Braves Top Tools: Future Pitchers

Victor Vodnik shaking hands with Braves Scout Kevin Martin after signing his professional contract with the Braves, courtesy of @LesLukach via Twitter

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.

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 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.

9 thoughts on “Braves Top Tools: Future Pitchers”

  1. @1 I won’t get into the reasoning for my distaste as it has 10% to do with his performance, but good ridddance.

    Let this also be put out there…most teams make about 20-30 cuts/year anyway, and with the Fire Frogs likely getting cut, these cuts aren’t directly Covid related, rather just what would’ve likely happened anyway.

  2. Glad the players and owners reached an agreement. I’m looking forward to seeing the figures to see where I stand. I can’t imagine they were the figures posted last week that pretty much had the highest paid players making peanuts. The players would have been stupid to agree to that.

    We need baseball, man. Just went to a funeral for my friend’s two-year old son, cities are on fire, people are struggling to determine how to react to the pandemic from here. It would just be really nice to turn a couple hours of baseball on today or tonight. I want to go to my local restaurant, support them, and watch my Braves.

    Just really missing it. One more month.

  3. I feel your pain Rob. But highest paid players making peanuts? Really? 8 figures? Perspective man.

  4. I’ve been bamboozled. Apparently it was a fake Jeff Passan account on the Twitters that told me they had reached an agreement, so I’m guilty of posting #FakeNews. Sorry about that.

    BraveMarine, I’ve always thought that “peanuts” is a synonym to “pennies on the dollar”, that it’s a small percentage of something otherwise expected. I’m referring to this:

    I have a hard time seeing that revenues will be so much lower that a $35M salary ought to become a $7.84M salary. I hadn’t taken the time to articulate it, but in my mind, I perceived that the owners probably wanted the players in a 35-40% salary proration and the players wanted it to be a strict proration based on games played (so 50% on a 50% season). I acknowledge that the owners have fixed costs that rack up, that regardless of whether they play 0 games or 162, those costs remain. So you’re not 50% as profitable based on 50% of games played. So if the players ended up at 35-40% even though they’re playing 50% of games, they need to deal with it.

    But $7.84M on $35M is 22.4% of your overall salary, so I’m not sure I agree that that is fair. At some point, the salary proration can’t fall significantly below the game proration, or then the owners start losing the optics game, in my opinion. At some point, you need to shoulder the risks of missed revenue without taking a cleaver to your labor, and I think 22.4% on 50% games played is a hack job.

    One final note: I also don’t think it’s smart to piss off the $35M player this much. I don’t think you want Mike Trout, typically a voice of reason, talking about how greedy the owners are. And you run the risk of turning the game’s biggest stars into your biggest critics, which I don’t think is smart.

  5. Rob-well said and you make good points. And probably 22.4% is unreasonable for 50% of the games. But so is 50% when like you said there are significant fixed costs that are a huge chunk of a teams total expenditure requirements. But both sides are posturing/establishing negotiation positions and when it’s said and done it will be something in between and the players don’t have to gain very much at all for the top salaries to end up at 8 figures for a 3 month regular season. Plus all the other significant perks and retirement and medical care benefits that come for what in the end is playing a game. Sign me up for that ‘sacrifice’.
    But it’s still not quite as simple as that. One thing that I don’t think many are considering about the owners expenditures other than the fixed costs you note: they will also have some significant additional expenses. Purchasing and installing all the additional hygiene and sanitation equipment that will undoubtedly be required, and the supplies/services/labor required to maintain and operate it will run into the millions per team. And then there’s the increased medical testing/screening/care that will also be needed. I don’t know what the cost is going to be for all this and noone can with a great degree of accuracy right now. But it’s going to be huge especially if they’re going to allow fans

  6. None of the released players will be missed and it was a normal sized class. A little surprised by Caleb Dirks getting released but he’s already 26

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