Our first installment of our mid-season top 30 prospects list has several newcomers and one player that made his major league debut this season.
Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to the first installment of the 2019 Talking Chop Top 30 Braves Prospects List: Mid-Season Edition. For those that are not aware, we put out two top 30 lists each year: one before the season begins and one at the All-Star break to incorporate new draftees, account for graduations, and make adjustments based on what we are hearing and seeing. Before we get into the actual names and rankings, here are some things you all need to know about how we do things:
- Our top 30 is derived from a composite of all of the personal rankings from the Talking Chop minor league crew. We all get our personal lists together, we make a composite of said list, and then we double check to make sure that nothing appears to be super wonky. An important change for this list that will remain true going forward: we dropped the highest and lowest rankings for each player before calculating their composite ranking to try and remove outlier rankings that have, at times, led to some less than desirable results in the past. With all of the turnover on the list this year, we just wanted to make sure the resulting composite was as consistent as possible.
- We loosely use the MLB rookie eligibility requirements to see who is and who isn’t eligible for the list, although we are completely fine with removing a guy if he is relatively close to losing eligibility and has an established role in the major leagues (we did this with Dansby Swanson in the past and elsewhere). There was a lot of turnover this year due to graduations, so expect to see a lot of new names this time.
- These are just our rankings and each one of us is different. Depending on who you are talking to, you will get differing opinions on what we like and don’t like in prospects and that is absolutely okay. If you are looking for an overriding philosophy present in our list, you are unlikely to find one other than we all talk to each other a lot and that all of our rankings are very fluid.
- Don’t get hung up on specific ranking spots. If one guy is ranked 13th and another is 12th for example, it is likely that there were some that had those guys flipped in their personal rankings and it is even more likely that we don’t see a huge difference between those two players. It is best to think of our list in terms of tiers… not hard and fast rankings.
- Like all things with prospects, these rankings are subject to change and they do change quite a bit. This is more of a snapshot of this moment in time than anything. Guys improve and regress and when they do, we alter our thinking. Prospect development is not a linear path… so prospect rankings shouldn’t be either. If you think a guy is turning a corner or over-ranked based on his recent performance, check back when we do the preseason list rather than try to set us on fire in the comments section. It is likely you will be happier that way.
- Be kind and understand that just because you hold a different opinion doesn’t mean you need to yell/cuss/place a voodoo curse on us. Prospect rankings seem to really get folks in their feelings at times when, in reality, they are just a fun thought exercise that mean very little in the grand scheme of things. We are proud of the work we do on these, but none of us think we have all of the answers and it is really interesting to see how our rankings change as well as seeing when we are right or wrong. I am famously pretty intolerant of folks being jerks… so be one at your own risk.
- One last note that I must add otherwise I will have a mutiny on my hands from Matt and others. Mahki Backstrom signed yesterday out of the Braves’ 2019 draft class and until that point, it was very much up in the air as to whether or not he was going to sign so he was not included in our rankings for this list. Despite Matt Powers’ best efforts, I (Eric) wasn’t going to have everyone re-write their rankings to account for his signing at the last minute. Depending on who you ask, Mahki would have been ranked somewhere between the teens and 20s, so make of that what you will. Here is a write-up on Mahki that Matt wrote yesterday if you really need your Mahki Backstrom fix (we do like him quite a bit).
Without further delay, here are prospects 25-30 in reverse order to help build the suspense or something. We hope you enjoy it.
30) Bryce Ball – 1B
Bryce Ball made the list despite the fact he’s the Braves’ 24th round pick in the 2019 MLB Draft. Despite the round he was selected, he immediately became the best first base prospect in the system upon signing (until Mahki Backstrom signed that is… but still he’s a significant bat).
Ball is a huge guy, listed at 6’6” and 235 pounds, who was playing JUCO baseball in Iowa at a smaller school just last spring. After two years at North Iowa Area CC, where he hit 14 homers in 2018, Ball moved to under-the-radar national powerhouse Dallas Baptist this year. At DBU, Ball smashed 17 homers with a 1.075 OPS, collecting 29 extra-base hits and walking nearly as often as he struck out (44 walks to 47 strikeouts).
Ball is what you think he is: a massive prototypical first base slugger who has massive raw power and knows how to control the strike zone. Of course he’s a bat-only prospect limited to first base, so while the bat is significant there is a lot of pressure for the bat to produce to keep moving him up the ladder, especially with just one year of high-level experience under his belt.
Ball has the ceiling of a middle of the order-type of bat, the kind who can regularly hit 30-40 homers if he shows that he can make contact enough to get the most out of his power. So far in Danville he’s hit .357/.455/.732 with five homers, and his 10 walks outnumber his nine strikeouts through his first 16 games. Ball will be a fun prospect to watch, especially once you put a guy with his plus-plus power into the upper minors with those explosive Triple-A baseballs.
29) Jeremy Fernandez – OF
Jeremy Fernandez was not a highly-touted prospect when he signed out of the Dominican Republic back in 2014, but his tools have all taken a step forward and despite his slow progress he has shown a lot of promise in the lower minor leagues. Fernandez first made a leap onto the prospect radar with a strong performance in the Gulf Coast League last season, where he showed an improved hit tool that saw him strike out only 24 times in 199 plate appearances. This season, he has played well for Rome, though regression in his plate discipline caused his tools to fail to play up to their potential. He’s not showing the power that saw him hit eight home runs and put up a .211 ISO in the Gulf Coast League but he is still showing decent slugging numbers and has put up promising plate appearances.
Fernandez has a versatile toolbox, though none of his tools are truly standout caliber at this stage. He has shown a feel for hitting and has always had high contact rates, and if he can get back to showing the power he had last season, he should play. Fernandez is already 21 and is in his fifth professional season so he needs to start to make progress on the field sooner rather than later if he wants to make it to the major leagues. Despite the questions around him, hopes remain high as he has the athleticism and the bat to be a starting outfielder and his ability to play all three outfield positions will serve his value well. Considering that he is a converted infielder, there are likely to be some growing pains both defensively as he continues to learn the outfield, as well as at the plate. However, there is real promise there and is a guy worth keeping an eye on.
28) Riley Delgado – INF
It’s not everyday that a player gets noticed by Chipper Jones, but Riley Delgado has gone from a complete unknown to a top 30 prospect since being drafted in 2017. The best way to describe Delgado is that he’s the model of consistency. He’s hit everywhere he’s gone and goes about it in the same steady fashion. He’s also a strong and versatile defender that’s played third, short and second base.
2018 was a real breakout year that saw Delgado hit for a combined .315 batting average with a .714 OPS across Low-A and High-A. This season, he’s hit .296 with a .689 OPS in High-A. Both seasons are comparable to each other, but the lack of any type of power is a concern (14 XBH in 2019). If he could just hit the ball into the gaps more often, he’d have moved up on rankings, but instead finds himself back as the No. 28 prospect. It is curious as to why Delgado is still in High-A, because despite showing no real power, there’s nothing left for him to prove and time is ticking away for the 24-year-old prospect.
He’s a similar type of hitter to Ender Inciarte as both hit a lot of singles and grounders, but where they differ is that Delgado uses the entire field to his advantage; more often than not he will hit the ball the other way rather than pull (38% pull% vs 48% oppo%). One of the other areas that’s a big strength is Delgado’s ability to make contact, as he carries a career strikeout rate of around nine percent. In a game where getting more lift has been the key to success for many players, if Delgado could make a slight change to lift the ball a bit more he could really take off. Even sacrificing a few more swing and misses for more extra-base hits could alter Delgado’s future from a possible utility role to something more akin to a Johan Camargo “super-utility” type. It’ll be interesting to see if Delgado can ultimately prove that Chipper was right.
27) Stephen Paolini – OF
After a, what’s the best way to say this, interesting first day of the MLB draft, the Braves relied heavily on high upside prep players for a lot of the middle rounds and one of the most mysterious players was St. Joseph School’s very own Stephen Paolini. Paolini came as a bit of a shock because he was not on a lot of teams’ radars and not a lot was known about him at first glance. Paolini attended a small school in Trumbull, CT where he was one of the teams’ top players, hitting just under .500 on the season and showcasing five-tool talent.
Paolini can play all three outfield positions, but the Braves will likely keep him in center field for as long as they can. He has a good frame and could add on some weight without giving up too much speed. Paolini has a very nice, fluid swing that could easily hit for power with some added weight. There isn’t much further information to go, as he wasn’t heavily scouted until this spring, but the tools are there for Paolini to continue what is now an impressive line of Braves center field prospects. Another positive about this pick is that Paolini is believed to be the ultimate teammate and *sighs heavily* grinder who works his tail off. A full offseason with professional nutritionists could set up Paolini for an eye-opening 2020 season even if the results during his first season of pro ball aren’t ultimately there given his rawness. Braves area scout Ted Lekas may have uncovered a gem.
26) Hayden Deal – LHP
Coming in at No. 26 on our list is LHP Hayden Deal, who went from an interesting player who had a decent year in Low-A last year to a fully-converted starter who, up until his last few starts, was one of the absolute best pitchers in the Florida State League. Signed as an undrafted free agent back in 2017 thanks to another excellent scouting job from Braves scout Billy Best, Deal hails from the Carolinas where he went to Presbyterian College. Utilizing an arsenal that featured a low 90s fastball, a decent breaking ball, and most importantly a good cutter, Deal started his pro career as a relief prospect and only made a handful of starts for Rome last season. This year, however, the Braves were pleased enough with his performance in Rome (2.17 ERA, better than a strikeout an inning) that he has become a full-fledged starter and has put up some eye-opening numbers down in Florida. In 83.1 innings this season, Hayden has posted a 2.81 ERA with 67 strikeouts against just 22 walks.
What the future holds for Deal remains somewhat unclear. As we noted when we did our writeup on Hayden back in May, there is certainly precedent for guys with really good cutters to perform well in the major leagues as starters, particularly against opposite-handed hitters. Given Deal’s age, he doesn’t have a ton of time to make it to the majors, but the results have been largely good so far. Even if he doesn’t pan out as a starter, he has the experience and stuff to be an asset in the bullpen as well. It is worth mentioning that while his last few starts have not been great, he also has already eclipsed his career high in innings in a season as a professional, so it is possible there is some fatigue setting in. Depending on how he bounces back, he has the ceiling as a back of the rotation-type starter and could also provide value as a reliever who can throw multiple innings in the majors. Not too shabby for an undrafted minor league free agent.
25) Huascar Ynoa
At this point, we all know what Ynoa is capable of — on pure talent alone he belongs in the majors right now, but whether or not he ever show consistency remains the question. His results with Atlanta remind everyone of Mauricio Cabrera: insane arm, no idea where it’s going to go, shows up in Atlanta and absolutely dominates. Ynoa has a fastball that touches upper 90s easily, and a quick-developing slider that make him a very intriguing bullpen arm because he lacks a true changeup. He hasn’t struck out fewer than a batter per inning since 2017, which shows the elite potential, but the command issues have held him back a ton.
Ynoa has played at three different levels this year, Double-A, Triple-A, and on the big league team with his best stint coming in one-two inning outing in Atlanta. Since being moved to Triple-A, he has accumulated a 10.74 K/9 rate, but also a 5.83 BB/9 rate. The glaring issues with the command, and the rather complex delivery, are the reason why Ynoa finds himself sitting at 25, because his arm is elite and he could easily be a top-five prospect in most every team’s prospect list. The best attribute about Ynoa is his age as he is currently in his fifth season of professional ball, but is still just 21 years old. He’s shown what he’s capable of, so expect the Braves to continue to slightly baby him and then potentially turn him loose in 2020. There is reason to believe he won’t be on this list much longer, because he’s very close to putting it all together and could be a factor in the Braves’ plans in the second half. A little more work on his command and delivery of his slider could see Ynoa’s stock really rise, not necessarily within the prospect ranks, but in Atlanta’s depth chart.