10. Mallex Smith– Outfielder
Date of Birth: 5/6/1993
Acquired: Acquired by the Braves in a trade with the San Diego Padres along with LHP Max Fried, IF Jace Peterson, and OF Dustin Peterson for OF Justin Upton and RHP Aaron Northcraft
After swiping an incredible 88 bases in 2014, Mallex Smith continued to display his propensity for theft after coming over to the Braves organization as a part of the deal that sent Justin Upton to San Diego. In Smith’s debut as a Brave he hit .306 with 57 steals between two levels, all while reportedly improving his defense in center-field as the season went on. After torching Double-A pitching to begin the 2015 season, Smith was promoted to Triple-A Gwinnett in June, where he initially struggled to acclimate to improved competition. Smith settled in however, posting a .281/.339/.367 final line in Triple-A and reducing some concerns about his potential to hit as he advanced through the system. While Smith may never hit for power, he possesses elite skills for a leadoff hitter with his 80-grade speed and ability to make contact. If he is able to build upon his strong second half performance from last season, there is a real possibility that Smith will see some time in Atlanta at some point in 2016.
Projected Highest Level in 2016: MLB (Atlanta)
9. Lucas Sims– Right-Handed Pitcher
Date of Birth: 5/10/1994
Acquired: First-round (21) draft selection in 2012
Since being taken with the 21st overall pick in 2012, Sims has seen his stock fluctuate fairly regularly. Sims has stretches where he looks the part of a top-of-the-rotation starter with a fastball that sits around 95-96 and a devastating curveball, but at times his command can elude him, which leads him to struggle throwing strikes. Despite his inconsistencies, the fact remains that Sims has the potential to be a star for the Braves, and his impressive performance during last season’s second half only enhanced that belief. Sims’ season took a unique turn while he was pitching for High-A Carolina when the team’s bus crashed in May, resulting in several minor injuries for players, including Sims. After missing almost two months recovering from the crash, Sims finished the season in Double-A Mississippi, where he recaptured some of the effectiveness he had displayed early in his professional career. Sims posted a 3.21 ERA with 56 strikeouts in 47.2 innings with Mississippi, limiting opponents to a .180 batting average against. He carried that momentum into the Arizona Fall League, where he impressed scouts with a high-90’s fastball and seemingly improved command. If Sims can replicate his second-half performance this season, he will almost certainly be a candidate to fill a rotation spot in Atlanta next spring.
Projected Highest Level in 2016: Triple-A (Gwinnett)
8. Max Fried- Left-Handed Pitcher
Date of Birth: 1/18/1994
Acquired: Acquired by the Braves in a trade with the San Diego Padres along with IF Jace Peterson, OF Mallex Smith and OF Dustin Peterson for OF Justin Upton and RHP Aaron Northcraft
Despite the fact that he has not pitched since undergoing Tommy John surgery in August 2014, Max Fried checks in at number 7 on the Braves top prospects list. Prior to his injury, Fried featured a fastball that would sit in the low-90’s, a power curveball, and a changeup that was still a work-in-progress. An arsenal of that caliber coupled with Fried’s 6’4″ frame makes it easy to dream on the young left-hander in regard to what we could see once he re-takes the mound. The Braves acquired Fried as part of a four-player package from San Diego in exchange for outfielder Justin Upton, and are certainly eager to see if he can deliver on the promise he showed when the Padres drafted him with the seventh overall pick in 2012. Although Fried’s injuries have undoubtedly slowed his development, the fact that he is still just 22 years old gives him ample time to reach the majors while still producing during his prime years. Fried will have to shake off some of the rust that tends to accumulate when pitchers miss time for major surgery, but once he is acclimated it will be interesting to see how much life is still left in Fried’s arm. It is tough to gauge how quickly the Braves will look to advance him through the ranks, but given the extent of Fried’s injuries and the length of his recovery, I expect the organization to be very cautious with him this season.
Projected Highest Level in 2016: High-A (Carolina)
7. Touki Toussaint– Right-Handed Pitcher
Date of Birth: 6/20/1996
Acquired: Acquired by the Braves in a trade with the Arizona Diamondbacks along with RHP Bronson Arroyo for IF Phil Gosselin
Despite his modest ranking at number 7, Touki Toussaint may have the highest upside of any player in the Braves system. His combination of a mid-90’s fastball and a tantalizing curveball give him a solid starting point from which to build. However, Toussaint’s potential far outweighs his output to this point, and his control is the most identifiable culprit. Since being taken with the number 16 pick overall in 2014 by the Diamondbacks, Toussaint has walked an astounding 5.1 batters per 9 innings, which will certainly need to be addressed if he is to continue his ascent up the organizational ladder. In Toussaint’s defense however, the Diamondbacks may have stunted his development somewhat by forbidding him to throw his already lethal curveball in an effort to develop some of his other pitches, namely his changeup. Once Toussaint was acquired by Atlanta (in a deal that is still puzzling, given that the Braves only gave up utility infielder Phil Gosselin and took on the remainder of Bronson Arroyo’s contract), the team allowed him to resume using his curveball, though the results were still mixed. Toussaint still has a lot of development remaining if he is to reach his extremely high ceiling, but the tools are there and Toussaint is still very young. Keep an eye on Touki this season because he is bound to break out at some point, and when he does the Braves could be handsomely rewarded for their faith in him.
Projected Highest Level in 2016: High-A (Carolina)
6. Austin Riley- Infielder
Date of Birth: 4/2/1997
Acquired: CBA-round (41) draft selection in 2015
Riley was a two-way player in high school, with many teams focusing on his abilities as a pitcher rather than a hitter, but the Braves took him in the CBA round last year with the intention of playing him at third base. If the early returns are any indication, the Braves decision to let Riley hit was the correct one, as the Mississippi high school product burst onto the scene with 12 home runs in just 217 at-bats in his professional debut. Riley finished the season with a .304/.389/.544 batting line across two levels, immediately establishing himself as one of the 2015 draft’s best power bats. In spite of Riley’s impressive debut, two areas of concern with him can already be identified: defense and strikeouts. Few scouts will question Riley’s arm strength, as he routinely touched 90 MPH off the mound in high school, but there are doubts about whether Riley’s glove will allow him to stay at third base long-term. Riley committed 16 errors in 53 games at the hot corner last season, perpetuating the belief that he may be forced to change positions if his bat allows him to continue advancing through the system. Another potential issue for Riley moving forward is his swing-and-miss tendencies, which resulted in him striking out 65 times last season. This did not seem to hinder him in any way last season, as Riley posted a .389 on-base percentage, but could be something to watch as he faces more advanced pitchers in the future. Despite his flaws, Riley looks the part of a future middle-of-the-order power hitter with enormous home run potential. If he continues on his current track, we could be seeing a lot of Riley in just a few short years.
Projected Highest Level in 2016: Low-A (Rome)