Since I’ve finished breaking down the notable American League NRIs, it’s time to turn to the NL teams. First up, the Atlanta Braves, who mainly feature a number of notable prospects here, but also boast a few interesting vets.
OF Jose Constanza–A longtime Indians farmhand, Constanza is a lightning-fast center fielder with all of one homer since 2008. Already 27, he only has one year of Triple-A under his belt, but hit .317/.370/.391 there last year, going 34-for-40 in steals. Ready to help out in a reserve role right now, Constanza doesn’t have the secondary skills to start in the majors, but could be a useful contact/speed/defense reserve outfielder.
LHP Kenshin Kawakami–An underrated veteran, Kawakami posted a 4.35 FIP last year, but nevertheless didn’t earn his hefty salary, causing Atlanta to outright him to the minors and desperately seek a trade for the Japanese lefty. Therefore, his camp performance is important in the sense that a strong spring could find him some suitors (the Yankees, perhaps?). Figuring out how to make his fastball something other than terrible should be at the top of Kawakami’s priority list.
RHP Rodrigo Lopez–You have to credit Lopez for rising out of nowhere to make 38 starts in 2009-10, but it’s not like he was particularly effective, allowing 37 homers in 200 innings last year with Arizona. He could make sense for a team desperate for a veteran fifth starter, but Atlanta is decidedly not that team, since Mike Minor and Brandon Beachy are around. If Lopez makes the team over either of them, it would be a ridiculously poor decision.
INF Ed Lucas–Lots of Braves fans feel Lucas is a big sleeper to watch, and it’s not hard to see why–he hit .307/.398/.480 for the Royals’ AAA affiliate last year, and plays a solid third base and a passable shortstop. Lucas is 29 in May, so he’s far from young, and his 2010 performance is quite out of line with his previous numbers, so let’s not get carried away–the Royals didn’t even have room for the guy. Still, he bears watching, because if he really can handle the middle infield and 2010’s offense was for real, he belongs on a big league roster.
LHP Brett Oberholtzer–Oberholtzer gets lost in all the Teheran/Minor/Delgado/Beachy/Vizcaino hype, but let’s not forget him–Oberholtzer throws strikes to a fault, and his curveball is a legitimate strikeout pitch. He had a 107/18 K/BB ratio in 112 2/3 innings in High-A last year at age 20, so he’s definitely one to watch.
INF Tyler Pastornicky–Pastornicky could start 2011 in Triple-A at age 21. A big sleeper prospect who’s held his own despite being consistently young for his levels, the former Blue Jays prospect boasts impressive speed to go with a solid all-around offensive and defensive package. It remains to be seen whether he’ll play second base or shortstop long-term, but he’s definitely a player to watch, and could even see some late-season action in Atlanta.
OF Wilkin Ramirez–Ramirez is a former top Tigers prospect, but he completely fell apart with Detroit last year, striking out nearly 40% of the time in Double-A and Triple-A and hitting .211/.273/.346 at the higher level. A trade to Atlanta, however, brought immediate dividends for the slugger, as he dropped his strikeout rate to 26% and boosted his walk rate over 10%, hitting .253/.351/.458 with the Braves’ AAA affiliate. A former third baseman, he’s an acceptable and versatile outfielder with speed and serious raw power–if his approach stays solid, he could help.
RHP Julio Teheran–The best pitching prospect in baseball (at least in my humble opinion), Teheran is just 20, but could see Atlanta by the end of the season. He spent most of last year blowing A-ball hitters away, and even held his own in Double-A, with a 3.30 FIP in seven late-season starts. With an excellent three-pitch mix, he has Cy Young potential, and Atlanta fans will want to take in whatever they can of him pitching in March.
RHP Arodys Vizcaino–Another top prospect, Vizcaino is looking to bounce back from some late-season arm troubles in 2010. Somewhat undersized, the biggest thing for Vizcaino this spring is to prove his health. His stuff and performance certainly aren’t in question, as he has an excellent power arsenal and excellent control, posting a 1.99 FIP in Low-A as a teenager last year. He and Teheran are the two NRIs here likely to generate the most buzz due to their prospect hype.