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braves-post-season-top-prospects | October | 2007 Articles

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Braves Post Season Top Prospects

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Another year of major league baseball has come and gone and with it another year of minor league ball. 2007 was possibly the most eventful season for Braves minor leaguers since the "Baby Braves" in 2005. Not only did three of the Braves' top prospects (Jarrod Saltalamacchia, Elvis Andrus, and Matt Harrison Harrison) move on via the Mark Teixeira deal, but three more Braves prospects shed their prospect status. Peter Moylan, Yunel Escobar, and Jo-Jo Reyes all exceeded the marks for the labeling of "rookie" with the first two enjoying considerably more success than Reyes. Here is the Braves post season top ten prospects. 1. CF Jordan Schafer- Schafer gets the nod here after forcing his way up the list with an incredible breakout season. After two disappointing seasons to start his professional career, Schafer led the minors in hits this year and finished second in total bases. He raised his average over 70 points and finished with double-digits in doubles, triples, home runs, and stolen bases. Most of this was done in Myrtle Beach, a horrible park for hitters. The 21-year old Schafer is a five-tool player who has drawn comparisons to Grady Sizemore. Take this kind of offense and what has been described as gold-glove potential defense in center and you have one of the most exciting outfield prospects in the game. He almost certainly won't be starting 2008 in the majors, but don't be surprised if he is up mid-season if there is a need. 2. 1B/OF Jason Heyward- After the miracle that left Heyward to the Braves at number fourteen this past June, this 18-year old Georgia product impressed in his first taste of professional ball. The 2007 first rounder hit .302/.354/.488 in 43 at bats between Rome and the Gulf Coast League. It isn't a big sample size, but that should tell you just how talented a player Heyward is. The 6'4" 220 lb first baseman and corner outfielder brings impressive contact ability, plate discipline, base running, defense, and especially power potential to the field for such a young left-handed power hitter. His body type and tools have drawn comparisons to a left-handed Derek Lee, something that I am sure Braves fans are happy to here. Heyward will most likely start next year with Rome and could progress fairly quickly through the minors. 3. LHP Cole Rohrbough- Rohrbough, a 2006 22nd round draft-and-follow, easily out-pitched the Braves' 2005 22nd round draft-and-follow to gain the top pitching prospect designation. Combining a low-to-mid 90's fastball with a dizzying spike curve, the 20-year old lefty dominated with Danville and Rome. In 61.1 innings, Rohrbough had a 1.17 ERA, allowing only 33 hits, 2 home runs, and a .154 BAA, while striking out 96 and walking 20. Rohrbough will be starting the season at either Rome or Myrtle Beach next season and will look to keep up his performance against more advanced competition. 4. LF Brandon Jones- Jones, who finally translated his athleticism and tools into production, was rewarded with a September call-up this season. Despite hitting only .158 with Atlanta, it was the cap to a very impressive season. The 23-year old left-fielder split his time between Mississippi and Richmond this season, hitting .295 with 19 homers and 100 RBIs. He may not have the highest ceiling of the Braves minor leaguers, but his potential as a good all-around left fielder could be realized as soon as next year. Jones could see time next year as part of a left-field platoon or may earn the everyday right field job if Jeff Francoeur is moved to center. 5. SS Brent Lillibridge- Lillibridge had a very up and down year between Mississippi and Richmond. In his first year in the Atlanta organization, the former Pirate farm-hand hit a very respectable .282/.341/.417 in 525 at bats with 13 home runs and 42 steals. Lillibridge impressed Bobby Cox in spring training, but had trouble early adjusting to advanced competition. However, post all-star break, the 24-year old shortstop hit .304/.349/.505 in 194 at bats with 8 home runs and 16 stolen bases (4 caught stealing). Lillibridge will play in the Arizona Fall League this year and a strong showing could improve his chances of landing a utility role or the starting center field job out of spring training. Lillibridge needs to shorten his stroke and bring his plate discipline closer to 2006, but we are looking at a player that could be very good down the road. 6. RHP Tommy Hanson- Hanson was our mid-season top prospect and although we can't complain about his performance, it didn't live up to the hype of 2006. After rolling through the Sally League fairly easily, the big right-hander's performance declined significantly with Myrtle Beach. His ERA, hit and home run prevention, control, strikeout rate, and groundball rate all took a sharp drop-off with Myrtle Beach. Hanson finished with a 3.32 ERA in 133 innings. Hopefully the decline was just Hanson tiring out at the end of the season (After all he pitched just over 50 pro innings last year) or adjusting to the higher competition. Hanson still has the stuff and size scouts drool over and a strong start to 2008 could shoot him right back up the list. 7. LHP Jeff Locke- Locke improved in his second year of pro baseball. In just over 60 innings with Danville, the left-hander went 7-1 with a 2.66 ERA and 74 strikeouts to only 8 walks. His arsenal is similar to Tommy Hanson, utilizing a fastball-curveball combo to get most of his outs. However, his curveball and change lag behind Hanson's. He didn't pitch a full season this year but following up an impressive 2007, he should start out with Rome next season. If Locke can improve his curve and change and continue his success at higher levels, he could start moving up the ranks of left-handed pitching prospects. 8. 3B Eric Campbell- 2007 was not a good year for Campbell. The third baseman started the year as the Chop-n-Change top Braves prospect, and to say he didn't live up to that billing would be a drastic understatement. Campbell battled through a wrist injury through most of the year, much like Jarrod Saltalamacchia's in 2006, and disciplinary actions by the team forced him to miss the end of the season. Though he hit only .221, Campbell managed 14 home runs in under 300 at bats and his plate discipline improved. I can't abandon a 22-year old who combined to hit .301 with 40 home runs in a short-season in '05 and '06 with Rome. I very much believe Campbell will have a big rebound next year and could establish himself once again as one of the Braves top prospects and the heir to third base. 9. RHP Jamie Richmond- He didn't have quite the season he did last year but again an impressive showing for the right-hander. Richmond, 21, went 7-6 for Rome with a 3.05 ERA and despite only decent strikeout numbers, stellar command led to a very good 3.92 K/BB ratio. Richmond certainly has the command moving forward and if he can fill out and add some more velocity, that could help a lot. He has good enough stuff that combined with his command, Richmond should be a fine back-end starter. He's still got a ways to go and a big breakthrough with one of his pitches could go a long way. Let's just hope the injury-bug doesn't bite. 10. 1B Kala Ka'aihue- Ka'aihue, along with much of the latter part of this list, tailed off in a big way towards the end of the season. After having one of the best offensive seasons in Myrtle Beach history, hitting .298 with 22 home runs in just over 300 at bats, Ka'aihue's stats plummeted following a promotion to double-A Mississippi. In 118 at bats for the Mississippi Braves, the Samoan first baseman managed only a .127/.211/.186 line with no home runs and only six extra base hits. He has a history of taking a while to adjust, much like Scott Thorman's minor league career, and has given more credence to the thought that he may only be a bench player in the future. If he can make more consistent contact, Ka'aihue could enjoy some very productive years as a starting first baseman in the majors. If not, he'll probably top out as a power bat off the bench. Honorable Mention: Cody Johnson, Freddie Freeman, Kris Medlen, Brandon Hicks, Jon Gilmore, Chase Fontaine
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