The Braves were flush with SS prospects not too long ago, but after Dansby Swanson and Ozzie Albies both graduated, the system was bound to take a hit. There isn’t a single SS in the Braves top 30, though there are 1 or 2 that could eventually make the list. Fortunately that doesn’t mean that there aren’t quality players in the system. While there might not be high end talent, there’s certainly some solid depth.
Alex Anthopoulos loves defense, so it should be no surprise that the system has some quality glove first defensive shortstops. The surprise comes from a couple of players showed quite a bit with the bat too.
In case you missed it, check out the other position reviews by Matt and Eric:
The Braves have had a stable presence on the team in Sean Kazmar, Jr. He’s a prospect by no means as he’s 34, but he’s been with the AAA squad since 2013. He players all over the infield and OF, but he mainly plays SS. With Kazmar, you pretty much know what you are going to get in a decent bat and decent defense. Nothing great, but he’s not going to disappoint you on a regular basis either.
However, the Braves went out and picked up 24 year old Luis Marte, who got released from the Rangers in May. After starting in AA, Marte was promoted after hitting .313 with superb defense, and spent the final 45 games in Gwinnett. Marte continued his solid hitting finishing the year with a .263 average in AAA with that same stellar defense. Seriously, his fielding % was best in the system at around .980. For reference, Dansby Swanson has a .981 fld% (through 9/23). Marte, like Kazmar, is a contact hitter, wherein he doesn’t strike out much, but he also has a low walk rate.
Luis Valenzuela started the year off as the starting SS, but as the year went along he was replaced by Ray-Patrick Didder (RPD). That isn’t to say that Valenzuela’s time with Mississippi was done. He went on to play 2B and 3B, but overall most of his time was at SS, so here we are.
The interesting thing is that Valenzuela was having a solid year at the plate hitting .282 while providing solid defense. Then here comes RPD, who honestly didn’t deserve a promotion after hitting a robust .209 in High-A. Luckily it worked out. He fared better in AA hitting .275 with a very strong .373 OBP (117 wRC+). The only problem is that the Braves took a gold glove caliber CF and moved him back to SS. Didder was quite terrible producing a .943 fld% (even woese .930 fld% at AA). Didder makes Charlie Culberson look like a gold glove SS.
It remains to be seen how the Braves value Didder, but if there’s any justice he’ll get moved back to the OF where he belongs. Didder has a good walk rate (~10% this season), but for a guy with zero power, he strikes out too much (over 25%). If Didder can reduce the strikeout rate and play great OF defense, he could be a 4th OF type of player. There’s always value in guys that can get on base and excel on defense.
There was a lot of shuffling at SS this season with all of the promotions. As mentioned, Didder started the year in High-A, but went on to hit at a much higher level in AA. As a result, this opened the door for Riley Delgado. Now Delgado himself made the move across 2 levels as well.
Riley Delgado should be a name people watch out for and most likely to make a top 30 list soon (though he was on Eric’s personal top 30). Brian Bridges, the director of Braves scouting, mentioned how Chipper Jones was very impressed with Delgado in a workout. That’s a huge ringing endorsement, and boy oh boy was Chipper right. Delgado is yet another contact hitter that uses the whole field. On the season he hit .315 with a .367 OBP. While he did carry a 131 wRC+ in Low-A, it was only at 94 in about half the at bats in High-A. Delgado’s calling card isn’t even his bat, though it was impressive this year, but his defense where he finished with a .979 fld%. That kind of defense only helps pitchers look that much better. Not too shabby for a 9th round draft choice in 2017.
Once Riley Delgado got called up to High-A, the next man up was AJ Graffanino, who was just drafted in the 8th round. AJ Graffanino is of course the son of a former Brave in Tony Graffanino. Just like his old man, AJ’s calling card was defense. In that sense, Graffanino disappointed. Most likely nerves got the best of him, but he finished the year with a .914 fld%, which is far from good. Heading into next season, the defense will most likely be much improved.
Where Graffanino surprised many was with his bat. He hit .318 on the season with a .344 OBP. He even produced a 104 wRC+ in Low-A, though his BABIP was .350. Like many SS in the system, Graffanino is yet another solid contact hitter that won’t walk much, but also won’t strike out. If the bat continues even at this level and his defense rebounds as his calling card, he could be another to watch out for.
There are 6 shortstops across DSL, GCL and Danville this season. Only 2 players finished with an OPS above .600. The first is Nicholas Shumpert, who even though he’s just 21, feels like he’s been in the system for forever. He’s coming off a career year where he posted a .707 OPS, which isn’t saying much, but at least it’s a move in the right direction. One thing to note is that after September call-ups, Shumpert got the call to AAA to play 2 games where he went 1-6 with 1 strikeout. Probably means nothing, but it’s at least interesting the Braves called up a player from Rookie ball to AAA.
The other player with an OPS over .600 was 17 year old Carlos Paraguate (.616 OPS) who played for the DSL squad. Paraguate wasn’t particularly good with the bat, but he did draw a good amount of walks and stole 20 bases.
There’s not much else to say about the other Rookie level SS. Juan Morales posted a .951 fld%, by far the best of the bunch by a really large margin. However, the 19 year old playing in his first season for the GCL Braves could only muster a .202 avg and a .513 OPS. Hector Sierra (17 years old), Luidemid Rojas (19 years old) and Luis Mejia (21 years old) were just really bad on offense and defense.