball and a worse changeup. That isn't to say he doesn't have other pitches, I just don't know. Control is a problem though with a little over one walk every two innings this year. Some fans seem to think he'll be a top starter because of his double-A numbers but he only has the makings of a fifth starter.
In the past couple days, the Braves traded away three prospects who made an appearance on our mid-season top prospect list and that didn't even include Jarrod Saltalamacchia. One of the big concerns with the Braves' trade deadline activity is that it has depleted the farm system. I didn't agree with that assessment, even though it obviously severely weakened the system. A reader brought to my attention that an updated list would be good and this time it has even been expanded to fifteen. The list does not include Yunel Escobar, who has graduated from prospect status at 145 at bats and none of the 2007 draftees have been included because they just haven't been playing long enough to get a real feel for them. The cutoff for prospect status is the cutoff for a rookie player; 130 at bats or 50 inning pitched in the majors.