Today we’re going to keep the series rolling with the second installment. On Monday I looked at the back-ten of my Braves Top 30, so now it’s time for the middle-ten – nos. 20-11. This is probably my favorite group of prospects given it features several of the more-recently drafted pitchers as well as some really exciting hitters. Let’s get started…
*All stats mentioned below cover only games played in July
20. Ricky DeVito, RHP
*dealt to Pirates in Richard Rodriguez trade
Like Kasey Kalich in the previous installment, DeVito was more of a mid-tier prospect pitcher that the Braves cashed in on for big league help at the MLB trade deadline last Friday. The 22-year-old DeVito (along with righty Bryse Wilson) was sent to the Pirates in exchange for righty reliever Richard Rodriguez, who will likely become Atlanta’s regular set-up guy for remainder of the season. I always liked DeVito and was probably a bit higher on him than most, but his numbers were pretty damn impressive this season, even though he rarely reached even 70 pitches in each of his five starts with High-A Rome. The Braves definitely lost a solid prospect arm… but the trade was necessary for the team’s stretch run.
19. Jesse Franklin V, OF ↑
A+ — Rome
Franklin made amazing strides in the month of June, drastically slashing his K rate to go with a .338 AVG, 1.169 OPS and eight home runs in 22 games. It was going to be difficult to top that, but the 22-year-old at least kept the power stroke going on into July as he slugged another 11 homers this past month and posted a .968 OPS, despite creeping back up to a 31.6% K rate. As of Monday, Franklin ranks second in the league in total home runs this season with 19, and he has basically flipped the early-season narrative that he’s incapable versus left-handed pitchers. The swing-and-miss is a bit of an issue, but right now it appears Franklin has plenty of pop to make his whiffs worth it.
18. Spencer Strider, RHP ↓
AA – Mississippi
So this is how I ended my excerpt on Strider last month, talking about his performance from June: “Sure, the numbers are bound to regress some now that he’s actually pitching at a more competitive level, but I still expect Strider to keep most of this up”. I was correct about half of that statement as the Double-A competition has in fact caused Strider to regress, but unfortunately, he hasn’t gotten over the hump as of yet. The 22-year-old’s last two outings were especially rough, featuring nine runs (two homers) from nine hits over 8.2 innings and an opponent OPS of .940. This was a dangerous man in High-A, but Double-A has been a very different animal for Strider. Hopefully he finds his way soon.
17. CJ Alexander, 3B ↓
AA – Mississippi
Alexander just snapped a nine-game hitless streak this past Sunday, which featured a dreadful stretch that saw him go 0 for 28 at the plate. The rest of the month of July wasn’t much better either as he only managed a .441 OPS in those 20 games, thanks to a K rate over 33%. Overall it’s just been a rough season for Alexander, and now at 25-years-old, his time is running out as a prospect in the Braves system. That 52-game stretch from 2018 seems like forever ago, when he managed to hit .352 across both the rookie level and High-A. I’m afraid this is no longer a top-20 prospect. Hell, it may be time to move Alexander outside the top-30 altogether.
16. Freddy Tarnok, RHP ↑
AA — Mississippi
Tarnok got a late start to the 2021 season, making his first appearance on the mound in early June. The righty began the year with Rome, where he compiled a 4.76 ERA in 28.1 innings and struck out 48 batters. But by the middle of last month the Braves felt he was ready for more of a challenge and ever since he’s been dominating the Double-A ranks, where he’s already punched out 21 in just 10.1 frames, spanning two outings so far. Tarnok’s most-recent start featured a dozen strikeouts in five innings as it appears he’s at his best as a pro pitcher. I can’t wait to see what this kid develops into.
15. Daysbel Hernandez, RHP ↑
AA – Mississippi
He’s baaaack… After struggling mightily last month, allowing seven runs from nine hits in seven innings of work with the M-Braves, in July Hernandez reverted back to his dominant ways as he struck out 17 batters in 11 innings, ending the month with a solid 1.64 ERA. I’m a HUGE fan of this kid and was even ready to rank him as a prospect when he was mowing down opposing batters in the Florida State League (High-A) back in 2019. Part of me wishes the Braves didn’t give Hernandez a Triple-A assignment to start the season (where he seemed very uncomfortable) because now his second stint there could come with some added pressure to deliver. We’ll probably find out soon enough.
14. Bryce Ball, 1B/DH
*dealt to the Cubs in the Joc Pederson trade
Even though he never really had much of a path to Atlanta (save for as a designated-hitter) Ball was such an exciting prospect in the Braves system. His size and power at the plate, plus the fact that he absolutely demolished everything in sight when he debuted as pro back in 2019, instantly made him a fan favorite. However, the Braves had to be realistic about Ball’s future in the organization, and given he had been struggling to hit High-A pitching this year, there really wasn’t a reason to hold onto the former 24th-round pick. Atlanta moved Ball to the Cubs in mid-July in exchange for outfielder Joc Pederson, who appears to have fit in nicely with the big league team. I’ll always wonder what could’ve been when it comes to Ball, but getting Pederson for the rest of this season and most likely the next (he has a $10-million mutual option for the 2022 campaign) just seems like a better route to take.
13. Victor Vodnik, RHP ↓
AA – Mississippi
Around this time last month, Vodnik was on the injured list following what had been a very strong start to the 2021 season. Before he was hurt, the young righty had pitched to a 2.51 ERA in 14.1 innings spanning across most of May and it looked as if he was plenty capable of handling Double-A batters. Fast-forward to July 9 — his first appearance since coming off the IL — and Vodnik struggled to find his footing again. In a July 15 outing, the 21-year-old allowed four runs in just 0.2 innings of work, and over his last four appearances, Vodnik has posted an 18.41 ERA as opposing batters have hit .474 against him. He was out for a while with that aforementioned injury, so perhaps it’s just going to take him some time to get back to his early-season self.
12. Jared Shuster, LHP ↑
A+ — Rome
The Braves are still being very careful with Shuster as he still has yet to total 70 pitches in a single start in 2021, with his season-high at 66 back on July 2. But you can’t knock the kid just because he’s operating on a short leash. In fact, Shuster turned in his best month of the year in July, posting a 2.70 ERA in 16.2 innings that spanned five starts for Rome. This was Atlanta’s top pick in 2020 so the expectations are certainly high. At 23-years-old, I still believe he’ll wind up in Mississippi before season’s end.
11. Trey Harris, OF ↔
AA – Mississippi
Harris broke out with the power stroke in July, swatting a season-high five homers and four doubles in 23 games. He hasn’t quite performed like he did back in 2019 when he won Player of the Year, but the 25-year-old has been a solid Double-A hitter nonetheless. Unfortunately for Harris, he’s part of an ultra-deep group of prospect outfielders in the Braves system, so his path to the majors is still pretty questionable. Now into the first week of August, Harris is sporting an underwhelming 89 wRC+ overall this season, which if the campaign ended today, would be his first under-100 wRC+ season as a pro.