Over the past week I’ve covered the Braves system by highlighting the top tools for position players and top grades for each pitch. The first two posts named the current top tools and pitches. My 3rd post listed predictions for each top tool among current position player prospects but in two years. I’ll continue that silly and futile exercise in the series finale, “Braves Top Tools: Future Pitchers”, by trying to predict the top pitch grades among current Braves pitching prospects in two years.
With most of the notable pitchers having reached the upper levels and likely to exhaust prospect status in two years, this one is especially difficult. Go ahead and assume all the higher-ranked guys like Kyle Wright, Ian Anderson, Kyle Muller, Bryse Wilson, Tucker Davidson, Jasseel De La Cruz and Patrick Weigel have graduated.
The lower levels of the Braves system get knocked for a lack of depth. It’s true in some cases, and this exercise shows the weakness is among lower-level arms. Position player depth is actually not that bad below Double-A. Some of the higher-ranked position player prospects are below the top two levels. But pitching depth is weak down there, which places even greater importance on the higher-level guys like Wright, Anderson, Muller, Wilson and Davidson to develop into usable major leaguers.
Braves Top Tools: Future Pitchers
Fastball: Victor Vodnik – 60
Current: Jasseel De La Cruz – 60
Vodnik earns this because he’s the most established of the lower-level prospects with plus-potential heat. There’s a lot to like with his fastball. He holds mid-90s deep into outings, can bump 97 (others have had him higher), and he has a feel to manipulate the pitch with movement to both sides and solid depth to the arm-side tail. He attacks hitters and has plus arm speed. A fun second-place choice is Freddy Tarnok. He recently hit 99 in a pen session and has flashed mid-90s heat in the past, so the arm strength is there. It’s a matter of being able to hold the velo deeper into outings and over the course of a full season. He appears to be getting stronger. Kasey Kalich, Tyler Owens, Daysbel Hernandez and Jared Johnson also get nods. Roddery Munoz could be an arm-strength sleeper.
Curveball: Victor Vodnik – 55
Current: Tucker Davidson – 55
Vodnik’s curve grades an easy 55 potential because of its downward action and sharp break. It flashes plus when he gets on top of it and drops it hard and late. It has the makings of a power curve to pair with that solid fastball, which makes Vodnik an interesting prospect whom I’ve followed for a little while now. Owens earns a close runner-up here and Tarnok deserves a mention.
Slider: Daysbel Hernandez – 50+
Current: Kyle Wright – 60
Predicting the best slider in a system that’s top-heavy is impossible. The lower-level arms are mostly arm-strength types at this point, and I won’t know what kind of secondaries they’re working with until they get more pro reps at higher levels. I went with Hernandez because he has a high-velo slider produced by plus arm speed. It has three-quarters tilt and flashes sharp, late bite when spun well. However, the depth is a bit short, which limits the grade. I put a plus by it if he can command it further and add more depth. I won’t bother listing additional names. It’d be a waste of time.
Changeup: Freddy Tarnok – 55
Current: Ian Anderson – 55
This one is by default because there’s basically no one else. Not to take credit away from Tarnok, though, because his frame, arm motion and current pitch framework could mean a solid changeup with time. He’s still gaining feel for the pitch. When it’s on, it tumbles arm-side well with solid arm speed. There are whispers here and there of a good changeup or two in the lower levels, but I want to see them for myself.
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 in two years, I’d go with Vodnik.
Command: Victor Vodnik – 50
Current: Bryse Wilson – 55
Someone will probably emerge and grade higher than average command within two years. It could be Vodnik himself. But this is what I have for now. Vodnik shows a solid feel to pitch for his age and experience, especially with the fastball and curveball. He hits his spots on those two pitches at a good rate considering he’s still growing into his arm speed and stuff that pops. If Tarnok surpasses this grade, it’s a great sign for his prospect value. Ricky DeVito also gets a nod here.
Control: Jose Montilla – 55
Current: Jeremy Walker – 55
Montilla throws the most strikes among lower-level Braves pitchers considered prospects, so he gets the nod here. Mitch Stallings earns runner-up.
Thanks for reading “Braves Top Tools: Future Pitchers”. If you enjoy David Lee’s work, subscribe to his newsletter at BravesProspects.com and find all of Braves Journal’s pieces on prospects right here.