Welcome to the annual series: ‘A Minor (League) Review of 2015.” This series is a great way to receive a quick recap of the ’15 minor league season for your favorite club(s), while also receiving a brief look toward the 2016 season and beyond. It can also be a handy feature for fantasy baseball players in keeper and Dynasty leagues.
The Graduate: Mike Foltynewicz, RHP: Acquired from the Astros in the Evan Gattis deal, Foltynewicz has a chance to be a real steal for the Braves. The right-hander was probably in the Majors before he was ready and he struggled mightily with his command. However, his overpowering fastball gives him a chance to survive even without his best stuff — most specifically command and control. He has a strong frame that should allow him to provide 200+ innings and could be an excellent No. 3 starter for Atlanta. Some see him as the future closer for the Braves but I remain hopeful that he’ll stick in the starting rotation once he solves his command issues and keeps the ball in the park more consistently.
The Riser: Ozhaino Albies, SS: Entering 2015, we knew Albies had talent (I ranked him 7th on the Braves Top 10 prospects list) but he developed even quicker than expected — which allowed the Braves to deal top prospect, and middle infielder, Jose Peraza. The 18-year-old infielder isn’t a big guy but he can drive the ball into the gap. He also makes good contact, isn’t afraid to take a walk and had 30+ stolen base potential. His well-rounded game and natural abilities should make him an even better prospect than Peraza. Look for him to reach the Majors in 2017.
The Tumbler: Jason Hursh, RHP: Hursh was the Braves’ first round pick in 2013 out of Oklahoma State University and was known for having a good fastball and an ability to induce a lot of ground balls. The right-hander reached Triple-A in 2015 (in less than three years) but he’s struggled to command the ball and his secondary offerings haven’t developed as hoped. He’s struck out just 163 batters in 270.2 career innings. Hursh transitioned to the bullpen in July at the Double-A level and that’s likely to be his future role in the Majors.
The ’15 Draft Pick: Austin Riley, 3B: The Braves went the prep route with their first four picks of the 2015 draft, all coming before the third round, and scored some impressive talents. Riley, 18. showed impressive power for his age and slugged seven homers in just 30 rookie league games, which earned him a promotion to advanced rookie ball. All combined he hit more than .300 and had a total of 12 long balls in 60 games. He made his fair share of strikeouts but that’s to be expected for a young slugger and he offset them, to a degree, with a walk rate of almost 10%. If he get trim his swing-and-misses, Riley could be a Top-100 talent within a year.
The New Addition: Touki Toussaint, RHP: One of the bigger steals during the 2015 season, it still has me shaking my head as I try to figure out why the Diamondbacks would give up on Toussaint, who was in the midst of a solid season. Just 19, he’s still rough around the edges and loses the strike zone but, when he gets the ball over the plate, he can be tough to hit. The Braves are aggressive with their prospects so he’ll almost certainly move up to High-A ball in 2016 but might need another full year at the A-ball level. He has the ceiling of a No. 2-3 starter is he can command and control the ball better so look for him to be MLB ready in 2018 at the earliest.
The Lottery Ticket: Alejandro Salazar, SS: Just 18, Salazar was signed in the same international free agent class as Albies. Considering the Braves spent less money that year that almost any other class, it speaks volumes about the club’s international scouts’ abilities to spot talent. Salazar spent one year in the Dominican Summer League before moving over to the Gulf Coast League in ’15 where he showed a willingness to take a walk and an aptitude for making good contact. If he continues to fill out, Salazar may eventually move to third base. He’s shown the ability to drive some balls so more power may development, but he might need to tweak his mechanics at the plate to create more loft.
Marc Hulet has been writing at FanGraphs since 2008. His work focuses on prospects and fantasy. Follow him on Twitter @marchulet.