The Atlanta Braves had one of the more interesting offseasons in recent memory, acquiring all kinds of young talent in return for proven veterans. With the latest deal that sent closer Craig Kimbrel to the Padres, the Braves acquired yet another top prospect in Matt Wisler. I’ve never seen a team rebuild quite like they have this offseason, going in complete fire sale mode and restocking their system into one of the games best.
The Braves clearly don’t have much desire to win this year, having more of an eye towards the 2017 season when they move into a new stadium in East Cobb. They won’t need any big contributions from any prospects this year, but their development in 2015 will go a long way towards their big league success. Below are five players that could position themselves to be key contributors for the future of the franchise.
Jose Peraza, Gwinnett (AAA)
The Braves’ top ranked prospect by most, Peraza has a chance to form one of the best defensive middle infields in the Majors once he joins Andrelton Simmons in Atlanta. The 20-year old may be the perfect example of a prospect that the team can really take their time with, even though he could probably help the ball club in 2015. He didn’t hit well at all in Spring Training, with just one hit in 16 at bats. However, he hit well enough in Double-A that the team was willing to start him off in Triple-A, where he will likely hit leadoff. His speed is all-world (60+ steals in each of the last two seasons), and his contact rate is also very high, leading to an ideal top of the order bat. I would expect to see Peraza called up at some point after the All-Star break, and should be starting by Opening Day 2016. That should give him enough time to be a solid Major Leaguer by the time the team is ready to seriously contend in 2017.
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Tyrell Jenkins, Mississippi (AA)
Although the trade that brought Jenkins to Atlanta was overshadowed by the big league names included in the deal, the Braves may have got a real steal in the 22-year old. Injuries slowed him down the last few years, as the righthander has yet to pitch above Advanced-A ball. He did get an invite to the Arizona Fall League at the end of last year, where he showed he could really hold his own against some of the better prospects in the Minor Leagues. He’ll start in Double-A, and should be very interesting to watch, especially if he can stay healthy for the entire year. I see Jenkins having a breakout year, and should fly up prospect rankings by next off-season. The Braves have a way with developing pitchers, which bodes well for the arms they acquired this Winter.
Ozhaino Albies, Carolina (A+)
The Braves clearly know something that other teams don’t when it comes to scouting players from Curacao. You could make a case that the club has signed the three best players to ever come out of the country, in Andruw Jones, Simmons, and Jair Jurrjens. They may have found another future stud in diminutive shortstop Albies. In 58 games in Rookie ball last year, he hit .364 with more walks than strikeouts, and over 20 steals, all at age 17. He isn’t a guy who will hit for much power, but his on base skills and speed could end up being elite down the road. His defense is very solid as well, and projects to keep him at shortstop. Who knows what the Braves middle infield will look like by the time Albies is ready for the show, but all we can hope for is steady progression from the youngster. He already appeared at #66 on Keith Law’s top 100 prospect list, and should continue to rise if he can turn in a quality first full professional season in Advanced-A ball.
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Matt Wisler, Gwinnett (AAA)
The 22-year old Wisler was the main prize for Atlanta in the Craig Kimbrel trade, and could end up being a steal down the road. The Braves were able to acquire the Padres top two pitching prospects this offseason, also getting Max Fried in the Justin Upton deal. The 6 foot 3 inch righthander may be closer to the Majors than anyone else on this list, having already spent 22 starts in Triple-A last season. He had some troubles pitching in a hitter-friendly park in El Paso, leading to a 5.01 ERA and 1.43 WHIP. He has the chance to have four quality pitches in the big leagues, with a low-to mid 90’s sinker and deceptive changeup being the most noteworthy. His slider is an above average offering, and he throws his curveball the least frequently, although it is still an effective pitch. Wisler will look to get things sorted out in Gwinnett to start 2015, and could be an in-season call-up if someone were to get injured or struggle out of the gate in Atlanta. He appears to be another young starter that should join Julio Teheran and Alex Wood in the rotation plans for 2016 and beyond.
Rio Ruiz, Mississippi (AA)
With no long term option in place at the Major League level, Ruiz is the Braves’ third basemen of the future. Acquired from the Astros in the Evan Gattis trade, the left handed hitter will look to keep improving as he works his way up the Minor League ladder. The Astros were able to deal him in part because of the development of third basemen Colin Moran. Ruiz hasn’t played a game above Advanced-A ball, but will start 2015 in Double-A. His high contact rate and plate discipline is most impressive about his game, with the chance to be a 20+ homer a year hitter in the future. The 6 foot 2 inch 215 pounder has to work on his defense a little bit, although he shouldn’t have to move away from the hot corner. Ruiz should be playing on the same infield as fellow 20-year old Peraza by the start of the 2017 season.