Well, it would rank in the bottom ten, and I think you have to expect that. But I believe in this system renewing itself more than any other in the bottom ten, plus it's not completely bereft. In the high minors you have Brandon Jones and Brent Lillibridge, both of whom could be contributing to the team next season. The low minors is loaded with some good arms, with Tommy Hanson, Cole Rohrbaugh, Jeff Locke, Steve Kent and a few other decent arms. Throw in some in-between types like Jordan Schafer, Cody Johnson and Eric Campbell, mix in a damn good draft (led by Jason Heyward), and I think they are in the top half again in a year or two. Brent Lillibridge had a slow start that surfaced quite a few doubters but has come back hot in the second half. What does his future look like in the big leagues?
I think, somewhere, Lillbridge's future lies as a starting shortstop. His power and speed combination is fairly elite for a shortstop, and to boot, he's going to crush southpaws in the Major Leagues. I think his problems sort of snowballed when struggling in a new organization, but with Richmond we're seeing the player John Scheurholz acquired. Solve the debate that is dividing Braves fans. Who is the shortstop of the future: Yunel Escobar or Brent Lillibridge?
To follow up, I do think the future should be Lillibridge. While you lose a little in way of defense, I think the benefit in terms of slugging percentage and baserunning makes up for it. I understand why fans like Yunel, but a more impressive highlight reel shouldn't lead to a job. I think there's a chance we see both of them -- like Lillibridge in center -- and a chance the job is Yunel's until proven guilty. But Opening Day 2008, I would give it to Lillibridge and not look back. Kala Ka'aihue seems to be a player you either love or hate. Where do you stand on him and his future?
Kala, on the other hand, I'm not as high on. I understand seeing his power and patience and getting excited, but a Three True Outcomes player only has so much value, and it's hardly as if Ka'aihue is like Adam Dunn. He swings through way too many pitches and has a bad approach at the plate, and I think his Double-A exploits are probably more a thing to come then anything else. If Scott Thorman can't succeed (partially) because of contact problems in the Majors, Kala Ka'aihue definitely is not. What are your opinions on Jason Heyward? Could he develop into an elite hitter down the road?
It was a storybook ending for the Braves to end up with the guy they wanted in Heyward, and to be honest, I think it's a bit criminal he lasted this long. I would have had him somewhere between eighth to tenth on my board, so landing him was a coup for Atlanta. He's the top prospect once he signs, and he probably is the Braves cleanup hitter once he reaches the Majors. I love his swing, I love his patience for his age, I love his athleticism for his position. Whether he ends up in left, right or even first base, I don't know, but he'll hit enough for any of them. Braves fans should really be excited about this kid. Who is the better 22nd round draft-and-follow from the past couple years: Tommy Hanson or Cole Rohrbough? I don't love these either/or questions, because the Braves are lucky enough to have both in the system, so what's it matter who is better? Both are really good, but I think you see Hanson rank a bit higher this winter because he has a larger body of work. He hasn't been great with command in High-A, and it has cost him a few home runs and too many walks, but I love the body and I love the stuff. I've made the Adam Wainwright comparison and I think it works. While Rohrbough might rank behind him, I think his ceiling exceeds that of Hanson. Not many left-handers can touch the mid 90s while throwing a curveball as good as his and offering a usable third pitch. He's a much better prospect than Matt Harrison, the guy they just gave away was. If you made me pick who I liked more I think I might go with Rohrbough, but you can't go wrong with either. Pick one Braves prospect who we should keep a lookout for to have a big breakout season next year.
With the draft-and-follow system gone there won't be any more 22nd round follow-throughs, but again, I think the Braves drafted fantastically in the middle rounds. Braves fans are starting to see Brandon Hicks' athleticism in play in the low minors, and while Cory Gearrin has struggled a bit, he has been striking guys out and should reach the Majors quickly. The guy I want to highlight, however, is seventh rounder Travis Jones from South Carolina. While he can't offer Hicks' athleticism he ain't bad, and offers pretty elite patience and good power for a second baseman. His build might remind some of Josh Barfield at second base, and I think he'll really break through next season. Also, I'm not completely sold that Eric Campbell is no longer a prospect. Count me unsurprised if he gets out of Myrtle Beach and starts putting some big numbers together.