Braves in the Arizona Fall League


Mar 7, 2013; Lake Buena Vista, FL, USA; Atlanta Braves starting pitcher Aaron Northcraft (64) throws against the Detroit Tigers during the top of the ninth inning of a spring training game at Champion Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports

The Atlanta Braves recently celebrated their first NL East championship since their Major League record 14 year streak ended in 2005, and they did so largely thanks to past Arizona Fall League representatives. In the past few seasons, the Braves have sent current all star first baseman Freddie Freeman, outfielder Jayson Heyward, Ace Mike Minor, and Tommy Hanson (traded to acquire set up man Jordan Walden from the Angels) to the AFL. They can only hope to get similar results from this year’s eight man crop;  infielders Tommy La Stella, Kyle Kubitza, and Elmer Reyes, pitchers Aaron Northcraft, Shae Simmons, Juan Jaime, and Juan Cornely, and outfielder Robby Hefflinger.

Tommy La Stella – Drafted out of the eight round in 2011, La Stella, 24, broke out this season and is the most intriguing name on this list. In 81 games as a second baseman at Double-A, La Stella hit a ridiculous .343/.422/.473 with more walks than strikeouts and displayed adequate fielding skills. He’ll knock out more than a dozen home runs, but he has good gap power and his smooth, line drive swing could yield an average of up to .320 in the majors, his mature plate discipline yielding a .400 OBP. With current Braves second baseman Dan Uggla hitting below the Mendoza line, La Stella could be the future at that position.

Kyle Kubitza – After looking at La Stella’s gaudy numbers, Kubitza looks almost disappointing, but he is in fact a prospect in his own rank. A former third round pick, Kubitza was expected to show 20-25 homer power in the minors, and while that has yet to materialize, this year’s total of 12 is a step in the right direction. His best asset is his discipline, as he walked 80 times this year for a .380 OBP, and if he can cut down on his strikeouts (132 in A+), he has a shot at being a solid regular.

Elmer Reyes – Unlike the first couple players on this list, Reyes’s value rests primarily in his glove. Small and agile, the 5’11, 150 lb Reyes can pick it at short but the bat remains in question. Before this year, his highest batting average had been .251 in A ball, and there was few home runs or walks to support it. He showed modest improvements this year, hitting .285/.321/.406 in his first tour of high A, and if he can keep that performance up in the future, he just might be able to carve out a career as a glove first, utility infielder.

Mar 7, 2013; Lake Buena Vista, FL, USA; Atlanta Braves starting pitcher Aaron Northcraft (64) against the Detroit Tigers during a spring training game at Champion Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports

Aaron Northcraft – The Brave’s young pitching has long been the envy of baseball, partially because of the elites (Mike Minor, Brandon Beachy, Julio Teheran), but also because of the guys beneath them, guys like Aaron Northcraft. A 10th round pick in 2009, Northcraft has proven to be a dependable starter at every minor league stop. This season, he pitched to a 3.42 ERA with above average peripherals of a 3.4 BB/9 and 7.9 SO/9. He doesn’t have the raw stuff of a premier prospect, but his low 90’s fastball, tight curve, and developing change up look nice when complemented with his poise and above average command. He could peak as a third starter down the road, and may appear in the majors as a spot starter as soon next season.

Shae Simmons – Sporting a mid 90’s fastball, a sharp slider and an all out delivery that produces tons of strikeouts but spotty command, Simmons is the definition of a relief prospect. This year he proved he was a good one, putting up a 1.69 ERA, a .994 WHIP, and a 13.7 SO/9 between A and AA ball.  As previously stated, control is his only major issue as he can lose sight of it at time, like when walked 5.8 batters/9 innings  in his first professional season and 5.7 batters/9  in his brief stint in AA this year.

March 3, 2013; Lake Buena Vista, FL, USA; Atlanta Braves relief pitcher Juan Jaime (63) throws a pitch against the Detroit Tigers at ESPN Disney Wide World of Sports complex, Champion Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Juan Jaime – At 26 years old, Jaime will be one of the oldest players in the Arizona Fall League. A former Nationals prospect, Jaime missed all of 2010 and 2011 after undergoing Tommy John surgery. Picked up off waivers by the Braves, the hard throwing right hander, whose fastball can touch triple digits, has had a wild return. In Double-A this year, Jaime struck out a ridiculous 15.0 batters per nine innings, but couldn’t find the strike zone, walking 28 batters in just 35 relief appearances. The result was a mediocre 4.07 ERA, but if he can just reign in his wildness slightly, he has the raw stuff to be top reliever at the show.

Juan Cornely – Another high strikeout, high walk relief prospect, Cornely’s age, 24, is virtually the only thing distinguishing him from the 26 year old Juan Jaime. His numbers weren’t as extreme as Jaime’s, though. The 6’1 righthander put up a 12.4 SO/9 with a 4.3 BB/9 and a much more acceptable 3.38. He was old for High A this year, but he’ll report to AA next season and could rise rapidly from there.

Robby Hefflinger – Hefflinger, 23, is an all or nothing hitter whose game is predicated almost entirely on power. He launched 27 home runs in 127 games between A+ and AA, but struck out 135 and collected only 37 walks, leading to a .239 average and a .294 OBP. His on base ability was even worse in AA as he looked completely overmatched there, hitting only .170 with a .223 OBP in 53 games. As a left fielder, Hefflinger brings little value defensively, so he’ll have to complement his plus power with improved on contact and discipline if he is to become a major league outfielder.