15. Rio Ruiz– Infielder
Date of Birth: 5/22/1994
Acquired: Acquired by the Braves in a trade with the Houston Astros along with RHP Mike Foltynewicz and RHP Andrew Thurman for C Evan Gattis and RHP James Hoyt
It is certainly no secret that Rio Ruiz had a frustrating and disappointing campaign in 2015. His .233/.333/.324 line hardly suggests that he could be the Braves third baseman of the future, but when you consider that he was more than three years below the average age in Double-A, his struggles could be somewhat justified. In addition to his age, reports during the season suggested that Ruiz had difficulty pulling the ball, which greatly reduced his power output. Before being traded to the Braves as part of a package for Evan Gattis, Ruiz was highly regarded within the Astros organization, in part because the previous season he had posted a line a of .293/.387/.436 with 11 home runs in High-A. Ruiz was heralded for his approach and his ability to use the entire field with power, and was steadily making progress with the glove. Ruiz still possesses those traits, and they began to to show up down the stretch last season as he hit .302/.353/.481 in August. This suggests that he has the ability to make adjustments, and it could be in his best interest to begin the season back in Double-A where he can continue to develop while playing against players closer to his own age. Though his stock may have taken a hit in 2015, Ruiz is still highly regarded, and with a bounce-back season he could find himself much higher on this list a year from now.
Projected Highest Level in 2016: Triple-A (Gwinnett)
14. Ronald Acuna- Outfielder
Date of Birth: 12/18/1997
Acquired: Signed in 2014 as an international free agent
Admittedly this is an aggressive ranking for Acuna, who has just 237 professional plate appearances to this point in his career, but the raw tools that he possesses make him too intriguing not to list somewhere in the top 20. Acuna was signed in 2014 out of Venezuela, and made his debut in 2015, beginning the season as part of the Gulf Coast League Braves before earning a promotion to Danville in early August. Between those two levels Acuna showed a combination of power and speed that has scouts raving about his potential, and if his .269/.380/.438 line is any indication, Acuna has the potential to develop a solid on-base ability. In addition to his offensive skills, Acuna is said to have the necessary range and arm to project in center field long-term. What makes Acuna’s overall body of work in 2015 even more impressive is the fact that he played the entire season at just 17 years of age. Acuna is unquestionably one of the Braves more exciting prospects, and if he continues to display a healthy combination of power and speed in 2016, this ranking could look severely low in hindsight.
Projected Highest Level in 2016: Low-A (Rome)
13. Mike Soroka- Right-Handed Pitcher
Date of Birth: 8/4/1997
Acquired: First-round (28) draft selection in 2015
The second player taken by the Braves in last year’s draft, Soroka settled in quickly upon joining the organization, posting a 3.18 ERA with 37 strikeouts in 34 innings in his professional debut. At 6’4″, 195 lbs. Soroka has the frame to be a workhorse in the future, and should be able to hold up as the Braves increase his innings total. Soroka features a low-90’s fastball with movement that has topped out at 95, and a curve-change mix that he has shown good feel for to this point. Though he currently has only 34 professional innings under his belt, Soroka looks quite polished, and his potential is that of a front-line starting pitcher. Soroka’s advanced feel for pitching at just 18 years of age leads you to believe that he could ascend the organizational ladder quickly, especially given the Braves track record for developing pitchers. It will be interesting to see how Soroka follows his impressive debut, but he has certainly garnered some attention with the potential that he has shown thus far.
Projected Highest Level in 2016: Low-A (Rome)
12. Tyrell Jenkins– Right-Handed Pitcher
Date of Birth: 7/20/1992
Acquired: Acquired by the Braves in a trade with the St. Louis Cardinals along with RHP Shelby Miller for OF Jason Heyward and RHP Jordan Walden
Jenkins is coming off his most impressive season as a professional, a season in which he posted a 3.19 ERA in 138.1 innings and limited opposing batters to a .246 batting average against. One concern with Jenkins however, is the considerable drop in K/9 that he has experienced since early in his career. It is possible that his declining strikeout rate could be attributed to some issues stemming from his 2013 shoulder surgery, but there is no question that the Braves hope to see him miss more bats in the future. Jenkins does possess the stuff that would suggest his low strikeout numbers could be improved, featuring a low-to-mid 90’s fastball with late life and two solid complementary pitches in a curveball and changeup. Jenkins will be in major league camp this spring, and with a strong performance it is possible that he could earn a spot in Atlanta to begin the season. Regardless of where he begins the regular season there is a good chance that we could see Jenkins get the call at some point this year.
Projected Highest Level in 2016: MLB (Atlanta)
11. Braxton Davidson– Outfielder
Date of Birth: 6/18/1996
Acquired: First-round (32) draft selection in 2014
When the Braves took Davidson with their first pick in the 2014 draft, they did so expecting him to become a legitimate power threat as he advanced through the system. Since then Davidson has produced mixed results, still showing off the power that helped make him a first-round pick, but doing so with a high strikeout rate and low batting average. In 2015, Davidson hit .242/.381/.374 with 10 home runs in 401 at-bats. Davidson shows a very advanced, selective approach, though his high strikeout total may suggest that the 19-year old has been a bit too selective to this point. Despite his impressive .381 on-base percentage, which was aided by his 84 walks, Davidson struck out 135 times last season in Low-A Rome. Despite his flaws, he still possesses good bat speed, and when he connects with the ball he is as impressive as any prospect in the system. If he can duplicate that contact with more regularity, Davidson could find himself much higher on this list in a short time.
Projected Highest Level in 2016: High-A (Carolina)