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Braves Top 20 Prospects: 16-20

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It's that time of the year again; time for the post-season top prospect list. It was an interesting year for the Atlanta farm system with a couple of breakout performances and one very big suspension to last year's top prospect. As in previous lists, I did not include players who have spent time on 25-man roster (ex: Brent Lillibridge) because even though they have technically not shed their rookie status, I don't consider them prospects(with a few exceptions). The list is a combination of projection and performance. Here are numbers 16-20.

20. RHP Jacob Thompson - After a great sophomore year for the University of Virginia, Thompson was considered a first-round talent. Unfortunately for Thompson (and fortunately for the Braves), the 6'6" right-hander struggled during his junior season and fell to Frank Wren and the Braves in the fifth round of this year's draft. When Thompson is on, he has four usable pitches, good command, and can get ground balls, but a lack of consistency is what kills him. He did sign early enough to see some action this season, but only threw 9.2 innings in three appearances between Danville and Rome. Thompson has got everything to be a middle of the rotation starter if he can just put this past year's struggles behind him.

19. 3B Jon Gilmore - Gilmore's place on the list isn't really indicative of how much I like him as a prospect. Atlanta's sandwich pick in the '07 draft, Gilmore began to show the raw power that made him such a high pick. After slugging only .346 in 43 games last season, Gilmore hit .337/.365/.473 in 63 games for Danville before struggling with Rome. Right now, Gilmore's value is in his tools and like most prospects of the sort, his biggest challenge as he progresses is going to be plate discipline. Gilmore has 30-homerun potential but he's still a long way away.

18. SS Brandon Hicks - Most of you know that I'm lower on Hicks than a lot of Braves fans. He's shown very impressive power, on-base ability, speed, and defense in his season and a half at the pro level, but the strikeouts make all of that pretty moot. To go along with his 20 homeruns and 26 doubles, Hicks struck out 139 times in 396 at-bats. All of that came from a 22-year old playing most of his season in high-A ball. If Hicks can't significantly cut down on his whiffs, he's going to be looking at a life of coming off the bench. Of course if he can make more contact, he's got the tools to be a pretty good starter.

17. RHP David Francis - Francis is one of the many junior college players drafted this season to really impress in his pro debut. The 20-year old starter had a 2.35 ERA along with a 69/17 K/BB in 53.2 innings for Danville. Like Thompson, he's more finesse than power on the mound. Francis features a low-90's fastball along with a slider and a "Vulcan changeup", which functions as his out pitch. If you've seen Star Trek, you get the picture and if you don't, Google it. Finding a young pitcher with an advanced changeup is always a good thing and while he doesn't have that much projection, Francis could see quite a bit of attention if he adjusts to a higher level next season.

16. RHP Zeke Spruill - Spruill was in mentioned as a possible first-round talent but when he dropped, the Braves snagged the projectable right-hander near the end of the second round. The 6'4" Georgia-native impressed in his pro debut with Atlanta's GCL team. In 40 innings , Spruill posted a 2.93 ERA while showing excellent control to go along with a decent strikeout rate and ground ball tendencies. Right now the 19-year old's fastball sits in the low-90's to go along with a decent slider and a changeup that is a work in progress. All Braves fans should be used to pitchers like Spruill. He has high potential but is a long way away, so don't expect him to contribute for quite a while.

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