The system boasts potential stars, lots of pitching and great overall depth. Things have been bleak for the Braves recently but there is a lot to be excited about.
The Graduate: Ozzie Albies, 2B: Dansby Swanson received the most attention early in 2017 as the potential impact middle infielder but he proved less polished than expected and struggled throughout his rookie season. Allowed to simmer a little longer in the minors, Albies — at the age of just 20 — arrived in the summer and didn’t look out of place. He kept the strikeouts down, the walks up and showed more pop than expected. If Swanson needs more time in the minors, look for Albies to slide over from second to shortstop, his natural position. He has a chance to be a top-of-the-order hitter with lots of runs scored, bases stolen and surprising pop for his size.
First Taste of The Show: A.J. Minter, LHP: An undersized lefty, Minter nonetheless has the ability to fire his heater up into the 95-97 mph range. He also has a promising cutter. Those two pitches could help him develop into a high-leverage reliever if he shows enough command/control and can avoid the long-ball with his fly-ball tendencies. Minter, 24, could throw some key innings for the Braves in 2018 if he shows additional polish in the spring.
The Stud: Ronald Acuna, OF: This 20-year-old outfielder might be the top prospect in all of baseball and has a chance to make an impact in every facet of the game. And he’s likely going to become a full-time big leaguer in 2018. The club will no doubt build the offence around him for the foreseeable future. He can hit for power, steal bases, and play strong defence in center field. Acuna needs to tighten up his approach at the plate after walking just 43 times with 144 strikeouts but once he does he could be a regular threat to hit .300 given his speed and exit velocity off the bat. He also reportedly has good makeup and maturity for his age.
The Draft Pick: Kyle Wright, RHP: If Wright had gone first overall in the 2017 draft no one would have batted an eye but he snuck down to the Braves at the fifth overall slot. The organization now has seven or eight pitchers in the system that have the potential to be solid big league starters — something no other organization in baseball can boast of. Wright needs to improve his overall command but if everything develops as hoped, he has No. 2 starter potential and could be a workhorse. Look for him to open 2018 in high-A ball but he could spend most of the year in double-A thanks to his strong potential and the Braves’ aggressiveness with developing pitchers.
The Riser: Cristian Pache, OF: The full season debut in 2017 was a resounding success for Pache, who will play at high-A ball in 2018 as a 19 year old. He has almost no present power to speak of but he uses the whole field and has blazing speed (with 40+ speed potential). He also has the frame to add some muscle and see his extra-base potential increase as he matures. Pache also has a chance to be a gold glove calibre fielder at any outfield position. When Ronald Acuna graduates to The Show in 2018, Pache could quickly become the Braves’ next top prospect.
The Sleeper: Alex Jackson, C: If you’re looking for the next Evan Gattis (come on, who isn’t?), then look no further than Jackson — the former sixth overall selection by Seattle in the 2014 draft. A washout with the Mariners due to some makeup issues, a position move (from catcher to the outfield) and overall lack of development, he was sent to Atlanta for a song. The Braves have wisely moved him back behind the plate and, while he’ll probably never be better than fringe-average back there, his bat has a lot of potential as a part-time catcher. To fully realize his offensive potential, Jackson will need to tighten up his approach at the plate with fewer Ks and more pitches seen.
Marc Hulet has been writing at FanGraphs since 2008. His work focuses on prospects and fantasy. Follow him on Twitter @marchulet.