Braves Mid-Season Top Prospects
1. RHP Tommy Hanson- Hanson has burst onto the prospect scene with a 2.63 ERA and over eleven strikeouts per nine innings pitched this season. After signing as a draft-and-follow last year, Hanson had a good season with Danville, but it wasn't until this season that he has started gaining prominence among baseball's top pitching prospects. Hanson now has a knee-buckling curve to go with a moving mid-90's fastball and a good change, which make him one of the more intriguing prospects in the Braves farm system. The 20-year old is still far away but with his stuff and clean mechanics, he has the makings of a top of the rotation starter.
2. 1B Kala Ka'aihue- Brandon Jones made a good case for himself as the top position prospect in the organization, but with Jones slumping, the Samoan first baseman nudged his way in. Ka'aihue is hitting in an extreme pitchers park and after an abysmal start to the season, Ka'aihue has climbed all the way back up to a .294/.403/.570 line largely due to hitting .385/.486/.714 with eight homers in the month of June. Ka'aihue now has sixteen round-trippers on the season and in a couple years if Salty stays at first, the Braves might need to shuffle around the lineup to fit in Kala's bat. All this from an un-drafted free agent is making the Braves scouts look very good.
3. 3B Eric Campbell- Our pre-season top prospect has been hampered by a wrist injury for most of the season but recently has been hitting the cover off the ball. He is basically replaying Jarrod Saltalamacchia's season from last year and after struggling through the injury early, the 21-year old Campbell has batted .415 with four homeruns in his past nine games. The experiment with him at second was short-lived and his move back to third hurts his status, but he is capable of 30+ homeruns at the hot corner in the future.
4. SS Elvis Andrus- Andrus has struggled mightily this season, batting only .239/.325/.331 as the Pelicans' starting shortstop. The performance is a far cry from what he did last year, but his plate discipline has improved quite a bit and away from home, he is doing great. Andrus still has the tools that scouts love and is only 18 so he has at least three years to gain more polish and fill out. He still seems like an Edgar Renteria clone to me and I am perfectly OK with that.
5. LHP Matt Harrison- Harrison doesn't come in with the hype he did after last year but you still have to respect the season he has had for double-A Mississippi. The 6'5" southpaw has a a 3.13 ERA in 86.1 innings so far this season as well as increasing his groundball tendencies. Harrison isn't going to be the ace that a lot of Braves fans hoped he'd be after last season, but the 21-year old should develop into a good middle of the rotation innings eater for Atlanta as early as next year. With a premium on young starting pitching, I'll take that any day.
6. OF Brandon Jones- Jones has struggled lately after surging out of the gates. Jones' tools and athleticism have always had scouts drooling and so far this season he has done a good job of turning that into performance on the field. Jones is hitting .275/.358/.456 and is only three homeruns away from matching last year's total in almost 100 less at bats. The 23-year old could push his way into the Atlanta starting lineup as early as 2008 if he keeps this up.
7. RHP Joey Devine- Devine was rushed to the majors and after being smacked around early in his major league career, his performance suffered in the minors last season and he dropped on many prospect lists. He suffered from the same mishandling as Craig Hansen, who was taken one pick before Devine but unlike Hansen, Devine is regaining his dominance. The 23-year old righty possesses a fastball-slider combo that have the makings of a future closer or setup man and has seen a huge rise in groundballs this season as well as re-gaining his control. Devine has a 2.18 ERA, 16 saves, and 49 strikeouts in 33 innings this year as Mississippi's closer. Thankfully the team is handling him very carefully so we probably won't see him in a full-time roll in Atlanta until next season.
8. LHP Jo-Jo Reyes- Reyes is definitely holding his own in his first year against advanced competition. His strikeout numbers and control have gotten slightly worse but he has split his time between double-A and triple-A this year after pitching in single-A last season. The southpaw's control will need to improve if he wants to be anything more than a back of the rotation starter but injuries are what worry me the most. Reyes seems to tail off in the second half every season and once he starts pitching more and more innings, I am afraid his arm might not hold up. That is more of a gut feeling than anything though.
9. RHP Neftali Feliz- Feliz is one of my favorite Braves prospects. Last year as an 18-year old he worked consistently in the mid-to-upper 90's and could touch triple digits. At 6'3" and 180 lbs he has room to fill out and add some more velocity. His secondary stuff isn't talked about much and he needs to improve his command but most 19 year olds that throw that hard have never really had to rely on anything but a fastball. He has the highest upside of any Braves pitching prospect but is far away from making an impact in the majors. Injury concerns for young flamethrowers like this have to be a factor. He has a live arm but is still very raw.
10. OF Cody Johnson- This is much more of an intuition thing that anything else. Johnson had ridiculous power using a wooden bat when he was in high school and if he can consistently make contact at the plate he could become a big time slugger. In batting practice he puts on a show and can hit a ball out of any park, but a lack of plate discipline and holes in his swing when he was drafted led to a dreadful opening to his pro career. The Braves first round pick last year recently started his season for Danville with a completely re-done swing. The results have been much better with a line of .371/.436/.629 and he has matched his homerun total from last year as well as being two doubles shy of his '06 totals. He still needs to work on his plate discipline and contact to succeed at higher levels. He is very raw but with his power and a 6'4" frame, his upside is very high.
We are now nearing the mid-point of the 2007 season and it is a great time to update the Braves top prospect list. Back in March, the Chop-n-Change top ten prospects started off with Eric Campbell and Brent Lillibridge, Jarrod Saltalamacchia, Matt Harrison, Elvis Andrus, Joey Devine, Yunel Escobar, Kala Ka'aihue, Neftali Feliz, and Brandon Jones also made the list. Even though Saltalamacchia and Escobar still have prospect status, they will be considered ineligible for this list due to the fact that they are on the major league roster. Here is the Braves mid-season top ten prospects.