Welcome to the second installment of the Talking Chop 2019 pre-season Top 30 Braves prospects list. For those of you who have been following along so far, you get extra bonus points. For those of you who missed the first installment, fear not…you can view it right here.
The way the rankings are determined is that each member of the Talking Chop minor league staff (in this case, that means Eric Cole, Garrett Spain, Gaurav Vedak, Matt Powers, Aaron Huston, and Wayne Cavadi) submitted their own personal prospect rankings. From that, we make a composite and see how that looks. More often than not, we all agree that the final composite is good to go and ends up being the final list once ties are resolved and the math is double-checked. We have made adjustments in the past to account for weird outlier cases, but that is the gist.
A few notes about the list before we get to the part that most of you likely skipped to already:
- It is best to think of these rankings in terms of tiers rather than hard and fast rules. If you see a player one spot ahead of another, there is likely not to be a big jump in our grades of each of those players. This was particularly pronounced this season as the players even at the top were ranked very closely together in the final composite.
- These rankings are purely subjective. We try to get a good consensus opinion by making these rankings a composite so that all voices are heard, but we are going to have our own staff biases simply because we talk all the time about who/what we like and don’t like. We aren’t aiming for perfection here, merely adding to the conversation.
- We loosely use rookie eligibility to determine who is or is not eligible for the list. This was famously relevant when we did not rank Dansby because he had already locked up a starting spot on the roster and was just a couple at-bats away from no longer being a rookie. This wasn’t as relevant this year, but it is worth keeping in mind
- We don’t hate your favorite pet prospect….in fact, we probably love them. There are guys that did not make the list that we like a lot both as players and as people. Please keep the comments section bearable…comments like “these rankings are a disgrace because you ranked X player this high/low” don’t add anything to the discourse and will likely get you put in timeout as I (Eric) don’t have much patience for such things.
- Spoiler alert: we are going to be wrong at times and that is okay with us. Prospect evaluation is an exercise in disappointment because professional baseball is really hard and sometimes guys don’t work out for a variety of reasons and sometimes guys come out of nowhere to be amazing. We always hope for the latter and pray for the former to not. Each list gets better and better as we learn more and more about what players are and are not capable of and what attributes make successful major leaguers.
- Yes, we did make a honorable mentions list. You can look at it right here.
Without further delay, here are prospects 19-24 in reverse order because we like making you count down the prospects and making skipping ahead harder because we are monsters. Enjoy!
24.) Huascar Ynoa – RHP
Acquired in the trade for Jaime Garcia – Ynoa has always had an electric arm but lacked finish which made him an asset worth trading for, for the Braves in 2017 and is seems to be starting to pay off. In 2018 we saw Huascar’s velocity continue to rise as he now sits low-to-mid-90s, and touches 97 in his starts. He pairs that with a slider/curve pitch, and a developing changeup – likely his second best offering. The hang up on him has always been command – which seemed to have taken a step forward this year with his walk rate down to the low 4’s. Ynoa pitched in 18 games for Low-A Rome where he went 7-8 with a 3.63 ERA, 3.89 FIP, and 9.82 K/9 before he was promoted to High-A Florida. The increased velocity, slightly improving command has lead him to jump up from 30 to 24 in our rankings from just last year.
In Florida, Ynoa ran into some really bad luck as he compiled a 2.95 FIP but an 8.03 ERA and .438 BABIP despite an electric 11.3 K/9 rate. 2019 is a rather significant year for Huascar. If he continues to develop like he did in 2018 we could see his stock sky rocket as he possesses an elite strikeout rate and passable walk rate. With further development of his slider/curveball into more of a true slider, we could see Ynoa make a huge jump in the prospect standings by midseason. What is important to remember is that while Ynoa has been a pro for four years now, he is still just 20 years old so it is also important to remain patient with him. Some fine tuning of his off speed stuff and the Braves may have found themselves another good pitching prospect.
23.) Corbin Clouse – LHP
A 27th round pick out of tiny Davenport University back in 2016, Corbin Clouse came into the system below everyone’s radar. That all changed with 30.1 innings of shear domination following his signing where he posted a 1.19 ERA and 15.7 K/9 between two levels.
Much was expected in 2017, and to be completely honest it wasn’t the type of season people were hoping for. Clouse reached Double A and posted a 2.53 ERA, but his command wavered to the point he had a 1.51 WHIP and his strikeout rate dropped to 11.4 per nine. Then he followed it up with a short but below average stint in the Arizona Fall League.
He returned to Mississippi in 2018 and started slower before making some changes and taking off. Clouse ended up reaching Triple-A at the end of the year with a combined 1.94 ERA and 1.15 WHIP to go with 11.5 K/9.
The changes that Clouse made in his grip helped him to shave nearly two walks per nine innings off his line from 2017 going from 5.4 BB/9 in 2017 to 3.5 BB/9 in 2018. As a lefty with an above average fastball and a big slider, there is a lot to like with Clouse. He could force his way to Atlanta sooner rather than later in the 2019 season.
22.) Chad Sobotka – RHP
Coming in at number 22 on our Top 30 is Chad Sobotka who came out of nowhere to surprise everyone (including us) to become a top relief prospect who is likely to spend most of this season in the major leagues if his debut is any indication. Selected in the 4th round of the 2014 draft, Sobotka is a 6’7 righty whose hallmark is arguably the best fastball in the Braves’ minor league system which tops out in the upper 90’s and a slider that has improved significantly during his time in the minors. His walk rate has always been an issue for Sobotka (including to some extent this year), but the biggest problems in the minors HAD been injuries and avoiding hard contact. A back injury derailed his pro debut and DL stints led to him failing to surpass 40 innings pitched in 2015 and 2016. Up until this past year, the best opposing batting average he had put up was in 2016 at .245 (the other two being a bit grisly at .319 and .285). When a pitcher’s WHIP is north of 1.50 and you give up a lot of hits…well, that is problematic.
All of that changed for Sobotka in 2018, though. He was still walking some guys, but a slight uptick in his maintained fastball velocity and in his stuff overall combined with better pitch selection turned him into almost unhittable. Minor league hitters (across three levels) managed just a .154 batting average against him and he was even better in the major leagues with a .104 mark. Righties, in particular, have a dreadful time against him likely due his long frame and the fact that nearly 100 mph from the right side is always going to be tough for same side hitters. If you had asked us this same time last year what our expectations were for Sobotka, we would have told you that he would have been lucky to make it to Triple-A and stay healthy. We were wrong on both counts and he now looks the part of a late inning reliever that could make some real noise in the big leagues in 2019 assuming he can stay healthy.
Some thought that Jasseel De La Cruz was the biggest breakout candidate among lower level pitching prospects heading into last season. Through the first month of the season that looked to be on it’s way to a reality as he posted a 2.04 ERA and 0.96 WHIP through four April starts.
That’s when bad luck came into play and knocked De La Cruz out for just under two months. Once he returned to the mound in mid-June he wasn’t quite the same guy with the same stuff, clearly still bothered by his injury as he was not throwing his breaking ball nearly as much. That in turn produced a 5.79 ERA and 1.60 WHIP over his last 11 starts. If there is a silver lining it’s that not only did he have the stuff and results expected early on, but he finished well with three runs over his final 12 innings in his final two starts of the year.
Given an offseason to rest and recover, calling Jasseel a breakout pick once again thanks to his 97 MPH fastball and a slider capable of making A-ball hitters swing and miss with ease. De La Cruz also adds a changeup, which is clearly his third pitch but could become average in time.
If he can be the guy we saw in April and stay healthy, JDLC will fly up rankings and likely push his way from Florida to Mississippi. Either way he will need to keep working on his command- though perhaps a more consistent delivery would help him reach that point, in order to reach his full ceiling as a middle of the rotation starter.
20.) Trey Riley – RHP
Trey Riley is an incredibly intriguing prospect because of what he may become. Trey has an outstanding two pitch combo (fastball/slider) which could make him an absolutely elite relief pitcher – but right now the Braves are focused on him as a starter and what remains to be seen is if he can take a jump in command with his changeup. The fastball/slider combo was so good in college that he had a K/9 rate of nearly 14 despite throwing his changeup rarely.
After a fairly long collegiate season, Riley’s pro debut wasn’t the greatest as he appeared in six games, started two, compiled an 8.00 ERA, 6.55 FIP, 10.00 BB/9, but still had his elite K/9 rate of 13. He was all over the place – striking out 13 while walking 10, hitting two, and throwing one wild pitch – but the projectability is there. Trey gives the Braves a two headed monster – one that could be an absolutely dynamic relief pitcher, but if his changeup develops more and becomes a true threat you have yourself an elite pitching prospect. What’s even more tantalizing is that he is still just twenty years old. Trey is a prospect to keep an eye on as he could be very fast moving this year.
19.) Isranel Wilson
Izzy Wilson’s young career with the Braves has been all about pure, raw talent and his frustrating inability to turn it into any significant production on the field. Wilson was an under the radar signing that no one really buzzed about until his torrid run in the Gulf Coast League in his rookie debut when he went on a home run binge and finished his season with 10 of them in 48 games. Wilson disappointed through his 2016 season as he struggled to make decent enough contact to show off his power, but in 2017 he made a stride forward. Wilson dropped his strikeout rate and saw an increase in production, although in 2018 he did see it jump back up to around 30%.
Wilson possesses easy plus raw power and could be showing it more in games, but he still remains unable to make consistent contact with the ball. There are flashes of that ability, streaks he goes on where he can barrel pitches and make himself a problem at the plate. However, they are just too few and far in between at this stage in his career. Wilson does possess a fantastic eye at the plate and has always been one to maintain high walk rates, and should he continue to hit and show his power as he moves up through the system it’s likely he’ll maintain those walk rates throughout his career. Wilson is just 20 years old and has the talent to be a game-changing corner outfielder if the bat can creep up closer to fringe average, but right now he’s a long way off of that and for players like this often the breakthrough never comes. Betting on Wilson is betting on his talent, and if that breakthrough does happen it will likely be a slow, steady rise rather than one aha moment.