1. RHP Cory Rasmus- Rasmus' promising pro career has been sidelined thus far by injury. The '06 sandwich pick and brother of Cardinals top prospect Colby missed the entire 2007 season recovering from shoulder surgery, leaving him with only 7.1 professional innings since being drafted. The 20-year old right-hander is expected to be ready for the start of the season and could start to realize the potential that made him one of the top high school arms in his draft class. When healthy, Rasmus combines an above-average fastball that sits in the 92-94 mph range along with a good curve and an average changeup. His command isn't great but it isn't a real weakness either. Having a pitcher with three pitches that grade out as at least average is quite the commodity. Rasmus will likely start out at Rome if the Braves feel he is ready for a full season but I think we could see a jump to Myrtle Beach by the end of the season and a big jump into the 5-10 range in the Braves top ten.
2. LHP Cole Rohrbough- Rohrbough has the distinction of being the last draft-and-follow in Braves history after being selected in the 22nd round in '06. He broke onto the scene this past season with Danville, posting incredible numbers. In 33.1 innings, the southpaw went 3-2 with a 1.08 era. He moved on to Rome by the end of the year, again finding lots of success. Combined, the 20-year old allowed only 33 hits in 61.1 innings while striking out 96 and walking 20. Despite the incredible numbers, the highest you'll probably see him on a prospect list is in the 80-100 range. A couple factors play into this. The biggest is that the highest he's had success is A-ball. Even then, Rohrbough saw his groundball rate plummet. Rohrbough so far has only really had to rely on his fastball and curve. He has pretty good velocity for a left-hander and his spike curve is a plus pitch. As he moves up, Rohrbough is going to have to prove that his success isn't just because less advanced hitters have never seen the type of curveball that he has and also that he can effectively use his changeup, that still grades out as a below-average pitch. I really think people are just waiting for him to show he can handle a full season at a more advanced level. If he does that, Rohrbough should end up as one of the top five left-handed prospects in baseball.
3. LHP Jeff Locke- This southpaw has the same problem as Rohrbough in that people want to see him perform at a higher level, but he has another big hurdle. Locke probably has the most potential of any Braves left-hander but his polish just isn't near Rohrbough's. The 20-year old has good control and the ability to throw his fastball in the mid-90's, however his secondary pitches really lack. His curve shows flashes of brilliance but is drastically inconsistent at this point in his career and his changeup, though he has made progress with the pitch this past season, is still not a reliable pitch moving forward. Any left-hander who has that kind of velocity is an intriguing prospect, so if he can polish off his secondary offerings, Locke could move into that top tier of pitching prospects down the road.
4. RHP Cory Gearrin- A fourth round pick last season, Gearrin is a reliever whose two biggest assets are his arm angle and mentality. The 21-year old Georgie-native doesn't have great velocity, pitches, or command, yet he profiles as a good reliever in the future. Gearrin opened some eyes as Mercer's closer last year with an aggressiveness on the mound and a side-arm delivery that is incredible difficult to pick up. He throws a fastball that sits at around 90 mph without much movement and a big sweeping slider. Even though he only enjoyed moderate success in rookie-ball after being drafted, I think Gearrin could make it as high as Atlanta in '08. The key for him is going to be improved control. It isn't going to be great or even good, but it needs to slightly improve. Aside from that, his delivery should do the rest.
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2007 for the Braves' farm system was marked by big breakouts. Jordan Schafer, Brandon Jones, Jo-Jo Reyes, and others stepped out from the shadows of relative anonymity and took their place among the premier prospects in baseball. Which Braves prospects should you look forward to taking big steps this season? Here they are.