Welcome back to my annual off-season series that has a quick-and-dirty review of all 30 minor league systems around baseball. This feature began way back in 2008.
If you had been perusing this series back in 2015 you would have read:
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 excellent 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 had 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 can trim his swings-and-misses, Riley could be a Top-100 talent within a year.
Now on to the new stuff:
First Taste of The Show: Kyle Wright, RHP: A top college hurler, Wright was selected fifth overall in 2017. He reached The Show in late 2018 and may never return to the minor leagues. Despite having just six innings of experience in the majors, injuries to other promising, young pitchers like Luiz Gohara and Mike Soroka have opened the door for Wright to slide into a starting gig. He has a four-pitch mix, good velocity on his heater, and solid control/command. Wright is also coming off of a strong spring that, to date, has seen him post a K-BB ratio of 16-2 in 12 innings.
The Draft Pick: Greyson Jenista, OF: A star college player, Jenista was challenged with an assignment to Low-A ball in his debut and he showed his advanced skill with wood bats by hitting .333 in 32 games. He’s built like a power-hitter, and definitely has raw pop to learn to tap into, but his approach is more geared to making contact, hitting line drives and using the entire field. There also appears to be some room for him to get into better physical shape to endure the full grind of a pro season. Projected as a corner outfielder, Jenista will likely need to make adjustments to his swing to tap into more of that raw power but he’s definitely a name to keep an eye on in 2019.
The Riser: Christian Pache, OF: Prior to the spring, I had Pache labeled as a 2020 big leaguer but he’s looked outstanding this spring and may have expedited his arrival with excellent training in the off-season. Hitting .462 in the spring is impressive but it’s more than seven of his 12 hits have gone for extra bases. We’ve always known Pache was an advanced hitter for his age but it was the pop that was missing from his game and, if it shows up during the regular season, it could make him a star. He has blazing speed but doesn’t steal bases; it shows up in the field, though, and he could be one of the best fielders in baseball when he reaches the majors. Ender Inciarte and Nick Markakis will open the year are starters in the outfield but one of them could be out of a job by the summer.
The Fallen: Kolby Allard, LHP: You know you have a strong system when a player can make their MLB debut in 2018 and still be considered a disappointment. The young lefty when 14th overall in 2015 so there has been a lot of hype around him for quite some time but he has yet to fully live up to it, in part because he’s lost fastball velocity over the past few years. Allard, 21, has shown good control but his command is not as strong and big league hitters feasted on him in his debut as he allowed 19 hits in just 8 innings of work. Both his curveball and changeup project as above-average offerings so there’s something here but the fringe-fastball doesn’t give him much margin for error.
The 2019 Contributor: Touki Toussaint, RHP: As mentioned above, injuries have infiltrated the Braves’ pitching staff so there are spots open as the spring winds down. Unfortunately for Toussaint, he hasn’t looked all that great with an uneven performance and poor command. When he’s on, though, the right-hander possesses electric stuff and has struck out 12 batters in 10 innings so far in the spring. And his stuff is good enough that he doesn’t need the control/command to be perfect. He’ll likely get a strong shot to stick in 2019 but he might be one of those pitchers that frustrates you a few times before he fully figures it out.
The 2019 Sleeper: Drew Waters, OF: The Atlanta Braves prospect hype train may be losing a few players to the majors this year but there are lower level players ready to step up in their places. Waters, a 2017 second round pick, had a better-than-expected first full season in pro ball reaching high-A as a teenager. He should be an outstanding defensive outfielder by the time he reaches The Show, and he has 20-20 potential with the bat, although he’s still learning to tap into his power. Look for him to reach Double-A at some point in 2019.
Marc Hulet has been writing at FanGraphs since 2008. His work focuses on prospects and fantasy. Follow him on Twitter @marchulet.