*MLB Prospect Watch will be recapping each farm system as a whole, focusing on particular players who did something noteworthy this season. For the next 30 (business) days, we will be featuring one organization per day.
A once-vaunted farm system, the Atlanta Braves minor league depths are not what they once were. Picking in the back end of the first round year after year will do that to a team, though this remains an organization with a strong scouting department that hit on Alex Wood in the second round in 2012 and Tommy La Stella in the 8th round in 2011, among other smaller victories. Still, the high-ceiling talent like Jason Heyward and Julio Teheran that provided reinforcements for the major league club in the past hasn't been there in recent years, causing the organization to spend their dollars in free agency, and do so unsuccessfully.
Biggest Step Fowrard: Jose Peraza, 2B: Peraza didn't come out of nowhere this season, ranking as the 5th best prospect in the Braves system by Baseball Prospectus before the start of the 2014 season. But after hitting .339 on the season, and more importantly, maintaining it after his jump to Double-A, Peraza has put himself in the conversation to be the top prospect in the system. Naturally a shortstop, Peraza would actually be a plus defender at the position. Unfortunately for him, no one is as plus of a defender as Andrelton Simmons, a fact which pushed Peraza to second base this year. Fortunately, he took to the position well and should be a plus defender on that side of the bag as well. There's almost no power in Peraza's offensive game, and not a ton of plate discipline either, so he'll have to continue to hit north of .300 in order to be an everyday player, but what he adds with his plus speed and his glove should be enough to justify regular playing time at the keystone. The Braves have struggled to find an everyday solution at second base in recent years, and Peraza could be the answer by next summer.
Take a Step Back: Lucas Sims, RHP: It was a minor step back, to be clear, but when you are the top prospect in a farm system, the pressure is on to produce. It's hard to knock Sims for his 4.19 EA as a 20-year-old in Low-A ball, but what concerns me is the huge drop in strike out rate in one of the best pitcher's leagues in the country. The reports on Sims' stuff suggest a potential mid-rotation starter, and his numbers in 2013 backed that up. This year his K/9 rate dropped by over four strikeouts, and it didnt' come with improved command or a stingier walk rate. The scouting profile is still good for Sims, and he shouldn't drop far in this year's off-season rankings, but next year will be a big test to see if the command takes the steps forward that it needs for him to get back to missing bats.
Ready for the Majors: Christian Bethancourt, C: There's not much left for Bethancourt in the minor leagues. After almost 2,200 minor league at-bats, Bethancourt is about as much of a finished product as a 23-year-old can be, and is as ready for the majors as he's going to get facing Triple-A pitching. He's not going to hit enough to hit anywhere but the bottom third of a major league lineup, but his defense is strong enough, and the offensive bar for catchers low enough, that the Braves may move on from Evan Gattis this winter and hand the pitching staff over to Bethancourt. If not, he should prevent the need for a veteran backup.
Statistical King: Kyle Kubitza, 3B: Kubitza is a guy who generates a lot of interest from fans, because he puts up numbers like the .295/.405/.470 line he put up this year at Double-A Mississippi. He can do a few things well, mainly get on base thanks to a strong approach at the plate, but there's just not enough power there to expect it to translate to enough production for a major league third baseman. He's already 24, and he should be a major leaguer in some capacity, but it's probably not going to be as an everyday player.
Newest Addition: Braxton Davidson, OF: Once again picking at the back end of the first round, the Braves landed one of the better prep bats in the country. Davidson has a tough road ahead of him, in that his entire value will be essentially tied to his bat because of his profile as a corner outfielder (though he has the arm for right field), but if his power develops as expected, it will be enough to get it done. He didn't show off any of that power in a brief stint in the GCL and Appy leagues this year, but he did show a patient approach that could set him up well in the future.