Braves Top Tools: Current Pitchers

I started a four-part series on top tools in the Braves system. Part 1 focused on top tools among position players by naming a prospect with the highest grade for each of the five tools plus additional observations. Part 2 today, “Braves Current Pitchers: Top Tools”, highlights current pitchers with the highest grade on each pitch in addition to other “honorable mention” style tools. The next 2 pieces will be an attempt (probably a feeble one) to predict each top tool two years from now.

Braves Top Tools: Current Pitchers

Fastball: Jasseel De La Cruz – 60

Naming a top fastball in a minor league system these days is tough work, because the number of prospects pumping 95+ has increased and many are utilizing tunneling more effectively by riding their four-seamers high and dropping hammers or tight sliders. There are options within the Braves system for this pitch. Kyle Wright’s natural glove-side cut at 95, Kyle Muller’s impact velo and downhill plane from the left side, Bryse Wilson’s ability to locate 95, Tucker Davidson’s riding 95 from the left side before dropping a hammer curve, they’re all worthy of a mention. Even Luis Mora, a lower-level reliever, hits triple digits but has bottom-of-the-scale control and command. I went with De La Cruz because his fastball, touching 99 and sitting 95+, is a true high-octane reliever fastball that jumps on hitters from a long, violent arm action and plus-plus arm speed. Despite the effort in his motion, he locates surprisingly well, certainly enough to hit his potential grade as a late-innings reliever. We should see this fastball in the majors soon.

Curveball: Tucker Davidson – 55

This was a tough call between Davidson and Phil Pfeifer. Both are consistent 55s. I went with Davidson because I could see his grade increase at least a half tick if not higher than plus. Davidson’s curve also has more bite and is more effective off the fastball than Pfeifer’s. Davidson has emerged as a legitimate starter prospect because of increased fastball velocity that holds, strides – albeit small – at locating, and his ability to tunnel his riding fastball and late-breaking, downward curveball. It’s consistently tight with sharp bite and plus depth. Even more impressive, he’s able to command it well by breaking it into the zone or below the knees with two strikes. This pitch is quickly on its way to being a true out pitch. Wright’s curve has similar depth but lacks the bite of Davidson’s. Patrick Weigel’s and Victor Vodnik’s curves also deserve a mention.

Slider: Kyle Wright – 60

Wright’s slider seems like the obvious call here, and it is the best of the bunch, but it’s not the only one that at least flashes plus. De La Cruz’s slider has similar short shape, perhaps a little shorter than Wright’s, and it bites hard and late. Weigel throws a deeper slider with more downward action, but it also bites hard. Huascar Ynoa similarly throws a deeper and more downward slider with solid effectiveness. Wright gets the nod as a true out pitch with incredibly late, two-plane break to the glove side. He gets solid velo on it and pairs it effectively when he locates his mid-90s fastball to the glove side. Wright is beginning to show increased usage of the slider to the point that it’s sometimes his main offering. It’s that good and he commands it that well. I think it’s the best overall pitch in the system.

Changeup: Ian Anderson – 55

There’s a notable dearth of changeups in the Braves system. It’s not a surprise considering changeups tend to lag behind other pitches when a prospect is developing. Anderson has been an exception by developing his changeup at an impressive pace as he’s grown in the system. He was the typical draft pick with a good fastball and breaker but lagging change, and the third pitch has come along so well that it’s perhaps his best secondary now, and some would say it’s his best overall pitch. He gets great arm action on it and tumbles it arm side with solid depth and fade. His development of the pitch can largely be attributed to his overall feel for pitching. He boasts at least average to above command of his entire arsenal, and that includes the change. There aren’t many honorable mentions here. Josh Graham throws a very solid and underrated changeup. Freddy Tarnok shows the makings of a useful one. Wright’s has exceptional depth to the fade, but hitters tend to pick it up early unless he buries it.

Of note:

I don’t distinguish fastballs in my reports, so there’s no best four-seamer, two-seamer or cutter. If a pitcher throws a two-seam or cutter, there’s a good chance he throws more than one and variates them for different looks. Also, pitchers sometimes get natural movement on their fastballs, such as when one throws a four-seam glove side that produces natural cut. If I were to label the best variation of that pitch, I’d go with Wright and Vodnik earning runner-up.

Command: Bryse Wilson – 55

Wilson still earns this title but is close to trending downward. He hasn’t harnessed quite the same command as he’s worked on pitches and faced more advanced hitting. He’s still able to locate a fastball that pops to all four quadrants. Anderson isn’t far behind Wilson in this category.

Control: Jeremy Walker – 55

You don’t often see a true middle reliever holding this title, but Walker lives in the zone and always has. It’s even more noticeable since transitioning to the bullpen with miniscule walk totals. What prevents him from grading higher overall is a lack of pop in his stuff. It’s an above-average sinker, average curveball and that’s about it. But you can count on him to throw strikes.

Other Notables:

Makeup – Bryse Wilson

Athlete/Frame – Kyle Muller

Delivery/Mechanics – Bryse Wilson

Arm Speed – Jasseel De La Cruz

Thanks for reading David Lee’s look at Braves Top Tools, Current Pitchers. You can find his work at and see Braves Journal’s write-ups on top prospects here.

28 thoughts on “Braves Top Tools: Current Pitchers”

  1. These tools pieces get me really excited, especially for a guy like Tucker Davidson who most didn’t even know his name 2 years ago and with serious offseason work has made himself into a top prospect surpassing other lefties (I still believe his emergence was the reason the Braves were comfortable trading Joey Wentz).

    I know David really like Jasseel and Weigel out of the bullpen and we could be seeing the birth of that back end as early as next year considering Melancon and Greene will both be free agents. Gosh darn it, we need baseball.

  2. Couple of questions: What is tunneling? What is the difference between command and control?

  3. Informative, logically presented, well written: thank you, Mr. Lee. You do good work.

  4. From the Teixera thread, I always thought Buddy Carlyle had figured out something mid career and was going to be good. In AAA in 2007, he had 56 K and 9 BB in 48 innings (5-2, 2.59). Two years later, in 17 innings in the minors, he had 24 K and 1 BB (3-1, 1.56). It seems like those numbers are usually good signs, especially the 2007 ones in a larger sample. As it was, he pitched in the majors at 21 and at 37 and in seven other seasons, with stints in Korea and both Japanese leagues. I wonder if he’s the only player to play in the same city for three minor league teams – he played in Las Vegas when it was the AAA franchise of the Padres (1999-2000), the Dodgers (2005), and the Mets (2014).

  5. I’m guessing that all 30 MLB owners would prefer to cancel the season than to open their books, absent an overwhelming public outcry. And I doubt the players have the savvy to get the fans on their side to demand the owners do so.

  6. If this were not simultaneously a re-opening agreement and skirmishing before the next CBA, I’d agree with you Alex. But my prior is that the opening of books is going to have to happen in the next CBA anyway, so they might as well rip off the bandaid in the service of something productive. My prediction remains that this will be combined with some sort of banded salary agreement, in which players get some upside from unanticipated revenues, even as they share the downside from (fully transparent) losses. But like Scherzer said, I don’t see how they can sign any deal without some more transparency. (To be fair, I said that about the last CBA too.)

  7. In response to Kirk H’s questions as follows: “Couple of questions: What is tunneling? What is the difference between command and control?”

    In the simplest way I can explain it, tunneling is the ability to throw multiple pitches that look similar out of the hand and for an extended period of time as they travel toward the plate. A high-spin fastball that appears to rise up in the zone pairs well with a downward-breaking curveball or slider when they look similar out of the hand and remain on a similar path for as long as possible. One of the reasons Mike Soroka is so effective is his ability to make several pitches look the same for a long period of time out of the hand before they break in various directions.

    Command is a pitcher’s ability to locate pitches and hit targets. If he has good command, he’s able to hit his spots within the strike zone or outside if called for. Control is simply a pitcher’s ability to throw strikes and limit walks.

    Thank you all for the kind words!

  8. David,

    How do you grade Touki’s curve? Is the command / control so bad that it doesn’t deserve a mention at 55?

    And, I believe that McDonghagen gave separate grades for how good the pitch is, versus the ability to command and control it or all pitches generally. Are you intentionally figuring in command and control in each pitch grade?

  9. @ 12,

    Working from their most protected, I would not include Ender unless Pache regresses this year. Mainly this is the “don’t protect anybody unless somebody would take him” rule.

    I remember when the Rockies picked and took David Nied first overall. I thought we had lost a good one. Several Braves players were left unprotected because of large contracts (if you want to pay them, take them). As I remember Deion Sanders was one of those.

  10. Cliff,

    I factor everything into each pitch grade (command, movement, tunneling, spin, etc.) while providing an overall command grade based on the pitcher’s general feel to pitch. So, I would now give Touki’s curve a 60+ based on all those factors, meaning it’s a consistent 60 that flashes higher and could tick higher. A raw grade based on nothing but how good the pitch is would be a 70. He’s not included in this post because he’s no longer a prospect.

  11. I went
    Touk and
    although, by the rules, D’Arnaud must be on the list (first year of multi-year guaranteed contract)

  12. I get that I skew negative but I do not understand the Bryse Wilson love. I just don’t. He seems like a minor league stats smoke and mirrors guy to me.

    I do not see a MLB future for him. He just seems like a AAAA type for almost certain to me.

    IMO its also about time to either see what some of these guys have, Wilson, Kyle Wright, Weigel, some others or trade them. They’re either long term options in a somewhat crowded rotation, or they are not. They need extended looks and then a decision made. IMO.

  13. Apparently a mass ‘cut’ of miLB players was just made.

    A theory going around is that minor league baseball is going to evolve into 2-3 teams of primarily team’s actual prospects and the days of having 7 teams with guys that couldn’t hit .120 in MLB are probably over.

  14. The three team thing was more Twitteratti zeitgeist chatter over the past few weeks, but the cut thing was reported by Passan about 20 minutes ago.

    I can’t find a cut list either…

  15. And…

    However, I don’t see anything about the theory Chief speaks of…seems like tomfoolery to me, especially with the $ invested in the stadiums.

  16. Other than the list of 41 franchises were (are) going to be chopped, I can’t find anything concrete. It was baseball talking twitter heads.

    Nothing would surprise me at this point, though.

  17. Having watched Class D league baseball from before I started school until I graduated from high school, this saddens me. Then again, I am a sentimental old man when I’m not being the neighborhood grouch.

  18. Ironic that you posted that coop. I learned today that the manager of the 1939 Class D league Tallassee Indians (AL) team (my hometown) later became the scout that signed George Brett.

  19. @21
    Yeah…that’s going to happen, for sure. That likely contributes to the layoffs as teams will consolidate talent. The thought of MLB teams only having 2-3 teams is ridiculous. The Braves alone have 3 stadiums they own in Rome, Pearl, and Gwinnett, and they’re definitely not getting rid of all the developmental leagues. It wouldn’t surprise me to see MiLB consolidate to 4 teams for each affiliate within 5 years.

  20. But Ryan, don’t some teams currently have 7-8 teams counting their DSL teams?

    Even going to 4 is a HUGE seismic shift, no?

    So you’re thinking that say, the Braves would have only an A team, AA, AAA, and probably a Rookie league team?

    I can see that.

    In some ways, I wonder if the product would be better. Frankly, there probably are a large contingent of guys in miLB that really don’t belong there and their stats bear that out, etc.

    Tallassee has never had a native make the MLB (we’ve had one that moved to Tallassee as a child, Fred Hatfield [BOS and DET] and a current kid has reached AA and been in Spring Training with the big club twice. He pitched for Auburn, prior. I’m praying his dream didn’t die today.

    We actually converse alot via DM and I’ve hosted him out here in Phoenix for a meal and washed his clothes for him.

    It will sadden me greatly if he’s one of them. He’s 25 in AA so it wouldn’t surprise me.

    I had three teammates from my HS team make A or AA. One that I thought would no doubt make the majors but only made it to AA. In 1991, he gave up 2 ER the entire season in 4A AL HS baseball. 11-0 with a 0.25 ERA, I believe.

  21. Yes, 4 would be a huge shift, but as of now the Braves have: Gwinnett, MS, Rome, Danville, GCL, DSL, and Instructs.

    By most accounts, DSL is in complete disarray and the GCL could just join the talents at instructs and make full usage of the Spring Training facilities. There would definitely be cuts but not as many as one would imagine, but all eyes would be on Northport for the newbies and fringe players.

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