20. Derian Cruz, Infielder
Date of Birth: 10/3/1998
Acquired: Signed in 2015 as an international free agent
Part of the Braves plan to re-stock the farm system was to once again establish themselves as major players in the international market. With Cruz, that’s just what the organization did, paying him a $2 million signing bonus on July 2 when the international signing period began. Because he was only 16 at the time of his signing, Cruz did not make his professional debut last season, but scouting reports indicate that the Dominican native projects to have 80-grade speed and solid defensive skills at shortstop.
At this point, Cruz is still growing into his 6’1″ frame, and his power will have to grow with it, as he is said to have an approach geared more toward contact. If he is able to build upon the raw skills he possesses he could be one of baseball’s top prospects in a short time, but patience will be a necessity here, as Cruz will likely make his debut this year at just 17 years old. His development will no doubt be one to watch this season.
Projected Highest Level in 2016: Rookie (Danville)
19. John Gant, Right-Handed Pitcher
Date of Birth: 8/6/1992
Acquired: Acquired by the Braves in a trade with the New York Mets along with RHP Rob Whalen for IF Juan Uribe and IF/OF Kelly Johnson
The Braves acquired John Gant in what was seen as a very minor deal around last year’s trade deadline, but the initial returns seem to be promising for Atlanta. Gant features an average fastball, sitting in the low-90’s with sink, but his best pitch is his changeup, which he reportedly commands very well with good deception and movement. Gant has a good frame for a starting pitcher, and while he may lack overpowering stuff, he should be able to handle a heavy workload. For what amounted to two bench players for the Mets during the second half the Braves received solid value here, especially if Gant is able to contribute at the major league level this season. Watch for him to make his Atlanta debut in some capacity, possibly as a spot starter or long reliever, and give the Braves solid innings. He is not likely to wow anyone, but Gant has a chance to become a reliable piece for the Braves in the future.
Projected Highest Level in 2016: MLB (Atlanta)
18. Ricardo Sanchez– Left-Handed Pitcher
Date of Birth: 4/11/1997
When the Braves acquired Sanchez it was viewed as a low-risk move that could pay off in the future if he ever gained better command of his fastball. After one season as a Brave, it is not hard to see why Sanchez was sought after by Atlanta, though the stats do not coincide with the tools at present. Sanchez was not very effective in Low-A Rome in 2015, but his mid-90’s fastball and above-average curveball were as advertised, making Sanchez one of the most intriguing lefties in the system despite his 5.45 ERA last season. As yet another Atlanta prospect playing professionally at a very young age, Sanchez still has a lot of room to grow, and despite the fact that he is likely to repeat his stop in Rome, the Braves have to be excited about his progress. If healthy, look for Sanchez to increase his innings total this season and at some point make the jump to High-A Lynchburg, where he will once again be one of the youngest players in the league at just 19.
Projected Highest Level in 2016: High-A (Carolina)
17. Chris Ellis– Right-Handed Pitcher
Date of Birth: 9/22/1992
As the “second piece” coming back in the deal that sent Andrelton Simmons to the Angels, Ellis has been somewhat overlooked this offseason, despite being ranked as the number 2 prospect in the Angels system prior to the trade. Ellis features a fastball that sits in the low-90’s, but can reach 95-96 on occasion, as well as an above-average changeup and a developing curveball. Ellis is able to create movement on his fastball with a variety of grips, cutting the ball in on lefties and sinking it in on righties. With a solid arsenal in tow, Ellis’ real battle moving forward will be his command. If he is able to improve his control and throw more strikes, he should not only improve upon the 63 walks he issued in 140.2 innings last season, but also maintain his status as a starter as he advances. If the command never materializes to the extent that would allow Ellis to start in the future, his already impressive arsenal would transition well to the bullpen, with his stuff playing up considerably in one-inning stints. For now, it will be interesting to see how Ellis performs in his first season as a Brave, and if he can solidify himself as a legitimate candidate for the rotation in the coming years.
Projected Highest Level in 2016: Triple-A (Gwinnett)
16. Manny Banuelos– Left-Handed Pitcher
When the Braves acquired Manny Banuelos last offseason, it was hard not to picture him as the flame-throwing young phenom climbing the ladder for the New York Yankees just 4 years prior. While Baneulos is no longer equipped with a high-90’s fastball, his ability to command a solid four pitch arsenal still exists, and was used briefly in Atlanta in 2015. Though his final statistics were not very impressive, as he posted a 5.13 ERA in 6 major league starts, Banuelos was very impressive in multiple outings last season. He will need to duplicate his successful outings more frequently in the future, but the tools are certainly there. Banuelos’ development will be something to monitor this season, especially if the Braves allow him to take his lumps at the major league level rather than spending the majority of another season in Gwinnett.
Projected Highest Level in 2016: MLB (Atlanta)