2012 Player Preview: Jaye Chapman

Written by Joe Lucia on .

Jaye Chapman is a guy who I think is going to be seriously considered for a slot in the major league bullpen this spring. Chapman had a fantastic season, split between Mississippi and Gwinnett. Between the two levels, he struck out 77 while walking 31 in 68 1/3 innings. While the walk rate is a little high, it's not at the point of someone like Billy Bullock's, which is just a little too high. It's manageable.

A few down notes for Chapman, though. The six homers he allowed were maybe one or two too many, but not overly high. One benefit to him is the high amount of groundballs he gets, 1.47 for every ball in the air. It's not an extreme rate like Cory Gearrin produces, but it's very good. The 24 year-old Chapman was also the lucky recipient of a very low BABIP, .232 this season.

I marked Chapman as a player to watch after 2010, because his luck was awful. Despite ERAs over 5.00 in Myrtle Beach and Mississippi, his BABIPs were very high (.321 at Myrtle Beach and an absurd .378 in Mississippi). His strand rates were also hideous, at 57.7% in Myrtle Beach and 61.2% in Mississippi. He upped that strand rate to 100% in Mississippi this season, and 78% in Gwinnett. Like I said, with a little luck on his side, Chapman would be looked at as a completely different pitcher.

I think Chapman can honestly contend for a slot in the bullpen, and after a couple of free agent departures (Scott Linebrink, George Sherrill), there are some openings. Chapman could earn one of those spots with a solid spring, and I hope the Braves give him a fair shot.

Check out Chapman's player projection at THT. 

2012 Player Preview: Billy Bullock

Written by Joe Lucia on .

When the Braves acquired Billy Bullock from the Minnesota Twins last spring in exchange for Scott Diamond, Braves fans were awash with optimism. Bullock is a live-armed reliever with potential to be a stud, while Diamond is just kind of a fifth starter/spot reliever kind of guy who didn't figure into the Braves plans at all in 2011. 

In repeating AA in 2011, most of us expected Bullock to have an absolutely dominant year, get his control in order, and become a possible bullpen option for the Braves in 2012. That....didn't exactly happen. While Bullock struck out 65 in 50 innings, his strikeout rate fell from 12.8 per nine innings to 11.8 per nine innings. Perhaps more interestingly, the control that we all expected to improve really didn't, as Bullock's walk rate actually rose, from 5.3 per nine innings to 6.2 per nine innings.

Bullock obviously still has a lot of value as a tall (6'6"), hard-throwing reliever. But at the end of the day, if he keeps walking the lineup, he's not going to crack the show. I think he can roll at Gwinnett in 2012 in kind of a "sink or swim" type situation, needing to get his control fixed before he's even allowed to sniff the show. While his overpowering stuff is very enticing, I just can't get behind him as a full-time reliever in the majors until he gets his walk rate below four batters per nine innings, which based on his 2011 totals, would mean cutting out about a dozen walks per season. It's a tall order, and if he's able to do it, he can be a stud in the majors. But if not, he'll end up being just another live arm who couldn't put it all together.

Check out Bullock's player projection on THT here.

2012 Player Preview: Michael Bourn

Written by Joe Lucia on .

bournI am way behind on these. I know, I suck. Going to get a few of these done today and tomorrow to get back on track.

The Braves acquired Bourn on July 31st last year from the Houston Astros for a quartet of minor leaguers, none of whom the team will really miss: Jordan Schafer (a center fielder who failed in multiple stints in the majors), Juan Abreu (live-armed reliever who never got a chance in the majors), Brett Oberholtzer and Paul Clemens (both of whom could be back-end starters in the majors, but lack the upside of many of the pitching prospects in the system). The Braves wanted him to provide a spark, and to a certain extent, he did.

Bourn wasn't as much of an impact player as the Braves expected, with just a .673 OPS (and an ugly .321 OBP) during his 53 game stint in Atlanta. His defense wasn't as good as expected, logging just +2 DRS in center (compared to +12 in 2009 and +16 in 2010). However, the one facet of his game that did come as advertised was his speed. Bourn stole 22 bases in his 53, putting him on pace to perhaps steal 70 over a full year. 

The Braves really aren't known as a running team, but you have to imagine that with Bourn in the fold for a full season, the shackles will come off a bit, and he'll get carte blanche on the basepaths. If Bourn is able to up his OBP to the .350 range that it was as he became a commodity with the Astros over the past couple of seasons, and his defense rebounds to the stellar level it was at, Bourn will absolutely be a catalyst for the Braves in center.

With Bourn entering free agency after the 2012 season, the Braves are in an interesting position with him. The system lacks a high upside center field prospect that could take over in 2013 if Bourn leaves town, with the possible exception of Mycal Jones, who had a vastly disappointing 2011 season. If Jones is able to turn his game around in 2012 and looks like he could be a full-time guy in the majors, I could definitely see the Braves letting Bourn walk. Bourn will be 30 at the end of the season, and once you get up to that age, speed starts to slip....and without his speed, what kind of player is Bourn? That's why I'd be hesitant to give him a long-term extension, but we'll play it by ear depending on what exactly happens in 2012.

Check out Bourn's player projection on THT here.

Photo credit to Joe Lucia 

Top 30 Braves Prospects: #20-16

Written by Joe Lucia on .

For #30-21, click here

20. Kyle Kubitza
Kubitza, a third round pick in 2011, immediately showed flashes of brilliance during his professional debut in Danville. The 21 year-old OPSed .880, and showed a very complete game, with 24 walks in 190 plate appearances, nine stolen bases (caught three times), and a .164 ISO. One thing that concerns me is the one home run he hit, but he never really showed a ton of homer potential in college, with a career high of 11 homers. If some of Kubitza's doubles manage to go over the fence, he could be a legitimate star in the making. I assume he'll be starting off in Rome, but as a college bat, could move very fast, especially with his advanced game.
THT Forecast

19. Cody Martin
COLLEGE ARM ALERT! Martin was a seventh round pick in 2011, and moved quickly, ending the year in Rome. As Rome's closer to finish out the year, he struck out 49 (including his time in Danville) and walked just five in 33 1/3 innings. This is the type of guy that could absolutely zoom through the system, much like Craig Kimbrel did upon being drafted back in 2008. I wouldn't be shocked to see him finishing 2012 in Gwinnett, and threatening for a bullpen role in 2013.
THT Forecast

18. Nick Ahmed
When I wrote about Ahmed in his 2012 Player Preview, I noted that he could be a regular, or if his power doesn't pick up, he could end up being a utility type player. What I didn't know then was that he was battling injuries for most of 2011 that he suffered while playing at UConn, and wasn't healthy all season. But the point remains that even throughout his college career, Ahmed didn't show much power. He's got advanced plate discipline, and I could see him settling into a fifth infielder type of role, but if the power comes along, he could be a solid regular. I don't think he has the ceiling that Tyler Pastornicky or Andrelton Simmons has, though.
THT Forecast

17. Dimasther Delgado
I have been a huge fan of Delgado since he burst onto the scene in 2009 with Rome, and I don't think he was fully healthy for all of 2011 after missing 2010 with injuries suffered into a car accident. The Braves limited his innings in 2011, and his command of the strike zone didn't look like it was fully back. Delgado had a 4:1 strikeout to walk rate in 2009, and if he can regain that command of the strike zone, he could really be a superstar prospect, especially since he'll only be 23 once the season begins.
THT Forecast

16. Brandon Drury
Drury is one of the fast risers on prospect lists this offseason after a stellar season, mostly at age 18, in the Appalachian League. A .347/.367/.525 line is nothing to sneeze at, especially at his young age, but there is a lot of room for improvement, primarily in his plate disicpline. Drury walked just six times in 278 plate appearances, which is absolutely unacceptable for a potential major leaguer. He did have 31 extra base hits in 65 games, and if some of those doubles start popping over the fence, he could be a potentially elite prospect.
THT Forecast 

Top 30 Braves Prospects: #30-21

Written by Joe Lucia on .

Here's how this is going to work. Today, I'm going to count down from #30 to #21, then I'll be doing five players a day for every other day of the week. It was tough to get 30 due to the state of the system right now, but here's what we've got. Enjoy.

30. Jean Carlos Gil
The 21 year-old Gil made his American debut last summer in the GCL, where he struck out 63 and walked 12 in 65 innings. Gil did a nice job at keeping the ball on the ground, and despite the relatively late start to his career in contrast to many Venezuelan pitchers, he still looks like he could have a bright future. I'd expect him to start the year in Danville, but if he has an impressive spring camp, I could see the Braves starting him in Rome. 
THT Forecast 

29. Navery Moore
The only pro experience Moore got in 2011 was in the AFL, where he walked five and struck out four in seven innings. Moore has a very live arm despite overall underwhelming numbers in his senior year at Vanderbilt, where he struck out 24 and walked 12 in 28 innings. He's also had Tommy John surgery in the past, which partially helps to explain the control problems exhibited during his final year at Vanderbilt. As a college reliever, he could start in Rome and move quickly.
THT Forecast 

28. William Beckwith
The 21 year-old Beckwith has extraordinary power, and came into his own in 2011 during his season playing for Danville. His ISO increased from .143 to .252, and he even stole eight bases. Don't believe his listed weight of 220, because Beckwith is a big, big man. He'll probably start off in Rome and look to continue moving up through the system, because there is a definite lack of first base prospects in the organization.
THT Forecast 

27. Todd Cunningham
The 22 year-old Cunningham has been in the organization for a couple of years, and his bat still really hasn't broken out yet, with an OPS under .700 in each of his pro stops, including in the AFL this year. Cunningham has good speed and is a good defensive player with the ability to play all three outfield positions, and he'll probably start the year in Mississippi despite his offensive limitations.
THT Forecast

26. Matt Lipka
Lipka's bat was an absolute disaster in 2011 after being drafted in the 2010 supplemental draft. His speed is good, but he was caught stealing in nearly a third of his attempts at Rome last year. He's being converted to center field in 2012, and because of that, I'd expect to see him start the year off in Rome again. Lipka won't turn 20 until after the season begins, so it's still way too early to give up on him, but it's not looking great so far.
THT Forecast

25. Billy Bullock
Acquired by the Braves from the Twins last spring in exchange for Scott Diamond, Bullock has an extremely live arm, but like most live arms, control can get the better of him. The soon-to-be 24 year-old is within spitting distance of the majors, and will probably start off in Gwinnett, but he's not going to get to the majors until he's able to walk less than four batters per nine innings. The control is just too much of a liability at this point.
THT Forecast

24. Cory Gearrin

Gearrin got his first taste of the majors in 2011, and really wasn't bad at all, thanks to an improved strikeout rate. Walks however, helped temper his expectations a little bit. At any rate, Gearrin's ability to get groundballs nearly at will should put him in competition for a bullpen spot in Atlanta in 2012, especially with the possible departure of injured minor league re-signee Peter Moylan.
THT Forecast

23. Jaye Chapman
Chapman is another guy that I think could sniff the 2011 bullpen, due in part to maturation as a pitcher. He split the season between Mississippi and Gwinnett, striking out more than a batter per inning at each stop and keeping his walks under control as well. Chapman's batted ball results were also pretty good, and while that may not translate pretty well to the major leagues, I think he's in a better position to contribute in 2012 than a good bit of the relievers in the system.
THT Forecast 

22. Philip Gosselin
Gosselin's bat looked good last season in his first professional season after coming out of the University of Virginia, but it dropped off in 2011. He kind of just looks like a utility infielder at this point in time, but if the bat is able to turn around, maybe he can be more. But right now, I'm seeing a ceiling of a David Eckstein type player.
THT Forecast

21. Mycal Jones
A foot injury and a DWI arrest sabotaged Jones's 2011 season, and I really have no doubt that these issues were a major cause for his disappointment offensively. A position change to center field was also on Jones's agenda in 2011, and he was actually really good defensively in center. His power, which helped set him apart from many middle infielders, disappeared last season, but he could rise up to top 15 or higher with a great 2012 season, which I think will happen in Gwinnett.
THT Forecast

2012 Player Preview: JC Boscan

Written by Joe Lucia on .

boscanI missed this one yesterday....double shot of profiles coming today!

JC Boscan isn't going to be threatening Brian McCann's job in Atlanta this season, and he's not going to be threatening David Ross's job either. Boscan is what he is: a career minor league catcher who has only brief cups of coffee in the majors as a third catcher. He's been in the Braves organization since 2008, and has spent time in Gwinnett each season since 2009. His bat is pretty much nonexistent; last season for Gwinnett, he hit .185/.235/.222 over 61 games. He's not even an every day catcher down in Gwinnett anymore, splitting time with the host of minor league veterans the team has brought in over the past few seasons. Lately, he's split time with Wilkin Castillo and Clint Sammons, two guys no longer with the organization.

So if he can't hit, what does Boscan add to the organization? Simple: he's an experienced receiver that can help the Braves' young pitching a lot. The 32 year-old isn't a member of the team to get big hits or get on base, he's there to nurture the young pitching. He'll be splitting time in 2012 with Jose Yepez, signed as a minor league free agent this offseason. All of the Braves young catching talent is at the lower levels of the organization, so Boscan likely won't be pushed for a job any time soon. When he decides to retire, he'll probably have a coaching spot in the organization ready to go. But for now, he's just going to chill in AAA, taking care of the oodles of young pitching throughout the system. I don't think it's a bad move at all. 

Photo courtesy of Daylife.com 

2012 Player Preview: Christian Bethancourt

Written by Joe Lucia on .

bethancourt20 year-old catcher Christian Bethancourt is a tough nut to crack. He's fallen from grace on many prospect lists (dropping to ninth on this year's BA top ten), because he hasn't found consistency hitting, despite playing the 2011 season as a 19 year-old in full season ball. He started the year in Rome, and after a cold spell to start the year, caught fire and finished at .303/.323/.430 before getting called up to Lynchburg, where he finished his year struggling, finishing up at .271/.277/.325.

The major demerit on Bethancourt right now is his plate discipline. This season, he walked just 11 times in 410 plate appearances. That's not going to work in the long run, but hopefully, his plate discipline can improve as he ages. His power is also lacking, with a .096 ISO overall. That's also not really going to cut it, but he's still filling out his body, and that can improve with age.

The power question got answered a little bit in the AFL, where Bethancourt OPSed .880 in 74 plate appearances, homering five times (which is how many he hit in the entire regular season) and adding three doubles as well to give him an ISO of .250 in the fall - a massive improvement. But the plate discipline question remained. In those AFL games, Bethancourt walked just twice while striking out 17 times. The walks are consistent with his 2011 regular season totals, while the strikeouts spiked, probably due to Bethancourt attempting to impress and hit the ball more, along with the quality of pitching in the AFL.

There is no need for the Braves to rush Bethancourt, because there is a glut of young catching in the low minors. In addition to Bethancourt, the Braves system features guys like Ryan Delgado and Evan Gattis, both of whom have hit rather well during their careers. I'd personally like to see Bethancourt start the year at Lynchburg in 2012, and if he's able to succeed hitting, he can get promoted to Mississippi, much like the team did with him in 2011. Bethancourt spent all of 2010 in Rome and struggled offensively, and started there in 2011 as well before being promoted once he caught a spark.

I think Bethancourt can be a solid catcher in the bigs, but he needs to continue to develop his power and plate discipline. 2012 will be a big step forward for him, and I'd really like to see him develop his offensive game a little more. If he can do that, he can be a top 100 prospect in 2013.

Check out THT's projection for Bethancourt here

Photo courtesy of Daylife.com 

2012 Player Preview: Brandon Beachy

Written by Joe Lucia on .

beachyBrandon Beachy was an absolutely critical part of the 2011 Braves rotation. He was third on staff in fWAR at 2.8, despite only throwing 141 2/3 innings. The two players better were Craig Kimbrel, the best reliever in baseball, and Tim Hudson, who threw nearly 75 more innings than Beachy. So that 2.8 fWAR is a pretty solid number considering Beachy's body of work. He missed about a month with a strained oblique in May-June, and while that hurt the team overall, I think it may have helped...just because it limited Beachy's innings. He threw 135 in 2010, and the team probably didn't want to overexert him, though another 30 innings wouldn't have hurt.

As for Beachy's on-field performance, it was stellar. He led the pitching staff (AS A ROOKIE) with 169 strikeouts, and had a solid 3.68 ERA, which was backed up by an even better 3.19 FIP (and 3.16 xFIP for that matter). His 10.74 strikeout rate led all of baseball for a pitcher with at least 140 innings pitched. To call Beachy's rookie year anything but a success would be an absolute, flat-out lie.

There is still room for improvement, however. Beachy allowed 16 homers, too high of a total for 140 innings of work. Beachy is a flyball pitcher, so that somewhat explains his 33.8% groundball rate, but I'd like to see that get a little higher too. If Beachy is able to keep the ball in the park and on the ground a little better, he could be elite. Even if he replicates his 2011 rates, he'll still be a damn good rotation piece.

With the injury concerns surrounding Jair Jurrjens and Tommy Hanson this season, Beachy is the de facto number two starter following the trade of Derek Lowe in November. It's a very tall order for him, but I think Beachy can absolutely be the pitcher he was in 2011 again in 2012. Even if Hanson and Jurrjens are fully recovered from their shoulder and knee injuries respectively, Beachy is still going to be counted on to be a solid part of the rotation. Both Hanson and Jurrjens have had Jeckyll and Hyde type careers, and Beachy's thusfar has been much more respectable.

I wouldn't go as far as saying Beachy can be a staff ace racking up 5 fWAR seasons like it's no one's business, but if he has a 4 fWAR season in 2012, I wouldn't be surprised at all. In fact, I think that's what I'm expecting out of him. Beachy can take a huge step forward this season, and it's pretty important for the Braves if he does or doesn't. Is he a two year wonder, or is he the type of guy that will be in Atlanta's future plans?

Check out Beachy's 2012 player projection on THT

Photo credit goes to Joe Lucia

2012 Player Preview: Luis Avilan

Written by Joe Lucia on .

The 22 year-old Avilan was added to the Braves 40-man roster this offseason after signing with the organization as a 16 year-old. He's slowly worked his way through the system and spent 2011 in Mississippi, where he split his time between starting and relieving. Avilan hadn't started full-time since 2007 in the DSL, so it was a nice change of pace for him. As a reliever, Avilan is a guy who can strike out a batter per inning, but has control problems.

2011 was a rough year for Avilan. Despite a career high 106 1/3 innings, his strikeout rate was a career low 6.60 per nine innings, which is to be expected with a transition to the rotation. What wasn't necessarily expected was the spike in home runs allowed by Avilan, who allowed a career high 10. To put that in perspective, he allowed a total of nine homers from 2008-2010. However, while Avilan's strikeout and homer rates went in the wrong direction, his walk rate went down the opposite route, settling in at 3.05, his lowest since coming to America in 2008.

In the DWL this winter, Avilan has also split time between starting and relieving, and he appears to be much more effective as a reliever. He's pitched nearly the same amount of innings in each role (21 relieving, 22 2/3 starting), and struck out more hitters while walking fewer in relief. He's also allowed half as many hits coming out of the pen as he has starting.

I'd expect Avilan to be a reliever at Gwinnett next year, and that's probably the best role for him right now with the glut of starting pitching talent that the organization has. He's simply not good enough to crack the organization's top starting pitching prospects, but could crack the top reliever prospects.

Check out Avilan's 2012 player projection on THT 

2012 Player Preview: Jairo Asencio

Written by Joe Lucia on .

asencioJairo Asencio didn't pitch an inning for the Braves in 2010, but in 2009, he looked like a real option for the major league bullpen after an outstanding performance for Gwinnett. Then known as Luis Valdez, Asencio struck out 75 while walking just 19 in 71 1/3 innings. He was an International League All-Star, and a promotion to the majors looked to be in the cards for 2010.

But before the 2010 season, things took an unexpected turn. Asencio was detained in the Dominican Republic for identity fraud, and it was found out that his name wasn't Luis Valdez, but in fact, Jairo Asencio. The visa issues wiped out his entire 2010, and his future with the Braves looked questionable at best.

The team stuck by him in 2011, and got a couple of callups to the majors, totalling a 6.97 ERA in 10 1/3 innings, walking five and striking out eight. It was a different story in Gwinnett, where Asencio was dominant in 54 2/3 innings. The 27 year-old struck out 70 while walking 22, and was named the AAA reliever of the year after the season.

Asencio is continuing to perform well this offseason in the Dominican, where he has a 1.07 ERA in 25 1/3 innings, striking out 33 while walking just nine. He'll be 28 a mont into the season, and while he's on the 40-man roster, the Braves need to figure out whether or not he's in the future plans. The team was in a similar situation with Stephen Marek last year, who made the decision for the Braves to part ways with him easier after blowing out his elbow in May.

The situation with Asencio is much different, as he's been dominant in his three active seasons in the Braves organization. I think he can be an effective reliever in the majors if the team actually gives him more than a 10 1/3 inning trial. The fact that Scott Proctor got more of a chance to impress in the majors than Asencio makes me believe that the team really doesn't see him in their future plans, but with his performances at AAA in his last two seasons, why shouldn't the team give him a shot? Guys with mid-80s changeups and low-90s fastballs don't grow on trees, and it would be worth it to at least see if he's got anything instead of just kicking him down to Gwinnett right away.

Check out Asencio's 2012 player projection on THT

Photo courtesy of Daylife.com

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