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.
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.
Makeup – Bryse Wilson
Athlete/Frame – Kyle Muller
Delivery/Mechanics – Bryse Wilson
Arm Speed – Jasseel De La Cruz