By Jim Pratt
Editor’s note: In part-1 of his evaluation of future Atlanta Braves talent, BravesWire’s Jim Pratt graded the Braves’ young pitching talent. You can see part-1 here.
The strength of the infield is unevenly weighted on one side of the diamond. As you can see below, only one out of the top 10 infield prospects in the system is on the right side of shortstop. There are some strong up-the-middle defenders on their way to Atlanta in Christian Bethancourt and Andrelton Simmons. There are also plenty of options to replace Chipper Jones after his possible retirement at season’s end, but only one of those prospects will be close to MLB-ready by next year.
C – Christian Bethancourt (Grade – A): There have been signs Bethancourt’s raw tools are beginning to mature. After posting solid, yet unspectacular numbers over two minor league levels last year, he had a coming out party of sorts in the Arizona Fall League (AFL) where he hit .306 with five homeruns in only 72 at-bats.
His arm is in the elite category, and his “pop-time” has been recorded at 1.7 seconds. (Pop-time is the period of time from the instant the ball hits the catcher’s glove to the moment it touches the fielder’s glove on a throw down to second base.) The average pop-time for a big league catcher is about 1.9 seconds, and 1.8 is considered excellent. When you get down to 1.7 seconds, you’re in “Pudge” Rodriguez territory.
He still needs to refine some of his actions behind the plate, but he has plus-ability as a defender. If he can carry his offensive success from the AFL to Double-A this season, he could be on track to arrive in Atlanta at about the same time Brian McCann’s contract expires.
SS – Andrelton Simmons (A): Another plus-defender in the middle of the diamond, Simmons has spent the early part of Spring Training making enough of an impression that he has turned what was considered by most as an outside chance to fill the vacant shortstop opening into a position battle that will likely last until the end of camp. He is fundamentally sound with the glove, has terrific range and a rifle for a throwing arm. Scouts rate throwing arms on a scale from 1-80, and some scouts are calling him an “80-plus”. Not surprising for a guy originally drafted as a pitcher with a 98mph heater.
Even though he won the Carolina League batting title with a .311 average, his bat is still considered the biggest question mark. If Simmons can be a competent eight-hole hitter in the major leagues, his defense is good enough to make him a possible All-Star at the position.
3B – Joe Terdoslavich (B): Now on the Braves prospect radar, Terdoslavich hopes a strong spring camp will provide him the opportunity to get a call-up when Chipper Jones needs multiple days off during the season. His bat was hard not to notice last season as he hit .286 with 20 homeruns and 82 RBI for High-A Lynchburg, including a Carolina League-record 52 doubles. He has continued to swing a hot bat through the AFL (.321 AVG, 11 XBH) and Spring Training (5-18 with 2 doubles). Because his offense will likely advance him through the minors quickly, the Braves are attempting to transition Terdoslavich from first base to third base as a possible replacement for Chipper. His defense has previously been a liability, but early reports out of camp have been positive.
3B – Edward Salcedo (B): Salcedo has the raw tools both offensively and defensively to be a major leaguer, but it is all projection at this point. Even though he is vulnerable to breaking balls and at times the outer half of the plate in general, he did show an improved approach at the plate in 2011. He still has some work to do as a third baseman, but the ability to play the position is there. Although, some scouts feel he will eventually be a corner outfielder. A breakout season is on the horizon, whether that is 2012 or not remains to be seen. He should start the season at High-A Lynchburg.
SS – Tyler Pastornicky (B-): He has the ability to be a big league starter, but Pastornicky profiles more as a super-utility player for a playoff contending team than a starter. His best tool is his speed, which should result in at least 20-25 stolen bases once he is in the majors. He has above-average range defensively and can consistently make the routine play at shortstop. He makes enough contact to have a decent average, but that will come with empty power numbers. Solid skills across the board will make him a valuable contributor in the major leagues. He was penciled in as the Opening Day starter for Atlanta heading into the spring, but Simmons’ play has force the Braves to question those plans.
SS – Nick Ahmed (C+): A second round pick in last year’s First-Year Player Draft, Ahmed is a solid defender with average range. His speed and arm qualify as above-average tools. He has shown gap power with the bat. His ability to stick on the left side of the field will go a long way in determining his value.
3B – Brandon Drury (C+): After struggling in his first professional action in 2010 (.198/.248/.292 in 52 games), Drury made tremendous strides at the plate last season (.347/.367/.525 in 63 games). He has plus raw power that should develop as he matures physically. He also has the ability to make contact even though he is a free-swinger at the plate, walking only six times in 265 at-bats. He is solid enough at third to stick there, but it will be the development of his bat that decides his fate moving forward.
C – Evan Gattis (C+): As promising as Gattis’ offensive game is, he hit .322 with 22 homeruns and 24 doubles at Class-A Rome last season, his defense behind the plate needs just as much work. His arm is strong enough to throw runners out consistently, but his actions behind the plate need to be quicker. After being out of baseball for four years, he just needs continuous repetitions to become adequate enough defensively that he can stick at catcher, where his bat will play up. Where he starts 2012 will depend on where Bethancourt lands. The Braves want Gattis to get regular playing time behind the plate.
3B – Kyle Kubitza (C ):Kubitza profiles physically as a classic third baseman, but he has work to do defensively if he plans to remain there. He amassed 22 errors in 55 regular-season games at Texas State. Kubitza is a left-handed hitter and while he makes good contact, he currently lacks the power of a corner infielder.
2B – Tommy La Stella (C): A bat-first prospect, La Stella had a terrific debut at Low-A Rome hitting .328/.401/.543 with nine homeruns in 232 at-bats. His bat profiles as plus if he can stay at second base, but his sub-par defense could send him to a corner outfield spot where his bat then becomes suspect. At 5’11 and 185 pounds, his size would also come into question as he moves up levels if he is converted to the outfield.
Infield — Overall Grade: B
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